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Doctors Now Prescribing Music Therapy

Doctors Now Prescribing Music Therapy for Heart Ailments, Brain Dysfunction, Learning Disabilities, Depression, PTSD, Alzheimers, Childhood Development and More

Music has proven time and again to be an important component of human culture. From its ceremonial origin to modern medical usage for personal motivation, concentration, and shifting mood, music is a powerful balm for the human soul. Though traditional “music therapy” encompasses a specific set of practices, the broader use of music as a therapeutic tool can be seen nowadays as doctors are found recommending music for a wide variety of conditions.

Music Helps Control Blood Pressure and Heart-Related Disorders

According to The Cardiovascular Society of Great Britain, listening to certain music with a repetitive rhythm for least ten seconds can lead to a decrease in blood pressure and a reduced heart rate. Certain classical compositions, if matched with human body’s rhythm, can be therapeutically used to keep the heart under control. The Oxford University study states, “listening to music with a repeated 10-second rhythm coincided with a fall in blood pressure, reducing the heart rate” and thus can be used for overcoming hypertension.

Listening and Playing Music Helps Treat Stress and Depression

When it comes to the human brain, music is one of the best medicines. A study at McGill University in Canada revealed that listening to agreeable music encourages the production of beneficial brain chemicals, specifically the “feel good” hormone known as dopamine. Dopamine happens to be an integral part of brain’s pleasure-enhancing system. As a result, music leads to great feeling of joy and bliss.

It’s not only listening to music that has a positive effect on stress and depression. The Namm Foundation has compiled a comprehensive list of benefits of playing music, which includes reducing stress on both the emotional level and the molecular level. Additionally, studies have shown that adults who play music produce higher levels of Human Growth Hormone (HgH), which according to Web MD, is a necessary hormone for regulating body composition, body fluids, muscle and bone growth, sugar and fat metabolism, and possibly heart function.

For more on how music can be composed to benefit the brain, read about States of Consciousness and Brainwave Entrainment.

Music Therapy Helps Treat Alzheimer’s Disease

Music therapy has worked wonders on patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. With Alzheimer’s, people lose their capacity to have interactions and carry on with interactive communications. According to studies done in partnership with the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, “When used appropriately, music can shift mood, manage stress-induced agitation, stimulate positive interactions, facilitate cognitive function, and coordinate motor movements.”

Studying Music Boosts Academic Achievement in High Schoolers

Early exposure to music increases the plasticity of brain helping to motivate the human brain’s capacity in such a way that it responds readily to learning, changing and growing. “UCLA professor James S. Catterall analyzed the academic achievement of 6,500 low-income students. He found that, by the time these students were in the 10th grade, 41.4% of those who had taken arts courses scored in the top half on standardized tests, contrasted with only 25% of those who had minimal arts experience. The arts students also were better readers and watched less television.” This goes to show that in the formative stages of life, kids who study music do much better in school.

Playing Guitar (and Other Instruments) Aids in Treating PTSD

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs shared a study in which veterans experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) experienced relief by learning to play guitar. The organization responsible for providing guitars, Guitars For Vets “enhances the lives of ailing and injured military Veterans by providing them free guitars and music instruction.” Playing music for recovery from PTSD resembles traditional music therapy, in which patients are encouraged to make music as part of their healing process. Guitar is not the only instrument that can help PTSD. In fact, Operation We Are Here has an extensive list of Therapeutic Music Opportunities For Military Veterans.

Studying Music Boosts Brain Development in Young Children

A research-based study undertaken at the University of Liverpool in the field of neuroscience has light to shed on the beneficial effects of early exposure to music. According to the findings, even half an hour of musical training is sufficient to increase the flow of blood in the brain’s left hemisphere, resulting in higher levels of early childhood development.

The Portland Chamber Orchestra shares, “Playing a musical instrument involves multiple components of the central (brain and spinal cord) and peripheral (nerves outside the brain and spinal cord) nervous systems.  As a musician plays an instrument, motor systems in the brain control both gross and fine movements needed to produce sound.  The sound is processed by auditory circuitry, which in turn can adjust signaling by the motor control centers.  In addition, sensory information from the fingers, hands and arms is sent to the brain for processing.  If the musician is reading music, visual information is sent to the brain for processing and interpreting commands for the motor centers.  And of course, the brain processes emotional responses to the music as well!”

Music Education Helps Children Improve Reading Skills

Journal Psychology of Music reports that “Children exposed to a multi-year program of music tuition involving training in increasingly complex rhythmic, tonal, and practical skills display superior cognitive performance in reading skills compared with their non-musically trained peers.” In the initial stages of learning and development, music arouses auditory, emotional, cognitive and visual responses in a child. Music also aids a child’s kinesthetic development. According to the research-supported evidence, a song facilitates language learning far more effectively than speech.

Listening To Music Helps Improve Sleep

According to The Center for Cardiovascular Disease in China, listening to music before and during sleep greatly aids people who suffer from chronic sleep disorders. This “music-assisted relaxation” can be used to treat both acute and chronic sleep disorders which include everything from stress and anxiety to insomnia.

Playing Didgeridoo Helps Treat Sleep Apnea

A study published in the British Medical Journal shows that people suffering from sleep apnea can find relief by practicing the Australian wind-instrument known as the didgeridoo. Patients who played the didgeridoo for an average of 30-minutes per day, 6 days per week, saw significant increases in their quality of sleep and decreases in daytime tiredness after a minimum period of 3-months of practice. Dr. Jordan Stern of BlueSleep says, “The treatment of sleep apnea is quite challenging because there is not a single treatment that works well for every patient. The didgeridoo has been used to treat sleep apnea and it has been shown to be effective in part because of strengthening of the pharyngeal muscles, which means the muscles of the throat, as well as the muscles of the tongue.”

Written by Didge Project director AJ Block and guest author Gracy Liura.

By AJ Block – March 10, 2016

This article was created in collaboration between Didge Project director AJ Block and guest author Gracy Liura.

Author Bio: AJ Block
AJ Block is the director of Didge Project and is active as a didgeridoo teacher and performer. In addition to didgeridoo, AJ has spent years studying music traditions from all over the world including jazz (trombone and piano), western classical music, Indian Classical Music, guitar and world percussion. AJ has developed a number of programs for Didge Project including The ABCs of Didgeridoo, Didgeridoo Mastery, The Didgeridoo Musicianship Program, and Circular Breathing Mastery. AJ is a founding member of both Sacred Arts Research Foundation and Dream Seed. As a student of spiritual teacher Maestro Manuel Rufino AJ is an active member of the Golden Drum community.


Author Bio: Gracy Liura
Gracy Liura is a nutritionist based in New Delhi who actively works on the Human Chorionic Gonadotropin Research portal. One aspect of Gracy’s work is based on the connection between music and the cardio-vascular system of the human body. She says “There are medical set-ups that have introduced slow and soothing music of slower-beat, just to minimize the cost incurred by providing sedatives.” As said previously, light music that flows at the rhythmic rate of ten seconds is effective in lowering the pulse rate. Such compositions also bring high systolic and diastolic pressure under the control, and thus motivate the patients into a state of sound slumber. Not only for therapeutic uses, but if you want to be more successful and more productive than your counterparts; then, you either need to play music, or become an avid listener.

source: https://didgeproject.com

music

Listening to Music While Driving Reduces Cardiac Stress

Stress while driving is a risk factor for the development of cardiovascular disease and sudden cardiac complications such as heart attack (myocardial infarction), according to studies published in recent years. Selecting suitable driving music may be one way to mitigate this risk.
A study by researchers at São Paulo State University (UNESP) in Marília, Brazil, suggests that listening to instrumental music, for example, may relieve cardiac stress.
The results of the study, which were supported by São Paulo Research Foundation—FAPESP, are published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine.
Researchers at the University of São Paulo (USP) in Brazil, Oxford Brookes University in the United Kingdom and the University of Parma in Italy also took part in this study.
“We found that cardiac stress in the participants in our experiment was reduced by listening to music while they were driving,” Vitor Engrácia Valenti, a professor at UNESP Marília and a principal investigator of the project, told.
The researchers analyzed the effects of music on cardiac stress in five women between the ages of 18 and 23. All subjects were healthy, considered nonhabitual drivers (they drove once or twice a week), and had obtained a license 1-7 years previously.
“We opted to assess women who were not habitual drivers because people who drive frequently and have had a license for a long time are better adapted to stressful situations in traffic,” Valenti explained.
The volunteers were assessed on two days, in different situations and in a random order. On one day, they drove for 20 minutes at rush hour (5:30-6:30 pm) along a 3 km route in a busy district of Marília, a medium-sized city in the northwest of São Paulo State, without listening to music.
On the other day, the volunteers drove the same route at the same time of day but listened to instrumental music on a CD player coupled to the car radio. The use of earbuds or headphones while driving is a traffic offense.
“To increase the degree of traffic stress, we asked them to drive a car they did not own. Driving their own car might help,” Valenti said.
The level of cardiac stress was estimated by measuring heart rate variability using a heart rate monitor attached to the participant’s chest. Defined as fluctuations in the intervals between consecutive heart beats, heart rate variability is influenced by the autonomic nervous system. The more active the sympathetic nervous system, the faster the heart beats, while the parasympathetic nervous system tends to slow it down.
“Elevated sympathetic nervous system activity reduces heart rate variability, whereas more intense parasympathetic nervous system activity increases it,” Valenti said.
Analysis showed a reduction in heart rate variability in the volunteers who drove without music, indicating a lower level of parasympathetic nervous system activity but sympathetic nervous system activation.
Conversely, heart rate variability increased in the drivers who listened to music, indicating a higher level of parasympathetic nervous system activity and a reduction in sympathetic nervous system activity.
“Listening to music attenuated the moderate stress overload the volunteers experienced as they drove,” Valenti said.
The study involved only women to control for the influence of sex hormones, he explained. “If men, as well as women, had participated and we had found a significant difference between the two groups, female sex hormones might have been considered responsible,” he said.
In his view, the results of the study could contribute to the creation of cardiovascular preventative measures in situations of acute stress, such as driving in heavy traffic.
“Listening to music could be such a preventive measure in favor of cardiovascular health in situations of intense stress such as driving during rush hour,” he said.
by Elton Alisson, FAPESP      NOVEMBER 12, 2019


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The Everyday Foods Linked To Good Mental Health

The foods can offset the impact of major life events, like divorce and unemployment.

Eating more fruits and vegetables is linked to a lower risk of depression new research concludes.

An extra four portions of fruit and vegetables per day can offset the impact of major life events, like divorce and unemployment.

The boost from more fruit and vegetables could counteract half the pain of getting divorced or one-quarter that of being unemployed.

The effect on mental well-being of eating 8 portions per day compared with none is even more dramatic.

These benefits come on top of the well-known protective effect against cancer and heart disease.

The conclusions come from an Australian survey of 7,108 people carried out every year since 2001.

All were asked about their diet and lifestyle.

The results showed that the more fruit and vegetables people ate, the less likely they were to be diagnosed with mental health problems later on.

fruits-veggies

Dr Redzo Mujcic, the study’s first author, said:

“If people eat around seven or eight portions of fruit and vegetables a day the boost in mental well-being is as strong as divorce pushing people the other way, to a depressed state.
We found being made unemployed had a very bad and significant effect on people’s mental health, greatly increasing the risk of depression and anxiety.
But eating seven or eight portions of fruit and vegetables a day can reduce that by half.
And the effect is a lot quicker than the physical improvements you see from a healthy diet.
The mental gains occur within 24 months, whereas physical gains don’t occur until you are in your 60s.”

One possible mechanism by which fruit and vegetables affect happiness is through antioxidants.

There is a suggested connection between antioxidants and optimism.

Dr Mujcic said:

“If people increase their daily intake of fruit and vegetables from zero to eight they are 3.2 percentage points less likely to suffer depression or anxiety in the next two years.
That might not sound much in absolute terms, but the effect is comparable to parts of major life events, like being made unemployed or divorced.
We tested for reverse-causality—ie whether it might be that depression or anxiety leads to people eating less fruit and vegetables—but we found no strong statistical evidence of this.”

About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. 
He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
The study was published in the journal Social Science & Medicine (Mujcic & Oswald, 2019).

 


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Seeking Better Sleep Under a Weighted Blanket

Toddlers have long used “blankies” to help them feel secure, dry tears, and fall asleep quickly.

Now, some adults with insomnia, depression, and anxiety are rediscovering that feeling of security — for a price – in the form of weighted blankets.

But can a little extra weight really help you sleep better?

Leslie Kosco, 56, an oncology nurse in Indianapolis, thinks so. For the past 3 months, she has snuggled under her light gray, 20-pound weighted blanket. She bought it after reading that it could improve sleep and lower anxiety.

“It gives me the feeling that someone is hugging me, and making me feel calmer,” she says. “I think my sleep is better.” The anxiety? “Well, you know,” she laughs. She works with cancer patients, and she and her partner have an active 9-year-old.

She has no idea how the blanket works but is happy it does.

What Is a Weighted Blanket?

Weighted blankets are usually filled with plastic pellets to add weight, ranging from about 4 to 25 pounds. You pick the heaviness of the blanket based on your own weight. Prices range from about $120 to $249 or more.

People compare a weighted blanket’s “hug” to the feeling of the X-ray ”apron” the dentist puts on you, says David Fuchs, CEO of BlanQuil, one of the makers of weighted blankets.

Other companies include Gravity Blanket, Mosaic Weighted Blankets, and SensaCalm. Fuchs launched his product in December 2017, after he searched for something to help his adult daughter improve her sleep.

“It secures you in one place,” Fuchs says. “It seems to help people sleep by the calming effect of feeling like they are being held.”

Mike Grillo, managing director of Gravity Blanket, says they shipped more than 50,000 weighted blankets in 2017. That was after the Brooklyn-based startup raised $4.7 million on Kickstarter from late April to late May, 2017.

Laura LeMond says she founded Mosaic Weighted Blankets in 2010 after designing a blanket to meet her own needs for better sleep.

She says the trend has taken off in the past 2 years. At least a half-dozen companies sell them now.

What the Research Shows

Grillo says there aren’t many independent studies of the blankets for adults that are reviewed by independent researchers and published in reputable medical journals.

In one study funded by the blanket makers, Swedish researchers found that 31 men and women with moderate insomnia who used the blankets for 2 weeks reported a calmer night’s sleep with fewer movements. They believe the blankets helped them sleep more comfortably and securely, and they had higher-quality sleep.

Researchers have looked at how the blankets affect mental health patients. A study from 2015 found that after 32 adults used a 30-pound blanket, 63% reported lower anxiety and 78% preferred the weighted blanket to calm down.

Weighted blankets offer deep pressure stimulation, a form of touch pressure that feels like a firm hug, a massage, or swaddling. While research on weighted blankets is sparse, deep pressure stimulation has been found to calm adults and children with anxiety, autism, and attention difficulties, researchers say.

A Doctor Weighs In

Raj Dasgupta, MD, assistant professor of clinical medicine at the University of Southern California and a spokesman for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, says the blankets may help people with chronic pain sleep better, as well as those with anxiety or depression.

It gives me the feeling that someone is hugging me, and making me feel calmer.

Leslie Kosco of Indianapolis
“It’s like having the best hug for a long period of time,” he says. And, he says, it may be ”a good alternative to life-long sedative hypnotic medications (sleeping pills) at night.”

But he cautions that the weighted blanket is not the cure-all for improving sleep.

“You also have to pay attention to the foundation of good sleep hygiene,” he says. That means using the bedroom only for sleep and sex, turning off electronics before bedtime, and keeping the lighting, sounds, and temperature conducive to sleep.

While some research has looked at 30-pound blankets, there is no data behind the “right fit.” The companies suggest you pick one that is about 10% of your body weight so it will not be too heavy, says LeMond of Mosaic. “And for kids, it’s 10% of body weight plus 1-2 pounds,” she says.

Grillo similarly suggests a target of 7% to 12% of your body weight.

By Kathleen Doheny              FROM THE WEBMD ARCHIVES

SOURCES:
Article: Seeking Better Sleep Under a Weighted Blanket
Leslie Kosco, 56, oncology nurse, Indianapolis.
Mike Grillo, managing director, Gravity Blanket.
David Fuchs, CEO, BlanQuil.
Laura LeMond, founder, Mosaic Weighted Blankets.
Journal of Sleep Medicine & Disorders: “Positive Effects of a Weighted Blanket on Insomnia.”
Occupational Therapy in Mental Health: “Exploring the Safety and Therapeutic Effects of Deep Pressure Stimulation Using a Weighted Blanket.”
Consumer Reports: “Sheets Buying Guide,” “Higher Thread Count Doesn’t Guarantee Better Sleep.”
Harvard Health Publishing: “What type of mattress is best for people with low back pain?”
Mayo Clinic: “Pregnancy week by week,” “Sleep Apnea.”
National Sleep Foundation: “Find Out What You Really Should Be Wearing to Bed,” “Hear,” “Touch,” “The wrong pillow can be a real pain in the neck — not to mention a barrier to a good night’s sleep. So find the right fit,”  “How to Choose Your Ideal Sheets,” “Americans’ Bedrooms Are Key To Better Sleep According To New National Sleep Foundation Poll,” “Choosing a Mattress: Everything You Need to Know.”
The Better Sleep Council: “Starfish or Freefall? What Your Sleep Position Can Tell You.”


REFERENCES: 
National Institute of Mental Health: “Generalized Anxiety Disorder.”
MedlinePlus: “Generalized Anxiety Disorder.”
National Institute of Mental Health: “Role of Research in Improving the Understanding and Treatment of Anxiety Disorders.”
National Institute of Mental Health: “Treatment of Anxiety Disorders.”
National Institute of Mental Health: “How to Get Help for Anxiety Disorders.”
Sherman, K. Depression and Anxiety, May 2010.
Pilkington, K. Autonomic Neuroscience, October 2010.
Lakhan, S. Nutrition Journal, October 2010.
Saeed, S. American Family Physician, August 2007.
National Institute of Mental Health: “Panic Disorder.”
National Institute of Mental Health: “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.”
National Institute of Mental Health: “Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.”
National Institute of Mental Health: “Social Phobia.”
National Institute of Mental Health: “Specific Phobias.”

WebMD Health News Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on April 02, 2018

 

source: www.webmd.com
weighted-blanket-for-adults-laying-down-side

Can a Weighted Blanket Help You Sleep Better?
We Tested One For a Month to Find Out

Judging by social media and other chatter, one of the impactful talks at TED 2019—held in Vancouver in April—was Matthew Walker’s “You’re Not Getting Enough Sleep—and it’s Killing You.”

Walker, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Berkeley, has been encouraging people to take sleep more seriously for a few years now, arguing that, short-term, a lack of sleep messes with our memory, appetite and immune systems, and, long-term, could make us more vulnerable to depression, anxiety, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and cancer. That got people’s attention.

Shouldn’t we already know that sleep is an important thing, though? We all know the joy of a solid, uninterrupted eight hours, right? And, on the flip side, anyone who’s ever experienced a sleep disorder—roughly 40 per cent of Canadians, including me—is keenly aware that it’s not just the frustration in the middle of the night that’s a problem, it’s the fact that the next day’s largely a write-off, thanks to a haze of brain fog.

What is it that keeps people like me up? Anxiety? Stress? Depression? It might be a complex interplay of things, explains Dr. Christine Purdon, Director of Clinical Training of the PhD program in Clinical Psychology at the University of Waterloo and co-director of the Anxiety Studies Division, who says that insomnia is characteristic of a number of mental health problems.

“Some people have trouble sleeping because their thoughts race and they’re worried that they’re not going to be able to manage the challenges of the next day,” says Purdon. “So, they’re trying to problem-solve, but they can’t do anything about it at two in the morning in their bed, so the thoughts keep racing and then they get anxious. And you can’t sleep when you’re anxious because you’ve got cortisol running through your body.”

Cortisol is a steroid hormone that jacks up our blood sugar, suppresses our immune system and gets us ready to run away from predators—a built-in alarm, starting at the amygdala, a part of the brain that sends distress signals to other parts of the brain. Although our modern anxiety is more likely to be about deadlines or office politics than sabre-tooth tigers, we still make cortisol when the amygdala senses danger.

Purdon’s description is exactly how I feel at 5 a.m., hopelessly trying to get back to sleep with Jedi mind tricks. I should say, though, that I’ve been pretty lucky to have fewer (and shorter) bouts of insomnia over the past several years. Whereas, I once had torturous two- or three-week spells a few times a year, it’s down to a sporadic few nights a month. I attribute a lot of that to keeping more regular hours and paying attention to the quality of mattresses and light “noise” in the room.

I’d like to get it down to zero, though, so I’m always on the look-out for new strategies for better sleep. As such, when Sleep Country Canada offered to send me a Snuggable Weighted Blanket ($199 plus tax) to try out, I took them up on it.

Day One: The package tells me this 230-thread count, 15-pound blanket will “create a feeling of being hugged,” as well as “reduce chronic stress and high levels of anxiety” and “may increase serotonin and melatonin levels and decrease cortisol levels…to promote a better sleep.” The key word here is “may.” There really isn’t a lot of peer-reviewed research confirming the many anecdotal stories circulating that it’s helpful for anxiety and/or sensory processing disorders.

First night: Even if you think you have a pretty good idea as to what 15 pounds feels like, picking up this blanket produces cognitive dissonance—it’s way heavier than it looks. It’s also only five feet long, so you have to choose between covering your chest or your feet. Initially, I thought it was a non-starter, since it felt less like “hugging” and more like being trapped. Despite my concerns, I slept well.

Week Two: The weird thing is, you adjust to the weight pretty quickly—for me, I was actually looking forward to the sensation of added weight by the end of the first week. I was sleeping more on my back and moving around less, which is obviously a good thing

Week Three: Insomnia strikes. For me, it’s never about getting to sleep but, rather, staying asleep. I’ll wake up at 4 a.m. and that’s when the thoughts start racing. This generally lasts several hours, but, all four nights that it happened to me that week I was able to get back to sleep in under 15 minutes.

Month’s End: After a month with no insomnia, I’m a convert. I still have some trepidation, since I’ve had a lot of vivid dreams—sometimes too vivid. I’m also worried about whether or not it’ll be too hot in, say, mid-July.

I’m also worried it might not last. What if my good sleeps are just a placebo effect? As Dr. Purdon points out, without more studies, we can’t know. She can, however, imagine a theory for how a weighted blanket might work to alleviate some symptoms of anxiety.

“I have heard of people using weighted blankets and enjoying them,” she says. “I think that if it gives a safety signal—like that kind of warm sense of being bundled—I think it’s possible that sensation can make somebody feel safer and down-regulate the amygdala and get rid of the anxiety, which could help you get back to sleep.”

Still, Purdon warns that people shouldn’t get their hopes up that a blanket, no matter how good, will be life-transforming, even if future research does support the theory.

“I do have a fair bit of skepticism about things that come onto the market making big claims,” she says. “I don’t think there are quick fixes for anything. I think it’s great if some people try something and it helps them. But I don’t think something like that is going to cure anybody’s anxiety problems, that’s for sure.”

By Christine Sismondo        Special to the Star        Sun., May 5, 2019
Christine Sismondo is a Toronto-based writer and contributor to the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @sismondo


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Does Living Alone Increase Mental Health Risk?

A new study has concluded that living alone is linked to common mental disorders. The authors have also identified the main driver of this worrying relationship.

Some common mental disorders (CMDs) include mood disorders, anxiety, and substance use disorders.

According to some studies, almost one-third of people will experience a CMD in their lifetime.

These conditions can have a significant impact on the individual, of course, but due to their high prevalence, they also affect society at large.

Due to the widespread influence of CMDs, scientists are keen to understand the full range of risk factors that feed into mental health.

In recent years, scientists have investigated whether living alone might be one such risk factor.

A new study, the results of which now appear in the journal PLOS ONE, takes a fresh look at this question. The study authors conclude that there is a link between living alone and CMDs. They also find that it affects all age groups and sexes, and that primarily, loneliness is the driver.

Living alone

The number of people living alone is steadily growing throughout much of the Western world; this is due to a number of reasons, including the aging population, people tending to get married at an older age, and increased divorce rates.

Researchers have already looked at the relationship between CMDs and living alone, but most have focused on older adults, so their findings may not apply to other age groups.

Also, earlier studies generally focused on just one mental condition: depression. This might not provide the full picture.

Previous work has also not quantified how other factors influence this relationship; for instance, people who live alone are more likely to be overweight, smoke, use drugs, and lack social support. So which of these, if any, is the main driver of CMDs?

The authors of the new study aimed to fill in some of these gaps. They looked for links between living alone and CMDs in general, and they investigated which factors seemed to be influencing the relationship.

 

Looking at the data

To investigate, scientists from the University of Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines in France analyzed data from 20,503 adults, ages 16–74, living in England. The data came from three National Psychiatric Morbidity Surveys that experts conducted in 1993, 2000, and 2007.

Participants completed Clinical Interview Schedule-Revised questionnaires, which assessed whether they had experienced neurotic symptoms during the previous week.

The surveys also collated data on a range of variables, including height and weight, level of education, employment status, alcohol and drug use, social support, and feelings of loneliness.

As expected, the authors found that the number of people living alone has steadily grown. In 1993, 8.8% lived alone. This is compared with 9.8% in 2000 and 10.7% in 2007.

Their analysis also showed that across all age groups and sexes, there was a significant association between living alone and having a CMD. The size of this relationship was fairly similar across the three surveys.

CMDs were more common in those living alone than those not living alone:

1993: 19.9% vs. 13.6%
2000: 23.2% vs. 15.5%
2007: 24.7% vs. 15.4%

The trouble with loneliness

When the scientists delved deeper into the relationship between CMDs and living alone, they found that loneliness explained 84% of the association.
Earlier studies had shown that loneliness is linked with depression and anxiety. Others still had investigated whether loneliness might increase mortality risk.
During what some experts call a “loneliness epidemic,” this finding is particularly important. Similarly, because ill mental health is a growing concern, understanding the risk factors associated with CMDs might help turn the tide.
Of course, not everyone who lives alone is lonely. However, for those who are, interventions to tackle loneliness are available. These may include talking therapies, social care provisions, and animal-based interventions.
The next and most challenging step is to find ways to ensure that people in need get access to these tools.
The researchers acknowledge certain limitations to the study. For instance, this was a cross-sectional study, meaning that it looked at a snapshot of people at one point in time. The authors call for longitudinal studies to ascertain how this relationship might play out over time.
As with any study of this nature, assessing cause and effect is not possible: Did a person develop a CMD because they lived alone, or did they develop a CMD and then decide to live alone?
Or, perhaps, someone with a predisposition for CMDs is more likely to want to live alone. As ever, scientists will need to carry out more work to fill in the gaps.
Earlier findings back up these results, but the new findings also go a few steps further; they show that the relationship between mental health and living alone is stable across time, that the link is not restricted to older adults, and that loneliness plays a pivotal role.
Thursday 2 May 2019       By Tim Newman Fact checked by Jasmin Collier


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How Expressing Gratitude Might Change Your Brain

A lot of so-called “positive psychology” can seem a bit flaky, especially if you’re the sort of person disinclined to respond well to an admonition to “look on the bright side.” But positive psychologists have published some interesting findings, and one of the more robust ones is that feeling grateful is very good for you. Time and again, studies have shown that performing simple gratitude exercises, like keeping a gratitude diary or writing letters of thanks, can bring a range of benefits, such as feelings of increased well-being and reduced depression, that often linger well after the exercises are finished.

Now a brain-scanning study in NeuroImage brings us a little closer to understanding why these exercises have these effects. The results suggest that even months after a simple, short gratitude writing task, people’s brains are still wired to feel extra thankful. The implication is that gratitude tasks work, at least in part, because they have a self-perpetuating nature: The more you practice gratitude, the more attuned you are to it and the more you can enjoy its psychological benefits.

The Indiana University researchers, led by Prathik Kini, recruited 43 people who were undertaking counseling sessions as a treatment for their anxiety or depression. Twenty-two of them were assigned to a gratitude intervention; for the first three sessions of their weekly counseling, this group spent 20 minutes writing a letter in which they expressed their gratitude to the recipient, an hour in total (whether they chose to send these letters was up to them). The other participants acted as a control group, so they simply attended their counseling as usual without performing the gratitude task.

Three months after their counseling was over, all of the participants completed a “Pay It Forward” gratitude task in a brain scanner. Each was “given” various amounts of money by imaginary benefactors whose names and photos appeared onscreen to add to the realism of the task. The researchers told the participants that each benefactor said that if the participant wanted to express their gratitude for the monetary gift, they’d appreciate it if the participant gave some or all of the donation to a named third party (again, identified by photo and name), or a named charity. The participants knew this was all an exercise, but were all told that one of the transactions, chosen later at random, would actually occur — that is, they’d actually receive the cash amount offered to them by one of the benefactors minus the amount they chose to pass on (and the money they opted to pass on really would go to charity).

The researchers found that, on average, the more money a participant gave away, and the stronger the feelings of gratitude they reported feeling, the more activity they exhibited in a range of brain areas in the frontal, parietal, and occipital regions. Interestingly, these neural-activity patterns appeared somewhat distinct from those that usually appear when brain-scan subjects complete tasks associated with emotions like empathy or thinking about other people’s points of view, which is consistent with the idea that gratitude is a unique emotion.

gratitude

Most exciting, though, is the finding that the participants who’d completed the gratitude task months earlier not only reported feeling more gratefulness two weeks after the task than members of the control group, but also, months later, showed more gratitude-related brain activity in the scanner. The researchers described these “profound” and “long-lasting” neural effects as “particularly noteworthy,” and they highlighted that one of the main regions that showed this increased sensitivity — the “pregenual anterior cingulate,” which is known to be involved in predicting the effects of one’s own actions on other people — overlaps with a key brain region identified in the only previous study on the neurological footprint of gratitude.

This result suggests that the more practice you give your brain at feeling and expressing gratitude, the more it adapts to this mind-set — you could even think of your brain as having a sort of gratitude “muscle” that can be exercised and strengthened (not so different from various other qualities that can be cultivated through practice, of course). If this is right, the more of an effort you make to feel gratitude one day, the more the feeling will come to you spontaneously in the future. It also potentially helps explain another established finding, that gratitude can spiral: The more thankful we feel, the more likely we are to act pro-socially toward others, causing them to feel grateful and setting up a beautiful virtuous cascade.

However, let’s not allow the warm glow of all this gratitude to melt our critical faculties. It’s important to realize this result is incredibly preliminary. For one thing, as the researchers openly acknowledge, they didn’t conduct a baseline brain scan of the participants before they started the Pay It Forward game, so it’s possible, though unlikely given that participants were randomly assigned to the gratitude and control groups, that the participants who performed the gratitude task simply had more neural sensitivity to gratitude already, not because they performed the gratitude task. Another thing: Members of the control group didn’t perform a comparison writing task, so we can’t know for sure that it was the act of writing a letter of thanks, as opposed to any kind of writing exercise, that led to increased neural sensitivity to gratitude.

Still, neurological investigations into gratitude are in their early days, and this research certainly gives us some intriguing clues as to how and why gratitude exercises are beneficial. For that we can be, well, grateful.

Dr. Christian Jarrett (@Psych_Writer), a Science of Us contributing writer, is editor of the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest blog. His latest book is Great Myths of the Brain.

By Christian Jarrett   JAN. 7, 2016
 


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22 Simple Habits That Can Relieve Holiday Stress and Anxiety

Are the holidays the season of excitement or a time for anxiety and frustration? 
Here are expert tips to get you past the stress and into the festive spirit.

Get adequate sleep

It’s no secret that our bodies crave rest; fail to get enough, and you’ll have some nasty symptoms. Not only does adequate rest—at least seven to eight hours per night—recharge your body for the day ahead, it also gives your nervous system a chance to wind down and reset as well. For those who suffer from anxiety symptoms, a lack of sleep can make you much more anxious. No one wants that around the holidays, warns Barbara Greenberg, PhD, a clinical psychologist and the co-author of Teenage As A Second Language. She tells Reader’s Digest, “We must all keep in mind that the holidays can be quite overwhelming as well as exciting. Because we are going to be expending a lot of energy during the holidays we must take care of ourselves. That way, we are less likely to become physically sick and emotionally overwhelmed during the holiday season.” Go ahead and go to bed early—chances are you’ll be better able to handle whatever comes your way in the morning.

Give your body the boosts it needs

The typical American diet can leave you short on nutrients your body needs to function at its fullest potential, and sometimes it needs a boost that food is not providing. During stressful times such as the holidays or busy seasons, it’s important to pay close attention to cues your body is sending about its status. Supplements such as magnesium (almost 80 percent of the population is deficient), zinc, and fish oil can deliver the nutrients your body needs to keep running efficiently. Magnesium helps to relax muscles and decrease anxiety. Zinc will help to boost your immune system during the colder months, and the omega-3 oils in fish oil are powerful anti-inflammatories that provide an overall sense of well-being.

Give yourself the gift of self-care

In the midst of the seasonal rush, it’s easy to forget about your own health. Make time for a daily routine—even if it’s just 15 minutes—of doing something relaxing. Whether that’s pulling out the yoga mat, steeping a cup of your favorite herbal tea, or simply reading a good book, the time you give yourself out of your busy day will make a huge difference in your outlook. Kim Fredrickson, a marriage and family therapist and author of the new book Give Your Kids A Break: Parenting With Compassion For You and Your Children, agrees. She advises, “Treat yourself with compassion. It’s important to treat yourself kindly regarding all the extra pressures and activities you’re dealing with.” She continues, “Come up with a plan to take care of yourself as you head into the holidays. Try getting enough sleep, eat as healthy as possible, take time for a daily walk, and set things aside that can wait until January or February.”

Accept what you can control and release the rest

If you struggle with anxious feelings, you may also have control issues. So when the to-do list becomes overwhelming, that’s the time to step back and assess what is reasonable and what you have to let go of. If you’re hosting a dinner and you know that gluten-free Aunt Martha will complain that she can’t have the stuffing, kindly suggest that she might want to bring a side she’ll be able to enjoy. Fredrickson recommends making a list of the things you feel are top priorities, to keep your focus on what matters most. She says, “What’s important? Think about what is really important as you approach the holidays. Make sure your list includes things that are important to you, rather than only focusing on creating good experiences for your family.”

Do what you can from the comfort of home

There’s never been a better time to get things done without getting out of your pajamas. Sure, the Internet has its drawbacks, but there’s no question it’s made life easier for shopping. Tap the wonders of the web to order your groceries and gifts online. Some grocery services will deliver to your door, while some require that you pick up your order; either way, the time you’ll save is priceless. With online gift-wrapping options, it’s never been easier to have gifts sent directly to the relatives. Consider yourself a tech genius this season and eliminate your to-do list worries.

Delegate the details

If you’re facing a panicked rush to get things done, why not hand off some of the to-do lists to your spouse? If you know you’ll never be able to wrap every gift on time or schedule the carpet cleaning you’ve been putting off, recruit help. The same goes for holiday meals. While it’s true that the host often provides much of the main meal, why not ask people on the guest list to provide a side or dessert? Dr. Greenberg advises, “There are no prizes for doing everything on your own. Delegate. Remember people should come together during the holidays and help each other, right?”

Know your limits and respect them

Do memories of holidays past leave you shuddering with a sense of dread? If so, it’s time to learn from past mistakes, and vow to do things differently this year. If hosting the holiday festivities is simply too much of a strain on you or your family, ask someone else to take it on this year. Stress and anxiety can make even the most well-intentioned hostess less than jolly, and chances are good that there’s someone in your family who would love the chance to show off their culinary skill. Dr. Greenberg tells Reader’s Digest, “Know your limits. If it is difficult to be with your family for too long before you start getting irritable with each other, then set a time limit in advance. Believe me, you will be grateful that you did this! Do not expect that this year your family will get along perfectly and that old grudges will be forgotten. Unfortunately, we tend to regress when we are with our families during the holidays and old issues from years ago rear their heads.”

Make time to move

While it might seem counter-intuitive to add exercise to your daily routine during a time of extra activity, it doesn’t have to be strenuous. Activity reduces blood pressure and stress, and a short walk around the block can really go the distance in making the holiday grind more bearable. If walking isn’t something you enjoy, why not try yoga, and let your breath carry you away from it all? Exercise doesn’t have to produce heavy breathing and sweat to count—so find something that gently allows your body to expend its extra energy, and go with it.

Prep your way to less stress

You’ve probably heard the saying, “Fail to plan? Plan to fail.” That’s a little harsh, but there’s no question that having a holiday-prep plan will help ensure the success of your season. Take a look at your seasonal to-do list and make notes about the things that can be taken care of in advance. Can you bake and freeze some dinner or dessert items now? How about sending out the invitations early, with your requests of what others should bring for the meal included? Some things don’t need to wait to be done until the week before the big day. Take advantage of the time you have, and take action now.

gingerbread

 

Maintain realistic expectations of yourself and others

Family relationships are complicated. Add in holiday pressures and heightened expectations for a perfect holiday, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Instead of expecting a perfect holiday staged by Hallmark, keep your vision of the day realistic. That one relative who really knows how to push your buttons will not magically become a joy to be around just because it’s a special day. Accept the likely reality for what it is, and make the best of it. Dr. Greenberg cautions that you should rein in your expectations—especially around the holidays. “It is crucial to keep expectations at a reasonable level. If we set the bar too high and expect family get-togethers or other celebrations to be perfect, then we are setting ourselves up for disappointment.” Who needs the extra stress of having a perfect day?

Keep healthy boundaries in place

Some of your family or friends may see the holidays as an excuse for excess, indulgence, or rude behavior. Though more family time might lead you to have an extra glass of wine, Dr. Greenberg says this isn’t the best option to soothe frazzled nerves. She warns, “Keep the drinking of alcohol to a minimum. Too much alcohol leads to saying the wrong thing, behaving in a clumsy manner, and unintentionally bruising the feelings of others. It also leads to embarrassing yourself and your family.” Everyone wants an enjoyable day, but it shouldn’t cost you your sanity or healthy limitations.

Make a date with yourself

“The holidays can be a chaotic time with friends and family and it’s OK to schedule some alone time,” says Prakash Masand MD, a psychiatrist from Duke University and founder of the Centers of Psychiatric Excellence. “Ask your spouse to watch the kids for an hour and go to the spa, or go hit a bucket of golf balls. Seeking some solitude is both healthy and necessary to reduce stress.”

Hit “pause” on family arguments

Old tensions, political differences, blended families with ex-spouses and new loves—for a lot of people, getting together with extended family to celebrate holidays is a mixture of good and bad. If tensions and disagreements arise, consider pressing pause, at least for now. “Holidays are not the time to resolve family conflicts,” says Dr. Masand. “Many individuals use the family holidays to try to resolve longstanding conflicts with family members often with disastrous consequences, particularly when alcohol is involved. Leave addressing those issues to a later time in a one-to-one conversation.”

Do your shopping in short bursts

In an interesting 2016 study, researchers strapped emotion-tracking devices to 100 people and sent them holiday shopping for an hour. The findings? People’s heart rates increased by an average of 33 percent while shopping, about the same increase seen in someone who’s running a marathon. A majority became fatigued after just half an hour. “There’s so much to do: buying presents, cooking, decorating and more. Saving it all for the last minute will raise your stress,” says Dr. Masand. “Start a few weeks ahead of time and do a little at a time.”

Do less!

The number-one stressor during the holidays is time, a survey by the American Psychological Association found. A full two-thirds of people surveyed often or sometimes feel worried about having time to fit everything in, including family visits, cooking, shopping, decorating, and working. If you find yourself feeling stretched thin every holiday season, why not plan to do a little bit less this year? Jot down a quick list of all the parties, activities, and traditions you “need” to fit in and then prioritize. The ones that end up near the bottom? They’re optional.

Stick to a budget

Money is the second-biggest source of holiday stress (“time” is number one), according to the American Psychological Association. That’s why Dr. Masand suggests making a holiday budget and sticking to it. “Every parent wants to buy that perfect holiday gift for their child, but big-ticket items can take a toll on your wallet and your stress level,” he says. If you exchange gifts with extended friends and family, “consider a grab bag gift exchange where each person buys only one gift to alleviate the stress of having to get something for everyone.” Of course, gifts aren’t the only expenses of the season—there’s also food. “Let others help,” says Dr. Masand. “Don’t feel like you have to be the hero of the holiday season. Ask each person to bring a dish to dinner, make decorating a family activity where the kids help out.”

Go store-bought instead of homemade

Do you always bring the pie for the holiday meal, always homemade? If this year has you feeling overwhelmed or overworked, consider giving yourself the gift of time and buy one instead. Store-bought or cafe-bought desserts can be just as enjoyable, especially if you’re not stressed out and exhausted when you eat them! Try this top-pick frozen apple pie or check out this Chicago Tribune review of sweet potato, pecan, and apple pies from grocery stores like Walmart, Jewel, and Target.

Expect some bad along with the good

In a recent survey, 41 percent of Americans admitted to working too hard to have a “perfect” holiday season. “Expect things to go wrong,” says Dr. Masand. “Your son may hate his Christmas gift. Your daughter might get sick. You may overcook the ham. The point is things will go wrong. Appreciate the season for the time spent with loved ones and create new memories, and don’t sweat the small stuff.”

Draw firm boundaries between work and family

Many people have to work regular schedules in the days leading up to the holidays—those in the travel industry, retail, hospitality, and food services may have to work even more than usual. Other than requesting time off as far in advance as possible, those work schedules can’t necessarily be controlled. What can be are your boundaries when you’re not at work. Thirty-four percent of people in an American Psychological Association survey say they experience significant stress worrying that work obligations will impede on their holiday celebrations. So when you’re off the clock, stay there. Make it clear that you can’t respond to texts or emails on your days off, and don’t let yourself feel pressured into filling in for co-workers who ask to swap shifts.

Look out for the holiday blues

Those of us who have lost loved ones or are facing other difficult life situations may feel especially sad during this time of year when everyone is supposed to be jolly. Don’t ignore these feelings of grief or sadness, say the mental health experts at the Mayo Clinic. Not only is it OK to express these feelings during this time of “cheer,” it’s healthier to do that than to ignore or suppress them. Learn more about what to look out for when holiday blues go too far.

Remember that ultimately, a holiday is just a day

“The holidays are filled with both joy and stress,” says Ellen Braaten, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at Massachusetts General Hospital. If you find yourself feeling extremely overwhelmed by emotions, pressures, or obligations this year, try to shift your perspective by deciding what’s most important and what you want the holidays to mean to you. “The holidays are just another time of year, certainly something to mark, but not the end-all, be-all,” she says.

Focus on the good

Yes, the holidays can be stressful and difficult. But they’re also full of joy for many of us. The American Psychological Association found that 78 percent of people report feeling happy, 75 percent feel love, and 60 percent report being in high spirits this time of year. So don’t lose sight of what you enjoy most about this time of year, whether it’s the twinkling lights, music, food, or fellowship.

Jen Babakhan       Sunny Sea Gold
 
source: www.rd.com


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The Top 3 Reasons Why You Self-Sabotage and How to Stop

Faulty thinking and fear of failure play a part.

It’s easy to sabotage yourself when you’re trying to meet an important goal, like developing healthier habits, getting assignments done on time, saving money, managing weight, or building healthy relationships. Self-sabotage isn’t just one thing — it can have many causes — but the end result is that you get off track, mess up relationships, don’t get things done, or don’t perform as well as you would like. All of this can lead to feeling bad about yourself and expecting to fail, which leads to more self-sabotage to avoid facing failure head-on, which perpetuates the cycle.

Below are some of the ways in which you may sabotage yourself and suggestions for what to do instead. My colleague and fellow Psychology Today blogger Alice Boyes has an excellent new book out called The Healthy Mind Toolkit, which provides simple, practical psychological tools to help you stop self-sabotaging and develop healthy habits and attitudes instead.

Why do you sabotage yourself?

There are many reasons for self-sabotage, but three of the most important ones involve your thinking patterns, fears you may have in intimate relationships, and the tendency to avoid things that are difficult or uncomfortable. Read on to find out more.

1. Faulty thinking

Our human brains tend to be wired to cling to the familiar, to overestimate risk, and to avoid trying new approaches. This tendency, known as the familiarity heuristic, leads us to overvalue the things we know and undervalue things that are unfamiliar. And when we are under stress, we tend to rely on the familiarity heuristic even more. When our brains are tired, we resort to old habits and ways of doing things, even if they don’t work well. We are drawn to go with the familiar, even when a different option offers a clear advantage.

In one study, researchers asked subjects to do a complicated word puzzle. One group performed under time pressure, while the other was told to take as much time as they needed. After the puzzle was done, subjects were told they had to do another puzzle, but were given a choice between a longer puzzle invented by the same person who designed the first puzzle or a short puzzle designed by somebody they did not know. The group who performed under more stressful conditions (time pressure) were more likely to choose the longer puzzle, even though this would put them at a disadvantage. It’s as if their brains got confused trying to compare the advantages of length versus familiarity, and so they resorted to the “familiarity heuristic.”

It’s not always easy to tell when your brain is relying on a heuristic. Try to make important decisions when you’re not stressed and to consider the pros and cons of each choice, rather than just going with something that intuitively sounds like the best choice (but may not be).

2. Fear of intimacy or fear of rejection

We all know people who sabotage relationships when they reach a certain level of intimacy. Some people cheat, others pick fights or get controlling to push the person away, still others reveal all their insecurities or become too needy and clingy. These are all unconscious ways in which our brains fear getting trapped or rejected if we get too close. Many of these patterns are based on childhood relationships with caregivers. If you have “insecure attachment,” you may unconsciously fear repeating the past. Perhaps your parent was rejecting or neglectful, critical, inconsistent, or you had to be the “parentified child.” Parts of our brains remember this pain and begin to act in adult relationships as if we are with our parent (or perhaps do the complete opposite in an extreme way, which gets us into trouble as well).

If your fear of intimacy or rejection is strong, it is better to mindfully allow your insecure or fearful feelings to be there, while actively working to find healthy, mature ways of talking about them, rather than running away or pushing people away. You need to remind yourself that you are an adult now and have a much greater capacity to tolerate stress and rejection and to take care of yourself than you did as a child. Also remind yourself of what you have to gain by staying engaged. Try to be more self-aware and to notice the effects of your behavior patterns on your relationship happiness.

success

3. Procrastination and avoidance

A third way you may self-sabotage is by not dealing with problems until they get so big that you are forced to deal with them. Or not being able to discipline yourself to get work done on time. There are several potential reasons for procrastinating and avoiding. You may never have learned the skills to break tasks up into smaller pieces, or you may be too tired to plan out a schedule for doing the work. Alternatively, you may feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task or feel like an imposter who doesn’t have what it takes to succeed. Self-sabotaging by not getting started, staying up too late, or going out with friends or watching television instead of working is a very common pattern. In the short term, you manage to avoid the discomfort of an anxiety-provoking or boring and unrewarding task. But in the long term, the things you’ve put off come back to bite you.

You may also procrastinate and avoid because you are perfectionistic, overthink things, or can’t decide where to begin. All of these tendencies tend to have an anxiety component. You can counteract them by giving yourself a time limit to choose or by allowing yourself to make an imperfect choice. It helps to see yourself as being able to learn from experience and improve over time. This is what researcher Carol Dweck calls a “growth mindset.” A growth mindset makes the possibility of failure less scary, whereas if you see your abilities as fixed, you are more likely to avoid performance situations or sabotage  yourself so your weaknesses won’t be clearly exposed.

Procrastination and avoidance (as well as addictive behavior) can also be ways of not taking responsibility for your actions. These behaviors allow you to blame outside factors, like not having enough time, if you do poorly, rather than admitting your role in not using your time well. Some of us fear success, because we shun the limelight or fear that others will expect more from us than we can deliver. But rather than facing this fear head-on, we tend to set ourselves up for failure instead.

Take-Home Message

When it comes to self-sabotage, one size doesn’t fit all. You may be too tired and stressed to think through complex choices and instead rely on easy (but inaccurate) heuristics. You may sabotage relationships, because you fear closeness and intimacy or fear rejection. Or you may procrastinate and avoid, because you fear failure or lack planning and time management skills. The solution differs depending on the area of self-sabotage. Getting enough rest and not taking on too much can help you think more clearly and make better choices. Understanding the roots of your fears of intimacy and rejection and taking small steps towards more closeness can help in the relationship arena. And taking more responsibility for planning and motivating yourself and adopting a growth mindset can help with procrastination at work.

References
Boyes, Alice (2018). The Healthy Mind Toolkit. TarcherPerigree

Jun 11, 2018

Melanie Greenberg Ph.D.