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How Music Can Change The Way You Feel And Act

Music is present in every part of our lives. Our spiritual rituals are framed with songs, children learn the alphabet through song and the malls and cafes we visit during our leisure time are rarely silent.

But just how much can this ever-present thing impact us – and the way we act and feel? Research suggests music can influence us a lot. It can impact illness, depression, spending, productivity and our perception of the world.

Some research has suggested it can increase aggressive thoughts, or encourage crime.

Recently, a UK study explored how “drill” music – a genre of rap characterized by threatening lyrics – might be linked to attention-seeking crime. That’s not new, but the emergence of social media allows more recording and sharing.

The content of these songs is about gang rivalry, and unlike other genres, the audience might judge the performer based on whether he will follow through with what he claims in his lyrics, writes the study’s author, Craig Pinkney, a criminologist and lecturer at the University College Birmingham, in the UK.

Beside music, the paper looks at social media’s role in fueling violence. The online platforms readily used by many, have given gang rivalries the chance to move online and encourage comments from supporters and opposing groups, which only adds to the pressure to react.

However, there are multiple reasons for the rise in crime, according to Pinkney. He explains that poverty, deprivation, racism, poor leadership, lack of corporate investments, lack of opportunities and resources also contribute.

Daniel Levitin, professor of psychology and music at McGill University in Canada, points out that it is difficult to analyze whether music can create violence.

Studies have very mixed evidence, and mostly use observational data instead of controlled experiments that can take into account people’s personality. People who are already prone to violence might be drawn to violent music, Levitin explained. But that doesn’t mean everybody who enjoys hat music is violent.

“When you’ve got violent behaviors that mimic something that’s out there in the music or art world it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that the art caused the person to become violent,” he added. “But just because it’s easy to conclude it doesn’t mean that it’s true.”

Fact: Some experts argue
violent lyrics, across music genres,
can incite aggressive thoughts.

 

Another paper, published in 2003 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, reported that music can incite aggressive thoughts and feelings. During five experiments with 75 female and 70 male college students, those who heard a violent song were shown to feel more hostile than those who heard a nonviolent song, from the same artist and style.

The study showed that violent songs led to more aggressive thoughts in three different measures: More aggressive interpretations when looking at ambiguous words, an increased speed with which people read aggressive compared to non-aggressive words and a greater proportion of people completing aggressive words when filling in blanks on forms given to them during the study.

One way to put these findings, say the authors, is that participants who listened to violent rock songs then interpret the meaning of ambiguous words such as “rock” and “stick” in an aggressive way.
The study adds that the outcomes of hostile thoughts could be short-lived. If the next song’s lyrics are nonviolent or if some other nonviolent event occurs, the effects of violent lyrics will dissipate, states the paper.

Meanwhile, other types of music been been used in attempts to prevent crime, according to musicologist Lily E. Hirsch’s book “Music in American Crime Prevention and Punishment.

Hirsch wrote about how classical music was used to deter loitering in her hometown of Santa Rosa, California. In 1996, she wrote, city leaders decided to play classical music to clear young people from the city’s Old Courthouse Square. Many teens didn’t enjoy the music, according to Hirsch, and left the area, which encouraged the city to keep the background music playing.

The effectiveness of music as a crime prevention measure has to do with sound’s construction of who we are but also with who we are not, wrote Hirsch, a visiting scholar at California State University, Bakersfield. We often identify with music based on who we think we are, Hirsch told CNN in an email.

“If you see classical music as music of the fancy, white elite, you might think, ‘I am not any of those things,’ and then disassociate yourself from the music,” leading to, for example, leaving this area, she said. In this situation, people identify themselves in the negative – namely, who they are not – through certain music, Hirsch explained. People are still surprised by this usage of music, she added. But music has “always been used in a variety of ways, positive and negative,” Hirsch said.

Music can make us feel all sorts of emotions, some of which are negative, added Laurel Trainor, professor of psychology, neuroscience and behavior and director of the McMaster Institute for music and the mind.

It can “bring people together and fuel these social bonds,” this can be positive as well as negative, according to her. For example, as far back as we have records, music has been used in war, explained Trainor, because it brought people together socially.

Music has power over our feelings. No other species has evolved in such a way to ascribe meaning and create emotional responses to music as humans, she added.

Power over feelings

Everyone can relate to the experience of listening to a melancholic playlist and then not being able to escape the mood. But, according to research, even how we perceive the world around us can be influenced by music.

Researchers at the University of Groningen showed in an experiment that listening to sad or happy music can not only put people in a different mood, but also change what people notice.

In a 2011 study, 43 students listened to happy or sad music in the background as they were tasked with identifying happy and sad faces. When happy music was played participants spotted more happy faces and the opposite was true for sad music.

The researchers argue that this could be because the perceptual decision on our sensory stimuli, in the experiment’s case the face expressions, are directly influenced by our state of mind.

But if music can change our mood and perception, the question remains if that is a good thing.

Another recent study says it depends. People with clinical depression tendencies were found to feel worse after listening to sad music. On the other hand, those who didn’t have these tendencies reported feeling better after listening to sad music. It helps work through emotions and fosters connections between people, previous research said.

The study included people with and without depression and found that both groups felt better after listening to happy music.

Fact: Listening to sad music 
can be an effective way to deal with our emotions 
according to research by the Western Sydney University.

Levitin believes that “the weight of evidence is that music can help depression” because it offers people a distraction. During clinical depression, however – which is a different thing, Levitin added – the person is disengaged and might not want to engage with music.

Influencing daily tasks

Away from mood and emotions, music can also affect simple actions like how much money we spend or how productive we are, research shows.

People who dance and actively engage with music were found to be happier than others, who didn’t engage with music in that way, according to a 2017 study from Australia. The researchers interviewed 1,000 participants over the phone and looked at their subjective wellbeing scores – their individual evaluations of life satisfaction. The people who danced and attended music events had significantly higher subjective wellbeing scores than those who didn’t engage with music in these ways. People actively engaging with music in a group also had higher scores than others who enjoyed music in these ways while alone.

“At the most fundamental level,” Levitin explained that happy music tends to have an up-beat tempo “and we know neutrons fire in synchrony to the beat of the music and so happy music can actually energize you.”

But the task needs to be considered. During repetitive or boring tasks you can get drowsy and music can work as a stimuli “which allows you to do a better job.” If the task is more complex, “music is harmful” because it acts like a distraction to our concentration.

Music triggers the hormones oxytocin and serotonin, responsible for bonding, trust and intimacy, explained Levitin.

Trainor thinks that it is “part of our biological heritage” that music has not just a positive side to social bonding but also a negative one. “We need to recognize that if we want to use music in positive ways.”

By Nina Avramova, CNN     Wed February 20, 2019
This feature is part of Music and Your Mind, a series exploring how music affects your brain.
Read part 2 on healing and part 3 on torture.
source: www.cnn.com
Health-Benefits-of-music-quote

Turns Out Your Music Playlist
Really Does Affect Your Workout

Whether you prefer pop, rock or hip-hop, the kind of music on your workout playlist can make a difference.

According to a new study, high-tempo music can reduce the amount of perceived effort of a workout and help boost cardiovascular benefits more than slower tempos. The tempo of the music needs to equate to about 170 heartbeats per minute, researchers say.

The new study was published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, and researchers discovered that music can boost your mood before exercise and inspire bursts of effort, performance and endurance, all while minimizing perceptions of pain and fatigue.

“We found that listening to high-tempo music while exercising resulted in the highest heart rate and lowest perceived exertion compared with not listening to music,” study author Luca Ardigo, a professor at the University of Verona in Italy, said in a statement. “This means that the exercise seemed like less effort, but it was more beneficial in terms of enhancing physical fitness.”

The study examined 19 active women of various ages during endurance workouts under four conditions: without music, with music at 90-110 beats per minute (bpm), with music at 130-150 bpm and with music at 170-190 bpm. The study found the effects were greatest for endurance exercise, such as brisk walking, running, biking and swimming, than for high-intensity exercises such as weightlifting, jump roping, speed walking and high intensity interval training, according to CNN.

By Crystal Villarreal             The Atlanta Journal-Constitution               Wed., Feb. 5, 2020


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Conquering Emotional Blind Spots Is Challenging, But Worth It

Knowing you have them is the first step.

I’ve signed up to get emotionally attacked by my phone every day. Along with hundreds of thousands of people, I get a daily notification from the astrology app Co-Star. It sends an A.I.-generated nugget of wisdom based on what my horoscope and the message is usually ruthless.

“Who do you trust with your most intense feelings?” Co-Star asked me recently. The question stunned me so much that I had to sit down to think about it. When I could think of no one, I ended up booking my first therapist appointment in months.

“Taking the time to correct a friend’s behaviour is an act of love,” the app quipped. I realized that I was holding back from talking to an acquaintance about a hurtful remark they made because of how much I hate confrontation.

I’m no masochist and would be mortified if anyone talked to me like Co-Star does. But I won’t be deleting the app anytime soon. These regular roasts serve an important function in my life that little else can: they force me to self-reflect on my emotional blind spots that erode my relationships.

What is a blind spot?
Emotional blind spots cause life obstacles that aren’t visible to us, but are obvious to others. Maybe you never apologize authentically because accepting blame makes you feel bad. Or you could be a habitual people-pleaser, to the detriment of your stress levels. This hard-wired obliviousness is often due to our cognitive biases. Our brains are constantly filtering endless amounts of information, making them prone to decision-making shortcuts that are based on memories and emotions rather than rational thinking.

When it comes to uncomfortable situations or interactions, our cognitive biases are likely to kick in and lead to reactions that are unhealthy for us or the people we care about. But like rear-view mirrors, there are tools that can help us spot what obstructs our judgement.

Find a blind spot
Listen to how others describe you. Counsellor Kevin Beauchamp advises keeping an ear out for “the just factor:” it’s when your social circles use the word “just” before referring to you as an excuse for your behaviour.

“That’s just Paul, he gets angry … She doesn’t take feedback well, that’s just the way she is,” he gives as examples.

Mindfulness exercises can also unearth uncomfortable truths. Oprah Magazine recommends looking at patterns in bad relationships and listing what makes you unhappy in your current ones. If it seems like all your exes have the same negative quality, it might be time to question the common denominator. For example, if you blame former lovers for never knowing how you feel, it could be that you’re prone to shutting loved ones out.

Mood-tracking can also be revealing. Should certain encounters frequently make you feel unhappy or if certain statements about your life (from friends or astrology apps alike) cause you to double-take, you might be able to trace your mood to a warped line of thinking you regularly fall into.

OK, I know my personality flaw. How do I change it?
Counsellor and mental health journalist Kathleen Smith writes we should question some personal adages. These might look like:

  • I must be loved at all times.
  • I must avoid all conflict.
  • I must have control over everything.

If you find yourself agreeing with statements that support an “I must” mentality, it’s worth asking yourself why and work towards proving that statement wrong.

This can be easier said than done. But our personalities are a lot more flexible than we think.

University of Cambridge psychologist Brian R. Little studied the “personal projects” people undertake in the pursuit of changing themselves, such as getting over social anxiety by volunteering. Little found they could eventually change their personality traits permanently, as long as their project was something they really cared about.

You can do this by setting attainable goals related to your shortcomings. A 14-week long study suggests that participants who kept challenging themselves to change were more successful than those who just expressed a desire to be different.

For those who want to be less neurotic, study author and psychologist Nathan Hudson said activities like saying positive affirmations can directly intervene in one’s neurotic thought process.

Personal project ideas for common blind spots
You don’t need to step completely out of your comfort zone to change your personality. Starting small and being consistent are key steps to making progress:

Trying to be less avoidant? Send a difficult message over text, instead of saying it in-person.

Want to be less self-critical? Say three compliments every time you have a negative thought about yourself.

Quick to anger in an argument? Before replying, slow down your breathing and consider the other person’s perspective.

Trying to listen more? Pay attention to how much others speak and ask questions about what they bring up.

20 Ideas For 2020 is our month-long series that explores easy ways to take action on the ideas and changes you may have already been thinking about.
By Al Donato       01/07/2020 

2 Mindfulness Steps To Silence Your Inner Critic

Self-Care For Leaders: 2 Mindfulness Steps To Silence Your Inner Critic

“What will they think of me?,” “I’m not good enough,” “I am lazy,” “What if I fail?,” “I am overwhelmed at work.” “Everyone is more beautiful, smarter, stronger, thinner.” “I can never be a good leader.”
Our minds seem to have an infinite supply of critical comments. And those comments are hard to ignore. They distract us and they limit us and they even interfere with our ability to enjoy a peaceful sleep. To be clear, I am not talking about our ability to reflect on where we are in life, and assess our strengths and weaknesses so we can choose what we might want to change. That ability is fundamental to our growth as a human being.
The inner critic is different. It is not constructive and it does not deal with the facts. It is a story-teller. And when we feed the words of the inner critic, the story becomes a full-length feature film that keeps us frozen to the status quo. We begin to believe the criticisms. And those critical comments have the power to prevent us from following our dreams, or taking the chances needed to find happiness or love or success. They can also begin to make us feel sad or anxious.
So, how can mindfulness help?
  1. Begin by calling to mind an example of an inner critic statement. As you do so, notice if other thoughts start to pop up to enhance the statement, or if you start feeling any sensations of discomfort in your body. Are they familiar? When else do you notice those thoughts or feelings?
  2. Now see if you can meet those words and thoughts with this sentence: “This may or may not be true.” Once again pay attention to sensations and feelings that arise.
There is no need for you to try to deny the critical comment, it is enough to simply begin to generate some spaciousness around it. You are beginning to develop a different relationship to the words that pop into your head. And with that shift, some spaciousness begins to develop and some of the weightiness begins to lift. What decisions will you make now that all that chatter in your head is beginning to quiet down?
This post is the second in a series on Self Care. The first post looked at ways to get a better night’s sleep Self Care for Leaders.
Janice Marturano       Jan 7, 2020
Check out my website or some of my other work here.


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How To Ace Thanksgiving

As wine is poured and clashing     personalities take their place at the table, controversial issues can hijack conversation.

Like any holiday that brings far-flung family members into close proximity for extended periods of time, Thanksgiving can be a fraught and imperfect occasion, despite our best efforts. Old grudges simmer quietly between relatives, wine flows too quickly, extroverts dominate the room and conversations veer into dangerous political territory (Trump, Trudeau, #MeToo, climate change, and on and on). Meltdowns happen, with no child or adult spared.

This Thanksgiving, experts from various fields offer their best practices for getting through dinner unscathed – from an apology ace who walks people through testy family reunions, to a skilled debater adept at arguing without rage, to a gratitude guru on feeling this emotion more deeply, in the moment, over stuffing. Above all else, the experts remind, you’re here to share a meal, not dissect your dysfunctional family (that you can do later, at home).

THE INTROVERTS AT YOUR TABLE

Marsha Pinto, creator of Softest Voices, an organization that helps introverted youth, said people bring vastly different conversational styles to the family table. Extroverts tell stories and introverts listen; both skills are valuable.

“With this highly social holiday, remember that each person shares themselves socially in different way,” said Pinto, who is from Markham, Ont. “If not for the introverts, the extroverts would have no one to listen to them. If not for the extroverts, it would be a rather quiet Thanksgiving dinner.”

Pinto said she’s had many quieter children and teenagers write to her complaining they feel pressed by parents to speak eloquently at family gatherings. “Just because a kid is quiet, it doesn’t mean they have nothing to say or know nothing,” Pinto said. “It means they are thinking of what to say and absorbing what is said by others.”

Pinto suggested families not put introverted children on the spot in front of distant relatives; instead, engage them in one-on-one conversation away from the more boisterous group.

POLITICS OVER TURKEY

As wine is poured and clashing personalities take their place at the table, controversial issues can hijack conversation. Debra Miko, Calgary-based president of the Canadian Student Debating Federation, said the most challenging aspect of debating is understanding where others are coming from, even if you vehemently disagree with their world view. “Remember that a 25-year-old will have different values and priorities than grandma or grandpa,” Miko said.

Resist the urge to get personal. Instead, listen closely and then query, Miko said. “Be open to exploring issues rather than trying to force family and friends to agree with you. Try, ‘It’s interesting that you saw it from that perspective – not quite the way I had interpreted it. Can you elaborate?’”

If you happen to be wrong, take the high road. “It’s okay to lose an argument,” Miko said. “My son, a former high school Team Canada debating member used to tell me, ‘A loss is a learn.’”

QUELLING TABLE-SIDE ERUPTIONS

Discord is often unavoidable at sizable family gatherings, although what you do with it is up to you, according to Darcy Pennock, Edmonton-based director of Verbal Judo Canada, which provides conflict-management training for government, corporations and law-enforcement agencies.

Start by taking a breath, Pennock said. “Whether something is slowly building or appears to erupt spontaneously, take some deep yoga breaths that slow your heart rate and prevent your body from being ‘high-jacked’ by your emotions.”

Although it may seem hard to tap into in the heat of the moment, empathy is the fastest peacemaker. “Empathy is essential for absorbing tension and calming people down,” Pennock said.

He recommends modifying one’s “delivery style” so it relays compassion, not combativeness. “A concerned, listening look on your face and open, non-threatening body language sends the right message,” Pennock said. “Acknowledge their emotions with phrases such as, ‘I can see you’re frustrated.’ Follow this with open-ended questions. These techniques help us strengthen relationships during times of conflict, not destroy them.”

turkey

Pennock recalled one family gathering at which he pacified 89-year-old Grandma Betty. Pennock’s nephew was lamenting how little free time he and his wife have amid hockey practice for their two children. Grandma Betty shot back with: “You spoil your kids. We never ran around with our kids like parents do today.” Uncomfortable silence ensued, so Pennock took a deep breath and interjected, not with a rebuke but with grace. He raised his own years playing hockey as a boy: What he remembered most was Grandma Betty or his father watching from the stands. “The conversation shifted to happy hockey memories,” Pennock said, and Grandma Betty’s parenting insult was diffused.

BEYOND SORRY, NOT SORRY

Every family has its sore spots. For feuding relatives who bristle at the thought of being in close quarters this Thanksgiving, the time to try and resolve matters is now, not in real time, urged Jennifer Thomas, a psychologist who co-authored the book When Sorry Isn’t Enough: Making Things Right With Those You Love with Gary Chapman.

“Around the family meal (or even off in another room during the gathering) is not the time to hammer out situations that caused hurt feelings in the past,” Thomas said. “It’s really something that should be done a week or a month before the holiday. You’re going to be together for the whole day.”

Thomas recommended reaching out in person or over the phone; this conveys more commitment than a text or e-mail. Then, use the holiday meal as an opportunity to repair trust. “Go in with a mindset of giving compliments. Tell the host, ‘I think you’re really great at making people feel welcome. Thank you for having us over,'” Thomas said. “Offering to help out can also help rebuild relationships and show that we’re willing to roll up our shirt sleeves and make it easier for them. It also can be a way of keeping us busy so that we don’t reach for the alcohol, which can be a landmine, or get into arguments.”

THE GRATITUDE PUSH

Gratitude is the order of the day at Thanksgiving. But kitchen pandemonium, testy adults and children running underfoot can make it nearly impossible to summon authentic gratitude. Amid the chaos, rituals of giving thanks around the table can feel forced and abrupt, said Diana Butler Bass, author of the 2018 book Grateful: The Subversive Practice of Giving Thanks. “People pressure themselves by insisting that family members or guests recite what they are thankful for in advance of the meal,” Bass said. “Although well intended, it sometimes feels more like a turkey hostage situation than genuine gratitude.”

Bass offers a depressurized alternative to traditional, around-the-table thanks. “Well before you begin eating, ask guests to write what they are thankful for on slips of paper and place those slips in a ‘gratitude jar’ on the table. Throughout the meal, when conversation lags or between courses, have different people pull a slip out and read it aloud to the group,” Bass said. “It’s a nice way to keep one extroverted guest from monopolizing conversation, involve children in a gratitude practice and spread thanks across dinner.”

ZOSIA BIELSKI     OCTOBER 7, 2019
FOLLOW ZOSIA BIELSKI ON TWITTER @ZOSIABIELSKI


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15 Easy Ways To Be A Happier Person

These research-backed habits will make your life so much better.

There’s a quote from author Jaeda DeWalt that looks at joy from a different perspective: “Happiness is created and not found, it’s a state of mind and in its best form, it stands independent of life circumstances.”

Regardless of whether you buy into the idea, the maxim can assure you that acquiring at least some happiness is within your power. This means every day you can choose to do something to make yourself more joyful. And in a world where you’re dealing with devastating news, work woes, money stress, relationship struggles and more uncomfortable obstacles that are out of your control, isn’t it kind of nice to know you have a little autonomy over how you feel?

With an arsenal of simple and free techniques to lighten any situation, you’ll be better prepared to handle anything. Here are just a few ways you can make yourself happier this year (and beyond):

1. Check in with someone you love
With so many ways to connect these days, this one is simple to do ― we just often forget. Shoot a text, initiate a FaceTime or go old-fashioned and write a letter to someone who makes you smile. Research shows those who foster connections tend to lead healthier, happier lives. You might not always have time for a long catch-up over the phone, but even a simple heart emoji could do both of you some good.

2. Write down one thing you’re grateful for
Gratitude and happiness are intrinsically linked, so you might consider making gratitude journaling a habit. If journaling isn’t your thing, you can still benefit from a lower-commitment version of the practice. Try scribbling one or two things you’re grateful for on a notepad or even just jotting down a good thing that happened to you during your day. (Did you catch the train at just the right time? Did you answer the final “Jeopardy” question correctly? Did you eat a delicious meal?) This exercise will help remind you that no matter how dark you may be feeling, points of brightness exist in your life.

3. Make yourself a quick, healthy breakfast
“What we do first thing in the morning typically sets the tone for the rest of the day,” psychologist Tim Sharp previously told HuffPost. Starting the day with a nutritious, filling breakfast may very well be the thing your routine has been missing. Research suggests that eating more fruits and veggies may boost your happiness, and getting some calories in your system before you take on the world can set up your body and your brain for success.

Daunting as it may sound, prepping a morning meal for yourself is an easy task. If you haven’t yet mastered your preferred recipes, here’s a suggestion: Put some oats into a jar. Pour milk onto said oats. Refrigerate overnight. Come morning, top it with frozen or fresh fruit, peanut butter, nuts, honey or whatever you like. This fibrous number will keep you full and satisfied.

4. Forgive someone
This is a tough one, but it’d serve you well to wake up every morning with fewer grudges than you had yesterday. If you’re really struggling to let go, consider forgiveness a gift to yourself, not the person or event you’re attempting to forgive. Research has underscored the benefits of releasing resentments: The practice can improve your well-being, lower your anxiety and even strengthen your immune system.

5. Allow yourself to feel sad or angry when you need to
It sounds counterintuitive, but it works. While it’s important to let go, it’s equally important to let yourself feel what you’re feeling when the time comes. There are actually constructive ways to complain and deal with annoyances; keeping it all in may sometimes do more harm than good. One 2015 study examined the effects of letting one’s irritations fester, finding that doing so often resulted in feelings of regret. Research also shows that crying can be therapeutic.

6. Toss your negative thoughts in the garbage
If your brain continues to replay a thought that’s negative and getting in the way of your happiness, literally throw it away. Write any toxic thoughts about yourself on a piece of paper, crumple it up, then toss the paper into a garbage can. This practice has been shown to improve your feelings. It might sound a little ridiculous but give it a try — you’ve got nothing to lose but your negativity.

7. Make a point to get some fresh air
Your happiness prescription is in the clouds — you just have to go out and get it. That familiar scent of pine trees has been shown to decrease stress and help you feel relaxed, while fresh oxygen can lead to feeling energized. Ditch that stale office air, if only for a few minutes, to dose yourself with some nature.

winter_walk

8. Commit to some kind of social media detox
It’s no secret that social media can harbor toxicity. Taking a break from these platforms can be your secret weapon for fighting off the digital blues. You don’t have to fully delete your Facebook account to feel better (though if you’d like to, by all means). But if you can spend a little less time looking at random couples’ wedding photos and reading sick political burns, your brain might be able to make more room for the good stuff.

You could start by deleting certain social apps off your phone, giving yourself access only when you’re on a desktop with some time to spare. Doing so could make incessantly checking your social feeds less of a habit and more of a deliberate choice, which will give you control over these technologies, rather than the other way around. You can also try unfollowing accounts that feel a little soul-sucking and incorporating more positive ones into your feed instead.

9. Listen to a good bop
Even babies like to rock out to their favorite tunes, and studies show there’s a link between listening to music and feeling happy. Listening to music you love increases your levels of dopamine, so put on your favorite playlist and enjoy.

10. Get moving — even when it’s the last thing you feel like doing
By now it’s well-established that exercise has some undeniable, mood-boosting powers. Knowing this doesn’t mean you feel any more motivated to work out. The key here is to find an activity you don’t completely dread: maybe it’s taking a neighbor’s dog for a jog, walking a few blocks while catching up with a friend or doing YouTube workouts in your underwear. Give yourself some time to try different techniques so you can figure out kinds of movement that you love. The rest is easy.

11. Stretch
Even if you’re the kind of person who looks forward to a spin class, you might experience some off days where you just can’t bring yourself to go. Stretching is another great way to release some endorphins and get the blood flowing. Here’s permission to reap these benefits from the pillow: Check out these yoga poses you can do from the comfort of your own bed.

12. Don’t be afraid to make it known that you value your time
If you’re a people-pleaser who takes on way too much, this one’s especially for you. Give yourself the gift of turning things down more often — whether it’s a last-minute happy hour that interferes with your “you time” or a project that doesn’t fit in with the rest of your to-do list.

Experts advise that saying no more often is one of the best resolutions you can make this year. You can figure out what’s worth going to and what isn’t just by your initial, gut reaction. “If you are worrying about what is being asked of you, or you feel angry, stressed or anxious, chances are this is going to be some kind of imposition on you, or something you don’t want to do,” Rachel Tomlinson, a registered psychologist in Perth, Australia, recently told HuffPost.

Your time is just as valuable as anyone else’s, and you deserve to reclaim it.

13. Define what “self-care” means to you — then practice it
Face mask, afternoon nap, getting your nails done, watching a football game, spending time surrounded by books and quiet: Whatever it is that makes you feel good, keep it in your back pocket as a stress-busting resource.

If you’re confused about what exactly self-care means for you, know that you’re not alone. In a recent post on Instagram, Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez asked for some self-care tips from her followers, admitting she wasn’t quite sure how to go about the practice. Later, in a tweet, Ocasio-Cortez recognized that the importance of self-care is stressed differently, often depending on things like class.

The concept can be tough to unpack “for working people, immigrants, & the poor, self-care is political,” she wrote. “Not because we want it to be, but bc of the inevitable shaming of someone doing a face mask while financially stressed.” Still, Ocasio-Cortez stressed that self-care is a necessary survival tactic for all types of people, for without it, burnout is inevitable.

“I went from doing yoga and making wild rice and salmon dinners to eating fast food for dinner and falling asleep in my jeans and makeup,” she wrote. “We live in a culture where that kind of lifestyle is subtly celebrated as ‘working hard,’ but I will be the first to tell you it’s NOT CUTE and makes your life harder on the other end.”

14. Be nice to someone
Smile at a stranger, hold the door for someone a few extra feet behind you, let the grocery shopper with just a couple of items go ahead of you in line. Kindness doesn’t cost a thing, and studies show that little acts of goodness do contribute to your own well-being. And if you’re looking for some inspiration, check out these feel-good (and sometimes life-changing) stories about strangers being nice to others.

That voice inside your head can be a massive jerk, but you don’t have to let it. Research shows self-acceptance is the key to a happier life but it’s a habit we rarely practice. Squashing negative self-talk, which can be done by trying cognitive techniques on your own or with help from a professional, might be one of the best things you can do for yourself.

By Kate Bratskeir, HuffPost US       01/03/2019 
 


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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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Easy Tricks To Teach Kids How To Deal With Stress Through Mindfulness

But experts say if you want to teach your children to be mindful, you have to be mindful, too.

The back-to-school season brings its own unique stressors to just about everyone: young children starting school for the first time, older kids dealing with longer days and social pressures, teenagers who have to make decisions about their futures, and of course to parents who might also feel overwhelmed. But researchers at Vancouver’s Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre have suggested strategies to deal with back-to-school stress.

“Mindfulness” has become a bit of a buzzword recently, along the lines of “radical wellness” and “living your best life.” But beyond the context of GOOP, there’s a lot of value in the idea that we could all focus more on the present moment.

The basic tenet of mindfulness is the idea that stress and pain is often the result of thinking about past regrets or worrying about the future, and that can be combated by coming up with strategies that focus on remaining in the present moment. HuffPost Canada spoke to Dr. Dzung Vo, an adolescent medicine specialist and pediatrician at British Columbia’s Children’s Hospital, about how kids can implement those strategies.

“I define mindfulness as paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and with unconditional love,” Dr. Vo says. “It’s not meant to be something that you succeed or fail at, it’s more of an intention and an attitude that we orient ourselves to when we practice being in the present moment.”

Studies have shown that mindfulness can reduces stress and anxiety, improve attention and memory, and encourage empathy and monitor your emotions. It’s also been shown to be beneficial physically by lowering blood pressure and heart rate. And new research is currently underway to determine whether it can be a helpful tool to fight against depression.

Vo’s pediatric practice focuses primarily on teenagers, but he says there are effective strategies that can help just about every age group understand their feelings, process their reactions, and live a healthier emotional life.

Babies and toddlers
By far the most important factor in teaching very young children to be mindful is to have a parent or caregiver who is mindful themselves.

“What we know from neuroscience is that the parent’s own mental and neurologic state has a profound influence on regulating the child,” Vo told HuffPost Canada. “If the parent or caregiver can be mindful, present, attentive, and attuned with unconditional love and presence, then that will affect the child in very deep and healthy ways.”

One of the principles of mindfulness is approaching a subject with “beginner’s mind” — a sense of curiosity and presence you might use if you were trying something for the first time. This is something young children generally do anyways. “Kids are actually pretty naturally in the moment, so it’s not too hard to do,” Vo says.

Studies have shown that mindfulness can reduces stress and anxiety

School-age kids
Vo suggests adding brief mindfulness exercises into the routine of slightly older children, maybe at bedtime or when they get home from school. One idea is to get them to lie with a teddy bear on top of their belly and ask them to slowly breathe in and out, he says. Watching the teddy bear go up and down with their breath will put them in tune with their bodies, and put them in a state of calm.

Another useful activity can be to sing songs with lyrics that remind kids to think about where they are and how they feel — he suggests “Planting Seeds” by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. “As kids go through their day, when they need a mindful moment, they just sing the song,” he says. “Singing it actually is a practice, because it cultivates that mindful attitude.”

Crafts and artwork, approached with the “beginner’s mind,” are another helpful way to practice mindfulness. Vo suggests gently guiding children to be curious and really focus on their surroundings and what they might be engaging in.

“Maybe they’re drawing a flower in front of them,” he says. “Encourage the child to really pay attention to it by asking them: What are you seeing there? What are you noticing? What are the colours? What are the shapes?”

It isn’t particularly important that children understand the idea of mindfulness, he says.

“It’s more important to have experiences than to talk too much about the concepts.” And again, he stresses that the most important way to teach mindfulness to kids is the mindful presence of the parent or caregiver.

Teenagers
In his sessions with teens, Vo will often get them to try out their “beginner’s mind” by slowly eating one single raisin. “That might seem very simple and boring, but when you bring curious attention to it, you find experiences that seem tedious or boring may be quite interesting, or quite relaxing, or quite enjoyable in ways that we hadn’t considered when we go through them in autopilot mode.”

Many teenagers will bring what Vo calls “informal meditation” to a wide variety of day-to-day activities: breathing deeply and considering their senses while walking the dog, or waiting for the bus, or washing dishes. It can particularly help before a stressful situation at school — right before writing an exam, for instance.

There isn’t a lot of research on the benefits of mindfulness for teens, but Vo says that he believes that’s the time of life when those practices would be most beneficial.

Studies of adults have demonstrated that mindful practices can actually change the parts of the brain linked to memory, self-image, and emotional regulation. Because adolescent brains are changing quickly and profoundly, Vo says he thinks the effects would be even more significant. One of the biggest adolescent brain changes involves the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for emotional regulation and executive functioning, which develops throughout the teenage years up until the early 20s. It develops through focused attention and concentration, he says, which suggests that the more that they use these neurologic pathways to help regulate their brains, the stronger those connections will get.

By Maija Kappler                 08/22/2018


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The Benefits of Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude

We shortchange our well-being by reserving this resource just for Thanksgiving.

“When I look back on the suffering in my life, this may sound really strange, but I see it now as a gift. I would have never asked for it for a second. I hated it while it was happening and I protested as loudly as I could, but suffering happened anyway. Now, in retrospect I see the way in which it deepened my being immeasurably.” ~Ram Dass

It’s that time of year. In addition to providing an opportunity to gather with family and friends to gorge ourselves on food and football, Thanksgiving is an annual culturally compelled celebration of our various blessings—a specific occasion to “give thanks.” As meaningful as this holiday can be and as helpful as it is to have structured encouragement to express gratitude, once a year is quite simply not enough. The bio-psycho-social-spiritual benefits of gratitude are myriad. Cultivating conscious contact with gratitude is a skill, and we can profit immensely by learning and practicing it.

Gratitude is about feeling and expressing appreciation: for all we’ve received, all that we have (however little it may be), and for all that has not befallen us. It functions as an antidote for attachment to what we want but don’t have and aversion to what we have but don’t want. Gratitude is the opposite of being discontented.

It’s valuable to be aware that nearly all experiences have both “positive” and “negative” aspects. Consistent with the above quote from Ram Dass, even circumstances that are brutally physically and/or emotionally painful, often contain considerable psycho-spiritual blessings in the forms of learning, growth, and healing. Sometimes we have to work harder to locate the positive and unearth its gifts (and sometimes these become manifest only in retrospect)—but if we make the time and invest the energy to look closely and search consciously, we will find them. There is always something to be grateful for, no matter how negative or desperate things may seem.

Gratitude changes perspective—it can sweep away most of the petty, day-to-day annoyances on which we focus so much of our attention—the “small stuff” situations that bring up feelings of impatience, intolerance, negative judgment, indignation, anger, or resentment. Gratitude is a vehicle to diffuse self-pity and self-centeredness, increase feelings of well-being, and prompt mindful awareness of that which is beyond oneself—of belonging to a greater whole, and of connection to others, as well as to the world.

gratitude

Over the past decade, numerous scientific studies have documented a wide range of benefits that come with gratitude. These are available to anyone who practices being grateful, even in the midst of adversity, such as elderly people confronting death, those with cancer, people with chronic illness or chronic pain, and those in recovery from addiction. Research-based reasons for practicing gratitude include:

•    Gratitude facilitates contentment. Practicing gratitude is one of the most reliable methods for increasing contentment and life satisfaction. It also improves mood by enhancing feelings of optimism, joy, pleasure, enthusiasm, and other positive emotions. Conversely, gratitude also reduces anxiety and depression.

•    Gratitude promotes physical health. Studies suggest gratitude helps to lower blood pressure, strengthen the immune system, reduce symptoms of illness, and make us less bothered by aches and pains.

•    Gratitude enhances sleep. Grateful people tend to get more sleep each night, spend less time awake before falling asleep, and feel more rested upon awakening. If you want to sleep more soundly, instead of counting sheep count your blessings.

•    Gratitude strengthens relationships. It makes us feel closer and more connected to friends and intimate partners. When partners feel and express gratitude for each other, they each become more satisfied with their relationship.

•    Gratitude encourages “paying it forward.” Grateful people are generally more helpful, generous of spirit, and compassionate. These qualities often spill over onto others.

Two specific ways you can practice the skill of being grateful are by writing gratitude letters and making gratitude lists. A gratitude letter is one you write to someone in your life to express appreciation for ways they have helped you and/or been there for you. Gratitude letters can be about events that have happened in the past or are happening in the present, and often help to strengthen or repair relationships. A gratitude list consists of writing down 3 – 5 things for which you’re grateful every day, each week, at other intervals, or under situation-specific circumstances.

You can test the effectiveness of these methods by tuning in to your current emotion(s), mood, and attitude. Once you’ve done that, take a few minutes and identify 3 things or people that you are grateful for and briefly describe to yourself or in writing the reason(s) for your gratitude. Then notice how the way you feel has shifted after doing this simple brief exercise.

For five years during the 1990s, I was the clinical director of a hospital-based addiction treatment program outside of New York City. I worked closely with the program’s medical director, a psychiatrist who was in recovery for many years through a twelve-step program.

At a conference on addiction he gave a talk that focused on his personal recovery experience. During a powerful and moving presentation, he described being grateful that he was an addict. He went on to say that, in contrast to most people who operate more or less on automatic pilot and effectively sleepwalk through life, embarking on a process of recovery had given him the awareness to live life much more intentionally. As a result, he took little for granted and appreciated much. Although his reasoning made sense, it was difficult for me to comprehend the idea of having such profound gratitude for an experience that involved so much suffering . . . until I found my way to my own recovery.

There are no guarantees of anything and we can take nothing for granted in this life. Every day is a gift; every breath is a gift. What we do with them is a choice.

by Dan Mager, MSW       Nov 18, 2014
Dan Mager, MSW is the author of
Some Assembly Required: A Balanced Approach to Recovery from Addiction and Chronic Pain.
He received his MSW from Hunter College.
In Print:  Some Assembly Required: A Balanced Approach to Recovery from Addiction and Chronic Pain