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Poor Sleep Linked to Weight Gain

in 2-year smartphone sleep tracking study
 
Not sleeping enough or getting a bad night’s sleep over and over makes it hard to control your appetite. And that sets you up for all sorts of health problems, including obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes.
The link between poor sleep and a greater body mass index (BMI) has been shown in study after study, but researchers typically relied on the memories of the participants to record how well they slept.
Sleep apps on fitness trackers, smartphones and watches have changed all that. In a new study, published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers tracked sleep quality for 120,000 people for up to two years.
The results showed sleep durations and patterns are highly variable between people. Despite that, the study found people with BMIs of 30 or above – which is considered obese by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – had slightly shorter mean sleep durations and more variable sleep patterns.
It didn’t take much less sleep to see the effect. People with BMIs over 30 only slept about 15 minutes less than their less weighty counterparts.
There were some limitations to the study. Naps were excluded, other health conditions could not be factored in, and people who use wearable tracking devices are typically younger, healthier and from a higher socioeconomic status than those who do not wear trackers.
“These are quite pricey devices, and remember, they are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration,” said sleep specialist Dr. Raj Dasgupta, the associate program director of the Sleep Medicine Fellowship at Keck Medicine of the University of Southern California.
“The results would need to be validated by the appropriate FDA-approved devices, and because the study is likely on younger people who are more economically well off, does that really apply to older folks we worry about with poor sleep?” said Dasgupta, who was not involved in the study.
However, Dasgupta added, a major plus for the study is that it did monitor people for over two years, and the results corroborated prior research and were “not surprising.”
“While we cannot determine the direction of association from our study result, these findings provide further support to the notion that sleep patterns are associated with weight management and overall health,” the authors wrote.
“The findings also support the potential value of including both sleep duration and individual sleep patterns when studying sleep-related health outcomes.”

LINK BETWEEN SLEEP AND EATING

There is a scientific reason why a lack of sleep is linked to appetite. When you’re sleep deprived, research has shown, levels of a hormone called ghrelin spike while another hormone, leptin, takes a nosedive. The result is an increase in hunger.
“The ‘l’ in leptin stands for lose: It suppresses appetite and therefore contributes to weight loss,” he said. “The ‘g’ in ghrelin stands for gain: This fast-acting hormone increases hunger and leads to weight gain,” Dasgupta said.
Another reason we gain weight is due to an ancient body system called the endocannabinoid system. Endocannabinoids bind to the same receptors as the active ingredient in marijuana, which as we know, often triggers the “munchies.”
“When you’re sleep deprived, you’re not like, ‘Oh, you know what, I want some carrots,'” said behavioural neuroscientist Erin Hanlon, who studies the connection between brain systems and behavior at the University of Chicago, in a prior CNN interview.
“You’re craving sweets and salty and starchy things,” she added. “You want those chips, you want a cookie, you want some candy, you know?”
A 2016 study by Hanlon compared the circulating levels of 2-AG, one of the most abundant endocannabinoids, in people who got four nights of normal sleep (more than eight hours) to people who only got 4.5 hours.
People who were sleep-deprived reported greater increases in hunger and appetite and had higher afternoon concentrations of 2-AG than those who slept well. The sleep-deprived participants also had a rough time controlling their urges for high-carb, high-calorie snacks.

GET BETTER SLEEP

Want more control over your appetite? Depending on your age, you are supposed to get between seven and 10 hours of sleep each night.
Getting less has been linked in studies to high blood pressure, a weakened immune system, weight gain, a lack of libido, mood swings, paranoia, depression and a higher risk of diabetes, stroke, cardiovascular disease, dementia and some cancers.
So sleep a full seven to 10 hours a night, stick to a regular bedtime and get up the same time very day, even on weekends, experts advise.
Adding exercise to your daily routine is a great way to improve your sleep and improve your health. After finishing one 30-minute physical activity, you’ll have less anxiety, lower blood pressure, more sensitivity to insulin and you’ll sleep better that night.
You can also train your brain to get more restful sleep with a few key steps:
  •  During the day, try to get good exposure to natural light, as that will help regulate your circadian rhythm.
  •  Avoid stimulants (coffee, tea) after 3 p.m. and fatty foods before bedtime.
  •  Establish a bedtime routine you can follow each night. Taking a warm bath or shower, reading a book, listening to soothing music, meditating or doing light stretches are all good options.
  •  Make sure your bed and pillows are comfortable and the room is cool: Between 60 and 67 degrees is best. Don’t watch TV or work in your bedroom; you want your brain to think of the room as only for sleep.
  •  Eliminate all lights – even the blue light of cellphones or laptops can be disruptive. Dull sounds, too. Earplugs or white noise machines can be very helpful, but you can create your own with a humidifier or fan.
Sandee LaMotte      CNN     Monday, September 14, 2020
sleep

 

10 Ways Sleep Can Change Your Life

What if someone told you there was a magic potion by which you could prevent disease, improve your intellect, reduce your stress and be nicer to your family while you’re all cooped up together during the pandemic?
It sounds too good to be true, as if solving those problems would really require dietary supplements, workout programs, diets, meditation and a separate room to cry alone.
It turns out that sleep, according to numerous studies, is the answer. It’s the preventive medicine for conditions related to our physical, mental and emotional health. And despite how important sleep is, it can be difficult to make it a priority.
“During a pandemic such as Covid-19, there’s a potential to induce or exacerbate many sleep issues,” Dr. Matthew Schmitt, a doctor of sleep medicine at Piedmont Healthcare in Georgia, told CNN.
“A lack of quality sleep not only affects how we feel during the daytime, but can also impair our immune system function, which is vital in protecting us from common viral illnesses.”
A sleep routine is just one of the behaviors that is part of sleep hygiene, a buffet of efforts needed to sleep well that include eating healthy meals at regular times and not drinking too much coffee, said Dr. Meir Kryger, a professor of pulmonary medicine and a clinical professor of nursing at Yale School of Medicine in Connecticut.
“All of these things are really interconnected in terms of their function. All of them are connected to the body clock,” Kryger said. “The body is like an orchestra where there’s an orchestra leader that’s sort of the main timer, but everybody else is playing it together and they’re optimizing what they are doing.”
Once you’ve developed your sleep routine,
here are 10 benefits you could gain from the regimen.
1. Helps your body heal and repair itself
Our nightly shut-eye is our bodies’ time for healing and repairing itself from performing its taxing daily functions.
“Imagine you’re a car or something that’s running for 16 hours during the day,” Kryger said. “You’re going to have to do stuff to get back to normal. You just can’t keep on running.”
During sleep is when we produce most of our growth hormone that ultimately results in bone growth. Our tissues rest, relaxing our muscles and reducing inflammation. And each cell and organ have their own clock that “plays a really important role in maximizing or optimizing how our body works,” Kryger added.
2. Lowers risk for disease
Sleep on its own is a protective factor against disease.
When people get too much or too little sleep, “there appears to be an increased risk of deaths … and other diseases raising their ugly heads,” Kryger said, such as heart problems and diabetes. The healing period during sleep also factors in, as it allows cells that would cause disease to repair themselves.
3. Improves cognitive function
Sleep feeds our creativity and cognitive function, which describes our mental abilities to learn, think, reason, remember, problem solve, make decisions and pay attention.
“As you sleep, memories are reactivated, connections between brain cells are strengthened, and information is transferred from short- to long-term,” said a National Sleep Foundation article on the subject. “Without enough quality sleep, we become forgetful.”
4. Reduces stress
Slumber of great quantity and quality can enhance your mood and also encourage the brain’s ability to regulate emotional responses to both neutral and emotional events.
5. Helps maintain a healthy weight
Getting your beauty sleep can help you to maintain a healthy weight or increase your chances of losing excess fat.
Two hormones control our urge to eat: leptin and ghrelin. Leptin tells us that we’re full, while ghrelin communicates hunger.
When we don’t sleep enough, both hormones veer in the wrong direction, Kryger said — ghrelin spikes while leptin declines, resulting in an increase in hunger and the potential to overeat and gain weight.
Sleep helps our bodies to maintain normal levels of the stress hormone cortisol as well, which determines how we hang on to excess fat.
6. Bolsters your immune system
Kryger has seen the immune systems of patients with sleep disorders fail to normally function. Sleep helps our bodies to produce and release cytokines, a type of protein that helps create an immune response by targeting infection and inflammation.
Additionally, “research done actually years ago showed that when people are sleep deprived, they do not have as vigorous a response to vaccination,” Kryger added.
“As we’re thinking about vaccination that’s being developed” for Covid-19, that kind of research is going to be important.
7. May improve your social life
The emotional benefits of sleep can transfer over into your social life. “Just imagine you don’t sleep enough and you’re cranky,” Kryger said. “Who’s going to want to be around you? Another part of it is being cognitively sharp.”
Adequate sleep can help you to be more confident, be more easygoing and support your efforts to do your part at home, he added.
8. Supports your mental health
Mental health disorders are often associated with substandard sleep and a sleep deficit can lead to depressive symptoms even if the person doesn’t have the chronic disorder, Kryger said.
“Getting the right amount of sleep is really important in possibly preventing a mental illness or the appearance of a mental illness,” he added. And in addition to the benefits for mood and stress regulation, sleeping enough “may make the treatment of the mental illnesses more efficacious if the person sleeps enough.”
9. Reduces pain sensitivity
Extending participants’ sleep time during the night or with midday naps, a 2019 study found, restored their pain sensitivity to normal levels in comparison to sleep-deprived individuals, who had a lower threshold for pain.
How this happens would have to be in the realm of perception, Kryger said, which ultimately traces back to the brain. “The brain is where sleep is,” he explained.
10. Increases your likelihood for overall success
Since sleep can improve our health on all fronts, it consequently can help us be the best versions of ourselves. Healthy cognitive functioning, emotional regulation, coping and social life are all foundational to pursuing and achieving our goals and overall well-being.
By Kristen Rogers, CNN       Tue August 4, 2020
source: www.cnn.com
sleep_snooze

 

People React Better to Both Negative and Positive Events
With More Sleep

Summary:
New research finds that after a night of shorter sleep, people react more emotionally to stressful events the next day — and they don’t find as much joy in the good things. This has important health implications: previous research shows that being unable to maintain positive emotions in the face of stress puts people at risk of inflammation and even an earlier death.
FULL STORY
New research from UBC finds that after a night of shorter sleep, people react more emotionally to stressful events the next day – and they don’t find as much joy in the good things. The study, led by health psychologist Nancy Sin, looks at how sleep affects our reaction to both stressful and positive events in daily life.
“When people experience something positive, such as getting a hug or spending time in nature, they typically feel happier that day,” says Nancy Sin, assistant professor in UBC’s department of psychology. “But we found that when a person sleeps less than their usual amount, they don’t have as much of a boost in positive emotions from their positive events.”
People also reported a number of stressful events in their daily lives, including arguments, social tensions, work and family stress, and being discriminated against. When people slept less than usual, they responded to these stressful events with a greater loss of positive emotions. This has important health implications: previous research by Sin and others shows that being unable to maintain positive emotions in the face of stress puts people at risk of inflammation and even an earlier death.
Using daily diary data from a national U.S. sample of almost 2,000 people, Sin analyzed sleep duration and how people responded to negative and positive situations the next day. The participants reported on their experiences and the amount of sleep they had the previous night in daily telephone interviews over eight days.
“The recommended guideline for a good night’s sleep is at least seven hours, yet one in three adults don’t meet this standard,” says Sin. “A large body of research has shown that inadequate sleep increases the risk for mental disorders, chronic health conditions, and premature death. My study adds to this evidence by showing that even minor night-to-night fluctuations in sleep duration can have consequences in how people respond to events in their daily lives.”
Chronic health conditions – such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer – are prevalent among adults, especially as we grow older. Past research suggests that people with health conditions are more reactive when faced with stressful situations, possibly due to wear-and-tear of the physiological stress systems.
“We were also interested in whether adults with chronic health conditions might gain an even larger benefit from sleep than healthy adults,” says Sin. “For those with chronic health conditions, we found that longer sleep – compared to one’s usual sleep duration – led to better responses to positive experiences on the following day.”
Sin hopes that by making sleep a priority, people can have a better quality of life and protect their long-term health.
Journal Reference:
Nancy L. Sin, Jin H. Wen, Patrick Klaiber, Orfeu M. Buxton, David M. Almeida. Sleep duration and affective reactivity to stressors and positive events in daily life.. Health Psychology, 2020; DOI: 10.1037/hea0001033
University of British Columbia. “People react better to both negative and positive events with more sleep.”  ScienceDaily, 15 September 2020
Materials provided by University of British Columbia. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.  September 15, 2020
 


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Using Food To Ward Off Anxiety

It’s normal to feel anxious or worried from time to time. Work deadlines, writing an exam or giving a presentation, for example, can trigger short-lived anxiety.

People with an anxiety disorder, however, experience persistent and intense anxiety, worry or fear that’s out of proportion to everyday occurrences. Symptoms interfere with daily life, impacting thoughts, emotions, behaviour and physical health. Anxiety disorders include panic disorder, phobias, social anxiety disorder and generalized anxiety disorder (excessive worry about ordinary, everyday situations). Anxiety often goes hand in hand with depression.

Growing scientific evidence suggests that the foods we eat – and the ones that we don’t – play a role in developing and treating anxiety.

The diet-anxiety connection

Components in whole foods can influence mood in a number of ways. Some nutrients are used to synthesize brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) that regulate emotions, while others impact how the brain responds to stress.

An imbalance of omega-3 fats, which are essential for the integrity of brain cell membranes, may alter how brain cells communicate with one another. Certain nutrients may also dampen inflammation in the brain.

While diet can’t cure anxiety – nor can it take the place of medication – research suggests that the following strategies may help reduce symptoms.

Follow a healthy dietary pattern. Studies conducted in many different countries have found that healthy traditional diet patterns, including the Mediterranean diet and vegetarian diets, are associated with a lower risk of anxiety disorders.

In general, eating a diet that’s low in added sugars and emphasizes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, nuts and beans and lentils guards against anxiety. In contrast, a “Western-style” diet consisting of refined grains, highly processed foods and sugary foods increases the risk.

Include omega-3′s, fatty fish. Observational studies have linked a higher intake of oily fish and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish, to a lower risk of anxiety disorders in children, adults and pregnant women.

A randomized controlled trial published in 2013 found that medical students who received omega-3 supplements (2.5 grams a day) experienced a 20-per-cent reduction in anxiety compared with the placebo group. They also had lower blood levels of stress-induced inflammatory proteins.

Salmon, trout, sardines, herring, mackerel and anchovies are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids; these fish are also low in mercury. Include them in your diet at least twice a week. DHA supplements made from algae are available for people who eat a vegetarian diet.

Try fermented foods. Preliminary evidence suggests that a regular intake of fermented foods, a source of probiotic bacteria, may reduce the risk of social anxiety in women. Fermented foods include kefir, kombucha, kimchi, unpasteurized sauerkraut and yogurt.

Probiotics may also help ease anxiety symptoms. A review of 10 randomized controlled trials, published in 2017, concluded that probiotic supplements significantly improved anxiety. However, the strain of probiotic, the dose and the duration of treatment varied widely across studies.

Once consumed, probiotic bacteria take up residence in the gut, where they help to maintain a strong intestinal barrier. When the lining of the gut becomes more permeable than normal, toxins can escape into the bloodstream, triggering an inflammatory response that may interfere with neurotransmitters.

It’s also thought that probiotics in the gut increase the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates stress and emotions.

Increase magnesium, zinc. Findings from a number of studies have shown that a deficiency of these two minerals, needed for healthy brain cells, can lead to anxiety.

Excellent sources of magnesium include oat bran, brown rice, quinoa, spinach, Swiss chard, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds, cashews, black beans, lentils, tofu and edamame.

You’ll find zinc in oysters, beef, crab, pork, chicken, pumpkin seeds, cashews, chickpeas, yogurt, milk and fortified breakfast cereals.

Avoid triggers. Eat at regular intervals during the day to prevent low blood sugar, which could precipitate feelings of anxiety. Limit or avoid caffeine and alcohol, which can also make you feel jittery and nervous.

Drink water throughout the day to prevent becoming dehydrated; even mild dehydration can worsen your mood.

LESLIE BECK         THE GLOBE AND MAIL         August 23, 2020

Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based private practice dietitian, is Director of Food and Nutrition at Medcan.

source: www.theglobeandmail.com

salmon

 

9 Foods That Calm Anxiety
(and 3 That Make It Worse)

Scientists are just beginning to recognize the connection between food and our brain. Eat these nutrients for a wave of calming feelings that keep worry away.

Omega-3 fatty acids make your brain happy

Doctors often know how to calm anxiety, or treat it, with therapy and medications, but the answer to calming the condition could be hiding in plain sight: the foods we eat. Doctors and nutritionists are starting to understand more about how certain nutrients, or lack of them, affect the brain. “Our brain has very high energy and nutrient requirements,” says clinical nutritionist and health coach Melissa Reagan Brunetti, CNC. “Nutritional deficiencies and dietary patterns can affect its function, and alter brain chemistry and the formulation of neurotransmitters—chemicals in the brain that can stimulate and calm.” These neurotransmitters influence our mood as well as our appetite, she says. A study from Ohio State University showed one nutrient that’s especially good for reducing anxious symptoms is omega 3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish like wild salmon, flaxseed, walnuts, and chia seeds. “Our brains need fat from dietary sources to function properly,” Brunetti says. “If you are not eating a sufficient amount of beneficial fats, your brain will suffer.”

Probiotics are good for the gut

Surprisingly, another calming food source is probiotics. “Your gut bacteria is needed for production of neurotransmitters, including serotonin, dopamine, and GABA [gamma-aminobutyric acid], which all play a role in mood,” Brunetti says. “The microbiome [gut bacteria] has a direct link to the brain and the immune system, so restoring balance in the gut of good and bad bacteria through use of probiotics can benefit the brain.” Recent research has found that probiotics may actually work to treat, or even prevent, anxious feelings. You can either take a probiotic supplement or eat foods that have been fermented, a process which encourages good bacteria to grow, and has been shown in studies as a way how to calm anxiety. “I like to see patients eat more fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, and kefir, as the kinds of bacteria in your gut influence anxiety,” says Drew Ramsey, MD, a psychiatrist who specializes in using dietary changes to help balance moods, and author of Eat Complete. Another fermented food you probably already have in your fridge? Pickles!

Caffeine makes you anxious

Although some of us feel like we’re miserable until we’ve had our morning cup of java, coffee and other caffeinated foods and drinks actually worsen anxious feelings. Because it’s a stimulant for the nervous system, it increases heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. According to the University of Michigan, coffee can lead to symptoms of worrying like nervousness, sweating, and shaking. A study from Brazil found that caffeine actually induced panic attacks in people with an anxious disorder. Another study, from Wake Forest University, found that caffeine reduced blood flow to the brain by 27 percent. Not to mention that it can mess with sleep, which is essential for brain health. “Limiting caffeine intake can help quell inflammation and contribute to improved brain function,” Brunetti says. Likewise, Dr. Ramsey suggests avoiding energy drinks with caffeine, as well as indulging in too much dark chocolate (stick to one or two squares a day).

Water keeps everything flowing smoothly

How to calm anxiety in one step? Drink good old fashioned water. “Staying hydrated with clean water is very important,” Brunetti says. A study from the University of Connecticut showed that even mild dehydration can cause mood problems. According to the study’s author, Lawrence E. Armstrong, PhD, by the time you feel thirsty it’s too late. “Our thirst sensation doesn’t really appear until we are one or two percent dehydrated,” he says. “By then dehydration is already setting in and starting to impact how our mind and body perform.” The connection behind dehydration and anxious symptoms is not totally known; but the UConn study authors think it may be part of an ancient warning system alerting us to find water for survival. So, you should be sure to consume water throughout the day.

Stay away from refined sugar and processed foods

Sweets and processed foods all are, not surprisingly, bad for your mental health. Sugar and refined carbs cause a spike in blood sugar followed by a sudden drop. A study from Columbia University found that the more refined carbs and sugar women ate, the higher their risk for mood changes and depression. Another study, from the United Kingdom, found that eating processed meat and fried foods had similar responses, possibly because of the link with heart disease and inflammation, which are also associated with mental health problems. “Skip highly processed foods, as these are mainly simple sugars and vegetable oils,” Dr. Ramsey suggests. Instead, try eating more complex carbs like whole grains, which were linked to fewer mental health issues in the Columbia study.

Alcohol brings you down

Alcohol is a depressant but it can also worsen anxiety symptoms. And unfortunately, the two often go hand-in-hand—in a study that took place over 14 years, researchers found that people with social anxiety disorder (SAD) were 4.5 times more likely to develop alcohol dependence. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America says that 20 percent of people with SAD also suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence. Drinking can seem like a good way to calm your nerves, but in reality, it causes spikes and dips in blood sugar, dehydrates you, and causes impaired brain function—all of which can lead to anxious feelings, which then make you want to drink more, creating a vicious cycle. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, drinking a lot can cause changes in the brain’s neurotransmitters that may induce these symptoms. For this reason, Brunetti says it’s best to reduce or eliminate alcohol.

Load up on antioxidants

Here’s another reason antioxidants are superfoods: They can help quell anxious moods. “Antioxidants protect the brain against oxidative stress [free radicals],” Brunetti says. “Oxidative stress leads to inflammation, which can impair neurotransmitter production.” Research by the State University of New York found that anxious symptoms are linked with a lower antioxidant state, and that antioxidants could actually help treat mood issues as well. So which nutrients are antioxidants, and which foods contain them? “Diets rich in beta-carotene like carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, spinach, and kale; vitamin C like citrus fruits, red peppers, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and strawberries; and vitamin E like almonds, avocado, spinach, sunflower seeds, spinach, and sweet potatoes, are essential for supporting optimal brain function,” Brunetti says. Another powerful antioxidant Brunetti says is shown to combat anxious feelings is the trace mineral selenium, found in Brazil nuts, halibut, grass-fed beef, turkey, chicken, and eggs. Also, studies have shown that upping your zinc, which has antioxidant properties, leads to fewer anxious feelings. Cashews are a great source of zinc.

Magnesium is calming

Another nutrient that might stave off anxious symptoms is magnesium. “Magnesium is a calming mineral that has been found to induce relaxation,” Brunetti says. In an Austrian study with mice, diets low in magnesium increased anxious behaviors. Research has shown that magnesium may also help treat mental health issues in humans. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, inadequate magnesium reduces levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, and antidepressants have been shown to increase magnesium in the brain—evidence of a positive link. “Magnesium can act at the blood brain barrier to prevent the entrance of stress hormones into the brain,” psychiatrist Emily Deans, MD, writes on Psychology Today. “All these reasons are why I call magnesium ‘the original chill pill.’” Dr. Ramsey suggests eating eggs and greens, like spinach and Swiss chard, for magnesium. Other sources include legumes, nuts, seeds, and avocado.

Try tryptophan

We usually think of tryptophan as the nutrient in turkey that puts us to sleep after Thanksgiving—and in fact, tryptophan is an amino acid that the body needs to produce the neurotransmitter serotonin, which helps regulate sleep and moods. According to the University of Michigan, tryptophan may help reduce anxious feelings. In one small study, participants who ate a food bar rich in tryptophan reported fewer symptoms than those who ate a bar without tryptophan. More research is needed, but it seems likely that there is a connection. Tryptophan is in most protein-rich foods like turkey and other meats, nuts, seeds, beans, and eggs. (Incidentally, protein is also important for the production on the neurotransmitter dopamine, which can benefit mood as well.)

B vitamins bump up good feelings

Harvard Medical School advises eating foods rich in B vitamins, like beef, avocado, and almonds, to help ward off anxious feelings. “B vitamins have positive effects on the nervous system, and deficiencies have been linked to anxious disorders,” Brunetti says. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, vitamin B6 helps the body make several neurotransmitters, including serotonin, which influence mood. A study from Australia found that stressed-out workers who were given a high dose of B vitamins felt less strained and in a better mood after 12 weeks. Another study, from the University of Miami, found that depressed adults who took a vitamin B complex had fewer depressive and anxious symptoms after two months. “Another nutrient that seems to matter is choline, found in eggs, which is a cousin of B vitamins,” Dr. Ramsey says. More research is needed, but these results are promising.

Cozy up with herbal teas

So you might not want to indulge in too much coffee, but you can relax with a mug of herbal tea in order to feel less anxious. “Great options for herbal teas are chamomile, skullcap, and kava kava to start,” Dr. Ramsey says. A study from the University of Pennsylvania found that participants who took chamomile for eight weeks experienced fewer anxious symptoms than those that didn’t. However, be aware that kava can interact with anti-anxiety and antidepressant meds, so talk to your doctor first if you’re on them. Plus, it’s so relaxing that high doses of it could impair your ability to drive, according to one study. If you’re using herbs for anxiety, steer clear of ones that are stimulating, such as ginseng, cautions Dr. Ramsey, because they might actually make anxious feelings worse.

It’s not just what you eat, but how

How to calm anxiety? Pay attention to how and when you eat. Bad habits can have a negative effect on anxious moods, which “get worse when people have low blood sugar,” Dr. Ramsey says. “A simple step people often forget is to eat regularly.” Brunetti says if low blood sugar is an issue for you (in other words, if you get “hangry”), eating smaller, frequent meals throughout the day can help. According to Harvard Medical School, there is evidence that our Western diet, with its focus on refined carbs and processed foods, might not be great for anxious moods; instead, Mediterranean or Japanese diets, which include a lot of veggies and fish, may be the way to go. But, be careful of fad diets that eliminate entire food groups. “Diets that are too low in [complex] carbohydrates can also be detrimental” for anxious feelings, Brunetti says. “Include a variety of foods in your diet to ensure you are getting a wide range of nutrients needed to calm the mind.”

Tina Donvito      November 21, 2018

source: www.rd.com


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7 Elements of Wisdom That Can Make You Happier as You Age

Despite aches and pains, the wisdom that comes with age can make you happier.

Despite more physical aches and pains as we age—the ‘paradox of aging’ suggests that older people are generally more comfortable in their own skin, feel better about themselves, and grow happier in their lives year after year…decade after decade.

Nora Ephron once said, “Looking back, it seems to me that I was clueless until I was about 50 years old.” As someone who just entered my sixth decade of life, I concur. The inherent wisdom that comes from life experience makes it easier to cope with the pitfalls of aging. Empirical evidence also suggests that lots of people get happier as they get older.

A new study by age researchers at the University of California, San Diego, reports that despite having more physical ailments, older adults living in southern California tend to be happier and have markedly better mental health than their younger counterparts.

The August 2016 study, “Paradoxical Trend for Improvement in Mental Health With Aging,” appears in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

For this study, senior author Dilip Jeste, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences and director of the Center on Healthy Aging at UC San Diego, and colleagues collected data via phone interviews on the physical health, cognitive function, and other measures of mental health in 1,546 adults, ages 21 to 100 years living in San Diego county.

Jeste emphasizes that this study wasn’t restricted to psychological well-being, but included other markers of mental health. One caveat about this demographic—and the cross-sectional method of collecting information—is that these findings only provide a snapshot of a limited geographic area at one-moment-in-time and are not longitudinal.

The Wisdom of Aging Facilitates an Upward Spiral of Psychological Well-Being
The researchers found a substantial improvement to psychological well-being among older adults that followed a linear trajectory—which improved year after year once people got over the hump of the colloquial “midlife crisis.” The linear nature of the findings surprised the researchers. In fact, the oldest cohort in this study had mental health scores significantly better than the youngest cohort.

Across the board, the participants in their 20s and 30s reported higher levels of perceived stress and symptoms of depression and anxiety. Alarmingly, this period of early midlife was associated with far worse levels of psychological well-being than any other period of adulthood, which is cause for concern.

These findings turn conventional notions of aging upside down. Aging in the 21st century doesn’t appear to be an unavoidable process of physical and cognitive decline. In a statement, Jeste said, “Some cognitive decline over time is inevitable, but its effect is clearly not uniform and in many people, not clinically significant—at least in terms of impacting their sense of well-being and enjoyment of life.”

In terms of causation, the specific reasons for improved positive mental health in old age are difficult to pin down. That said, below are seven elements of wisdom that I’ve found make people happier as they age based on empirical evidence and life experience.

7 Elements of Wisdom for Aging Gracefully by Bergland

  • Stop holding grudges against yourself and others.
  • Embrace who you are, warts and all.
  • Vocalize your imperfections shamelessly.
  • Practice conscientious emotional regulation.
  • Stay even-keel via equanimity.
  • Apologize wholeheartedly for any wrong-doing.
  • Move on! Let go of negative emotions and regrets.

As we age, many people inherently learn the above elements of wisdom through life experience. That said, over the years I’ve found that having an itemized punch list of target mindsets and behaviors makes it easier to expedite your learning curve.

Conclusion: It Really Is “Getting So Much Better (All the Time)”
From a public health perspective, Jeste is concerned that the rates of psychological distress and mental illness in young people are rising at an alarming rate. Also, other studies have shown that mortality rates among specific middle-aged groups have skyrocketed in the past ten years. In a statement, Jeste concluded,

“Inadequate attention has been paid to mental health issues that continue or get exacerbated post-adolescence. We need to understand mechanisms underlying better mental health in older age in spite of more physical ailments. That would help develop broad-based interventions to promote mental health in all age groups, including youth.”

The latest research reminds us all that there is a light at the end of the tunnel for anyone in an earlier stage of life, or in midlife, who is feeling malcontent or suffering from depression. I’ve lived through this myself. As an adolescent—and again in my late 30s—I suffered major depressive episodes (MDE) that included suicidal ideation. Hang in there. I am living proof that it really does start getting better at a certain point in life. If you are suicidal, please seek assistance: <U.S.> http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/       <Canada>  https://www.suicideprevention.ca/need-help

Below is a passage I wrote for The Athlete’s Way over a decade ago—just months after getting through a harrowing MDE. This advice has continued to work for me over the subsequent years. If you are currently struggling with mental health issues, hopefully, these insights will be helpful for you, too.

“When life throws me a curveball, I have learned from experience to be proactive and reach out to friends and mental health professionals to help me through. When you are in the blackest of blackness, the light seems like it will never enter your brain again. But it will. The light will flicker again. That is the human spirit; it always, always comes back. I’ve been there myself. If you are depressed or suicidal do whatever you have to do to stay vital and get yourself back on track.
You were born to be alive. Don’t isolate. Reach out. Ask for help. There will be sunbeams in your soul again. Ride out the storm—but don’t do it alone. People will take care of you. Let them. And make a vow, when you’re back on top, to give something back.”

 

Christopher Bergland       Aug 29, 2016

 

smile

Express Gratitude
– Not Because You Will Benefit From It,
But Others Might

The world is currently in the midst of a pandemic where the most useful thing many of us can do is stay at home and keep away from others. Schools, restaurants, office buildings and movie theaters are closed. Many people are feeling disoriented, disconnected and scared.

At this time of soaring infection rates, shortages of medical supplies and economic downturns, there are also examples of people looking for ways to express their gratitude to those on the front lines of fighting the epidemic. In many European countries, for example, people are expressing gratitude for the work of the medical staff by clapping from their balconies. Recently, this same practice has migrated to New York City.

As psychology researchers, we have been working to study the connection between gratitude and well-being.

Gratitude and well-being connection
In 2013, psychologists Robert Emmons and Robin Stern explained gratitude as both appreciating the good things in life and recognizing that they come from someone else.

There is a strong correlation between gratitude and well-being. Researchers have found that individuals who report feeling and expressing gratitude more report a greater level of positive emotions such as happiness, optimism and joy.

At the same time, they have a lower level of negative emotions such as anger, distress, depression and shame. They also report a higher level of life satisfaction.

Furthermore, grateful individuals report a greater sense of purpose in life, more forgiveness and better quality of relationships, and they even seem to sleep better.

In short, grateful individuals seem to have more of the ingredients needed to thrive and flourish.

There are several plausible explanations for the apparent connection between gratitude and well-being. It may be that gratitude serves as a positive lens through which to view the world.

For example, grateful individuals may be inclined to see the good in people and situations, which may result in a more compassionate and less critical view of others and themselves.

Grateful individuals may also be naturally prone to forming mutually supportive relationships. When someone expresses gratitude, the recipient is more likely to connect with that person and to invest in that relationship in the future.

Gratitude exercises have weak effects
However, there is one important caveat to this research. It shows that gratitude is correlated with well-being, but it does not prove that expressing gratitude actually improves well-being.

Psychologists have conducted a number of experiments to see if giving thanks leads to greater well-being. For example, individuals may be asked to perform gratitude exercises at home and then report on their well-being afterward. These exercises include writing a thank-you letter or keeping a journal of things one is thankful for.

Several review papers over the past four years, including our recent paper, indicate that these gratitude exercises have fairly weak effects on well-being.

These review papers combine the findings from multiple different studies, which allows researchers to be more confident that the findings are consistent and can be trusted.

Researchers found that such gratitude exercises only increase happiness and life satisfaction a little bit. Similarly, the effect on symptoms of depression and anxiety was also small.

Express gratitude to help others
We are not suggesting that expressing gratitude has no value. Rather, we argue that gratitude should not be thought of as a self-help tool to increase one’s own happiness and well-being.

Instead, gratitude may be most valuable as a way of honoring and acknowledging someone else. Indeed, researchers have found that expressions of gratitude lead to improved relationships for both the one expressing gratitude and the recipient. The lead researcher of a 2010 study – psychologist Sara Algoe – concluded that for romantic relationships, gratitude worked like a “booster shot.”

During this global pandemic, perhaps it is more important than ever to express gratitude to the important people in our lives – not just loved ones, but the countless public officials, health care professionals and others who are fighting on the front lines.

April 2, 2020 
 
Jennifer Cheavens          Associate Professor of Psychology, The Ohio State University
David Cregg       Doctoral Candidate in Clinical Psychology, The Ohio State University
 
Disclosure statement
Jennifer Cheavens receives funding from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
She is also under contract with Cambridge University Press and receives compensation for editorial duties from John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
 
David Cregg does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article,
and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
 
Partners
The Ohio State University       /      The Ohio State University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.

 


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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