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Diet, Health, Fitness, Lifestyle & Wellness


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Why Socializing Is More Exhausting Now—and How You Can Get Your Mojo Back

The fatigue is real.

There seems to be a lot more napping involved in post-COVID socializing. At first, I thought it was just me needing to rest up before a cookout, or dozing off in the midst of a movie night with friends.

But I’m not alone in feeling fatigued from a socializing schedule I would have handled just fine pre-pandemic. For most people, getting back to the new normal is a lot more tiring than they expected. “In my own life and amongst my friends and colleagues, I have heard people report that they feel exhausted, or that they have to dig deep to socialize,” says Ellen Hendriksen, Ph.D., author of How to Be Yourself: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety.

You can chalk that up to the massive sea change we’ve all experienced over the past year. “I think it’s part of the rebooting of our society,” says Ken Yeager, Ph.D., clinical director of the Stress, Trauma and Resilience (STAR) program at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “I don’t think we have ever really experienced this before—and thinking through all these processes and what socializing looks like now, is creating stress.”

cheers

Why socializing is a lot more tiring post-COVID

It’s not your imagination—you need to work a lot harder to socialize now than you did in 2019. And there are several reasons for it

1

We’re rusty at it

After more than a year of Zoom calls and small backyard get-togethers, we’re out of practice at how to handle social events—and it takes more energy to deal with the novelty of it all. “We’ve fallen off our normal pace and intensity,” Hendriksen says. “When that momentum grinds to a halt, breaking that inertia requires extra energy and motivation.”

And while we’ve been still getting together with our nearest and dearest, we haven’t had to make small talk with strangers in a while. “You’re moving around more, seeing more people and that requires interaction,” Yeager says. “That’s an expenditure of energy that hasn’t really been happening for a year.”

2

There’s more anxiety about getting together

Everything about getting together has been stressful for more than a year—with social distancing, masking, and trying to figure out how to safely eat or drink around people outside our household.

That stress isn’t necessarily going to disappear overnight—especially as we still have concerns about variants and outbreaks. “Do I have to wear a mask; do I not wear a mask?” Yeager says. “We’ve never had to worry about these things before.”

3

More of us have mental health issues

The pandemic has unleashed a wave of anxiety and depression, and that has impacted every aspect of our lives.

According to a survey conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics, the number of people reporting symptoms of anxiety or depression skyrocketed during the pandemic. “Nearly half of the American population reported anxiety, depression, or both,” Yeager says.

4

It’s hitting both introverts and extroverts

You might think that this fatigue would be more closely linked to introverts, who have always had to muster up the energy to head out when they’re perfectly happy to chill at home. But fatigue can come for the extroverts, too, as they try to make up for lost time. “Extroverts might wear themselves out going all out, and still experience fatigue,” Yeager says.

How to get back into the social groove

Fortunately, the socializing slump you might be feeling right now will eventually disappear, as we get more used to being around people. But there are a few strategies to get you over the hill—and back to your friends and family.

1

Give yourself more down time

You may have had a go-go-go mentality pre-pandemic, but now’s the time to (slowly) ramp up to that schedule. (So yes, set aside time for that pre-party power nap!)

“Build in some down time so you can rest and recuperate,” Yeager says. “Find time and space in your schedule to recharge batteries and relax, getting outside and getting some fresh air into your lungs.”

2

Set boundaries

To help reduce the stress of social interactions, set boundaries that’ll help you feel comfortable.

“Articulate what you’re willing to do and not willing to do,” Hendriksen says. “Our family is not all vaccinated yet, so we’re not doing indoor dining. If someone invites us to go to an indoor restaurant, we would suggest eating outdoors or ask, ‘Would you like to come over for takeout in the backyard?’ You can set boundaries and still be friendly and compassionate.”

You might even want to set time boundaries—like suggesting meeting up for coffee for an hour, rather than a more open-ended invite.

3

Start small and build on it

Your first post-quarantine outing probably shouldn’t be a big, indoor wedding or a crowded restaurant. Look for ways to start small (a small get-together in someone’s house), and work your way up to bigger or more complex get-togethers.

“Take it slow and simple,” Yeager says. “People may be experiencing anxiety going back into events. Instead of jumping into a week’s vacation with friends or a full-stadium sporting event, practice a little bit and ease yourself into it with smaller interactions.”

4

Don’t put too much pressure on yourself

If you’re feeling anxious about getting together, you could be putting too much pressure on yourself to make a reunion even more memorable.

“You don’t have to be your best self to be yourself,” Hendriksen says. “Don’t try to overcompensate by telling extra-zany stories, being extra-entertaining, or otherwise trying to carry the conversation. Take pressure off yourself and turn the attention spotlight onto the people you’re with.”

If you’re hosting, you might find yourself being rusty at hospitality. (Both Hendriksen and I have had people at our houses for more than a half-hour before offering them a drink!)

“As long as you have good intentions and repair the situation upon noticing, it’s fine,” Hendriksen says. “Try a line like ‘I’ve gone feral, so if I forget, help yourself.'”

5

Don’t forget your healthy habits

If you aren’t eating or sleeping well, that’ll make mustering the energy to socialize even harder.

“Your sleep patterns may be disrupted if you’re going back into work,” Yeager says. And look for healthy snacks with plenty of protein to help you avoid a sugar crash that’ll sap your energy.

6

Fake it until you make it

After a year-plus at home, it’s going to take a lot of energy to put ourselves back out there—and we might sometimes have to just force ourselves to make it happen, even when we’re tired.

“Push yourself to do the things that you have enjoyed in the past, with people you know you like and want to spend time with,” Hendriksen says. “Experiencing anxiety about our social life doesn’t mean something is wrong or dangerous. More often than not, you’ll be glad you went.”

By Lisa Milbrand

source: www.realsimple.com


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How Your Gut Bacteria Controls Your Mood

Your intestines has about 39 trillion microorganisms in it. And yes I said trillion. We call this collection of organisms the microbiome and it consists of mostly bacteria, but also viruses and fungi. Collectively it weighs about 3 pounds which is about the same weight as your brain.

We feed these organisms and they produce chemicals that we need. They send messages to the brain through the vagus nerve.

Several factors determine whether or not your have good vs. bad bacteria:

  • Diet
  • Medications
  • Age
  • Sleep
  • Activity level

Download a guide on gut health here: https://MarksPsychiatry.com/gut-health

source: Dr. Tracey Marks

gut-brain

 Gut Bacteria Is Key Factor in Childhood Obesity

Summary:

Scientists suggest that gut bacteria and its interactions with immune cells and metabolic organs, including fat tissue, play a key role in childhood obesity.

New information published by scientists at Wake Forest Baptist Health suggests that gut bacteria and its interactions with immune cells and metabolic organs, including fat tissue, play a key role in childhood obesity.

“The medical community used to think that obesity was a result of consuming too many calories. However, a series of studies over the past decade has confirmed that the microbes living in our gut are not only associated with obesity but also are one of the causes,” said Hariom Yadav, Ph.D., lead author of the review and assistant professor of molecular medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine, part of Wake Forest Baptist.

In the United States, the percentage of children and adolescents affected by obesity has more than tripled since the 1970s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obesity is increasing at 2.3% rate each year among school-aged children, which is unacceptably high and indicates worrisome prospects for the next generation’s health, the article states.

Yadav’s manuscript, published in the current issue of the journal Obesity Reviews, reviewed existing studies (animal and human) on how the interaction between gut microbiome and immune cells can be passed from mother to baby as early as gestation and can contribute to childhood obesity.

The review also described how a mother’s health, diet, exercise level, antibiotic use, birth method (natural or cesarean), and feeding method (formula or breast milk) can affect the risk of obesity in her children.

“This compilation of current research should be very useful for doctors, nutritionists and dietitians to discuss with their patients because so many of these factors can be changed if people have enough good information,” Yadav said. “We also wanted to identify gaps in the science for future research.”

In addition, having a better understanding of the role of the gut microbiome and obesity in both mothers and their children hopefully will help scientists design more successful preventive and therapeutic strategies to check the rise of obesity in children, he said.

Story Source:

Materials provided by Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

Halle J. Kincaid, Ravinder Nagpal, Hariom Yadav. Microbiome‐immune‐metabolic axis in the epidemic of childhood obesity: Evidence and opportunities. Obesity Reviews, 2019; DOI: 10.1111/obr.12963

Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center         ScienceDaily, 30 October 2019 source:  www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/10/191030132704.htm

Brain-Food

The Best Diet For Good Mental Health

People eating the right diet experience better mental health and a stronger sense of wellbeing.

Diet can have a very real effect on mental health, according to the latest review of the research.

People eating the right diet experience better mental health and a stronger sense of wellbeing.

For example, there is good evidence that the Mediterranean diet can improve depression and anxiety.

Here are ten typical ingredients of the Mediterranean diet:

  • Green leafy vegetables,
  • other vegetables,
  • nuts,
  • berries,
  • beans,
  • whole grains,
  • fish,
  • poultry,
  • olive oil,
  • and wine.

The Mediterranean diet is anti-inflammatory as it includes more vitamins, fibre and unsaturated fats.

Vitamin B12 has also been shown to help with depression, poor memory and fatigue.

For those with epilepsy, a ketogenic diet, which is high in fat and low in carbohydrates, can be helpful.

However, in other areas the effects of diet on mental health are less strong.

For example, the evidence that vitamin D supplements are beneficial for mental health is relatively weak.

Professor Suzanne Dickson, study co-author, said:

“We have found that there is increasing evidence of a link between a poor diet and the worsening of mood disorders, including anxiety and depression.
However, many common beliefs about the health effects of certain foods are not supported by solid evidence.”

The conclusions come from a review of the research in nutritional psychiatry.

For some conditions, the evidence was comparatively thin, said Professor Dickson:

“With individual conditions, we often found very mixed evidence.
With ADHD for example, we can see an increase in the quantity of refined sugar in the diet seems to increase ADHD and hyperactivity, whereas eating more fresh fruit and vegetables seems to protect against these conditions.
But there are comparatively few studies, and many of them don’t last long enough to show long-term effects.”

Nutrition during pregnancy is very important and can significantly affect brain function, the researchers found.

However, the effect of many diets on mental health is small, said Professor Dickson:

“In healthy adults dietary effects on mental health are fairly small, and that makes detecting these effects difficult: it may be that dietary supplementation only works if there are deficiencies due to a poor diet.
We also need to consider genetics: subtle differences in metabolism may mean that some people respond better to changes in diet that others.
There are also practical difficulties which need to be overcome in testing diets.
A food is not a drug, so it needs to be tested differently to a drug.
We can give someone a dummy pill to see if there is an improvement due to the placebo effect, but you can’t easily give people dummy food.
Nutritional psychiatry is a new field.
The message of this paper is that the effects of diet on mental health are real, but that we need to be careful about jumping to conclusions on the base of provisional evidence.
We need more studies on the long-term effects of everyday diets.”

About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004.

The study was published in the journal European Neuropsychopharmacology (Adan et al., 2019).

source: PsyBlog


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One Portion Of These Foods Boosts Mental Health

People who eat more fruit and vegetables have better mental health, research finds.

Indeed, the more fruit and vegetables people eat, the better their state of mind.

Eating just one extra portion of fruit and vegetables per day is enough to measurably improve mental well-being.

Just one portion has the same positive effect as going for a walk on 8 extra days a month.

Only around one-in-ten people in the US eat the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables.

The recommended amount in the US is 1½ to 2 cups per day of fruit and 2 to 3 cups per day of vegetables.

Dr Neel Ocean, the study’s first author, said:

“It’s well-established that eating fruit and vegetables can benefit physical health.

Recently, newer studies have suggested that it may also benefit psychological well-being.

Our research builds on previous work in Australia and New Zealand by verifying this relationship using a much bigger UK sample.

While further work is needed to demonstrate cause and effect, the results are clear: people who do eat more fruit and vegetables report a higher level of mental well-being and life satisfaction than those who eat less.”

The study followed many thousands of people across seven years.

The study controlled for other factors, like lifestyle, education, health status and other aspects of the diet.

Dr Peter Howley, study co-author, said:

“There appears to be accumulating evidence for the psychological benefits of fruits and vegetables.

Despite this, the data show that the vast majority of people in the UK still consume less than their five-a-day.

Encouraging better dietary habits may not just be beneficial to physical health in the long run but may also improve mental well-being in the shorter term.”

The study was published in the journal Social Science & Medicine (Ocean et al., 2019).

April 8, 2021

source: PsyBlog

veggies

Link Between Dietary Fiber And Depression
Partially Explained By Gut-Brain Interactions

New study suggests that higher daily dietary fiber intake is linked to lower risk for depression in premenopausal women

Fiber is a commonly recommended part of a healthy diet. That’s because it’s good for your health in so many ways – from weight management to reducing the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and some types of cancer. A new study also finds that it might be linked with a reduced risk of depression, especially in premenopausal women. Study results are published online in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopause Society (NAMS).

Depression is a common and serious mental health condition that not only affects a person’s ability to perform daily activities but can also lead to suicide. It’s estimated that more than 264 million people worldwide have depression, with numbers increasing over time. This debilitating condition is much more common in women, and there are a number of theories as to why this is the case. Changes in hormone levels in perimenopausal women have been linked to depression.

Because of the serious consequences and prevalence of depression, numerous studies have been undertaken to evaluate treatment options beyond the use of antidepressants. Lifestyle interventions, including diet, exercise, and mindfulness, may help to reduce the risk for depression. In this new study involving more than 5,800 women of various ages, researchers specifically sought to investigate the relationship between dietary fiber intake and depression in women by menopause status. Dietary fiber is found mainly in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.

Previous studies have already suggested the benefits of fiber for mental health, but this is the first known study to categorize the association in premenopausal and postmenopausal women. It also included a broader range of ages in participants and involved women who underwent natural, as well as surgical, menopause.

The study confirmed an inverse association between dietary-fiber intake and depression in premenopausal women after adjusting for other variables, but no significant difference was documented in postmenopausal women. Research has suggested that estrogen depletion may play a role in explaining why postmenopausal women don’t benefit as much from increased dietary fiber, because estrogen affects the balance of gut microorganisms found in premenopausal and postmenopausal women. The link between dietary fiber and depression may be partially explained by gut-brain interactions, because it is theorized that changes in gut-microbiota composition may affect neurotransmission. Fiber improves the richness and diversity of gut microbiota.

Results are published in the article “Inverse association between dietary fiber intake and depression in premenopausal women: a nationwide population-based survey.”

“This study highlights an important link between dietary fiber intake and depression, but the direction of the association is unclear in this observational study, such that women with better mental health may have had a healthier diet and consumed more fiber, or a higher dietary fiber intake may have contributed to improved brain health by modulating the gut microbiome or some combination. Nonetheless, it has never been more true that ‘you are what you eat,’ given that what we eat has a profound effect on the gut microbiome which appears to play a key role in health and disease,” says Dr. Stephanie Faubion, NAMS medical director.

Journal Reference:

Yunsun Kim, Minseok Hong, Seonah Kim, Woo-young Shin, Jung-ha Kim. Inverse association between dietary fiber intake and depression in premenopausal women. Menopause, 2020; Publish Ahead of Print DOI: 10.1097/GME.0000000000001711

January 6, 2021

Source: The North American Menopause Society (NAMS)        www.sciencedaily.com


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The 4 Steps That Will Increase Happiness, According To A New Study

Researchers believe these daily habits will train your brain to achieve better overall well-being. (Worth a try, right?)

Researchers believe they’ve cracked the code when it comes to achieving overall emotional and mental wellness through four key pillars.

This past year has been an excruciating one for millions of North Americans, and our collective well-being has taken a serious hit. A majority of adults in the United States say their mental health is worse now than it was pre-pandemic. Feelings of isolation are up. A majority of North American adults report feeling overwhelmed by their current stress levels.

Against that bleak backdrop — and given that COVID-19 case numbers are still reaching record highs, even as vaccines have arrived— it seems silly, almost, to think about cultivating emotional well-being. Now? Really? And most importantly, how?!

A research paper recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences offers a mental training plan that its authors call the “how” of well-being. Their findings suggest there are four key behaviors that tend to contribute most to overall satisfaction. And they see their plan as a way in which people who already feel relatively healthy can cultivate mental wellness on a daily basis.

“It’s a more hopeful view of well-being,” study researcher Cortland Dahl of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Healthy Minds, a cross-disciplinary research institute, told HuffPost. “It’s the idea that you can take active steps that improve well-being, very much so in the way that you might take steps to improve physical health.”

Of course anyone grappling with severe stress, anxiety or other mental health concerns should absolutely reach out to a qualified mental health professional.

Looking to be more deliberate about training your brain to cultivate mental and emotional well-being? Here are the four basic pillars of the plan, and some simple steps you can start taking right away.

Step 1: Cultivate Awareness — And ‘Meta-awareness’

Awareness is a “heightened, flexible attentiveness to your environmental and internal cues,” according to the Center for Healthy Minds ― which basically means your surroundings as well as your thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations.

And studies do show that people with heightened awareness tend to have better overall well-being. Also, being distracted can lead to feelings of stress and unhappiness.

One simple tactic that will help you achieve this? Close your eyes and focus on the act of taking 10 breaths.

Another option? “One thing I like to do is when I’m doing dishes, I’ll notice the sounds, I’ll feel the sensations,” Dahl said.

The new Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences research — which pulls from a range of studies from the worlds of neuroscience, meditation traditions and more — suggests that “meta-awareness” is important, too. So it’s not only important to be aware; it’s also important to be aware that you’re being aware. Ultimately, cultivating meta-awareness helps you to deliberately direct and sustain your attention, the authors argue, rather than being pulled in by “distractors.”

Making a small effort to connect with friends, loved ones and colleagues via Zoom, email or text can help you tap into deeper feelings of kinship.

smile

Step 2: Cultivate Connection

Forging and strengthening a sense of togetherness is certainly a difficult goal amid COVID-19. But making a small effort to connect with friends, loved ones and colleagues via Zoom, email or text can be enough to help you tap into deeper feelings of kinship as the pandemic continues.

The researchers also say that simply cultivating feelings of kindness toward others can be enough to help boost your sense of connection — regardless of whether the person on the receiving end even knows you’re thinking about them.

They cite several studies and pilot programs that suggest kindness meditation programs can lower feelings of distress and boost positive feelings. There is even some preliminary evidence that these types of practices may help lessen implicit bias.

“You can start with a simple appreciation practice,” Dahl said. That might entail bringing a friend or loved one into your mind, then consciously focusing on the things you really cherish about them.

Step 3: Practice Insight

The researchers define insight as having self-knowledge about how your own emotions, thoughts and beliefs shape your sense of who you think you are.

And working to develop this kind of insight can empower you to challenge the beliefs you’ve held about yourself that you may have thought were immutable, Dahl explained. He cited a personal example, describing how he used to be deeply unsettled by public speaking and believed this was just an unchangeable fact of who he was.

“Instead of having this kind of constant judgment, we can get curious about our own inner worlds,” Dahl said.

One practical, real-world way to to do that is to simply notice when a negative thought crops up, and be inquisitive, the researchers wrote. Stop and ask yourself: Where is this thought coming from? Is it based in any assumptions?

Make an effort to notice how even some of the most mundane activities you do every day are connected to your core values. For example, doing the dishes might be an act of generosity toward those you love.

Step 4: Connect With Your Purpose

You don’t have to try and orient every day toward some far-reaching sense of purpose with a “capital P,” Dahl said. But it can be worthwhile to spend time thinking about your deep core values. Then make an effort to notice how even some of the most mundane activities you do every day are connected to them.

For example, doing the dishes or cooking a meal at the end of a long day might be an act of generosity toward those you love. Signing on for your “fifth Zoom meeting of the day” may help connect you to a career that you find meaningful.

Research has shown that having a larger sense of purpose in life is linked to positive health outcomes ― from resilience in the face of trauma to overall lower risk of death.

And ultimately, these four habits should help provide a clearer framework for people looking to improve their mental well-being and wondering how to start. If connecting with your sense of purpose every day doesn’t necessarily click with you right off the bat, for example, try something else.

“We think of this as the ‘eat your fruits and vegetables of mental health,’” said Christy Wilson-Mendenhall, a scientist at the Center for Healthy Minds who was also a researcher on the new paper.

The goal is to find what really works for you and that — crucially — “becomes easy to integrate into everyday life,” she said.

Catherine Pearson     12/30/2020

source: www.huffingtonpost.ca


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Little Things Therapists Recommend Doing For Your Mental Health Every Day

As we move into the winter months, it’s important to be active in taking care of yourself.

It’s paramount that we all tend to our mental health constantly, and that we do what we can to get ourselves — and each other — through this thing in one piece.

We have now reached, if you can believe it, the eight month mark into the flailing mess of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is probably (read: certainly) far longer than any of us imagined it might take for this to end.

And the past eight months has certainly been bruised by a pattern of indeterminate peaks and valleys — moments when one feels hopeful, optimistic, all right, and others when one feels frustrated, anxious, and defeated.

Personally, I’ve felt pretty awful lately. In disposition, I’m experiencing a valley not unlike the one I felt near the beginning of the pandemic, one characterized by lethargy, tenseness, and dread. I’m sure many others have felt this way of late, too: John Trainor, chair of Mental Health Research Canada’s board, recently said a new survey produced “deep concerns about the trends we are seeing” for mental health among Canadians. (Reader: things will get better, eventually.)

It’s difficult to say for sure why people are feeling this way right now, so far into this thing as we are. Maybe it’s the promise of an encroaching winter, during which the freedoms and coping mechanisms we previously enjoyed won’t work the same way under the conditions of the inclement weather. Maybe it’s that we seem to be regressing, as cases rise across Canada and restrictions are reintroduced.

Who knows. What we do know, and what we’ve always known, is that it’s paramount that we all tend to our mental health constantly, and that we do what we can to get ourselves — and each other — through this thing in one piece.

“Self-care isn’t just doing things to make us feel better in the moment,” Dr. Melanie Badali, a psychologist who works in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, told HuffPost Canada. “It’s the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s well being. It means taking care of ourselves like we would take care of someone we love and taking care of ourselves when it is hard. It also includes getting professional health-care help when we need it.”

So to figure out how to do all that, to learn better ways we can protect our mental health every day, we spoke to a somatic practitioner, two psychotherapists and a psychologist. Below is a shortlist of their suggestions.

Meditating

By this point, however many years after the word “mindfulness” began to dominate a certain segment of the cultural conversation, it’s difficult to refute that meditation is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal to reduce anxiety and produce a sense of peace and balance.

“It’s good to think of meditation as a gym for your brain,” Dr. Krystina Patton, a psychotherapist who specializes in integrative mental health treatment, told HuffPost Canada. “If you think of your brain as a muscle that you use in literally everything you do, it’s good to spend a little time working on it every day.”

In 2014, 47 studies analyzed in JAMA Internal Medicine, a peer-reviewed medical journal published by the American Medical Association, found that mindfulness meditation, even for 15 minutes a day, does help to manage anxiety, depression and pain among practitioners.

Meditation is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal to reduce anxiety and produce a sense of peace and balance.

Meditation is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal to reduce anxiety and produce a sense of peace and balance.

“It gives us the ability to see our thoughts more clearly and to have more agency over our emotional states, rather than being hijacked by them,” said Patton.

Sitting comfortably and focusing on your breathing, in an attempt to turn your mind’s attention to the present rather than allowing it to wade out into the distant past or unclear future — an easy way for anxiety to flourish — can help to ease the psychological stresses endemic to this moment.

Box breathing

You know how when, in times of crisis, your friends sometimes need to remind you to breathe? It isn’t a fluke that actually doing so, consciously, makes you feel a little bit better.

A number of studies have found that deep, diaphragmatic breathing can trigger the body’s relaxation responses, relieving stress and helping you to concentrate better.

Enter box breathing, also called “square breathing,” a relatively new technique that you can use anywhere, at any time. It only takes a minute or two, and it’s easy to practice: relax your body, exhale to a count of four, hold your lungs empty for a count of four, inhale for a count of four, then keep your lungs full for a count of four. Then repeat.

In stressful situations — a global pandemic, for example — we often unwittingly resort to chest breathing, which, according to the Mayo Clinic, can lead to muscle tightness and headaches, symptoms which are further magnified by chronic stress. Breathing in this way can help to ease the body.

“The thing with stress is that it’s meant to be short-term,” Karishma Kripalani, a somatic practitioner who works with emotional and mental health concerns, told HuffPost Canada. “But if that stress cycle can’t complete itself, then it becomes chronic stress, which is, I think, what we’re seeing right now. And that can take a toll.”

hope

Acknowledging your feelings and talking about them

Feelings are always with us, yet we aren’t always too good at naming or talking about them.

“We tend not to do a great job of dealing with difficult emotions,” said Patton. “Even with our kids, we socialize them from such a young age to get away from, or push away, difficult feelings — when they cry, for example, we immediately try to get them to stop. But you can’t always immediately fix or move past how you’re feeling.”

That’s not to say that we should just “cry it out,” Patton says — or allow our children to — but that in immediately trying to fix things, we reify the implicit message that challenging feelings are something to be escaped or avoided, which might set us up for struggles when we encounter those things that cannot be avoided.

Talking with loved ones about your feelings and moods is a good way to ease anxiety, while giving you the social connection you might be lacking from isolation.

Talking with loved ones about your feelings and moods is a good way to ease anxiety, while giving you the social connection you might be lacking from isolation.

Patton, Kripalani and Gabrielle Stannus, a registered psychotherapist whose practice is grounded in gestalt, all agree that taking a moment to acknowledge how you’re feeling and talking about it with others can help to make sense of these emotions and offer a sense of peace and clarity.

“When you have conversations about how you’re feeling, rather than harbouring your emotions secretly, you’re actually letting the anxiety out of you, and confronting those difficult emotions,” said Stannus.

Establishing clear work-life boundaries

A large portion of the Canadian populace is still working from home. Many of us have needed to convert our bedrooms, or other spots around our homes, into offices. Here’s the thing: when there isn’t a clear separation between a workspace and a non-workspace, it’s a lot easier for your work to bleed into your personal life.

In this way, working from home can become a double-edged sword, and it’s critical to ensure our work doesn’t negatively impact and disrupt our social lives. Research has found that these intrusions can produce a source of significant weekly strain, from increased stress levels to negative affect, rumination and insomnia.

One symptom of working from home is the blurring of boundaries between work and home.

“I’m a really big fan of creating a container for ourselves and our experience — with so much that’s beyond our control right now, it’s good to have some sense of internal control,” said Kripalani. “The body likes routine and ritual. Predictability can help with a sense of safety.”

Setting boundaries and resisting the impulse or demand to be available at all times is an important part of managing the work-life relationship. That includes making time, even while you’re working, to take breaks and go outside, eat healthy foods, and drink lots of water.

Freewriting

You don’t have to identify as a “writer” in order for writing, no matter what form, to make you feel better.

In fact, studies have found that expressive writing — the practice of writing about thoughts and feelings that are born from traumatic or stressful life experiences — can help some people to manage and navigate the emotional fallout of those experiences.

“Freewriting, or stream of consciousness writing, can help us to organize and structure our thoughts, to present them in a way that seems to really help us let go of them, rather than to ruminate and create a cycle of feeling bad,” said Patton.

Stream of consciousness writing can help you to articulate what’s on your mind and how you’re feeling, and then manage those emotions.

Stream of consciousness writing can help you to articulate what’s on your mind and how you’re feeling, and then manage those emotions.

Dr. James W. Pennebaker, chair of the psychology department at the University of Texas, Austin, has conducted a large portion of the research on health benefits of expressive writing. And what he’s found is that it can help people to overcome emotional inhibition, easing stress and trauma.

With freewriting, the rules are simple. You’re meant to clear your mind as best you can, and to forget all the rules you know concerning grammar. Then, you set a time limit — between 10 and 20 minutes for beginners — and begin to write out whatever is on your mind.

Finding moments of joy, or gratitude practices

“One thing I’ve done myself, and which a lot of my clients like, is trying to find moments of joy,” said Stannus. “So being able to be present in the moment and looking for things, even small things, that make you smile, then finding ways to integrate that into yourself.”

The trick, Stannus says, is doing this in small ways that will eventually add up: noticing the colour of the leaves in the fall, sharing a laugh with a close friend, hearing a piece of music that makes you smile.

It’s a mindfulness technique that asks you to engage all five of your senses in order to bring yourself firmly into the moment and appreciate what’s in front of you, rather than indulge your anxieties about the indeterminate future.

“Our brains have been designed to keep us alive, not to keep us happy,” said Patton. “And what that means is that our brains can be kind of like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones, because it’s safer to mistake a stick for a snake than a snake for a stick. So if joy is what we want, it’s something we have to cultivate.”

By Connor Garel              11/18/2020 

source: www.huffingtonpost.ca


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Your Self-Care Toolkit For Dealing With The Tough COVID-19 Months Ahead

Let these tips help you through the difficult days during the coronavirus pandemic that are inevitably on the horizon.

Feeling blue? You’re not alone. The COVVID-19 pandemic has had clear repercussions for mental health, with some people impacted more than others.

A study published in the Lancet journal comparing our mental health in April 2019 to this year found the prevalence of “clinically significant” levels of mental distress have risen from 18.9% to 27.3%. Increases were greatest among 18- to 34-year-olds, women and people living with young children.

With local lockdowns coming back into effect across parts of the globe, more people are once again confined to their homes without social contact, and many of us are experiencing an overwhelming sense of déjà vu.

Niall Campbell, a psychiatrist and consultant in the UK, is also worried about the impact of what he calls “COVID burnout” on the generation of women who are “sandwiched” between jobs, a dependent child and an adult relative who requires care.

Many people are working long hours through fear of losing their job and because days and nights are blurring into one, he adds – and alcohol can become a crutch for some when there’s an absence of support. “Long hours generally mean less sleep, poorer diet, less exercise, more stress, feeling you are constantly ‘on’ and having to prove yourself,” he says.

On top of that, as autumn turns to winter, some of us are facing down the prospect of seasonal affective disorder, which sees roughly 1 in 15 in the UK hit with feelings of lethargy and depression on a life-altering scale.

So, how can you keep your head above water in the months ahead? Thankfully, there are ways. Here’s your ultimate self-care toolkit”

Take your annual leave, even if you stay home

Ever-changing restrictions make planning hard, but taking leave is crucial right now – even if the only place you go is your living room.

Gary Wood, author of “The Psychology of Wellbeing” (out in October), says a well-earned break is crucial for us to reflect and plan. “When we relax, we access the full range of higher-level functions such as problem-solving and planning,” he says. “But over the pandemic, we might have not had the time out to stock-take and plan.”

If you can’t go anywhere, Wood recommends creating a mini-break or spa day at home. Stuck for ideas of what to do? Holistic health and lifestyle coach Milla Lascelles previously shared her top tips with HuffPost UK.

Keep in touch with loved ones

“News of tightening of social measures to combat the rising number of COVID-19 infections will be making the winter months ahead look even darker for many people,” says Keith Grimes, a physician for online doctor service Babylon.

Feelings of sadness are understandable, he notes, but know that we have learned a huge amount about how to reduce the spread of this illness and treat it successfully. So it’s not all doom and gloom.

During this time it’s important to stay in touch with friends and family, he says. If you live alone, it’s worth bubbling up with another household so you can spend time with them. And if you can’t see others, it might help to schedule regular FaceTime conversations or phone calls with your nearest and dearest.

Aragona Giuseppe, a physician and medical advisor for Prescription Doctor, says calling friends and family will not only lift you, but also be a lovely surprise for the other person. “We may not be able to meet all our friends at the pub, but a Zoom call or a phone call should help to boost your mood and remind you what’s waiting at the end of this lockdown.”

Social media can be useful for keeping in touch with others however it should complement phone calls and face-to-face chats, rather than replace them.

Plan time to enjoy yourself

We might be stuck at home but that doesn’t mean you can’t plan smaller activities to look forward to – whether that’s a long walk, a movie night or a visit to that restaurant you’ve been meaning to check out for some time.

“Make sure you plan time to enjoy yourself, exercise and get outside in nature and experience the change of the seasons in person,” advises Grimes.

Failing that, why not treat yourself to a pamper day? Hair salons, nail places and spas are still open and in need of your support. (Just wear a mask when you go, of course.)

Create a self-care box

One of experts’ top tips for people with SAD is to fill a box with things that comfort you or help you to relax – also known as a self-care box.

Try including your favorite book or film, and a notebook and pen to write down your thoughts or notes of encouragement to yourself.

Not feeling up to the task? Order one. For example, the depression charity Blurt has created a self-care subscription box called The BuddyBox, which is full of mood-lifting treats. Each box contains at least five surprise products hand-picked to nourish, inspire and encourage self-care.

Keep active

It might be hard to find the motivation to move your body, especially as the days get shorter and the temperature drops, but it’s really important to try and stick to an exercise regime if you can.

“Exercise is not only a great way to keep yourself fit and healthy but will also increase your overall mood from the endorphins being released during and after each session,” Giuseppe says.

You don’t have to do anything too strenuous ― even moving your body once a day can help improve your mood, he says. This could mean getting out each day for a brisk walk or doing a bit of yoga. And with it getting darker earlier, it might be best to schedule it in for first thing in the morning, or on your lunch break, rather than after work.

Start or learn something new

If there’s one thing we learned during the beginning of the pandemic, it’s how to amuse ourselves. Keeping occupied with hobbies or learning new skills can help us take our mind off the bigger picture, which, let’s face it, is pretty overwhelming.

People will undoubtedly feel increased stress and anxiety over work and the possibility of redundancy in the coming months, says Giuseppe. While there’s not much you can do about job security, there are ways to take control of other parts of your life, he says.

“Learning a new skill may help to keep you busy and your mind occupied, whether that is something you’re passionate about that you’ve never taken further or a new outdoor hobby such as cycling,” he says. “Taking up something which you can use to burn energy and keep yourself busy will really help with your long-term physical and mental health.”

It can be useful to set goals – and these can center around your hobbies, too. That could be wanting to learn a certain amount of phrases in Spanish by Christmas, for example, or being able to run a mile non-stop by January.

Claudia Pastides, also a physician with Babylon, urges people to put their efforts into something productive which can help them feel good about themselves, whether that’s organizing your cupboards, painting your front door, or upcycling and selling old furniture.

“All these things are positive tasks or hobbies that you can put your energy into and make you feel good at the end,” she says. “Motivation comes from inside us all. We are in charge of creating it and holding on to it.”

computer

Do what you can to stay safe

Adopting COVID-19 safety measures can actually help people’s mental health, according to Penn State University research. Researchers surveyed participants between the ages of 18 and 90, measuring how much they felt the pandemic was affecting them financially, physically, socially and mentally; whether they were adhering to recommendations such as mask wearing; and what kinds of coping strategies they were using.

“Things like keeping a consistent schedule, reminding yourself that things will get better, finding activities to distract yourself, and taking care of others who need help are all helpful,” says Erina MacGeorge, professor of communication arts and sciences.

“Additionally, adhering to the national recommendations for protecting oneself from COVID-19, like hand-washing, social distancing and masking, was also associated with better mental health.”

“Sometimes we need to take a break from thinking about how we feel and do something to help alleviate the threat and make us feel a lot better about our situation in life,” says Jessica Myrick, an associate professor of media studies.

“COVID-related messages that emphasize that even small actions are worthwhile might have the doubly positive effect of getting people to take small actions, like washing their hands more often, but also alleviate some mental strain, too.”

Structure your day

Humans are creatures of habit and we (understandably) like to feel in control, so sticking to a structure – where possible – can be incredibly stabalizing. Planning your day out can also be helpful if you struggle with SAD.

“Try to maintain the same structure as you had back in the pre-quarantine days,” says Giuseppe, noting that parents will likely find sticking to a daily routine much easier than just seeing how the days go. “When working from home, it can be tempting to fall into a bit of a lethargic lifestyle which could lead to negative thoughts and feelings of worthlessness.”

So, wake up early, change out of your pajamas, do a bit of exercise and get into some comfy work clothes – maybe take a walk around the block to act as a faux commute, or make yourself a nice coffee to set you up for the day. Eating balanced meals and sticking to a regular sleep routine is also crucial.

“Keeping your normal exercise routine is imperative and also making your work space separate from your living space should help you to separate your working day to your evening routine,” adds Giuseppe.

Rethink your social circles

Another finding from Penn State’s research is that “social strain” – such as someone making demands, giving criticism, or simply getting on your nerves – is a strong and consistent predictor of poor mental health.

Yanmengqian Zhou, a graduate assistant in communication arts and sciences, says “this suggests that in difficult times like this, it could be particularly important to proactively structure our social networks in ways that minimize negative social experiences.”

Choose your friends wisely and don’t feel pressured to do anything you don’t want to do – these are challenging times and you need to be kind to yourself.

Another reason to focus on your friendship list is that both good and bad moods can be “picked up” from friends, according to the University of Warwick.

Researchers found that having more friends who suffer worse moods is associated with a higher probability of an individual experiencing low moods and a decreased probability of them improving. The opposite applied to those who had a more positive social circle.

Turn off the news when you need to

One tip therapists and doctors swear by is not to overdo your exposure to news and keeping on top of all things COVID.

“Avoid excessive watching of coronavirus coverage,” says Giuseppe. “It’s good to keep up to date with what’s going on however watching the news reel 24/7 will likely have detrimental effects on your mental health and will cause your stress and anxiety levels to rise.”

“You can’t change or fix what is happening so obsessing over the news will not help you get through the next six months,“Giuseppe adds. “If you want to keep abreast of the news, limit it to one news update per day, or every few days.”

Keep your friends close and your pets closer

Pet owners know that animals can be a huge boost to mental health – and new research backs this up.

The study, conducted from March to June this year by the University of York and the University of Lincoln, found that having a pet was linked to better mental health and reduced loneliness. More than 90% of respondents said their pet helped them cope emotionally with the lockdown and 96% said their pet helped keep them fit and active.

Daniel Mills, the study’s co-author, says the research indicates how having a companion animal in your home can buffer against some of the psychological stress associated with lockdown.

Elena Ratschen, the study’s lead author, warned that people shouldn’t necessarily rush to acquire a pet during the pandemic. But for those who do own animals – especially those who adopted pets during lockdown – the finding will surely be of comfort.

Shift your thinking

It can be hard to stay positive when everything feels like it’s working against you, however there are some ways we can reframe our thinking to focus on the positives, rather than all the negatives.

“Maintain an attitude of curiosity about the world and practice gratitude, even for the small stuff,” says Wood. “At the end of each day, write down three things you’re grateful for, and at the start of each day write down three things you’re looking forward to.”

For example, rather than thinking “I’m stuck inside,” Giuseppe suggests trying “I am stuck inside, however I can use this time to work on myself and my passions.”

The first lockdown has left us more prepared, we now know what to expect, and we can use this knowledge to our advantage. “If there’s something you wanted to start but never had the time, then this could be the moment,” Giuseppe said.

Don’t be afraid to seek help

Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we can still feel down or anxious, says Pastides. If it gets to the point where every day is a struggle, this is the time to seek help.

“Reach out to your GP, or a friend, and speak about how you’re feeling,” she says. “You won’t be alone in having those feelings and there is help available.”

Your doctor should be able to offer more support and can also help with treatment options, which can include talking therapies or medication.

Dave Smithson, from Anxiety UK, urges people to surround themselves with a support network – and if you don’t have anyone in your life you feel comfortable talking to about how you feel, try a local peer-support groups.

“Talking to people and sharing your thoughts and feelings with others in similar situations can be really supportive,” he previously told HuffPost UK. “They understand what you’re going through and what you’re dealing with because they’re in the same boat.”

This post originally appeared in HuffPost UK.

by Natasha Hinde – Lifestyle Writer at The Huffington Post UK     09/30/2020

source: www.huffingtonpost.ca


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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
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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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12 Simple Activities You Can Do to Start Building Self Esteem Today

Self-esteem is a popular topic these days, with even parenting guides encouraging parents to start young in encouraging their children’s self-esteem.

It’s not hard to see why — people with a good sense of self-esteem consistently have better mental health and are happier and more successful.

But what happens when you don’t have a high self-esteem? It’s not too late.

When you struggle with low self-esteem, improving your sense of self-worth can be a journey that takes both time and dedication.

However, there are things you can do right now to get you started on that journey. Below are 12 simple activities that you can do to boost your self-esteem today.

1. Make Yourself a Priority

From the time we are young, we are taught that putting other’s needs before our own is a virtue, while prioritizing your own needs is selfish. However, you can’t have a good sense of self-esteem if you don’t make your own needs a priority.

So what does prioritizing your own needs look like in the real world? It means meeting your own needs instead of ignoring them for the sake of others.

This can be easier said than done, especially if you are a parent or work in a demanding work environment, but when you recognize that your own needs have value, you begin to realize that you yourself have value.

2. Stop Being a People Pleaser

As Aesop once said, “He who tries to please everybody pleases nobody.” This includes yourself — if you spend your whole life trying to please everyone, you won’t find personal happiness.

That is because people pleasers have an unfortunate habit of making everyone else a priority over themselves and pretending to be someone other than their authentic selves.

As you can imagine, pretending to activities that you actually can’t stand or pretending to possess certain qualities you don’t actually have in order to get others to accept you can have a negative effect on your self-esteem.

You are, in essence, telling yourself that you aren’t good enough. The next step towards boosting your self-esteem, then, is forgetting what others want you to be and being your own authentic self.

3. Find Yourself

If you’ve spent your whole life ignoring your own needs and pretending to be someone else in order to please others, you may not know what your authentic self actually is. This is your chance to figure that out!

Turn your gaze inwards and analyze what really drives you and brings you joy. It may feel strange at first, but there is no wrong emotion in this scenario — all are an important step towards authenticity and increased self-esteem.

4. Watch Your Self Talk

Part of developing a healthy self-esteem requires analyzing how you talk to yourself.

We all talk to ourselves in some way, whether out loud or just in our heads, and the language we use can be a significant insight into how we view ourselves. Negative self-talk (i.e. calling yourself ugly or unlikeable) creates a feedback loop where your self-esteem drops, which leads to more negative self-talk, and so on.

The most effective way to break the cycle is to counter that negative self-talk through being kind and positive towards yourself.

Anytime something negative pops into your mind, counteract those thoughts by writing down something positive (i.e. a list of your positive attributes) until positive self-talk becomes a habit.

your mind

 

 

5. Don’t Beat Yourself up over Your Mistakes

As humans, we are frequently harder on ourselves than we are on our loved ones. Unfortunately, many of us view our mistakes as personal or even moral failures.

The thing is, we are all human, and all humans make mistakes. Instead of dwelling on your mistakes as some sort of personal punishment, try to view these mistakes as opportunities to improve yourself. Just by changing your way of thinking, you can boost your self-esteem.

6. Acknowledge Your Successes

On the flip side, you should also recognize your achievements. It is common for many of us to downplay our successes.

We say “It wasn’t that big of a deal. Anyone could do it.” This leads to feelings that we haven’t achieved much with our lives, hurting self-esteem.

If you want to boost your self-esteem, you should celebrate your successes. Think about the person you were just a few years ago, and recognize how much you have grown and changed.

Write your successes down and as time goes on you’ll be amazed at how much you have accomplished.

7. Be Grateful

Cultivating a healthy sense of self-esteem also involves the ability to be grateful for what you have. Some individuals tie their entire sense of self-worth in what they have, but someone else will always have more than you do, whether it’s more money, better looks, etc.

Instead of getting caught up in what you don’t have that others do, focus on what it is that you do have. Be grateful. When you focus on being grateful for the things that you do have, you start to feel happier with your life and more self-assured.

8. Nurture a Positive Attitude

A lot of changing your self-talk, emphasizing your successes over your failures, and being grateful has to do with maintaining a positive attitude. Such an outlook can be difficult to cultivate, as our brains naturally tend to dwell on the negative instead of the positive.

The first step towards nurturing a positive attitude is to associate with positive people. Negative people can only bring you down to their level. Positive people can only help you improve.

9. Commit to Your Decisions

Another way to cultivate positivity in your life is to fully commit to your decisions.

Once you have decided on a course of action, don’t waste your energy on self-doubt and second-guessing yourself. Use that energy to do the necessary research and work to see your task through.

When you give in to self-doubt and second thoughts, you are telling yourself that you don’t view yourself as a competent adult capable of making the right decisions and successfully completing a task.

As such, committing yourself to your decisions boosts your self-esteem by eliminating those doubts and insecurities.

10. Learn How to Say No

Another aspect of making yourself a priority and committing to your decisions is learning how to say no in a decisive yet respectful way. When you learn how to say no, you teach others that your boundaries are to be respected and that you won’t be taken advantage of.

One of my favorite quotes from the late Steve Jobs emphasizes the importance of saying no:

“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”

Substitute focus for happiness and you’ve got a winning strategy for life, not just business.

By teaching others to respect your boundaries, you affirm to yourself that you are allowed to have needs and boundaries. You also avoid getting stuck with tasks that drain your energy and sense of positivity.

11. Be Generous to Others

Making your needs a priority and learning how to say no to the things you don’t want to do doesn’t mean that you have to shut others out in order to build up your own self-esteem.

In truth, humans are social creatures and a lack of meaningful human connections can severely impact your self-esteem.

For many people, helping others gives them a sense of meaning and purpose in life.

If you have the time and the means, give to charity, volunteer your time to a cause you feel passionate about, or even give blood at the local blood bank.

12. Love Yourself

At the end of the day, a person with high self-esteem is a person who loves himself. This doesn’t mean loving yourself as Narcissus loved his reflection, but rather loving yourself as a person who has value and worth.

When you love yourself, you lead a healthier life. You take care of your body by exercising regularly, eating the right food, and you take care of your mind with positive talk and a healthy social life.

In short, even if you currently don’t have a high sense of self-esteem, there are simple steps that you can take to start developing a strong sense of self-esteem today.

Some of these twelve activities might not be easy at first due to ingrained habits developed over a lifetime, but if you consistently practice these actions every day they will start to become second nature and you will start to see an improvement in your self-esteem.

 by Daniel Fries

Daniel Fries is an entrepreneur and writer. He is the co-author of two highly-cited papers in the field of translational oncology research. Dan’s diverse background includes positions as a research associate at OSI Pharmaceuticals, an associate scientist at Medtronic Cardiovascular, and research scientist at both the Michigan Center for Translational Pathology and the Meyerson Lab at Dana Farber of Harvard Medical School. Currently, Dan manages and operates a portfolio of internet companies, and has partnered with Wired Investors to help grow the company the in the rapidly expanding micro-private equity space. Dan holds a BS/BA in molecular biology and Spanish from the University of Michigan. He speaks Spanish fluently and currently splits most of his time in between startup incubators in Chicago, Saigon, and Mexico City. He is fascinated by the potential of exponential technologies in both biotech and cryptocurrency.

APA Reference
Fries, D. (2018). 12 Simple Activities You Can Do to Start Building Self Esteem Today. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 11, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/12-simple-activities-you-can-do-to-start-building-self-esteem-today/

Scientifically Reviewed      Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 19 Jun 2017)      Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018


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4 Habits to Achieve Better Mental Health

The National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that one in every five U.S. adults lives with a mental illness. This number adds up to nearly 50 million people. Sadly, these numbers likely underestimate the extent of the problem.

Why is mental health important? A bit of a rhetorical question, right?

Clearly, mental health directly affects the quality of our life. Our mental health determines our productivity, feelings of self-worth, confidence, and skillfulness in navigating life’s inevitable challenges. Good mental health maximizes all of these things; poor mental health minimizes them.

If we’re stricken with poor mental health, it becomes impossible to experience life optimally. Without proper treatment or guidance – medical or otherwise – most watch as their life takes a turn for the worst. That’s because the state of our mind impacts both our life – both personally and professionally.

Fortunately, we can improve our mental health. Better yet, we needn’t rely on copious amounts of pharmaceutical drugs to do so (as valuable as these can be at times.)

In this article, we’re going to discuss four habits that can lead to better mental health.

Let’s get to it!

POOR MENTAL HEALTH HAS ALWAYS BEEN A PROBLEM

“ADHD [attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder], anxiety, depression … can be thought of as problems that have existed – and been ignored – for years.”  ~ Paul Hammerness, MD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School

While the catalysts of mental illness have changed, poor mental health has probably been a thing since homo sapiens first walked the primordial Earth.

Whereas in days of yore humans were concerned about wild animal attacks and having enough food, today we’re fretting about time, money, family, and career. Most likely, a combination of all these things.

FIGHT OR FLIGHT

There is something that connects these two distinct periods, however: the brain.

Neuroscientists state that the structure of the human brain has remained mostly unchanged over the past 500,000 years. Ten thousand years ago, our brains actually shrank. The past century has resulted in a “brain size rebound,” a byproduct of better nutrition and less disease brought on by the industrial revolution.

We can attribute some of the more modern mental illnesses – anxiety and depression, mainly – to the brain’s relatively static development. The harsh living conditions of our distant ancestors required an ever-alert brain mechanism that could quickly respond to threatening stimuli.

Brain experts call this mechanism the Fight-or-Flight response. Others call it hyperarousal or acute stress response.

The ‘FoF’ response is critical to human survival, even now. If you’ve ever been in a situation of sudden, extreme danger – and had to take quick action to ensure your survival – then you’ve had first-hand experience with the FoF response.

The truth is that we’ve all had, to a greater or lesser degree, some experience with FoF. If you’ve ever suffered from an anxiety disorder, you felt the constant agitation. If you’ve ever had to act to avoid danger, you’ve felt the flood of adrenaline that accompanies FoF activation.

In all of these situations, you no doubt noticed an involuntary, unconscious state of arousal. That’s the FoF. Early humans, no doubt, also saw the unpleasantness associated with an overactive FoF response – which was passed along to us.

THE CAUSE OF MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES

While FoF plays a significant role in the state of our mental health, it’s far from the only influencer.

Neurotransmitters, chemicals that act as signaling molecules in the brain, also have a substantial effect on our mental health. While scientists posited this correlation a long time ago, it wasn’t until recently that SPECT imaging studies all but confirmed the relationship.

Any imbalance of the four primary neurotransmitters – serotonin, dopamine, noradrenaline, and GABA – can lead to sub-optimal mental states, possibly mental illness.

mindfulness

4 HABITS THAT IMPROVE MENTAL HEALTH

“You have the power over your mind – not outside events. 

Realize this, and you will find strength.” 

~ Marcus Aurelius

1 – OBSERVE YOUR MIND

Metacognition is actively observing your mental processes and understanding habitual emotional reactive patterns. It’s also a crucial component of good mental health.

If you’ve ever sat back and wondered why in the heck your mind is making so much noise, then you know what metacognition is. You’ve also made a crucial and potentially life-changing discovery: you are not your mind or feelings.

Rather, you are the awareness behind the thoughts and feelings. When you recognize and embrace this fact, you can observe the activity of our mind at a distance – as a passive ‘witness.’ You may even start to get curious about the inner-workings of your mind, and it’s this attitude that will lead to a transformation.

While it’s possible to observe your mind amid daily life, it’s often difficult – especially at first. This is where a regular meditation practice can help.

Try taking 15-20 minutes at the start of each day to sit and allow your mind to become quiet.

2 – SLOW DOWN

“The soft overcomes the hard. The slow overcomes the fast.” ~ Lao-tzu

Okay, so this sounds like commonsensical gibberish nonsense. “What? Slow down? That’s it?”

Okay, then why do we fail at things repeatedly?

Reason #1: society has taught us that frenzied action is the same as productivity. Not only is this untrue, but it’s also potentially disastrous to our mental and physical health.

Slowing down – more specifically, not rushing – can have a powerful impact on our state of mind. Things still get accomplished, and with much less stress. Often, you’ll find that slowing down and focusing on one task at a time (see ‘Single-tasking’ next) not only improves the quality of your work but, ironically, can increase the pace at which things get done!

Practice performing one task a day slowly. Put all of your attention on the job – washing the dishes, showering, vacuuming, etc. – and while doing the activity gradually and deliberately.

3 – SINGLE TASK

“He did each single thing, as if he did nothing else.”   ~ Charles Dickens

Few things have been more damaging to our state of mind than multitasking. How harmful is it? Well, per a study conducted by researchers at Michigan State University, participants who multitasked using multiple forms of entertainment media “showed symptoms of anxiety and depression” based on mental health surveys.

Did you get that? Multitasking – even with entertainment – causes symptoms that mimic those of anxiety and depression!

The truth of the matter is that not only is multitasking a myth; it’s also stress-inducing and harmful.

The human brain simply is not meant for multitasking. When we perform a job, our neural circuitry is concentrated around that task – and that task only. It is incapable of diverting mental resources to a secondary task.

Unless, say, we’re talking about chewing gum and walking at the same time.

Instead, make it a habit to focus your attention single-mindedly on each task. Not only is this a more effective way of living, but it’s also much more peaceful.

4 – BE COMPASSIONATE TOWARDS YOURSELF

“If compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.”  ~ Jack Kornfield

Most people have good hearts. Although the media may try to convince you otherwise (their motto is “Bad news sells” after all) there is plenty of good happening in the world.

Since most people have good hearts, most of us are compassionate by nature. When someone is visibly hurting, we will often try to comfort and console.

But one problem that so many of us have is this: we don’t extend our compassionate nature to ourselves.

Indeed, each one of us is our own worst critic. We don’t even think about self-compassion. Many people live their entire lives without ever once practicing self-love or compassion.

To deny yourself some compassion is not only wrong; it is harmful to your mental wellbeing.

How do you practice self-compassion? Try picturing yourself as a child. If you have a picture of when you were a kid, take a good look at it.

Would you ever want this individual to suffer? Of course not. Talk to that inner child with compassion and love. How do you feel during and afterward?

FINAL THOUGHTS ON IMPROVING YOUR MENTAL HEALTH
In short, you hold the key to unlocking better mental health right there in your hand. All that’s left for you is to flick open that lock.

mindfulness

Mindfulness Improves as We Age

New research may provide an answer for why many people say life gets better with age. A new study by Australian investigators suggests this may be because older people have the wisdom and time to use mindfulness as a means to improve wellbeing.
Healthy aging researchers at Flinders University say certain characteristics of mindfulness seem more strongly evident in older people compared to younger people. The new findings may help people of all ages better deal with life circumstances.
Mindfulness refers to the natural human ability to be aware of one’s experiences and to pay attention to the present moment in a purposeful, receptive and non-judgmental way. Using mindful techniques can be instrumental in reducing stress and promoting positive psychological outcomes.
From middle age to old age, the Flinders University survey highlights the tendency to focus on the present-moment. The strategy to adopt a non-judgmental orientation may become especially important for well-being with advancing age.

“This suggests that mindfulness may naturally develop with time and life experience,” says behavioral scientist Associate Professor Tim Windsor. Windsor co-authored the study which was based on an online community survey of 623 participants, aged between 18 and 86 years.

The study, ‘Older and more mindful? Age differences in mindfulness components and well-being,’ appears online in Aging and Mental Health.

“The significance of mindfulness for wellbeing may also increase as we get older, in particular the ability to focus on the present moment and to approach experiences in a non-judgmental way.

“These characteristics are helpful in adapting to age-related challenges and in generating positive emotions.”

In one of the first age-related studies of its kind, the researchers assessed participants’ mindful qualities such as present-moment attention, acceptance, non-attachment and examined the relationships of these qualities with wellbeing more generally.

“The ability to appreciate the temporary nature of personal experiences may be particularly important for the way people manage their day-to-day goals across the second half of life,” says study lead author Leeann Mahlo. Mahlo is investigating mindfulness in older adulthood as part of her PhD research.

“We found that positive relationships between aspects of mindfulness and wellbeing became stronger from middle age onwards,” she says.“Our findings suggest that if mindfulness has particular benefits in later life, this could be translated into tailored training approaches to enhanced wellbeing in older populations.”

Mindfulness skills can help build wellbeing at any age, adds Mahlo. Tips to develop mindful techniques include:
• Becoming aware of our thoughts and surroundings and paying attention to the present moment in an open and nonjudgmental way. This can prevent us from focusing on the past or worrying about the future in unhelpful ways.
• Understanding that our thoughts, feelings and situations exist in the moment and will not last. This can help us to respond in flexible, more optimistic ways to challenging circumstances, including those that we are facing with concerns related to COVID-19.
• Finding out more about mindfulness via app-based programs such as Calm, Headspace, Insight Timer, Smiling Mind, and Stop, Breathe & Think. These are available for use on computers or smartphones and offer flexible ways of learning and practicing mindfulness — including for people now spending more time at home.
By Rick Nauert PhD             Associate News Editor   Apr 2020
Source:   Flinders University/EurekAlert   psychcentral.com


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Bibliotherapy Proves Reading Is More Than A Cure For Boredom

Grief, fear, heartbreak, depression — book therapy promises to treat it all.

Eight months ago, when his father died suddenly of a stroke, the last thing on James Mitchell’s mind was literature.

There were, of course, far more pressing matters to consider, far more natural instincts to confront than the strange impulse to seek refuge in a novel. The dimensions of grief are always unimaginable, and a desire to see reading, of all things, as the logical solution to its unique violence is hardly to be expected from anyone — least of all a board-certified medical doctor who administers literal anesthetics for a living.

But here was Mitchell, 40, sitting at his computer at his home in Holland Park — a tree-lined, photogenic neighbourhood in central London — consulting a webpage on “book prescriptions” and “literary remedies” for life’s random, debilitating occasions.

“I wouldn’t ordinarily be an early advocate for something like book therapy,” he told HuffPost Canada over the phone, laughing. Historically, he says, he’s always preferred nights with Netflix over nights with Nietzche.

“But the books I read throughout this process really changed my whole perspective,” he says.

What is bibliotherapy?
This change in perspective is, in fact, the point. Book therapy (BT), sometimes called bibliotherapy, refers to the ancient practice of reading or “prescribing” reading — as one might prescribe medicine — for therapeutic effect, and can include both fictional and nonfictional materials.

No matter the genre, the therapeutic approach is all predicated on a simple, if romantic, idea: that books contain secrets which can transform the way we live our lives, and help us to overcome some of its most unwieldy obstacles.

“When I first heard about it, it was through word of mouth,” says Mitchell. One of his friends who’d tried it out before had described a moving experience. “It seemed sort of farfetched,” he adds.

“I’ve never, ever felt that books could change you in that way.”

People who read regularly, for example, sleep better, are less stressed, are better empaths, have higher levels of self-esteem, and, according to Yale University’s School of Public Health, also live longer.

And while many of the evidence supporting the virtues of formal bibliotherapy tends to be anecdotal, there’s also plenty of research that illustrates its positive effects — particularly its general enhancement of mental health and well-being.

“I’ve never, ever felt that books could change you in that way,” Mitchell says. “But it was definitely a process whereby I could feel the change happening as I was reading.”

He pauses: “It was cathartic.”

Though bibliotherapy has a storied medical history across the globe — it’s been used both in mental hospitals, to treat mental patients, and in American military libraries, to treat soldiers after World War I — it’s only just beginning to find its legs in Canada, despite its longstanding support in the United Kingdom.

People who read regularly sleep better, are less stressed out,
and live longer lives than people who don’t read.

 

Social Bibliotherapy
Most of BT’s practitioners are divided into two streams, though both more or less share the same overarching philosophy.

Over the last 10 years or so, Dr. Natalia Tukhareli, director of library and information services at the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College, has become the de facto lodestar of one of those streams, through her tireless work to make BT practices more available to people in North America.

Tukhareli, who is based in Toronto, is one of Canada’s foremost research scholars in social bibliotherapy: a creative approach to BT — often practiced by librarians and educators in prisons, retirement homes, and community centres — that isn’t intended as a substitute for professional help.

“Bibliotherapy originated in a clinical or medical setting,” Tukhareli told HuffPost Canada. “But through my reading programs, the ultimate goal is to build resilience, improve general well-being, and just help people to move through the adversity in their lives.”

Tukhareli’s practice draws from a popular reading intervention model used by several groups in London, including The Reader Organization, a national charity that wants to catalyze a “reading revolution” through a principal technique called shared reading.

Shared reading is a read-aloud group session, during which a leader reads a passage from a story or poem and group members are encouraged to respond by sharing thoughts, feelings and memories that may have been stirred up. It’s practiced in a number of forums, including public libraries, hospitals, rehabilitation centres, shelters, and retirement homes.

“We’re trying to expand it into non-clinical settings. This is the future,” Tukhareli says.

Over the last few years, Tukhareli created original reading packages based on core existential themes, like loneliness, adversity, forgiveness and bereavement. These packages have been included in a new one-year pilot project, for which seven bibliotherapy groups have opened in the Durham, Ont. region, all based on her approach. (The groups, she notes, are geared toward young parents, low-literacy learners, brain injury clients, seniors, and mental health clients.)

Not only did she help to develop the program, but she also trained the facilitators on how to use her thematic reading packages. “It’s the first time a bibliotherapy program here, in Canada, has received government funding,” she adds.

While this stream of BT isn’t intended to cover mental health issues specifically, it has been proven to engage with health and wellbeing in a profound and physiological way.

 

Social bibliotherapy isn’t meant to target mental health specifically
 — it’s non-clinical — but its been linked with positive mental and physical health.

 

Studies on social bibliotherapy have linked the practice with reductions in the severity of dementia symptoms, alleviation of chronic pain, and, in one extended three-year study, lasting improvement in symptoms of depression

.

Reading books

Yet it has not managed to get much traction in Canada. Many of the country’s book therapists belonged to the Canadian Applied Literature Association (CALA) — an academic group that, until it ceased activity last year, explored the “therapeutic applications of literature and story” — but there is not, for example, an accreditation body that can certify people for the practice.

Courses and educational resources on bibliotherapy in Canada are rare, if almost nonexistent (even the aforementioned CALA is now defunct) and Tukhareli says the lack of institutional structure is partially responsible for why many librarians and other educators are deterred from getting involved: they often fear they’re overstepping their boundaries by entering a profession without being certified.

“But there are two different types of this, and only one needs certification” Tukhareli says. “There’s just a low awareness, nationally, when it comes to both.”

 

Clinical Bibliotherapy
The process behind clinical BT often cleaves to a template not unlike the completion of a medical questionnaire, or a dating profile for literature: you fill out a survey about your reading habits, confess what’s been eating at you, and in return, you receive a personalized reading list of “prescriptions” that will, hopefully, do something for your spirit.

Angry? Read Hemingway. Heartbroken? Read Brontë.

At least, this is one way it can be practiced. Clinical BT is exclusively undertaken by medically-trained doctors, such as psychiatrists and other mental health professionals, who tend to combine the treatment with more conventional forms of talk therapy.

Medical professionals who practice bibliotherapy are often certified in other,
more conventional forms of therapy.

 

“For the most part, it isn’t a kind of therapy that you do on its own,” says Dr. Hoi Cheu, a humanities professor at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ont. Cheu is formally trained in marriage and family therapy, and says one of the reasons for this is that BT tends not to be taken seriously as a legitimate form of treatment.

“It’s a lot less obvious, physiologically,” Cheu tells HuffPost Canada. Most rational people wouldn’t reach for a book as a cure for a broken arm, but that’s not to say that no one has made a case for something like reading as an activity that could have a clear and identifiable effect on the body.

“Our brain is a network — it connects everything,” Cheu says. Some psychiatrists who also practice bibliotherapy, he says, prefer (in some cases) to prescribe books over medication. “If you know how, you can overcome a lot of pain by Buddhist meditation, for example. Books can do similar things … but mostly for the mind.”

How does it work?
The path Mitchell took toward healing was the clinical kind, and his prescribed reading list was filled with tough reads — “searching, drastic, stinging, relentless novels.”

There was the Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning, a psychological account of the author’s imprisonment in a Nazi concentration camp. There was Sheryl Sandberg’s Option B, a memoir about the aftermath of her husband’s sudden death, and how it disfigured her ability to experience joy. And there was Mitch Albom’s For One More Day, a philosophical exploration of how people might use the opportunity to spend more time with a lost relative.

The effects these books had on Mitchell were not at all abstract. They were concrete and definitive, apparent even to the people around him. “I think my friends and my loved ones could attest to the changes they made in how I was acting and feeling throughout the whole process,” he says.

Sandberg’s Option B, for example, taught him about resilience, and brought him strength in the midst of losing one of the most important people in his life. Albom’s For One More Day moved him to cherish and cling to those family members he still had around.

Frankl’s book, too, had an especially profound effect. “My interpretation was that it’s a story about how, through suffering, you can find purpose,” Mitchell says. “I mean, this is someone who has experienced one of the worst things a human being has ever been through, and comes out the other side with purpose.” Death and grief often force the wicked hand of nihilism, but Mitchell, through insights pulled from Frankl, found ways to locate meaning in his father’s passing.

That meaning was, in some ways, about legacy. For three or four years, Mitchell’s father was an aide to Mind, a U.K.-based charity that campaigns for increased services and resources for people with mental health problems.

We don’t often think of books as medicinal, but Dan Yashinsky,
the storyteller-in-residence at Baycrest Health Sciences,
believes “storycare” should be an essential part of health care.

 

After reading Frankl, Mitchell had an idea. “I went to my local charity, the same one [my father] worked at, and I started doing the same thing he did,” he says. Reading Man’s Search For Meaning led Mitchell on a path to retracing his father’s steps, and he now mirrors them almost identically, both as a means of bringing himself closer, spiritually, to his dad and also to confront his father’s passing “in a much healthier way than I would have otherwise.”

“The whole volunteering thing … it gives me a sense of meaning, a sense of purpose.”

Mitchell says people might be inclined to discount bibliotherapy because they don’t feel they need it, or can’t imagine reading as a plausible solution to anything other than boredom. (Even then, the average American reads just four books in a year, so perhaps boredom is less inspiring than one might think.) There’s also the matter of general awareness — most people don’t know anything about bibliotherapy.

Still, he argues that no one needs an “instigate event” to engage with bibliotherapy. Mitchell doesn’t think your heart needs to break for you to read something, or that you need to have some disastrous emotional experience in order to be tricked into reading. He wants to make book therapy a regular part of his children’s lives, so they can prematurely glean some of the insights he’s only arrived at now, in his 40s.

“This has changed my life in a beautiful way,” Mitchell says. “I think it would be a good gift for them, too.”

By Connor Garel    11/13/2019