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Mindfulness May Improve Brain Health And Cognition In Older Adults

Although mindfulness is typically geared towards improving mental health and well-being, it may also provide additional benefits to brain health.

Mindfulness may provide modest benefits to cognition, particularly among older adults, finds a new review of evidence led by UCL researchers.

The systematic review and meta-analysis, published in Neuropsychology Review, found that, while mindfulness is typically geared towards improving mental health and well-being, it may also provide additional benefits to brain health.

The study’s lead author, PhD student Tim Whitfield (UCL Psychiatry) said that “the positive effects of mindfulness-based programs on mental health are already relatively well-established. Here, our findings suggest that a small benefit is also conferred to cognition, at least among older adults.”

The researchers reviewed previously published studies of mindfulness, and identified 45 studies that fit their criteria, which incorporated a total of 2,238 study participants. Each study tested the effects of a mindfulness-based intervention delivered by a facilitator in a group setting, over at least four sessions, while excluding mindfulness retreats in order to have a more homogenous set of studies.

The majority of studies involved a certified instructor teaching participants techniques such as sitting meditation, mindful movement and body scan, generally on a weekly basis across six to 12 weeks, while also asking participants to continue the practices in their own time.

The researchers found that overall, mindfulness conferred a small but significant benefit to cognition.

Subgroup analysis revealed that the effect was slightly stronger for people over 60, while there was not a significant effect for people under 60.

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Tim Whitfield commented that “executive function is known to decline with age among older adults; the improvement in people over 60 suggests that mindfulness may help guard against cognitive decline, by helping to maintain or restore executive function in late adulthood. It might be easier to restore cognitive functions to previous levels, rather than to improve them beyond the developmental peak.”

When they investigated which aspects of cognition were affected, the researchers found that mindfulness was beneficial only to executive function, and more specifically, there was strong evidence of a small positive effect on working memory (which is one facet of executive function).

The researchers also analyzed whether mindfulness outperformed other ‘active interventions’ (such as brain training, relaxation, or other health or educational programs) or only when compared to people who were not offered any alternative treatment. They found that cognitive benefits of mindfulness were only significant compared with an ‘inactive’ comparison, which means they cannot rule out that the benefits may have been at least partly derived from an expectation of treatment benefits, or social interactions.

The researchers say that more research is needed into which characteristics of mindfulness training may be more likely to confer cognitive benefits, or whether delivering interventions over longer periods, or in intensive retreat settings, might yield greater cognitive benefits.

Senior author Dr Natalie Marchant (UCL Psychiatry) said that they “know mindfulness-based programs benefit mental health, and our paper now suggests that mindfulness may also help to maintain cognitive faculties as people age. Mindfulness practices do not share much in common with cognitive test measures, so it is notable that mindfulness training’s impact appears to transfer to other domains. While our review only identified a small benefit to executive function, it remains possible that some types of mindfulness training might deliver larger gains.”

The study was published in the journal Neuropsychology Review (Whitfield et al., 2021).

August 25, 2021

Story source: UCL  PsyBlog


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Building Your Resilience

Having a Strong Life Purpose Eases Loneliness of Covid-19 Isolation, Study Finds

Those Who Felt Their Life Was Guided by Meaningful Values or Goals Were More Willing to Engage in Covid-19 Protective Behaviors

Summary:
Why can some people weather the stress of social isolation better than others, and what implications does this have for their health?
New research found that people who felt a strong sense of purpose in life were less lonely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Why can some people weather the stress of social isolation better than others, and what implications does this have for their health? New research from the Communication Neuroscience Lab at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania found that people who felt a strong sense of purpose in life were less lonely during the COVID-19 pandemic. Did they achieve less loneliness by flouting public health guidance? No. Although lonelier people were less likely to want to follow public health guidance, people with a stronger sense of purpose also expressed more willingness to engage in social distancing, hand washing, and other COVID-19 protective behaviors.

Purpose in life, or a sense that your life is guided by personally meaningful values and goals – which could involve family ties, religion, activism, parenthood, career or artistic ambitions, or many other things — has been associated in prior research with a wide range of positive health outcomes, both physical and psychological.

“In the face of adversity, people with a stronger sense of purpose in life tend to be more resilient because they have a clear sense of goals that motivate actions that are aligned with personal values,” says Yoona Kang, Ph.D., lead author and a Research Director of the Communication Neuroscience Lab. “People with strong purpose may also experience less conflict when making health decisions. We felt that the COVID-19 pandemic was an important context to test whether purpose in life relates to individuals’ willingness to engage in behaviors to protect themselves and others.”

Based on their prior research, Kang and her collaborators expected that people with higher sense of purpose would be more likely to engage in COVID-19 prevention behaviors than individuals with a lower sense of purpose. In order to test their theory, the researchers surveyed more than 500 adult participants to capture their levels of purpose in life, their current and pre-pandemic levels of loneliness, and the degrees to which they intended to engage in behaviors known to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

They found that higher levels of loneliness made people be less focused on protecting themselves from COVID-19, and more skeptical that behaviors to prevent COVID-19 would be effective. However, having a stronger sense of purpose was associated with lower levels of loneliness and a greater desire to take action to protect themselves from COVID-19. Those with a higher sense of purpose also expressed a stronger belief that COVID-19 prevention behaviors would work. Even when people who had a strong sense of purpose did report being lonely, they still felt strongly about taking precautions to prevent COVID-19.

“When faced with extreme loneliness and social isolation, like during the COVID-19 pandemic, wanting to connect with other people, despite the health risks, is a natural response,” Kang says. “And yet, amidst this drastic shift in social life, we found that people with a higher sense of purpose were more likely to engage in prevention behaviors. This is striking because it shows that purpose in life can empower people to make life-saving health decisions that protect their own health and those around them.”

Additionally, the researchers found that older people expressed less loneliness during the COVID-19 pandemic than younger people. Kang sees this as a sign of the resilience of older adults, and she hopes to further study how to enhance purpose in life and resilience in aging populations.

“Having a stronger sense of purpose was associated with really important, positive outcomes across the lifespan,” says Emily Falk, senior author, Director of the Communication Neuroscience Lab, and Professor of Communication, Psychology, and Marketing. “Our upcoming work will test interventions to increase their sense of purpose, in hopes of bringing these benefits to more people.”

The study, published this month in The Gerontologist, is entitled “Purpose in Life, Loneliness, and Protective Health Behaviors during the COVID-19 Pandemic.” In addition to Kang and Falk, authors include Danielle Cosme, Ph.D.; Rui Pei, Ph.D.; Prateekshit Pandey; and José Carreras-Tartak.

Story Source:
Materials provided by University of Pennsylvania. Original written by Ashton Yount. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:
Yoona Kang, Danielle Cosme, Rui Pei, Prateekshit Pandey, José Carreras-Tartak, Emily B Falk. Purpose in life, loneliness, and protective health behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Gerontologist, 2021; DOI: 10.1093/geront/gnab081

June 16, 2021          Source: University of Pennsylvania          Science Daily

resilient

Building Your Resilience

We All Face Trauma, Adversity and Other Stresses. Here’s a Roadmap for Adapting to Life-Changing Situations, and Emerging Even Stronger than Before.

The Road to Resilience

Imagine you’re going to take a raft trip down a river. Along with slow water and shallows, your map shows that you will encounter unavoidable rapids and turns. How would you make sure you can safely cross the rough waters and handle any unexpected problems that come from the challenge?

Perhaps you would enlist the support of more experienced rafters as you plan your route or rely on the companionship of trusted friends along the way. Maybe you would pack an extra life jacket or consider using a stronger raft. With the right tools and supports in place, one thing is sure: You will not only make it through the challenges of your river adventure. You will also emerge a more confident and courageous rafter.

What is resilience?

Life may not come with a map, but everyone will experience twists and turns, from everyday challenges to traumatic events with more lasting impact, like the death of a loved one, a life-altering accident, or a serious illness. Each change affects people differently, bringing a unique flood of thoughts, strong emotions and uncertainty. Yet people generally adapt well over time to life-changing situations and stressful situations—in part thanks to resilience.

Psychologists define resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress—such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors. As much as resilience involves “bouncing back” from these difficult experiences, it can also involve profound personal growth.

While these adverse events, much like rough river waters, are certainly painful and difficult, they don’t have to determine the outcome of your life. There are many aspects of your life you can control, modify, and grow with. That’s the role of resilience. Becoming more resilient not only helps you get through difficult circumstances, it also empowers you to grow and even improve your life along the way.

What resilience isn’t

Being resilient doesn’t mean that a person won’t experience difficulty or distress. People who have suffered major adversity or trauma in their lives commonly experience emotional pain and stress. In fact, the road to resilience is likely to involve considerable emotional distress.

While certain factors might make some individuals more resilient than others, resilience isn’t necessarily a personality trait that only some people possess. On the contrary, resilience involves behaviors, thoughts, and actions that anyone can learn and develop. The ability to learn resilience is one reason research has shown that resilience is ordinary, not extraordinary. One example is the response of many Americans to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and individuals’ efforts to rebuild their lives after tragedy.

Like building a muscle, increasing your resilience takes time and intentionality. Focusing on four core components—connection, wellness, healthy thinking, and meaning—can empower you to withstand and learn from difficult and traumatic experiences. To increase your capacity for resilience to weather—and grow from—the difficulties, use these strategies.

Build your connections

Prioritize relationships. Connecting with empathetic and understanding people can remind you that you’re not alone in the midst of difficulties. Focus on finding trustworthy and compassionate individuals who validate your feelings, which will support the skill of resilience.

The pain of traumatic events can lead some people to isolate themselves, but it’s important to accept help and support from those who care about you. Whether you go on a weekly date night with your spouse or plan a lunch out with a friend, try to prioritize genuinely connecting with people who care about you.

Join a group. Along with one-on-one relationships, some people find that being active in civic groups, faith-based communities, or other local organizations provides social support and can help you reclaim hope. Research groups in your area that could offer you support and a sense of purpose or joy when you need it.

Foster wellness

Take care of your body. Self-care may be a popular buzzword, but it’s also a legitimate practice for mental health and building resilience. That’s because stress is just as much physical as it is emotional. Promoting positive lifestyle factors like proper nutrition, ample sleep, hydration, and regular exercise can strengthen your body to adapt to stress and reduce the toll of emotions like anxiety or depression.

Practice mindfulness. Mindful journaling, yoga, and other spiritual practices like prayer or meditation can also help people build connections and restore hope, which can prime them to deal with situations that require resilience. When you journal, meditate, or pray, ruminate on positive aspects of your life and recall the things you’re grateful for, even during personal trials.

Avoid negative outlets. It may be tempting to mask your pain with alcohol, drugs, or other substances, but that’s like putting a bandage on a deep wound. Focus instead on giving your body resources to manage stress, rather than seeking to eliminate the feeling of stress altogether.

Find purpose

Help others. Whether you volunteer with a local homeless shelter or simply support a friend in their own time of need, you can garner a sense of purpose, foster self-worth, connect with other people, and tangibly help others, all of which can empower you to grow in resilience.

Be proactive. It’s helpful to acknowledge and accept your emotions during hard times, but it’s also important to help you foster self-discovery by asking yourself, “What can I do about a problem in my life?” If the problems seem too big to tackle, break them down into manageable pieces.

For example, if you got laid off at work, you may not be able to convince your boss it was a mistake to let you go. But you can spend an hour each day developing your top strengths or working on your resume. Taking initiative will remind you that you can muster motivation and purpose even during stressful periods of your life, increasing the likelihood that you’ll rise up during painful times again.

Move toward your goals. Develop some realistic goals and do something regularly—even if it seems like a small accomplishment—that enables you to move toward the things you want to accomplish. Instead of focusing on tasks that seem unachievable, ask yourself, “What’s one thing I know I can accomplish today that helps me move in the direction I want to go?” For example, if you’re struggling with the loss of a loved one and you want to move forward, you could join a grief support group in your area.

Look for opportunities for self-discovery. People often find that they have grown in some respect as a result of a struggle. For example, after a tragedy or hardship, people have reported better relationships and a greater sense of strength, even while feeling vulnerable. That can increase their sense of self-worth and heighten their appreciation for life.

Embrace healthy thoughts

Keep things in perspective. How you think can play a significant part in how you feel—and how resilient you are when faced with obstacles. Try to identify areas of irrational thinking, such as a tendency to catastrophize difficulties or assume the world is out to get you, and adopt a more balanced and realistic thinking pattern. For instance, if you feel overwhelmed by a challenge, remind yourself that what happened to you isn’t an indicator of how your future will go, and that you’re not helpless. You may not be able to change a highly stressful event, but you can change how you interpret and respond to it.

Accept change. Accept that change is a part of life. Certain goals or ideals may no longer be attainable as a result of adverse situations in your life. Accepting circumstances that cannot be changed can help you focus on circumstances that you can alter.

Maintain a hopeful outlook. It’s hard to be positive when life isn’t going your way. An optimistic outlook empowers you to expect that good things will happen to you. Try visualizing what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear. Along the way, note any subtle ways in which you start to feel better as you deal with difficult situations.

Learn from your past. By looking back at who or what was helpful in previous times of distress, you may discover how you can respond effectively to new difficult situations. Remind yourself of where you’ve been able to find strength and ask yourself what you’ve learned from those experiences.

Seeking help

Getting help when you need it is crucial in building your resilience.

For many people, using their own resources and the kinds of strategies listed above may be enough for building their resilience. But at times, an individual might get stuck or have difficulty making progress on the road to resilience.

A licensed mental health professional such as a psychologist can assist people in developing an appropriate strategy for moving forward. It is important to get professional help if you feel like you are unable to function as well as you would like or perform basic activities of daily living as a result of a traumatic or other stressful life experience. Keep in mind that different people tend to be comfortable with different styles of interaction. To get the most out of your therapeutic relationship, you should feel at ease with a mental health professional or in a support group.

The important thing is to remember you’re not alone on the journey. While you may not be able to control all of your circumstances, you can grow by focusing on the aspects of life’s challenges you can manage with the support of loved ones and trusted professionals.

APA gratefully acknowledges the following contributors to this publication:
David Palmiter, PhD, Professor of Psychology at Marywood University, Scranton, Penn.Mary Alvord, PhD, Director, Alvord, Baker & Associates, Rockville, Md.Rosalind Dorlen, PsyD, Member: Allied Professional Staff, Department of Psychiatry Overlook Medical Center, Summit, NJ; Senior Faculty, Center for Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis of New Jersey and Field Supervisor at the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology, Rutgers University.Lillian Comas-Diaz, PhD, Director, Transcultural Mental Health Institute, Washington, D.C.Suniya S. Luthar, PhD, Teachers College, Columbia University, New York City, N.Y.Salvatore R. Maddi, PhD, The Hardiness Institute, Inc., University of California at Irvine, Newport Beach, Calif.H. Katherine (Kit) O’Neill, PhD, North Dakota State University and Knowlton, O’Neill and Associates, Fargo, N.D.Karen W. Saakvitne, PhD, Traumatic Stress Institute/Center for Adult & Adolescent Psychotherapy, South Windsor, Conn.Richard Glenn Tedeschi, PhD, Department of Psychology, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

source: American Psychological Association.


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10 Science-Backed Ways To Avoid Depression

Depression is an extremely common experience, which can be hard to escape from once an episode has begun.

Psychological research has found all sorts of ways that the chances of developing depression can be reduced.

From social connection, through building resilience to taking up a hobby, there are many science-backed methods for lowering depression risk.

1. Social connection

Social connection is the strongest protective factor against depression.

People who feel able to tell others about their problems and who visit more often with friends and family have a markedly lower risk of becoming depressed.

The data, derived from over 100,000 people, assessed modifiable factors that could affect depression risk including sleep, diet, physical activity and social interaction.

Dr Jordan Smoller, study co-author, explained the results:

“Far and away the most prominent of these factors was frequency of confiding in others, but also visits with family and friends, all of which highlighted the important protective effect of social connection and social cohesion.”

2. Build resilience

Recalling positive memories helps to build resilience against depression.

Reminiscing about happy events and having a store of these to draw on is one way of building up resilience.

Similarly, getting nostalgic has been found to help fight loneliness and may also protect mental health.

Thinking back to better times, even if they are tinged with some sadness, helps people cope with challenging times.

3. Regulate your mood naturally

Being able to naturally regulate mood is one of the best weapons against depression.

Mood regulation means choosing activities that increase mood, like exercise, when feeling low and doing dull activities like housework when spirits are higher.

Some of the best ways of improving mood are being in nature, taking part in sport, engaging with culture, chatting and playing.

Other mood enhancing activities include listening to music, eating, helping others and childcare.

4. Eat healthily

Eating more fruits and vegetables lowers the risk of depression.

Reducing fat intake and increasing levels of omega-3 are also linked to a lower risk of depression.

The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of fruits and vegetables may account for their beneficial effect.

Vitamins and minerals in fruit and vegetables may also help to lower the markers of inflammation, such as C-reactive protein.

Similarly, adding more fibre to the diet decreases depression risk.

This is probably why many studies link vegetarian and vegan diets to a lower risk of depression.

5. Stop obsessing about failures

Excessive negative thinking about unfulfilled dreams is linked to depression and anxiety.

When people repeatedly compare a mental vision of their ideal self with the failure to reach it, this can produce psychological distress.

Aspirations can be damaging as well as motivating, depending on how the mind deals with them and what results life happens to serve up.

Thinking obsessively about a perceived failure is psychological damaging.

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6. Reduce sedentary activities

Cutting down on screen-time strongly reduces depression risk, whether or not people have previously experienced a depressive episode.

The results come from data covering almost 85,000 people.

The study found that another important lifestyle factor linked to less depression is adequate sleep — around 7 to 9 hours is optimal.

Again, adequate sleep improves mood even in people who have  not experienced depression.

7. Be in nature

Being in nature relaxes the mind, which in turn enhances the immune system.

This may explain why nature has a remarkably beneficial effect on a wide range of diseases including depression, ADHD, cancer, diabetes, obesity and many more.

Dr Ming Kuo, who carried out the research, explained how nature helps:

“When we feel completely safe, our body devotes resources to long-term investments that lead to good health outcomes — growing, reproducing, and building the immune system.

When we are in nature in that relaxed state, and our body knows that it’s safe, it invests resources toward the immune system.”

8. Take up a hobby

People who take up any hobbies reduce their risk of depression by almost one-third.

Pursuing hobbies increases the chance of a depressed person recovering by 272 percent.

Hobbies are usually considered informal leisure activities that are not done for money and do not involve physical activity.

Things like music, drawing, sewing and collecting would be good examples.

To be beneficial to mental health, hobbies do not necessarily need to be social.

However, some studies do find that social hobbies can be particularly beneficial to happiness.

9. Get fit

People high in aerobic and muscular fitness are at half the risk of depression.

Being fit also predicts a 60 percent lower chance of depression.

The study tracked over 150,000 middle-aged people in the UK.

Their aerobic fitness was tested on a stationary bike and muscle strength with a handgrip test.

After seven years, people who were fitter had better mental health.

Those with combined aerobic and muscular fitness had a 98 percent lower risk of depression and 60 percent lower risk of anxiety.

10. Mindfulness

Mindfulness helps to reduce depression, anxiety and stress for many people, new research finds.

However, its effects on depression and anxiety may be relatively small, with the highest quality studies finding little benefit.

The best advice is probably to try and see if it works for you, but do not be surprised if its effects on depression and anxiety are modest.

Here are some common mindfulness exercises that are easy to fit into your day and 10 ways mindfulness benefits the mind.

Want more suggestions? Here are 8 more everyday tools for fighting depression.

May 21, 2021       source: Psyblog


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How To Overcome A Lack Of Sleep

A lack of sleep leads to memory problems, inability to make plans, poor decision-making and a general brain fog.

Just ten minutes of mindfulness helps the mind and body recover from sleep deprivation, new research finds.

Failing to get 7-8 hours sleep per night is linked to memory problems, inability to make plans, poor decision-making and a general brain fog.

But mindfulness has a remarkable restorative effect.

Ten minutes of mindfulness during the day is enough to compensate for 44 minutes of lost sleep at night, the study of entrepreneurs found.

Here are some mindfulness exercises that are easy to fit into your day.

Dr Charles Murnieks, the study’s first author, said:

“You can’t replace sleep with mindfulness exercises, but they might help compensate and provide a degree of relief.

As little as 70 minutes a week, or 10 minutes a day, of mindfulness practice may have the same benefits as an extra 44 minutes of sleep a night.”

The study followed 105 entrepreneurs, 40% of whom were working 50 hours per week or more and sleeping less than six hours a night.

The results showed that entrepreneurs who engaged in more mindfulness were less exhausted.

A second study of a further 329 entrepreneurs also found that mindfulness could offset the damaging effects of sleep deprivation.

However, mindfulness only works in this context when people are low on sleep.

Some people are getting enough sleep, but still feel exhausted.

Dr Murnieks said:

“If you’re feeling stressed and not sleeping, you can compensate with mindfulness exercises to a point.

But when you’re not low on sleep, mindfulness doesn’t improve those feelings of exhaustion.”

Mindfulness helps to reduce stressors before they lead to exhaustion.

For entrepreneurs and others with long working hours, mindfulness can be beneficial.

Dr Murnieks said:

“There are times when you’re launching a new venture that you’re going to have to surge.

Mindfulness exercises may be one way to provide some relief during those tough stretches.”

The study was published in the Journal of Business Venturing (Murnieks et al., 2019).

January 6, 2021

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. 

source: PsyBlog

sleepless

9 Things Sleep Doctors Would Never Do At Night Before Going To Bed

Experts reveal which bedtime habits to avoid if you want to feel rested in the morning.

Getting quality sleep affects everything ― your mood, your weight, your immune system and so much more.
But for many people, logging a full night’s rest can be a challenge. Less than half of North American adults (49%) get the recommended seven to eight hours of shuteye, according to a Better Sleep Council survey from March. And just over half of respondents (52%) described their sleep quality as “poor” or “fair.”
What you do — and don’t do — leading up to bedtime matters; your evening routine can impact your sleep for better or for worse.
We asked sleep doctors what they avoid doing before crawling into their sheets. Of course, no one has perfect sleep habits — not even experts ― but here’s what they try to steer clear of:
1. They don’t watch the news.
“Even though nighttime might seem like the perfect time to catch up on the latest COVID-19 information or the presidential race, we should try to avoid things that can cause anxiety before bed. Unfortunately, nowadays the news is filled with things that can cause worry and other unwanted emotions that you definitely want to avoid if you are hoping to get a good night’s sleep. The news, in some ways, keeps people up late at night the same way that a horror movie can. Images and information regarding violence or fear stimulate your mind preventing you from having a smooth transition into sleep.” — Raj Dasgupta, associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine
2. They avoid working in bed.
“With the COVID-19 pandemic, a significant proportion of our population is working from home these days, and as such, your home has become your office. You want to avoid at all costs working from your bed, however, as you want to maintain the relationship with the brain that the bed is only for two things — sleep and sex.
As you do more and more mentally stimulating activities in bed, the brain slowly develops a psychological association of the bed being a place to stay awake rather than sleep. This, in turn, can trigger people to develop sleep-onset insomnia. Your house is already your office, so during these difficult times, use the bed as your sanctuary — a place to relax, escape work and sleep.” ― Ruchir P. Patel, medical director of the Insomnia and Sleep Institute of Arizona
3. They don’t work out.
“Exercise in the morning or during the daytime can go a long way to helping improve insomnia symptoms at night, but exercise late in the day can be counterproductive. Many people try to exercise at night with the goal of ‘wearing themselves out,’ but are inadvertently making it harder for themselves to fall asleep.” ― Stacey Gunn, sleep medicine physician at the Insomnia and Sleep Institute of Arizona
If you watch to catch some Zzzs, avoid exercising too close to your bedtime.
4. They steer clear of tense conversations.
“Try your hardest to avoid a heated conversation with your significant other before bed. As the saying goes, never go to bed angry, or bad feelings will harden into resentment. There is research to support the idea that negative emotional memories are harder to reverse after a night’s sleep.
Plus, anger is a huge turn-off. If you do this repeatedly, it creates an unhealthy pattern, and destroys potential opportunities for sexual intimacy. Confrontations lead to a stress response, which is exactly opposite of what you want if you’re trying to fall asleep easily. It’s important to create a peaceful environment for you and your partner to have a good night’s sleep. Instead of fighting, maybe snuggle up together and watch ‘Love Actually,’ one of my personal favorites.” — Dasgupta
5. They absolutely do not consume caffeine.
“Avoid drinking any caffeinated drinks past 2 p.m. Caffeinated drinks —including coffee, soda, iced tea, pre-work out drinks or energy drinks — act as a stimulant. Caffeine blocks adenosine receptors — and adenosine [plays a role in] sleep homeostasis.” — Anupama Ramalingam, sleep medicine physician at the Insomnia and Sleep Institute of Arizona
6. They try to avoid drinking alcohol.

“Some people end up self-medicating with a nightcap, because it does help them to fall asleep more easily at the beginning of the night. But I recommend against it because it causes the sleep architecture to be disrupted later on, resulting in poor quality sleep. If I do have a drink in the evening, I try to separate it from bedtime, and give the alcohol a chance to clear out of my system before going to sleep.” ― Gunn

“Many people try to exercise at night with the goal of ‘wearing themselves out,’ but are inadvertently making it harder for themselves to fall asleep.”

7. They don’t use electronic devices (without a blue light filter).

“In sleep and circadian science, we use the term ‘zeitgeber’ — or ‘time giver’ — to describe environmental cues that help us entrain to a 24-hour cycle. Light is the most powerful zeitgeber that signals the brain to stay awake. Prolonged exposure to bright light around bedtime keeps us awake and reduces the amount of sleep we get. Exposure to light at night also suppresses the brain’s natural production of melatonin, a hormone that is released in response to darkness and helps us to fall asleep.” ― Anita Shelgikar, clinical associate professor of neurology and director of the sleep medicine fellowship at the University of Michigan
8. They also don’t keep the lights in their home turned up bright.
“I was reminded during a fishing trip to the Outer Banks [in North Carolina] with my nephews of the importance of avoiding artificial light before bedtime. We were forced to use propane lanterns on the island each night as there was no electricity available. Several of the parents on the fishing trip remarked that the darkness had improved their sleep so much that they might pitch the idea of ‘Lantern Tuesday’ to their spouses: A night each week dedicated to reducing light exposure and improving sleep sounds like a great idea to me!
Exposure to bright light suppresses melatonin secretion. Plus, alteration of the circadian rhythm (or the daily rhythmic sleep-wake cycle) by nocturnal light exposure may contribute to cardiovascular and metabolic disease. What sort of practical steps can one take to avoid bright light? Dim the lights in the home except for a few lamps several hours before bed.” — William J. Healy, assistant professor of medicine and director of sleep quality improvement at Augusta University.
9. They make sure they don’t spend a long time awake in bed.
“Many of our patients will give themselves a 10-hour sleep window but realistically are only asleep for six to eight hours. Please do not spend more time in bed than you really need. All the extra time in bed awake results in your brain starting to develop an association that the bed is a place to be awake and also sleep. But this, in turn, can result in disruption of your sleep drive and thus result in poor sleep efficiency and sleep quality.” — Patel
By  Kelsey Borresen      11/04/2020


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8 Everyday Tools For Fighting Depression

Eight exercise for developing serenity and calm.

Teaching people to focus on positive emotions helps them deal with stress, new research finds.

People were taught classic positive psychology exercises such as keeping a gratitude journal, recognising positive events each day and doing small acts of kindness.

Together, the training helped reduce people’s anxiety and depression over the six weeks of the study.

The researchers focused on 170 caregivers for people with dementia.

Half were put in a control group, while the rest were encouraged to focus on their positive emotions.

People were taught eight skills:

  1. Practice a small act of kindness each day and recognise the power it has to increase positive emotions.
  2. Set a simple and attainable goal for each day and note down progress.
  3. Savour a positive event through journalling or discussing it with someone.
  4. Spot at least one positive event each day.
  5. List a personal strength and how you have used it recently.
  6. Use mindfulness to pay attention to daily experiences.
  7. Identify a daily stressor and reframe it as a positive event.
  8. Keep a gratitude journal.

Professor Judith Moskowitz, the study’s first author, said:

“The caregivers who learned the skills had less depression, better self-reported physical health, more feelings of happiness and other positive emotions than the control group.”

The results showed that those who learned the positive psychology exercises experienced a 7 percent drop in depression scores and 9 percent drop in anxiety.

This was enough to move people from being moderately depressed to being within the ‘normal’ range.

Professor Moskowitz chose dementia caregivers as the disease is on the rise:

“Nationally we are having a huge increase in informal caregivers.

People are living longer with dementias like Alzheimer’s disease, and their long-term care is falling to family members and friends.

This intervention is one way we can help reduce the stress and burden and enable them to provide better care.”

One participant in the study commented:

“Doing this study helped me look at my life, not as a big neon sign that says, ‘DEMENTIA’ in front of me, but little bitty things like, ‘We’re having a meal with L’s sister, and we’ll have a great visit.’

I’m seeing the trees are green, the wind is blowing.

Yeah, dementia is out there, but I’ve kind of unplugged the neon sign and scaled down the size of the letters.”

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 Health Psychology (Moskowitz et al., 2019).

source: Psyblog

 

depression

 

Research Connects Positive Thinking With Reduced Memory Loss

A new study reveals that positive thinking may help reduce memory loss as people age. It seems the people who look at life through rose-colored glasses may have the right idea after all. This study adds to mounting research about the role of a good attitude, or ‘positive effect,’ in healthy aging.

The study, published on October 22, 2020, in the journal Psychological Science, found that people with an optimistic attitude have better memory as they age. Most people want to retain good memories in life, but the ability to do so largely depends on emotional and physical health. While many factors come into play in regards to the strength of our memory, it turns out being cheerful can reduce memory loss.

THE STUDY

For the study, a team of researchers analyzed data from a 9-year longitudinal study involving 991 middle-aged and older U.S. adults. They all participated in a national study conducted at three separate times: between 1995 and 1996, 2004 and 2006, and 2013 and 2014. In the questionnaires, the participants reported on various positive emotions they’d experienced in the past 30 days.

In the last two assessments, the researchers also gave the participants tests to observe the strength of their memory. For these assessments, participants had to recall words right after they’d been said to them, and again after 15 minutes passed. The researchers analyzed how positive thinking could reduce memory loss, taking age, gender, education, depression, negative outlooks, and extroversion into account.

“Our findings showed that memory declined with age,” said Claudia Haase, senior author of the paper and an associate professor at Northwestern University.

“However, individuals with higher levels of positive affect had a less steep memory decline over the course of almost a decade,” added Emily Hittner, the paper’s lead author and a Ph.D. graduate of Northwestern University.

In the future, they hope to do further studies on what life factors may improve positive affect, and therefore reduce memory loss. For example, better physical health and stronger relationships may play a role in one’s overall happiness.

OTHER WAYS TO REDUCE MEMORY LOSS

 In addition to thinking positively, other lifestyle factors can help improve your memory:

1 – GET PLENTY OF EXERCISE.

Exercise improves every aspect of health, not just our physical appearance and muscle-to-fat ratio. You will increase your endurance and strength, plus give your brain muscles a run for their money as well. Since the mind and body are inarguably linked, we must take care of them both.

Lack of exercise can lead to developing health problems such as obesity. A growing body of evidence links obesity and all the health complications that go along with it to increased memory loss. Furthermore, obesity heightens the risk of developing Alzheimer’s or dementia later in life.

Researchers believe this may occur because obesity negatively affects brain structure and volume. Overweight and obesity cause the hippocampus to shrink, which leads to cognitive decline. Also, the same proteins in the brain that lead to Alzheimer’s have been found in those with severe obesity.

Several studies show how regular exercise may help reduce memory loss. For example, studies have shown that regular aerobic exercise can result in a larger hippocampus. This area of the brain aids in learning and memory; therefore, a larger brain can support a stronger memory.

2 – PRIORITIZE SLEEP.

Unfortunately, in our “24/7” society, many of us suffer from some level of sleep deprivation. When we run on little sleep, it starts to affect our cognitive function, including memory. Deep, quality sleep helps us consolidate and sort through memories, so without enough REM sleep, our memory suffers. No matter what your schedule looks like, aim for 7-8 hours of sleep each night, and make sure to keep it consistent.

3 – EAT A HEALTHY DIET.

What we put into our bodies not only affects our physical health, but our mental performance as well. Eating too many processed, high-calorie foods can lead to a feeling of brain fog, impairing our memory. Experts say that if you want to reduce memory loss, you should include these foods in your diet:

  • Fatty fish, such as salmon
  • Blueberries
  • Turmeric
  • Broccoli
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Dark chocolate (near 100% cacao, little or no sugar added)
  • Nuts such as walnuts
  • Oranges
  • Green tea
  • Coffee

4 – DO BRAIN GAMES AND PUZZLES.

Just like any other muscle in your body, your brain needs regular exercise to perform at its best. Do crossword puzzles or other brain games which require you to jog your memory. Instead of passing your time scrolling through social media or watching Netflix, take a few minutes a day to challenge your brain. Not only will you possibly learn something new, but you will reduce memory loss in the process.

5 – WATCH YOUR SUGAR CONSUMPTION.

This tip will help both your physical health and your memory. Just like berries and nuts can improve your memory, unhealthy foods like sugar can hinder it. Studies show that people who eat a lot of sugar have difficulty remembering things and have a heightened risk of developing dementia. Even if the person doesn’t have diabetes, eating too much sugar can hinder memory and brain health.

Researchers believe that, once again, the hippocampus starts to malfunction with too much sugar intake. While it requires a certain amount of glucose to function, too much of it can cause the opposite effect.

FINAL THOUGHTS ON RESEARCH THAT SHOWS POSITIVE THINKING CAN REDUCE MEMORY LOSS

Positive thinking enhances many aspects of life, from our relationships to our physical health. Researchers have found that optimism may help reduce memory loss as well, perhaps due to stronger pathways in the brain. While more studies need to be done about the relationship between memory and positive thinking, this shows great promise for future research.

Since thoughts create our reality, it seems vitally important that we pay attention to what goes on inside our heads. Positive thoughts lead to better outcomes in life, so make sure to take care of your mental health.

source: www.powerofpositivity.com


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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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5 Tips For Combating Loneliness During Lock Down

Weekends and weekdays are not what they used to be, with a pandemic happening all over the world, we are all told to stay home and self-isolate for an extensive period of time. Although this is to help reduce the spread of the virus and ensure we keep ourselves healthy and safe, more and more people will feel extremely lonely. Being told not to leave our homes can have a huge impact on our mental health as we feel isolated and cut off from the world. Naturally we want to communicate with others, go out freely and do what we do on a daily basis. So, having these restrictions put in place can be difficult for many. This is why it is important for those feeling lonely during this period of time to find ways to combat it.

It is extremely important that you keep yourself occupied or that you find ways into getting into contact with other people. Here are a just a few ideas to help fight your loneliness during your self-isolation time.

1) Make use of technology
Yes, you read it right. This might come across as a surprise as many people will be against others spending a long period of time on their mobile phones or laptops whilst being alone.

But it is all about how you utilize your mobile phone!

This does not mean spending hours scrolling endlessly on your Instagram or watching YouTube videos back to back that have no meaning. You want to take advantage of the things your mobile phone can offer.

There are millions of apps you can download falling under different categories. If you enjoy reading or listening to audiobooks, there is an app for that. If you want to learn a new skill, there is an app for that. If you want to learn a new language, there is an app for that. If you want to catch up with a group of friends and play a game, there is an app for that. If you want to connect with like-minded people (in industry, for dating etc), there is an app for that. Now it is easier than ever to do what you’ve always wanted to do through your mobile phone, there is a world and a wealth of knowledge at your finger tips. So take advantage and go for it!

2) Communication
It is hugely recommended that you try to avoid texting friends and family and instead opt for different forms of communication while you are self-isolating. This includes voice notes and video calls. Video calls are recommended as is truly is the best thing after face to face interaction. If you find yourself lonely, video call a friend or family member. Seeing their facial expressions and reading their body language will help you feel like you’re not alone in your home.

There is also the possibility of having Thursday night drinks online, or watching a movie synchronised with friends.

3) Find your community
Now is the perfect time to identify your community. By this I mean, think about what your passion is. Now I can guarantee you, you will find an online community for it. Explore different platforms and find support groups and online communities that fulfil your needs and interests. It is the perfect opportunity to meet like-minded people and allows you to be your true authentic and vulnerable self. You will begin to build your own safe space online, allowing you to escape from your home to a space filled with interesting people.

4) Keep yourself occupied
It is important that you fill the time you have while you are self-isolating, keeping yourself occupied. With so much time on your hands, you can find yourself overthinking leading to you feeling anxious and lonely. Keeping yourself occupied can simply mean tidying up your room, learning a new recipe, working on a business idea, thinking of how you can add value to your employers or even picking up that book you’ve wanted to read for some time.

It is also important to have some downtime, you can keep yourself occupied by watching a series on an online streaming platform or listening to an audiobook. Podcasts are also highly recommended as it gives the feeling you are surrounded by others in the room. This will stop you from feeling lonely as you will have distractions all around you.

5) Stay active
There is an emphasis placed on ensuring you stay active throughout this self-isolation period. As gyms and many parks are closed, there are several alternative options instead:

  • YouTube – YouTube has millions of workout videos you can do online from the comfort of your home. There are all kinds of workouts available, with something for everyone. In addition to lots of personal trainers offering online sessions live on Instagram.
  • Cycle – if you own a bicycle, go for a ride. This is a great way to stay active and also ensures you are not in contact with anyone whilst doing it.
  • Go for a walk – If you don’t own a bicycle or don’t want to work out at home, the best option is to go for a walk. Take a walk around your neighbourhood, allowing yourself time to relax and take in the scenery around you.

These are only a few suggestions to help you during your self-isolation. Give some a try and make sure you are always keeping yourself busy or communicating with others to help fight the feeling of loneliness. If you need help, confide in someone or call a helpline.

Stay home, Stay safe!

Bianca Miller Cole  Apr 4, 2020
 
smartphone

Four Ways to Help Prevent Loneliness
While You’re Social Distancing

What if we were told that the best way to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic was to smoke 15 cigarettes a day? What would you do?

Loneliness, we know from the research, can be as bad for your health as smoking. It’s more predictive of mortality than obesity. And loneliness itself was a pandemic long before covid-19 got its name. (Between 1990 and 2010, there was a threefold increase in the number of Americans who said they had no one in whom they could confide.)

So canceling church, school, work and sports means we are doing something that can be hazardous to our health — in order to save lives.

It sounds like a trap. But it’s more like a balancing act — a seesaw we all have to ride now. You can alter one side and stay in balance, but only if you change what’s on the other.

We’ve heard a lot about what not to do. Now it’s time to talk about what we can do. “Look, I wash my hands a lot,” says Monica Schoch-Spana, a medical anthropologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “But if that’s all people are told to do, it only takes you so far.”

There are at least four specific activities that can help compensate for all the things we are not doing, according to the research and my conversations with disaster experts, psychologists and epidemiologists.

Loneliness creates a kind of toxic chain reaction in our body: It produces stress, and the chronic release of stress hormones suppresses our immune response and triggers inflammation. And the elderly, who are most at-risk of dying from covid-19, are more likely to say they are lonely.

Fear also causes the release of stress hormones. And a pandemic involves massive amounts of uncertainty: by definition, the kind that won’t go away quickly. That kind of ongoing stress is hard for anyone to handle.

So what is the antidote? First, anyone who can exercise should do more of it now, every day. Physical exercise reduces stress and boosts immune functioning. “Outdoor activities are good. Going for a walk, riding a bike, those are all great,” says Caitlin M. Rivers, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins. You can even do this with a friend, assuming you both feel healthy and are not in high-risk groups (and assuming you stay six feet apart in places such as San Francisco, where public health officials have so ordered). “Our overall goal is to reduce the number of contacts we have with other people, but you have to strike a balance.” And there’s never been an easier time to exercise without going outside or to the gym. (My current “gym” is on my phone, through apps such as Aaptiv, as well as free online yoga classes.)

Second, social closening. (Yes, that’s a word, it turns out.) Relationships are as good for the immune system as exercise. In a meta-analysis of 148 studies that followed more than 300,000 people for an average of eight years, researchers found that positive social relationships gave people a 50 percent greater chance of surviving over time compared with people with weak social ties. This connectedness had a bigger impact on mortality than quitting smoking.

To keep your relationships active, the phone is your lifeline. I’ve set a personal goal to talk (actually talk, not text) with one or two friends, elderly neighbors or family members by phone every day until this pandemic ends.

The one upside of every disaster I’ve covered over the past two decades is that people feel a strong impulse to come together and help each other. So far, I’ve seen that same tendency play out among friends and neighbors, despite social distancing, and we all have to work to keep that going. The coronavirus gives us an excuse to check in with each other.

The third antidote is mindfulness. If you have resisted this trend so far, now may be the time to reconsider. Meditation reduces inflammation and enhances our immune functions, literally undoing the damage of self-isolation. There is evidence that prayer can have a similar effect.

I’ve been using the meditation app Headspace for 10 minutes every day for the past two years. The big surprise is that meditation is not about clearing your mind. It’s about managing your attention, and it’s a hard skill to learn without some kind of guidance. It may sound kind of woo woo, but the science is persuasive. More persuasive than it is for other things we do (such as taking multivitamins).

Fourth, do something small for someone else. In surveys, people say volunteering gives them a sense of purpose and reduces anxiety. In Ireland, a woman named Helen O’Rahilly has helped organize nearly 6,000 volunteers to help elderly and immune-compromised people get groceries, almost entirely through Twitter. In Louisville, Erin Hinson is matching volunteers with people in need using Google Docs. My son and another kid on our street created fliers offering to help run errands for anyone who can’t go outside.

Wherever they strike, disasters have a way of revealing our preexisting weaknesses. But they also open up opportunities. I’ve seen this again and again, from communities destroyed by Hurricane Katrina to families devastated by 9/11. There is a golden hour after disaster strikes, a chance to come together and build resilience.

But this doesn’t happen automatically. We have to seize the opportunity, without fear. Viruses may be contagious, but so is courage.

By Amanda Ripley     March 17, 2020
 
Amanda Ripley is a contributing writer at the Atlantic
and the author of “The Unthinkable: 
Who Survives When Disaster Strikes — and Why.”
 

How to Prevent Loneliness in a Time of Social Distancing

Here’s advice for preserving your mental health while avoiding physical proximity
With increasing numbers of people isolated because of quarantine and social distancing, COVID-19 is not the only public health threat we should be worried about—loneliness is one as well.
While scientists are rushing to understand how the coronavirus works, researchers have long understood the toll that social isolation and loneliness take on the body. People who do not feel connected to others are more likely to catch a cold, experience depression, develop heart disease, have lower cognitive function and live a shorter life. In fact, the long-term harm caused by loneliness is similar to smoking or obesity.
In January, a national survey found that 79 percent of Gen Zers, 71 percent of millennials and 50 percent of baby boomers feel lonely. Similarly, the proportion of people who belong to any kind of community group, such as a hobby club, sports league or volunteer group, fell from 75 to 57 percent over the past decade. Even without the coronavirus keeping us apart, it seems the majority of the population suffers from poor social health.
Although isolation is the right response to the coronavirus pandemic, we need the exact opposite in response to the loneliness epidemic. So how can you cultivate your social well-being while avoiding infection?
An obvious answer is the device you are reading this article on. People often blame technology for the prevalence of loneliness, pointing out that we spend too much time scrolling through social media and not enough of it interacting IRL. Yet recent research by my colleagues at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health paints a more nuanced picture: how you use such platforms seems to matter more than how much you do so. We can all benefit from developing digital habits that support meaningful human connections—especially now that it may be our only option until the outbreak calms.
Whether you are quarantined, working remotely or just being cautious, now is the perfect time to practice using technology in socially healthy ways. Here are a few suggestions for how to connect without contact.
Face-to-face from afar: The next best thing to in-person interaction is video chat, because facial cues, body language and other nonverbal forms of communication are important for bonding. When possible, opt for video over messaging or calling and play around with doing what you would normally do with others. For example, try having a digital dinner with someone you met on a dating app, a virtual happy hour with friends or a remote book club meeting.
One-minute kindness: Getting lots of likes on a social media post may give you a fleeting hit of dopamine, but receiving a direct message or e-mail with a genuine compliment or expression of gratitude is more personal and longer lasting—without taking much more time. When you find yourself scrolling through people’s posts, stop and send one of them a few kind words. After all, we need a little extra kindness to counter the stress and uncertainty of the coronavirus.
Cultivate your community: The basis of connection is having something in common. Whatever your niche interest is, there is an online community of people who share your passion and can’t wait to nerd out with you about it. There are also digital support groups, such as for new parents or patients with a rare disease. Use these networks to engage around what matters most to you.
Deepen or broaden: Fundamentally, there are two ways to overcome loneliness: nurture your existing relationships or form new ones. Reflect on your current state of social health and then take one digital action to deepen it—such as getting in touch with a friend or family member you haven’t spoken with in a while—or to broaden it—such as reaching out to someone you’d like to get to know.
Use a tool: Increasingly, apps and social platforms are being designed to help us optimize our online interactions with loved ones, including Ikaria, Cocoon, Monaru and Squad. If you do well with structure, these resources may be a useful option for you. Or you can consider using conversation prompts, such as TableTopics or The And, to spark interesting dialogue during a video call.
The coronavirus pandemic has reminded us that human connection can spread illness. But human connection also promotes wellness. Let’s take this opportunity to recognize the importance of relationships for our health and to practice leveraging technology for social well-being.
By Kasley Killam      March 12, 2020
ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)
Kasley Killam is an Master of Public Health candidate at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health
and a World Economic Forum Global Shaper who specializes in social health and well-being.
 


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Long-Term Social Distancing May Be Traumatic. Here Is What To Expect And What To Do

Passover, Easter and Ramadan are occasions that typically bring families together to pray, reflect and celebrate – fellowship needed, perhaps, now more than ever – will look different this year as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

The loss of those traditions is added to a growing list of losses that North Americans are facing as they endure at least another month of social distancing and with it an extended departure from routines, habits, social circles and normalcy.

The protracted disruption to life as it was, mental health experts say, could bring feelings of anger, depression, anxiety and even grief.

“There is literal grief like losing loved ones,” said Dr. Vaile Wright, the American Psychology Association’s director of clinical research. “But there is a grief of experiences that we are losing right now. There can feel like there is a lot of loss right now, a loss of freedom, a lot of things we took for granted.”

The next few months may take a toll on the nation’s mental health, experts say, but it is possible to mitigate the stress.

North Americans’ collective trauma

Extended isolation and stress from the pandemic can affect everyone differently, said Dr. Dana Garfin, a health psychologist.

It could put strain on families, send children home to abusive situations, make those living alone feel isolated and threaten people’s sense of purpose by keeping them from work, Garfin said.

And those experiencing financial insecurity in the midst of the pandemic have an added stress that is difficult to resolve, said Dr. Baruch Fischhoff, a psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University.

Despite those differences, the experience of staying home together through a pandemic can be considered a collective trauma, said Garfin, who studies collective traumas such as hurricanes, terrorist attacks and earthquakes.

Collective traumas start at some point of impact and then ripple out to loved ones of the afflicted, witnesses to the devastation and people whose lives are disrupted.

In this case, many Americans fall into one or more of those categories. People in quarantine show signs of confusion, depression and anger, Garfin said.

“We necessarily run much of our lives by habit,” said Fischhoff. “We know what we have for breakfast, we know how to prepare the kids for school, and that enables us to get through the day reasonably well.”

But now that many North Americans aren’t waking up and going to school and work, it can be difficult to know how to restructure even the most rote daily habits that won’t be coming back for weeks yet.

What life might look like on the other side of coronavirus

How long the pandemic and the isolation continue will dictate how severe the effects are on people’s mental health, Garfin said.

Prolonged exposure to the traumas of coronavirus can activate the fight or flight response, which over time can cause cardiovascular problems, anxiety, depression and PTSD, Garfin said. And the extended isolation can contribute to fear, anxiety, headaches, muscle tension and difficulty concentrating, said Wright.

For some groups, like health care workers, those in the media and people in newly deemed “essential jobs,” the end result may be guilt, grief and PTSD, said Wright.

But, Wright and Garfin agreed, humans are resilient.

Some may forget everything they just went through and go back to their daily lives when it is all over, Wright said, but many can come out of this with stronger relationships and a better perspective on what is important.

How to get through it

The future is uncertain, but life will be different for at least the next month and that knowledge can be the first step to making this new, temporary reality as good as it can be.

Now that it is clear the change is for more than a couple of weeks, it is important to create a new routine – one that includes showering, getting dressed and maintaining family meals — not treating the time as an extended snow day or spring vacation, Wright said.

There is an opportunity for people to develop new habits around the disruption, which can relieve the stress of feeling like starting from scratch every day, Fischhoff said.

And all three say it is important to use social media to be social, not to feed the anxiety that conflicting coronavirus information on the platform stokes.

They also agree that this experience is difficult, and it is important to acknowledge that and not be too critical of what one could have done before or could be doing now.

“I think that we need to recognize that this is totally unprecedented, and we really are just doing the best we can – and that’s OK,” Wright said. And for people doing the best they can but struggling to work, study or care for their families, virtual mental health resources may be a crucial next step.

And for those who are lonely and isolated, Garfin suggests reframing for a feeling of community within that experience.

“We aren’t in our houses alone, we are doing something for each other for our community,” Garfin said. “It’s a shared effort, something that we are all a part of and something we are all contributing to.”
“It’s going to be difficult, but it’s not permanent.”

 

By Madeline Holcombe, CNN       Thu April 9, 2020
source: www.cnn.com
plan

Take A Breath:
How The Simple Act Of Meditative Breathing
Helps Us Cope

A global pandemic causes so much worry, concern and fear. There’s the pressure of suddenly being a homeschooling parent and trying to create structure around newfound chaos in your home.

A lot of us are adjusting to working from home, all while tending to worries about the state of the world. Maybe you fret over the health of aging parents or feel anxious over the ever-changing news cycle.

Psychological stress can damper your overall health, affecting your ability to remain resilient in the face of challenges. It can also thwart a strong immune system, which is needed to keep from getting sick.

“Living through a pandemic can be scary,” said CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta in the March 18 episode of CNN’s “Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction” podcast.

The good news: Meditation is one tool that can help our immune systems functioning optimally, according to a recent study.

One of the easiest ways to reduce stress is by simply focusing your attention on your breath, according to Harvard Medical School, since it’s a form of beginner level meditation that anyone can do.

Alternative medicine advocate Dr. Deepak Chopra, in Dr. Gupta’s podcast episode titled “Pandemic Panic,” walks us through how to do a breathing meditation to ease our stress, thus calming our minds.

Breathing through the stress of a pandemic

According to Harvard Medical School, breathing meditation requires either sitting comfortably, standing or walking in a setting with minimal distractions. Many people prefer to sit.

If you’re sitting, focus first on your posture: You should sit with your spine erect.

As you become aware of the space you’re in and sit comfortably, observe your breath without manipulating it for a few seconds, Chopra suggests.

Then, slow your breath down by inhaling deeply to the count of six.

Pause for two seconds.

Exhale to the count of four. Then repeat this six-two-four breathing method for two minutes.

“Then, when you’re done with that, bring your awareness into your body and wherever there seems to be any discomfort, just bring the awareness there without manipulating it,” Chopra said. “Awareness by itself heals. Awareness without conceptual intervention restores self-regulation.”

“The goal is really to breathe from your diaphragm,” as opposed to shallow breaths from your chest, said Vaile Wright, a psychologist and director of clinical research and quality at the American Psychological Association.

“And the way to know whether you’re doing that or not, or a trick at least, is to place your hand just below your ribs on your stomach.” When you inhale you should feel your body expanding, then contracting when you inhale.

If the initial peace is interrupted by your thoughts, the meditation isn’t a failure. Though breathing meditations are simple to begin with, they can take practice before you’re able to maintain focus for an extended period of time, Wright said. Just acknowledge the thought and try to let it go.

You don’t have to concentrate on any format, but some people find that adding some sort of mantra or visualization to it helps, Wright said.

“For example, when you’re breathing in, telling yourself [in your head that] you’re breathing in love. When you’re exhaling, telling yourself you’re exhaling anxiety. Or, breathing in positive energy, exhaling negative energy or visualizing negative energy coming out of your mouth and out of your body.”

Chopra starts his day with three or four intentions: “I’m going to maintain a joyful, energetic body today; a loving and compassionate heart today; a reflective and quiet and creative and centered mind today; and lightness of being and laughter today, whatever it takes.”

By doing these intentions, you can start to feel better, he said.

Modern technology offers up apps and smart watches that can help guide you through a meditation if you have trouble staying focused.

“Slow your breath, your thoughts will slow down as well,” Chopra said.

breathe
try this for 2 – 5 minutes

Benefits for your overall health

Breathing meditations can contribute to a state of mindfulness by bringing your focus to one thing and only thing only – your breath, Wright said.

“The goal of that is to draw your attention away from maybe worry thoughts you’re having or sort of the catastrophic thoughts or maybe depressing thoughts about feeling alone,” she added. When you’re focusing, those thoughts can be pushed aside, helping you to control your emotions.

Mindfulness has been found to influence two stress pathways in the brain, altering brain structure and activity in regions that regulate attention and emotion, according to the American Psychological Association.

In a 2015 review of studies on the effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), researchers found that people who received this therapy were less likely to respond to stressful situations with negative thoughts or unhelpful emotional reactions.

Those participants were also more likely to focus on the present moment and less likely to experience ruminating thoughts.

Breathing meditations can also reduce muscle tension and your heart rate, which are signs of stress, Wright said.

Carrying yourself through a hard time

Breathing meditations are another tool you can add to your coping toolkit, which may also include journaling, baking or virtually connecting with others.

“What’s great about breathing is you can do it anywhere,” Wright said. “If music is your way of relaxing, what happens when you don’t have access to it? You always have access to your breathing, so in that sense [breathing meditations] are really portable and very accessible. We really need a variety of different coping skills in order to get through particularly unprecedented situations like this one.”

Mindfulness may not make everything go away, Wright said, but it can bring you to a “calmer state so that you’re better able to deal with all the stress that’s going on.”

By Kristen Rogers, CNN      Fri March 27, 2020
source: www.cnn.com


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20 Small But Substantial Ways You Can Use Pandemic Isolation to Emotionally Grow

Has anyone else been thinking lately about the endless ways that life can challenge us? Because I sure have. Whatever negative events you may have imagined happening in your future, the coronavirus pandemic was probably not one of them.

It seems that the current state of our world, replete as it is with quarantines, stay-at-home orders, closed businesses, lost projects, and social distancing leaves probably about 90% or more people feeling alone, uncertain and lost.

As a psychologist who specializes in the effects of Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN on adults, I can tell you that scores of people have brought a big dose of those 3 feelings forward from their childhoods and have been coping with them for years. And now, in this current situation, we are now handed an extra dose of them plus a whole lot more.

Whether you grew up in a family that ignored the emotions of its members (CEN) or not: If you are stuck at home, feeling stressed, lost, confused, terrified, alone, helpless or hopeless, sad, worried, or angry, I want you to know that there is a way to turn this around for yourself.

The Importance of Control in an Uncontrollable Time

Much of this situation is truly out of your control, but not all of it. It is possible to reframe your current situation into an opportunity. An opportunity to do things you were never able to do because of time, stress, and all the life demands that you’ve always been juggling.

I believe you can survive the challenges of this pandemic. But I want you to do better than survive. I want you to keep on growing in surprising ways. I want you to thrive.

Not all of the ideas I’m going to offer below seem psychological, but believe me, they are. Each has the potential to greatly impact your emotional health now, and also continue once this pandemic eases up. They will all return you to your regular life as an improved version of your current self.

20 Ideas to Help You Survive & Thrive Through the Epidemic

  1. Declutter your house. Is your clutter getting out of control because of your busy life? Use this time to get organized. Go through the papers and unnecessary objects in your house and sort it and get rid of some detritus. It will feel so good. It’s you taking control in an uncontrollable situation.
  2. Learn a new language. It has so many benefits. It not only improves your brain, but it also connects you to a different culture and that is a good thing in today’s world.
  3. Write. Writing, no matter what kind you do taps into an expressive, thoughtful part of your inner self. Have you had an idea for a novel or a memoir? Is there a part of your life that you would like to remember? Some unprocessed painful memory? Write about it.
  4. Clean the small spaces in your home. You know those little corners behind furniture, under furniture, window sills or the tops of windows and doors? Now is a great chance to attack those. You’ll feel so good about it.
  5. Improve your cooking. Cooking is a form of creativity and it’s also a way to practice self-care.
  6. Explore new music. It’s easy to fall into a rut of listening to the same artists or styles over and over. Get yourself out of it and try something new.
  7. Sharpen a music interest or talent. Always wanted to learn the guitar or how to sing in tune? Now’s your time.
  8. Improve your relationship with an important person. This might be anyone who you’ve always wanted to have a better relationship with. Amazing progress can be made when you have the time and energy to focus on it.
  9. Become more familiar with your emotions. This would benefit almost every human alive today. Why? Because your feelings are amazing tools that you could be harnessing better than you probably are to assist you in self-knowledge, self-expression, and decision-making. This is also one of the steps of healing Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN.
  10. Practice and learn meditation and mindfulness. This will help you find your center better and control your own brain, both of which are helpful when dealing with stressful situations.
  11. Make a list of the strengths that got you through previous life setbacks. I know you have some. Being aware of them allows you to consciously call upon them when you need them.
  12. Be grateful every morning when you wake up healthy and alive. Be grateful for the lives and health of your loved ones. Gratitude has been found to be a major contributor to life happiness. No matter what is going on around you, there are, without a doubt, some genuine things you should still be thankful for.
  13. Think of a goal that’s achievable now that could not have occurred to you in the pre-Covid world. This might be anything positive and healthy.
  14. Reach out to someone you cared about before but lost track of due to hectic life. An old childhood friend, a cousin, aunt or uncle, or a college buddy. Reconnection is enriching and enlivening.
  15. Practice or learn a new skill that applies to your career. Take an online course or read a book. Or simply practice what you already know to get better at it.
  16. Choose an intimidating exercise you can do at home and do it every day. For example, 10 push-ups or pull-ups/day. Tailor it to your own body and abilities.
  17. Give. Find a way to help in person or online and offer to help them. Like gratitude, research shows that helping others makes a person happier.
  18. Let your mind wander. There is a great shortage of this simple pleasure in today’s world. Just sit. Ponder. Let your mind go. It’s good for you, I promise.
  19. Read a challenging book. This could be any book you’ve wanted to read but haven’t had the time or energy for.
  20. Reach out to someone you wronged in the past and apologize. Virtually everyone has a nagging sense of guilt about having behaved in some negative or harmful way in the past, even if unintentional. This is your opportunity to wipe your guilt away by offering an explanation or apology. Or, if you cannot reach out to the person, think it through, learn a lesson from it, and put it behind you.

The way you are feeling now as an adult mimics, in many ways, the feelings of an emotionally neglected child. Lost, alone and uncertain, you wonder what comes next.

But now you know that the answer to that is in large part up to you. You can use this painful time to improve yourself and become stronger for whatever your future holds.

What feeds your self-respect, self-like and self-love more than watching yourself take the lemons the world is handing you and turn them into lemonade?

There is no stronger sign of emotional health than resilience. And growing yourself in any one of these impactful ways during a global crisis rife with setbacks is definitely a sign of just that.

Stay healthy and safe.

By Jonice Webb PhD         29 Mar 2020
Better-Mental-Health

For Mental Well-Being, Live in Moment But Plan For Future

People who manage to balance living in the moment with planning for the future are best able to weather daily stress without succumbing to negative moods, according to a new study by researchers from North Carolina (NC) State University.

“It’s well established that daily stressors can make us more likely to have negative affect, or bad moods,” said Dr. Shevaun Neupert, a professor of psychology at NC State and corresponding author of a paper on the recent work. “Our work here sheds additional light on which variables influence how we respond to daily stress.”

In particular, the research team looked at two factors that are believed to influence how we handle stress: mindfulness and proactive coping.

Mindfulness is defined as a mental state in which a person is centered and living in the moment, rather than dwelling in the past or stressing about the future. Proactive coping is when people engage in planning ahead to lower the risk of future stress.

To better understand how these factors influence responses to stress, the research team looked at data from 223 study participants. The study included 116 individuals between the ages of 60 and 90, and 107 people between the ages of 18 and 36. All of the study participants were in the United States.

All of the study participants were asked to complete an initial survey in order to determine their tendency to engage in proactive coping. They were then asked to fill out questionnaires for eight consecutive days that assessed fluctuations in mindfulness. On those eight days, participants were also asked to report daily stressors and the extent to which they had experienced negative moods.

The research team found that engaging in proactive coping was beneficial at limiting the effect of daily stressors, but that this advantage essentially disappeared on days when a participant reported low mindfulness.

“Our results show that a combination of proactive coping and high mindfulness result in study participants of all ages being more resilient against daily stressors,” Neupert said. “Basically, we found that proactive planning and mindfulness account for about a quarter of the variance in how stressors influenced negative affect.

“Interventions targeting daily fluctuations in mindfulness may be especially helpful for those who are high in proactive coping and may be more inclined to think ahead to the future at the expense of remaining in the present.”

Several studies have shown the benefits of mindfulness in daily stress reduction, as well as in reducing cognitive impairment in older adults, helping people in high-risk jobs and those struggling with drug addiction.

The new findings underscore the importance of daily mindfulness coupled with adequately planning ahead for the future, as these may help a person stay in a positive mindset and not succumb to high stress levels or negative moods.

The new paper is published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences. First author of the paper is Melody Polk, an undergraduate at NC State. The paper was co-authored by Emily Smith and Ling-Rui Zhang, graduate students at NC State. The work was done with support from North Carolina State’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

By Traci Pedersen
Associate News Editor     29 Mar 2020
Source: North Carolina State University


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Mindfulness and Anxiety

Mindfulness practice, at its core, is the opposite of an anxious mind.

What Is Mindfulness?

“There have been many tragedies in my life, but most of them have not happened.” —Mark Twain

Anxiety lives in fears of the future that haven’t happened yet. How often does what you worry about actually happen? Take a second to reflect on the last spiral of worry that took over you. While bad things do happen, the odds are that it was much worse in your mind than what happened or what may happen.

The truth is, most of what we worry about never happens. We’re hardwired to be perceiving and responding to threats. It’s what has kept us alive evolutionarily; other mammals can fight with fangs and claws, but we are “thinking mammals.” We can hardly spend a few moments without thinking. This makes sense, as it’s what has kept us alive. This often causes an emergency response, despite the veracity of the actual threat.

Fear (the core of anxiety, really) is our body’s ancient response to perceived peril, no matter how negligible it actually is. It can present itself as a stress-related physical symptom, making us desperate to get rid of it. This constant state of worry and threat-scanning and detection can wear us down. This can make us avoid any danger signs, even when they often are just signs.

Unfortunately, this is often a trap. What we constantly avoid, we strengthen (i.e., the confrontational conversation or passing by the area where you were robbed), reinforcing its danger, no matter how harmless it may be and usually is.

Our propensity to plan, especially when it stems from anxiety, can also easily become excessive and counterproductive, taking us away from the pleasure and richness of the moment, the only time we can actually feel joy, happiness, pleasure, and peace. We’re also conditioned by capitalism to look for the next thing, taking us away from the now, and everything is usually OK right now unless it’s an emergency or crisis. This is where mindfulness comes in.

Mindfulness practices rewire the brain toward savoring the present moment, instead of dwelling on anxiety, which is often living the state of perceived fears. In mindfulness practice, we learn the wisdom in prioritizing. Things that we’re worrying about often aren’t urgent.

It’s easy to forget you have time to deal with many of the stressors you chronically worry about, and you’ve dealt with them well your whole life! In fact, thinking about bad things happening is worse than just dealing with them! Showing up 20 minutes late to the event wasn’t that bad after all, right?

Worry can also, covertly, feel enjoyable; it’s easy to worry even when everything is OK now. I’m personally an expert at this. The mind can think that worry is what prevented something bad from happening, which can mistakenly reinforce it, despite its factual falseness. Worry often tricks us into thinking we’re “taking action” to prevent danger, when we may actually be reinforcing it.

Mindfulness practice helps you see and prevent these mental pitfalls from decreasing your unnecessary suffering and worrying. What can be better than that? When stuck in traffic, do you want to be fuming like everyone else, or kicking back, relaxing, at ease, savoring life’s blessings? Mindfulness reveals this choice for you, no matter how elusive it felt prior.

Jason Linder, MA, LMFT, is a licensed bilingual (Spanish-speaking) therapist and doctoral (PsyD) candidate at the California School of Professional Psychology in San Diego.

Feb 08, 2020
Mindfulness-Definition-Square

Mindfulness

What is mindfulness?
The modern mindfulness is the brainchild of Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, an American professor emeritus of medicine. He defines it as “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.”

In simpler terms, mindfulness helps sustain attention to feelings, emotions and thoughts in the present moment without getting carried away by them. Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism, and from an ancient tradition, it has evolved into a modern mind training. It is a quality that some people possess naturally, but it can also be trained and improved. Mindfulness is the bridge in between our mind and present moment that helps us understand and better react to stressful, overwhelming situations.

Benefits of mindfulness
Mindfulness is a powerful practice that can help with improving wellbeing in terms of physical and mental health. From the physical point of view, mindfulness training can help with stress relief, lowering blood pressure, reducing pain and improving sleep. Mindfulness gives people a larger perspective on life, clear thinking and patience. Our minds don’t have switch off buttons for unwanted thoughts; however, it is possible to train yourself to control them. Systematic training improves focus attention and concentration. It results in having more energy to become fully engaged in important activities of everyday life instead of getting carried away by worries and intrusive thoughts. Mindfulness meditation helps develop better resilience and can help people recover faster from tension and stress.

Scientific foundation
Research on mindfulness has been expanding rapidly in the last decades. The evidence for the benefits of mindfulness is promising and proven in several trials with clinical and social applications.

People have their mind wandering almost 50 percent of the time they are awake. That means their mind is not where their body is; instead, they’re thinking about things that happened in the past, could happen in the future or might never happen at all – all while being involved in many other daily tasks. Evidence suggests that a wandering mind leads to unhappiness.

However, the brain can be trained to sustain focus and attention in the present moment. Introducing mindfulness training in daily routines has the potential to improve mental and overall health treatment outcomes.

Clinical applications of the mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) have proven to be effective in several studies and trials. Researchers report that MBCT can decrease the severity of depression symptoms of currently depressed patients in just eight weeks. A number of trials show a positive effect of mindfulness on brain changes and immune responsivity, and even influence the healing process of skin diseases related to psychological stress.  In the context of mental health, mindfulness encourages people to develop a more compassionate and accepting relationship with their own thoughts and feelings.

Approach
There are many mindfulness techniques, but all of them focus on the same: paying attention and accepting your thoughts on purpose, without judgement. You can practice mindfulness where and when you want; it doesn’t necessarily need to be a lengthy process and can take a couple of minutes – on your break from work, for example.

Mindfulness starts with posture. You can choose whether you want to sit comfortably, lay down or even walk, but you need to have your back straight. You continue with breathing exercises and scanning your body. By focusing on your physical sensations, you can switch to focusing on sensory aspects as sounds, smells and touches. It’s important to observe the feelings and thoughts you’re having without judgement and let them go.

This focusing exercise is just an example of many meditation techniques. Guided meditations are popular and can be easily accessed on many resources online.

Written by Ana Maria Sedletchi     December 9, 2019
 
time mindfulness

3 Steps to Deepen Your Mindfulness Practice

Let’s imagine that you’re a reasonably healthy adult with all of your basic needs met, people who care about you in your life, and things you enjoy doing available to you … you should be pretty happy, right?

It turns out, even in this incredibly lucky scenario, most of us still struggle — stress, anxiety, frustration, overwhelm, letting ourselves and others down, disappointment, hurt feelings, anger, feeling like you’re always behind … it all creates a sense of unease that is not aligned with our fortunate circumstances.

So how do we go about enjoying life, finding a sense of peace and calm and purposeful focus?

I’ve found mindfulness practices to be the key. They’re not a magical solution to anything, but they do ease the suffering we experience in our lives.

Those of you who who have practiced meditation for awhile know what I’m talking about. Let’s look at a few ways to deepen into the practice, if you’re interested.

Step 1: Drop Into Direct Experience of the Moment
Most of us are caught up in our thoughts about our lives, ourselves, other people, the world around us … most of the time. We’re stuck in a movie in our minds, a storyline or narrative about the situation. This causes all of our trouble — frustration, disappointment, stress, anxiety, overwhelm, unhappiness.

The practice here is to drop into the direct experience of the moment. Not the thoughts about the moment (though those will come up), but the actual sensations happening in the moment.

You might notice the sensations present in different parts of your body, including how your breath feels, but also how your torso feels, seeing what you can notice in your neck and head, in your arms and legs. You might notice the sensation of air on your skin, or ground beneath your feet. You might notice sounds or light or colors or shapes.

Whenever you notice yourself caught up in thoughts or ideas, in a narrative or fantasies … drop back into the direct experience of the present moment. Experience everything with beginner’s mind, as if this were the first time you ever experienced this before.

This is a practice that you can get better at, returning again and again to direct experience. You move from concepts and thoughts and ideas and storylines, to direct experience. Just observe, just notice, just be curious.

If you’re feeling frustrated or stressed, try this and see if it shifts anything for you. See if you’re caught up less and present more.

Practice this for at least a month (though it’s really a lifetime practice).

Step 2: Bring a Sense of Friendliness Towards the Experience
After you’ve practiced dropping into direct experience … you might try a new way of relating to that direct experience.

Instead of just noticing as an impartial observer … see if you can bring a feeling of warmth, friendliness, gentleness, kindness, even love to your relating to this direct experience.

For example, if you see someone on the street, you can just notice that there’s a person there … or you can feel a friendliness towards them. Welcoming them into your experience like you would welcome someone warmly into your house.

In the same way, you can bring a friendliness and warmth and welcoming towards anything you notice in your direct experience. You notice the sensation of air on your skin, and you might feel friendly towards these sensations. The same with anything you hear, see, smell, touch. The same with how you notice nature all around you, or sensations in your body.

It’s a continuation of the practice of direct experience, but with a shift in how you relate — it’s unconditional friendliness to anything you bring your awareness towards.

Practice this for at least a month as well.

Step 3: Drop the Sense of Self, and Motivation from Gain & Loss
Once you’ve practiced the two steps above, you’ll be grounded in a view of reality that is much more free of conceptions and storylines, more open and unconstrained.

The next step is to notice that when you’re in direct experience, there is no self. I mean, there’s a body and brain, but it’s not separate from everything around it — it’s interconnected, not identifiable as something distinct from the world around it. Just as you might pick a drop of water in the ocean and say, “This is a separate drop of water!” … it’s only separate in our minds, in concept. In reality, it’s not separate but a part of everything around it.

This might sound pretty philosophical, but what is very real is noticing whether everything you do is motivated by a desire for gain or desire to avoid a loss. For example, you might want someone’s praise or affection (gain), or you might want to avoid them getting mad at you (loss). You might be scrolling through and posting in social media looking for validation (gain) or worried about missing out (loss). You might buy something because of how you think it will make you look or feel (gain) or because you’re feeling worried or insecure about a situation (loss).

All of these actions motivated by a sense of gain and loss are completely normal — we all do it. But they all come from a sense of separate self — we are trying to gain something for the self, trying to avoid a loss for the self. Helping this separate self get what it wants or avoid what it doesn’t want becomes our biggest activity and goal in life. It is what makes us frustrated or angry when we don’t get what we want, or hurt or sad when we get what we don’t want, or anxious or stressed when we might gain or lose something.

Being motivated by gain or loss is what causes our struggles in life. And that stems from the sense of separate self.

What’s another way? Dropping the sense of separate self. Just being present with direct experience. Feeling a friendliness and even love for everything and everyone around us. And then being motivated by that love — I act from a place of love and compassion for everyone around me (myself included, but not only myself).

Try it! It’s an incredible practice. Be directly with your experience, dropping your sense of self, of separateness from everything around you. Start to appreciate how connected you are to the world — you breathe in air from the world, eat food from the world, drink water and get information and heat and clothes and shelter and love from everything and everyone around you. You’re completely interconnected and interdependent. Dropping the conception of self, like you drop other concepts, return to direct experience.

And then watch your actions and see if they’re motivated by a desire for gain or desire to avoid loss. See if you can come from a place of love and compassion for everyone in the world, every living being. It’s a really powerful place to be moved from.

 
BY LEO BABAUTA