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Conquering Emotional Blind Spots Is Challenging, But Worth It

Knowing you have them is the first step.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 Mindfulness Steps To Silence Your Inner Critic

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

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


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The Fascinating Way Age Will Improve Your Personality

There are three things that naturally happen to people’s personality with age.

People get nicer as they get older, in contrast to the stereotype of the grumpy senior.

The finding may be a surprise to those that believe people never change.

They do — even if only a little.

The three main changes to personality that occur, on average, with age are that people get:

  • more conscientious,
  • more agreeable,
  • and less neurotic (moody).

The study examined the brain scans of 500 volunteers.

The researchers found that typical changes in brain structure that occur with age were linked to changes in personality.

Dr Roberta Riccelli, the study’s first author, said:

“Our work supports the notion that personality is, to some degree, associated with brain maturation, a developmental process that is strongly influenced by genetic factors.”

aging

These changes in personality suggest a genetic influence, explained Professor Nicola Toschi, a study co-author:

“Of course, we are continually shaped by our experiences and environment, but the fact that we see clear differences in brain structure which are linked with differences in personality traits suggests that there will almost certainly be an element of genetics involved.
This is also in keeping with the notion that differences in personality traits can be detected early on during development, for example in toddlers or infants.”

Dr Luca Passamonti, a study co-author, said:

“Linking how brain structure is related to basic personality traits is a crucial step to improving our understanding of the link between the brain morphology and particular mood, cognitive, or behavioural disorders.
We also need to have a better understanding of the relation between brain structure and function in healthy people to figure out what is different in people with neuropsychiatric disorders.”

The study was published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience (Riccelli et al., 2016).
 
source: PsyBlog


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Can We Ever Really Change Who We Are?

As a psychiatrist and novelist concerned with people’s inner conflicts, I’m often asked whether people can truly change.

The answer is: yes, and no.

Most mental health professionals agree that our deeply embedded traits and tendencies are ingrained by the time we’re adolescents. Yes, there can be some minor modifications after that, but our basic way of interacting with others is pretty much set by the time we’re 17 or 18. We interact with others in a fairly inflexible and deep-rooted manner. It’s our “way of being.”

So what about someone seeking psychotherapy because of unhappiness with relationships and how life is going? What about the person who repeats endlessly the same maladaptive patterns of behavior leading to frustration, failure, unhappiness, and even depression? Or the person whose relationships are tainted by neediness, or dependency, or the wish to dominate others; or any other traits that make for problems interacting with people?

You’ll notice these aren’t symptoms such as a phobia, or panic episodes, or an onset of a symptom causing psychic distress. Rather, these are enduring personality traits, not temporary states of being.

The goal of any psychotherapy is to help a person develop a better understanding of one’s self. It’s called insight. Hopefully, by developing an awareness of personality flaws, a person can recognize them, and nip them in the bud before they exert themselves and ruin relationships. If this can be accomplished, the person may experience less conflict or tension with other people, and lead a more fulfilling life.

For example, a man comes for counseling because he’s been fired from three different jobs. During sessions (to which he always arrives late), he realizes that as far back as elementary school, he undermined his own success by tardiness and by not completing tasks on time. In high school, he received Cs instead of As because he never submitted his work by the stated deadline. In business, he repeated the same pattern.

masks

He also learns in the psychotherapy sessions that as a child, being late or dawdling was a way to get much-coveted attention from his parents. Without realizing it, throughout his adult life, he’s been repeating this pattern with every authority figure. This has been the source of conflict, failure, firings and general unhappiness throughout his adult life.

With awareness of this tendency, he can begin working to change this maladaptive and self-destructive behavioral pattern — this deeply ingrained trait. He may not always be successful in this effort, but some positive and adaptive changes in his behavior can occur.

While his trait may not have been eradicated, his behavior and interactions with others can begin to change for the better.

I like to think of it in this simple way: Imagine personality style as a 90-degree angle. If a person can move that angle a mere three degrees, then a significant change in how one interacts with other people is surely possible. This can lead to positive changes.

So once again, can people change their basic personality patterns?

Yes, and no. While they don’t alter their basic personalities, through insight, they can change their behavior and become more skillful in their interactions.

 By Mark Rubinstein, MD 
 
Mark Rubinstein, M.D. is an award-winning novelist, physician and psychiatrist. 
He’s the author of Bedlam’s Door: True Tales of Madness and Hope,
a non-fiction memoir with actual patients’ stories that read like fiction.
For more information, please visit www.markrubinstein-author.com
 


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The Immune System Affects Social Behaviour and Personality

The immune system was thought to have little effect on the brain — until now.

The immune system is directly responsible for social behaviour and even our personalities, new research finds.

The conclusion comes as a shock to scientists and raises questions about the cause of mental health problems like schizophrenia and autism.

A malfunctioning immune system could be at the heart of these disorders.

Professor Jonathan Kipnis explained why the finding is so shocking to scientists:

“The brain and the adaptive immune system were thought to be isolated from each other, and any immune activity in the brain was perceived as sign of a pathology.
And now, not only are we showing that they are closely interacting, but some of our behavior traits might have evolved because of our immune response to pathogens.
It’s crazy, but maybe we are just multicellular battlefields for two ancient forces: pathogens and the immune system.
Part of our personality may actually be dictated by the immune system.”

For the research in mice and other animals, the scientists blocked a critical immune molecule called interferon-gamma.

The mice (and other animals) then became much less social than they had been before.

The study follows on from findings published last year that there is connection between the brain and the immune system previously thought not to exist.

immune

The link between the immune system and social behaviour makes sense, though, as being social is important but also raises the risk of disease.

Dr Anthony J. Filiano, the study’s lead author, explained:

“It’s extremely critical for an organism to be social for the survival of the species.
It’s important for foraging, sexual reproduction, gathering, hunting.
So the hypothesis is that when organisms come together, you have a higher propensity to spread infection.
So you need to be social, but [in doing so] you have a higher chance of spreading pathogens.
The idea is that interferon gamma, in evolution, has been used as a more efficient way to both boost social behavior while boosting an anti-pathogen response.”

Professor Kipnis said:

“Immune molecules are actually defining how the brain is functioning.
So, what is the overall impact of the immune system on our brain development and function?
I think the philosophical aspects of this work are very interesting, but it also has potentially very important clinical implications.”

The study was published in the journal Nature (Filiano et al., 2016).

source: PsyBlog       21 JULY 2016


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The Personality Trait Linked To The Strongest Immune System

Outgoing, sociable people also have the strongest immune systems, a new study finds.

Those who are the most conscientious and careful, though, are most likely to have a weaker immune system response.

The research found no evidence, though, that a tendency towards negative emotions was associated with poor health.

The study, published in the snappily titled journal Psychoneuroendochrinology, gave personality tests to 121 health adults (Vedhara et al., 2014).

Along with assessing the five major personality factors — extraversion, neuroticism, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness — participants had blood samples taken to measure genetic factors known to be important in immune function.

Why you shouldn't go to work sick

Professor Kavita Vedhara, who led the study, explained the results:

“Our results indicated that ‘extraversion’ was significantly associated with an increased expression of pro-inflammatory genes and that ‘conscientiousness’ was linked to a reduced expression of pro-inflammatory genes.

In other words, individuals who we would expect to be exposed to more infections as a result of their socially orientated nature (i.e., extraverts) appear to have immune systems that we would expect can deal effectively with infection.

While individuals who may be less exposed to infections because of their cautious/conscientious dispositions have immune systems that may respond less well.

We can’t, however, say which came first.

Is this our biology determining our psychology or our psychology determining our biology?”

source: PsyBlog