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Poor Sleep Linked to Weight Gain

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

LINK BETWEEN SLEEP AND EATING

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

GET BETTER SLEEP

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

 

10 Ways Sleep Can Change Your Life

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

 

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Make Yourself a Priority

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

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

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

2. Stop Being a People Pleaser

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

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

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

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

3. Find Yourself

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

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

4. Watch Your Self Talk

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

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

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

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

your mind

 

 

5. Don’t Beat Yourself up over Your Mistakes

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

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

6. Acknowledge Your Successes

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

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

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

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

7. Be Grateful

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

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

8. Nurture a Positive Attitude

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

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

9. Commit to Your Decisions

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

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

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

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

10. Learn How to Say No

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

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

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

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

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

11. Be Generous to Others

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

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

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

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

12. Love Yourself

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

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

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

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

 by Daniel Fries

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

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

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


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How to Stay Calm and Healthy During a Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic is understandably causing panic in many people. Yet, fear doesn’t help anything. So how can you remain calm—and healthy—and help others in the process? How can you be a positive emotional contagion that helps not only yourself but others feel better about the global situation?

Buying six months’ worth of toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning goods, and food won’t help. Really.

Yes, it might give you a little peace of mind. I know my full pantry, refrigerator, and freezer (and large package of TP) do, indeed, provide me with a sense of security during this pandemic.

But purchasing more than what you need for a week or two, stockpiling as if the world were ending…that isn’t helpful. First, it leaves others without supplies—ones they might actually need. (Some people are out of toilet paper and just want a few rolls!) Second, the buying frenzy only adds to the emotional upheaval, panic, and overwhelm you and others feel.

So, let’s talk about what will help you stay calm and healthy during a pandemic.

Act Wisely
In North America as in most parts of the world, we are focused on taking precautions and acting wisely. We are practicing social distancing by staying home more, not gathering in large groups, and washing our hands and using hand sanitizer…a lot.

We are also doing other things. My acupuncturist closed his clinic to do a deep clean. My husband is being interviewed virtually for a gig (rather than in person). Companies have asked employees to work from home. My 96-year-old mom’s new doctor told her not to come to the office for a routine visit.

The key is to avoid potential exposure—from you or someone else, like eating out, attending large events, spending time in crowded places, or flying. Yet, you also want to live your life to the fullest extent possible.

How can you live fully while stuck at home? It’s not as hard as it seems.

Stay focused on your priorities and take action in ways that are appropriate and safe. For example, you can hunker down and write your book, shoot and share videos to promote a product, conduct virtual meetings, build the website you never have time to create, declutter, and exercise from the comfort of your home.

Or be a positive force for good. A friend of mine said she had started calling those people she knows who live alone. A neighbor of mine that goes into town daily offered to shop for those in our community who can’t or don’t want to leave their homes.

4 Ways to Stay Calm During a Pandemic

See yourself as a leader and role model. Your job is to be calm and centered amidst the chaos. That means you have to quell your own fear and panic.

Here are four ways to remain calm:

1. Limit your intake of news. I’m not saying you shouldn’t remain informed. Of course, you want to do so! But don’t watch the news incessantly.

I remember after 9/11, I watched identical CNN broadcasts for hours waiting for a new report. I have found myself doing the same in the last few days…watching or listening to the news to hear updated news about the pandemic.

Constant consumption of news just feeds your panic and fear. Watch the news only once or twice per day. In this way, you remain informed without allowing yourself to obsess all day long. I, too, have begun to limit how much I watch the news or consume information about the coronavirus via social media or the Internet.

2. Stay busy. If you have nothing to do, you will find your mind trained on fearful thoughts. Or you will seek out other panicky people on social media or television.

Focus on your agenda. What did you want to get done today? What projects could use your attention? Take action on these things so your mind and body remain busy…and calm.

Plus, being productive will make you feel better in general.

3. Increase your mental, emotional and physical self-care routines. These will provide you with a more peaceful countenance no matter what is going on around you.

Now is the time to increase or start a meditation practice. Try meditating twice daily.

Make sure you exercise daily. Exercise makes you happier and reduces stress. Plus, it helps you remain healthy. Try a quick walk outside to boost your mood.

Train your brain on the positive. What might you gain by staying home for a few weeks? How might you make being housebound a pleasant experience? What might be the outcome of a self-quarantine—for yourself and others?

4. Have faith. It’s been said that faith is more important than fear, and in the case of a pandemic, that’s true.

We know that “this, too, will pass.” So focus on a positive future, one where no one gets the coronavirus, travel bans are lifted, large gatherings are safe, and you no longer need to stay at home.

7 Ways to Take Care of Yourself During a Pandemic

Now is a great time to take a serious look at your health routines. Are you taking good care of yourself? Not only do you want to increase your level of emotional and mental health by staying calm, but you also want to improve your physical health.

To help you boost your immune system and ward off illness, here are seven common-sense things you can start doing today.

1. Wash Your Hands (and More)
You’ve heard this ad nauseam and seen all the cartoons as well, but it’s sound advice. Wash your hands for more extended periods and more often—especially after touching surfaces, shaking hands, handling any items made of plastic, glass, or cardboard. Wash your hands also after opening mail, receiving packages, or putting away groceries.

Along with hand washing comes the following advice: avoid touching your mouth, nose, and eyes (especially if you haven’t washed your hands first).

If you feel unwell or have a compromised immune system, consider wearing a mask, too.

2. Use Hand Sanitizer and Sanitizing Wipes
I know these can be difficult to find right now, but if you have some, use them to clean surfaces and to cleanse your hands after touching anything. Don’t forget to wipe off the plastic or cardboard boxes of food you purchase at stores or any packages your receive via mail delivery services—or wash your hands afterward.

The Internet has a host of articles on making your own hand sanitizer and wipes. So, if you can’t purchase any, make your own.

3. Sleep Enough
If you are working from home or quarantined for any reason—sick or not, sleep needs to become your priority. Actually, even if you are still working, sleep should be non-negotiable.

To boost your immune system, sleep eight hours per night…or more. Sleep helps fight off infectious diseases. In fact, there are studies that show that sleeping less than seven hours increases your chances of getting sick considerably. This is not the time to be sleeping only five or six hours per night!

4. Eat a Healthy Diet
Help your body fight off illness and stay strong by eating healthy foods rather than sweets and junk. You’d be amazed at how much difference a nutrient-rich diet makes on your immune system.

And cook healthy meals at home for the time being. Stop frequenting restaurants, salad bars, and fast-food places. Even take-out or delivery could introduce a source of infection.

5. Boost Your Immune System
If you don’t already take multi-vitamins, start doing so. I could go into a long discussion of what supplements to take, but I’m not an expert or doctor. Find a herbalist or nutritional counselor who can help you determine what supplements are best for you.

There are also a host of herbs that boost your immune system. Of course, check with your doctor before adding anything new to your diet.

Some people will claim that supplements and herbs are effective only because of their placebo effect. It doesn’t matter why they work; all that matters is that they help you stay healthy.

6. Lower Your Stress Level
The immune system reacts badly to stress. Fear and anxiety put your body into the flight-or-fight mode, which is driven by your sympathetic nervous system. This response is your body’s reaction to danger and helps you survive stressful and life-threatening situations.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, “During the fight or flight response, your body is trying to prioritize, so anything it doesn’t need for immediate survival is placed on the back burner. This means that digestion, reproductive and growth hormone production, and tissue repair are all temporarily halted. Instead, your body is using all its energy on the most crucial priorities and functions.”

The article goes on to explain, “Living in a prolonged state of high alert and stress can be detrimental to your physical and mental health.” Indeed, chronic stress is known to suppress immune function and increase susceptibility to disease.

So…again…stay calm! Meditate. Pray. Exercise. Watch funny movies. Go for a walk in the woods or on the beach. Take a nap. Read a book.

Don’t watch the news or engage in conversations about the pandemic that raises your level of stress.

7. Focus on the Positive
Drop the end-of-the-world mindset. Be a positive emotional contagion. Guide conversations toward something other than the pandemic. Be happy and upbeat and help others stop feeding the negative emotional cycle.

And think positive thoughts. Feel grateful for whatever you can—the rain, the sun, your elderly parents’ safety, the paycheck you just received, the spring flowers in bloom, the call from your friend or child, the extra time to read a book, or the new opportunities coming your way.

While you are at it, stop complaining about things that are out of your control, like empty shelves at the supermarket, the kids being home from school, not being able to attend a concert or the theater, or anything else. Complaining doesn’t help you or anyone else.

You will find it easier to stay positive and grateful if you remain present. Stop focusing on the past or the future. Stay in this moment.

This, Too, Shall Pass
Finally, remember, this pandemic will pass. It may take a little while, but the coronavirus will peter out. When it does, you and I—and the entire world—will be more prepared next time, if there is a next time. And we will find that the aftermath provides new opportunities, deepened relationships, and a different view of what it means to be part of a global community.

While you wait for the situation to change, be a force for good—a positive emotional contagion that infects everyone you encounter. By staying positive, calm, and healthy, you keep those around you calm and healthy, too.

If you have helpful advice to add to this post, please share it in a comment below. And share this post with anyone you feel might benefit.

Note: It’s important to stay informed about the state of coronavirus for the health and safety of your friends, family, and co-workers. Please visit the World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control websites for up-to-date information. Also, be sure to check out your local health agencies and authorities for updates about your area.

 

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pandemic

 

Staying Healthy During a Pandemic: 10 Immune-Boosting Tips

During the current coronavirus outbreak, you’re probably (very rightfully so!) concerned for your health and that of your family. The CDC has several recommendations for preventative action against coronavirus, including social distancing, hand-washing, and clean frequently touched surfaces daily.

We 100% agree with all of these recommendations, but additionally believe it’s prudent to do everything possible to boost your immune system to decrease the likelihood of getting sick (with coronavirus or any other seasonal bug, for that matter!)

Here are 10 easy ways you can help strengthen your immune system.

Eat immune-boosting foods.

​Examples include: ginger, turmeric, honey, garlic, lemon, mushrooms, and bone broth.

Take immune-boosting supplements.

​Try elderberry, zinc, vitamins A, C, and D, spirulina, and selenium.

Raise your core body temperature. Studies have found evidence that higher body temps help certain types of immune cells to work better, and thus make it better able to fight infection. Your body knows what it’s doing when you have a fever while sick! It’s thought that you can encourage the same benefits by proactively raising your body temp.

Try a sauna, steam bath, or move your body to break a sweat.

Get your veggies on: eating lots of veggies, especially leafy greens which are full of antioxidants, can help your body fight viruses and other free radicals.

​The more diverse your diet (and especially veggie intake), the better!

Take antiviral supplements. 

Some good ones include echinacea, colloidal silver, licorice root, apple cider vinegar, and probiotics.

Prioritize sleep: studies show that sleep can help build your immune system and fight infection.

Aim to get at least 7 hours of sleep a night. Need some help getting a good night of rest? Check out these tips!

Get your exercise on! Exercise has many great benefits and one of those is that it builds a stronger immune system.

The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of exercise a week – we say shoot for at least 20 minutes a day, every single day. Check out this 7-minute at-home workout that works – do it 3x for bonus points.

Ditch bad habits such as smoking and excessive drinking, as they can decrease ability to fight infection.

Reduce stress. The hormones released when you are stressed have been shown to have a negative effect on the immune system.

Try going for a walk, meditating, doing a YouTube yoga flow, or gratitude journaling.

Get some sunshine. A natural dose of vitamin D from the sun can do wonders not only for your mood but also your immune system – studies have shown that it can even decrease the length and severity of infections.

​Go outside for at least 15-20 minutes a day even if it’s just on your patio or backyard.

Have any other immune-boosting best practices? We would love to hear them! Please share them at hello@cleanfitbox.com. 

Stay healthy, friends!
March 17, 2020    by  Rene


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9 Ways to Promote Gratitude in Your Life

Gratitude is good for us every way you look at it.

According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of California in Riverside, gratitude boosts our happiness levels in a number of ways: by promoting the savoring of positive life experiences; by bolstering self-worth and self-esteem and thereby helping to cope with stress and trauma; by building social bonds and encouraging moral behavior; and by diminishing negative emotions and helping us adjust to new situations.

Gratitude has a number of physical health benefits as well. “Research suggests that individuals who are grateful in their daily lives actually report fewer stress-related health symptoms, including headaches, gastrointestinal (stomach) issues, chest pain, muscle aches, and appetite problems,” says Sheela Raja, PhD, an assistant professor and clinical psychologist in the Colleges of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Illinois in Chicago.

But how do we get there? For some folks, gratitude is much easier than for others. I, for one, have to work really hard at it because my cup usually appears one-third full. With a few exercises, though, I can become a more grateful person and promote gratitude in my life, which brings many emotional and physical gifts.

1. Go Ahead and Compare
I constantly compare myself to people who are more productive than I am (have more energy and need less sleep), who go to a doctor once a year, and who are resilient to stress. “Why can’t I be like her?” I ask myself. And then I remember Helen Keller’s quote: “Instead of comparing our lot with that of those who are more fortunate than we are, we should compare it with the lot of the great majority of our fellow men. It then appears that we are among the privileged.”

Her wisdom forces me to go back and remember all the people I know who can’t work at all because of their chronic illnesses, those with unsupportive spouses who don’t understand depression, and the folks I know who can’t afford a monthly pass to Bikram yoga or kale and dandelion greens to make smoothies. Suddenly, my jealousy has turned to gratitude.

2. Write Thank-You Letters
According to University of California at Davis psychologist Robert Emmons, PhD, a powerful exercise in cultivating gratitude is to compose a “gratitude letter” to a person who has made a positive and lasting influence in your life. Dr. Emmons, who also wrote Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, says the letter is especially powerful when you haven’t properly thanked the person in the past, and when you read the letter aloud to the person face-to-face. I do this as part of my holiday cards, especially to former professors or teachers who helped shape my future and inspired me in ways they might not know.

3. Keep a Gratitude Journal
According to Dr. Lyubomirsky, keeping a gratitude journal (in which you record all the things you have to be grateful for once a week) and other gratitude exercises can increase your energy, and relieve pain and fatigue. A study published in the Journal of Research in Personality documented a group of 90 undergraduate students. Divided into two groups, the first wrote about a positive experience each day for two minutes, and the second wrote about a control topic. Three months later, the students who wrote about positive experiences had better mood levels, fewer visits to the health center, and experienced fewer illnesses.

In my daily mood journal, I make a list of each day’s “little joys”: moments that I would fail to appreciate if I didn’t make myself record them, such as a gorgeous, 70-degree day in winter; a supply of dark chocolate; the feeling of exhilaration I have after completing a 90-minute class of Bikram yoga; and an afternoon with only one meltdown from my kids.

4. Ask Yourself These Four Questions
Byron Katie’s bestseller, Loving What Is, is helping me analyze my thinking in a way that is unique to the tools I’ve learned in other self-help books. I am much more aware of the stories I weave in my mind without much analysis as to whether or not they are true. You need to read the book to fully understand her process called “The Work,” but here’s the Reader’s Digest version:

For every problem you’re having, or every negative rumination you can’t let go of, ask yourself these four questions: Is it true? Can you absolutely know that it’s true? How do you react when you think that thought? Who would you be without that thought?
You have to record the answers on paper for the exercise to be fully effective. After going through the process a few times, I realized the thoughts I had about certain people and events were causing the suffering I had, not the people and events themselves. This enables you to embrace those people and events with gratitude — to cultivate an attitude of gratitude, in general — because you know that they aren’t the problem. Your stories are.

5. Shift Your Language
According to Andrew Newberg, MD, and Mark Robert Waldman, words can literally change your brain. In their book, Words Can Change Your Brain, they write, “a single word has the power to influence the expression of genes that regulate physical and emotional stress.” Positive words, like “peace” and “love,” can alter the expression of genes, strengthening areas in our front lobes and promoting the cognitive functioning of the brain. They propel the motivational centers of the brain into action, explain the authors, and build resiliency.

Lately I’ve been trying to catch myself when profanity or something negative is about to come out of my mouth. I’m not all that good at this, but I definitely believe that words have power, and that by making a few subtle shifts in our language, we can promote gratitude and can generate better health for ourselves.

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6. Serve
Service promotes gratitude more directly than any other path I know. Whenever I’m stuck in self-pity or depression, feeling personally victimized by the universe, the fastest way out of my head and into my heart is reaching out to someone who is in pain — especially similar pain. That’s the reason I created my online depression support groups Project Beyond Blue and Group Beyond Blue. For five years, I couldn’t get rid of debilitating death thoughts after experimenting with almost every therapy that both traditional and alternative medicine had to offer. By participating in a forum where folks are in more pain than I am — and where I can share my hard-earned insights and resources — I am made aware of the blessings in my life that I had forgotten or simply took for granted.

7. Hang With Positive People
Motivational speaker Jim Rohn says, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with, including yourself.” Research confirms that. In one study conducted by Nicholas Christakis, MD, PhD, of Harvard Medical School, and James Fowler, PhD, of the University of California in San Diego, individuals who associated themselves with happy people were more likely to be happy themselves.

Another study by psychological scientists Gerald Haeffel, PhD, and Jennifer Hames of the University of Notre Dame, showed that risk factors for depression can actually be contagious when our social environments are in flux. So there’s a better shot of your becoming a more grateful, positive person if you surround yourself with grateful people.

8. Make a Gratitude Ritual
One family I know has a gratitude ritual every night at dinner. After prayers, each person goes around the table saying something positive that happened to him or her that day — one thing for which he or she is grateful. In our home, we’re lucky to get everyone seated without a meltdown, so I’ve filed this exercise for down the road a little — maybe after hormones are stabilized. But I thought it was a really nice way of cultivating gratitude as a family and teaching that value to non-hormonal kids.

9. Try a Loving-Kindness Meditation
In a landmark study published in the Journal of Personal and Social Psychology, Barbara Fredrickson, PhD, and her team showed that practicing seven weeks of loving-kindness meditation increased gratitude as well as a host of other positive emotions. The benefits intensified over time, producing a range of other health benefits: increased mindfulness, purpose in life, social support, and decreased symptoms of illness. Sociologist Christine Carter, PhD, with University of California Berkley’s Greater Good Science Center, gives a nice overview of how to do a simple loving-kindness meditation in five minutes a day on her blog. She writes:

Because research demonstrates the incredible power of loving-kindness meditation: No need to be self-conscious when this stuff might be more effective than Prozac. Also called metta, loving-kindness meditation is the simple practice of directing well-wishes towards other people.

 

By Therese J. Borchard
Associate Editor
8 Jul 2018


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How To Ace Thanksgiving

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

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

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

THE INTROVERTS AT YOUR TABLE

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

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

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

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

POLITICS OVER TURKEY

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

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

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

QUELLING TABLE-SIDE ERUPTIONS

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

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

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

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

turkey

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

BEYOND SORRY, NOT SORRY

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

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

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

THE GRATITUDE PUSH

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

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

ZOSIA BIELSKI     OCTOBER 7, 2019
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Positive Self-Talk: 7 Things Mentally Healthy People Tell Themselves

The messages we give to ourselves every day have enormous power. Anything that is repeated and repeated and repeated can become “truth” — even when it isn’t. Any coach will tell you that practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect but it certainly does make permanent.

Repeating negative messages can wear down our sense of self as surely as a constant stream of water will wear down even the hardest stone. Repeating positive messages, on the other hand, is more like creating a pearl in an oyster. With each additional positive message, our confidence and competence grows.

Positive psychologists have studied this extensively. As long ago as the 1950s, Abraham Maslow said that a self-actualized person is someone who focuses on her talents and strengths. Director of the Penn Positive Psychology Center Dr. Martin Seligman, who has been called the father of positive psychology, has found that when people identify and use their top strengths regularly, they can be more productive and can experience a high level of self-esteem. (If you’d like to identify your top strengths, you can take Dr. Seligman’s free quiz).

Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has concluded that positivity helps “broaden our ideas about possible actions, opening our awareness to a wider range of thoughts and actions than is typical.”

What all this means on a practical level is that deciding to emphasize the positive is the key to a happy and productive life. Yes, deciding. Where we put our attention is a decision. It can seem like dark clouds cover every silver lining. But that silver lining is still there if we look for it.

Feeling good (or at least better) will not happen if we tell ourselves over and over that we are helpless and the situation is hopeless. To strengthen or improve our mental health, we all need to think the way mentally healthy people think: Shifting our focus from all that is wrong to whatever we can find that is good, positive and possible in ourselves, other people and in our situation is the key to thriving.

7 Things Mentally Healthy People Tell Themselves

“I am a lovable.” No child is born who is not lovable. Look at any newborn. That button nose and those tiny fingers and toes are meant to engage adult’s protective and loving feelings. You were no different. The adults around you when you were small may have been too wounded, too ill or to overwhelmed to love you but that is on them. You were and are — just by the fact of your existence — a lovable person.

“I am capable.” From the time they take their first breath, humans are wired to learn, to adapt, and to grow. You have been learning and growing every minute. You may not have been taught all you need to know to manage your feelings or to take care of yourself. You may have learned unusual behaviors or in order to survive. But you are never too old to learn new skills. Anything you’ve learned that is not helpful or healthy can be unlearned.

“Most other people are lovable and capable, too.” It’s crucial not to let negative or painful experiences with a few negative or toxic individuals color our opinion of everyone. The majority of people in the world do mean well and are doing the best they can. Once we’re adults, we can choose who we want to surround ourselves with. We can seek out the people who are living lives that are decent, warm and contributing good to the world.

“Success comes from doing.” It’s been proven over and over again by researchers: Feeling good comes from doing good things. Positive self-esteem is the outcome, not the prerequisite, for being successful in relationships, school, work, sports, hobbies —  just about anything. We all have a choice whether we wait to feel better or we do the things that we know will help us become better.

“Challenges are opportunities.” Life isn’t always easy or fair. How we meet challenges and obstacles is a choice. Healthy people find ways to engage with a problem and look for ways to solve it. They refuse to let their fears keep them from trying something new, even if it is difficult. Stretching ourselves outside of our comfort zones is what helps us grow. Mentally healthy people also recognize that sometimes the opportunity hidden inside a challenge is the opportunity to say “no.” Not all problems are worth solving. Not all problems can be “solved” as they are defined.

“It is only human to make mistakes”: Mentally healthy people know that a mistake is not the reason to give up. It is an opportunity to learn and try again. Willingness to acknowledge and fix our errors is a mark of strength. Cultivating the courage to be imperfect is central to being willing to try again.

“I have what it takes to cope with change — and to make changes.” Change is inevitable in life. Mentally healthy people believe in their ability to cope and to adapt to changes. They aren’t unrealistic. They don’t deny the seriousness of a problem. They do acknowledge when a situation is very difficult. They don’t criticize themselves for not wanting to deal with whatever it is they have to deal with. But they have a deep seated belief that if they do tackle the problem, they will eventually find a solution or a way around it.

 

By Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D.     8 Jul 2018


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How Expressing Gratitude Might Change Your Brain

A lot of so-called “positive psychology” can seem a bit flaky, especially if you’re the sort of person disinclined to respond well to an admonition to “look on the bright side.” But positive psychologists have published some interesting findings, and one of the more robust ones is that feeling grateful is very good for you. Time and again, studies have shown that performing simple gratitude exercises, like keeping a gratitude diary or writing letters of thanks, can bring a range of benefits, such as feelings of increased well-being and reduced depression, that often linger well after the exercises are finished.

Now a brain-scanning study in NeuroImage brings us a little closer to understanding why these exercises have these effects. The results suggest that even months after a simple, short gratitude writing task, people’s brains are still wired to feel extra thankful. The implication is that gratitude tasks work, at least in part, because they have a self-perpetuating nature: The more you practice gratitude, the more attuned you are to it and the more you can enjoy its psychological benefits.

The Indiana University researchers, led by Prathik Kini, recruited 43 people who were undertaking counseling sessions as a treatment for their anxiety or depression. Twenty-two of them were assigned to a gratitude intervention; for the first three sessions of their weekly counseling, this group spent 20 minutes writing a letter in which they expressed their gratitude to the recipient, an hour in total (whether they chose to send these letters was up to them). The other participants acted as a control group, so they simply attended their counseling as usual without performing the gratitude task.

Three months after their counseling was over, all of the participants completed a “Pay It Forward” gratitude task in a brain scanner. Each was “given” various amounts of money by imaginary benefactors whose names and photos appeared onscreen to add to the realism of the task. The researchers told the participants that each benefactor said that if the participant wanted to express their gratitude for the monetary gift, they’d appreciate it if the participant gave some or all of the donation to a named third party (again, identified by photo and name), or a named charity. The participants knew this was all an exercise, but were all told that one of the transactions, chosen later at random, would actually occur — that is, they’d actually receive the cash amount offered to them by one of the benefactors minus the amount they chose to pass on (and the money they opted to pass on really would go to charity).

The researchers found that, on average, the more money a participant gave away, and the stronger the feelings of gratitude they reported feeling, the more activity they exhibited in a range of brain areas in the frontal, parietal, and occipital regions. Interestingly, these neural-activity patterns appeared somewhat distinct from those that usually appear when brain-scan subjects complete tasks associated with emotions like empathy or thinking about other people’s points of view, which is consistent with the idea that gratitude is a unique emotion.

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Most exciting, though, is the finding that the participants who’d completed the gratitude task months earlier not only reported feeling more gratefulness two weeks after the task than members of the control group, but also, months later, showed more gratitude-related brain activity in the scanner. The researchers described these “profound” and “long-lasting” neural effects as “particularly noteworthy,” and they highlighted that one of the main regions that showed this increased sensitivity — the “pregenual anterior cingulate,” which is known to be involved in predicting the effects of one’s own actions on other people — overlaps with a key brain region identified in the only previous study on the neurological footprint of gratitude.

This result suggests that the more practice you give your brain at feeling and expressing gratitude, the more it adapts to this mind-set — you could even think of your brain as having a sort of gratitude “muscle” that can be exercised and strengthened (not so different from various other qualities that can be cultivated through practice, of course). If this is right, the more of an effort you make to feel gratitude one day, the more the feeling will come to you spontaneously in the future. It also potentially helps explain another established finding, that gratitude can spiral: The more thankful we feel, the more likely we are to act pro-socially toward others, causing them to feel grateful and setting up a beautiful virtuous cascade.

However, let’s not allow the warm glow of all this gratitude to melt our critical faculties. It’s important to realize this result is incredibly preliminary. For one thing, as the researchers openly acknowledge, they didn’t conduct a baseline brain scan of the participants before they started the Pay It Forward game, so it’s possible, though unlikely given that participants were randomly assigned to the gratitude and control groups, that the participants who performed the gratitude task simply had more neural sensitivity to gratitude already, not because they performed the gratitude task. Another thing: Members of the control group didn’t perform a comparison writing task, so we can’t know for sure that it was the act of writing a letter of thanks, as opposed to any kind of writing exercise, that led to increased neural sensitivity to gratitude.

Still, neurological investigations into gratitude are in their early days, and this research certainly gives us some intriguing clues as to how and why gratitude exercises are beneficial. For that we can be, well, grateful.

Dr. Christian Jarrett (@Psych_Writer), a Science of Us contributing writer, is editor of the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest blog. His latest book is Great Myths of the Brain.

By Christian Jarrett   JAN. 7, 2016
 


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6 Ways To Start ‘Living Big’ (And How It Can Change Your Life For The Better)

Are you doing everything you can to achieve your dreams?

“Living Big” is a mindset of living with abundance. Now the abundance is not what you own, or have, it is what you share. There are as many wonderful ways to Living Big as there are water drops in an ocean, needles on an evergreen tree, grains of sand on a beach.Living Big is learning to generously share yourself, your stories, and enjoy the exciting connections that develop. It’s putting yourself out into the world and embracing the things that once scared you. It can change your life and increase your happiness and even your self-assuredness. There are people who are too afraid to put themselves out there, but this is the key to Living Big and making it work for you, so it’s important to learn how to do it!

But what exactly does this concept mean, and how can you use it in your everyday life? Simply put, Living Big means taking every opportunity that comes your way. It means seeing these opportunities and trying your best to make every day another chance for you to succeed and be happy.

You make choices all the time about how you’re going to handle situations or how you’re going to choose to live our lives. Living Big simply means you’re learning to open up to the world and share yourself so that you’re living your best possible life in return!How can you start using Living Big in your life?
Here are 6 ways you can share your talent and amazing self with the world:
1. Shift your focus to positive things.

Human beings are programmed to see the negative in life, and so it can take some time to stop focusing on this when something good happens to you. And it’s important not to dwell on the negative and to instead embrace the positive effects in your life. Focus on being abundant in the areas that count, like generousness, innovation, creativity, resilience, honesty, and happiness.These positive expressions will make sure that you’re living life according to a healthy moral compass and will draw similarly-minded people to you as well. Living Big guarantees that you’re looking at the world in a new light, making certain that you’re noticing the goodness in the world and striving to achieve it in every aspect of your life.

2. Live with humility and gratitude.

Have you taken the time to notice everything life is giving to you, and to be grateful for it? The abundance around you is unimaginably amazing! You live in a fascinating system designed to sustain our lives.

You only need to breathe, eat, drink, sleep, work, and play in order to live in this awesome system. And the miracle of support keeps on happening, every moment of every day. This is whether you are aware of it or not. The greater your awareness, the greater your humility and gratitude.

When you live with humility, you begin to recognize that every morning, you’re given a new chance to make the most out of your life, simply by waking up!

Part of Living Big is in recognizing the areas where you can be grateful and then being grateful for them. You get to pursue many wonderful things in this big, beautiful world, and every day is an opportunity to make certain that you’re in the practice of saying, “Thank you!” whether it’s to ourselves, the people who help you, the planet that supports you, or the universe that sustains you.

3. Appreciate the freedom that you have.

Freedom is not something someone gives you. It is something you take. So how can you truly appreciate this power and the ability you have to pursue the things you want in life?Stop what you’re doing sometimes. Step outdoors and take a deep breath. Smell the fresh air, feel the breeze on your skin, and look at the sky and see its magnificent, ever-changing picture.

It is all here for you. It is always here, nurturing, feeding you. It costs you nothing to appreciate it. You occasionally get so caught up in trying to move forward that you forget the amazing things you already have. It’s really important to literally stop and smell the roses every once in a while, just so you can ground yourself and appreciate your life and the world around you.

Create a commitment and every day, recognize your freedom and embrace your goals. Understand that they are possible, and go for it! Then see how accepting your freedom and your chance to do something wonderful in this world will change your life for the better. When you live enthusiastically with the knowledge that you have choices on how to respond to everything that comes your way, you will be able to see the big picture that you’re striving toward, and you’ll gain some insight into how to bring your passion to life.

And when you need grounding, step back out into the world, breathe in the air, and remember to be thankful for all that you have and all that you’ve worked toward!

GRATITUDE

4. Live your dreams like they’re already happening.

The great American mythologist Joseph Campbell described the importance of “Following your bliss.” Your dreams will take you on a life-changing and ever-evolving journey that will grow and thrive as you do. And as you live big, they will change and become even better, new dreams replacing and building on the dreams you’ve already achieved.

In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, you learned the importance of staying on your path with friends who love you and fighting for your dreams no matter how hard things get. Living Big encourages you to do the same.

You are all looking for something out in the world that is missing inside of you. Where is the answer? It is inside of everyone. Sometimes, you just haven’t recognized it yet. The more curious you are about your dreams, the more you nurture them to life, and the bigger you’ll live!

5. Living Big will teach you about perseverance and faith in the impossible.
Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why not follow my dreams?
  • Why can’t I make my life the way it most matters to me?
  • Why can’t I be unstoppable?
  • Why can’t failures and mistakes lead me to success?
  • Why can’t I imagine a successful future as though it has already happened?

When you look at closed doors around you as opportunities instead of losses, you’ll start to realize that you’re capable of so much more! Imagine yourself as a successful person who achieved all of their dreams, and then ask these question. Once you’ve pictured yourself where you want to be, work backward to discover what steps you think you needed to take to get there. It is all waiting for you, and it’s possible!

The greater your ability to trust in your dreams, the stronger you are. The greater is your perseverance to achieve your dreams. Remind yourself every day of the abundance around you.

Your dreams are your joyous compass to surrender, to create your success. Living Big is understanding that the world is available for you to thrive no matter what.

6. It will teach you discipline and to love and accept yourself.

Following a structure — any structure — requires discipline. Living Big and looking through the world to see the possibilities will require effort and discipline as well.

And as you practice being grateful for your opportunities and the blessings in your life, you’ll begin to appreciate and love yourself as well. After all, you’re the reason that you’re accomplishing your goals in life!

The more disciplined you are, the greater your self-love and the better the results in your life. Living Big is something everyone wants to achieve. Yet, wanting something is not enough.

Curiosity, self-discipline, and healthy connections bring light into our world. You can use these to overcome the areas where you might need help or are lacking a bit, and still look at the world with a smile and an attitude of thankfulness.

Being disciplined is loving yourself. Living Big is loving yourself with empowerment and sharing this with the world. Enjoy a better life and live big!

You deserve to be happy in life and to have the opportunity to fulfill your dreams. Living Big will help open these options to you and teach you to appreciate everything you have in life, even as you strive for bigger, better things.

Open yourself to possibilities and you can become the change you want to see in your own life!

Suzanne Kyra is a registered clinical counselor, empowerment speaker, and award-winning author. In addition to being an expert in individual, couple, family and professional development, she is an expert in Living Big. Go to her website, SuzanneKyra.com, to learn more about all of her personal and professional development programs, blogs and free information on How To Live Big and Live the Life You Love. 
Suzanne Kyra    June 22, 2018


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Positive People: The 3 Emotionally Intelligent Behaviors They Practice Daily

Engage negativity with the weapons of positivity.

There is simply no magic pill when it comes to becoming a more positive person. Everything behind what they do can be boiled down to one word: mindset.

To become more positive, especially in negative work environments that strip you of your joy and dignity, you have to engage the negative forces that surround you with three weapons of positivity.

1. Develop your self-awareness.

Self-awareness is a weapon used to protect you from yourself and your shortcomings. Remember to first inspect whether you’re the source of negative behavior. For example, are you a gossiper? If so, ask yourself three questions:

  •     How does it make me feel when I spread rumors?
  •     Why do I need to have this feeling?
  •     What does the behavior of talking bad behind someone’s back reveal to others about my own attitude?

This is where a boost of self-awareness does wonders. If you’re like most people bent on becoming more positive, you’ll probably gain some insight into how you are perceived when spreading gossip.

While getting to the core of your attitude and why it influences your behavior isn’t a cure-all solution, it’s a great first step to positivity. It also helps to expose the things that you’ve been hiding from yourself.

positivity

 

2. Break down your negative support systems.

Now that you’ve gained self-awareness, your next weapon is used to scan the landscape to determine what support systems are in place that reinforce negative attitudes and behaviors.

In the workplace, you’ll often find pockets of people and outdated management practices (like micromanagement or controlling behaviors) that often support and feed a toxic work culture.

Sticking with the theme of gossip, a willingness to actively participate in it and listen to circles of gossip is an example of how you may be feeding into the negative support system that fuels toxicity.

One weapon of positivity to counter this type of stronghold is to outright reject any association with negative forces that don’t promote the values of respect, trust, and accountability.

Plan to attack negative behaviors at the spot where they’re weakest. For example, if you really want to stop being around gossip, put limits on those who do it. Turn down lunch invitations from gossiping peers and co-workers, and walk away from sidebar and parking lot conversations that are beckoning to suck you into the negativity.

3. Have positive substitutes for negative behaviors.

Finally, replace those negative support systems with positive options that will deliver better results. We’re talking here about intentionally seeking out work relationships with positive people who share the very values that lead to healthy collaboration, safe work engagement, and energizing productivity.

You’ll know these positive people after a while; they’re the ones who have strict boundaries themselves and never get sucked into negativity. They think ahead about how to improve a bad situation, take accountability for their actions, and move toward contributing to solutions to organizational problems with positive intent.

By Marcel Schwantes    Principal and founder, Leadership From the Core     @MarcelSchwantes
source: www.inc.com


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Science Proves That Gratitude Is Key to Well-Being

Acting happy, coaxes one’s brain toward positive emotions

“Building the best life does not require fealty to feelings in the name of authenticity, but rather rebelling against negative impulses and acting right even when we don’t feel like it,” says Arthur C. Brooks, author of Gross National Happiness, in a column in the New York Times. In the article, from 2015, he argues that “acting grateful can actually make you grateful” and uses science to prove it.

A 2003 study compared the well-being of participants who kept a weekly list of things they were grateful for to participants who kept a list of things that irritated them or neutral things. The researchers showed that the gratitude-focused participants exhibited increased well-being and they concluded that “a conscious focus on blessings may have emotional and interpersonal benefits.”

The participants didn’t begin the study any more grateful or ungrateful than anyone else, and they didn’t change their lives during the study so that they’d have more to be thankful for. They just turned their outlook to one of gratitude, and they were happier for it.

How does gratitude do this? One way is by stimulating two important regions in our brains: the hypothalamus, which regulates stress, and the ventral tegmental area, which plays a significant role in the brain’s reward system that produces feelings of pleasure.

One 1993 study revealed another way to boost happiness even when you’re not feeling happy. Researchers found that both voluntary and involuntary smiling had the same effect on brain activity. You can convince your brain and body that you’re happy even when you’re not just by forcing yourself to smile. “Acting happy, regardless of feelings, coaxes one’s brain into processing positive emotions,” explains Brooks. In other words, “fake it ‘til you make it” works.

In his column, Brooks suggests adopting three strategies to harness the positive health effects of gratitude. One, practice “interior gratitude.” Keep a daily or weekly list of the things you are grateful for. For example, I might write: I am grateful that I have a job that I love and that through my job as a therapist in Santa Monica I get to help people. Two, practice “exterior gratitude.” Write thank-you notes and put your gratitude to others on paper. For example, you could write a thank-you email to your best friend for supporting you through a bad breakup. And three, “be grateful for useless things.” In other words, express thanks for the everyday stuff you usually overlook such as fresh fruit and air-conditioning.

Are you worried that writing a spontaneous thank-you note to a friend will make them feel awkward? Or that it won’t mean much to them?

GRATITUDE

Science says you’re wrong.

A study published in Psychological Science in June 2018 reveals that people often miscalculate how a heartfelt thank-you note will be received. Researchers asked a group of 100 participants to write letters of gratitude to someone whom they were thankful for, like a friend or teacher. While these weren’t just quick “thanks for my Christmas present” notes, researcher Dr. Amit Kumar observed that the gratitude letters took less than five minutes to write.

Participants were then asked to rate how surprised, happy, and awkward they predicted the participant would feel. And finally, the recipients were asked to assess how the letter actually made them feel. It turns out the note writers greatly overestimated how awkward recipients would feel and how insincere the notes would seem, and they greatly underestimated the positive effects they would have. New York Times science reporter Heather Murphy writes, “After receiving thank-you notes and filling out questionnaires about how it felt to get them, many said they were ‘ecstatic,’ scoring the happiness rating at 4 of 5. The senders typically guessed they’d evoke a 3.”

If expressing gratitude even when nothing especially gratefulness-triggering is going on can increase your well-being and help regulate stress, and even a small amount of effort to express gratitude can have a meaningful effect on the recipient of your thanks, why not make gratitude a part of your daily life? Do as the father of positive psychology Martin Seligman recommends in his book Authentic Happiness and write daily letters of gratitude. Spend five minutes every morning or evening writing a gratitude email to a loved one. Science says you’ll feel awkward, and science says to do it anyway.

Jul 30, 2018      Andrea Brandt Ph.D. M.F.T.       Mindful Anger