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This Year, Consider Giving Presence Instead Of Presents

During the holiday season, many of us feel pressure to find our loved ones the “perfect” gift. Why? Because gift-giving has long been considered a prime way to express love. However, recent research suggests that gestures don’t need to be large or have a hefty price tag to feel meaningful. The study, published this summer in The Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, suggests that small acts of kindness, not grand overtures, make people feel most loved and supported.

“Our research found that micro-moments of positivity, like a kind word, cuddling with a child, or receiving compassion make people feel most loved,” says Dr. Zita Oravecz, a professor in human development and family studies at Pennsylvania State University and one of the study’s researchers.

In the study, 495 men and women between the ages of 18 and 93 completed a questionnaire evaluating 60 possible ways that people can feel love. Each question began with, “Most people feel loved when…” The scenarios included situations like spending time with friends, receiving gifts, and spending time in nature. The survey also included negative interactions, like being controlled and criticized by others. Oravecz says the findings highlight the psychological benefits that intimate relationships can offer. In fact, study participants ranked human interaction as a more significant expression of love than receiving material items, like presents. Connecting with others was also rated more highly than getting positive feedback on the internet, indicating that people derive the most support from personal human contact. In fact, other studies suggest more time on social media leads to increased feelings of isolation. Yet despite the findings that spending time with friends and family makes us feel good, during hectic times like the holidays, these social interactions can feel burdensome instead of fulfilling. Fatigued from an overload of shopping, spending, and travel, most Americans describe this time of year as stressful instead of magical. In fact, a telephone survey conducted by the American Psychological Association showed that compared to other times of the year, 44 percent of women and 31 percent of men (out of 786 individuals polled) feel more stress during the holidays. In addition, 51 percent of women and 42 percent of men said purchasing and giving gifts added to their distress.

Esther Lui for NPR

Small acts of kindness are what make us feel loved.
 

Any kind of stress can strain relationships and cause us to withdraw from others, but small stressors can be just as trying as larger burdens. A 2015 research study found that daily hassles like working, running errands, and money troubles negatively impact romantic unions, causing people to feel less satisfied and more alone in their relationships. When we’re anxious and fatigued, it can also be more challenging to see someone else’s point of view, which might explain why family feuds seem more likely to arise during the holidays. While prioritizing one’s self-care during the months of November and December may be difficult, adopting a mindset of being present in the moment may help lessen the stress of the season.

“During the holidays, anxiety rises, making it harder to remain present with ourselves and others. However, the power of spending time with another person is a gift we can give at any moment,” says Dr. Carla Naumburg, a mindfulness coach and social worker in Newton, Mass.

While we may associate presence with mindfulness meditation, we don’t need to be Zen masters to create a calmer holiday. Naumburg says we can cultivate presence by cutting back on social media (which helps limit distractions), getting plenty of rest, and taking a pause (and remembering to breathe).

“For everyone, breathing is a small but powerful act that can keep us connected to ourselves by shifting our awareness to the present moment,” she says.

According to The American Institute of Stress, focused breathing elicits the body’s “relaxation response,” slowing one’s heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and helping muscles relax. This physical process aids in repairing an overactive nervous system, helping us to enter a calmer physical and emotional state. Although it can be challenging to forgo doing extra errands during the holidays, Naumburg suggests balancing party planning and online shopping with moments of human connection. Activities like reading to a child, meeting a friend for a walk, or taking a moment to call a family member, are ways to express love and care and can keep us emotionally grounded. While the idea of offering loved ones the gift of our time may pale in comparison to giving them a lavish present, recent empathy research shows shared human experiences can tighten social bonds. Oravecz and her colleagues also found that despite personality differences, most people agree on what makes us feel loved — the presence of our loved ones.

Juli Fraga is a psychologist and writer in San Francisco. You can find her on Twitter @dr_fraga.
December 9, 2017    JULI FRAGA
 
source: www.npr.org
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How To Make Your Relationship Stronger

Get to know the power of extrospection.

In psychology, introspection has a long history as a key to understanding how the mind works. It was the method advocated by German physiologist Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920) who is considered to have founded the first experimental psychology lab. Wundt believed that by gaining insight into his own thought processes, he could gain understanding of the structures that make up our mind. In his Leipzig lab, founded in 1872, he advocated the use of introspection even as he designed what we now regard as primitive experimental tools to understand perception.

We now think of introspection, a fundamental process used in mindfulness, more generally as “thinking to yourself.” According to mindfulness advocates, when you think to yourself, you become not only more self-aware, but more aware of your environment.

I’ve often wondered if there is a parallel process, what we might call extrospection, that occurs when you articulate your innermost thoughts to others. Like oversharing, or too much information (TMI), perhaps you blab at length about what’s going on inside your mind. Extrospection could make you seem more approachable, but it can also get you into trouble. If your words reveal your inner state when that inner state is angry or critical of others, you’re better off keeping your thoughts to yourself until the situation is appropriate.

Introspection has social aspects that often do concern the behavior and possible feelings of other people. According to the notion of Theory of Mind, we are constantly formulating propositions about the thoughts and motivations of people in our lives. We can use introspection to gain data to feed those propositions, as we try to understand other people by measuring our own reactions. For example, if you’re watching a news story in a public place, such as a waiting room covering a violent murder, you most likely are feeling fearful and sad. Given the content of that news story, by defining your own feelings, you are likely to assume other people are experiencing similarly negative emotions.

Wundt believed that introspection could provide the data needed to understand the structures of the mind, but he didn’t have many tools to use to peer directly into those structures. Nearly 150 years later, we still can’t observe exactly what neurons are doing in the brain, but we can see at a more general level which brain structures become activated under particular experimental instructions.

Ute Kreplin and Stephen Fairclough (2015), of Liverpool John Moores University in the United Kingdom, designed an intriguing experiment to examine introspection as a tool to understand the feelings of others. They measured the activity of regions of the brain thought to be involved in Theory of Mind, which is when we use our own thoughts to understand those of others. Their young adult participants were exposed to two types of artistic images designed to evoke positive and negative emotions. In the “self” condition, participants were instructed to think about how the image makes “you” feel, whether, sad, happy, or angry. In the “other” condition, they were asked to think about how the artist felt while painting the picture, and what type of person the artist was—happy, angry, or sad.

The paintings designed to evoke positive emotions were pleasant and attractive, such as a still life of fruit. The negative paintings were ugly or disgusting. The example the authors show in the article, for example, was of a pair of androids apparently committing sodomy on some kind of animal, something I’m pretty sure anyone would see as repulsive.

While viewing these images, participants were hooked up to a brain scanning machine that measured blood flow through the regions of the brain involved in Theory of Mind activity. The researchers expected greater activation of these regions during the “self” condition, but instead found that the “other” condition evoked greater neural activation. However, the elements of the painting turned out to play a critical role in determining which brain areas rose to the occasion. It was while viewing the negatively-valenced paintings that participants became more aroused under the “other” condition instruction. When viewing the positive paintings, their brains were more likely to become activated in the “self” condition.

The upshot of the study is that we seem to become more mentally and emotionally engaged when we imagine others to be sad or angry. This study suggests that our empathy is more engaged when others are in pain. We use our mental energies to understand how they’re feeling, putting aside our own possible distress or anxiety. Seeing pleasant images leads us to engage in more introspection regarding our own emotional state.

The findings also suggest why we are so drawn to beautiful images in art—and why we find them soothing. When you look at Van Gogh’s sunflowers or Monet’s water lilies, do you feel inwardly happy and relaxed? This study suggests that art can help you engage in self-soothing if you allow yourself to experience those positive emotions.

Fulfillment in our relationships may depend heavily on our ability to understand how others are feeling. As stated by the authors, the Theory of Mind perspective proposes that “empathy and perspective-switching is fundamental to one’s ability to navigate the social world” (p. 39). Examining your own reactions when the person you love is feeling upset or angry may provide you with the mental tools you need to be a better listener, and partner.

References


Kreplin, U., & Fairclough, S. H. (2015). Effects of self-directed and other-directed introspection and emotional valence on activation of the rostral prefrontal cortex during aesthetic experience. Neuropsychologia, 7138-45. doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2015.03.013

Susan Krauss Whitbourne Ph.D.    Fulfillment at Any Age    Jun 18, 2016
 


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Hang Out With Happy People — It Might Be Contagious

You can actually catch a good mood or a bad mood from your friends, according to a recent study in the journal Royal Society Open Science. But that shouldn’t stop you from hanging out with pals who are down in the dumps, say the study authors: Thankfully, the effect isn’t large enough to push you into depression.

The new study adds to a growing body of research suggesting that happiness and sadness—as well as lifestyle and behavioral factors like smoking, drinking, obesity, fitness habits and even the ability to concentrate—can spread across social networks, both online and in real life. But while many previous studies have only looked at friendship data at one point in time, this is one of the few that measured social and mood changes over time.

This method was able to show how friends actually influenced each other, and helped rule out the possibility that similarities between friends exist simply because people tend to gravitate toward and hang out with others like themselves.The new research involved groups of junior-high and high-school students who took part in depression screenings and answered questions about their best friends, many of whom were also enrolled in the study. In total, 2,194 students were included in the analysis, which used a mathematical model to look for connections among friend networks.

Overall, kids whose friends suffered from bad moods were more likely to report bad moods themselves—and they were less likely to have improved when they were screened again six months to a year later. When people had more happy friends, on the other hand, their moods were more likely to improve over time.

Some symptoms related to depression—like helplessness, tiredness and loss of interest—also seemed to follow this pattern, which scientists call “social contagion.” But this isn’t something sneaky and insidious that people need to worry about, says lead author Robert Eyre, a doctoral student at the University of Warwick’s Center for Complexity Science. Rather, it’s likely just a “normal empathetic response that we’re all familiar with, and something we recognize by common sense,” he says.

In other words, when a friend is going through a rough patch, it makes sense that you’ll feel some of their pain, and it’s certainly not a reason to stay away. But the fact that these negative feelings do spread across networks does have important health implications, says Eyre.

“The good news from our work is that following the evidence-based advice for improving mood—like exercise, sleeping well and managing stress—can help your friends too,” he says.

The study also found that having friends who were clinically depressed did not increase participants’ risk of becoming depressed themselves. “Your friends do not put you at risk of illness,” says Eyre, “so a good course of action is simply to support them.” To boost both of your moods, he suggests doing things together that you both enjoy—and taking other friends along to further spread those good feelings, too.’

 

Amanda MacMillan / Health.com   Sep 22, 2017   TIME Health


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Scheduling In Some Personal Time Is Essential To Individual And Marital Health

The fact that men still get more personal time than women is just one reason Dave McGinn thinks we all need to take leisure more seriously

The fighting between Gillian Rowinski and her husband went on for years. It was always the same fight, time after time.

“I would be doing too many things because I’d be either overcommitted or trying to do too much stuff. He would be relaxing playing a video game or reading a book or having a beer. I would look at him and get super resentful,” says Rowinski, who lives in Vancouver and has three children. “I would just blow up. ‘You never help me! I do everything around here! You do nothing.'”

Her husband would point out that he had, in fact, done a number of chores, it was just that she hadn’t noticed. “And then we would have this big argument and I would probably cry,” said Rowinski, who works in human resources.

What Rowinski eventually realized was that she wasn’t upset that her husband hadn’t done the dishes – she was upset that he had figured out a way to find time to relax, and she hadn’t. She needed her own free time.

It’s a familiar story to most couples raising young children. Between work and kids and taking care of the house, it is hard enough to deal with all the responsibilities bearing down, let alone find the time to take a walk or go out for dinner with friends.

Family therapists say a lack of individual free time is one of the most prominent complaints they encounter, and couples who ignore the problem for too long risk seeing their marriages end over it. But even small changes can vastly improve each person’s happiness and the overall quality of a marriage.

“It’s likely to surface quite at the beginning, at the outset of our sessions,” says Michal Regev, a Vancouver-based marriage and family therapist. It’s a ubiquitous struggle for her clients, one that can cause frustration, resentment and anger.

“We all need to recharge, especially when we are giving a lot to others in our family, at work and to others outside of our family who need our help,” Regev says. “Many people complain about feeling exhausted and depleted. The high-paced, high-speed lifestyle of today’s world may leave little room for individual time.”

That seems to hold true particularly for Canadians. Last month, Canada was ranked the fourth-worst country out of 37 around the world for work-life balance in a report released by Expert Market, a British-based company that compares business products and products. The report, which analyzed OECD and World Bank data, based its rankings on average annual hours worked by parents, the number of paid leave days in each country and the total paid leave available to mothers and fathers.

Not that Canadian parents needed evidence: Everyone knows that e-mail and other pressures make it much harder to leave work behind at the office than it was for earlier generations. And, according to Statistics Canada, 58 per cent of couples with young children were employed outside the home in 2015, which squeezes personal time even more.

“After having our son, everything changed,” says Agatha Smykot, who lives in Calgary with her husband and their one-year-old. “No more free time. It basically became non-existent.”

Regev says that women complain about the lack of free time more than men, which isn’t surprising, since the most recent data from Statistics Canada shows that women continue to do more childcare and housework than men.

In 2010, women spent an average of 50.1 hours a week caring for children, compared with 24.4 hours spent by men. And while men put in an average of 8.3 hours a week on domestic work, that is still much less than the 13.8 hours women put in taking care of the house.

“Sometimes I hear spouses say, ‘I was playing soccer five times a week when we met, so what do you expect? I love playing soccer. I need it for my mental health,'” Regev says. “Well, good. But what about your spouse?” As Smykot and her husband began arguing constantly, she even went out looking for her own apartment.

Like so many problems in a marriage, the lack of free time can only be solved through open and honest communication, says Dr. Jane Greer, author of What About Me? Stop Selfishness From Ruining Your Relationship. The New York-based psychotherapist and radio host advises people to first figure out how much free time they need to feel sane, then talk to their partners about what’s realistic for both of them.

“Let your partner know this amount and emphasize how it’s important emotionally and physically. Go over the list of responsibilities so that each person knows what needs to get done in the meantime,” Greer says. “Make sure it’s balanced.”

A couple of months ago, Smykot and her husband sat down to talk. She told him she had had enough, and they decided to fit free time for both of them into their schedules.

“That means Tuesdays and Thursdays, he’s responsible for picking up our son from daycare and then starting dinner and getting him fed,” she says. They also alternate putting their son to bed and taking the dog out for a walk. And Smykot recently joined a neighbourhood association to engage herself socially.

“Since we’ve allocated free time for each one of us, things just got exponentially better,” she says.

Rowinksi had a similar conversation with her husband a year ago. Their solution meant changes for the entire family – including no working in the evenings, and trying not to overschedule their kids. Weekends are totally for family.

“If I’m not running from one thing to the next I’m happier, I’m more calm, I’m a better parent,” Rowinski says. She still doesn’t have endless amounts of free time, maybe an hour every other evening. But that’s an hour she spends doing something she enjoys – and reading a book is much more satisfying than arguing.

DAVE MCGINN   OCTOBER 11, 2017


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Give Yourself More Credit for Doing These Things

Let’s do a roll call: who here has been giving themselves a hard time lately? If this is you, it’s time to cut yourself some slack! You may not realize it, but there are countless things you accomplish every day that are absolutely praiseworthy.

No, really! If we don’t give ourselves credit for the small stuff, how can we feel comfortable patting on ourselves when we accomplish something massive?

The next time you start doubting yourself and your capabilities, reflect on this list as a reminder of all that you do that is right as rain. And give yourself some credit – you really deserve it.

1. Catching Some ZZZs

Getting enough sleep every night is not an easy feat! Whether we’re a working parent of triplets or someone who is struggling with managing their anxiety levels, the fact that we get as many ZZZs as we can is a huge accomplishment.

2. Facing Small Challenges

When is the last time you had a day with absolutely nothing worth worrying about? No deadlines or housework or difficult social interactions to manage? Take as much time as you need… but you’ll probably find that most days contain these minor challenges. The fact that we get through a handful of them each and every day is a bigger deal than you think.

3. Taking a Much-Needed Break

When those minor challenges start to add up and we decide to take a well-deserved break, that is called self-care. It is absolutely essential that we establish boundaries for ourselves and what we can handle – just like how it’s essential we establish the same kinds of boundaries in relationships. Reward yourself for not putting too much on your plate to handle.

4. Being a Good Friend

Did you let a friend use you as a support today? Did you offer a kind word to a loved one having a crummy day? Did you text a funny meme to a friend who needed a pick-me-up? These small signs of affection and caring mean a whole lot to the person on the receiving end.

5. Letting Someone Else be a Good Friend to You

Were you the person who needed that pick-me-up today? Being open to help and support is just as important as offering it to the important people in our lives who need it.

6. Thinking a Positive Thought about Yourself

Disappointment, judgment, and criticism are such powerful factors in our self-talk every day. But, if we are able to find one nugget of positivity in the way we speak to ourselves, consider it a victory. Even if it’s simply “I tried today”, take it as a win. You were nice to yourself when you needed it.

7. Having patience with your growth

Living in such a demanding and busy society can take its toll. We can end up expecting a whole lot more from ourselves than we can reasonably give. It is important to remember this fact when we take the time to reflect on our overall progress with personal goals or development. Consider a person you really admire: did they obtain the traits you love overnight? No! They struggled and stumbled and learned along the way – just like you are doing. It’s all a part of the process.

By: Katie Medlock      October 7, 2017
 
source: www.care2.com


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How to Stop Projecting

These tips can help you stop projecting your less-flattering traits onto other people.

Expert Source: Psychotherapist and clinical psychologist Joseph Burgo, PhD, author of Why Do I Do That? Psychological Defense Mechanisms and the Hidden Ways They Shape Our Lives.

Cranky existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre once wrote, “Hell is other people,” and we’ve all felt this way from time to time. Especially when the snide comments of a coworker, a friend’s constant complaining, or our sister’s endless bossiness annoy us to distraction. If only they would change, we think, we’d find some peace.

We’re often wrong about that. In a process psychologists call projection, we attribute traits we dislike in ourselves to other people. Then those people drive us crazy when they remind us of qualities that we’re trying to suppress.

“Parts of ourselves don’t simply disappear when we disown them,” explains psychotherapist Joseph Burgo, PhD, author of Why Do I Do That?

Shouting “I could never be like that!” in response to an annoying person helps deflect attention from the part of us that is actually like that. And even if the other person renounces his or her unpleasant behavior forevermore, someone else will come along and trip that trigger — at least until we accept that we’re rejecting it in ourselves. This process is part of what Burgo calls our “innate tendency toward integration.”

Learning to identify projection, Burgo says, is enough to stop it in its tracks — and prevent it from harming our relationships. He offers some tips on how to get a handle on this sneaky psychological defense mechanism.

Challenges to Overcome
• Ego. We tend to believe we’re mostly perfect, which has its drawbacks. “When we encounter something that challenges this idealized view of ourselves,” Burgo says, “we’re much more likely to blame it on other people than to own it.”

• Lack of awareness. The projection response is largely unconscious, he notes. Until we notice its signs in our mind and body — physical tension, mental obsession — we’ll be unaware that we’re doing it.

• Psychic resistance. The whole point of projection is to offload feelings that we don’t want to feel — usually aggression, sadness, shame — onto others. So, it’s natural that we resist owning up to our feelings and the role we are playing in a difficult relationship. “We’re not particularly interested in taking back the projections because they’re painful,” he says.

• Habit. If we’ve been projecting for years onto a person or group, the pattern may be so ingrained that it operates like a “built-in defense,” says Burgo.

• Exhaustion. We’re more likely to project our feelings onto others when we’re tired, tense, stressed, or feeling rundown.

• Our real shortcomings. “There are always ways in which we fall short,” Burgo notes, “so trying to maintain a sense of self-worth can be challenging. It’s much easier to blame other people than to struggle with our own feelings of shame or disappointment.”

• The real shortcomings of others. The people who bug us are not perfect either; they may well be displaying antisocial or inappropriate behavior. Distinguishing the difference between our “stuff” and theirs isn’t easy.

• Dehumanization. When we project, says Burgo, we turn the other person into a symbol: the Bossy Jerk or the Needy Wreck. “They become a personification of the thing you’re getting rid of. Rather than being a whole person with whom you might be able to empathize, they become a kind of caricature.”

Strategies for Success
• Notice preoccupation. Projection has characteristics that distinguish it from mere irritation, says Burgo, and chief among these is an “inability to let go of our focus on the other person.” This comes with intense feelings and a conviction that you are not like that person or group at all. “It’s a kind of mental blaming and self-justification that can go on and on and on.”

• Look inward. Projection is, by definition, a turning outward. The first step in overcoming it, he says, is to make the shift to self-awareness. Take stock of how you’re feeling, how you’re breathing, and so on. This will help interrupt your obsessive focus on the “problem” person and redirect your attention to where it can do some good.

• Calm yourself. “Focus on your breathing to stop the word-chatter in your head that’s justifying the projections,” Burgo advises. Take a few breaths in on a count of four, and exhale on a count of eight. This is a simple and effective way to settle yourself down.

• Notice your body. When he senses he may be projecting, Burgo does a body scan, checking “my back and shoulders where I carry tension, around my eyes where I register fatigue and sadness, in my belly where I feel hunger and other kinds of longing.” He suggests noticing these sensations without trying to explain them in relation to someone else — which can be challenging.

• Get real. Burgo acknowledges that difficult people may well possess the same negative traits you disavow in yourself. “We often project into reality, meaning that if we’re a very critical person, we’ll project it onto someone who actually is critical,” he explains. “But they’re not only critical, and you need to try to see them in their full humanity. And if they are truly toxic, you need to shield yourself from them rather than making use of them to disown parts of yourself you don’t like.”

• Trade places with the other. Burgo suggests asking yourself, “How would I feel if I knew somebody else was thinking about me the way I’m thinking about X or Y?” This can help convert the other person from a symbol of what you don’t like (in yourself!) into a human being who, like you, is probably just doing the best he or she can.

This originally appeared as “Own Up” in the September 2017 print issue of Experience Life.

Jon Spayde is an Experience Life contributing editor.

BY JON SPAYDE | SEPTEMBER 2017


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Fun Fact Friday

  • Women are twice as likely to suffer from insomnia than men. This is mostly due to the hormonal changes that women often experience.

  • 40% of people who are rejected in a romantic relationship slip into clinical depression.

  • Dogs can see sadness in humans and often attempt to make their owners happy by initiating cuddling.

  • Having sex only 3 times a week, has proven to make you look 5-7 years younger.

~ Happy Friday!~