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This Popular Vitamin Is Linked To Weight Loss

High levels of this vitamin are associated with 20 pounds more weight loss.

Higher levels of vitamin D are linked to more weight loss, research finds.

People who are dieting have been shown to lose 20 pounds more when they have high vitamin D levels.

Vitamin D at higher levels in the body is also associated with burning belly fat.

The conclusions come from a study of 4,421 people whose total body fat and belly fat was measured.

Across men and women, higher vitamin D levels were linked to less belly fat, the results showed.

However, women with higher vitamin D levels also had less total body fat.

One reason for the beneficial effect of vitamin D may be its connection with the neurotransmitter serotonin.

Serotonin can affect everything from sleep to mood.

High levels of vitamin D may suppress the storage of fat.

Over half the people in the world may be deficient in vitamin D.

Foods that are rich in vitamin D include oily fish and eggs, but most people get their vitamin D from the action of sunlight on the skin.

That is why levels are typically lower in the body through the winter months in more Northern climes.

Dr Rachida Rafiq, the study’s first author, said:

“Although we did not measure vitamin D deficiency in our study, the strong relationship between increasing amounts of abdominal fat and lower levels of vitamin D suggests that individuals with larger waistlines are at a greater risk of developing deficiency, and should consider having their vitamin D levels checked.”

The study does not prove causation, though, Dr Rafiq explained:

“Due to the observational nature of this study, we cannot draw a conclusion on the direction or cause of the association between obesity and vitamin D levels. However, this strong association may point to a possible role for vitamin D in abdominal fat storage and function.”

About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.

The study was published in the journal Clinical Nutrition (Rafiq et al., 2018).

 

source: PsyBlog

 

vitamin D

Netflix and Eat? Here’s How To Stop Overindulging During Pandemic Isolation

Spending way too many hours in front of the TV?

Indulging in way too many salty snacks?

You’re not alone.

A recent Bloomberg report cited data showing sales were up — way up — for all types of comfort foods, including popcorn (48 per cent), pretzels (47 per cent) and potato chips (30 per cent) compared to a year ago.

This doesn’t come as a surprise to Kira Lynne, a life coach and counsellor in Vancouver. During stressful or anxious times, such as what we’re experiencing right now with the COVID-19 pandemic, people will reach out for things that bring them comfort, whether it be certain junk foods, TV shows or video games.

“It’s a scary time.”

Lynne said its important you don’t beat yourself up if you find yourself giving in to these temptations.

“Be gentle with yourself on that.”

That said, there are some practical things you can do if you’re worried about overindulging. She suggests, for instance, delaying the snacking and the Netflix-watching to the end of the day as sort of a “reward” to yourself.

Another piece of advice: eating “mindfully.” Get rid of distractions, such as the TV. You’ll enjoy the food more and won’t need to eat as much to feel satisfied.

Amy Bondar, a nutritional therapist and certified eating psychology coach in Calgary, agrees.

To slow down the binge eating, she recommends that her clients “see, taste, smell and hear each bite of food,” they take in. In other words, “experience the experience of eating.”

“Unwanted eating behaviours only happen in the stress response and the more heightened your stress and anxiety, the more likely you are to eat unconsciously and stand in front of the pantry or fridge gnawing on your worries,” she wrote in a recent blog post.

With so much uncertainty in the world right now and things that are beyond our control, experts recommend focusing on finding things that you can control. That includes building a daily routine for yourself so you have some predictability and structure to your day.

Lynne says in the first part of her day, she takes her dog for a walk, comes home and meditates, makes breakfast, devotes a couple hours to work and then takes a lunch break.

Adrienne Clarkson, Canada’s former governor general, even weighed in this week on the importance of establishing a routine, tweeting: “It is so good for the morale to dress every day as though going to the office, or a meeting. For heaven’s sake wash your hair and don’t wear pyjamas or a sweat suit all day! And, guys, SHAVE!”

On the question of whether it’s OK to keep the PJs on throughout the day, Lynne prefers not to make a blanket rule. Instead, she might ask her clients, “how do you feel different if you are in PJs?” or “are you glad you got out of PJs?” and then letting their answers guide their clothing choices.

With many people no longer having to deal with commutes and appointments, both experts suggest taking advantage of this free time to try new hobbies or to set new goals.

Go online and find a home workout routine that you like. Start an online business. Catch up with old friends over the phone or video chat. Do some spring cleaning around the house.

“Use this time as an opportunity to redefine your health, not decline your health,” Bondar said.

Lynne also suggests limiting your intake of coronavirus news each day.

“I check it once a day. Just as much as I need to stay healthy — nothing additional,” she said, adding that she’s “asked people in my life not to send me gloom and doom.”

“I need to keep my mental health in a good place.”

Experts say another way to lessen anxiety is to find ways to help others. Make an online donation to a charity, Lynne said. Or help deliver food to people who can’t get out of the house.

“It gives a sense of purpose.”

By Douglas Quan       Vancouver Bureau       Thu., March 26, 2020

 

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How To Combat Weight Gain During The Pandemic
(beyond Diet And Exercise)

Quarantine life is challenging, to say the least, and all of us are struggling mentally, emotionally and physically. And no one would blame you for being tempted to abandon your diet and exercise plan and reach for the tub of ice cream while binge-watching that tiger show that everyone is talking about.But health experts strongly recommend you do your best to prevent excess weight gain during this historic and scary time.

Dr. David Buchin, director of bariatric surgery at Huntington Hospital, is seeing that a large percentage of the patients battling Covid-19 in the medical center’s intensive care unit are obese. Patients who are obese are especially challenging to care for, he said, as treatment involves rolling them from their back to their front regularly to optimize lung function. In addition, a recent study found that in patients under the age of 60, obesity doubled the risk of Covid-19 hospitalization.

I’m not suggesting starting a strict diet or intense exercise program while sheltering in place, but there are some simple things you can do to prevent weight gain and protect yourself not only from Covid-19-related complications, but also from diseases such as diabetes and heart disease that will remain two of the top causes of death after we get through this pandemic.

Shop smart

When it comes to quarantine shopping, it’s important to be organized, especially when it comes to eating enough fruits and vegetables (aim for five servings per day if you can). Buy a combination of fresh, frozen and canned to last you at least a week or more.

Consume fresh products first and then move on to frozen and canned. Rinse canned vegetables to reduce sodium, and be sure to consume fresh or frozen fruit daily as the vitamin C content of canned fruits and vegetables, which is important for immunity health, is lower than fresh or frozen.

Chef Devin Alexander, who has maintained a 70-pound weight loss for decades, has some terrific tips for shopping on a budget and managing quarantine cravings. When buying produce, for example, unlike most other items, she suggested looking for the items on sale.

Watermelon and berries go on sale in the summer because they’re in season and thus very plentiful. That’s also when they taste the best, so you can make amazing desserts without the need for a ton of added sugar.

Alexander also recommended having coleslaw on hand for when the salty cravings hit. Her recipe for Orange Cilantro Cole Slaw, available on her website, satisfies that salty, crunchy hankering in a way that’s actually good for you. It helps get in a serving or two of vegetables, and just might keep you from “needing” to eat a bag of chips. In addition, cabbage and carrots are budget-friendly, last for weeks and are loaded with immune-supporting nutrients.

When you come home from the store, make sure to put the healthier foods in more easily seen locations in your kitchen. Food cravings and hunger can be triggered by just seeing food, so keep more indulgent foods out of sight – and hopefully out of mind – on upper shelves in your cupboard, in the back of the fridge or the bottom of the freezer.

Manage stress

During this global crisis it’s even more important than ever to find ways to conquer stress and manage anxiety.

I know, it isn’t easy. Balancing homeschooling, financial challenges, cabin fever, social isolation and illness is stressful, but stress can contribute to poor eating choices and increase fat deep in your belly (underneath the muscle) that can contribute to heart disease and diabetes even more than the pinchable fat that lies directly underneath your skin.

Practice mindfulness, meaning doing your best trying to live in the present versus worrying too much about the future. That’s the advice from Joanne Koegl, a licensed marriage and family therapist who tells clients to take time out of their day to focus on simple things such as the warmth of the sun, the beauty of a flower, the taste of a bite of chocolate or the laugh of a child.

Koegl recommended apps and websites such as Headspace, Calm, The Tapping Solution (a self-administered therapy based on Chinese acupressure that can help calm the nervous system) and Breathe by anxiety expert Dr. Jud Brewer. These resources and others are offering free services focused on managing Covid-19-related anxiety and stress.

You can also practice basic self-care to manage anxiety and relieve stress. Take a hot bath, find a quiet place in your house and sip a cup of tea, exercise, call an old friend or consider volunteering if it’s safe. Helping others also gives you a sense of purpose and joy.

If you are really struggling with anxiety, there are mental health telemedicine options such as Doctor on Demand and crisis hotlines available in major cities across the country. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to reach out for professional help.

Sleep right

Both excess sleep and inadequate sleep have been linked to weight gain, increased appetite and worsening blood sugar control, so try your best not to completely abandon your sleep schedule by staying up late, sleeping until noon or staying up all night watching television.

Try to stay on a relatively normal sleep schedule, experts recommend. This is much easier to do if you follow basic sleep principles including avoiding excess alcohol before bed, keeping your room as dark as possible and at about 65 degrees Fahrenheit and exercising regularly. And turn off the news (and put down your phones) in the hours before bed.

Move more

Spending so much time at home has another unforeseen consequence. You are burning far fewer calories going about your daily life than you were pre-quarantine, regardless of whether you exercise daily.

Sitting at the computer for hours, whether doing Zoom work calls or socializing, and staying inside on evenings and weekends binge-watching television, along with shopping and socializing online, easily all add up to several hundred fewer calories burned per day through non-exercise activity, which is often higher than intentional exercise for most people. It’s essential to incorporate more movement and less sitting every day.

Buchin tells his patients to commit to a certain amount of exercise to “earn” their television viewing. For example, for each movie they watch they should incorporate 20 minutes of some form of activity which could be cleaning, playing with your family, gardening or even simply standing while talking on the phone or participating in a Zoom call.

I have been using my Apple Watch more than ever lately. I appreciate the reminder to stand up every hour for at least one minute and the ability to track my general daily activity in addition to exercise.
If you don’t have a fitness device, set a timer on your phone or even your microwave to remind you to get up every hour and walk around the house, up and down the stairs a few times or just do some stretching in place before sitting down again.

As we hear repeatedly on the news, we are all in this together, and my hope is that with these tips, you and your loved ones can maintain your weight and stay fit, healthy and maybe even a little less stressed during this global pandemic.

Dr. Melina Jampolis is an internist and board-certified physician nutrition specialist and author of several books, including “Spice Up, Slim Down.”

By Dr. Melina Jampolis, CNN                Thu April 30, 2020
 
source: www.cnn.com


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13 Reasons To Exercise That Have Nothing To Do With Losing Weight

Your workout has so many benefits for your mental health, longevity, immune system and more.

Many people who loathe exercise arguably feel that way because of how the activity has been marketed to them. For too long, exercise and weight loss have been indivisibly bound, leading many to fall into the comparison trap, experience shame or engage in negative self-talk.

But moving your body grants so much more than a fit figure or relief from the guilt of indulging in a “cheat meal.” Movement is self-improvement beyond the physical form.

None of this is to say I don’t fall victim to feeling absolute dread before a workout. Sometimes the process of lacing up my sneakers and clipping on my nerdy little running belt is beyond torturous, the beasts in my head questioning why I bother.

Sometimes my demons do get the best of me. But on the days I do choose exercise, I just about always feel better than when I started. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve begrudgingly worked out and felt worse after the fact (the count is one, and it was the time I was hit by a bike while on a run).

From easing symptoms of depression (in my case, clearing some of the dark clouds that appear on what was supposed to be a perfectly sunny day), to relieving stress to protecting the body from injury, so much good is reaped from exercise. I think the marketing department is long overdue for a new strategy, one that links physical activity with the bounty of goodness it can provide. Here are just some of those things to consider.


Working out can lower your stress levels

Exercise yields many mental health benefits, and stress reduction is certainly among them. Whether it’s a boxing session to relieve some pent-up anger or a yoga sequence to help you focus on the present, that physical activity will increase the production of neurohormones like norepinephrine, a chemical that moderates the brain’s stress response.


And it can be the antidote for anxiety

There’s a lot happening in the body when you choose to move. Some of that takes place in the brain, where chemicals are produced to fight the feelings that bring you down. Aerobic exercise in particular (any type of cardio that gets your blood flowing) has been shown to benefit mood disorders and generally improve anxiety.


Working out = happy feelings

Runner’s high, endorphins, the feels — whatever you want to call it, exercise is sure to bring it. Being active causes the brain to release feel-good chemicals that boost your mood; it’s the reason why you almost always feel better post-workout than when you started.


And it can improve self-confidence

Even if you don’t lose a single pound at the gym, exercise can make you feel better about yourself. Research shows that getting physical can boost feelings of self-esteem and improve self-image.


It may even enhance your sex life

Improved self-confidence can work wonders for your romantic world. But beyond that, research has found that men who maintain a regular exercise routine have improved erectile and sexual function.


Exercise offers a new way to explore

Seeing a city by bike or by sneaker is a completely different experience than traditional modes of travel. Running or biking in a new place lets you cover more ground while still letting you stop to smell the roses, so to speak. Even if it’s your own city, you’ll start to learn to navigate the roads more comfortably and notice things you might’ve missed by car. The only reason I know how to get around some of the most dizzying streets of New York City is because I’ve run them. Better yet, combining exercise with nature (even if that nature is a concrete jungle) amplifies exercise’s self esteem-boosting benefits.


Exercise can help you sleep better

A good night’s sleep makes everything better, and exercising can help you nab one. People sleep significantly better and feel more alert during their waking hours if they exercise for at least 150 minutes a week, according to research associated with the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.


It can boost your productivity

Exercise is sort of like a gateway drug to getting stuff done: Once you muster up the energy and will for a workout, other tasks become more tolerable, too. Research shows that people who work exercise into their schedules are more productive and energized than their less active counterparts.


And your creativity

Even if it’s just a mid-day walk or skip, a bit of physical activity can enhance your creativity. If you’re stuck on a project or problem, consider a sweat session not a way to procrastinate, but your ticket through it.


Exercise can make you stronger and reduce your risk for injury

This one becomes increasingly important with age, and you know this to be true if you’ve ever pulled a back muscle doing the most mundane activity. It’s frustrating and sometimes debilitating, and the chances of it happening again can be greatly reduced with a well-rounded workout routine — especially one that incorporates strength-training. Exercise is also associated with increased longevity and lower risks for age-related diseases. Your joints and muscles benefit from an active lifestyle.


It can also keep your brain bright

If you haven’t yet noticed, the benefits of exercise are not just physical. Research shows that it can significantly benefit your cognitive function and even help improve your memory by increasing the production of cells in the hippocampus, which is responsible for memory and learning.


And benefit your immune system

A sustained exercise habit helps slow down the changes that happen to the immune system over time, keeping you healthier for longer. This, in turn, reduces your risk for infection and keeps you from getting sick.


With exercise comes community

Even if your gym is closed for the foreseeable future, there’s much to be shared in the joys (and challenges) of working out. A new sport or walking trail expands your horizons and offers you something to share with others. Even online, thousands of communities will root for your goals and get into the nitty-gritty of gear and ice baths, if that’s something you’re after. Whenever I’m out for a run, I like to remember that I have something in common with every fellow runner I spot, no matter our paces.


This story is part of Don’t Sweat It, a HuffPost Life series on improving your relationship with fitness. We’re giving you a guide on the latest thinking on exercise and why we’ve been conditioned to hate it in the past. Mental health and body-positive fitness experts will offer guidance and show you how to find a routine that works for you.

 

By Kate Bratskeir    07/15/2020  – On Assignment For HuffPost
exercise

17 Common Exercise Mistakes People Make

When Working Out At Home

Trainers share their advice so you can make the most of your fitness routine
during the coronavirus lockdown.

The coronavirus lockdown has many people focusing on moving their bodies. Faced with the prospect of not being able to go to a gym or a class, many have turned to YouTube and Instagram in search of workouts.

While it’s good to exercise, of course, you also need to be careful of how it’s done. The margin of error for bad form and mistakes may increase exponentially at home.

The good news is that fixing these issues is as easy as making them in the first place. The first step is recognizing what you’re doing wrong, so that you can address it. Here are a handful of common mistakes people make:

1. Trusting any person who posts a workout on Instagram
Not all trainers are created equal, especially if you’re not used to doing exercise and don’t keep an eye on your form.

“One of the most common mistakes today is following influencers who don’t have any training, but who do have lots of marketing behind them,” explains Beatriz Crespo, a specialist with doctoral degrees in both medicine and sports performance.

“It’s like going to a professional who says they can cure you. They’re not a doctor but they do have a marketing package that positions them as a health guru,” she continued. ”You believe them and follow everything they recommend without questioning it and without thinking about it. You follow them because it’s easy, they’ve got bright colors and play the hottest tunes.”

2. Wearing yourself out to get better and faster results
According to Crespo, “lots of people really believe that if you don’t get tired, if you’re not stiff the next day, or if you don’t train at a high intensity and with 100% motivation every day, then you’re not making progress or doing anything to make up for being stuck inside, and that will be good for losing weight.”

In her opinion, “this is the greatest myth and lie of the sports industry,” insisting that ”’train hard’ and ’no pain, no gain’ are lies.”

3. Thinking that sweating means you’ll lose weight
Nothing could be further from the truth. You sweat when you get dehydrated, and that’s why you shouldn’t exercise wearing lots of clothing or in a very warm setting.

“When you get dehydrated, the same thing happens as when you overtrain. It’s counterproductive, and it’s also dangerous for your health,” Santiago Marchante, a member of the Spanish Federation of Personal Trainers and Fitness, previously told HuffPost Spain.

4. Not staying properly hydrated
Water must be by your side throughout the entire routine, said trainer Verónica Costa. Water is more than enough to keep you hydrated; you don’t need sugary sports drinks.

“Unless the exercise is aerobic and lasts a long time (more than 70-75 minutes), it makes no sense to drink those drinks. Many are also hypertonic, meaning that they’re absorbed more slowly than water, and have a high sugar content, so they can cause gastrointestinal discomfort,” Pedro Ruiz, personal trainer and coordinator of tupersonaltrainer.com, previously told HuffPost Spain.

5. Repeating the same exercise over and over again
Our body isn’t going to be better just by endlessly repeating the same workout. In fact, it can be counterproductive.

“Variety in stimuli is important to avoid strains,” Crespo said. “We spend a lot of time seated and we need sessions that make up for our sedentary daily routine by providing different stimuli based on four fundamental pillars: strength training, resistance, flexibility and speed.”

Francisco García-Muro, coordinator of physical therapy in physical activity and sports section of the Professional Association of Physical Therapists of Madrid, notes an additional problem: “Working very specific muscles can create an imbalance with respect to the rest of the body, and that ends up manifesting as a problematic condition.”

6. Thinking you’re doing it better because you’re shaking
Don’t push yourself too hard at first or you’ll risk getting an injury.

“It’s not healthy for your muscles to shake during a plank exercise and for you to be encouraged to hold on,” Crespo said.

“Always doing everything really fast or getting really tired and finishing with your legs like Jell-O isn’t healthy either,” she continued.

7. Working above or below your abilities
You need to measure your strength to know where both your upper and lower limits are. If you want the exercise to be effective, physical therapist Pablo Olabe recommends getting a heart rate monitor. Then figure our your target heart rate for your age and health status and strive to work in that range.

8. Pushing past your limits to do as many reps as the trainer
There’s no reason for you to do the same number of reps as the online trainer who’s guiding you. Listen to your own body.

“The professional has to give you some guidelines so you can learn to monitor yourself on your own,” Crespo said. “In that sense, you need to measure the perception of fatigue that you get from the exercise or sequence of exercises suggested. From there, as a trainer, I can tell you a maximum of 20 reps and tell you the kinds of feelings I want you to get.”

It’s advisable to stop doing the exercise when you start to feel worn out, but you still have strength to keep going: “On a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 is not tired at all and 10 is really tired, that would mean being around 6 or 7. Stop when you get there, whether it’s 6 reps, 8 reps, or the maximum of 20,” Crespo said.

9. Not paying attention to whether you have the right form
“No one is going to correct your form like they do in guided classes at the gym, so you have to be the one who takes to the time to fix it,” says Costa. “You can’t rely on what you see on the computer screen, “so I recommend doing the exercise in front of a mirror wherever possible.” Don’t worry if this means you miss a rep or two, because what it really means is that you’re preventing a possible injury.

10. Not resting or listening to your body
“Rest is part of training and it’s really necessary so your body can regenerate tissues and improve bone quality after exercising,” Crespo said.

According to Olabe, it’s important to know how to listen to your body when you exercise, as well as when it should rest.

“If we’re not able to listen to it and then the next day we don’t stop or we take it up a notch, the only thing we’ll end up doing is get injured,” he pointed out. He recommends three ways to exercise based on your baseline condition.

No regular activity: one light day of activity, one day of rest, one day of activity, one of rest. Repeat.
In good condition: two days of activity, one of rest, two days of activity. Repeat.
Regularly exercise: three or four days of activity, one of rest, three or four days of activity, one of rest. Repeat.

11. Starting without warming up and doing the exercises cold
The first thing to do before starting any round of exercise is to warm up, said Costa, who recommends spending 10 minutes on your warm-up.

“It’s like getting everything ready to go,” García-Muro added. “The warm-up reduces the risk of injuries, and it’s also how you can get the most out of the work you do.”

Even if you’ll only be working out for half an hour, you still need to warm up, either with a specific routine or by doing the first round more lightly.

12. Overvaluing stretching
“Stretching is healthy, but it’s not a cure-all,” Crespo said.

“Our tissues are made to move. If you don’t move, you’re not going to make up for the firmness they lose with the lack of movement,” she continued.

That’s when your muscles, ligaments, and tendons become more flexible: “The tissues rub more freely against one another and you automatically feel fewer contractions or feelings of tension in different parts of the body, such as your neck, lumbar region, hips, shoulders, etc,” she said.

That’s why, to be flexible, first we need to move and then we need to stretch.

13. Undervaluing stretching
It’s not a cure-all, as mentioned, but it is necessary. In fact, Olabe recommends dedicating one session per week just to stretching.

“It’s a mistake to skip the stretching after a session, and it’s also a mistake not to dedicate entire sessions to doing a good set of stretches, myofascial release, and other techniques that are super healthy for the body,” added Crespo.

14. Giving up because an exercise becomes too much for you
You should stop the exercise if it becomes painful, but you can and should continue with the next one.

“Stop doing that exercise and move on to the next one because you might hurt yourself. It doesn’t matter if you skip one,” Crespo said. “If you can’t manage now, you will get there. The important thing is not to get discouraged or give up.”

15. Turning on the TV or keeping an eye on your phone
When you do exercise, the best thing to do is to leave your phone or any other distraction like the TV or a book switched off or out of reach.

“I believe that if you’re concentrating on one thing, you can’t be concentrating on another. It will be much less effective,” explained Olalla Eiriz, a trainer from VIP Training.

16. Doing an unsupervised class if you’re dealing with an injury
YouTube or Instagram classes are good, but be cautious if you have any problems or injuries.

“Anyone with an underlying problem, back pain, injuries, or who is pregnant should sign up for specific classes and do guided training,” Costa said.

17. Focusing on the scale
Forget about the scale and weighing yourself. It’s not good for anything. And even less so if you’re not used to working out regularly, because you may end up gaining weight. Muscle weighs more than fat, so Crespo emphasized that you shouldn’t pay too much attention to the numbers. Just enjoy the movement and forget about the rest.

By Margarita Lázaro,    HuffPost Spain      04/29/2020


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Bibliotherapy Proves Reading Is More Than A Cure For Boredom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He pauses: “It was cathartic.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

.

Reading books

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

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

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

 

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

Angry? Read Hemingway. Heartbroken? Read Brontë.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

By Connor Garel    11/13/2019


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How To Get a Good Night’s Sleep Right Now

“Doesn’t it feel like the zombie apocalypse?” I recently asked my boyfriend. We were taking our daily sanity stroll when suddenly the sleep-deprived eyes peeking over surgical masks started to feel extra eerie. I may have even traumatized a small child in a window when I waved excitedly, forgetting a big black piece of fabric was covering half my face and I hadn’t bothered with concealer.

Honestly, the lack of concealer is probably what drove the poor thing to run. The insomnia has been brutal lately.

I’m certainly not alone. Everyone I speak to, from my grandmother to Kaia Gerber, mentions how badly they’ve been sleeping. That’s because the current situation is a veritable perfect storm for sleeplessness, and that goes for sassy 80-year-olds and teen top models alike.

“The biggest issue is stress and anxiety: worrying about your health, worrying about your job, worrying about your finances,” says Dr. Atul Khullar, medical director at the Northern Alberta Sleep Clinic and senior consultant at MedSleep.

Then there are the changes to your routine. “Being more restrained, not being able to get out as much, less light, less exercise, worse eating habits — it’s just a hurricane of things that can disrupt sleep.”

While we can’t control what’s going on in the world, there are some things we can do to help rest our minds and bodies, and get that much needed shut-eye.

Make sleep a priority

In our performance-obsessed culture, rest is often undervalued. A chronic lack of sleep is linked to a whole host of issues including heart disease, stroke, obesity and diabetes. “Some studies show you’re less likely to catch things, including the coronavirus, if you get proper sleep because sleep deprivation weakens your immune system, even in the short term,” says Khullar. Poor sleep also hikes stress hormones, which make it harder to deal with everything going on, on top of making us more irritable. “Sleep is going to get your entire family in a better mood,” says Alanna McGinn, sleep expert and founder of the Good Night Sleep Site. “We’re all stuck together, so we need to be as happy as we can.”

Stick to a schedule

With no commute to worry about, it’s tempting to sleep in more and, since you don’t have to wake up so early, you might be going to bed later, too. But all of this can throw off your sleep and your energy levels throughout the day. “A lot of people don’t have the discipline to keep the structure, so we find people not keeping consistent bedtimes or sometimes napping excessively,” says Khullar. McGinn says to set an alarm. “It doesn’t have to be as early as when you were going to work, but getting up at a more reasonable hour builds up more drive for sleep, which will help you fall asleep a lot better at night.” Regular exercise also helps with that and promotes a deeper, more restful sleep.

Make your bed sacred

Both experts are adamant your bed should be for sleep only. “Protecting your sleep space provides a positive association between sleep and your bed,” explains McGinn. “Now our bedrooms are becoming our home office and that can make falling asleep even harder.” What happens is your brain no longer equates being in bed with just sleeping, so you lose that signal to wind down. “If you start doing many other activities in bed, you can get very strong behavioural insomnia,” warns Khullar. This is also why you shouldn’t lie awake for long periods. “We should be sleeping 85 per cent of the time we’re in bed, so if you’re struggling with that, it’s OK to get out of bed for 10 to 15 minutes,” says McGinn. “Do a quiet activity in low light like reading or doing a puzzle — don’t turn on every light or check your email — then try again.”

sleep



Optimize your sleep space

There are plenty of small tweaks that can make your bedroom more conducive to sleep. Mornings are getting brighter, so incorporating blackout drapes can help keep your room dark. There’s also the matter of temperature. “The best sleeping temperature is usually a little cooler than people think: between 16 and 19 C,” says Khullar. McGinn suggests switching to more breathable bedding and moisture-wicking materials like bamboo, eucalyptus or linen. And if you sleep with a partner, don’t be afraid to customize your side. “You don’t need to have the same pillow, comforter and sheets,” she says. Finally, pay attention to how your room smells, too. Certain scents like lavender and camomile have been shown to promote sleep, so don’t discount those trendy diffusers and pillow sprays.

Implement a bedtime ritual

Pre-pillow quiet time is key to telling your brain you’re about to go to bed, say the pros. “It can be 10 minutes or 40 minutes, but there should be some time where you don’t do any other activities except prepare for bed,” says Khullar. For McGinn, that means putting down devices and steering clear of all things stressful. “We need boundaries on what we’re absorbing with the news and the scary stuff that we’re bringing into our brains right before going to bed,” she says. You also want to limit screen time in the evening as the artificial light confuses your internal clock. Things like meditation apps or relaxing podcasts can help get you into a calmer state.

Give your body a break

Another important part of prepping for bed is what you eat. Avoid big meals at least four hours before bed so that your body is not focused on digestion. “A lot of people are turning more to carbs and desserts right now, and if your body is not used to that it might have a harder time metabolizing it,” says McGinn. She suggests having sweets earlier in the day so that you’re not hyped up on sugar later. Many of us are also consuming more alcohol these days. “Alcohol is probably one of the worst things you can do for your sleep,” says Khullar. “It can put you to sleep, but that wears off quickly, and the sleep it gives you is artificial and not restful. Long term, it damages your ability to sleep.” What about weed? “If cannabis is helping you sleep, then maybe there’s something else that you need to look at, such as anxiety, depression or chronic pain,” says Khullar. “As a general rule, we don’t recommend people use anything to help them sleep without addressing it and getting assessed by a medical professional.” Many sleep clinics offer virtual consultations right now, so if you try these tips and still find yourself sleepless, reach out for help. From coping with the stress to staying healthy, you need your rest more than ever.

By Katherine Lalancette     Mon., June 22, 202
Katherine Lalancette is the beauty director of The Kit, based in Toronto.
Reach her on email at kl@thekit.ca or follow her on Twitter: @kik_tweets


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3 Mental Techniques That Boost Your Immune System

Lack of sleep, loneliness and stress are the main psychological factors that make people more vulnerable to infection, research finds.

However, loneliness can be combated by speaking to others using apps like FaceTime, Skype, Viber, WhatsApp and Google Duo.

Stress can be reduced with simple psychological exercises and sleep can be improved by following sleep hygiene guidelines.

Dr Christopher Fagundes, an expert on how mental health affects the immune system, said:

“We’ve found that stress, loneliness and lack of sleep are three factors that can seriously compromise aspects of the immune system that make people more susceptible to viruses if exposed.
Also, stress, loneliness and disrupted sleep promote other aspects of the immune system responsible for the production of proinflammatory cytokines to over-respond.
Elevated proinflammatory cytokine production can generate sustained upper respiratory infection symptoms.”

1. Loneliness

Studies have repeatedly shown that loneliness tends to make people more susceptible to infection.

People who spend less time around others are more likely to get sick when exposed to a virus, research finds.

Staying connected with others and experiencing positive emotions, though, can boost the immune system.

Dr Fagundes recommends video calls:

“There is some evidence that it may be better to video conference versus having a regular phone call to reduce feelings of isolation.
There’s something about chatting with people and having them visually ‘with’ you that seems to be more of a buffer against loneliness.”

2. Sleep

Sleep deprivation makes people more likely to get sick, said Dr Fagundes:

“The overwhelming consensus in the field is that people who do not consistently get a good night’s sleep—7-9 hours for adults, with variation on what is optimal—makes a person more likely to get sick.”

One of the best methods for improving sleep is called stimulus control therapy.

In general, though, having a regular sleep schedule, bedtime routine and prioritising sleep, all help people sleep better, scientists have found.

 

sleep

 

3. Stress

Stress is the third factor that can affect the performance of the immune system, said Dr Fagundes:

“It’s important also to note that when we talk about stress, we mean chronic stress taking place over several weeks, not a single stressful incident or a few days of stress.An isolated stressful incident does not seem to make a person more susceptible to a cold or the flu.”

Daily routines are a wonderful defence against stress, said Dr Fagundes:

“This will regulate your sleep and allow you to focus on immediate goals and plans.In turn, you will overthink things less and feel more accomplished.”

People who are particularly susceptible to worry may like to try this exercise, said Dr Fagundes:

“People often worry and overthink things because their brain is telling them there is something to solve.
However, it can be counterproductive after a while.
A good technique is to set aside 15 minutes a day where you allow yourself to worry, preferably with a pen and paper.
After that, you aren’t allowed to think about the issue for the rest of the day.”

A further step is to address cognitive distortions, said Dr Fagundes:

“People often convince themselves that a situation is much worse than it is by telling themselves things that are not true.
We call these cognitive distortions.
For example, it is common to catastrophize a situation by convincing themselves that the worst-case scenario is the most likely scenario.
When people learn to identify and then refute these thoughts, they often feel much better.”

 

The studies were published in various journals (Cohen et al., 2011; Cohen et al., 2018; Prather et al., 2016).
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog.
He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.

He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004.

 

source: PsyBlog        March 28, 2020


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7 Elements of Wisdom That Can Make You Happier as You Age

Despite aches and pains, the wisdom that comes with age can make you happier.

Despite more physical aches and pains as we age—the ‘paradox of aging’ suggests that older people are generally more comfortable in their own skin, feel better about themselves, and grow happier in their lives year after year…decade after decade.

Nora Ephron once said, “Looking back, it seems to me that I was clueless until I was about 50 years old.” As someone who just entered my sixth decade of life, I concur. The inherent wisdom that comes from life experience makes it easier to cope with the pitfalls of aging. Empirical evidence also suggests that lots of people get happier as they get older.

A new study by age researchers at the University of California, San Diego, reports that despite having more physical ailments, older adults living in southern California tend to be happier and have markedly better mental health than their younger counterparts.

The August 2016 study, “Paradoxical Trend for Improvement in Mental Health With Aging,” appears in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

For this study, senior author Dilip Jeste, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences and director of the Center on Healthy Aging at UC San Diego, and colleagues collected data via phone interviews on the physical health, cognitive function, and other measures of mental health in 1,546 adults, ages 21 to 100 years living in San Diego county.

Jeste emphasizes that this study wasn’t restricted to psychological well-being, but included other markers of mental health. One caveat about this demographic—and the cross-sectional method of collecting information—is that these findings only provide a snapshot of a limited geographic area at one-moment-in-time and are not longitudinal.

The Wisdom of Aging Facilitates an Upward Spiral of Psychological Well-Being
The researchers found a substantial improvement to psychological well-being among older adults that followed a linear trajectory—which improved year after year once people got over the hump of the colloquial “midlife crisis.” The linear nature of the findings surprised the researchers. In fact, the oldest cohort in this study had mental health scores significantly better than the youngest cohort.

Across the board, the participants in their 20s and 30s reported higher levels of perceived stress and symptoms of depression and anxiety. Alarmingly, this period of early midlife was associated with far worse levels of psychological well-being than any other period of adulthood, which is cause for concern.

These findings turn conventional notions of aging upside down. Aging in the 21st century doesn’t appear to be an unavoidable process of physical and cognitive decline. In a statement, Jeste said, “Some cognitive decline over time is inevitable, but its effect is clearly not uniform and in many people, not clinically significant—at least in terms of impacting their sense of well-being and enjoyment of life.”

In terms of causation, the specific reasons for improved positive mental health in old age are difficult to pin down. That said, below are seven elements of wisdom that I’ve found make people happier as they age based on empirical evidence and life experience.

7 Elements of Wisdom for Aging Gracefully by Bergland

  • Stop holding grudges against yourself and others.
  • Embrace who you are, warts and all.
  • Vocalize your imperfections shamelessly.
  • Practice conscientious emotional regulation.
  • Stay even-keel via equanimity.
  • Apologize wholeheartedly for any wrong-doing.
  • Move on! Let go of negative emotions and regrets.

As we age, many people inherently learn the above elements of wisdom through life experience. That said, over the years I’ve found that having an itemized punch list of target mindsets and behaviors makes it easier to expedite your learning curve.

Conclusion: It Really Is “Getting So Much Better (All the Time)”
From a public health perspective, Jeste is concerned that the rates of psychological distress and mental illness in young people are rising at an alarming rate. Also, other studies have shown that mortality rates among specific middle-aged groups have skyrocketed in the past ten years. In a statement, Jeste concluded,

“Inadequate attention has been paid to mental health issues that continue or get exacerbated post-adolescence. We need to understand mechanisms underlying better mental health in older age in spite of more physical ailments. That would help develop broad-based interventions to promote mental health in all age groups, including youth.”

The latest research reminds us all that there is a light at the end of the tunnel for anyone in an earlier stage of life, or in midlife, who is feeling malcontent or suffering from depression. I’ve lived through this myself. As an adolescent—and again in my late 30s—I suffered major depressive episodes (MDE) that included suicidal ideation. Hang in there. I am living proof that it really does start getting better at a certain point in life. If you are suicidal, please seek assistance: <U.S.> http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/       <Canada>  https://www.suicideprevention.ca/need-help

Below is a passage I wrote for The Athlete’s Way over a decade ago—just months after getting through a harrowing MDE. This advice has continued to work for me over the subsequent years. If you are currently struggling with mental health issues, hopefully, these insights will be helpful for you, too.

“When life throws me a curveball, I have learned from experience to be proactive and reach out to friends and mental health professionals to help me through. When you are in the blackest of blackness, the light seems like it will never enter your brain again. But it will. The light will flicker again. That is the human spirit; it always, always comes back. I’ve been there myself. If you are depressed or suicidal do whatever you have to do to stay vital and get yourself back on track.
You were born to be alive. Don’t isolate. Reach out. Ask for help. There will be sunbeams in your soul again. Ride out the storm—but don’t do it alone. People will take care of you. Let them. And make a vow, when you’re back on top, to give something back.”

 

Christopher Bergland       Aug 29, 2016

 

smile

Express Gratitude
– Not Because You Will Benefit From It,
But Others Might

The world is currently in the midst of a pandemic where the most useful thing many of us can do is stay at home and keep away from others. Schools, restaurants, office buildings and movie theaters are closed. Many people are feeling disoriented, disconnected and scared.

At this time of soaring infection rates, shortages of medical supplies and economic downturns, there are also examples of people looking for ways to express their gratitude to those on the front lines of fighting the epidemic. In many European countries, for example, people are expressing gratitude for the work of the medical staff by clapping from their balconies. Recently, this same practice has migrated to New York City.

As psychology researchers, we have been working to study the connection between gratitude and well-being.

Gratitude and well-being connection
In 2013, psychologists Robert Emmons and Robin Stern explained gratitude as both appreciating the good things in life and recognizing that they come from someone else.

There is a strong correlation between gratitude and well-being. Researchers have found that individuals who report feeling and expressing gratitude more report a greater level of positive emotions such as happiness, optimism and joy.

At the same time, they have a lower level of negative emotions such as anger, distress, depression and shame. They also report a higher level of life satisfaction.

Furthermore, grateful individuals report a greater sense of purpose in life, more forgiveness and better quality of relationships, and they even seem to sleep better.

In short, grateful individuals seem to have more of the ingredients needed to thrive and flourish.

There are several plausible explanations for the apparent connection between gratitude and well-being. It may be that gratitude serves as a positive lens through which to view the world.

For example, grateful individuals may be inclined to see the good in people and situations, which may result in a more compassionate and less critical view of others and themselves.

Grateful individuals may also be naturally prone to forming mutually supportive relationships. When someone expresses gratitude, the recipient is more likely to connect with that person and to invest in that relationship in the future.

Gratitude exercises have weak effects
However, there is one important caveat to this research. It shows that gratitude is correlated with well-being, but it does not prove that expressing gratitude actually improves well-being.

Psychologists have conducted a number of experiments to see if giving thanks leads to greater well-being. For example, individuals may be asked to perform gratitude exercises at home and then report on their well-being afterward. These exercises include writing a thank-you letter or keeping a journal of things one is thankful for.

Several review papers over the past four years, including our recent paper, indicate that these gratitude exercises have fairly weak effects on well-being.

These review papers combine the findings from multiple different studies, which allows researchers to be more confident that the findings are consistent and can be trusted.

Researchers found that such gratitude exercises only increase happiness and life satisfaction a little bit. Similarly, the effect on symptoms of depression and anxiety was also small.

Express gratitude to help others
We are not suggesting that expressing gratitude has no value. Rather, we argue that gratitude should not be thought of as a self-help tool to increase one’s own happiness and well-being.

Instead, gratitude may be most valuable as a way of honoring and acknowledging someone else. Indeed, researchers have found that expressions of gratitude lead to improved relationships for both the one expressing gratitude and the recipient. The lead researcher of a 2010 study – psychologist Sara Algoe – concluded that for romantic relationships, gratitude worked like a “booster shot.”

During this global pandemic, perhaps it is more important than ever to express gratitude to the important people in our lives – not just loved ones, but the countless public officials, health care professionals and others who are fighting on the front lines.

April 2, 2020 
 
Jennifer Cheavens          Associate Professor of Psychology, The Ohio State University
David Cregg       Doctoral Candidate in Clinical Psychology, The Ohio State University
 
Disclosure statement
Jennifer Cheavens receives funding from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
She is also under contract with Cambridge University Press and receives compensation for editorial duties from John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
 
David Cregg does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article,
and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
 
Partners
The Ohio State University       /      The Ohio State University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.

 


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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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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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If You’re Not Sticking To A Regular Sleep Schedule, You’re Hurting Your Health, Study Says

Ok, I admit it. I often stay up late on weekends, catching up on TV or seeing friends, then decadently allow myself to slumber for hours past my regular wake-up time the next morning.

To a diehard night owl like me, this is delicious freedom, a sort of personal protest against the rigidity of the obnoxious workday alarm.

Sound familiar? If so, fellow snooze buddies, it turns out our lack of a regular sleep routine is hurting our health.

A new study published Monday found changing your regular sleep-wake time by 90 minutes — in either direction — significantly increases your chance of having a heart attack or heart disease.
A regular sleep time was defined in the study as less than 30 minutes difference, on average, across seven nights.

“Compared with people who had the most regular sleep time, those with the most irregular sleep time — more than a 90 minute difference on average across seven nights — had more than a two-fold increased risk of cardiovascular disease over a 5-year period,” said study author Tianyi Huang, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

The link remained strong even after controlling for cholesterol, blood pressure and other known cardiovascular risk factors, as well as sleep issues such as insomnia, sleep apnea and sleep duration.
That suggests, Huang said, that high day-to-day variability in sleep duration or timing may be a “novel and independent cardiovascular risk factor.”

“That’s huge,” said Dr. David Goff, who directs the division of cardiovascular sciences at the United States National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
“One out of three people in the US die from heart disease, and 60% of us will have a major cardiovascular disease event before we die,” said Goff, who was not involved in the study.
“People are living busy, stressful lives and not getting a lot of sleep during the week,” Goff said. “Then they are trying to get catchup sleep on the weekend, and that’s not a healthy pattern.”

The link between sleep and heart

The cardiovascular system — including heart rate, blood pressure and vascular tone — operates on a strong circadian rhythm to maintain normal functioning.

Messing with our internal sleep clock “has been linked to cardiovascular risk factors like hypertension, insulin resistance or diabetes,” Huang said, “but this is the first study to link an irregular sleep pattern pattern with cardiovascular disease.”

The study followed more than 2,000 people ages 45 to 84 without any cardiovascular disease over a five-year period. After a baseline exam, follow-up physicals measured any lifestyle, medication or disease changes, while a sleep study tested for sleep disorders like apnea.

Then the participants wore a sleep wrist tracker for seven consecutive nights.

“About a quarter of people in this age range didn’t have a regular time for going to sleep,” Goff said.

Since many of the participants were retired, it was surprising to find some 500 people had significantly disrupted sleep schedules.

While it may appear this link is strongest for the elderly, that may not be the case. A previous analysis of 53 studies on people age 18 and up found younger age to be more consistently associated with a variable sleep cycle.

“This sleep irregularity may be even more common among younger people,” Huang said. “Younger people may have more demands from study and from work, and those may also influence whether they can have a regular sleep pattern or not.”

If that becomes a habit in life, the results could be dangerous. That’s because the study also found a linear upward link between disrupted sleep cycles and heart issues.

“The more you sleep irregularly, the higher the risk you have,” Huang said.

Better sleep habits

The good news is that you can do something about your poor sleep habits.

Get moving. Exercise is key to promoting good sleep. As little as 10 minutes a day of walking, biking or other aerobic exercise can “drastically improve nighttime sleep quality,” according to the National Sleep Foundation.

Strive for cooler temperatures. 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.

Avoid certain food and drink. Avoid stimulants such as nicotine or coffee after mid afternoon, especially if you have insomnia. Alcohol is another no-no. You may think it helps you doze off, but you are more likely to wake in the night as your body begins to process the spirits.

Develop a routine. Taking a warm bath or shower, reading a book, listening to soothing music, meditating or doing light stretches are all good options.

Be good to your circadian rhythm. “Like your mom always told you, you should have a regular bedtime and a regular time for getting up in the morning,” advised Goff.

Keep yourself in the dark. Be sure to eliminate all bright lights, as even the blue light of cellphones or laptops can be disruptive. If that’s hard to accomplish, think about using eye shades and blackout curtains to keep the room dark. But during the day, try to get good exposure to natural light, as that will help regulate your circadian rhythm.

Follow these steps, and you’ll be well on your way to improving your sleep habits and your health.

By Sandee LaMotte, CNN      March 2, 2020
source: www.cnn.com

 

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Study Finds Link Between Dementia And Lack Of Sleep

A growing body of research suggests poor sleep is tied to impaired thinking and dementia in older adults. Now a new study may shed light on why.

Researchers at the University of Toronto have found a potential explanation of what disrupted sleep does to the human brain. They studied 685 adults older than 65, who participated in two large U.S. studies, and looked at their sleep patterns, their performance on thinking tests and, later, their brain-tissue samples after the participants died.

The researchers’ findings, published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, indicate disrupted sleep may contribute to changes in a type of immune cell in the brain called microglia, which in turn appear to be related to poorer cognitive functions, such as memory and the ability to reason.

While further research is needed to determine whether fixing people’s sleep problems can prevent or reverse cognitive decline, Andrew Lim, one of the authors of the study, said fragmented sleep should not be ignored.

Many people believe “having bad sleep is just part of aging, and it’s something that’s annoying but to be tolerated, rather than aggressively managed or aggressively investigated,” said Dr. Lim, an associate professor of neurology at the University of Toronto and sleep neurologist at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. “This adds one more reason to take sleep [problems] seriously and to look for your treatable causes and to address them.”

This study builds on previous research, including studies on rodents and genetic studies, that suggest microglia play a role in the link between poor sleep and cognitive impairment and dementia. Microglia normally help fight infections and clear debris from the brain. But dysfunction of microglia appears to be involved in the development of Alzheimer’s disease, Dr. Lim said.

In the study, researchers recorded participants’ sleep disruptions by having them wear wristwatch-like actigraphy devices, which could detect subtle signs of them awakening at night, even when participants themselves were unaware. The participants were asked to wear these devices for 10 days, once a year, for a median period of two years.

Participants also performed a series of cognitive tests annually. They agreed to donate their brains for research after their death, and researchers were able to examine their microglia in two ways. First, since activated and resting microglia differ in appearance, researchers were able to determine the density and proportion of activated microglia by looking at participants’ brain tissue under a microscope, Dr. Lim said. Then, they examined patterns of gene expression to identify “older” versus “younger” microglia – that is, whether the microglia appeared as though they came from an older person from a genetic perspective.

The researchers found connections between all three variables. Individuals who had higher levels of sleep fragmentation had a higher proportion of activated microglia and gene expression characteristic of older microglia. This was the case both for participants who had Alzheimer’s disease and those who did not. Those with poorer sleep also performed worse on their cognitive tests. And participants who had a greater proportion of activated microglia or genetically older microglia also had poorer cognitive test results.

Professor Teresa Liu-Ambrose of the University of British Columbia, who was not involved in the study, said the findings align with what researchers know thus far about the importance of sleep and the possible contribution of poor sleep to Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr. Liu-Ambrose, the Canada research chair in physical activity, mobility and cognitive neuroscience at UBC, said good-quality sleep is believed to allow the brain to clear itself of toxic beta-amyloid protein, the buildup of which is one of the characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease. And, she said, there is also good evidence to suggest an accumulation of beta-amyloid can further contribute to disrupted sleep.

“It’s a vicious cycle,” she said.

“What [the new study] really does show is that it’s important to protect your sleep overall,” she said. “[Sleep quality] does seem to have very direct effects on the brain, both acutely, but also chronically.”

 

WENCY LEUNG    HEALTH REPORTER     DECEMBER 11, 2019
FOLLOW WENCY LEUNG ON TWITTER @WENCYLEUNG


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Mindfulness and Anxiety

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

What Is Mindfulness?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feb 08, 2020
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Mindfulness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Ana Maria Sedletchi     December 9, 2019
 
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3 Steps to Deepen Your Mindfulness Practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Practice this for at least a month as well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
BY LEO BABAUTA
 


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20 Ways To Be A Happier Person

20 Ways To Be A Happier Person In 2020, According To Therapists
If you’re going to make a resolution for the new year, it may as well be improving your mental health.

Looking to make 2020 your happiest, most fulfilling year yet?

If your mental and emotional wellness took a backseat in 2019, there’s no better time than right now to prioritize it. (If anything, it’ll make the election year just mildly more bearable.) Your mood affects everything in your life ― your relationships, your work, your self-care ― so improving it should be at the top of your goal list.

That might feel like a huge and lofty task, but small, actionable habits can help you get there, according to experts. Below are the most common happiness tips therapists recommend. Maybe they’ll sound challenging or unrealistic (more on that later), but maybe they just might change your life.

1. Conquer one anxiety

Give yourself a motivational benchmark to start conquering your biggest fears this year.

“Single out the goal of selecting an anxiety that is holding you back, and thoroughly commit yourself to obliterating that fear,” said Forrest Talley, a clinical psychologist. “Hold nothing back in your assault; treat that fear as though it is enemy number one.”

Perhaps you’ve been worried about signing up for a half marathon. Maybe you’re afraid to reach out to book agents because you don’t want to be rejected. Perhaps you’re fearful of having a difficult conversation with a toxic friend or family member and you’re putting it off. Set the goal, pick a reward you’ll get when you complete it, then get to it.

“The thing to keep in mind is that very often happiness is found just on the other side of a doorway guarded by our anxieties,” Talley said. “And the new year is a great time to start kicking down some doors.”

2. Lock down a sleep schedule that works for you

You may think you’re doing OK on sleep, but take a closer look at your schedule. Are you really getting optimal hours? Are you maintaining relatively the same bed time every night?

“Getting a [consistent] good night’s sleep is vital; chronic sleep deprivation is a huge problem, especially for those who work late or are extremely busy,” said Joanna Konstantopoulou, a psychologist and founder of the Health Psychology Clinic. “It’s not just the 40-hour marathons without sleep which can be detrimental to your psychological health, but simply losing an hour or two on a regular basis can have a significant impact on your mind and well-being.”

That last bit is important. If you’re constantly shaving off an hour here or there ― thinking you can get by on five hours a night ― it’s time to reevaluate that sleep schedule.

“Start with small steps by giving yourself a sensible and realistic bedtime,” Konstantopoulou said. “Try to go to bed half an hour before your usual bedtime and stick to it. Evaluate this new habit every day by having a journal and writing down your progress.”

She noted that this new routine will improve your memory, reduce anxiety, and “transport toxins out of the brain” to potentially prevent chronic illnesses.

3. Find one small self-care act that works for you and prioritize it

Pick a you-centric activity and engage in it regularly, said Elena Touroni, co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic.

“The most impactful mental health goal a person can set is the commitment to balance workload and responsibilities alongside activities that bring them a sense of well-being and enjoyment,” she said. “When there is an imbalance in what we’re giving out to the world, and what we’re taking for ourselves, that’s when our psychological resources get depleted.”

Her suggestions to get you started? Try beginning each day with a five-minute mindfulness meditation session. Want to go further? “Go to therapy to unravel a lifelong pattern, get a personal trainer, or make time for reading,” she said. “This commitment can be broken down into specific and concrete goals, depending on your personal preferences, but it all comes down to making self-care a priority.”

4. Spend 10 minutes a day outside

Go for a walk during your lunch break, spend a few minutes drinking your morning coffee outside or pick up running. It doesn’t even have to be for a long period of time.

“This year, resolve to spend less time inside and more time outdoors in natural settings,” said Michael Brodsky, a psychiatrist. “Research in multiple countries show that spending time in green spaces can lift your mood and relieve anxiety in as little as 10 minutes.”

5. Regularly practice a simple mindfulness exercise

“Many of us spend our days worrying about the future or ruminating about the past, thus, missing a great deal of what is happening in the here-and-now,” said Anna Prudovski, the clinical director of Turning Point Psychological Services.

Making an effort to be more present “increases the sense of well-being, promotes vitality, heightens our awareness, helps train our attention, improves the quality of our work, and enhances interpersonal relationships,” she said. Sounds pretty nice, right? “Be more present” can feel a little vague, so here’s how you can get started:

Each day, spend five minutes noticing your surroundings and how you feel. Do this by naming five things you see, four things you can physically feel, three different sounds you hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. It’s OK if you point out something far away from you. Then take a second to label how you’re feeling in the moment (like, “I’m frustrated,” “I’m bored,” or “I’m excited”). This is known as a grounding exercise, which experts say helps with anxiety.

6. Say nice things about yourself

Roseann Capanna-Hodge, pediatric mental health expert and psychologist, suggested an adjustment to your everyday vocabulary, both in your thoughts and out loud.

“Instead of always focusing on the negative, flip your dialogue to only positive outcomes. For example, instead of saying, ‘If I get that job,’ switch it to, ‘When I get that job.’ Those subtle changes in using positive language helps to change your mindset to a glass half full instead of a glass half empty.”

You can also increase your positive thoughts by stating one thing you like about yourself when you look in the mirror each morning. Cheesy, but worth a shot.

7. Give up or cut back on one unhealthy habit

We know when things are bad for us, which can cause stress. You can curb that by reducing them or giving them up entirely, said Sarah C. McEwen, a cognitive psychologist. Think activities like high alcohol consumption or excessive caffeine consumption.

Getting those things in check “will all help to manage stress levels,” McEwen said.

8. Find a physical activity you love

“Exercise plays a large role in mental health,” said physician Jena Sussex-Pizula. “While studies are ongoing, a review article found consistent beneficial effects of exercise on depressive symptoms across multiple studies.”

How often? McEwen suggests 30 minutes a day if you can. “This [amount] has been shown to produce the most benefit for improving mood and reducing stress levels,” she said.

The most important part is finding something you enjoy. It doesn’t matter if it’s pilates, martial arts, spinning, running, dancing or lifting weights ― just make sure the activity is something that excites you.

9. Try meditation

Haven’t jumped on the bandwagon just yet? Now is as good a time as ever. McEwen suggests meditation for those who want to improve their level of stress resilience.

“A mindfulness meditation practice will have a tremendous positive effect longterm,” she said. “I recommend allocating at least 30 minutes daily, which can be divided into morning and evening.”

Feeling intimidated by the concept? McEwen suggested trying a local class or an app like Headspace, Waking Up or Insight Timer.

“Research has shown that the regular practice of meditation can actually improve your health because it lowers the negative effects of not only high cortisol, but also high cholesterol and high blood pressure,” she said. “Other great benefits of regular meditation include mental clarity and focus, improvement of memory and overall higher level of mental performance.”

10. Stop negative thoughts in their tracks

“Our thoughts are not always reality,” said Judy Ho, a clinical and forensic neuropsychologist and author of ”Stop Self Sabotage.” “And we need to get into the routine of challenging them and changing our relationships to our thoughts.”

You can do this by asking yourself a simple question when you’re beating yourself up. Next time you have a negative thought, ask yourself: Does this completely and accurately capture what’s going on?”

Ho said from there, you can transform the thought using one of two tactics. One is called “yes, but” and one is called “labeling.”

“‘Yes, but’ involves recognizing a not so great thing, and [adding] something that is positive or shows progress,” she said. “Example: I did eat three cupcakes while trying to cut down on sugar, but I have been doing a great job with healthy eating and can start fresh tomorrow.”

And as for labeling, try mentally recognizing or acknowledging that the thought you’re having is toxic. According to Ho, this “takes the wind out of the sails of a negative thought and reminds you that a thought is just a mental event, and nothing more.”

11. Invest in a quality relationship

“If you want to have good long-term mental and physical health, you need to first see if you have meaningful, loving relationships,” said clinical psychologist Kevin Gilliland. “Who knows you better than anyone and who do you know better than anyone? Have you invested in that relationship by staying in touch and talking on the phone (not just texting)? And when was the last time you got together?”

Gilliland suggests picking one person close to you this year, and planning to spend quality time together.

“If we’re not careful, we will end up giving our best in places that aren’t good for our mental health,” he said. “Study after study finds that loving meaningful relationships are good for our mental and physical health.”

12. Read self-development books

“Read at least one book on someone you admire, and how they have dealt with the struggles in their life,” Gilliland said. “There are a lot of ways to learn about your mental health, from therapy to self-help to the lives of other people.”

You can pick up many tips and find a lot of inspiration in these motivational books, whether they’re memoirs or expert-backed advice. Need a specific suggestion?

“I have so enjoyed Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography and recent album ‘Western Stars’ where he talks about his struggle with depression and family issues,” Gilliland said. “It’s powerful and encouraging … You can’t help but see yourself in some of his stories, he can paint with words like very few people can. It’s a wonderful way to learn about your mental health without feeling like its work.”

13. Cut back on your social media use

So often we view people’s highlight reels on social media. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy in our own lives, according to experts. And given that research shows spending too much time online is linked to poor mental health, now’s the perfect time to cut back.

“External validation is temporary; it’s difficult to maintain the pressure to chase ‘likes,’” said therapist Jennifer Musselman. “Build your self esteem from competence of something important to you, and by being of service to others.”

14. Set better boundaries

Did you find yourself feeling chronically overwhelmed and stretched thin in 2019? Time to reel that in and make more space for you by setting boundaries.

“This one is more important than people realize, and they have way more control than they realize,” Gilliland said. “If you don’t want to go, then don’t go!”

Consider: Is it something you think you “should” do? If so, then why? In the words of a popular therapist joke, stop should-ing yourself. Set those boundaries to thrive in 2020.

15. Make a progress list each week

Expecting perfection guarantees you’ll feel like a failure at least part of the time, and can lead to serious anxiety.

“Learn the art of progress, not perfection,” Musselman said. “We are setting ourselves up for failure from the get-go [when we expect] to ‘have it all’ perfectly balanced. In other words, we will always feel like we are failing.”

From “doing it all” as a mom to building your entrepreneurial business to perfecting your talent, it’s time to let go of that expectation that things are always going to be perfect. Instead, try writing down the incremental improvements you made each week. Celebrate small successes that eventually will lead to big ones.

17. Get a therapist if you’re able to do it

If you were trying to get in physical shape and had no idea where to start, you might turn to a coach or personal trainer. Mental health works the same way.

There are so, so many benefits to seeing a therapist. And there are affordable options, too: Attend group therapy at a local mental health center, seek free options in your community, opt for a sliding-scale psychologist, find a provider through your health insurance or try an app like Talkspace to get started.

“Getting a therapist in 2020 would be a good goal if you need a therapist and have been putting it off,” Talley said.

18. Write in a gratitude journal

Practicing gratitude “is so essential for a full and happy life,” Talley said.

Instead of allowing your brain to go to a place of anxiety and stress, Talley says to arm yourself with grateful thoughts. Writing them down helps.

“If you wake up and focus on that which you have to be grateful for, your brain becomes better at finding even more [gratitude],” Talley said.

19. Turn your phone off

It’s been shown in many studies that too much tech time can negatively impact mental health.

Become less available via text and email so you don’t feel emotionally tethered to your phone, and spend more time off your devices. Opt for screen-free activities ― especially at night ― that help you disconnect from certain social and work stressors.

“While it’s unclear if sedentary screen time is a marker for or risk factor for depression (as all that has been shown is a correlation), there appears to be a consistent association of increased screen time in patients with depression and anxiety,” Sussex-Pizula said.

20. Reduce food shame and stress through mindful eating

Have thoughts around food, calories, dieting, etc. been weighing on you in 2019? Lisa Hayim, a registered dietitian and founder of food therapy program Fork The Noise, said it’s time to kick this to the curb.

“When we feel nervous, scared, anxious, or even unsure of what to eat or how much, our stress hormones begin to fire,” she said. “Our sympathetic nervous system becomes activated, and we’re no longer making empowered decisions.”

Does this sound like you? Are you constantly thinking about what a food choice might “do” to your body?

“Breathe. Your body knows what it wants and how much it wants, when it wants it,” she said. Listening to it is called intuitive or mindful eating: enjoying whatever you want and taking cues from your body when it’s hungry and full.

“Decreasing stress around food choices is not just good for the body, it’s good for the mind and the soul,” Hayim said.

 

By Dominique Astorino   12/30/2019
wellness@huffpost.com.
happiness-comes-from-within-and-is-found-in-the-present-moment-by-making-peace-with-the-past-and-looking-forward-to-the-future

 

6 Things To Let Go Of
If You Want To Be A Tiny Bit Happier This Year

Examining the toxic thoughts and behaviors that you should kick to the curb and advice on how to do it.

Most people kick off January by creating resolutions that drastically aim to add healthy habits to their daily lives (which doesn’t always work, by the way ― and that’s OK). But sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves is to let some things go instead.

“The new year offers a fresh opportunity, while the weight of the past keeps us in a place of inaction,” said Olecia Christie, a certified life coach and owner of Optix Communications in San Antonio, noting that it’s important to discern when to release the things that no longer serve our own growth and happiness.

With that in mind, here are a few things you should consider leaving behind in the new year, according to Christie and other experts:

Comparing your life to others’ on Instagram

In this era of social media, it always appears that everyone is living their best life — that is, everyone except you. Ibinye Osibodu-Onyali, a licensed marriage and family therapist at The Zinnia Practice in California, said you should remember that social media is a highlight reel. Comparing your daily life to a single picture capturing a perfect moment isn’t the best use of your time.

Instead, Osibodu-Onyali suggested engaging with the people you admire in 2020.

“Rather than spending so many hours per week scrolling mindlessly, begin to actually connect with people you admire on social media. Send them a DM, ask for advice, seek out actual mentorship,” she said. “You’ll be surprised how many new friends you will acquire just by reaching out, rather than being a jealous onlooker.”

Letting fear hold you back from something you want to do

Anthony Freire, the clinical director and founder of The Soho Center for Mental Health Counseling in New York, said in order to release fear, shame and guilt, you must first “shine a spotlight” on them.

“On your deathbed, you don’t want to be kicking yourself for not having completed your bucket list for any reason, but especially because of feelings like guilt, fear and shame — which are only problematic feelings because you’ve told yourself that you should feel that way,” he said.

Worrying about things you cannot control

It’s unrealistic to suggest giving up worry or stress entirely ― these feelings are a normal part of life. Instead, try to focus just on the worries you can take action on.

“Focus your thoughts on things you can change. When you have a list of worry thoughts, write out what you can change and what you can’t. Work on the situation that you can change, and just release the rest. It takes a lot of time and practice to learn this skill, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll find that you’ll worry less,” Osibodu-Onyali explained.

For some, this is easier said than done. If you find that you’re unable to manage your excessive worrying ― especially over things out of your control ― it might be worth seeking advice from a professional. This could be a sign of an anxiety disorder, which is a very real and common condition.

Old grudges or grievances

Research shows holding onto a grudge or anger for longer than necessary can be toxic for your physical and mental health. Right now is the perfect opportunity to work on letting go of some old baggage “by either working on repairing strained relationships or closing the chapter on relationships that cannot be salvaged,” Osibodu-Onyali said.

This doesn’t apply to people who have severely damaged or hurt you, but could be useful for someone you’ve grown distant with or just no longer envision as a healthy part of your life. You can either choose to move forward or let go.

“Although saying goodbye to a relationship can be tough, the closure can be very freeing,” Osibodu-Onyali said.

What other people think of you

There’s a saying that goes “what other people think of you is none of your business.” It’s important to know what your values are and to be grounded in them, so that you’re not swayed by the thoughts of others. Osibodu-Onyali said she often challenges her clients by asking: “So what if they don’t like you? What happens next?” She said more often than not, the answer is usually “nothing.”

“The truth is that the world doesn’t end and you don’t have to be liked by everyone,” she said. “Stick to your core group of supporters who truly love and respect you, and don’t spend time worrying about the people who don’t quite get you. If they don’t get you, that’s OK. You can’t be a part of every group.”

The need to be right in every conflict

We’ve all strived to win arguments; however, that can cause more stress than it’s worth. Freire said letting go of the need to win “takes up enormous energy because people tend to want to be right.”

“How many times do we fight with someone and we’re simply fighting to be right?” he said. “We say things we can’t take back and later we apologize and think to ourselves ‘I overreacted’ or ‘We fought over something so stupid.’ Sometimes we don’t even remember why we were fighting to begin with. Sometimes trivial things we get stuck on are just smaller manifestations of larger underlying issues.”

These kinds of interactions can often lead to “negative self-talk and anxiety as [we] overanalyze the situation and stress about the impact of the interaction,” according to Elise Hall, a licensed and independent clinical social worker in Massachusetts.

Instead, try looking at a fight as a problem to be solved (experts say there’s one phrase that can easily help you do this with a partner). This can help you let go of the need to be right and put your focus on a solution.

This all might be challenging, but it could be worth it to increase your joy — even just by a fraction.

By Stephanie Barnes      01/02/2020