Meditation Reduces Anxiety & Changes Your BRAIN

Unless you’ve been living in a cave the last few years (meditating of course), you’ve been reading the huge number of articles touting the benefits of meditating from stress reduction to better concentration.

Here research areas – supporting what cave dwelling meditators have experienced but not read (cave dwellers don’t get good internet reception)– which found that meditation has very real effects on your brain and can be seen on a brain scans (which are not available in caves).

Cushy Cave by Peggy

Meditation measurably reduces anxiety.

The medial prefrontal cortex is the part that processes information relating to ourselves and our experiences. Normally the neural pathways from our bodily sensation and fear centers in the brain to the prefrontal cortex are really strong. When you experience a scary or upsetting sensation, it triggers a strong neuro-chemical reaction creating a “fear response” and you think you are “under attack”.

Meditation weakens this neural connection and consequently we don’t react as strongly to any sensations we might have . The more we meditate the better we weaken this connection and simultaneously strengthen the connection between the part of our brains known for reasoning. So when we experience frightening or upsetting sensations, we can more easily look at them rationally.

Don’t Want to Meditate?

Try simple ways to incorporate mindfulness into daily life. 

  • Pay attention. It’s hard to slow down and notice things in a busy world. Try to take the time to experience your environment with all of your senses — touch, sound, sight, smell and taste. For example, when you eat a favorite food, take the time to smell, taste and truly enjoy it.
  • Live in the moment. Try to intentionally bring an open, accepting and discerning attention to everything you do. Find joy in simple pleasures.
  • Accept yourself. Treat yourself the way you would treat a good friend.
  • Focus on your breathing. When you have negative thoughts, try to sit down, take a deep breath and close your eyes. Focus on your breath as it moves in and out of your body. Sitting and breathing for even just a minute can help.

Want to learn meditation?  Check out  Joy on Demand, by Chade-Meng Tan, He makes meditation seem fun and easy.

http://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/how-meditation-rewires-your-brain-for-less-anxiety-and-faster-learning.html

Analytical meditation for anxiety reduction and problem solving

Meditating is hard for me.  My monkey-mind jumps over and around what I’ve decided to focus on, climbs into places and spaces that have no bearing on anything  and swings from thought-branches I didn’t even know were there. 
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When I read this article written by Sanjay Gupta, MD and his invitation to meditate with the Dalai Lama I was a bit more reassured.  Here’s the HOW-To part that caught my monkey-mind attention:  (jw)
“This is hard for me,” I said. (Dr Gupta)
“Me, too!” he exclaimed. “After doing daily for 60 years, it is still hard.”
It was at once surprising and reassuring to hear him say this. The Dalai Lama, Buddhist monk and spiritual leader of Tibet, also has trouble meditating.”

‘”I think you will like analytical meditation, he told me. Instead of focusing on a chosen object, as in single-point meditation, he suggested I think about a problem I was trying to solve, a topic I may have read about recently or one of the philosophical areas from the earlier sessions.”

“He wanted me to separate the problem or issue from everything else by placing it in a large, clear bubble. With my eyes closed, I thought of something nagging at me — something I couldn’t quite solve. As I placed the physical embodiment of this problem into the bubble, several things started to happen very naturally.”
“The problem was now directly in front of me, floating weightlessly. In my mind, I could rotate it, spin it or flip it upside-down. It was an exercise to develop hyper-focus.
Less intuitively, as the bubble was rising, it was also disentangling itself from any other attachments, such as subjective emotional considerations. I could visualize it, as the problem isolated itself, and came into a clear-eyed view.”
Too often, we allow unrelated emotional factors to blur the elegant and practical solutions right in front of us. It can be dispiriting and frustrating. Through analytical meditation, His Holiness told me, we can use logic and reason to more clearly identify the question at hand, separate it from irrelevant considerations, erase doubt and brightly illuminate the answers. It was simple and sensible. Most important, for me — it worked.”

Meditation for skeptics

“As a neuroscientist, I never expected that a Buddhist monk, even the Dalai Lama, would teach me how to better incorporate deduction and critical thinking to my life — but that is what happened.
It changed me. And I am better for it. I practice analytical meditation every day, usually early in the morning. The first two minutes are still the hardest, as I create my thought bubble and let it float above me. After that, I reach what can best be described as a “flow” state, in which 20 to 30 minutes pass easily.
I am more convinced than ever that even the most ardent skeptics could find success with analytical meditation.”
 

Self-Isolation – Here’s the Best Way to Cope with Family Tensions

Togetherness, particularly if it’s 24 hours a day, 7 days a week can create stress and unresolved, unrelieved tension.

The rosy pictures of family harmony isn’t always rosy.  As psychotherapists we were privy to the fact that being cooped up with family, whether in a family business or on-demand family functions, often brings out the worst in people and interpersonal relationships.  

Clients who had no family fantasized about what they were missing and clients with families fantasized about how to miss family gatherings.

Family Dynamics by Peggy

  • It is not helpful to ruminate on what was, what could be, ruminate over and over about the hurt, anger, injustice of it all.  Rumination leads to depression and/or anxiety.  
  • Address little annoyances quickly before they become chronic irritations that evolve into big problems.

One of the ways to talk about what is bothering you is to follow a simple script:

When you ____________________ Fill in with a SPECIFIC, identifiable, VISIBLE, concrete BEHAVIOR.  No generalizations or blame, like “you hurt me”.

I feel _________________________ Fill in with an emotion – angry, happy, sad, frustrated, mis-understood, devalued . . . etc.  Do NOT BLAME and say “I feel that YOU ________”

I want you to ________________  Fill in with a SPECIFIC, identifiable, concrete BEHAVIOR

Example:  When you walked away when I was talking.  (WALKED AWAY is a behavior)

I felt devalued.  I want you to stay, listen

   *     *     *

Here’s interesting research on replaying an argument in your mind can help. 

 ReIMAGINING Family Arguments

 in Detail Can Help

“Repeated studies have found that people prone to depression can get worse if they excessively dwell or ruminate on a stressful incident such as a quarrel or a loss. But experiments by Exeter University psychologists have found that when individuals practised running emotional incidents through their head, focusing on sensory details and recalling exactly what happened, how it happened, and even where it happened, it helped them respond constructively and stopped them becoming so upset about a future or past stressful experience.

“Psychologists at the University of Exeter have found that recalling (imagining, NOT vocalizing) the detail of shouting matches and disagreements, including exactly who said what to whom and how, may not be destructive and prolong the tension, but could help people keep incidents in perspective and stop the triggering of self-doubt and even depression.”

“After training to recall the details of an upsetting incident including the tone of a voice, the words used and how the event happened, people became more resilient and put the upsetting incident into context, stopping a downward spiral into low mood.”

“The same exercise of focusing on the sensory details of sad experiences and asking “How did it happen?” “How can I do something about it?” was also found to speed up recovery from doing badly on a test in undergraduates, and to improve interpersonal problem solving, such as finding a way to make up with your partner after an argument, in people who were currently or formerly depressed.”

“For people experiencing depression learning to focus on stressful incidents and to re-imagine them in full technicolour asking themselves ‘What is unique about this situation?’ ‘ How did it happen?’ – instead of ‘Why did it happen to me? had an a ‘significant’ impact on helping to alleviate mental ill health.”

Read the full article:

http://neurosciencenews.com/psychology-replay-arguments-5819/

I JUST ADDED THIS: Some of these tips are general, suggesting a mindset to cultivate. Others are more specific in advising you what to do in the moment.

  1. Listen. Listening is the number one step in dealing with “unreasonable” people. Everyone wants to feel heard. No progress can take place until the other person feels acknowledged. While you’re listening, really focus on what the other person is saying, not what you want to say next.
  2. Stay calm. When a situation is emotionally charged, it’s easy to get caught up in the heat of the moment. Monitor your breathing. Try to take some slow, deep breaths.
  3. Don’t judgeYou don’t know what the other person is going through. Chances are, if a person is acting unreasonable, they are likely feeling some sort of vulnerability or fear.
  4. Reflect respect and dignity toward the other person. No matter how a person is treating you, showing contempt will not help productively resolve the situation.
  5. Look for the hidden need. What is this person really trying to gain? What is this person trying to avoid?
  6. Look for others around you who might be able to help. If you’re at work and there’s an irate customer, quickly scan to see if a colleague is close by.
  7. Don’t demand compliance. For example, telling someone who’s upset to be quiet and calm down will just make him or her irate. Instead, ask the person what they are upset about—and allow them to vent.
  8. Saying, “I understand,” usually makes things worse. Instead, say, “Tell me more so I can understand better.”
  9. Avoid smiling, as this may look like you are mocking the person. Similarly, humor can sometimes lighten the mood, but more often than not, it’s risky and it may backfire.
  10. Don’t act defensively. This is tough. You’re naturally not enjoying the other person saying nasty things or things that you know aren’t true. You’re going to want to defend yourself. But the other person is so emotionally revved up, it’s not going to help. Remember, this is not about you. Don’t take it personally. (I know, easier said than done.)
  11. Don’t return anger with anger. Raising your voice, pointing your finger, or speaking disrespectfully to the other person will add fuel to an already heated situation. Use a low, calm, even monotone voice. Don’t try to talk over the person. Wait until the person takes a breath and then speak.
  12. Don’t argue or try to convince the other person of anything.
  13. Keep extra space between you and the other person. Your instinct may be to try to calm the other person down by putting your arm on theirs, or some other similar gesture that may be appropriate in other contexts. But if someone is already upset, avoid touch, as it might be misinterpreted.
  14. Saying, “I’m sorry,” or, “I’m going to try to fix this,” can go a long way toward defusing many situations.
  15. Set limits and boundaries. While some of the above tips have encouraged listening and letting the angry person vent, you also have the right to be assertive and say, “Please don’t talk to me like that.”
  16. Trust your instincts. If your gut is saying, this is going downhill fast, be ready to do what you need to do to remain safe. Look for an exit strategy.
  17. One response does not fit all. You have to remain flexible. Although these guidelines have proven effective in de-escalating tough situations, every person is unique and may respond differently.
  18. Debrief. After the situation is over, talk to someone about what happened.
  19. Discharge your own stressYou had to put your natural reactions on hold for a while. Now is the time to discharge some of that pent up adrenaline. Go for a run. Take your dog for a walk. Don’t let the emotions stay stuck in your body.
  20. Give yourself credit for getting through an uncomfortable situation. It takes a lot of energy not to act like a jerk when someone else is behaving badly. Don’t skip this step!

Curious Coloring for Calming Down

Coloring books aren’t just for kids anymore.  Adults have discovered coloring provides a brief focus, away from the world within and the world around us. It’s a form of meditation:  Concentrated visual focus on color, patterns and repetitive motion are hallmarks of the meditative process.

We’ve picked out some Curious Critters that lend themselves for for quick & easy coloring. Embellish them, add patterns, squiggles and make them your own.

Click on the download at the bottom

Get out your crayons or colored pencils 

CREATE your own meditation.

(Don’t want to meditate?   Color with a child!)

 

Click here for your free coloring PDF

 

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4 FREE Resources for Social Distancing & Isolation

Here are some fun, FREE resources for social distancing and self isolation-check them out!

Online University learning of all kinds of subjects

click here for  Coursera

Join Courserafor free and learn online. Courses from top universities like Yale, Michigan, Stanford, Imperial College-London, Tel Aviv University, Duke, Johns Hopkins, University of Cape Town, University of Tokyo etc. . . . and leading companies like Google and IBM.

I (Judy) have taken 2 of the courses and they were excellent.  Since I don’t need any more degrees or certifications I never did the papers or took the tests . . .  just watched the lectures and did the reading.  There is a large catalogue of classes from colleges and universities all over the WORLD.  Fabulous resource.

Online exercise classes – Planet Fitness

Planet Fitness, one of the nation’s largest chain gyms, is offering free online exercise classes 

The at-home workouts are streaming on the company’s Facebook page, open to anyone, including non-members.

Because I love all of you I (Peggy) sacrificed myself and tried two Planet Fitness on-line workouts.

The workouts were actually great!  The instructors made it easy to follow all the exercises, all of which could be modified to easier levels.  

To make sure all of you could do the routines I did the easier levels, even though I didn’t NEED to, of course . . .   

I am recovering from a sprained ankle and didn’t want to jump on my foot, so I was clever enough to figure out ways to keep both feet on the ground.   (I couldn’t think of other excuses to modify more exercises but carefully watched how they were done.)

Instructors do warm ups and cool downs. Have a chair handy and water.  You get 15 second rests in between the exercises.  

Another thing I liked is the instructor stopped exercising in order to continue talking.  That allowed me to stop early too so I could hear what he was saying without the distraction of exercising. . . The workouts are scheduled for 4pm PST. I was late but no one said anything. There are many workout videos on the Planet Fitness Facebook page so if you’re late I’m positive they’ll let you in the class.

Fun things to do from NASAfor kids and adults

https://www.space.com/free-nasa-space-projects-at-home-coronavirus.html

“NASA’s website has a plethora of opportunities for kids and adults alike to learn more about astronomy and spaceflight. Whether you want to be an astronaut, kill some time learning about the universe or help the agency work on future space exploration activities, there’s no lack of things to do.”

“So, if you’re looking for a little out-of-this-world escapewhile you’re stuck at home, There is a list of free space-themed activities from NASA to keep you occupied.”

Get out in the open -no charge at National Parks

The National Park Service is waiving entrance fees at all national parks that remain open during the coronavirus pandemic in an effort to aid public social distancing.

“This small step makes it a little easier for the American public to enjoy the outdoors in our incredible National Parks,” Bernhardt said in a news release Wednesday.
“Our vast public lands that are overseen by the Department offer special outdoor experiences to recreate, embrace nature and implement some social distancing.”
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Frankly Freddie – Social Distance from people not FOOD

For the Foodie
If you don’t know what a “foodie” is you are probably around the same age as Peggy & Judy. For all you “oldies” . . . “gastronome” and “epicure” define the same thing.  If you don’t know what gastronome and epicure mean it’s a person who enjoys food for pleasure.

  • Have a picnic on the floor (benefit-no ants, just dust).
  • Get takeout. Support independent restaurants which are hurting right now by eating their food. It’s reported that takeout service Grubhub will stop collecting commission of up to $100 million to support independent restaurants that use their service. (Just make sure you limit your contact with the delivery driver and wash your hands after unpacking the food.)
  • Have your own wine tasting of whatever bottles you have.  No wine?  Have a tea-tasting.
  • Make a new recipe, like dog biscuits.
  • Perfect grandma’s special recipe.
  • Make coffee, and study how many beans you use, which types, how hot the water is, how long it brews and whether any of that even makes a difference.
  • Read your cookbooks and find new culinary sites on the internet.
  • Make doggie biscuits – peanut butter should be the #1 ingredient
  • Watch “The Great British Baking Show,” and bake something with the ingredients you have on hand
  • Organize your spice rack alphabetically.
  • Make a cocktail or mocktail  (if you don’t know what a mocktail is you’re over the age of 21) Don’t forget the garnish.
  • Cook something special – make a double recipe and give half to an elderly neighbor and the other half to your dog.

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Frankly Freddie – Social Distancing Naturally in Nature

Dear Freddie Fans,

Because I’m not allowed to go anywhere without a leash I KNOW how to cope. This week I will share what you humans can do.  Since I’m Editor-in-Canine-Chief for several blogs I have a trove of posts to share with you.  Here’s today’s bit of my wisdom. 

Get out of the house. Just remember to keep 6 feet of distance from other people,  Find an area where you won’t encounter crowds.

  • Garden!
  • Pot a plant.
  • Repot house plants.
  • Weed, mulch, rake & mow.
  • Start birdwatching. Coronavirus hasn’t bothered birds. Download a birdwatching map. Sit in your backyard or near a window.
  • Take a brisk walk  You can still exercise – It helps your immune system be strong.*
  • Go on a stroll.  Sniff around and clear your mind.
  • Sit outside & breathe fresh air. Notice things about the world around you that you didn’t see before.
  • Bike ride.
  • Meditate, journal, draw in your yard or patio.

Resting after munching the lawn, bird watching, walking and sniffing.

*Exercise which increases immunity and reduces the stress response . . . even if it’s marching in place for 5 minutes without a leash.

Take a 10 minute walk outside – 5 minutes out and 5 minutes back.  The colors of nature are also calming to the brain.

 

Frankly Freddie – How to be a Good Sport While Social Distancing

Sports fans are going bonkers since all the games are canceled or have no spectators.  Don’t go bonkers, it’s not becoming, unless you are in a parking lot, eating hot dogs and drinking beer from the back of your pick-up truck.  Do these things instead:

  • Become an expert. Readup on your sport so that when your team starts playing again, you’ll have even greater insight into the game.
  • Show your team some love. Tweet them a positive message or send them a photo of you wearing team gear in solidarity.
  • Even better, support a charity that your favorite player loves. 
  • PLAY FETCH.

  • Practice painting your face in the colors of your favorite team.  Keep your “art work” above the neck. Bare chests make you look like an “animal”.
  • Revisit an old game. You know the one – The game that made you fall in love with the sport.  If you have a subscription to a sport-specific streaming service, check if they have your favorite game. YouTube has clips of  large collection of games.
  • Play Keep-Away or Dodge Ball.  No yard?  Use balloons.
  • Watch sports documentaries about games of the past and present.
  • Donate all your clothes that aren’t in the colors of your favorite team.
  • Pretend you’re an athlete and do calisthentics (If you don’t know what calisthenitics are do jumping jacks).
  • PLAY FETCH.
  • Go Bonkers!

 

Things to do when Virus Fears Overwhelm you – Hand-washing and Social distancing for your Brain

The constant flood of precautions and warnings, whether it’s from the medical authorities or recirculated, dubiously-sourced information on social media, can take a toll on our mental health.
The uncertainty of what a pandemic portends for our future, the drastic changes it means for the present can be unnerving.

It’s ok, it’s normal, to feel anxious and stressed when everything familiar has seemingly come to a halt in the entire world and when experts, whom we normally turn to, have no answers, no treatments and are impacted in the same way we are.  We feel helpless and our fears are heightened when we can’t see or predict where the threat may strike.  

Yes, it’s a serious situation, and deserves your vigilance and attention.   However, there is a happy medium between ignoring the biggest story in the world, and panic. Here are some tips. 

Social Distancing for your Brain

Pare down your sources of information

  • Continually tell yourself it’s ok not knowing every little thing because there will always be an update a click away.
  • Don’t carry your phone around so you’re not tempted to check it.  
  • Leave your phone on a charging station, put it in “airplane mode”or turn off notifications.
  • Limit time on social media.  Your friends and acquaintances filter what they share through their own fears and lenses.
  • Unfriend those who are conspiracy theorists.
  • Install social media apps or tools that limit access to content, or limit aimless scrolling.
  • Schedule a set time, and no more, to get updates from reliable news or health organizations.

Hand-Washing for your Brain.

Don’t Chastise Yourself for Worrying

“You are allowed to worry or feel bad. When discussing how to talk to children about the coronavirus, health experts say people should acknowledge a child’s fear and let them know their feelings are valid.”

“Surely, you can afford yourself the same compassion. The key is to work toward understanding and contextualizing your fears so they don’t keep you from living your healthiest life.”

Name your Fears

A virus can’t be seen by the naked eye.  It’s threat is abstract.  Writing things down makes the worries concrete and stops your brain from going over and over the worries.  Here’s what to write to reassure your brain that you’ll remember everything it’s been reminding you of.  You may do all steps at once or over several days.

1. List what specific threats worry you.Do you think you will catch the coronavirus and die?  (The fear of death taps into one of our core existential fears.) Someone you love falls ill?  Would you need treatment?  What would happen if self quarantine was necessary?  Not able to work?  No access to support or childcare?  

Keep writing small fears, big fears, rational and irrational, until you can’t think of anything else.

2.  Mark the ones that are REALISTIC.  Consider your personal risk and how likely it is that you will actually come in contact with the virus, lose work, etc.

3.  Write down what you are in CONTROL of  – what you are currently doing and what you might consider doing.  

4.  Make a plan – Brainstorm options and write them down even if they seem out-of-reach or impractical.   Being prepared for your fears will help keep them in scale.

5. Review and add, delete, rearrange, update all the steps frequently to keep your brain in the know.

Think Outside Yourself

Since action can allay our anxieties, also consider what you can do to help others who may be more affected by the outbreak than you. Service workers, medical workers, hourly workers and people in the restaurant or entertainment industries may have their livelihoods paralyzed or have to put themselves in disproportionate danger.

Talk to your brain: “Most of the precautions put in place to help stall the spread of the virus aren’t just for me. They’re intended to keep entire communities and vulnerable people safe.”

There are ways to reach out that don’t demand a lot of time or energy.  Examples:  Double the recipe you are making and give half to a neighbor, donate money, (if you have the means) to a reputable charity, write a letter or a note to someone in quarantine, e-mail friends who are isolated . . .  

Seek Support Wisely

Talking to friends about the latest news, outbreak cluster or your family’s contingency plans is a good idea so you don’t feel alone.  However, if you are overwhelmed, don’t seek out someone who also is overwhelmed.  Find someone who does not support or inflame you on your anxiety and can provide some advice.  Always consider professional help which can be short-term. Most psychotherapists and doctors are offering phone sessions.  There are community agencies or religious clergy that are free or low fee.

Enforce or Create Healthy HABITS

Pay attention to your daily basic needs- healthy practices that affect your wellbeing. 

If you haven’t practiced self-care, NOW is the time to create healthy habits that will last after this crisis is over.

  • Get adequate sleep
  • Have proper nutrition
  • Go outside as much a possible
  • Engage in regular physical activity
  • Practicing mindfulness, prayer, meditation, yoga or other forms of self care can also help center you in routines and awareness, and keep your mind from wandering into worry and fear. 

Remember!  Fear and Anxiety is . . .

. . . overestimating the likelihood of something bad happening, and  underestimating our capacity to deal with it. 

Source: CNN.com

Frankly Freddie – Social Distancing for the Cultured

Dear Freddie Fans,

Because I’m not allowed to go anywhere without a leash I KNOW how to cope. This week I will share what you humans can do.  Since I’m Editor-in-Canine-Chief for several blogs I have a trove of posts to share with you.  

CULTURED: characterized by refined taste and manners and good education.
cultivated, artistic, enlightened, civilized, educated, well read, well informed, discerning, discriminating, 

sophisticated, urbane, intellectual, scholarly, erudite

If you are lacking in any of these here’s what you can do:

  • Download e-books and audiobooks and READ.
  • Create a virtual book club and video call each other to discuss.
  • Take a virtual museum tour. Many museums offer audio tours on your smart phone. The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and the Guggenheim Museum are two that host online tours.
  • Explore overseas? Google Arts & Culture has a collection of virtual walk-throughs for dozens of international museums, from Paris to New Delhi.
  • Become a film critic.  Write a  review of the latest. Catch up recent Oscar winners and snubbed gems and share your thoughts on Facebook or Twitter. To exchange recommendations with your fellow cinephiles, join a site like Letterboxd, a social networking service for film geeks.
  • Learn a language — or just the basics. Learning a few phrases in another tongue will make you feel smart. 
  • Bolster your vocabulary. Remember when reading the dictionary was a form of punishment? No longer. Flip through a thesaurus or take online quizzes to test your vocabulary.

What “cultured” will look like after you do what I’ve told you.

https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/14/us/what-to-do-this-weekend-coronavirus-trnd/index.html

Frankly Freddie, How to Social Distance and Be Social

Dear Freddie Fans,

Because I’m not allowed to go anywhere without a leash I KNOW how to cope. This week I will share what you humans can do.  Since I’m Editor-in-Canine-Chief for several blogs I have a trove of posts to share with you.  Each day I’ll share a bit of my wisdom. 

Here’s my first recommendations for HUMANS

Ya Gotta Take Care of your Mental Health.  

  • Connect with family, friends.  If you can’t get a scratch behind their ears you will have to settle for the phone, internet or writing a note or letter.
  • Meditate, pray.
  • Take a nap.  One of my favorites.
  • Video chat.
  • Share funny messages on social media. Do NOT share conspiracy theories – leave theories to bonifide scientists.
  • Take a warm bath.
  • Take another bath.
  • Go outside, get some fresh air and sunshine .

Keep your paws busy:

  • Tackle a puzzle.
  • Make art. Download my human’s free coloring pages.Click here for the PDF
  • Humans like to knit, sew, paint.
  • Do all the stuff I’ve watched humans put off – taxes, clean closets.
  • Play board games. Chess and checkers seem to be fun for humans .. . go figure.
  • Fix something around the house.
  • Rearrange the furniture.
  • Give yourself a manicure.
  • Pet your pet.
  • Brush your pet.
  • Feed your pet.
  • Give your pet treats

Tell me what you do to keep your paws busy!

See ya tomorrow.

click here for: “How to Cope in Uncertain Times” on Max your Mind 

How to activate your own Placebo to reduce Stress & Anxiety

In uncertain times we all need help to calm our fears so that our bodies are not flooded with stress hormones & neurochemicals.  

A placebo is NOT imaginary but creates biological changes in the brain that actually ease our symptoms and are very similar to the biological changes when we take drugs.

There are many DOCUMENTED placebo effects, depending on what we think a treatment is going to do for us.  Examples:

  • Fake painkillers cause the release of natural painkillers in the brain called endorphins and work through the same biochemical pathway that an opiod painkiller would work through.
  • A Parkinson’s patient takes a placebo they think is their Parkinson’s drug, they get a flood of dopamine in the brain, which is exactly what you would see with the real drug.
  • Altitude sickness – someone at altitude inhales fake oxygen, there’s a reduction in prostaglandins which actually work to dilate blood vessels that cause many of the symptoms of altitude sickness.

Some explanations for the placebo effect 

Stress and anxiety — if we feel that we are in danger or under threat, the brain raises its sensitivity to symptoms like pain. Whereas, if we feel safe and cared for and things are going to get better soon, we relax and are not so alert to symptoms.

Physiological mechanisms like conditioning*   We can all be conditioned to have physiological responses to a stimulus, even immune responses. For example, take a pill that suppresses your immune system and on another occasion take a similar looking placebo pill, with no active drug, your body will mimic same immune response. Astonishingly, it doesn’t even matter if you know it’s a placebo.

Stress can rewire the brain — and create more stress

Like a muscle, the more you exercise any part the stronger it gets.

Brains are shaped by our thoughts and behaviors. Research shows your brain structure, neurochemical and electrical activity responds to and reflects how you think throughout your life.   For example: If you play a musical instrument, speak a second language, train for athletics for eight hours a day – the parts of your brain responsible for performing those activities gets more active and larger. 

If you’re thinking stressful thoughts for the whole day parts of the brain involved in the stress response get larger and other parts of the brain actually deteriorate.  Consequently, the very brain circuits we need to counter stress no longer work as well as they should.  

It’s not as simple as saying, “I’m going to change how I think now. I’m not feeling stressed.”  It takes a long time to change your brain. 

In the middle of your face – your personal placebo “pill” 

When stressed, the brain influences your body AND the body influences your brain.  The stress response speeds up your breathing to pump more oxygen when your brain perceives danger, either real or imaginary.  If you deliberately speed up your breathing when not stressed you’ll start to feel more aroused and on edge.  The opposite is true: Slow your breathing down, forcing your body into a more relaxed state.  Your brain responds with more calming thoughts and feelings.

Condition your own calming response using your breath . . . salivating optional.

Click below to read two ways to slow your breathing down:

Decrease your Anxiety & Stress Increasing Immunity

Control your Anxiety: Easy, Fast, Effective and Square

* Ivan Pavlov, a physiologist, conditioned dogs so that whenever he gave them food he made a noise, like ring a bell.  Eventually the dogs associated the bell with their food and they would salivate just to the sound of the bell.

 

 

 

https://www.npr.org/

A Journey into the Science of Mind Over Body by Jo Marchant, PhD. in genetics and medical microbiology

How to reduce fear & anxiety in 30 seconds

Affect labeling—the act of naming one’s emotional state—helps blunt the immediate impact of negative feelings and begin the process of reducing stress.

In a small study* of 30 subjects, researchers conducted a series of brain-imaging experiments in which participants were shown frightening faces and asked to choose a word that described the emotion on display. Labeling the fear-inducing object appeared to:

  • Reduce activity in the amygdala, the part of the brain in which the fight or flight reflex originates
  • Increased activity in the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, which is associated with vigilance and symbolic processing.
  • The brain’s perception of the images shifted from objects of fear to subjects of scrutiny.
  • Experientially, the fact that there is a name for what you’re going through means that other people have experienced it as well, which makes an overwhelming emotion feel less isolating.

How to “Affect label” 

30 seconds . . . as long as you don’t count the 15 minutes of moving.

*The University of California, Los Angeles. Study led by psychology professor Matthew Lieberman,

https://qz.com/989060/reduce-stress-and-anxiety-with-a-pen-and-this-simple-neuroscience-backed-trick/

For more in this series, scroll down.

For tips on social distancing, click here for Curious to the Max

 

How to Empty your Brain to Reduce Stress & Control Anxiety – Write On!

Non-stop writing, stream of consciousness, free writing . . . it doesn’t matter what you call it – it can change your brain, change your day.

I’m not being overly dramatic as there is a body of research which shows that

simply putting pen to paper changes your brain to reduce anxiety & stress.

Write on! by Peggy

Easy Peasy Writing How-to

Choose a focus – a situation, feeling, thought and create a “topic Sentence”

If you can’t think of a specific begin with

 “When I ____________”,  Right this moment I am thinking . . . ” ,   “I am feeling . . .”,  

“I can’t think of anything to write because . . . “

It can be anything in the past, the present or the future.

  • Use a pen that writes smoothly and comfortable to your hand.  

Don’t use a keyboard since the act of writing with your hand is important.  Your small muscle movement is expressive (much like artistic expression, your handwriting is unique to you).  It doesn’t matter if it’s legible or beautiful as your hand movement registers with your brain in ways that tapping out letters on a keyboard do not.

  • Set a timer for approximately 20 minutes. It takes that long for your unconscious brain to push through your logical thinking processes.
  • Use a journal, a piece of paper, a brown bag- it doesn’t matter.
  • Start with your “topic sentence”,thought, feeling . . . just start. 
  • Write continuously for 20 minutes, never letting the pen stop. If your mind goes blank simply makes loop-d-loops with the pen until you have words to put down. Write quickly, spontaneously, intuitively.  It doesn’t matter what you write just put down on paper where your mind takes you.
  • Do not be concerned about spelling, punctuation or grammar.
  • Do not be concerned if it doesn’t make sense.

Read  research: How Writing About Past Failures May Help You Succeed In The Present

 click here

Decrease your Anxiety & Stress Increasing Immunity

Diaphragmatic breathing is the best known and one of the most powerful breath exercises to reduce the stress response, get oxygen flowing to your brain and in your body.

If you’re constantly and chronically stressed out, sleep-deprived, malnourished, or dehydrated over time your immune function will weaken.

Longer, deeper breaths into your abdomen, slows your heart rate and activates the calming, parasympathetic nervous system. 

Inhale . . . . . . . . . . . Exhale. . . . . . .  by Judy

The most basic type of diaphragmatic breathing is done by inhaling through your nose and breathing out through your mouth.  However, exhaling through your nose allows you to do this in public places.

Here’s how:

  • Sit in a comfortable position or lie flat on the floor, your bed, or another comfortable, flat surface.

  • Relax your shoulders.

  • To feel your diaphragm move as you breathe place one hand on your upper chest and the other just below your ribs on your stomach.

  • Take a slow, full breath in through your nose for about two seconds. Experience the air moving through your nostrils into your abdomen, making your stomach expand. During this type of breathing, make sure your stomach is moving outward while your chest remains relatively still.

(your hand below your ribs moves in and out with each breath).

  • Press gently on your stomach, and exhale slowly for about two seconds through your nose (or mouth) and tighten your diaphragm

(just like squeezing a lemon to get all the juice out)

  • The hand on your upper chest should remain as still as possible throughout.

Repeat these steps several times for best results.

It may take you a bit of effort at first to do this cuz it ain’t the usual way you breathe.

With continued practice, diaphragmatic breathing becomes easier, Easier, EASIER.

After you get the hang of it, you can practice diaphragmatic breathing  . . . without using your hand.  

 

 

 

ME, a Stress Case? . . . This Anxiety Reduction Technique is for YOU too

Judy’s Self Reflection

I’m not a worrier by nature but during the past weeks and all the uncertainty about Covid-19 spreading throughout the world plus the fact that I have underlying medical conditions (I’m not mentioning my age!) I have had trouble falling asleep.

Tossing and turning, it took me 2 hours to realize my entire body was tense.

I relaxed my muscles. They tensed up againI relaxed again.  Muscles from head to toe tensed up again and again as if I were a trained athlete who had practiced so many times my muscle memory was so strong practice was no longer needed.

Flashing before my eyes was every therapy session I’ve ever had with anyone who had anxiety, PTSD, was a caretaker, had a sick loved one, experienced loss of any kind, anticipated loss, was in pain or had a medical condition. . . .

I had explained the relaxation response so many times that I automatically recognized the stress response in others (others being the operant word).

I know that our brains automatically perceive danger in any emotional, physical or imagined threat and sends signals to our bodies to ready us to flee or fight off our enemy.  Muscle tension is needed for running like hell or slugging it out – now’s not the time to relax if you want to live.

The opposite of DANGER is SAFETY

I’ve taught one of the very best, easiest mind-body techniques that calms the brain hundreds, maybe thousands, of times.  It absolutely works and only took me an hour of tossing and turning to remember to use it myself.

Best of all it requires no Rx, no money, no time and you take it with you where ever you go.

Safe Signal Breath:

1. Take a deep breath through your nose.
2. Hold the breath for just a moment
3. As you release the breath, through your nose, very gently, silently say: “Thank you brain, I’m safe.” (Be kind to your brain.  It’s just trying to keep you from being eaten alive)

Sound too simple!?

Our brains are relatively simple in that brains can not tell the difference between when we are actually in danger (anxiety is our brain’s way of keeping us on alert for danger so we can survive) or when we imagine danger through thoughts or other cues.

Imagine a snake, a spider, anything that you are afraid of. Your brain will signal “danger! danger!” and flood your cells with the neurochemistry of fear.  Watch a sad movie and your brain will flood you with the neurochemistry of sadness and, if you are like me, sob like a baby.
So, tell your brain you are safe and it will stop the neurochemistry of fear and anxiety.  

It’s not instant cup’o’soup because once you are flooded with the anxious feeling it will take about 20 minutes or so for the neurochemistry to metabolize out of your body’s cells.  No matter how you FEEL keep giving your brain the “I’m Safe” cue.

Here’s the Key for Continual or Chronic Threats

Yoga, meditation, mindfulness prayer, listening to relaxation recordings all help. However, to break into a CHRONIC cycle you need to chronically signal your brain to stop sending the neurochemistry of the stress response to your body. Let your brain know that no one is throwing grenades at you, animals are not trying to eat you alive, you are SAFE.

Continually “Sprinkle” the Breath/I’m safe cue throughout the day and evening. It’s a good idea to get a cue(s) to remind yourself to do this. A post-it-note on the bathroom mirror, every time your phone rings, a note in your appointment book etc.

You HAVE to breathe anyway so you’ve got nothing to lose — except your stress response!

My Self Realization

I figured out that I had a legitimate reason to be anxious while virus swirl around the world looking for bodies to inhabit.

Control your stress & anxiety – Comfort Eating Actually Comforts

When I am a little stressed I want to eat – usually carbs – but if I am very stressed I lose my appetite. Peggy

I never lose my appetite because I’m an emotional eater – eat when I’m stressed, happy, bored . . .  From now on I’m calling it “Comfort Eating” – it sounds less . . . emotional . . .  and  is a new area of research. Judy

For the second year in a row, just over a third of American adults reported eating “too much” or “unhealthy” food because of stress, according to an APA survey. Approximately 40 percent of people increase their eating when they’re stressed, 40 percent decrease their eating, and 20 percent stay the same. 

Dr. Janet Tomiyama has been trying to figure out if eating because of stress works for us.  Here is a summary of her findings:

  • Rats were given access to comfort food — usually Crisco mixed with sugar! 
  • Researchers then stressed them out
  • Over time, the comfort food actually dampened their stress hormones
  • Dampened down their brain’s responsivity to stress
  • Dampened down the signaling between the brain and the rest of the body, so they didn’t secrete as many stress hormones.”  

    CRISCO & sugar! At least they could have the decency to give us the cake under the frosting  . . .

We tend to be critical of people who eat because of stress BUT  “Not just psychologically, but also biologically — people who do a lot of comfort eating tend to show a reduced level of stress hormones and stress.”

What’s happening, according to Tomiyama:

  • “When you do anything that’s rewarding to you the reward parts of your brain light up — those parts of the brain can dampen down areas of your brain that are freaking out with negative emotion. And that’s why comfort foods tend to be foods that are high in sugar and fat. They’re really rewarding; they really do light up the reward centers of our brains.
  • There’s also some work showing that when you do comfort eating, it builds up fat in your belly region and that fat pad sends a signal to your brain to decrease the amount of stress hormones that you’re producing. 
  • Then there’s conditioning. If throughout your whole life, you’ve paired stress relief with comfort foods over and over again, then soon enough, your body is going to automatically respond to eating these comfort foods with relaxation.

Many people have had the experience of being given comfort food to cheer us up as kids. Part of the comfort t then came from bing cared for but that became associated with the food, which now gives us comfort on its own.

in addition to rodents, we also see comfort eating working in some non-human primate species as well. So my main take home from this is self-compassion: You’re not doing the comfort eating because you’re some sort of weak-willed human being; you’re biologically driven to do this. ” says Tomiyama.

What Tomiyama is trying to do now, is to see if healthy foods can also be comforting. Even in rat studies only unhealthy foods were used. Therein some data from surveys that say there are people who do use healthy foods for stress.

 “Nobody stress-eats strawberries, do they?”

Actually, strawberries might work she reports. Anything  sweet can dampen stress.

We’ll eat to that!

A. Janet Tomiyama, an associate professor of psychology and director of the Dieting, Stress, and Health Lab at UCLA

https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2018/11/9/18072318/does-stress-eating-work-psychology

Control your Stress & Anxiety: 6 Ways to Meditate for People Who Can’t “Meditate”

Yay. Sure. 100%.  When I meditate it’s 50%-50% at best.  My monkey mind swings from trees with great abandon, my thoughts rambling, rumbling and wildly roaming.

So!  Why meditate?

Meditation has been rigorously scientifically studied and it’s shown to literally change the brain.  A regular meditation practice helps significantly with depression and anxiety, meditation has been shown to help with anti-aging, fighting infections, contributing to a sense of control and combating feelings of loneliness.

Nearly anything can be turned into a meditative practice as long as you focus on leaving your “head” and experience the world through your senses. (Sorry – Television, video games and reading don’t count as meditation because they simply replace our own thoughts with more stimulating ones.)

When the stress, thinking of “doing nothing” for 20 minutes, negates  benefits here’s 6 alternative forms of meditation

(I’ve tried five of them- and they work.  You can guess which one I’ve ignored)

1.  Take a Musical Bath

Like a warm bath, sink into the melodies, soak in the harmonies, bath your body in the rhythms and Immerse yourself in sound.  It is a powerful and enjoyable form of meditation.
Get an album you’ve wanted to listen to for some time and listen to it… really listen, with no interruptions.

2. Dance When NO ONE Watches

Dancing is the natural progression from listening to music.  Many of us have had the horrible feeling of dancing while being stuck in self-conscious over thinking and paranoid about how we look.

Meditative dance is ignoring everything that is going on outside our own body and becoming one with the music.  Flay your arms, sway your hips, roll your eyes –  Let go of protecting your self image, have fun and even be silly. 

3. Draw with your eyes

Drawing is less about talent and more about learning to see.  Thinking actually can get in the way so that’s why this exercise is meditative.

(Don’t worry about what it’s going to look like, it’s the meditative process that counts not the Museum of Modern Art.)

By drawing without looking you use your sight perception to get out of your head- what you THINK it should look like – and be in the moment.

  1. Choose what to draw — a cup, your foot, a chair, it doesn’t matter.
  2. Set a timer for 10 or 20 minutes.
  3. Arrange yourself so you can see the object you will be drawing without seeing the paper.  Put your pencil through a paper plate so you can’t see your paper.
  4. Focus your eyes on some part of the object and coordinate your eye moving around the outline (contours) of the object with moving your pencil to record what your eyes observe.
  5. Without looking at your hand, your paper or your pencil focus only on the shape of an object.

    Do not look down at the paper as you SLOWLY move the pencil,  concentrating on the lines, and contours of the object as you let your pencil “flow” in time with your eyes.

  6. Continue observing and recording until the timer rings

Just like any meditation practice, this exercise can be difficult at first but will become easier as you learn to shift your thinking from an analytical, labeling mode to one that is more intuitive, MEDITATIVE.

4. Yoga

Not only is yoga incredible for flexibility, balance and strength, it’s also one of the oldest forms of meditation. You combining various movements with coordinated breathing to help focus on your inner body.

Watch yoga videos on YouYube, there’s hundreds to choose from – and practice them a few times a week.

Don’t get caught up with all the bells and whistles, yoga is about feeling connected to the earth and your inner body.  (The last time I checked your feet were already touching ground.)

5. Meditative Munching

Take advantage of one of the necessities of life – food – and the fact you do it every day . . . several times a day.  

Remember, the power of meditation comes with practicing full focus.  When your mind strays return to taste, texture, temperature.   Eating in front of the TV, in the car or standing over the sink only encourages the monkeys to leap around.

Eat slowly, savor each bite – focus on the textures, flavors, aromas and the temperature. (And while you’re chewing, feel grateful for each bite of nourishment.)

6. Restore with Chores

(We’ve gone from what I consider the most enjoyable – eating – to the least)

Chores can be meditative WHEN you focus solely on what your are doing.  Your monkey mind will try and take over to keep you entertained and stimulated.

Just as in all meditative practices keep refocusing your monkey mind on the task at hand: Washing dishes – focus on the temperature of water, seeing the pot become cleaner and cleaner;  Mowing the lawn – examine the cutting patterns, inhale the aroma of cut grass; Making the bed – notice the feel, color, wrinkles of sheets, the tension of folds, your hand motion . . .

(Personally, I’d rather monkey around.)

jw

https://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/6-alternative-forms-meditation-for-people-who-hate-doing-nothing.html

Ways to Cope in Uncertain Times

There is unprecedented anxiety in the entire world due to the pandemic.  Fear and anxiety is a normal response to unknown threats to our survival and well-being.  The problem for all of us is prolonged and chronic anxiety which elevates the stress response and lowers our immune response.

We have searched all our posts which address stress and anxiety to give you some tools to incorporate into your daily life and better cope with uncertainty.

Stressed out….

Click here for  FREE PDF of

The Incredibly Creative Stress Kit

to CALM, COOL & COLLECTED!

Have a look at these past posts: 

How to Reduce Fear and Anxiety in 30 Seconds

Meditation Changes Your Brain for the Better

Coping with family tension 

Six ways to meditate for those who can’t meditate

Comfort Eating Actually Comforts

Stressed? How to Activate Your Own Placebo

And from Curious to the Max:

ME a Stress Case? . . . I Don’t Think So. . . This Anxiety Reduction Technique is for YOU

Write On! How to Empty your brain to reduce stress

 

Click here for “Frankly Freddie: How to Social Distance and be Social” on Curious to the Max

Making Decisions & Avoiding Sweets – What is the “Cathy” Effect?

When I was a teenager I stumbled onto a method for making better decisions about food. I was terrified of getting acne and in those times, sweets were thought to cause acne. My strategy focused on how to stay away from the pies and cakes that daily tempted me in the school cafeteria lunch line.

I decided to tell myself I didn’t want anything sweet – they were TOO sweet and would taste bad. I succeed in convincing myself, and stayed away from sweets.  Years later the connection between sugar and acne was debunked and my deprivation was for nothing! (PA)

In the cartoon strip “Cathy”, by Cathy Guisewite,  her struggle dieting and avoiding eating high caloric treats was an ongoing focus:

Cathy would decide NOT to eat sweets.  Despite promising to herself she would not eat the treat, she gave in whenever the treats were in sight, she ate them.  

Dr. David A Redish calls this “The Cathy Effect” in his book about how our brains make decisions:  “The Mind Within The Brain”.   

Basically, our brain is always determining what is more valuable and what is less valuable. When not tempted, sweets are less valuable and Kathy’s diet is more valuable.  But when the sweet is available, it’s value becomes heightened . . . and she eats the treat.  Sound familiar?

How do we avoid the Cathy Effect?

1. Have an alternate reward which is immediately available or at least soon.  Our brains like immediate gratification and devalue abstract, hypothetical, future rewards.

2. Make a pre-commitment:  Set up a situation so in the future the choice has already been made.

Cathy knew her brain gave huge value to the taste, smell and look of sweets. Cathy could have avoided the bakery aisle or decide, like I did, that a clear complexion was more valuable than that tasty treat.  Reddish says that this ability to pre commit to one decision over another is a very strong tool to use in decision making.  Who knew I was as smart as I was when a teen-ager!

(Peggy)

 

Ice it! – for an adrenalin rush

You’ve seen the pictures of winter scenes – the on-lookers, clad in warm winter coats, hats, gloves, erupt in cheers as swimmers in bathing suits dash into the ice-cold waters of lakes, oceans and ponds surrounded by snow and ice.


This is ice swimming, and it’s more than dipping a toe into your local outdoor pool. These events take place in water colder than 41 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius), and you won’t see anyone in a wetsuit.

With over 40 countries having branches of the International Ice Swimming Association, it is clearly becoming a popular sport, offering a dose of adrenaline and adventure. 
“It’s almost like the water is denser and I can feel it all down my arms and on my legs, and when I kick against it, it feels heavier than in a warm swimming pool,” Campbell said. “I think that feeling, that sense of being in nature in that moment, on the edge is really exhilarating,”

The benefits of getting cold

In addition to the adrenaline rush, early studies suggest that cold-water swimming could be a treatment for depression, as it activates the sympathetic nervous system and increases blood levels of noradrenaline and beta-endorphin, which play an important role in the functioning of the heart.

“Ice swimmers may also experience an endorphin rush, in which feel-good chemicals are released, says Dr. Jonathan D. Packer, an assistant professor of orthopedics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. He explained that this could be good for helping to treat mood disorders, adding that endorphins release stress, with a variety of health benefits.”

“While the specific effects, the benefits of ice swimming haven’t really been studied in a scientific manner, we can certainly look at other types of cryotherapy for any perceived benefits,” Packer said.

Besides an adrenaline rush, early studies suggest that cold-water swimming could be a treatment for depression, as it activates the sympathetic nervous system and increases blood levels of noradrenaline and beta-endorphin, which play an important role in the functioning of the heart.

  • Cryotherapy, the application of extremely cold temperatures to the body, is often used by athletes who submerge themselves in ice-cold water for about 10 minutes. Packer said research shows that this can decrease inflammation, promote healing and improve circulation.
    “I know that many of the ice swimmers have had some anecdotal evidence — that it can improve their cognitive abilities; they say it improves their energy; some people even say it helps their libido,” Packer added.
  • “There’s also been some reports from patients with chronic pain conditions that have reported having improved pain from those conditions after starting ice swimming
  • In terms of exercise, ice swimming could feel like an extra-arduous workout. Packer noted that “a potential benefit is that you burn more calories than regular swimming. Not only does your body have to work just as hard to swim from point A to point B, but it also has to work harder to keep your body temperature up.”

Not all fun and games

“Despite some potential benefits, ice swimming can be a risky activity for rookies, so don’t go jumping into a freezing pool without some supervised practice. In this kind of sport, proper training is essential not only to success but to survival.”
“Someone might be able to swim 10 to 12 hours in water that’s 16 or 17 degrees (Celsius), and they are swimming 20 minutes in water of this temperature,” said Dr. Ruth Williamson, who led the medical team at the ice swimming event at Loch Lomond.
“This is something you train for. You get your body used to getting in to the cold water and get over that cold shock,” she said. With training, a competitor’s muscles adapt to a lower blood supply so they can keep that muscle effort going longer.”

Regular icy swims allow the body to acclimate or learn to navigate potential dangers such as hyperventilation, high blood pressure and hypothermia.

This could be life-saving, as plunging into icy water unprepared can lead to a strong gasping response — a reflex that can result in drowning.

  • “Initially, you have this shock, and people will take a couple of large breaths. It’s important not to panic at that time, because you can accidentally ingest water. It can be dangerous, and you can drown,” Packer warned.
  • “The most common source of death from being in cold bodies of water are the cardiac arrests from this cold shock response.”
  • The low temperature also makes the blood pressure rise, leading to fast breathing
  • And there’s a risk of hypothermia.

“Even out of the water, there’s a risk of the body temperature dropping even further, so it’s important to be monitored for an hour or so after a swim,” 

(Don’t) dive right in!
“This is definitely not something to try by yourself. All of the ice swimmers often start swimming in the summer and gradually acclimatize,” Campbell said.

It’s also best to enter slowly rather than diving in if the water is under 15 degrees Celsius, though this may come as a natural instinct anyway, to counter the body’s gasp reflex.
“Swimming in icy water is not for the faint-hearted — literally. If you have heart problems or pre-existing medical conditions, you should seek advice from a doctor before swimming, Packer said.”

British swimmer Jess Campbell — who holds the British women’s record in her age group for an ice kilometer (swimming 1 kilometer in waters of 41 degrees Fahrenheit or less) says:

“Usually, I feel fantastic. I get a huge buzz … a sense of elation, and I just want to do it again. I definitely have a sense of energy, a sense of life, a sense of purpose. It’s a definite mood-lifter, no question.”

https://www.cnn.com/2017/05/03/health/ice-swimming-health-benefits-and-dangers/index.html

Do You Know How to “Thought Diet”?

Slim down, trim down and slow down.  Not your body . . . Your brain.

5 steps, How to do a Thought Diet

1.  Intermittent Fasting

Give your mind a rest. On average we have between 60,000 and 80,000 thoughts a day –  EXHAUSTING, RIGHT?.  Take time – even just five minutes a day will make a difference – to calm your mind and reduce incessant internal chatter.

Try neurochemical time-outs:

  • Meditate
  • Pray
  • Journal
  • Nap
  • Laugh
  • Dance
  • Sing

2. Count Calories

Record your thoughts and prioritize. Thoughts filled with worries, stresses and to-do’s  can be overwhelming. When you write thoughts down on paper your brain says,  “Whew, now I can stop trying to remind  him/her OVER AND OVER AND OVER SO THERE’S NO FORGETTING.”

When a worrisome, stressful, hurtful, anxiety provoking thought comes into your head:

  1. Write it down – keep a running list or write it all down 1/2 before bed (you’ll sleep better)
  2. Decide what to do with it – if you have no control over the situation or don’t need to do anything about it right now, erase it, put a line through it, let it go.  Your brain will remind you again if it’s important.
  3. If the thought pops up again,  repeat #1 & 2 as many times as needed.

3.  Communal eating.

Actually listen to people. It’s not ALWAYS about YOU.

A good way of knowing if you are actually listening to others is to check your thoughts while they’re talking – are you thinking about the story you’re about to tell or impatient to jump in with your own anecdote or advice (like eating alone while watching TV)?  Focus on what they’re saying without thinking about what you’ll say next or the point you want to get across and notice how you feel more present, calmer. 

4.  Cut out Inflammatory Food.

Stop beating yourself up. The only person who expects you to be perfect, is you (and perhaps a parent).   Give yourself a break and let go of the need to be perfect in everything and anything.  You’ll be able to release any guilt that way too.

Speaking of guilt . . . my criteria is Illegal, Immoral, Unethical.  IF it doesn’t meet at least one of those standards guilt is the wrong emotion.  Pick another feeling food group – sad, mad, glad, disgusted, afraid.

5.  Substitute Vegetables for  junk food.

Shift your thinking. The way that we think about things has an impact on our neurochemistry which impacts our emotions, our health and our bodies.   Flip negative thinking to positive or even neutral is changes the brain chemistry and reduces the stress response.

  • Believe it or not, you can find the humor, absurdity in most situations.
  • View it from someone else’s perspective
  • Even if you don’t believe it – flip the thought from negative to positive.

Catastrophizing a situation can also lead us to make rash and wrong choices. When we respond ‘defensively’ the stress response is elevated. 

https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/thought-diet-try-january-080000884.html

Adverse Childhood Experience, life long health & How Neuroscience Can Help Heal

There is a lot of research into early trauma and disease.  The brain’s development under stress changes the brain structurally as well as neurochemically.  The brain however, exhibits neuroplasticity which allows it to change and learn.

Read this article which we’ve posted in it’s entirety to understand how we can help children (and we know the activities described can help adults too).

How Neuroscience Helps Kids Heal From Trauma

by Katie Grieze

lab school classroom
On a mid-December morning at Butler University Laboratory School 55, a fifth-grade classroom falls silent. The shouting and chatter fades, little by little, replaced by the chime of calming music.

Around the room, students lie flat on the floor, blinking up through the cucumber slices pressed to their eyes. Some sprawl out, arms spread wide, as others fold their hands together or reach up to feel the fruit’s coolness.

Cucumbers do more than signal a spa day in the movies, the students are learning. Rather, the slices can act as an anti-inflammatory for a stressed-out brain in the same way that ice treats injuries. They can calm the mind and prepare it for learning—a perfect addition to the collection of relaxation strategies Lori Desautels has brought to classrooms in Indianapolis and across the nation.

Throughout fall 2019, the College of Education Assistant Professor visited those fifth-graders every week to teach them about the brain, how it works, why we experience stress, and how to regulate emotions. Students learned that the prefrontal cortex is the brain’s center of learning, decision making, and problem solving. They learned that the amygdala, formed by a small set of deep-brain neurons, causes powerful emotions such as anger and fear that can make it difficult to concentrate. And they learned that, through a range of activities that incorporate breathing, movement, or sound, they can control those emotions and relax their minds.

It’s all part of Desautels’ work in a field known as educational neuroscience, which focuses on finding the most effective strategies for working with students who have experienced adversity or trauma. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 60 percent of American children will experience at least one adverse childhood experience—or a potentially traumatic event—by the time they turn 18. About one in every six children will have four or more of these experiences, which can include circumstances such as violence, abuse, neglect, poverty, mental illness, food insecurity, or drug use, to name a few.

Beyond causing long-term consequences for overall health, trauma can affect a child’s ability to succeed in school as stress inhibits the brain from making decisions and building relationships. Some students respond to pain with aggression, while others exhibit high rates of absenteeism or keep their heads down during class.

“As the research points,” she says, “anxiety has kind of become our nation’s new learning disability.”

Desautels tackles this problem from multiple fronts. Based on her research, she develops new strategies to help kids heal from trauma. She visits schools across Indiana, talking about the importance of caring for mental and emotional health in the classroom. Desautels works directly with children to help them succeed, and through leading workshops and teaching classes, she shows current and future educators how they can better support their students.

How to stay sensitive to trauma in the classroom

Desautels teaches a variety of strategies for responding to trauma in schools, but she says rethinking the discipline is the first step. When educators react with punishments based on frustration and arbitrary consequences, this usually reactivates a student’s stress response, leading to new trauma instead of new healing.

Change starts with teachers modeling the behavior they want to see from their students.

When a child’s actions require discipline, Desautels says the adult should always take some time to cool off. After reflecting on how the incident made them feel, they should explain to the student how they plan to calm down before addressing the situation.

I’m really frustrated, so we aren’t going to talk about this right now. I’ll count to four, and then I’ll take my two deep breaths, and then I’ll wait. And if my amygdala is still feeling angry, I’ll count to four again, until my cortex feels calm.

Teachers should also consider the power of non-verbal communication. Desautels says tone of voice is critical in calming a child’s nervous system, along with facial expressions, posture, and gestures.

“Emotions are contagious,” she says. “When a teacher is able to model a calm presence, students are less likely to react defensively.”

Once everyone feels relaxed, the teacher and student can discuss what happened, why it happened, and how they can repair the damage together. Consequences should follow naturally from the action in a meaningful way, Desautels says. For example, if the student was mean to a classmate, they could create something that shows kindness.

Desautels also stresses the need for listening to and validating the student throughout the process. If a child says, ‘This isn’t fair’ or ‘You are always picking on me,’ a validating comment might be, ‘That must feel so frustrating.’

“In the moment of rising tension,” she says, “when you feel someone hears you, that’s calming.”

But these strategies aren’t only for when there’s a problem. Building strong connections with students can help with easing their anxiety and preventing negative behavior from arising in the first place.

At Butler, Desautels has created a graduate certificate in Applied Educational Neuroscience to teach these strategies to educators, medical professionals, and others who work closely with children who have experienced trauma. The nine-credit-hour program launched in 2016 and has grown from just six students in the first cohort to more than 70 today. The classes explore the most recent research in neuroscience and attachment, then shift to how that research can be used to help students.

“And these strategies aren’t just useful for working with children,” Desautels says. “We are all dealing with more and more adversity and stress. Everyone taking this certificate is trying to improve on their professional practices, but I often hear feedback about how helpful it has been personally.”

A new way of teaching

Until a couple years ago, Emily Wilkerson didn’t know anything about neuroscience. She didn’t think she needed to. Then, as an Elementary Education major at Butler, she met Lori Desautels. “It wasn’t until my junior year of college that I realized teaching isn’t just about math, reading, writing, science, and social studies,” Wilkerson says. “Kids need so much more than academic content.”

So shortly after graduating in 2018 and taking a position with the then-new Butler Lab School 55, Wilkerson enrolled in Butler’s Applied Educational Neuroscience certificate. Right away, she started practicing the techniques in her fifth-grade classroom—the same classroom Desautels worked with last semester.

Together, Desautels and Wilkerson taught the students about three key regions of the brain and what it looks like to “be” in each one. In the prefrontal cortex, located near the forehead, the mind feels calm and creative. In the limbic system, closer to the center of the brain, you might start to be distracted by emotions such as fear, irritation, or embarrassment.

On the back of the neck, near the hairline, is the brain stem. Once here, you’re basically frozen. You might feel hopeless or disconnected. You might lash out, or you might run away.

“When a student has experienced trauma, we know that their brain is most likely not in the prefrontal cortex throughout the day,” Wilkerson says. “There could be triggers in the classroom, or they could just think about something traumatic that happened to them, and that could completely spiral their day. If they are locked into that anxiety or fear, they are inclined to stay in that brain state—unless they know that they can regulate their brain.”

So, the students learned how to do just that.

Every time Desautels visited Wilkerson’s class, she brought a new focused attention practice. These activities quiet the mind by having kids focus on a specific stimulus, whether that is a sound, a sight, a taste, or a breath—similar to meditation. This helps soothe the nervous system in a way that makes it easier to cope with challenges.

For example,

  • The class could spend a few minutes with a breathing exercise that matches movement to the rhythm of the breath, lifting their arms high on the inhale and dropping them on the exhale.
  • They could place their non-dominant hands flat on pieces of paper, tracing the outlines repeatedly until their minds feel calm. Or,
  • The students could put ice cubes in their mouths, imagining their stress fading as they feel the ice slowly melt away.

Desautels also uses “brain breaks.” These exercises introduce new challenges or novel sensations to help break up the routine of a school day, training the mind to see things through new perspectives.

  • Desautels always carries a bag of assorted household objects—markers, paper, shoelaces, and so on. After picking an item, students imagine two ways it could be used for something other than its intended purpose.
  • Another brain break involves asking the kids to peel a tangerine with their eyes closed, then to eat the fruit while focusing on its smell and taste.

The more senses these activities draw on, the more effective they will be for regulating the brain.

The students learned to be more aware of how they feel throughout the day. Desautels introduced brain reflection sheets, which help both students and teachers evaluate their current brain states and figure out what they might need to feel better in that moment.

“If I’m feeling frustrated,” Wilkerson says, “I’m going to go sit in the reset corner and take 10 deep breaths, or roll playdough in my hands, because that might be something that feels good to me. But you can regulate a brain in a thousand different ways.”

Most of the fifth-grade students now use the language of neuroscience throughout the school day. And since Desautels first visited, Wilkerson has noticed an overall shift in classroom culture.

“We as elementary school teachers have the opportunity, if we are using the language of neuroscience in our classrooms, to really set students up for a greater level of success throughout their whole lives,” Wilkerson says. “I can’t imagine, if I could go back in time and learn about all this neuroscience during fifth grade, how that would have impacted me in middle school, high school, college, and adulthood.”

Beyond her work at Butler and in Indianapolis classrooms, Desautels visits schools across the state to speak about the trauma-responsive strategies she has developed. She’s also published three books about the human side of education, with a fourth expected to release in 2021.

Nationally, Desautels’ work has inspired hundreds of schools to build what she calls amygdala first aid stations. Typically set up at a designated table or corner of the classroom, these spaces give students a place to go to calm down or recharge. They might offer stationary bikes, yoga mats, art materials, or headphones. Others have bean bag chairs where students can relax with weighted blankets while smelling lavender-scented cotton balls.

Since she first started co-teaching six years ago, Desautels has worked with 13 classes ranging from preschool to 12th grade. It has become more common for schools to address mental and emotional wellbeing, but Desautels says her work is unique for its focus on actually teaching kids the science behind how their brains work.

“Teaching students about their amygdala and their fear response is so empowering,” she says. “When we understand that this biology is thousands of years in the making, hardwired to protect us, our minds begin to relax through knowing that our reactions to negative experiences are natural and common. Many of our children report a sense of relief to know there’s nothing wrong with them.”

“What’s predictable is preventable”

https://stories.butler.edu/content/how-neuroscience-helps-kids-heal-trauma

Why the brain is hardwired to believe falsehoods

Why do some people still believe the earth is flat, man hasn’t walked on the moon, the Holocast never happened or do not believe the scientific evidence of global warming?  Given its negative impact on society, it is important to understand why certain groups of people are more vulnerable to believing unsupported lies than others. The fields of psychology and neuroscience can offer insight.

A basic fact about the brain: it takes more mental effort to reject an idea as false than to accept it as true. In other words,

it’s easier to believe than to not.

“This fact is based on a landmark study published in the journal PLOS ONE in 2009, which asked the simple question, how is the brain activated differently during a state of belief compared to a state of disbelief? To test this, participants were asked whether or not they believed in a series of statements while their brain activity was being imaged by an fMRI scanner. Some sentences were simple and fact-based (California is larger than Rhode Island), while others were more abstract and subjective (God probably does not exist). The results showed the activation of distinct but often overlapping brain areas in the belief and disbelief conditions.”

While these imaging results are complicated to interpret, the electrical patterns also showed something that was fairly straightforward. Overall, there was greater brain activation that persisted for longer during states of disbelief. Greater brain activation requires more cognitive resources, of which there is a limited supply. What these findings show is that the mental process of believing is simply less work for the brain, and therefore often favored. The default state of the human brain is to accept what we are told, because doubt takes effort. Belief, on the other hand, comes easily.

This finding makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint.

If children questioned every single fact they were being taught, learning would occur at a rate so slow that it would be a hindrance. 

This finding makes sense from a developmental standpoint.

“For some children being taught to suppress critical thinking begins at a very early age. It is the combination of the brain’s vulnerability to believing unsupported facts and aggressive indoctrination that create the perfect storm for gullibility. Due to the brain’s neuroplasticity, or ability to be sculpted by lived experiences, some of us literally become hardwired to believe far-fetched statements.”

For example: This wiring begins when children are first taught to accept whatever adults tell them as objective truth and not to question.  Even mystical explanations for natural events train young minds to not demand evidence for beliefs. “As a result, the neural pathways that promote healthy skepticism and rational thought are not properly developed. This inevitably leads to a greater susceptibility to whatever we are told.”

“If we want to combat the brain’s habit of taking the path of least resistance, which has destructive downstream consequences for critical thinking, as a society we must place more value on empirical evidence, and this must be reflected in how we educate our youth. Additionally, we must create an awareness of the fact that for the human mind, believing is more of a reflex than a careful and methodical action.”

From Psychology Today Article

Green means Go . . . away for Migraine & Chronic Pain

We are proponents of creativity in all forms and applaud these doctors and researchers for this possible pain-numbing approach.  We are posting this article in its entirety and have the video and highlighted some of the information for those of you who want a “quickie” 

Researchers Explore A Drug-Free Idea To Relieve Chronic Pain: Green Light

by WILL STONE

Ann Jones has been spending two hours each day in front of a green LED light — an experimental treatment aimed at alleviating migraines and other forms of chronic pain.
Ann Jones tried everything short of surgery for her chronic migraines, which have plagued her since she was a child.

“They’ve actually gotten worse in my old age,” says Jones, who is 70 years old and lives in Tucson, Ariz. Jones would have as many as two dozen migraines a month. Over the years, some treatments might work initially, but the effects would prove temporary. Other medications had such severe side effects she couldn’t stay on them.  “It was pretty life-changing and debilitating,” Jones says. “I could either plow through them and sometimes I simply couldn’t.”

In 2018, her doctor mentioned a study that was taking place nearby at the University of Arizona: Researchers were testing if daily exposure to green light could relieve migraines and other kinds of chronic pain.

It began with her spending two hours each day in a dark room with only a white light, which served as the control. In the second half of the study, she swapped out the conventional light for a string of green LED lights.  For more than a month, Jones didn’t notice any change in her symptoms. But close to the six-week mark, there was a big shift.

She began going days in a row without migraines. Even when the headaches did come, they weren’t as intense as they had been before the green light therapy.”I got to the point where I was having about four migraines a month, if that many, and I felt like I had just been cut free,” Jones says.

Some patients in the study of about 25 people noticed a change in just a few days. For others, it took several weeks. Dr. Mohab Ibrahim, the migraine study’s principal investigator and an associate professor at the University of Arizona, says that on average, people experienced a 60% decrease in the intensity of their migraines and a drop from 20 migraines a month to about six.

The results of the migraine study aren’t published yet. But they build on a small but growing body of research suggesting a link between green light and pain, including animal research done by Ibrahim’s team. While there are not yet robust data on humans, some researchers see promise for a drug-free approach that could help with migraines and possibly other forms of chronic pain.

A hunch and a headache

At his office in Tucson, Ibrahim demonstrates a device he has been using with patients. It’s a thin vertical stand mounted with green LED lights — an update from his earlier model, which was a simple string of lights.

Ibrahim, who directs the chronic pain clinic at Banner – University Medical Center Tucson, became interested in the idea of green light therapy because of something his brother told him about his headaches. Instead of taking medicine, he would sit in a garden and eventually they would subside. That got Ibrahim thinking about the color green and how green light could be applied as a therapy.

“There was a healthy dose of skepticism,” he says. “It was kind of strange. Why are you using light to treat pain?”

This low-tech approach to treating pain may seem out of sync with Ibrahim’s credentials*.  As he puts it: “Drugs are my tools.”  But he started to explore the idea anyway, designing an animal study, published in the journal Pain in 2017, that demonstrated that the pain response of rats decreased when they were exposed to green light.

“We were able to reproduce it over and over and over again to the point where you just had to follow the story,” he says.

Why green?

The idea that there’s a link between green light and pain is being explored by several research groups.

Research led by Rodrigo Noseda at Harvard Medical School looked at light sensitivity, known as photophobia, a common symptom of migraines. The research, published in 2016, found that green light is significantly less likely to exacerbate a migraine compared with other colors and, in some cases, can actually decrease the intensity of the headache. The group at Harvard has also shown that green light can “trigger positive emotions” during migraines, in contrast to colors like red, which are associated with negative feelings.

Ibrahim and his research colleagues also found a connection with the visual system. As part of their 2017 study, they fitted tiny contact lenses on the rats.

They found that only the animals that could see green, either from an external light or through green lenses, had a drop in their pain response.

“We basically made the conclusion that whatever effect is happening is taking place through the visual system,” he says. “That’s why when we recruited patients, we told them you cannot fall asleep when you’re undergoing this therapy.”

Ibrahim says there’s a lot more to investigate about the biological underpinnings of the green light treatment, but research by him and his colleagues is offering some clues.

For example, Ibrahim’s 2017 study tested the effect of the opioid reversal drug naloxone on rats that had been exposed to green light. After administering the drug, there was a “complete reversal” of the pain-relieving effects of the green LED.

“Whatever the mechanism is, we thought maybe the endogenous opioid system might be involved,” Ibrahim says.

Ibrahim says his most recent research supports the theory that green light therapy is working in multiple ways: “It’s a concert of mechanisms working in harmony toward a common goal.”

Ibrahim was awarded funding by the National Institutes of Health to look deeper.

Ibrahim is also studying the effect of green light for conditions such as fibromyalgia, nerve pain related to HIV and chemotherapy and a painful bladder condition called interstitial cystitis.

The interaction between light and pain

The link between light and pain is a promising area of research, says Mary Heinricher, professor and vice chair for research in the Department of Neurological Surgery at Oregon Health & Science University, but she says she’s not yet convinced that color is the most important variable in modulating pain.

“The effects of the green light is pretty subtle,” Heinricher says. “We need the parallel work showing what are the relevant neural circuits if we are going to make anything tremendously useful for people.”

She says it also remains to be seen if the green light research translates into humans, who process color differently from how rodents do.

Heinricher doesn’t expect that green light will be a primary treatment for chronic pain anytime soon, but she says the research is a laudable and necessary step as we tease out the underlying science.

“We have tended to run to drugs and not thought about intervening in the physical environment,” she says. “This is a wake-up call. There’s something going on there.”

At OHSU, her team is looking at photosensitivity in veterans with chronic pain, some of whom have a traumatic brain injury, and using functional MRI to see how they process light compared with those without chronic pain. She says it’s possible that photosensitivity could be a predictor of chronic pain.

Heinricher says her team happened upon this area of research accidentally when they noticed certain cells that facilitate pain responded to a flashlight in a dark lab.

“I was quite surprised,” she says. “If you had asked me this five years ago, I would have said no way.

If green light proves effective in human studies, neurologist Dr. Morris Levin says, he would welcome the treatment.  “It is a happy thought. I hope it works,” says Levin, director of the Headache Center at the University of California, San Francisco. “A lot of these other treatments don’t work as well as we’d like, and a lot of them cause side effects.”

Migraine sufferers are “very sensitive to environmental stimuli,” and Levin says the idea of manipulating light to lessen headache severity is a “plausible” approach.

“The problem arises when you try to find exactly what in the environment really stimulates the migraine and what in the environment might be changed without too much trouble that would still be really beneficial,” he says.

Levin says there isn’t enough evidence yet to support green light as a truly beneficial treatment for headache pain.

“It is very intriguing, but it still has a long way to go,” says Dr. Andrew Hershey, who is co-director of the Headache Center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

“Trying to do a classic placebo-controlled study to see if one light works or not is likely not doable in this area,” he says, since the patient knows the color of the light.

He says positive results from patients who spend time with just a green light may also relate to them spending less time with irritating light, like the blue glow of computers and phones.

From light box to glasses

Ibrahim’s patient Ann Jones decided to keep the green light, even though the study is over. She discovered that when she stopped doing the treatment regularly, her migraines reemerged.

“I made a commitment to go back on the green lights daily,” she says. “The very next day I did not have migraine, and for five straight days I didn’t have a migraine.”

Jones says the only downside is finding time to spend in a dark room with just a green light for company.

In a separate clinical trial, researchers at Duke University are trying to see if that problem can be solved through a wearable treatment.

Having a patient sit in a room with green ambient light is not necessarily conducive to normal life,” says Padma Gulur, a professor of anesthesiology, who is leading the Duke study.

Gulur’s NIH-funded study is looking at how different shades of glasses — clear, blue and green — affect postoperative pain and fibromyalgia. She says the early results are encouraging her to pursue larger human studies for multiple conditions.

“It just goes to show the power of our nervous system in how it responds and adapts to different stimuli,” says Gulur.

She says “minimal harm, ease of access and compliance” are all strong cases for seriously considering the feasibility of green light.

“Even if we see 50% of patients benefit from this, then already it becomes something worth trying,” she says.

Some people aren’t waiting for more research.

Duane Lowe is a chiropractor with the Department of Veterans Affairs in Grand Junction, Colorado. He works with patients in chronic pain. After reading some of Ibrahim’s research, Lowe wanted to see if it could help his own patients.

He ordered some green glasses online.  “I just gave them to patients to try for a week,” he says. “After a very short period of time, patients were coming back giving very positive reviews.”

So he kept doing it.

He makes sure to tell the patients that this is experimental — no one knows how well glasses work compared with the LED light or how long you need to wear them.

“I didn’t actually have to worry about whether these studies have been done, because the side effects of giving someone green glasses is almost nil,” he says.

Dr. Mohab Ibrahim enjoys the simplicity of the treatment too.  “In my opinion, the most ideal drug or therapy is something that’s first safe, effective and affordable,” he says.

*Dr. Mohab Ibrahim is an anesthesiologist with a Ph.D. in pharmacology and toxicology., and associate professor at the University of Arizona.

 

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2019/12/15/787138928/researchers-explore-a-drug-free-idea-to-relieve-chronic-pain-green-light

How to BEST Create New Habits Using Neuroscience Approaches

It takes 60+ days to create a new habit NOT 21 days

“The 21-day habit myth began when a plastic surgeon in the 1950s, Dr. Maxwell Maltz, noticed that his patients seemed to acclimatize to their new faces after a minimum period of 21 days.”

“This observation was reported in his famous book, Psycho-Cybernetics, and promptly adopted by self-help guru’s who forgot to inform their followers that the word ‘minimum’ was meaningful.”

“This short time frame made the idea of habit-creation seem more achievable, inspiring and enticing.”

“Yes, you do gain traction over the first few days of starting a new habit, partly from the excitement that creating a new habit provides, as the brain naturally craves novelty. However, and it can take more than 60 days for a new neural pathway to become entrenched and become part of your daily life without expending a lot of effort.”

There are a few reasons why the ’21-days’ habit myth doesn’t hold up to neuroscience.

In creating a new neural pathway you don’t simply ‘over-write’ the previous pathway. Instead:

  • You’re creating a new one from scratch, while also using conscious effort not to use the habit you’re trying to leave in the past.
  • The old neural pathway still exists and may still ‘entice’ and derail your efforts.
  • You’re likely to find yourself in similar situations where you engaged in the habit you’re trying to replace with a new one, which makes creating a new habit more challenging.

(“Ask anyone who hasn’t smoked a cigarette for years what if feels like when they’re exposed to a similar situation where they once enjoyed this bad habit. They’ll tell you that it’s as if they stepped back in time to when they used to light up. Why? That neural pathway still exists and is activated in similar situations or contexts.”)

It’s therefore critical to avoid situations where the neural pathway of an old habit can easily be activated to succumb to that old habit.

It’s easier to create new bad habits versus new good habits

“Most bad habits, like overeating, sleeping in and drinking too much coffee support the release of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. Most good habits don’t do so initially as they naturally produce less of a brain ‘high.’”

“Dopamine is known as the pleasure neurotransmitter and it’s released when we do anything that increases our chances of survival, which include eating and having sex. However, it’s also involved in our brains reward and motivation pathways. It’s therefore a very powerful neural messenger and needs to be harnessed to support habit change, formation and reinforcement and maintenance.”

“Serotonin is also a powerful messenger as its release leads to feelings of safety and security, which are also powerful and support our survival. Recent research suggests it also has an important role to play in habit creation.”

Some research suggests that eating carbohydrate rich and fatty foods stimulate the release of endogenous opioids (made internally), which lead to a feeling of calmness. This mechanism underpins why we reach for such foods when stressed.  Breaking the habit of eating these foods when we’re stressed is extra hard making it important to reduce stress when we’re trying to make good habits ‘stick.’

While you’re establishing your new habit reward yourself with something that also releases dopamine and/or serotonin, albeit in lesser amounts, in conjunction with a new habit. For example:

  • Treat yourself to a massage every week, which releases both neurotransmitters.
  • Learn to make a delicious and healthy meal quickly at the end of every day.
  • Treat yourself to some organic, dark chocolate.
  • Record your progress at the end of the day for a visual reinforcement.
  • Established routines help habits ‘stick’ and it’s easier to create a habit when you engage in the new activity daily.
  • Pair a new habit with an already established, positive behavior.  Some research suggests that coupling a new habit to an already established behavior or habit increases the odds of the new habit becoming entrenched. 

Well nourished brains are better able to create new habits versus  brains that are not well nourished

It is likely that four dietary-related factors act in combination to support habit creation and maintenance.

  1. A well nourished brain has the energy and nutrients necessary for the best cognitive functioning. This underlies decision-making, self-discipline and memory formation, all of which help you to  create and keep new habits.
  2. If your brain is well nourished, as the day wears on it can continue to be efficient at making good decisions, instead of developing ‘decision-fatigue.’ Decision fatigue is especially troublesome when starting  a new way of eating. If you don’t  feed your brain well, it is likely you will eat  comforting, habitual foods at the end of the day, because your brain is tired and hungry brain and less able to make good decisions, so it goes back to old habits. 
  3. A stable supply of  blood glucose results in good decision-making . If blood glucose gets low,  the brain will try to gain glucose quickly and so  craves foods that give a quick supply. It can’t think well with low blood glucose, so it is hard to stay disciplined. High blood glucose often leads to a drop to low blood glucose, so maintaining  a level amount is best.
  4. To make new habits the brain needs nutrients, especially omega 3s, flavonoids and vitamin E. There can be found in nuts (walnuts, almonds), leafy greens, berries(especially blueberries)  and salmon among other foods.

These ways of making habits stick lead to the creation of a ‘habit loop’ which includes creating a new cue, a new routine and adding a reward.

In summary:

  • Stay disciplined for 60+ days.
  • Use new cues AND contexts in relation to new habits to create a new routine.
  • Stimulate dopamine and serotonin release with healthy rewards for staying disciplined.
  • Support new habits with brain nourishment.
  • Couple a new habit with an already established positive behavior

https://thriveglobal.com/stories/create-sticky-habits-using-four-neuroscience-approaches/

 

Frankly Freddie: My Valentine’s Evidence Linking Chocolate to Heart Health

Roses are red

Violets are blue

I’m not allowed chocolate

Valentine’s day . . .  pooh

Did you know chocolate has been linked to lower rates of heart disease and stroke?  You would think that my humans would want me to have a healthy heart.

Freddie Parker Westerfield, Published Poet

  I sit alone, no valentines, no candy, no cake.  The only thing I get is dog food.

If you are sitting home alone on Valentine’s day with dog food you are not alone.

___________________________________________________

Find out how:

Sugar Increases the “happiness” neurotransmitter serotonin.