How Your Brain Can Turn Worry into Calmness

This was originally posted on CURIOUStotheMAX

where we are currently posting how-to techniques and information on coping with isolation, anxiety, depression during these uncertain times during the pandemic (a bit of humor too).  Click on the above link to see.

 

Marty Rossman, M.D.is one of my firstInteractive Guided Imagery(sm) teachers.  Marty and David Bressler, Ph.Dare the co-founders of the Academy of Guided Imagery (AGI)

I “stumbled” onto one of their introductory workshops in the 1980’s. I had already been certified in hypnosis but was never comfortable with the idea that as the hypnotherapist I held the key, I had the power, to create change.

When I attended that first AGI workshop it was a eureka moment for me. The process and technique of Interactive Guided Imagery(sm)  Marty and David were teaching was how I intuitively did hypnosis:  The client held the key, the power, I was the guide.   Marty and David are brilliant and innovative.  I was hooked and went on to study with both of them and served as an AGI faculty, teaching other health care practitioners how to do Interactive Guided Imagery(sm) since 1988.

Calm

I “stumbled” across this video of Marty Rossman and want to share what he teaches about the mind and how you hold the key and the power to create calm.

It is an 1 1/2 hour lecture – easy listening and WORTH your time.

At the end Marty will lead you through an imagery exercise for you to experience the power of your mind-body connection .

Physician, author, speaker, researcher, and consultant Martin L. Rossman, MD, discusses how to use the power of the healing mind to reduce stress and anxiety, relieve pain, change lifestyle habits, and live with more wellness.”   THE HEALING MIND.org

“Spaced-out” Learning

“What we know about how memories are made at a neuroscience level is that it’s not just important to repeat a stimulus, but it is important to leave spaces in between,” . . . “There are changes that happen to the genes and proteins on a neuron that help fix the memory if there are spaces between learning something.”

The latest neuroscience shows students who took part in spaced learning, where lessons are broken up by activities such as juggling, improved their attainment.

Training teachers to break up lessons with 10 minute “distractions”, such as juggling or model making, has been found to significantly boost pupils’ learning, early research has shown.

“A study involving 2,000 pupils revealed that information is more easily learnt if it is delivered in intense 12-minute bursts and broken up by 10 minute periods of an unrelated activity. The project, called SMART Spaces, is based on the latest neuroscience, which shows that information is better absorbed and more easily recalled when it is repeated a number of times, but spaced out with distractions.”

Whoops . . . wrong “space”

Spaced learning

“In Sheffield England technique as part of their revision lessons ahead of students’ GCSEs. Pupils had an intense 12 minute Power Point lesson in chemistry, then juggled for 10 minutes. After that they had 12 minutes of physics before another 10 minutes of juggling. The lesson was then finished with 12 minutes of biology. This was then repeated over two more days. Other schools broke up their lessons with plasticine model making and games of Simon Says. Mr Gittner said the study led to some significant gains in learning, and there are plans to implement a full-scale randomised controlled trial involving up to 50 schools.”

“The idea for the project came after Monkseaton High School in Newcastle made headlines in 2009 for teaching its pupils to pass a GCSE after just three days of learning. They were able to pass a sixth of a GCSE in just 60 minutes. Distractions boost results Mr Gittner said such approaches were not to counteract shrinking attention spans, adding that the techniques were backed up by the latest developments in neuroscience.

“It fits with the generally accepted views that people can only really focus for 20 minutes, even adults. Students that took part in our trial were able to concentrate fully because they new in 15 minutes they were going to get to to juggle,” 

https://inews.co.uk/essentials/news/education/juggling-lessons-boosts-learning/

For the latest Curious to the MAX post, click on this picture

 

Meditating can give you the brain of a 25-year-old

My meditation practice has always been sporadic and I’m not just talking about my “monkey mind” that leaps and roams . . . or falls asleep.  Needing a bit of discipline I joined a meditation group and in two months my brain will be younger and smarter.

Want proof?

There is an ever-increasing body of research evidence that shows that meditation decreases stress, depression, and anxiety, reduces pain and insomnia, and increases quality of life.

 One  study looked at long-term meditators (seven to nine years of experience) versus a control group. “The results showed that those with a strong meditation background had increased gray matter in several areas of the brain, including the auditory and sensory cortex, as well as insula and sensory regions.”

“This makes sense, since mindfulness meditation has you slow down and become aware of the present moment, including physical sensations such as your breathing and the sounds around you.”

Neuroscientists also found that the meditators had more gray matter in the brain region, linked to decision-making and working memory: the frontal cortex. In fact, while most people see their cortexes shrink as they age, 50-year-old meditators in the study had the same amount of gray matter as those half their age.

Wowza!

Just to make sure this wasn’t because the long-term meditators had more gray matter to begin with, a second study was conducted in which they put people with no experience with meditation into an eight-week mindfulness program.

The results?

“Even just eight weeks of meditation changed people’s brains for the better. There was thickening in several regions of the brain, including the left hippocampus (involved in learning, memory, and emotional regulation); the TPJ (involved in empathy and the ability to take multiple perspectives); and a part of the brainstem called the pons (where regulatory neurotransmitters are generated).”

“Plus, the brains of the new meditators saw shrinkage of the amygdala, a region of the brain associated with fear, anxiety, and aggression. This reduction in size of the amygdala correlated to reduced stress levels in those participants.”

How long do you have to meditate to see such results?

“The study participants were told to meditate for 40 minutes a day, but the average ended up being 27 minutes a day. Several other studies suggest that you can see significant positive changes in just 15 to 20 minutes a day”

In 8 weeks my brain will look and act half its age . . . .if only meditating could do the same for my body . . .

(jw)

How to change your own neurochemistry to feel happier

There is power in positive thinking–and the power comes from you.  and what you can do to have more “happy” neuro-chemicals. 

SEROTONIN & POSITIVE THINKING

As far back as 2007 scientists* measured how positive thoughts change brain serotonin levels which is another key neurotransmitter in happiness. Professional actors were used since they could keep up an intense emotional state.   Using a PET scan researchers found that focusing on happy memories resulted in increased uptake of the serotonin building blocks. Focusing on sad memories resulted in lower uptake. This supports the since replicated conclusion that we, by choosing to focus on happy thoughts, can self-regulate our brain’s neurotransmitters and change our brain’s chemical balance to support happiness.

DOPAMINE & MEDITATION

Another study shows why meditation makes monks among the happiest people on earth,

Dopamine is also crucial for happiness and relaxation, Researchers examined the changes in dopamine during meditation using positron emission tomography (PET) scanning on meditators.  The dopamine increased significantly in an area called the basal ganglia during meditation. This is the first evidence that by focusing our thoughts, we can alter how the neurons in our brain fire, and increase dopamine release.

No prescription needed, no side-effects from medications.  Your only cost is a bit of practice focusing on positive memories and thoughts or, if you are more ambitious, a bit of your time to learn to meditate. 

The Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience

 

Owls, Larks & then there’s Me (Parenthetically Speaking)

(Frankly, I’m not sure about any of this.  Maybe there would be more validity if I had taken it when I was middle-aged and had the energy to rebound and peak.  As a seenager I seem to be in the slowdown phase, perpetually.)

Let me explain . . .  

What’s the best time to Think?

Daniel Pink* (born in 1964 and he’s NOT a seenager) says our ability to think changes throughout the day, consequently we function better, smarter and even more creative at various times.  Research suggests these effects can be as large as 20%.

Generally, we have a peak, a slowdown and a rebound during the day.

  • Most people are at their peak function during the late morning, till about noon. We think and focus the best then.  We don’t get distracted as easily.
  • Early to mid afternoon we are less alert and focused-this is the time for “busy work”.
  • In the late afternoon to early evening we rebound. We are more easily distracted though, which turns out to be good for creativity – problem solving and creative thinking. Our mood tends to be up and we are alert. Note that night owls have this time in the morning.

One in 5 people is a night owl, then the order is reversed–rebound, slowdown, peak.

(Frankly, I’m not sure about any of this.  I’m a night owl person.  My morning rebound lasts until about 3 pm, followed by a slowdown until 11 pm when I go to bed.  My peak performance occurs undoubtedly while I’m sleeping.)

What’s the best time to Exercise?

When is best time to exercise? Depends on your goals-here is Pink’s guide:

  • Morning exercise is best for losing weight –since blood sugar is low before we eat, we will burn fat – even 20% more fat than later exercise
  • Cardio in morning will boost your mood, and doing this in the morning lets you enjoy the boost longer
  • It is easier to have a routine in the morning that later in the day.
  • Late afternoon exercise is best for avoiding injury, since your muscles are warmed up
  • You also perform your best in the afternoon ( one study by Elise Facer-Childs and Ronald Brandstaetter at U. Of Birmingham  in 2015 showed a 26% difference. Lung function is highest and strength peaks at this time, reaction time is quick and eye hand coordination is at its best. This time of day is when athletic records tend to be set-late afternoon to early evening.  You tend to enjoy your workout more at this time.

(Frankly, I’m not sure about any of this.  I’m a night owl person.  Since my morning rebound lasts until about 3 pm, followed by a slowdown until 11 pm when I go to bed.  I should be exercising while I’m sleeping which will ensure I enjoy it more.)

How to stay happy and productive

Take short breaks-this helps keep you able to focus, especially when you move during the breaks.  Taking a 5 minute walk every hour will increase your energy, focus and mood,  lessening afternoon fatigue.  It’s better than one 30 min. walk. Researchers at Stanford found motivation, concentration and creativity went up with short walking breaks.

(Frankly, I’m not sure about any of this. Peggy told me this is how we evolved – pick some food from a plant, walk a bit, pick more food . . .   I tried this and gained 10 pounds which depressed me and now I’m going to bed to sleep at 3 pm when my slowdown starts.)

Pink says social breaks are the best as they increase mood and decrease stress. The best breaks may be ones in nature, people feel happier and more rested.

(Frankly, I’m not sure about any of this. I could take a social break but I don’t think my husband would appreciate my asking anyone else to bed)

(jw)

Peggy made  Mood Tracker charts to help me pinpoint my daily energy swings.

Click HERE to get a PDF and print your own chart and instructions.

Mood Chart

 

Sample Mood Chart & Tracker

References:

Wall Street Journal article Feb. 16, 2018,

*“How to be Healthier, Happier and More Productive: It’s All in the Timing” by Daniel H. Pink

 

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Frankly Freddie, THE MENTAL BENEFITS OF WALKING (Parenthetically Speaking)

Dear Humans,

I hate to say “I told you so”  but I told you so – Walking is good for you.  It’s my preferred form of exercise.  Peggy and judy have found lots of studies on the benefits of walking. They asked me to promote it since I’m an expert walker:

Walking (preferably with me)

  • Gives you a creative lift.  A study at Stanford showed a 60% increase in creative output. Researches called the kind of creativity “divergent thinking”, thinking out of the box, looking at many different possibilities. Walking lets out minds wander and this puts us in a good mental state for generating new ideas.  (My Human Judy is already a “divergent thinker” . . .  to a fault.  Her brain hasn’t ever been able to walk a straight line)

  • Boosts your mood. In one study scientists saw increased energy, good mood, attentiveness and confidence with 12 minutes of walking compared to 12 minutes of sitting.  (I like my human to be attentive and obedient)

  • Walking in nature also reduced repetitive negative thoughts (ruminating).

  • Improves memory.  (You’ll remember that walking helps you)

  • Just 10 minutes of walking may relieve anxiety and improve mood as well as a workout lasting 45 minutes. (I prefer long walks but I’m all for anything that gets my human in a better mood)

If it’s raining or snowing or blowing you can use a treadmill for a walking workout.

Walking on a treadmill gives you the most benefit if you vary the speed and incline so that your heart rate is raised and lowered. Sort of like walking up and down hills, going fast some times, slow some times. Setting a high incline makes you use more energy to walk, and you can get a good cardiovascular workout without as much strain on your knees (For those of us who have 4 knees that’s important)

Interval training is a way to get the most from a workout. So whether you are outside on a trail or inside on a treadmill here’s how to do intervals. Start with a warm up warm up 5 minutes, then do an incline  or speed for 3 minutes a few minutes, then back to level then 1 minute level at a walk, and repeat for about 20 minutes total.  (I do interval training with Judy – I run, stop, raise my leg, run some more, stop, sniff, saunter, stop, raise my leg, run, stop, sniff, trot . . .)

Another protocol I often follow, and you can too, is to go as hard as I can for 1 minute, then sniff and walk until I recover, then go again. 

Finding your target zone

My target zone is most often a tree or a post.  For humans it may be different and here’s how you do it:

Find an online calculator for your target heart rate zone, or use this:

For vigorous exercise, use 70 to 85 percent of your heart rate reserve or HHR

Here is Mayo Clinics formula:

  • “Subtract your age from 220 to get your maximum heart rate.
  • Calculate your resting heart rate by counting your heart beats per minute when you are at rest, such as first thing in the morning. (For the average adult It’s somewhere between 60 and 100 beats per minute.)
  • Calculate your heart rate reserve (HRR) – subtract your resting heart rate from your maximum heart rate.
  • Multiply your HRR by 0.7 (70 percent). Add your resting heart rate to this number.
  • Multiply your HRR by 0.85 (85 percent). Add your resting heart rate to this number.
  • These two numbers are your training zone heart rate for vigorous intensity exercise. Your heart rate during exercise should be between these two numbers.”

For example, I’m 6 dogs years old.

220-6= 114, my maximum HR
My  resting heart rate is resting
Then I subtract my resting heart rate from my maximum heart rate gives my heart rate reserve (HHR), (which is very confusing).

Multiply that by 0.7, then add my resting heart rate,

Multiply my heart rate reserve (HHR) by 85%  so 82×0.85=69.7 then add resting heart rate so 69.7+65=134.7 which is the high end of my target heart rate or training zone . . .

(I’ve computed my target zone to be 6 trees a minute.)

Frankly,

Freddie Parker Westerfield, CDWE

Canine Dog Walking Expert 

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/

https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/why-walking-most-underrated-form-exercise

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You can outsmart your brain – Neuroplasticity

Scientists used to think that the brain didn’t change after childhood. While it is true that our ability to learn new things is greater in our early years, it turns out our brains reorganize, physically change, and alter the function of different parts through our lives.

Each time we learn a new skill, make a new memory, rethink, respond, react, interact our brains change. Your brain is changing right now reading this post.

Why is this important?

Exercising and strengthening our brains is as important as keeping our bodies strong and limber.  The way you keep your brain in good shape spends on what you pay attention to, what you think, what you feel, and how you react to your environment.  You can change your brain with purpose by understanding how neuroplasticity works.

Two Main Ways You Can Drive Neuroplasticity

“Neurons that fire together, wire together.”*

Donald Hebb developed the idea that when two neurons fire at the same time repeatedly, chemical changes occur in both, so that they connect more strongly.  Because neuroplasticity follows this rule, it’s fundamentally reversible. Neurons that fire together wire together, but when neurons “fire apart” their connection becomes weaker. That means your brain works on a “use it or lose it” principle. Information and behaviors that you do not use weaken and may be completely lost. This is called called “synaptic pruning.

“It is almost just as easy to drive changes that can impair one’s memory or slow down one’s mental or physical control as it is to improve one’s memory or speed up the brain’s actions.”**

Brain change comes from external experiences

What we practice or are exposed to becomes part of our brain wiring.

Everything that happens in our life wires our brains.  What we repeatedly do becomes wired – everything from muscle patterns (remember when you first learned to walk, ride a bike?), to skills (learning a native language – when’s the last time you thought about how to form a sentence?) to smiling or frowning (do you have to concentrate on each of your facial muscles to express a feeling?).

To keep our brains growing, functioning well and avoiding decline, we need to give it challenges such as learning new skills, exploring new places, changing routines and interacting with people.

Brain change comes from internal experiences

Mental & emotional exercise changes our brains too. What we think and imagine can change our brains for the better or worse. Where we focus our attention directs the synaptic connections, the brains wiring, and develops and strengthens connections.

We can purposefully and actively create the connections we want. Thoughts and images we replay in our minds create stronger connections.  Make neuro-connections by thinking of things in sequence, create positive mental images, do crossword puzzles. (You already do this whenever you study for a test, read a book, rehearse what to say, worry about your future, ruminate on the past.)

Here are some proven ways to positively impact our brains:

 Mindfulness:

Practicing mindfulness is learning to control your thoughts and develop ability to focus where we choose.

Meditation:

By decreasing stress, anxiety and depression meditation helps encourage neurogenesis (development new brain cells). This can happen in just a few weeks.

Visualization: 

Neurons fire whether something is real or imagined. Imagining doing something is not very different from doing it in terms of  brain wiring. Athletes use this to “practice” by imagining a perfect performance over and over. It helps them actually perform better.  Research has validated that the practice influences physical changes from muscle strength to brain pathways.

Now that you’ve finished reading, give yourself a pat on the brain for all the new neuro-connections it has just made for you.

*neuro-scientist Carla Shatz

**Dr. Michael Merzenich,  author of  Soft-Wired: How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change Your Life 

Reference: https://www.thebestbrainpossible.com/

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Ya “Betta” get Metta

We can’t control if we are loved. We can’t control what others think. What we all can control is the love we send out through our thoughts and actions. Metta is a name for using the energy you sent out, and it can change how you feel.

“Loving-kindness, or metta, as it in called in the Pali language, is unconditional, inclusive love, a love with wisdom. It has no conditions; it does not depend on whether one “deserves” it or not; it is not restricted to friends and family; it extends out from personal categories to include all living beings.”

“There are no expectations of anything in return. This is the ideal, pure love, which everyone has in potential. We begin with loving ourselves, for unless we have a measure of this unconditional love and acceptance for ourselves, it is difficult to extend it to others. Then we include others who are special to us, and, ultimately, all living things. Gradually, both the visualization and the meditation phrases blend into the actual experience, the feeling of loving kindness.”

Metta bhavana, or loving-kindness meditation, is a method of developing compassion. It comes from the Buddhist tradition, but it can be adapted and practiced by anyone, regardless of religious affiliation. It is believed that besides our thoughts and behaviors our energy impacts everything – ourselves and others. 

Here is how it works:

  1. Focus on yourself – Take a deep breath, and as you exhale, send a good wish to yourself. It can be “May I be happy” or “May I be at peace”
  2. Imagine someone you love – Take a deep breath, and as you exhale send good wishes to them “May you be well” or whatever good wishes you want. 
  3. Think of someone you don’t like or are having difficulty with – Take a deep breath, and as you exhale,and send them good wishes.

There are many ways besides words:

  • Picture light or energy going to the other person.
  • Image the other person feeling good or happy.
  • Think of others as doing the best they can even if they are misguided.

The energy you send is in your control and can help you to feel good about yourself and how you are in the world.  Send good wishes to all.

Let us know how Metta feels.

https://www.inc.com/elisa-boxer/this-simple-technique-can-help-you-raise-more-confident-kids-according-to-neuroscience.html

http://www.contemplativemind.org/practices/tree/loving-kindness

Scientists have figured out exactly how much you need to exercise to slow your heart’s aging process

There’s bad news good news and there’s bad news.

The Bad News:  “More than 610,000 people die of heart disease in the US each year—accounting for about 25% of total deaths, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Each year more than 735,000 Americans have a heart attack and 28% of those are a second heart attack.”

The Good News:  There are steps you can take to slow your heart’s aging process, increasing the chances of living a long, healthy life.

The Bad News: The trade-off is that you really do have to go to the gym.

“New research published in the Journal of Physiology pins down the number of days a week a person should exercise to maintain the overall health of their arteries, which stiffen with age and, as they do, increase the risk of heart disease and heart attack. Very few people experience heart attacks before age 45, and the average age is 65. But the new study suggests a way to keep your arteries physiologically “young.”

The study considered that every human has different-sized arteries, and found that the smaller arteries rely on fewer days of exercise per week than larger ones to maintain overall health.

The takeaway:

Medium-sized arteries need two to three days a week of 30-minute exercising to minimize artery stiffening. But to minimize the stiffening of equally important larger arteries, people should be exercising four to five days a week.

The study

“The scientists came to their findings by examining a group of 102 people—all of them older than 60—who had exercised over the course of their lives. The researchers started by measuring each person’s artery stiffness, then grouped them into four categories depending on how much they exercised through the years. One group was for people who generally exercised less that twice a week. Another was for “casual exercisers” who were active two to three times a week. The last two groups were for people who exercised four to five times and six to seven times per week.”

“A lifelong history of ‘casual exercise’ resulted in more youthful middle-sized arteries, which supply oxygenated blood to the head and neck,” the press release states. “However, people who exercised 4-5 times per week also had more youthful large central arteries, which provide blood to the chest and abdomen, in addition to healthier middle sized ones.”

This work showed exercise training over a long period of time can slow artery damage and the aging of the heart; the researchers say the next step is to study whether it can also reverse damage and aging of the cardiovascular system.

https://qz.com/1284072/the-right-exercise-to-slow-down-heart-disease-according-to-a-new-study/

Research published in the Journal of Physiology

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What Science Says About Achieving Peak Performance

I’ve peaked . . . not in the sense I’m going downhill now . . . but rather experiencing peak performance.  My first peak experience was memorable because it was a time in my life when I was the most self-conscious and questioning – a teenager in high school. I vividly remember, during a discussion, hearing my own words coming out of my own mouth, articulate, composed, effortlessly making the points I wished to make. I was peaking and flowing.

As an adult I’ve had a few times when I felt in the flow.  Looking back, each time met the 5 criteria described by Hans Hagemann and Friederike Fabricius in their book “The Leading Brain: Powerful Science-Based Strategies for Achieving Peak Performance”

The main points Hagemann and Fabricius describe as the basis for creating peak performance:

  1. Creating psychological safety
  2. Regulating negative emotions
  3. Not entering a stress state.
  4. Gender and age matter.
  5. Leaning towards rewards, not threats.

“Peaked” by Peggy

1. Psychological Safety

Hagemann emphasizes that the most important thing that underlies peak performance is psychological safety.  If you are working in a climate of respect and appreciation,  you can do your best. 

If you are trying to perform well, using energy to inhibit negative emotions will take away from your performance.  “Two systems in your brain are competing. That leads to not being focused on anything anymore.”

To regain cognitive control, recognize and ‘label’ how you feel”.

Labeling emotions by Peggy

2.  Stress

In situations where you feel threatened, your stress response increases, which makes you physically stronger, but reduces your ability to think well.  

The stress response directs blood flow to the muscles – for fight or flight – and away from your brain.  The stress response says this is the time to act not deliberate and debate.

Take a few deep breaths to calm yourself.  That will send more oxygen to your brain and help you refocus.

 3.  Regulate your negative emotions 

When you try to inhibit negative emotions  — anger, frustration, disappointment — your rational and emotional systems  compete with each other.  

Name your feelings, either outloud or on paper, so your brain doesn’t have to busy itself trying to tamp down negative feelings and distract you from, consciously or unconsciously, performing well. 

4.  Lean towards rewards, not threats

In a “threat” state, “you get a rush of cortisol in your bloodstream – it’s that stress response making your muscles stronger, but and cutting off your cognitive thinking.  

Figure out what the pay-off will be in the situation and place your focus on the reward at the end (just like athletes do).   Your brain will help you “flow” toward it.

5.  Gender and age matter.

Hagemann refers to a “performance profile” as the amount of intellectual arousal needed to help an individual achieve peak performance. The amount of arousal needed to be at your peak are different for different people, and maybe for the same person at different ages. The amount of intellectual arousal makes a difference between men and women, old and young.  Some people are “sensation seekers,” and need a lot of arousal to hit their peak. That means they are often running on testosterone (he calls it “a very male thing”) while others can hit their peak with fewer stresses placed on them.

Both men and women have sensation seeking personality traits (like thrill rides, thrive on taking chances).   If you need a lot of arousal use the stress response to your advantage.  Relabel it as excitement and intently focus on the reward.

Have you ever been in “the flow”, had a “peak performance”?

What was it like for you?

(PA)

“The Leading Brain: Powerful Science-Based Strategies for Achieving Peak Performance” by Hans Hagemann and Friederike Fabricius

http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/the-leading-brain/

 

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How to trick your brain into thinking you are happy

Yes, you can “fake out” your own brain.

Smiling fools your brain into thinking you are happy, then this creates actual happiness.  A smile spurs a chemical reaction in the brain, releasing certain hormones including dopamine and serotonin*.

Now here’s the fake-out:  Our brain isn’t good at telling the difference between a smile because you are happy and a fake smile.

Smiles by Peggy

But wait . . . there’s more

A study performed by a group at the University of Cardiff in Wales found that people who could not frown due to botox injections were happier on average than those who could frown.”

“And there are plenty more studies out there:  Researchers at the University of Kansas published findings that smiling helps reduce the body’s response to stress and lower heart rate in tense situations; another study linked smiling to lower blood pressure, while yet another suggests that smiling leads to longevity.”

Smiling enhances our Immune system

“More than happiness is at stake.  Dr. Murray Grossan, an ENT-otolaryngologist looks at the study of how the brain is connected to the immune system. He asserts that it has been found “over and over again” that depression weakens your immune system, while happiness boosts your immune system.”

“What’s crazy is that just the physical act of smiling can make a difference in building your immunity,” says Dr. Grossan. “When you smile, the brain sees the muscle [activity] and assumes that humor is happening.”

Smiles are contagious

“This is because we have mirror neurons that fire when we see action,” says Dr. Eva Ritzo, As its name suggests, mirror neurons enable us to copy or reflect the behavior we observe in others and have been linked to the capacity for empathy.”

“Try smiling into the mirror. Dr. Ritzo recommends smiling at yourself in the mirror, an act she says not only triggers our mirror neurons, but can also help us calm down and re-center if we’re feeling low or anxious.”

So SMILE and pass on a dose of neurochemical happy

*Dopamine increases our feelings of happiness. Serotonin release is associated with reduced stress. Low levels of serotonin are associated with depression and aggression.  Low levels of dopamine are also associated with depression.

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On the fly: Catch on to these Lessons and you’re Hooked for Life

Most people don’t realize I’m an outdoor person at heart.  I bike, hike, kayak and fish.  I just returned from fly fishing with my cousin Kate in the Catskill Mountains in southeast New York.  We had perfect weather and I was in my element with the tall green, green trees,  flowers in bloom, blue, blue lakes and country roads winding through low hills and picturesque towns.

Judy asked me what life lessons I learned form fly fishing.   I thought and thought but NOT while I was fly fishing. NO, never when, you are fly fishing which is the first lesson.

Life Lesson #1: Attention must be paid.  Pay attention to what you are doing.  Focus on the task at hand so you can do it well and improve your skills.  Know where you’re casting your efforts . . . You get the drift.

Fly Fishing:  To catch fish, I must pay close attention to what I’m doing:  Watch where to throw my line, watch if I’m getting a nibble.  Fly fishing requires lots of concentrated attention, similar to meditation . . . and life. 

Lesson #2. Be prepared. Have a plan for unwanted but foreseeable events.  If you fall in the water make sure it’s shallow but learn how to swim before you take the plunge.

Fly Fishing:  When wading in a moving river, it’s possible I could fall in.  My wading stick helps me avoid that, but I still keep a whistle to call for help,and have learned what to do (like positioning my feet downstream).

Lesson #3. Pack the essentials first.  You have a limited amount of resources.  First determine what is needed and then, if room, add what’s wanted.  Clutter weighs you down.

Fly Fishing: I pack the essentials first, then add the frills:  The most important is a net to catch the fish.  Since I want to carry just a FEW pounds of equipment, I’m careful about what I put in my vest pockets. In one pocket I have what I need to change flies (in case the fish don’t find the fly I’m using tasty, or replace a fly when I invariably lose them to an aggressive bush, grabby tree, deep rock or floating log). Another pocket holds nippers to undo messy tangles of line (especially those that wrap around my body).

If there’s room, I add things that are not essential but handy – extra flies, line, goo that help a fly float, gadgets to help flies sink, and indicators that help me know when a fish has taken my fly.

Lesson #4. Have a big netBe ready to capture the good things that come your way.

Fly Fishing:  Most of the time I catch small fish but I’m ready for the biggest fish.   I carry a BIG net because I can put a small fish in a big net, but can’t put a big fish in a small net.   When I “land” my catch I look to make sure it’s a fish before cradling it back into the water to join his other fishy friends.  

Lesson #5.  Water-proof yourself.   When you do fall down most of you will stay dry . . . otherwise you’ll get moldy.

Fly Fishing:  I dress for success. That means waterproof clothing and boots, so I can stand in a stream trying not to fall in.   But nice accessories are important, such as a cute vest with all the flys, and my wading stick  (form and fashion all in one).

Lesson #6.  Keep Casting.  It takes a LOT of practice to know where and how to make a catch.

Fly Fshing  I practiced casting first and a lot (because I couldn’t  practice landing a fish until I caught one). Practice means noticing where my fly lands (in the water is definitely desirable), and learning were it is likely there’s a fish waiting.  Practice means reading the currents and . . . improving my aim

Lesson #7. Tie down what’s important.  When you find yourself in the wilderness you don’t want to “lose it” downstream.

Fly Fishing:  I keep what I value close by and tied down.  Standing in a moving stream and dropping something I need  (like my fishing rod) means it’s GONE. Finding a way to attach important stuff -like my “nippers” that are on a “zinger”  (a retractible string with a pin on the end) is what makes a good fly fisher person . . .  which brings me back to Lesson #6.

   . . . Kate and I caught a 6 fish and released them to swim free.

Peggy

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Forest Bathing: Shinrin-yoku Can boost Immunity, reduce stress & elevate your mood

You don’t need to take off your clothes or use soap or water for that matter. Forest bathing isn’t a bath – it’s a sensory immersion. Forest bathing isn’t a hike, it’s a meander.

Taking a Forrest Dip by Peggy

The idea is to go slow and let yourself take in nature – the sights, smells and sounds of the forest – notice things you might ordinarily miss.  It’s a meditation which helps clear your brain, and see your surroundings with fresh eyes. 

The practice began in Japan. Back in the early 1990s the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries coined the term Shinrin-yoku — which translates roughly as forest bathing.

“There’s a growing body of evidence that the practice can help boost immunity and mood and help reduce stress. “Medical researchers in Japan have studied forest bathing and have demonstrated several benefits to our health,” says Philip Barr, a physician who specializes in integrative medicine at Duke University.”

One study published in 2011 compared the effects of walking in the city to taking a forest walk. Both activities required the same amount of physical activity, but researchers found that the forest environment led to more significant reductions in blood pressure and certain stress hormones.

“Researchers were able to document a decrease in blood pressure among forest bathers. As people begin to relax, parasympathetic nerve activity increases — which can lead to a drop in blood pressure.”

“On average, the forest walkers — who ranged in age from 36 to 77 — saw a reduction in their systolic blood pressure from 141 mmHg down to 134 mmHg after four hours in the forest.  This might not sound like a big difference, but it can be clinically significant. Most doctors these days agree that people younger than 60 should aim to keep their blood pressure under 140.”

“There’s another factor that might help explain the decline in blood pressure: Trees release compounds into the forest air that some researchers think could be beneficial for people. Some of the compounds are very distinctive, such as the scent of cedar.”

  • “Back in 2009, Japanese scientists published a small study that found inhaling these tree-derived compounds — known as phytoncides — reduced concentrations of stress hormones in men and women and enhanced the activity of white-blood cells known as natural killer cells .”
  • “Another study found inhalation of cedar wood oils led to a small reduction in blood pressure. These are preliminary studies, but scientists speculate that the exposure to these tree compounds might enhance the other benefits of the forest.”

“The idea that spending time in nature is good for our health is not new. Most of human evolutionary history was spent in environments that lack buildings and walls. Our bodies have adapted to living in the natural world.”

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What on earth is a “Nappuccino”?

I always have more than one book in progress:  One for when I’m tired and need mindless entertainment; one for when I’m alert, is informative and grows my neuro-connections.  

I found a book* that addresses both and surprised me with a tip on napping. When I was younger naps were a waste of time.  Now, I appreciate the “restorative power” of catching a mid-day snooze.  Here is a good recipe for a…

 “Nappuccino”

Want to maximize your Nappuccinos? Here is what you do:

  • Find the best time for your nap. When is your energy low point? Your mood low point? For most of us, it is about 7 hours after we wake up. 
  • Create your nap environment – someplace comfortable: the floor, bed, couch, bathtub (EMPTY) –  definitely low lights and NO cell phone.
  • Set a timer, nap 10 to 20 minutes, you will feel more alert and function better, without waking with that groggy feeling.

Here’s the kicker that surprised me:

The  Nappucino

Drink a cup of coffee! That’s right, drink coffee before you nap. It takes the caffeine about 25 minutes to kick in, so you’ll get the perfect amount of napping time and then you’ll wake up with the caffeine boost.  Who woulda thunk it?

There’s also evidence that habitual nappers get more from their naps than infrequent nappers. Practice makes perfect – I’m taking a Nappucino every day until I am an expert.

(PA)

*”WHEN: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing” by Daniel Pink 

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4 tricks to rev up your memory . . . and Elvis

I’m not sure if my memory is not as good as it used to be or I just pay more attention now to when I forget.  

There’s so much information in my brain that has been stored that it takes longer to sort,  find and retrieve what I need to remember.  Makes sense to me.  However, I still read articles like . . . 

Making the Most of your Brain’s Memory Process

 “In terms of brain function, everyone has a decline over time in all areas, with the exception of vocabulary.”  (Dr. Joel Salinas, a neurologist specializing in behavioral neurology and neuropsychiatry at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.)

How memory works

Memory involves three processes:

  • encoding – brain receives and encodes (takes in) new information;
  • recording –  brain then records (stores) the information;
  • retrieval – brain retrieves information when you need it.

Many brain regions are involved in this process:

  • The cerebral cortex — the large outer layer of the brain — acquires new information as input from our senses. The amygdala tags information as being worthy of storage.
  • The hippocampus stores memories.
  • The frontal lobes help us consciously retrieve information.

The aging memory

“Many people notice a difference in memory starting in their 50s. That’s when age-related chemical and structural changes can begin in brain regions involved with memory processing, . . .  These changes may slow processing speed, making it hard to recall familiar names or words.”

“Other factors may be at play as well. “Working memory — a mental scratch pad that allows us to use important information throughout the day — is susceptible to depression, anxiety, and stress, . . .   a lack of sleep can affect the brain’s retention and use of information.'”

“A medication side effect may also affect memory. For example, if you use an anti-anxiety drug like clonazepam (Klonopin), its sedating side effects can make your brain less alert and more sluggish.”

Shower Song with Elvis & Meowie by Peggy

Memory tricks

Another way to boost memory is to make the most of the way it works. The following strategies may help.

1. Repeat what you hear out loud, such as someone’s name, or an address, or a new idea. Repetition increases the likelihood you’ll record the information and be able to retrieve it later. “With each repetition, your brain has another opportunity to encode the information,” explains Dr. Salinas. “The connections between brain cells are reinforced, much like blazing a trail in the woods. The more you walk the same trail, the easier it is to walk it the next time.”

2. Make a note of people you need to call, errands to run, and appointments. “We are much better at recognition than recall,” Dr. Salinas explains. “With recognition, such as reading a list, you have additional hooks or hints that help you find the information you’re looking for.”

3. Make associations between old and new information. Connect a person’s first name to something familiar. For example, if the person’s name is Sandy, imagine that person on a beach. Or create a story around a shopping list. “Our brain is good at sequences, and putting things into a story helps. The more ridiculous, the more memorable it is. For example, if your list is milk, eggs, and bread, the story could be that you are having milk with Elvis over an egg sandwich,” Dr. Salinas suggests.

The Egg and E. by Peggy

4. Divide information into chunks, such as taking a long number and remembering it more like a phone number. “It’s hard to store a long number,” says Dr. Salinas, “but easier to store little bits through working memory.” If you’re trying to memorize a speech for a wedding toast, focus on getting only one sentence or idea down at a time, not the whole speech in one take.

When tricks don’t help

Forgetting something minor from time to time is probably normal. It’s not normal when memory changes interfere with day-to-day functioning. Dr. Salinas recommends that you talk to your doctor if you’re making more mistakes than usual at work; having difficulty paying the bills; or having trouble completing tasks, cooking, emailing, or doing chores. But don’t panic. “More often than not, there’s a temporary or reversible cause behind your memory slips.” says Dr. Salinas.

Reference: 4 Tricks to Rev Up Your Memory

The next time I walk into the bathroom I’ll remember I’m going to take a shower with Elvis and hope I’ve not forgotten to invite him.

To learn how appreciation and gratitude help you memory and your creativity, click below:

I’m Afraid Being Afraid Shrinks My Fluffy Brain & Creativity

 

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Hot to stop your SuperWorry

Mind races.  Unsettling worry or concern repeats itself over and over.  No solution.  No relief.  Can’t sleep.  Can’t concentrate on anything other than your SUPER WORRY

It doesn’t feel like it but your brain is doing this for your benefit – Relentlessly focus your attention on a potential (albeit imagined) threat to help you stay safe.  Three parts of you brain start firing in lockstep:

  • The orbital frontal cortex gives you the feeling you made a mistake or there is danger.
  • It signals the cingulate gurus which generates the neurochemistry of anxiety.
  • The caudate nucleus usually allows thoughts to flow from one to another, but it stops doing this.
  • These 3 parts together keep person locked into worry, an obsession with something thy fear.

You may even realize that the worry is not rational, or the fear is not imminent.  It’s your brain locked into a feed-back loop and won’t let you escape from the worrying thoughts.

Mousey Worry by Peggy

You can rewire your SuperWorry into SuperRelief

Talk to your brain – silently or outloud:

  1. Thank your brain for doing what it was created to do.  Don’t be mad or upset with your brain. It’s a good brain.
  2. However, relabel the problem as a brain problem, not an imminent threat. The real problem is not what you fear, it is the brain is getting locked into a position and isn’t moving on.
  3. Pick something positive or neutral to focus on instead.  Ideally something pleasurable.
  4. Repeat this as often as necessary.  It takes time for your brain to understand it doesn’t have to protect you in this way.

Here’s an example:  Thank you brain.  You don’t need to keep reminding me that (an earthquake will happen, someone will break into the house, I will get fired).  I’m safe right this minute.

When brain focuses on something over and over, it strengthens the brain neuro-connections. When you stop the thinking the connections are weakened.  Think of it like a wilderness trail – The more the trail is traveled the path gets wider and the dirt gets more and more compacted.  Stop walking on the trail and it becomes overgrown, impassable and no longer used.

Use it or lose it 
Any deviation from the neuro-connection path weakens it.  Every time you interrupt and then stop the thought about the fear and redirect your thoughts it gets easier. The more you  practice the more the neural links to the worry weaken and new positive neutral pathways are generated.

PET scans have shown that the brain pathways actually change when you perform the four steps.

Use this process for small worries, not just big ones.  

Sources:

Norman Dodgie,  “The Brain that Changes Itself” 

Jeffrey M Schwartz, “Brain Lock”  

Don”t do these things when you first wake up (Parenthetically Speaking)

However, some sleep specialists say there are certain morning mistakes that can set the stage for an unproductive rest of the day. 
Here are 7 suggestions scientists and other experts say about making the most (and the least) of the first few minutes after you wake up. 

1. Don’t Hit the Snooze Button

Sometimes your alarm goes off and you are just not ready to face the day yet. Resist the temptation to put off the inevitable by five or 10 minutes.  (I can hit the snooze button multiple times, and fall back asleep multiple times. My solution is never set the alarm since my body is never ready to face the day.)

“Most sleep specialists think that snooze alarms are not a good idea.”  That’s partly because, if you fall back into a deep sleep after you hit the snooze button, you’re entering a sleep cycle you definitely won’t be able to finish. So you’ll likely wake up groggy instead of refreshed.  It’s best to figure out how much sleep you need on a nightly basis and make sure to get that amount.

2. Don’t Stay Curled up

So you avoided the snooze and now you’re lying awake in bed. Use this time to make yourself as big as possible — physically.  According to Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy, stretching out wide is a way to build confidence as you launch into your day.

Though it’s hard to say whether people feel good because they stretch out or vice versa, Cuddy explained  that the people who wake up with their arms in a V “are super happy, like annoyingly happy.”  (Since I can’t feel my arms until noon I am just plain annoying in the morning.  Peggy is never annoying)

By contrast, she said there’s some preliminary evidence that people who wake up in a fetal ball “wake up much more stressed out.”

3. Don’t Check Email

If you sleep near your phone  it’s easy to roll over and start mindlessly scrolling through your inbox. (Peggy is a roll over- scroller but she’s still not annoying)  As Julie Morgenstern, author of the book “Never Check Email in the Morning,”if you start your morning this way, “you’ll never recover.”

“Those requests and those interruptions and those unexpected surprises and those reminders and problems are endless,” she said. “There is very little that cannot wait a minimum of 59 minutes.”

Instead, Morgenstern suggests that if you’re going to do some work, make it a project that requires considerable focus. (I don’t focus until 10 pm.  Maybe I should start checking email first thing in the morning?”)

4. Don’t Leave your Bed Unmade

Why make your bed? You’re just going to mess it up when you sleep in it later.  But according to Charles Duhigg, author of “The Power of Habit” and “Smarter Faster Better,” making your bed is associated with increased productivity throughout the rest of the day.

Chicken or egg?  I put my money on super-organized people who are more likely to make their bed to begin with rather than neatness creates productivity.  (Peggy is organized and I’m “less so”. Yet she doesn’t make her bed and I make mine.  If I don’t make my bed I’m unable to find it in the evening.)

But Duhigg writes that making your bed is a “keystone habit” that can spark “chain reactions that help other good habits take hold.”  (So far, other good habits elude me . . . maybe I’ll try reverse psychology and leave my bed unmade)

5. Don’t Drink Coffee

Your body naturally produces higher amounts of the stress hormone cortisol, which regulates energy, between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. So for most people, the best time to drink coffee is after 9:30 a.m.

If you consume caffeine before then, your body will start adjusting by producing less cortisol in the early morning — meaning you’ll be creating the problem you fear.  (neither of us are prone to fearfulness . . . bottoms up!)

6. Don’t Get Ready in the Dark

“Your internal body clock is designed to be sensitive to light and darkness”, said Natalie Dautovich of the National Sleep Foundation.  So getting ready in the dark could signal to your body that it’s still nighttime and could make you feel even groggier.  (Maybe that’s my problem – I get ready in the dark because my eyes are at half mast until noon)

If it’s still dark outside when you wake up, Dautovich recommends turning on a strong light, like the ones used to treat seasonal affective disorder.

(Peggy goes outside, sits in the sun and drinks her morning coffee.  She knows that morning sunlight resets our internal clock so we will be ready to get up the next day.  HER eyes however are always wide-open in the morning)

7. Don’t Play it by Ear

It’s best if you incorporate your initial morning activities into some kind of routine.  Scientists say our willpower is limited, and when we expend it early on in the day trying to decide what to do next, we have less left later in the day when we need to concentrate on work.  Instead, let your brain run on automatic in the morning and conserve those mental resources for when you really need them.

(Maybe that’s why I’m not awake until 10 pm.  Since my eyes are half-shut and my brain is still sleeping the only two organs left in my control are my mouth that drinks coffee in the dark and my ears which I play by)

How Do YOU sabotage your day before it starts?

(jw)

Source: Business Insider, by 

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Happy Chocolate Easter

Dark chocolate, cocoa powder, cinnamon, olive oil, eggs are good for you.  Sneak in a bit of veggies and you’ve got health food!

Double Chocolate Zucchini Brownies

2 cups zucchini, grated (Grate very fine so your brain doesn’t recognize anything healthy
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup honey or agave nectar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cup flour (white, spelt, whole wheat – different flours = different textures)
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chi[ps

Add Walnuts, flax seed or chia seeds (optional health foods)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  1. Grease an 8 x 8 inch baking pan.
  2. Grate zucchini. Press with a paper towel to remove excess moisture. Fluff with a fork.
  3. In a large bowl, beat together oil, eggs, agave or honey and vanilla. Add zucchini.
  4. In a separate bowl, combine flour, cocoa, salt, baking powder and cinnamon. Stir to combine.
  5. Add dry mixture to the wet/zucchini mixture. Stir to combine. Add chocolate chips.
  6. Pour batter into prepared pan.
  7. Bake 30-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cook it Up Kitty eating healthy

Your Personal Happiness Quartet

How happy we feel is strongly influenced by 4 neurotransmitter chemicals: endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin. They are often called “the quartet.”

Endorphin on Electric Guitar, Serotonin on Sax, Dopamine on Drums, Oxytocin on Oboe

Here’s a very basic idea of what they do for you and 7 ways to help boost your happiness:

ENDORPHINS 

They promote a sense of well-being, lesson pain and are primarily released when we are in pain or stressed.  Endorphins work in similar ways as prescription anti-anxiety drugs and opiate painkillers but provide the benefits without all the side-effects.

Low levels of endorphins are linked to opposite effects: physical and emotional pain (including chronic pain linked to disorders like fibromyalgia), addiction and risk taking behavior.

SEROTONIN
Serotonin is often called the “happy hormone”.  It improves your mood and helps beat depression.  Not only does it help with mood stabilization but plays a big role in getting good sleep, dreaming, emotional and social stability.

Low levels serotonin are associated with various mental disturbances including: depression, anxiety, PMS,  sugar/carbohydrate cravings, trouble sleeping, obsessive thinking and addiction to alcohol or drugs. Too high levels can be  problematic as well.

DOPAMINE

Dopamine is one of the strongest “feel-good hormones”.   It makes you feel energized, alert, motivated and in control.  Within the brain, dopamine helps control the reward and pleasure centers as well as helping regulate movement and emotional responses.  Interestingly, it enables us to not only see rewards, but to take action to reach them. 

Dopamine deficiency is implicated in Parkinson’s Disease and people with low dopamine levels may be more prone to addiction.  Low levels can trigger depression, lack of concentration (brain fog), poor motivation and difficulty initiating and/or completing tasks.

OXYTOCIN

Oxytocin is often referred to as the “love hormone” since it’s released during highly emotional moments, such as  childbirth, being in love, and during orgasm. It motivates us to strengthen personal relationships, be faithful and facilitates compassion.  Oxytocin is a powerful hormone, produced mainly in the hypothalamus, and acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain

On the flip side, as a facilitator of bonding among those who share similar characteristics, oxytocin fosters distinctions between “in-group” and “out-group” members, and sets in motion favoritism toward “in-group” members and prejudice against those in “out-groups”.

7 ways to get the “Happiness Quartet”

working more for you:

We are all capable of producing our own natural highs (without taking illegal or prescription drugs) and when we repeat  behavior that facilitates the release of neurotransmitters we become naturally motivated to create positive habits.

1.  Tasting

Neurotransmitters that signal the release of endorphins come mostly from nutrients in our diet, like amino acids, vitamins, fatty acids and minerals. 

Serotonin is made primarily through intake of tryptophan-rich foods, such as turkey or milk. Most proteins will help release serotonin, including meat, fish, chicken, poultry, cheese, milk and eggs, which are complete proteins. A number of different plant foods, such as beans with sprouted grains, will get the same effects. Whole foods like seeds, nuts, beans, lentils, peas, corn or the germ of grains, such as buckwheat and oats, are all good plant sources of amino acids that help increase serotonin.

Fats comprise 60 percent of the brain. Essential fatty acids support the activity of neurotransmitters, including serotonin. Get healthy fats from coconut or olive oil, wild-caught fish like Alaskan salmon, nuts, seeds and avocado.

2.  Laughing

Laughter is a quick-fix for feeling almost instantly better, thanks to the release of endorphins.  Studies have even linked laughter with an elevated pain threshold. Try regularly doing something to keep your sense of humor: play with children, watch funny shows, recall a funny moment, share jokes, spend time with friends who have a sense of humor.

3.  Connecting

Give a hug, get a massage or simply have a deep conversation with someone you trust will all help release oxytocin and other chemicals that help you feel calm and comforted.  Some studies show acupuncture and other hands-on treatments  have similar effects. Make time for friends, reach out to others in need, find a sense of purpose and notice how good you feel when you do something nice for someone else.

4.  Learning

Every time you experience something novel or learn something new dopamine’s reinforces you.  With the internet, learning is at your fingertips.  Use your techno-time to look up something that peaks your curiosity,  travel, take up a hobby or get better at something you already do and release feel good neurochemicals.

5.  Smelling

The release of endorphins helps you feel calmer almost instantly when you smell the aroma of something that reminds you of fun or comforting times.  It can be as simple as the scent of fresh baked cookies, a parent’s favorite perfume or a dab of essential oil scents such as vanilla, chamomile, rose and lavender.  Your nose, after all, is close to your brain.

6.  Sunning & Nature

Sunshine and nature sites/sounds/colors seem to help regulate the release of serotonin and melatonin.  It only takes about 20 minutes a day to help your skin produce vitamin D (sunscreen will block this), which is important for your mood.  Studies indicate that exercising outdoors elevates mood better than indoors.

7.  Moving

A large body of research shows that people who exercise regularly have added protection against depression, reduce anxiety and get better sleep.  Exercise is one of the most endorphin-boosting things we can do. It also increases self esteem, gives a sense of mastery, increases energy levels, and thanks to dopamine, keeps you motivated to continue and improve.   You don’t have to do 10,000 steps or do intense workouts.  Research indicates that 3 times a week of brisk walking will do the trick.

Putting into practice all 7 ways to get the Happiness Quartet working for you:  

Eat a hardboiled egg while walking for 20 minutes in the park with a trusted friend, practice speaking Mandarin Chinese, laugh at your bad pronunciation and stop occasionally to smell the flowers.  How easy is that!

 

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What you don’t know can’t hurt you – AVOID these 6 things.

 How to Save Your Precious energy,  lower your level of confidence, decrease productivity and be dumber. Start by avoiding 6 simple things and be on your way!

Stop reading! (no, not this post, stop reading books)

  1. People who read often gain empathy for others, somethings that is helpful if you want to be an effective leader, which as we all know takes inordinate energy that can be used more effectively. Reading also keeps you mentally sharp which can be painful in troubled times. Dumb and dull can be cultivated. Try just laying about.

2. Do not sleep so much!

With less sleep your ability to plan, reason, organize and make decisions decreases. Neuroscientists have found that after being awake for 16 hours your ability to focus and your executive-function decrease. BUT your awake time will allow you to stream more favorite shows.  If you question this stay awake as long as you can and watch your productivity lower as your entertainment time increases.

3. No more fruits and vegetables!

Mental energy is affected by what you eat.  Getting a lot of micronutrients, minerals and vitamins you get from foods, such as fruits and vegetables, helps give you health and energy to be more productive. Stay away from them if you are already too energetic. Stick with cakes and cookies for short term boost instead (Read about that here).

4. Do not look at new ideas . . .

. . .  or go to new places. Stay with the familiar and do not look to other fields for inspiration. Doing novel things can change your brain chemistry and even the way you see the world. Curiosity can make you more productive and expand your world but will take away from valuable Facebook and Twitter time.  Remember!  What you don’t know can’t hurt you.

5. Quit learning!

Stay in your comfort zone where it is familiar and stress free.  That is where your mind will go soft, your memory less sharp and you can relax.  The Journal of Psychological Sciences published research showing that activities that demand hard thinking and new activities improves your memory. BUT who needs memory to enjoy the mundane . . . so do not take up new hobbies, learn a new useless language or play a musical instrument badly . . .

6. No more exercising!

When you get your body moving, you’re creating energy.  Yes, it will also lead to increased productivity, crease confidence, helps with aging, mental and physical health but it takes up your valuable time.  Even walking 30 minutes a day can ruin your chances of catching your favorite show or reading the latest “tweet”.


Adapted from:

6 Tiny Habits That Will Make You Smarter, Confident, and More Productive
Attaining and keeping a level of high performance requires a commitment to these 6 tiny habits.

By Julian Hayes II https://www.inc.com/julian-hayes-ii/6-habits-high-performers-use-to-stay-sharp-confident-productive-according-to-neuroscience.html

 

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A Hug a Day Brings Happy Your Way!

National Hugging Day TM

January 21st

1)    Hugs make us feel “happy”! When we hug another person, our bodies release oxytocin, a hormone associated with “happiness,” according to scientific studies.

2)    Hugs alleviate stress! Just as a good hug increases our oxytocin levels, it decreases our cortisol or “stress” levels.

3)    Babies need hugs as much as water and food! According to researchers at Harvard University, hugs help promote normal levels of cortisol necessary for child development.

4)    Hugs make us better students! Students who receive a supportive touch from a teacher are twice as likely to volunteer in class.

5)    Hugs improve our game! Scientists at University of California, Berkley discovered that the more affectionate members of a team are with each other, the more likely they are to win.

Snug Hug by Peggy

6)    A hug a day keeps the doctor away! A hug stimulates the thymus gland, which in turn regulates the production of white blood cells that keep us healthy and disease-free.

7)    A hug stops the bug! Researchers at Carnegie Mellon proved that individuals who were sick and received hugs had less severe symptoms and were able to get better quicker.

8)    A hugging heart is a healthy heart! Research from University of North Carolina showed that a good hug helps ease blood flow and lower cortisol levels, which in turn help lower our heart rates.

9)    A hugging couple is a happy couple! Couples that experience their partners’ love through physical affection share higher oxytocin levels.

10)    Hugs let someone know you care without having to say a word! According to Dacher Keltner, professor of psychology at University of California, Berkeley, we can identify love from simple human touch – imagine how much love a big hug can communicate!

From http://www.nationalhuggingday.com/ 

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Name it, Blame it and feel happier

A favorite strategy to feel better, feel happier is backed by neuroscience, requires no Rx, practically no time nor physical energy.

When feeling angry, stressed, sad, lonely all you need to do is give your feeling a name to defuse it.

David Rock* explains:
“To reduce arousal, you need to use just a few words to describe an emotion, and ideally use symbolic language, which means using indirect metaphors, metrics, and simplifications of your experience. This requires you to activate your prefrontal cortex, which reduces the arousal in the limbic system. Here’s the bottom line: describe an emotion in just a word or two, and it helps reduce the emotion.”

“fMRI studies support this idea.  Participants viewed pictures of people with emotional facial expressions. Each participant’s amygdala activated to the emotions in the picture. But when they were asked to name the emotion, the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex activated and reduced the emotional amygdala reactivity. In other words, consciously recognizing the emotions reduced their impact.”

Here are some Peggyjudy ways you can NAME IT-BLAME IT and feel HAPPIER:

Call your emotion a Silly Name

  • Fantastically futile funk
  • Silly Sally Sad
  • Fangry Angry
  • Mumifiably Mad
  • Fraiday-Cat Fear

Draw a stick figure or an “emoji”

Metrics – Washed over by Emotion

  1. Give your emotion a number from 1 – 10 points.
  2. 1 = Ripple  5=Body-surfing wave  10=Tzunami
  3. Each minute after assigning a number to your emotion subtract 1 point until you are down to a ripple.

Pick a Mad Metaphor

Fit to be Tired by Peggy

  • I’m fit to be tied
  • Foaming at the mouth
  • Fly off the handle
  • Blow a gasket, blow a fuse
  • Up in arms
  • In a black mood
  • Go ballistic

Pick a Fear Metaphor

  • Trembling like a leaf
  • Like a deer (or a mouse) in headlights
  • A shivering wreck. 
  • Paralysed with terror. 
  • Scared silly

Pick a Sad Metaphor

Woofer’s Sinking Heart by Peggy

  • Down in the mouth
  • Feeling low
  • Feeling blue
  • In a black mood
  • Gloomy Gus
  • My heart sank.
  • In the depths of despair.

DISCLAIMER!

You are hereby notified that the stunts and tricks displayed in this post are performed by professional animals and stick figures in controlled environments, such as closed circuit dark roads at midnight. Do not attempt to duplicate, re-create, or perform the same or similar stunts and tricks at home, as personal injury or property damage may result. All animals were paid scale-wage treats and none were harmed in the production of this post. The authors of this post are not responsible for any such injury or damage.

 

*David Rock,  Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long

Happy is as Happy Does and a Hack

Compassion makes you feel better.  I saw this first hand when I worked in an outpatient program with people diagnosed with severe psychiatric disorders – schizophrenia, manic depressive disorder and major depression.  Many had been hospitalized more than once.

My goal was to help patients manage their illness, so they could stay out of the hospital  and live a more normal life. Besides many of the things the program offered to help them, including medication, I believed if I could help them be happier, have more positives in their lives, some of the stressors they felt would be offset and help them stay well.

Acts of Kindness by Peggy

I had read a research project using compassion exercises and decided to try it. It worked well in the research and I hoped it worked for the patients. Here’s what I did:

Week 1: I asked the patients to spend an hour being really good to themselves, something to pamper themselves. It didn’t matter what they chose as long as they personally enjoyed it.  When they shared everyone expressed liking their experiences and felt happy they participated.

Week 2: The patients were to take the same amount of time – an hour – and do something nice for somebody else, something to brighten someone else’s day.  It didn’t matter who they chose or what they did as long as it was something kind and giving.  When they shared this experience they were even happier!  All reported they felt better doing something nice for somebody else for an hour than doing something for themselves.

Caring for others, having compassion, can make you happier. You don’t have to wait weeks between.  Do something nice for yourself for an hour one day.  The next day do something nice for another person.  It doesn’t even have to be for an hour.  Try it and see for yourself.  And let us know how it goes.

Compassion Hack

According to brain science Buddhist monks are some of the happiest people in the  world.  They are don’t leave their monasteries and do things for others, but meditate on compassion.  Research shows compassion meditation changes the brain and makes it happier!

Don’t have an hour to do something nice for someone else?  Spend 10 – 20 minutes and meditate on compassion . . . Remember – It’s a hack NOT a substitution for the real thing.

 (PW)

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How Healthy Couples Manage Conflict – Part I

Scientific research keeps pointing to maintaining connections with others as a key to living longer and healthier.  This article is a basic guide for managing the inevitable conflict that comes in the most intimate relationships we have.

Couple Differences by Peggy

How Healthy Couples Manage Conflict

By MARGARITA TARTAKOVSKY, M.S.*

Healthy couples address the conflict.

“Some partners shut down and give each other the silent treatment or avoid the problem in other ways, said Bush, also author of the book 75 Habits for a Happy Marriage: Advice to Recharge and Reconnect Every Day. However, healthy couples are “willing to talk about what’s going on.”

Healthy couples see conflict as an opportunity.

“They see [conflict] as a means for growing together… an opportunity to understand each other better and to clarify their needs and values,” Bush said.”

“The conflict doesn’t become a disconnect or a power struggle but an opportunity for both of them to create something new,” according to Harville Hendrix, Ph.D, co-creator of Imago Relationship Therapy with his wife Helen LaKelly Hunt, Ph.D. It becomes an opportunity to have a conversation, he said.”

Healthy couples value each other’s perspective.

“Healthy couples believe that each partner has a valid point of view, whether they agree with them or not, said Hendrix, also author of several books on relationships, including the bestseller Getting the Love You Want. They realize that “there are legitimate differences and they understand that they don’t live in each other’s brains.”

Healthy couples consider their contribution to the conflict.

“Partners in healthy relationships “own their own stuff,” Bush said. They’re willing to look at how they’re contributing to the problem, she said.”

Healthy couples fight fair.

“Unlike unhealthy couples, they don’t name-call, insult, curse or hit below the belt, Bush said. They also don’t “bring up every problem that’s ever occurred.”

“Instead, “they stick to the issue at hand and have a respectful, curious attitude.” Instead of being defensive and focusing on explaining themselves, they’re interested in what their partner has to say.”

Healthy couples really listen.

“They give each other their undivided attention. They don’t interrupt or make remarks such as “That’s not right” or “Where did you get such a stupid idea?” Hendrix said. Rather, they are “fully … present to their partner’s point of view.”

Healthy couples kiss and make up.

“Typically, after an argument, healthy couples end up feeling supported, heard and understood, Bush said. Partners might apologize or say something like “I love you. We’re in this together,” she said.”

________________________________________________

A list like this can be daunting.  Make an assessment, figure out one or two areas to focus on.  You and your partner don’t have to choose the same area.  

Keep it in your conscious awareness so that when you “slip up” you can make a correction.  Learning is not about doing it perfectly.  It’s about making mistakes and making the corrections over and over.

*Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S., is an Associate Editor at Psych Central. She also explores self-image issues on her own blog Weightless and creativity on her blog Make a Mess: Everyday Creativity.

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Your first chance to help us win and you to not win

“OK I signed up but please no mug.  I prefer to be a loser.” (RC)

Remember our last drawing MUG on a MUG?  After PLEADING with friends and colleagues to “follow” CATNIPblog I received the above message from my grade-school crush (who shall remain nameless but knows who he is . . . cuz I told him.)

Many of you have made it abundantly clear you don’t want things, so DO NOT MISS THIS OPPORTUNITY to not get anything!

TA DAA!!!

Announcing the no-giveaway-once-in-a-full-moon opportunity to invite your friends and family to FOLLOW CATNIPblog and receive nothing at all in return except for . . .

. . . Peggy & Judy’s unabashed gratitude cuz they do not want to spend the last remaining days of their lives typing their little fingers to the bone, creating uproariously funny drawings and taxing their little brains trying to figure out how to get more readers.

Looking for blog “Followers” by Peggy

Here’s all you have to do to insure you never have to apologize to Peggy & Judy with lame excuses like they’ve already heard:

  • I don’t know what a blog is.
  • I don’t have a computer
  • I can’t find the “follow” box even though you have told me it’s in the upper right hand corner of the blog.

join my grade-school crush (who continues to remain nameless).  Send this link http://CATNIPBLOG.com to your friends and family to FOLLOW CATNIPblog.  And if they are allergic to cats FOLLOW CURIOUS TO THE MAX where almost none of Judy’s drawings have fur, much less clothes.  (Click here for what I’m talking about.)

Join hundreds of other wonderful fellow-followers on the CATNIPblog of OFFICIAL LOSERS – you will receive nothing, at no time, nohow in perpetuity.”

Black hole of cyber-space

PLLLLLLLEEEEEEEEEEZ tell your friends and family to FOLLOW so Peggy & Judy can start the new year knowing all their hard work isn’t being sucked into the black hole of cyber-space without proper appreciation.

They don’t even have to read any of the posts . . .  we’ll never know.

(jw)

How to flip the switch – Shame, guilt and worry

Our brain wants us to feel good but it hasn’t quite figured out how to differentiate “good” feelings from “bad”.  When you feel shame, guilt and worry your brain is trying to reward you by activating its reward center! 

Feel’n Blue by Peggy

When you are being followed by a black cloud, Alex Korb* has some insights that might help you find the sun. It’s all about neuroscience.

According to Korb, “Despite their differences, pride, shame, and guilt all activate similar neural circuits, including the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, amygdala, insula, and the nucleus accumbens. This explains why it can be so appealing to heap guilt and shame on ourselves — they’re activating the brain’s reward center.“

“A similar thing may be going if you just can’t seem to stop worrying. Korb says worrying stimulates the medial prefrontal cortex and lowers activity in the amygdala, thus helping your limbic system, your emotions, remain copascetic. His theory is that, even though worry is widely recognized as a pointless thing to do from a tactical point of view, apparently the brain considers it better than doing nothing at all when you’re anxious.”

How do you redirect your brain from “rewarding” you with guilt, shame or worry?

“Korb suggests asking yourself: “What am I grateful for?” His reasoning is chemical: “One powerful effect of gratitude is that it can boost serotonin. Trying to think of things you are grateful for forces you to focus on the positive aspects of your life. This simple act increases serotonin production in the anterior cingulate cortex.”

“Even more intriguingly, actually coming up with something you’re thankful for — not always an easy thing to do in a dark mood — isn’t even required. Just the acts of remembering to be thankful is the flexing of a type of emotional intelligence: “One study found that it actually affected neuron density in both the ventromedial and lateral prefrontal cortex. These density changes suggest that as emotional intelligence increases, the neurons in these areas become more efficient. With higher emotional intelligence, it simply takes less effort to be grateful.”

Serotonin Boost by Peggy

We’ve written about gratitude before – and will undoubtedly continue.  Quick and easy ways to refocus on what you can be grateful for is often hard when you’re feeling down.  Force yourself to name, list, draw 3 – 5 things every day.

They can be the same things every day and minor things taken for granted.

Examples of my gratitude:

  • I have teeth to brush

  • When I turn on the faucet water runs out

  • Blog followers clicked “like” on this post whether they “liked” it or not

Ahhhh. . .  I feel a serotonin surge in my anterior cingulate cortex and my  emotional intelligence increasing as I type . . . 

(jw)

*Alex Korb,  The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time

http://bigthink.com/robby-berman/4-things-you-can-do-to-cheer-up-according-to-neuroscience

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Is your present presentable? – 13 Guidelines –

In my family when we bought someone a gift we asked ourselves 3 questions:

  • The first criteria – “What do they NEED?”.
  • If we answered ourselves in the affirmative the next question asked – “What DON’T they have?”
  • And the final test to pick a gift – “Would the gift be USEFUL to them?”.

Sometimes the resulting gift was wonderful and appreciated.  This, I will admit, was often when the gift giver didn’t follow those rules or asked the recipient what they WANTED.

Entering adulthood I learned that my family-rules-of-gift-giving are waaaaay off.  Here are my own guidelines (I’ve been told that I am pretty good at picking out gifts that hit the mark):

Gift Exchange by Peggy

 

  1. Give people what they already have! I know, this doesn’t seem to make sense. Nobody needs what they already have.  But if they have it, they LIKE it. If they have a whole lot of whatever it is, they like it a whole lot. So get them more. They will love it. They have already told you by their own choices.
  2. If they don’t have it be sure they want it. This is something I have been guilty of–I think they need this. It would be good for them to have this. But if it’s easy for them to get and they haven’t gotten it . .   they may not want it, unless it’s new or updated.
  3. Wrap it beautifully or creatively. The neuroscience bears this out: When people are impressed by the wrapping that carries over to the gift. This is a similar concept to the wine testing that found people like a wine better when they are told it costs a lot, and like it less when told it is cheap – when it’s the exact same wine.
  4. Use their colors & style. Think about the colors they wear or have in their homes.  If you are getting clothes, this is also true of style–do they dress like a tomboy or a diva? Match their style. Matching style is good for everything, even a toaster.
  5. Give an experience or time.  Help them do more of what they love:  Tickets to an event, creating free time (Your time babysitting, pet walking, running errands, cooking a meal etc ), Always ask yourself the same questions you would for a physical gift –  Would they want/enjoy this?, Will it be easy for them to do?)
  6. Resist temptation to get what YOU would want,
  7. Think about how they will use it later, not so much about how they will react when opening the gift
  8. Ask what they would like (research on  gifts shows following the gift list is more appreciated than off list items).
  9. If you’ve found a great gift that fits more than one person, go ahead,  give the same gift to different people.
  10. Don’t go too fancy or complicated as most people want easy and convenient (unless you know they like fancy).
  11. Let them know you were thinking about them–why you got it, what it reminded you of about them (especially for unusual or weird gifts).
  12. if you give a “big” gift, leave it at that.  Additional small gifts decrease the perceived value of a big gift
  13. Ask their friends or look at their Facebook page for ideas on what they like (hobbies, interests, clothes/jewelry  do they wear in their photos)

Are there gift-giving guidelines you follow?  Let me know!

(PA)

http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2014/12/7-science-backed-ways-to-give-less-bad-gifts.html?utm_source=eml&utm_medium=e1&utm_campaign=sharebutton-t

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DECIDE to DECIDE to reduce your worry and anxiety

I don’t know about you but I remember being told as a child: “Do your best”, “Try your best” and questioned: “Is that the best you can do?”  I worried a lot that I wasn’t trying hard enough or I should have done better. Whether that led me to being a “perfectionist” (which some will dispute) I’ll never know.  After reading about the neuroscience research what I do know is,  from now on, I’m DECIDING to strive for GOOD ENOUGH.

Alex Korb, UCLA neuroscientist, maintains:  One thing to try is making a decision about what’s got you worked up. It doesn’t even have to be the perfect decision; just a good one will do.

“. . . Trying for the best, instead of good enough, brings too much emotional ventromedial prefrontal activity into the decision-making process.”

“In contrast, recognizing that good enough is good enough activates more dorsolateral prefrontal areas, which helps you feel more in control …” Korb: “Actively choosing caused changes in attention circuits and in how the participants felt about the action, and it increased rewarding dopamine activity.”

Decisions, Decisions by Peggy

Making decisions includes creating intentions and setting goals:

  • Decisions, intentions & goals – all three are part of the same neural circuitry and engage the prefrontal cortex in a positive way, reducing worry and anxiety.
  • Helps overcome striatum activity, which usually pulls you toward negative impulses and routines.
  • Changes your perception of the world — finding solutions to your problems and calming the limbic system.”

“A key thing here is that you’re making a conscious decision, or choice, and not just being dragged to a resolution. Your brain gets no reward for that.”

“If you’re still reluctant to make a choice between one option or another, the science suggests don’t worry, you’re likely to gain a positive bias toward the decision you make anyway.” 

“We don’t just choose the things we like;

we also like the things we choose.”

Alex Korb

Alex Korb, UCLA neuroscientist author of The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time

(jw)

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Get your FREE Incredibly Creative Stress Kit

“Stress-related disorders and diseases have been on the rise in the whole population for decades, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including those leading to . . . deaths of despair, but also to heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.”

“National surveys by the American Psychological Association that also capture how stressed, anxious and overwhelmed we feel show a similar increasing pattern. And it shows up in our bodies, even before we get sick or start down the many roads to self-harm.”

a judy collage

I personally have experienced just that.  My fibromyalgia flared for the first time during a particularly stressful time in my life.  The truth is I didn’t realize how stressed I was at the time.  Years later, it dawned on me that I had been in the center of  “the perfect” storm of stressful circumstances: My aging parents and in-laws were dying; my work focused on anger, anxiety, depression – any and all forms of psychological tension or stress; and my own hormonal changes.

I’ve seen similar circumstances with many clients and colleagues who, like me, coped with and habituated to the level of stress they were under and often didn’t know the magnitude of impact until much later when they became ill.  

All of us experience stress from work, money worries, traffic, political news, deadline pressure, relationship difficulties etc. and an even more basic cause which lies hidden at the intersection of psychology and biology:

Biology

“A central biological pathway is from excess cortisol — the fight-or-flight hormone — that characterizes being over-stressed for long periods of time. This “stress dysregulation” leads to risky health decisions, like addiction or overeating, and directly to many health problems linked to excess cortisol.”

Psychology

  • How we THINK triggers the stress response.  We don’t have to actually be in a stressful situation – it’s our perception of it that alone can trigger a neuro-biological stress response.
  • Slow-moving and cumulative social forces “get under the skin” early in life and can show up decades later in morbidity and mortality.
  • Losing a sense of control that you believed you had, whether real or not, justified or not, creates stressful dislocations.

There are many things that can be done to “de-stress”.  Most require time, money, effort or all three.  Basically, we like what is quick and easy.  To that end we’ve accumulated information and exercises over the 30 decades each of us was in practice and have now compiled some of it into a 19 page FREE PDF.  

Click here for your free copy:

The Incredibly Creative Stress Kit

You can always access the PDF by the “Free or Cheep Page” which is located in the masthead above the CATNIP banner on every page.

Please let us know what worked for you or how you modified any of the activities. 

Recent References:
Daniel Keating is a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan and author of “Born Anxious: The Lifelong Impact of Early Life Adversity — and How to Break the Cycle,”

The Hamilton Project looked at the “physiological stress load” in the US using biological markers tied to cardiovascular, kidney and liver function to create a stress load index. This physical stress load, a precursor to many diseases, has increased in striking fashion since the late 1970s, and it is getting worse as each new age group enters adulthood.

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