Coronavirus Panic: How To Get Your Thinking Brain Back Online

We’ve been posting self-help tips & techniques on how better to survive the pandemic. Most of the posts are on CURIOUStotheMAX, simply because that blog covers a wide range of topics, more than just the mind which is this blog’s focus.

This interview with Dr. Judson Brewer, a neuroscientist and psychiatrist at Brown University caught our attention since he touches on many of the same things we’ve been covering.  NPR host Shereen Marisol Meraji spoke with Dr. Brewer about what’s going on in the brain when we’re anxious, how to get our “thinking brains” back online, and how not doing anything can actually be helpful to those around us.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.  Dr Brewer’s responses are in italics & color:


Dr. Jud, everyone, including me, has been saying, “Take a deep breath,” or “I need to take a deep breath” way more lately — to the point where I feel like it’s becoming a little bit cliché. But you say this actually works?

“Yes, this is how our brain works. Fear is a normal adaptive response, but fear plus uncertainty makes our brains spin out in anxiety. And the best way to get our physiology calmed down and our thinking brain back online is literally to take a deep breath.”
“If we can understand why fear is a helpful adaptive response, we can understand how taking a deep breath can help. Fear helps us learn. For example, if we step out into the street and we almost get hit by a car, but step back just in time, our fear response here reminds us to look both ways before crossing the street.”

“We get revved up [and anxious] when the newer parts of our brain, the thinking and planning parts of the brain, don’t have accurate information. And [the newer parts of the brain] start spinning out into these “what if” worry loops. You know, “What if this happens? What if that happens?”‘

“If we can notice that we’re starting to spin out and take a step back and see that our brain is just trying to get control where there’s uncertainty, we can try and get our thinking brain back online. We can try to literally calm our nervous system down by taking a deep breath or feeling our feet as a way to ground ourselves in our direct experience.”

You’ve talked about how the prefrontal cortex in our brains needs very clear information. And we’re in a place right now where information is changing rapidly. So what’s going on in the prefrontal cortex while all of this is changing?

“Well, sometimes there’s not a lot going on in the prefrontal cortex. Let’s say we’re afraid and anxious and maybe we go on social media to try to get more information. We can actually catch something that’s even more contagious than a virus — [we can catch] panic and fear. [Panic and fear] can spread through social contagion, which is simply the transmission of affect or emotion from one person to another. And that actually makes our prefrontal cortex shut down. You can catch a virus from somebody by being near them, but someone can “sneeze” on your brain from anywhere in the world.”
“We can also see this playing out not only on social media, but when we say, go to the grocery store. If someone goes to the grocery store and sees somebody else hoarding toilet paper, suddenly, their scarcity brain kicks in. They might think, “maybe I’m not going to have enough toilet paper.” So they run to the toilet paper aisle and buy all the rest of the toilet paper, even though they probably have enough at home. So when this scarcity mode kicks in, it can also spread panic and fear through social contagion.”

People are trying to control this situation that we absolutely have no control over, right? I’m just cleaning everything that I can get my hands on and I’m never stopping, which makes me feel like I have some sort of control over everything. Is it ever helpful to try and control things in the ways that we can?

“Well, it depends on what we’re doing. So if we’re afraid or panicked and we try to control things, we’re going to actually fall back into old habit patterns. For example, if our habit pattern is to clean, we might start cleaning obsessively in a way that’s not helpful — It could use up cleaning supplies. If we start cleaning our house and nobody’s been in our house for a week, the likelihood that something infectious is going to suddenly show up on our countertops is pretty low.”

“So here, if our brain is anxious and our thinking brain is offline, the likelihood that we’re going to have any wisdom show up is pretty low. So again, it comes back to grounding ourselves and then asking ourselves, “What am I about to do? Is this actually helpful?”‘

“For example, in my psychiatry training, I learned this great phrase, “Don’t just do something, sit there.” The idea is, if I’m sitting with a patient and they’re anxious, I could catch their anxiety through social contagion. Here, I become anxious and then I try to do something to fix them to make myself feel better. When in fact, the best thing that I could do is simply to listen. And I think that applies to all of us.”

All of this feels simple and fairly easy — take deep breaths, feel your feet, take some time to just notice where you’re at and what’s going on around you in this very moment. But how do we make these into habits?

“There’s this phrase, “short moments, many times.” If somebody is going to create a habit of anything, they need short moments of repetition and they need to repeat it over and over and over. So it’s not just about trying to force ourselves not to check the news — that actually fails. You can’t think your way out of a bad habit. But we can tap into the strongest parts of our brain, the reward based learning parts, which feed on reward. For example, when we worry, we get more anxious. But if we can see that when we calm ourselves down — maybe we hug a loved one or pet our dog or take a deep breath— we feel less anxious, then we can start to change our habits.”

How are you talking to people to make them feel better about staying home? What are you telling people to make them feel empowered when they’re not allowed to leave the house?

“Two feelings I’m noticing here are guilt and shame. Guilt is feeling that we should do something when everybody else is doing something. This then can lead to shame about ourselves. So guilt is about a behavior and shame is about ourselves. So I think, again, the first thing to do is recognize what you’re feeling. Are you feeling guilt? Is that leading to a shame spiral where you’re beating yourself up? This can make our thinking brain go offline. We tend to do things that are not helpful when we’re not thinking.”

“If we can step out of that process, we can see that the best and most helpful thing to do is stay home. Because that’s what’s going to stop the spread of this virus. Running out there and trying to do something could actually make this worse. If we can step out of that shame spiral, our thinking and creative brains come back online and then we can think about what skills and talents we have that can be useful.”

https://www.npr.org/2020/04/10/832171895/coronavirus-panic-how-to-get-your-thinking-brain-back-online

 

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

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)

It’s “that” time year – Isolation, Not Loneliness, Shortens Life

We often believe that during holidays everyone, except us, is having a wonderful festive time, surrounded by loving family, caring friends, filled with fun, festivity and happiness.

At the risk of “bah humbug” what I most often heard from clients was holidays were filled with stress, trepidation, family feuds or deep pain at being alone while everyone else seemingly was partying.  

Coupled with studies which suggest that the Christmas/New Year’s holidays are a risk factor for cardiac and noncardiac mortality.* the United Kingdom study on loneliness and isolation of 6,500  had an interesting conclusion:

Loneliness hurts, but social isolation can kill you. 

“The study, by a team at University College London, comes after decades of research showing that both loneliness and infrequent contact with friends and family can, independently, shorten a person’s life. The scientists expected to find that the combination of these two risk factors would be especially dangerous.”

“We were thinking that people who were socially isolated but also felt lonely might be at particularly high risk,” says Andrew Steptoe, a professor of psychology at University College London.”

“To find out, the team studied 6,500 men and women ages 52 and older. All of them had answered a questionnaire back in 2004 or 2005 that assessed both their sense of loneliness and how much contact they had with friends and family. The researchers looked to see what happened to those people over the next seven or eight years.”

“And Steptoe says he was surprised by the result. “Both social isolation and loneliness appeared initially to be associated with a greater risk of dying,” he says. “But it was really the isolation which was more important.”‘

‘”At first, it looked like people who reported greater levels of loneliness were more likely to die, Steptoe says. But closer analysis showed that these people were also more likely to have other risk factors, like being poor and having existing health problems. Once those factors were taken into account, the extra risk associated with loneliness pretty much disappeared, Steptoe says.”‘

“But people who spent very little time with friends and family, or at social events, were more likely to die regardless of income or health status the team reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”

“It’s not clear why social isolation is linked to mortality. But one possibility is that having other people around has practical benefits as you get older, Steptoe says. For example, they may push you to go see a doctor if you are having symptoms like chest pain, he says. And if you were to lose consciousness, they would call for help.”

Do Facebook friends count? How about texting?

“Other researchers say they are surprised and not necessarily convinced by the new study, even though they say it’s large and well-done.”

‘”It doesn’t negate the loneliness work that’s been done to date,” says Bert Uchino, a University of Utah psychology professor. He says this study may have reached a different conclusion than earlier ones because people’s definition of loneliness is changing in the Internet age.”‘

‘”People … may think that they’re connected to other people because they’re on Facebook,” Uchino says. So they may not report feeling lonely. But that sort of connection, he says, may not have the health benefits of direct contact with other people.”

*https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/abs/10.1161/01.cir.0000151424.02045.f7   (There are multiple explanations for this association, including the possibility that holiday-induced delays in seeking treatment play a role in producing the twin holiday spikes.)

http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2013/03/26/175283008/maybe-isolation-not-loneliness-shortens-life

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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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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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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The Longer Your Telomeres, The Longer You Live

“Telomeres – the caps at the end of our chromosomes – protect the DNA within our cells. The longer our telomeres, the less our likelihood of chronic disease and signs of aging.”

“Have you wondered why some sixty-year-olds look and feel like forty-year-olds and why some forty-year-olds look and feel like sixty-year-olds? While many factors contribute to aging and illness, Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn discovered a biological indicator called telomerase, the enzyme that replenishes telomeres, which protect our genetic heritage.”

“Dr. Blackburn and Dr. Elissa Epel’s research* shows that the length and health of one’s telomeres are a biological underpinning of the long-hypothesized mind-body connection. They and other scientists have found that changes we can make to our daily habits can protect our telomeres and increase our health spans (the number of years we remain healthy, active, and disease-free).”

“THE TELOMERE EFFECT* reveals how Blackburn and Epel’s findings, together with research from colleagues around the world, cumulatively show that sleep quality, exercise, aspects of diet, and even certain chemicals profoundly affect our telomeres, and that chronic stress, negative thoughts, strained relationships, and even the wrong neighborhoods can eat away at them.”

Lifestyle factors known to modulate aging and age-related diseases might also affect telomerase activity and have all been linked to shorter telomeres.

  • Obesity
  • Insulin resistance
  • Cardio-vascular disease processes (related to oxidative stress and inflammation)
  • Smoking
  • Exposure to pollution
  • Lower physical activity
  • Psychological stress
  • Unhealthy diet

You can counteract your “biological clock” by reactivating telomerase through diet and lifestyle interventions

With intensive lifestyle modification, a low fat diet, regular physical activity, and mental stress reduction (by yoga and meditation), telomerase activity increases significantly in peripheral blood mononuclear cell.

Specific nutrients provide all the necessary building blocks to support telomere health and extend lifespan like:

  • Folate 
  • Vitamins (B, D, E, C) 
  • Zinc
  • Polyphenol compounds such as resveratrol 
  • Grape seed extract 
  • Curcumin

Rich in those vitamins and minerals and a good source of antioxidants are foods like: Tuna, salmon, herring, mackerel, halibut, anchovies, cat-fish, grouper, flounder, flax seeds, sesame seeds, kiwi, black raspberries, green tea, broccoli, sprouts, red grapes, tomatoes and olives.  “These, combined with a Mediterranean type of diet containing fruits, vegetables and whole grains would help protect our chromosome ends [6270].”

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4761710/

*The Telomere Effect,  A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer by Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, Dr. Elissa Epel “A groundbreaking book coauthored by the Nobel Prize winner who discovered telomerase and telomeres’ role in the aging process and the health psychologist who has done original research into how specific lifestyle and psychological habits can protect telomeres, slowing disease and improving life.”

 

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Why you can’t stop checking your e-mail

Our brains are wired to constantly seek novelty, and every new email that lands in our inbox with a ping sends a dopamine-fueled shiver of excitement through our cerebrum. Turning off notifications and setting and communicating clear email . . . can disrupt that addictive dopamine loop.

Addicted, by Peggy

But behavioral science would suggest there’s more than just neurotransmitters at work.

“a factor that may be driving our inability to disconnect is the peak-end rule, whereby people tend to judge an experience based on what it felt like at its most intense point and at the end. In other words, what we remember most about our inbox is just how awful it feels to face all those unanswered emails — that endless, running to-do list of other people’s priorities — that have piled up while we were away.  So we keep checking just to avoid that pain.

Another factor could be our human predilection for making decisions based on short-term payoffs, like deciding to fall back into a warm bed in the morning rather than get up and exercise.
“We love to get things ‘done,'” explained Iris Bohnet, a behavioral economist at the Harvard Kennedy School. “Email is terrible for that. If you only respond to these 10 emails, it feels like an accomplishable task.”
 

Ironically, if we did stop checking email, we really wouldn’t miss that much. In a survey, Daniel Ariely, professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke, found that only 11% of the emails in our inboxes require immediate attention. The other 89% can wait.

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Write About Past Failures to Help You Succeed In the Present

Having taught journal writing workshops for decades it’s apparent to me that very few people are avid journal keepers, including myself.  Most of us, however, can do periodic writing to relieve stress, resolve problems and most of all give our brains get an objective view point.

In psychological jargon the “objective observer” actually helps us “reprogram” painful, hurtful, stressful, difficult memories.  There are lots of ways to access our “objective observer” – meditation, guided imagery, the arts – and writing is one of the quickest.

Write on! by Peggy

Research have shown that writing about negative events or emotions is emotionally therapeutic and can even benefit the immune system.  Interestingly other studies have shown that writing about one’s worries before a high-stakes exam can boost test scores.

Here’s a particularly interesting study:

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

by Alice G. Walton

“They say failure is a necessary part of success, but it doesn’t always feel that way. A new study in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience not only supports this connection but adds an interesting twist, finding that reflecting on past failures—by writing about them—may help us stay calm in the face of new stressors. The team found this in the lab, but based on past evidence, it likely applies to real life, too.”

“The researchers, from Rutgers University, University of Pennsylvania and Duke University, had people come into the lab and write for 10 minutes about either a time they’d made mistakes or failed at something in the past, or about an unrelated topic (a movie they’d recently seen). The team predicted that writing about a past failure would actually reduce a person’s stress level during a stressful situation in the present, whereas writing about the random topic wouldn’t have any effect.”

“To stress the participants, they subjected them to a well-known Trier Social Stress Test, in which participants have just a few minutes to prepare a five-minute speech, which they have to deliver in front of the researchers, or in this case a researcher posing as a “speech expert.” If that weren’t enough, the participants then had to count backwards by 13 from 2063. Finally, participants carried out a straightforward test of attention and reaction time.”

“As the team predicted, people who’d written about a past failure didn’t show the typical stress response (measured by the stress hormone cortisol) to the stress test, compared to the control group, who’d written about movie plots. They also did better on the tests of attention, making fewer mistakes, and ending with higher scores on average.”

“Because the control group still wrote, but about an unemotional topic, the authors conclude that it’s not just the writing, but the reflecting on earlier failure, that seems to have the stress-reducing effects.”

“We didn’t find that writing itself had a direct relationship on the body’s stress responses,” says study author Brynne DiMenichi in a statement. “Instead, our results suggest that, in a future stressful situation, having previously written about a past failure causes the body’s stress response to look more similar to someone who isn’t exposed to stress at all.”

https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2018/03/24/how-writing-about-past-failures-may-help-you-succeed-in-the-future/#12991c2d13bc

Check out an easy tutorial on writing. Click HERE

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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”  

I have WHAT? . . . WHERE? . . . you may too and not know it

I had chronic medical conditions (fibromyalgia/heart arrhythmia) lurking in my body long before I was aware of them. Just recently I went for an adrenal check-up wondering if that was part of my chronic fatigue.  The doctor said my adrenals were fine – I breathed a sigh of relief.  He went on to announce that I had Hashimoto’s Disease.  I was floored to learn my immune system was destroying my thyroid gland without even telling me.

What do heart disease, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, gout, asthma, and other chronic conditions have in common? Inflammation!

Get the facts about inflammation and what it’s doing to your health BEFORE it kicks you where it hurts.

The Dangers of Inflammation*

There are two kinds of inflammation—acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term). While acute inflammation is an essential part of the healing process, chronic inflammation can lead to many of the health conditions plaguing people today.

Linked to chronic disease. It turns out inflammation is a key player in a wide range of chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, psoriasis, and inflammatory bowel disease.

 Allergies can lead to inflammation. Sometimes the immune system becomes hypersensitive to allergens like dust and pollen. Repeated exposure to these allergens can lead to inflammation, which, left unchecked, can cause tissue damage.

Inflammation and your joints . In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, the body’s immune system attacks itself, leading to inflammation that can damage tissues. The inflammation associated with gout can, over the long-term, cause joint damage and a loss of mobility.

The effect of inflammation on the brain. Even your brain is susceptible to inflammation.  inflammation can alter blood flow to the brain, leading to tissue damage and cognitive decline. Inflammation can also lead to the creation of damaging proteins linked to Alzheimer’s.

Besides medicines, there are powerful anti-inflammatory “influencers”—such as eating fruits, vegetables, and nuts, minimizing stress, getting more sleep, and quitting smoking—which can help you take charge of chronic inflammation and prevent or reduce its damaging effects.

(jw)

Reference:

*Understanding Inflammation. guide from the experts at Harvard Medical School

Great News if you’re in hot water! No need to exercise – A Hot Bath Can Do Good Things

I fill up my tub, climb in, sink down till the water hits my chin.  Just imagining it now I can feel my muscles relax,  my mind relax into the warmth. I love soaking in water.  It turns out that a hot bath has lots of benefits besides relaxing your muscles, warming you up and letting you relax.

 

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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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Take this quiz – We dare you

Most of us like to think we are emotionally intelligent.  Despite decades in the business of “psychology” I admit, I sometimes “lose it” . . . lose my emotional intelligence.  When I’m stressed, sick, tired (or sick ‘n tired) it’s harder to muster up my objectively and control,  much less compassion for myself or others.  I experience emotional intelligence as not a fixed number like I.Q. but rather waxes, wanes, ebbs and flows throughout my day.

Cat in “the hat” by peggy from Pawsitively Tuesday

According to Psychology Today, “Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others. It is generally said to include three skills:

Emotional awareness, including the ability to identify your own emotions and those of others;
The ability to harness emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problems solving;
The ability to manage emotions, including the ability to regulate your own emotions, and the ability to cheer up or calm down another person.”

Here’s a checklist from MindTools that can help you determine your EI

15 Statements to Answer

Not at All Rarely Sometimes Often Very Often
1 I can recognize my emotions as I experience them.
2 I lose my temper when I feel frustrated.
3 People have told me that I’m a good listener.
4 I know how to calm myself down when I feel anxious or upset.
5 I enjoy organizing groups.
6 I find it hard to focus on something over the long-term.
7 I find it difficult to move on when I feel frustrated or unhappy.
8 I know my strengths and weaknesses.
9 I avoid conflict and negotiations.
10 I feel that I don’t enjoy my work.
11 I ask people for feedback on what I do well, and how I can improve.
12 I set long-term goals, and review my progress regularly.
13 I find it difficult to read other people’s emotions.
14 I struggle to build rapport with others.
15 I use active listening skills when people speak to me.

2, 6, 7, 9, 10, 13, 14 indicate needing to work on EI.

“You get the idea. Emotional Intelligence is the ability to work well with others, keep oneself in check, motivate yourself and others without resorting to fear or intimidation, to be empathetic, and to know oneself. Psychologist Daniel Goleman says there are five elements that define EI:”

Self-awareness
Self-regulation
Motivation
Empathy
Social skills

Does YOUR EI wax & wane or is it a fixed attribute?

(jw)

http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/columnist/strauss/2017/02/24/you-emotionally-intelligent-s-big-help-workplace/98358312/

Frankly Freddie – National Love your Pet Day

Dear Humans and other Critters,

Are you lucky OR WHAT?! Since you missed sending me Valentine’s treats you get another chance.  February 20th is National LOVE YOUR PET DAY.

National Love Your Pet Day is an unofficial holiday because we pets are apolitical and don’t have an effective lobby. The purpose of this holiday is to encourage you to show us the love and affection we deserve

Number of Animals Owned in U.S (In Millions)

  • Freshwater Fish: 140
  • Cats: 94
  • Dogs 90
  • Birds 20.4
  • Saltwater Fish: 18.8
  • Reptiles: 9.4
  • Horses: 7.7

Those of you who are owned by birds, saltwater fish, horses, donkeys or reptiles and don’t know what canine dogs prefer here’s a list of my favorite treats:

  • ice cream
  • bananas, blueberries, apples tomatoes (all fruit)
  • peanut butter
  • doggie cookies
  • ALL human food

The benefits of owning a pet like ME

1.  Lessen the Chance of Developing Allergies

Several studies show that children in households with pets have a 33% lower chance of developing a related allergy.

2.  Strengthen the Immune Systems of Children

Children in households with pets didn’t just have less allergies to the particular animal in the home, the children also had stronger immunity systems overall. Studies have shown that children who live in homes with pets miss less school due to sickness than children who grow up in pet-less homes.

3.  Instant Ice Breakers

If you are shy we are instant icebreaker when you take us out in public. My human is always interrupting my walk and talking to other pet owners. 

4.  Improved Heart Health

According to the latest research, is that we may improve your heart health. Studies have shown that owning a pet can lower blood pressure, triglyceride and cholesterol levels in their owners. Which can lower the chance of a heart attack.  I’m better than prescriptions . . . maybe not cheaper but BETTER.

5.  Improve Fitness Levels

I help prevent my human from becoming obese. Studies show that walking you dog on a regular basis helps pet owners lose weight . . . or at the very least maintain it.  She tends to over-indulge (in eating, not walking).

6.  Improve Depression

Pets have been shown as a great cure for the blues. It’s becoming more and more common for using Pet Facilitate Therapy (PFT) in hospitals and nursing homes. Many people immediately feel better just by petting a dog or cat.

  Check out this! Remington’s Tail

Adopt a pet if you haven’t already been adopted!

And send me National Pet Day Treats.

The Pit In Your Stomach is Actually Your Second Brain

Decades ago, when every one of the ten thousand doctors I saw (ok, so I exaggerate  . . a bit) pronounced me “fit as a fiddle” despite the crushing pain, depression and fatigue I was experiencing. I decided the only explanation was my body was inhabited by alien creatures.  Turns out my diagnosis may have been close to the truth.

“As researchers turn their microscopes to these hidden environments, they have discovered something remarkable: There’s an entire ecosystem of bacteria and a vast neural network operating in our guts. This ecosystem is our second brain, and comprises some 100 million neurons, more than the spinal cord. This is not a thinking brain—it does not reason, write poetry, or solve multi-linear regressions—but mounting evidence suggests that your gut’s health strongly influences your mood.”

“The enteric nervous system is a mesh-like network of neurons that lines the entire digestive track. It causes the sensation of nervous butterflies or a pit in your stomach that are innate parts of our psychological stress responses. Up to 90 percent of the cells involved in these responses carry information to the brain rather than receiving messages from it, making your gut as influential to your mood as your head is. Maybe even more.”

Even crazier is that our second brain is actually only half of us. Inside the digestive system, the enteric nervous system mainly communicates with bacteria. These are completely separate creatures that make up our microbiome, and there are just as many of them inside of us as our own human cells.

“Our gut bacteria have evolved with us since birth. They help digest our food and fight off unfriendly outsiders like viruses and molds. To keep us healthy they need to be healthy and plentiful as well. When they’re not, we feel it: This biomass of bacteria communicates with important neurotransmitters embedded throughout our enteric nervous system to send messages that influence the way we feel.”

“This could herald good news for those who suffer from anxiety or depression. Studies indicate that those with healthy and diverse gut microbes are less likely to suffer from either malady. And many of us who grew up in too—clean environments, frequently took antibiotics, and ate junk food have a decidedly unhealthy microbiome. So changing one’s diet could well benefit far more than your waistline.”

“If you’ve seen the term “probiotics” recently, this is why. Probiotics are foods that nourish and promote your biome. They’re foods cultured with the strains of healthy bacteria. Yogurt is a cultured food. Unfortunately, many grocery store yogurts are little more than a thickened, sweetened milk product. But yogurt that lists strains such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis actually contain the healthy bacteria your gut needs. “Prebiotic” foods, meanwhile, support a healthy gut ecosystem in which your bacteria can thrive. Together, prebiotic and probiotic food help keep your second brain full of the vibrant bacterial community it needs to function.”

Some gut-healthy foods – yogurt, sauerkraut & dark chocolate

“How exactly these gut-healthy foods help manage depression is not yet totally clear. The science on the gut-brain connection is still young, especially as it relates to our mood. But studies continue to find promising correlations. There is evidence that a healthy gut can curb inflammation and cortisol levels, lower your reaction to stress, improve memory, and even reduce neuroticism and social anxiety.”

Your Microbiome is Invisibly Spewing YOU onto Others!

 (jw)

Article from Huffington Post

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How getting your hands dirty calms your mind

I have a garden plot.  This year I had a bumper crop for the neighborhood vermin.  What the rabbits didn’t eat the rats finished off.  I never caught any rats in action but I don’t think rabbits can climb up apple trees or tomato vines.   Based on research the neighborhood rabbits and rats are not only well fed but are very mellow.

Well fed by judy

Most gardens are sources of fresh food, but increasingly they’re also an extension of therapy for people with mental health issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD; depression; and anxiety.

It’s called horticultural therapy. And some doctors, psychologists and occupational therapists are now at work to test whether building, planting, and harvesting a garden can be a therapeutic process in its own right.

“Social scientists have also been looking at gardens built by and for the homeless, ex-convicts on probation and hospital patients. The results of early studies suggest they have a positive impact. Most people tend to not revert back to bad behavior and many make changes in their lives for the better, the studies show.”

“For now, that evidence seems to be enough to fuel the burgeoning field — programs like a camp for troubled teens in Hawaii, called Pacific Quest. Program staff tell The Salt they believe the garden is a beneficial tool to emotionally engage the kids.”

“For a few months, students — many with psychological issues from trauma, adoption, depression — band together and run a garden from the seed to the dinner plate. “They are introduced to the garden by eating the food planted by [a camper] who was in their shoes just a few months ago,” Travis Slagle, a Horticultural Therapy Association member and land supervisor for Pacific Quest, tells The Salt. “That builds their curiosity.”‘

A 2007 study in the journal Neuroscience found a bacteria found in soil linked with increased serotonin production in the brain — a sign that gardening could increase serotonin levels and improve depression.

“Much of the science behind just how gardening affects the mind and brain still remains a mystery. What scientists do know is that gardening reduces stress and calms the nerves. It decreases cortisol, a hormone that plays a role in stress response.”

click here to Read entire article

Next year I’m planting flowers. It’s only fair I give the snails their share of calm.

(jw)

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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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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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