Peggy’s Read – The Upside of Stress

I read 2-3 books at the same time: One is for chilling out (usually a mystery), one is for the book group I’ve belonged to for years and one is because I love science.

My latest read, by Kelly McGonigal, PhD, “The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You and How to get Good at it”, was enlightening.

McGonigal was interested in a longitudinal (1998- 2016) study of 30,0000 adults, showing that high levels of stress increased the risk of dying by 43% BUT ONLY if the person believed stress was harmful. (PA)

Those with high stress levels who did not believe it was harmful to their health had the lowest risk of death, lower than those who had little stress.

Popular opinion has been to avoid stress because it’s harmful.  This book made me rethink avoiding stressful situations and reframing stress as a challenge and help build resources and confidence.

Stress? Or a challenge? 

Here’s some of the interesting research and information from The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You and How to get Good at it”:

Simply watching a” stress is enhancing” video to change someone’s mindset made a difference in the participants hormones that are produce during stress: cortisol and DHEA. The ratio of the two, called the growth index, determines the effects of stress. Higher levels of DHEA help people thrive under stress, and be resilience when stress is very high.
The researchers followed over time two groups:  a mindset change group that watched videos of the positive effects of stress and examples of thriving under stress and a control group that didn’t see the videos.  The group that was exposed to the positive effects of stress:

  • Continued to see stress in a more positive way.
  • Their depression and anxiety was reduced
  • Had fewer health problems
  • Were more focused and more productive.
  • These brief trainings resulted in lasting change.

There was no change in the control group.

Maybe non-life threatening stress should be called

the “challenge response”? 

Stress? Or meaningful activity-or both?

Some positive aspects of stress the book details:

  • The most common response to acute (as opposed to chronic) stress in people is growth and resilience.
  • Fight or flight not only gives you a bodily response to stress but can increase motivation for change.
  • Experience with stress when it’s not life-threatening can increase resilience. This response increases energy and focus.  It releases higher DHEA, raising the growth index. Artists and athletes show this when engaged in skill.
  • Oxytocin improves empathy and decrease fear, and increases social connections.
  • DHEA and nerve growth factor increases neuroplasticity to help you learn from stressful events.
    Cortisol and oxytocin help decrease inflammatory response and help recovery

Studies show stressed people are happier, maybe because they are engaged in meaningful things… jobs, raising kids, and  other projects. A full, busy life is full of stress.

Sometimes it is good to try to cam down, but other times it is better to say “I’m excited” when anxious. Cortisol and adrenaline actually improve performance during test taking,  Athletes say they are excited (rather than stressed) before a game which helps focus and determination to win.

When I think back to times I learned, changed and grew the most, high stress was ever present.  It was a fascinating read and while I still don’t relish most stressful situations I learned stress is ever present and whether I focus on the positive or negative aspects my brain, body and life are all impacted in critical ways.

Peggy

 

Kelly McGonigal, PhD, “The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You and How to get Good at it”

A tenth of a second between me and Barbie

I’m standing in front of the open refrigerator, ready to get a snack. Even as my hand moves toward the food, my brain is still deciding what to do, still in the middle of choosing my hand passes the carrot sticks and grabs the chocolate cake.  Who knew?

If it weren’t for my chocolate lips I’d be a Barbie, Judy’s Journal page

  • “When we make a decision, we’re really choosing between several concrete plans of action and not abstract ideas.  Your brain is planning the necessary actions to execute all potential decisions. In fact, you’re still deciding when you move, and we can see that because of how you move.”
  • “How we move gives us a lot of clues into how people make decisions. For example, decisive choices tend to be a straight movement in one direction. But if we aren’t sure, the physical route we take might curve or hesitate. We can use that as an index of the preferences revealed in a movement as it is evolving.”
  • “Using this process, we can begin to identify which equations the brain uses to make these types of decisions. If we can identify these equations, we can develop targeted therapies and interventions for people who have disordered decision-making.” “If we understand exactly what is going wrong, we will be better able to intervene.  Compulsive gambling behaviour is an example of a disordered decision-making process that is impulsive, perseverative and ineffective.

My reaching for ice cream to go with the cake is adisordered decision-making process” . . .  I knew . . .

(jw)

Want to make better decisions? Slow down, Wispinki says:

“One way you can make better decisions is to wait a bit longer.” 

“That might be a way in which everyday decisions can be improved. It could be as little as a tenth of a second.”

Your Brain on Chocolate Chip Cookies

What is your preference?

Soft and gooey?
Crisp and crunchy?
Semisweet chocolate?
Milk chocolate?
Bittersweet?

Some research suggests that ingredients in chocolate chip cookies may have additive properties. Take sugar: Evidence in humans shows that sugar and sweetness can induce rewards and cravings comparable in magnitude to those induced by addictive drugs, including cocaine.

Oh Noooooooooo

Then there’s the chocolate, which, in addition to sugar, contains small amounts of a compound known as anandamide. Anandamide is also a brain chemical that targets the same cell receptors as THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the active ingredient in marijuana that is responsible for its mood-altering effects.
(That’s not to say chocolate will produce the same “high” as marijuana, but there may be a chemical basis for the pleasure we get from eating chocolate.)
“According to Gary Wenk, director of neuroscience undergraduate programs at the Ohio State University and author of “Your Brain on Food,” high-fat, sugar-rich cookies will raise the level of anandamide in our brains independent of what’s in the cookie, because it’s our body’s response to eating such a tasty item. “The fat and sugar combine to induce our addiction as much as does the anandamide,” Wenk said. “It’s a triple play of delight.”‘

Oh Nooooooooo

Texture and flavor: Key to a cookie’s addictive characteristics

The flavor of chocolate chip cookies is “. . . a beautiful amalgam of caramelized butter and sugar,” the result of the browning of butter and caramelizing of sugar while it bakes. The combination of the toasted grain with the browned butter, caramelized sugar, vanilla and chocolate are “the beautiful rich flavors that blend together in a chocolate chip cookie.  And as the chocolate melts, it becomes more aromatic and punches up the flavor.”*

A happy indulgence

“The main thing is not to think of food as good food and bad food. It’s all good. It’s how much you eat of it,”
So whether it feels like a true “addiction” or not, indulging in a chocolate chip cookie or two should be a happy experience.

Oh Yessssssssss

*Gail Vance Civille, founder and president of Sensory Spectrum, a consulting firm that helps companies learn how sensory cues drive consumer perceptions of products.

Did you know?: You are more Microbes, Fungi than HUMAN

“There are 10 times more cells from microorganisms like bacteria and fungi in and on our bodies than there are human cells. But these tiny compatriots are invisible to the naked eye.  . . . artist Ben Arthur gives a guided tour of the rich universe of the human microbiome.”

Fun to watch and informative!

YOUR body is host to 101 fungal species, with each person harboring between 9 and 23 strains. 

“A growing number of researchers feel that alongside bacteria, the fungi that inhabit our bodies – or, collectively, the “mycobiome” — may also be influential in both our well-being and, at times, disease.”

If your fungi are out of balance it’s not healthy.

“Even when we are alone, we are never alone. We exist in symbiosis — a wonderful term that refers to different organisms living together. Some animals are colonised by microbes while they are still unfertilised eggs; others pick up their first partners at the moment of birth. We then proceed through our lives in their presence. When we eat, so do they. When we travel, they come along. When we die, they consume us. Every one of us is a zoo in our own right — a colony enclosed within a single body. A multi-species collective. An entire world.”

Changes in our resident microbiota and their collective genome — called the microbiome — have been linked with a wide range of diseases, from various forms of arthritis to depression. At this point scientists tend to focus on which bacterial species might hinder or maintain health.

But our biota comprises a menagerie of microbes. And a growing number of researchers feel that alongside bacteria, the fungi that inhabit our bodies may also be influential in both our well-being and, at times, disease.

Fungi Out Of Balance

A Telltale Sign For Unwanted Fungi

  • French researchers distinguished the fungi present in healthy human lungs compared with those afflicted with cystic fibrosis. Aspergillus was most prevalent in the lungs of healthy people, whereas various Candida species dominated in those afflicted with CF and other lung disorders.
  • UCLA professor David Underhill  found that mammalian fungi interact with the immune system to control inflammation in the gut.
  • Mice in which the gene encoding for Dectin-1 was inactivated and in which colitis was induced came down with far more severe disease than mice with the active gene. With these findings in hand they then identified a Dectin-1 gene variant in humans that predicted a severe form of inflammatory bowel disease called ulcerative colitis.
  • Recent unpublished findings by Ghannom’s lab show that an interaction between fungi and bacteria in the gut aggravates the body’s autoimmune response in Crohn’s disease, another form of inflammatory bowel disease.
  • In collaboration with a group at Cleveland Clinic, Ghannoum also beginning to show that oral fungal populations are different in people with head and neck cancers.
  • Recent research found that autoimmune arthritis can be induced in mice injected with certain compounds found in fungal cell walls.

“None of these factors are working in isolation . . .it’s probably a confluence of them all interacting with each other and with us – what we eat, what kind of nutrients they have, genetic influences and how our immune system reacts to both fungi and bacteria in the gut.”

“We’re in a stage where we’re recognizing the biological significance of the fungi in our systems to help develop a common language and set of research approaches,” Underhill says. “Soon, hopefully, we’ll know how they can be good for us, bad for us and manipulated to our benefit.”

“There’s a certain beauty in our biologic cooperative; a reminder that mammalian life is complicated and communal, and that in nature imbalance has consequences. But perhaps tinkering with our fungal dwellers will one day help restore our biologic balance and fend off disease.”

Read the entire article The Human Body’s Complicated Relationship with Fungus.

I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong

 

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Food is Medicine

I’m an emotional eater –  it doesn’t matter if I’m feeling bad or good.  But when I’m depressed I crave sugar & carbs.   I’ve always conveniently blamed my father.   I’m not sure whether he was the one who needed a pick-me-up or he thought I did but he would go out of his way to bring a bit of pleasure into my life in the form of something delectibly sweet.

Dad would drive across town to a special shop that dispensed root beer from a soda fountain and then back at home he’d pile in vanilla ice cream to make floats.  We would sneak out to eat cinnamon rolls and M’M’s peanut chocolate candy. 

Dad lived by specific culinary principles:

  • Cake’s main purpose was to hold up the frosting. 
  • Pepsi was the beverage of choice because water was for bathing, not drinking.
  • The only edible food was brown and white (unless it contained copious amounts of sugar), green food should be reserved for insects or chimpanzees
  • Fruit was only safe to eat if it was in a pie. 

Today there is a an incredible amount of scientific evidence that food is medicine, not just muscle fuel, and the right kind of diet may give the brain more of what it needs to avoid depression, or even to treat it once it’s begun

You’re feeling depressed. What have you been eating?

Psychiatrists and therapists don’t often ask this question. But a growing body of research over the past decade shows that a healthy diet—high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and unprocessed lean red meat—can prevent depression. And an unhealthy diet—high in processed and refined foods—increases the risk for the disease in everyone, including children and teens.

The findings are spurring the rise of a new field: nutritional psychiatry.

“Now recent studies show that a healthy diet may not only prevent depression, but could effectively treat it once it’s started.
“Researchers, led by epidemiologist Felice Jacka of Australia’s Deakin University, looked at whether improving the diets of people with major depression would help improve their mood. They chose 67 people with depression for the study, some of whom were already being treated with antidepressants, some with psychotherapy, and some with both. Half of these people were given nutritional counseling from a dietitian, who helped them eat healthier. Half were given one-on-one social support—they were paired with someone to chat or play cards with—which is known to help people with depression.”

“After 12 weeks, the people who improved their diets showed significantly happier moods than those who received social support. And the people who improved their diets the most improved the most. (The study was published in January 2017 in BMC Medicine).”

“A second, larger study drew similar conclusions and showed that the boost in mood lasted six months. It was led by researchers at the University of South Australia and published in December 2017 in Nutritional Neuroscience.”

“And later this month in Los Angeles at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting, researchers from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago will present results from their research that shows that elderly adults who eat vegetables, fruits and whole grains are less likely to develop depression over time.”

Scientific evidence aside . . .

My dad lived to 93 . . .  it might be prudent to follow his dietary regime.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, The Food That Helps Battle Depression bElizabeth Bernstein

 

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Talk outloud to yourself

Talking to ourselves may seem strange because we tend to associate speaking out loud to nobody in particular as a sign of mental illness. For those of you who talk to yourself there’s a growing body of research to indicate that self-talk can help memory recall, confidence, focus and more.

Talking to yourself: a sure-fire way to become the most interesting person in the conversation

“It’s not an irrational thing to do,” says Gary Lupyan, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin, who has studied how hearing ourselves speak can impact our memories. “You don’t know everything you’re going to say – you can even surprise yourself.”

His work, which is one of the most cited studies in this field, had people look at objects on a computer screen. Some had to say the name of the item out loud, while others were instructed to remain silent and keep the word in their head. The result? The ones who said the word out loud were able to locate the objects on the screen more quickly.

A similar experiment had people say the names of common grocery store items out loud. They then had to find those items by looking at photographs. The ones who said the words found the foods faster.

“Saying a name out loud is a powerful retrieval cue,” says Lupyan. “Think of it as a pointer to a chunk of information in your mind. Hearing the name exaggerates what might normally happen if you just bring something to mind. Language boosts that process.”

Feel better with self-talk

“Anne Wilson Schaef, a former psychologist and now author and speaker, often encouraged her clients to speak to themselves. Not only did it improve her clients’ memories, but it also changed the way many of them felt. For instance, if a patient was angry, she’d tell them to say out loud what they were upset about. The anger would then disappear.”

We have to say the right words for this to work

In 2014, the University of Michigan’s Ethan Kross released a paper saying that self-talk can make us feel better about ourselves and instil a confidence that can help us get through tough challenges. However, we have to say the right words for this to work.

“Kross, . . . conducted a series of experiments that had people describe emotional experiences using their own names or words like “you,” “he” and “she.” He found that talking in the third or second person, helped people control their feelings and thoughts better than those who spoke in the first person.”

“In another study, Kross, who outlined his research in the Harvard Business Review, asked people to refer silently to themselves in the second or third person while preparing for a speech and found they were calmer, more confident and performed better on tasks than those who used only first-person words. The results were so profound, wrote Kross, that he now gets his young daughter to speak to herself in the third person when she is distressed.”

Improving muscle memory 

There is also a lot of research that shows that self-talk among kids is an important part of their development. A 2008 study found that five-year-olds who talk to themselves out loud do better at motor tasks than when they’re quiet.

why-talking-to-yourself-is-the-first-sign-of-success

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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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Find Yourself in Hot Water? Pain, Pressure & Brain

 Hot baths can releive pain

Dr. David Burke, head of Emory University’s Center for Rehabilitative Medicine.

We all know how relaxing in a tub can help sore muscles feel better.
“When you step into a hot bath and your core temperature goes up, a number of things happen that help with pain
 Hot baths expand the blood vessels in those areas and allow the healing properties within the blood to be delivered. They relax the muscles, which takes the tension off of them and the nerves that have been injured.”
Hot water, or even steam, can bring other benefits in addition to pain relief:

1. Lowers High Blood Pressure

The Journal of Physiology in a 2016 study  showed that soaking in hot water  lowered blood pressure and caused arteries to become more flexible in healthy young adults after just 8 weeks.
Scientists in Finland study the benefits of saunas,  tradition in that country. The American Journal of Hypertension  published a study that followed more than 1,600 middle-age men with normal blood pressure who used saunas over a 25-year period.
Men who visited a sauna two or three times a week were 24% less likely to have hypertension compared with those who visited once a week or less.nThose who went 4 to 7 times a week saw a 46% reduction.

2.  Lowers the Risk of Dementia

2016 study, again from Finland found that frequent saunas were associated with lower risk of dementia. The study followed 2,300 healthy men who used a sauna weekly for 6 years.

3.  Treatment of Brain Injury

At Emory University’s Rehabilitative Hospital, Burke uses saunas in the  treatment of brain injuries.
“I routinely recommend the saunas as a quick way — 20 minutes, four times a week — to preserve the brain that hasn’t been hurt.”
“The idea appears to be increasing your core temperature,” Burke said.
“This is one thing that’s passive and easier to do, especially in people who have injured joints who need to keep their brains and hearts in good condition but can’t physically do some of the exercises,” he said.He believes that in the sauna, small blood vessels in the brain open, possibly stopping micro deterioration in the brain.

Bath Buddies

 Another caution: these studies only followed men. Women could be different in their responses. So, if you are a woman, next time you are in pain, go try a hot bath and find out.

Tell everyone you are doing scientific research.

Click here for how to get the most from your hot soak

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Daunted by “spring” cleaning? Blame your brain

I’ve barely made a dent in the editing down of this article.  Why?  It’s a big article, I don’t know where to start and I am  blaming it on my brain.

Cluttered Closet by Peggy

 “Closets bulging with clothes and shoes. Plastic bins of stuff shoved under the bed. Stacks of mail covering the dining table. Has anyone seen the car keys?”

“It’s spring, time of rebirth and rejuvenation. Time to throw open the windows and do some spring cleaning. But the magnitude of the project is daunting. How to begin?”

“If you want to know why it’s so difficult to tackle a big project like spring cleaning, blame your brain, said Randall O’Reilly, professor of psychology and neuroscience and director of the Computational Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at CU Boulder.”

“The brain is wired to be very cautious and conservative in starting big projects, because once you do start, it takes over your brain,” he said. “The brain, researchers think, is wired to track progress towards whatever it is you’ve decided to do, like spring cleaning, which is hard work. You have to make a lot of difficult decisions and the outcome is uncertain. Your brain recognizes that and says, ‘Maybe I won’t start on that project after all.’ It’s an adaptive property of the brain.”

“Once we get over the initial stalling and begin the project, the brain rewards us with small hits of dopamine as we make progress. This provides an incentive to stick with the task.”

“Dopamine is a chemical released by neurons that sends signals to other nerve cells and plays a major role in both mood and reward-motivated behavior.”

“So, you’ve tackled cleaning and decluttering and you’re making progress. And then you notice the teapot that belonged to your grandmother stored in the back of the cupboard. It’s sweet and dainty and evokes fond memories of your grandmother, but it’s not your style at all. Now you’re confronted with a dilemma: Keeping a teapot you never use is taking up much-needed space, but getting rid of it would feel disrespectful to your grandmother.”

“Things with an emotional attachment take on meaning,” O’Reilly said. “The teapot is not just a teapot. It has a personal history, so it’s unique in that sense. If you get rid of the teapot, it feels sacrilegious. It’s valuable to you because it carries that authenticity and history with it, so it feels like you’re disrespecting that value.”

“So, why do we accumulate clutter? The answer is found in the dopamine system, which is based on expectations. When we accumulate something or have a pleasurable experience, the brain releases dopamine and we feel good. As soon as our wants and desires are satisfied, however, the brain discounts that feel-good moment.”

“You can see mathematically that the brain is constantly comparing what we have versus what we expected to get,” he said. “Every moment of our lives, that’s what our brain is doing. How much better is that movie versus what you thought it would be? How much better was that cookie than you remembered? Every single thing is being compared to a baseline of what your expectation is.”

It needs to be better than what you expected

“Attachments to things are like those expectations. We want them and feel that we need them. This is where it gets diabolical, O’Reilly said. If something we like is meeting our expectations, we no longer get a dopamine burst. Our brains are constantly trying to up the ante, so we continue to acquire more stuff to feel better.”

“To get the dopamine surge, the experience needs to be better than what you expected. If it just meets expectations, guess what? No dopamine for you! The flip to the reward of dopamine is a downer.”

“If the experience was less than you expected, there’s actually a reduction in the firing of dopamine neurons, leaving you feeling disappointed,” O’Reilly said. “Then the brain tries to come up with new ways to get the dopamine. It needs to be better than what you expected.”

“The expectation system is what drives learning,” he said. “This system in our brains drives us forward, to learning more and more. You’re changing your expectation level, your sense of self. Don’t have attachments. Have ambition.”

https://www.colorado.edu/today/2018/03/27/daunted-spring-cleaning-blame-your-brain-professor-says

Read

Loss Aversion – why we don’t declutter.

 Click Here: Spring has Sprung and so have I

 

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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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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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6 factors that may predict divorce or separation

What predicts divorce is a complicated subject.  However, a few themes have borne out in repeated studies.

6.  Age:  Couples that marry later tend to have relationships that last longer. The earlier the couple gets together, the greater the risk of later divorce. That holds if couples move in together while they’re younger (as in teen years), too.

5.  Education and religion:  According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are both powerful predictors of lasting or dissolving unions.

“Women with a bachelor’s degree have a 78 percent chance of having their marriages lasting 20 years, compared with 41 percent for those with a high school education, while it’s respectively 65 percent and 47 percent for men. Identifying as religious also gave a similar bump versus being nonreligious.”
3.  Neuroticism or emotional instability, a personality trait that measures how sensitive you are to perceived threats, and how likely you are to ruminate about them:  It’s been implicated in anxietyand depression disorders, and,has been shown repeatedly to predict divorce. ( Lehmiller)
2. Infidelity.  No surprise here. When people cheat on each other, As documented in a 17-year longitudinal study following nearly 1,500 people, cheating leads to lower marital happiness, a greater feeling of “divorce proneness,” or the chance you might split up, and a higher occurrence of actually doing so.

1.  Contempt:  The number one killer – things that signal you’re disgusted with your partner are all super toxic for a relationship, like hostile humor, name-calling, eye-rolling.

(John Gottman relationship research)

But there’s hope: if you want a relationship to last, be kind to the person you’re with. It could be that simple.

Justin Lehmiller, Ball State associate professor, Sex & Psychology blog.

It’s important to note that all of these things are correlations, even in the case of infidelity. these studies can’t say definitely what causes divorce.

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Why Chocolate is Good for Tallulah and My Heart

Tallulah Pacehead

Eating chocolate has been tied to a reduced risk of heart disease. Now scientists have uncovered how strong this link is.

“Using data from a large Danish health study, researchers have found an association between chocolate consumption and a lowered risk for atrial fibrillation, the irregular heartbeat that can lead to stroke, heart failure and other serious problems. The study is in Heart.”

“Scientists tracked diet and health in 55,502 men and women ages 50 to 64. They used a well-validated 192-item food-frequency questionnaire to determine chocolate consumption. During an average 14 years of follow-up, there were 3,346 diagnosed cases of atrial fibrillation.”

“After controlling for total calorie intake, smoking, alcohol consumption, body mass index and other factors, they found that compared with people who ate no chocolate, those who had one to three one-ounce servings a month had a 10 percent reduced relative risk for atrial fibrillation, those who ate one serving a week had a 17 percent reduced risk, and those who ate two to six a week had a 20 percent reduced risk.”

“Dark chocolate with higher cocoa content is better, according to the lead author, Elizabeth Mostofsky, an instructor at Harvard, because it is the cocoa, not the milk and sugar, that provides the benefit.”

“You can’t have as much chocolate as you want,” she said, “and then ignore everything we know about healthy diet and physical activity.”

Ms. Mostofsky is a bit of a spoil sport.  But I’m going for a 20% reduced risk so Tallulah Pacehead can chill.

Check these out too!  Just click:

Woofer’s Chocolate Raspberry Bark Bark

Freddie’s Food Friday

A Chocolate a Day Melts the Fat Away

Chocolate Rides Again

(jw)

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Feel the love – Make it HOT

Holding a warm hand can buffer a stress response. The warmth of physical contact can lower heart rate and blood pressure during a stressful experience and physical affection between partners is associated with lower cortisol levels in work-related stress settings. 

“In a recent study, the brain activity of 110 volunteers (around half of whom were female) was monitored as they anticipated small electric shocks to their ankles while holding someone’s hand. They were tested in three conditions: they held the hand of the person they chose to bring along for the study (a friend or partner), they held the hand of a stranger or they did not hold anyone’s hand at all.”

“Holding the hand of the person they brought along resulted in a significant difference in the brain’s activity pattern. There was less activity in the . . . regions associated with self-regulation, when compared to not holding anyone’s hand.”

“The brain’s activity pattern when holding the hand of a stranger was comparable to not holding anyone’s hand at all. It seems we confer our loved ones with great power over ourselves, but we don’t easily give strangers this privilege.”

If you can’t find a warm hand, hold a cup of coffee instead!

 “In a study published in 2012, a group of volunteers played an online ball-tossing game which left some study participants feeling socially excluded. Those who felt excluded had colder fingers and also felt sad/stressed at the end of the experiment. Holding a hot cup of tea prevented this. Physical warmth and emotional warmth may, to some extent, be interchangeable. An increase in one compensates for a deficit in the other.”

“Briefly holding a warm cup of coffee can make people see others as having a “warmer” personality and increases social connection. Opioid signaling is thought to be involved in the mechanistic pathway since the opioid antagonist naltrexone seems to block this effect.”

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-stress-proof-life/201712/exposure-heat-can-improve-mental-well-beingMORE

Hmmm, I wonder if that’s what makes meeting at coffee shops so popular?

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“What you pay attention to GROWS” and not just for monkeys

I had the fortune of studying and teaching under the direction of David Bresler  Ph.D and Marty Rossman M.D.  Both are pioneers in the field of MindBody Medicine.   They founded The Academy for Guided Imagery, a teaching academy for health care professionals to provide treatment using individualized one-on-one imagery for health and wellness.

By now you already know that Peggy and I rant and rave about the power of our minds – not to dwell on the negative, not to focus on what we can’t do but on what we are capable of.  When I came across this article by Dr Rossman I wanted to share.

Shifting Your Attention Can Change Your Brain

from The Worry Solution

by Martin Rossman, M.D.

“Repetitively shifting your attention to positive outcomes may actually result in growth in areas of your brain that start to do this automatically. My colleague, neuroscientist Dr. David Bresler, always says that “what you pay attention to grows” and research proves him correct.

“Neuroscience journalist Sharon Begley wrote in a 2007 Wall Street Journal article, “Attention, … seems like one of those ephemeral things that comes and goes in the mind but has no real physical presence. Yet attention can alter the layout of the brain as powerfully as a sculptor’s knife can alter a slab of stone.”

Not to be confused for either Dr Bresler or Dr Rossman

“She describes an experiment at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) in which scientists “rigged up a device that tapped monkeys’ fingers 100 minutes a day every day. As this bizarre dance was playing on their fingers, the monkeys heard sounds through headphones. Some of the monkeys were taught: Ignore the sounds and pay attention to what you feel on your fingers…Other monkeys were taught: Pay attention to the sound.”

“After six weeks, the scientists compared the monkeys’ brains and found that monkeys paying attention to the taps had expanded the somatosensory parts of their brains (where they would feel touch) but the monkeys paying attention to the sounds grew new connections in the parts of the brain that process sound instead.”

“UCSF researcher Michael Merzenich and a colleague wrote that through choosing where we place our attention, “‘We choose and sculpt how our ever-changing minds will work, we choose who we will be the next moment in a very real sense, and these choices are left embossed in physical form on our material selves.’”

 I won’t say, “We told you so.”

(jw)

Originally posted on Curious to the Max on 

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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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Meditation can reduce DEPRESSION symptoms by 40%

One of the more debilitating “problems” of  having a chronic disease like fibromyalgia is depression.   Whatever is going on in my fibro-brain is altering or dampening the neurotransmitters that impact mood.  When my fibro symptoms really flare I become depressed – dog food or Depends commercials can bring me to tears and not because I use either . . .  Most of the time my fiber-depression is minor and here’s one of the reasons why:

Freddie

Freddie Parker Westerfield, Interval Trainer

I walk my dog Freddie almost every day in the park.  It’s 25 minutes of  interval training.  Freddie runs like crazy, stops, marks territory, runs like crazy, stops, sniffs, marks territory, runs, stops . . .  I hold onto the end of the leash and follow his lead (with the exception of marking territory).  

Years ago, I started saying a meditative prayer while on our walks.  I repeat, ( sotto voce so as not to make others in the park suspicious I’m a terrorist) Allah ‘u ‘abha (“God is great” in Arabic – it’s more mellifluous than English).  Afterwards, I feel relieved (the CALM-kind of relief, not the territory-marking-kind) and have little pain.

I was stunned  to read this article on meditation and exercise to find not only am I saving time by combining the two I am self-medicating. 

Fighting Depression? Neuroscience Says This May Reduce Symptoms by 40 Percent (in Just 8 Weeks)*

By Melanie Curtin

“. . . neuroscience research has identified a stunningly effective yet simple way to significantly reduce depression symptoms: combining aerobic exercise with meditation.

“In essence, neurogenesis researchers hypothesized that as depressive symptoms emerge, the production of new cells decreases. They noted that trauma and stressful life events are already known to impair neurogenesis, and that the literature has already established that aerobic exercise can significantly increase the number of new cells a brain creates.”

The problem is what happens after aerobic exercise: a great number of new cells die just weeks after being created. And if they don’t join the brain’s circuitry, they can’t bolster the brain, uplift mood, help a person experience resilience, or create a more robust sense of wellbeing.

Fortunately, while new neurons can die, they can also be rescued, which is where meditation comes in. It turns out that when novel learning experiences challenge the mind, new neurons are “saved.”

The study, published in Translational Psychiatry, outlined how the research was conducted: The neuroscientists developed a mental and physical (MAP) training plan for participants, which combined focused attention meditation with aerobic exercise.

“During the meditation portion, participants were instructed to focus on the present moment, refocusing on their breathing if thoughts drifted to the past or future. According to research, this helps those with depression (not to mention the rest of us) “accept moment-to-moment changes in attention.” This was followed by 30 minutes of “moderate-intensity” aerobic exercise.”

“Remarkably, the study found a nearly 40% decrease in depressive symptoms after just eight weeks of the training. They described these results as “robust.”‘

“As Tracey Shors, one of the study authors said, “Scientists have known for a while that both of these activities alone can help with depression … But this study suggests that when done together, there is a striking improvement in depressive symptoms along with increases in synchronized brain activity.”‘

“The researchers also pointed out that while the norm for treating depression has involved the prescription of psychotropic drugs like Zoloft, Prozac, Celexa, and Lexapro, these drugs can have limited efficacy and can also lead to intense and disruptive side effects. Part of the excitement over these results is the fact that the practices involved are free, immediately accessible, and have no adverse side effects.”

Amen.

*Read the entire article and click HERE.

Soon! Coming to a Computer Near You:

A post “Meditate with the Dalai Lama” that explains how to combine meditation with problem solving.

(jw)

 

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