Emotions

Can You Sleep Too Much (or Too Little)?

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“Sleep is that golden chain that ties our health and our bodies together.” – Thomas Dekker

 

I used to think you could never get too much sleep. Of course, that was years ago when I was chronically sleep deprived due to working full-time, going to college at night, raising my kids as a single mom, and trying to have some sort of social life when they were with their other parent. Turns out, there’s a growing body of research that points to the negative effects of either too much or too little sleep.

Too little or too much sleep can affect metabolic health.

Concerned about an expanding waistline? Prone to getting less sleep or more than you need? There’s scientific basis for the link between too little and too much sleep and metabolic syndrome and increasing waistlines in Korean men and women aged 40-69 years in one recent study. Researchers said the study’s observational nature did not allow for cause and effect conclusions, noting that participants provided sleep duration data and estimates may reflect time in bed and not necessarily time slept. Other studies have reported that short-duration sleepers (less than 5 hours per night) are up to 45 percent more likely to be obese.

Excessive and inadequate sleep can affect memory and cognition.

Chronically sleep-deprived people, says Harvard Health Publishing,  are more likely to have high blood pressure, narrowed blood vessels, and diabetes – each of which cause less blood flow inside the brain. Since the brain requires a good flow of oxygen and sugar to work optimally, too little sleep can contribute to memory problems. Those who get too much sleep, on the other hand, aren’t off the hook memory-wise as their quality of sleep may suffer, which could add to thinking and memory problems during the day.

Excessive daytime sleepiness can be particularly troubling for older adults. Researchers found that cognitive deficits and cognitive impairment may be predicted by excessive daytime sleepiness among the elderly. Excessive sleepiness, or hypersomnolence, has two main symptoms: excessive amount of sleep, and poor quality of awakening. Hypersomnolence is the leading cause of road accidents, and is responsible for increased risk of mortality related to neurodegenerative diseases.

If you’re an early riser, you may be less prone to depression.

Researchers are delving into pertinent data showing that middle-aged to older women who get up early may be significantly less likely to develop depression. The largest observational study to-date looks at the link between chronotype (also known as sleep-wake preference) and mood disorders. Researchers found that, even after accounting for such factors as work schedules and light exposure, chronotype, partly influenced by genetics, seems to have a mild influence on depression. The four-year study involved nearly 33,000 female nurses who were free of depression at the start of the study. Thirty-three percent self-described their sleep pattern as early-riser, 53 percent intermediate, and 10 percent evening types. After four years of follow-up, researchers found that early risers had 12-27 percent lower risk of depression than intermediate types, while late-riser types had a 6 percent higher risk of being depressed, although this was not considered statistically significant.

One study found that excessive sleep is “highly associated” with dysthymic disorder and major depressive disorder. Those researchers also found that many anxiety disorders are “associated with prolonged sleep episodes accompanied by consequences/distress.”

Better cardiovascular health is associated with early-rise behavior.

More good news for early risers is the apparent association such behavior has on better cardiovascular health. Researchers in the UK Biobank study found that those who are early to bed and early to rise are “more conscientious and are goal-getters.” They also spent less time in front of electronic devices, ate more fruit and vegetables daily than late chronotypes. Survey participants categorized as evening persons also tended to watch more television and were twice as likely to smoke tobacco than intermediate types and 45 percent more likely to smoke than adequate sleepers. Researchers noted that more study is needed to determine if sleep metrics can predict better cardiovascular health behaviors and if sleep behavior modification can enhance heart health.

If you sleep too much, you may have a sleep disorder.

For those who constantly sleep too much, sleeping longer than 8 hours a night, often napping during the day, finding it difficult to stay awake, the underlying cause may be a sleep disorder known as hypersomnia. Besides excessive sleepiness throughout the day not relieved by napping, hypersomnia sufferers may also experience anxiety, memory problems and low energy. The American Sleep Association states that more men than women have hypersomnia, with prevalence at 5 percent of the population. The ASA also reports that 50-70 million adults in the U.S. have a sleep disorder of some kind.

The most common sleep disorder is insomnia, affecting about 30 percent of the adult population with short-term insomnia, and about 10 percent suffering chronic insomnia. Other forms of sleep disorder and sleep-related breathing disorders include, narcolepsy, snoring, and central sleep. Circadian-rhythm sleep disorders include jet lag, shift work, and delayed, advanced, irregular and non-24-hour sleep-wake rhythm. Parasomnias and sleep-movement disorders round out the category of sleep disorders.

Insufficient sleep over a prolonged period can affect your mental and emotional states.

If you’re perpetually sleep-deprived, your brain is exhausted, unable to adequately perform its duties. Besides difficulty concentrating, your brain’s ability to send signals to other parts of your body may be delayed, which could prove fatal when driving, using dangerous equipment, trying to avoid life-threatening situations. Lengthy periods of sleep deprivation can result in other problems with your mental and emotional states, including hallucinations, trigger mania in those with manic depression, or amp up risks of paranoia, depression, impulsive behavior, and suicidal thoughts.

If you suffer from the effects of too much or too little sleep, help is available. Besides tips for getting better sleep, make an appointment to see a sleep professional or your general practitioner to have tests to determine the cause of excessive or insufficient sleep, as well as how to get back to getting the right amount of sleep you need nightly.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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My Best Ways to Deal with Frustration

Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash

 

“Frustration, although quite painful at times, is a very positive and essential part of success.” – Bo Bennett

 

Like most people, I’ve experienced many instances of frustration. Some of them proved exceedingly trying and I found it nearly impossible to get past the episodes, replaying in my head what happened and how badly it made me feel. While I tried different methods to cope, including tipping back a few too many cocktails after a rough day at work, most were ineffective, at best. Worse, some had lingering consequences, such as a reprimand from my boss (after coming in late due to the imbibing). Over the years, however, I’ve made it a point to determine what works best for me to deal with frustration.

First, though, here’s some research frustration, how to recognize it, typical symptoms, frustration’s relationship to anger and stress and other interesting science.

Frustration often leads to recurring nightmares.

Ever wake up in the middle of a nightmare shivering in fear or with a feeling of dread and impending doom? If so, says science, there’s a likely correlation between the frustrations you’ve experienced during the day and the vivid and frightening dreams you have at night. I know that I’ve had dreams where I’m falling from a height and, luckily, wake up before I hit the ground. Dreaming of failure and being physically attacked were also part of my nightmare portfolio. As such, I found fascinating the research of the team at the University of Cardiff that waking-life psychological experiences, particularly frustration, directly tie in to the dream state in the form of nightmares. When study participants were frustrated, they reported having more frightening dreams and described those dreams in negative terms. According to the researchers, the nightmares represent the psyche attempting to process and make some sense of the experiences that were psychologically distressing while awake.

Frustrated people tend to smile more when they’re experiencing frustration.

This finding by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology caught me off guard. I thought people who smiled a lot were generally optimistic and cheerful. Indeed, smiling is typically a characteristic of someone who’s happy. Yet, as careful analysis of smiles shows, not all smiles are indicative of the emotion of happiness. There’s the fake smile, the polite smile, the nervous smile, and so on. According to the MIT researchers, most people don’t believe they smile a lot when they’re frustrated, yet they do, as proven by facial scans in the study. To prove their hypothesis, the researchers had study participants complete two types of task, one designed to frustrate and one not, and scanned their faces after they completed the task and hit the submit button (which deleted the frustrating task but accepted the control task). While the smiles that appeared looked similar, the frustrated smiles disappeared quickly compared to the genuine smiles. Frustration is a fundamental human experience, so it will be interesting to see where this research leads.

Men and women express anger and frustration differently.

In terms of biology, there’s no denying differences between men and women. As it turns out, findings from researchers at Southwest Missouri State University reveal there are even some differences in how the two sexes tend to show they’re angry or frustrated. Both feel anger and frustration, yet men tend to accept and embrace the emotions, using them to their advantage. Women, on the other hand, view anger and frustration as counter-productive. In the study, men felt ineffective when told to hold their emotions in, while women did not feel constricted when asked to do so. Similarly, researchers found a correlation between men being assertive and expressing anger outwardly, but not in women. Furthermore, women viewed their anger negatively, generally calling it frustration, while still using that anger to help bring about change. Due to social expectations, women tend to camouflage their anger and frustration, yet find alternative routes to get results they want.

Frustration stems from stress.

What causes the buildup of physiological and psychological response that results in emotions such as anxiety, overwork, despair, distress, frustration and more? According to the literature, the medical term for the origin of much emotional buildup, which often has physical components as well, is stress. Repeated stress that is not effectively dealt with can cause serious physical consequences. Like a machine that eventually wears down, continual stressors on the body’s activation of the nervous system (chronic stress) results in release of the stress hormones of cortisol and epinephrine and precipitates problems with the heart and other vital organs, along with the potential development of mental health issues.

To better handle frustration and stress, change your perception.

An article in Harvard Business Review discussed the concept of resilience and how everyday stressors and frustration can be more effectively dealt with by reframing perception. In short, change how you perceive frustration and stress. Authors cited two studies, one by researchers at the University of Buffalo that day-to-day stressors help people cultivate necessary skills to tackle difficult future situations, and anther by Harvard University researchers who found that participants told physiological signs of stress helped them better cope with it then viewed stress as helpful. The key takeaway here is to modify the perception of stress and frustration to promote the development of resilience, the ability to handle whatever comes your way in the most effective manner.

TIPS TO COPE WITH FRUSTRATION

Now, as to how I’ve learned to deal with frustration – and what works well for me, here are a few general tips:

  • Take some deep breaths. This will allow you to calm your pent-up emotions and restore a sense of calm. Likely, the frustration you’ve felt has caused you to hold your breath or breathe shallowly. In either case, your body is oxygen-depleted and it’s hard to think clearly. Deep breathing can help slow heartbeat and lower blood pressure, diminishing the negative effects of the stressful emotion.
  • Figure out the source of the frustration. Now that you’re thinking more clearly, use this clarity to focus on what may be the probable cause that you’re experiencing frustration. Without being caught up in the immediate effects of the frustration, you’ll be more prone to identify the source, so you can devise constructive ways to deal with it.
  • Remind yourself that this will pass. Frustration shouldn’t be an ongoing experience. Like the weather, it’s bound to change. By recognizing that emotions are generally fleeting, you rob them of their power and hold on you. Envision yourself in a happier state and recall that things that frustrated you in the past generally didn’t last long. You found ways to get past it, or the experiences causing the frustration weren’t consequential enough to have lasting effect.
  • Work on something else. Distraction is a great method to get past a roadblock. It works in problem-solving, getting past anger and other emotions – including frustration. If you’re stuck in a sour mood due to something frustrating, go out and dig in the garden, pound some nails in wood, demolish cardboard boxes to put in the recycle bin. Involve yourself in a task requiring close concentration. These techniques get your mind off what’s frustrating you.
  • Do something pleasant. Instead of beating yourself up mentally over your frustrating day, do something enjoyable. Take a soaking bath. Read a book. Watch a comedy. Go for coffee with friends. Indulge yourself a little yet be sensible in your choice. Hobbies are also effective for helping dispel frustration.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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How to Keep Frustration From Blocking Your Goals

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Best Way to Effect Change

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How Do You Figure Out Your Life’s Purpose?

“Learn to get in touch with the silence within yourself, and know that everything in life has purpose. There are no mistakes, no coincidences, all events are blessings given to us to learn from them.” – Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

 

Someone asked me the other day how I figured out my purpose in life. It’s a question I don’t often think about, yet it is a good one. For one thing, when I was in my early 30s with two children to raise on my own, I struggled with life’s purpose. Indeed, everything that could go wrong in my life seemed like it did go wrong. Much of the damage was due to my own choices, although I seemed either unaware or incapable of recognizing my part in the outcomes at the time. Fortunately, through intensive psychotherapy and creating and developing a strong support network, I was able to build self-esteem, gradually add self-confidence, belief in myself, learn to make better decisions, and, yes, figure out my life’s purpose.

What is my life’s purpose, you might ask? I think the simplest answer is also the most appropriate: to be the best version of myself I can be. This may seem too easy, although the statement covers all there is to know about what I value. Here, allow me to share what helped me figure out my life’s purpose, in the hope that it will provide a preliminary glimpse at what might work for others in the same quest.

Make a list of your strengths.

Everyone is good at something. Take the time to think about what you do well, what comes easily to you and you enjoy doing. If you’re really good at an activity, yet don’t particularly enjoy it, list it anyway. There may well be value in the activity that you’re not capitalizing on. Perhaps by changing your approach, when you do it, the tools and resources you use or don’t, who’s dependent on you for results and your own perception of the activity’s importance in your life can turn this strength into a clear option to help you navigate toward what is meaningful in your life. In other words, help you find your life’s purpose.

By way of personal example, I have always been a good writer. I haven’t however, always made use of my talent in ways that could benefit my career, personal life or happiness. Indeed, I almost gave writing the heave-ho to pursue a career more lofty, prestigious, stable and extremely well-paid. I took the LSAT in the hopes of getting accepted to law school. Even though I did well enough, I quickly learned that the field was not for me. I found it tedious, hard work, not creative at all and not worth the expense and time. Instead, I returned to writing, taking night school college courses that gave me the opportunity in various formats (term papers, homework, writing scripts, commercials, crafting business plans, and so on) to grow and nurture my skill.

Find a mentor.

Starting off in a field or endeavor you think may hold promise for your life’s purpose can be intimidating, confusing and scary. You don’t know a lot at first, and you need allies to help guide you as you make choices. A mentor is excellent for this. Should you concentrate on this area or opt for a more diverse approach? Do you need additional education or a period of internship or practice? Who are the best role models, people you look up to whose success, demeanor and well-roundedness you hope to emulate? If possible, single out a few men and women who fit the role of a mentor and ask if they’d be willing to assist you in this manner. It may be someone where you already work, or a professor or instructor in a class or activity you find enticing, enjoyable and with potential. It could be a close friend, acquaintance, family member or loved one, although it’s more likely to be someone outside your immediate social circles. A mentor can help you steer clear of time-wasting projects and point out where you may get more favorable return for your efforts. Listening to his or her stories about how they got where they are today and what drives them to pursue their purpose in life may inspire you to chart your own course.

I was fortunate to encounter several mentors in my career. Two were naturals: I worked for them. One was a college professor, a man who served as my master’s advisor. Another was a psychotherapist who helped me navigate emotional turmoil to zero in on my core beliefs and solidify my feelings of self-worth. In fact, there were others who served in less official mentorship roles throughout my life to date. I am grateful for their commitment and ability to motivate and guide me to make my own successful life choices.

Learn to see the positive in every situation.

It might be difficult to get past certain negatives in a given situation, yet the process of figuring out your life’s purpose depends on your ability to see past roadblocks, seemingly insurmountable challenges, lack of support, medical conditions, financial hurdles and more. What may be a stretch to find the plus in such circumstances is going to be one of your best strategies to make progress toward finding your purpose in life. Indeed, have you ever known someone who seemingly had one failure or disappointment after another, yet somehow managed to always maintain an upbeat, optimistic view on life? Did he or she appear happy in a genuine way, regardless of circumstance? If you were to ask this person whether they knew their purpose in life, chances are they’d answer in the affirmative. Positive thinking encourages positive action, motivates desire to make necessary changes and pursue them to completion.

I know this works, because it worked for me. Once I stopped seeing everything as failure waiting to happen and overcame the belief that I deserved to fail because I was inherently bad, my life began to change. No, it didn’t happen overnight. I had many little successes and unfortunate experiences along the way. What did happen, and I began to notice it (with the help of my therapist, mentor(s), close friends, loved ones and family members) more often, was that my outlook became decidedly positive. People started asking me for advice and to give my opinion. I was regarded as a kind of expert on various topics. Imagine what a boost to my self-confidence that was. Once you adopt positivity, you can find work-arounds for every problem, or find someone to help you discover and implement a workable solution. This is effective for everyday challenges as well as making headway toward your life’s purpose.

Pay attention to the signs.

Getting caught up in an activity, project, pursuit or endeavor may blind you to helpful signs along the way. For example, you may be so focused on making sure you craft a department budget that comes in on time and under budget in every category that you fail to find creative ways to fund an activity that’s deemed high-priority. Maybe you’re recognized as the best in your class and others ask for your help, yet you’re so enamored of your newfound celebrity status that you allow your ego to get in the way. When you ignore others to pat yourself on the back, you’re chipping away at your integrity and doing yourself no good in being generous of self. You’ll know the signs when you see them – if others don’t point them out to you.

In the case of my writing, I was fortunate to win several writing contests at UCLA, first in professional program of screenwriting and then in the MFA screenwriting program. I loved every minute of class, all the assignments, getting together with other writers, talking about and sharing the craft. The awards and recognition were terrific morale boosters, yet they were also the most prominent signs that I was pursuing my life’s purpose. Find your signs and pay attention to what they’re telling you.

If it feels good and time flies when you’re doing it, you’re on the right track.

I could spend days writing about how to discover your life’s purpose, but this is probably a good start. Getting to the crux of the matter, I’ll offer this. If what you do makes you feel good, productive, alive, refreshed and satisfied, let alone happy, and time goes by unnoticed, it’s another of those signs to pay attention to. It’s highly likely you’re on the right track to living your life’s purpose, one day at a time.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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Want to get my free newsletter? Sign up here to receive uplifting messages and daily positive quotes in my Daily Thoughts. You’ll also get the top self-help articles and stories of the week from my blog and more. I also invite you to like me on Facebook, follow me on LinkedIn,  TwitterInstagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Google+.

 

6 Ways to Go With the Flow and Stay in the Moment

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“Just be unattached as a child at play.” – Gangaji

 

How would it be to let go of all your concerns and fully participate in the moment? More specifically, how would you like to feel the joy of playtime, the rush of doing something wonderfully fun, discovering something new, or pushing yourself to explore unknown territory?

Researchers will tell you – and parents as well – that children instinctively know how to do this. Yet all is not lost if such a natural gift is a distant memory. As adults, while we may have forgotten how, we can rekindle the ability to shake off troubles and concentrate fully on the present moment.

In short, we can relearn how to go with the moment.

Naturally, there are times when such spontaneity is not appropriate, including when the boss is clamoring for a report and you’re nowhere near finished, or you’ve just received bad news that demands immediate action. You should not be unattached at such times.

Still, you can be in the moment, dedicated, zeroed in on what matters, adhering to a constancy of effort and making sure to accommodate deadlines.

But, getting back to having fun, being unattached as a child at play and going with the moment, here are a few suggestions on how to recapture the wonder that children naturally express.

Turn off the self-censor button.

That’s right. Start by telling yourself to stop saying no or chiding yourself that you simply can’t do something, for whatever reason. Chances are, that negative self-talk and self-criticism included the notion that it’s not adult-like or you don’t have time for this or it’s just too silly. Instead, resolve to be open to the experience.

Let go of the past.

Intrusive thoughts and memories of unpleasantness, failure, pain, loss, loneliness and disappointment may rise to the surface. This flood of negativity will deter you from being fully present and enjoying the moment. You must let go of past hurts, including the burden such memories hold over you. This does not mean that you forget the past, for when you experienced things in that moment, it contributed to who you are today. There are also good memories from the past that are worth cherishing. What’s important to remember is that there’s no reason to cling to bad memories, for the past cannot help you rewrite history. Nor can it change the future. What can, however, bring about fundamental change is going with the moment. To get started doing that, you must release the past.

Give yourself permission to feel whatever you feel in the moment.

This might be joy or delight or curiosity. It could entail a bit of trepidation or uncertainty, even a bit of fear. If it’s within the realm of possibility and doesn’t put you at an inordinate amount of risk, let your emotions play out. They may lead you to take action that your previous propensity to self-censor prohibited. Look forward with excitement to what might happen next. After all, who knows what you might learn?

Acknowledge that it’s OK to play.

Remind yourself – by saying out loud, if necessary – that it’s perfectly fine and good for you to have fun, to take a break from chores and responsibilities, to do something just because you enjoy it and want to nurture that part of yourself.

Know when it’s time to stop.

Like a kid playing in the park with friends and the sunset signals time to go home, even if you’re having the time of your life, it’s important to know and abide by limits. There is an appropriate time for play and a time when you must tend to other things. By paying attention to both, the joy you feel in the moment is in no way minimized. Indeed, it’s even more satisfying. You may not remember the hours you toiled on a report, but you do remember how much fun you had working in the garden, celebrating a memorable milestone with a loved one, laughing with your friends, reading your favorite book.

When you’re in the zone, just go with it.

You know the feeling. Being in the zone is energizing, motivating and inspiring. It’s the knowledge and certainty that you can do almost anything. The possibilities that reveal themselves when you go with the moment are unlike anything you could have predetermined or imagined. That’s another benefit to learning how to go with the moment.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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To automatically get my posts, sign up for my RSS feed.   

Want to get my free newsletter? Sign up here to receive uplifting messages and daily positive quotes in my Daily Thoughts. You’ll also get the top self-help articles and stories of the week from my blog and more. I also invite you to like me on Facebook, follow me on LinkedIn,  TwitterInstagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Google+.

 

Music Offers Many Cognitive, Emotional and Physical Benefits to Young and Old

Photo by Mike Giles on Unsplash

Photo by Mike Giles on Unsplash

“Music is therapy. Music moves people. It connects people in ways that no other medium can. It pulls heart strings. It acts as medicine.” — Macklemore

 

Much research over the years has centered on the potential, perceived and realized benefits of music. In fact, the area of study has blossomed, growing from the preliminary findings of earlier studies to recent ones that built upon them. What’s exciting is the widespread and diverse benefits that music offers to everyone, young, old and in-between.

Musical training gives babies’ brains a boost.

Even before babies can walk or talk, they can benefit from receiving musical training. That’s the finding from a 2012 study. In the first study of its kind, researchers from McMaster University found that one-year-old babies who engaged in interactive music lessons with their parents were better able to communicate: they smiled more, were easier to soothe, displayed less distress when things didn’t go their way. Babies in the music lessons study group were also able to point at things out of reach and wave goodbye.

Children who regularly attend and participate in music classes benefit from improvements in speech and reading.

A 2014 study found that attendance and participation by children in music classes – especially music classes involving instrument playing – exhibited improvements in neural processing of sound after two years of classes. The researchers at Northwestern University said that the active music class participants had greater improvements in speech and reading scores than their peers who didn’t attend music classes.

Structured music lessons improve kids’ academic performance and cognitive skills.

Researchers in a 2018 study found that structured music lessons added to regular school curriculum significantly enhanced students’ cognitive abilities, leading to improved school performance. The cognitive skills’ improvement was in the areas of short-term memory, planning and inhibition, and language-based reasoning. The first large-scale longitudinal study adapted to regular curriculum at school also found that visual arts helped significantly improve children’s visual and spatial memory.

Early musical training benefits the brain in later life.

Researchers in a 2013 study found that early musical training has a lasting and positive effect on how the brain processes sound, with benefits to aging adults years later. Neural timing, researchers said, is one of the first age-related declines, resulting in compromised hearing, such as a slower response to fast-changing sounds, which is vital in interpreting speech. The researchers looked at musical training adults had in childhood and found that the more years those adults had training in music, the quicker their brains responded to a speech sound. Even though the response was just a millisecond quicker, researchers said that the millisecond, compounded with millions of neurons, corresponds to making a real difference in the lives of older adults.

Surgical music therapy program helps reduce pre-operative anxiety in women undergoing breast biopsy procedures.

Anxiety before surgical procedures is a common concern for patients about to undergo necessary interventions. Results reported in 2016 from a two-year clinical trial on live- and recorded-music therapy during breast biopsy procedures found that women undergoing those procedures self-reported a significant reduction in their pre-operative anxiety levels. Researchers said that adding a music therapist to the surgical setting may help patients achieve goals of reducing anxiety, managing pain, learning more about their procedure and gaining satisfaction from the experience.

Seniors’ mental health gets a boost from religious music.

Research published from a 2014 study discovered that, among older Christians, listening to religious music – especially gospel music – is associated with less anxiety over death, and increases in feelings of satisfaction with life, self-esteem, and sense of control over  their lives. Study authors wrote that even among those seniors with health problems or physical limitations might find listening to religious music might offer a valuable resource to better mental health.

Making music may help children improve pro-social behavior and problem-solving skills.

In a 2013 study, researchers from the School of Psychology at the University of West London found that young children, both boys and girls, who engaged in making music – singing or playing a musical instrument – improved in the pro-social behaviors of helpfulness, cooperation, and social bonding, and with problem-solving skills. Study authors said that making music in class, particularly singing, may encourage students with emotional difficulties and learning differences to feel less alienated at school.

Music listening may offer multiple benefits to older adults with early memory loss.

A 2017 trial found that the mind-body practice of music listening, as well as meditation, may offer several benefits to older adults with preclinical memory loss. After three months, said researchers, both groups showed “marked and significant” improvement in subjective memory function and objective cognitive performance. These improvements were around attention, processing speed, executive function, and subjective memory function – domains generally affected in preclinical and early-stage dementia. The cognitive improvements were not only sustained at six months, they increased. The two groups also showed improvements in mood, sleep, stress, well-being, and quality of life, gains that were either sustained or further enhanced three months after intervention.

Parkinson’s patients may build strength through singing.

Other promising 2017 research finds that patients with Parkinson’s disease might be able to build strength in their muscles used for swallowing and respiratory control through singing. These two functions are complicated by the disease. Study participants were trained in proper breath support, posture, how to best use muscles involved in the vocal cords. Singing significantly improves this muscle activity. Researchers noted that participants also reported other benefits from the singing therapy: improvements in mood, depression and stress.

Music therapy offers comfort to palliative care patients.

In a three-year study of male and female palliative-care patients with a terminal illness, researchers in a 2011 study found that music intervention therapy proved effective in enhancing their pain relief, comfort, mood, confidence, relaxation, resilience, well-being, and life quality. The music therapy team consisted of music therapy students from a university and musicians from a professional symphony orchestra.

Cancer patients find symptom relief from music.

A systematic 2016 review of literature finds that there is a significant body of evidence that music therapy and music interventions help alleviate cancer patients’ symptoms, including pain, anxiety, and fatigue, while also improving their quality of life and overall well-being. Among the findings: music interventions had a moderate-to-strong effect in anxiety reduction, a large pain reduction benefit, and a small-to-moderate effect of music treatment on fatigue.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

Related Posts:

10 Ways Stress Harms You

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Want to get my free newsletter? Sign up here to receive uplifting messages and daily positive quotes in my Daily Thoughts. You’ll also get the top self-help articles and stories of the week from my blog and more. I also invite you to like me on Facebook, follow me on LinkedIn,  TwitterInstagram, and Google+.

 

 

How to Do the Right Thing

How to Do the Right Thing

Photo by Fabien Bazanegue on Unsplash

 

“With integrity, you have nothing to fear, since you have nothing to hide. With integrity, you will do the right thing, so you will have no guilt.” – Zig Ziglar

 

When faced with deciding on how to act, sometimes the toughest part is figuring out how to do the right thing. Of course, how you view the right thing, what you think of as the right thing, makes all the difference. And this is often not clear. You may experience conflicting emotions, feel ambivalent about potential choices, or strongly for or against certain action – whether you are convinced that it either is or isn’t the right thing to do. How, then, can you make an informed choice and be confident that you’ll do the right thing?

Start with integrity.

Merriam-Webster defines integrity as, “firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values.” The word refers to moral or ethical strength and the quality of being honest. When you start with integrity, you are being true to your core values, not straying to conform with popular opinion. Acting in integrity is not always easy, for there are shortcuts that will speed the process that may sabotage the outcome, even as they provide a quicker path to the result. Without integrity, you may feel remorseful and guilty at an unfair or unfavorable result, while you have no cause for such negative thoughts when you act in accordance with your beliefs. Ask yourself first what you know in your heart feels right. Your mind may rush in with excuses or propose different courses of action, but your integrity will never fail you.

What about when the right thing isn’t so obvious, or when it’s decidedly against prevailing opinion? If you must act in opposition to what others think or do, will you be considered a disruptor, an outsider, someone to keep at a distance, decry, criticize? Temporarily experiencing discomfort when you do the right thing is likely something you can weather without too much difficulty. The key is to be comfortable with your choice. Again, when you start with integrity and follow through with action that reflects your integrity, you’re reinforcing your commitment to truth, justice and honor.

Be considerate how your actions will affect others.

Recognize that people may not agree with your action, even if they approve of the intent of your decision. Think through the possible ramifications of your action and how they will affect others, as well as how your actions may make them feel. This does not mean you compromise your desire to do what is right, although it may allow you to incorporate softening effects into your action.

For example, if a co-worker consistently shows up to the job with alcohol on his or her breath, or exhibits other signs of drug or alcohol addiction, you may not want to notify human resources, but it is the right thing to do. Your colleague needs professional help, and this may be the necessary wake-up call so that he or she can get the detox and psychotherapy it will take to get clean and sober. If it’s a family member you believe is in distress from substance abuse, poly-drug use, and/or mental health disorder such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other conditions and could benefit from counseling and treatment of some kind, figuring out a compassionate way to approach him/her and the specific language to use may somewhat ease the shock of your words. Note that those suffering from drug and/or alcohol abuse are often expert in denial. Also, you cannot force anyone to get treatment, no matter how desperately it is needed. You can only be there with your support and love and encourage your loved one to seek help. Know that family support is crucial in recovery from substance use and mental health disorders.

Stop worrying what others think.

Suppose you know that what you’re about to do will aggravate, infuriate, confuse or surprise others. Despite being the right thing to do, you fear the retaliation and disapproval that will follow. There’s no point to stewing over what others think. They’re going to vent their emotions, let you know their opinion, maybe even steer clear of you for a while. Stop worrying what they think. What’s more important is to be at peace with your actions.

What about loved ones and family members who take offense or retaliate with rejection, harsh words or withdrawing of affection over your actions they deem harmful to them in some way? The sting may be onerous, yet if you truly believe you’ve done the right thing, you must be able to live with your decision. The offended loved one or family member may come around, even thank you later, although it is also true they may hold resentment for your do-good actions.

There is also a bright side of doing the right thing, however, taking action that others don’t expect, and that is the opportunity for them to see you in a different light, to rethink their perception of you. When you do the right thing, you’re also giving yourself a boost in self-esteem. Knowing what’s right and doing it are the hallmarks of personal integrity.

Doing the right thing can be contagious.

Standing up for what’s right can inspire others to take similar action, to step out of their comfort zone and act in accordance with core beliefs and values. While you may initially feel alone in choosing the course of action you firmly believe is the right thing to do, your example may encourage others to follow your lead. First one, then another, then a few more may do the right thing. Your action can precipitate contagious behavior. Yet, even if it doesn’t, you are content with your decision, knowing that you acted with integrity and followed through to do the right thing. You can lead by example, even if others decide not to emulate your behavior.

 

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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What Does Your Apology Say About You?

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Why It’s Good That You’re Not Perfect

Why Its Good That Youre Not Perfect

Photo by Monica Galentino on Unsplash

“Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life. Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.” — Brené Brown

 

It’s practically a universal fact that almost everyone wants to get ahead. If I’m being honest, I must confess that I do. Even though I’m no longer striving to achieve a lofty career goal at a large corporation, I still have goals and want to succeed at them. It’s just that striving for recognition, money and advancement is no longer at the top of my wish list. I used to want that more than anything. Now I prefer to live a life of abundance: of spirit, joy, surrounded by loving family and friends, healthy, content and curious, willing to go out of my way to help others, to rejoice in the goodness of others.

I also know that I’m not perfect. The fact that I can readily admit that alleviates a certain amount of tension.

Trying too hard to be perfect never gets you anywhere. I learned that a long time ago. Granted, you make mistakes. Everyone does. Some of mine have been colossal blunders, while others were the result of being too hasty or careless or skipping some steps in pursuit of a goal. After beating myself up about it, I finally figured out that such hyper self-criticism was a waste of time. It made more sense to determine the lesson from the failure, if for no other reason than to not repeat it again. But perfectionism, trying to be perfect? According to experts, that’s an impossibility and a losing strategy.

On the other hand, striving to do better is an effective approach. With a worthwhile goal providing motivation, healthy striving can lead to a richer and more fulfilling life. I’ve found that to be true with goals large and small, some more immediate and others requiring considerable time and effort to achieve.

Suppose you’re not very good at math and want to become more proficient. Or you want to train yourself to be better at differentiating differences and spotting changes, as in identifying what’s different in a field of changing icons and images in a brain teaser game online. With diligent practice and the belief that you can improve your skill, you do indeed get better. That’s not trying to be perfect but striving to improve. The former is a hopeless pursuit, the latter laudable and likely to succeed.

In an average day, most of us experience a few disappointments, make the wrong turn, put the wrong ingredient in a recipe, rush through a quiz and make a few mistakes, forget what we were going to say, say the right thing at the wrong time or the wrong thing at the right time. These are examples of what we’d consider a failure, blunder, mistake or stupid move. With the mindset that always demands perfectionism, we’re likely to continue to spiral down, never quite making the mark and sinking deeper into a less hopeful and more negative state of mind.

In contrast, by taking mistakes, disappointments and failures in stride and striving to do better, we’re bolstering our resilience, maintaining good balance and promoting a healthy way of living. Sure, it may take practice to overcome a tendency to get things right every time, as well as learning to ignore the comments from others about “Better luck next time.” This is especially true if perfectionism has become ingrained and those who know you expect you to be perfect all the time.

Having witnessed a few friends and acquaintances who’ve succumbed to the tantalizing and wrong siren song of perfectionism – and coming close myself on one or two occasions – I know that the preferred and much more effective and satisfying way to live is to engage in healthy pursuit of achievable goals.

If you tend to believe the same way I do, you’re not perfect – hooray! Neither am I, thankfully. Life is so much more enjoyable this way and that’s why it’s good that you’re not perfect. Keep in mind, though, that just because you’ve let go of pursuit of perfectionism does not mean you relinquish your goals. Adding incrementally to your strengths, skills and accomplishments boosts your self-confidence and self-esteem and intensifies your sense of purpose in life.

 

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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15 Ways to Increase Your Happiness

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What Does Your Apology Say About You?

Photo by Will O on Unsplash

Photo by Will O on Unsplash

 

“A meaningful apology is one that communicates three R’s: regret, responsibility and remedy.” – Beverly Engel

 

When you say that you’re sorry to another person whom you’ve wronged, or who believes you’ve wronged them, what does your apology say about you? Is that even important? Doesn’t the fact that you deliver the apology in the first place hold greater weight? After all, an apology should be about the person harmed, not the offender. While the apology has been much studied, not much literature exists about the effects of the apology on the apologist. Maybe it’s time that someone study that.

“I’m sorry.” But, do I really mean it?

Countless times each day we hear people say, “I’m sorry.” We say it when we inadvertently cut in front of someone to get into a door, when we bump into them in line, when we’re taking too long to order, and the queue of customers continues out the door. While we may mean what we’re saying, we likely don’t consciously think about the words. We just say them out of habit. Not that being quick to acknowledge the wrong or perceived wrong is bad, it may just be perceived as insincere – if it’s even overtly acknowledged. What’s the other person going to say, anyway? Unless they’ve got a wild hair, are easily angered, impatient or just rude, they won’t call you out on your behavior. But maybe we really don’t mean it. Others may notice, or they may have become so used to such feigned apologies that it doesn’t faze them anymore.

Timing is everything when you deliver your apology.

It’s a familiar quote, “Timing is everything.” Whether in whole or as part of a longer quote, the exact words have been uttered by sports professionals, entertainers, business executives, Internet sensations, religious leaders, politicians, chefs and others. There must be a germ of truth in the statement. In fact, there is, according to research.

Aaron Lazare, author of a book about the apology, and others have said that effective apologies generally share certain underlying features, the most important of which is timing of the apology. Lazare also said this about apologies: “One of the most profound human interactions is the offering and accepting of apologies.” Early and delayed apologies, if heartfelt, can be equally effective.

A 2013 study published in the Western Journal of Communication, “Effects of Timing and Sincerity of an Apology on Satisfaction and Changes in Negative Feelings During Conflicts,” found variability in satisfaction of recipients of apologies relative to timing. Earlier apologies resulted in greater satisfaction in being understood during the communication in conflicts that could have gone past 10 minutes. On the other hand, later apologies were deemed more satisfying communications when delivered in less than 10 minutes of conflict discussions. One author noted that apologizing too frequently “becomes background noise.”

The lesson to take away here is to make a determined effort to be forthright in your apology, considering how and when best to deliver it so that the recipient is both ready to receive it and you can communicate honestly and empathetically.

It’s not about you, but an apology you make does affect you.

Granted, an apology is supposed to be about the other person, not you. Yet, the affect your apology has on you is often overlooked. To be more in touch with your motives, as well as your humility and humanity, it’s first wise to understand the basis and purpose of the apology. In an important study on apology by Cynthia Frantz of Oberlin College, “Better Late Than Early: The Influence of Timing on Apology Effectiveness,” the author reminds us to be more focused on the person we’re apologizing to than ourselves. The point is that you want to be reassuring to the point that he or she believes you sincerely understand your wrong. In addition, without acknowledging the wronged person’s emotional state, your apology likely will fall flat, being received as insincere.

However, it’s also worth noting that once you focus your intentions and fashion your words, giving appropriate thought to the timing and place to deliver your apology, you’re engaging in proactive behavior that will have an emotional effect on the recipient as well as you. You know you’ve followed through on a substantive issue, even at some pain, shame and embarrassment on your part. It feels good to lift this burden and you can move on from here.

If you blurt out the apology with no consideration of when and how it’s delivered, though, it likely says something quite different about you, perhaps that you’re more concerned with getting this off your mind than caring how it’s received. Other potential reflections of you as a person because of this ill-conceived and half-heartedly delivered apology could be that you’re self-centered, superficial, and overly consumed with appearances than substance.

Sex makes a difference, apparently.

It seems that men apologize less frequently than women, and that they report fewer offenses they believe they’ve committed. That’s according to a 2010 study published in Psychological Sciences, “Why women apologize more than men: gender differences in thresholds for perceiving offensive behavior.” Another study found that men apologized more frequently to women than other men.

A side note is that hallmark traits of psychopaths include lack of empathy, lack of remorse or guilt, no matter how much they hurt others, failure to accept responsibility, pathological lying and shallow affect, among others. If a psychopath does offer an apology, it’s usually to exert control or manipulate the other person, as they are masters at both.

How to deliver a heartfelt, genuine apology.

You want to be earnest, honest, empathetic, concerned and compassionate when you’ve hurt someone by your actions or words and want to offer an apology. What does a real apology look like? It’s all the former and a few more necessary ingredients. A real apology must contain the following:

  • Delivered with appropriate timing.
  • Acknowledgement of the hurt you have caused.
  • Recounting the incident in detail – so the wronged person knows you know what you’ve done wrong.
  • Taking responsibility for the situation.
  • Recognizing your part in the event.
  • Stating your regret.
  • Asking for forgiveness.
  • Promising that it will not happen again.

Note that in some situations where you’ve wronged another, an apology is not complete unless and until you also make appropriate restitution.

 

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

Related Posts:

11 Ways to Simplify and Enjoy Your Life More

How to Keep Frustration From Blocking Your Goals

10 Tips to Decrease Work Stress

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15 Ways to Increase Your Happiness

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Best Ways to Spend Idle Time

Best Ways to Spend Idle Time

Photo by Pacto Visual on Unsplash

 

If you ever feel like there just isn’t enough time in the day to get things done, you’re probably overstressed, overworked and overcommitted. On the other hand, do you sometimes recognize that time stretches on, like you’re in a slow-motion movie, and it seems like this moment will last forever? How can two different views of time exist? Here are some of my favorite quotes on time that may serve as reflection on the best ways to spend idle time – and be time well spent.

Spend time with family.

“I absolutely love spending time with my family.” – Kevin Alejandro

You may not get to choose your family, yet you do choose whether to spend time with them or not. Too often, though, we tend to take family for granted, feeling they’ll always be there – until they’re not. Use spare time to do something with family, for it will always be some of the best idle time you’ve ever spent.

Find the beauty in each moment.

“Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in.” – Henry David Thoreau

When was the last time you looked at your surroundings? Really looked, not just allowed what’s there to serve as background? There’s true beauty all around, if you but make a conscious choice to look at it and be amazed by its power to enrich and nourish you.

Reflect on your blessings.

“I think, every time I’m on the mountain, I’m just so thankful to be there.” – Chloe Kim

I’m grateful to be alive, having experienced a brush with death more than a few times. Some might call me lucky, while others just marvel I’m still here. Nevertheless, what those life-threatening experiences taught me is to be profoundly appreciative of life. I’ve been blessed with many gifts, not the least of which is my ability to find the positive in almost any situation.

Relax.

“The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.” – Sydney J. Harris

Why put off doing what relaxes you when the science proves that relaxing activities help refresh, restore and revitalize your body, mind and spirit? Take a half hour for meditation, or engage in restorative yoga, or surrender to a luxurious massage. If something relaxes you, you’ll reap enormous benefits from using the time you have to do it.

Enjoy your passions.

“If biking is your passion, set aside time to enjoy a good ride.” – Patrick Dempsey

I’m passionate about many things. For example, I find the wilderness awe-inspiring and mysterious and treasure memories of driving, hiking, fishing, swimming and exploring America’s great national parks. That wilderness is also dangerous and ever-changing doesn’t lessen my passion to be in it. I just exercise appropriate caution. I have other passions as well, some of which many share. These include gardening, walks in nature, creating tasty and low-fat desserts, writing, decorating, shopping for the best deals, and painting. It isn’t the what but the fact that I do what I’m most passionate about. Whatever time I spend with my passions is the best time.

Have a cup of tea.

“Tea time is a chance to slow down, pull back and appreciate our surroundings.” – Letitia Baldridge

I love a good cup of tea. My favorite for the past year is green tea, sweetened with Stevia and organic honey. Perhaps some of the research around the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties in tea swayed me when I first started drinking in during convalescence from a hospital stay, although I have to admit tea drinking is totally different from my daily latte experience. I do appreciate my surroundings when enjoying each of them, and I value the time I spend treating myself to both.

Walk in nature.

“The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough.” – Rabindranath Tagore

Whatever the season, nature is always there to be experienced, appreciated and treasured. Personally, I’m fond of trail walks, possibly because there are numerous nature trails near my home. Whenever we travel, though, I’m always keen to explore the local trails and plan our lodging to take advantage of the most scenic trailheads. There’s a sense of peace and belonging I get from walking in nature. For me, it’s a kind of meditation. I’m conscious of breathing in and out, being in the present, fully aware and alive. What a wonderful and welcoming way to spend a little time. Besides, as  research shows, nature walks, especially in groups, can help banish stress and increase well-being. And, for women with depression symptoms, regular walking can improve their quality of life.

Play with your cat.

“Time spent with cats is never wasted.” – Sigmund Freud

You needn’t be a cat person, or even have a cat in your household, to derive benefit from playing with a feline. It can be a friend’s cat, or the beloved furry friend of a loved one, family member, neighbor or co-worker. I’ve owned several cats over the years and they’ve always amazed me with their never-ending curiosity, playfulness and independent spirit. Hearing and feeling them purr fill me with a sense of contentment and joy. I can be watching TV, listening to music, or just sitting back doing nothing else but playing with the cat. Nothing against dog-lovers, for spending time with dogs ranks just as high in satisfaction. In addition, pets have healing powers and much more, according to research. They make you feel less lonely, for one thing, which is incredibly useful for shut-ins and those without family.

Be flexible.

“Summertime, this is the time that you flex.” – Cardi B

Each season presents unique opportunities to spend free time. My favorite season has to be summer, however, since there’s invariably good weather (occasional thunderstorms notwithstanding) and myriad activities to choose from to have a good time. The key, I find, is to be flexible. If you’re intent on going for a hike and a friend invites you to go swimming, have lunch at a favorite café, shop a great sale, the more willing you are to rearrange your free time to accommodate this unexpected gift the more likely you’ll be glad you did.

Make a choice.

“Time flies. It’s up to you to be the navigator.” – Robert Orben

While it’s true that each day contains just 24 hours, how you spend your time is very much your choice. Even if you must work, that’s a choice. Doing chores is a choice. Taking a break now and then is a choice. So is parceling out an hour for doing what you want, pursuing an interest, investigating something new, making new acquaintances. No one else dictates – or should be allowed to tell you – what you can or cannot do with your time. Own your destiny. Choose how you spend your time.

Savor a favorite food.

“We all need to make time for a burger once in a while.” – Erica Durance

Who doesn’t love a good burger? Whether its angus beef, turkey, salmon or veggie, burgers have long been a go-to form of comfort food for millions of people. The same holds true for many other favorite dishes, whether exotic cuisine or homecooked meals. That’s why turkey dinners are so scrumptious, why the smell of bacon makes you salivate, why the aroma of baking pies brings back your childhood. Instead of wolfing down a favorite food, pause and take in everything about it that’s special. Really savor it. This is the essence, I think, of mindful eating.

Make someone feel important.

“No matter how busy you are, you must take time to make the other person feel important.” – Mary Kay Ash

If you want to go for the gold, use some of your spare time to go out of your way to make someone else feel important and loved. This act of self-generosity doesn’t need to entail spending money. Indeed, often it’s the mere act of conscious listening to what the other person has to say that results in them feeling important, the center of your attention for that brief span of time. Acknowledge what they say, offering words of encouragement, comfort, congratulations, assistance or whatever the person seems to need most. Doing so sincerely and without haste will make you both feel you’ve made good use of the time.

Cherish the moment.

“Time itself comes in drops.” – William James

Time isn’t like a daylong downpour. It doesn’t present itself in four-hour blocks. Instead, time is seconds and minutes, more like gentle drops of rain. Once this moment is gone, it’s forever lost. For this reason, be mindful of the fleeting nature of time and make a concerted effort to live in the present and cherish every moment.

Feel empowered.

“The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” – Bertrand Russell

I believe that every day I deserve to chuck my schedule aside for a while and do whatever I feel drawn to do most. I’m not talking about completely abandoning what must be done, just taking a short hiatus from tasks and responsibilities. The knowledge that I’ll return to my work or chores with a sense of renewal and feeling newly motivated further encourages and empowers me to do what I want with my idle time.

 

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

Related Posts:

11 Ways to Simplify and Enjoy Your Life More

How to Keep Frustration From Blocking Your Goals

Combat Stress With Mindful Walking

7 Tips on Calming the Noise of Life

10 Ways Nature Helps Your Well-Being

15 Ways to Increase Your Happiness

To automatically get my posts, sign up for my RSS feed.   

Want to get my free newsletter? Sign up here to receive uplifting messages and daily positive quotes in my Daily Thoughts. You’ll also get the top self-help articles and stories of the week from my blog and more.

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How To Help Your Child Combat Loneliness

 

lonely child

Photo by Max Goncharov on Unsplash

“You are never alone. You are eternally connected with everyone.” – Amit Ray

 

Many children, especially latch-key kids who must fend for themselves while one or both parents work, suffer from loneliness. Some have it worse than others. I can relate, having endured years of loneliness as a child. While I’m not a trained child psychologist, some of the basic habits I used to overcome loneliness may be helpful to parents of lonely children, as well as to the kid themselves.

By all accounts, I was a lonely child. My older brother, usually charged with watching over me, couldn’t be bothered to play as we were separated by four years. It might as well have been 10, for his friends teased him about babysitting his sister and his interests were far different than mine. With no other kids in the neighborhood my age, this generally resulted in me spending hours by myself. I envied my brother’s many friendships and how happy he seemed to be when around them. I wished desperately for someone to play dolls with me, to cook on my Easy-Bake oven, to build marvelous creations with Legos or Lincoln Logs, all to no avail.

My parents both worked and when they were home, there were chores to do, dinner to prepare and dishes to clean afterwards. I helped as much as I could, yet I was mostly in the way of getting the meals to the table on time. This made me feel left out and didn’t help with how lonely I felt all the time. Little did I know that some of the daily activities I took for granted would greatly assist me in becoming more externally-motivated and less prone to dwelling on how sad, depressed and lonely I felt.

Reading

A bright spot for me turned out to be reading. My love of the written word began early as my mother read to me every evening, no matter how tired she was and how much laundry or other tasks remained to be done before she could rest. I loved the colorful photographs in these books and remember vividly the wondrous tales told by L. Frank Baum in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and other chronicles, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and a host of other books. I started reading books on my own before age 5 and my mother took me to the public library once a week to borrow several to keep me occupied for the next seven days. I quickly graduated from typical children’s books to ones with fewer pictures and longer chapters. I read through complete series, several genres at a time, always eager to see what was new at the library.

What reading did for me was open me to new worlds. I identified with the characters, their challenges and journeys, their triumphs and heartbreaks. I wasn’t alone any longer, now that I had a repertoire of favorite characters.

My strong recommendation is that parents today adopt the practice of reading stories to their children. The earlier this habit begins, the better it is to help develop the child’s imagination, foster a sense of self-empowerment and discovery, and a willingness to try new things. It doesn’t take a great deal of time, either. Just 15-20 minutes a night on a consistent basis will work wonders. Research also shows that curiosity helps children become better at math as well as reading. This is a win-win.

Playing with Dolls

I became an expert at play almost when I began to walk. As a young girl, I had several dollies (my word for my little companions). I’d dress them in various outfits for activities we’d do and little excursions we’d take. The occasional mishap, where a head or limb would fall off during tree-climbing or other strenuous pursuits, didn’t faze me. My dad was, among other things, an expert carpenter. He could literally fix anything. I know. I watched him do it.

How, though, did playing with dolls help me overcome loneliness? For one thing, I developed the art of casual conversation, talking with my little charges as if they were human. I even spoke their responses so that everyone both participated and got their turn to say what was on their mind.

Naturally, this jumpstarted my imagination, as every day the girls (all my dollies were girls) wanted to experience something new. We had tea parties, played hide-and-seek, picked wildflowers in the field behind our house, sampled strawberries and blueberries from our truck garden and got dirty weeding and picking off caterpillars and other insects clinging to the vegetables.

Lots of girls, and some boys, still like playing with dolls. Whether they’re Barbie and Ken or Wonder Woman, Superman or some other action hero toy, such play stimulates curiosity, enriches the imagination and pushes the boundaries inherent in isolation. Besides, if your children do have friends, it’s wonderful to take the dolls on a little road trip to play with other dolls. This is a childhood pastime that never seems to go out of style, for good reason: it works to keep children amused and occupied with healthy activity.

Making Things

Our family was modest of means when I was growing up. I didn’t know this, however, until it came time to buying a new toy or dress or something I fancied for Christmas or my birthday. My mother was the one to let me know we couldn’t afford the most expensive item, although she usually cloaked that disappointment with an acceptable substitute. She’d help me make a new wardrobe for my aging dolls, or she’d take me to the sewing center or fabric store to let me pick out ribbons for a new sash to freshen my dress, or other items for my hair.

She encouraged me to make what I wanted as well, whether that meant fashioning toy cars from cereal boxes or constructing buildings and houses from leftover cardboard, bits of wood my dad gave me, using twigs for trees and flowers for bushes in the communities I fashioned at the side of the house. To an adult, it might have looked like a mud pile or merely an odd arrangement. My parents, however, knew these were my creations and told me how creative my designs were. Thus, began my lifelong interest in making things, seeing how to extend the life of items, transform them into something new and useful. It was also a trait that others found helpful, and I soon had friends who wanted to make stuff with me.

Instead of automatically replacing what’s broken, out of style, a little threadbare or cracked, encourage your child to figure out ways to redeem the item. Recycle various parts, give them a coat of paint, regard them as trusted family members worthy of respect and friendship. This helps your child develop problem-solving skills, discover talents they didn’t know they had, and instills a sense of pride and self-accomplishment. Besides, knowing how to make things is a skill they’ll use the rest of their lives. People gravitate toward those who can be so self-sufficient.

Spending Time in Nature

Another habit I cultivated early was being outdoors. My parents made it a point for their two kids to spend time outside, no matter the weather or season. While we didn’t know they needed alone time, we didn’t need any prodding to scurry out to play. My brother, of course, raced off to be with his friends, while I had plenty to do with my village creation, picking wildflowers, walking the cat on a leash (he didn’t much care for that). There was sledding and ice skating in the winter, making leaf houses in autumn, and so much more. Since there was a city park adjacent our house, I got lots of exposure to nature. Plus, families picnicked in the area and I was often invited to play with all the kids they brought along. Even though I might never see them again, we had lots of fun.

It’s a memory I treasure today. My parents could see me from the window, so I was never far away. I also knew to stay within calling range, so I’d be on time for dinner. Granted, things were much safer decades ago. People were more trusting, and trustworthy. Still, outdoor activity and leisure pursuits are excellent ways to banish loneliness.

Go for walks in nature with your children. Take vacations to visit state and national parks. Go to amusement parks, zoos and wildlife habitats with them. How can you be lonely when you’re able to witness such abundant life, the riches of nature? In addition, you’ll be helping your kids to appreciate what this world has to offer, and love of being in nature is a healthy habit they’ll likely pass on to their children as well.

 

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

Related Posts:

11 Ways to Simplify and Enjoy Your Life More

5 Tips to Banish Loneliness

How to Keep Frustration From Blocking Your Goals

Combat Stress With Mindful Walking

7 Tips on Calming the Noise of Life

10 Ways Nature Helps Your Well-Being

15 Ways to Increase Your Happiness

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