Life

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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10 Surprising Health Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation

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“The real meditation practice is how we live our lives from moment to moment to moment.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn

 

As someone who strives daily to be the best I can be, to be present in the moment, minimize stress and appreciate the beauty and preciousness of life, I’m always keen to learn about scientifically-proven new health benefits of mindfulness meditation.

Get better sleep.

Anyone who’s suffered the lingering mental and physical effects of a poor night’s sleep on a regular basis, as I have on numerous occasions in the past, can appreciate this all-important benefit from mindfulness meditation: better sleep. In fact, research with older adults diagnosed with sleep disturbances found that the practice resulted in significant short-term improvement in sleep quality by remediating sleep problems. Researchers noted this improvement apparently carried over to “reducing sleep-related daytime impairment that has implications for quality of life.”

Make progress toward your weight-loss goals.

If you’ve struggled with yo-yo fluctuations in weight and tried many fad diets and weight-loss crazes, it might be motivating to learn that mindfulness meditation has been shown to be a good strategy to support weight-loss goals. A clinical study involving overweight and obese women found that mindfulness intervention for stress eating, while not designed to induce total weight loss, did stabilize weight among those who were obese. Researchers also found that greater frequency of eating meals mindfully was slightly related to weight loss, noting that, “Minimally, these techniques may support weight maintenance efforts, and actual weight loss might occur for those participants who eat a high proportion of meals mindfully.”

A survey of American Psychological Association licensed psychologists by Consumer Reports found that mindfulness, along with cognitive therapy and problem-solving, are “excellent” or “good” weight loss strategies. That’s because the focus of dieters should be more on the role their emotions play in weight management, rather than solely on exercise and calorie control or eating less.

Lower your stress levels.

It’s a fast-paced society we live in, which contributes to and exacerbates everyday stress. Learning how to control or minimize the effects of stress on body and mind is important in overall health and well-being. So, it’s refreshing to know that a review of 47 clinical trials found that mindfulness meditation programs show “small improvements in stress/distress and the mental health component of health-related quality of life.” Another study found that focusing on the present through the practice of mindfulness can reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.

Decrease loneliness in seniors.

Getting older has its challenges, yet relationships can be deeply satisfying and personally enriching. For many older adults, however, loneliness due to the loss of a spouse or partner can be made worse when there are concurrent medical or psychological conditions or issues to deal with. One study found that an 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program reduces loneliness and related pro-inflammatory gene expression in older adults.

Banish temporary negative feelings.

Sitting all day at a desk or computer is not good for your overall health and well-being. The often-recommended advice to get up and move is well-founded in research.  A study assessing college students’ daily waking movement-based behaviors found less momentary negative affect from movement with mindfulness in mind and suggested that incorporating mindfulness into daily movement may lead to better overall health benefits.

Improve attention.

Researchers found that brief meditation training (four days) can lead to enhanced ability to sustain attention. Other improvements from brief meditation training included working memory, executive functioning, visuo-spatial processing, reductions in anxiety and fatigue, and increased mindfulness.

Manage chronic pain.

Millions of people suffer with chronic pain, some following an accident that leaves them with a long-term debilitating medical condition, some as a result of post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) after serious injury during combat deployment, others due to diagnoses with cancer. Managing chronic pain in a healthier way is the focus of much current research. Indeed, the search for and clinical trials of alternatives to medication to help patient cope with chronic pain continues to gain momentum. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), a therapy that combines mindfulness meditation and yoga, has been found to result in significant improvements in pain, anxiety, well-being and ability to participate in daily activities.

Help prevent depression relapse.

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), according to a growing body of research, may prove beneficial in preventing depression relapse. A particular strength of the mind-body technique is how it shows participants how to disengage from the kind of highly dysfunctional and deeply felt thoughts that accompany depression. A 2011 study found that MBCT is an effective intervention for depression relapse in patient with at least three prior episodes of major depressive disorder (MDD). Another study found that MBCT provided significant relapse protection for participants with a history of childhood trauma that left them with increased vulnerability for depression.

Reduce anxiety.

Feeling anxious? Researchers have found that even a single session of mindfulness meditation can result in reduced anxiety. For the study, researchers focused on the effect of a single session of mindfulness meditation on participants with high levels of anxiety but normal blood pressure. They found measurable improvements in anxiety following the single mindfulness meditation session and further anxiety reduction one week later. Researchers suggested that a single mindfulness session may help to reduce cardiovascular risk in those with moderate anxiety.

Increase brain gray matter.

Along with the well-documented benefits of mindfulness meditation, another surprising finding of the mind-body practice is that it appears to increase gray matter in the brain. A controlled longitudinal study investigated pre- and post-changes to gray matter that could be attributed to participation in MBSR. Researchers found that increases in gray matter concentration occurred in the left hippocampus, the posterior cingulate cortex, temporo-parietal junction, and cerebellum. These are the regions involved in memory and learning processes, regulation of emotion, self-referential processing and taking perspective.

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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+.

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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Best Way to Effect Change

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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+.

 

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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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+.

 

10 Good and 10 Bad Things About Procrastination

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“Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” – Benjamin Franklin

“There’s nothing to match curling up with a good book when there’s a repair job to be done around the house.” – Joe Ryan

 

Everyone procrastinates. Some, in fact, are proficient at it. While I used to count myself in that category, I’ve made a conscious effort to change my ways in recent years and I must say I’ve been quite successful in the endeavor. Still, the urge to put off what must be done occasionally plagues me. So, I found the research on what’s good and what’s bad about procrastination so fascinating I just had to share it. Here, then, are 10 good and 10 bad points to ponder about procrastination.

10 GOOD THINGS ABOUT PROCRASTINATION

While much of the literature about procrastination – and public consensus – is that the habit is bad, there are some studies and research pointing out the opposite.

  • Procrastination helps you learn to manage delay.

The ancient Greeks knew a thing or two about living the good life. In fact, Greek philosophers highly valued procrastination, as much as stating that it is good to learn to manage delay. Of course, there’s a significant difference between active and passive procrastination, where the former can be considered good and the latter – just sitting around doing nothing, for example – is decidedly in the category of bad. Knowing when to act, even though that may mean delaying action, is good advice.

  • Procrastination provides time to reflect on what’s most important.

You need time to think about what matters most in life. Not in the sense that you’re contemplating weighty philosophical issues, simply what’s most important to you. By taking your time to think through some things – or think of nothing at all so that your mind can clear, you’ll discover the kernels of importance that reside in your mind and heart. Then, you can act accordingly.

  • Much better decisions may result from procrastination.

Rushing in to deal with this or that task, project or item on your list of things to do doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be done well or provide any meaningful satisfaction for their completion. You might also find yourself accepting projects and tasks that aren’t right for you, that you’re ill-equipped to handle, shouldn’t do because they’re someone else’s responsibility, or it’s simply not the right time to get started on them. Just because something is on a list is not always a green light to work on them. By procrastinating, your decision may be better informed as a result.

  • Prioritization may be the offshoot of procrastination.

If you’re putting off things, procrastination could help you jumpstart prioritizing. This is helpful to get rid of unnecessary tasks, things you might have begun that weren’t worth your time, at least now.

  • Cooler heads prevail when you procrastinate saying you’re sorry.

While you might feel pressure to apologize when you’ve wronged another and anxious to get it over with, if you push yourself to do it immediately, who knows what might come out of your mouth? This is a case where allowing yourself time to think carefully about what and how (and perhaps where and when) you’ll issue the apology will result in a better, sincerer apology. Even if it’s taking an hour or so and breathing in and out deeply, you’ll be in a calmer state of mind and your tone of voice and body language will be more relaxed.

  • You can get other things done on your to-do list when you engage in active procrastination.

Sure, there might be some doozies on your to-do list, tasks or projects that are complex, complicated, time-consuming or just difficult, onerous and not something you want to dive into. You know you’ll have to deal with them eventually but tending to the half dozen or so small items on your list allows you to get a lot done, be more productive and feel a sense of accomplishment. This might be all you need to then tackle that big one you’ve been putting off.

  • Procrastination allows your mind to process.

Even when you’re not consciously thinking about what’s on your do-to list, your subconscious is. This may lead to an innovative or creative solution to the issue, task, project, errand or chore you’ve put off doing.

  • Active procrastination offers health benefits.

Research by Chu and Choi in 2005 found that active procrastinators were not paralyzed by worry. They also had lower stress levels, exhibited less avoidant tendencies, and had healthier self-efficacy.

  • Your most creative ideas may come through procrastination.

There is a school of thought that the first ideas or solutions to problems aren’t the best ones. Those are often the result of deliberating for a time to sort through different options and arrive at the most appropriate. Call this dwell time or mind-wandering or an example of the creative process. If it works, use it – sparingly. Some things can’t wait while you procrastinate.

  • Procrastination is normal.

Instead of agonizing that you’re guilty of a bad habit by your procrastination, embrace the realization that procrastination is normal. If it doesn’t get out of hand or become chronic, you shouldn’t have a problem.

 

10 BAD THINGS ABOUT PROCRASTINATION

The list of what’s not so good about procrastination includes some well-known (and likely quite familiar) observations that each have some measure of truth.

  • Procrastination can lead to poor academic performance.

While this may seem like a no-brainer, a study by Case Western Reserve University determined that college students who procrastinated experienced higher levels of stress, increased episodes of illness, and poorer grades by semester’s end.

  • Higher levels of stress associated with procrastination may be linked to poor self-compassion.

Research by Sirois published in Self & Identity suggested that lower levels of self-compassion could explain some stress levels procrastinators experienced and observed that targeted interventions to promote self-compassion could be beneficial for those individuals.

  • Procrastination promotes negative feelings.

A study by Pychyl et al. reported in Personality & Individual Differences examined the phenomenon of negative feelings arising from procrastination by students. Negative affect resulted from the first instance of procrastination before an exam, yet self-forgiveness tended to reduce procrastination and negative effect on a subsequent exam.

  • Procrastination may have a genetic component.

Are you destined to be a procrastinator because of your genetic makeup? Several studies debate this origin of procrastination, or at least whether genetics is causative. A study by Gustavson et al. published in the journal from the Association for Psychological Science found confirmation for their postulation that procrastination is a by-product of impulsivity. Not only is procrastination heritable, both share a great deal of genetic variation, and an important aspect of this shared variability is goal-management. Even though you may be predisposed to procrastinate, however, doesn’t mean you can’t do something about it.

  • Procrastination is self-defeating behavior.

While the debate goes on over the good versus bad points about procrastination, some scientists say that procrastinating conflates positive behaviors such as pondering and prioritizing. Furthermore, procrastination for any number of seemingly good reasons leads to the self-defeating habit of genuine procrastination, which is the absence of making progress.

Some say that procrastinating helps motivate them to do their best work under pressure. While that may be true for some small number of people, it isn’t the general outcome. Crashing to accomplish that oh-so-important project or school paper or business presentation at the last minute will probably not be your best work. Self-talk to the contrary is just an excuse.

  • With procrastination, you get things done, but they’re the wrong things.

Shoving the important task to the bottom of the list and focusing on several easy and quick-to-do ones you could do any time gives you the false reassurance that you’re accomplishing a lot. Granted, this example of procrastination allows you to get things done, yet they’re the wrong things – or are out of priority.

  • You add to the workload of others when you procrastinate.

No one likes having work dumped on them that another employee fails to do. That creates resentment, adds to the dumped-on employees’ workload and sets the stage for feelings of anxiety and piled-on resentment.

  • Procrastinators may be paralyzed by fear of making a mistake, a loss of self-worth.

People aren’t inherently lazy when they engage in procrastination. Just ask them. They’ll come up with a dozen distinct reasons for their delay to act. At the heart of the problem of procrastination, at least for some individuals, may be a paralyzing fear of making a mistake and thus suffering a loss of self-worth.

  • The end-product of chronic procrastination may be mental health issues.

A longitudinal study of the costs and benefits of procrastination, performance and stress found that procrastination is a self-defeating behavior pattern characterized by short-term benefits and long-term costs, including an increase in mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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How to Overcome Laziness and Get Things Done

Photo by Colin Watts on Unsplash

 

“Laziness may appear attractive, but work gives satisfaction.”Anne Frank

 

Does your to-do list today fill you with the desire to chuck it all and chill out somewhere? Maybe you’ve gotten so jammed up that your schedule simply has no breathing room, no time for you to do anything you want because you’re overcommitted, unable to say no, or way behind on projects, tasks and chores already. You might, indeed, feel downright lazy. This laziness doesn’t mean you aren’t responsible or that you lack skills and abilities. Rather, it may mean that you need to do a little prioritizing, let some things go and learn how to get what matters done.

Do a needs-based analysis of your workload.

How much of what you’ve allocated to do today – or that others put on your schedule – is an absolute must? Is it a task or project you could delay for a time and focus on something else that’s more pressing, that has an urgent deadline, or you’re pressured to get done? Not everything you’ve penciled in on today’s list must be completed today. Some items can wait. The key is to carefully analyze everything to determine what’s necessary and what’s not. This isn’t an idle exercise. It’s an essential part of organization and crucial to getting things done.

Give every task a number.

After you’ve examined every item on your list, some stand out as more pressing than others. These are the ones to prioritize. Go through the list again and assign every task a number, with 1 being the most important to get done, and 10 and beyond less time-sensitive. Hopefully, your list doesn’t go much past 10, since that’s a clear sign you’re overcommitted.

Have a work list and a personal list.

One way to avoid getting lost in numerous tasks in one list is to carve out two lists: a work list and a personal one. What’s important here is to draw the line at the end of the work day and don’t allow work to cross over into your personal time. When work intrudes on home, family and relationships, or vice-versa, there’s bound to be unnecessary conflict. You’ll also get little accomplished as you waver between tending to one area of responsibility at the expense of the other. Clear work-home boundaries help a great deal.

Take a break – literally.

Feel your chest getting tight? A bad headache coming on? Jitters or queasiness? These may be signs of stress from internal and external pressures to perform, be the top achiever, nail the contract, settle the dispute, or find the optimal solution to a problem. The best way to relieve stress in this instance is to do a hard stop and get some fresh air. This is a literal recommendation, as being outside in nature is well documented to reduce stress and increase a sense of overall health and well-being. After your break – and it needn’t be much more than 15 minutes to a half-hour – you’ll return to your responsibilities feeling refreshed and more motivated to tackle what must be done. You may even find you’ve come up with an ingenious solution or idea.

See the end game.

Sometimes you can’t envision what your efforts contribute to the desired outcome. This may or may not be your own goal. You may be so tied up in minutiae of details that a successful result is not easy to see. Here is where it helps to step back and separate the individual pieces of the project or task and put them into perspective with the ultimate goal in mind. When you can better see how everything links together, it can serve as impetus to get moving again. While it’s better to focus on the positive aspects of your part well done, it can also be motivating to recognize what might happen if you fail to deliver on your responsibilities. In any event, seeing the end game can be a powerful tool to overcome laziness.

Ask for help.

Suffering with a piled-on workload or shouldering more-than-your-fair-share of responsibilities is enough to make anyone stall in enthusiasm. No wonder you feel lazy. One of the most effective ways to pare down a heavy workload is to ask for help when you need it. Be sparing in how and when you request assistance, though, as you don’t want to appear as whining, incompetent, shirking your duties, or lazy. Also, be sure you reciprocate by helping others when they ask, if you’re able to do so. Once you’ve asked for and received help, your mountain of assignments or tasks won’t seem such a hurdle. There’s a lot to be said for cooperative spirit in getting things done.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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

Photo by Matthew Kane on Unsplash

“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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10 Benefits of Tai Chi for Better Overall Health, Well-Being and Living Longer

 

“The reason I exercise is for the quality of life I enjoy.” – Kenneth H. Cooper

 

In the search for effective ways to experience positive outcomes in the all-important life aspects such as overall health, well-being and mortality, one of the sleeper strategies to consider involves adopting an ancient Chinese practice called tai chi. Here are some of the benefits of tai chi documented by research.

Live longer.

Tai Chi is a mind-body practice that originated in China and remains today the most common form of exercise for adults in that country. In addition to the much-researched benefits for reduced mortality from moderate-intensity exercise, such as you get from regular walking and jogging, researchers found the first evidence that tai chi also promotes longevity. The greatest benefit from tai chi was obtained from those who self-reported engaging in the practice 5-6 hours per week.

Improve muscle strength, balance and flexibility.

A systematic review of older patients with chronic conditions who engaged in regular tai chi exercise found that, in addition participants’ physiological and psychosocial benefits, the practice also appeared to promote better balance control, flexibility, strength, respiratory and cardiovascular function. Researchers noted, however, that it was difficult to state firm conclusions about the reported benefits and called for more well-defined studies to drill down to specific, verifiable results. In other research, a clinical trial of older women with osteoarthritis who completed a 12-week tai chi exercise program found participants experienced improved arthritic symptoms (less pain), balance and physical function. Researchers urged a larger-sample longitudinal study to confirm use of tai chi in arthritis exercise management.

Boost cognitive function.

Although the fact is that cognitive decline is prevalent among older adults (about 40 percent of older adults in America have some form of cognitive impairment, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease), it need not be considered a foregone conclusion. Nor should getting older need be synonymous with cognitive decline. A growing body of evidence points to the benefits to older adults from practice of tai chi in the areas of global cognitive and memory functions, especially verbal working memory. A meta-analysis found agreement with the findings of numerous studies on the benefits to cognitive function from physical exercise, and researchers recommended tai chi as an alternative mind-body exercise to improve older adults’ cognitive functioning.

Improve COPD symptoms.

An Australian study found that a modified tai chi program – Sun-style tai chi — helped boost exercise capacity and improved participant’s chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) symptoms. Researchers noted that tai chi has “highly clinically relevant effects on endurance and peak exercise capacity in people with COPD.”

Get better night-time sleep quality.

A 2016 pilot randomized controlled trial evaluating the benefits of tai chi qigong (TCQ) on night-time sleep quality of older adults with cognitive impairment found better quality of both sleep and life than a control group not participating in tai chi qigong. Since more than 25 percent of older adults with cognitive impairment suffer impaired sleep quality, the search for nonpharmacological approaches to improve the quality of night-time sleep is gaining momentum. Due to their low physical strength and medical condition, however, many older adults with cognitive impairment cannot engage in certain exercises. Thus, developing exercise programs tailored to mental conditions and reduced physical well-being is important. Results from the pilot trial showed tai chi qigong participants benefited from improved sleep qualities in the areas of sleep duration, sleep efficiency, and the mental health component of quality of life. Researchers noted that, as a low-intensity exercise, TCQ is an appropriate intervention to improve night-time sleep quality in older adults with cognitive impairment.

Improve symptoms of fibromyalgia.

In a study comparing the effectiveness of tai chi and aerobic exercise on fibromyalgia symptoms in patients, researchers found that tai chi resulted in similar or greater symptom improvement than aerobic exercise. Longer-duration tai chi provided greater improvements, researchers noted, concluding that the mind-body approach of tai chi may be a viable therapeutic option in the multidisciplinary management of fibromyalgia.

See improvements in cardiovascular fitness.

Millions of Americans exercise to help boost their cardiovascular health. Yet, many who do so do not realize the research-backed evidence that certain types of exercise specifically benefit cardiovascular function. Indeed, zeroing in on what types of exercise benefit the heart in healthy adults is only recently attracting researcher interest. A review of 20 studies of healthy adults comparing tai chi exercise with non-intervention found that tai chi has a significant impact in improving heart efficiency by reducing resting blood pressure, resting heart rate, and enhancing stroke outcome and cardiac output at quiet reading. The review also found significant improvement in respiratory function from tai chi exercise.

Reduce risk of falls.

Among older adults, the risk of falling is an ever-present and major concern. As such, finding therapeutic approaches to help reduce fall risk in this cohort is of major importance. A 2016 review  of 10 randomized controlled trials examining tai chi’s effect on fall reduction found the ancient Chinese exercise demonstrates a significant protective effect on fall prevention risk among older adults. Researchers noted the need for additional trials to determine both optimal duration and frequency of tai chi programs and optimal style of such programs for older adults.

Reduce prenatal anxiety and depression.

A 2013 study of tai chi and yoga treatment for prenatal women with anxiety and depression found that the tai chi group had lower scores in depression and anxiety, as well as lower scores in sleep disturbance at the end of the 12-week, once-per-week sessions.

Obtain moderate benefits for chronic nonspecific neck pain.

Chronic pain sufferers are always on the lookout for effective pain relief that is nonaddictive, effective and safe. A 2016 study found that a 12-week program of tai chi resulted in more than 50 percent pain reduction in 39 percent of patients with chronic nonspecific neck pain, compared with more than 50 percent pain reduction in 46 percent of study participants engaging in conventional neck exercises. Researchers noted that both tai chi and conventional neck exercises are safe and effective. They said further that tai chi may be a suitable alternative to conventional neck exercises.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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We All Get Sick Sometimes: How to Keep Going When You Feel Miserable

Photo by Michele Hohner

 

“Life is too short to be miserable.” – Rita Mae Brown

 

While it would be wonderful if you never got sick, that’s not life. In fact, you can count on having some bouts of illness no matter how healthy you currently are or have been. There are countless opportunities to encounter germs, carried by people who are infected – even if they don’t look sick – or clinging to surfaces you touch. Allergies afflict millions every day, while family contact and heredity account for many more instances of sickness and illness. When you do fall ill, it may be of short duration or a long and drawn-out episode. Either way, you might feel miserable. Here’s some advice on how to keep going when that happens, drawn from personal experience and a keen sense of research on what works and what doesn’t.

Keep your perspective.

It might seem like this illness or condition will last forever, yet it’s likely more of a barrier in your thoughts than will pan out. A cold or the flu will run its course over a week or two, unless there are complications. A broken leg will eventually heal, given appropriate medical treatment. A chronic disease or condition can be managed with time and discipline. Doing the best that you can to be good to yourself while what’s bothering you now rages on will help speed recovery. In the meantime, take the long view. Envision yourself getting stronger each day and regaining your health and vitality. By seeing a mental image of a healthier you, you’re priming yourself to get on the road to improvement. Research proves that imagining being able to perform a task, even when physically unable to do so, may benefit recovery. Remember that the next time illness lays you low.

Leave the big decisions for later.

When you’re sick is no time to make major changes in your life. For one thing, you’re not thinking clearly. For another, making an impulse decision now could jeopardize long-term goals, alienate those you care about most or whose friendship or counsel you value highly. When you are anxious, sad, worried or angry about not being able to continue with your schedule, you might make an impromptu choice to quit school, break up with a loved one, close off contact with friends, cope by making rash purchasing decisions. Keep in mind that smart choices are often the ones given appropriate time to consider carefully. Jot down points you find pertinent now, with the aim of revisiting them when you feel better. At present, make healing your highest priority. All other decisions, unless urgent, can wait for later.

Adopt an optimistic outlook.

Have you ever found that thinking in negative terms subsequently affected how you performed when doing the task? That’s called self-fulfilling prophecy by some or engaging in negative self-talk by others. Whatever phrase you ascribe to it, avoid doing it. In fact, researchers have found that imagining a more positive future colors memory of such action when it becomes part of the past. You remember more positive things about the action than negative ones. This can help when you’re stuck in pain at present, nursing an illness and doing the best self-care you can to speed healing. It’s much preferred than wallowing in negativity, which only exacerbates your current misery.

Focus on today.

If you can remember what bothered you so intensely six months ago, it’s likely a distant memory. In similar fashion, what seems so monumental now will likely fade quickly. This includes physical and emotional pain, perhaps caused by chronic illness or the sudden onset of a virus or bacterial infection. Painful emotions, another type of deeply-felt pain, can also be resolved over time with appropriate professional help and the support of loved ones and family members. One technique that may prove helpful is to center your thoughts on today. Just get through the next 24 hours. Things will be better tomorrow. Whether you’re dealing with substance abuse, going through detox, suffering cravings and urges, getting used to pain medication post-surgery, dealing with depression, anxiety, or a broken heart from a recent break-up, tomorrow is another day. In the meantime, you’re healing. That’s what’s most important.

Lighten your load by only doing what’s essential.

Since you’re not physically or emotionally capable of doing everything on your schedule when you’re miserable, the smart move is to remove some items from your to-do list. In fact, ditch nonessential ones completely for now, as they’ll only drain what precious energy you can marshal today. There’ll be time to circle back to them once you’re feeling better. Ask for help tackling tasks and handling responsibilities from loved ones, family members, friends and co-workers. Be sure you reciprocate the favor when they request similar assistance from you. Of the items left that must be attended to, prioritize them and do the best you can with the highest priority one. A single mom who must make dinner for her children will make this a priority, even if that dinner consists of microwaved casseroles or canned soup heated on the stove. Be sure to let the kids know that regular dinners will resume once you feel better – and keep your promise.

When possible, communicate with a friend.

There’s nothing lonelier than suffering in misery by yourself. Pain seems magnified, like you can’t escape it. Thoughts of dire consequences and fears about illness progressively getting worse also tend to rush in during times of solitude. If you’re not contagious and feel that the physical presence of a friend, loved one, family member, neighbor or co-worker will be welcome, invite that person for a visit. If an in-home visit isn’t possible, connect via phone call or social media, even email. Exchanging conversation will at least take your mind off your ills for a brief period. Often, this is enough to change the trajectory of your convalescence, going from stalemate to an upward swing.

Be sure to hydrate.

Many medications have an unpleasant side-effect of dehydration. Even if you don’t require prescription medications when you’re feeling miserable, over-the-counter medications can also cause dehydration. Perhaps you’re not taking any medication. Do you still need to rehydrate when you’re feeling miserable? The answer is that you do. By the time you think you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. This is detrimental to every organ in your body, including your brain. When you’re consumed with thoughts about how bad you feel, you’re probably not taking adequate care of yourself, and that includes drinking sufficient fluids. Water is the best choice to hydrate, so aim for 6-8 8-oz. glasses of water daily.

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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, 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.

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