Self-Care

Factors Linked to Psychological Distress

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Psychological distress, a widely-used indicator of the mental health of a population, nevertheless remains vaguely understood. In numerous studies, psychological distress is “largely” defined as “a state of emotional suffering characterized by symptoms of depression and anxiety.” But how do you know if what you’re experiencing is psychological distress or a diagnosable psychological disorder, such as anxiety or depression? If you’ve had a bad day, does that mean you’re suffering psychological distress? If you lose your job and feel anxious and short-tempered, is this a sign you are in a state of psychological distress?

Psychological Distress Vs. Psychological Disorder

Psychological distress is generally considered a transient (not long-lasting) phenomenon that is related to specific stressors. It typically subsides when either the stressor is removed, or the individual adapts to the stressor.

  • In the example of having a bad day, you’re likely experiencing transient psychological distress. Tomorrow is another day, bringing with it the opportunity to see things differently, start anew, employ healthier self-protective measures and more.
  • On the other hand, if you’ve lost your job and are irritable, anxious, quick-to-anger and display other negative emotions and behavior, and such distress continues for some period of time and now interferes with your daily activities, you may have crossed over from psychological distress of a transient nature to a more deeply-embedded psychological disorder requiring treatment.

Distress that is characteristic of psychological disorders, such as anxiety and depression, involves functional impairment and “clinically significant distress” (also called “marked distress”). With anxiety disorders, symptoms do not go away and worsen over time. They also interfere with daily activities such as job, school, and relationships. To be diagnosed with depression, severe symptoms (negatively affecting how you feel, think and handle daily activities) must be present for two weeks.

Signs of Psychological Distress

You likely know when something is off with someone you love, or within yourself. It could be transient and resolved rather quickly, or it could be indicative of an accumulation of factors causing psychological distress. WebMD lists a number of signs of emotional distress that equally apply to psychological distress.

  • Disturbances in sleep
  • Fluctuations in weight, along with eating pattern changes
  • Physical changes that are unexplained, including headache, constipation, diarrhea, chronic pain, and rumbling stomach
  • Frequently provoked to anger
  • Developing obsessive/compulsive behaviors
  • Chronic fatigue, excessive tiredness, no energy
  • Forgetfulness and memory problems
  • Shying away from social activities
  • No longer finding pleasure in sex
  • Comments from others about your mood swings and erratic behavior

Junk Food Linked to Psychological Distress

Researchers at California’s Loma Linda University Adventist Health Sciences Center found that state adult residents consuming more unhealthy food were also likely to report psychological distress symptoms (either moderate or severe), compared to peers eating healthier diets. The study, published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, also found that nearly 17 percent of California adults are likely to suffer from mental illness, some 13.2 percent with moderate psychological distress and 3.7 percent with severe psychological distress. Researchers recommended targeted public health interventions promoting healthier diets aimed at young adults and those with less than 12 years of education.

Goal Conflict and Psychological Distress Linked

A study conducted by the University of Exeter and Edith Cowan University found that personal goal conflict may increase feelings of anxiety and depression. They studied two forms of motivational conflict, inter-goal conflict (which occurs when pursuing a goal makes it difficult to pursue another goal), and ambivalence (when the individual has conflicting feelings about particular goals). Results of the study, published in Personality and Individual Differences, showed that each of these goal conflict forms were associated independently with depressive and anxious symptoms. Researchers said that those with poorer mental health are more likely to say their personal goals are in conflict with each other. Such goal conflicts can contribute to psychological distress.

An earlier meta-analysis by researchers from the University of California, Riverside, published in the Journal of Research in Personality, found that higher levels of goal conflict are negatively associated with psychological well-being (lower levels of positive psychological outcomes and greater levels of psychological distress).

How to Cope with Psychological Distress

The first step in effective coping with psychological distress involves identifying the potential causes for the distress and then resolving to take steps to alleviate or overcome it. This may involve psychological counseling to get at the root cause for the psychological distress. As part of the counseling, the psychiatrist, psychologist or other mental health professional may recommend a number of different therapeutic approaches to help reduce psychological distress.

Getting out in nature – A 2019 study published in Health Place looked at the beneficial effects of greenness (green space) and serious psychological distress among adults and teens in California and found epidemiological evidence of such benefits in the study group’s mental health. While numerous other studies focused on adults and beneficial effects of green space, this population-based U.S. study aimed to fill in the gap with inclusion of teens.

Another 2019 study, published in the International Journal of Environmental Health Research, reported that even short-term time spent in an urban park contributed to improvement in subjective well-being. The effect was independent of levels of physical activity. Improvement was reported as stress reduction and recovery from mental fatigue. Researchers recommended a minimum of 20 minutes in the park to achieve benefits from being in the green space.

Try giving hugsResearched published in PLOS One found that receiving hugs on days when subjects experienced interpersonal conflict helped attenuate the negative effects of the conflict on same-day and subsequent day. Researchers said their findings help contribute to an understanding of the role of interpersonal touch as a buffer against negative outcomes of interpersonal conflict and distress.

Identify what you need and focus on what you wantPsychological distress is no picnic and when you’re in the throes of it, you may be uncertain what to do next. Experts recommend healthy ways to deal with such distress that include, first and foremost, identifying what it is you need and then also focusing on what you want. You need to practice good self-care (being kind to yourself), engage in grounding, developing your nurturing self-voice and other proactive coping methods to help deal with psychological distress.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

My Best Ways to Deal with Frustration

How to Keep Frustration from Blocking Your Goals

How to Manage Your Anger

How to Start Making Plans When You’re Recovering From Depression

10 Health Benefits of Daily Exercise

10 Ways Nature Helps Your Well-Being

Research Finds New Health Benefits From Sleep

Self-Care: The Most Important Person to Take Care of Is You

Surprising New Pain Relief Methods

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How to Identify and Overcome Frustration

Photo by Siora Photography on Unsplash

 

“I was an accomplice in my own frustration.” – Peter Shaffer

 

While we may not recognize when we do it, or even admit to it when we know we do, we all sometimes have a tendency to sabotage our efforts, thus leading to unnecessary and sometimes disruptive frustration. The key to being able to overcome frustration is to learn how to identify it and then implement strategies to combat it.

Where Does Frustration Come From?

In the simplest terms, frustration is an emotion that comes from being blocked from achieving an intended goal. There are internal sources of frustration, as well as external sources.

Internal sources: If you are not able to get what you want, the disappointment and frustration you feel may well be the outcome. This may be due to a loss of self-confidence or self-esteem or you may be afraid of certain social situations.

External sources: Often, it’s the conditions you encounter outside yourself that are the sources of some frustration. These include the people, places and things that serve as roadblocks to getting things you want done. Perhaps the most universal source of frustration is anything that causes you to waste time. We’re all familiar with and likely have to deal with on a regular basis the time lost due to traffic delays, waiting in line, getting to a store or establishment only to find that it’s closed or doesn’t have what you want in stock.

How Does Frustration Make You Feel?

People react to frustration in a number of ways. In response to frustration, they can:

  • Get angry
  • Give up or quit
  • Lose self-esteem
  • Feel a loss of self-confidence
  • Experience stress
  • Feel sad, uncertain, depressed or anxious
  • Turn to substance abuse
  • Engage in other negative, self-destructive or addictive behaviors

A 2018 study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience analyzed facial expressions and brain-activation mechanisms using functional near-infrared spectroscopy to detect frustration in drivers. Researchers found that frustrated drivers tend to activate mouth region muscles, such as chin raiser, lip pucker and lip pressor). Frustrated driving can result in aggressive behavior, as well as having negative effects on cognitive processes important for driving, including attentiveness, judgment, and decision-making. Another study published in 2016 in Frontiers in Psychology listed some of the emotional and affective responses in the aftermath of frustration, including acute stress, lasting anger, rage, and sadness.

Do Certain People, Places and Things Make You Frustrated?

Sometime, just the sight of a person you’ve had disagreements with is enough to trigger feelings of frustration. Another instance where frustration might crop up is passing by or having to go to a place where you’ve suffered frustration in the past. Maybe it’s trying to help your child with homework that’s a source of frustration, or some other activity that regularly ends with you being frustrated.

Knowing when and where you get frustrated is important to your ability to devise effective strategies for removing and/or coping with the sources of frustration in the safest and most effective manner.

Do You Get More Frustrated at Certain Times?

Undoubtedly, if you’re keeping a calendar or making notes on instances where you’ve experienced frustration, you may notice a pattern. For example, are you more frustrated when you have to pay bills, knowing that you may have to move some finances around or are over-budget this month? Do you become more frustrated on Friday at work because you know you haven’t accomplished key goals for the week? Or is it Monday that frustrates you because you know of important deadlines looming and you’re not sure you’ll be able to fulfill your obligations.

Like taking notice of the people, place and things that cause you frustration, you need to be able to see the patterns in timing for your frustration. This will better allow you to construct coping mechanisms that will be readily available to employ the next time you get frustrated.

What Other Things Contribute to Frustration?

Even after you’ve made a list of the people, places and things and certain times when you’re likely to become frustrated (based on experience), there may be other things that serve as contributing factors to your frustration. Certainly the level of frustration may be affected by:

  • Your state of health, and any physical or medical conditions
  • Financial situation, including bankruptcy, being overextended, wasteful spending
  • Emotional difficulties or loss, including bereavement, a diagnosable psychological condition, loss of a friend
  • Stagnation at work, or loss of a job, losing a promotion

Indeed, knowing how some of these contributors to frustration affect you is instrumental in putting together a plan to overcome further frustration. It isn’t avoiding the source of the frustration, but approaching it with optimism and a carefully-constructed strategy.

When You are Frustrated, What Works to Get Past It?

Perhaps one of the greatest quotes about wisdom is one from Oscar Wilde: “With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone.” The takeaway here is that as you get older, you have the ability to learn from prior experience – positive and negative ones. And older brains are not necessarily slower brains, since older adults are able to benefit from accumulated wisdom. In other words, they cope better in certain situations because they know what works or has worked in the past, they’re more impervious to criticism and have the confidence to know how to make the right decisions.

Various coping methods for frustration recommended by psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals include some that are no-cost or low-cost, as well as some that may involve a financial expenditure from consulting with a professional.

  • Breathing exercises
  • Meditation practice
  • Yoga
  • Communications skills
  • Emotional and/or physical techniques to release frustration
  • Physical exercise
  • Relaxation activities
  • Travel
  • Taking up a hobby or pastime
  • Cognitive restructuring
  • Learning how to release emotion
  • Psychological counseling or therapy

Why not take up exercise as one of the first lines of defense against frustration? A 2015 study reported in Psychoneuroendocrinology found that exercise offers an acute stress-buffering effect. Besides, it’s quick and convenient to take a walk outside, getting fresh air into your lungs and gaining a fresh perspective, all of which may temper your frustration and boost your mood.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

Related Posts:

My Best Ways to Deal with Frustration

How to Keep Frustration from Blocking Your Goals

10 Health Benefits of Daily Exercise

10 Ways to Express Gratitude

10 Ways Nature Helps Your Well-Being

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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, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Pinterest.

 

 

Research Finds New Health Benefits From Sleep

Photo by Andrew Seaman on Unsplash

Photo by Andrew Seaman on Unsplash

“To die, to sleep — perchance to dream – ay, there’s the rub, for in this sleep of death what dreams may come…” – William Shakespeare, Hamlet

 

Every human being requires sleep in order to function properly. Sleep is known to aid in healing, in memory formation, reducing stress, eliminating toxins – literally wiping the slate clean of the day’s experiences to begin anew. The subject of decades of research, sleep science continues to amass evidence of new health benefits from sleep.

SINGLE GENE INCREASES SLEEP NEED WHEN SICK

A newly discovered single gene, called nemuri, increases the human body’s need for sleep, according to researchers from the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine whose work was published in Science. Studying over 12 lines of fruit flies, researchers found direct links between the immune system and sleep, which provides a possible explanation for how sleep increases during sickness. In their next phase of research, the scientists plan to investigate the mechanism by which nemuri drives sleep.

LEARN NEW VOCABULARY DURING DEEP SLEEP

While it may seem mysterious, it’s actually logical. Researchers from the University of Bern found that the introduction of new foreign words and their translation words could be associated during deep sleep in a midday nap and stored. Upon waking, those associations could be retrieved unconsciously and reactivated – essentially learning a new vocabulary during sleep. Researchers said the memory formation seems to be mediated by the same brain structures mediating wake vocabulary learning. The research was published in Current Biology.

GAPS IN LIFE MEMORIES CREATED BY SLEEP APNEA

An estimated 936 million people worldwide are affected by obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and OSA sufferers have memory problems and depression. A study by researchers at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia built upon known links between memory and depression and found that untreated OSA leads to problems recalling specific life details. Researchers said their work suggested that sleep apnea may impair the brain’s capacity to encode or consolidate certain types of life memories, which explains why it is difficult for people to recall past details. Since sleep apnea is also a significant risk factor for depression, researchers hope that a better understanding of the neurobiological mechanisms at work may help improve the mental health of millions of people. The study was published in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society.

VIRTUAL REALITY MAY COMBAT RECURRING NIGHTMARES

Nobody likes nightmares, especially recurring ones. Indeed, researchers have found that recurring nightmares are significant predictors of mental health problems – especially for children. About half to two-thirds of kids and up to 15 percent of adults have frequent nightmares. A consequence of recurring nightmares in kids may be adolescent and adult psychosis, including anxiety, depression, stress and suicidal ideation, while in adults it may signal post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Yet there are few effective and easy-to-use treatments for nightmare disorders. Two researchers from Boston University, one from the School of Medicine, the other from the School of Theology, co-founded the Center for Mind and Culture and created a pilot study using a virtual reality program to help combat recurring nightmares.

The study used moderately frightening virtual reality imagery, such as underwater environment with an approaching great white shark, to stimulate a manageable fear level in participants. By exposing them to disturbing and arousing images, but not very scary ones, the goal is to treat distress, not inflict more. Participants used a joystick and gesture controls to modify the visuals they saw. At the end of a month of two sessions weekly, during which participants were monitored for anxiety, nightmare distress and nightmare effects, researchers found significantly lower levels in all three. What’s really exciting about these results, say researchers, is the potential to bring this to kids suffering nightmare disorder. Treating them early with such technology may ward off or slow down conversion to psychosis.

LOSS OF SLEEP CAUSES ANGER

You know you’re out of sorts after a fitful night’s sleep, or when you’re not able to sleep your regular amount of hours. Now researchers from Iowa State University have found evidence that sleep loss causes anger. For the study, participants were split in two groups, one getting their normal 7-hours of sleep, while the other was restricted to about 4.5 hours per night. Anger was measured before and after sleep manipulations by having participants listen to noise products creating uncomfortable conditions, which tend to provoke anger. In the sleep-restricted group, anger was “substantially higher” than in the unrestricted sleep group. Next, researchers plan to study whether loss of sleep causes actual aggressive behavior toward others.

SLEEP DEPRIVATION RESULTS IN STARK JUMP IN ERRORS

In the largest to-date experimentally controlled study on sleep deprivation, researchers at Michigan State University found that small distractions can result in serious consequences for people who are sleep deprived. The research differs from other sleep deprivation studies in that it focuses on the impact of sleep deprivation on completing tasks. The study involved requiring people to complete a task which needed a number of steps in order, and periodically interrupting them in the process, after which they had to remember the steps in order to proceed. Members of the sleep-deprived group had roughly 15 percent increase in errors the following morning when they were asked to perform the step-by-step task again. In addition to showing more errors, the sleep-deprived group showed a progressive increase in errors that was associated with memory while performing the task. The non-restricted sleep group did not show this effect.

PURPOSE IN LIFE CAN BE A DRUG-FREE WAY TO IMPROVE SLEEP QUALITY

Researchers at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine conducted a study including 853 adults without dementia, from age 60 to 100, in which they were asked to complete a 10- and 32-question survey on purpose of life, and sleep, respectively. Those who felt their lives had meaning were 63 percent less likely to report sleep apnea and 52 percent less likely to say they had restless leg syndrome. In addition, the study participants who felt a purpose in life had moderately better quality of sleep, a global sleep disturbance measure. Researchers said that although the study involved older people, they believed the results would be applicable to younger ones as well. The next step in their research, said study first author, “should be to study the use of mindfulness-based therapies to target purpose in life and resulting sleep quality.”

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

Related Posts:

Can You Sleep Too Much (or Too Little)?

How Your Memory Suffers With Poor REM Sleep

In Search of Better Sleep

15 Ways to Increase Your Happiness

10 Tips on Reaching Your Life Goals

How to Tap Into Your Capabilities

The Incredible Value of Dreams

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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, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Google+.

 

 

Surprising New Pain Relief Methods

Photo by Eberhard Grossgasteiger on Picography

Photo by Eberhard Grossgasteiger on Picography

 

If you are one of the more than 100 million Americans suffering with chronic pain, you know how desperate you can get searching for relief. For constant or chronic pain, sometimes knowing that you can only get temporary relief from medications sits at the back of your brain and sets up pain anticipation. Shouldn’t there be a better way, an approach or approaches that don’t rely on pharmaceutical drugs to combat pain? According to new research, there are some new pain relief methods that look very promising to do just that.

TREATMENT FROM STRANGERS MAY PROVIDE UNEXPECTED PAIN RELIEF

It may seem counter-intuitive, yet a study conducted by researchers from the University of Würzburg, Amsterdam and Zurich found that participants treated for pain by strangers (medical professionals from a different social group) experienced stronger pain relief than when they received pain treatment by someone from their own social group. Participants rated their pain “less intense” after being treated by strangers, and the reactions were reductions in both subjective and pain-related activation areas of the brain corresponding to the pain. Researchers call this “prediction error learning,” otherwise known as the analgesic effect of surprise. Patients didn’t expect to experience pain relief from strangers, and the less they expected to receive pain relief, the greater their surprise and the more pronounced their actual pain relief afterward.

HIGHER MINDFULNESS MAY LESSEN PAIN

Long suspected to play a role in providing pain relief, mindfulness now gets a thumbs-up in a study just published in the journal Pain. In the study, supported by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), researchers from Wake Forest University and some other collaborating institutions looked at how participants with no prior experience with meditation fared after completing the Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory and then two testing sessions with a magnetic resonance imaging scanner (MRI) and thermal probe and the delivery of minor lower-leg heat stimuli (sometimes uncomfortable). Results showed that those with higher innate mindfulness reported feeling less pain. Their responses to the pain stimuli (heat) showed up in areas of the brain (the precuneus/posterior cingulate cortex) involved in attention and subjective emotional responses to sensations. In other words, this brain area is thought to have a role in how you react to experiences. Researchers point to the study’s usefulness moving forward with nonpharmacological approaches to pain management that, in addition to mindfulness, may include biofeedback and behavioral therapies targeting increasing mindfulness and reductions in this brain region.

A meta-analysis of mindfulness meditation’s effectiveness in reducing migraine pain found that it may reduce the intensity of pain from migraine and shows promise as a viable, complementary treatment option for patients with primary headache. The 2018 study was published in the Chinese Medical Journal.

PROMISING DUAL-TARGET PAIN RELIEVER WITHOUT OPIOID SIDE EFFECTS

First, the bad news: it’s not available yet. Second, the good news: scientists are working to develop a dual-targeting painkiller that is an effective analgesic without any opioid painkiller side effects. Opioids have long been known for their effective pain relief and work by activating the mu opioid peptide (MOP) receptor. Yet, MOP side effects can be severe: dependence, tolerance, respiratory depression, hyperalgesia, and even lead to addiction. Researchers have developed a bifunctional nociceptin and mu opioid receptor agonist called AT-121 that reportedly provides potent pain relief in primates without causing dependence, hyperalgesia or respiratory depression. The hope is that AT-121 may prove to be a safe and effective prescription pain reliever to treat humans suffering chronic pain.

HOME-BASED VIDEO GAME EXERCISES FOR CHRONIC LOW-BACK PAIN

It turns out there’s another target group who can benefit from playing video games: older adults with chronic low-back pain. That’s according to 2018 research from the University of Sydney published in Physical Therapy. This is a first-of-its-kind study looking at how effective home-based video game exercises benefit pain reduction in people over the age of 55 using a Nintendo Wii-Fit-U. Results showed participants had 27 percent reduction in chronic low back pain and the exercises gave them 23 percent increase in function. The 8-week self-managed program consisted of 60-minute exercise sessions of aerobic, strengthening and flexibility three days a week. The results were comparable to exercise completed in a physiotherapist-monitored exercise program. The video game exercise program offers older adults with chronic low back pain a cost-effective solution that doesn’t require them to travel outside the home – and helps them to self-manage their pain and continue daily life activities despite having pain.

OTHER PAIN RELIEF STAND-BYS THAT WORK

While research continues on novel methods to effectively treat pain, including some that may be years off in reaching the marketplace, there are some therapies that have loyal adherents and are backed by research to provide non-opioid relief from pain. They may not work for everyone in every instance of chronic pain, but the fact that they do work for a significant number of individuals seeking pain relief at least offers pain sufferers viable alternatives to taking potentially-addicting painkillers.

MINDFULNESS BASED STRESS REDUCTION AND COGNITIVE-BEHAVIORAL THERAPY

Results of a study funded by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), part of the National Institutes of Health found that the combination of mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) may prove “more effective than usual treatment in alleviate chronic low back pain.” MBSR combines elements of mindfulness meditation and yoga. CBT, on the other hand, trains individuals to modify specific beliefs and thoughts relative to pain. Researchers studied participants who used MBSR and CBT or usual treatment for one year. At 26 and 52 weeks, participants using both mind-body approaches experienced better functioning and less back pain than the usual care group. Both groups (mind-body and usual care) received relief in terms of pain intensity and some mental health measurements, those using CBT didn’t see continuing improvement after 26 weeks. The MBSR group, however, did continue to see improvement. Researchers suggested that MBSR may be an “effective” form of treatment for people suffering chronic low back pain.

A form of psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has proven helpful to individuals struggling with chronic pain. By utilizing several methods, CBT helps pain sufferers to cope more effectively with chronic pain, better manage it, change their pain response behaviors, and boost their self-confidence that they can be an active participant in reducing their pain – and do so successfully. CBT is considered the psychological gold standard of treatment for a wide variety of pain. Systematic reviews and meta-analyses have shown the efficacy of CBT in reducing pain distress, pain interference with daily activities, distress, and disability.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

Related Posts:

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10 Surprising Health Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation

In Search of Better Sleep

How Your Memory Suffers With Poor REM Sleep

Self-Care: The Most Important Person to Take Care of Is You

The Incredible Value of Dreams

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+.

Can You Sleep Too Much (or Too Little)?

Photo by Ryan Hutton on Unsplash

“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.

Related Posts:

In Search of Better Sleep

How Your Memory Suffers With Poor REM Sleep

Self-Care: The Most Important Person to Take Care of Is You

The Incredible Value of Dreams

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 Surprising Health Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation

Photo by Tim Goedhart on Unsplash

“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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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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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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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+.