Well-Being

How Practicing Compassion May Help You Feel Better

 

Photo / Picography

Photo / Picography

 

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” — Aesop

 

Think about the most disagreeable person you know or ever met. This might even be you on one or more occasions. If you ask people who are a little rough around the edges, those individuals who seem gruff, know-it-all, smug, superior and can’t be bothered, they’d likely say they don’t need anyone else. While compassion is an admirable and fairly basic trait, some of us either lack it (we’re short on empathy) or could use a little help on how to best show it.

Even the Most Disagreeable People Benefit from Showing Compassion

Yet, research into learning how to be compassionate shows that even the most disagreeable people – who are often suffering from depression – can benefit from the simple training.

Researchers at York University engaged 640 mildly depressed individuals in online training to boost their ability to behave with compassion toward others. Average age of the study participants was in the mid-30s. For the study, they were asked to engage in one of three online “compassion intervention” exercises, complete their exercise and log back in to record their reports every other day for a three-week period.  The exercise called Acts of Kindness resulted in the most benefit to study participants: those who performed acts of kindness in their close relationships showed the greatest reductions in depression and greatest increases in self-reported life satisfaction.

The lead researcher for the project said that highly disagreeable people often lack empathy, they’re hostile and don’t cooperate well with others, with the result that they may be ostracized or rejected. Giving these individuals specific suggestions, some practical things they could do each day to express “empathic concerns” toward their close relationships, proved “tremendously helpful.”

The project was easy to implement and, from the perspective of the study participants, quick (10-15 minutes every other day), and easy to complete. Another exercise called Loving Kindness Meditation was also helpful, said researchers, but it didn’t result in the same level of improvements as the Acts of Kindness exercise.

Evidence Proves Neanderthals Showed Compassion

Further evidence that compassion is instrumental not only in affirming quality of life but also in overall survival comes from research that shows that Neanderthal man was compassionate and knowledgeable in their care of others experiencing injury or illness. The study, from the University of York, showed that Neanderthals were genuinely caring for their peers – no matter what their level of illness or injury.

The research involved pathological analysis of injuries that would have occurred long before death and would have required caretakers providing careful hygiene, facilitation of sleep and rest, staunching wounds, maintaining posture, maintaining and assisting mobility, ensuring safety, monitoring and control of fever, and massage, among other types of care and accommodation. Bioarcheology of care analyses suggest that the injured/ill “likely received extensive care in response to their experiences of pathology.” Neanderthals provided The scientists argued that “organized and caring healthcare is not unique to our species but rather has a long evolutionary history.”

The Brain Can be Trained in Compassion

Earlier research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, sought to determine if compassion could be trained and learned in adults. They wanted to know if practicing a compassionate mindset could cause adults to be more caring. The results of their study showed an affirmative yes.

The study made use of an ancient Buddhist technique called compassion meditation, in which study participants (young adults) were trained to increase caring feelings for people who were suffering. After training, they were asked to show compassion for loved ones (those for whom they’d easily feel compassionate towards), then themselves, then a stranger, and lastly for a difficult person, such as a co-worker, with whom they had conflict. Researchers said that this “weighted training,” in which study participants actively built up their “compassion muscle,” helped them respond to others’ suffering with care and a desire to help.

What researchers determined with this and other exercises designed to measure compassion is that compassion, like academic and physical skills, is not something that seems to be fixed, but rather can be enhanced through training and practice. The suggest that compassion training could be employed in schools to help combat bullying, and it may prove beneficial to those who have social anxiety or antisocial behavior. Furthermore, researchers said they’d be excited to see what compassion training could do for the general public in terms of seeing what changes they notice in their life. Training to boost the compassion muscle is available on the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Healthy Minds website.

Additional research from these same authors was published in 2018 in Frontiers in Psychology. According to their findings, researchers suggest that compassion meditation training may help to decrease aversive neural responses to suffering at the same time as visual attention to suffering increases. This may have prosocial benefits, as in a doctor tending to a patient, or allowing individuals to remain calm in the case of suffering and more willing to lend aid. Researchers said further research with larger sample sizes should look into whether compassion intervention strategies could prove helpful to caregivers and healthcare workers who are often exposed to others’ suffering.

How You Can be More Compassionate

While research continues on the benefits of compassion, what can you do as an individual to help boost your compassion muscle? First, be attuned to the fact that your actions and behavior have consequences. How you behave toward others, what you think about before you speak or act, makes a difference.

Simple compassion strategies you can employ include behaving toward others the way you’d want them to act toward you – with kindness, empathy and basic humanity. Practicing meditation and consciously intending to be more compassionate can also put you in the frame of mind where expressing yourself verbally with compassion and acting compassionately will become easier. Furthermore, think of compassion as being loving, caring and supportive – as in a parent nurturing and helping a child.

Of course, compassion toward others also means learning how to be self-compassionate. This example of self-care may take some practice to become comfortable being kind to yourself, yet the results in your overall well-being and life satisfaction will be well worth the effort.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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How You Can Be More Confident

Photo by Bryan Minear on Unsplash

Photo by Bryan Minear on Unsplash

“Confidence comes not from always being right but from not fearing to be wrong.” – Peter T. McIntyre

 

I suffered from a lack of self-esteem and little confidence when I was an adolescent. The feeling of loss and not being good enough, or smart enough to get things done and fearful of trying anything new lasted through my teens and throughout the early part of my adult life. It wasn’t that I was brought up deprived of love or lacking a comfortable environment, for my parents loved me dearly and I never knew hunger or felt diminished by our standard of living. I did, however, take notice of the confidence my peers at school and wanted desperately to be so confidant myself. Thus, my journey of building my self-confidence began.

Maybe you can relate. Maybe you can benefit from some of the tips that helped me become more confident.

Reward yourself for little victories.

I didn’t have much to start with, especially after my dad died when I was 13. I was utterly bereft, couldn’t even cry, tossed and turned every night and had horrible nightmares for years. At the core of my sadness was the mistaken belief that I had somehow caused my father to die. Nothing even close to that was true, as he died from a massive myocardial infarction and was dead in minutes, yet my teen brain and devastated heart didn’t process reality.

Being numb to life, I went to school and pushed myself to do my homework, knowing that my dad would want me to continue getting good grades. I did love learning, so pursuing my studies seemed like a way I could honor my father and do something valuable for me. Like he did when I came home with top grades, my mother praised my efforts. I incorporated that habit and began to give myself small rewards for these victories. For example, if I exceeded my previous grades by getting more A’s than B’s, I allowed myself more fiction books to read in the coming month. Maybe I wore a brightly-colored ribbon in my hair braids that week, or took pleasure watching a Sunday movie with my mom so we could both be together and begin to heal.

Years later, even though I am long past having to deal with no self-confidence, I still find it worthwhile to reward myself for the little wins. For one thing, it feels good to do so. For another, it’s a healthy behavior that can help reduce everyday stress and tension. Besides, every little win boosts your self-confidence – even if you have plenty – during particularly challenging or stressful times. Everybody can use a little help in such instances.

Do more of what you’re good at – and what you enjoy doing.

We all have certain responsibilities and obligations that necessitate us doing things we’d much rather not do, or that we’d like to get through quickly, so we can get on to doing something else. If it’s a job that isn’t very rewarding, involving or exciting, such everyday drudgery can exact a toll on your self-confidence. Even if you’re a top-notch bookkeeper or budget analyst – as I was at one point in my corporate career – it may not be your avocation. Furthermore, perhaps your talents lie elsewhere. For my part, I was always a writer. I yearned to be able to do that in my career. Eventually, I did. Of course, there were the inevitable setbacks (call them downsizing, budget cutting and layoffs) when I had to return to financial duties, but those didn’t last forever. I was able to return to the kind of work I loved: writing.

Now that I’ve left corporate life and have my own business freelancing, I do what I’m good at and thoroughly enjoy. This doesn’t mean my work isn’t work, for it is. It’s not always easy and certainly not quick. Yet, the time doesn’t matter when you do what you love. It’s also a tremendous self-confidence booster. I highly recommend it.

If you can’t do what you’re good at and enjoy in your job, find a way to indulge your talents and dreams in your free time. Take up a hobby where you can exercise your gifts, meet others and share companionship doing something the community enjoys. Find your passion and make it part of your life.

Learning from your mistakes makes you stronger and more self-confidant.

You’re not always going to be right, yet you cannot fear making a mistake. If you do, it will eat away at your confidence. You’ll always wonder if there’s another mistake around the corner ready to set you back. That’s no way to live. Furthermore, when you fear making an error, you’re less likely to give your full effort to whatever task or activity you’re doing. In a way, it’s like being open to vulnerability when you’re putting yourself out there in a relationship. Sure, it may feel a little uncomfortable, even risky, yet that’s the only way to truly experience life. If you stumble, making a mistake, figure out what happened and why. When you learn from what you did and determine how to avoid that mistake the next time, you’re stocking your emotional recovery toolkit with useful information that helps increase your confidence that you have what it takes to get the job done.

In addition, when you make a mistake and own up to it, if you have good supervisors, they’ll recognize the value of an employee who has the courage to do so and the sense to learn from their mistake. In this case, everyone wins. If your bosses don’t like mistakes and ding you for making them, maybe you can work on finding work elsewhere somewhere down the line. I know that sounds hard to do, but it happened to me and I did put together a plan to find new employment – more suitable employment – and eventually was successful. Another self-confidence booster – and it works. If I can do it, you can too.

Get help from therapy.

If you’re seriously lacking in self-confidence, have low self-esteem – and particularly if you experience prolonged sadness, grief, depression or anxiety, get professional assistance in the form of counseling or psychiatric therapy. How do I know this works? While I wasn’t clinically depressed, after years of feeling I was performing at less than my full potential, and making some decidedly wrong behavioral choices to cope, I sought counseling and benefitted immensely from it. Note that this was years before getting therapy was considered socially acceptable and was something you hid from friends, family and everyone else. Today, actually for quite a few years, it’s considered healthy to seek counseling when you have emotional and/or compulsive, dependent or addictive behaviors that are wreaking havoc on your life.

Therapy can give you a significant boost of self-confidence when you stick with it and truly make the kind of lifestyle changes that add value, bring you to a fuller realization of your life’s purpose and help you pursue your hopes and dreams.

 

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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+.

 

 

 

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.

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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 Dangers of Always Making Safe Choices

Photo by Elena Prokofyeva on Unsplash

Photo by Elena Prokofyeva on Unsplash

“I don’t want an uneventful and safe life. I prefer an adventurous one.” – Isabel Allende

 

Every day you make choices. Some you make without thinking, part of a routine you’ve become accustomed to. Others you think about for a long time before deciding – if you do – to act. What most of us don’t realize, however, is that the time for making choices is not infinite. You can procrastinate too long in making a decision and the opposite of that, acting too quickly and always going for the safe choice isn’t wise either.

What are some dangers of always making safe choices? You might be surprised. Yet there are proactive steps you can take to modify your decision-making approach, so you avoid these dangers and enjoy the rewards from taking calculated risks.

1.    Life lacks excitement.

A boring life may be safe, yet who wants to live bored all the time? That’s the trouble with safe choices – you’re not likely to get into trouble, yet you’re not likely to find yourself excited about too much either. Think of excitement as a vitamin you need for health and well-being. Life is all about opportunities to sample myriad experiences. Adjust your mindset to welcome the slightly less safe choice with more potential to add excitement to your life.

2.    Growth may stall.

When you stick with what you know, what you’re familiar with and comfortable doing, you may never challenge yourself to add more skills or increase your knowledge base. That can be detrimental to future growth, not to mention current satisfaction with life. It’s tough to venture outside your familiar routine, yet you can take incremental steps to encourage positive growth with some calculated choices.

3.    Fear prevents discovery.

If you’d like to make a bold choice, yet you’re afraid of what you may encounter, you’ll stymie discovery. This is just as bad as stalling growth and usually accompanies always making safe choices. Perhaps you can take a reasonable risk to overcome fear and help broaden your world-view, enhance your experiences, see or try something new. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

4.    It’s difficult to meet new people.

Still seeing the same people, the ones you always know will be the same no matter what? There’s nothing wrong with lasting friendships, yet there comes a time when you must move beyond childhood friends or broaden your sphere of friends to add new ones who share your changing interests, attitudes, values or are in a career or vocation you aspire to. Join different types of groups, from those pertaining to hobbies and recreational activities, to travel, educational, sports and other desirable pursuits.

5.    Intimate relationships may suffer.

No doubt you know some individuals whose partners or spouses left them for someone more exciting, a companion who knew how to keep their interest and was brimming with life, active, happy and engaged in proactive pursuits. Who wouldn’t want to be with such a vibrant personality? When your daily life and interaction with the man or woman closest to you is just so-so, expect some turbulence ahead. Besides, life consists of change, some good, some heartbreaking, some in-between. Wouldn’t you want to share your deepest experiences with your loved one in a forthright and loving manner? This, however, requires that you step off the safe choice path and embark on a bit of a risk-taking journey. Most importantly, you must be willing to be vulnerable for true emotional intimacy. That’s a scary choice, yet one worth making.

6.    Potential goes unrealized.

How can you ever reach your true potential if you stay in the same course you’ve always taken? Not only do you forego the many opportunities that come your way because you won’t allow yourself to entertain them or don’t see them in the first place, you also have no idea just what you can become or how good your skills and talents are. Instead of wasting your potential, create your ideal scenario, what your life would look like if you achieved everything you ever wanted and more. This isn’t the end of striving to achieve your potential, just the beginning.

7.    Happiness remains an elusive goal.

If you remain stunted, lacking excitement, fearful of what you may discover by making bolder choices, still sticking with a safe daily routine, you may find that you’re always somewhat less happy than you’d like to be. This may be because happiness involves energy, involvement, challenging yourself and working to achieve desirable goals. Think of something you’d like to be successful at. Then, craft a plan and a strategy to achieve it. Start small, keeping in mind that success builds upon success. There’s plenty of time to get more creative after you’ve embarked on a path of smart and motivating choices in your decision-making.

8.    You’re never the go-to expert, only the go-along guy.

The employee who always takes the safe route, never going beyond what’s acceptable, customary and familiar, will never be a leader. Others will gravitate toward the individual who dares to be bold, who is engaging, or who is smart enough to recognize that what’s needed are new ideas with a likelihood to succeed. To counter a tendency to be middle-of-the-road in your work decision-making, try stepping a little outside your normal safe course of action. You won’t know how much of a difference it will make until you try.

9.    Nothing motivates you.

Like boredom, lack of motivation is a quick way to smother joy of life. Doing the same safe thing every day starts to look like a lifelong pattern. No wonder it’s difficult to get motivated to do anything, especially anything new. Remembering how jazzed you felt when you enthusiastically went after something you really wanted? Recapture that feeling and apply it to some new task or pursuit today. Positive motivation can be powerfully rewarding as a stepping-stone to success.

10. Success seems unattainable.

Speaking of success, if it always seems just out of reach, could the reason be that you’re always taking the safe route, making choices destined to create no waves – or cause any excitement? To succeed in anything, you must be willing to entertain risks – calculated ones, that is – to do the hard work despite minor or major setbacks, and to keep on even when you’d rather quit. The results will be worth the emotional journey you may experience in the process. For, as Socrates reportedly said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

Related Posts:

Why It’s Good That You’re Not Perfect

How to Keep Frustration From Blocking Your Goals

How to Manage Your Anger

How to Overcome Laziness and Get Things Done

10 Ways Nature Helps Your Well-Being

10 Ways Stress Harms You

Best Way to Effect Change

15 Ways to Increase Your Happiness

10 Tips on Reaching Your Life Goals

How to Tap Into Your Capabilities

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+.

 

 

Limiting Time on Social Media Increases Well-Being

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

“Today, spend a little time cultivating relationships offline. Never forget that everybody isn’t on social media.” – Germany Kent

 

If you are among those who anxiously check the posts of your social media contacts because you obsessively have to know what’s going on in their world and can’t seem to curb your urge to remain riveted to your feed, new research on the negative effect of too much social media on well-being is worth reviewing.

I recently spoke with Melissa G. Hunt, one of the authors of “No More FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression,” published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.

Hunt and her research colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania, in a 2018 study, alleged there is a causal link between usage of social media and loneliness and depression. They say that spending inordinate amounts of time on popular social networking sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat does more than connect users to their contacts. It’s also making them decidedly more miserable, promoting greater feelings of loneliness and depression.

During the period of the study, participants in the research significantly reduced their time on social media for about three weeks. The result was they reported reduced feelings of loneliness and depression.

Researchers said that the fear of missing out (FOMO) is what drives people to obsess over social media, spending extraordinary amounts of time in this sedentary activity. They strongly recommend limiting screen time to about 30 minutes a day, saying that this simple self-limiting measure may lead to “significant improvement in well-being.”

Why do people use social media, such as Facebook and Instagram, if it makes them feel lonelier and more depressed?

MGH: Social media companies hire experts whose job is to make the sites as appealing and addictive as possible.  For example, they use algorithms to ensure that you are getting “new” information, and “likes” on a variable ratio reinforcement schedule.  That is, things appear at intervals to reward you for logging on and spending time.

Social media also gives the appearance of engagement and intimacy and sites like Instagram promise to keep you up to speed on the latest trends.  Women have been reading “women’s” magazines for decades, and we know that reading them decreases self-esteem and increases body image concerns and self-loathing.  Certain types of social media are no different.

What do you say to those who complain that social media is essential in today’s world, that they can’t live without it? Isn’t this an impossible recommendation, suggesting people limit their time? Or, can they get the benefit of social media with less screen time?

MGH: It might be unrealistic to suggest foregoing social media completely (although I do).  That’s why we didn’t require that.  We just asked people to limit themselves to 30 minutes per day.  That’s more than enough time to catch up with friends, find out when your study group is meeting, and like your cousin’s cute kid picture.  It prevents going down the “rabbit hole” of clicking randomly, following celebrities, or cyber stalking your ex’s new flame.

How do you wean yourself off social media? Any quick tips?

MGH: Self-monitoring seems to help.  Although we didn’t study them, apps that increase your awareness of how much you’re using (like In Moment and Space) may well help people become more mindful and self-aware.

Do you know of other studies that document how social media fuels loneliness and depression?

MGH: There are many correlational studies out there that establish the association, and a number that suggest that social media fosters social comparison that makes you feel bad about your own life, and FOMO that makes you aware of all the things you weren’t invited to and weren’t included in.

I think that social media tends to foster inauthentic connection.  True intimacy involves sharing both life’s highlights and the terrible times.  Things you’re proud of, and things you’re sad or anxious or embarrassed about.  Social media tends to reward only the highlights, and that doesn’t lead to true intimacy or social support.

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SUGGESTED WAYS TO LIMIT SCREEN TIME.

It’s not all dire. You don’t have to completely withdraw from social media. Indeed, according to the University of Pennsylvania’s Hunt, you can reap the benefits of moderate limitations on your social media consumption. The next and most obvious question is, how do you limit social media time? Here are some suggestions.

Get an app for that.

Apple, the maker of perhaps the most popular smartphone in the world, recently made an update available that helps its users set limits on certain apps they use and track those that take up so much of their time. The update section this pertains to is called Screen Time.

Meanwhile, there are several apps that allow users to limit how much time they’re using their phones. These, of course, vary in terms of how intensely you limit phone time.

Yet another potential help for limiting social media time is the use of browser extensions such as StayFocusd, available through the Chrome web store. The idea is that users are allowed a certain amount of time on the website and then the screen is locked – and there’s no way back in. Check out the so-called “nuclear option” that prevents users from going into a specific website altogether. Now, that is a bit extreme, but it is out there.

Exert self-discipline.

Not everyone is blessed with the ability to not only set limits on how much social media time they’ll engage in, but actually follow through with the discipline it takes to do so effectively. Think of all the other things you could be doing instead of frittering away hours poring over likes, comments, postings and the like. Maybe enlist a trusted friend, a loved one or family member to get you out of the house and doing something in real time, with live people (not digital connections). What a concept!

Disable (temporarily) all social media notifications.

Another helpful way to curb your constant social media obsession (if not quite social media addiction) is to turn off or disable the notifications from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media time-wasting sites. No more suffering through the anxiety-provoking habit of having to instantly reply to every notification. This doesn’t have to be a permanent deletion, just a temporary pause to allow you to get back in the realm of living in the present and interacting with real people.

Go colorless.

In the world of social media, just as in any websites, advertising, TV programs and other forms of media that grab attention, color is king. The brighter the color, the more enticing, right? As an experiment to see if this can help you ratchet down your social media consumption, use grayscale to make the sites less attractive. When everything is in shades of gray, it’s easier to forego the temptation to linger there. On iPhones, hit settings, general, accessibility, display accommodations, color filters (turn this on), and then grayscale. That’s it, you’ve made your screen colorless.

Get rid of your phone – or leave it home.

A bit more extreme is the suggestion you ditch your phone completely. Like that would ever happen in today’s always-on society. You could try leaving it at home while you go out for a walk. That would give you a social-media breather at least. It might even persuade you that you don’t need to be tethered to your phone. After all, you’re not really missing out on anything. All that social media interaction will still be there after you return from a well-deserved (and much-needed) break.

Make it a point to be with people who appreciate you for who you are.

Nobody’s perfect. Each of us has flaws and traits we’d like to minimize, as well as talents we wish we had or accomplishments we’d love to broadcast. The problem with too much time wasted on social media is that everybody else looks better than we do. That’s not reality and it certainly does nothing for our self-esteem. A proven remedy to increase well-being is also one of the easiest to implement: Spend time with those who appreciate you for who you are. Laugh together. Share a meal. Go to a movie. Garden, spend time in nature, take in a concert, do various types of activities together. In fact, once you resurrect the in-person kind of communication, you’ll find that digital connections are a pale and distant substitute.

 *  *  *

A version of this article was originally published on Psych Central. However, the interview with Melissa G. Hunt is new.

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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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Best Way to Effect Change

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My Best Ways to Deal with Frustration

Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash

 

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

 

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

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

Frustration often leads to recurring nightmares.

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

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

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

Men and women express anger and frustration differently.

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

Frustration stems from stress.

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

To better handle frustration and stress, change your perception.

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

TIPS TO COPE WITH FRUSTRATION

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

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

*  *  *

This article was originally published on Psych Central.

Related Posts:

Why It’s Good That You’re Not Perfect

How to Keep Frustration From Blocking Your Goals

How to Manage Your Anger

How to Overcome Laziness and Get Things Done

10 Ways Nature Helps Your Well-Being

10 Ways Stress Harms You

Best Way to Effect Change

15 Ways to Increase Your Happiness

10 Tips on Reaching Your Life Goals

How to Tap Into Your Capabilities

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 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.

*  *  *

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+.

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.

*  *  *

This article was originally published on Psych Central.

Related Posts:

10 Ways Nature Helps Your Well-Being

10 Ways Stress Harms You

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

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11 Ways to Cultivate Resilience

10 Easy Ways to Increase Your Energy Levels Naturally

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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