Tuesday, March 31, 2015

6 Incredibly Inspiring Stories About Resilience and Change

by , Plucky You: http://pluckyyou.org/2015/01/21/6-short-incredibly-inspiring-stories-about-resilience-and-change/

Sometimes we have life-altering moments that create a monumental shift in our consciousness. They may be frightening, and rob of us something we thought we couldn’t survive without. Then they make us stronger, and change who we are. These are six stories about being scared, vulnerable, unsure, and abandoned, and coming out the other end.

1. A Stroke Changed Her Life

Brain researcher Jill Bolte Taylor tells the mind-blowing story of how she woke up one morning and realized she was having a massive stroke. The insights that came to her shifted her thinking about reality forever.

2. Overcoming Adversity

Our hardships and our ability to overcome them become the story of our lives. They make us who we are. In another moving TED talk, Andrew Solomon delivers a narrative about strength, courage and overcoming adversity, his pluckiest message ever.

3. The Power of Vulnerability

Researcher and storyteller Brené Brown’s powerful 2010 TEDx talk about vulnerability launched her success. It makes a great introduction to her work and her books, which have spawned another small universe poised to empower all of us who think of ourselves as small.

4. We Are Stronger Than We Know

Poet Lemn Sissay shares a fascinating, and incredibly uplifting story about being abandoned as a child and finding his way in the world.

5. A Frank Talk About Suicide

Mark Henick explains what drives people to extreme thoughts and what helped him want to keep living.

6. Empathy Makes Us Better Humans

How do you respond when someone close to you is struggling? Brené Brown on how we deal with the darkness and challenges those around us are facing.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Life is Full of Uncertainty, We've Just Got to Learn to Live With It

(Disillusion./Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA)
by Danielle Einstein, The Conversation: http://theconversation.com/life-is-full-of-uncertainty-weve-just-got-to-learn-to-live-with-it-30092

Experiments dating back to the 1960s show people have less of a reaction to viewing an unpleasant image or experiencing an electric shock when they know it’s coming than when they’re not expecting it.

That’s because uncertainty, a long-known cause of anxiety, makes it difficult to prepare for events or to control them.

People vary in their desire to minimise uncertainty. Those who react by worrying focus on potential threats and risks such as “what if I don’t get the promotion?” or “what if I get sick?”. Worry can be useful when it leads to adaptive behaviours that reduce threat, but chronic worry may cause harmful levels of stress that can affect heart health and the functioning of the immune system, among other things.

Our bodies may display subtle reactions to uncertainty, which we may not notice. One experiment showed people who dislike uncertainty had increased blood pressure when anticipating threat. When our bodily reaction is a strong one, we tend to recognise and label it as anxiety, but when it’s more subtle, we often fail to see it despite its effect.

These internal reactions to uncertainty are normal, but they can lead us to act in impulsive ways that undermine our self-confidence, so it’s important to become aware of them.

Not all bad 

Dislike of uncertainty is associated with a number of mental health issues including eating disorders, social anxiety, anxiety disorders and depression. And people who say they dislike it immensely report more of these disorders occurring at the same time.

But not everything about uncertainty is bad news; while it can make negative events worse, uncertainty also makes positive events more exciting.

In an experiment about the contribution of uncertainty to romantic attraction, a group of female university students were told that attractive males had seen their profile and may or may not have liked them. Meanwhile, a second group was told the attractive males had definitely liked them. The women who were not certain about whether they were liked were more attracted to the men than those certain about being liked.

Our bodies may display subtle reactions to uncertainty that we may not notice. Rabih/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

Difficulties arise when our responses to uncertainty are inflexible and rely on attempts to control it. The more we try to avoid the distress uncertainty brings, the less we’re able to develop the ability to effectively handle uncertain situations. And if we choose to focus on avoiding distress, we may not stretch ourselves by trying out new activities, for instance, or speaking to new people. This reaction can prevent us from having positive experiences that build our self-confidence.

Indeed, rigidity, which is the opposite of flexibility, underlies unhealthy responses to many psychological problems. We know this from psychological research in thinking styles and perfectionism.

As life is never perfect, we need to be at ease with making mistakes, learning from them and lowering or changing our goals when they are thwarted. People who are flexible tend to be more willing to reflect on disappointments, access appropriate emotional support and be less self-critical.

Managing uncertainty

Many of us struggle with uncertainty, so here are a few things you can do to help manage it.

1) Decide whether an issue is important. Most people feel vulnerable when faced with a threat to their health, for instance, or a big event such as the sale of their house. But, sometimes a bodily reaction to uncertainty will be triggered in less obvious circumstances. Work, finances, competition, parenting and friendships all have potential to spark discomfort, tension and other negative feelings.

2) Take action when your uncertainty reaction has been triggered and recognise its effect on your body. If it’s causing anxiety, do a short meditation. This may not only be of immediate help but will also assist by making you mindful of how your body reacts to uncertainty. Ultimately, it might help you tolerate feelings of uncertainty rather than spend time on fruitless worry.

3) Recognise thought errors that try to pull you into worry. “Catastrophising”, for instance, is the tendency our minds have to exaggerate all the things that could go wrong. Once we recognise this human tendency, we can learn to challenge or even ignore our worries.

4) Don’t get taken for a ride by an uncertain situation or your reaction to it. Allow yourself to have negative feelings; they are normal after all. If you need to, talk to someone about your concerns and come back to your own ability to withstand disappointment.

Uncertainty is a part of life and it can’t be avoided. Nicu Buculei/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Sitting with uncertainty requires patience. In order to build patience, you may need to set a realistic time frame on when the current situation will be resolved and postpone thoughts about it until that time has elapsed. In the meantime, absorb yourself in an activity that you enjoy or that has the power to distract you.

5) If the uncertainty resolves and you do experience a major disappointment, open up to trusted others. Allow yourself to reflect on what this means to you. The more we open up and talk with others, the more emotions disperse (slowly but surely). The process of reflection and allowing feelings is different to indulging worries about uncertainty.

Being open to this process allows us to adjust our expectations and move our energy and goals to areas where our expectations can be met. If a promotion at work does not come through, for instance, you may choose to put time into a sport or music, which you may not previously had time to prioritise.

Uncertainty is a part of life and it can’t be avoided. The best way to deal with it is to learn techniques that help you live with it, without the accompanying worry.

If you would like to learn about whether reactions to uncertainty can be altered in school programs, or in one-session internet-delivered programs for adults, click here, or email enoughworry@mq.edu.au
The Conversation
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

10 Steps to Building Your Resilience: Two Neurobiology Experts Explain How to Weather and Bounce Back From Stress and Trauma

Image: Getty Images
by Thompson Wall, Inc.com: http://www.inc.com/thompson-wall/the-10-step-prescription-for-building-resilience-to-stress.html

It can be easy to feel like throwing in the towel when you're faced with adversity, tragedy, or even just plain old stress.

But what if we could build an immunity to stress in the same way we take vitamins and antibiotics to boost our immunity to illness?

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal explores the art of learning resilience with Dennis Charney, dean of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Charney is a world-renowned neurobiology expert specializing in the treatment of mood and anxiety disorders.

In Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life's Greatest Challenges, Charney and Steven Southwick, a psychiatry professor at Yale University, explains that people can train their brain to be more resilient by harnessing their stressors and using them to their advantage. Charney and Southwick observed common traits found in people who endured enormous amounts of stress from war, assault, and disasters (as well as other less traumatic events) and ultimately thrived.

Here is their 10-step "prescription" to re-train your brain into becoming more resilient. 

Keep a positive attitude

Although it may seem too simple, keeping a positive attitude is key to deflecting stressors. This can be difficult for some people - a large part of how optimistic you are is determined by genetics and the chemistry of your brain's reward circuits. One way to restructure your brain's response to stress is to stop pessimistic thoughts in their tracks. Ask yourself if there's any rational basis to feel negatively about a situation. Recognize that you're in control of whether the glass is half-empty or half-full. 

Reframe your stressful thoughts

If the root of your stress can be linked to a particular event, try reframing the event in your head and realizing that failure is essential for growth. Much like optimism, you can learn to "alter the perceived value and meaningfulness" of the event by reframing it, assimilating it, accepting it and recovering from it. 

Develop your moral compass

Altruism is strongly related to resilience, and strengthening your set of core beliefs can help. The authors note that there is a strong correlation between faith and religious or spiritual beliefs and resilience. 

Find a resilient role model

Imitation is a powerful mode of learning. Our role models are so important in our lives that their values can influence our own values through psychological imprinting. Whether they're world leaders or friendly neighbors, find role models that you can look up to in times of stress. 

Face your fears

Fear is normal. Don't be ashamed of being afraid, the authors note. Fear can be a powerful tool that can increase your self-esteem by helping you learn and practice skills necessary to overcome stress. 

Develop active coping skills

Despite how painful it may be, try actively coping with your stressors instead of withdrawing and surrendering to them. The most resilient people use active rather than passive coping skills like minimizing appraisal of the stressor, creating positive statements about themselves, and actively seeking support from others. 

Establish and nurture a supportive social network

Very few of us can "go at it alone," the authors note. Building a safety net of close relationships with friends or organizations can boost your emotional strength during times of stress. Plus you'll feel the validation of helping others deal with their own stressors. 

Prioritize your physical well-being

Regular exercise is often touted as one of the keys to cleansing your mind of stress, and with good reason. Regular physical activity has been linked to improvements in mood, cognition, regulation of emotion, immunity, and overall self-esteem. Exercise may seem trivial when you're faced with mounting stress and anxiety, so try to think of it as a welcome reprieve rather than as yet another task to be completed. Again, it's all about framing your mindset. 

Train your brain

Changing the way your brain works may seem like a daunting task, but with a little self-discipline it can be accomplished through regular and rigorous training. The authors suggest that working to build emotional intelligence, moral integrity, and physical endurance can all help deflect stressors. And don't forget to rest your brain - adequate sleep is central to all aspects of brain training. 

Play to your strengths

Recognize, utilize, and grow your signature character strengths to actively prepare for difficult and stressful situations. If you have strong social skills or want to develop them, set aside time to spend with your social network. If you prefer staying in, try writing or pursuing your favorite artistic endeavors. Do what you're good at (or simply what you enjoy doing) and give yourself a pat on the back. You deserve it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Eight Hours is Enough: More Sleep Could Lead to an Early Grave

Main health effects of sleep deprivation (See ...
Model: Mikael Häggström (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Dorothy Bruck, Victoria University, The Conversation: http://theconversation.com/eight-hours-is-enough-more-sleep-could-lead-to-an-early-grave-38363

Sleep is vital for good health but more of it may not always be better for everyone.

Research recently published in the journal Neurology has found middle-aged and older people who sleep more than eight hours a day have an increased risk of stroke.

The findings are presented alongside a meta-analysis of 11 other studies from across seven countries involving over half a million people, which also finds longer sleeps can land you in an early grave.

Sleep and stroke

Poor sleep is a significant health concern because it’s known to affect emotional and cognitive well-being, quality of life, work-related productivity and safety. But insomnia itself is not associated with higher rates of premature death, according to a US study of more than 1.1 million people aged between 30 and 102 years. Rather, it’s sleep that is habitually either too short or too long that may be problematic.

The authors of the Neurology paper asked almost 10,000 people aged between 42 and 81 the average number of hours they slept daily and whether they generally slept well. Participants answered these questions twice in a four-year period and were monitored for nine-and-a-half years to see whether or not they had a stroke.

After adjusting for age and sex, researchers found long sleeps (more than eight hours) were associated with a significant (45%) increase in the risk of stroke. What’s more, being a good sleeper for those long hours in bed didn’t protect against this increased risk.

Short sleeps of less than six hours a night were associated with a 19% increased risk of stroke. It seems there’s a U-shaped relationship between sleep and stroke risk, with higher risk for sleep durations on either side of the six- to eight-hour band.

It’s how long you sleep, rather than how well, that’s associated with the higher mortality risk and higher risk of stroke. But, as the authors of the Neurology paper point out, unmeasured sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnoea, may be playing a role in their finding, especially among long sleepers.

The golden mean

We know that as many as 72% of surviving stroke patients have sleep apnoea. The condition makes a night’s sleep lighter as the sleeper repeatedly moves from deep to light sleep, to help them breathe. For those with untreated sleep apnoea this may translate to a longer, lighter night’s sleep, rather than a shorter, deeper sleep, which seems ideal.

Of course, an association between two things doesn’t necessarily mean one causes the other. Researchers are still debating the question of whether short and long sleep duration are the cause, consequence or early markers of poor health.

Earlier research reports suggest long sleeps may be related to a range of physical factors, such as increased inflammatory biomarkers or certain cardiovascular conditions, but the UK paper provides no support for these suggestions. Its finding of the relationship between sleeping for more than eight hours and stroke risk was robust across healthy people and those with a range of pre-existing illnesses.

The paper’s authors say we need to know more before prolonged sleep can be taken to be a useful clinical marker for increased stroke risk, and before we can understand what mechanisms may be operating. At an individual level, it remains an open question as to whether deliberately changing how much you sleep will change your risk of stroke.

Perhaps the saying of “eight hours work, eight hours play and eight hours sleep” per day should be modified to suggest that, for most of us, closer to seven hours sleep each day might be healthiest. After all, we know from population-based studies that include hundreds of thousands of people that more sleep is not always a good thing.

Last month, the US-based National Sleep Foundation published revised guidelines on how much sleep people need based on input from 18 sleep experts and over 300 studies. For those aged between 18 and 65 years, it recommended between seven and nine hours over a 24-hour period.

For those aged over 65, it suggested the narrower band of between seven and eight hours. In the light of the new findings, this narrower band may be the best idea for all adults, not just those aged over 65 years.
The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.