How To Bring More Gratitude Into Your Life and Improve Your Mental Health

Gratitude is sometimes used as a stick with which to beat someone down. ‘Try to be grateful for how good your life is’, when thrown at someone talking about their experiences of depression, feels immensely dismissive, while ‘you should be grateful’ (whether that’s for a relationship or a job) can be an attempt to gaslight people into accepting poor treatment.

This isn’t to say gratitude is a bad thing – far from it. But when wielded as a weapon, it gets a bad rap. Gratitude, viewed properly, as being thankful for the good things in your life, can be a powerful thing.

There’s a wealth of research that points to gratitude – feeling it and expressing it – making us happier and boosting mental wellbeing. The key is not to ignore issues by sticking gratitude on top as a plaster, but incorporating gratitude more seamlessly into your day-to-day life.

It’s about recognising that things aren’t perfect, but there’s some stuff that’s worth appreciating. ‘Gratitude works to improve our mental health,’ says Counselling Directory member Kirsty Taylor. ‘It’s a really powerful emotion.

‘Gratitude is strongly associated with emotions such as optimism, greater life satisfaction and enjoyment of the moment, an improved ability to handle a crisis situation, increased self esteem, better resilience and increased physical and mental wellbeing.

‘Gratitude, simply, allows us to appreciate situations, people and every day things in a way that increases our happiness and allows us to take grater pleasure in all aspects of life.’

Bringing an attitude of gratitude into your life isn’t as easy as just telling yourself to buck up and be grateful, of course. It’s a conscious practice, a change to your way of thinking. So, how do you bring more thankfulness into your being?

Make a conscious decision to be grateful

Changing the way you think, feel, and behave isn’t going to happen magically, with no effort on your end. Sorry.

‘It can be hard to cultivate gratitude when the daily grind of life makes it hard for us to do so,’ Kirsty tells Metro.co.uk. ‘People can have stressful environments, jobs, families and life situations that make it especially hard to feel grateful for our lives and our circumstances.

‘However, if we don’t make a place for gratitude in our life, it can be a much darker world that we live in. ‘Gratitude is often a chosen state of mind or being and can be increased by making a conscious decision to try and focus on happiness.’

Practise gratitude in the mornings and evenings

Here’s an easy way to start getting into the grateful mindset. Each morning, before you get out of bed (and perhaps instead of doing your usual doomscrolling) challenge yourself to think of three things you’re grateful for – and spend a moment appreciating how great that thing is.

It’s okay if it’s something that seems teeny-tiny or silly, like ‘I’m grateful that I’m going to get myself a nice hot drink on the way to work’. Make sure you don’t just rattle through your list and get on with your day. Take time to really dwell on your gratitude for these things, and feel it.

You can do the same thing right before bed. Dominique Antiglio, a sophrologist at BeSophro, suggests combining this practice with a spot of meditation and physical relaxation.

She recommends: ‘First thing in the morning, stand up, gently shake your entire body, letting go of any tension. Exhale fully all negative anticipation and anxieties you may feel.

‘Then sit down, inhale, tense your body, exhale and relax each part of your body from head to toe. Then in a relaxed state with eyes closed, think about one thing that you are grateful for now or that you are going to experience today.

‘It can be a simple as how comfortable your pyjamas feel in that moment (start simple!) and it will become deeper and more meaningful as you repeat this practice.

‘Last thing in the evening, shake the tension of the day away by moving and breathing, and then close your eyes. Think about one quality or resource that got you through your day i.e. perseverance, connection with a friend, hope, calm etc. ‘Then spend a moment gently activating this word in your body and mind through gentle in-breaths and out-breaths.’

Start a gratitude journal

Instead of only thinking or saying those things you’re grateful for, try writing them down.

‘One of my anxiety clients, I asked to keep a gratitude journal, and every time she felt negative or anxious to revert to writing all the things she felt grateful for at that moment,’ says life coach Denise Bosque. ‘It really helped, because it’s training the brain towards noticing and feeling the positive stuff that is all around us in abundance.’

Open your mind to little things

A key part of cultivating gratitude is learning to actually notice the good stuff and savour it. Once you know you’ll have to think of three things to be grateful for at the end of the day, you might find yourself naturally looking out for positive bits in life.

Keep your eyes and mind open to take in the parts of your day that you might normally overlook: how nice it is to walk past the park on the way to work, how tasty your lunch is, how you’re actually really enjoying a new hobby you’ve been trying.

‘Even when it feel tricky to find something to be grateful for, the simple fact that you are starting to look for it is like opening a door to a new world and perspective,’ Dominique explains. ‘When we feel grateful, we are naturally opening up our minds and body, calming our nervous system and shifting our perspective to something more constructive. We are learning to contemplate ourselves, our lives or people around us from a positive place.’

Reframe challenges

Okay, this is where it gets a little trickier. When you come up against bad times, it’s fine to feel sad, angry, or scared. But can you also take a moment to reframe some small part of what’s happened with gratitude?

‘It can be useful to think of a positive way of reframing each complaint that we might want to make,’ says Kirsty. ‘If someone is rude to you at work, you might want to complain to a friend about them. Instead, you could remind yourself of all the other great colleagues you are fortunate to work with and be grateful that perhaps you aren’t having the same stressful day as a rude colleague.

‘When difficult things happen in life, such as loss and bereavement and relationship breakups, we all can have a tendency to feel very down and depressed and low in mood about such painful life events.

‘It can be very hard to reach for a positive when things feel very difficult, but those who can practise daily gratitude might be able to find a positive in even the darkest situations.

‘Loss reminds us to love those around us, relationship breakups show us that love feels wonderful when it’s going well, and that we can learn something so our next relationship will be different. Bereavement can make us stronger in the long term, can remind us of the precious nature of life and allow us to breathe in our surroundings each and feel grateful for the life we get to live.’

Express gratitude out loud

Don’t just think grateful thoughts – speak them. Comment on how lovely the weather is today, say out loud that you appreciate your body for getting you where you need to go, talk about positive things in your life to balance out any venting.

Tell people you appreciate them

Why keep all that gratitude to yourself? If you’re thankful for someone’s support, their actions, their presence, tell them.

This can be as small as giving someone a genuine thank you for making you a tea, it can be telling your partner how much you appreciate them, it could be writing your parents a letter to say how grateful you are for all they’ve done.

Spread the wealth – it feels good and does good, too.

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Source: How to bring more gratitude into your life and improve your mental health | Metro News

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The Psychological Toll of Wanting Your Kid To Be Perfect

It’s called “other-oriented perfectionism,” and it can have a negative effect on children. Here’s why it happens.

Joliene Trujillo-Fuenning, who lives in Denver, Colorado with her two kids, ages 3 and 22 months, has some pretty clear perfectionist tendencies. If she sends an email with a typo in it, she says, “It will drive me nuts for a solid week or two.” After her husband cleans the bathroom, she has to fight the urge to criticize. (Sometimes she’ll just clean it again.)

And when it comes to her 3-year-old’s education, Trujillo-Fuenning says, “I have been very much struggling with the fact that she doesn’t want to write letters,” and finds herself thinking, “You are supposed to be at this point by three and a half or four, and if you don’t do it, you’re never going to.”

What Trujillo-Fuenning struggles with is something called other-oriented perfectionism. (You may have seen a shorter piece I wrote about the phenomenon for the Atlantic back in July.) Other-oriented perfectionism bears similarity to self-oriented perfectionism, when a person puts tremendous pressure on themselves to be perfect and then self-flagellates when they can’t be.

It’s also a little bit like socially prescribed perfectionism, where one internalizes the need to be perfect thanks to perceived pressure from others. The big difference is that with other-oriented perfectionism, unrealistic expectations are directed at, well, others.

When a parent sets exacting standards for their child and assumes a critical attitude, it can change how they parent (to their child’s detriment) and leave the parent bitter, resentful, and sometimes even wishing they’d never had children. That’s particularly problematic in light of new research suggesting that both parental expectations and parental criticism have been on the rise.

The impulse behind child-oriented perfectionism comes mostly from early life experiences and societal forces outside individuals’ control, but understanding — and interventions — can help thwart it, improving the wellbeing of both parent and child.

Natalie Dattilo, Ph.D., a psychologist at Brigham & Women’s Hospital and instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, has a patient roster made up mostly of young doctors, some of whom are the targets of other-oriented perfectionists who are “looking around and wondering why everybody [they] work with is incompetent.” For a supervisor like that, she said, “There is going to be an over-reliance on control, especially wanting to control how people do things.”

The other-oriented perfectionist seems self-assured. They always know the best way to do things and everything would be splendid if only others weren’t so flawed.

“On the surface it looks like grandiosity,” said Thomas Curran, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at London School of Economics and Political Science, “but at root, it’s really a profound insecurity about place in the world and whether you’re worth something.” The other-oriented perfectionist’s judgment, he said, is actually just “my way of projecting the things that I dislike in myself onto other people.”

People become other-oriented perfectionists in a variety of ways discussed in the book “Perfectionism: A Relational Approach to Conceptualization, Assessment, and Treatment.” Oftentimes a cocktail of other types of perfectionism is to blame. Trujillo-Fuenning worries about her daughter’s progress because she wants the best for her, but there’s something more than that.

“I had a friend who pointed out that her language, her enunciation, her knowledge is pretty advanced for her age,” she explained, “And immediately, I had this sense of like, ‘Ha!’ It had nothing to do with me! Yet you still have a part of your brain that’s like, ‘She speaks well. That means I did my job right.

If she reads early, I did my job right.'” The pressure Trujillo-Fuenning feels to be perfect requires being — and being perceived as — a perfect parent. “How you’re doing as a parent is a reflection of who you are,” she said, “There’s no separation there in my head.”

In a paper published in 2020, Konrad Piotrowski, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at SWPS University in Poland, reported that both mothers and fathers there “tend to accept to a greater extent the mistakes and ‘imperfection’ of their children than those of their partner.” But sometimes they don’t.

John Lockner’s experience supports that idea. He was a stay-at-home dad for years and told me, “I kind of still am,” since he works part-time and spends the rest of it with his two teenage sons. “It’s definitely a struggle not to be on them all the time,” he said, but he knows that’s more about him than them. “I never wanted to be a manager, because I know I would expect my employees to do their best, and it would be very hard for me when they don’t,” he told me.

As one of just a handful of dads involved at their old school, Lockner said, “I felt this pressure to be better, and because of that my kids needed to be better.” With up-to-the-minute access to their assignments and grades through an online portal, he’d issue reminders on the drive to school: “You have to be sure to check on that and make sure it was turned in” or “You’re going to ask for that extra credit, right?” And he’d grill them on test results as soon as they got into the car at pickup.

But now, he said, “I’m kind of working on myself, to let some of that go.” What seems to be the key determinant is which relationship—the romantic one or the parental one—is more strongly associated with the parent’s self-esteem. Those who hang their identity on their parental role, like Trujillo-Fuenning, are more likely to experience child-oriented perfectionism than those who do not, Piotrowski theorized.

The impact of other-oriented perfectionism on children

That’s likely a good thing for his kids. Curran, the British perfectionism researcher, looked at a questionnaire that’s been given to cohorts of young people for decades. He and his team found that current college students perceive that their parents were more expectant than past generations — which is problematic, because studies (old and new) tie a caregiver having performance-oriented goals to controlling, critical parenting.

Though the research is murky, because different forms of perfectionism both overlap and function in distinct ways, children of parents who are perfectionists likely have higher odds of developing psychological distress, including anxiety and depression. Even when the impact falls short of clinical classification, children whose parents expect them to be perfect often grow up in homes characterized by conflict and tension. “It’s going to be a pressure cooker,” Curran told me.

The end result is often another generation of perfectionists. A 2017 study of 159 father-daughter dyads found a tie between “controlling fathers who demand perfection” and perfectionist daughters. And Curran’s own research has found that as parents’ expectations and criticism have increased, so too have rates of adolescent perfectionism.

We make jokes about perfectionism. (Did you hear the one about the perfectionist who walked into a bar? Apparently, it wasn’t set high enough.) But it’s a truly stressful way to live, Dr. Dattilo said, “Always striving to prove that you are capable, to prove that you are worthy, prove that you are successful based on other people’s evaluations.”

It should come as no surprise then, that there are, in Curran’s words, “huge, uncharacteristically strong correlations” between perfectionism and psychological distress, including anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and anorexia.

“The data’s never that clean,” he told me. Gayani DeSilva knows what it feels like to be one of those data points. “My parents really did put a lot of pressure on me as a kid to be perfect,” recalled the child and adolescent psychiatrist who practices in Southern California. “I had to have straight As, couldn’t have an A-minus.”

When she carried a D in Calculus at one point, “I was so afraid that I actually thought that my parents were going to kill me.” Now looking back with a therapist’s eye, she said, “I couldn’t imagine them actually physically harming me, I just knew that I was gonna die.”

She internalized their exacting standards, “There was just no room for anything other than what they expected.” And when she couldn’t meet them, she said, “I faced all this guilt, like, ‘Why couldn’t I do it?'”

Josh McKivigan, a behavioral health therapist based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, sees an impact at both ends of the economic spectrum. For kids of highly educated, well-off parents, he said, “You’d see them well put together, amazing grades, but behind the scenes, they’re barely holding it together. The only type of school they feel is acceptable is an Ivy League. They say things like, ‘I couldn’t imagine going to UCLA.'”

McKivigan also works with a refugee population. With these kids, he sees pressure to make something of a parent’s dangerous immigration journey. They end up saying, “I gotta make this right. I can’t let them down,” McKivigan told me.

But some kids don’t develop perfectionism of their own, instead responding to a parent’s pressure by rejecting their goals. After all, if someone is impossible to please, why bother trying?Nicole Coomber, Ph.D., an assistant dean at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, said research on motivation explains why.

“Autonomy is an important piece of this where you have to actually buy into whatever the goal is,” she notes. Requiring that a child practice piano for hours each day when they’d rather be playing soccer “can really backfire,” she added. Kids can end up feeling like their parent’s project or product — and push back by quitting. No matter how much bravado accompanies that move, there’s often also a sense of having let themselves and their parents down.

DeSilva failed her first year of medical school, she said, “because I just didn’t know how to ask for help.” After a car accident, she quit residency and then spent two years in therapy: “Once I was able to admit, ‘I’m not perfect,’ I was successful at pretty much everything I wanted to do, and I didn’t have to be anxious about it. I knew I could do it, whereas before, when I had to be perfect, I was really insecure.”

After she worked through her perfectionism, she said, “I was trying for my own standard, my own goals, my own desires, instead of somebody else’s standard for me.”

Other-oriented perfectionism is bad for parents too, but they can change

Child-oriented perfectionist tendencies aren’t just bad for kids. Trujillo-Fuenning started to feel burned out by her high standards in the parenting realm. The cumulative effect of a thousand little maximizations, like “trying to make sure they were eating the right things every meal,” became overwhelming and depleting. “To be honest, that’s part of why I went back to work,” she told me.

In his 2020 study, Piotrowski found that parents who target their children with other-oriented perfectionism tend to display higher levels of stress, dissatisfaction with parenthood, and feeling so burdened by the parental role that they regret parenthood entirely. He explained, “For mothers characterized by increased other-oriented perfectionism, family life is probably associated with many frustrations and stress, hence the focus on alternative visions of themselves that seem to be better than [being] a parent.”

When she starts trying to work on literacy again, Trujillo-Fuenning said, “I have to pull back and remind myself, if she’s fighting you, just let it go.” The same thing goes for micromanaging her kids’ appearance. “I’m catching my own insecurities of like, ‘You don’t look well put together. People are going to look at you and think I’m not taking care of you.'” But to avoid acting on those impulses requires “a constant mental check,” she told me.

Every now and then Lockner’s wife would say, “You’re being too hard on them. You are expecting too much.” But that doesn’t seem to be what made him change. His sons are at an all-boys school now, and, Lockner said, “Being around other groups of dads made a difference. Listening to how they act, and how their kids are, made me think, ‘Maybe I can ease up a little. My kids really are pretty good.'”

This sort of shift is what Curran sees happening in society as a whole—only in reverse.Other-oriented perfectionist parents aren’t the only ones ratcheting up expectations and pressure. Some parents don’t want to push, Curran said, “but they feel like they have to in this world where elite college is harder to access, where you basically have an economy where the middle class is downwardly mobile with increasing costs of living and stagnated income, and you’ve got chronic and increasing inequality.”

And the pressure can be even more intense for parents like Eric L. Heard, author of “Reflections of an Anxious African American Dad.” He described feeling “the need for immediate feedback” from his son’s teachers: “I always held a fear that I would not address some problem and he would head down a well-worn road of destruction” for Black men, he wrote. “My mind was haunted by the crippling thought of how I would be judged …. I would wear a permanent brand … a large white D for being a deadbeat dad who couldn’t save his son.”

If you’re a parent ruminating on the odds stacked against your child, it is rational to drive them to work harder, achieve more, and be better. Other parents react the same way, the result of which is a frenzied, fearful “rug rat race.” Once that starts to kick in, Curran said, “it’s really hard to stop, at a societal level. It creates an echo chamber where everybody’s engaging in unhealthy behaviors and no one wins.”

He doesn’t just mean that we all lose when we succumb to perfectionism. It also just plain doesn’t work. “Everybody’s engaging in this frantic upward comparison, and no one gains an advantage,” he said. “We just move the average of what’s expected further and further. It’s looking bad.”

But individuals can push back against a trend of overwhelmed young people and parents who, like the old Lockner, feel no choice but to be “the bad guy.” Now that he’s backed off, he said, “It’s easier on me. It’s easier on them.” They do more for themselves, and “they seem more willing to do stuff if I’m not on them all the time.” Truth be told, he likes himself more now.

Therapists can help their clients get there. Dr. Dattilo would tell an other-oriented perfectionist they need to believe it when someone says, “I’m doing the best I can.” Parents can interrogate their perfectionism in psychotherapy: Why is having a perfect child so important to me? Where did this need come from? And cognitive-behavioral therapists push people to fact-check their anxiety: What level of pressure is really necessary to prepare your child to live a good life? Is parental pressure truly the most effective way to forestall your fears? What will happen if you just back off?

When it came to parenting her son, DeSilva, the perfectionist-turned-psychiatrist, said she made a conscious decision. “I was going to raise him to have his own ideas and his own set of standards and really, for me to learn about and help him develop his strengths. And also, to really be comfortable with his weaknesses and vulnerabilities.” That puts her at odds with her own parents. When it comes to her son’s homework, they think, “It’s your job.

You have to make sure his homework is done,” she said. His grandparents even tell her to fix it for him “so it’s correct.” Instead, she explained to her son the consequences of not doing homework, or not doing it well, and let him decide. “He didn’t like it that his teacher was upset with him. So the next time he did his homework, he did it as best he could.”

Tying it all together

Yet individual parents can’t reverse course alone. Putting aside economic inequality for a minute, Curran said, “I think if the pressures of things like standardized testing — for young people to perform perfectly in school at such a young age — could be recalibrated downwards” it would take pressure off parents too. He called online grade portals “even scarier.”

If kids were just allowed to learn, to be, without all the tracking, assessing, and ranking, maybe more parents would feel like they can afford to break — and encourage their kids to break — the link between one’s accomplishments and one’s worth.

As Curran talked, I realized that much of the ground we’ve covered in my Are We There Yet? column is more related than I’d thought. Pressure on parents, including around the “one right way” to parent, produces intensive parenting and lack of autonomy for kids, and it also contributes to parents’ perfectionism and even abusive behavior, all of which lead to faltering mental health in adolescents, often with their own perfectionism as the mechanism. It’s a perfect storm for stressed out, sexless parents who worry they don’t measure up raising stressed out, helpless kids who worry they don’t measure up. To borrow Curran’s words, “It’s all interconnected.”

By Gail Cornwall

Gail Cornwall works as a mother and writer in San Francisco. Connect with Gail on Twitter, or read more at gailcornwall.comMORE FROM Gail Cornwall

Source: The psychological toll of wanting your kid to be “perfect” | Salon.com

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Colour Psychology: How To Use Colour To Boost Your Mood

It’s easy to feel down when it’s dark and cold outside but there are lots of ways you can bring colour into your life. Here, an expert explains how to use colour psychology to help boost your mood.

Colours can also help us express and understand emotions, making them a powerful communication tool. This is a discovery people have made on TikTok recently. Creators have been taking to the platform to explain the meaning of each colour and how it can help them understand themselves and the people around them better, with the tag #colourpsychology reaching over 4 million views.

As we head into the autumn and winter months and the nights get darker, many people will find this negatively impacts their mood. But although the skies might not be blue, there are plenty of ways you can bring more colour into your life and use it to help improve your mindset.

In fact, you can even use colour as a self-help method. Karen Haller, a behavioural colour psychologist, has spent years researching this and has found an array of methods to help you do so. Although it’s not necessarily as simple as TikTok would have you think.

“Colour psychology is a study of how we can use colour to positively influence how we think, feel and behave,” Karen says. “It’s one of the most underestimated resources we have to change how we act.”

“When you decide whether or not you like a colour, that’s an emotional experience,” Karen says. “It makes you feel something, even if you’re not consciously aware of it.”

Building a personal relationship with colour psychology is an ongoing process but there are a few things you can do to start to use colour to positively influence your life, and maybe even help you deal with issues like self-doubt and social anxiety.

What is the meaning behind each colour?

Karen explains that each colour has a traditional psychological meaning. However this can vary depending on the shade of the colour, so it’s not necessarily important to learn them all. It can be useful to understand what the primary colours represent, though.

“Each colour has positive and adverse effects,” Karen says, explaining that both of these things need to be taken into account when you’re thinking about how to use these colours to your benefit.

Red

“Red is a very physical colour. Red physically stimulates us – it encourages motivation and energy,” Karen explains. “Because of this, however, red can also cause overwhelm, as it represents speed, and it can sometimes make you feel like you are moving too quickly.”

Yellow

“Yellow has a direct effect on the nervous system. Yellow is an optimistic colour that encourages positivity,” Karen says. “However, the adverse effects are that yellow can be quite irritating and anxiety-inducing.”

Blue

“Blue is the colour that aligns with the mind. Dark blue is mentally stimulating and it can help with focus; soft blue is a colour that allows your mind to dream,” Karen explains. “Often, blue can keep the mind overly-stimulated, which is something to look out for as an adverse effect.”

How to figure out which colours work for you

Although there are traditional meanings that can be assigned to each colour, as people do on TikTok, Karen explains that colours are actually very personal, and the colours that help you feel better will be different to the colours that help a friend or family member feel good.

Karen recommends going through your wardrobe and pulling out clothes in an array of colours and then holding each of them up to your face, in order to figure out what your relationship is with each colour. “Without any make-up on, stand in front of a mirror and hold the different colours up to your face,” Karen says. “Take note of what happens to your face – does it light up or does it create shadows?”

If you know one colour suits your complexion, you can use this to compare to the other colours. This method isn’t only about your appearance, however. Consider how your facial expressions and other reactions differ with each colour, as this will help you to understand how you connect with different colours.

How to establish an emotional connection with colour

You’re constantly coming into contact with different colours in your day-to-day life and it’s not possible to consciously understand your reaction to every single one of them. But in order to become more in touch with your relationship with colours, Karen recommends keeping a diary for a period of a week to take note of how you respond to any colours that stand out to you or that you have to make decisions about.

“Write down what you are wearing each day and how the colours in your outfit make you feel,” she explains. “You should also take note of other decisions about colour you make, like choosing a red glass instead of a yellow glass.”

You don’t have to acknowledge your decisions in this way for very long but by doing so for a short period of time, you’ll come to better understand your relationships with specific colours, which will help you make better colour decisions in the future.

How to incorporate colour psychology into your life moving forward

Once you have established your relationship with particular colours, you can start to incorporate them into your life more, whether that’s through decorating your home with them or buying clothes in that colour. You can then also follow the same process Karen explains above to figure out which colour combinations work for you.

“The most important thing is that you think consciously about the decisions you make about colour,” Karen says, adding that by making intentional decisions, you will become more conscious of which colours you like and dislike, which will help keep you in touch with your emotions.

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Source: Colour psychology: how to use colour to boost your mood

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Electric Sleep: The Gadgetry Tracking and Hacking The Way We Rest

As activity tracking goes mainstream, an arsenal of consumer technology is rolling out for sleep. But how much do these interventions help?

At 2.16am, I stumble to the bathroom. I catch a glimpse of myself. The light from the red bulb is flattering – I’ve been told to eliminate all blue light on my nocturnal trek – but the sleep-tracker headband, currently emitting the sound of gently lapping waves, kills any woke-up-like-this vibe. I adjust its double straps and feel my way back to bed.

The next time I wake is at 6.30am – after fractured dreams in which the Dreem 2 headband makes many cameos – to birdsong, also from the headband. When I check the app, I see I have slept six-and-a-half hours of my anticipated eight. Anxious to remedy this, I head out for my first coffee. In his new book Blueprint: Build a Bulletproof Body for Extreme Adventure in 365 Days, athlete Ross Edgley warns that this sort of overriding behaviour can bring about “biochemical bankruptcy”. Not now, Ross.

Health influencers like Edgley are all over sleep lately, and no wonder, when so many of us obsess over it. A 2021 report released by the Sleep Health Foundation estimates around one in 10 Australians have a sleep disorder, while a report from 2019 found that more than half are suffering from at least one chronic sleep symptom. Studies have suggested that sleep deficiency can lead to weight gain and a weakened immune system and that poor sleep patterns may contribute to later dementia risk.

In recent years, sleep-fretting has intersected with fitness-tracking, with the latest bio-hacks regularly featured on the podcasts of personal-development heavyweights such as Joe Rogan, whose Whoop Strap – worn around the wrist – told him he was getting four or five hours a night, not the seven or eight he’d thought; and Aubrey Marcus, whose Oura ring measures various biomarkers overnight and gives him a total score in the morning. “If I can get close to 80%, I’m golden for the day,” Marcus told the authors of My Morning Routine.

Wearables, such as watches, rings and headbands, appeal to those of us who enjoy geeking out on our stats, but could they also be cultivating anxiety and feeding into insomnia? Associate Prof Darren Mansfield, a sleep disorders and respiratory physician who is also deputy chair of the Sleep Health Foundation, thinks some balance is needed.

“These devices in general can be a good thing,” he says. “They’re not as accurate as a laboratory-based sleep study, but they are progressing in that direction, and technology enables the person to be engaged in their health. Where it can become problematic is people can become a bit enslaved by the data, which can lead to anxiety or rumination over the results and significance. That might escalate any problems, or even start creating problems.”

As a clinician, Mansfield thinks that the most useful role of these devices is monitoring routine, not obsessing over the hours of good-quality sleep. “There will be some error margin, but nonetheless when we’re looking for diagnostic information, like timing of sleep and duration of sleep, they can capture that,” he says.

Since Mansfield admits his sleep doesn’t need much hacking, I seek out an insomniac-turned-human guinea pig. Mike Toner runs the dance music agency Thick as Thieves, and has been on a mission for five years to fix the sleep issues earned from a decade of late nights in Melbourne clubs and reaching for his phone to answer international emails at 3am.

“I tried everything,” he says. “Magnesium capsules and spray, melatonin and herbal sleep aids. I even signed up for treatment at a sleep centre. You sleep in this room with all these wires connected to you, things coming out of your nose, cameras trained on you. Ironically, I slept better that night than I have any other night.”

He decided to start monitoring his body in earnest, learning about the latest devices from the Huberman Lab Podcast and The Quantified Scientist. Sleep-monitoring wearables have progressed from having an accelerometer to track movements which are fed through an algorithm to predict when a person is asleep, to being able to track sleep latency; sleep efficacy; heart-rate variability; light, deep and REM sleep and sleeping positions.

Toner’s accumulated a few as the technology becomes more sophisticated. He estimates having spent around $1,500 on them, and a further $3,500 for the sleep-centre treatment.

Then there are the cooling devices. Toner beds down on a Chilipad as soon as the weather gets warmer – a hydro-powered cooling mattress.

The idea is that lying down in a cool room – perhaps after taking a warm shower – tricks the body into slumber, since our body temperature drops when we’re asleep.

Non-techy strategies include having hands and feet out from under the covers, or using a fan. Lifestyle guru and entrepreneur Tim Ferriss recommends a short ice bath before bed. Be warned, though: Dave Asprey – founder of Bulletproof, which sells high-performance products – once tried putting ice packs on his body right before bed. As he told MensHealth.com: “I ended up getting ice burns on about 15% of my body.”

Mansfield says that ensuring you’re cooler in the evenings may help with sleep. “Generally, a lower-level temperature is better tolerated at night … 25C can make a beautiful, comfortable day, but can be unbearably hot at night when our own core temperature drops, so 18C or 19C is more tolerable.

“Then in the last two hours before getting up, your temperature rises again – you might have thrown off the blanket in the night and then might wake up at 5am feeling freezing cold.”

And what about the new frontiers of technology? According to neuroscientist Matthew Walker, in his influential book Why We Sleep, in the future, we can expect the marriage of tracking devices with in-home networked devices such as thermostats and lighting.

“Using common machine-learning algorithms applied over time, we should be able to intelligently teach the home thermostat what the thermal sweet spot is of each occupant in each bedroom, based on the biophysiology calculated by their sleep-tracking device,” Walker says. “Better still, we could program a natural circadian lull and rise in temperature across the night that is in harmony with each body’s expectations.”

Mansfield thinks this kind of integration is feasible, and that a thermostat linked to a device measuring circadian rhythms offers plausible benefits in preparing people’s sleep, but he predicts that automated control of room lighting will wind up being manually overridden, because technology can’t necessarily gauge when we’re in the middle of reading a book or having a conversation. “It’s liable to just irritate people,” he says. He’s more interested in technology that will track conditions like sleep apnoea.

As Toner has concluded, no device is a silver bullet. Ultimately, it was a $70 online cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) course that his GP referred him to that fixed his sleep over three months of strict adherence. Now he just uses technology to make sure he’s not drifting off track.

The key lessons? Only use your bedroom for sleep and sex. Set your alarm for the same time, no matter how late you get to bed. Screens off early. No day-napping. Alcohol is a bad idea. All of these things are easily monitored yourself using a good old notebook, and they don’t cost a cent. They just take persistence.

With those good habits in place, Toner is now mindful of how he will put the CBT pointers he’s learned during lockdowns into practice once his life picks up its pace again.

“I used to put this obligation on myself to be there all the time with my artists, but interestingly, coming out of this pandemic, a lot of the artists are having the same train of thought as I am, wanting to avoid late nights,” Toner says.

He’s even coaching some of them for a charity run – quite the lifestyle change for many. “I’ve spent so long fixing this that one of the things I’ve realized, when we eventually go back to work routines, is I’m going to be fiercely protective of my sleep.

By:

Source: Electric sleep: the gadgetry tracking and hacking the way we rest | Sleep | The Guardian

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Why Kids Don’t Want to Talk About Their Day

The ride home from school can feel like a battle of wills with my oldest son. When I start the car, he’s a bundle of ecstatic energy. But when I begin asking him about his day, his smile vanishes, and he locks his mouth up like a safe. The remainder of the trip is more nerve-wracking than an episode of Law and Order as I listen for any clue that will get him to open up to me.

My wife and I shared in our son’s excitement to start kindergarten this year. But now that he’s several weeks in, it has been difficult for us to gauge his enthusiasm. And as someone who found socializing at school challenging, I’m always concerned that other kids are bullying him or he is finding the curriculum hard to handle.

But getting kids to talk about their day has been a struggle of parents for generations. And judging from the plethora of articles that deal with this topic, the fight to find out what happens at school will continue to be waged within minivans and around dining room tables far into the future.

To aid in the struggle, we researched why children don’t talk about what happens after we drop them off—and share some strategies and questions that might encourage kids to open up.

Kids need to decompress after school

Even when adults arrive home from work, we often need (or would love to have) a few moments to decompress and allow our brains to shift from “work mode” to “caregiver mode.” And instead, when we are met with a barrage of questions and demands—What’s for dinner? Ugh, meatloaf AGAIN?—it can make us feel a tiny bit exasperated.

According to this article by the Washington Post’s Meghan Leahy, young children also need a moment to transition from school to “home.” But because they are younger, it’s harder for kids to make that shift:

[B]ecause children are young and immature, their brains are not adept at navigating the transition from “work” to home. When they are overwhelmed, their brains are fried. Children cannot hold on to their maturity when they are that tired. To add to this dynamic, children who are extra sensitive may show even more signs that they are overwhelmed.

Leahy recommends giving kids a few moments to decompress and waiting for them to open up. And when they finally do talk about their day, listen carefully to what they have to say: “See what happens when you do not allow your need to learn about [their] day to eat up the space and energy. Focus 100 percent on being a listener.”

Young kids don’t recall the day’s events the same way you do

One of the reasons why your child is stonewalling you when you ask about their day is actually more biological than psychological. The first significant stage of brain development occurs between the ages of two and seven. At this age, child neuropsychologist Alison Gopnik writes in her book, The Philosophical Baby: What Children’s Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life, that when asked about their day in general terms, kids are unable to engage because their brains can’t recall memories in the same way adults or even older kids can.

As frustrating as it is to get a standard reply from your child, they aren’t resisting your questions. One method to get them to open up is to use the itinerary of what goes on during a typical school day that most preschools and teachers give parents at the beginning of the school year. Gopnik suggests that can guide you in asking questions that help kids recall specific memories about what happened during their day and could spark a lengthier conversation.

Tell them about your day first

Unless you’re a movie star or, I don’t know, Jeff Bezos, chances are your typical workday is dull and monotonous—and there’s a good chance your child feels the same way about their day, too. Maybe the details about learning long division or who sat by whom at lunch just feel too mundane to recap. But Sara Ackerman writes for The Washington Post that when she started sharing her day with her daughter, her daughter returned the favor:

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a software developer, a cashier, a blogger, a doctor, a bus driver, or a stay-at-home parent because it’s not about the minutiae of the work. It’s about sharing what makes us laugh and what bores us, the mistakes we make and what is hard for us, the interesting people we meet. When I model this for my daughter, she is more willing to share the same with me.

What if you think they are being bullied?

One out of five kids experiences bullying, and between 25 to 60% of those kids don’t report it to a parent or authority figure. As startling as these statistics are, parents probably won’t stop the trend by directly asking kids if they’re getting harassed in school.

If you suspect your child is the victim of bullying, there are ways to get them to open up. According to HuffPost, parents should start asking simple, pointed questions about who they’re playing with and how it’s going. For example: Who did you play with today? What was that like? What are some things you like doing with other kids? What are some things you don’t like so much?

If that doesn’t work, you can use books, movies, and television shows that address bullying as a tool to help children open up or start the conversation about how children socialize with their peers. Even if your kid isn’t experiencing bullying, initiating these conversations will show them they can talk to you about these issues.

Source: Why Kids Don’t Want to Talk About Their Day (and How to Get Them to Open Up Anyway)

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Investors, Don’t Depend on Stocks and Bonds To Hedge Each Other

There’s nothing more beautiful to a professional investor than a negative correlation between stocks and bonds. When stocks have a bad month, bonds have a good month, and vice versa. Since their zigs and zags offset each other, the value of the combined portfolio is less volatile. The customers are pleased. And that’s how it’s been for most of the last two decades.

But for almost a year now, Bloomberg market reporters have been detecting anxiety from the pros that the era of negative correlation may be over or ending, replaced by an era of positive correlation in which stock and bond prices move together, amplifying volatility instead of dampening it. “Bonds Have Never Been So Useless as a Hedge to Stocks Since 1999,” read the headline on one article this May.

Yet hope springs eternal. The headline on a July 7 article was, “Bonds Are Hinting They’ll Hedge Stocks Again as Growth Bets Ease.”

In the big picture and over long periods, it’s obvious and necessary that stock and bond returns are positively correlated. After all, they’re competing investments. Each generates a stream of income: dividends for (most) stocks, coupon payments for bonds. If stocks get very expensive, investors will shift money into bonds as a cheaper alternative until that rebalancing makes bonds more or less equally expensive. Likewise, when one of the two asset classes gets cheap it will tend to drag down the other.

When the pros talk about negative correlation they’re referring to shorter periods—say, a month or two–over which stocks and bonds can indeed move in different directions. Lately two giant money managers have produced explanations for why stocks and bonds move apart or together. They’re worth understanding even if your assets under management are in the thousands rather than billions or trillions.

Bridgewater Associates, the world’s biggest hedge fund, based in Westport, Conn., says that how stocks and bonds play with each other has to do with economic conditions and policy. “There will naturally be times when they’re negatively correlated and naturally be times when they’re positively correlated, and those come from the underlying environment itself,” senior portfolio strategist, Jeff Gardner says in an edited transcript of a recent in-house interview.

According to Gardner, inflation was the most important factor in the markets for decades—both when it rose in the 1960s and 1970s and when it fell in the 1980s and 1990s. Inflation affects stocks and bonds similarly, although it’s worse for bonds with their fixed payments than for stocks. That’s why correlation was positive during that long period.

For the past 20 years or so, inflation has been so low and steady that it’s been a non-factor in the markets. So investors have paid more attention to economic growth prospects. Strong growth is great for stocks but doesn’t do anything for bonds. That, says Gardner, is the main reason that stocks and bonds have moved in different directions.

PGIM Inc., the main asset management business of insurer Prudential Financial Inc., has $1.5 trillion under management. In a report issued in May, it puts numbers on the disappointment the pros feel when stocks and bonds start to move in sync. Let’s say a portfolio is 60% stocks and 40% bonds and has a stock-bond correlation of -0.3, which is about average for the last 20 years. Volatility is around 7%.

Now let’s say the correlation goes to zero—not positive yet, but not negative anymore, either. To keep volatility from rising, the portfolio manager would have to reduce the allocation to stocks to around 52%, which would lower the portfolio’s returns. If the stock-bond correlation reached a positive 0.3, then keeping volatility from rising would require reducing the stock allocation to only 40%, hitting returns even harder.

PGIM’s list of factors that affect correlations is longer than Bridgewater’s but consistent with it. The report by vice president Junying Shen and managing director Noah Weisberger says correlations between stocks and bonds tend to be negative when there’s sustainable fiscal policy, independent and rules-based monetary policy, and shifts up or down in the demand side of the economy (consumption).

The correlation is likely to be positive, they say, when there’s unsustainable fiscal policy, discretionary monetary policy, monetary-fiscal policy coordination, and shifts in the supply side of the economy (output). One last thought: It’s a good idea to spread your money between stocks and bonds even if they don’t hedge each other.

The capital asset pricing model developed by William Sharpe in the 1960s says everyone should have the same portfolio, consisting of every asset available, and adjust their risk by how much they borrow. True, not everyone agrees. John Rekenthaler, a vice president for research at Morningstar Inc., wrote a fun article in 2017 about the different strategies of Sharpe and fellow Nobel laureate Harry Markowitz.

Source: Investors, Don’t Depend on Stocks and Bonds to Hedge Each Other – Bloomberg

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Neuroscientist: Do These 6 Exercises Everyday To Build Resilience and Mental Strength

When I first began researching anxiety in my lab as a neuroscientist, I never thought of myself as an anxious person. That is, until I started noticing the words used by my subjects, colleagues, friends and even myself to describe how we were feeling — “worried,” “on edge,” stressed out,” “distracted,” “nervous,” “ready to give up.”

But what I’ve found over the years is that the most powerful way to combat anxiety is to consistently work on building your resilience and mental strength. Along the way, you’ll learn to appreciate or even welcome certain kinds of mistakes for all the new information they bring you.

Here are six daily exercises I use to build my resilience and mental strength:

1. Visualize positive outcomes

At the beginning or at the end of each day, think through all those uncertain situations currently in your life — both big and small. Will I get a good performance review? Will my kid settle well in his new school? Will I hear back after my job interview?

Now take each of those and visualize the most optimistic and amazing outcome to the situation. Not just the “okay” outcome, but the best possible one you could imagine.

This isn’t to set you up for an even bigger disappointment if you don’t end up getting the job offer. Instead, it should build the muscle of expecting the positive outcome and might even open up ideas for what more you might do to create that outcome of your dreams.

2. Turn anxiety into progress

Our brain’s plasticity is what enables us to be resilient during challenging times — to learn how to calm down, reassess situations, reframe our thoughts and make smarter decisions.

And it’s easier to take advantage of this when we remind ourselves that anxiety doesn’t always have to be bad. Consider the below:

  • Anger could block your attention and ability to perform, OR it could fuel and motivate you; sharpen your attention; and serve as a reminder of what’s important.
  • Fear could trigger memories of past failures; rob your attention and focus; and undermine your performance, OR it could make you more careful about your decisions; deepen your reflection; and create opportunities for changing direction.
  • Sadness could flatten out your mood and demotivate you, OR it could help you reprioritize and motivate you to change your environment, circumstances and behavior.
  • Worry could make you procrastinate and get in the way of accomplishing goals, OR it could help you fine-tune your plans; adjust your expectations; and become more realistic and goal-oriented.
  • Frustration could stymie your progress and steal your motivation, OR it could innervate and challenge you to do more or better.

These comparisons may seem simplistic, but they point to powerful choices that produce tangible outcomes.

3. Try something new

These days, it’s easier than ever to take a new online class, join a local sports club or participate in a virtual event.

Not too long ago, I joined Wimbledon champ Venus Williams in an Instagram Live workout, where she was using Prosecco bottles as her weights. I’d never done something like that before. It turned out to be a fantastic and memorable experience.

My point is that for free (or only a small fee) you can push your brain and body to try something you never would have considered before. It doesn’t have to be a workout, and it doesn’t have to be hard — it can be something right above your level or just slightly outside of your comfort zone.

4. Reach out

Being able to ask for help, staying connected to friends and family, and actively nurturing supportive, encouraging relationships not only enables you to keep anxiety at bay, but also shores up the sense that you’re not alone.

It isn’t easy to cultivate, but the belief and feeling that you are surrounded by people who care about you is crucial during times of enormous stress — when you need to fall back on your own resilience in order to persevere and maintain your well-being.

When we are suffering from loss or other forms of distress, it’s natural to withdraw. We even see this kind of behavior in animals who are mourning. Yet you also have the power to push yourself into the loving embrace of those who can help take care of you.

5. Practice positive self-tweeting

Lin-Manual Miranda published a book about the tweets he sends out at the beginning and end of each day. In it, he shares what are essentially upbeat little messages that are funny, singsongy and generally delightful.

If you watch him in his interviews, you’ll see an inherently mentally strong and optimistic person. How do you get to be that resilient, productive and creative?

Clearly, part of the answer is coming up with positive reminders. You don’t necessarily need to share them with the public. The idea is to boost yourself up at the beginning and at the end of the day.

This can be difficult for those of us who automatically beat ourselves up at the drop of a hat. Instead, think about what your biggest supporter in life — a partner, sibling, friend, mentor or parent — would tell you, and then tweet or say it to yourself.

6. Immerse yourself in nature

Science has shown again and again that spending time in nature has positive effects on our mental health. A 2015 study, for example, found that it can significantly increased your emotional well-being and resilience.

You don’t need live next to a forest to immerse yourself in nature. A nearby park or any quiet environment with greenery where there aren’t that many people around will work just fine.

Breathe, relax and become aware of the sounds, smells and sights. Use all your senses to create a heightened awareness of the natural world. This exercise boosts your overall resilience as it acts as a kind of restoration of energy and reset to your equilibrium.

 

By: Wendy Suzuki, Contributor

 

Wendy Suzuki, PhD, is a neuroscientist and professor of Neural Science and Psychology in the Center for Neural Science at New York University. She is also the author of “Good Anxiety: Harnessing the Power of the Most Misunderstood Emotion.” Follow her on Twitter @wasuzuki.

Source: Neuroscientist: Do these 6 exercises every day to build resilience and mental strength

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Non-Negotiable Diet, Sleep and Exercise Routines For a Longer Life

Thanks to today’s advanced research and new innovations, it’s more than possible for us to live longer, stronger and healthier lives. While life expectancy in the U.S. dropped one full year during the first half of 2020, according to a CDC report, much of that was attributed to the pandemic. Prior to Covid, however, life expectancy in the U.S. was 78.8 years in 2019, up a tenth of a year over 2018.

As a longevity researcher, I’ve spent the bulk of my career gathering insights from world-leading health experts, doctors, scientists and nutritionists from all over the world. Here’s what I tell people when they ask about the non-negotiable rules I live by for a longer life:

1. Get regular checkups

Early diagnosis is critical for the prevention of disease and age-related decline, so it’s important to get yourself checked regularly, and as comprehensively as possible.

At the very least, I make it a point to have a complete annual physical exam that includes blood count and metabolic blood chemistry panels, a thyroid panel and testing to reveal potential deficiencies in vitamin D, vitamin B, iron and magnesium (all nutrients that our body needs to perform a variety of essential functions).

2. Let food be thy medicine

Poor diet is the top driver of noncommunicable diseases worldwide, killing at least 11 million people every year.

Here are some of my diet rules for a longer life:

  • Eat more plants: To reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, try to have every meal include at least one plant-based dish. I typically have broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus or zucchini as a side for lunch and dinner. When I snack, I opt for berries, nuts or fresh veggies.
  • Avoid processed foods: Many products you find in grocery stores today are loaded with salt, sugar, saturated fats and chemical preservatives. A 2019 study of 20,000 men and women aged 21 to 90 found that a diet high in processed foods resulted in an 18% increased risk of death by all causes.
  • Drink more water: Most of us drink far too little water for our optimal health. I keep a bottle of water with lemon slices at hand wherever I spent most of my day.
  • Include healthy fats: Not all fats are bad. High-density lipids (HDL), including monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, are considered “good fats,” and are essential to a healthy heart, blood flow and blood pressure.

3. Get moving (yes, walking counts)

Just 15 to 25 minutes of moderate exercise a day can prolong your life by up to three years if you are obese, and seven years if you are in good shape, one study found.

I try not to focus on the specific type of exercise you do. Anything that gets you up out of the chair, moving and breathing more intensely on a regular basis is going to help.

That’s why the method I practice and recommend the most is extremely simple: Walking. Brisk walking can improve cardiovascular health and reduce risk of obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure. It can even ease symptoms of depression and anxiety.

4. Eat early, and less often

Clinical data shows that intermittent fasting — an eating pattern where you cycle between periods of eating and fasting — can improve insulin stability, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, mental alertness and energy.

To ease into the “eat early, and less often” diet, I started with a 16:8-hour intermittent fasting regimen. This is where you eat all of your meals within one eight-hour period — for instance, between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., or between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.

But keep in mind that a fasting or caloric-restricted diet isn’t for everyone; always talk to your doctor before making any drastic changes to your diet and eating routine.

5. Constantly work on quitting bad habits

One of the biggest toxic habits is excessive use of alcohol. Studies show that high and regular use can contribute to damages your liver and pancreas, high blood pressure and the immune system.

Large amounts of sugar consumption is another bad habit. Sure, in the right doses, sugars from fruits, vegetables and even grains play an important role in a healthy diet. I eat fruits and treat myself to some ice cream once in a while. But make no mistake: Excess sugar in all its forms is poison. To lessen my intake, I avoid processed foods and sugary drinks.

Lastly, I don’t smoke — but for anyone who does, I recommend quitting as soon as possible. According to the CDC, cigarette smoking is behind 480,000 deaths per year in the U.S.

6. Make sleep your superpower

A handful of studies of millions of sleepers show that less sleep can lead to a shorter life. Newer studies are strengthening known and suspected relationships between inadequate sleep and a wide range of disorders, including hypertensionobesity and diabetes and impaired immune functioning.

I aim for at least seven hours of sleep per night. For me, an essential ingredient for getting quality sleep is darkness; I make sure there’s no light and no electronic devices in my room before bedtime.

 

By: Sergey Young, Contributor

Sergey Young is a longevity researcher, investor and the founder of Longevity Vision Fund. He is also the author of “The Science and Technology of Growing Young: An Insider’s Guide to the Breakthroughs That Will Dramatically Extend Our Lifespan.” Sergey is on the Board of Directors of the American Federation of Aging Research and the Development Sponsor of Age Reversal XPRIZE global competition, designed to cure aging. Follow him on Twitter @SergeyYoung200.

Source: ‘Non-negotiable’ diet, sleep and exercise routines for a longer life

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How To Identify Your Dominant Emotional Style (and Why It’s so Important)

During difficult times, we often find ourselves defaulting to a single, dominant emotion, even when another might be more “logical.” For example, your default emotion may be anxiety, which is what you’ll feel during the stressful times, even if a more appropriate emotional reaction might be anger, sadness, or frustration.

This is your dominant emotional style, said Alice Boyes, Ph.D., author of the book “The Healthy Mind Toolkit,” in a recent article she wrote for Psychology Today. In times of stress, a “dominant emotion” is the emotion we default to and is often linked to how we interpret and react to situations. Going back to the anxiety example, your reaction may be due to a tendency to blame yourself for situations; if your dominant emotion is anger, that might be due to a tendency to assume others are trying to hurt you.

Why being able to feel a range of emotions matters

We default to our dominant emotion because that’s what we know and what is most familiar to us. However, it’s important to be able to experience a range of emotions, as this is often the key to a healthier, happier life.

One way to think about emotions is to think about all of the different emotions as being part of a balanced ecosystem. Within an ecosystem there are many different components, all of which are important for a healthy system. If this balance gets disrupted though, with one emotion becoming heavily dominant, then the overall health of the system gets thrown off balance.

As studies are showing, people who experience a broad range of emotions tend to have better mental and physical health, which includes lower rates of depression. One possible reason is that a mixture of emotions, even if they are negative ones, can help prevent a single emotion from completely taking over.

Two options for reducing your dominant emotion

Feeling too much of one emotion is exhausting and can leave you burnt out. According to Boyes, there are two options that can help you step back from your dominant emotion.

The first option is to think through other possible interpretations of the situation. As Boyes notes, her dominant emotion is anxiety, where she will usually blame herself. However, when she slows down and evaluates the situation, trying to think through other reasons for what is going on, this allows her other emotions to surface.

The second option is to focus on the quieter feelings, the ones that have been drowned out by your dominant emotion. “If I tune into my smaller emotions, they rise to the surface more,” Boyes wrote. These other feelings can help you come up with different solutions to your problem, while also helping you to have a more balanced perspective.

As Boyes points out, these strategies for dialing down your dominant emotion can have a lot of positive benefits. This includes feeling a sense of relief, enhancing your creativity, identifying new ways to problem-solve, as well as motivating you to try alternative approaches that you might not otherwise think of.

As Boyes noted, when it comes to feeling these other emotions, “It’s okay if feeling your non-dominant emotions leaves you feeling unsettled and perhaps a little at sea. You can feel unsettled and still also benefit.”

Source: How to Identify Your ‘Dominant Emotional Style’ (and Why It’s so Important)

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Why Your Most Important Relationship Is With Your Inner Voice

As Ethan Kross, an American experimental psychologist and neuroscientist, will cheerfully testify, the person who doesn’t sometimes find themselves listening to an unhelpful voice in their head probably doesn’t exist. Ten years ago, Kross found himself sitting up late at night with a baseball bat in his hand, waiting for an imaginary assailant he was convinced was about to break into his house – a figure conjured by his frantic mind after he received a threatening letter from a stranger who’d seen him on TV.

Kross, whose area of research is the science of introspection, knew that he was overreacting; that he had fallen victim to what he calls “chatter”. But telling himself this did no good at all. At the peak of his anxiety, his negative thoughts running wildly on a loop, he found himself, somewhat comically, Googling “bodyguards for academics”.

Kross runs the wonderfully named Emotion and Self Control Lab at Michigan University, an institution he founded and where he has devoted the greater part of his career to studying the silent conversations people have with themselves: internal dialogues that powerfully influence how they live their lives. Why, he and his colleagues want to know, do some people benefit from turning inwards to understand their feelings, while others are apt to fall apart when they engage in precisely the same behaviour?

Are there right and wrong ways to communicate with yourself, and if so, are there techniques that might usefully be employed by those with inner voices that are just a little too loud? Down the years, Kross has found answers to some, if not all, of these questions, and now he has collected these findings in a new book – a manual he hopes will improve the lives of those who read it.

“We’re not going to rid the world of anxiety and depression,” he says, of Chatter: The Voice in Our Head and How to Harness It. “This is not a happy pill, and negative emotions are good in small doses. But it is possible to turn down the temperature a bit when it’s running too high, and doing this can help all of us manage our experiences more effectively.”

According to Kross, who talks to me on Zoom from his home in a snowy Ann Arbor, there now exists a robust body of research to show that when we experience distress – something MRI scans suggest has a physical component as well as an emotional one – engaging in introspection can do “significantly” more harm than good.

Our thoughts, he says, don’t save us from ourselves. Rather, they give rise to something insidious: the kind of negative cycles that turn the singular capacity of human beings for introspection into a curse rather than a blessing, with potentially grave consequences both for our mental and physical health (introspection of the wrong sort can even contribute to faster ageing).

Does this mean that it’s not, after all, good to talk? That those in therapy should immediately cancel their next appointment? Not exactly. “Avoiding our emotions across the board is not a good thing,” he says. “But let’s think about distance instead. Some people equate this word with avoidance and repression. But I think of it as the ability to step back and reflect, to widen the lens, to get some perspective. We’re not avoiding something by doing this, we’re just not getting overwhelmed.”

According to one study, we talk to ourselves at a rate equivalent to speaking 4,000 words per minute (by way of comparison, the American president’s State of the Union address, which usually runs to about 6,000 words, lasts more than an hour). No wonder, then, that listening to it can be exhausting, whether it takes the form of a rambling soliloquy, or a compulsive rehashing of events, a free-associative pinballing from one thought to another or a furious internal dialogue.

But if such noise can be paralysing, it can also be self-sabotaging. What we experience on the inside can blot out almost everything else if we let it. A study published in 2010, for instance, shows that inner experiences consistently dwarf outer ones – something that, as Kross notes, speaks to the fact that once a “ruminative” thought takes hold of us, it can ruin even the best party, the most longed-for new job.

Why do some people have a louder or more troubling inner voice than others? “That’s harder to answer,” he says. “There are so many ways it can be activated, some genetic, some environmental.” What is certain is that these experiences cannot be discounted: “The data is overwhelming when it comes to the connection between anxiety and physical health conditions.” Those who are able to quieten their inner voice are happier; their sense of relief can be palpable.

See also:

  1. What Is Your Inner Voice?
  2. What If You Don’t Hear Any Voice?
  3. Why Don’t We Listen to Our Inner Voice?
  4. How to Listen to Your Inner Voice
  5. Moving on with Your Inner Voice
  6. Final Thoughts
  7. More About Self-Understanding

What is interesting about the science involved in all this is how it both backs up, and goes against, intuition. Much of Kross’s book is devoted to what he calls the “toolbox” of techniques that can be used to dial down chatter, and while some of these seem to contradict all that we think and feel – “venting”, for instance, can do a person more harm than good, because talking about negative experiences with friends can often work as a repellent, pushing away those you need most – others confirm that when we act on certain instincts, we’re right to do so.

To take one example, if you are the kind of person who slips into the second or third person when you are in a flap (“Rachel, you should calm down; this is not the end of the world”), you really are doing yourself some good. What Kross calls “distanced self-talk” is, according to experiments he has run, one of the fastest and most straightforward ways of gaining emotional perspective: a “psychological hack” that is embedded in “the fabric of human language”.

Talking to yourself like this – as if you were another person altogether – isn’t only calming. Kross’s work shows that it can help you make a better impression, or improve your performance in, say, a job interview. It may also enable you to reframe what seems like an impossibility as a challenge, one to which, with your own encouragement, you may be able to rise.

Some of his other techniques are already well known: the power of touch (put your arms around someone); the power of nature (put your arms around a tree). Activities that induce “awe” – a walk in the mountains, say, or time spent in front of a magnificent work of art – are also useful, helping with that sense of perspective.

Writing a daily journal can prove efficacious for some (something that felt terrible one day physically becoming old news the next), while neat freaks like me will be thrilled to discover that what he calls “compensatory control” – the creation of exterior order, better known as tidying up – really does have an impact on interior order. Reorganise your sock drawer, and you may find that your voice quietens.

Research shows, too, that superstitions, rituals and lucky charms can be useful, though most of us will draw the line at, say, taking our milk teeth with us when we fly, as the model Heidi Klum is said to (she keeps hers in a tiny bag, which she clutches during turbulence). Placebos have been found to work on chatter, just as they do in the case of some physical illnesses.

In one study in which Kross was involved, a saline nasal spray acted as a kind of painkiller for the inner voice: data from brain scans showed that those who’d inhaled it, having believed they were inhaling a painkiller, displayed significantly less activity in their brain’s social-pain circuitry compared with those who knew they had inhaled only a saline solution.

No wonder, then, that Kross believes children should be taught the science behind all of these ideas, and in the US he has already begun working with teachers to make this happen: “We want to find out if knowing this stuff influences how they regulate themselves.” Does he make use of the toolbox? (Physician, heal thyself.) “We should probably ask my wife,” he laughs. “But yes, I do, absolutely. I’m human, too.” In particular, he is “very selective” when it comes to friends from whom he seeks “chatter support”.

Kross finished his book long before the outbreak of the pandemic, let alone the storming of the Capitol. But as he observes, it could hardly be published at a more opportune moment. “This is the perfect chatter episode for society: a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, political uncertainty, widespread groupthink.” His most cited paper to date looked at the harmful implications of social media, often “a giant megaphone” for the inner voice – Facebook expressly asks its users: “What’s on your mind?” – and an environment that he thinks we need to learn to navigate with more care.

As for the pandemic, though, he is less pessimistic than some about the effects it is likely to have long-term on mental health. “We are already seeing signs that depression and anxiety are spiking,” he says. “Everyday feelings of sadness are elevated for many, and then there are more full-blown episodes. But there is also a lot of resilience, and we often underestimate that. A lot of people are doing quite well. They’re managing this hardship in an adaptive way. I am an optimist. We will return, I think, to a nicer place, though how quickly that will happen, I only wish I could say.”

Which technique should the pandemic-anxious deploy? “Well, one that I personally rely on is temporal distancing,” he says. This requires a person to look ahead: to see themselves determinedly in the future. Studies show that if you ask those going through a difficult experience how they will feel about it in 10 years’ time, rather than tomorrow, their troubles immediately seem more temporary. Does this really help him? “Yes, it does. I ask myself how I am going to feel a year from now, when I’m back in the office, and I’m seeing my colleagues, and travelling again, and taking my kids to soccer – and it gives me hope.”

It is, as he says in his book, a form of time travel: a mental Tardis that, if only we can manage to board it, may make everything from a bereavement right down to a silly argument seem less brutal, just a little easier to bear.

By: Rachel Cooke

Source: Why Your Most Important Relationship Is With Your Inner Voice

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More Contents:

There’s a Dark Side to Meditation That No One Talks About

The Running Conversation in Your Head

People Who Hear Voices in Their Head Can Also Pick Up on Hidden Speech

The ‘Untranslatable’ Emotions You Never Knew You Had

Hallucinogen Therapy Is Coming

How you attach to people may explain a lot about your inner life

How can you conquer ordinary, everyday sadness? Think of it as a person

How anxiety scrambles your brain and makes it hard to learn

10 Strategies to Keep Moving Forward When Feeling Stuck

How to Build Self Discipline to Excel in Life

How to Build Self-Esteem: A Guide to Realize Your Hidden Power

How Self-Reflection Gives You a Happier and More Successful Life

How to Be More Self-Aware and Strive to Be a Better Person

How to Attain Self Realization (Step-By-Step Guide)