Your Brain Can Only Take So Much Focus

The ability to focus is an important driver of excellence. Focused techniques such as to-do lists, timetables, and calendar reminders all help people to stay on task. Few would argue with that, and even if they did, there is evidence to support the idea that resisting distraction and staying present have benefits: practicing mindfulness for 10 minutes a day, for example, can enhance leadership effectiveness by helping you become more able to regulate your emotions and make sense of past experiences. Yet as helpful as focus can be, there’s also a downside to focus as it is commonly viewed.

The problem is that excessive focus exhausts the focus circuits in your brain. It can drain your energy and make you lose self-control. This energy drain can also make you more impulsive and less helpful. As a result, decisions are poorly thought-out, and you become less collaborative.

So what do we do then? Focus or unfocus?

In keeping with recent research, both focus and unfocus are vital. The brain operates optimally when it toggles between focus and unfocus, allowing you to develop resilience, enhance creativity, and make better decisions too.

When you unfocus, you engage a brain circuit called the “default mode network.” Abbreviated as the DMN, we used to think of this circuit as the Do Mostly Nothing circuit because it only came on when you stopped focusing effortfully. Yet, when “at rest”, this circuit uses 20% of the body’s energy (compared to the comparatively small 5% that any effort will require).

The DMN needs this energy because it is doing anything but resting. Under the brain’s conscious radar, it activates old memories, goes back and forth between the past, present, and future, and recombines different ideas. Using this new and previously inaccessible data, you develop enhanced self-awareness and a sense of personal relevance. And you can imagine creative solutions or predict the future, thereby leading to better decision-making too. The DMN also helps you tune into other people’s thinking, thereby improving team understanding and cohesion.

There are many simple and effective ways to activate this circuit in the course of a day.

Using positive constructive daydreaming (PCD): PCD is a type of mind-wandering different from slipping into a daydream or guiltily rehashing worries. When you build it into your day deliberately, it can boost your creativity, strengthen your leadership ability, and also-re-energize the brain. To start PCD, you choose a low-key activity such as knitting, gardening or casual reading, then wander into the recesses of your mind.

But unlike slipping into a daydream or guilty-dysphoric daydreaming, you might first imagine something playful and wishful—like running through the woods, or lying on a yacht. Then you swivel your attention from the external world to the internal space of your mind with this image in mind while still doing the low-key activity.

Studied for decades by Jerome Singer, PCD activates the DMN and metaphorically changes the silverware that your brain uses to find information. While focused attention is like a fork—picking up obvious conscious thoughts that you have, PCD commissions a different set of silverware—a spoon for scooping up the delicious mélange of flavors of your identity (the scent of your grandmother, the feeling of satisfaction with the first bite of apple-pie on a crisp fall day), chopsticks for connecting ideas across your brain (to enhance innovation), and a marrow spoon for getting into the nooks and crannies of your brain to pick up long-lost memories that are a vital part of your identity.

In this state, your sense of “self” is enhanced—which, according to Warren Bennis, is the essence of leadership. I call this the psychological center of gravity, a grounding mechanism (part of your mental “six-pack”) that helps you enhance your agility and manage change more effectively too.

Taking a nap: In addition to building in time for PCD, leaders can also consider authorized napping. Not all naps are the same. When your brain is in a slump, your clarity and creativity are compromised. After a 10-minute nap, studies show that you become much clearer and more alert. But if it’s a creative task you have in front of you, you will likely need a full 90 minutes for more complete brain refreshing. Your brain requires this longer time to make more associations, and dredge up ideas that are in the nooks and crannies of your memory network.

Pretending to be someone else: When you’re stuck in a creative process, unfocus may also come to the rescue when you embody and live out an entirely different personality. In 2016, educational psychologists, Denis Dumas and Kevin Dunbar found that people who try to solve creative problems are more successful if they behave like an eccentric poet than a rigid librarian. Given a test in which they have to come up with as many uses as possible for any object (e.g. a brick) those who behave like eccentric poets have superior creative performance. This finding holds even if the same person takes on a different identity.

When in a creative deadlock, try this exercise of embodying a different identity. It will likely get you out of your own head, and allow you to think from another person’s perspective. I call this psychological halloweenism.

For years, focus has been the venerated ability amongst all abilities. Since we spend 46.9% of our days with our minds wandering away from a task at hand, we crave the ability to keep it fixed and on task. Yet, if we built PCD, 10- and 90- minute naps, and psychological halloweenism into our days, we would likely preserve focus for when we need it, and use it much more efficiently too. More importantly, unfocus will allow us to update information in the brain, giving us access to deeper parts of ourselves and enhancing our agility, creativity and decision-making too.

By: Srini Pillay

Srini Pillay, M.D. is an executive coach and CEO of NeuroBusiness Group. He is also a technology innovator and entrepreneur in the health and leadership development sectors, and an award-winning author. His latest book is Tinker, Dabble, Doodle, Try: Unlock the Power of the Unfocused Mind. He is also a part-time Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School and teaches in the Executive Education Programs at Harvard Business School and Duke Corporate Education, and is on internationally recognized think tanks.

Source: Your Brain Can Only Take So Much Focus

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Srini Pillay, M.D. is an executive coach and CEO of NeuroBusiness Group. He is also a technology innovator and entrepreneur in the health and leadership development sectors, and an award-winning author. His latest book is Tinker, Dabble, Doodle, Try: Unlock the Power of the Unfocused Mind. He is also a part-time Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School and teaches in the Executive Education Programs at Harvard Business School and Duke Corporate Education, and is on internationally recognized think tanks.

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Updated European Consensus Statement on diagnosis and treatment of adult ADHD

Pediatric Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Differential Diagnoses

Cognitive Psychology and Its Implications

Stimulus-Driven Reorienting Impairs Executive Control of Attention: Evidence for a Common Bottleneck in Anterior Insula

Functions of the human frontoparietal attention network: Evidence from neuroimaging

Bottom-up saliency and top-down learning in the primary visual cortex of monkeys

The extent of processing of noise elements during selective encoding from visual displays

Testing the behavioral interaction and integration of attentional networks

Perceptual Load Affects Eyewitness Accuracy and Susceptibility to Leading Questions

wo Polarities of Attention in Social Contexts: From Attending-to-Others to Attending-to-Self

Selective attention and serial processing in briefly presented visual displays

What Is Emotional Intelligence? Here’s the Simple, Easy to Understand Answer

Have you ever asked yourself that question? It’s a good one. As someone who has studied the topic for several years, I ask it to myself over and over. Here’s the thing: There’s two answers to that question. One’s simple, the other’s complex. Let’s start with the complex one.

(I know, I know, you probably want the simple one first. But it’ll be helpful to communicate some nuance.)

Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, understand, and manage emotions. Researchers and practitioners may divide it into different facets, but they usually contain elements of the following four abilities:

Self-awareness: the ability to identify and understand emotions in yourself.

Self management: the ability to manage those emotions and keep them from causing you to act (or refrain from acting) in a way that you later regret.

Social awareness: the ability to identify and understand emotions in others.

Relationship management: the ability to provide and receive benefits from your relationships with others.

Although these four abilities, or facets, of emotional intelligence are connected and complement one another, they aren’t always dependent on each other. In other words, you will likely excel in one or more aspects and be weaker in another.

Additionally, a deeper understanding of emotional intelligence will involve understanding different parts of our brain like the frontal lobe, the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala, and how those parts of the brain work together to process thoughts and emotions.

Finally, it’s important to know that much like what we think of as traditional intelligence, emotional intelligence is not inherently virtuous. That means people use it to accomplish all sorts of goals, some that many would define as “evil,” as well as “good.” Ok. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get to the simple answer.

The simple answer

Emotional intelligence is making emotions work for you, instead of against you. Some students of emotional intelligence will say this is over-simplifying things–but I disagree.

Look, here are the facts. As humans, we’re emotional creatures. Emotions play a major role in every decision we make. Therefore, the more you learn about how your and others’ emotions work, how they affect your decision making and everyday life, and how to manage them, the better off you will be…most of the time.

Why most of the time? Well, remember: With great power, comes great responsibility.The more emotional intelligence you have, the more power you have. And power corrupts. That’s why emotional intelligence is only one part of the equation. You also need morals and ethics to help you manage that power…and of course, there are other forms of intelligence, such as what is traditionally known as general intelligence (the g factor).

Or, if you subscribe to the theories of Howard Gardner, there are other forms of intelligence (such as musical intelligence, or bodily-kinesthetic intelligence).So, what does emotional intelligence look like in real life? It comes in different packages, shapes, and sizes:

It’s the leader who knows how to inspire and rally the troops. It’s the follower who knows which leader to follow–along with when and how to speak up. It’s the extrovert who knows when to pull back. It’s the introvert who knows when to push forward. It’s the teacher who makes the dullest subject come to life.

It’s the student who makes their teacher feel they’ve chosen the best job in the world. It’s the doctor who listens to their patients. It’s the patients who listen to their doctor. (But also know when to get a second opinion.) It’s the artist who channels their feelings to create something beautiful.

It’s the audience who can appreciate the beauty. Emotional intelligence is a spectrum. Like everyone, you have emotional strengths and weaknesses. As you become aware of your own, strive to learn from those who are different from you. As you do, you’ll see how to leverage the strengths and mitigate the weaknesses.

That’s making emotions work for you, instead of against you.

Source: What Is Emotional Intelligence? Here’s the Simple, Easy to Understand Answer | Inc.com

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Related Contents:

How To Retrain Your Frazzled Brain and Find Your Focus Again

Are you finding it harder than ever to concentrate? Don’t panic: these simple exercises will help you get your attention .

Picture your day before you started to read this article. What did you do? In every single moment – getting out of bed, turning on a tap, flicking the kettle switch – your brain was blasted with information. Each second, the eyes will give the brain the equivalent of 10m bits (binary digits) of data. The ears will take in an orchestra of sound waves. Then there’s our thoughts: the average person, researchers estimate, will have more than 6,000 a day. To get anything done, we have to filter out most of this data. We have to focus.

Focusing has felt particularly tough during the pandemic. Books are left half-read; eyes wander away from Zoom calls; conversations stall. My inability to concentrate on anything – work, reading, cleaning, cooking – without being distracted over the past 18 months has felt, at times, farcical.

The good news? We can learn to focus better, but we need to think about attention differently. It is not something we can just choose to do. We have to train the brain like a muscle. Specifically, with short bursts of daily exercises.

Dr Amishi Jha is a professor of cognitive and behavioural neuroscience at the University of Miami and an expert in the science of attention. She has written a book called Peak Mind: Find Your Focus, Own Your Attention, Invest 12 Minutes a Day, a four-week training programme based on her research showing how simple mindfulness exercises carried out by people with high-demand jobs, such as soldiers, elite athletes and emergency medics, improve many aspects of cognitive and emotional health, including strengthening our attention.

‘Working memory is like a mental whiteboard with disappearing ink,’ says Dr Amishi Jha. Illustration: Nathalie Lees/The Guardian

When I first opened Peak Mind, I set a timer to see how long it would take me to feel the pull of social media. Three minutes in, I check Twitter. I tell Jha this and she erupts with laughter. “Oh, that’s fantastic,” she says.

I tell her this distractibility has made me anxious. She nods patiently. “There is nothing wrong with your attention, even if you feel more distracted right now. That is a healthy response to your current situation. To think otherwise is just false,” she says. “We’re in a crisis because our attention works so well. It’s doing exactly what it was designed to do: respond powerfully to certain stimuli.”

Stress is one of the biggest obstacles to focusing, says Jha. In a high-alert state, we often start ruminating and catastrophising. We get stuck in “loops of doom” or imagined scenarios. This mode impacts our “working memory”: the amount of information that can be held in our minds and used for a task. For example, choosing the words to put together in an email, or reading a page in a book.

“Working memory is like a mental whiteboard with disappearing ink,” says Jha. When that whiteboard is full of thoughts, feelings and images relating to what’s making us stressed, there is no room for new information. We might start blanking, zoning out or snapping at our partners, then feel guilty, which makes focusing even harder.

The first step to better focus is accepting a key truth: you cannot just decide to have unfettered attention

Jha began thinking differently about mindfulness when she experienced her own “crisis of attention” (“a blaring, unrelenting onslaught of mental chatter,” she writes) that reduced her ability to feel present with her small children.

So she came up with some simple practices “that exercise the brain in ways that it is prone to being weakened”. These short bursts of mindfulness training each day can help us notice the traffic of our thoughts and urges, and develop what Jha calls the “mental muscle” to observe, rather than act.

I admit that I am sceptical. Even as a trainee psychotherapist (with a vested interest in learning to be present) I find it hard to believe that something so stark, that we can do by ourselves, can help focus a mind that feels scrambled by multiple lockdowns, political divisiveness or economic uncertainty.

I start by setting a timer for three minutes each day, instead of the recommended 12 – a smaller “dose”, encouraged by Jha, to get used to it. The first exercise involves sitting upright, closing your eyes and focusing on where your breathing feels most prominent, usually in the chest or diaphragm. Direct your focus here like a beam and notice when thoughts or sensations pull it away: a memory bubbling up; a reminder that you need to reply to a text; an itch. The point is noticing when the “flashlight” moves, then moving it back. That’s it.

From the beginning, this flashlight image is one of the most useful mindfulness tools I’ve used. After three days, I start to notice when I am being pulled away from trying to focus on something (reading is trickiest for me). I am noticing when my focus is ruptured, which feels new.

The first step to better focus is accepting a key truth, says Jha: you cannot just decide to have unfettered attention. You have to practise. “The notion of an unwavering mind is a fantasy,” she says. The problem is that we now have far more sources of distraction. We are not just recipients of content, but willing participants. Despite how often we are encouraged to “unplug” from our devices, we cannot outwit the algorithms designed by armies of software engineers, statisticians and psychologists.

More unsettling is how we need our phones to rescue us from our phones. The global mindfulness meditation apps market size is expected to reach over $4.2bn by 2027. But in stepping back and learning why our attention can feel so slippery – rather than reaching for another attention-sucking app – perhaps we can assuage some of the difficult emotions associated with being distracted.

In week two, Jha introduces the “body scan”. Using the flashlight to move through the body, from toes to scalp, you are encouraged to notice what physical sensations are there. Whenever the mind wanders, return it to the area of the body where the attention was before the wandering.

Even in three-minute bursts, my mind fizzes with words, people, places and feelings. I tell Jha that I have to move my flashlight back so many times, I wonder if it will ever feel easier. “You’re doing great!” she says. “You have introduced something new and it can take time to get used to it. But know that it will get better.”

After a fortnight of doing the exercises, I notice that being able to carve a little sliver of space between myself and the contents of my mind means I am able to divert my attention back to what I need to do more easily. The body scan exercise has given me a new awareness of how distracted I am by physical sensations (a cramp; a gurgle; an itch). It is hard to explain how significant this layer of awareness is unless you’ve tried it.

I am going to carry on with the exercises, with a view to building up to the 12-minute daily dose, because something is shifting in my relationship with my thoughts. I begin another book after I finish Jha’s and reset my timer. It takes me 23 minutes to open Twitter. That’s progress.

Attention, please: five ways to focus better

1 Pay attention to your breath, and where on your body you feel it most: direct your focus like a beam of light. Do this for three minutes a day, for a week.

2 Integrate this technique into everyday life – for example, brushing your teeth. If you’re thinking about your to-do list as you’re scrubbing, bring the light back. Focus on the sensations.

3 A lot of people report that their mind is “too busy.” Your job is not to stop it – your job is to exist with it, and to place your attention back where you want it.

4 Ignore “mindfulness myths”: you are not “clearing your mind.” This is an active mental workout.

5 There is no “blissed-out” state you are aiming to experience; in fact, the whole point is to be more present to the moment.

By: Eleanor Morgan

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/

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  1. “The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2021”. Nobel Foundation. Retrieved 4 October 2021.

Further reading

This Is What Long COVID Feels Like Fatigue Dizziness Brain Fog and Muscle Spasms

When the novel coronavirus began to spread across the world in February 2020, Freya Sawbridge was caught in a bind. The 27-year-old was living in Scotland, but when businesses and borders began to close she packed up and flew home to Auckland, New Zealand. On arrival, she felt feverish and couldn’t smell or taste food.

In those early months of COVID-19, every new symptom made global headlines. Freya got tested and the result came back positive. Panic began to set in.  “I was in the first wave,” she says.

“There weren’t many people that had had it by that stage, so I knew no-one could tell me anything about it, no-one could offer me any real guidance because it was a new disease.

“No-one can tell you anything about it or when it might end. You’re just existing in the unknown.”

Freya found herself on a vicious merry-go-round of symptoms — fever, sore throat, dizziness, muscle spasms, numbness, chest pains and fatigue. The symptoms kept coming around and around and around.

After 12 days, she stabilised, but four days later the pains returned with a vengeance. It would be a sign of things to come. Freya would relapse five more times over the next six months.

“Each relapse, the depth of it would last about 10 days and then I would take about four or five days emerging from it, have about two or three symptom-free days before another relapse would kick off,” Freya says. “The symptoms would come and then dissipate…

“I’d have a fever for an hour, a sore throat for four hours, then dizziness for two hours, then I was OK for an hour.

“…it was just a cycle like that.”

By April 2020, “long COVID” was being mentioned in Facebook support groups. It’s not an official medical term; it was coined out of necessity by the public. It’s sometimes also referred to as long-haul COVID, chronic COVID and post-acute sequelae of COVID-19 (PASC).

Exactly what constitutes long COVID remains extremely broad. Earlier this month, the World Health Organization released its clinical case definition of what it calls ‘post COVID-19 condition’, which affects people at least two months after a COVID-19 infection with symptoms that “cannot be explained by an alternative diagnosis”.

For Freya, symptoms like chest pain and a sore throat were manageable, but the dizziness and “brain pain” she experienced were debilitating. “It’s as if there was like a mini person in my brain and he was scraping my whole brain with a rake, it was just pain,” Freya says.

“And then it would feel like it would flip on itself continuously and so it makes it really hard to sleep because you’re lying there and it feels like your brain is doing somersaults and then it’s also spinning.”

The memory loss was especially unnerving. “Heaps of people say, ‘Oh, I get that and I’m young,’ but it just feels different… you’d be mid-sentence and then completely forget what you’re talking about.”

Doctors couldn’t give Freya any clarity about what was happening to her because the reality was no-one knew enough about COVID-19.

The hardest was month four, when Freya ended up in hospital from her long COVID symptoms. In a journal entry dated August 24, 2020, she wrote: “Must stay hopeful. Must believe I will get better.” After so many relapses, she had fallen into a depression filled with grief, for her healthy body and her old life.

To this day, we still know very little about long COVID, including just how many people it affects.

Various studies over the past 18 months estimate long COVID can affect anywhere from 2.3 per cent to 76 per cent of COVID-19 cases. It’s important to remember these studies vary in method, with some tracking only hospitalised cases and some relying on self-reported surveys.

A comprehensive study by the University of NSW places the figure at around 5 per cent. Researchers tracked 94 per cent of all COVID-19 cases in NSW from January to May 2020. Of the 3,000 people surveyed, 4.8 per cent still had symptoms after three months.

The uncertainty doesn’t end there. We also have no idea why long COVID hits certain people, but not others. It’s been likened to a kind of “Russian roulette”.

Studies have consistently found long COVID to be more prevalent in women, older people and those with underlying conditions, but there’s evidence to indicate children are capable of developing long COVID too.

Being young and fit is no guarantee you’re safe either, and nor is having a minor initial COVID case. The longer-term symptoms can strike even those who had few initial symptoms.

Those with long COVID report a constellation of symptoms including fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath, brain fog, memory loss, loss of taste and smell, numbness, muscle spasms and irritable bowels.

One of Australia’s leading researchers in the area, Professor Gail Matthews, says long COVID is likely a spectrum of different pathologies.

Dr Matthews is the Head of Infectious Diseases at St Vincent’s Hospital and Head of the Therapeutic Vaccine and Research Program at the Kirby Institute at UNSW. She says the issue of long COVID will be huge on a global scale and it’s crucial to understand it better.

One theory is that COVID-19 can trigger the immune system to behave in an abnormal way, releasing cytokines that can make you feel unwell with fatigue and other symptoms.

Another is that there could be some elements of the virus — called antigen persistence — somewhere in the body that continues to trigger an ongoing activation in the immune system.

There’s also early evidence that vaccination might help reduce or even prevent long-term symptoms. Freya stopped relapsing around month seven, although her senses of taste and smell still haven’t fully recovered. She says rest was a big part of her recovery.

“Other people, if they don’t have parental support, or they have to work because they’ve got no savings, or they can’t rely on their parents, or they have young kids — I have no idea how they got through it, because it would have been impossible in my eyes,” Freya says.

Judy Li is in an impossible situation. An all-encompassing fatigue has taken hold of her mind and body, stripping away her ability to work, parent or plan for the future.

The 37-year-old got COVID-19 in March 2020 while an inpatient at a Melbourne hospital. She had been struggling after giving birth to her second child and was getting the help she needed.

Despite her anxieties, Judy’s case was very mild and it wasn’t until three months later when her three-year-old brought a bug home from day care that she realised something was wrong.

As day-care bugs so often do, it ripped through the young family. “It felt like I hit a brick wall, I was a lot worse than everyone else,” Judy says.

“It wasn’t the usual symptoms… I was just really lethargic, really fatigued and I remember at about the three-week mark of having those symptoms, that kind of fatigue, I thought, ‘this isn’t right, this is a bit odd.’”

Her fatigue is not like being tired, it’s a different kind of exhaustion, a severe lack of energy that doesn’t replenish after sleep.

“This is like something you feel in your limbs; you feel like they’re really heavy, they’ve got this kind of, I wouldn’t say ouch-kind of pain, but it’s sort of an achiness to your limbs,” she says.

The fatigue comes and goes, but Judy has noticed it can flare up when she gets sick or when she expends herself physically or mentally.

One of the worst episodes came after an eight-hour trip to Canberra for Christmas to visit her in-laws. “I woke up and I was completely paralysed,” Judy says. Distressed, in tears, she could only call out to her partner for help.

“I just did not have the strength to move my limbs and I kept trying and trying and trying and eventually he helped me up. “I sort of dragged my arm up, I could barely hold a glass of water and he’d help me to drink out of it. If I had to go to the toilet, he had to basically carry me.”

This fatigue has derailed Judy’s life because when it sets in, she never knows how long it’s going to last or whether it will go away.  It makes work and parenting impossible. Judy’s two young children don’t understand what’s wrong with mum or why she can’t get out of bed.

“When the kids are crying at home, I can’t go and soothe them,” she says.

“This is not a lack of motivation, it’s like I want to get up and I want to go to my children.

“I want to get up, I’ve got work I need to do. I want to get up and even go get something to eat, I’m hungry, but I can’t actually tell my body to move in that way.”

Fatigue or post-exertional malaise is one of the most common symptoms of long COVID, but it’s also a very common symptom in myalgic encephalomyelitis or chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), a biological disease affecting an estimated 250,000 Australians.

There are striking similarities between long COVID and ME/CFS. Both can cause symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness, memory loss or ‘brain fog’, and irritable bowel, and both are likely to encompass a range of different pathologies.

ME/CFS is usually triggered by a viral infection — ebola, dengue fever, glandular fever, epstein barr, ross river virus, SARS and even the more common influenza have all left trails of chronically ill people in their wake.

Experts have even questioned whether long COVID could be ME/CFS by another name, although the jury is still out on that theory. ME/CFS has been around for decades but we still don’t know much about it.

Australian advocacy groups desperately want to see more research and support to help people with this chronic illness navigate medical, financial and accommodation services. They also say doctors need better education to diagnose and treat the condition early on.

Bronwyn Caldwell knows what it’s like to live with a condition that no-one understands or knows how to treat. She’s lived with ME/CFS for 20 years, ever since a suspected case of glandular fever in her 20s.

The 46-year-old from South Australia is adamant the early advice from her doctor to rest was the reason her condition didn’t immediately worsen. She was able to work part-time as a brewer up until 2013 but a relapse has left her mostly bed-bound.

Bronwyn considers herself lucky — her illness was validated by doctors and family, she doesn’t have cognitive difficulties and isn’t in pain. But her voice begins to break when mentioning that most people with ME/CFS face stigma that they’re being lazy or faking their illness.

“I can’t imagine what it’s really like to have everyone in your life say you’re just being lazy, because the reality is all of us beat ourselves up to that all the time,” she says.

A 2018 study published in the Journal of Health Psychology looking at links between people with chronic illness and suicidal ideation found stigma, misunderstanding and unwarranted advice exacerbates patients’ feelings of overall hopelessness.

Long COVID is creating a cohort of people vulnerable to the same thing, and Judy herself has sometimes wondered whether her family would be better off without her (which, of course, it wouldn’t).

“I honestly go through periods where I wish COVID had killed me instead of just left me with this, this big burden,” she says. With no sick leave left, Judy has had to take unpaid time off work.

It’s a big blow for the high-earning, career-driven project manager who took pride in handling stressful situations and juggling multiple tasks. These days, her mind doesn’t work like it used to.

“It’s just little things like struggling to find the word that I just knew… I would know… sorry… like being able to construct sentences,” she says with an ironic laugh.

“I can try to read something but it just seems like I have to read it over and over and over again. “I frequently walk into a room and can’t remember why, when I would put something down, seriously, two minutes later I have no idea where it is. “I just feel like I’m losing my mind.”

In the COVID-ravaged UK, daily cases peaked at more than 68,000 and daily deaths at more than 1,300. It’s a situation few in Australia — where we have enjoyed long periods of little-to-no community transmission — can fully appreciate.

Adam Attia was living in London through most of 2020 and says it was almost rare if you hadn’t had COVID-19. “I’ve known of people that had given it to their parents and it killed their parents,” the 30-year-old Australian says. “People that we knew on our street had passed away.”

So one day around August, when Adam couldn’t taste the wasabi on his sushi, he immediately knew what was wrong. “I just started to go through the kitchen for things like garlic — I had a whole garlic, I couldn’t taste anything. I ate a lemon like an apple and couldn’t taste a thing.

“I ate ginger like a cannibal, like I ate it with all of the bumps and things on it and couldn’t taste a thing.”

But Adam’s infection was mild and he spent his 10-day isolation staying active. Life went on as normal until three months later, after a trip to Croatia. On the flight back to London, somewhere above Germany, Adam felt an excruciating pain in his stomach. He felt like he was going to vomit, he couldn’t breathe and his head began to spin.

The flight crew didn’t know what to do, contemplating an emergency landing in Berlin while Adam desperately sucked air from a vent they’d given to help him breathe.

The flight managed to land in London and Adam was escorted off the plane. At the hospital, doctors ran tests for internal bleeding and signs of reflux or gastritis but they all turned up empty.

In the weeks and months after that flight, as little as two hours of work would leave Adam shattered and disorientated.

His symptoms are like dominoes. Exhaustion leads to stomach pain, which leads to nausea, faintness and breathlessness.

Adam has learned to manage his symptoms and as soon as he feels the exhaustion creeping in he takes an anti-nausea pill, uses the asthma puffer he now has to carry with him and finds somewhere to lie down.

He ended up moving back to Australia to sort out his health issues, but it wasn’t until a doctor at St George Hospital in Sydney mentioned Adam’s symptoms could be an effect of COVID-19 that he twigged.

“Is it from COVID? Look, I could be shooting in the dark, I don’t actually know,” Adam says. “But what I do know is I didn’t have these [symptoms] before COVID, so I guess it’s more of an educated guess.”

Much about long COVID remains exactly that. More research is needed to really know what’s going on.

The US and UK have allocated billions of dollars into research and set up long COVID clinics to help patients find the right treatment. The Australian government has provided $15 million for research grants into the long-term health effects of COVID-19 and the nation’s vaccination efforts through the Medical Research Future Fund.

As Australia moves beyond lockdowns towards a future where most Australians are vaccinated, borders are open and COVID-19 is actively spreading through communities, this research will be crucial in our understanding of the long-term health issues and the impact on individuals, families, workplaces and the economy.

For now, Dr Matthews says the biggest take-home is that we don’t know who is or isn’t susceptible to long COVID.

“One of the biggest messages is that it’s very hard to know who this will strike.”

Health officials in Victoria have already highlighted the plight of long COVID patients as part of their drive to encourage more people to get vaccinated, as experts say it probably can prevent long COVID.

Dr Matthews says it’s important Australia recognises long COVID as a real issue and makes sure there is appropriate support to help people.

“Even if it’s just an understanding that this condition exists, and recognition that it exists, as opposed to expecting these people to return to full health,” she says.

But until we know more, those like Freya, Judy and Adam won’t have the closure of knowing exactly what’s happened to them.

“It’s hard to wrap your head around,” Judy says, “to say this is potentially a life sentence”. “There’s no defining this is as bad as it gets, you know?  “This is just the big mystery question mark.”

By:  Emily Sakzewski, Georgina Piper, and Colin Gourlay

Source: This is what long COVID feels like — fatigue, dizziness, brain fog and muscle spasms – ABC News

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“March 24 Update on NASA Response to Coronavirus – Administrator Jim Bridenstine”. blogs.nasa.gov. Archived

13 Ways to Invest in Yourself

When you hear the word “investing,” you probably think about stocks, bonds, maybe commodities. It’s far less likely that your reflex will be inward – but indeed, you can, and should, invest in yourself, too.

Investing is an enormous industry solely dedicated to the idea of using capital to create more capital. We highly suggest you do it. But in many instances, investing time and energy – which, just like money, are in finite supply – in yourself can lead to a meaningful payoff, too. And sometimes that payoff includes the accumulation of wealth.

It’s just a matter of application, and making a plan.

To that end, here’s a rundown of 13 different ways to invest in your career, your mind and your happiness that have nothing to do with buying low and selling high. Becoming a more marketable worker, earning a chance to be your own boss and simply broadening your horizons can yield rewards, too.

Find a Mentor

Spending time with a mentor is one of the best investments you can make. Mentors are plentiful. It doesn’t cost much to talk with them – just the price of a cup of coffee, or maybe an Uber trip if your mentor works elsewhere. And they can provide you with a wealth of benefits: They can improve your current job skills, help you network within your field and potentially become an employer in the future.

What workplace mentorship looks like will vary from one employer to the next. But in almost all cases, it could and should involve a senior employee acting as a guide for a newer worker with less company-specific experience. In some cases where management is willing to provide time off and funding, leadership “camps” and team-building experiences can also make employees more effective.

But what if your employer doesn’t facilitate such programs? Be the organizer of a formal, company-wide effort that pairs newer workers with veterans. It’s not a difficult sell. Your boss will benefit from a staff that at the very least better knows one another, and they’ll probably appreciate the subsequent synergies too. Meanwhile, you’ll make new intra-office contacts.

You can find mentors outside of your workplace, too. A simple way to start is by simply reaching out to leaders and other knowledgeable members of your field for “informational interviews” – nothing more than a cup of coffee or lunch to talk about the profession.

Depending on the topic, you might be able to find more plentiful outside resources. For instance, small-business entrepreneurs have a host of options at their fingers, such as Score.org, which pairs individuals up with local SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) chapters to pair them with one of more than 10,000 volunteer business experts.

More Education for a Career Change

Many young college graduates might be happy working in the field they just finished studying, but some individuals further into their careers might be mulling a change – perhaps a pivot toward one of these top jobs of the future.

In many cases, however, these individuals don’t feel they can because they lack a degree related to their new dream job. Or if they do “change things up,” they make a move within the industry rather than taking on a whole new category – even when that new job could prove more lucrative.

Knight Kiplinger points out the benefit of such an investment in his “Keys to Financial Security”: “A $30,000 pay hike can be viewed as an annual return on a capital investment, like earning a continuous yield of 6% on $500,000 of savings. You know how hard it is to save up $500,000. Maybe that $30,000 boost in salary is easier to achieve.”

There’s good news for the hesitant, however. More than 80% of people who changed careers after they turned 45 years old found success in their new field, according to the American Institute for Economic Research.

For some occupations, such as teachers and nurses – two of the most popular second careers for older rookies – might require a brand-new degree. But the advent of the internet has changed the way we learn. Traditional college classrooms are still an option, though career-changers with families who might need to work at the same time they’re going back to school have plenty of internet options. Roughly one-third of college-level studies are now done online, and many employers see this classwork as credible.

Professional Certifications

In some cases, a college degree might not be the right kind of continuing education for you. Some employers are more interested in specialized skills and credentials. Company hierarchies in the modern workplace are optimized by a diversity of detailed, focused knowledge that sometimes comes in the form of a professional-level certificate.

And at the least, there aren’t many industries that don’t encourage the attainment of specialized credentials.

Take the finance industry as an example. Most career-minded jobs in the sector require a minimum of a college degree. But some of the most successful financial planners are Certified Financial Planners, with a CFP designation. Chartered Financial Analysts (CFAs) also enjoy a high-level of credibility within the investment management arena. There’s even a professional designation for investment professionals that specialize in analyzing stock charts: Chartered Market Technicians.

The technology arena arguably offers the most, and most diverse, options for readily attainable certifications. Certificates aimed at demonstrating expertise in Cisco networking, Microsoft systems and coding languages such as Java and C++ can all be earned in just a few months.

In most cases, these certificates can be secured while you work a full-time job. Some employers will even pay the costs associated with them.

Join Toastmasters

Even when Toastmasters International was in its infancy nearly a century ago, the organization invoked the occasional eye roll. Some outsiders snickered as the seemingly silly gathering of like-minded people that just wanted to practice public speaking in front of other members wishing to do the same.

However, the clubs – all 16,800 of them that meet regularly in 143 different countries – are no joke. Aside from a judgment-free, supportive environment where individuals can get comfortable confronting the one thing they fear more than death itself, Toastmasters is a chance to network with other aspiring business-minded individuals in the area.

And the organization certainly has its share of high-profile success stories. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, comedian and actor Tim Allen, the late iconic Star Trek actor Leonard Nimoy, and the late James Brady, former presidential press secretary, are all former Toastmasters members, along with a whole slew of other recognizable names that leveraged their Toastmasters experiences into successful careers.

Toastmasters charges $45 in semi-annual dues as well as a $20 new member fee. Meeting frequency varies by club but typically are held weekly or every other week, for one to two hours per meeting.

Move

It doesn’t sound like a way to invest in yourself. It sounds more like a chore, or even just a flat-out expense. But you might find that simply moving from one place to another can open all sorts of doors … and not just career-oriented ones. New locales bring new people into your life, new kinds of entertainment, lower expenses and new scenery that can make your life better in a myriad of ways.

The latest relocating-minded trend is an exodus from the nation’s biggest cities and the establishment of new roots in less urban areas. Bustling New York City lost 76,790 residents in 2019, and 143,000 in the year before that, mirroring a bigger trend evident across the entire northeaster portion of the country. Lousy weather is cited as one reason for the growing disinterest in the region, though the bigger concern is the sheer cost of living in places such as New York City and Washington, D.C.

Conversely, there are still good reasons to head toward the pricier parts of the country, particularly for people looking for jobs in the financial and tech arenas. Most Wall Street-type jobs require you to actually live somewhere near Wall Street, and Silicon Valley in northern California is the nation’s technological development hub. If you want to work there, you typically have to be there.

If you’re broadly looking for a place to start, consider these states with the fastest rates of job growth. And if you’re looking to figure out how much to budget, Moving.com says the average cost of a long-distance move (1,000 miles) is $4,890, based on a two- to three-bedroom move of about 7,500 pounds.

Start a Side Gig

The idea of a “job” has changed dramatically in just the past few years. Gone are the days when individuals clocked in at 9 a.m., worked for an employer that was trusted to remain in business, and then clocked out at 5 p.m.

The new normal is … well, there is no new normal, given the statistics.

Roughly one-third of U.S. workers claim they utilize “alternative work” arrangements as their primary source of income. That is, they don’t necessarily run their own businesses per se, but rather are contracted, self-employed people that rely on middlemen to connect with a stream of customers. Think driving for Uber, completing projects through Amazon Mechanical Turk, or picking up regular work at a website like Freelancer.com. In some cases, these workers might see more income by being self-employed. But certainly, some see less.

It doesn’t have to be an either/or matter for the entrepreneurial-minded, though. Side gigs can be managed without “giving up your day job” by doing work outside of regular work hours.

The effort is arguably worth it. A recent survey performed by The Hustle found that the average side-gig operator spent an average of 11 hours per week as their own boss, and earned $12,609 per year – an average of about $22 per hour. Real estate, management and money-related side gigs appeared to be the most lucrative, according to the survey.

The payoff can be more than in immediate income. You can use a side gig to hone new skills or test new ideas that can be used to fuel a career shift.

Set Up a (Real) Home Office

Whether you’re self-employed or just one of the lucky corporate employees who are allowed to work from home, there’s much to be said about a space that functions and feels more like an office and less like a bedroom or basement. Indeed, you might be more productive working at home, for yourself or for an employer.

Despite all the noise often made about the pros and cons of working from home, it’s not as widely available an option as you’d think. Only 7% of employers facilitate work-from-home options, according to Fundera, even though the option saves companies an estimated $44 billion per year. Fewer than 4% of employees (including freelance workers) are allowed to work from home for at least half the workweek, says Small Business Trends.

In other words, if you do have an employer that allows you to work from home, be sure to perform just as you would if in an office setting. Companies remain broadly suspicious of the practice.

The one area where it pays to spend more than you might like to on a home office is on a new computer. It is, for better or worse, the centerpiece of the modern work world. Not only are computers used to create and store documents, they’re also becoming the key means of communication with clients and customers. They’re even replacing phones with apps such as Skype. An unreliable or underpowered PC can quickly turn into a nuisance.

Get Healthy

The benefits of living a healthier lifestyle are clear: A longer life, feeling better and being able to physically do more are all good things.

However, there’s a financial upside to eating better and getting more exercise too. More than one, in fact. Chief among them is the sheer cost of being unhealthy, and as such, needing to see a doctor more often.

As part of efforts to make health insurance, and therefore health care, more affordable for everyone, deductibles have soared in recent years. In 2008, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average deductible for a single-person health plan was $735. It has since soared to $1,655. Premium prices are up, too, at $7,188 annually as of 2019, and the maximum out-of-pocket expense in 2019 for an ACA-compliant plan was $7,900 for individuals, and $15,800 for family plans.

Although health insurance is effectively a must-have, using it can prove expensive.

The other financial upside to healthier living: Feeling better, or not being distracted by fatigue, lets your mind stay sharp during sales calls, when meeting new people and when simply being sized up (literally and figuratively) by someone interested in your work. Every interaction or connection is in some way an effort to sell something. Being at your best makes it likelier you’ll perform well.

Get Organized

Most individuals who live disorganized lives, personally and professionally, would argue they don’t have time to organize. In reality, it takes more time, energy and money to not be organized.

Did you know the average American spends 2.5 days per year trying to track down lost items? That’s the case, according to a study by Pixie, a smart-location solution for missing objects. Did you also know that the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (yes, it’s a thing) reports that between 15% and 20% of the average household’s budget is wasted by buying items to replace ones that simply can’t be found? Here’s the kicker: NAPO also estimates that 40% of housework currently being done in the U.S. wouldn’t be necessary if we were willing to de-clutter.

It’s not just time and money. Your mental well-being is at stake, too. People who have successfully mastered the art of self-organization find they’re less stressed, sleep better and ultimately end up being more productive. In the workplace, a more organized desk, office, briefcase or vehicle makes a good impression on prospective clients, co-workers, even your boss.

Keep Your Brain Sharp

By many measures, it’s a cruel trick. Never before have people been expected to stay as focused as they are now, yet never before has it been so difficult to prevent your mind from being overwhelmed by a constant barrage of digital data.

Your smartphone has much to do with that. We check our phones for no particular reason about once every 12 minutes; some of us, more frequently.

But the challenge extends beyond just phones. On average, says productivity expert Chris Bailey, we’re distracted by something every 40 seconds. Bailey also says all the regular distractions we experience ultimately extend the time needed to complete a task by 50%. Plus, it can take several minutes just to resume the work being done before the distraction took place.

So, how do you keep your mind sharp in this kind of environment?

For one, try to put down the phone a little more often. Then, start following some of the other steps on this list.

Staying in shape isn’t just a good way to cut down on medical costs – it also helps brain health as you age. Art Kramer, professor of neuroscience and psychology at Northeastern University, tells Kiplinger that people who do more aerobic exercise tend to be better at solving problems, have better memory and show lower rates of dementia.

You want to “network,” too – but not just professionally. Being socially active has many positive effects on the brain, including areas that have to do with memory. So, as you can, try to interact with friends and family more often.

Build Your Own Website or Portfolio

The upside of building your own professional website or portfolio will vary from one person to the next, and with the intent. But if there’s any arguable reason not to invest in yourself in this way, cost isn’t it. The hosting price for a low-end (though still professional-looking) website can be less than $10 per month; for those willing to make a longer-term commitment, requesting and registering the domain name is often free.

What you can do with even the simplest of websites, however, is almost limitless.

Chief among those options for a job-seeker is the use of a website as a digital resume of sorts. But a website can provide a potential employer with work-related details that might otherwise be difficult to present with just one sheet of paper.

In that same vein, a website could serve as a repository of past work for individuals who offer services on a regular basis. Writers, artists and architects are just some of the people who benefit from being able to publicly showcase their work.

And naturally, any entrepreneur with e-commerce ambitions will want to develop a website, and spring for a few more of the bells and whistles required to do business online.

Hire a Career Coach

Sometimes it’s difficult to push yourself to the proverbial next level, whatever that might mean in your given field. Stagnation can sap creativity, and disappointment can quell drive. It’s all too easy to become complacent and resign yourself to doing the exact same thing until it’s time to retire.

A career coach might be just the kick in the pants you need.

But first, you need to understand what a career coach is, and what it isn’t. Career coaches aren’t headhunters. They also can’t tell you what sort of job you should be seeking. And they most certainly won’t be able to help if your impasses are personal rather than professional in nature.

A career coach can, however, help you identify your strengths and weakness as other people see them, assist you in formulating a career-advancement strategy and advise you on how to make a successful career change.

They’re not necessarily cheap. On a per-hour basis, they can charge anywhere between $75 and $250. Some ask for a longer-term, multimonth commitment that can cost a total of anywhere from $1,000 to $2,500.

But they can be worth the outlay. A promotion-related raise or a job offer with a new employer can easily fund such an investment within just a year.

Read Books

There’s a universe of great information floating around, ready to be gleaned. Much of it can’t be found at your workplace. Instead, it’s at a bookstore – or, for the more economically minded, a library.

The statistics on the matter are nothing short of amazing. Fast Company says the average CEO reads 60 books per year. Ben Eubanks, human resources analyst with Brandon Hall Group, believes “people who are successful are often crazy about reading. They make time for that because they understand how important it is, and it’s kind of like a secret weapon.” However, a person in the United States only reads between two and three books per year, most of those purely for pleasure.

A lot of that has to do with time available, but if you have recreational time you aren’t spending on reading, you might consider re-allocating it to hitting the books.

The upsides? Aside from the knowledge and perspective gained from teaching yourself about something new, reading also expands your vocabulary and opens up opportunities to discuss new ideas with your boss (current or prospective). There’s something powerful about being able to say, “That’s something I was just reading about the other day.”

One word of caution: Reading a work-related book just for the sake of being seen reading a work-related book can easily backfire. Most experienced managers can spot an effort get the wrong kind of attention. They might not like the tactic. Just read a book on faith that it will eventually matter, even if that means with a different employer.

By: James Brumley

Source: https://getpocket.com/

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