The Problem of Marital Loneliness

My husband is really into geometry, and once he’s mastered a complicated proof he likes to go through it with me in exacting detail. If he sees my eyes wandering, he commands me to pay attention. In general, the kinds of conversations he enjoys are the ones in which he expounds his latest cognitive treasure, be it scientific, historical, or some fine point about how to interpret an obscure ancient text.

I, on the other hand, gravitate toward paradoxes, and enjoy conversations in which I am the one who sets the terms of the problem and I am the one who gets to push all the simplest answers aside. Recently, I tried to spark a debate: Why isn’t it permissible to walk up to strangers and ask them philosophical questions? As I probed for the deeper meaning behind this prohibition, my husband was frustrated by my ignoring the obvious: “Literally no one but you wants to do that!”

Occasionally, the point he wants to explicate magically lines up with the one I want resolved, but much of the time there is a decidedly unmagical lack of complementarity between his love of clarity and my love of confusion. Of course, we compromise: by taking turns, and by putting up with the fact that one of us is, to some degree, dragging the other along for the ride. But we can also tell that we are compromising, and that makes each of us feel sad, and somewhat alone.

Conversation is only one example of the various arenas in which we routinely fail to connect; broadly, he’s considerate and unromantic, whereas I’m romantic and inconsiderate. Marriage is hard, even when no crises loom, and even when things basically work. What makes it hard are not only the various problems that arise but the lingering absence that is felt most strongly when they don’t. The very closeness of marriage makes every bit of distance palpable. Something is wrong, all the time.

Ingmar Bergman’s “Scenes from a Marriage,” from 1973, is the greatest artistic exploration of the vicissitudes of marital loneliness. It consists of six roughly hour-long episodes, in which a married couple—Johan and Marianne—try and mostly fail to connect to each other. Marianne is a lawyer, and early in the series we see her counselling an older woman who is seeking a divorce after more than twenty years of marriage.

The client admits that her husband is a good man and a good father: “We’ve never quarrelled.” Neither has been unfaithful toward the other. “Won’t you be lonely?” Marianne asks. “I guess,” the woman answers. “But it’s even lonelier living in a loveless marriage.” The client goes on to describe the strange sensory effects of her loneliness. “I have a mental picture of myself that doesn’t correspond to reality,” she says.

“My senses—sight, hearing, touch—are starting to fail me. This table, for instance: I can see it and touch it, but the sensation is deadened and dry. . . . It’s the same with everything. Music, scents, faces, voices—everything seems puny, gray, and undignified.” Marianne listens in horror: the woman represents the ghost of her own future.

It is a profound insight on Bergman’s part to notice that loneliness involves a detachment not only from other people but from reality in general. As a child, I had trouble forming friendships, and turned instead to fantasy. I could imagine myself into the books I read and, by embellishing the characters, supply myself with precisely the sorts of friends that I’d always longed for.

If you have engaged in this kind of fantasizing, you know that the thrill of creativity eventually collapses into a feeling of emptiness. This is the moment when loneliness hits. You’ve prepared yourself an elaborate psychological meal, and you realize, belatedly, that it can never sate your real hunger.

One is often loneliest in the presence of others because their indifference throws the futility of one’s efforts at self-sustenance into relief. (If you spend a party reading in a corner, you come to see, no matter how good the book, that you are not fooling anyone.) In a marriage, this loneliness manifests in the various ways that couples give each other space, demarcating spheres in which each person is allowed to operate independently.

If I allow my husband to hold forth and he allows me to go paradox-mongering—if we humor each other—the very frictionlessness of the ensuing thoughts infuses them with unreality. “My husband and I cancel each other out,” Marianne’s client says. She means, I think, that we sap the reality from one another’s lives by way of our lack of interest, our noninvolvement, our failure to provide the constraining traction that is needed for even the most basic sensory experiences to feel real.

Source: The Problem of Marital Loneliness | The New Yorker

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A Little RedBull May Give You Wings, But It Probably Will Not Affect Your Tpe

“Energy drinks” (EDs) often contain high levels of caffeine and sugar, with variable levels of taurine, guarana, other “supplements,” and on occasion, vitamins. Frequently chosen by teens and young adults, the sale of EDs has enjoyed tremendous market growth. Over 4.6 billion cans of the most successful of these beverages, Red Bull, were sold in 2011. This prosperity resulted from the strong, recent worldwide annual growth, such as 11% in the United States, 35% in France, and 86% in Turkey.

Whether consumed alone or with alcohol or other drugs, EDs may have significant physical and behavioral effects (). Marketing materials for EDs often imply that these products will improve energy level, attention span, and physical and/or mental performance . Red Bull has been shown to increase heart rate and blood pressure and can reduce cerebral blood flow; these effects can be potentiated under conditions of stress . EDs were responsible for over 20,000 emergency department visits in the United States in 2011, including a doubling in the incidence between 2007 and 2011.

In this issue of the Anatolian Journal of Cardiology, Elitok et al. reported on the electrocardiographic effects of Red Bull. They had particular interest in Red Bull’s effects on ventricular repolarization. The dispersion of ventricular repolarization (DVR), as indicated by a longer interval between the T wave’s peak and end (Tpe or Tpe/QT), correlates with arrhythmic risk in multiple populations .

The healthy volunteer medical students in this investigation consumed a single can of Red Bull under controlled conditions, and the effects on heart rate, blood pressure, and electrocardiographic measurements were observed. As expected, both blood pressure and heart rate increased following Red Bull consumption. However, no change in electrocardiographic DVR was found.

Should young club-going people take this news as vindication of their next order for a “vodka and Red Bull?” Can we write off Red Bull’s cardiovascular effects as benign? Not so fast. The absence of an acute effect of a small dose of ED on one arrhythmia risk factor measured only in ECG lead V5 among a relatively small number of healthy young adults at rest does not equate to definite harmlessness. Our understanding of Red Bull’s effects remains incomplete, especially in cases wherein larger doses are consumed, especially by sicker people and under more strenuous conditions.

Would the consumption of five cans of Red Bull affect healthy subjects’ ECGs? Might only one serving of Red Bull affect ECG of a cardiomyopathy patient or ECG of a patient taking other cardiovascular active medications? Does chronic Red Bull consumption have the same or different effects as a Red Bull binge?

Elitok et al. should be congratulated for their interest in exposing potentially dangerous effects of popular EDs. More studies are required for us to declare Red Bull consumption to be harmless. For now, we can take heart in the absence of one signal of potential danger. At least this little bull is not in the proverbial china shop.

Energy drinks have the effects caffeine and sugar provide, but there is little or no evidence that the wide variety of other ingredients have any effect. Most of the effects of energy drinks on cognitive performance, such as increased attention and reaction speed, are primarily due to the presence of caffeine. Advertising for energy drinks usually features increased muscle strength and endurance, but there is little evidence to support this in the scientific literature.

A caffeine intake of 400 mg per day (for an adult) is considered as safe from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Adverse effects associated with caffeine consumption in amounts greater than 400 mg include nervousness, irritability, sleeplessness, increased urination, abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmia), and dyspepsia. Consumption also has been known to cause pupil dilation. Caffeine dosage is not required to be on the product label for food in the United States, unlike drugs, but most (although not all) place the caffeine content of their drinks on the label anyway, and some advocates are urging the FDA to change this practice.

Excessive consumption of energy drinks can have serious health effects resulting from high caffeine and sugar intakes, particularly in children, teens, and young adults. Excessive energy drink consumption may disrupt teens’ sleep patterns and may be associated with increased risk-taking behavior. Excessive or repeated consumption of energy drinks can lead to cardiac problems, such as arrhythmias and heart attacks, and psychiatric conditions such as anxiety and phobias.

In Europe, energy drinks containing sugar and caffeine have been associated with the deaths of athletes. Reviews have noted that caffeine content was not the only factor, and that the cocktail of other ingredients in energy drinks made them more dangerous than drinks whose only stimulant was caffeine; the studies noted that more research and government regulation were needed

By: Todd M. Rosenthal and Daniel P. Morin

Source: A little Red Bull may give you wings, but it probably will not affect your Tpe

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Seven Simple Steps To Sounder Sleep

Everything about our day impacts our sleep. How many minutes we spend outside, what and when we eat, what’s happening with our hormones, our habits, emotions, stress and thoughts – all this feeds into the sleep we end up with at night. All of which I was completely oblivious to when battling chronic insomnia for years on end.

Sleep anxiety can create a very real and vicious circle. I would spend hours lying in bed, increasingly wired, anxious and exhausted as time ticked by, with prescription sleeping pills within reach for those 3am nights when I had to be up first thing. The problem is that the more we worry about sleep, the higher our stress hormones go – and too much of the stress hormone cortisol, whatever the trigger, disturbs our sleep.

We’re left in a state of fight or flight, when we need to be in the opposite state of rest and digest. When my insomnia was at its worst, I’d start my day exhausted, running on empty, and have recurring burn-out days, where an overwhelming fatigue would stop me in my tracks, forcing me to lie down and recharge.

I realise now that the various sleep tips I tried over the years were like sticking plasters on a broken leg – there’s only so much that lavender, earplugs or herbal teas can do when your sleep is disrupted and out of control. Fortunately a eureka moment came along, when I was reading a book by my great great uncle, Richard Waters, a pioneer in cognitive therapy and clinical hypnosis and a protégé of the French pharmacist and self-help guru Emile Coué.

Waters wrote just a couple of pages about insomnia – how the words we use and having an understanding of sleep biology affects our mind, body and our sleep – but they were intriguing enough to set me thinking, researching and experimenting. I interviewed various experts and tried out all the sleep science and tactics I came across, while considering sleep in a much wider context than usual.

Waters also wrote a short, first-person sleep script, about what should be going on in the mind and body in the countdown to sleep. And I recorded myself reading this one-minute sleep script on my phone, which I listened to every day, when fixing my own insomnia and researching my book Teach Yourself to Sleep.

Listening to a sleep script allows us to harness the power of suggestion, using self-talk and clinical hypnosis to change our habitual thoughts, physiology and behaviour. I discussed this at length with clinical hypnosis expert Professor Peter Whorwell, whose hospital department at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust creates bespoke scripts to help treat a wide range of disorders, including insomnia, phobias, pain and debilitating IBS symptoms, with a 75-80% success rate, where other treatments have failed.

Following the thread from Waters and Coué to now, and exploring the fascinating world of sleep, light and habit science, experimental psychology and more, it became clear that it pays to have a basic grasp of the biology and science of sleep and to appreciate the extraordinary power of the mind-body loop. Getting results that last makes life easier on so many levels – quality sleep not only improves our physical and mental health but also our energy levels, cognitive function and overall wellbeing.

I now instinctively remove obstacles that will get in the way of my sleep and set up sleep habit cues throughout my day. This means I can go to sleep without being up half the night, and wake up refreshed and able to get the most out of the following day. Here are seven sleep tips I used to dismantle my insomnia.

1) Stop calling yourself a bad sleeper!

Our words have an immediate effect on us physically and mentally – and you can see this in action if you consciously choose diametrically opposed words to describe the same situation. The words we choose alter our feelings, perceptions, hormones and behaviour, including our sleep.

There are some astounding studies on this and the mind-body loop, and how this can be manipulated to improve our health. As Professor Brooks of the Harvard Business School told me: “Our words codify and solidify our thoughts” – and, in turn, they change how we feel.

2) Embrace the biological fact that your body responds to too much light

Our body is hard-wired to line itself up with the light and dark of nature’s 24-hour clock. As with everything that influences your sleep, it makes all the difference if you’re aware of the simple biology taking place. In this instance, it’s understanding that the extremely light-sensitive cells in your eyes help keep your sleep-wake cycle turning as it should.

I use a light box on certain mornings, to give my office light some extra clout. At the other end of the day, a screen break before bed, moving away from bright, stay-wake signals and towards the darkness of night, helps boost sleep-inducing melatonin levels.

3) Weaken the negative fallout from stress

Stress is a huge sleep disrupter with nearly 50% of sleep issues blamed on stress. To help balance the body’s chemical cocktail in favour of sleep, it’s invaluable if we lean on science-based stress busters, to bring down our cortisol levels, which the pace, anxiety and overstimulation of modern life is forever increasing.

Effective stress busters I’ve found include “forest bathing”, aka walking among trees, as well as reframing my emotions and changing my perception of stress to weaken its hold. I regularly make use of these tactics among others if I feel my stress levels spiking during the day.

4) Know your DIY sleep habit science

Bad sleep habits, like any other, can be systematically intercepted and replaced with good ones, once you know how they take shape in the brain. Our bedroom is our sleep habit context, and making certain changes here, behavioural and content-wise, helps to break automatic sleep behaviour. Displacing negative rumination by listing the things you’re grateful for gets measurable results.

Another thing you can do is remove sleep-sabotaging cues from your bedroom (eg, work and screens), while loading in sleep-promoting cues (eg, sleep-inducing scents), to help new, desirable sleep habits stick.

5) Listen to a sleep script

Habitual thoughts set off a chain reaction that changes your emotions, body chemicals, behaviour, expectations and your sleep. A sleep script, which is a positive affirmation of how well your mind and body are preparing you for sleep, helps with this by gradually shifting your habitual sleep-related thoughts. This taps into the power of self-talk and clinical hypnosis, which are increasingly being explored by scientists, neuroscientists and medics.

Also, by listening to a sleep script during the day, you give yourself a moment to pause, creating a window for any stress to subside. I listened to myself reading a short sleep script daily, when sorting out my chronic insomnia and still rely on one as a very potent sleep habit cue.

6) Have an armchair offload

If your mind is full of worries, or all the jobs you need to do tomorrow/this week, have an armchair offload some time before bed, to let your mind think about it all and perhaps write it down. Ideally this would involve sitting in a relaxed space that isn’t your bedroom, giving you time to reflect before heading to bed, once the rush of the day, and/or TV shows are over.

Once again, it’s more impactful if you have an inkling of the biology and science going on. By giving yourself this time to think, or jot down any notes, what you’re really doing is moving worries or preoccupations from your brain’s emotional HQ, the amygdala, to your problem-solving pre-frontal cortex. What’s more, your brain will look for solutions while you dream.

7) Stare into the darkness of a pitch-black bedroom

Staring into the darkness last thing, while lying in bed, will help to increase your sleep-promoting melatonin levels, as the “hormone of sleep” is released at night when those light-sensitive photoreceptors in your eyes see that it’s dark out there.

Among other things, melatonin is also an immune system booster, so allowing your body to release as much of it as possible throughout your evening by avoiding too much bright light the closer you get to bed, is a plus in more ways than just enjoying easier, more restorative sleep.

By:

Source: Seven simple steps to sounder sleep | Life and style | The Guardian

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How Does EMDR Treat Trauma? Psychologists Explain

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Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy was developed in the 1980s to help people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Since then, use of the treatment has grown—and so has the evidence behind it. Nancy J. Smyth, Ph.D., a dean and professor at the University at Buffalo School of Social Work, uses EMDR with patients coping with trauma; here, she explains how it works.

What is EMDR, and why does it help with PTSD?

Smyth: Trauma can overwhelm our minds’ natural information processing system, leaving the memory stuck as though the experience is still happening. When people have PTSD, rather than remembering the trauma, recognizing that it was disturbing, and knowing that it’s over, they can feel as if they’re reliving it. EMDR is a type of psychotherapy in which a therapist uses bilateral dual attention stimulation (such as side-to-side eye movements) to help change the way memories are stored.

What happens during EMDR treatment?

Smyth: First, you’ll talk to your therapist about the reason you’re seeking out therapy and about events in your past that have been distressing for you. Next, you’ll do preparation, during which your therapist will see if you have the skills and tools you’ll need to cope with difficult emotions. If you don’t, they will help you learn them (possibly using other types of therapy). Then the therapist will ask questions to make sure you’re both on the same page about the target of treatment.

During treatment, the therapist will prompt you to start by focusing on a traumatic memory as you follow their fingers or an object as it moves from side to side. (Sometimes sounds on the sides of the body—the “bilateral” part of the stimulation—are used instead.) Throughout this, your therapist will ask you to notice thoughts, feelings, or sensations you’re experiencing. They won’t do a lot of talking, but will ask questions like “What comes up now?” The idea is that the bilateral stimulation activates the body’s natural adaptive information processing system in a safe environment, letting you stay in the present moment as you’re simultaneously remembering a distressing experience so your mind can reprocess that memory as a neutral one.

Is there evidence that it works?

Smyth: Yes, research indicates that compared with other types of therapy, like trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy or prolonged exposure, EMDR is just as effective for addressing PTSD or perhaps more so.

How quickly does it work?

Smyth: It varies. If you have healthy coping skills for managing stressors, the prep phase of treatment may be shorter.
If you’re seeking treatment for an isolated traumatic experience, the history-taking and stimulation parts of treatment may be shorter than if you’ve experienced a lot of trauma. Typically, the process takes at least three to 12 sessions.

How can I find a provider?

Smyth: You’ll want a licensed mental health professional who is trained in EMDR. The EMDR International Association is the major professional organization that certifies therapists; you can search the group’s directory at emdria.org.

Is this the same therapy Mel B used?

Yes, in 2018, the Spice Girls singer (whose full name is Melanie Brown) told British tabloid The Sun that she was checking herself into rehab for alcohol and sex issues and undergoing treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. Brown revealed that working on her book, Brutally Honest, surfaced “massive issues” that she suppressed following her divorce from film producer Stephan Belafonte, whom she has claimed physically and emotionally abused her for years. The singer told The Sun she was diagnosed with PTSD and had begun EMDR. “After trying many different therapies, I started a course of therapy called EMDR, which in a nutshell works on the memory to deal with some of the very painful and traumatic situations I have been through,” said Brown. “I don’t want to jinx it, but so far it’s really helping me,” she said. “If I can shine a light on the issue of pain, PTSD and the things men and women do to mask it, I will.”

As an addiction and relationship therapist, Paul Hokemeyer, Ph.D., a psychotherapist based in New York City and Telluride, Colorado, says he recommends EMDR frequently. “Its success, however, depends of the integrity of the therapeutic relationship the patient has with the clinician providing the actual EMDR treatment and me, the primary therapist making the referral,” he says. “This heightened level of care is essential because EMDR requires the patient to reprocess their original trauma.” If you have symptoms of PTSD and are not yet seeking treatment, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provides a PTSD Treatment Decision Aid to help you learn more about the various treatment options. You can use this as a jump-off point to start the conversation with your mental health provider.

By: and

Source: https://www.prevention.com

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How Vision Loss Can Affect the Brain

A growing body of evidence suggests that when older people’s brains have to work harder to see, declines in language, memory, attention and more could follow.

Medical practice tends to divide its clients — you and me — into specialties defined by body parts: ophthalmology, neurology, gastroenterology, psychiatry and the like. But in fact, the human body doesn’t function in silos. Rather, it works as an integrated whole, and what goes awry in one part of the body can affect several others.

I’ve written about the potential harm of hearing loss to brain health, as well as to the health of our bones, hearts and emotional well-being. Untreated hearing loss can increase the risk of dementia. Even those with slightly less than perfect hearing can have measurable cognitive deficits.

Now, a growing body of research is demonstrating that vision loss can affect the brain’s function, too. As with hearing, if the brain has to work extra hard to make sense of what our eyes see, it can take a toll on cognitive function.

The latest study, published in JAMA Network Open in July, followed 1,202 men and women aged 60 to 94 for an average of nearly seven years. All were part of the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging, and had vision and cognition tests every one to four years between 2003 and 2019.

The researchers found that those who scored poorly on initial tests of visual acuity — how well, for example, they could see the letters on an eye chart from a given distance — were more likely to have cognitive decline over time, including deficits in language, memory, attention and the ability to identify and locate objects in space.

Other vision issues, like with depth perception and the ability to see contrasts, also had deleterious effects on cognitive ability. The lead researcher, Bonnielin Swenor, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute, said that the new study “adds to mounting longitudinal data showing that vision impairment can lead to cognitive decline in older adults.”

Lest you think that the relationship is reversed — that cognitive decline impairs vision — another study that Dr. Swenor participated in showed that when both functions were considered, vision impairment was two times more likely to affect cognitive decline than the other way around.

This study, published in 2018 in JAMA Ophthalmology and led by Diane Zheng from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, included 2,520 community-dwelling adults ages 65 to 84, whose vision and cognitive function were periodically tested. She and her co-authors concluded that maintaining good vision as one ages may be an effective way to minimize the decline in cognitive function in older adults.

“When people have vision loss, they change the way they live their lives. They decrease their physical activity and they decrease their social activity, both of which are so important for maintaining a healthy brain,” Dr. Swenor said. “It puts them on a fast tack to cognitive decline.”

But identifying and correcting vision loss early on can help, Dr. Zheng said. She suggested regular eye checkups — at least once every two years, and more often if you have diabetes, glaucoma or other conditions that may damage vision. “Make sure you can see well through your glasses,” she urged.

There are “vision impairments that glasses won’t fix,” Dr. Swenor said, like age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma. Retinal disease began to compromise Dr. Swenor’s vision in her mid-20s. Those with problems like hers can benefit from something called low vision rehabilitation, a sort of physical therapy for the eyes that helps visually impaired people adapt to common situations and help them function better in society.

Dr. Swenor, for instance, can see objects in a high-contrast situation, like a black cat against a white fence, but has trouble seeing the difference between similar colors. She can’t pour white milk into a white mug without spilling it, for example. Her solution: Use a dark-colored mug. Finding such accommodations is an ongoing task, but it enables her to continue to function well professionally and socially.

Society, too, needs to help people with visual impairment function safely outside the home. Most things in hospitals are white, for example, which creates safety hazards for people with diminished contrast sensitivity. As a driver of 50 years, I’ve noticed that road barriers that used to be the same color as the road surface are now more often rendered in high contrast colors like orange or yellow, which undoubtedly reduces crashes even for people who can see perfectly.

“We need to create a more inclusive society that accommodates people with vision impairment,” Dr. Swenor said.

People who have trouble with depth perception can also incorporate helpful design features into the home. Placing colored strips on stair risers, varying textures of furniture and color-coding objects can all improve the ability to navigate safely. People who can no longer read books may also listen to audiobooks, podcasts or music instead, Dr. Swenor said.

The link between visual impairment and cognitive impairment “is not a doomsday message,” she added. “There are many ways to foster brain health for people with vision loss.”

Step one may be getting a Medicare extension bill through congress, which in turn might prompt private insurers to also cover vision care and rehabilitation. The Democrats’ current proposal to extend Medicare benefits to cover vision care would more than pay for itself in the long run by diminishing already-covered medical costs for cognitive and physical decline.

Case in point: The cost of a single hip replacement resulting from a vision-impaired fall would exceed the cost of many hundreds of eye exams and needed vision corrections.

Portrait of Jane E. Brody

Source: How Vision Loss Can Affect the Brain – The New York Times

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What Does Empathy Have to do With Success?

Simply put, empathy is being able to feel the experience of another person. If you’ve ever noticed a small child try to comfort a distressed playmate or even a baby closely watch a crying infant, you have seen the early signs of empathy. It appears as if the ability to sense the pain or emotions of others is part of us from the beginning.

In fact, it is. The development of empathy is a neurobiologically based competency that includes several awesome processes that lead to a well-rounded social experience. And life success is highly dependent on our social-emotional skills. Strengthening our ability to understand a variety of perspectives and share the lives of those we love and work beside is incredibly valuable to our own sense of well-being.

Two types of empathy have been identified in research. The first is the easiest to notice – emotional.  When we see someone in great pain or misery, we can immediately remember that powerful emotion welling up inside and cringe or even shed a tear. The more we recognize ourselves in that moment, the more intensely we feel that same emotion. And on the opposite end, the less we relate to the individual, the less we share in their suffering.

It’s much more difficult to see someone from a completely different walk of life and feel that twist in the gut. That’s not to say we should constantly weep or involve ourselves in everyone’s distress. If we did that, we would be absolutely spent.

In an effort to balance that healthy dose of empathy, it helps to tune into the other type of empathy – cognitive. That refers to empathic accuracy which is more of a skill. We really do have that biological component that kick starts our skill in reading others and tuning into their thoughts, feeling, and emotions.

Our mirror neurons are ready to help us imagine how others experience life around us every day from early on. Cognitive empathy skills improve by accessing our higher levels of thought. Our medial prefrontal cortex provides us with the capacity to expand those “feelers” and accurately predict and understand people even beyond our own realm of experience.

When a typical child reaches five, they develop something referred to as theory of mind. That’s when they can figure out what others are thinking and feeling and practicing that skill sets the stage for a healthy life. Teaching and reinforcing those early emotional connections are important. You probably remember being asked how it would feel if little Susie took your toys away.

Once we reach adulthood, we can let those early lessons slide and find ourselves focusing on the humdrum aspects of our busy lives. We have snippets of conversations that include highlights and low points of our rushed existence. Can we improve those empathic skills as adults?

Just like any skill, empathy can improve with effort. A well-developed empathic response to people like us as well as those we have little in common with is related to an overall positive well-being and interactional profile. Attending to our more compassionate side expands our minds and relationships with a greater range of people. Our desire to comfort, engage with, and help others increases as we take the time to deepen connections.

The more we can engage with those around us, the more likely we are to sense needs and act on them. Really being present for others means listening without formulating what we want to say. Reflecting underlying feelings can come naturally once we tune in with greater concern. That transfers to improved relationships and a heightened sense of joy from meeting needs around us. We can’t be fully available to everyone at all times, but it is possible to deeply engage with those you feel especially drawn to.

Our lives can ring full of purpose when we intentionally engage with people and support their journey in life. We come away with a beautiful memory of connecting with our fellow humans and will often gain more by doing so. The happiest individuals are those who give out of their own need.

I encourage you to seek out opportunities to flex your empathic senses. Your effort will only lead to more of the same – respect for others and yourself.

By: Sharon Blevins

Source: What Does Empathy Have to do With Success? – Sharon Blevins

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Can Fruits and Vegetables Boost Brain Health?

Flavonoids, the chemicals that give plant foods their bright colors, may help curb the frustrating forgetfulness and mild confusion of advancing age. Eating colorful fruits and vegetables may be good for your brain.

A new study, one of the largest such analyses to date, has found that flavonoids, the chemicals that give plant foods their bright colors, may help curb the frustrating forgetfulness and mild confusion that older people often complain about with advancing age, and that sometimes can precede a diagnosis of dementia. The study was observational so cannot prove cause and effect, though its large size and long duration add to growing evidence that what we eat can affect brain health.

The scientists used data from two large continuing health studies that began in the late 1970s and early 1980s, in which participants periodically completed diet and health questionnaires over more than 20 years. The analysis included 49,693 women whose average age was 76, and 51,529 men whose average age was 73.

The scientists calculated their intake of about two dozen commonly consumed kinds of flavonoids — which include beta carotene in carrots, flavone in strawberries, anthocyanin in apples, and other types in many other fruits and vegetables. The study appears in the journal Neurology.

The degree of subjective cognitive decline was scored using “yes” or “no” answers to seven questions: Do you have trouble remembering recent events, remembering things from one second to the next, remembering a short list of items, following spoken instructions, following a group conversation, or finding your way around familiar streets, and have you noticed a recent change in your ability to remember things?

The higher the intake of flavonoids, the researchers found, the fewer “yes” answers to the questions. Compared with the one-fifth of those with the lowest intake of flavonoids, the one-fifth with the highest were 19 percent less likely to report forgetfulness or confusion.

According to the senior author, Dr. Deborah Blacker, a professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, these long-term findings suggest that starting early in life with a flavonoid-rich diet may be important for brain health.

For young people and those in midlife, she said, “the message is that these things are good for you in general, and not just for cognition. Finding ways that you enjoy incorporating these things into your life is important. Think about: How do I find fresh produce and cook it in a way that’s appetizing? — that’s part of the message here.”

The study controlled for diet apart from flavonoid intake and for physical activity, alcohol consumption, age and body mass index, among other factors that may affect the risk for dementia. Importantly, it also controlled for depression, whose symptoms in older people can easily be mistaken for dementia.

The researchers looked not only at total flavonoid consumption, but also at about three dozen specific flavonoid-containing foods. Higher intakes of brussels sprouts, strawberries, winter squash and raw spinach were most highly associated with better scores on the test of subjective cognitive decline. The associations with consumption of onions, apple juice and grapes were significant, but weaker.

“These are the foods you should be eating for brain health,” said Dr. Thomas M. Holland, a researcher at the Rush Institute for Healthy Aging who was not involved in the study. “There’s some really good data here with 20 years of follow-up.” Still, he added, further follow-up would be needed to determine whether foods might affect the risk of developing dementia.

Paul F. Jacques, a senior scientist at the Jean Mayer United States Agriculture Department Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University who had no part in the research, said: “In terms of scientific advance, this adds to the literature, and it’s a really well done study. It’s a medium sized step, not a large step, going in the direction of helping us to identify the early period in which we can intervene successfully” to reduce the risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr. Blacker pointed to broader policy issues. “If we can make a world in which everyone has access to fresh fruits and vegetables,” she said, “that should help improve many health issues, and lengthen life span.”

Source: Can Fruits and Vegetables Boost Brain Health? – The New York Times

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Deeply Empathetic People Process Music Differently in Their Brains

People with who deeply feel the pain or happiness of others differ in the way their brains process music, according to one study. The researchers found that those with higher empathy process familiar music with greater involvement of the reward system of the brain, as well as in areas responsible for processing social information.

“High-empathy and low-empathy people share a lot in common when listening to music, including roughly equivalent involvement in the regions of the brain related to auditory, emotion, and sensory-motor processing,” said lead author Zachary Wallmark, an assistant professor in the SMU Meadows School of the Arts.

But there is at least one significant difference. Highly empathic people process familiar music with greater involvement of the brain’s social circuitry, such as the areas activated when feeling empathy for others. They also seem to experience a greater degree of pleasure in listening, as indicated by increased activation of the reward system.

“This may indicate that music is being perceived weakly as a kind of social entity, as an imagined or virtual human presence,” Wallmark said. Researchers in 2014 reported that about 20 percent of the population is highly empathic. These are people who are especially sensitive and respond strongly to social and emotional stimuli.

This SMU-UCLA study is the first to find evidence supporting a neural account of the music-empathy connection. Also, it is among the first to use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to explore how empathy affects the way we perceive music. The  study indicates that among higher-empathy people, at least, music is not solely a form of artistic expression.

“If music was not related to how we process the social world, then we likely would have seen no significant difference in the brain activation between high-empathy and low-empathy people,” said Wallmark, who is director of the MuSci Lab at SMU, an interdisciplinary research collective that studies—among other things—how music affects the brain.

MORE: Visit This Nightingale Thicket and You’ll Hear a Musician Singing with Them – WATCH the Duets

“This tells us that over and above appreciating music as high art, music is about humans interacting with other humans and trying to understand and communicate with each other,” he said. This may seem obvious.

“But in our culture we have a whole elaborate system of music education and music thinking that treats music as a sort of disembodied object of aesthetic contemplation,” Wallmark said.

“In contrast, the results of our study help explain how music connects us to others. This could have implications for how we understand the function of music in our world, and possibly in our evolutionary past.”

The researchers reported their findings in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, in the article “Neurophysiological effects of trait empathy in music listening.”

“The study shows on one hand the power of empathy in modulating music perception, a phenomenon that reminds us of the original roots of the concept of empathy—’feeling into’ a piece of art,” said senior author Marco Iacoboni, a neuroscientist at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.

“On the other hand,” Iacoboni said, “the study shows the power of music in triggering the same complex social processes at work in the brain that are at play during human social interactions.”

Comparison of brain scans showed distinctive differences based on empathy

Participants were 20 UCLA undergraduate students. They were each scanned in an MRI machine while listening to excerpts of music that were either familiar or unfamiliar to them, and that they either liked or disliked. The familiar music was selected by participants prior to the scan.

Afterward each person completed a standard questionnaire to assess individual differences in empathy—for example, frequently feeling sympathy for others in distress, or imagining oneself in another’s shoes.

READ: MIT Scientists Spin Some Music Out of Spider Webs – And it Sounds Otherworldly (Listen)

The researchers then did controlled comparisons to see which areas of the brain during music listening are correlated with empathy.

Analysis of the brain scans showed that high empathizers experienced more activity in the dorsal striatum, part of the brain’s reward system, when listening to familiar music, whether they liked the music or not.

The reward system is related to pleasure and other positive emotions. Malfunction of the area can lead to addictive behaviors.

Empathic people process music with involvement of social cognitive circuitry

In addition, the brain scans of higher empathy people in the study also recorded greater activation in medial and lateral areas of the prefrontal cortex that are responsible for processing the social world, and in the temporoparietal junction, which is critical to analyzing and understanding others’ behaviors and intentions.

RELATED: That Song Stuck in Your Head is Helping the Brain With Long-Term Memory

Typically, those areas of the brain are activated when people are interacting with, or thinking about, other people. Observing their correlation with empathy during music listening might indicate that music to these listeners functions as a proxy for a human encounter.

Beyond analysis of the brain scans, the researchers also looked at purely behavioral data— answers to a survey asking the listeners to rate the music afterward. Those data also indicated that higher empathy people were more passionate in their musical likes and dislikes, such as showing a stronger preference for unfamiliar music.

Precise Neurophysiological relationship between empathy and music is largely unexplored

A large body of research has focused on the cognitive neuroscience of empathy—how we understand and experience the thoughts and emotions of other people. Studies point to a number of areas of the prefrontal, insular, and cingulate cortices as being relevant to what brain scientists refer to as social cognition.

Activation of the social circuitry in the brain varies from individual to individual. People with more empathic personalities show increased activity in those areas when performing socially relevant tasks, including watching a needle penetrating skin, listening to non-verbal vocal sounds, observing emotional facial expressions, or seeing a loved one in pain.

CHECK OUT: Americans Choose the Best Road Trip Tunes Of All Time — For Your Summer Playlist

In the field of music psychology, a number of recent studies have suggested that empathy is related to intensity of emotional responses to music, listening style, and musical preferences—for example, empathic people are more likely to enjoy sad music.

“This study contributes to a growing body of evidence,” Wallmark said, “that music processing may piggyback upon cognitive mechanisms that originally evolved to facilitate social interaction.”

Source: Deeply Empathetic People Process Music Differently in Their Brains

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What Helpful Rats Can Teach Us About Humanity

Seven Ways to Fight Bias in Your Everyday Life

Six Ways to Boost Your “Habits of Helping”

The Biology of Empathy

Do Mirror Neurons Give Us Empathy?

The Compassionate Species

Does Playing Music Boost Kids’ Empathy?

Swimming Gives Your Brain a Boost But Scientists Don’t Know Yet Why It’s Better Than other Aerobic Activities

It’s no secret that aerobic exercise can help stave off some of the ravages of aging. But a growing body of research suggests that swimming might provide a unique boost to brain health.

Regular swimming has been shown to improve memory, cognitive function, immune response and mood. Swimming may also help repair damage from stress and forge new neural connections in the brain.

But scientists are still trying to unravel how and why swimming, in particular, produces these brain-enhancing effects.

As a neurobiologist trained in brain physiology, a fitness enthusiast and a mom, I spend hours at the local pool during the summer. It’s not unusual to see children gleefully splashing and swimming while their parents sunbathe at a distance – and I’ve been one of those parents observing from the poolside plenty of times. But if more adults recognized the cognitive and mental health benefits of swimming, they might be more inclined to jump in the pool alongside their kids.

Until the 1960s, scientists believed that the number of neurons and synaptic connections in the human brain were finite and that, once damaged, these brain cells could not be replaced. But that idea was debunked as researchers began to see ample evidence for the birth of neurons, or neurogenesis, in adult brains of humans and other animals.

Now, there is clear evidence that aerobic exercise can contribute to neurogenesis and play a key role in helping to reverse or repair damage to neurons and their connections in both mammals and fish.

Research shows that one of the key ways these changes occur in response to exercise is through increased levels of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor. The neural plasticity, or ability of the brain to change, that this protein stimulates has been shown to boost cognitive function, including learning and memory.

Studies in people have found a strong relationship between concentrations of brain-derived neurotrophic factor circulating in the brain and an increase in the size of the hippocampus, the brain region responsible for learning and memory. Increased levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor have also been shown to sharpen cognitive performance and to help reduce anxiety and depression. In contrast, researchers have observed mood disorders in patients with lower concentrations of brain-derived neurotrophic factor.

Aerobic exercise also promotes the release of specific chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. One of these is serotonin, which – when present at increased levels – is known to reduce depression and anxiety and improve mood.

In studies in fish, scientists have observed changes in genes responsible for increasing brain-derived neurotrophic factor levels as well as enhanced development of the dendritic spines – protrusions on the dendrites, or elongated portions of nerve cells – after eight weeks of exercise compared with controls. This complements studies in mammals where brain-derived neurotrophic factor is known to increase neuronal spine density. These changes have been shown to contribute to improved memory, mood and enhanced cognition in mammals. The greater spine density helps neurons build new connections and send more signals to other nerve cells. With the repetition of signals, connections can become stronger.

But what’s special about swimming?

Researchers don’t yet know what swimming’s secret sauce might be. But they’re getting closer to understanding it.

Swimming has long been recognized for its cardiovascular benefits. Because swimming involves all of the major muscle groups, the heart has to work hard, which increases blood flow throughout the body. This leads to the creation of new blood vessels, a process called angiogenesis. The greater blood flow can also lead to a large release of endorphins – hormones that act as a natural pain reducer throughout the body. This surge brings about the sense of euphoria that often follows exercise.

Most of the research to understand how swimming affects the brain has been done in rats. Rats are a good lab model because of their genetic and anatomic similarity to humans.

In one study in rats, swimming was shown to stimulate brain pathways that suppress inflammation in the hippocampus and inhibit apoptosis, or cell death. The study also showed that swimming can help support neuron survival and reduce the cognitive impacts of aging. Although researchers do not yet have a way to visualize apoptosis and neuronal survival in people, they do observe similar cognitive outcomes.

One of the more enticing questions is how, specifically, swimming enhances short- and long-term memory. To pinpoint how long the beneficial effects may last, researchers trained rats to swim for 60 minutes daily for five days per week. The team then tested the rats’ memory by having them swim through a radial arm water maze containing six arms, including one with a hidden platform.

Rats got six attempts to swim freely and find the hidden platform. After just seven days of swim training, researchers saw improvements in both short- and long-term memories, based on a reduction in the errors rats made each day. The researchers suggested that this boost in cognitive function could provide a basis for using swimming as a way to repair learning and memory damage caused by neuropsychiatric diseases in humans.

Although the leap from studies in rats to humans is substantial, research in people is producing similar results that suggest a clear cognitive benefit from swimming across all ages. For instance, in one study looking at the impact of swimming on mental acuity in the elderly, researchers concluded that swimmers had improved mental speed and attention compared with nonswimmers. However, this study is limited in its research design, since participants were not randomized and thus those who were swimmers prior to the study may have had an unfair edge.

Another study compared cognition between land-based athletes and swimmers in the young adult age range. While water immersion itself did not make a difference, the researchers found that 20 minutes of moderate-intensity breaststroke swimming improved cognitive function in both groups.

Kids get a boost from swimming too

The brain-enhancing benefits from swimming appear to also boost learning in children.

Another research group recently looked at the link between physical activity and how children learn new vocabulary words. Researchers taught children age 6-12 the names of unfamiliar objects. Then they tested their accuracy at recognizing those words after doing three activities: coloring (resting activity), swimming (aerobic activity) and a CrossFit-like exercise (anaerobic activity) for three minutes.

They found that children’s accuracy was much higher for words learned following swimming compared with coloring and CrossFit, which resulted in the same level of recall. This shows a clear cognitive benefit from swimming versus anaerobic exercise, though the study does not compare swimming with other aerobic exercises. These findings imply that swimming for even short periods of time is highly beneficial to young, developing brains.

The details of the time or laps required, the style of swim and what cognitive adaptations and pathways are activated by swimming are still being worked out. But neuroscientists are getting much closer to putting all the clues together.

For centuries, people have been in search of a fountain of youth. Swimming just might be the closest we can get.

By:

Source: Swimming gives your brain a boost – but scientists don’t know yet why it’s better than other aerobic activities

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Train Your Brain to Remember Anything You Learn With This Simple, 20-Minute Habit

Not too long ago, a colleague and I were lamenting the process of growing older and the inevitable increasing difficulty of remembering things we want to remember. That becomes particularly annoying when you attend a conference or a learning seminar and find yourself forgetting the entire session just days later.

But then my colleague told me about the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve, a 100-year-old formula developed by German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus, who pioneered the experimental study of memory. The psychologist’s work has resurfaced and has been making its way around college campuses as a tool to help students remember lecture material. For example, the University of Waterloo explains the curve and how to use it on the Campus Wellness website.

I teach at Indiana University and a student mentioned it to me in class as a study aid he uses. Intrigued, I tried it out too–more on that in a moment. The Forgetting Curve describes how we retain or lose information that we take in, using a one-hour lecture as the basis of the model. The curve is at its highest point (the most information retained) right after the one-hour lecture. One day after the lecture, if you’ve done nothing with the material, you’ll have lost between 50 and 80 percent of it from your memory.

By day seven, that erodes to about 10 percent retained, and by day 30, the information is virtually gone (only 2-3 percent retained). After this, without any intervention, you’ll likely need to relearn the material from scratch. Sounds about right from my experience. But here comes the amazing part–how easily you can train your brain to reverse the curve.


With just 20 minutes of work, you’ll retain almost all of what you learned.

This is possible through the practice of what’s called spaced intervals, where you revisit and reprocess the same material, but in a very specific pattern. Doing so means it takes you less and less time to retrieve the information from your long-term memory when you need it. Here’s where the 20 minutes and very specifically spaced intervals come in.

Ebbinghaus’s formula calls for you to spend 10 minutes reviewing the material within 24 hours of having received it (that will raise the curve back up to almost 100 percent retained again). Seven days later, spend five minutes to “reactivate” the same material and raise the curve up again. By day 30, your brain needs only two to four minutes to completely “reactivate” the same material, again raising the curve back up.

Thus, a total of 20 minutes invested in review at specific intervals and, voila, a month later you have fantastic retention of that interesting seminar. After that, monthly brush-ups of just a few minutes will help you keep the material fresh.


Here’s what happened when I tried it.

I put the specific formula to the test. I keynoted at a conference and was also able to take in two other one-hour keynotes at the conference. For one of the keynotes, I took no notes, and sure enough, just shy of a month later I can barely remember any of it.

For the second keynote, I took copious notes and followed the spaced interval formula. A month later, by golly, I remember virtually all of the material. And in case if you’re wondering, both talks were equally interesting to me–the difference was the reversal of Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve.

So the bottom line here is if you want to remember what you learned from an interesting seminar or session, don’t take a “cram for the exam” approach when you want to use the info. That might have worked in college (although Waterloo University specifically advises against cramming, encouraging students to follow the aforementioned approach). Instead, invest the 20 minutes (in spaced-out intervals), so that a month later it’s all still there in the old noggin. Now that approach is really using your head.

Science has proven that reading can enhance your cognitive function, develop your language skills, and increase your attention span. Plus, not only does the act of reading train your brain for success, but you’ll also learn new things! The founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, said, “Reading is still the main way that I both learn new things and test my understanding.”

By: Scott Mautz

Source: Pocket

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Critics:

Dr. John N. Morris is the director of social and health policy research at the Harvard-affiliated Institute for Aging Research. He believes there are three main guidelines you should follow when training your mind:

  1. Do Something Challenging: Whatever you do to train your brain, it should be challenging and take you beyond your comfort zone.
  2. Choose Complex Activities: Good brain training exercises should require you to practice complex thought processes, such as creative thinking and problem-solving.
  3. Practice Consistently: You know the saying: practice makes perfect! Dr. Morris says, “You can’t improve memory if you don’t work at it. The more time you devote to engaging your brain, the more it benefits.”
  4. If you’re looking for reading material, check out our guides covering 40 must-read books and the best books for entrepreneurs.
  5. Practice self-awareness. Whenever you feel low, check-in with yourself and try to identify the negative thought-loop at play. Perhaps you’re thinking something like, “who cares,” “I’ll never get this right,” “this won’t work,” or “what’s the point?” 
  6. Science has shown that mindfulness meditation helps engage new neural pathways in the brain. These pathways can improve self-observational skills and mental flexibility – two attributes that are crucial for success. What’s more, another study found that “brief, daily meditation enhances attention, memory, mood, and emotional regulation in non-experienced meditators.”
  7. Brain Age Concentration Training is a brain training and mental fitness system for the Nintendo 3DS system.
  8. Queendom has thousands of personality tests and surveys. It also has an extensive collection of “brain tools”—including logic, verbal, spatial, and math puzzles; trivia quizzes; and aptitude tests
  9. Claiming to have the world’s largest collection of brain teasers, Braingle’s free website provides more than 15,000 puzzles, games, and other brain teasers as well as an online community of enthusiasts.