How Stress Hits Women’s Brains Harder and Why Men Don’t Always Get It

If you’ve been stressed out and ignoring it—isn’t everyone stressed right now?— it could be time to do something about it. That’s because even though you may be basically healthy, tension is doing its stealthy damage. The latest evidence? Researchers have linked high levels of the stress hormone cortisol to brain shrinkage and impaired memory in healthy middle-aged adults. And get this: The effect was more pronounced in women than in men.

This research underscores an important point. Though stress affects your whole body, ground zero is your brain. It’s not just the effects of cortisol—it’s that teeth-grinders like traffic jams, personal snubs, and financial worries are perceived and interpreted by your gray matter. Fortunately, research focused on the brain is pointing to new, more effective ways to reduce your tension.

But first, let’s drill down and see how and why your brain’s natural reactions make you more vulnerable to the zings and arrows of tension.

How Stress Affects Your Brain

Aspects of the brain’s design that served us well thousands of years ago now make us susceptible to negative emotions and mental fatigue, both of which ratchet up our stress, says Amit Sood, M.D., professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic and founder of the Mayo Clinic Resilience Program. Although our brains have evolved over time, “the speed of life today is the main stressor—it’s much faster than our brain’s ability to adapt,” he says.

And that means we often end up with too little time and too few resources to address what life throws at us each day, which adds to a diminishing sense of control over our lives. Perceived lack of control has been shown to be a huge source of stress.

In his book Mindfulness Redesigned for the Twenty-First Century, Dr. Sood describes a number of traps that frequently ensnare our brains. Three of the most challenging:

Focus Problems

When giant predators roamed Earth, a scanning, outward-
directed focus served us well—but today that focus is directed inward. Now, 80 percent of the time, our minds are wandering, stuck in an unfocused state even if we’re not aware of it.

Studies have found that this state makes us less happy, and the unhappier we are, the more our attention wanders and our thoughts pile up. It’s like having a huge set of open files on your computer, Dr. Sood says, only they’re in your brain, distracting you and demanding attention. Our tech dependence, a source of constant distraction, adds to our inability to focus.

Fear

Our survival depends on the ability of the brain (mostly the amygdala) to detect physical and emotional threats. Moments or events that elicit fear raise our heart rate, which the brain stores as information that might protect us from future danger. This so-called negativity bias makes us prone to paying more attention to bad news than to good. We readily remember bad things that happen to us because our brains also release hormones that strengthen those specific memories, and this further embeds them in our minds. The result? More stress.

Fatigue

While a number of body organs (e.g., the heart and the kidneys) can keep going like the Energizer bunny, the brain is not one of them. After working hard, it needs rest. The more boring and intense an activity is, the faster your brain will grow tired—and that can happen in as little as four minutes or as much as an hour or two.

You can tell when your brain is fatigued (it has to signal this indirectly, since it has no pain receptors) because your eyes feel tired and stuff happens—you start making errors, become inefficient, lose your willpower, or see a dip in your mood. Brain fatigue leads to stress, and stress leads to fatigue, in a continuous closed loop.

Why Stress Hits Women Harder Than Men

Stress almost seems to have it out for women. In an annual survey by the American Psychological Association, women have repeatedly reported higher levels of tension than men and sometimes even more stress-related physical and emotional symptoms, including headache, upset stomach, fatigue, irritability, and sadness.

What’s more, midlife women have been found to experience more stressful events than both men and women of any other age, reports an ongoing study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Institute on Aging. Stress overload may even lead to chronic disease: Long-term pressures at home and work plus stress from traumatic events almost doubles the risk of type 2 diabetes in older women, according to a recent study at the University of California, San Francisco. Women are also more prone to stress-induced mental health problems such as depression and anxiety disorders.

Here’s the why of it: A triple whammy makes women uniquely vulnerable to strain and pressure, says Dr. Sood. First, women’s brains make them more sensitive than men to stressors and a perceived lack of control. The limbic areas of women’s brains, which help control emotions and memories, are highly active, making them remember hurts and slights more readily. Stewing over these and having difficulty letting them go strengthens the brain circuits of those negative emotions—another example of the negativity bias at work—which also increases women’s stress.

In addition, the multiple demands of parenting and being in charge of the well-being of the household mean that women’s focus tends to be more diffuse. And an unfocused brain, as noted earlier, is another source of stress. A mom’s protective radar is always up for her kids too, which makes her sense a threat more quickly, and she’s more likely than her husband to get stuck and dwell on it, says Dr. Sood.

What Men Don’t Always Get

The differences in how men and women experience tension don’t play out in isolation, of course. They affect how husbands and wives, friends, and work colleagues experience and interpret the world—and yes, often the result is conflict. If you’re a woman, think of a time you had an upsetting disagreement with your boss.

When you vented to your husband about it—how your boss looked at you, what she said, how you responded, how you felt, what she said next—maybe you saw his eyes glaze over, and maybe he said, “It’s over now; why don’t you just let it go and talk to her tomorrow?” Which made you feel hurt, angry, and dismissed—and depending on which feeling was uppermost, you either escalated the conversation into an argument or retreated to mull it over.

New studies are looking at how the genders process stress in the moment and coming up with reasons for the disconnect. Recently, using fMRI to measure brain activity, researchers at the Yale University School of Medicine found that while imagining a personalized, highly stressful event, the action- and planning-oriented parts of men’s brains were actively engaged, while women’s brains were busy visualizing and also cognitively and emotionally processing the experience.

In the second part of the study, when men and women were experiencing intense anxiety, brain regions that were active in women were inactive in men. This suggests that women tend to get caught up in processing their stress, turning it over and over in their minds and reimagining it, says Rajita Sinha, Ph.D., director of the Yale Interdisciplinary Stress Center.

“Women cope by talking about being anxious and describing their emotions and stressors,” she says. This could put them at risk for ruminating about the issues. Men seem not to access that cognitive-processing part of their brains and “are more likely to quickly think about doing something, taking an action, as opposed to expressing their distress verbally. It’s just the difference in the way we’re wired.”

That might explain why women tend to provide emotional support to someone who is stressed, whereas men might offer advice or something tangible like money or physical help. Ironically, what both genders want is emotional support when they’re tense, says Jennifer Priem, Ph.D., associate professor of communication at Wake Forest University. So men and women who are stressed out prefer to get support from women.

Bridging the Gender Stress Gap

Priem has found that problems arise between couples when each person has a different perception of what’s stressful. The result: When people are really tense, their partners aren’t necessarily motivated to offer support if they think, If I were in this situation, I wouldn’t consider it that big a deal. So how do you get the response you want when you need it?

Ask your partner to just listen

“That’s number one—listening to and validating the other person’s feelings,” says Sinha. “So even just saying ‘You’re really frustrated by this’ in a nonjudgmental way is validating and will ease someone’s anxiety.”

Explain that you feel defensive when he dismisses your experience

“When a partner downplays the significance of something, the person who’s stressed may hold on to it more or feel they have to convince the other person it’s true and that they have a right to feel that way,” says Priem. “You might say, ‘I’m really upset right now, and I feel frustrated when it seems you’re making light of my feelings. It would make me feel better if you’d be more responsive to the fact that I’m upset, even if you don’t understand it.’”

Treat yourself with compassion

“Women tend to be more self-critical about not being able to control their emotions,” says Sinha. So they may see a partner’s comment as judgmental even when he didn’t mean it that way. If that’s the case, forgive yourself and let it go—and hug it out, which can reduce tension and boost positive feelings.

Learning to negotiate conflicts is a big step in easing pressures. Also important: figuring out strategies to deal with the distractions, fears, and fatigue your brain naturally accumulates (see below for four smart ones). These can help you take stress in stride, with a terrific payoff: better health and greater happiness, plus a more resilient brain.

How to Control Stress and Calm Your Brain

To keep stress in check, you should of course be eating healthfully, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep to improve your mood, emotions, and cognition. But those are just the basics—and they’re not always easy to accomplish, especially when life is throwing lots of tension your way. Dr. Sood has advice that can up your stress-reducing game, based on the successful resilience program he runs at the Mayo Clinic. Here, four of his brain-focused, research-based strategies that work in just minutes a day.

Give your brain some RUM

That stands for Rest, Uplifting emotions, and Motivation. You need all three to help energize your brain and head off fatigue. So when you’re engaged in a task, take three to five minutes every couple of hours (or sooner, if you start getting fidgety) and pause for RUM.

How-to: Get up from your computer, or stop what you’re doing, and look at photos of your kids or of your favorite vacation spot, read inspiring quotes, text or call a friend, or watch a happy short video. Choose an activity that makes you feel good and is motivating.

Begin a morning gratitude practice

Take control of your brain before it gets hijacked by the day’s concerns and greet the morning in a happier, more connected frame of mind. (Check out these simple ways to practice gratitude.)

How-to: When you first wake up, before you get out of bed, spend a few minutes thinking of some people who care about you and silently send them your gratitude. Another reason it’s a good idea: A recent study found that anticipating a stressful day when you first wake up affects your working memory later that day—even if nothing stressful actually happens. (Working memory is what helps you learn things and retain them even when you’re distracted.)

Be mindfully present

Meditation is a great stress reliever, but not everyone can sit still, looking inward, for 20-plus minutes. Good news for the fidgety: Research has shown that focusing your attention outward engages the same brain network, so you can get similar stress-easing benefits by consciously giving the world your attention.

How-to: Challenge yourself to be curious and notice details—the color of the barista’s eyes at the coffee shop, the pattern of your boss’s necktie, which flowers are blooming in your neighborhood. Curiosity feeds the brain’s reward network, which makes you feel good; it also augments memory and learning.

Focus on kindness

Even the nicest among us are quick to judge others, especially if they’re different from us (thank the amygdala, a region of the brain that interprets difference as a threat).

How-to: To calm the amygdala, focus on two things when you’re feeling judgy about someone: that every person is special, and that everyone has struggles. Start a practice of sending silent good wishes to people you pass on the street or in the halls at work. The benefits for you: Your oxy­tocin, the hormone of connectedness, rises; your heart rate slows; and you feel more benevolent. All of which makes you healthier and happier.

By: Jenny Cook

Source: How Stress Hits Women’s Brains Harder—and Why Men Don’t Always Get It

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Wave Of High-Profile Tech Layoffs Raises Fear Of Recessions–And Stalled Careers–Past

If you’ve been on LinkedIn recently, you’ve likely seen posts about someone being laid off or having a dream job offer rescinded, often by a high-profile, once hot startup. According to the tracker Layoffs.fyi, so far this year, 349 startups have laid off more than 53,000 employees.

Startups looking at the prospect of falling venture capital valuations are scrambling to conserve the cash they have. Just yesterday, OpenSea, the early leader in the once bubbly non-fungible token (NFT) market, cut 20% of its workforce. Earlier this month, virtual office startup Gather let a third of its 90 employees go. Last month, high-flying ID verification unicorn Socure laid off 13% of its employees.

And it’s not just startups. Coinbase, the nation’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, laid off 1,100 employees and rescinded some job offers. Elon Musk’s Tesla is cutting 3.5% of its workforce. Meta has plans to slash hiring of engineers this year by at least 30%.

While most of the layoff news has come from tech companies, the mortgage industry, too, has been slashing away as higher interest rates crush mortgage volume. This week loanDepot disclosed plans to eliminate thousands of jobs. Real estate companies RedFin and Compass have cut about 450 jobs each, and PIMCO-backed First Guaranty Mortgage Corporation let go of more than 75% of its workforce in June, before filing for a chapter 11 bankruptcy a week later.

Despite such high-profile layoffs, unemployment remained at a low 3.6% in June as the economy added 372,000 jobs. Moreover, interviews with recent job–or job offer–losers, as well as hiring managers, suggest that so far at least, most of those cut are landing on their feet with new offers.

Yet the sense of dread is unmistakable, with more consumers now pessimistic than optimistic about the short-term labor market, according to the Conference Board. And the layoffs could just be getting started: Oracle recently considered letting go of thousands of employees as early as August.

“In the tech industry, this is dejà vu all over again,” observes economist Anthony Carnevale, who has been involved with employment and education policy for four decades and is now director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. “This is pretty much precisely what happened in the late 1970s, early 80s, when technology was not penetrating American industry rapidly enough and [former Fed Chair] Paul Volcker put on the brakes. We get high interest rates, high unemployment rates, and basically that shuts down technology investment and secondly, it chokes the industry.”

Given the current low unemployment rates, Carnevale adds, it’s still a question whether the slowdown will ultimately “create dislocation of substantial sorts in tech or any other industry.” His answer? “Yes and no,” he says. “The yes is yes, specific technology-based industries might be affected, interest rates being the culprit here. But what we’re seeing in the churn is that people who are seeking jobs are getting jobs. And we haven’t come to the point yet where it’s a classic recession…in which people don’t get jobs.” He noted that in general, wages are increasing — though those increases are generally offset by inflation.

“So what does that mean going forward? It may mean a slowdown in startups and in the expansion of particular technology companies, in even the overall industry if it’s strong enough, but so far, it has not meant that people can’t find jobs,” Carnevale said. “And it does not reflect on the possibilities for college graduates, at least so far, we don’t really see that.”

Indeed, a recent survey of almost 200 employers by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that almost 90% of respondents will be hiring new graduates for both full-time and intern/co-op positions — up from last spring’s figure of 83%.

But while early-career recruiting is still strong, it can’t erase the memory of what happened in the wake of the Great Recession, with its large jobs loss and unusually slow recovery. Some new grads caught in the undertow experienced what economists call “permanent scarring”—meaning poor economic conditions when they graduated from college contributed to a long-term reduction in their employment prospects.

Again, that’s the scary prospect, but not, as of now, the reality.

Aidan Deery, associate director at the global talent partner X4 Technology, reports that among tech companies, “largely, everyone is still hiring” and “the demand for experienced professionals is at an all-time high.” He adds that those laid off from crypto companies like Coinbase are generally “very employable” and “highly sought after in the finance and technology world.”

Danny, 23, whose last name and former employer are not being included due to a nondisclosure agreement he signed, was let go in June from his engineering job at a sales productivity company. “I know I’ll be able to find a job,” he said, estimating that of the roughly 30 jobs he applied to since being laid off, 8-10 got back to him. “Three of them actually were like, ‘Yeah, just kidding, we’re not hiring for this role.’” Some of the other companies he started interviewing with stopped the process because of hiring freezes. However, Danny has already turned down one offer for reasons including the pay, and says he is still being picky in his job search.

Curio Health, a startup working to improve remote patient care, is among the companies still hiring. CEO Yuchen Wang worries that layoffs among startups may encourage job seekers to look to more established companies for future opportunities, but insists startups will retain their appeal because, “you take a broader responsibility, and you can grow faster and learn more.”

Wang has seen both sides of this job-cutting drama. He himself lost his job in 2001, shortly after earning a Masters in computer science at Georgia State, and in a later role, had to lay off employees himself because a contract did not pan out as well as expected. “These things kind of happen, even if you do everything 100% perfectly,’’ he says. “Treat it as a new start — there are more opportunities ahead than the one you just lost.”

Still, for some job-losers, the new start carries a unique challenge–one imposed by the U.S.’ dysfunctional system for retaining foreign tech talent. Twenty-seven-year-old software developer Amitesh Singh Baghel was laid off in late June while on STEM OPT, a visa program allowing graduate international students to gain work experience in the U.S. in their field. The catch: he lost his job as a software engineer at a data security startup before he completed his visa extension — about two weeks before his employment authorization document was set to expire.

He had been offered other jobs while working there but turned them down out of “goodwill” and because his manager, who also was let go, provided good mentorship. “I had other offers coming, but I chose to stay ignoring the red flags,” such as a manager being fired and not replaced, he said.

“I tried to negotiate. I was like, ‘Instead of giving me the severance pay, keep me on the payroll so that I can finish with the extension process and I’ll still work,’” he said. “I offered them a solution…but they didn’t want to do the extra work, which is understandable. I mean, it’s not their problem.”

And then there’s the experience of Jenna Radwan, 22, who recently earned her BS in Entrepreneurship & Innovation at the University of San Francisco. She originally accepted a job at San Francisco-based startup Hirect, which helps other tech startups recruit and hire. When she heard Hirect would pay her a base salary of $80,000 plus uncapped commission that could push her total compensation to a multiple of that, she cut short other interviews to accept the offer, “My ears perked up, my eyes got big, and I didn’t even see any of the other companies as even close competition,” she said.

But two weeks before her start date, Radwan got thrown a curveball. Her offer had been rescinded “due solely to the current unforeseen circumstances & drastic turn in the market.” “Due to the very volatile market conditions, the business & leadership team has decided to halt/freeze all forms of external hiring at this time, and we have entered an immediate hiring freeze and a round of layoffs,” reads an email from a recruiter that Radwan shared on LinkedIn. (A spokesman for Hirect confirmed to the Wall Street Journal that it had rescinded two job offers due to the slump in tech hiring.)

Radwan was “in shock,” but quickly tapped into her network and reached out to recruiters she’d previously been in the process of interviewing with, and ultimately landed a job as a recruiter at Insight Global. “It was a wild ride but I know that I’m exactly where I am meant to be,” Radwan said, adding that she hadn’t really considered her values in terms of a career before then. “I just thought of money, but I realized that you can have money plus other things, like good company culture, like good job security, like good benefits, like good PTO,” she said.

Her advice for recent grads entering the job market amid the growing fear of offers being rescinded? Do your research, ask questions like how the company reacted to COVID in 2020 (i.e. was it quick to lay off workers?), talk to current employees and take time to weigh all your offers.

If you’re looking for an indication of the current gestalt, it may come from Radwan’s new employer. Insight Global is still hiring. But in June, it surveyed 1,000 workers and found 23% were “extremely worried” about losing their job in the next recession. Or, as Insight put it, the “Great Resignation” is giving way to the “Great Apprehension.”

Katherine Huggins

Source: Wave Of High-Profile Tech Layoffs Raises Fear Of Recessions–And Stalled Careers–Past

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Why a Bear Market Is an Investor’s Best Friend

In the USA, both the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq are in bear market territory. A bear market is often taken to mean a 20% fall. That’s either from a recent peak, or over a set period of time.But generally, investors tend to think of any sustained upwards run as a bull market. And any significant downwards spell is a bear market. Typically, the average bull market has lasted around five years. The average bear, meanwhile, continues for a little more than a year.

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Might long-term investors be better of if that was the other way round, with more falls than rises? Wouldn’t we have more opportunities to buy cheap shares? To answer that, I can’t think of anything better than looking at how the billionaire boss of Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett, deals with stock market falls.

In the few weeks after the Covid-19 pandemic struck, the S&P 500 fell 30%. The recovery was surprisingly fast, with the index regaining its ground by August. The FTSE 100 took quite a bit longer, mind. What happened the next year, in 2021? The S&P 500 gained 28.7%, while Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway slightly bettered it with 29.6%. Buying shares while they were depressed by the pandemic was clearly a good plan.

Major bear market
But that’s nothing compared to the carnage resulting from the the financial crash, which kicked off in 2007. Between a high point in October that year, and the beginning of March 2009, the S&P 500 crashed by a whopping 56%.

Berkshire Hathaway suffered too, albeit with a softer fall of 32%. Now what do we see if we wind forward a decade? From the depths of the banking crash in 2009, the S&P 500 had gained 280% by the same point in 2019. Buffett’s shareholders did a bit better on 290%, and they’d started from a significantly lower initial fall.

Just like the Covid market slump, the financial crash provided investors with a great time to buy. And those who were panicking and selling while shares were down? Well, we can see what they missed.

Fear and greed

Buffett is famed for buying heavily when he sees great companies unfairly marked down. In his 1986 letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders, he explained how he avoids trying to time the market bottoms. Instead, he said: “Our goal is more modest: we simply attempt to be fearful when others are greedy and to be greedy only when others are fearful.

That approach to bear markets has served Buffett, and his shareholders, well.From Buffett taking control of Berkshire Hathaway in 1965 up to the end of 2021, the S&P 500 managed a total return (including dividends) of more than 30,000%. Berkshire, meanwhile, soared by a total of 3.6 million percent!

We’re not all going to be as good as Buffett. But even investors who make regular purchases in an index tracker will benefit from bear markets over the long term. The simple truth is that when markets are down, we can buy more shares for the same money.

The hotshot analysts at The Motley Fool UK’s flagship share-tipping service Share Advisor have just unveiled what they think could be the six best buys for investors right now. And while timing isn’t everything, the average return of their previous stock picks shows that it could pay to get in early on their best ideas – particularly in this current climate! What’s more, all six ‘Best Buys Now’ are available to access right now, in just a few clicks.

by Alan Oscroft

Source: Why a bear market is an investor’s best friend – The Motley Fool UK

Critics by: principal.com

If you have reviewed these basics and you still have money at the end of the month, here’s a quick look at further investment options to consider.

1. Increase your deferral to your 401(k) or other workplace retirement plan.

The maximum amount you can contribute each year through elective salary deferrals is $19,500.1 And if you’re 50 or older, you can also make a “catch up” contribution of up to $6,500.2

“Bumping up your deferral, even by 1 or 2%, may not seem like much. But with the power of compounding earnings, it can make a big difference over 20 or 30 years,” says Heather Winston, CFP®, assistant director of financial advice and planning for Principal®. Also, weigh the difference between saving in a tax-deferred account vs. a taxable one.

Winston says if your account has taken a dip, increasing your contributions may help you reach your retirement goal sooner. If the markets have dropped, the money you defer to your retirement plan may go further by allowing you to buy more shares.

To get started: If you have a retirement account from your employer with services by Principal, you can log in to increase your contribution. First time logging in? Here’s how you create an account.

2. Add to your traditional or Roth Individual Retirement Account (IRA).

Good news: You have until July 15, 2020, to make a 2019 contribution to an IRA, thanks to recent legislation. (And you can always make a 2020 contribution now, too.)

The maximum annual contribution to a traditional IRA is $6,000. If you’re 50 or older, the IRA catch-up contribution limit is $1,000. (Read the basics of IRAs.)

Depending how much money you make and if you’re not covered by a retirement plan at work, you may be able to deduct all or a portion of your traditional IRA contributions from your taxes (details are on the IRS website). The more you save today, the more you’ll likely have years down the road.

With a Roth IRA, you can contribute up to $6,000 per year using after-tax money. If you’re 50 or older, you can add an extra $1,000 per year. To contribute the full amount to a Roth IRA, you need to make less than:

  • $124,000 if you’re single or file as head of household.
  • $196,000 if you’re married filing jointly.

You can withdraw your annual Roth IRA contributions without taxes or penalties at any time. If you have earnings, you can withdraw them tax-free in retirement.3

To get started: Review our IRA solutions to see what may be best for you.

Tip: Monitor and rebalance. If you’re investing in the market through a retirement plan, IRA, stocks, or mutual funds, consider putting this on your to-do list annually: Rebalance your portfolio (PDF) and make sure you have a diverse mix of investment options within various asset classes. A financial professional can help you learn how to do that.

3. Open a brokerage account, if you don’t already have one.

If you’ve never invested in stocks and mutual funds outside of your workplace retirement plan or IRAs, you could start by opening a brokerage account. (Not sure if you’re ready? Read “Four signs you’re ready to start investing.”)

You’ll need to know your risk tolerance. A risk profile (PDF) places you on a scale somewhere between conservative (more averse to risk) and aggressive (more tolerant of risk). Your profile can help you select investments and build a portfolio at a level of risk you’re comfortable with, while continuing to work toward your goals.

This year is a good test of investors’ tolerance for risk. If you find yourself worrying about whether your portfolio is gaining or losing day-to-day, or certainly if you’re losing sleep, you may need to adjust your risk profile. When your risk tolerance matches your investment portfolio, volatile times can be less concerning for you.

To get started: Connect with a financial professional to discuss your options.

Asset classes you might consider

If you invest, consider diversifying—spreading your money across multiple types of investments—to help reduce the risk of losing money.

  • Large companies and technology stocks will likely continue to perform well.
  • Look at small companies and sectors like energy, materials, consumer discretionary (non-essential goods and services), and financials to improve.
  • Stocks in emerging countries may perform better than those in developed countries outside the United States.
  • For bonds, go for higher yields on high quality corporate and municipal bonds at short-intermediate maturities.
4. Set aside money in a 529 savings plan for a child or grandchild.

A 529 savings plan allows you to invest your money to be used for qualified education expenses such as college, apprenticeship programs, and K-12. This includes tuition, room and board, mandatory fees, and textbooks. You designate how and where it’s spent.

Before opening an account, get a full understanding of the plan, including its tax benefits, fees, expenses, and investment options. You can open a 529 plan offered by any state, so shop around for the one that best suits your needs.

To get started: If you’re interested in learning about our 529 plan, visit scholarsedge529.com.

5. Contribute more to a Health Savings Account (HSA).

If you’re enrolled in a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP), you can add a total of $3,550 a year for single coverage or a max of $7,100 for family coverage in 2020. If you’re over age 55 but under 65, you can also make “catch-up” contributions to your HSA, to the tune of $1,000 more per year.

An HSA offers a triple advantage on federal income taxes: Money put in isn’t taxed, it grows tax-free, and you’re not taxed when you take money out for medical expenses. Plus you decide how the funds are invested, and how you’ll use the money for health care expenses.

To get started: Talk to your employer’s human resources department about how to contribute more to an HSA associated with your HDHP.

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

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

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

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

1. Visualize positive outcomes

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

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

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

2. Turn anxiety into progress

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

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

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

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

3. Try something new

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

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

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

4. Reach out

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

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

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

5. Practice positive self-tweeting

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

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

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

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

6. Immerse yourself in nature

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

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

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

 

By: Wendy Suzuki, Contributor

 

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

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

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What Causes Weird Phobias & What Can We Do About Them

I’m ashamed to say that when my husband told me he was terrified of cooked eggs, I mocked him and made jokes, from pretending that there was an egg in something he had just bitten into and waving my egg-based dishes under his nose.

I thought that his reactions of horror were a little exaggerated. There are plenty of foods I don’t like but I’m certainly not terrified at the thought of a kidney bean. It turns out that my reaction was wrong – and I still feel pangs of guilt for it. The fact is, my husband has a phobia. He doesn’t just hate eggs, they cause him trauma. He probably won’t read this as even the word egg is vile to him.

He won’t go to cafes due to the risk that a pan his breakfast has been cooked on had previously contained an egg. He has been physically sick at the smell of cooking eggs. If food he had ordered contained even a sliver of egg, he would not touch the entire dish, even parts that weren’t touching it.

Many people will be able to relate to his experience – or mine. It’s possible to have a phobia of anything, despite many believing only the obviously scary things – think spiders, flying, snakes – constitute a real, genuine fear. My sister has a fear of patterns; particularly dotted but any kind of repetitive pattern. Anything with hectic shapes, lines, dots or colours whether a piece of art, wallpaper or packaging terrifies her.

Other ‘weird’ phobias can include arachibutyrophobia, the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth. Octophobia is the fear of the number eight and hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia is, ironically, the fear of long words. Celebrity phobias include Billy Bob Thornton’s ‘crippling’ fear of antique furniture, Kylie Minogue’s phobia of clothes hangers, Matthew McConaughey’s fear of revolving doors, and Khloe Kardashian’s horror at belly buttons.

My husband was satisfied at the feeling of vindication when he found out the name of his own phobia, which is ovophobia. Where do these phobias originate? Are they just innate? Or are they linked to childhood experiences that may have been forgotten, but which triggered a connection to the item of fear?

When does a fear become a phobia?

Fear is a normal part of human life. But it becomes a phobia when this fear is overwhelming and debilitating. Someone with a phobia will have an extreme or unrealistic sense of danger about a particular situation, sensation, animal, or object. It might not make sense to other people, because the focus of the phobia isn’t obviously dangerous.

Phobias come under the umbrella of anxiety disorders, and can cause physical symptoms such as:

  • unsteadiness, dizziness and lightheadedness
  • nausea
  • sweating
  • increased heart rate or palpitations
  • shortness of breath
  • trembling or shaking
  • an upset stomach

My husband recently recalled, after years of trying to figure his egg fear out, that he was always terrified of visiting a relative’s house as a toddler. This relative had a booming voice, slammed his fist on the table without warning and threatened to lock him in the coal shed, as well as saying that there was a monster living inside the sink.

His mum recalls how she could feel both him and his brother physically sweating with fear while on her knee and the one consistent thing that was in that kitchen was fried eggs being cooked. It’s clear that he associates that smell of eggs and the sight of them with frightening times as a child. It makes perfect sense why that phobia has manifested itself into something like this.

According to Clinical Partners, who specialize in the treatment of phobias, around 5% of children and 16% of teenagers in the UK suffer from a phobia, with most phobias developing before the age of 10.

Children and teenagers with phobias often feel ashamed about their fears and keep them secret from their friends in case they are teased. This will be the same for adults in a workplace or social setting. I’m frightened of patterns, bananas, beards or the colour yellow is hardly a comfortable ice breaker.

And yet, working alongside a new colleague with a beard or all memos coming on yellow paper would be triggering for those suffering with said phobias; making for a very uncomfortable environment both for the sufferer and the colleagues who have no idea they’re causing alarm.

Clinical Partners explains: ‘Phobias arise for different reasons but a bad experience in early years can trigger a pattern of thoughts that result in a powerful fear of a situation – for instance if your child falls ill after having an injection, they may develop an ongoing fear to injections, which can get worse over time.

‘Children may also “learn” to have a phobia – for instance if a close family member is afraid of spiders and the child witnesses them screaming when they see one, they may also develop that fear.’ There are a lot of environmental factors at play here but for the less common phobias, we have to dig deeper to try and work out the source.

There is no guarantee that discovering that source will erase your phobia but if the phobia is seriously impacting your life to the point where you can’t work, go out, become ill and even fear dying, it’s a valid starting point to understand the root of it.

CBT and talking therapies are available for this. Start by talking to your GP; phobias are a recognized condition and for many, a gradual but very carefully carried out exposure to the item of fear by a professional can be an important first step.

For my husband, his knowledge of what caused his phobia is enough. He isn’t desperate to get over his fear of eggs and doesn’t want to spend weeks and months of treatment just to potentially be ok with an egg yolk dribbling onto his bacon.

But for others, treatment is vital in order to get to a place where the phobia is not ruling their life. What can the rest of us do? Showing compassion and understanding – and never poking fun – is key. It’s a hard and embarrassing thing to confess, so don’t break a person’s confidence by waving a peeled banana under the nose of someone who is scared of them.

At the same time, you don’t have to wrap a person with a phobia in cotton wool and treat them any differently; simply be conscious of their fear and check your own actions to ensure that you are not inadvertently causing them discomfort.

Phobias are very real and sometimes we don’t know where they originate from or why they affect us so much. It’s a condition we have been programmed to underestimate, but given the mental health impacts they can lead onto, we need to all be more accepting that people can be and are terrified of things we don’t understand.

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Source: What causes ‘weird phobias – and what can we do about them? | Metro News

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