Seasonal Depression: Why It Happens and How To Manage The Symptoms

When the weather gets colder and the days become shorter, some people notice they have less energy and don’t feeling as positive as they usually do. While these feelings may be temporary for some, around one in three people consistently struggle through the autumn and winter months with a type of depression known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Symptoms of SAD can vary from mild to severe, but typically include:

  • Low mood,
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in things you previously enjoyed,
  • Change in appetite (usually eating more than usual),
  • Change in sleep (typically too much sleep),
  • Feeling worthless.

Researchers aren’t yet clear on what causes SAD, but it’s likely to be complex and multifaceted. Some research suggests it could be due to a malfunctioning hypothalamus (the area of the brain that regulates biological processes such as mood, sleep and appetite) or producing too much melatonin (a hormone which controls our sleep-wake cycle, which is produced by the brain’s pineal gland). Some researchers theorise it could also be due to having a disrupted circadian rhythm – the natural, internal process that regulates our sleep-wake cycle.

Of course, there may be other factors at play too. For example, some research has indicated that women may be more likely to experience SAD – though, due to a lack of specific research, it’s uncertain whether these gender differences really exist and if so, why.

Getting through it

Some people notice that their symptoms start to improve when the seasons begin to change and spring approaches. But this doesn’t mean that there aren’t many things people can do during the winter months to help them cope with their symptoms.

For people with SAD, the main recommended treatments include psychological interventions (such as talking therapies) or taking medication (such as an antidepressant). Research shows that cognitive behavioural therapy (which focuses on challenging our distressing thoughts and changing our behaviour) is an effective treatment for SAD.

In one study, researchers showed that cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) was associated with significantly lower depression when followed up one year later when compared to light therapy (another treatment sometimes used for SAD, which involves sitting in front of, or below, a box which emits a very bright light, for around 20-30 minutes or more daily).

A key part of CBT is supporting patients in a technique called behavioural activation, which aims to improve mood by encouraging people to structure their day and engage in meaningful, pleasurable activities – a hobby, for example. Research also indicates that certain antidepressants (specifically SSRIs) may be particularly effective in treating symptoms of SAD.

Light therapy is also currently being investigated as a treatment for SAD. Given it’s still an emerging therapy, research regarding its effectiveness as a standalone treatment for SAD remains inconsistent. But one study has shown that light therapy can be an effective way of managing SAD symptoms when used in combination with antidepressants. Light therapy is not usually available on the NHS, so if you do want to try it be sure to only choose a product that is medically approved for the treatment of SAD – and follow instructions for use or consult your GP.

Aside from seeking professional help, there are a couple of other things that people can do to help them cope with SAD during their day. Going outside and getting some natural daylight is one thing people experiencing SAD can do for themselves. According to one study, getting more natural light during the day may help improve symptoms. The researchers of the study had participants either go for a daily one-hour outdoor walk, or use a low-dose artificial light box for 30 minutes per day for a period of one week.

The participants who went for a daily walk showed significant improvements in all depressive symptoms, compared to those exposed to artificial light. While it’s uncertain exactly why daylight may improve symptoms, this may still be an easy and effective thing that people can do to improve their mood each day.

Research also shows that lifestyle factors (such as exercise levels and diet) can play an important role in both causing and managing depression. When it comes to SAD in particular, there’s some evidence to suggest that exercising (on it’s own or in combination with light therapy), may improve symptoms.

Again, it’s still unclear why this is the case. But research has indicated that it may be related to changes in our circadian rhythm. A review which looked at the impact of exercise on depression has pointed to both the psychological (such as exercise providing distraction from negative thoughts and a means to socialise) and physiological (such as changes in endorphin or cortisol levels) benefits.

While there are many things people can do to manage symptoms of SAD throughout the winter months, it’s important to consult your GP about symptoms and feelings – especially if symptoms don’t improve, or if the condition becomes difficult to manage.

By: Harriet Bowyer

Source: Seasonal Depression: Why It Happens—and How to Manage the symptoms

Critics by Janet Peters

The exact cause of SAD is unknown. It may be that the drop in sunlight hours affects the body’s chemical balances and make our body clock go out of step. These changes in the brain can make some people vulnerable to SAD.

The symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) are like the symptoms of normal depression. But they occur repetitively at a particular time of year. They usually start in the autumn or winter and improve in the spring. The nature and severity of SAD varies from person-to-person. Some people just find the condition a bit irritating. For others, it can be severe and have a significant impact on their day-to-day life.

Most people with SAD will feel depressed during the autumn and winter. Signs that you may be depressed include: a persistent low mood, a loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities, feeling irritable,feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness, low self-esteem, tearfulness, feeling stressed or anxious, a reduced sex drive, becoming less sociable.

A small number of people have these symptoms in phases that are separated by “manic” periods. During these, they feel happy, energetic and much more sociable. You may also be less active than normal, feel lethargic (lacking in energy) and sleepy during the day, sleep for longer than normal and find it hard to get up in the morning, find it difficult to concentrate and have an increased appetite

There is no test to diagnose SAD. A diagnosis is made by your doctor based on whether you have some or all of the typical symptoms. For a diagnosis of SAD, the pattern of symptoms starting during autumn/early winter and reducing in spring/early summer must have occurred during at least a two-year period, with no other episodes of depression during that same timeframe.

For this reason it’s important that your doctor spends time with you to get a full understanding of the difficulties you have had, both from you and your family’s perspective. While SAD could be responsible for the symptoms listed above, the same picture can be seen with the depressed phase of bipolar affective disorder and in some medical conditions.

This is why your doctor may do tests necessary to rule out these conditions.

The treatment of SAD can involve a number of aspects, each of which is tailored to your individual needs. For most, a combination of light therapy, medication and talking therapies such as counselling will be effective.
Increased exposure to sunlight can improve symptoms of SAD. For this reason your doctor may suggest outdoor time each day, or even light therapy, which involves sitting in front of special lamps every day. These special light boxes give around 10 times the intensity of ordinary home lighting and have been shown to be very effective.
Your doctor may prescribe antidepressants. Finding the right medication can be a matter of trial and error – there is no way to predict which medication will be effective and tolerated (have fewer troublesome side effects) by any one person.
Related News:
Researchers find wearable devices predict outcomes for depression treatment AniNews.in

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5 Mindset Blocks That Stop You From Learning From Your Mistakes

Way back in 2014 I wrote about a growing movement among entrepreneurs. In 42 cities across the world founders would meet for “F***Up Nights,” which are just what they sound like — an opportunity for those on the difficult path of starting a business to share their biggest flops and failures. Since that story, these nights have spread to 185 cities.

Sharing your most embarrassing stumbles doesn’t immediately sound like buckets of fun, so what’s behind the unlikely popularity of these events? Community is certainly part of it. Failure feels worse when you think you’re uniquely prone to it. But so is learning. There are few better ways to learn than trying, falling on your face, and vowing to never do that particular thing again.

The unexpected popularity of F***Up Nights demonstrates the immense potential to learn from failure. But science shows that most of us miss out on a big part of the benefit of our inevitable screw-ups. Research from Lauren Eskreis-Winkler and Ayelet Fishbach of University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business has shown that, even when the incentives are high, people have a tendency to put their heads in the sand and not learn from their mistakes.

Thankfully, the pair’s work also highlights ways to avoid letting your ego and emotions get in the way of learning from failure. UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center recently dug deep into these findings, which show both what blocks people from making the most of their missteps and how to overcome these common mental blocks.

1. You make it all about you.

Ego is the enemy of learning. Admitting you’re wrong hurts your sense of yourself as competent and smart, but it helps you correct false beliefs, seek out novel information, and expand your horizons. So how do you ensure you don’t let your ego get in the way of self-improvement? One technique is to try and put some mental distance between yourself and the error you’re trying to learn from.

“This involves thinking of your personal experience from the outside perspective of a neutral third party, asking, ‘Why did Jeremy fail?’ instead of ‘Why did I fail?’ While that might sound cheesy, it seems to work,” explains Greater Good. You can read more about the science behind this strange but effective technique here and here.

2. You keep them to yourself.

“People tend to hide their own failures, out of a sense of shame,” observes Greater Good. But one of the best ways to learn from your mistakes is to turn them into inspirational stories for the benefit of others.

Just like inspirational speakers spin past mistakes into motivational gold, framing your errors this way turns miscalculations into useful life lessons, research shows. “High school students who shared failures with middle school students went on to get better grades than those who didn’t reframe their failures; middle schoolers who gave advice to elementary school students later spent more time on homework,” reports Greater Good.

You don’t have to be a formerly struggling student to put this insight to use. Events like F****Up Nights formalize the process, but even just informally sharing your hard-earned lessons with entrepreneur friends (or online) will help you tease out and solidify the lessons learned from some of your most challenging experiences.

3. You repress your feelings.

Does failing feeling good?  No, it feels awful. That’s not fun, but it is necessary. Pain is nature’s way of encouraging us to learn not to do something. So when you repress the pain, you also repress the learning. Letting yourself really feel your failures is essential if you want them to make you wiser in the long run. So no running away from your feelings or dulling them with substances or distractions.

“Sadness seems to improve memory and judgment, which can help us to succeed in the future; regret can actually sharpen motivation,” Greater Good points out.

4. You forget your why.

When you make a mistake, it’s easy to get caught up in a loop of beating yourself up and second-guessing each step you took. Reflection and unhappiness is part of the process of coping with failure (see above), but an obsessive focus on the details of your screw-up doesn’t actually help you pick yourself up and apply whatever you’ve learned from the experience.

What does? Focusing on why you put yourself in a position to fail in the first place. “Holding a clear long-term goal in mind — such as becoming a doctor or learning to sail — can help us to tolerate short-term failure and override information-avoidance,” explains Greater Good. As Simon Sinek might remind us, understanding your why is a great way to increase your resilience in the face of life’s many inescapable setbacks.

5. You beat yourself up.

Again, failure isn’t supposed to feel great. But as explained above, beating yourself up about your missteps is demotivating and distracts you from extracting valuable lessons from failure. Sure you should reflect on what went wrong, but you shouldn’t waste energy ruminating endlessly on your shortcomings.

Instead, research suggests you should try some self-compassion. “Many recent studies suggest that you’re more likely to grow if you speak kindly to yourself, as a loved one might speak to you, in the wake of failure,” claims Greater Good.

Also, rather than viewing failure as a testament to your personal weaknesses, remind yourself that error is a human universal. “It’s not a question of if you’ll fail — it’s when. The only real question you need to answer is what you can learn from the experience,” the article sagely notes.

A F****Up Night is designed to transform failure from an isolating and shameful instance of personal weakness into a community-building learning opportunity. But you don’t need a group of like-minded (and equally fallible) founders to view failure this way. You just need the research-backed mindset adjustments and simple techniques mentioned above. After all, failure is a terrible thing to waste.

By Jessica Stillman

Source: 5 Mindset Blocks That Stop You From Learning From Your Mistakes | Inc.com

Critics by Francesca Gino  and Bradley Staats

Failure can trigger a torrent of painful emotions—hurt, anger, shame, even depression. As a result, most of us try to avoid mistakes; when they do happen, we try to sweep them under the rug. This natural tendency is heightened in companies whose leaders have, often unconsciously, institutionalized a fear of failure. They structure projects so that no time or money is available for experimentation, and they award bonuses and promotions to those who deliver according to plan.

But organizations don’t develop new capabilities—or take appropriate risks—unless managers tolerate failure and insist that it be openly discussed. The psychologist Carol Dweck identified two basic mindsets with which people approach their lives: “fixed” and “growth.” People who have a fixed mindset believe that intelligence and talents are largely a matter of genetics; you either have them or you don’t. They aim to appear smart at all costs and see failure as something to be avoided, fearing it will make them seem incompetent.

A fixed mindset limits the ability to learn because it makes individuals focus too much on performing well. By contrast, people who have a growth mindset seek challenges and learning opportunities. They believe that no matter how good you are, you can always get better through effort and practice. They don’t see failure as a sign of inadequacy and are happy to take risks. When making hiring and promotion decisions, leaders often put too much emphasis on performance and not enough on the potential to learn.

Over time, Egon Zehnder, a global executive search firm, had developed a sophisticated means of evaluating candidates that considered not only their past achievements but also their competencies. However, it found that in numerous instances, candidates who looked equally good on paper performed differently on the job. Why? A partner at the firm, Karena Strella, and her team believed the answer was individuals’ potential for improvement.

After a two-year project that drew on academic research and interviews, they identified four elements that make up potential: curiosity, insight, engagement, and determination. They developed interview questions to get at these elements, along with psychometric measures applied via questionnaires. This new model now plays a key role in the search firm’s assessments of job candidates. Egon Zehnder has found that high-potential candidates perform better than their peers with less potential, thanks to their openness to acquiring new skills and their thirst for learning.

It is common for people to ascribe their successes to hard work, brilliance, and skill rather than luck; however, they blame their failures on bad fortune. This phenomenon, known as the attribution bias, hinders learning (see “Why Leaders Don’t Learn from Success,” HBR, April 2011). In fact, unless people recognize that failure resulted from their own actions, they do not learn from their mistakes. In a study we conducted with Chris Myers, we asked participants to work on two different decision-making tasks spaced one week apart.

Each task had a correct solution, but only a few people were able to identify it. We found that participants who took responsibility for doing poorly on the first activity were almost three times as likely to succeed on the second one. They learned from their failure and made better decisions as a result. Leaders can use the following methods to encourage others to find the silver lining in failures, adopt a growth mindset, focus on potential, and overcome the attribution bias.

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How To Wake Up Smiling: 5 Daily Habits That Made Me a More Positive Person

I’m usually a pretty happy person, but about a year ago—perhaps due to a lack of social connections and laughter—I experienced a few dark months. During those months, I spent most of my waking hours (and probably nights as well) consumed with negative thoughts.

I woke up feeling angry in the morning, continued having negative thoughts most of the day, and went to bed in that same state of mind. Luckily, I didn’t have many opportunities to spread my negativity to others because we were in confinement.

On one of those moody mornings, I played a video of a spiritual teacher that a friend had recommended listening to while getting ready for the day.Halfway through the video, he said, “Humanity is ascending into more loving and conscious states of being. You are becoming more of who you truly are, which is love.”

At that moment, I caught my eyes in the mirror and stared at my unhappy face. “I’m not ascending. I’m descending further and further into the ‘hell’ in my own mind.”

My negativity was eating me alive, but, strangely, it was so addictive.

Since it had been escalating for some time (a few months by then) and had acquired a good bit of momentum, I really didn’t know if I’d be able to shift all that negativity into a more positive state of being. I knew that the longer I waited, though, the harder it would be.

Still looking at my face in the mirror, I noticed the corners of my mouth pointing slightly downward.

“If I continue like that, I’m going to get grumpy face wrinkles.”

I made my bed and then went to the kitchen. As the coffee was brewing, I grabbed my laptop and Googled “how to be a more positive person,” and I scribbled down a few ideas that resonated with me.

Later that day, after mixing and matching advice from different articles, I created what I called my “emotional hygiene routine.”

It’s a series of simple habits that I committed to doing most days of the week for an entire month (and still continue to do today on most days) and that, over that month, took me out of my depressive state and made me wake up smiling in the morning again.

I’d like to share them with you.

1. Fall asleep in the “vortex.”

One idea I came across in my research on being more positive came from Abraham Hicks:

“If you go to sleep in the vortex, you wake up in the vortex. If you go to sleep not in the vortex, you wake up not in the vortex.”

Being in the “vortex” refers to a state of pure positive energy. The idea in that quote is pretty straightforward: go to bed thinking positive thoughts and feeling happy feelings, and you’re more likely to wake up thinking and feeling positive in the morning.

I knew this had to be true. I knew it because when I went to bed thinking angry thoughts, I usually dreamed that I was unhappy and then woke up grumpy (and exhausted) in the morning.

So, I decided to try something. As I closed my eyes to sleep at night, I scanned the day from the moment I woke up until the present moment when I was lying in bed, and I tried to recall all the positive things (even tiny things) that had happened that day.

I could have thought about the delicious mocha latte that I drank that morning, the fact there wasn’t snow on the ground and that I was able to run outside in the afternoon, or a nice comment someone left on one of my videos.

I spent a few seconds remembering a happy moment before moving on to the next one. After scanning the entire day, I would do it again, trying to find even more subtle positive things, and I did this until I fell asleep.

This exercise is probably the number one thing that helped me (and still continues to help me) wake up happier in the morning.

2. Have something to look forward to on the following day.

Something else that has helped me wake up happier is having something to look forward to every day, even if I have a busy day ahead and have minimal free time available.

Still to this day, every evening, I schedule at least one activity that brings me joy for the following day. It can be going for a walk with a friend, baking cookies, or watching the sunset. It can also be as simple as wearing my favorite outfit.

Scheduling one activity that brings me joy for the following day gives my mind something fun to anticipate and puts me in a good mood in the evening.

And again, how the day ends is a good indicator of how the following day begins.

3. Absorb uplifting ideas in the evening.

We all know that what we feed our minds affects our mood. I don’t have a TV and don’t follow the news, but my Facebook feed is often enough to get me irritated. So, I decided to stop scrolling mindlessly on Facebook (or at least do so less often) and consume positive-only content instead.

For the past few months, first thing in the morning and before going to bed, I’ve been reading a few pages of an inspiring book—usually something spiritual. I just finished reading the entire Earth Life book series by Sanaya Roman, and right now, I’m reading Wishes Fulfilled by Wayne Dyer.

Reading those kinds of books brings me peace. I can notice a significant difference in my mood and stress level if I just take even fifteen minutes to consume uplifting content in the morning and evening.

(If you have any book recommendations, you can share them in the comments.)

4. Make a gratitude list—with a twist.

After reading in the morning, I write down three to five things I’m grateful for—and why I appreciate each thing.

I used to write gratitude lists of fifteen-plus items and do it very quickly—almost mindlessly—just to “get it done.” It made the practice sort of mechanical and not very effective.

I’ve found that writing fewer items on my list and taking the time to dive into the reasons each thing makes me happy intensifies the feelings of gratitude and makes the exercise more profound. I try to do this daily, although I do forget sometimes. When I forget several days in a row, I can feel the difference in my general mood.

Gratitude is perhaps the lowest-hanging fruit for cultivating a more positive attitude.

5. Choose your state of being as you open your eyes.

The last thing that has helped me is a piece of advice from Dr. Daniel Amen, one of the leading brain health experts. In an interview on The School of Greatness Podcast, he talked about the importance of setting a positive intention from the very start of the day to cultivate what he calls “a positivity bias.”

An affirmation he uses himself and recommends using is: “Today is going to be a great day.”

When we tell ourselves this in the morning, our unconscious mind then looks for things that are going right to prove that this is true. This isn’t toxic positivity—ignoring or denying the negative. It’s training our brains to see what’s positive instead of focusing on the negative by default.

I’ve taken the habit of saying this affirmation (or a similar one) just after waking up and before opening my eyes in the morning. It’s a bit like choosing and declaring from the very start of the day what attitude you’ll adopt that day. It’s easy to do, and it sets the tone for the day.

In the beginning, I didn’t always remember to declare my intention until later in the morning, but it didn’t take long before it became automatic. Now, just remembering to think about my intention (and then mentally saying it) makes me smile as I wake up.

Our lives don’t need to be perfect to wake up smiling in the morning; they just require a conscious effort to develop a positive attitude, which is what the five habits in this article have helped me accomplish.

I hope they serve you well, too, if you choose to implement them.

By: Emilie Pelletier

Emilie is a certified purpose and life coach, meditation instructor, and spiritual entrepreneur. She helps free-spirited minds to clarify their soul’s purpose, find their calling, and transform their work into play. You can get her free guide, “The Life Purpose Formula: The Easiest Way to Uncover Your Purpose and Calling,” or connect with her through her website ConsciousOriginals.com.

Critics by Kimberly Holland

Whether it’s stress, depression, anxiety, or lack of sleep, there are times when getting out of bed in the morning may feel overwhelming. But staying in bed every day is usually not a long-term option. Here’s how to get up and going when it may feel impossible.

Find an accountability partner

Friends and family members can serve as support and a point of accountability. They can check in with you and provide encouragement. They can also provide reassurance and assistance.

Ask someone to text or call you every morning to check on your progress and plans. The anticipation of the check-in may be an encouragement to get up.

Rely on a furry friend

Pets can be helpful for people with depression. ResearchTrusted Source has found pets, especially dogs, can:

  • reduce stress
  • lower anxiety
  • ease feelings of loneliness

They also encourage exercise, which boosts overall health. Plus, animals need you to get out of bed — they use the restroom outside! Having a panting pooch nuzzling you for love and a walk may be a useful way to encourage you to get out of bed.

Take small steps

If the day feels overwhelming, don’t focus on it. Focus on the moment. Give yourself a “next step” goal. Tell yourself you only need to get to the shower. When you accomplish that, tell yourself you only need to get dressed, then make breakfast.

Focus on successful moments and days

You’ve likely felt this way before. And you likely overcame it. Remind yourself of that and how you felt when you were able to accomplish what you did.

Whether it’s moving from the bed to the dining room table or successfully attending the business meeting you had scheduled, the feeling of accomplishment can be a strong incentive to go again.

Bribe yourself with good feelings

You know how good that first sip of coffee feels at your favorite coffee spot? Remember that and make yourself crave it.

Desire is a strong driver of energy. Maybe it’s not coffee, but you love listening to music and swaying on your porch in the sunlight. Picture that moment. When you crave an event or a feeling — or yes, even a food — you have something that encourages you to rise.

Turn on some tunes

It’s can be hard to stay down when you’ve got a tempo beating from your speakers. Turn on a fast-paced soundtrack (slow and relaxing songs are better another day) and sit up.

You don’t have to dance, but a sway, clap, or snap can help you feel movement in your limbs. Take the moment to stretch, and put one foot in front of another.

Shed some light

Dark, dim rooms are inviting for sleeping, but that’s a problem if you’re struggling to get out of bed. Turn on lamps or throw open the shades to invite bright, warming light into your room. This can help you feel more alert.

Work in threes

Long to-do lists can feel overwhelming. And if you don’t accomplish the full list, you may feel discouraged. Instead, give yourself just three things to accomplish.

Write them down if it helps you focus, but don’t exceed the limit of three. When you’ve marked off those three, give yourself a bit to rest. You may have done everything you need for the day, or you may want to write another list of three.

Work with what you know you can accomplish. Give yourself the time to rest between tasks.

Reach out to people you can trust

Depression, anxiety, or stress can leave you feeling isolated and alone. It’s a powerful feeling that can be difficult to overcome and make you want to avoid others. Resist this temptation and ask friends to make plans or a phone date with you.

Tell yourself your plan

When the thoughts in your head tell you to stay in bed, talk back to them (and to yourself). Say what your plans are to get going.

Once you’re in motion, it’s often easier to stay in motion. This technique can take work and time. A therapist can help you develop the right “talking points” and strategies, too.

Reflect on the positive

Photos, quotes, music: These are all things that can stir up positive feelings and happy memories. This may help you overcome the feelings of being “stuck” when you don’t feel you have the energy to get out bed.

Keep a photo album by your bedside, or purchase a book filled with inspiring quotes that speak to you. Open these books when you want to add a bit of brightness to your day.

Fill your calendar

Give yourself an event each day you can look forward to. It doesn’t have to be a large event. Meet a friend for coffee. Finally go try that new bakery downtown. Swing by your friend’s store to see their new items on the way home.

Giving yourself a goal that’s pleasurable and fun may help overcome feelings of dread or anxiety.

Step outside

Being outside is good for you. Some researchers believe getting outdoors can improve your concentration and help you heal faster. Exposure to sunlight increases the feel-good chemicals in your brain, like serotonin.

Even a few minutes outside can help. Start small and step out on your porch, balcony, or into your backyard. If you feel like it, go for a walk and soak in a little more sunshine.

There are many benefits of sunlight. From helping lift your mood to strengthening your bones, sunlight is powerful stuff.

Plan rest into your day

If you need downtime, whether it’s napping or reading a book, make sure you plan that into your day. This will give you the reassurance that while your day may be busy, you’ll be able to stop, rest, and refresh.

Give yourself some grace

Tomorrow is a new day. If you can’t get out of bed today, it’s OK. If you can’t get beyond the first goal, it’s OK. You can look to tomorrow to get things done. The fog will lift, and you’ll be able to return to your normal activities.

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7 Empathic Listening Tips

With a deeper understanding of what is being communicated, both academically and emotionally, empathy listening is a disciplined listening and questioning strategy that enables you to build and improve connections. As a result, it advances active listening approaches.

In this post, we’ll look at how honest and effective empathetic listening may help you build team trust and deal with the underlying causes of conflicts at work.

Listening with empathy involves more than just hearing what people are saying; it’s a dynamic process. Additionally, you are speaking with that individual. You’re showing that you respect their opinions and sentiments and that you’re willing to hear them out.

Sometimes, all it takes to show someone you care about them is simply being there for them and acting as a sounding board for their emotions. How about we focus our attention on giving our time and compassion instead of worrying about the appropriate words?

1. Practice non-judgment.

Although it’s not always simple, letting go of your own ideas allows you to concentrate on the viewpoint of the other person. Understanding someone else’s opinions and feelings enables you to assist them. It’s important to let them know you care about them and that they matter, which doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything they say.

2. Give the individual your whole attention.

Avoid any commotion. Make sure you have the time to spend with the individual, and make sure nothing, not even a computer, is in the way. Respect is demonstrated by giving someone your complete attention, and people are more likely to remain calm when they experience respect.

3. Pay close attention (to feelings and facts).

Take in the words as well as the overall picture of that person in that particular circumstance. To go beyond the words and understand emotions, pay attention to body language, tone of voice, and other cues.

4. Demonstrate that you are paying close attention.

Consider your stance and nonverbal cues. Use encouraging non-interruptive body language, such as eye contact, nodding, and other signs as necessary, to show that you are paying attention.

5. Ignore your fear of stillness.

At times, all that someone needs to know is that they are seen or heard. Before reacting, take into account the circumstances and the tone of the silence. The individual could be deliberating what to say next or may want some time alone to unwind.

6. Summarize and paraphrase.

When speaking, make reference to the other person’s statements, ask questions, and clarify any remarks as necessary. Allow the person time to react while maintaining a courteous and non-judgmental attitude. Keep in mind that there is no playbook for empathy listening. Adapt your response to the person, circumstance, and time.

7. Maintain contact

Ask the person if they have any further inquiries or remarks. If necessary, arrange another time to meet.

Conclusion

Next time you have a crucial conversation, keep in mind to put these sympathetic listening guidelines into practice. Your connections with others will undoubtedly get better if you constantly practice listening with empathy.

How do you listen in your everyday life? Which tactics are most effective for you?

Source: 7 Empathic Listening Tips

Related contents:

“Top 3 Barriers to Effective Listening”. People Communicating. Retrieved 19 April 2012.

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This Is Your Child’s Brain on Video Games

The following is a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how gaming impacts a child’s nervous system.

On the eve of his big sister Liz’s high school graduation, nine-year-old Aiden sits with his parents and relatives at a celebration dinner, bored by their “adult” conversation and irritated at all the attention showered upon Liz. He can’t wait to get back to his video game!

Before dinner, Mom had (annoyingly) called him away to join the family, and then she got mad when he spent a few minutes getting to the next level and saving his game. So many people in the house make him restless; he squirms uncomfortably and drums his fingers on the table, waiting to be excused.

Finally, he is allowed to escape the dinner table, and he settles into a corner of the living room couch to play his Nintendo DS. For the next hour or so, he is completely oblivious to the company in the house. Although he’s already played much longer than his mother likes, she lets him continue, knowing these family situations are a little overwhelming for him. And besides, the game keeps him occupied. What’s the harm? she thinks. It’s just for today.

However, in the meantime, a perfect storm is brewing. As the play continues, Aiden’s brain and psyche become overstimulated and excited — on fire! His nervous system shifts into high gear and settles there while he attempts to master different situations, strategizing, surviving, accumulating weapons, and defending his turf. His heart rate increases from 80 to over 100 beats per minute, and his blood pressure rises from a normal 90/60 to 140/90 — he’s ready to do battle, except that he’s just sitting on the couch, not moving much more than his eyes and thumbs.

The DS screen virtually locks his eyes into position and sends signal after signal: “It’s bright daylight out, nowhere near time for bed!” Levels of the feel-good chemical dopamine rise in his brain, sustaining his interest, keeping him focused on the task at hand, and elevating his mood. The intense visual stimulation and activity flood his brain, which adapts to the heightened level of stimulation by shutting off other parts it considers nonessential.

The visual-motor areas of his brain light up. Blood flows away from his gut, kidneys, liver, and bladder and toward his limbs and heart — he’s ready to fight or escape! The reward pathways in his brain also light up and are reinforced by the flood of dopamine. He is so absorbed in the game, he doesn’t notice when his little sister, Arianna, comes over until she puts her chubby hand on the screen, trying to get his attention.

“DooOOON’T!!” he shouts and roughly shoves her out of the way. Arianna falls backward, bursts into tears, and runs to their mother, who silently curses herself for letting Aiden play this long.

“All right, that’s it. Time to start getting ready for bed. Get your pajamas on and you can have a snack before you go to bed,” she says, pulling the DS out of Aiden’s hands and turning it off in one fell swoop. Aiden looks at his mother with rage. How dare she ruin his game because of his stupid sister!

“Fine!” he shouts, runs up the stairs, and slams his bedroom door. His primitive brain is fully engaged now, turning him into an enraged animal ready to fight off all challengers. He rips all the sheets off his bed and then throws his lamp on the floor, providing a satisfactory crash and shatter. Thinking about how wronged he’s been and filled with visions of revenge, he kicks the wall a few times and then pounds on his bedroom door, putting a big hole in it.

Downstairs, his relatives sit in quiet shock and murmur to each other how they’ve never seen him act like this. Dad runs up the stairs to contain his son. Calmly, his dad holds him in a bear hug from behind, waiting for the rage to subside.

As the dopamine in his brain and the adrenaline in his body begin to ebb, his rage loses its focus. Now, the pent-up energy takes on a disorganized, amorphous form. Aiden feels like he can’t think straight or get himself together. While he spaces out, his dad helps him put his pajamas on and they go back downstairs.

Stress hormones remain high, however, making it difficult for him to relax or think clearly. He seems a little confused, actually. His relatives look at him with a mixture of concern and love, but they also wonder why his parents let him “get away with” this kind of behavior. His mother intuitively knows that direct eye contact will overstimulate him again, so she approaches him slowly from the side, and rubs his back gently.

When his favorite aunt looks him in the face sympathetically, he immediately distrusts her intentions. Eye-to-eye interaction is interpreted by his primitive-mode brain as a challenge, and he starts getting revved up again. His mother intervenes and takes him up to his room. She lowers the light, settles him into bed, and starts to read him a soothing story. His nervous system attempts to regulate itself back to normal, but it seems to still be held hostage by his hyped-up emotions.

That night, after he does finally fall to sleep, Aiden awakens repeatedly with panic attacks — his heart races and blood pounds in his ears. He’s scared of the dark and worried that his angry outburst has upset and alienated his parents. His mother, meanwhile, confiscates the DS and decides to take it with her to work on Monday. (She really wants to throw it in the trash, but it was expensive!)

The following morning, the fight in Aiden has subsided, but the aftermath leaves him in a fog, listless, weepy, and exhausted. He experiences an increased craving for sweets while cortisol, the stress hormone, drives his blood sugar up and down erratically. It will take weeks before his body, brain, and mind return to some sense of balance. Meanwhile, his mother reaffirms her commitment “to get rid of those damn video games.”

Perceived Threat and the Fight-or-Flight Response

Does Aiden’s story sound familiar? Why would a seemingly normal, loving child become so enraged and difficult after playing video games? Though his response may seem extreme, there’s actually a completely natural explanation for Aiden’s behavior.

Playing video games mimics the kinds of sensory assaults humans are programmed to associate with danger. When the brain senses danger, primitive survival mechanisms swiftly kick in to provide protection from harm. This response is instantaneous; it is hardwired in our genes and necessary for survival. Keep in mind that the threat does not have to be real — it only needs to be a perceived danger for the brain and body to react.

When this instinct gets triggered, our nervous system and hormones influence our state of arousal, jumping instantly to a state of hyperarousal — the fight-or-flight response. These feelings can be hard to shake off even after the provoking incident is over and the threat — real or perceived — is gone.

In medical school, our instructors referred to this state as “running from the tiger,” since during ancient times humans protected themselves from predators by literally fighting or fleeing. Today, we still need this rapid stress response for emergency situations, and on a day-to-day basis mild stress reactions help us get things done. But for the most part, repeatedly enduring fight-or-flight responses when survival is not an issue does more harm than good.

When the fight-or-flight state occurs too often, or too intensely, the brain and body have trouble regulating themselves back to a calm state, leading to a state of chronic stress. Chronic stress is also produced when there is a “mismatch” between fight-or-flight reactions and energy expenditure, as occurs with screen time. Indeed, the build-up of energy is meant to be physically discharged to allow the nervous system to re-regulate. However, research suggests screen time induces stress reactions even in children who exercise regularly.

Once chronic stress sets in, blood flow is directed away from the higher thinking part of the brain (the frontal lobe) and toward the more primitive, deeper areas necessary for survival, causing impairment in functioning. With children, whose nervous systems are still developing, this sequence of events occurs much faster than it does for adults, and the chronically stressed child soon starts to struggle.

It’s easy to imagine how an exciting video game can cause hyperarousal. But in fact, numerous mechanisms act synergistically to raise arousal levels with all types of interactive screen time. And contrary to popular belief, many of them occur irrespective of content.

Because chronic stress effectively “short circuits” the frontal lobe, a hyperaroused and mentally depleted child will have trouble paying attention, managing emotions, suppressing impulses, following directions, tolerating frustration, accessing creativity and compassion, and executing tasks.

All of these effects are compounded by screen time disrupting the body clock and hindering deep sleep. In fact, the effects on sleep alone can explain many of the mood, cognitive, and behavior issues associated with screens, and also explain how screen effects can build over time, making them easy to miss.

When people say my strict screen time recommendations—which are based not just on clinical experience and research but also on how the brain works—are “not realistic,” and that children “must learn to manage technology,” my response is this: It’s not realistic to expect the brain to adapt to intense and artificial stimulation it was never meant to handle.

It’s also not realistic to expect a child with a still-developing frontal lobe to control their screen time, whether that means managing how long they play a game, how they use or misuse social media, or how they behave afterward.

Parents need to learn the science behind how screen time overstimulates the nervous system, how this manifests as an array of symptoms and dysfunction, and what that looks like in their own child.

Learning this information can literally change the course of a child’s life; it helps parents to make informed and mindful screen management decisions and steadies them from being swayed by cultural trends and misleading headlines. It puts parents in the driver’s seat. While the world may have changed, how the brain responds to stress and what it needs to thrive has not.

By: Victoria L. Dunckley M.D.

Victoria L. Dunckley, M.D. is an integrative child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist, the author of Reset Your Child’s Brain, and an expert on the effects of screen-time on the developing nervous system.  

Source: This Is Your Child’s Brain on Video Games | Psychology Today

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