Mind

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Facing up to ordinary things

<p><span style="font-size: 14px;">Have you ever seen a smiley face in your morning cup of tea, or a shocked expression on a terraced house? Australian scientists have discovered that we’re hardwired that way – our brains process the ‘faces’ we’re seeing in inanimate objects in the exact same way as human faces.</span></p> <div class="copy"> <p>Rapid facial processing – identifying and studying a human face quickly – is a core part of human socialisation, says David Alais, a researcher at the University of Sydney and lead author on a new <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2021.0966" target="_blank">study</a> published in <em>Proceedings of the Royal Society B</em>.</p> <p>“We are a highly evolved social species, and therefore rapidly detecting and recognising faces is incredibly important,” he says. “We have a whole brain area dedicated to face processing.</p> <p>Faces convey meaning and emotion in ways that <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3203018/" target="_blank">help us interact</a> with one another and understand each others’ motivations, which is especially handy for detecting danger or prospecting for mates.</p> <p>However, our brains erroneously perceive faces and expressions in day-to-day objects – a  process known as face pareidolia – because brains have a shortcut to facial recognition that identifies the common structure of two eyes over a nose and mouth.</p> <p>“The way the brain detects faces is to use a quick and dirty method to make sure it detects them fast,” says Alais. “So the thing with pareidolia images is they satisfy that basic global structure – two eyes, a nose and a mouth – and so trigger that rapid response.”</p> <p>The research team, from the University of Sydney, wanted to understand whether the brain identified the error, or processed the object as a face. They examined 17 university students across two experiments, showing them 40 images of real faces and 40 images of inanimate objects with strong pareidolia.</p> <p>Each image was displayed for 250 milliseconds, then rated by the participant for emotional expression. Each participants’ ratings were averaged into a mean estimate of the image’s expression, and the results showed that variability in rated expressions was the same between the human and non-human faces. Further, the rating of the perceived expression of each face – whether the face was real or not – was skewed towards the rating of the expression of the previous face.</p> <p>This is known as positive serial dependence, but it disappears for human faces if they are rotated, so its occurrence between the real and illusory faces suggests that pareidolia engages the same mechanisms in the brain as the recognition of actual human faces. The authors conclude that expression processing is a broader process than once thought, and is not tightly linked to human facial features.</p> <p>“Clearly, the negative consequences of mistaking an object for a face are probably much less than the consequences of missing a face, because it might be an enemy with aggressive intent,” says Alais.</p> <p>He adds that it’s particularly interesting that the brain does not correct these errors. “You might think that the slower cognitive processes come in and you realise it’s actually not a face.</p> <p>“And yet somehow, you keep perceiving it as a face and you process it for its emotional content. So you end up with that weird experience where you know it’s an object and yet you keep seeing a face.”</p> <p>Alais attributes this overpowering perception to the key importance of social interaction and facial recognition to our species’ survival: “We’re highly evolved socially; we can’t afford not to look at faces."</p> <p><em>Image: Getty Images</em></p> <!-- Start of tracking content syndication. Please do not remove this section as it allows us to keep track of republished articles --> <img id="cosmos-post-tracker" style="opacity: 0; height: 1px!important; width: 1px!important; border: 0!important; position: absolute!important; z-index: -1!important;" src="https://syndication.cosmosmagazine.com/?id=157752&amp;title=Facing+up+to+ordinary+things" alt="" width="1" height="1" /> <!-- End of tracking content syndication --></div> <div id="contributors"> <p><em><a rel="noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/health/body-and-mind/facing-up-to-ordinary-things/" target="_blank">This article</a> was originally published on <a rel="noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com" target="_blank">Cosmos Magazine</a> and was written by <a rel="noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/contributor/amalyah-hart" target="_blank">Amalyah Hart</a>. Amalyah Hart is a science journalist based in Melbourne.</em></p> </div>

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Feeling lonelier during Covid? A lack of physical touch could be to blame

<p><span style="font-weight: 400;">With COVID-19 restrictions making us stay 1.5 metres away from others or relying on technology to see friends and loved ones, it’s unsurprising that we are feeling lonelier than before.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">But new international research has found that a lack of physical touch can have negative impacts on mental health and feelings of loneliness.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The team conducted an online study of 1746 people during the first wave of lockdowns in early 2020.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The survey included questions asking participants about their intimate, friendly, and professional touch experiences before and during COVID-19 restrictions, as well as self-reported measures about their wellbeing.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">They found that those who experienced more intimate touch in the week before the study reported lower levels of anxiety and feelings of loneliness.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">For those who reported a lack of intimate touch, they also reported increased levels of anxiety and greater feelings of loneliness.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">They also found that intimate touch was the type of touch most craved by participants.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Since physical touch is an important aspect of intimate and romantic relationships, with previous work suggesting that touch can buffer feelings of social isolation, the researchers argue that it is especially important during times of distress, such as during the pandemic.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The team also suggested that physical and intimate touch may work as a “protective factor” against common reactions to the pandemic, such as anxiety, stress, and depression.</span></p> <p><strong>What we can do about it</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Though we still can’t touch or hug others, staying connected can still protect us from feeling lonely.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Video conferencing technology has boomed as a result of the pandemic, but switching to alternative methods of keeping in contact can help you stay in touch without encountering as much ‘Zoom fatigue’.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">This could look like switching to phone calls and texts, sending voice notes, or penning letters to your loved ones.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In times of distress, it is important to fend off social isolation, even if it can’t be done through physical touch.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The study was published in </span><em><a rel="noopener" href="https://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.210287" target="_blank"><span style="font-weight: 400;">Royal Society Open Science</span></a></em><span style="font-weight: 400;">.</span></p> <p><em><span style="font-weight: 400;">Image: Getty Images</span></em></p>

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A better test for Alzheimer’s disease

<div class="copy"> <p>Alzheimer’s disease is tricky to diagnose, and suspecting its presence in oneself or a loved one brings with it inevitable anxiety about the future. A team of Australian researchers has developed a predictive tool that may address some of this uncertainty.</p> <p>The tool revolves around examining mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which is often a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease.</p> <p>“Someone with mild cognitive impairment is usually living normally in the community and able to look after oneself, but when tested with neurocognitive tests, performing below what would be expected for this age,” according to Professor Nicolas Cherbuin, head of the Centre for Research on Ageing, Health and Wellbeing at the Australian National University, and one of the developers of the tool.</p> <p>“They might have some memory lapses or other difficulties in thinking, but generally speaking, they live normally.”</p> <p>Around one in six people aged over 60 have MCI, but it’s not always an indicator of Alzheimer’s.</p> <p>“Of those, about one in three progress to Alzheimer’s disease within 1.5 to five years,” says Cherbuin.</p> <p>“But it leaves two in three who do not progress, who either remain stable or, for a small fraction, might even return to normal cognition.”</p> <p>Currently, it’s difficult to predict an individual’s Alzheimer’s risk, because the diagnostic tools are difficult to access.</p> <p>“Some are very invasive, and therefore they’re not recommended or suitable for frequent use in a clinical setting. Some might be very expensive, and many are technically demanding,” says Cherbuin.</p> <p>Cherbuin, along with his medical student, Nicolas Darmanthéc, and colleague Dr Hossein Tabatabaei-Jafari, set out to rectify this by developing a simpler predictive tool.</p> <p>“We used data from the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative [a US-based longitudinal study], and we focused only on people who had mild cognitive impairments, for many years, with multiple assessments. So it was possible to tell at what stage they progressed from this mild cognitive impairment stage to the clinical Alzheimer’s disease stage.”</p> <p>The researchers examined the subjects’ scores from a test called the “mini-mental state examination”, which is commonly used in clinics, and a biomarker called plasma neurofilament light chains (pNFL), which can be found with a blood test.</p> <p>“When neurons in the brain are damaged or die, they start breaking apart in small pieces, and part of the scaffolding of these cells breaks into little chains,” explains Cherbuin.</p> <p>“One of these chains is called a neurofilament light chain. These fragments of neurons then make their way into the bloodstream where, if we take a blood draw, we can measure them.”</p> <p>Combined, the mini-mental state examination and the pNFL test had good predictive power for Alzheimer’s.</p> <p>“What we found is that when we combine these two measures together, we can predict with good accuracy who is at higher risk versus less risk of progressing towards Alzheimer’s disease within five years.</p> <p>“That ‘within five years’ is the important factor,” adds Cherbuin. “Studies that have predicted conversion from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer’s disease have not really focused on a time frame, and for use in a clinical setting, this is what is really needed.”</p> <p>People with MCI don’t just want to know their chances of developing Alzheimer’s – they want to know if it’s imminent, as well.</p> <p>“If they have a better sense earlier as to whether they’re at higher risk or not, they can plan what they want to do and how they want to be treated,” says Cherbuin.</p> <p>“They might want to write a will. And it might also provide an opportunity for the clinician to target the treatment.”</p> <p>This predictive test could be clinically available in two to three years, assuming it succeeds at spotting Alzheimer’s in a few more clinical trials. But there are two major roadblocks at the moment for it to be widely used.</p> <p>One is the data on the pNFL test. “It’s widely available for research, and it’s not particularly expensive, and it’s reliable, but it hasn’t been approved for clinical use,” says Cherbuin.</p> <p>This is likely to change in the near future, however, as a large multi-centre study on the pNFL test wraps up; according to Cherbuin, early data from the study is promising. Once approved, the test can be done easily at large pathology labs.</p> <p>The other roadblock is further trials of the predictive tool. “We’ve shown this in one very well-characterised population, but it needs to be repeated in in several other populations to confirm it behaves in the same way,” says Cherbuin.</p> <p>A paper describing the predictive tool is currently available as a <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://mcusercontent.com/73b3c4bf45063d7aa04d62036/files/cac59333-152a-4993-f663-adc04760fc6d/ANU_Alzheimer_s_research_paper.pdf" target="_blank">preprint</a>, and will be published next week in <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.j-alz.com/" target="_blank"><em>The Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease</em></a><em>.</em></p> <!-- Start of tracking content syndication. Please do not remove this section as it allows us to keep track of republished articles --> <img id="cosmos-post-tracker" style="opacity: 0; height: 1px!important; width: 1px!important; border: 0!important; position: absolute!important; z-index: -1!important;" src="https://syndication.cosmosmagazine.com/?id=159857&amp;title=A+better+test+for+Alzheimer%E2%80%99s+disease" alt="" width="1" height="1" /> <!-- End of tracking content syndication --></div> <div id="contributors"> <p><a rel="noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/health/body-and-mind/predictive-test-for-alzheimers-disease/" target="_blank">This article</a> was originally published on <a rel="noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com" target="_blank">Cosmos Magazine</a> and was written by <a rel="noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/contributor/ellen-phiddian" target="_blank">Ellen Phiddian</a>. Ellen Phiddian is a science journalist at Cosmos. She has a BSc (Honours) in chemistry and science communication, and an MSc in science communication, both from the Australian National University.</p> </div>

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Traffic noise could increase your risk of dementia

<p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The amount of noise a person is exposed to from road and railway traffic could affect their risk of developing dementia, according to international research.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">A team from Denmark has investigated the connection between long-term residential exposure to road traffic and railway noise and dementia risk among two million adults over the age of 60 living in Denmark between 2004 and 2017.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">To do this, they estimated the level of road traffic and railway noise at the most and least exposed sides of every residential address in Denmark.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Then, they analysed national health registers in search of all cases of all-cause dementia and different types, including Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, and Parkinson’s disease related dementia.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">After taking other potentially influential factors into account, the team found that an average of 10 years exposure to noise was associated with a higher risk of dementia.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">They also found that both road and railway noise were associated with a higher risk of Alzheimer’s, with a 27 percent increase for exposure to road traffic noise of 55 decibels and a 24 percent increase for exposure to railway noise of 50 decibels.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">But, they found that the increased risk of vascular dementia was only associated with road traffic noise.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The researchers note that the study is observational and doesn’t include information about how lifestyle habits could have played a part in participants’ risks of developing dementia.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">They conclude: “If these findings are confirmed in future studies, they might have a large effect on the estimation of the burden of disease and healthcare costs attributed to transportation noise.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Expanding our knowledge of the harmful effects of noise on health is essential for setting priorities and implementing effective policies and public health strategies focused on the prevention and control of diseases, including dementia.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The researchers estimate that as many as 14 percent of the 8,475 cases of dementia in Denmark in 2017 could be attributed to transportation noise exposure.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Transportation noise has been previously linked to several other health conditions, including coronary heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The study was published in the journal </span><em><a rel="noopener" href="https://www.bmj.com/content/374/bmj.n1954" target="_blank"><span style="font-weight: 400;">The BMJ</span></a></em><span style="font-weight: 400;">.</span></p> <p><em><span style="font-weight: 400;">Image: Getty Images</span></em></p>

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5 signs complex trauma is affecting your relationship

<p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Trauma can affect how the brain works, how we deal with future stressors, and how we navigate our relationships with others.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Someone who has experienced trauma might find it difficult to find and stay in fulfilling romantic relationships or they could feel unsatisfied with their current relationship but can’t pinpoint exactly why - and complex trauma could be to blame.</span></p> <p><strong>What is complex trauma?</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Unlike typical Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which is the result of a single traumatic event and is often associated with soldiers and those escaping war zones, complex PTSD (c-PTSD) is the result of multiple traumatic events over a long period of time.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">These events usually occur in childhood or adolescence and can include witnessing the illness or death of a caregiver, abuse, neglect, or exposure to violent or chaotic situations.</span></p> <p><strong>What does c-PTSD look like?</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Although it is a fairly new term, complex PTSD shares some symptoms with typical PTSD, with some additional symptoms.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">According to UK mental health organisation </span><a rel="noopener" href="https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd-and-complex-ptsd/complex-ptsd/" target="_blank"><span style="font-weight: 400;">Mind</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, these symptoms can include:</span></p> <ul> <li style="font-weight: 400;" aria-level="1"><span style="font-weight: 400;">Constantly feeling empty or hopeless</span></li> <li style="font-weight: 400;" aria-level="1"><span style="font-weight: 400;">Difficulty regulating emotions</span></li> <li style="font-weight: 400;" aria-level="1"><span style="font-weight: 400;">Experiencing dissociative symptoms</span></li> <li style="font-weight: 400;" aria-level="1"><span style="font-weight: 400;">Headaches, dizziness, stomach aches, and other physical symptoms</span></li> </ul> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Those with complex PTSD may also find friendships and relationships very difficult, or try to avoid them altogether.</span></p> <p><a rel="noopener" href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/mindful-anger/202109/7-signs-complex-trauma-is-impairing-your-relationship" target="_blank"><span style="font-weight: 400;">Dr Andrea Brandt</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, a marriage and family therapist of 35 years with a PhD in clinical psychology, shares five signs c-PTSD could be affecting your relationship.</span></p> <p><img style="width: 0px; height:0px;" src="https://oversixtydev.blob.core.windows.net/media/7843834/gettyimages-1270234171.jpg" alt="" data-udi="umb://media/360e619b1a6444b8be3bc136582b60d9" /></p> <p><em><span style="font-weight: 400;">Image: Getty Images</span></em></p> <p><strong>1. You worry your partners are going to leave you</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Experiencing constant feelings of insecurity in your relationship is common for people with c-PTSD.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">A constant fear your partner will leave may be the result of multiple major upheavals in childhood or having caregivers who would be very loving and attentive sometimes, and unavailable or aloof at other times, according to Dr Brandt. </span></p> <p><strong>2. Acting “clingy” or “needy”</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Have you ever been described by a partner as “needy” or “clingy”? It may be due to complex PTSD.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Dr Brandt points to feelings of abandonment as the culprit, as these feelings cause you to cling to your partner, which can drive your partner away and fulfill your fear of being abandoned.</span></p> <p><strong>3. You are hypersensitive or hypervigilant</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">If you feel hypersensitive to slights despite being in a stable relationship with a loving partner, or you feel hypervigilant towards any signs of trouble, that may indicate that you have c-PTSD.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Dr Brandt says that if you feel anxious or on edge most of the time while in relationships and this occurs across multiple relationships, seeking treatment for complex trauma is a good idea.</span></p> <p><strong>4. You find trusting romantic partners hard</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">According to Dr Brandt, experiencing abuse or neglect or living in a chaotic environment while growing up can make it hard for you to trust romantic partners as an adult, especially if your caregiver was a source of trauma.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">This may result in the development of an anxious-avoidant attachment style, meaning that you crave closeness with others but push it away when it happens.</span></p> <p><strong>5. Saying yes to sex when you don’t want it</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Finding yourself agreeing to or initiating sex even when you don’t feel like it? Dr Brandt says this could be because you’re craving feelings of closeness or because sex helps to dull other negative emotions.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">If you then pull away once physical intimacy is achieved, potentially ending a relationship before it’s truly begun and moving on to another partner, this is a sign of an anxious-avoidant attachment style resulting from complex trauma.</span></p> <blockquote style="background: #FFF; border: 0; border-radius: 3px; box-shadow: 0 0 1px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.5),0 1px 10px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.15); margin: 1px; max-width: 540px; min-width: 326px; padding: 0; width: calc(100% - 2px);" class="instagram-media" data-instgrm-captioned="" data-instgrm-permalink="https://www.instagram.com/p/CTaxSZ7JDwo/?utm_source=ig_embed&amp;utm_campaign=loading" data-instgrm-version="13"> <div style="padding: 16px;"> <div style="display: flex; flex-direction: row; align-items: center;"> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; border-radius: 50%; flex-grow: 0; height: 40px; margin-right: 14px; width: 40px;"></div> <div style="display: flex; flex-direction: column; flex-grow: 1; justify-content: center;"> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; border-radius: 4px; flex-grow: 0; height: 14px; margin-bottom: 6px; width: 100px;"></div> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; border-radius: 4px; flex-grow: 0; height: 14px; width: 60px;"></div> </div> </div> <div style="padding: 19% 0;"></div> <div style="display: block; height: 50px; margin: 0 auto 12px; width: 50px;"></div> <div style="padding-top: 8px;"> <div style="color: #3897f0; font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; font-style: normal; font-weight: 550; line-height: 18px;">View this post on Instagram</div> </div> <p style="color: #c9c8cd; font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 17px; margin-bottom: 0; margin-top: 8px; overflow: hidden; padding: 8px 0 7px; text-align: center; text-overflow: ellipsis; white-space: nowrap;"><a style="color: #c9c8cd; font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 17px; text-decoration: none;" rel="noopener" href="https://www.instagram.com/p/CTaxSZ7JDwo/?utm_source=ig_embed&amp;utm_campaign=loading" target="_blank">A post shared by Andrea Brandt (@abrandtphd)</a></p> </div> </blockquote> <p><strong>What you can do about it</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">These are only some of the ways complex trauma can affect your relationships, but Dr Brandt stresses that those with complex PTSD can still experience happy, healthy relationships.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">If you identify with any of these or other signs, she first suggests recognising that these issues aren’t the fault of your partner or current situation. Instead, they are the result of events that have occurred years or decades earlier.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Acknowledging your trauma and processing it with a licensed professional can help you start to heal and embark on the journey to healthier and happier relationships.</span></p> <p><em><span style="font-weight: 400;">Image: Getty Images</span></em></p>

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Feeling stressed during lockdown? A psychologist explains why

<p><span style="font-weight: 400;">With New Zealand facing lockdowns once again, one Melbourne-based psychologist has been sharing some tips and insights into why we feel the way we do while locked down.</span></p> <p><a rel="noopener" href="https://www.instagram.com/chrischeerspsychology/?hl=en" target="_blank"><span style="font-weight: 400;">Chris Cheers</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> first entered the spotlight during Victoria’s sixth lockdown, where he discussed the concept of the “stress cycle”, which can be used to explain why we’re feeling the way we are lately.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">First things first, what’s a stress cycle? </span><em><a rel="noopener" href="https://www.womenshealthmag.com/uk/health/mental-health/a27098268/how-to-de-stress/" target="_blank"><span style="font-weight: 400;">Women’s Health</span></a></em><span style="font-weight: 400;"> describes it as the moment when our bodies have learnt that we are now safe after facing some kind of threat. Your body goes from feeling panic, to entering fight or flight mode, to realising you are safe, and then resetting.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Chris explains that when we experience stressors - like lockdowns - “our bodies react with stress” and enter fight or flight mode.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“But your body can’t fight a lockdown, and it can’t run away,” he writes.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“So your body becomes stuck in the emotion, and the stress cycle can’t be completed.”</span></p> <blockquote style="background: #FFF; border: 0; border-radius: 3px; box-shadow: 0 0 1px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.5),0 1px 10px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.15); margin: 1px; max-width: 540px; min-width: 326px; padding: 0; width: calc(100% - 2px);" class="instagram-media" data-instgrm-captioned="" data-instgrm-permalink="https://www.instagram.com/p/CSL_YC4Hw_r/?utm_source=ig_embed&amp;utm_campaign=loading" data-instgrm-version="13"> <div style="padding: 16px;"> <div style="display: flex; flex-direction: row; align-items: center;"> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; border-radius: 50%; flex-grow: 0; height: 40px; margin-right: 14px; width: 40px;"></div> <div style="display: flex; flex-direction: column; flex-grow: 1; justify-content: center;"> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; border-radius: 4px; flex-grow: 0; height: 14px; margin-bottom: 6px; width: 100px;"></div> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; border-radius: 4px; flex-grow: 0; height: 14px; width: 60px;"></div> </div> </div> <div style="padding: 19% 0;"></div> <div style="display: block; height: 50px; margin: 0 auto 12px; width: 50px;"></div> <div style="padding-top: 8px;"> <div style="color: #3897f0; font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; font-style: normal; font-weight: 550; line-height: 18px;">View this post on Instagram</div> </div> <p style="color: #c9c8cd; font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 17px; margin-bottom: 0; margin-top: 8px; overflow: hidden; padding: 8px 0 7px; text-align: center; text-overflow: ellipsis; white-space: nowrap;"><a style="color: #c9c8cd; font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 17px; text-decoration: none;" rel="noopener" href="https://www.instagram.com/p/CSL_YC4Hw_r/?utm_source=ig_embed&amp;utm_campaign=loading" target="_blank">A post shared by Chris Cheers Psychology (@chrischeerspsychology)</a></p> </div> </blockquote> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">To complete the stress cycle, Chis suggests slow deep breathing, exercise, letting out emotions, getting creative, or physically connecting with a loved one.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Since we can’t control when lockdowns will end, focusing on what we can control can help us feel better.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“At these times it’s helpful to focus on what is in your control,” Chris says. “Which means achievable behaviours like daily routine, sleep, exercise, and connecting to others.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“But it’s important when we talk about self care to also recognise that it’s not easy. It’s about setting boundaries and saying no.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Sometimes it’s about acting against your patterns of behaviours or habits. Just because you know something is good for you, doesn’t mean it’s easy to do.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">As for the times when lockdown hits the hardest, Chris has some more tips and words of advice.</span></p> <blockquote style="background: #FFF; border: 0; border-radius: 3px; box-shadow: 0 0 1px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.5),0 1px 10px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.15); margin: 1px; max-width: 540px; min-width: 326px; padding: 0; width: calc(100% - 2px);" class="instagram-media" data-instgrm-captioned="" data-instgrm-permalink="https://www.instagram.com/p/CTJIYvFFeBA/?utm_source=ig_embed&amp;utm_campaign=loading" data-instgrm-version="13"> <div style="padding: 16px;"> <div style="display: flex; flex-direction: row; align-items: center;"> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; border-radius: 50%; flex-grow: 0; height: 40px; margin-right: 14px; width: 40px;"></div> <div style="display: flex; flex-direction: column; flex-grow: 1; justify-content: center;"> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; border-radius: 4px; flex-grow: 0; height: 14px; margin-bottom: 6px; width: 100px;"></div> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; border-radius: 4px; flex-grow: 0; height: 14px; width: 60px;"></div> </div> </div> <div style="padding: 19% 0;"></div> <div style="display: block; height: 50px; margin: 0 auto 12px; width: 50px;"></div> <div style="padding-top: 8px;"> <div style="color: #3897f0; font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; font-style: normal; font-weight: 550; line-height: 18px;">View this post on Instagram</div> </div> <p style="color: #c9c8cd; font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 17px; margin-bottom: 0; margin-top: 8px; overflow: hidden; padding: 8px 0 7px; text-align: center; text-overflow: ellipsis; white-space: nowrap;"><a style="color: #c9c8cd; font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 17px; text-decoration: none;" rel="noopener" href="https://www.instagram.com/p/CTJIYvFFeBA/?utm_source=ig_embed&amp;utm_campaign=loading" target="_blank">A post shared by Chris Cheers Psychology (@chrischeerspsychology)</a></p> </div> </blockquote> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Basically, your brain is a teenager again,” he writes. “This extended period of stress and uncertainty has left the brain depleted, especially in terms of prefrontal and executive function.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“This makes it harder to plan, focus, handle emotions and practice self-control.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“So often on the hard days I remind myself that it’s not me, it’s “lockdown brain”.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">He suggests labelling and validating feelings you may be feeling underneath “lockdown fatigue”, both by talking to others about them and reminding yourself that they are a normal response to this kind of situation.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Chris also recommends choosing one thing to achieve on a day, acknowledge the success of completing it, and reward yourself.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Lockdowns are getting harder, not easier. But know that even small changes to your day can make a big difference to your mental health.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Today, my one thing I set to achieve was this post. So now I’m going to celebrate with whatever cake the local cafe has for me.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“I hope you find your one thing too.”</span></p> <p><em><span style="font-weight: 400;">Image: Chris Cheers Psychology / Instagram</span></em></p>

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Often fooled by optical illusions? Here’s why

<p><span style="font-weight: 400;">If you have ever seen an optical illusion and wondered why you may have been tricked by it, you’re not the only one.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Researchers interested in cognitive science and visual perception have used optical illusions to see how our brain works - even when we’re not being amazed or tricked by a deceptive image.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Illusions help us understand the rules our brain uses to create reality, based on the input it receives from our senses,” says Mark Williams, an honorary professor of cognitive science at Macquarie University.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“What we actually see or hear or feel or taste or smell isn’t actually what’s out there, but what we think is out there.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Because we don’t see the world as it actually is, illusions help explain to us how we are creating the world we actually perceive.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">This means that our brains don’t see the world wholly, instead responding to everything it perceives and filtering out what it doesn’t think is important.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Our sensory systems respond to the sum of all contextual information in which the relative information is more important than the absolute,” says Dr Spehar, a psychologist from the University of New South Wales</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“So for example, you perceive colour relative to the background, or you see orientation relative to the frame of reference.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Let’s put our perceptions of reality to the test with this multicoloured illusion.</span></p> <p><strong>Is it moving?</strong></p> <p><img style="width: 500px; height: 375.2900232018562px;" src="https://oversixtydev.blob.core.windows.net/media/7843585/109a9c3cc8949eb4a12d252545fb759c.jpg" alt="" data-udi="umb://media/9693caf172e54a1e8d66f94106e45659" /></p> <p><em><span style="font-weight: 400;">Image: Wikimedia Commons</span></em></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Though this image appears to move, staring at the centre of the image makes it stop.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">This illusion, known as rotating snakes, triggers receptors in your eyes that detect movement in your peripheral vision.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Dr Spehar says that though we don’t fully know how the illusion works, it appears to involve the differences in contrast between the black, white, and coloured areas.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“The illusion has a lot of light and dark elements, of both high and low contrast scattered everywhere,” Dr Spehar says.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“[These] stimulate motion-sensitive neurons in the periphery of our visual field.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Even when you blink or move your eyes, parts of the illusion are projected onto different parts of your eye, meaning that it appears to move in a clockwise or counterclockwise movement.</span></p> <p><em><span style="font-weight: 400;">Image: Wikimedia Commons</span></em></p>

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Hate ‘can we talk’ texts? Here’s how to deal with it

<p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Do messages from a friend or partner asking “can we talk?” leave you feeling anxious? You’re not the only one.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Certain styles of communication can leave us feeling anxious or prompt catastrophizing - when you worry about the worst things that could arise from a situation - even if the other person had only good intentions.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Psychologist Vi-An Le Nguyen says the reason why these vague ways of communicating can be anxiety-inducing is because “the [recipient] hasn’t been taken on the journey”.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">When someone receives a message like “can we talk” or a missed call with a message asking to return it, Ms Le Nguyen says “a lot of pre-work has happened … and the recipient would just not be aware of the thinking that’s gone into it”.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Someone without anxiety would likely be slightly worried by [communication] like that but for someone with anxiety, they think about all the worst possible scenarios and outcomes and [become] consumed and overwhelmed by those possibilities,” psychologist Phoebe Lee agrees.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Anxious people often also have hesitant or ambivalent feelings towards change. [And] out-of-the-blue [communication] is often a sign that maybe something’s going to change,” Ms Le Nguyen adds.</span></p> <p><strong>Tips to manage it</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">If a message or random call has left you feeling anxious, Dr Lau says you could try asking the person it came from if there is anything you need to know or prepare for before you talk to or see them.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">You can ask whether it’s an emergency or not, but Dr Lau cautions seeking too much reassurance as “that can be a part of reinforcing anxiety”.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Nobody is responsible for managing another person’s anxiety,” psychologist Sarah Ashton says.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Having said that, we can ask for support and care from those around us - it’s just important that it’s framed in that way.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">As well as seeking support from others around you, Dr Lau and Dr Ashton stress that it’s important to do work to understand and manage your anxiety.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“[We often see people] with anxiety think that if the other person would just be extra communicative and always respond on time, or give explanations, [that] would be the solution,” Dr Ashton says.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“The solution to your anxiety is you learning to understand and manage it [so you can] regulate yourself in times where there is uncertainty, which is part of life.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">If you do want to change up your communication style to reduce the worry of others - with or without anxiety - Dr Ashton recommends considering the timing of your texts, calls, or emails, and thinking about how the words you use could be received.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">If you need to talk about something bad, Ms Le Nguyen has a few tips too. In the context of friendships and relationships, she recommends framing what you want to say in terms of your feelings.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“You could say, ‘I’ve been feeling this, can we talk about it?’”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In a workplace context, you might need to adjust your language to be more concise and formal.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Give as much signalling as you can upfront. You could say [for example], ‘Can you let me know when you’re free to talk about your performance for the next quarter?’” Ms Le Nguyen suggests.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Be honest, but specific so the person knows what’s to come.”</span></p>

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Robbie Williams reveals guilt over mental health battle

<p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Popstar Robbie Williams has revealed how his struggles with depression and anxiety during his time with boy band </span><span style="font-weight: 400;">Take That</span><span style="font-weight: 400;"> left him feeling guilty.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Williams was reflecting on his time with the group on the </span><em><a rel="noopener" href="https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/i-never-thought-it-would-happen/id1576380688" target="_blank"><span style="font-weight: 400;">I Never Thought It Would Happen</span></a></em> <span style="font-weight: 400;">podcast when he got candid about his mental health at the time.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“I hated myself … the high bits [of my career] were married with a really, really dark depression and deep anxiety. And none of it was enjoyable,” Williams said.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Williams was at the height of his fame while with the boy band, which he was in with Gary Barlow, Howard Donald, Mark Owen, and Jason Orange from its formation in 1990 until he left in 1995.</span></p> <p><img style="width: 500px; height:332.03125px;" src="https://oversixtydev.blob.core.windows.net/media/7843434/gettyimages-56272511.jpg" alt="" data-udi="umb://media/b190dd3d50e5411e8d2cf403bea97c6b" /></p> <p><em><span style="font-weight: 400;">English boy band Take That in matching tuxedos. From left to right: (back) Robbie Williams and Jason Orange, (front) Gary Barlow, Howard Donald, and Mark Owen. Image: Getty Images</span></em></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">After his departure, the group continued until they permanently broke up in 1996.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“The fact that none of it was enjoyable made me deeply unhappy because I’d been given the golden ticket,” he continued. “[But] this isn’t an uncommon story.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Despite selling out arenas all over the world, Williams said he was never comfortable with his fame.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“I’d have self-hatred for me and then I’d have self-hatred for my audience for coming … the self-hatred was so heavy and intense,” he said.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Asked about the current state of his mental health, Williams said he is in a far better place.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“I don’t know if it ever leaves </span><span style="font-weight: 400;">leaves</span><span style="font-weight: 400;">. It’s not as extreme as it used to be,” he said.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Actually, I don’t live there anymore. I used to live there. I might weekend there occasionally every three months, but it’s not the place that I live in now.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“It’s not driving the car. Somebody who is more content is driving the car.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Williams credits wife Ayda Field for her calming effect on him.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The pair have been together since 2006 and share four children: Theodora, Charlton, Colette, and Beau.</span></p> <p><em><span style="font-weight: 400;">If you or anyone you know needs immediate mental health support, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 224 636, or visit </span><a rel="noopener" href="https://www.lifeline.org.au/" target="_blank"><span style="font-weight: 400;">lifeline.org.au</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> or </span><a rel="noopener" href="https://www.beyondblue.org.au/" target="_blank"><span style="font-weight: 400;">beyondblue.org.au</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">.</span></em></p> <p><em><span style="font-weight: 400;">Image: Robbie Williams / Instagram</span></em></p>

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Is COVID-19 affecting your dreams? Here’s what to do about it

<p><span style="font-weight: 400;">If you have been noticing that during the pandemic you are having more dreams, or remember more of them, you’re not the only one.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Changes in how much sleep we’re getting may mean we’re having or remembering more of the dreams we have, while the pervasive threat of coronavirus may be affecting what occurs in the dreams themselves.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">A survey conducted by </span><a rel="noopener" href="https://www.kcl.ac.uk/news/the-three-groups-reacting-to-life-under-lockdown" target="_blank"><span style="font-weight: 400;">King’s College London</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> found that 62 percent of people in the UK were getting as much sleep or more than before strict lockdown rules were introduced in March.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">With the use of similar lockdowns in other countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, we can assume that for some of those staying at home, the time previously used getting ready for work and commuting is being used to get more sleep.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Lack of work schedules may be allowing individuals to wake up without an alarm clock,” says Mark Blagrove, a psychologist at Swansea University in the UK.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Natural wake-ups are known to result in longer dreams.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In comparison, life prior to the pandemic - and modern life more generally - typically involves shorter sleep and may lead to an “epidemic” of dream loss.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Additionally, anxiety - such as that caused by COVID-19 - can disrupt our sleep and result in us waking up from REM sleep, meaning that we are more likely to remember the dreams we were having.</span></p> <p><strong>What to do about it</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Though there are different theories as to why we dream and the function that they serve, it is also likely that the content and tone of our dreams at the moment are also being affected.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Blagrove’s research supports the theory that dreams help us process our emotions and memories, which he says means dreams “are more likely to incorporate memories from recent waking life that are emotional”.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Russell Foster, a circadian neuroscientist at the University of Oxford, also supports this theory.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Dreams are thought to be the brain’s way of working out our emotional problems,” he says.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“After 9/11, many New Yorkers reported dreams of being overwhelmed by a tidal wave or being attacked and robbed.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Blagove recently set up a dream discussion forum for healthcare workers, with one of the people to contribute being Libby Nolan, a nurse in Swansea who contacted COVID-19 and started getting nightmares while quarantining.</span></p> <p><img style="width: 414.375px; height: 500px;" src="https://oversixtydev.blob.core.windows.net/media/7843245/libby-trees-and-party-2_orig.jpeg" alt="" data-udi="umb://media/646ee3496c0541ba8492b7aa8c0fae13" /></p> <p><em><span style="font-weight: 400;">A repeated nightmare experienced by Libby Nolan while in quarantine for COVID-19, turned into a painting by Dr Julia Lockheart on the pages of Freud’s ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’. Image: DreamsID.com</span></em></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Another theory says that dreams also prepare us for adversity.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“The threat-simulation theory predicts that when we are facing threats and feel fear and anxiety, our dream production mechanism starts simulating those fears and worries in our dreams,” says Katja Valli, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Turku, Finland.</span></p> <p>Talk about your dreams</p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Whether one of both theories are true, evidence suggests talking about your dreams can help alleviate any distress they cause, as well as lead to increased empathy and social bonding with others.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Don’t worry about your dreams,” says Foster. “Take comfort in the fact that your brain is doing what it should be doing.”</span></p> <p><em><span style="font-weight: 400;">Image: DreamsID.com</span></em></p>

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Can you spot the invitation amongst the brides and grooms?

<p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Stretch your brain muscles and test your observation skills with this tricky wedding-themed brain teaser from Cambridge Weight Plan.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">To solve the puzzle, you must spot the invitation among the crowd of wedding guests.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">According to the UK-based puzzle creators, the record time to beat when spotting the hidden invitation is 31 seconds - but can you solve it faster?</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;"><img style="width: 500px; height: 500px;" src="https://oversixtydev.blob.core.windows.net/media/7843249/puzzle1.jpg" alt="" data-udi="umb://media/ee6c4b98548f40529f3bd5ff008180da" /></span></p> <p><em><span style="font-weight: 400;">Image: Cambridge Weight Plan</span></em></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">If you need a hint, take a look at the pink ribbons at the bottom of the image.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Mark Gilbert, a nutritionist at Cambridge Weight Plan, said: “We’ve created our brain teaser to provide brides, grooms and attendees with some light-hearted, challenging fun this month. With the record set at 31 seconds, we want to see who can beat the clock!”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Scroll down further to find the solution.</span></p> <p><img style="width: 500px; height: 500px;" src="https://oversixtydev.blob.core.windows.net/media/7843248/puzzle2.jpg" alt="" data-udi="umb://media/29d13f20fc574dbb93f899dcc6b897b9" /></p> <p><em><span style="font-weight: 400;">Image: Cambridge Weight Plan</span></em></p>

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Your gut’s ‘second brain’ may have evolved before your head’s brain

<p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The nervous system found in the gut, called the enteric nervous system (ENS), works in a similar way to the neural networks found in the brain and spinal cord - leading to its nickname as the body’s ‘second brain’.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">A new study, published in </span><em><a rel="noopener" href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s42003-021-02485-4" target="_blank"><span style="font-weight: 400;">Communications Biology</span></a></em><span style="font-weight: 400;">, has revealed more about how the ENS works, as well as evidence for the claim it evolved before the brains in our heads did.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">By studying the colons of mice, particularly how the gut moves its contents along, scientists discovered that thousands of neurons inside the ENS communicate with each other.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">This causes the gastrointestinal tract to contract and helps digestion.</span></p> <p><img style="width: 500px; height: 499.99999999999994px;" src="https://oversixtydev.blob.core.windows.net/media/7843194/gettyimages-844330552.jpg" alt="" data-udi="umb://media/a1a4bdbbe44540bd9f1b088a01ded179" /></p> <p><em><span style="font-weight: 400;">The ‘brain-gut’ connection between the first brain (in the head) and the second brain (in the gut). Image: Getty Images</span></em></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Until now, it was unclear how these neurons worked together to do this.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Interestingly, the same neural circuit was activated during both propulsive and non-propulsive contractions,” says Nick Spencer, a neurophysicist at Flinders University in Australia and the lead author of the paper.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The researchers found the contents of the gut was moved further along it by the firing of large bunches of connecting neurons, with both excitatory (action-causing) and inhibitory (blocking) motor neurons involved.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">This means that the ENS is made up of a more advanced network of neurons that cover a wider section of the gut and involve a greater variety of neurons working together than had previously been thought.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Additionally, the team found that this activity is significantly different from the propulsion that occurs in other muscle organs that don’t have a built-in nervous system, such as lymphatic vessels, ureters, or the portal vein.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“The mechanism identified is more complex than expected and vastly different from fluid propulsion along other hollow smooth muscle organs,” the researchers explain in the paper.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The scientists say these findings support the hypothesis that the ENS is actually the ‘first brain’ rather than the second - suggesting it may have evolved in animals before our actual brains.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">If the hypothesis is true, it could have implications beyond mouse guts, although further research is needed to determine how the ENS affects the workings of the gastrointestinal tract in different species.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Synchronisation of neuronal activity across large populations of neurons is common in the nervous system of many vertebrate animals,” Spencer says.</span></p>

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New study offers hope to those with motor neurone disease

<p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Motor neurone disease, also called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), is a rare condition that slowly kills off nerve cells in the brain and spine, leading to paralysis and eventually death.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Though currently incurable, </span><a rel="noopener" href="https://academic.oup.com/braincomms/article/3/3/fcab166/6340444" target="_blank"><span style="font-weight: 400;">a new study</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> may have brought us closer to finding one.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Scientists have taken lab samples of one form of ALS and been able to reverse one of the hallmark biological abnormalities the disease introduces in cells.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Although this is yet to be applied in other forms of the disease or in human beings, the finding represents a large step forward in understanding how ALS could be combatted, providing some hope that the disease could one day be beaten.</span></p> <p><strong>What the study found</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The researchers found that three RNA binding proteins, which help regulate RNA, get stuck in the wrong place for most people with ALS.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Instead of staying in the motor neuron nucleus, they end up in the surrounding cytoplasm.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The team then found that blocking a particular enzyme, called VCP, was able to reverse this in their human cell samples and return the distribution of RNA binding proteins in the nucleus and cytoplasm back to normal.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">According to the scientists, this suggests that this enzyme becomes mutated and overactive in some cases of ALS.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Demonstrating proof-of-concept for how a chemical can reverse one of the key hallmarks of ALS is incredibly exciting,” said Jasmine Harley, a neuroscientist from the Francis Crick Institute in the UK.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“We showed this worked on three key RNA binding proteins, which is important as it suggests it could work on other disease phenotypes too.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The drug they used to inhibit the enzyme is also being tested in cancer trials, which could speed up its development and availability if it is found to help cancer patients and ALS patients.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In a second study, published in the journal </span><em><a rel="noopener" href="https://academic.oup.com/brain/advance-article/doi/10.1093/brain/awab078/6164957" target="_blank"><span style="font-weight: 400;">Brain</span></a></em><span style="font-weight: 400;">, the same researchers found over 100 types of RNA fragments, called intron-retaining transcripts, which can also move from the nucleus of cells into the cytoplasm in ALS cases.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The researchers found that these fragments have sequences that bind to the RNA binding proteins, and they suspect these sequences are drawing the proteins out of the nucleus and into the cytoplasm.</span></p> <p><img style="width: 0px; height: 0px;" src="/nothing.jpg" alt="" data-udi="umb://media/1f84fdb6755a48e884e50245585f3db4" /><img style="width: 500px; height: 433.3333333333333px;" src="https://oversixtydev.blob.core.windows.net/media/7843072/gettyimages-1129371731.jpg" alt="" data-udi="umb://media/1f84fdb6755a48e884e50245585f3db4" /></p> <p><em><span style="font-weight: 400;">Image: Getty Images</span></em></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“To imagine what’s going on here we can consider watching a movie at the cinema,” neuroscientist Jacob Neeves explained.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Typically, we don’t expect to see adverts throughout the film, but, if something goes wrong these ads might start cropping up at odd and unexpected points. These retained introns are a little bit like these abnormal ad breaks.”</span></p> <p><strong>Why this matters</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Though only 1-2 percent of ALS cases have the mutated enzyme the scientists found in the first study, both pieces of research add to our understanding of motor neurone disease.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">This additional information offers new hope that scientists could eventually figure out how to undo some of the damage that the disease causes to the brain and nervous system.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“More research is needed to investigate this further,” Harley said. “We need to see if this might reverse other pathological hallmarks of ALS and also, in other ALS disease models.”</span></p>

Mind

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5 self-care tips for when you’re low on energy

<p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Self-care has become a hot topic of late, with popular culture giving the impression it’s mostly made up of face masks, massages, and scented candles.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">But this concept of looking after ourselves goes beyond these activities and can involve doing things to help with managing your mental health, physical health, spirituality, and relationships. And, when we’re exhausted, overwhelmed, or stressed out, taking time out to do these activities can seem daunting.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Here are five self-care activities you can do when you feel this way.</span></p> <p><strong>1. Make dinnertime easier</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">When we’re exhausted, making a healthy dinner can be more effort than we have energy for, meaning we may resort to junk food or repetitive meals.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">To combat this, taking the time to prepare meals that you enjoy ahead of time can be one form of self-care.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">For example, you might buy particular items - such as pre-prepared sauces or other ingredients - so you can recreate your favourite meal with less effort than it might take to do it all from scratch.</span></p> <p><strong>2. Take a small, nagging job off your to-do list</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Do you have a lingering task you keep meaning to do and often think of intrusively at moments when you can’t do it?</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Though these kinds of tasks might not be important enough to put at the top of our to-do lists, they can become quite draining to think about.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">As a form of self-care, making a point to tick one of these tasks off your list can help you stop thinking about it and reduce your mental load, especially if you choose to do it over seemingly more important things.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Another method to try is the ‘1 minute rule’, where you start a task with the aim of doing it for just one minute. This could be cleaning up a space, making your bed, or any other task. Once the minute is up, you can decide whether you want to keep doing it - which may feel easier now that you’ve started - or you can choose to do something else.</span></p> <p><strong>3. Give your senses a break</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Though this might be the most similar example to the stereotypical self-care activities such as enjoying a bubble bath, relaxing in a low sensory environment can help you wind down.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">This could involve dimming the lights, putting on some quiet music or a short meditation, or lying quietly and focusing on the length of your breaths.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Focusing on breathing and reducing the amount of sensory input around you is used in a variety of settings and can be a grounding technique when things become too much to handle.</span></p> <p><strong>4. Take time to stretch </strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">When we’re feeling stressed, tension is often held in our bodies without us knowing, leading to additional tiredness or soreness.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Yoga, meditation, and relaxation techniques are useful tools we can use to release the tension, but these can feel too onerous when we’re already feeling low in energy.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Instead, choosing a few stretches or strengthening exercises can serve as a form of self-care, forcing us to slow down, take some time, and connect with our bodies.</span></p> <p><strong>5. Adjust your temperature</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Altering body temperature, using either heat or cold, is commonly used as a relaxation technique. Since physical and emotional tension are linked, using an ice or heat pack to ease tension in different areas of your body can help soothe emotional tension.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">For example, using an ice pack to cool off can be one way to unwind after running errands or sitting in the sun watching the kids.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Self-care can be quite personal, and finding your own versions which don’t feel too demanding can help you look after yourself when you’re already feeling exhausted, stressed out, or unmotivated.</span></p>

Mind

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Chronic pain could be changing your brain

<p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The way we feel - whether it’s happiness, irritation or any other emotion - has been found to be a balancing act between two chemical messengers in our brains.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">But, for the more than 3 million Australians who experience chronic pain, new research has found the likelihood of experiencing negative emotions more often than positive ones is higher.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The new study, which used advanced imaging techniques to scan the brains of volunteers with and without a history of chronic pain, saw that those affected by chronic pain tend to be more anxious and depressed due to disruptions in the communication between cells.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Chronic pain is more than an awful sensation,” </span><a rel="noopener" href="https://newsroom.unsw.edu.au/news/science-tech/chronic-pain-might-impact-how-brain-processes-emotions" target="_blank"><span style="font-weight: 400;">says</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> Associate Professor Sylvia Gustin, the senior author of the new study and a neuroscientist and psychologist at the University of New South Wales and NeuRA.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“It can affect our feelings, beliefs and the way we are.”</span></p> <p><strong>What happens in the brain</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Emotions are processed by many different areas in the brain, which work together as a network. These regions include the amygdala (responsible for handling positive and negative information), and the prefrontal cortex (which helps us regulate our emotions).</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">For example, when something frightening is happening, the amygdala sends that information to the prefrontal cortex, which decides whether to communicate with other areas of the brain so you can run away or react in other ways.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">This communication requires the help of chemical ‘messengers’ called neurotransmitters, which both help in sending messages between cells and regulating everything from mood to appetite..</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">One neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) can stop neurons from becoming over excited to limit communication between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">A second, called glutamate, can excite them.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">These neurotransmitters work together to regulate mood, so that our feelings help motivate us to take action when we need to, without feeling overwhelmed or overly anxious.</span></p> <p><img style="width: 500px; height: 499.99999999999994px;" src="https://oversixtydev.blob.core.windows.net/media/7842887/gettyimages-1030518600.jpg" alt="" data-udi="umb://media/47371b7ecc6f445b94f92f194fa15a0c" /></p> <p><em><span style="font-weight: 400;">Image: Getty Images</span></em></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In previous studies on animal models, scientists found that subjects in pain experience varying levels of glutamate. Similarly, a </span><a rel="noopener" href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31849800/" target="_blank"><span style="font-weight: 400;">decrease in glutamate</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> has also been seen in humans experiencing chronic pain, matching a decline in their emotional regulation.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">However, changes in the amount of GABA in subjects experiencing pain has only been seen in mice, which is where this new study comes in.</span></p> <p><strong>The study</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">By scanning the brains of 48 participants with and without chronic pain, the scientists were able to determine whether the levels of GABA differed when someone was in pain and not in pain.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Though the sample size isn’t large, the study does show enough evidence to support the view that being in pain for a long period of time changes how the brain processes emotions.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“We have discovered, for the first time, that ongoing pain is associated with a decrease in GABA, an inhibitive neurotransmitter in the medial prefrontal cortex. In other words, there’s an actual pathological change going on,” Gustin says.</span></p> <blockquote style="background: #FFF; border: 0; border-radius: 3px; box-shadow: 0 0 1px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.5),0 1px 10px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.15); margin: 1px; max-width: 540px; min-width: 326px; padding: 0; width: calc(100% - 2px);" class="instagram-media" data-instgrm-captioned="" data-instgrm-permalink="https://www.instagram.com/p/CR3BpqlK9kg/?utm_source=ig_embed&amp;utm_campaign=loading" data-instgrm-version="13"> <div style="padding: 16px;"> <div style="display: flex; flex-direction: row; align-items: center;"> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; border-radius: 50%; flex-grow: 0; height: 40px; margin-right: 14px; width: 40px;"></div> <div style="display: flex; flex-direction: column; flex-grow: 1; justify-content: center;"> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; border-radius: 4px; flex-grow: 0; height: 14px; margin-bottom: 6px; width: 100px;"></div> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; border-radius: 4px; flex-grow: 0; height: 14px; width: 60px;"></div> </div> </div> <div style="padding: 19% 0;"></div> <div style="display: block; height: 50px; margin: 0 auto 12px; width: 50px;"></div> <div style="padding-top: 8px;"> <div style="color: #3897f0; font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; font-style: normal; font-weight: 550; line-height: 18px;">View this post on Instagram</div> </div> <p style="color: #c9c8cd; font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 17px; margin-bottom: 0; margin-top: 8px; overflow: hidden; padding: 8px 0 7px; text-align: center; text-overflow: ellipsis; white-space: nowrap;"><a style="color: #c9c8cd; font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 17px; text-decoration: none;" rel="noopener" href="https://www.instagram.com/p/CR3BpqlK9kg/?utm_source=ig_embed&amp;utm_campaign=loading" target="_blank">A post shared by NeuRA (@neuraustralia)</a></p> </div> </blockquote> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">With lower levels of GABA, it can become harder to dampen the thought processes which deal with our emotional responses and reasoned-out thoughts and actions.</span></p> <p><strong>Why it matters</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Understanding how pain affects our emotions in the long term can help researchers develop ways to manage its effects, including poorer sleep, additional stress, and feelings of guilt.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“It’s important to remember it’s not you - there’s actually something physically happening to your brain,” says Gustin.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“The brain can’t dampen down these feelings on its own, but it is plastic - and we can learn to change it.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">This research was published in the </span><em><a rel="noopener" href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ejp.1838" target="_blank"><span style="font-weight: 400;">European Journal of Pain</span></a></em><span style="font-weight: 400;">.</span></p>

Mind

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How creative are you? Take this test to find out

<p><span style="font-weight: 400;">How do we know if we’re creative? While it can be a hard concept to define, and even more difficult to measure, scientists have developed a way of assessing one aspect of our creativity with a simple test.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">You can take the test yourself and it only takes a few minutes, but it is most accurate if you don’t know how the score is generated.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Head over to the </span><a rel="noopener" href="https://www.datcreativity.com/" target="_blank"><span style="font-weight: 400;">project page</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, have a go, and come back to read all about it.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Done? </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Here’s a breakdown of how your score was calculated and why it matters.</span></p> <p><strong>How the test works</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Divergent Association Task (DAT) asks participants (including you) to name ten nouns which are as far apart in meaning as possible.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">For example, “cat” and “pineapple” would be more different than “cat” and “dog”.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">A computer algorithm then measures the semantic distance - how far apart the words are in meaning and how often they are used in the same context - between the nouns the person submitted.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The test aims to measure an individual’s verbal creativity and their ability to come up with diverse answers to an open-ended problem, also called divergent thinking.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">After analysing responses from 8,914 volunteers, the researchers found the DAT test is comparable to current methods of predicting how creative a person is.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Several theories posit that creative people are able to generate more divergent ideas,” the researchers wrote in their paper, </span><a rel="noopener" href="https://www.pnas.org/content/118/25/e2022340118" target="_blank"><span style="font-weight: 400;">published</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> in </span><em><span style="font-weight: 400;">Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences</span></em><span style="font-weight: 400;">.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“If this is correct, simply naming unrelated words and then measuring the semantic distance between them, could serve as an objective measure of divergent thinking.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The newly-developed test was compared against two that are already used to measure creativity: the Alternative Uses Task - involving thinking of as many uses as possible for an object; and the Bridge-the-Associative Gap Task - where you link two words using a third word.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The results found the DAT test was just as useful as the more complicated measures currently used.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Additionally, the data suggests the test is effective across different demographics, making it a suitable choice for conducting large studies.</span></p> <p><strong>Why this matters</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Though many of us won’t be conducting studies on creativity any time soon and only one aspect of creativity is scored here, this new test could make the difficult task of studying creativity a little more simple.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Our task measures only a sliver of one type of creativity,” said psychologist Jay Olsen from Harvard University, who is the paper’s first author.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“But these findings enable creativity assessments across larger and more diverse samples with less bias, which will ultimately help us better understand this fundamental human ability.”</span></p>

Mind

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5 tips to cope with overwhelming feelings

<p><span style="font-weight: 400;">As we struggle with living in isolation, keeping up with work and staying connected to family and friends, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed.</span></p> <p><a rel="noopener" href="https://www.instagram.com/therapywithshar/?hl=en" target="_blank"><span style="font-weight: 400;">Sharnade George</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, a celebrity therapist, presenter and writer, shares her five tips for getting on top of overwhelming feelings and learning to cope with them.</span></p> <p><strong>1. Acknowledge the feeling</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">When you start to feel panicked, anxious, or out of control, acknowledging the feeling and being able to name it is the starting point for understanding it and managing it.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">This advice extends beyond feeling overwhelmed, too. All of our emotions tell us something, and understanding how an emotion feels in your body and how you respond to it can make managing it that much easier.</span></p> <p><strong>2. Know what you can control</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">To alleviate panic, it’s important to know what you can and can’t control in your day-to-day life.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Being able to identify controllable and uncontrollable aspects of your life can help you decide where to focus your energy and what things you might choose to let go of.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">For example, if the news is leaving you feeling overwhelmed, you could choose to limit your consumption by watching it once a week or avoid reading it while scrolling on your phone - letting you control what you see.</span></p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"> <p dir="ltr">This graphic is very empowering to us - focus on the things you can control! <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/WellspringMiami?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#WellspringMiami</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/RestoringHeartsAndMinds?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#RestoringHeartsAndMinds</a> <a href="https://t.co/YmtnmyM5XQ">pic.twitter.com/YmtnmyM5XQ</a></p> — Wellspring Miami (@WellspringMiami) <a href="https://twitter.com/WellspringMiami/status/1241459301656518656?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">March 21, 2020</a></blockquote> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In a similar vein, making time for things you know will make you feel better, such as exercise, meditating, journaling, or eating something that brings you joy, can be another way to alleviate panicky feelings.</span></p> <p><strong>3. Take a breath</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Since panic causes breathlessness, using </span><a rel="noopener" href="https://www.healthline.com/health/breathing-exercises-for-anxiety#abdomen-breathing" target="_blank"><span style="font-weight: 400;">breathing techniques</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> - such as lengthening your exhale or breathing from your diaphragm - can help you feel calmer.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In an overwhelming moment, George recommends breathing in for four seconds, then breathing out for four seconds, and repeating the exercise three times.</span></p> <p><strong>4. Use affirmations</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Positive affirmations can help to ground and relax you when things get stressful.</span></p> <blockquote style="background: #FFF; border: 0; border-radius: 3px; box-shadow: 0 0 1px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.5),0 1px 10px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.15); margin: 1px; max-width: 540px; min-width: 326px; padding: 0; width: calc(100% - 2px);" class="instagram-media" data-instgrm-captioned="" data-instgrm-permalink="https://www.instagram.com/p/CNjxmYohp2P/?utm_source=ig_embed&amp;utm_campaign=loading" data-instgrm-version="13"> <div style="padding: 16px;"> <div style="display: flex; flex-direction: row; align-items: center;"> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; border-radius: 50%; flex-grow: 0; height: 40px; margin-right: 14px; width: 40px;"></div> <div style="display: flex; flex-direction: column; flex-grow: 1; justify-content: center;"> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; border-radius: 4px; flex-grow: 0; height: 14px; margin-bottom: 6px; width: 100px;"></div> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; border-radius: 4px; flex-grow: 0; height: 14px; width: 60px;"></div> </div> </div> <div style="padding: 19% 0;"></div> <div style="display: block; height: 50px; margin: 0 auto 12px; width: 50px;"></div> <div style="padding-top: 8px;"> <div style="color: #3897f0; font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; font-style: normal; font-weight: 550; line-height: 18px;">View this post on Instagram</div> </div> <p style="color: #c9c8cd; font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 17px; margin-bottom: 0; margin-top: 8px; overflow: hidden; padding: 8px 0 7px; text-align: center; text-overflow: ellipsis; white-space: nowrap;"><a style="color: #c9c8cd; font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 17px; text-decoration: none;" rel="noopener" href="https://www.instagram.com/p/CNjxmYohp2P/?utm_source=ig_embed&amp;utm_campaign=loading" target="_blank">A post shared by Sharnade | Celebrity Therapist (@therapywithshar)</a></p> </div> </blockquote> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Instead of thinking about how out of control the world may seem at the moment, George recommends repeating phrases such as “I am doing my best” and “I can manage this” to shift your focus and stay calm.</span></p> <p><strong>5. Avoid catastrophising</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Though it can feel difficult to not catastrophise - when your mind assumes the worst possible outcome of a situation will happen - practicing alternative thoughts and behaviours can help.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Engaging in mindfulness can help you control your thoughts and allow you to recognise when they are irrational.</span></p>

Mind

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Loneliness changes our brains

<p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Whether we are isolated due to COVID-19 lockdowns or any other reason, feeling lonely is a common response which can affect our brains.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Research published in </span><em><a rel="noopener" href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-20039-w" target="_blank"><span style="font-weight: 400;">Nature Communications</span></a></em><span style="font-weight: 400;"> has found that the brains of those who report feeling lonely look and respond differently to the brains of people who don’t.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">It seems like persistent feelings of isolation can affect the size of different areas of the brain, as well as how those areas communicate with the rest of the brain.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The researchers examined the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data, genetics, and psychological self-assessments of approximately 40,000 middle-aged and older adults available in the UK Biobank: a database available to scientists around the world.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In comparing the data of participants who reported feeling lonely against those who didn’t, scientists have found several differences in the brains of the lonely.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">These differences are centered around a set of brain regions called the default network. These regions are involved in reminiscing, planning the future, imagination, and thinking about others, and we use this network to remember the past, envision the future, and think about the hypothetical present.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The brains of lonely participants were found to have default networks that were more strongly networked and contained a larger volume of grey matter.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">This may be due to lonely people being more likely to use their imagination, past memories, or future hopes to overcome their social isolation.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“In the absence of desired social experiences, lonely individuals may be biased towards internally-directed thoughts such as reminiscing or imagining social experiences,” said lead author Nathan Spreng from the Neuro (Montreal Neurological Institute-Hospital) at Canada’s MacGill University.</span></p> <blockquote style="background: #FFF; border: 0; border-radius: 3px; box-shadow: 0 0 1px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.5),0 1px 10px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.15); margin: 1px; max-width: 540px; min-width: 326px; padding: 0; width: calc(100% - 2px);" class="instagram-media" data-instgrm-captioned="" data-instgrm-permalink="https://www.instagram.com/p/CI0fP8wA5W6/?utm_source=ig_embed&amp;utm_campaign=loading" data-instgrm-version="13"> <div style="padding: 16px;"> <div style="display: flex; flex-direction: row; align-items: center;"> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; border-radius: 50%; flex-grow: 0; height: 40px; margin-right: 14px; width: 40px;"></div> <div style="display: flex; flex-direction: column; flex-grow: 1; justify-content: center;"> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; border-radius: 4px; flex-grow: 0; height: 14px; margin-bottom: 6px; width: 100px;"></div> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; border-radius: 4px; flex-grow: 0; height: 14px; width: 60px;"></div> </div> </div> <div style="padding: 19% 0;"></div> <div style="display: block; height: 50px; margin: 0 auto 12px; width: 50px;"></div> <div style="padding-top: 8px;"> <div style="color: #3897f0; font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; font-style: normal; font-weight: 550; line-height: 18px;">View this post on Instagram</div> </div> <p style="color: #c9c8cd; font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 17px; margin-bottom: 0; margin-top: 8px; overflow: hidden; padding: 8px 0 7px; text-align: center; text-overflow: ellipsis; white-space: nowrap;"><a style="color: #c9c8cd; font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 17px; text-decoration: none;" rel="noopener" href="https://www.instagram.com/p/CI0fP8wA5W6/?utm_source=ig_embed&amp;utm_campaign=loading" target="_blank">A post shared by The Neuro (@theneuro_mni)</a></p> </div> </blockquote> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Loneliness has been identified as a growing health problem, with previous studies showing that older people experiencing loneliness have a higher risk of cognitive decline and dementia.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“We are just beginning to understand the impact of loneliness on the brain,” said Danilo Bzdok, a researcher at the Neuro and the study’s senior author. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Expanding our knowledge in this area will help us better appreciate the urgency of reducing loneliness in today’s society.”</span></p>

Mind

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What is daydreaming?

<p>Our attention is a powerful lens, allowing our brains to pick out the relevant details out of the overwhelming flow of information reaching us every second.</p> <p>However, scientists <a rel="noopener" href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/330/6006/932" target="_blank">estimate</a> we spend up to half our waking lives thinking about something other than the task at hand: our minds are wandering. This is striking considering the potential negative consequences, from decreased school or work performance to tragic traffic accidents.</p> <p>We also know that mind-wandering and lapses of attention are more common when we are sleep-deprived, which suggests they may happen when the neurons in our brain start behaving in a way that resembles sleep. We tested the relationship between sleep and lapses of attention in new research published in <em><a rel="noopener" href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-021-23890-7" target="_blank">Nature Communications</a></em>.</p> <p>By monitoring people’s brainwaves against their self-reported states of attention, we found that mind-wandering seems to happen when parts of the brain fall asleep while most of it remains awake.</p> <p><strong>Parts of the brain can sleep while you’re awake</strong></p> <p>Directing our attention inwards can be very useful. It can let us focus on our inner thoughts, manipulate abstract concepts, retrieve memories, or discover creative solutions. But the ideal balance between focusing on the outer and inner worlds is hard to strike, and our ability to stay focused on a given task is surprisingly limited.</p> <p>When we get tired, our control of attention goes awry. At the same time, our brains starts showing local activity that resembles sleep while most of the brain appears clearly awake. This phenomenon, known as “local sleep”, was first seen in <a rel="noopener" href="https://www.nature.com/articles/nature10009" target="_blank">sleep-deprived animals</a> and then <a rel="noopener" href="https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnins.2019.00949/full" target="_blank">in humans</a>.</p> <p>We wanted to investigate whether local sleep might also happen in well-rested people, and whether it could trigger shifts in attention.</p> <p><strong>Wandering minds and blank minds</strong></p> <p><a href="https://images.theconversation.com/files/409046/original/file-20210630-15-7nbvoo.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=1000&amp;fit=clip"><img src="https://images.theconversation.com/files/409046/original/file-20210630-15-7nbvoo.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=237&amp;fit=clip" alt="" /></a></p> <p><span class="caption">The Sustained Attention to Response Tasks (SARTs) in the experiment asked participants to view a stream of either faces or digits, and press a button if the face was smiling or the digit was a 3. At the same time, their brainwaves were recorded and they were asked at random intervals about whether they were paying attention.</span> <em>(<span class="attribution"><a rel="noopener" href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-021-23890-7" target="_blank" class="source">Andrillon et al, Nature Communications (2021)</a>, <span class="license">Author provided).</span></span></em></p> <p>To better understand the relationship between brain activity and lapses of attention, we asked healthy young volunteers to perform a rather boring task requiring continuous attention. As anticipated, their attention frequently shifted away from the task. And when their attention lapsed, their performance decreased.</p> <p>But we also wanted to know what exactly was going through their minds when their attention was not on the task. So we interrupted them at random intervals and asked them what they were thinking about at that moment.</p> <p>Participants could indicate whether they were focusing on the task, their mind was wandering (thinking about something other than the task), or their mind was blank (not thinking about anything at all).</p> <p>In parallel, we recorded their brain activity with an electroencephalogram, which consists of a set of sensors placed on the head that can monitor the rhythms of the brain. Thanks to this non-invasive brain imaging technique, we could search for signs of sleep within wakefulness during the entire task.</p> <p>In particular we focused on “slow waves”, a hallmark of sleep involving brief silences from assemblies of neurons. Our hypothesis was that these lapses in neuron activity could explain lapses in attention.</p> <p>We found local slow waves could predict episodes of mind wandering and mind blanking as well as changes in participants’ behaviour during these lapses of attention.</p> <p>Importantly, the location of slow waves distinguished whether participants were mind wandering or blanking. When slow waves occurred in the front of the brain, participants had the tendency to be more impulsive and to mind wander. When slow waves occurred in the back of the brain, participants were more sluggish, missed responses and mind blanked.</p> <p><strong>Sleep-like brainwaves predicts failure of attention</strong></p> <p>These results can easily be understood through the concept of local sleep. If sleep-like slow waves really do correspond to local bouts of sleep in people who are otherwise awake, the effect of the slow waves should depend on where they occur in the brain and the function of those brain regions as we have found.</p> <p>This suggests that a single phenomenon – local sleep intrusions during waking hours – could explain a broad range of attentional lapses, from mind-wandering and impulsivity to “going blank” and sluggishness.</p> <p>Furthermore, our results suggest that local sleep might represent an everyday phenomenon that can affect us all, even if we are not particularly sleep-deprived. Our participants were simply going about the task at hand. Yet, without realising it, parts of their brains seemed to go offline repeatedly throughout the experiment.</p> <p><strong>Local sleep and attentional deficits</strong></p> <p>We are currently exploring whether this phenomenon of local sleep could be exacerbated in some individuals. For example, most people suffering from attentional deficits and/or hyperactivity disorders (ADHD) also report disrupted sleep. This may result in an increase in local sleep episodes during the day and could explain part of their attentional problems.</p> <p>Finally, this new study reaffirms how sleep and wakefulness can be intermingled in the human brain. It parallels <a rel="noopener" href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2468867319301889" target="_blank">studies</a> in sleep showing how the brain can locally “wake up” in order to process sensory information coming from the environment. Here, we show the opposite phenomenon and how sleep intrusions during wakefulness can make our minds wander somewhere or nowhere.</p> <p><span><a rel="noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/thomas-andrillon-138229" target="_blank">Thomas Andrillon</a>, Chercheur en neurosciences à l'ICM, <em><a rel="noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/inserm-2376" target="_blank">Inserm</a></em>; <a rel="noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/jennifer-windt-1153552" target="_blank">Jennifer Windt</a>, Senior Research Fellow, <em><a rel="noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/monash-university-1065" target="_blank">Monash University</a></em>, and <a rel="noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/naotsugu-tsuchiya-1246282" target="_blank">Naotsugu Tsuchiya</a>, Professor, <em><a rel="noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/monash-university-1065" target="_blank">Monash University</a></em></span></p> <p>This article is republished from <a rel="noopener" href="https://theconversation.com" target="_blank">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a rel="noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/what-is-daydreaming-parts-of-the-brain-show-sleep-like-activity-when-your-mind-wanders-163642" target="_blank">original article</a>.</p>

Mind

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Are you a ‘superager’?

<p><span style="font-weight: 400;">A rare subset of people, known as ‘superagers’, can grow older without their minds being affected.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">These lucky few maintain youthful memories and are able to recall new experiences, events, and situations just as well as younger people, despite being in their 60s, 70s, or 80s.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">New research, published in </span><em><a rel="noopener" href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/cercor/bhab157" target="_blank"><span style="font-weight: 400;">Cerebral Cortex</span></a></em><span style="font-weight: 400;">, has captured what the brains of these individuals look like using MRI, suggesting that their brains have resisted the march of time.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">While performing a challenging memory task, the brain scans showed that the activity in the heads of superagers appeared identical to those aged, on average, in their mid-20s. Superagers performed better than other participants their age and were on par with much younger adults.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Using MRI, we found that the structure of superagers’ brains and the connectivity of their neural networks more closely resemble the brains of young adults; superagers had avoided the brain atrophy typically seen in older adults,” said neurologist Alexandra Touroutoglou from Massachusetts General Hospital.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“This is the first time we have images of the function of superagers’ brains as they actively learn and remember new information.”</span></p> <p><strong>A recent area of interest</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">This group of older people with incredible memories have only recently come to the attention of scientists, with their unusual ageing process intriguing many working in Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">As we grow older, age-related memory is expected even without suffering from dementia. But, superagers seem to go against this natural process.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Initial research has found superagers may have </span><a rel="noopener" href="https://www.sciencealert.com/less-than-5-superagers-what-they-have-in-common-elderly-sharp-cognitive" target="_blank"><span style="font-weight: 400;">particular personality traits</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> - such as high levels of extroversion and low levels of neuroticism - that play a role in their preserved memories, while other studies suggest it could simply be a </span><a rel="noopener" href="https://www.nia.nih.gov/news/cognitive-super-agers-defy-typical-age-related-decline-brainpower" target="_blank"><span style="font-weight: 400;">genetic lottery</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">That said, researchers are calling for more studies to explore just why some of us have youthful minds well into our older years, which could help stave the memory loss of those with dementia.</span></p>

Mind