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Here's a mental health workout that's as simple as ABC

<p>While we take physical workouts very seriously, there is much less said about the “workouts” that help us remain mentally agile and healthy. But just as with physical health, there are simple and practical ways that can help everyone to enjoy good mental health.</p> <p><a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0531556516306167">Our research</a> has led us to a method for promoting mental health and wellbeing within communities, which follows a simple model that can be adopted by anyone.</p> <p>An earlier study showed that <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14623730.2017.1290540">people intuitively know</a> what enhances their mental health, but they don’t think about it on a daily basis. Unlike their physical health, people rarely consider what they could or should be doing for their mental health.</p> <p>At present, the <a href="http://www.who.int/mental_health/publications/action_plan/en/">focus</a> in mental health campaigns is on treatment for mental disorders, the removal of stigma from talking about mental health problems, early intervention and the reduction of risk factors which lead to illness.</p> <p>But the burden of mental illness continues to rise – it is thought that an estimated 50% of people in <a href="https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/sites/health_glance-2017-en/1/2/3/7/index.html?itemId=/content/publication/health_glance-2017-en&amp;_csp_=980fcbc145e1f57ab4011c6cda9e970d#sect-39">OECD countries</a> will experience mental illness in their lifetime, so there is a <a href="https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpsy/article/PIIS2215-0366(18)30057-9/fulltext">need</a> to raise awareness in communities and to promote simple and practical steps to achieving and maintaining good mental health.</p> <p>By building on research into what people can do to improve their mental health, we have developed an “ABC” model that can be easily adopted in everyday life. Known as “Act-Belong-Commit”, the approach promotes keeping active, building stronger relationships with friends, family and community groups, and committing to hobbies, challenges and meaningful causes. Together they constitute a simple “do-it-yourself” approach to enhancing mental health.</p> <p>By encouraging people to follow these principles, as well as collaborating with community groups that offer activities and opportunities for social participation, the method – currently implemented in <a href="https://www.actbelongcommit.org.au/">Australia</a> and <a href="http://www.abcmentalsundhed.dk/">Denmark</a> – seeks to bring about long-term benefits to mental health in populations.</p> <h2>Act</h2> <blockquote> <p>Keep alert and engaged by keeping mentally, socially, spiritually and physically active.</p> </blockquote> <p>Research has credited a lifestyle with plenty of activities outside work as fostering <a href="https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/ageing-and-society/article/critical-review-of-the-literature-on-social-and-leisure-activity-and-wellbeing-in-later-life/2F2A22FDE0F28D435F56D6E69B25FF9E">positive emotions</a> and <a href="https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa022252">protecting our brains</a> from decline. An active mind and body, particularly in the company of others, can be naturally rewarding and a healthy alternative to worrying, overthinking or engaging in substance use.</p> <h2>Belong</h2> <blockquote> <p>Develop a strong sense of belonging by keeping up friendships, joining groups, and participating in community activities.</p> </blockquote> <p>Research has shown that our relationships with one another are fundamental to mental health in terms of <a href="http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1088868314523839">providing a sense of identity</a>, acting as a source of <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10865-006-9056-5">support</a>, and being an important <a href="http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0022146510395592?journalCode=hsbb">coping resource</a> for dealing with <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/srep25267">pain</a>, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1348/014466605X37468">stress</a> and difficult life events.</p> <h2>Commit</h2> <blockquote> <p>Do things that provide meaning and purpose in life like taking up challenges, supporting a good cause and helping others.</p> </blockquote> <p>A sense of meaning and purpose is vital to our well-being and has been shown to help extend our <a href="https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(13)61489-0/abstract">lives</a> and maintain a <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40473-016-0096-z">healthy brain</a>. Committing to a hobby, a challenge, a good cause or <a href="https://escholarship.org/uc/item/7pf57270">helping others</a> can all boost feelings of self-worth and protect against feelings of <a href="http://psycnet.apa.org/record/2014-35224-001">hopelessness and worthlessness</a>.</p> <p>Participating socially and contributing to the community can <a href="https://academic.oup.com/psychsocgerontology/article-abstract/73/3/522/4079956?redirectedFrom=fulltext">preserve brain function</a>, promote thoughts of “<a href="http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/002214650704800408">making a difference</a>” and reduce feelings which aren’t helpful for well-being, such as <a href="http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0146167296223006">self-centredness</a>.</p> <p>To show that these principles promote and protect mental health, we recently completed a series of observational studies on a nationally representative sample of adults in Ireland. People were interviewed at the start of the survey and then re-interviewed two years later.</p> <p>We categorised the activities of participants into indicators of acting, belonging and committing. Engaging in various social and recreational activities, such as sport, going to films, eating out or travelling for pleasure were indicators of Act. Staying in touch with friends, family and community groups served as an indicator of Belong and the frequency of engaging in social and recreational activities was an indicator of Commit.</p> <p>The results of these studies together demonstrate that higher levels of all three measures enhance <a href="http://abcmentalsundhed.dk/media/1387/abc-styrker-den-mentale-sundhed-i-irland.pdf">quality of life, life satisfaction, and self-rated mental health</a>, protect people against developing <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0531556516306167">depression, anxiety and brain function decline</a>, and lower the risk of people becoming dependent on <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S037687161730474X">alcohol</a>.</p> <p>Our research has also shown that the approach is helping patients with <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1753-6405.12514">mental illnesses</a> and is now being used as a tool for recovery by mental health professionals.</p> <h2>The campaign</h2> <p>The Act-Belong-Commit campaign aims to harness resources already present in communities – because the behaviours that promote mental health and well-being are everyday activities that most people are already doing or are readily available. Hence the campaign’s focus is on raising awareness of this fact and validating the belief that these behaviours are good for mental health.</p> <p>In both <a href="https://www.actbelongcommit.org.au/assets/resources/publications/13.-implementing-mental-health-promotion%2c-the-act%2c-belong%2c-commit-mentally-healthy-wa-campaign-in-western-australia.pdf">Australia</a> and <a href="http://www.abcmentalsundhed.dk/media/1152/from-rethoric-to-action-adapting-the-act-belong-commit-mental-health-promotion-programme-to-a-danish-context.pdf">Denmark</a> the campaign connects academics who can advise on the ABC method with a diverse range of community groups, including theatres, women’s health groups and sport teams.</p> <p>These partners are provided with training and resources such as <a href="https://www.actbelongcommit.org.au/assets/resources/education/general/6.-Act-Belong-Commit-Self-Assessment.pdf">self-help guides</a> while advertising and event sponsorship help spread the campaign’s message. Particular targets include schools, workplaces and people recovering from mental illness.</p> <p>In Australia, an annual <a href="https://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/17465721211289365">survey asks people</a> if they have heard of the campaign and, if so, how their beliefs and actions around mental health have changed. Twice a year, <a href="https://www.actbelongcommit.org.au/resources/publications-and-reports">surveys ask partners</a> how the campaign has affected their activities. Similar approaches are being used in Denmark. In this way, the campaign stays in touch with communities to constantly improve its methods.</p> <p>By encouraging people to follow and prioritise this ABC approach, the campaign’s simple messages could resonate in communities worldwide and sustain the mental health and well-being of people well into the future.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/98124/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><em><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></em></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/ziggi-ivan-santini-343563">Ziggi Ivan Santini</a>, Postdoctoral associate, <a href="http://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-southern-denmark-1097">University of Southern Denmark</a>; <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/rob-donovan-1875">Rob Donovan</a>, Adjunct professor, <a href="http://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-western-australia-1067">University of Western Australia</a>, and <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/vibeke-jenny-koushede-497353">Vibeke Jenny Koushede</a>, Senior researcher, <a href="http://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-southern-denmark-1097">University of Southern Denmark</a></em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="http://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/heres-a-mental-health-workout-thats-as-simple-as-abc-98124">original article</a>.</em></p>

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Why people with anxiety and other mood disorders struggle to manage their emotions

<p>Regulating our emotions is something we all do, every day of our lives. This psychological process means that we can manage how we feel and express emotions in the face of whatever situation may arise. But some people cannot regulate their emotions effectively, and so experience difficult and intense feelings, often partaking in behaviours such as <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1348/014466508X386027">self-harm</a>, <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3109/00952990.2013.877920">using alcohol</a>, and <a href="https://theconversation.com/how-difficulty-in-identifying-emotions-could-be-affecting-your-weight-105917">over-eating</a> to try to escape them.</p> <p>There are several strategies that <a href="https://theconversation.com/emotions-how-humans-regulate-them-and-why-some-people-cant-104713">we use to regulate emotions</a> – for example, reappraisal (changing how you feel about something) and attentional deployment (redirecting your attention away from something). Underlying <a href="https://tu-dresden.de/mn/psychologie/ifap/allgpsy/ressourcen/dateien/lehre/pruefungsliteratur_KN_2013/Ochsner-Gross-2005.pdf?lang=en">neural systems</a> in the brain’s prefrontal cortex are responsible for these strategies. However, dysfunction of these neural mechanisms can mean that a person is unable to manage their emotions effectively.</p> <p><a href="http://psycnet.apa.org/record/2013-44085-004">Emotion dysregulation</a> does not simply occur when the brain neglects to use regulation strategies. It includes unsuccessful attempts by the brain to reduce unwanted emotions, as well as the counterproductive use of strategies that have a cost that outweighs the short term benefits of easing an intense emotion. For example, avoiding anxiety by not opening bills might make someone feel better in the short term, but comes with the long-term cost of ever increasing charges.</p> <p>These unsuccessful attempts at regulation and counterproductive use of strategies are a core feature of many <a href="https://journals.lww.com/co-psychiatry/Abstract/2012/03000/Emotion_regulation_and_mental_health___recent.11.aspx">mental health conditions</a>, including anxiety and mood disorders. But there is not one simple pathway that causes the dysregulation in these conditions. In fact research has found several causes.</p> <h2>1. Dysfunctional neural systems</h2> <p>In anxiety disorders, dysfunction of the brain’s emotional systems is related to emotional responses being of a much higher intensity than usual, along with an increased <a href="http://people.socsci.tau.ac.il/mu/anxietytrauma/files/2014/04/Pergamin-Height-et-al-2015-CPR.pdf">perception of threat</a> and a negative view of the world. These characteristics influence how effective emotion regulation strategies are, and result in an over-reliance on maladaptive strategies like avoiding or trying to suppress emotions.</p> <p>In the brains of those with anxiety disorders, the system supporting the reappraisal does not work as effectively. Parts of the prefrontal cortex show <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/fullarticle/210184">less activation</a> when this strategy is used, compared to non-anxious people. In fact, the higher the levels of anxiety symptoms, the less activation is seen in these brain areas. This means that the more intense the symptoms, the less they are able to reappraise.</p> <p><iframe width="440" height="260" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/iALfvFpcItE?wmode=transparent&amp;start=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen=""></iframe></p> <p>Similarly, those with <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/David_Mohr3/publication/308172676_Major_depressive_disorder/links/59ce9dfaaca2721f434efc3d/Major-depressive-disorder.pdf">major depressive disorder (MDD)</a> – the inability to regulate or repair emotions, resulting in prolonged episodes of low mood – struggle to use <a href="http://sites.oxy.edu/clint/physio/article/EmotionRegulationinDepressionTheRoleofBiasedCognitionandReducedCognitiveControlClinicalPsychologicalScience-2014-Joormann.pdf">cognitive control</a> to manage negative emotions and decrease emotional intensity. This is due to <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/fullarticle/2203837">neurobiological differences</a>, such as decreased <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1053811910011857">density of grey matter</a>, and <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006322301013361">reduced volume</a> in the brain’s prefrontal cortex. During emotion regulation tasks, people who have depression show less <a href="http://www.jneurosci.org/content/jneuro/27/33/8877.full.pdf">brain activation</a> and metabolism in this area.</p> <p>People with MDD sometimes show less effective function in the brain’s motivation systems – a network of neural connections from the <a href="https://www.sciencenewsforstudents.org/blog/scientists-say/scientists-say-ventral-striatum">ventral striatum</a>, located in the middle of the brain, and prefrontal cortex – too. This might explain their difficulty in regulating positive emotions (known as <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/106/52/22445.full.pdf">anhedonia</a>) leading to a lack of pleasure and motivation for life.</p> <h2>2. Less effective strategies</h2> <p>There is little doubt that people have different abilities in using different regulation strategies. But for some they simply don’t work as well. It’s possible that people with anxiety disorders find reappraisal a <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/academia.edu.documents/43509779/Emotional_reactivity_and_cognitive_regul20160308-6583-1i7qqg3.pdf?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAIWOWYYGZ2Y53UL3A&amp;Expires=1544177061&amp;Signature=wG2kJQEWhjSupMVDCGjIjeImecI%3D&amp;response-content-disposition=inline%3B%20filename%3DEmotional_reactivity_and_cognitive_regul.pdf">less effective</a> strategy because their <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Dominique_Lamy/publication/6598643_Threat-related_attentional_bias_in_anxious_and_nonanxious_individuals_a_meta-analytic_study_Meta-Analysis_Research_Support_Non-US_Gov%27t/links/02bfe510acc10b0e3d000000/Threat-related-attentional-bias-in-anxious-and-nonanxious-individuals-a-meta-analytic-study-Meta-Analysis-Research-Support-Non-US-Govt.pdf">attentional bias</a> means they involuntarily pay more attention towards negative and threatening information. This can stop them from being able to come up with more positive meanings for a situation – a key aspect of reappraisal.</p> <p>It’s possible that reappraisal doesn’t work as well for people with mood disorders either. <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Lauren_Hallion/publication/51466532_A_Meta-Analysis_of_the_Effect_of_Cognitive_Bias_Modification_on_Anxiety_and_Depression/links/5642034608aeacfd8937f221/A-Meta-Analysis-of-the-Effect-of-Cognitive-Bias-Modification-on-Anxiety-and-Depression.pdf">Cognitive biases</a> can lead people with MDD to interpret situations as being more negative, and make it difficult to think more positive thoughts.</p> <h2>3. Maladaptive strategies</h2> <p>Although maladaptive strategies might make people feel better in the short term they come with long term costs of maintaining anxiety and mood disorders. Anxious people rely more on maladaptive strategies like <a href="http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.463.83&amp;rep=rep1&amp;type=pdf">suppression</a> (trying to inhibit or hide emotional responses), and less on adaptive strategies like reappraisal. Though research into this is ongoing, it’s thought that during <a href="https://academic.oup.com/scan/article/10/10/1329/1647887">intense emotional experiences</a> these people find it very difficult to disengage – a necessary first step in reappraisal – so they turn to maladaptaive suppression instead.</p> <p>The use of maladaptive strategies like suppression and <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0272735809000907">rumination</a> (where people have repetitive negative and self-depreciating thoughts) is also a common feature of MDD. These, together with <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/bjc.12210">difficulties using adaptive strategies</a> like reappraisal, prolong and exacerbate depressed mood. It means that people who have MDD are even less able to use reappraisal during a depressed episode.</p> <p>It’s important to note that mood disorders don’t just come from neural abnormalities. The research suggests that a combination of brain physiology, psychological and environmental factors are what contributes to the disorders, and their maintenance.</p> <p>While researchers are pursing promising <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/academia.edu.documents/45245021/DA_Emotion_Dysregulation.pdf?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAIWOWYYGZ2Y53UL3A&amp;Expires=1544123102&amp;Signature=CuwEuqpH%2B4c78EoNxnkA1i7gGmU%3D&amp;response-content-disposition=inline%3B%20filename%3DEMOTION_DYSREGULATION_MODEL_OF_MOOD_AND.pdf">new treatments</a>, simple actions can help people loosen the influence of negative thoughts and emotions on mood. <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Tayyab_Rashid2/publication/299155510_Rashid_T_2015_Positive_Psychotherapy_A_Strengths-Based_Approach/links/570951f408aed09e916f9518.pdf">Positive activities</a> like expressing gratitude, sharing kindness, and reflecting on character strengths really do help.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/106865/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><span><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/leanne-rowlands-408353">Leanne Rowlands</a>, PhD Researcher in Neuropsychology, <em><a href="http://theconversation.com/institutions/bangor-university-1221">Bangor University</a></em></span></p> <p>This article is republished from <a href="http://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-people-with-anxiety-and-other-mood-disorders-struggle-to-manage-their-emotions-106865">original article</a>.</p>

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Why ditching junk food improves your mood

<p>Worldwide, more than <a href="https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression">300 million people</a> live with depression. Without effective treatment, the condition can make it difficult to work and maintain relationships with family and friends.</p> <p>Depression can cause sleep problems, difficulty concentrating, and a lack of interest in activities that are usually pleasurable. At its most extreme, it can lead to suicide.</p> <p>Depression has long been treated with medication and talking therapies – and they’re not going anywhere just yet. But we’re beginning to understand that increasing <a href="https://theconversation.com/how-physical-activity-in-australian-schools-can-help-prevent-depression-in-young-people-107889">how much exercise we get</a> and <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28242200">switching to a healthy diet</a> can also play an important role in treating – and even preventing – depression.</p> <p>So what should you eat more of, and avoid, for the sake of your mood?</p> <h2>Ditch junk food</h2> <p>Research suggests that while healthy diets can reduce the risk or severity of depression, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28431261">unhealthy diets</a> may increase the risk.</p> <p>Of course, we all indulge from time to time but <a href="https://academic.oup.com/advances/article/7/3/445/4558132">unhealthy diets</a> are those that contain lots of foods that are high in energy (kilojoules) and low on nutrition. This means too much of the foods we should limit:</p> <ul> <li>processed and takeaway foods</li> <li>processed meats</li> <li>fried food</li> <li>butter</li> <li>salt</li> <li>potatoes</li> <li>refined grains, such as those in white bread, pasta, cakes and pastries</li> <li>sugary drinks and snacks.</li> </ul> <p>The average Australian consumes <a href="https://www.totalwellbeingdiet.com/media/1194/2016-csiro-healthy-diet-score.pdf">19 serves of junk food</a> a week, and <a href="https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpsy/article/PIIS2215-0366(14)00051-0/fulltext">far fewer serves</a> of fibre-rich fresh food and wholegrains than recommended. This leaves us overfed, undernourished and <a href="https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpsy/article/PIIS2215-0366(14)00051-0/fulltext">mentally worse off</a>.</p> <h2>Here’s what to eat instead</h2> <p>Having a <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5372901/">healthy diet</a> means consuming a <a href="https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/guidelines/australian-dietary-guidelines-1-5">wide variety of nutritious foods</a> every day, including:</p> <ul> <li>fruit (two serves per day)</li> <li>vegetables (five serves)</li> <li>wholegrains</li> <li>nuts</li> <li>legumes</li> <li>oily fish</li> <li>dairy products</li> <li>small quantities of meat</li> <li>small quantities of olive oil</li> <li>water.</li> </ul> <p>This way of eating is common in <a href="https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12916-015-0428-y">Mediterranean countries</a>, where people have been identified as having lower rates of cognitive decline, depression and dementia.</p> <p>In <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29469019">Japan</a>, a diet low in processed foods and high in fresh fruit, vegetables, green tea and soy products is recognised for its protective role in mental health.</p> <h2>How does healthy food help?</h2> <p>A healthy diet is naturally high in five food types that boost our mental health in different ways:</p> <p><strong>Complex carbohydrates</strong> found in fruits, vegetables and wholegrains help <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26109579">fuel our brain cells</a>. Complex carbohydrates release glucose slowly into our system, unlike simple carbohydrates (found in sugary snacks and drinks), which create energy highs and lows throughout the day. These peaks and troughs decrease feelings of happiness and <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12415536">negatively affect our psychological well-being</a>.</p> <p><strong>Antioxidants</strong> in brightly coloured fruit and vegetables scavenge free radicals, eliminate <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4290164/">oxidative stress</a> and decrease inflammation in the brain. This in turn increases the feelgood chemicals in the brain that <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29339318">elevate our mood</a>.</p> <p><strong><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29215971">Omega 3</a></strong> found in oily fish and <strong><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22251911">B vitamins</a></strong> found in some vegetables increase the production of the brain’s happiness chemicals and have been known to protect against both <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4019002/">dementia</a> and <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30127751">depression</a>.</p> <p><strong>Pro and prebiotics</strong> found in yoghurt, cheese and fermented products boost the <a href="https://jphysiolanthropol.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40101-016-0101-y">millions of bacteria</a> living in our gut. These bacteria produce <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27466606">chemical messengers</a> from the gut to the brain that influence our emotions and reactions to stressful situations.</p> <p>Research suggests pro- and prebiotics could work on the same neurological pathways that antidepressants do, thereby <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24888394">decreasing depressed and anxious states</a> and <a href="https://jphysiolanthropol.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40101-016-0101-y">elevating happy emotions</a>.</p> <h2>What happens when you switch to a healthy diet?</h2> <p>An Australian research team recently undertook the <a href="https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12916-017-0791-y">first randomised control trial</a> studying 56 individuals with depression.</p> <p>Over a 12-week period, 31 participants were given nutritional consulting sessions and asked to change from their unhealthy diets to a healthy diet. The other 25 attended social support sessions and continued their usual eating patterns.</p> <p>The participants continued their existing antidepressant and talking therapies during the trial.</p> <p>At the end of the trial, the depressive symptoms of the group that maintained a healthier diet significantly improved. Some 32% of participants had scores so low they no longer met the criteria for depression, compared with 8% of the control group.</p> <p>The trial was replicated by another <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29215971">research team</a>, which found similar results, and supported by a <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30254236">recent review of all studies</a> on dietary patterns and depression. The review found that across 41 studies, people who stuck to a healthy diet had a 24-35% lower risk of depressive symptoms than those who ate more unhealthy foods.</p> <p>These findings suggest improving your diet <a href="https://bmcpsychiatry.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-244X-14-132">could be a cost-effective complementary treatment</a> for depression and could reduce your risk of developing a mental illness.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/107358/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><span><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/megan-lee-490875">Megan Lee</a>, Academic Tutor and Lecturer, <em><a href="http://theconversation.com/institutions/southern-cross-university-1160">Southern Cross University</a></em></span></p> <p>This article is republished from <a href="http://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/want-to-improve-your-mood-its-time-to-ditch-the-junk-food-107358">original article</a>.</p>

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Smiling depression: Why being depressed while appearing happy is particularly dangerous

<p>The term “smiling depression” – appearing happy to others while internally suffering depressive symptoms – has become increasingly popular. Articles on the topic have crept up in the popular literature, and the number of Google searches for the condition <a href="https://trends.google.co.uk/trends/explore?q=smiling%20depression">has increased dramatically this year</a>. Some may question, however, whether this is actually a real, pathological condition.</p> <p>While smiling depression is not a technical term that psychologists use, it is certainly possible to be depressed and manage to successfully mask the symptoms. The closest technical term for this condition is “<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2990566/">atypical depression</a>”. In fact, a significant proportion of people who experience a low mood and a loss of pleasure in activities <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2990566/">manage to hide their condition</a> in this way. And these people might be <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/the-guest-room/201411/smiling-depression">particularly vulnerable</a> to suicide.</p> <p>It can be very hard to spot people suffering from smiling depression. They may <em>seem</em> like they don’t have a reason to be sad – they have a job, an apartment and maybe even children or a partner. They smile when you greet them and can carry pleasant conversations. In short, they <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/the-guest-room/201411/smiling-depression">put on a mask</a> to the outside world while leading seemingly normal and active lives.</p> <p>Inside, however, they feel hopeless and down, sometimes even having thoughts about ending it all. The strength that they have to go on with their daily lives can make them especially vulnerable to carrying out suicide plans. This is in contrast to other forms of depression, in which people might have suicide ideation but <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/the-guest-room/201411/smiling-depression">not enough energy</a> to act on their intentions.</p> <p>Although people with smiling depression put on a “happy face” to the outside world, they can experience a <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2990566/">genuine lift in their mood</a> as a result of positive occurrences in their lives. For example, getting a text message from someone they’ve been craving to hear from or being praised at work can make them feel better for a few moments before going back to feeling low.</p> <p>Other symptoms of this condition include overeating, feeling a sense of heaviness in the arms and legs and being <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2990566/">easily hurt by criticism</a> or rejection. People with smiling depression are also more likely to feel depressed in the evening and feel the need to sleep longer than usual. With other forms of depression, however, your mood might be worse in the morning and you might feel <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2990566/">the need for less sleep</a> than you’re normally used to.</p> <p>Smiling depression seems to be more common in people with certain temperaments. In particular, it is linked to being more prone to anticipate failure, having a hard time getting over embarrassing or humiliating situations and <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2990566/">tending to ruminate</a> or excessively think about negative situations that have taken place.</p> <p>Women’s Health magazine captured the essence of smiling depression – the façade – when it asked women to share pictures from their social media and then to recaption them on Instagram with how they really felt in the moment they were taking the picture. Here are <a href="https://www.womenshealthmag.com/health/a19973575/true-emotion-behind-smiling-instagram-pictures/">some of their posts</a>.</p> <h2>Burden and treatment</h2> <p>It is difficult to determine exactly what causes smiling depression, but low mood can stem <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/the-guest-room/201411/smiling-depression">from a number of things</a>, such as work problems, relationship breakdown and feeling as if your life doesn’t have purpose and meaning.</p> <p>It is very common. About <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-21243-x">one in ten people</a> are depressed, and between 15% and 40% of these people <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC181236/">suffer from the atypical form</a> that resembles smiling depression. Such depression often starts early in life and <a href="https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/Atypical_depression">can last a long time</a>.</p> <p>If you suffer from smiling depression it is therefore particularly important to get help. Sadly, though, people suffering from this condition usually don’t, because they might not think that they have a problem in the first place – this is particularly the case if they appear to be carrying on with their tasks and daily routines as before. They may also feel guilty and rationalise that they don’t have anything to be sad about. So they don’t tell anybody about their problems and end up feeling ashamed of their feelings.</p> <p>So how can you break this cycle? A starting point is knowing that this condition actually exists and that it’s serious. Only when we stop rationalising away our problems because we think they’re not serious enough can we start making an actual difference. For some, this insight may be enough to turn things around, because it puts them on a path to seeking help and breaking free from the shackles of depression that have been holding them back.</p> <p>Meditation and physical activity have also been shown to have tremendous mental health benefits. In fact, a study done by Rutgers University in the US showed that people who had done meditation and physical activity twice a week <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/tp2015225">experienced a drop</a> of almost 40% in their depression levels only eight weeks into the study. Cognitive behavioural therapy, learning to change your thinking patterns and behaviour, is another option for those affected by this condition.</p> <p>And finding meaning in life is of utmost importance. The Austrian neurologist <a href="https://www.britannica.com/biography/Viktor-Emil-Frankl">Viktor Frankl</a> wrote that the cornerstone of good mental health is <a href="https://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/history-of-happiness/viktor-frankl/">having purpose in life</a>. He said that we shouldn’t aim to be in a “tensionless state”, free of responsibility and challenges, but rather we should be striving for something in life. We can find purpose by taking the attention away from ourselves and placing it onto something else. So find a worthwhile goal and try to make regular progress on it, even if it’s for a small amount each day, because this can really have a positive impact.</p> <p>We can also find purpose by caring for someone else. When we take the spotlight off of us and start to think about someone else’s needs and wants, we begin to feel that our lives matter. This can be achieved by volunteering, or taking care of a family member or even an animal.</p> <p>Feeling that our lives matter is ultimately what gives us purpose and meaning – and this can make a significant difference for our mental health and well-being.</p> <p><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><span><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/olivia-remes-187983">Olivia Remes</a>, Postdoctoral researcher, <em><a href="http://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-cambridge-1283">University of Cambridge</a></em></span></p> <p>This article is republished from <a href="http://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/smiling-depression-its-possible-to-be-depressed-while-appearing-happy-heres-why-thats-particularly-dangerous-110928">original article</a>.</p>

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How long can humans live?

<p>Humans are living longer around the world. While there have been obvious ups and downs, life expectancy at birth overall has been <a href="http://science.sciencemag.org/content/296/5570/1029">steadily increasing</a> for many years. It has more than doubled in the last two centuries.</p> <p>This increase was previously driven by <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2690264/">reductions in infant mortality</a>. But since around the 1950s, the main driver has been reductions in mortality at older ages. In Sweden, for example, where national population data have been collected since the mid-16th century and are of a very high quality, the maximum lifespan has been <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/289/5488/2366">increasing for almost 150 years</a>. Increasing lifespans have been observed in many other countries, including in Western Europe, North America and Japan.</p> <p>This has contributed to a rapid increase in the number of very old people – those living up to 100, 110 or even more. The first verified supercentenarian (aged 110 and above) was Geert Adrians-Boomgaard, who died in 1899 aged 110 years, four months. His record has been broken by others since. The first verified female supercentenarian, Margaret Ann Neve, died in 1903 aged 110 years, ten months and held the record for almost 23 years. Delina Filkins passed away in 1928 aged 113 years, seven months. She kept the record for just over 52 years.</p> <p>The current record holder is the French woman Jeanne Calment, who died on August 4, 1997, aged 122 years, five months. Despite the near <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0212345">exponential increase</a> in the number of supercentenarians since the early 1970s, her record holds firm – but she’s <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0212345">unlikely</a> to hold it for much longer.</p> <h2>Surviving past 100</h2> <p>Although these upward lifespan trends are widespread, they are not a given. Recent improvements in Danish mortality after a period of stagnation has led to the suspicion that centenarian lifespans could be increasing there. This is rather different from what has been recently observed in Sweden, where there has been some slow down at the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28470872">highest ages</a>.</p> <p>We studied <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-018-0755-7">16,931 centenarians</a> (10,955 Swedes and 5,976 Danes) born between 1870 and 1904 in Denmark and Sweden, neighbouring countries with close cultural and historical ties, to see if our suspicions may be correct. Although Sweden generally has lower mortality rates than Denmark at most ages, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28470872">no evidence</a> of an increase in Sweden was found in recent years. In Denmark, however, the very oldest were observed to die at higher and higher ages, and the age at which only 6% of centenarians survive rose consistently over the period.</p> <p>Denmark and Sweden are similar in many ways, yet these lifespan trends are very different. The disparity could be due to several causes, which are not easy to fully disentangle. But we have a few ideas.</p> <h2>Health systems</h2> <p>First, there are different levels of health among the two elderly populations. <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28595320">Recent studies</a> have shown improvements in health as measured by Activities of Daily Living (ADL) – the basic tasks necessary for leading an independent life, such as bathing or getting dressed – in cohorts of female centenarians in Denmark. In Sweden, by contrast, such trends for the elderly have been less optimistic. One study found that there was no improvement in ADL, with deterioration in mobility, cognition and performance tests.</p> <p>The difference in the two healthcare systems, especially in recent times, could therefore also go some way towards explaining the difference. Spending on public services was reduced in Sweden in the early 1990s, due to a series of economic crises. Healthcare for the elderly was affected. For instance, with inpatient elder care, there was a shift away from hospitals to nursing homes and a reduction in the number of nursing home beds. The cost cuts left some older people at risk, particularly those in the lowest socioeconomic groups.</p> <p>In addition, the two countries have since followed slightly different paths to elderly care: Sweden tends to target the frailest whereas Denmark takes a slightly broader approach. <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5547399/">Some studies suggest</a> that Sweden’s approach has resulted in some who require care not receiving it, with the least well-off segments of the elderly population relying more heavily on family care, which can be of lower quality.</p> <p>People who reach advanced ages are a select group and are obviously very durable. Perhaps because of their inherent resilience and particular physiology, they are best able to benefit from the improvements in living conditions and technology.</p> <p>Our comparative study suggests some interesting things for other nations, particularly where there are developing and emerging economies. These findings demonstrate that it may be possible to lengthen lifespans further if improvements in health at the highest ages can be realised and if high quality elderly care is widely available. Indeed, if this is so, then the human longevity revolution is set to continue for some time still.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/113944/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><span><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/anthony-medford-707739">Anthony Medford</a>, Postdoctoral associate researcher, <em><a href="http://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-southern-denmark-1097">University of Southern Denmark</a></em>; <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/james-w-vaupel-710977">James W Vaupel</a>, Professor of Demography and Epidemiology, <em><a href="http://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-southern-denmark-1097">University of Southern Denmark</a></em>, and <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/kaare-christensen-498207">Kaare Christensen</a>, Director of the Danish Aging Research Center and the Danish Twin Register, <em><a href="http://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-southern-denmark-1097">University of Southern Denmark</a></em></span></p> <p>This article is republished from <a href="http://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/how-long-can-humans-live-113944">original article</a>.</p>

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In praise of doing nothing

<p>In the 1950s, <a href="https://books.google.com/books/about/Take_Back_Your_Time.html?id=_UmpZOlnvU0C&amp;printsec=frontcover&amp;source=kp_read_button#v=onepage&amp;q&amp;f=false">scholars worried that</a>, thanks to technological innovations, Americans wouldn’t know what to do with all of their leisure time.</p> <p>Yet today, as sociologist Juliet Schor <a href="https://books.google.com/books?id=KjZ54lNDE2EC&amp;dq=overworked+american&amp;hl=en&amp;sa=X&amp;redir_esc=y">notes</a>, Americans are overworked, putting in more hours than at any time since the Depression and more than in any other in Western society.</p> <p>It’s probably not unrelated to the fact that instant and constant access has become de rigueur, and our devices constantly expose us to a barrage of colliding and clamoring messages: “Urgent,” “Breaking News,” “For immediate release,” “Answer needed ASAP.”</p> <p>It disturbs our leisure time, our family time – even our consciousness.</p> <p>Over the past decade, I’ve tried to understand the social and psychological effects of our growing interactions with new information and communication technologies, a topic I examine in my book “<a href="https://www.routledge.com/The-Terminal-Self-Everyday-Life-in-Hypermodern-Times/Gottschalk/p/book/9781472437082">The Terminal Self: Everyday Life in Hypermodern Times</a>.”</p> <p>In this 24/7, “always on” age, the prospect of doing nothing might sound unrealistic and unreasonable.</p> <p>But it’s never been more important.</p> <h2>Acceleration for the sake of acceleration</h2> <p>In an age of incredible advancements that can enhance our human potential and planetary health, why does daily life seem so overwhelming and anxiety-inducing?</p> <p>Why aren’t things easier?</p> <p>It’s a complex question, but one way to explain this irrational state of affairs is something called the force of acceleration.</p> <p><a href="https://cup.columbia.edu/book/social-acceleration/9780231148351">According to German critical theorist Hartmut Rosa</a>, accelerated technological developments have driven the acceleration in the pace of change in social institutions.</p> <p>We see this on factory floors, where “<a href="https://books.google.com/books?id=bdBTAAAAMAAJ&amp;q=inauthor:%22Edward+J.+Hay%22&amp;dq=inauthor:%22Edward+J.+Hay%22&amp;hl=en&amp;sa=X&amp;ved=0ahUKEwjs5vHLm6vbAhUjLn0KHaRSAqcQ6AEILjAB">just-in-time</a>” manufacturing demands maximum efficiency and the ability to nimbly respond to market forces, and in university classrooms, where computer software instructs teachers how to “move students quickly” through the material. Whether it’s in the grocery store or in the airport, procedures are implemented, for better or for worse, with one goal in mind: speed.</p> <p>Noticeable acceleration began more than two centuries ago, during the Industrial Revolution. But this acceleration has itself … accelerated. Guided by neither logical objectives nor agreed-upon rationale, propelled by its own momentum, and encountering little resistance, acceleration seems to have begotten more acceleration, for the sake of acceleration.</p> <p>To Rosa, this acceleration <a href="http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/hartmut-rosa-essay-acceleration-plagues-modern-society-a-909465.html">eerily mimics</a> the criteria of a totalitarian power: 1) it exerts pressure on the wills and actions of subjects; 2) it is inescapable; 3) it is all-pervasive; and 4) it is hard or almost impossible to criticize and fight.</p> <h2>The oppression of speed</h2> <p>Unchecked acceleration has consequences.</p> <p>At the environmental level, it extracts resources from nature faster than they can replenish themselves and produces waste faster than it can be processed.</p> <p>At the personal level, it distorts how we experience time and space. It deteriorates how we approach our everyday activities, deforms how we relate to each other and erodes a stable sense of self. It leads to burnout at one end of the continuum and to depression at the other. Cognitively, it inhibits sustained focus and critical evaluation. Physiologically, it can stress our bodies and disrupt vital functions.</p> <p>For example, <a href="https://www.bookdepository.com/Gender-Divisions-Working-Time-New-Economy-Diane-Perrons/9781847204974">research finds</a> two to three times more self-reported health problems, from anxiety to sleeping issues, among workers who frequently work in high-speed environments compared with those who do not.</p> <p>When our environment accelerates, we must pedal faster in order to keep up with the pace. Workers receive more emails than ever before – <a href="https://globalnews.ca/news/3395457/this-is-how-much-time-you-spend-on-work-emails-every-day-according-to-a-canadian-survey/">a number that’s only expected to grow</a>. The more emails you receive, the more time you need to process them. It requires that you either accomplish this or another task in less time, that you perform several tasks at once, or that you take less time in between reading and responding to emails.</p> <p>American workers’ productivity <a href="https://www.epi.org/productivity-pay-gap/">has increased dramatically since 1973</a>. What has also increased sharply during that same period is the pay gap between productivity and pay. While productivity between 1973 and 2016 has increased by 73.7 percent, hourly pay has increased by only 12.5 percent. In other words, productivity has increased at about six times the rate of hourly pay.</p> <p>Clearly, acceleration demands more work – and to what end? There are only so many hours in a day, and this additional expenditure of energy reduces individuals’ ability to engage in life’s essential activities: family, leisure, community, citizenship, spiritual yearnings and self-development.</p> <p>It’s a vicious loop: Acceleration imposes more stress on individuals and curtails their ability to manage its effects, thereby worsening it.</p> <h2>Doing nothing and ‘being’</h2> <p>In a hypermodern society propelled by the twin engines of acceleration and excess, doing nothing is equated with waste, laziness, lack of ambition, boredom or “down” time.</p> <p>But this betrays a rather instrumental grasp of human existence.</p> <p><a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/1809754">Much research</a> – and many spiritual and philosophical systems – suggest that detaching from daily concerns and spending time in simple reflection and contemplation are essential to health, sanity and personal growth.</p> <p>Similarly, to equate “doing nothing” with nonproductivity betrays a short-sighted understanding of productivity. In fact, psychological <a href="https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2432964">research suggests</a> that doing nothing is essential for creativity and innovation, and a person’s seeming inactivity might actually cultivate new insights, inventions or melodies.</p> <p><a href="https://www.harpercollins.com/9780060750510/in-praise-of-slowness">As legends go</a>, Isaac Newton grasped the law of gravity sitting under an apple tree. Archimedes discovered the law of buoyancy relaxing in his bathtub, while Albert Einstein was well-known for staring for hours into space in his office.</p> <p><a href="https://www.jstor.org/stable/40222893?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents">The academic sabbatical</a> is centered on the understanding that the mind needs to rest and be allowed to explore in order to germinate new ideas.</p> <p>Doing nothing – or just being – is as important to human well-being as doing something.</p> <p>The key is to balance the two.</p> <h2>Taking your foot off the pedal</h2> <p>Since it will probably be difficult to go cold turkey from an accelerated pace of existence to doing nothing, one first step consists in decelerating. One relatively easy way to do so is to simply turn off all the technological devices that connect us to the internet – at least for a while – and assess what happens to us when we do.</p> <p><a href="https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/cyber.2016.0259">Danish researchers found</a> that students who disconnected from Facebook for just one week reported notable increases in life satisfaction and positive emotions. <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/16/technology/16brain.html">In another experiment</a>, neuroscientists who went on a nature trip reported enhanced cognitive performance.</p> <p>Different social movements are addressing the problem of acceleration. The <a href="https://www.slowfoodusa.org/about-us">Slow Food</a> movement, for example, is a grassroots campaign that advocates a form of deceleration by rejecting fast food and factory farming.</p> <p>As we race along, it seems as though we’re not taking the time to seriously examine the rationale behind our frenetic lives – and mistakenly assume that <a href="https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/being-busy-is-nothing-to-brag-about_us_5a4b9a6de4b0d86c803c7971">those who are very busy</a> must be involved in important projects.</p> <p>Touted by the <a href="https://twitter.com/nbcnews/status/898748875225260032?lang=en">mass media</a> and <a href="https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoft-365/blog/2013/11/06/microsoft-office-declares-get-it-done-day/">corporate culture</a>, this credo of busyness contradicts both how most people in our society define “<a href="https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-the-good-life-4038226">the good life</a>” and the tenets of many Eastern philosophies that extol the virtue and power of stillness.</p> <p>French philosopher Albert Camus perhaps <a href="https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/20617-idleness-is-fatal-only-to-the-mediocre">put it best</a> when he wrote, “Idleness is fatal only to the mediocre.”<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/95998/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em>Written by <span>Simon Gottschalk, Professor of Sociology, University of Nevada, Las Vegas</span>. Republished with permission of </em><a rel="noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/in-praise-of-doing-nothing-95998" target="_blank"><em>The Conversation</em></a><em>. </em></p>

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Why children really believe in Santa

<p><strong>Warning: this piece contains Christmas spoilers</strong></p> <p>Many of us tell our children about a rotund, bearded man in red, who lives in the icy tundra at the top of the world. He is tasked with judging the moral worth of children everywhere. He has a list. He has checked it twice. And there is no court of appeals.</p> <p>We promise our children that, on a known date and under the cover of darkness, he will sneak into our homes. Here, his judgment will be delivered. In preparation, it is customary to erect and decorate a tree inside one’s home (a dead one, or a simulacrum, will do just fine), and to leave a food sacrifice of high-fat cookies and nutrient-rich milk. He will then repeat this act several billion times, aided by his entourage of flying polar caribou.</p> <p>Why would children believe something so absurd? And can it teach us anything about how children come to discriminate between what is real and what is not?</p> <h2>Children are judicious</h2> <p>One might be tempted to think that children are particularly susceptible to the fantastic. And while this may not be entirely unfair, children engage in a wide variety of judicious and sceptical behaviours. And compelling them to believe the fantastic without considerable effort is very difficult.</p> <p>In one study, known as the <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S002209651100035X">“Princess Alice” study</a>, researchers told children about the invisible and imaginary Princess Alice, who was “present” in the room and sitting in a nearby chair. After this, children were left alone and given the opportunity to cheat on a task for a reward. While some children looked towards the empty chair, fewer still waved their hands through Alice’s ostensible location, and there was only very weak statistical evidence that this induction influenced children’s behaviour at all – <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00221325.2011.554921">other authors</a>, including myself, have failed to replicate this effect.</p> <p>In contrast, there is the <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1467-7687.2004.00366.x">“Candy Witch” study</a>. Here, two different adults visited a school on two separate occasions, told children about the Candy Witch and showed the children pictures of her. They were told the Candy Witch would trade some of their Halloween candy for a toy (if they could refrain from eating it – <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0956797618761661?casa_token=Ssb8gSIk4aEAAAAA%3AoYxJXchCIEtEAxcQDL94t9KZvSwUJ291sikLB3-xBq2ooeOjCGIgWIcdMzbOjOeQk7Y6sTKiU3KgYA">no small task for a child</a>). Parents also needed to phone the Candy Witch in advance. As a result, many children believed in the Candy Witch, some even a year later.</p> <p>The primary difference between these two studies is the amount of effort (many) adults put in to compel the children. Children are quite sensitive to effort, and with good reason.</p> <h2>Actions speak louder than words</h2> <p>Childhood is a unique, evolved life-stage in which sexual maturation is delayed in favour of brain growth and social learning. Historically, the only way to learn about something you haven’t directly experienced was to rely <a href="https://srcd.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/cdev.12081">on testimony</a>. Children can differentiate between <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0010027709001929">fantasy and history</a>, evaluate the <a href="https://srcd.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1467-8624.2008.01248.x#b33">strength of evidence</a> and prefer claims with <a href="https://srcd.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1467-8624.2006.00973.x">scientific framing</a>. Children <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22417318">in many cultures</a> are less likely than adults to appeal to supernatural explanations <a href="https://brill.com/view/journals/jocc/11/3-4/article-p311_4.xml">for unlikely events</a>. In fact, children <em>learn</em> to make supernatural claims.</p> <p>Theory suggests that rituals may be a particularly influential kind of testimony. Joe Henrich’s theory of <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1090513809000245">credibility enhancing displays</a> suggests that learners (such as children), to avoid exploitation, should pay attention to the actions of models (such as adults), and attempt to determine the degree to which a model believes something based on how costly their actions would be if those beliefs weren’t sincerely held. Put simply: actions speak louder than words.</p> <p>The “Santa Claus” parts of Christmas are an excellent demonstration of adults willfully participating in a prolonged, high-cost cultural ritual. Santa must be real, otherwise why would my parents do this? The trick, of course, is that we tell children, over and over, that the tree, the Christmas lists, the cookies and the glasses of milk are for Santa and not that they are for tradition.</p> <h2>Generating belief is hard</h2> <p>Because Christmas saturates our culture, it is taken for granted. And because Santa is a lie we tell to children, we don’t treat it as a mature topic. Yet both Christmas and Santa have a lot to teach us about ourselves and how we come to understand reality.</p> <p>Santa, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny are somewhat unique. They require participation in social norms and cultural rituals in a way no other supernatural figures do (exempting religious figures). Children are not so much confused about what is a real, but sensitive to a diversity of cues we adults provide.</p> <p>And when it comes to Santa Claus, we tend to not only make a claim, but we engage in many detailed actions, which would seem too costly to engage in if we were lying. My own preliminary <a href="https://osf.io/hvqd3/">research</a> has shown that the figures most commonly associated with rituals are the figures that are most endorsed as real – more real, even, than some other likely figures like aliens and dinosaurs.</p> <p>Children are sensitive to our actions – singing carols, erecting dead trees inside our homes, leaving out milk and cookies – and children, sensibly, attend to this. And the result is belief: mum and dad wouldn’t do this if they didn’t believe, so Santa must be real.</p> <p>Why would they lie to me?</p> <p><em>Written by <span>Rohan Kapitany, Lecturer in Psychology, Keele University</span>. Republished with permission of </em><a rel="noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/why-children-really-believe-in-santa-the-surprising-psychology-behind-tradition-126783" target="_blank"><em>The Conversation</em></a><em>.</em></p>

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Why two people see the same thing but have different memories

<p>Does it ever strike you as odd that you and a friend can experience the same event at the same time, but come away with different memories of what happened? So why is it that people can recall the same thing so differently?</p> <p>We all know memory isn’t perfect, and most memory differences are relatively trivial. But sometimes they can have serious consequences.</p> <p><a href="https://theconversation.com/witnesses-are-forgetting-clues-to-the-boston-bombings-quickly-12935">Imagine if you both witnessed a crime</a>. What factors lead to memory differences and whom should we trust?</p> <p>There are three important aspects to memory: encoding, storage, and retrieval.</p> <ul> <li> <p><strong>encoding</strong> is how we get information into the brain</p> </li> <li> <p><strong>storage</strong> is how we retain information over time</p> </li> <li> <p><strong>retrieval</strong> is how we get information out of the brain.</p> </li> </ul> <p>Differences in each or a combination of these aspects might help explain why memories differ from one person to another.</p> <h2>How different people encode memories</h2> <p>Memory encoding starts with perception — the organisation and interpretation of sensory information from the environment.</p> <p>The <a href="https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/salience">salience</a> of sensory information (for example, how bright a light is or loud a sound) is important – but perception does not rely on salience alone.</p> <p>Rather, perception is strongly affected by what we have experienced in the past and our expectations of what we might experience in the future. These effects are called top-down processes, and have a big impact on whether we successfully encode a memory.</p> <p>One of the most important top-down processes is attention — our ability to focus selectively on parts of the world, to the exclusion of other parts.</p> <p>While certain visual items can be <a href="https://www.cibf.edu.au/without-attention">perceived</a> or <a href="https://www.cibf.edu.au/you-can-memorise-faces-in-a-single-glance-without-trying">encoded</a> into memory with little or possibly no attention, attending to items is hugely beneficial for perception and memory.</p> <p>How different people focus their attention on an event will affect what they remember.</p> <p>For example, your preference for a particular sporting team can bias your attention and memory. <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/metacognition-and-the-mind/201406/selective-perception-and-attention-the-world-cup">A study</a> of American football found that sports fans tended to remember rough play instigated by their opponent, rather than their own side.</p> <p>Age also contributes to differences in memory, because our ability to encode the context of memories <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0028393216301178">diminishes as we get older</a>.</p> <p>Context is an important feature of memory. <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.3758/s13421-017-0692-5">Studies show</a> that if we attend to both an item and its context, we remember the item better than if we attend to the item alone.</p> <p>For example, we are more inclined to encode the location of our car keys if we focus on both the keys and how we have placed them in a room, rather than just focusing on the keys alone.</p> <h2>How different people store memories</h2> <p>Memories are first encoded into a temporary memory store called short-term memory. Short-term memories decay quickly and only have a capacity of <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11515286">three or four bits at a time</a>.</p> <p>But we can group larger bits of information into manageable chunks to fit into memory. For instance, consider the challenging letter sequence:</p> <blockquote> <p>C, I, A, A, B, C, F, B, I</p> </blockquote> <p>This can be chunked into the easily memorised:</p> <blockquote> <p>CIA, ABC, FBI</p> </blockquote> <p>Information in short-term memory is held in a highly accessible state so we can bind features together. Techniques such as verbal rehearsal (repeating words aloud or in our head) allow us to consolidate our short-term memories into long-term memories.</p> <p>Long-term memory has an enormous capacity. We can remember at least 10,000 pictures, according to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/14640747308400340">a study</a> from the 1970s.</p> <p>Memories can differ between people on the basis of how we consolidate them. Many studies have investigated how memory consolidation can be improved. <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/nature04286">Sleep</a> is a well-known example.</p> <p>A <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/nn.3623">study</a> found that long-term memory can also be enhanced by taking caffeine immediately after learning. The study used caffeine tablets to carefully control dosage, but this builds on growing evidence for the <a href="https://theconversation.com/three-or-four-cups-of-coffee-a-day-does-you-more-good-than-harm-our-new-study-suggests-87870">benefits of moderate coffee consumption</a>.</p> <h2>How different people retrieve memories</h2> <p>Retrieving episodic memories, our memory of events, is a complex process because we must combine objects, places and people into a single meaningful event.</p> <p>The complexity of memory retrieval is exemplified by tip-of-the-tongue states — the common and frustrating experience that we hold something in long-term memory but we cannot retrieve it right now.</p> <p>The emergence of brain imaging has meant we have identified many brain areas that are important for memory retrieval, but the full picture of how retrieval works remains mysterious.</p> <p>There are many reasons that memory retrieval can differ from one person to another. Our ability to retrieve memories can be affected by our health.</p> <p>For example, memory retrieval is impaired if we have a <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0304395901004882">headache</a> or are <a href="http://www.jneurosci.org/content/25/11/2977.short">stressed</a>.</p> <p>Retrieval is also affected by the outside world; even the wording of questions can change how we recall an event. <a href="https://www.simplypsychology.org/loftus-palmer.html">A study</a> instructed people to view films of car accidents and then asked them to judge the speed the cars were moving. If people were asked how fast the cars were moving when they “crashed” or “smashed” into each other they judged the cars as moving faster than if the words “contacted” or “hit” were used.</p> <p>Memory retrieval can also be affected by the presence of other people. When groups of people work together they often experience <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9293627">collaborative inhibition</a> — a deficit in overall memory performance when compared to the same group if they work separately and their memories are pooled after each individual has recounted their version.</p> <p>Effects such as collaborative inhibition highlight why memory differences occur but also why eyewitness testimony is so problematic.</p> <p>Thankfully, the proliferation of smartphones has lead to the development of innovative apps, such as <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-we-made-iwitnessed-an-app-to-collect-evidence-94107">iWitnessed</a>, that are designed to help witnesses and victims preserve and protect their memories.</p> <p>Technology such as this and knowledge of memory encoding, storage, and retrieval can help us determine whom to trust when differences in memory occur.</p> <p><!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/104327/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><em>Written by <span>Julian Matthews, Postdoctoral Research Officer – Cognitive Neurology Laboratory, Monash University</span>. Republished with permission of </em><a rel="noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/why-two-people-see-the-same-thing-but-have-different-memories-104327" target="_blank"><em>The Conversation</em></a><em>. </em></p>

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What you think is right may actually be wrong

<p>We like to think that we reach conclusions by reviewing facts, weighing evidence and analysing arguments. But this is not how humans usually operate, particularly when decisions are important or need to be made quickly.</p> <p>What we usually do is arrive at a conclusion independently of conscious reasoning and then, and only if required, search for reasons as to why we might be right.</p> <p>The first process, drawing a conclusion from evidence or facts, is called inferring; the second process, searching for reasons as to why we might believe something to be true, is called rationalising.</p> <h2>Rationalise vs infer</h2> <p>That we rationalise more than we infer seems counter-intuitive, or at least uncomfortable, to a species that prides itself on its ability to reason, but it is borne out by the work of many researchers, including the US psychologist and <a href="http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/economic-sciences/laureates/2002/kahneman-bio.html">Nobel Laureate</a> <a href="http://www.princeton.edu/%7Ekahneman/">Daniel Kahneman</a> (most recently in his book <a href="http://books.google.com.au/books/about/Thinking_Fast_and_Slow.html?id=ZuKTvERuPG8C">Thinking Fast and Slow</a>).</p> <p>We tend to prefer conclusions that fit our existing world-view, and that don’t require us to change a pleasant and familiar narrative. We are also more inclined to accept these conclusions, intuitively leaping to them when they are presented, and to offer resistance to conclusions that require us to change or seriously examine existing beliefs.</p> <p>There are many ways in which our brains help us to do this.</p> <h2>Consider global warming</h2> <p>Is global warming too difficult to understand? Your brain makes a substitution for you: what do you think of environmentalists? It then transfers that (often emotional) impression, positive or negative, to the issue of global warming and presents a conclusion to you in sync with your existing views.</p> <p>Your brain also helps to make sense of situations in which it has minimal data to work with by creating associations between pieces of information.</p> <p>If we hear the words “refugee” and “welfare” together, we cannot help but weave a narrative that makes some sort of coherent story (what Kahneman calls <em>associative coherence</em>). The more we hear this, the more familiar and ingrained the narrative. Indeed, the process of creating a coherent narrative has been shown to be more convincing to people than facts, even when the facts behind the narrative are shown to be wrong (understood as the <a href="http://www.psychology.iastate.edu/faculty/caa/abstracts/1979-1984/80ALR.html">perseverance of social theories</a> and involved in the <a href="http://youarenotsosmart.com/2011/06/10/the-backfire-effect/">Backfire Effect</a>).</p> <p>Now, if you are a politician or a political advisor, knowing this sort of thing can give you a powerful tool. It is far more effective to create, modify or reinforce particular narratives that fit particular world-views, and then give people reasons as to why they may be true, than it is to provide evidence and ask people to come to their own conclusions.</p> <p>It is easier to help people rationalise than it is to ask them to infer. More plainly, it is easier to lay down a path for people to follow than it is to allow them to find their own. Happily for politicians, this is what our brains like doing.</p> <h2>How politicians frame issues</h2> <p>This can be done in two steps. The first is to frame an issue in a way that reinforces or modifies a particular perspective. The cognitive scientist <a href="http://georgelakoff.com">George Lakoff</a> highlighted the use of the phrase “tax relief” by the American political right in the 1990s.</p> <p>Consider how this positions any debate around taxation levels. Rather than taxes being a “community contribution” the word “relief” suggests a burden that should be lifted, an unfair load that we carry, perhaps beyond our ability to bear.</p> <p>The secret, and success, of this campaign was to get both the opposing parties and the media to use this language, hence immediately biasing any discussion.</p> <p>Interestingly, it was also an initiative of the American Republican party to <a href="http://woods.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/files/gw-language-choices.pdf">rephrase the issue</a> of “global warming” into one of “climate change”, which seemed more benign at the time.</p> <h2>Immigration becomes security</h2> <p>In recent years we have seen immigration as an issue disappear, it is now framed almost exclusively as an issue of “national security”. All parties and the media now talk about it in this language.</p> <p>Once the issue is appropriately framed, substitution and associations can be made for us. Talk of national security allows us to talk about borders, which may be porous, or even crumbling. This evokes emotional reactions that can be suitably manipulated.</p> <p>Budgets can be “in crisis” or in “emergency” conditions, suggesting the need for urgent intervention, or rescue missions. Once such positions are established, all that is needed are some reasons to believe them.</p> <p>The great thing about rationalisation is that we get to select the reasons we want – that is, those that will support our existing conclusions. Our <a href="http://www.princeton.edu/%7Eachaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Confirmation_bias.html">confirmation bias</a>, a tendency to notice more easily those reasons or examples that confirm our existing ideas, selects just those reasons that suit our purpose. The job of the politician, of course, is to provide them.</p> <p>Kahneman notes that the more familiar a statement or image, the more it is accepted. It is the reason that messages are repeated <em>ad nauseam</em>, and themes are paraphrased and recycled in every media appearance. Pretty soon, they seem like our own.</p> <h2>How to think differently</h2> <p>So what does this mean for a democracy in which citizens need to be independent thinkers and autonomous actors? Well, it shows that the onus is not just on politicians to change their behaviour (after all, one can hardly blame them for doing what works), but also on us to continually question our own positions and judgements, to test ourselves by examining our beliefs and recognising rationalisation when we engage in it.</p> <p>More than this, it means public debate, through the media in particular, needs to challenge preconceptions and resist the trend to simple assertion. We are what we are, but that doesn’t mean we can’t work better with it.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/18143/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em>Written by <span>Peter Ellerton, Lecturer in Critical Thinking, The University of Queensland</span>. Republished with permission of </em><a rel="noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/what-you-think-is-right-may-actually-be-wrong-heres-why-18143" target="_blank"><em>The Conversation</em></a><em>. </em></p>

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Why we need to stop medicalising loneliness

<p>What does loneliness sound like? I asked this question on Twitter recently. You might expect that people would say “silence”, but they didn’t. Their answers included:</p> <blockquote> <p>The wind whistling in my chimney, because I only ever hear it when I’m alone.</p> <p>The hubbub of a pub heard when the door opens to the street.</p> <p>The sound of a clicking radiator as it comes on or off.</p> <p>The terrible din of early morning birds in suburban trees.</p> </blockquote> <p>I suspect everyone has a sound associated with loneliness and personal alienation. Mine is the honk of Canadian geese, which takes me back to life as a 20-year-old student, living in halls after a break-up.</p> <p>These sounds highlight that the experience of loneliness varies from person to person – something that is not often recognised in our modern panic. We are in an “epidemic”; a mental health “crisis”. In 2018 the British government was so concerned that it created a “<a href="https://www.gov.uk/government/news/pm-launches-governments-first-loneliness-strategy">Minister for Loneliness</a>”. Countries like Germany and Switzerland may follow suit. This language imagines that loneliness is a single, universal state – it is not. Loneliness is an <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1754073918768876">emotion cluster</a> – it can be made up of a number of feelings, such as anger, shame, sadness, jealousy and grief.</p> <p>The loneliness of a single mother on the breadline, for example, is very different to that of an elderly man <a href="https://www.nhs.uk/news/older-people/social-isolation-increases-death-risk-in-older-people/">whose peers have died</a> or a teenager who is <a href="https://www.psycom.net/mental-health-wellbeing/mental-health-wellbeing-mental-health-wellbeing-how-social-media-increases-loneliness/">connected online</a> but lacks offline friendships. And <a href="https://www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/blog/rural-loneliness/">rural loneliness</a> is different to urban loneliness.</p> <p>By talking about loneliness as a virus or an epidemic, we medicalise it and seek simple, even pharmacological treatments. This year researchers announced that a “<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/jan/26/pill-for-loneliness-psychology-science-medicine">loneliness pill</a>” is in the works. This move is part of a broader treatment of emotions as mental health problems, with interventions focusing on symptoms not causes.</p> <p>But loneliness is physical as well as psychological. Its language and experience also changes over time.</p> <h2>Lonely as a cloud</h2> <p>Before 1800, the word loneliness was not particularly emotional: it simply connoted the state of being alone. The lexicographer Thomas Blount’s Glossographia (1656) defined loneliness as “one; an oneliness, or loneliness, a single or singleness”. Loneliness usually denoted places rather than people: a lonely castle, a lonely tree, or wandering “lonely as a cloud” in Wordsworth’s <a href="https://wordsworth.org.uk/wordsworth/daffodils-and-other-poems/wordsworths-daffodils/">poem of 1802</a>.</p> <p>In this period, “oneliness” was seldom negative. It allowed communion with God, as when Jesus “withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16). For many of the Romantics, nature served the same, quasi-religious or deistic function. Even without the presence of God, nature provided inspiration and health, themes that continue in some <a href="https://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/environmentalism-as-religion">21st-century environmentalism</a>.</p> <p>Critically, this interconnectedness between self and world (or God-in-world) was also found in medicine. There was no division of the mind and body, as exists today. Between the 2nd and the 18th centuries, medicine defined health depending on <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b008h5dz">four humours</a>: blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile. Emotions depended on the balance of those humours, which were influenced by age, gender and environment, including diet, exercise, sleep and the quality of the air. Too much solitude, like too much hare meat, could be damaging. But that was a physical as well as a mental problem.</p> <p>This holism between mental and physical health – by which one could target the body to treat the mind – was lost with the rise of 19th-century scientific medicine. The <a href="https://global.oup.com/academic/product/this-mortal-coil-9780199793396">body and mind were separated</a> into different systems and specialisms: psychology and psychiatry for the mind, cardiology for the heart.</p> <p>This is why we view our emotions as situated in the brain. But in doing so, we often ignore the physical and lived experiences of emotion. This includes not only sound, but also touch, smell and taste.</p> <h2>Warm hearts</h2> <p>Studies of <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1467-9566.12663">care homes</a> suggest that lonely people get attached to material objects, even when they live with dementia and can’t verbally express loneliness. Lonely people also benefit from <a href="https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/p/pets-and-mental-health">physical interactions with pets</a>. The heartbeats of dogs have even been found to <a href="https://www.iflscience.com/health-and-medicine/dog-and-their-owners-heart-beats-sync-when-theyre-reunited/">synchronise</a> with human owners; anxious hearts are calmed and “happy hormones” produced.</p> <p>Providing spaces for people to eat socially has, as well as music, dance and massage therapies, been found to reduce loneliness, even among people with <a href="https://www.research.va.gov/currents/0119-Mind-body-therapies-for-PTSD.cfm">PTSD</a>. Working through the senses gives physical connectedness and belonging to people starved of social contact and companionable touch.</p> <p>Terms like “warm-hearted” describe these social interactions. They come from historic ideas that connected a person’s emotions and sociability <a href="https://global.oup.com/academic/product/matters-of-the-heart-9780199540976?cc=us&amp;lang=en&amp;">to their physical organs</a>. These heat-based metaphors are still used to describe emotions. And lonely people seem to crave <a href="https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/picturegalleries/howaboutthat/8594643/Having-a-hot-bath-dispels-loneliness.html">hot baths</a> and drinks, as though this physical warmth stands in for social warmth. Being conscious of language and material culture use, then, might help us assess if others – or we – are lonely.</p> <p>Until we tend to the physical as well as the psychological causes and signs of loneliness, we are unlikely to find a “cure” for a modern epidemic. Because this separation between mind and body reflects a broader division that has emerged between the individual and society, self and world.</p> <h2>The limits of the individual</h2> <p>Many of the processes of modernity are predicated on individualism; on the conviction that we are distinct, entirely <a href="https://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674824263">separate beings</a>. At the same time as medical science parcelled up the body into different specialisms and divisions, the social and economic changes brought by <a href="https://www.routledge.com/The-Routledge-Companion-to-Modernity-Space-and-Gender/Staub/p/book/9781138746411">modernity</a> – industrialisation, urbanisation, individualism – transformed patterns of work, life and leisure, creating secular alternatives to the God-in-world idea.</p> <p>These transformations were justified by secularism. Physical and earthly bodies were redefined as material rather than spiritual: as resources that could be consumed. Narratives of evolution were adapted by <a href="https://www.history.com/topics/early-20th-century-us/social-darwinism">social Darwinists</a> who claimed that competitive individualism was not only justifiable, but inevitable. Classifications and divisions were the order of the day: between mind and body, nature and culture, self and others. Gone was the 18th-century sense of sociability in which, as Alexander Pope put it, “self love and social be the same”.</p> <p>Little wonder then, that the language of loneliness has increased in the 21st century. Privatisation, deregulation and austerity have continued the forces of liberalisation. And languages of loneliness thrive in the gaps created by the meaninglessness and powerlessness identified by <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1057/palgrave.sth.8700046">Karl Marx</a> and sociologist <a href="https://blog.oup.com/2017/10/energy-contagion-emile-durkheim/">Emile Durkheim</a> as synonymous with the post-industrial age.</p> <p>Of course loneliness is not only about material want. Billionaires are lonely too. Poverty might increase loneliness linked to social isolation, but <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/pragyaagarwaleurope/2018/07/12/loneliness-as-an-entrepreneur-heres-something-we-can-do-about-it/">wealth is no buffer</a> against the absence of meaning in the modern age. Nor is it useful in navigating the proliferation of 21st-century “communities” that exist (online and off) that lack the mutual obligation assured by earlier definitions of community as a source of “common good”.</p> <p>I am not suggesting a return to the humours, or some fictitious, pre-industrial Arcadia. But I do think that more attention needs to be paid to loneliness’s complex history. In the context of this history, knee-jerk claims of an “epidemic” are revealed to be unhelpful. Instead, we must address what “community” means in the present, and acknowledge the myriad kinds of loneliness (positive and negative) that exist under modern individualism.</p> <p>To do this we must tend to the body, for that is how we connect to the world, and each other, as sensory, physical beings.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/127056/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em>Written by <span>Fay Bound Alberti, Reader in History and UKRI Future Leaders Fellow, University of York</span>. Republished with permission of </em><a rel="noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/stop-medicalising-loneliness-history-reveals-its-society-that-needs-mending-127056" target="_blank"><em>The Conversation</em></a><em>.</em></p>

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How best to celebrate Christmas with a person with dementia

<p>Christmas can be a stressful time for hosts and guests alike, and it’s more so for carers of people living with dementia.</p> <p>It’s difficult to give general advice about how to get through the holiday season with as little fuss as possible because everyone is unique, and the various types and stages of dementia affect behaviour in different ways.</p> <p>So I’m going to tell you a story of how one couple is getting through. Hopefully, their strategies will suggest things other families can do for a better Christmas.</p> <p>Tom and Nola are not real people. Their portraits below are based on my experience working with people with dementia, and on conversations I’ve had with these people, their carers and service providers about how to cope at Christmas time.</p> <h2>Tailoring Christmas</h2> <p>Tom was diagnosed with dementia about three years ago.</p> <p>“My memory is not so good now,” he says. But Nola, his wife and carer, says that he’s still sociable and enjoys food and company.</p> <p>“Tom’s difficulty is that he can’t follow most conversations, remember people’s names and needs help finding his way around. He likes me to be around all the time because he seems to be worried about something happening, and can’t make even small decisions such as what he wants to eat from the fridge.”</p> <p>After a stressful and exhausting experience last year, Nola has decided not to host Christmas this time around.</p> <p>“This year we’re going to break with tradition and not have the extended family over for lunch,” Nola says.</p> <p>“Tom doesn’t cope well when there’s a group of more than four people, especially when the conversation is going fast and people are excited. He either talks out of turn and says something inappropriate, or wanders off, and I know he finds it frustrating not fitting in. He gets tired after an hour and asks to go home.”</p> <p>“If I’m stressed, Tom senses this and gets anxious too. So it’s better for both of us if we have quieter celebrations this year.”</p> <p>This tendency for mood to be transferred between people is known as <a href="http://www.pnas.org/content/110/24/9944">emotional contagion</a>, and it’s enhanced in people with dementia.</p> <h2>Changing expectations</h2> <p>Nola didn’t find it easy to tell her three children about their decision.</p> <p>“I felt like I was letting the family down. I think they felt a little abandoned.”</p> <p>“They tried to persuade me to have it at our place still and they would help out more, but I know it would still be difficult to cope with for Tom. The grandkids get so excited on the day and scream and run around.”</p> <p>“My daughter has agreed to have Christmas at her place. Tom and I are going to arrive late morning because this is his best time. I’m hoping that he’ll be happy to have an afternoon rest in the bedroom with some quiet music so that I can relax and not worry about him and be with the family. But if he’s not happy with that then we’ll just go home.”</p> <p>“My children are all going to individually have lunch with us that week so that Tom and I get to have some time with them in a quieter environment.”</p> <p>“Leading up to Christmas we’ve been finding Tom activities that he can do with each of us within his abilities. One daughter has been bringing her Christmas cards and getting Tom to address the envelopes and put on the stamps. This got him reminiscing about the past few Christmases.”</p> <p>“We get lots of visitors this time of year and I’ve been asking each person who comes to spend five minutes talking one-on-one with Tom. I remind them that it takes him a little bit of time to respond in conversations sometimes and to just give him this time.”</p> <p>“The grandkids are now really good at having this special ‘Pop time’ and often bring something they’ve made at school to show him. He enjoyed singing Christmas carols with Christa (a granddaughter) last week and remembers all the words.”</p> <p>“People often ask me what to give Tom, and I have been asking them to give him the gift of their company.”</p> <p>Nola often suggests activities that Tom likes and can do that he and the visitor can do together.</p> <p>“It’s also a present of time to myself when someone takes Tom out, or are keeping him occupied and content.”</p> <p>“The grandkids used to think that because Tom didn’t remember their visits that it was better to bring him presents because then he would have something to remember them by. I explained that the happy warm feelings bring chemical changes in his brain which remain even though the memory is lost.”</p> <h2>Advice and tips</h2> <p>Hopefully, this little vignette is a useful tool to start thinking about how you can tailor your Christmas celebrations to accommodate the person with dementia in your family.</p> <p>Here are some tips for carers of people living with dementia:</p> <ul> <li>Have realistic expectations of what you have the time and energy to do, and what the person with dementia has the ability to do.</li> <li>Communicate with family and friends about how things may be different this year.</li> <li>Ask for help, remember your tiredness and agitation is contagious.</li> <li>Plan somewhere quiet where the person with dementia can have some “time out” from the family celebration.</li> <li>Give family and friends activities they can do with the person with dementia.</li> <li>Get family and friends to give you respite so that you can enjoy the Christmas season too.</li> <li>Ask family and friends to spend a little one-on-one time with the person with dementia.</li> <li>Let others know that the person with dementia may value gifts of company rather than material goods.</li> </ul> <p>You can find <a href="http://www.fightdementia.org.au/common/files/NSW/20130514-NSW-Christmas-with-a-Loved-One-2013.pdf">more tips here</a>.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/21110/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em>Written by <span>Lee-Fay Low, A/Prof in Ageing and Health, University of Sydney</span>. Republished with permission of </em><a rel="noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/how-best-to-celebrate-christmas-with-a-person-with-dementia-21110" target="_blank"><em>The Conversation</em></a><em>. </em></p>

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The mind trick to make chores more enjoyable

<p><span>There are days where it just feels hard to carry out our activities and complete daily tasks as needed. When this occurs, it may be helpful to ask yourself this mindset-changing question from Tim Ferriss’ <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/benjaminphardy/2017/12/13/by-asking-himself-this-9-word-question-tim-ferriss-changed-his-life/#436b84ab5df5"><em>Tribe of Mentors</em></a>:</span></p> <p><span>“What would this look like if it were easy?”</span></p> <p><span>The productivity guru said we sometimes perceive problems as unnecessarily difficult, leading us towards <a href="https://www.lifehacker.com.au/2019/11/ask-yourself-what-would-this-task-look-like-if-it-were-fun/">paths of most resistance</a>. </span></p> <p><span>“But what happens if we frame things in terms of elegance instead of strain? Sometimes, we find incredible results with ease instead of stress,” he explained. </span></p> <p><span>“Sometimes, we “solve” the problem by completely reframing it.”</span></p> <p><span>What does easy look like? For <a href="http://money.com/money/5661915/tackle-financial-to-do-list/"><em>Money.com</em></a>’s Nina Semczuk, things are easier when they are fun. </span></p> <p><span>To achieve this, Semczuk combines “hideously boring” chores such as grocery shopping and laundry with enjoyable things such as seeing friends, bike riding and dancing.</span></p> <p><span>However, be careful of your budget when pairing these activities – for example, balancing your books while dining out at an upscale restaurant is probably not the greatest idea. </span></p> <p><span>“It takes a bit more creativity to find strategic options that hit all three criteria: fun, easy, and aligned with your goals, but once you do, you’ll not only feel excited to get those tedious tasks completed, you’ll do it knowing you stayed true to your goals,” she wrote.</span></p>

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4 things you need to do when someone sleepwalks in your house

<p><span>Ever seen a family member get out of bed and move around as though they are awake? It may be a case of sleepwalking.</span></p> <p><span>Also known as somnambulism, sleepwalking is a disorder that commonly occurs in children aged between four and 12 but may also extend to or begin in adolescence and adulthood. </span></p> <p><span>In general, people will not be able to remember what they did during their sleepwalking. Some walk, talk, eat or urinate, but others may even complete more dangerous tasks such as leaving the house or driving.</span></p> <p><span>Should this happen with someone you know, there are some things you can do.</span><span>    </span></p> <p><strong><span>1. Take them back to the bedroom</span></strong><span> </span></p> <p><span>Instead of trying to wake the person up mid-walk, consultant paediatrician Harriet Hiscock recommended taking their hand or elbow gently to guide them back to where they should be. </span></p> <p><span>“They might actually talk to you and it might not make much sense but if you don’t wake them up completely, they usually won’t remember anything the next day,” Hiscock told <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/life/what-to-do-when-someone-sleepwalks/11038626"><em>ABC</em></a>.</span></p> <p><strong><span>2. Wake them up from a distance</span></strong></p> <p><span>If the above method does not work, do not shake or hit the person – they might lash out and attack those who attempt to wake them. Instead, call their name loudly from a safe distance.</span></p> <p><strong><span>3. Install safety measures</span></strong></p> <p><span>Apart from locking windows and doors, you can also put bells to alert other people in the house of the person’s movement. Keep car keys and sharp objects in a safe place, away from easily reachable spots.</span></p> <p><strong><span>4. Talk to a doctor</span></strong></p> <p><span>A specialist can assess the causes of sleepwalking and the options to treat the problem. These may include creating healthier sleep habits, rearranging intake of sleep aid medications, and more.</span></p>

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How Julie Andrews sorts out her “demons”

<p>Julie Andrews reflected on her career and how therapy helped her become “a better mum and a better wife” in a new interview.</p> <p>Speaking to Anthony Mason on <em><a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/news/julie-andrews-mary-poppins-star-on-memoir-home-work-early-years-in-hollywood-going-to-therapy/">CBS This Morning</a></em>, the British actress said therapy “sorted out my demons and what I call the garbage that clutters your head and you don’t need”.</p> <p>“It helped me very much understand and put in perspective my childhood, of course. That was probably the biggest work I did,” the 84-year-old said. “And it makes for a lot of compassion and understanding, and you realise that everybody else is in the same boat.”</p> <p>Andrews, who made her Broadway debut in <em>The Boy Friend </em>ahead of her 19<sup>th</sup> birthday, revealed in her new memoir that she felt “scared” and “inadequate” during her early years in the movie industry. “Was I scared? You bet. Did I feel inadequate? All the time,” she wrote.</p> <p>She told Mason that she was “sad” and disappointed that she was passed over for a part in the film version of <em>My Fair Lady </em>in favour of Audrey Hepburn.</p> <p>“I did understand the choice,” Andrews said. “The Warner Brothers Studios … they wanted big stars and big box office names.”</p> <p>However, Andrews later beat out Hepburn to win the Golden Globe for her titular role in the 1964 flick <em>Mary Poppins</em>.</p> <p>She also shared that she was initially hesitant to take up the offer to star in <em>The Sound of Music</em>. “I was very worried when I was asked to do <em>The Sound of Music</em>,” Andrews said. “That it could be very saccharine, with the mountains, with the music, with seven children.”</p>

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What is a psychopath?

<p>Millions recently flocked to the <a href="https://www.the-numbers.com/movie/Joker-(2019)#tab=summary">cinema</a> to watch Joker, the origin story of Batman’s notorious nemesis. Many have commented that the film is a portrait of <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/film/2019/sep/28/he-is-a-psychopath-has-the-2019-joker-gone-too-far">a textbook psychopath</a>. But perhaps the bigger question is how many among the audience have similar traits? Indeed, is it possible that you are a psychopath yourself?</p> <p><iframe width="440" height="260" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/t433PEQGErc?wmode=transparent&amp;start=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen=""></iframe></p> <p>To answer this question, we need to examine the diagnostic criteria for psychopathy presented in the <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/David_Cooke2/publication/232570257_Evaluating_the_Screening_Version_of_the_Hare_Psychopathy_Checklist-Revised_PCL_SV_An_Item_Response_Theory_Analysis/links/00b4951bb1ac064411000000.pdf">PCL-R</a>, which was developed by Robert Hare in the 1970s.</p> <p>Thanks to Hare, experts can use the PCL-R to assess whether an individual is exhibiting any of the criteria for psychopathy. Estimates suggest that <a href="https://www.livescience.com/16585-psychopaths-speech-language.html">about 1% of the population qualifies</a> – although the percentage is thought to be far higher among <a href="https://www.livescience.com/16585-psychopaths-speech-language.html">the prison population (25%)</a> and company <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/on-small-business/wp/2016/09/16/gene-marks-21-percent-of-ceos-are-psychopaths-only-21-percent/">chief executives (21%)</a>.</p> <p>The absolute or prototypical psychopath would produce a maximum score of 40 from Hare’s 20-item checklist, while a score of zero would indicate someone with no psychopathic tendencies. Those with a score of 30 or over should qualify for further assessment and indications of psychopathy, while many criminals score between 22 and 30. Consequently, psychopathy is perhaps best seen as a spectrum, with all of us exhibiting some traits at some point in our lives.</p> <p>Ultimately, we cannot assume that nurture – a hard upbringing, for example – will make us psychopathic. The debate between nature versus nurture has been long discussed in relation to psychopathy and there has yet to be a clear answer. But it has been suggested recently that while a genetic predisposition is essential for a person to exhibit traits of psychopathy, some environmental factors, such trauma, abuse and rejection by loved ones, could determine the <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/1359178995000100">course of the disorder</a>.</p> <p>Nor should we assume that a person matching some PCL-R criteria is a psychopath. We must also keep in mind that not all psychopaths are criminals. Many are <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/0963721415580297">successful professionals</a>, so a high PCL-R score does not necessarily make us dangerous or murderous. Patrick Bateman, the blood-spattered anti-hero of Brett Easton Ellis’s infamous 1991 novel <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jan/10/american-psycho-bret-easton-ellis-irvine-welsh">American Pycho</a>, certainly is a psychopath – but not all psychopaths are Patrick Bateman.</p> <p>Nevertheless, psychopaths are clearly relatively common – so how can we spot one? After all, if a person is a psychopath, they will rarely accept it or advertise the fact.</p> <h2>The psychopath test</h2> <p>The first characteristic of a psychopath according to the PCL-R is glib and superficial charm. Of course, this can be an apparently positive characteristic. This is not a trait motivated by a genuine interest or empathy for others, however, but allows psychopaths to charm and <a href="https://www.quora.com/What-is-an-example-of-psychopathic-charm">manipulate those around them</a>, from work colleagues to <a href="https://theconversation.com/worried-you-are-dating-a-psychopath-signs-to-look-for-according-to-science-106965">romantic partners</a>. <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/communication-success/201810/7-characterisitics-the-modern-psychopath">Gaslighting</a> – whereby others are led to question their own actions and beliefs – may be a favoured strategy.</p> <p>Another key characteristic is a grandiose sense of self-worth. Of course, this profound sense of confidence or self-belief may explain why so many psychopaths appear to thrive in the cutthroat world of business. Unfortunately for their colleagues and “friends”, however, psychopaths also tend to make themselves look better by <a href="http://parenting.exposed/dating-and-relationships-after-leaving-a-psychopath/">belittling those around them</a> and <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/David_Cooke2/publication/232570257_Evaluating_the_Screening_Version_of_the_Hare_Psychopathy_Checklist-Revised_PCL_SV_An_Item_Response_Theory_Analysis/links/00b4951bb1ac064411000000.pdf">may lie pathologically</a>. Keep an eye out for <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/communication-success/201810/7-characterisitics-the-modern-psychopath">narcissists</a>.</p> <p>Other criteria on the PCL-R checklist include a lack of remorse or guilt, callousness, a parasitic lifestyle and <a href="https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/personality-types-most-likely-to-cheat-and-why-they-do-it">promiscuous sexual behaviour</a>. Psychopaths, in short, tend to be <a href="https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/psychopaths-cheat-and-take-risks-due-to-impaired-social-understanding.html">risk takers</a> and may be less likely to show, or feel, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2242355/">fear</a>.</p> <p>But they’re not always cool operators. One characteristic that is both obvious and common is poor behavioural control, which is perhaps linked to psychopaths being more likely to have a history of <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/David_Cooke2/publication/232570257_Evaluating_the_Screening_Version_of_the_Hare_Psychopathy_Checklist-Revised_PCL_SV_An_Item_Response_Theory_Analysis/links/00b4951bb1ac064411000000.pdf">juvenile delinquency</a>. Psychopaths tend to have a good eye for seeing and emulating how others behave, but they may also have outbursts of antisocial behaviour.</p> <p>Based on the above, my thought is that the Joker – or at least Arthur Fleck, the man behind the makeup – is only a borderline psychopath, with other mental health problems that would warrant further investigation first. There are certainly more real-life psychopaths that would score higher in Hare’s test.</p> <p>The key question is, based on the above, whether you might be one of them and how you intend to use these traits and skills.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/125660/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em>Written by <span>Calli Tzani-Pepelasi, Lecturer in Investigative Psychology, University of Huddersfield</span>. Republished with permission of </em><a rel="noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/what-is-a-psychopath-125660" target="_blank"><em>The Conversation</em></a><em>.</em></p>

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How to break free from fear of regret

<p>How many times have you thought about starting a company, taking a year out to write that novel or leaving a loveless relationship but ended up doing nothing about it? A fear of regret – which is a powerful driver of maintaining the status quo in our lives – may be to blame.</p> <p>As research in psychology, neuroscience and behavioural science has unveiled, regret can have a huge impact on our lives. Money and relationships are arguably the two issues that consume most of our emotional and mental resources, and regret affects our behaviour in both.</p> <p>When it comes to money, a famous bias linked to regret is the “disposition effect”. This describes how investors <a href="https://www.jstor.org/stable/2327802?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents">hold on tight to losing assets</a>. Whether it be a mutual fund, a specific stock or even the cryptocurrency <a href="https://theconversation.com/bitcoin-turns-ten-heres-how-it-all-started-and-what-the-future-might-hold-105782">Bitcoin</a>, we are extremely reluctant to sell an asset at a loss. In fact, we rather hang on to it as it keeps dropping in value, hoping it will pick up again – regardless of whether that is likely.</p> <p>The driving force behind this behaviour is our fear of regret, which makes us stick with the status quo even if our reasoning or intuition says we shouldn’t. We are unwilling to sell the asset at a loss because, if we do, we have to admit to ourselves that we made a mistake in buying it in the first place. Holding on to it therefore allows us to avoid regret for the time being.</p> <p>A more general example is the “sunk cost bias”. This describes the fact that we often start new projects with high expectations of them doing well. While putting enormous effort into a project, we may gradually notice that it’s going nowhere. We can still opt out easily, but instead we find ourselves <a href="https://www.behavioraleconomics.com/resources/mini-encyclopedia-of-be/sunk-cost-fallacy/">hanging on to it</a> longer and longer, exerting more and more effort in spite of our gut feeling and common sense that it will bring nothing in return.</p> <p>Here, we experience regret if we terminate a project before it materialises. We therefore fall into the trap of irrationally hanging on to it in order to avoid regret temporarily. This bias is often at play in romantic relationships. For example, many people hang on to relationships that they well know are going nowhere. A botched relationship that lacks love or passion can therefore still survive due to the inconvenience of terminating it. Ending such a relationship ultimately forces us to admit a failure and experience regret. To avoid regret we instead tell ourselves that as we have come this far with the relationship we should give it another chance – despite knowing there hardly is any hope.</p> <p>The same fear also keeps us away from a new relationship. Fearing regret makes the status quo remarkably attractive, even if it doesn’t make us happy in the long term.</p> <h2>The science of regret</h2> <p>But why are we so easily manipulated? Regret is a highly important emotion that evolution equipped us with <a href="https://pure.uvt.nl/ws/portalfiles/portal/319579/zeelenberg-1999_Phil_Psych_Rationality_and_regret.pdf">to facilitate learning</a>. Without regret we can hardly learn from our mistakes. We need this painful stimulus to avoid repeating the same mistake again and again.</p> <p>But the way our brain processes regret and determines the level of pain we experience is counterintuitive: missing a bus by one minute triggers more regret than missing it by ten (regardless how long we expect to wait for the next bus). Similarly, a decision to depart from the status quo that later proves to be wrong triggers more regret than making an unwise decision to remain within the status quo. It seems that actively taking a decision to change something creates a false impression that the decision does not qualify for mitigating circumstances, making the punishment we inflict on ourselves through regret more severe.</p> <p>Recent brain imaging studies have helped <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16116457">identify the neural circuits</a> that are involved when we feel regret. They show that substantial activity is taking place in the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hippocampus">hippocampus</a>, which we know is responsible for memory. They also show that experiencing regret and being scared of feeling regret involve very similar neural circuits – indicating that fearing regret is actually practically the same as experiencing regret. Clearly, this can help explain why the fear of regret can be so painful and powerful.</p> <p>Not all of us are affected identically by regret. People who suffer from high degrees of neuroticism <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5856863/">are more likely to feel regret</a> than others. This means that the tendency to feel regret is linked with the experience of anger, fear and loneliness. It is also intimately related to “loss aversion” – the tendency to focus on losses rather than gains. That makes people who are more prone to feel regret less likely to take risks.</p> <h2>Challenging the status quo</h2> <p>So how can we tackle our fear of regret to get where we want in life? A starting point is actually realising how profoundly regret affects us. If we are aware that our brain plays tricks on us it may be easier to move forward. So if you find yourself repeatedly failing to achieve your life goals, maybe ask yourself if a fear of regret is to blame.</p> <p>If it is, remind yourself that while making a change always involves a risk it is equally a risk to do nothing. In addition, unlike anxiety – which reflects on the future – regret is reflecting on the past. So, while it helps us to learn from our mistakes, it won’t allow us to correct those we have already made.</p> <p>Allowing yourself to be advised by others is, I believe, the most effective remedy. For financial decisions, you can achieve this by hiring a financial adviser. Advisers reduce our fear of regret substantially because we share our decision with others and are not alone to blamed if it turns out to be wrong.</p> <p>The very same logic applies to romantic regret. Allow yourself to get advice from a close friend or a family member when starting a new relationship or before terminating one. In addition to getting an second opinion, this will also allow you to share the misery of regret with someone else – making the departure from a negative status quo substantially easier.</p> <p>Comfortable as it may feel, letting the status quo take over can mean that we miss out on important things in life. In fact staying with the status quo can often make us <a href="https://theconversation.com/true-happiness-isnt-about-being-happy-all-the-time-88600">more miserable</a> in the long term. And for what? Just avoiding the uncomfortable, but temporary, feeling of regret.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/111115/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em>Written by <span>Eyal Winter, Andrews and Elizabeth Brunner Professor of Behavioural/Industrial Economics, Lancaster University</span>. Republished with permission of </em><a rel="noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/a-fear-of-regret-can-lock-us-into-bad-relationships-jobs-and-habits-heres-how-to-break-free-111115" target="_blank"><em>The Conversation</em></a><em>. </em></p>

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Rafael Nadal's inspiring words after stunning comeback hailed as pure gold

<p><span>Rafael Nadal is one step closer to winning his first ATP Finals title after beating Daniil Medvedev in a “one out of 1,000” match.</span></p> <p><span>The Spaniard was on the brink of defeat at 1-5 in the third set when he fought to save a match point and rallied to win over Medvedev 6-7(3) 6-3 7-6(4), furthering his bid to reach the semi-finals.</span></p> <p><span>“Sorry for Daniil. It’s a tough loss. He was playing much better than me in the third set,” Nadal said.</span></p> <p><span>“Today is one of those days that one out of 1,000 where you win, and it happened today.</span></p> <p><span>“I know from my personal experience how tough it is to close out matches, especially when you have two breaks in front and you lose the first one … I think I was a little bit better in the end. In general terms, I think I was playing much better than two days ago, so that’s a very positive thing for me.”</span></p> <p><span>When asked whether his comeback could be an example for young players that “they should fight until the last point”, Nadal rejected the idea.</span></p> <p><span>“Examples are not for one day. Examples are every day,” Nadal said.</span></p> <p><span>“In my opinion, the example is not the comeback.</span></p> <p><span>“Of course you need to be there and you need to keep fighting, but the example, in my opinion, is not break a racquet when you are 5-1 in the third or not be out of your self-control when the things are not going the right way.</span></p> <p><span>“Just staying positive, staying on court, accepting that the opponent is playing a little bit better than you and accepting that you are not that good. That’s the only example, no? Because sometimes the frustration comes when you believe and you consider yourself too good and you don’t accept the mistakes that you are doing.”</span></p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr">no matter how many times Nadal says stuff like this, it will never cease to be important <a href="https://t.co/dm9oQNNxj2">pic.twitter.com/dm9oQNNxj2</a></p> — Ricky Dimon (@Dimonator) <a href="https://twitter.com/Dimonator/status/1194675099674304513?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">November 13, 2019</a></blockquote> <p><span>Nadal’s win means Novak Djokovic has to win the title to have any chance of overtaking the 33-year-old as the world’s number one player.</span></p> <p><span>Nadal is set to face Stefanos Tsitsipas on Friday.</span></p>

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What happens to the kids when parents play favourites?

<p>Many siblings, when they get together as adults, joke about which child was loved the most. But is it really a joke or is there an edge of truth that still rankles us?</p> <p>In one study, researchers asked adults whether their mom played favourites when they were kids. Close to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-3737.2009.00650.x">85 per cent of respondents</a> perceived that she did.</p> <p>But surely once we move out of the nest, our annoyance regarding sibling favouritism subsides? No so. Upset from perceived favouritism appears to be long-lasting.</p> <p>It is likely that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8721.2008.00601.x">we will fret long into adulthood</a> over why a particular sibling got a better deal than we did.</p> <h2>Is sibling favouritism real, or perceived?</h2> <p>It turns out parents do behave <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0026321">differently with their children</a> and, of course, children have their different thresholds for noticing these differences.</p> <p>Researchers have studied favouritism both by observing children as they interact with their parents and by asking children and their parents to report on their interactions. How often do the parent and child laugh or play together? How often do they fight or argue?</p> <p>These ratings are then compared across the different siblings to determine if one child receives more positive or negative attention than the other.</p> <p>One of the reassuring findings from these studies is that when the differences in how siblings are treated by parents are small, it has little to no consequence.</p> <p>It is only when the <a href="https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2011-27537-001">differences are large</a> that we see links to children’s health and relationships.</p> <h2>Parental stress plays a role</h2> <p>Research on all different kinds of relationships shows us that a big part of how we get along with others is about the <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0000100-000">fit of personalities</a>. We find one person easier or more interesting than another. The same holds for parents and children.</p> <p>Although most parents love and nurture all their children, they will inevitably find that they are more in tune with one child than another. One child is perhaps a bit more social; another is more ready to anger, a third finds learning easier.</p> <p>These differences in how parents treat siblings have a <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/1088868313498308">basis in children’s genes</a>. Parents treat identical twins, who share 100 per cent of their DNA, more similarly than they treat non-identical twins, who share about 50 per cent of their genes.</p> <p>The more the personalities of siblings differ, the more their parents treat them differently.</p> <p>Another driver of parenting is, of course, a child’s age. Parents interact with and discipline their children based on changes in developmental capabilities as they grow. Age and personality explain some of the differences in the parental treatment that children perceive.</p> <p>But while age and personality play a role in why one child gets more from a parent than another, over and above this are issues of parental stress. When parents experience <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0012-1649.39.1.99">financial strain, mental health problems or partner conflict</a>, differential parenting or sibling favouritism becomes more marked.</p> <h2>Impacts on physical and mental well-being</h2> <p>Unfortunately, perceived favouritism can create a divide between siblings. It is associated with siblings feeling less close to one another, both in childhood and adulthood.</p> <p>This finding has been established for both <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-3737.2009.00650.x">perceived</a>, as well as <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-7610.2011.02484.x">observed</a> favouritism.</p> <p>Popular wisdom suggests that the favoured child receives benefits from their special treatment. While this may be the case when favouritism is slight, research suggests that none of the siblings benefit when it is more marked. That is, when favouritism is considerable, it is associated with all siblings showing less <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.01.017">physical and mental well-being</a>.</p> <p>Reasons for this are not currently clear. It is possible that children are activated by injustice. Or perhaps even when they are favoured they fear falling into the realm of being disfavoured.</p> <p>But most reassuring for parents are the findings that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8624.1997.tb01929.x">parental explanations for why they are treating siblings differently really change the experience</a> for children. Explanations that focus on their different personalities, ages or needs are associated with lower levels of distress for children.</p> <h2>Five tips for fairer parenting</h2> <ol> <li> <p>Be aware. The first step is to be aware that it happens, and to seek out help or support from partners, family members, friends or health professionals — to try to understand why it happens. As a reminder, playing favourites is more likely to occur when your stress levels are high.</p> </li> <li> <p>Listen. When your child complains or you see fights between siblings in which they mention one getting more than another, try not to discount it. Be receptive to the child’s feelings and think about why they might be feeling this way.</p> </li> <li> <p>Provide an explanation. Sometimes, children do need to be treated differently, like when one child is sick, hurt or has special needs. When this happens, explain it to avoid any misunderstanding.</p> </li> <li> <p>Avoid comparing children. While it may be a natural tendency to say “why can’t you be more like your sister?” this sets up an unfair comparison. Try to focus on what each child does well, without pitting them against one another.</p> </li> <li> <p>Carve out individual time for each child. As much as possible, try to find 10 minutes each day to spend one-on-one with each child so that each has your full attention. Do any activity that they love to do with you.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/110019/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> </li> </ol> <p><em>Written by <span>Sheri Madigan, Assistant Professor, Canada Research Chair in Determinants of Child Development, Owerko Centre at the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute, University of Calgary and Jennifer Jenkins, Atkinson Chair of Early Child Development and Education and Director of the Atkinson Centre, University of Toronto</span>. Republished with permission of </em><a rel="noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/when-parents-play-favourites-what-happens-to-the-kids-110019" target="_blank"><em>The Conversation</em></a><em>. </em></p>

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Why men and women experience happiness differently

<p>Who’s happier, men or women? Research shows it’s a complicated question and that asking whether males or females are happier isn’t really that helpful, because essentially, <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/008124630303300403">happiness is different for women and men</a>.</p> <p>Women’s happiness has been declining for the past 30 years, <a href="http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.687.9042&amp;rep=rep1&amp;type=pdf">according to recent statistics</a>. And <a href="http://psycnet.apa.org/record/1992-05427-001">research shows</a> that women are twice as likely to experience depression compared with men. Gender differences in depression are well established and studies have found that biological, psychological and social factors <a href="https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s00406-002-0381-6.pdf">contribute to the disparity</a>.</p> <p>But research also shows that women are more likely to experience intense positive emotions – such as joy and happiness – compared to men. So it seems that women’s more intense positive emotions <a href="http://psycnet.apa.org/buy/1992-05427-001">balance out their higher risk of depression</a>. Research also shows women are more likely to try and get help and access treatment – allowing them to also <a href="https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/1491/f62e95cea0e9ef831be1eedb5daea5dce7b1.pdf">recover sooner</a>.</p> <p><a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1471-6402.2000.tb01024.x">Early studies</a> on gender and happiness found men and women were socialised to express different emotions. Women are more likely to express happiness, warmth and fear, which helps with social bonding and appears more consistent with the traditional role as primary caregiver, whereas men display more anger, pride and contempt, which are more consistent with a protector and provider role.</p> <p><strong>Brain research</strong></p> <p>Recent research suggests that these differences are not just social, but also in the brain. In <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306453009003151">numerous studies</a> females score higher than males in standard tests of emotion recognition, social sensitivity and empathy.</p> <p>Neuroimaging studies have investigated these findings further and discovered that females utilise more areas of the brain containing mirror neurons than males <a href="http://sites.oxy.edu/clint/physio/article/Genderdifferencesinbrainnetworkssupportingempathy.pdf">when they process emotions</a>. Mirror neurons allow us to experience the world from other people’s perspective, to understand their actions and intentions. This may explain why women can experience deeper sadness.</p> <p>Psychologically it seems men and women differ in the way they process and express emotions. With the exception of anger, women experience emotions more intensely and <a href="http://mason.gmu.edu/%7Etkashdan/publications/gratitude_genderdiff_JP.pdf">share their emotions more openly with others</a>. Studies have found in particular that women express more pro-social emotions – such as gratitude – which has been <a href="http://mason.gmu.edu/%7Etkashdan/publications/gratitude_genderdiff_JP.pdf">linked to greater happiness</a>. This supports the theory that women’s happiness is more dependent on relationships than men’s.</p> <p><strong>The anger issue</strong></p> <p>However within these studies lies a significant blind spot, which is that women often do feel anger as intensely as men, but do not express it openly as it is not viewed as socially acceptable.</p> <p>When men feel angry they are more likely to vocalise it and direct it at others, whereas women are more likely to <a href="https://trace.tennessee.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://scholar.google.co.uk/&amp;httpsredir=1&amp;article=1122&amp;context=utk_nurspubs">internalise and direct the anger at themselves</a>. Women ruminate rather than speak out. And this is where women’s vulnerability to stress and depression lies.</p> <p><a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/008124630303300403">Studies show</a> that men have greater problem solving abilities and cognitive flexibility which can contribute to greater resilience and positive mood. Women’s reactivity to stress makes it harder for them to challenge their thinking at times and this can <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/008124630303300403">exasperate symptoms of low mood</a>.</p> <p><strong>Putting others first</strong></p> <p>This inequality of happiness means that it is harder for women to maintain a happy state when faced with social expectations and constraints. Research into stress shows that women are more physically reactive to <a href="http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.323.2684&amp;rep=rep1&amp;type=pdf">social rejection compared with men</a>, for example. This means they are more likely to prioritise the needs of others over their own – and over time this can lead to resentment and feeling unfulfilled.</p> <p>Females in general prioritise doing the right thing over being happy, whereas men are better at the pursuit of pleasure and hedonism. Studies have also found that <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Heidi_Dempsey/publication/226845367_Unwanted_Identities_A_Key_Variable_in_Shame-Anger_Links_and_Gender_Differences_in_Shame/links/587f974108ae9275d4ee35fe/Unwanted-Identities-A-Key-Variable-in-Shame-Anger-Links-and-Gender-Differences-in-Shame.pdf">women tend to act more ethically than men</a> and are more likely to suffer feelings of shame if they are not seen to be doing “the right thing”. But female morality also leads them to engage in more fulfilling and impactful work. And this ultimately brings them <a href="https://valored.it/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Still-looking-for-room-at-the-top.pdf">greater joy, peace and contentment</a>.</p> <p>As you can see, it’s a complicated picture. Yes women are more sensitive to stress, more vulnerable to depression and trauma, but they are also incredibly resilient and significantly <a href="https://ac.els-cdn.com/S1877042816001270/1-s2.0-S1877042816001270-main.pdf?_tid=a0a0e343-33ec-48d6-af7d-e8cc17c43cfc&amp;acdnat=1540492141_d5f1196bd43a90f3e8b579965ec7a7e0">more capable of post-traumatic growth compared with men</a>. Studies show that this is due to their sociability and ability to connect at a deeper level with others, both male and female.</p> <p>It’s also important to recognise that despite these differences, the benefits of happiness are far reaching for both women and men. And that <a href="https://www.bmj.com/content/337/bmj.a2338+">research shows</a> happiness is not merely the function of individual experience but ripples through social networks. Happiness is infectious and contagious – and it has a positive impact on the health and well-being of everyone.</p> <p><!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/104507/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><em>Written by <span>Lowri Dowthwaite, Lecturer in Psychological Interventions, University of Central Lancashire</span>. Republished with permission of </em><a rel="noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/men-and-women-experience-happiness-differently-heres-why-104507" target="_blank"><em>The Conversation</em></a><em>. </em></p>

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