a man taking a peldge while lying

Study Explains Why People Lie

We all were probably taught to never lie but there would be rarely anyone who can truthfully claim that he or she doesn’t lie or hasn’t lied in life, ever. Depending upon the demands of the situation, we might tell a lie for harmless reasons like to avoid awkward situations, protect others, or avoid hurting others’ feelings, or, for some other reasons that are much serious and can potentially wreak havoc on our lives. However, there are some people who lie out of habit. And, the more they lie, the easier and more frequent this behaviour becomes. Scientists have now discovered why liars lie.

Psychologists believe that children start lying at the age of two. Since lying involves paying attention to the environment, complex planning, and the ability to manipulate a situation, it is actually considered a crucial milestone in children’s development. While growing up, they keep on learning how to use this skill for their own benefit, and by the time they reach adulthood, their lies become much more clever, harder to catch, and easier to get away with.

Cognitive neuroscientist Joshua Greene from Harvard University investigated the physical process of lying during an experiment. Participants were given the opportunity to win money by lying. While some of them still stuck to being honest and told the truth, others resorted to deception. The MRI of the participants was performed to examine their brain activity during the study. The MRI reports revealed that there was an increased activity in the frontal parietal control network of the group of liars because deciding between honesty and lying requires hard and intricate thinking. Since the neural reward centers of the participants who won money by telling lies were more active, it can be assumed that lying may be a result of the inability to resist temptation.

However, there is still no scientific explanation as to why people tend to avoid lying and whether it is a result of conflict in their brains or an understanding of morality and self-control, or simply following the social norm. According to Dan Ariely, a behavioral psychologist at Duke, “We are our own judge about our own honesty. And that internal judge is what differentiates psychopaths and non-psychopaths.”

Apparently, despite that the urge to lie comes from within, external factors can influence the frequency too. Research has shown that people tend to be dishonest when they are suffering from stress or lack of sleep, or when they see others lying. “We as a society need to understand that when we don’t punish lying, we increase the probability it will happen again,” Ariely added.

Ariely and his colleagues conducted a study to show the change in participants’ brain while they are being dishonest. The study revealed that there was an increased activity in their amygdala, a part of the brain responsible for producing fear, anxiety and emotions. This change made lying or being dishonest easier for those participants. The signals from the amygdala reduced when they expected no consequences for being dishonest, such as when playing a game. Cognitive neuroscientist at University College London, Tali Sharot, who led the research said, “If you give people multiple opportunities to lie for their own benefit, they start with little lies and get bigger and bigger over time.”

Human forehead

Using Your Intuition for Self-Care

Intuition is sometimes thought of as the sixth sense. Basically, it’s an inner knowing that does not involve the mind, or intellectual or logical processes. It’s when we feel something instinctually without needing to be analytical. When we have an intuitive feeling, we’re receiving ideas without being aware of where they’re coming from.

Following your intuition means that you’re listening to your inner voice, which can be a huge tool in the decision-making process. A study done by Lufityanto, Donkin, and Pearson (2016) found that nonconscious emotional information can boost the accuracy of decision-making while also increasing an individual’s sense of confidence. In addition, it was found to speed up the actual decision-making process. This is fascinating information and confirmation that trusting our inner voices and intuition can be a positive action.

According to transpersonal psychologist Frances Vaughan (1998), intuitive awareness falls into four main categories: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual, which we can use independently of one another.

An example of inner knowing as it pertains to the physical self might be when we’re in an unsafe or uncomfortable situation and we feel a sensation in our body, whether it’s a headache, stomachache, or a sense of anxiety. This points to a form of inner knowing that offers a message: “Learning to trust your bodily responses is part of learning to trust your intuition” (p. 186). If your body is giving you information, then it’s a good idea to listen because the information can ensure your safety. If you habitually have the same response to the same situation, it might have to do with a preexisting (perhaps childhood) trauma. Being mindful of this reaction will allow you to cope.

An example of emotional inner knowing is when you feel that someone’s energy or vibes are either positive or negative. Most often, this will affect your behavior when you engage with them. Often there’s no particular reason for how you feel; it’s just felt at a vibrational level. Moving forward, these vibrations can provide you with valuable information. Those who experience this type of intuition might have a tendency for synchronistic and/or psychic experiences. For example, you might be thinking about someone and then that person phones you.

Mental inner knowing, according to Vaughan, pertains to an awareness accessed through images or “inner vision.” You might see patterns in a situation that was previously chaotic. This sort of inner knowing or intuition is sometimes referred to as “having a gut feeling.”

Spiritual inner knowing or soul guidance might be associated with mystical experiences. Experts have suggested that regular meditation practice can foster and enhance a sense of this type of intuition.

In his classic book You Are Psychic! (1989), Pete A. Sanders says that psychic abilities can be tapped into using the “psychic reception areas.” He identifies four different psychic senses in the body: psychic feeling (in the solar plexus), psychic intuition (knowing or inner awareness), psychic hearing (on both sides of the head above the ears), and psychic vision (the third eye or the place between the eyebrows). In the same way that some of us are auditory or visual learners, we each have strengths in one of these psychic areas. Sanders says that in order to face challenges and make good decisions, it’s important to learn your own psychic strength because it can affect how you live your life. Also, when you know the psychic strengths of your loved ones, you can communicate with them more effectively.

How to Tap into Your Intuition

1. Begin a regular meditation and mindfulness practice. Meditation will help you tap into your subconscious mind and is a powerful way to awaken your intuitive powers.

2. Use the intuition “psychic reception center.” This was discussed by Sanders and describes a spot on your head where you receive intuitive messages. The idea is to imagine a funnel on the top of your head, with the larger end of the funnel touching your head and the narrow part extending into the universe. When you need to tap into your intuition and focus on something, place this imaginary funnel on your head and focus your awareness on that area. Be receptive to the messages you receive.

3. Maintain a regular journaling practice. Journaling is a wonderful way to tap you’re your intuition. For example, try to think about a recent situation you’d like more insight about. Focus on that event and pay attention to the thoughts that emerge. Write in your journal what comes to you. As you go about your day, observe others, and see if you can pick up any messages from their body language even before they speak to you. It’s all about “tuning in.” When you have the opportunity, jot down your observations in your journal.

4. Practice creative visualization: Shatki Gawain wrote two seminal books on the subject — Creative Visualization and Developing Intuition, which work hand in hand. Creative visualization is a technique where you close your eyes and use your imagination to create what you want in your life. It can open you up to new creative energies that will help you tap into your intuition.

Begin with a few minutes of diaphragm breathing. Then, let go of any thoughts that enter your mind, and imagine them fading away. Picture yourself in a cave where you remove all your clothes and lie down. Feel the moisture dripping from the ceiling, as its acidic nature begins to dissolve your skin, organs, and body systems. Think of yourself as a skeleton, while being completely aware. Being stripped of everything can offer a magical opening into your intuitive self and may also help you tap into your inner voice.

References:

Lufityanto, G., C. Donkin, and J. Pearson. (2016). “Measuring Intuition: Nonconscious Emotional Information Boosts Decision Accuracy and Confidence . Psychological Science Online.

Sanders, P.A. (1989). You Are Psychic!. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.

Vaughan, F. (1998). “Mental, Emotional, and Body-Based Intuition.” In Inner Knowing, by H. Palmer, Ed. New York, NY: Jeremy Tarcher.

girl looking in mirror

8 Ways to Build a Positive and Healthy Body Image

Body image is a term that has gained significant importance in recent years, thanks to the recognition of its importance and role in an individual’s well-being. Body image refers to how a person views his/her physical appearance; it is a mental representation of how a person looks on the outside and how a person thinks or feels about this physical appearance. This perception is based partly on a person’s observation of self and partly on the reactions of others. In other words, our body image is formed not only by how we see ourselves on the outside, but it is also formed by how others react to our physical appearance. A lot of social factors such as media, culture, community, internet, etc. play a critical role in shaping our body image.  This body image can be positive or negative. A negative body has, however, been linked with low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia, and poor overall well-being. A person with negative body image has often been found to resort to unhealthy measures or extreme steps to attain a more positive body image like, crash dieting, plastic surgery, etc.

At the same time, a person who has positive or high self-esteem has been empirically found to have a positive body image as well. As far as gender is considered, more women have been found to suffer from poor body image as compared to men. However, this trend is changing fast, as more men are becoming concerned about how they look.

Overall, following factors have been found to influence a person’s body image:

a. How he/she views his/her physical appearance. This perception can, however, be incorrect.

b. How he/she feels about this perception, referred to as the affective aspect of body image. Whether he/she is satisfied or not with his/her physical appearance.

c. The behavioral aspect of body image which involves the behavior that one engages in as result of his/her body image.

d. And lastly, the cognitive aspect of body image which includes how one thinks about his/her body image. This may involve preoccupation with one’s physical appearance or one aspect of it.

Having negative body image can be a cause of major distress to a person and can greatly affect his or her overall well-being. In present times of social media, we are frequently and sometimes indirectly, bombarded with images of beauty standards which constantly and continuously shape our notion of ideal beauty, and unfortunately, give rise to insecurities. However, the suggestions given in this post can help you keep all the insecurities at bay and build a positive and healthy body image.

1. Positive self-esteem: As mentioned earlier, people with negative body image suffer from low self-esteem. At the same time, it has been found that, people who have positive or high self-esteem tend to have positive body image. So if you feel dissatisfied with your body image, you probably need to boost your self-esteem. This works in two ways. Low self-esteem can lead to negative body image and negative body image can lower your self-esteem. So in either situation, building a positive self-esteem can help you build a positive body image. When you value yourself highly, you are less likely to view your physical appearance in a negative light.

2. Find healthy role models: We are greatly influenced by the public appearance of stars or celebrities. We follow them on their instagram or facebook. We often find them perfect and flawless and start comparing ourselves with them. In doing so, we forget that what we are looking at is perhaps the result of long hours of makeup session, photoshop, and lighting, etc.

Alas we have been taught throughout history that “fair is beautiful.” And we often tend to feel inadequate or less worthy if we are not fair or have dark complexion. This has a detrimental effect on the body image. If you too feel that way, it is time to find such role models who can give a boost to your self-esteem. Celebrity tennis player Serena Williams is a good example of an achiever whose body color could not stop her from attaining great success.

3. Stop comparing: You are you and that is your power. In order to build positive body image, you need to stop comparing yourself with others. Accept yourself. Unreasonable comparison leads to disappointment. You need to understand that each of us is different, and this difference is what makes us unique. Start appreciating yourself.

4. Appreciate yourself: Remember, your body is your first home. Appreciate how your body helps you achieve your goals and dreams. Your body is doing a lot to help you move forward. If you feel you are overweight and you need to lose weight, then go ahead. But don’t do it just to impress others or you hate your body fat. Instead do it for yourself and for your body because it is healthy.

5. Accept yourself: When it comes to our body we need to understand that there are some things we cannot change while there are other things that we can surely work on to improve. For example, you cannot change your height, complexion, whereas if you are underweight or overweight, you can definitely do something about it. Attempting to change things that cannot be changed will only lead to disappointment and frustration, and will further deteriorate your body image. Accept yourself just the way you are.

6. Realistic expectations: It is important to set realistic expectation from ourselves, especially, for young children, who are blinded by popular figures in the entertainment industry. As mentioned earlier, there are certain things about our body over which we have no control and which we cannot change. So for a young teenager who wants to become a supermodel like his or her role model but is unfortunately not tall enough, having such an expectation can be unrealistic. And this can lead to poor body image.

7. Focus on your strengths: We all may not possess attributes of supermodels or movie stars like great figure, height, or flawless complexion, but we should never forget that we all have strengths of our own. And if we start focusing on our strengths instead of focusing on our weaknesses and the things we don’t possess, we all can become the best version of ourselves.

8. Take care of yourself: Eat healthy, get quality sleep, and love yourself. If you need to lose weight do it in a healthy way. Get at least 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Isn’t it ironic that you tell every important person in your life how much you love him/her, and how much you care, but you seldom tell this to yourself? Next time when you see yourself in the mirror, don’t forget to say “I love you.” Once you start taking care of yourself and loving yourself, you can never feel or think bad about your own self.

Also read 8 Powerful Ways to Boost Your Self-Esteem

Living Alone May Increase Mental Health Risk, Study

A new study has revealed that living alone is linked to common mental disorders (CMDs) such as mood disorders, anxiety, and substance use disorders. As per some studies, almost one-third of people will experience a CMD in their lifetime. As CMDs impact not just the individual but the society as well due to their high prevalence, scientists want to comprehend all the risk factors for mental illness.

Over the past few years, researchers have been exploring whether living alone might be one such risk factor. A new study published in the journal PLOS One concludes that there is a link between living alone and CMDs. The findings also reveal that it affects all age groups and genders, and that loneliness is the predominant driver. The authors of the new study aimed to fill in the gaps in the previous studies sought links between living alone and CMDs in general, rather than focusing on just one mental condition like depression, etc. and they examined which factors seemed to be influencing the relationship.

For the study, the scientists from the University of Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines in France analyzed data comprising 20,503 adults, ages 16 – 74, living in England. The three National Psychiatric Morbidity Surveys conducted in 1993, 2000, and 2007 provided the data on a range of variables, including height and weight, level of education, employment status, alcohol and drug use, social support, and feelings of loneliness, for the study. The study participants were asked to complete Clinical Interview Schedule-Revised questionnaires, to assess if they had experienced any neurotic symptoms during the previous week.

Not only did the authors find the number of people living alone having steadily grown with 8.8% in1993, 9.8% in 2000, and 10.7% in 2007, their analysis also demonstrated that across all age groups and genders, there was a substantial correlation between living alone and having a CMD. The size of this relationship was fairly alike across all three surveys. CMDs were more common in those living alone than those not living alone—in 1993 it was 19.9% in those living alone vs. 13.6% in those not living alone; in 2000, 23.2% vs. 15.5%; and in 2007, 24.7% vs. 15.4%.

When the scientists probed deeper into the association between CMDs and living alone, they found that loneliness explained 84% of it. As mental health problems are a growing concern, the understanding of the risk factors associated with CMDs might help reverse the trend. Unlike those who live alone but don’t feel lonely, the ones who do, may seek interventions such as talking therapies, social care provisions, and animal-based interventions, to deal with loneliness.

The authors acknowledge that the study has certain limitations. For instance, it was a cross-sectional study, that is, it looked at a glimpse of people at one point in time. Therefore, longitudinal studies are required to establish how this relationship might play out over time. Further, the study could not assess the cause-and-effect relation between the two variables.

Therefore, it was not possible to find out through this study whether a person developed a CMD ‘because’ he or she lived alone, or whether he or she developed a CMD and ‘then’ decided to live alone. Also, probably, an individual with a predisposition for CMDs is more likely to want living alone. Apparently, more studies need to be conducted to fill in these gaps.

While earlier studies showed loneliness to be linked with depression and anxiety and therefore, back up the results of this study, the new findings go a few steps further in showing that the relationship between mental health and living alone is stable across time, that the link is not restricted to older adults, and that loneliness plays a key role.

 

An Hour of Sound Healing Can Help You Get Rid of Stress

Global urbanization and the spread of technology have created a world in which people are now held accountable for their actions and whereabouts 24/7 and they are losing both their privacy and down time. If you have ever felt so stressed that working out, yoga or a good night sleep just doesn’t seem to give you any relief you may try a new form of transformational relief called sound healing—a mental submersion into sound that takes us into a lucid, dream-like state of being.

Sound healing therapy uses aspects of music to improve your physical and emotional health and well-being. The person being treated partakes in the experience with a trained sound healing practitioner. Sound healing may involve listening to music, singing along to music, meditating, moving to the beat of the music, playing an instrument.

A sound therapy practitioner employs the meditation technique called sound bath that uses improvised noises to help participants release stress. The sounds are created by a variety of instruments, including tuning forks, gongs, shruti box, Himalayan and crystal singing bowls, chimes, and voice.

The concept of “sound bath” has nothing to do with water or tubs. Instead, the participants are submerged in sound. Sound Baths have a simple requirement, sitting still. Like other meditation techniques, sound baths are meant to mentally and physically calm you. In place of repeating a mantra or focusing on a single object, you lay down with your eyes closed and allow the various, unexpected sounds to help you relax and reach a state of awareness.

Practitioners recommend bathing once a week for about an hour, to experience its true benefits, i.e., reduction in anxiety and stress. The time of the day when sound healing should be practiced depends upon an individual’s requirement. While the daytime session targets physical and emotional stress, and aims to clear the energy for the day ahead, night-time tends to gear towards a spiritual level, and is a chance to unwind.

Sound healing can aid in body regulation, function and self-repair. Group sound baths are a great way to communally connect to those around you. However, if you prefer to go at it solo, a private session allows for the instruments to be placed closer or directly on the body for a deeper impact.

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8 Ways to Help Your Child Overcome Bullying

Being bullied has unfortunately become very common these days. But the effects of bullying on a young mind can be quite devastating including poor school performance, anxiety, feelings of loneliness, loss of self-esteem, or even depression. Earlier it was believed that bullying happens only at middle high school, but only recently it has been found that it has become fairly common at primary school levels as well. Name calling, teasing, hitting, isolating the child from the rest of class, use of abusive language, spreading rumours are some of the examples of bullying, and in this new age of social media bullying has taken a new dimension called cyber bullying.

If you suspect that your child is being bullied at school or has become target of cyber bullying it’s vital that you help your child cope or deal with bullying, especially if the child is young and does not have the skills to deal with the bully. First and foremost is to identify whether your child is being bullied or is going through some transitional phase. It becomes even more difficult if the child doesn’t come to you on his or her own to share with you that he or she is being bullied.

1. Look for the signs and talk: If you notice any sudden change in your child’s behavior like skipping school or unwillingness to go to school; if your child becomes recluse all of a sudden and no longer enjoys activities that he or she used to enjoy before, poor performance at school; any visible signs of bruises or injury that the child is not able to explain, these could be signs that something is not right and it’s time to talk to your child. All of these could be signs of your child being bullied. Create a safe space with your child so that he or she feels comfortable and safe in sharing what has been going on. For this you need to become a good listener. Be supportive and stay calm while listening. If your child is indeed being bullied, be very cautious not to blame the child. Make the child understand that there’s nothing wrong with him or her; he or she is not responsible for being bullied; and it’s not his or her fault. Try to boost your child’s confidence as the child might be having doubts about his or her own abilities to handle the situation or defend himself or herself from the bully. Reassure the child that things will be sorted out.

2. Advise the child correctly: No matter how angry you may feel but refrain from advising your child to fight back with bully by bullying. Otherwise, this can often escalate the situation to more violent outbursts. Instead, advise the child to avoid the situations or places where bullying occurs; advise him or her to avoid places where there is no adult supervision; interact with other kids at school; and most importantly, to tell teachers or other adults at the school. You can encourage the child to engage in buddy system, where the child can be accompanied by another child to visit places where bullying is most likely to occur like, hallways, washrooms, locker areas, etc. In the same way, you can encourage your child to do the same for another child who is being bullied.

3. Reassure the child: Sometimes kids think that if they tell someone at home or at school like teacher, bullying will get worse. Give assurance to the child that sharing with parents or teachers at school or some other authority, will not result in more bullying, rather, adults can help the kid deal with the bully or curb bullying. But this does not mean that you, as a parent, should take this lightly, when the child tells that bullying will get worse. You also need to find a way to handle the situation in a way that does not escalate the bullying. Like instead of approaching the bully directly or approaching his or her parents, it is better to inform the authorities at school. Most schools these days have anti-bullying programs.

4. Teach skills to deal with the bully: Most bullies thrive on the reactions of their targets. So teach your child to hold his or her reactions in front of the bully. It is better not to show any reaction to bullying. Hold your anger, tears, and fears as these give the bully power. In many cases, when the target doesn’t show any reaction to bullying, the bully stops on his or her own. Teach your child anger controlling skills (counting to ten, deep breathing, etc.).

5. Assertiveness skills: Help your child learn assertiveness skills. Help him or her practice skills where the child firmly tells the bully to “stop.” You can use role playing techniques where your play the role of the bully and your child practices assertiveness skills and learns to say “No” or “Stop” to the bully and walks away from the bully.

6. Emotional support: The child might be having a lot of emotional difficulties during this time. Try to support your child emotionally by encouraging him or her to share all the emotions that he or she is experiencing. Encourage your child to give outlet to the emotions like anger, fear, frustrations, guilt, or apprehensions, etc. If the child feels like crying, let him or her cry in front of you. Assure him or her that crying is not a sign of being weak; rather it’s a good way to give outlet to all the emotions inside.

7. Believe in your child: This is a time when the child might be experiencing a lot of self-doubts and loss of self-esteem. It is very important to show your faith in the child. Highlight your child’s potentials and positive aspects of his or her personality. Your confidence in your child’s abilities will surely build his or her self-esteem. You can teach your child to focus on the positive aspects of the situation. Teach him or her to take a positive outlook of the situation and take it as a challenge rather than a problem. Assure your child that you are with him/her, no matter what, and that together both of you will definitely win this challenge.

8. Share with the authorities: Last but not the least, encourage your child to inform someone at school, like a teacher or counselor, or you can share the whole situation with school authorities yourself on your child’s behalf. But do ensure that things don’t get worse, like you can visit school when there is least chance of encountering the bully. Also, assure the child that adults have ways to tackle the situation.

Sleeping Problems and, Anxiety and Stress—A Two-way Street

Sleep plays a vital role in an individual’s physical and mental well-being. It acts as a reset button that triggers body’s restorative processes and gives mind the time to process emotions in order to recognize and react appropriately. Regular good quality sleep is essential for proper brain functioning, repair of heart and blood vessels, and overall physical and emotional healing.

Sleep provides the nerve cells an opportunity to shut down and repair themselves meanwhile, without which they might get exhausted and start malfunctioning. In today’s fast paced world however, we often neglect our sleep just to meet the worldly demands and get things done. According to a 2014 survey, less than 50% of survey participants across the world claimed to be sleeping well at night.

Most healthy adults require seven to nine hours of sleep for healthy functioning, though the sleep requirement may vary from person to person slightly. Absence of adequate sleep often leads to impaired judgment, slower reaction times, and brain fog.

During the past few decades neuroscience has advanced a great deal but unfortunately sleep still continues to remain largely a riddle. However, what’s a known fact is that sleep like air, water, and food is indispensible for us. Sleep deprivation creates a sleep debt that our body is going to demand to have squared up with at some point.

Sleep Deprivation, Anxiety, Stress: Causes and Interrelation

Sleep deprivation may be caused due to various medical (painful ailments), environmental (light, noise, or extreme temperatures), or psychiatric (depression and anxiety disorders) conditions. The causes may be different, but sleep deprivation, indiscriminately, results in disruption of body’s natural slumber cycle in all cases.

Life stresses like job loss or change, passing away of a kith or kin, a temporary illness, or environmental factors usually trigger acute or short-term insomnia or sleeplessness. On the other hand, factors such as chronic stress, anxiety disorders (GAD, PTSD, etc.), depression, and chronic pain or discomfort at night, usually result in chronic or long-term insomnia that occurs at least three nights a week and continues for a month or longer. Ruminating in bed on daily basis about pending works, unresolved issues, and emotionally devastating long-term life-changes, or excessive worrying about future uncertainties are some of the common reasons leading to chronic insomnia.

Most people who experience persistent stress and anxiety or panic attacks on a daily basis report that they have trouble sleeping. While stress and anxiety interfere with sleep, sometimes it becomes difficult to tell whether one is having trouble sleeping because of anxiety, or one is anxious because one can’t sleep. Actually, it may be both. Whereas stress and anxiety can cause sleeping issues, or worsen existing ones, lack of sleep can also cause an anxiety disorder.

It has been demonstrated that sleep debt can have severe ramifications on one’s anxiety levels. A study has shown that grave sleep deprivation leads to an increase in one’s state of anxiety, depression, and general distress in comparison with individuals who had a normal night of sleep. According to another study, individuals who were sleep deprived reported a greater spike in anxiety during tasks and rated the likelihood of potential disasters as higher when sleep deprived, as compared to when rested.

The amount of sleep an individual gets each night also governs how well he or she can deal with anxiety and stress. When an individual is severely sleep-deprived, the deprivation acts as a chronic stressor that hinders brain functions and leads to an overload on the body’s systems, which in turn, contributes to brain fog, confusion, memory loss, and depression, making it harder for the individual to deal with stress. Also, sleep deprivation leads to an imbalance in the hormone levels that increases anxiety levels. Anxiety issues are also worsened because of

Effects of Sleep Deprivation

Chronic sleep deprivation can result in a range of health problems such as cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, excessive daytime sleepiness, memory problems, weight gain, and increased levels of stress hormones.

Also read:

Five Tips for Better Sleep
Self-Help Techniques to Manage Anxiety
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
Risk of Alzheimer’s May Rise Due to Stress

Self-Help Techniques to Manage Anxiety

Anxiety is one of the most common yet most debilitating mental health conditions that can range from worry to full-blown anxiety disorders. There would rarely be anyone who has never worried about anything in his or her life and therefore, occasional worry or fear is rather a part of normal life.  We often worry about the wellbeing of our loved ones or we may fear for our own safety too. Sometimes we worry about our financial situations or our work while at other times we are just concerned about our future. These occasional worries are not always bad; in fact, they are somewhat good for our survival. They help us prepare ourselves to deal with life’s challenges. However, worries can sometimes take acute form and become unbearable, excessive, irrational, or even uncontrollable and are accompanied with physical symptoms such as increased palpitation of heart, sweating, and trembling. If you too are experiencing these symptoms, you might be suffering from full blown anxiety disorder. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) recognizes seven primary types of anxiety disorders: phobic disorders of the “specific” or of the “social” type, panic disorder with or without agoraphobia, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). GAD is the most common of these anxiety disorders and is characterized by chronic excessive worry about a number of events or activities. The subjective experience of excessive worry in GAD is accompanied by following symptoms:

  • Restlessness or feelings of being keyed up or on edge
  • a sense of being easily fatigued
  • difficulty concentrating or mind going blank
  • irritability
  • muscle tension
  • sleep disturbance

However, an individual who worries a lot does not necessarily suffer from anxiety disorders. Sometimes having an unhealthy lifestyle can make you feel anxious. Following are some self-help techniques that can help you keep anxiety in check and manage symptoms of anxiety, though these must not be considered a substitute for professional help or treatment:

Exercise/Running: Performing regular exercise and going for jogging or brisk walk has been scientifically proven to help allay anxiety symptoms. Exercise releases chemicals, i.e., endorphins in the brain that can counter symptoms of anxiety and improves mood. It also helps in lowering stress hormone cortisol that is secreted when we are anxious. Several studies have shown overall benefits of exercise on mind and body. Exercising for half an hour four times a week has been recommended for those suffering from anxiety.

Socialize: Meet people you trust and share your thoughts and feelings with them. Isolation and loneliness has been shown to increase the symptoms of anxiety. You can also talk to your trusted friends over phone and share your worries with them. Since anxiety is often based on irrational thoughts, talking to others can bring sense to our unwarranted thoughts. Suppressing and keeping your thoughts to yourself, on the other hand, can make them overwhelming and difficult to deal with. You can join some support group also, where other anxiety patients like you share their thoughts, feelings, progress, etc. Make socializing a part of your daily routine no matter how difficult it sometimes may feel.

Muscular relaxation technique: Try Jacobson’s progressive muscle relaxation technique.  Since individuals who experience anxiety symptoms tend to have high arousal, progressive muscle relaxation technique can help release physical tension.

Sleep: Lack of good sleep can aggravate the symptoms. So in order to keep your anxiety symptoms under check, get qualitative 7 – 8 hours of sleep a night.

Deep breathing: Breathing from your gut has been scientifically proven to lower the arousal level of body. Hence, deep breathing exercise can help calm your body and mind. Use deep breathing to relieve immediate symptoms of anxiety like hyperventilation or shortness of breath.

Stay in the present: Anxiety disorders are often future-based, which means, you tend to worry about the things that you feel are going to happen. So in such instances, try to focus on the present. Ask yourself about what is happening at the moment. Mindfulness can help you stay in the moment. Mindfulness is a technique where we are made aware of what is going on around us through our five senses. What do we see, hear, smell, feel, and taste. A regular practice in mindfulness can help you ease anxiety symptoms.

Train your mind: Anxiety is often based on thoughts; therefore, in order to deal with it, one has to work on one’s thoughts. Be accepting to the fact that you cannot actually control everything. Try to do your best instead of striving for perfection. Research studies provide evidence regarding link between perfectionism and mental health disorders like anxiety and depression. Replace negative thoughts with positive ones and try to maintain positive attitude about life.

Challenge your thoughts: Most of the worries and fears in anxiety are irrational and without any base. Identify your apprehensions and challenge each and every single thought that comes to your mind.

Eating healthy: Avoid consuming alcohol and caffeine and focus on eating a well-balanced diet. Eating healthy food helps maintain healthy mind and body. Stay hydrated. It may seem like too simple a remedy but staying hydrated can go a long way in managing anxiety. Whenever you experience anxiety symptoms, drink water as it helps lower the arousal.

Use art as mode of expression: Art therapy has also been found to help relieve anxiety symptoms. Use dance or painting as a mode of giving outlet to your thoughts and feelings. It can also help you take your mind off your worries.

Professional help: If you feel that your anxiety symptoms are interfering with your daily functioning, don’t hesitate to take professional help from a psychiatrist or psychologists or other healthcare provider in your community. Professional treatment mostly includes medications for severe symptoms, along with cognitive behavioral therapy.

Also Read: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
Also Read: PTSD: Brain Biomarkers May Explain Variance in Symptom Severity
Also Read: Childhood Anxiety Related With Later Alcohol Problems
Also Read: Test Anxiety—Strategies to Overcome

 

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

What Is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

Someone who is the victim of (or threatened by) violence, injury, or harm can develop a mental health problem called postraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD can happen in the first few weeks after an event, or even years later.

People with PTSD often re-experience their trauma in the form of “flashbacks,” memories, nightmares, or scary thoughts, especially when they’re exposed to events or objects that remind them of the trauma.

Psychologists, therapists, or psychiatrists can help people with PTSD deal with hurtful thoughts and bad feelings and get back to a normal life.

What Causes PTSD?

PTSD is often associated with soldiers and others on the front lines of war. But anyone — even kids — can develop it after a traumatic event.

Traumas that might bring on PTSD include the unexpected or violent death of a family member or close friend, and serious harm or threat of death or injury to oneself or a loved one.

Situations that can cause such trauma include:

  • violent attacks, like rape
  • fire
  • physical or sexual abuse
  • acts of violence (such as school or neighborhood shootings)
  • natural or man-made disasters
  • car crashes
  • military combat (sometimes called “shell shock”)
  • witnessing another person go through these kinds of traumatic events
  • being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness

In some cases, PTSD can happen after repeated exposure to these events. Survivor guilt (feelings of guilt for having survived an event in which friends or family members died) also might contribute to PTSD.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of PTSD?

People with PTSD have symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression that include many of the following:

Intrusive thoughts or memories of the event

  • unwanted memories of the event that keep coming back
  • upsetting dreams or nightmares
  • acting or feeling as though the event is happening again (flashbacks)
  • heartache and fear when reminded of the event
  • feeling jumpy, startled, or nervous when something triggers memories of the event
  • children may re-enact what happened in their play or drawings

Avoidance of any reminders of the event

  • avoiding thinking about or talking about the trauma
  • avoiding activities, places, or people that are reminders of the event
  • being unable to remember important parts of what happened

Negative thinking or mood since the event happened

  • lasting worries and beliefs about people and the world being unsafe
  • blaming oneself for the traumatic event
  • lack of interest in participating in regular activities
  • feelings of anger, shame, fear, or guilt about what happened
  • feeling detached or estranged from people
  • not able to have positive emotions (happiness, satisfaction, loving feelings)

Lasting feelings of anxiety or physical reactions

  • trouble falling or staying asleep
  • feeling cranky, grouchy, or angry
  • problems paying attention or focusing
  • always being on the lookout for danger or warning signs
  • easily startled

Signs of PTSD are similar in both adults and teens. But PTSD in children can look a little different. Younger kids can show more fearful and regressive behaviors. They may reenact the trauma through play.

Symptoms usually begin within the first month after the trauma, but they may not show up until months or even years have passed. These symptoms often continue for years after the trauma. In some cases, they may ease and return later in life if another event triggers memories of the trauma. (In fact, anniversaries of the event can often cause a flood of emotions and bad memories.)

PTSD also can come on as a sudden, short-term response (called acute stress disorder) to an event and can last many days or up to one month.

People with PTSD may not get professional help because they think it’s understandable to feel frightened after going through a traumatic event. Sometimes, people may not recognize the link between their symptoms and the trauma.

Teachers, doctors, school counselors, friends, and other family members who know a child or teen well can play an important role in recognizing PTSD symptoms.

Who Gets PTSD?

Not everyone who goes through a traumatic event gets PTSD. The chances of developing it and how severe it is vary based on things like personality, history of mental health issues, social support, family history, childhood experiences, current stress levels, and the nature of the traumatic event.

Children and teens who go through the most severe trauma tend to have the highest levels of PTSD symptoms. The more frequent the trauma, the higher the rate of PTSD.

Studies show that people with PTSD often have atypical levels of key hormones involved in the stress response. For instance, research has shown that they have lower-than-normal cortisol levels and higher-than-normal epinephrine and norepinephrine levels — all of which play a big role in the body’s “fight-or-flight” reaction to sudden stress. (It’s known as “fight or flight” because that’s exactly what the body is preparing itself to do — to either fight off the danger or run from it.)

How Is PTSD Treated?

Many people recover from a traumatic event after a period of adjustment. But if a child or teen has experienced a traumatic event and has symptoms of PTSD for more than a month, an expert’s help is recommended.

Therapy can help address symptoms of avoidance, intrusive and negative thoughts, and a depressed or negative mood. Mental health professionals who can help include:

  • psychologists
  • psychiatrists
  • licensed clinical social workers
  • licensed professional counselors
  • licensed trauma professionals
  • bereavement specialists

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is very effective for people who develop PTSD. This type of therapy teaches ways to replace negative, unhelpful thoughts and feelings with more positive thinking. Behavioral strategies can be used at an individual’s own pace to help desensitize him or her to the traumatic parts of what happened so he or she doesn’t feel so afraid of them.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR) combines cognitive therapy with directed eye movements. This has been shown to be effective in treating people of all ages with PTSD.

In some cases, medicine can help treat serious symptoms of depression and anxiety. Medicine often is used only until someone feels better, then therapy can help get the person back on track.

Finally, group therapy or support groups are helpful because they let an individual know that he or she is not alone. Groups also provide a safe place to share feelings.

Looking Ahead

PTSD can be very challenging and may require a lot of patience and support. Time does heal, and getting good support from the family can help an individual move forward.

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Childhood Anxiety Related With Later Alcohol Problems

A recent study published in Addiction has suggested that children and adolescents with higher levels of anxiety may be at a greater risk of developing alcohol problems.

Researchers of Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group at University of Bristol, U.K., conducted a study to explore whether early anxiety is linked to later alcohol use and alcohol use disorders.

The link between anxiety and alcohol use had been investigated in the past too but nothing conclusive could be found. While some studies showed higher anxiety linked to greater alcohol use, others demonstrated anxiety related to lower alcohol use, or not associated at all.

Researchers carried out a systematic review of 51 prospective cohort studies, for this study, from 11 countries including the United States, Canada, UK, Netherlands, Germany, Australia, Taiwan, New Zealand, Sweden, Finland, and Norway.

On review, it was found that 46 studies comprised males and females; four had an all-male sample; while one had an all-female sample. The sample size of the studies ranged from 110 to 11,157 participants. The age of anxiety exposure ranged from 3 to 24 years, and alcohol outcome age ranged from 11 to 42 years.

alcoholic-slumped-next-to-glass-of-alcohol_crpAlthough some evidence of a link between child- and adolescent-anxiety and later alcohol use disorders had been found, associations of anxiety with later drinking frequency, quantity, and binge drinking were more inconsistent, the researchers reported.

Maddy Dyer, a Ph.D. student in the School of Psychological Science’s Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group and lead author of the study said, “Our findings indicate that young people with higher anxiety may have a greater risk of developing alcohol problems.”

According to the researchers, still further research needs to be undertaken to understand why there are differences in associations for alcohol consumption levels versus problematic use, and to ascertain which individuals with anxiety develop alcohol problems. This could bring marked improvements in personalized interventions.

student in exam

Test Anxiety—Strategies to Overcome

What is Test Anxiety?

It is quite normal for students to feel a little stressed out and nervous before or during an exam, but when this nervousness becomes too much to let a student perform to the best of his or her abilities, it is termed as test anxiety. Test anxiety is a psychological condition which may not only impair learning but may also adversely affect test performance.

Test anxiety may be manifested in a variety of forms and the symptoms may range from mild to severe. Some students, despite experiencing stress and anxiety, do reasonably fine as their symptoms are rather mild. However, there are others whose abilities get seriously impaired because of excessive anxiety which is often also accompanied by panic attacks before or during the exam.

Apparently, test anxiety can make it fairly difficult for a student to focus and recall information that he or she has spent hours learning about. This would, in turn, contribute to even more anxiety and stress making it much more difficult for the student to recollect and write down the answers to the test.

Symptoms of Test Anxiety

The symptoms of test anxiety can be physical, cognitive, behavioral, and emotional:

Physical symptoms: Some of the common physical symptoms include sweating, dry mouth, rapid breathing, headache, racing heartbeat, a sense of shakiness, and even diarrhea. In more severe cases, nausea, shortness of breath, and full-blown panic attack or fainting might also be experienced.

Cognitive and behavioral symptoms: Test anxiety can also lead to behavioural and cognitive symptoms including fidgeting or forthright avoidance of testing situations, negative thinking, and difficulty concentrating on the test. Negative self-talk and racing thoughts are also some of the common cognitive symptoms of test anxiety.

Emotional symptoms: Depression, feeling of helplessness, low self-esteem, frustration, and fear comprise emotional symptoms of test anxiety. Students feel helpless, nervous and frightened to face the exams and report blanking out on answers to the test.

Strategies to Overcome Test Anxiety

Test anxiety is quite an unpleasant and unnerving experience which can adversely affect student’s grades as well as self-confidence. However, there are certain strategies that students can adopt to overcome test anxiety.

Being fully prepared for the test: It is very important for the student to spend adequate time for the preparation of the exam. This basically means starting early in order to have sufficient time to prepare until he or she feels comfortable with the material. Therefore, waiting until the night before should be avoided. If not sure how to effectively manage time for the preparation, the student should ask the teacher or parent for help. Being prepared will be a great confidence-booster, which will reduce test anxiety.

Keeping negative thoughts away: More than anything else, it’s the attitude and approach towards the test or exam that is going to make a difference in the performance. One should always stay positive. A student must not allow himself or herself to be demoralized by negative thoughts like, “I don’t remember anything, I studied,” “I can’t do it.” Rather one should convince one’s mind to believe that one remembers everything that has been learnt and studied. Positive thoughts will keep anxiety at bay and dramatically enhance the performance in the exam.

High school students

Getting involved in relaxation activities: Relaxation is as crucial as studies during exam preparation. Activities like deep breathing, mediation, positive self-talk and yoga can help calm the mind and boost the power of concentration and retention. Anxiety and excess energy can also be released by way of aerobic exercise which helps reduce body tension too.

Getting enough sleep: Even during exam days, getting adequate sleep and rest is as essential as preparing for the test. A good night’s sleep will help one concentrate better and boost the memory spontaneously.

Moving on from mistakes: It is okay to make mistakes. One should not remain stuck on mistakes and move on as early as possible to concentrate on what’s coming next. One mustn’t expect oneself to be perfect and so, rather than fretting over the mistakes already committed in a test, one should focus on the upcoming one, needless to say, without taking stress for that too. The next test should always be looked upon as an opportunity to make up for the mistakes committed in the previous test. Doing one’s best is all that matters, one should always remember that.

Keeping oneself full before the exam: One must not go to the exam with an empty stomach. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables helps reduce stress while processed foods, carbonated soft drinks, chocolate, fried or junk food makes one feel lazy and thus, makes it equally important to choose among foods wisely.

Not paying attention to what others are doing: Anxiety may also build up if a student starts noticing others attempting their test. No one knows what the other is scribbling away, so one should stop worrying about that and focus on one’s own performance. To avoid test anxiety, a student should keep attempting his/her test instead of paying attention to what other students are doing.

Trying medication and therapy for severe symptoms: If a student feels that the symptoms are too severe for him/her to manage, he/she should contact the school counselor or a physician. If the stress and anxiety is too severe, anti-anxiety medications or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) may be recommended by the physician to alleviate the symptoms.

How to Help Your Child Cope with Exam Stress: Tips for Parents

exam stress img 2Exam time is here again. This could be very stressful for most children as they work hard for good marks. Many children fear that they will not be able to get best grades and will lose respect of their friends and family and will miss out on career opportunities if they perform badly in exams. In the competitive world of today exam stress or anxiety has become quite common. Our duty as a parent becomes more important when the child is preparing for exams. There are several things that a parent can do to ease the exam pressure and help the child sail through this phase. Here are some tips which parents can follow during exams:

Time management: You as a parent should help your child to manage his or her time effectively and efficiently.  Time management becomes even more crucial during exams. Create a time table for each and every activity, like studying, revision, and make sure to include break time in between, meals, and even self-care. During exams, we seldom realize that our children’s brain needs rests too. Many of us, unfortunately, believe that during exams a child must only be studying. This is quite a misconception and creates extra stress and anxiety. Make time table with your child and put it in the study room. You should also make sure that entire exam schedule is known to you and your child especially if the child is very small.

Don’t add to your child’s stress: During exams, parents should make every effort to ease the burden of the child and not add to it. Parents should have realistic expectation from the child. Remember, each child has his or her own abilities. Having expectations that are too high for the child will only make the child feel more stressed and frustrated. The child might think that the task is impossible and might not even try hard enough. Of course, expectations sometimes act as motivators but keeping expectations that are unachievable will only lead to stress and poor performance during exams. Rather, encourage your child that he can do it and show faith in him. This will help them remain calm and composed during exams. Only a calm mind can perform extraordinarily during exams.

Be there for the child: During exams, parents must convey to their child that they are there for him regardless of the grades. Be an emotional support to your child apart from being physically there for the child. Try to understand the emotions the child might be going through. You might have to curtail some of your outings as well. But don’t create an atmosphere of curfew within the house. The child knowing that my parents will always love me irrespective of my grades is a great emotional support.

Take care of your child: This includes taking care of the food and sleep of your child. Make sure the child has his or her food regularly. Make sure the child eats healthy food only. Fresh fruits and juices should be part of the diet of the child normally but during exams it is all the more important that the child eats healthy only and avoids consuming sugar and junk food as they tend to make the child feel sleepy. Fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, keep the mind fresh and active. Also make sure that the child remains hydrated.

Sleep is another very critical aspect during exams. Often parents, and sometimes even the children, feel that they should not sleep much during exams. This is very wrong. Our brain too requires rest and time to consolidate everything learnt, and this is done during sleep. A good night sleep before exams is very important, so make sure your child gets enough sleep.

Take breaks: Encourage your child to take breaks during preparation. This could be a 15 – 20 minute walk in the park, or some play activity, or could be meditation, watching TV, or talking to a friend over phone. Many parents restrict the child from such activities during preparation as they believe that these activities waste time. This is wrong; just like any other electronic device our brain too needs to switch off for a little while to maintain the functioning. Therefore, make sure that your child gets regular breaks in between preparation.

Discuss the exam and move on: Preparing for the exams is not the only stressful part; even the after-exam discussion could be equally dreadful for some children. Not everyone performs exceptionally well in the exams. Don’t dissect the performance of the child; this might negatively affect the performance of the child in the coming exam. Discuss with them but don’t over criticize, and just move on. You can discuss about the mistakes done and how to improve them in the next exam but don’t shout or reprimand the child.

Exam strategy: Discuss with your child and make a strategy about how to attempt the question paper. Suggest techniques to make answer more presentable, which questions should be answered first, how to divide time during exams, etc.

Stationery: It might sound trivial but many times, children sit in the exam and later realize they are not carrying pen or other stationary items and end up wasting time by asking others. You as a parent should make sure that the child has enough pens, pencils, or rubber etc before exam and during all the exams. Make sure that the pencil-box or kit is filled with working stationary items and not with used or empty pens. This might seem like a little thing but it can save a lot of time during exam and help avoid undue anxiety.