A daily ritual that will help you de-stress (in just 5 minutes)

Process your thoughts, diffuse stress and find an optimistic perspective in just a few minutes.

by Brianna Steinhilber for NBC Health

For many, stress is an accepted part of daily life, whether it’s triggered by a mile-long to-do list at work, a schedule packed full of family commitments or the stream of never-ending bills in your mailbox (or, likely, a combination of all three).

Research suggests that over the past decade there has been a sharp rise in mental-health related issues, like stress and anxiety. A survey conducted by the American Psychological Association found that 31 percent of respondents saw an increase in their stress levels in 2016 and 2017, with 20 percent reporting experiencing extreme stress.

Poppy Jamie, entrepreneur, TV personality and creator of the mindfulness app “Happy, Not Perfect,” is no stranger to the severe health effects of a high-stress lifestyle.

“[Thinking about stress] started for me at a young age, because my mother is a psychotherapist and my father is an entrepreneur who suffered from severe stress and anxiety,” says Jamie. As she entered the workforce, Jamie began to struggle with stress-related health issues of her own. “I was a TV host for seven years and I started my own business and I was trying to do so much, I was very much my father’s daughter feeling stressed and anxious,” she says.

Read more here…

Be Vocal Speak Up

Be Vocal is a partnership between Demi Lovato, who is living with bipolar disorder, five leading mental health advocacy organizations and Sunovion Pharmaceuticals Inc.

Visit the amazing website here, and listen to Demi Lovato’s story.

http://www.bevocalspeakup.com/

Running Towards Mental Wellness: Leah Pell’s Story

From Bell’s Let’s Talk blog

POSTED JANUARY 15, 2018 IN BELL LET’S TALK BY HAILEY NEMOY

Leah Pells is three-time Track and Field Olympian, who represented Canada at the Summer Olympics from 1992 to 2000. A silver medalist in the women’s 1500 metres at the 1999 Pan American Games in Winnipeg, Leah was once ranked first in the world in the 1500 metres. She is also a survivor of mental health issues, overcoming her upbringing in a household of addiction, abuse and poverty to become an accomplished athlete.

Determined to use her experiences to help others, Leah is now a school counsellor and registered clinical counsellor. She tells her incredible story of survival and courage in her book, “Not About the Medal”. We talked to Leah about her difficult upbringing, how the Olympic games helped her overcome her mental health struggles, and how she ran her way to wellness.

When did you begin struggling with your mental health?

Leah: Growing up there was a lot of trauma in my home life. My Mum, who I loved very much, was an alcoholic and that brought a lot of instability and abuse to our home. It was not a safe place.

I was in my early teens when I started to have difficulties sleeping and began to notice different symptoms, which I know today was Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I would get startled easily, had panic attacks at school and was terrified of the dark. To this day, I struggle with being in our house alone. I have two dogs who are with me wherever I am in the house.

What inspired you to get into running track and how did it impact your journey towards mental wellness?

Leah: My dad took me to the track as a little girl and I loved seeing kids running around it. This inspired me to join a track club and it was then that my love affair with running began. Running, really saved me. When I felt extremely anxious and sad, I would run and that helped me feel calm. Today I run for the same reasons, to feel well and to connect with myself and nature.

 

 

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Scientists Reveal How to Train Your Brain To Prevent Unwanted Thoughts

Originally posted at Power of Positivity

“Our ability to control our thoughts is fundamental to our well-being. When this capacity breaks down, it causes some of the most debilitating symptoms of psychiatric diseases.” ~ Professor Michael Anderson, University of Cambridge

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have identified a key chemical within the brain that allows us to suppress unwanted (intrusive) thoughts.

Dr. Michael Anderson, a professor of neuroscience – along with his team of researchers at the University of Cambridge – discovered this chemical within the brain region responsible for memory formation.

Further, the research helps explain why individuals with certain mental health conditions – e.g., anxiety, depression, PTSD, and schizophrenia – often contend with continuously invasive thoughts.

The ability to control thoughts is crucial to mental and physical well-being, says Professor Anderson:

“When this capacity breaks down, it causes some of the most debilitating symptoms of psychiatric diseases: intrusive memories, images, hallucinations, ruminations, and pathological and consistent worries. These are all key symptoms of mental illnesses such as PTSD, schizophrenia, depression, and anxiety.”

In many ways, the ability to halt negative thinking is akin to that of physical restraint. “We wouldn’t be able to survive without controlling our actions,” says Anderson. “We have lots of quick reflexes that are often useful, but we need to control these actions and stop them from happening.”

Anderson assumes that us humans also have a “similar mechanism” for stopping unwanted thoughts.

The Prefrontal Cortex, or PFC, is known as the “executive function” area of the brain. The PFC is associated with planning complex behaviors, paying attention, critical thinking, solving problems, self-awareness, decision-making, social cognition, and working memory.

The PFC can also be thought of as the brain’s “control center,” regulating other brain regions such as the motor cortex and hippocampus.

It wasn’t until recently that an area of the PFC was discovered to also play an essential role in stopping unwanted thoughts.

The Study

Anderson’s research was published in the journal Nature Communications on November 3, 2017.

Using a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and magnetic resonance spectroscopy (measures brain chemistry), researchers observed the brains of participants as they attempted to suppress their thoughts on a given task.

Spectroscopy feedback showed that “the ability to inhibit unwanted thoughts relies on a neurotransmitter – a chemical within the brain that allows messages to pass between cells – known as GABA.”

GABA is the brain’s primary inhibitory neurotransmitter, which helps to regulate the activity of exhibitory (‘excitatory’) transmitters, e.g., glutamate and dopamine.

Here is a summation of Anderson’s findings, point-by-point:

– GABA concentrations within the hippocampus, the brain area responsible for memory formation, determines a person’s ability to inhibit unwanted thoughts.

– Suppressing unwanted thoughts is dependent “as much” on PFC activity as the hippocampus. (This bucks the trend, as most neuroscientists focus on the PFC for such roles.)

– People with lower concentrations of GABA within the hippocampus “were less able to suppress (activity) by the prefrontal cortex,” suppressing thought at a much lower rate.

– The study’s discoveries may lead to additional insights – and potential treatment options – for schizophrenia. (Schizophrenics display hyperactivity in the hippocampus, which is thought to be responsible for hallucinations and other intrusive symptoms.)

Boosting GABA levels

As Anderson’s research is very recent, potential treatments have not yet been examined. However, it’s clear that correcting a GABA deficiency – a neurochemical imbalance – can be helpful in suppressing unwanted thoughts.

For those dealing with invasive thoughts, increasing the levels of GABA in the brain may help. Fortunately, there are plenty of natural ways to do this.

Here are a few known GABA boosters:

– Exercise: Increasing your heart rate has been shown to boost your GABA levels. Brisk walking or running, three to four times per week, may contribute to higher levels of GABA.

– Meditation: Quieting your busy mind and focusing on deep breaths may help increase GABA levels. Try meditating for 10 to 15 minutes to start.

– Yoga: Maintaining focus on the present moment may help boost GABA levels. Additionally, yoga focuses on deep breathing, which helps to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.

– Proper Diet: Stay away from soft drinks, MSG, and processed foods as much as possible. Instead, eat foods that are rich in glutamic acid, a building block of GABA.

Foods high in glutamic acid include:

  • Almonds and walnuts
  • Bananas
  • Beef liver
  • Broccoli
  • Brown rice
  • Halibut
  • Lentils
  • Oats
  • Citrus fruits
  • Potato
  • Rice bran
  • Spinach

Is Mindfulness Meditation Science-Based?

Existing research has not yet clearly defined what mindfulness is and what effect it has. The hype clearly has gone beyond the science, and more rigorous research is needed to determine what specific effects there are, if any.

Steven Novella on October 18, 2017

A great deal of electronic ink has been spread on these pages discussing the question of what it means to be science-based. While we have developed and iterated an operational definition, like many complex phenomena there is no sharp demarcation line. Practices occur along a spectrum from rigidly science-based to blatant quackery.

There are plenty of practices, however, that are in the middle. Further, an individual practice can range across the spectrum depending on the claims that are being made for it. “Nutrition” as an approach to health can be rigidly scientific (folate for pregnant women to reduce the incidence of neural tube defects) or pure snake oil (“superfoods” to cure what ails you).

One practice that I think straddles this middle-zone is mindfulness meditation (or just mindfulness). The “dictionary” definition of mindfulness is, “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.” But before we get into more detail about this practice, let’s review what we mean by “science-based.”

What is science-based practice?

This, of course, is the core question of Science-Based Medicine and a topic of deep thought by its proponents. I will try to give the quickest definition I can here. SBM acknowledges that medical interventions which are safe and effective are preferred over practices which are unsafe or ineffective. Further, the best way to evaluate practices is by considering all of the available scientific evidence in the most thorough context.

Read the full article here.

Pressure Doesn’t Have to Turn into Stress

From the Harvard Business Review

When I was in my late twenties, I was diagnosed with stomach cancer. Doctors operated and told me to hope for the best. I returned to Japan, where I was working, and tried to forget about it. The tumors returned a year later, this time in my liver. After a long search, the surgeons found a new procedure to remove them, but I knew this was, again, perhaps only a temporary fix. I was a mess for the next six months. The hardest part of my illness was my constant anxiety about it coming back.

Then I met a man who changed my outlook. Dr. Derek Roger had spent 30 years researching why some people in difficult situations become overwhelmed, while others persevere. He taught me everything he’d learned, and as I started applying it, my anxiety subsided, even though my situation didn’t change. In fact, the cancer came back about five years ago and remains relatively stable in my liver. But I no longer worry about it. Derek became my mentor, and over the past 10 years we have trained thousands of leaders to overcome their stress.

The process starts with understanding that stress is caused not by other people or external events, but by your reactions to them. In the workplace, many people blame their high anxiety levels on a boss, job, deadlines, or competing commitments for their time. But peers who face the same challenges do so without stress. Derek and I often meet executives who have high levels of pressure but low levels of stress, and vice versa.

Pressure is not stress. But the former is converted to the latter when you add one ingredient: rumination, the tendency to keep rethinking past or future events, while attaching negative emotion to those thoughts. Of course, leaders must practice reflection — planning for the future or reviewing past lessons — but this is an analytical, short-term process, with positive fallout. Rumination is ongoing and destructive, diminishing your health, productivity, and well-being. Chronic worriers show increased incidence of coronary problems and suppressed immune functioning. Dwelling on the past or the future also takes us away from the present, rendering us unable to complete the work currently on our plates. If you ask ruminators how they are feeling, none will say “happy.” Most feel miserable.

To break this stress-inducing habit, Derek and I recommend four steps:

Wake up. People spend most of their day in a state called “waking sleep.” This is when you pull into the office parking lot but can’t remember the drive there, or when someone in a meeting asks for your opinion but you’ve missed the last few minutes of conversation. Since all rumination happens during this state, the first step is to break out of it. You can do this physically: Stand or sit up, clap your hands, and move your body. Or you can do it mentally: Connect with your senses by noticing what you can hear, see, smell, taste, and feel. The idea is to reconnect with the world.

Control your attention. When you ruminate, your attention gets caught in an unproductive loop, like a hamster on a wheel. You need to redirect yourself to areas in which you can take useful action. Here’s one exercise we encourage executives to use: Draw a circle on a page, and write down all of the things you can control or influence inside of it and all of the things you cannot outside of it. Remind yourself that you can care about externalities — your work, your team, your family — without worrying about them.

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Put things in perspective. Ruminators tend to catastrophize, but resilient leaders keep things in perspective for themselves and their teams. We tell people to try three techniques: contrasting (comparing a past stress to the current one, i.e., a major illness versus a missed sale), questioning (asking yourself “How much will this matter in three years’ time?” and “What’s the worst that could happen?” and “How would I survive it?”) and reframing (looking at your challenge from a new angle: “What’s an opportunity in this situation I haven’t yet seen?” or even “What’s funny about this situation?”)

Let go. The final step is often the hardest. If it was easy to let it go, we would have done it already. We find that three techniques help. The first is acceptance: Acknowledge that whether you like the situation or not, it is the way it is. The second is learning the lesson. Your brain will review events until it feels you’ve gained something from them, so ask yourself, “What have I learned from this experience?” The third is action. Sometimes the real solution is not to relax, but to do something about your situation. Ask yourself, “What action is required here?

While struggling with cancer, it took me a couple of years to train myself to follow these steps. But ultimately it worked. My stress levels went down, my health improved, and my career took off. More heartening, I discovered that everything Derek had taught me could be taught to others, with similar results.

5 Habits That Turn Off Negative Thinking

From The Power of Positivity

5 Habits That Turn Off Negative Thinking

negative thinking

“We act how we think and feel. When we remove the negative thought, with it goes the drama and pain.” – Anon.

Negative thoughts serve absolutely no purpose. Zero. None. Not-a-one. Know what else?

Negative thinking has absolutely nothing to do with you as a person. Toxic thoughts don’t define your character, and they can’t determine your destiny. Wedetermine the power of each negative thought. Unfortunately, we often grant negative thoughts too much influence – and this is what causes damage.

The Buddha once said: “Your worst enemy cannot harm you as much as your own unguarded thoughts.”

Notice the word unguarded in Buddha’s teaching. As he is with most things pertaining to the mind, Buddha is once again supremely wise. Sometimes negative thoughts have a tendency to hang around – this is when cognitive reframing (i.e. ‘cognitive restructuring’) is essential.

Dr. Alice Boyes, a former clinical psychologist and author of The Anxiety Toolkit, describes cognitive restructuring as “a core part of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT),” which Dr. Boyes says “is one of the most effective psychological treatments.”

No, you don’t need to participate in CBT to learn cognitive restructuring.

In fact, in this article, we’re going to teach some fundamentals of cognitive restructuring. While you may not become an expert on the technique, you’ll walk away informed and – more importantly – empowered.

HERE ARE 5 WAYS TO REFRAME NEGATIVE THOUGHTS:

1. OBSERVE THE THOUGHT

Take a seat in the far back of your mind and simply observe the negative thought. (Think about how you’d watch a bird flutter about on a rooftop.)

Negative thoughts are generally a product of cognitive distortions, or irrational thought patterns, something recognized by psychologists and psychiatrists the world over. You don’t require psychotherapy or medication – you only need to observe a thought, and then watch it dissipate.

2. QUESTION ANY RUMINATIONS

Ruminations are patterns of overthinking, e.g., “I have this problem, which I can solve if I just keep thinking about it.” Unless you’re actively engaging the frontal lobe of your brain – that is, attempting to solve a problem – most ruminations are pointless.

The question then becomes “How do I reframe these thoughts?” 

Here is a suggested course of action:

(a) Create two columns on a sheet of paper. Label the first column “Thought” and the second column “Solution.”

(b) When the rumination appears, write down the time. Write anything of use in the “solution” column.

(c) At the end of the day/week/month, count the number of times the thought appeared and any insights.

Is there anything of value? If not, re-read #1.

stress

3. DETERMINE THE EVIDENCE

Another way of reframing your thoughts is to evaluate the evidence behind them.

For example, if you’re always thinking “I never have enough money,” it may be helpful to assess the evidence and come to a solution (if needed).

Once again, you’ll create two columns. In Column (A) write any supporting proof that you “never have enough money,” e.g. bank account balance, always asking for money, etc. In Column (B) write any objective evidence demonstrating the contrary, e.g. having shelter, food, clothing, and so on.

What information is conveyed through this exercise? Can you say with 100 percent honesty that you “never have enough money”? If so, what’s the next course of action? Do you create a budget and limit your spending?

4. PRACTICE MINDFULNESS

What better place to mention mindfulness than after talking about money – a near-universal stressor?

Christopher Bergland, a three-time champion of the Triple Ironman triathlon and scientist, explains mindfulness as “much more basic than most people realize.” Bergland breaks down his approach to mindfulness in three steps: “Stop. Breathe. Think about your thinking. Anyone can use this simple mindfulness technique throughout the day to stay calm, focused, optimistic and kind.”

Structured mindfulness meditation practices and techniques, such as Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) exist for those people seeking more formal training.

5. UNDERSTAND IMPERMANENCE AND NEUTRALITY

We touched on this during the introduction, but it’s worth repeating: negative thoughts are fleeting and temporary; without any real power of their own.

No matter what negative thoughts cross your mind, it is crucial to understand these concepts. In fact, you can even create and recite a maxim, for example, “This is a negative thought. I’ll observe but not engage, as it will quickly flee.”

One terrific way to demonstrate the powerlessness of a negative thought is to distract yourself. Do something that will occupy your mind, so there’s no room for the negative thoughts.

We wish you peace, happiness, self-love and self-compassion.