Monthly Archives: August 2014

Study: Telling the Truth May Actually Improve Your Health

@PsychToday #AnitaEKelly #Truth #Health #Behavior

Via Study: Telling the Truth May Actually Improve Your Health | Psychology Today.

Want to feel better? Here’s a simple, hard-to-follow prescription.

Studies say our strains influence others

@journalsentinel #MarthaRoss #SanJoseMercuryNews #Behavior #Stress #Society

Via Studies say our strains influence others.

By Martha RossSan Jose Mercury News

Studies say our strains influence others

As a tax preparer, Stephen Yu deals with clients who can’t locate records or are panicked because they haven’t filed in years. Unfortunately, Yu picks up on their stress and sometimes takes it home, especially during tax season. He becomes irritable, distracted and can’t sleep.

“My family gets stressed, too, because they’re worried about me,” admitted Yu, of San Jose, Calif.

If we were talking about symptoms of a fast-spreading virus, officials with the Centers for Disease Control might be dispatching scientists in biohazard suits.

Instead, the culprit is stress. It has been identified as one of the major scourges of our modern age. Seventy-eight percent of American adults say their stress levels increased or stayed the same over the past five years, according to a 2013 American Psychological Association report. And more than 30% say stress has had a significant impact on their physical and mental health. Consequences of chronic untreated stress range from decreased immune system function to insomnia to increased risk of heart disease.

To get to the bottom of why we’re all so stressed out, some researchers have focused on how anxiety can be as contagious as any airborne pathogen. Researchers also liken it to secondhand smoke as they consider how regular exposure to challenging people hurts us physically and emotionally.

Consider how someone else’s negativity can put you on edge. There’s the co-worker who constantly complains. The friend who calls to vent about her marriage. The sighing, toe-tapping, visibly impatient customer in line with you at the grocery store.

Philosophers and psychologists have long pondered the ways people wittingly or not influence other’s emotions. Their curiosity makes sense, considering that humans are “fundamentally social creatures,” said physician David Spiegel. He is the director of the Center on Stress and Health at Stanford University’s School of Medicine, which studies the effects of stress on mental and physical health.

In trying to document the extent to which we are susceptible to “emotional contagion,” researchers are using sophisticated methods to locate exactly where stress develops in people’s bodies. While we may think of stress as purely emotional, doctors know it churns up complex physiological reactions that involve the nervous, endocrine and immune systems.

In a St. Louis University experiment, 20 students watched others struggle to present speeches or perform arithmetic problems. The researchers then measured the levels of cortisol and a stress-related salivary enzyme in both the speakers and the student observers. The team found that the observers’ stress responses were “proportional” to the speakers’ responses.

Tony Buchanan, associate professor of St. Louis University’s Department of Psychology, was surprised at how much witnesses were unsettled by the speakers’ discomfort. “It was also surprising how easily the stress was transmitted,” he said.

Another 2014 study by researchers at UC San Francisco and New York University found that babies immediately reacted to the stress of mothers who had just participated in an exercise designed to make them anxious.

While babies played with caregivers in one room, the mothers gave an impromptu speech to a panel of people. A third of the 69 mothers in the study faced panelists who responded with scowls. After the mothers returned to their babies, the heart rates of mothers and babies were measured. The increased heart rates of the agitated moms were mirrored in their babies, even if the moms tried to mask their distress with smiles and soothing voices, said Sara Waters, a postdoctoral fellow at UCSF focusing on development psychology. But it doesn’t take being in the same room with someone you know to be brought down by someone else’s negativity, as Facebook found with its controversial experiment on how “emotional contagion” spreads via social networks.

For one week, the site’s data scientists programmed an algorithm to automatically omit content that contained words associated with either positive or negative emotions from the central news feeds of nearly 700,000 users. The study showed that reducing positive content in users’ news feeds reduced the positive content users in turn posted in their status updates.

As alarming as it can be to learn that we’re so easily ruffled by others, secondhand stress is not always a bad thing. In fact, it often confers benefits to individuals and societies, experts say. One point of the St. Louis study was to demonstrate people’s capacity for empathy. The observers may have felt discomfort, but that emotional state can inspire altruism. “In natural disasters and terrorist events, a lot of people will be running toward the victims to help them,” Buchanan said. “That’s a situation where everyone is under stress, but a significant group of people are drawn to help others.”

Because we’re wired to be sensitive to other people, secondhand stress “allows us to be connected to other people, for good and for bad,” said Spiegel. Much of his research at Stanford has focused on whether support groups improve the quality of life of breast cancer patients.

Certainly, women in those groups are exposed to heartbreaking stories about members in pain, lacking family support or learning their prognosis isn’t good. But those women can also benefit from comforting those in need and even learning that their situation isn’t so dire. “It can be hurtful to lose someone in the group, but at the same time, they can feel good about offering help and feel lucky to still be alive,” Spiegel said.

For the babies in Waters’ experiment, their acute sensitivity to their mothers’ distress probably signals a healthy evolutionary adaptation-relying on their mothers’ emotional cues to know if an environment is safe.

Yet Waters acknowledges the growing body of research suggesting that chronically stressed-out parents could hurt their children’s development, especially of young children or babies in utero.

She hopes that work like hers provides child-care experts with data they can use to develop coping strategies for parents and their kids. “I think that’s one of the things we’re starting to explore is the extent to which parents can start to pay attention to stress inside the body and help themselves and their children to bring those stress levels down, by doing deep breathing or other calming exercises.”

3-Day Detox Diet

@Yoga_Journal @darshanaweill #Health #Nutrition #Detox #Diet #Wellness

Via 3-Day Detox Diet.

3-day detox diet via Yoga Journal

Fresh Bites

Try this detox menu of simple whole foods to cleanse and nourish your body.

By Darshana Weill

Extra: Find great detox recipes for this diet in Recipes That Cleanse. Read the full article, Renewable Energy, to learn about the 3-Day Detox.

A week prior to your detox, observe your dietary habits. You may want to write down what you eat. Then choose three things—caffeine, sugar, and chocolate, for example—that you want to avoid or limit during the days leading up to the detox. It’s important, too, to replace the “bad” stuff with more healthful choices; simply removing foods from your diet can leave you feeling deprived.

For the three days of the detox, you could eat just whole foods, grains, fruits, and vegetables, and ingest no stimulants in order to give your body a break, relax the liver, detox the kidneys and adrenals, and enhance digestion. If you eat meat, you might want to try a vegetarian or vegan diet for a few days. If you already eat mostly whole foods and have a balanced diet, perhaps you want to move in the direction of eating fewer grains and beans and instead dine on vegetables, fruits, and juices only.

On this page is a suggested menu plan that anyone can follow. Make several servings of some of the soups and grains, so you can have meals at the ready. Recipes for some of the dishes mentioned can be found here.

As you do the cleanse, watch your blood sugar. Eating or drinking something every 90 minutes or so will help you to maintain balance and energy. Water with lemon, herbal tea, fresh coconut water, and wheat grass juice are all good options.

Many people find a more restrictive diet easy to follow for three days. Some even maintain it for days or weeks. Then, suddenly, something happens and there’s a craving for fats and sweets. If you notice cravings creeping in, check in with yourself to see if the cravings are legitimate (your body needing more fats) or are simply habitual. Ask yourself: What have I learned during this detox? What foods do I want to incorporate into my daily life? How can I satisfy these cravings healthfully?

Day 1

Breakfast: Water with lemon, cooked quinoa, flax oil, nuts or seeds (for protein), and unsweetened dried fruit.

Lunch: Herbal tea, kitchari, steamed collards with lemon miso tahini dressing.

Dinner: Half a melon or a bowl of mixed fruit, broccoli, kale, onions, chickpeas sauteed in olive oil, baked sweet potato.

Day 2

Breakfast: Water with lemon, fruit smoothie or a large bowl of fresh fruit with yogurt, flax or hemp seeds, and spirulina.

Lunch: Salad of mixed greens with grated or boiled beets and lemon miso tahini dressing or flax oil and balsamic vinegar; leftover quinoa tossed with any chopped raw vegetables and flax oil and balsamic vinegar; black bean stew.

Dinner: Carrot-ginger soup, steamed spring greens with flax oil, brown rice, herbal tea.

Day 3

Breakfast: Water with lemon, leftover kitchari, sauerkraut.

Lunch: Kombucha; leftover baked sweet potato, mashed; mixed salad with grated carrots, sprouts, and lemon miso tahini dressing or flax oil and balsamic vinegar; leftover black bean stew or carrot-ginger soup.

Dinner: Ocean veggie stir-fry, leftover brown rice, herbal tea.

Snacks? Of course! Enjoy them between meals or as needed to stabilize blood sugars: Almond milk, fresh fruit, homemade fruit smoothie, baked beets, vegetable juices, oatmeal, raw carrots, celery, cucumbers, radishes, steamed broccoli or other greens with flax oil, salads with lemon miso tahini dressing.

Darshana Weill is founder of Shen specializes in helping women cultivate a healthier relationship to food and their bodies.

How to help in an emotional crisis

@APA #Suicide #Depression #Emotions #MentalHealth

Via How to help in an emotional crisis.

Mental health disorders are common in the United States, affecting tens of millions of Americans each year, according to theNational Institute of Mental Health. Yet only a fraction of those people receive treatment. Without treatment, mental health disorders can reach a crisis point.

Some examples of mental health crises include depression, trauma, eating disorders, alcohol or substance abuse, self-injury and suicidal thoughts. If you suspect a friend or family member is experiencing an emotional crisis, your help can make a difference.

Spotting the Signs

One of the most common signs of emotional crisis is a clear and abrupt change in behavior. Some examples include:

  • Neglect of personal hygiene.
  • Dramatic change in sleep habits, such a sleeping more often or not sleeping well.
  • Weight gain or loss.
  • Decline in performance at work or school.
  • Pronounced changes in mood, such as irritability, anger, anxiety or sadness.
  • Withdrawal from routine activities and relationships.

Sometimes, these changes happen suddenly and obviously. Events such as a natural disaster or the loss of a job can bring on a crisis in a short period of time. Often, though, behavior changes come about gradually. If something doesn’t seem right with your loved one, think back over the past few weeks or months to consider signs of change.

Don’t wait to bring up your concerns. It’s always better to intervene early, before your loved one’s emotional distress becomes an emergency situation. If you have a feeling that something is wrong, you’re probably right.

Lend an Ear

If you suspect your loved one is experiencing a mental health crisis, reaching out is the first step to providing the help he or she needs to get better. Sit down to talk in a supportive, non-judgmental way. You might start the conversation with a casual invitation: “Let’s talk. You don’t seem like yourself lately. Is there something going on?”

Stay calm, and do more listening than talking. Show your loved one that you can be trusted to lend an ear and give support without passing judgment. When discussing your concerns, stick to the facts and try not to blame or criticize.

Seek Professional Help

Reaching out can help your friend or family member begin to get a handle on an emotional crisis. But professional help is the best way to fully address a mental health problem and get that problem under control. You can explain that psychologists have specialized training that makes them experts in understanding and treating complex emotional and behavioral problems. That training is especially critical when an emotional disorder has reached crisis levels.

Psychologists use scientifically tested techniques that go beyond talking and listening. They can teach their clients tools and skills for dealing with problems, managing stress and working toward goals.

To help your loved one find a psychologist to speak with, you might encourage your loved one to speak to his or her primary care provider about available mental health resources in your community. If your workplace has an employee assistance program (EAP), that can be a useful resource and referral service. You can also find a psychologist in your area by using APA’sPsychologist Locator Service.

Concerns About Suicide or Self-Harm or Threats to Harm Others

No emotional crisis is more urgent than suicidal thoughts and behavior or threats to harm someone else. If you suspect a loved one is considering self-harm or suicide, don’t wait to intervene.

It’s a difficult topic to bring up, but discussing suicide will not put the idea in someone’s head. In fact, it’s not abnormal for a person to have briefly thought about suicide. It becomes abnormal when someone starts to see suicide as the only solution to his or her problems.

If you discover or suspect that your loved one is dwelling on thoughts of self-harm, or developing a plan, it’s an emergency. If possible, take him or her to the emergency room for urgent attention. Medical staff in the ER can help you deal with the crisis and keep your loved one safe.

If you think someone is suicidal or will harm someone else, do not leave him or her alone. If he or she will not seek help or call 911. Eliminate access to firearms or other potential tools for harm to self or others, including unsupervised access to medications.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is also a valuable resource. If you’re concerned about a loved one’s mental state or personal safety, and unable to take him or her to the emergency room, you can talk to a skilled counselor by calling 1-800-273-TALK.

If you’re concerned about a loved one, don’t put it off. You can make the difference in helping your friend or family member get back on track to good mental health.

Thanks to Jacqueline Gray, PhD, and Lynn Bufka, PhD, for contributing to this article.


Robin Williams and the Mask of Humor

@PsychToday #MikhailLyubansky #RobinWilliams #Behavior #MentalHealth #Depression #Suicide

Via Robin Williams and the Mask of Humor | Psychology Today.

Like many, the star sometimes used his comedic gifts as a shield.

And by most accounts, it wasn’t just an act. Many stars are known to be very different than their on-screen personas. Not Williams. He had areputation for being kind and generous, as well as funny. (See, for example, this recollection from a one-time dinner companion.) Clearly, the humor was a core part of who Robin Williams really was.

But so was the depression.

The first-hand recollections of Williams appearing all over the internet today recall not only his humor but also his cocaine and alcohol addictions, as well as his pain and depression. In many ways, Williams is the modern-day, real-life Richard Cory, a tragic reminder that appearances can be deceiving and that even humor—especially humor—can be used as a mask that shields both the wearer and those around him, from the pain underneath.

For the past several years, I have had the privilege of spending a few hours each week with incarcerated youth in the county where I live. I’m there to introduce them to the values and practices of restorative justice, to the idea that there are more effective and productive ways to deal with conflict than with violence.

Sometimes, we do role-plays. Sometimes, I tell stories. Mostly, I try to listen, to really hear what is true and meaningful in their lives. I do this because it’s the best way I know to build relationships, and also because if I’m not willing to listen to them, why should they bother listening to me?

Every week, the composition of the group changes a little. Over the years, I’ve met well over 100 kids. Some are so sad they are unable to utter more than a few words. Others are angry and resentful about being where they are, again. Another group tries to play it cool. Each type presents its own challenge, but there’s another group that is harder to reach than any of the rest—the entertainers.

These are the kids who have learned how to make others laugh. They’ve also learned that, in that comedic moment, they can temporarily forget about their incarcerated fathers, their abusive uncles, their substance-dependent mothers, and all the other troubles in their life. In that comedic moment, they hurt just a bit less. And so they grasp every opportunity to entertain and, in doing so, cover up the pain.

Jaguar PT/Shutterstock

And if I say to them, “You’re a funny guy—I love how you make everyone around you laugh—but I can see that there is also a part of you that is sad,” they say, “No, I ain’t sad. It’s all good. I’m good.” 

But they’re not good. Because the pain never leaves for long.

I don’t know anything about Robin Williams’s inner life. I don’t purport to know whether he was able and willing to confront his demons. Regardless, I have no negative judgment of him, for I trust that decent people do what they can to both live a good life and not cause others unnecessary pain—and Williams was clearly a decent man.

Despite their crimes, most of the kids I meet at the detention center are also decent, and most are also struggling. The ones who are silly, that tell non-stop stories and jokes? They may be struggling more than most. 

So, when you see someone putting on a good show, go ahead and laugh. Robin Williams wouldn’t have had it any other way; neither would the kids I’ve met. But don’t let the humor fool you.


Mikhail Lyubansky, Ph.D.

Mikhail Lyubansky, Ph.D., is a member of the teaching faculty in the department of psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign