Tags: Body & Mind, health, psychology
By Christine Lin, Epoch Times
NEW YORK—Mind and matter are like the chicken and the egg—and pain, both emotional and physical, is no different. Healers and scientists have long known that mental factors and physical symptoms are inextricably intertwined.
A study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine in 2004 found that two-thirds of patients being treated for depression also reported physical pain such as frequent headaches, back pain, joint pain, and abdominal pain.
“Physical pain and depression have a deeper biological connection than simple cause and effect; the neurotransmitters that influence both pain and mood are serotonin and norepinephrine,” reads a 2004 National Institutes of Health report. “Dysregulation of these transmitters is linked to both depression and pain.”
While trouble with neurotransmitters play a huge role in both depression and pain, the story doesn’t end there.
Since the 1950s, doctors and drug companies have touted pillular anti-depressants as the go-to method for treating depression and certain cases of pain. In the process, patients were forced to counter side effects associated with these drugs with more drugs while pharmaceutical companies reaped the profits. Now, patients and health care providers alike are turning to other, lasting, and more intuitive ways to address the psychosomatic factors contributing to the twin distresses of pain and depression.
The Integrated Being
For 5,000 years, Chinese medicine has treated human health holistically. Its foundational philosophy says that a human being exists on the spiritual, emotional, and physical levels simultaneously, and that no one facet of human health can be fully understood without examining the others. Furthermore, people do not exist in a vacuum; they are also members of their community and the universe. Thus, when practiced fully, Chinese medicine integrates concepts from many fields that are today specialized and separate.
Chinese medicine believes that physical symptoms have their root causes in mental and emotional states that manifest in blockages of qi, which can be loosely translated as “life energy.” Likewise, since qi is the conduit for all human functioning, mental, emotional, and physical dysfunction can be treated by manipulating qi. On this framework sprang traditional Chinese healing methods such as acupuncture, herbal medicine, and qigong, just to name a few modalities commonly known to the West.
According to Dr. Jingduan Yang, a Chinese medicine doctor and psychiatrist practicing at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, a deficiency in yang qi or an excess in yin qi often manifests as depression. The same qi imbalances will affect other areas of functioning and present itself as pain.
Modern research is coming close to similar understandings of this complex relationship. The Scandinavian Journal of Pain in 2011 attempted to explain the connection this way:
“First, catastrophizing plays a central role in models of both pain and depression and hence might form an important link between them,” researchers wrote. “Second, emotion regulation is important in both depression and pain since they both can be viewed as significant emotional stressors.”
Dual Acting Treatments
Pain and depression often go hand in hand—sometimes the same traumatic experience triggers both, and the two conditions exacerbate each other.
Neuropathic pain, as opposed to common muscular aches and arthritic pain, derives from dysfunctions in the central nervous system or peripheral nervous system. Trauma causes disproportionate electrical activity in the nerves, and sufferers of chronic neuropathic conditions such as complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) experience normal touch or the slightest heat as pain.
Acupuncture acts on correcting the qi blockages that cause such pain and when used correctly can reduce the hypersensitivity associated with neuropathic pain. Used as a complementary treatment to conventional modalities, it can increase the rate of recovery while reducing stress. Since it works on the person’s qi, and qi regulates emotion, effective acupuncture boosts mood, too.
Another alternative treatment that acts on both the body and the brain is ketamine infusion. Ketamine is an anesthetic drug that, when administered by a qualified physician or anesthesiologist, acts on the nervous system to dampen excessive pain signals.
“It stops the transmission of pain from the body to the spine and to the brain, and gives the system the chance to reboot,” said Dr. Glen Z. Brooks, a New York anesthesiologist who offers ketamine treatments.
In cases of depression, ketamine promotes the growth of the synapses and lets the brain heal itself, reversing the structural causes of depression, according to Brooks.
The ketamine dosage and treatment plan for depression patients and pain patients are different, and must be customized to the person’s body weight, and so should be thought of as separate treatments, but patients with related conditions often see improvements in their symptoms.
You may also like: Doctors Use Brain Scans to ‘See’ and Measure Pain
Tags: Body & Mind, health, psychology
By Rosemary Byfield
A tightness in the chest, a cold creeping rush enveloping the body, sweaty palms, palpitations, a racing heart. A feeling like one is dying. These are the symptoms of a panic attack.
TV presenter Anna Williamson is known as the bright and bubbly face of the ITV children’s show, Toonattik, and entertainment reporter on Daybreak. Yet, five years ago behind the “smiley” façade, Anna was suffering.
“It’s like you’re having a heart attack,” says Anna describing her panic attacks. “I didn’t identify what was happening to me, I just remember feeling so desperately unhappy and I didn’t know why.”
It was the most desolate, lonely time of her life. Anna knew she was fortunate to have a “fantastic” job and was also surrounded by close friends and family. So why did she feel like her life was “imploding”?
Away from the cameras she was troubled in her private life and embarrassed to admit to those close to her she wasn’t coping. Anna put pressure on herself to feel happier. The panic attacks worsened.
“Like a rabbit in the headlights you want to be anywhere else than where you are,” Anna says.
“It was so awful that I feared having a panic attack again. The fear of a panic attack created a panic attack. So I got locked in a cycle, where I thought: ‘I never want to feel like that again.’”
About 1 in 10 people will have severe anxiety or phobias at some point in their lives. However, most people with these problems never ask for treatment, according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
‘Life changing’ therapy
Defeated, Anna took time off work, and despite the stigma, sought therapy. She felt the “tight elastic band” of emotions inside her start to unwind.
“I found counselling absolutely life changing.”
Tears came as the therapist asked questions that allowed Anna to pinpoint what was bothering her.
“It was so liberating. I remember walking out of that office an hour and half later knowing that I was going to be ok, because I had found someone who understands me,” Anna says.
Two sessions a week of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for three weeks helped Anna get back to work. CBT, which is available on the NHS, is a talking therapy that helps people to recognise and change habitual thinking patterns causing anxiety.
Every session was “more about self-discovery, more unburdening and unravelling of things that were going on in my head.”
Anna worked through the jumbled mess in her mind, filing it away with the help of CBT and, combined with anti-anxiety medication, felt better and better about herself. She also found a deep sense of relaxation using self-hypnosis.
Anna became a huge advocate of talking therapies and trained as a counsellor. She regularly volunteers taking calls from children on the free helpline Childline.
Online peer support
Recently, Anna is supporting another cause close to her heart: Elefriends.org.uk, a newly relaunched mental health online peer support platform.
“Anybody, you, me, can go on and just talk. It’s for like-minded people who are, perhaps, having a bad day,” says Anna, who explains that with the option to be anonymous, the forum is a safe place to share feelings and opinions about mental health problems.
“Maybe you can identify with someone,” Anna says.
Started on Facebook, Elefriends outgrew the limit of 5,000 friends. Mind, the mental health charity, secured Social Action Funding allowing Elefriends to expand to an unlimited platform. Thousands more people can now access the popular support network.
More than four out of five people feel that talking about their mental health problems helps, according to Mind.
President of Mind and the voice of the Elephant animations used on Elefriends, Stephen Fry said in a statement: “If you have a mental health problem, talking to someone who’s had a similar experience can be an absolute lifeline.”
Twenty per cent of people have to wait more than a year for talking therapies on the NHS. A Mind survey revealed that almost four out of five people who have accessed on- or offline peer support networks have found at least one kind of peer support effective.
One forum user, Sam, 31, who suffered depression for more than ten years, was signed off work for two months following bereavement, his mother being ill and a difficult time at work. A former colleague recommended he join Elefriends.
“No one will naively tell you to ‘get over it’ or be patronisingly over-concerned. You get empathy rather than sympathy and the support is mutual, which can help give you perspective and explore new ways of managing your mental health,” said Sam in a statement.
Another member, Katie, 31, has battled over the years with depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsions and self-harm. She wanted to use her experiences to help others, but found to her surprise that she got so much more support back from the community itself.
People may be concerned: Will they be employable if they speak out about their mental health problems?
For Anna, through confronting her demons, and going public has only helped her career.
“I’ve had more work since I’ve got to know myself better and corrected any errors in myself and I’m a much better TV presenter as a result of it,”
Anna hopes her story can inspire others.
“If one person identifies with my story, and takes heart and comfort in that, that’s the right reason for me to speak out about it.”
Tags: Body & Mind, health, psychology
By Chani Blue
When talking psychotherapy or emotional counselling most people conjure up images of reclining on a studded leather couch talking with a psychologist. But therapy need not always take this form, which to some can be uncomfortable and confronting. Traditional “talk-based” forms of counselling are effective, but there is another alternative method becoming more widely accepted, which is also an evidence-based approach: Equine Assisted Therapy EAT.
Incorporating animals in the process of self-discovery and emotional healing may seem very left-field compared to conventional approaches, but there has been much evidence that suggests that an animal-led approach is successful in psycho-intervention.
We are all familiar with the concept of using domesticated animals in hospitals and hospices to brighten a patient’s day. It is also well accepted that patting an animal can reduce blood pressure and help to lower a patient’s guard; a dog or cat can help patients feel at ease during treatment and consultation with a doctor.
Therapy involving horses was first used in Europe in the 1800s. Since then horses have played a role in helping people to overcome a wide variety of personal problems like depression, anxiety, eating disorders, sleep disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder—common among war veterans. Equine Therapy is also being used to treat children with autism or behavioural problems and children with a history of abuse.
Michelle Rookley, an Equine facilitator therapist and employee of Chiron Programs in Tasmania’s Huon Valley says that the horse-assisted sessions are relaxed and informal.
“From observations, I feel people are drawn to this therapy because it is not clinical. The sessions are in a natural setting, it is not a pressured environment. The focus is not on the person as a ‘patient’,” she said.
Ms Rookley also has experience working as a nutritionist and she incorporates this knowledge into her horse-led therapy sessions to assist people affected by eating disorders.
Ms Rookley says that after spending time with the horses people often comment that they are feeling more positive, more empowered and more confident.
“We believe that horses have a power which is uniquely transformative. They can teach us compassion, respect, humility, patience and gratitude,” she said.
The horses’ place in the arena of healing
EAT is not horse riding. It is a personalised therapy session conducted by a trained horse specialist, a licensed health councillor, and a small herd of horses—specially trained to be calm and docile.
Different countries have set up different models for conducting EAT, and so there are slight differences in the way a session is conducted.
Australia, a typical session may be conducted as follows: the patient will be guided to undertaking groundwork with the horses such as leading them along an obstacle course or brushing them.
When the session with the horses finishes the participant is invited to verbalise arising thoughts and feelings. The Equine Assisted Therapy Facilitator brings attention to the themes being raised. Through discussion and self-reflection the patient may become aware of negative notions or thought-patterns, which may lead to a holistic change.
“Why horses?” you may be asking. Horses are highly responsive animals, which naturally “group” together, and are therefore sensitive to the feelings and body language of their herd. When around humans they are expert body language readers and can pick up on intentions and attitudes in a non-judgmental way. Through observing interactions between the participants and the horses, the therapist can gain insight into behaviour patterns and mental obstacles that the participant may not be aware of.
Ms Rookley has witnessed this curious experience firsthand. “Quite often the horses are reflecting a person’s inner issues and mental-emotional health, though sometimes not in obvious ways. In a group scenario people often connect to horses which reflect their personality—providing insight,” she said.
Everyone can benefit
EAT is not just for people in need of psychotherapy. This approach is also being used by people in the corporate sector to build on life skills such as leadership, self-confidence, motivation and being more open and sensitive to their peers.
Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) is another approach within the same field of philosophy. In this approach, through close contact with horses, children and adolescence learn about themselves and the importance of positive, socially acceptable behaviour. This therapy has proven to be useful with children with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), aggression and anti-social behaviour.
Ms Rookley has assisted a large variety of people in her community through EAT. She has helped children who are not coping with peer situations, people who are experiencing grief and others who are suffering from eating disorders, to name a few.
During an EAT session a participant is placed in the role of being a leader and clear communicator to guide the horse—without being domineering or spooking it. Through this learning, Ms Rookley believes that EAT can play a positive role in resetting healthy personal boundaries when re-building family relationships.
“EAT can be beneficial for families who are seeking to re-story their patterns of interaction. This therapy is a part of rediscovering self and others and the world that we live, in a healthy way,” she said.
Anyone can try Equine Assisted Therapy or Learning as no previous experience or horse-handling skills are required. People of all ages and fitness levels are welcome to take part; all you need is a willingness to connect with horses and an open mind.
Tags: Body & Mind, health, psychology, Science, Society
For the first time, there is now evidence in the form of an American Psychological Association APA report to support the belief that it feels better to give to others than it does to buy for oneself.
“Our findings suggest that the reward experienced from helping others may be deeply ingrained in human nature, emerging in diverse cultural and economic contexts,” wrote the researchers in the report’s introduction.
The report is titled “Prosocial Spending and Well-Being: Cross-Cultural Evidence for a Psychological Universal,” published by the APA in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Throughout several experiments, findings were the same—people around the world like to give, and it makes them happy. Researchers called the resulting feeling a “warm glow.”
They specifically looked at people’s giving in terms of money, and there was not a difference between rich and poor countries, either.
They looked at survey data from 136 countries gathered in a Gallup World Poll from 2006–2008. The data was collected from 234,917 individuals, one-half of whom were male. The average age was 38.
Although not scientifically proven, many wealthy individuals have claimed to find happiness in giving, and researchers took notice.
Warren Buffett, the famed American billionaire, made a pledge in 2010 that more than 99 percent of his wealth would go to philanthropy during his lifetime.
Meanwhile, he said that he and his family’s lifestyles would not change at all based on his donations, and that spending all his money on himself would not bring him happiness.
He said that he only wants to keep what he needs, and give the rest to society.
Researchers examined what Buffett said and wondered, “Does spending money on others promote happiness even in relatively impoverished areas of the world?”
In one analysis, they compared responses from 820 people from universities in Canada and Uganda. The participants wrote about an instance when they had either spent money on themselves or on others.
They were then asked how happy they felt.
The report concluded, “Participants in Canada and Uganda reported higher levels of happiness when they thought about spending money on others rather than themselves.”
Next, they were asked if they spent money on someone else to build or strengthen a relationship. Researchers found that people still felt pretty happy about spending on others even when little personal gain was expected in return—like praise or the shopping experience.
In another example, researchers looked at participants in Canada and South Africa. Participants bought one gift for themselves, and they bought the exact same gift anonymously for someone else. No one outside of the experiment was made aware of the generous act.
It turns out, according to the study, that doing something for someone else rather than for oneself gives people higher levels of positive emotions.
Tags: Body & Mind, health, psychology
We all hear that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but what you should be thinking is this: the beginning of your day sets the tempo for the next 24 hours. With that in mind, we identify five ways to get up and get your day going on the right note.
Yes, it is hard. But don’t hit that snooze button. Your body will never really return to that deep, restful state unless you have another hour to spare. The good news? It gets easier with time. The first three days are the hardest, and then you will start to find that you really do enjoy having a few minutes to spare.
Drinking a glass of water should be the first thing you do. Not only do our bodies become dehydrated over night, but a glass of water will help your metabolism get going.
Eating a solid breakfast is just about the best way to set the tempo for the rest of your day. Healthy foods are proven to help your brain operate more efficiently and lessen the chance of eating unhealthy foods throughout the remainder of the day.
The beginning of your day sets the tempo for the next 24 hours.
What does this have to do with health and the body, you may ask. Everything, I say! Because when we look good, we feel better about ourselves. Dressing well also constitutes grooming well, don’t forget.
Taking five minutes (90 seconds will even do the trick) to think about the day that lies ahead will help you to accomplish what is demanded of you. Conjure the following:
– What you aim to accomplish today
– What you are thankful for
– One good deed you can carry out today
That’s it. If you begin your morning this way, you are destined for a great day!
Eco18 is a collective of creative-writing individuals from different backgrounds with a common goal—to live a healthier, more natural lifestyle. Their combined expertise, humor, and opinions explore green and sustainable in a practical, fun way. www.eco18.com
Tags: animals, Body & Mind, health, psychology
Loyal dog prevents suicide: There have been numerous instances of dogs saving people, including a recent example in France this week where a German Shepherd prevented its owner from killing herself.
The recent example of a French woman being saved by her dog as she pointed a rifle towards her heart to kill herself may seem a bit out of the ordinary, but dogs have saved people from certain death on many occasions—even within the past year.
Here are five examples:
Just several days ago, a 3-year-old girl went missing in a Polish village during frigid temperatures. But a stray dog followed her and kept her warm through the night before she was found by rescuers.
“For the whole night the animal was with the girl, it never left her. Remember, it was 5 degrees below zero and the child was wet,” a firefighter said of the incident.
The child was found clinging to the dog about two miles from her home in the village of Pierzwin. The dog apparently slept with the child through the night to keep her warm.
Last November, a family dog in Indianapolis stopped armed kidnappers from leaving a family home. In the incident, a man and a woman broke in and abducted the 3-month-old daughter of Nayeli Garzon-Jimenez while her husband was working.
But the family’s pit bull mix prevented the two assailants from taking off with the child.
“She started screaming and crying,” Adolfo Angeles-Morales, the husband, told local station WISH-TV, referring to his daughter. He added, “The guy said, ‘Give me the money or we take the baby.’”
The woman assailant then grabbed the child and bolted for the door, he said.
Angeles-Morales said, however, that “one of the doggies didn’t let her go through the back door” and the woman threw the baby back.
A dog rescued an 11-year-old boy from a mountain lion attack in 2010 in the small Canadian town of Bar Boston, located some 150 miles north of Vancouver.
The dog, named Angel, threw herself between the boy and the puma and almost died in the scuffle.
“She was my best friend, but now she’s even greater to me,” the boy, Austin Forman, told NBC News, referring to his dog. “She’s more than a best friend now”
Before the attack, he said, “The dog knew something was up, because she ran toward me just at the right time, and the cougar ended up getting her instead.”
“I was just lucky my dog was there, because it happened so fast I wouldn’t have known what hit me,” he added.
Last month, an elderly woman suffering from Alzheimer’s got lost and fell down in the snow in Piscataway, N.J., but a pit bull came to the rescue.
“She looked back at me and then barked, and there I saw a figure laying,” Cara Jones, the owner of the pit bull—named Creature—told ABC News. “She was trying to get up and the sticks kept breaking on her, so she would fall back down.”
Jones recalled not being able to figure out the reason why the dog kept trying to lead her into the brush, where the elderly woman, 89-year-old Carmen Mitchell, fell down. Mitchell had wandered into the woods around a mile from her caretaker.
Even after a full search, police with K-9 units couldn’t find her until Creature arrived on the scene.
“I had a lot of people looking down on me for having a pit bull, and I’m glad that I have her,” Jones said.
In 2009, a man who fell down a 30-foot slope and broke his neck was kept alive when both his dogs kept him warm in frigid temperatures in Brixham, England.
The man, 66-year-old Michael Dyer, was walking his dogs when the incident took place. After he fell, Dyer lay unconscious in the snow.
However, as Dyer slipped in and out of consciousness through the night, his dogs stayed with him and kept his core temperature high enough to survive the cold.
“He loves those dogs and the fact they wouldn’t leave him is amazing,” his friend, Barry Robinson, told the Daily Mail.
Tags: Body & Mind, Children, health, Nature, psychology, Society
Ontario’s Healthy Kids Panel recently proposed a strategy to help kids get onto a path to health.
The problem is that the path doesn’t lead them into nature. Though the report quotes parents’ comments and research showing kids spend dramatically less time outside than ever, it doesn’t encourage time in nature.
That said, many of the report’s recommendations should be implemented and supported locally, provincially and nationally to reduce the risks of obesity.
Encouraging parents and children to be more critical about dietary choices and requiring more information and labelling from restaurants and food producers is long overdue.
Ontario isn’t the only province working to reduce obesity rates and support parents raising healthy children, particularly in the early years. Alberta released relevant reports in 2011 and Quebec has had a ban on advertising junk food to children since 1980.
No one can argue against public awareness and education around the benefits of healthy eating and active living. But a provincial, patchwork approach to addressing these issues isn’t enough. We need a national strategy to get our kids eating healthy foods and being active in nature.
‘Make good things more accessible’
Although it seems logical that much of the time spent being active will take place outside, the Ontario report acknowledges that “many communities are not designed to encourage kids to move or be physically active…and have few safe green spaces.”
One parent in a focus group explains that the parks in his community are either gated or locked up once school is closed. So, even when there is green space, it’s not always accessible.
Last year, the David Suzuki Foundation conducted a survey with young Canadians and found that 70 percent spend an hour or less a day outdoors. The 2012 Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Card says they spend almost eight hours a day in front of screens.
So it’s not that kids don’t have time to be outside. It’s just not part of their lifestyle.
Much has been reported about a recommendation by the Ontario panel to ban junk food advertising that targets children under 12. This has worked in Quebec and is being discussed in Alberta.
But the approach has invited criticism from those who argue that people should have the right to choose.
We need a national strategy to get our kids eating healthy foods and being active in nature.
It’s always tempting to focus on making bad things less accessible, but perhaps policymakers should be more creative and focus on ways to make good things more accessible.
Being in nature is good for all of us. People who get outside regularly are less stressed, have more resilient immune systems and are generally happier.
And it’s good for our kids. Studies show spending time in nature or green spaces helps reduce the symptoms of ADHD.
Even in built playgrounds, kids spend twice as much time playing, use their imaginations more, and engage in more aerobic and strengthening activities when the space incorporates natural elements like logs, flowers, and small streams, according to research from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.
Bring Nature Back Into Our Lives
Despite all the obvious health benefits of spending time outside, provincial and federal governments are failing to integrate a daily dose of nature into their policies.
It’s also something we as a society are failing to make a priority in the lives of our children. This inexpensive and effective way to make our lives healthier and happier should be an obvious solution.
We need to make sure our neighbourhoods have green spaces where people can explore their connections with nature.
We need to make sure our neighbourhoods have green spaces where people can explore their connections with nature.
We need to ask teachers and school board representatives to take students outside so that nature becomes a classroom.
And we need to stop making the outdoors seem like a scary place for children by helping parents understand that the benefits of playing outside outweigh the risks.
It will take public education and awareness-building as well as changes to the way we build cities and live in our communities to bring nature back into our lives.
Connecting kids to nature every day needs to be a priority policy objective in any strategy for healthy children and could easily have been integrated into the recommendations from the Ontario Healthy Kids Panel.
Taking our kids by the hand and spending time outside with them will have the added benefit of making us healthier and happier adults.
By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Communications Specialist Leanne Clare
Tags: Body & Mind, meditation, psychology, Spirituality
When is the last time you did absolutely nothing for 10 whole minutes? Not texting, talking or even thinking? Mindfulness expert Andy Puddicombe describes the transformative power of doing just that: Refreshing your mind for 10 minutes a day, simply by being mindful and experiencing the present moment. (No need for incense or sitting in strange positions.)
Tags: Body & Mind, Children, health, IT and Media, psychology, Society
The noise the first student is referring to is the background noise of television, radio and music, plus a multitude of social media and online curiosities. And the silence the second student refers to is a world devoid of such background noise.
Drawing on six years (2007-12) of observations from 580 undergraduate students, it can be reasonably argued that their need for noise and their struggle with silence is a learned behavior.
The desire for media-generated background noise is acquired more from parents and grandparents than from my students’ new-found relationship with social media.
To that extent, Larry D. Rosen’s excellent advice on how teachers can address student social media anxiety – such as by introducing one-minute technology breaks–shouldn’t be confused with issues surrounding the same students’ need for background noise.
With obvious exceptions, mum and dad also inherited this need for background noise: “My grandparents have the television on practically all the time in the background”, observes one student.
It is not surprising then when another writes, “the television was switched on by my parents earlier in the morning for the news and left on … even when no-one was watching”.
For all but one of the 580 students, television and radio was in the home prior to their birth. For most students, the family home also had at least one computer before they were born. Indeed, this year we had our first student that can’t remember her family’s first mobile phone.
Beginning at infancy, the constant media soundscape has provided the background noise either side of bassinet, kindergarten, school and university. It is little wonder many of my students feel agitated and ill-at-ease when there is not at least one portal providing background noise.
Such background noise speaks to Bill McKibben’s observations of the Third Parent.
More often than not, a student’s third parent (whether that be analogue or digital media) speaks to them more often than their biological parents. As one participant noted, “the noise of the TV and the communication on Facebook helps me feel more in touch with people”.
By and large my students report they can’t function in silence. As one explained, “I actually began doing this assignment in the library and had to return to my room minutes later to get my iPod as I found the library was so quiet that I couldn’t concentrate properly!”
It’s not just the silence of a library that students report as disturbing. Having gone home to the farm, one student observed how she found it hard to walk down to the dam without an iPod.
When the students were provided with the tools to reflect on their media consumption they began to recognize the nature of background noise. Having filled in their spreadsheets, they were asked to spend one hour walking, sitting and/or reading in a quiet place. This is the moment in the assignment when students tend to discover their relationship with silence:
“The lack of noise made me uncomfortable, it actually seemed foreboding”, observed one student. Another said “perhaps, because media consistently surrounds us today, we have a fear of peace and quiet”.
Could it be that it’s the background noise and not the discrete content of each media portal that creates the perception of well-being my students write about?
Either way, it’s clear that students (and doubtless many others) have become accustomed to the background noise that’s become such a feature of modern life.
So what about you: are you scared of silence?
This article was originally published on The Conversation.
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Tags: Body & Mind, Children, psychology, technology
Physical therapy moves to the cloud under the Fifth Element project
The ambitious Fifth Element project aims to support the more than 60 million people who suffer from autism by using none other than the Microsoft Kinect, originally designed for video games on the Xbox 360.
The Fifth Element project is being led by Italian Ingenium, a four-man team with a passion for technology. Their project is already being used in rehabilitation centers, and is poised to spread across the globe in the next several months.
Kinect is a player-recognition system. Resembling a large webcam, the Kinect is placed on top of a television set and detects a player’s movements, which can then be used as commands for a video game. Yet, thanks to Web-based remote assistance services, even those who cannot physically access a rehabilitation center can learn and undergo therapy using Kinect.
“It’s a simple idea, and we can immediately see its potential impact on people,” said Matteo Valoriani, a 26-year-old student at Politecnico di Milano (Polytechnic University of Milan), and a creator of the Fifth Element project.
Matteo came up with the idea in December 2011 during a friendly chat with a friend who works in physical therapy. The friend told him how difficult it was for rehabilitation centers to meet with autistic children in need.
Specialized technology for similar purposes is very expensive. Yet, with Fifth Element, all that’s needed is a television, an Xbox 360, and a Kinect. The program itself is also simple, creating an interactive platform with standard images, voice, and text.
Each game and activity is developed with a specific therapy in mind.
Every game can be directly customized by the therapist to use different features and different levels of difficulty. The therapist can also change settings for the game remotely while interacting with the child over the Internet and from anywhere in the world.
After a session is completed, it can be saved so that parents can reuse it with their child on their own time.
“We are working to allow the child to see the therapist on screen real time, and they can interact on the screen thanks to the Kinect,” said Valoriani.
The Fifth Element project won the July Health Awareness Award during the Microsoft Imagine Cup 2012, out of 350 students from more than 200 countries. Willing the first prize at the competition in Australia helped the team get global attention for the new concept.
Connecting with the Kinect
The Fifth Element also gives autistic children the opportunity to connect with other autistic children—children who are often isolated from others. Controlling the game is also simple, since it’s based on actual movements. “It doesn’t seem like you are having control of an object,” Valoriani said. “It seems like you are the object.”
The game creates virtual characters that children can recognize as their digital avatars, and they can use the avatars to develop relationships with other children. “In some cases, it happens that the child teaches another child how to play,” said Valoriani, who is noticeably pleased with the results.
While the system is built to allow interaction regardless of distance, it can also be used by two children in the same room, or at a rehabilitation center under the supervision of the therapist.
Parents also have a level of control. They can update the statistics on the child’s progress, which the therapist can use as notes for the next treatment. The data is saved for other doctors who may do therapy for the child.
At the center of Benedetta d’Intino of Milan and the association Astrolabio, doctors have welcomed the experiments and have helped refine the system through feedback. Much of this refinement is used to improve interactive activities and to quickly develop new games.
The system’s custom platform, Azure, gets better every week, and its uses are already being considered for uses in other fields—including in education.
Valoriani says the name, Fifth Element, is based on the ancient theory of the five elements that constitute the world.
“We happen to live in a world where we have more technology than we need,” said Valoriani. “In the past, research was done until there was a realization that a project could move no further due to technological boundaries. Today it is totally different—we have the technology, but we don’t know how to use it.”
Tags: Body & Mind, health, Nature, psychology, Science, sustainable development
If you want to improve your creative thinking, it might be good advice to take a hike.
Researchers from the University of Utah and the University of Kansas discovered that people scored 50 percent better on a creativity test after hiking in the wilderness for four days without cell phones or other electronics.
“This is a way of showing that interacting with nature has real, measurable benefits to creative problem-solving that really hadn’t been formally demonstrated before,” said study co-author David Strayer in a press release.
“It provides a rationale for trying to understand what is a healthy way to interact in the world, and that burying yourself in front of a computer 24/7 may have costs that can be remediated by taking a hike in nature.”
The 56 study participants went on hiking trips during which no electronics were allowed. Twenty-four of them took the creativity test before starting the trip, and 32 were tested during the trip after four days of backpacking.
The creativity test involved answering word association questions. On average, those who took the test after hiking answered 6.08 of the 10 questions correctly, while the ones who hadn’t hiked yet only answered 4.14 of the 10 correctly.
The results didn’t make it clear whether the hikers benefited from exposure to nature, a break from technology, or both. Many studies have shown the benefits of being in nature, and it could be that the outdoor environment had a beneficial effect.
“It’s equally plausible that it is not multitasking to wits’ end that is associated with the benefits,” said Strayer.
The part of the brain thought to be used for creative thinking gets tired from constantly multitasking with technology. A vacation from computers and phones may have been just what the participants needed.
“Our modern society is filled with sudden events (sirens, horns, ringing phones, alarms, television, etc.) that hijack attention,” explained the researchers. “By contrast, natural environments are associated with gentle, soft fascination, allowing the executive attentional system to replenish.”
The research was published in the journal PLOS ONE on Dec. 12.
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Tags: Body & Mind, psychology, Science
Mind wandering may increase creative thinking, according to a new international study.
The research team found that resuming a difficult task following a break and an easy task can improve performance by around 40 percent.
“Many influential scientific thinkers claim to have had their moments of inspiration while engaged in thoughts or activities not directly aimed at solving the problem they were trying to solve,” said lead author Benjamin Baird at the University of California—Santa Barbara, according to The Telegraph.
“This study demonstrated that taking a break involving an undemanding task improved performance on a classic creativity task far more than taking a break involving a demanding task, resting or taking no break.”
In the complex task, nearly 150 participants aged 19 to 32 listed as many unusual uses for everyday objects as possible in two minutes. They were divided into four groups: one had no break from the task, while the others had a 12-minute break during which time they either rested, performed a demanding memory task or performed an undemanding task.
The people in the latter group daydreamed a lot because the task was so easy. Everyone then went back to the original listing task.
For new everyday items, all groups performed the same, but when reconsidering earlier objects, the daydreamers’ performance increased by 40 percent.
The results were published in the October issue of Psychological Science.
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Tags: animals, psychology, Science
Many dogs know the words for their favorite toys, but they associate these words with objects in a very different way from humans, according to a U.K. new study.
Human toddlers tend to categorize objects by their shapes. When you teach a toddler what a “ball” is, he will also call other similarly-shaped objects “balls,” but he won’t call similarly sized or textured objects “balls.”
Researchers from the University of Lincoln wanted to find out if dogs also associate words with shapes, so they experimented with a border collie named Gable, who had experience learning words.
They found that the dog didn’t use shape to identify an object. For example, if the dog learned a word such as “ball” and was then asked to fetch a ball from an array of unfamiliar objects, he’d choose objects that weren’t necessarily ball-shaped, but were a similar size to the original ball.
Then, after the dog became more familiar with the word and the object, he started to associate the word with similarly textured objects, but shape still didn’t seem to matter.
“Where shape matters for us, size or texture matters more for your dog,” the study authors said in a press release. “This study shows for the first time that there is a qualitative difference in word comprehension in the dog compared to word comprehension in humans.”
The researchers didn’t use typical words such as “ball” to test Gable. Instead they used made-up words for the toys, such as “dax.”
They also made sure all the objects smelled the same so Gable wouldn’t use scent cues.
The team concluded that the way dogs sense and think about objects is very different from the way we do, although more research is needed to confirm the results.
The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE on Nov. 21.
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Tags: Body & Mind, health, meditation, psychology, Science, Spirituality
U.S. neurologists have discovered that eight weeks of compassion meditation training can produce long-term brain changes and development of positive traits.
The team found that meditation improves emotional stability and response to stress by altering the activity of the amygdala—a brain region involved in regulating emotions and attention.
“This study contributes to a growing body of evidence from scientific studies that meditation practice affects the body and brain in measurable ways,” Dr. Gaëlle Desbordes from Massachusetts General Hospital told The Epoch Times via email.
To study the effects of meditation, adult participants were trained for eight weeks in either compassion meditation or mindful-attention (to develop awareness of breathing, thought, and emotions). A third control group was given health education.
Three weeks before and after training, participants’ brains were scanned while viewing a series of images with different emotional content.
The mindful-attention group showed a reduction in amygdala activation to all emotional stimuli.
“This suggests that mindful attention training reduced emotional reactivity, which is consistent with the overarching hypothesis that mindful meditation practice reduces perceived stress and improves emotional stability,” Desbordes told The Epoch Times.
In the compassion meditation group, the positive emotional content led to similar brain scan results, but the participants who meditated more reported increased amygdala activity in response to images of people in various situations of suffering.
“We think these two forms of meditation cultivate different aspects of mind,” Desbordes said in a press release. “Since compassion meditation is designed to enhance compassionate feelings, it makes sense that it could increase amygdala response to seeing people suffer.”
“Increased amygdala activation was also correlated with decreased depression scores in the compassion meditation group, which suggests that having more compassion towards others may also be beneficial for oneself,” she added.
No effects were observed in the control group.
“Overall, these results are consistent with the overarching hypothesis that meditation may result in enduring, beneficial changes in brain function, especially in the area of emotional processing,” she said in the release.
The researchers concluded that meditation training impacts emotional processing in everyday life, not just during meditation, and can result in the long-term development of certain traits.
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Tags: Body & Mind, Children, psychology, Science, Society
When was the last time you said, “Let’s roast some marshmallows”? Since I’m not sweet 16, it was a lot of moons ago for me. Now a report from Stanford University shows marshmallows are good for more than enjoying around a fire.
It seems how you handle a marshmallow can reveal how you handle other things later in life. In fact, it may even decide if you end up in jail.
Walter Mischel, professor of psychology at Stanford University, carried out a number of interesting experiments on marshmallows. He tested 653 young children 4 years of age who all loved marshmallows.
The 4-year-olds were placed one at a time in a single room containing only a desk and chair. The children were each given a marshmallow and told they could either eat the marshmallow right away, or if they waited for 15 minutes without eating it, they would be given a second marshmallow.
A video showed how they struggled to delay instant gratification. Some kept looking at the marshmallow or touched it and then sucked their finger. Others made a series of facial expressions, wondering what to do. Still others buried their heads in their hands or peaked out of one eye looking at it, kicked the desk, or tugged on their pigtails.
Mischel reports, “A few of the kids ate the marshmallow right away.” Only 30 percent found a way to resist the temptation and received their second marshmallow.
The initial purpose of the experiment was to determine how a child’s mental processes would allow some to delay instant gratification and to study why some children could wait for a second marshmallow.
But the goal of the study was expanded several years later. Mischel decided to track down many of the 653 children who had participated in the earlier study. The purpose was to find out if there was any correlation between those who quickly ate the marshmallow and those who delayed doing so.
Mischel’s questionnaire included every human trait he could think of, such as the ability to plan ahead, how they got along with their peers, or whether they had a criminal record. He also requested their SAT scores.
So what did he find? He discovered that those who quickly ate the marshmallow were more likely to suffer from behavioral problems both in the home and at school. They had trouble paying attention, struggled in stressful situations, and found it difficult to maintain friendships. And they had an increased chance of having a weight problem, trouble with drugs, and being convicted of a crime.
Those children who could wait for 15 minutes had an SAT score that was, on average, 210 points higher than children who could wait only 30 seconds. They were also more likely to come from high-income families, save for their retirement, and study rather than watch TV.
Mischel’s experiment concluded that all the children wanted the marshmallow, so what determined self-control? He says the key was to avoid thinking about it in the first place. So the successful children avoided staring at the tempting marshmallow, sang songs from “Sesame Street,” or otherwise busied themselves.
Mischel says adults do the same thing to outsmart their shortcomings. For instance, Odysseus knew he couldn’t resist the sirens’ song, so he tied himself to the ship’s mast.
Mischel’s advice for the rest of us is that the best way to avoid the sirens’ song is to avoid it. And what we call willpower has nothing to do with the will.
One U.S. school, KIPP Academy in Philadelphia, reminds its students that self-control is one of the fundamental character strengths. To stress this point, they receive a shirt emblazoned with the slogan “Don’t eat the marshmallows.”
Today, the lack of self-control and the need for instant gratification has caused much of the world’s economic, financial, and social woes. Maybe it’s time for parents to conduct the marshmallow test on their children. And to ensure a better world, it’s time to provide marshmallows to politicians who believe that taxpayers’ money grows on trees.