Tag Archives: anxiety

Fear of Change: What to Do When You’re Afraid

What is the fear of change ? What are the signs? Why do humans fear change? Do humans enjoy any type of change? How do you know if you need to make a change? How do you make a change?

Photo by Olesya Yemets on Unsplash

Metathesiophobia, or what’s more commonly known as the fear of change, originates from the Greek word “meta”, meaning changes and “phobos” meaning fear. Most people worry about the future and question themselves, but for some, this fear of change can be much more debilitating. It is intense anxiety over confronting change. “A marked or persistent fear of one or more social or performance situations in which the person is exposed to unfamiliar people or to possible scrutiny by others.”

Someone with a fear of change is likely uncomfortable with that which is unfamiliar to them. If some sort of change is on the horizon, it is likely that their fear is continuous. “Exposure to the feared social situation almost invariably provokes anxiety.”

Someone that fears change will definitely experience some form of anxiety when confronted with said change. Most people who fear change are able to recognize that their fear isn’t completely rational. This rationality, though, may not be enough to assuage anxiety. 

“The feared social situations are avoided or else they are endured with intense anxiety or distress.”

If one fears change, it is extremely likely that they avoid it. If they are not able to avoid change, they would likely experience a major increase in stress

If one fears change, it will commonly interfere with their life. It may cause them to remain in situations that make them unhappy, leave a lot of potential untapped, and even cause a strain in their relationships. 

Fear of Change: Manifestation

Having a fear this severe is relatively rare and would almost certainly coincide with some other type of social phobia. However, most people still fear change to some degree. Even if one is not experiencing blatant effects from this fear, like avoiding important opportunities or having obsessive thoughts, this fear could be causing someone to miss out on a lot of chances.

Could a fear of change be disguising itself as complacency in one’s current life? Maybe one’s choice to stick with certain people, certain activities, certain jobs, etc doesn’t only stem from preference. Fear of change can manifest itself in ways that aren’t explicit but could potentially have a massive impact. It’s possible your fear of change is impacting you or someone you know negatively if they:

  • Are staying in an unhappy marriage/relationship, where emotional or physical manipulation is not part of the influence. 
  • Are staying in a job where they are underemployed or unfulfilled, despite having the ability to seek employment elsewhere.
  • Have a very distinct set of interests and do not usually like trying new things.
  • Have a very distinct set of friends and has no desire to meet new people. 
  • Have a very distinct list of places where they like to go and do not like to deviate from them.
  • Turn down opportunities that have the potential to be beneficial for them.
  • Become upset and irritable when their daily routine becomes mixed up.
  • Become very defensive when someone suggests they make a change in their life. 

These symptoms can be indicative of a lot of things, like an antisocial personality disorder or a generalized anxiety disorder. However, these often occur in the absence of any mental disorder. Fear of change is likely to underlie these disorders, implying that it could be the root of a lot of anxiety-related issues. 

“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy is when men are afraid of the light.”

Plato

Fearing change is not only the root of many anxiety-related issues but a root of humanity. Infants experience inborn stranger anxiety, and soon after, experience separation anxiety in toddlerhood. In fact, evolutionary psychologists theorize that this fear of change could be embedded into our DNA from thousands and thousands of years ago when people were hunter-gatherers. Compared to the other creatures that lived in the wild, humans were extremely vulnerable, lacking the natural strength and resilience that allowed other species to be more suited to hunt all day and withstand difficult weather conditions. Before humans had a full grasp of their intellectual capacity and technology developed into the marvel that it is today, we were prey.

Photo by Katherine Chase on Unsplash

Being the most successful predator on the planet due to our intellectual advantages in the present day, most of us no longer have to fear being killed by hungry animals. We now have the means to avoid starving to death because its winter and our only source of sustenance is in hibernation and we have nearly no protection against the brutal elements. These external issues don’t remain, but these fundamental survival responses do persist for humans internally. The explosion of human knowledge through periods like the Age of Enlightenment and the Renaissance and the eruption of technological advancements like in the Industrial Revolution happened much quicker than our genes could possibly mutate. Because of the inconsistency between the speeds of society’s evolution and humans’ evolution, we are left with an intrinsic fear of change in a new world that changes constantly. 

This inconsistency doesn’t necessarily code for undeniable tragedy, however. Society is propelled only by the people within it. It would not have been possible to make the strides we’ve made as a human race without a lot of people working towards, pushing for, and desiring change. This seems like it doesn’t align at all with our DNA. Why would we as humans catalyze the most rapid and influential changes ever conceived if we’re scared of it? It seems that this fear of change has some stipulations.

We may resist change in most cases, in general, but when we can foresee a change improving our life or the lives of others, this aversion to change will sometimes dissipate. In school, students study the genius inventions of scientists before them. People almost always encourage their friends to take that new job opportunity; it’s rarely the other way around. It seems as though people applaud change when they are not the ones having to take the risk. When there is minimal risk involved, our attitudes are generally different. People fear and abhor the unknown, possibly more than anything else.

“Time isn’t the enemy. Fear of change is.”

Oprah Winfrey

Fear of Change and the Brain

It was discovered that our cerebellum, the part of our brain responsible for muscle memory and certain fine-motor controls, has a neural substrate that plays a big role in anticipatory anxiety, a more specified fear of change categorized by its ambiguity. These substrates, which come from a periaqueductal grey-cerebellar (a part of the cerebellum that contributes to our defense-arousal system) link, underlie fear-evoked freezing. This is contrary to the response more commonly associated with fear in general, our fight-or-flight response. Scientists have found that threats that can be predicted will more likely to produce this fight-or-flight response, while more vague stimuli seem to trigger something closer to this freezing response. The reason behind this distinction is still unknown, but one prediction is that it occurs because, in the face of a vague threat, there is not much you can do to combat it. 

Our fear of change, when we know what’s ahead of us, produces this fight-or-flight response in people. Since we are less afraid when we know what we are confronting, most people choose to fight or face the change. We still may have underlying anxiety, but our attitudes are naturally going to be more open when we believe something positive will come of it. Humans generally enjoy this type of change.

The reason why it’s a more acceptable statement to say that humans resist change is that most change that we encounter is going to be wracked with uncertainty. One may know what their new job is going to entail and where it is and who their boss is, but they are still likely to feel uneasy about their new coworkers and worry about messing up. When you truly don’t know what’s to come, though, it’s impossible to choose between fight-or-flight, so freezing is the most likely response. This may explain why having “brain-freezes” and engaging in those awkward, “drawing a blank” conversations are such common occurrences when confronting first day jitters. 

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”

H.P. Lovecraft

Humans also have a tendency to resist change because we are creatures of habit. Studies have connected the acquisition of habits with the basal ganglia, a part in brain focused around reinforcement and procedural learning. When we begin to create a routine, our brain maps our reality around these new habits, which can be useful when trying to reach a goal, but inhibitive when trying to create new ones. When thinking and acting with intention, people have to make a conscious effort. In order to achieve this, the prefrontal cortex becomes highly engaged, which creates hard work for the brain. It’s made even harder due to the fact that the fear processing center of our brain, the amygdala, restricts risky and exploratory behavior when it’s activated. Even if we don’t explicitly fear change, we’re inclined to avoid it merely because it’s hard to overcome old patterns of thought. 

However, just because we’re wired to dislike change doesn’t mean we can’t rewire our brains. Change is important to embrace because we often to don’t have a choice. Still, we do have the ability to make a change at our own discretion. Staying in your comfort zone forever will not allow you to gain new perspectives, experience the world around you, or find your authentic self. Feeling content does not always equate to feeling entirely fulfilled and happy. 

Symptoms

You may need to consider making a change if:

  • You dwell on the past, especially a past that you cannot return to.
  • You are caught up in the future that you are not taking initiative to get to.
  • You feel like you don’t know yourself, or that you don’t like yourself.  
  • You lack a passion or strong emotion that you once had.
  • You crave more direction and sense of purpose.
  • You feel like you are trapped or held down in your daily routine. 
  • You believe that you are settling for less than you deserve or can attain.
  • You have regrets about where you are or feel “burnt out”.
  • You are jealous of the lives of others and have low self-confidence.
  • You’re consistently irritated and “making mountains out of molehills.”
  • You experience regular fatigue that can’t be attributed to anything else.
  • You dread going through your daily routine and feel bored for most of the day.
  • You feel like you can’t be your authentic self in your current setting.
  • You don’t like sharing details about your life with others.
  • The things you stress over never seem to amount to anything worthwhile. 

Tips on how to get over the fear of change

Experiencing the symptoms on the above list may not force you to make a change, but it’s not living a life that most people would consider ideal. Here are some ways you can slowly start conquering your fear and initiating change for yourself:

  • Try to create certainty where you can. When you can ensure certain things, like your own approach to the change, it becomes easier to tackle. 
  • Expect and prepare for the worst. Repressing the idea of a bad outcome may only worsen underlying anxieties.  When you are ready to address even the worst-case scenarios, not knowing what is going to happen becomes more manageable. 
  • Learn to create goals that are realistic but challenging. Challenge your own critiques but adjust as necessary. Overcoming perfectionism and opening up to the idea of failure is hard but setting yourself up for “trying again” can be easier to stomach. 
  • Become aware of all the choices you truly have. Open yourself up to possibilities that may not be achievable now but could be later. Setting small goals can make these choices more attainable in the long run and acknowledging all the choices you have means you aren’t limited if something doesn’t go as planned.
  • Make sure old business is completed before you move onto new business. You cannot fully embrace a new way of living if you are caught up in the very thing you were trying to change.
  • Be deliberate. When breaking past habits and forming new ones, existing on autopilot makes it difficult. Think about what you’re doing and especially why you’re doing it while you’re doing it. When we go about our lives with intention, we can more easily find meaning and reason to continue our efforts. 
  • On the same note, be proud. Remind yourself that you should feel good about yourself, and that what you’re doing is to improve your life. Be excited about your successes, no matter how big or how small, and give yourself incentives to continue stepping outside your comfort zone. 
  • Create a rock-solid support system. Gather a group of people that will not allow you to give up, even when you may feel like you want to. It is a lot harder to go back when you have people encouraging you to move forward. It’s also difficult to tell those closest to you that you are giving up, giving you even more of a reason to persevere. 
  • Work on overcoming less significant fears that don’t necessarily have to do with the change you’re working on. It will gradually desensitize you to your primary fear, making it easier to deal with overtime.
  • Get out of the echo chamber! Being around people that think exactly like you can be peaceful, but you won’t be exposed to doing things in new ways. Surround yourself with people who think differently and adopt new strategies and outlooks.

Resiliency: Overcoming negative experiences

Throughout our lives, most of us will encounter trauma—an incident that inflicts physical, emotional, spiritual, or psychological harm. While we all endure misfortune, how we respond to trauma is what’s important. Resiliency provides the ability to cope mentally and emotionally. The mental processes and behaviors applied by resilient individuals are a huge aspect of overcoming negative experiences.  

Resiliency- Photo by Zoltan Tasi taken from Unsplash

What is Resiliency?

Resiliency is the thoughts, behaviors, and actions that promote the ability to cope during times of stress. This includes adversities such as trauma, threats, death, physical disability, financial difficulties, or family and relationship problems. Someone possessing resiliency copes both mentally and emotionally with their stressors or trauma—quickly returning to baseline. The term resiliency is the psychological equivalent to “getting up and dusting yourself off” after getting knocked down by life’s tragedies.

People with resiliency still experience significant emotional pain and distress. However, they apply key behaviors that allow them to experience their sadness, accept the events occurring, and then continue moving forward. They manage to avoid psychological consequences under extreme stress.

Why is Resiliency Important?

Resiliency is important because it makes overwhelming experiences easier to handle without negative repercussions. For example, it protects against the development of mental health issues like increased depression and anxiety. Those with high levels of resiliency have stable relationships, are less likely to engage in substance abuse behaviors, and have improved academic and job achievement.

Risk Factors For Poor Psychological Resiliency

Poor psychological resiliency is a struggle for many. Studies in clinical neuroscience (Levine, 2003) proved there are certain risk factors for low levels of resiliency:

  • Poverty
  • Childhood abuse
  • Lack of nurturing adults during childhood
  • Family conflict or divorce
  • Parenting style—excessively severe or inconsistent punishment
  • Substance abuse
  • Academic failure or inadequate education
  • Community disorganization
  • Exposure to violence
  • Delinquent peer culture or community environment

Protective Factors For Resiliency

Someone encountering adversity can potentially respond in three ways. They may exhibit sudden, extreme anger, go numb—failing to express their overwhelming emotions, or they become reasonably upset. The former two reactions do not respond to the situation. Instead, they do not cope with the negative experience, do not accept their feelings, and blame others. These individuals do either not have protective factors or do not have the skills to utilize them.

Contrarily, those with resiliency tend to respond to adversity with the latter. They accept unsettling emotions (i.e. fear, anxiety, hopelessness, etc.) and overcome them through coping methods. Protective factors in the environment like family support, competent schools, and interactive communities strengthen their resiliency. The resilient response is best for an individual’s wellbeing.

Neurobiology of Resiliency

Resilience is directly linked to the nervous system. Numerous brain structures stimulate resilience. Firstly, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis initiates the hormonal and physiological response to stress. Recent research suggests that dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), a steroid hormone, counteracts the harmful effects of cortisol released in times of stress. Studies (Russo et al., 2012) on PTSD reflect that higher levels of DHEA are related to symptom improvement. The hippocampus and medial prefrontal cortex control these processes.

What Promotes Resiliency?

With the knowledge of the risk factors against resiliency comes the determinants that promote it! Multiple traits, characteristics, and behaviors are associated with resiliency. These factors occur over a range of dimensions from the self to the culture in which an individual ascribes to.

Self

  • Self-esteem
  • Self-awareness
  • Self-efficacy
  • Independence
  • Positive outlook
  • Having goals
  • Abstaining from substances (i.e. drugs, alcohol, etc.)
  • Ability to solve problems
  • Responsibility

Community

  • Safety and security
  • Social equity
  • Quality education
  • Access to learning resources
  • Work and career opportunities
  • No exposure to violence
  • Housing
  • Healthy environment with sustainable resources

Relationships

  • Age-appropriate emotional expression
  • Peer acceptance
  • Family monitoring
  • Positive role models
  • Getting along with others
  • Social support at school, work, home, or community

Culture

  • Cultural identification
  • Sense of duty
  • Affiliation with a religious organization
  • Tolerant of contrasting beliefs
  • Preserving values
  • Knowledge of history and cultural traditions

How To Build Resiliency

We are not born with a fixed, innate capacity for resiliency. Creating and refining the skills takes practice. Anyone can build upon the necessary thoughts, behaviors, and actions that begin to construct resiliency.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on recognizing unproductive thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors and challenging those cognitive distortions to regulate emotions and cope with current problems. In cognitive-behavioral therapy, the therapist works with the client to change thought patterns. While the therapy treats depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions, it is useful in building psychological resilience.

A way cognitive behavioral therapy is particularly conducive for building resiliency is that clients are taught coping skills such as meditation, socialization, and behavioral experiments, and they can practice these techniques in a safe setting. Studies advocate for the “four steps to resilience” protocol that entails the steps: (1) search for strengths, (2) construct a personal model of resilience, (3) apply the personal model of resilience to life difficulty, and (4) practice resilience (Padesky & Mooney, 2012).

Develop Goals

Developing attainable goals cultivates resiliency. It is a sign that the person is willing and equipped to move forward regardless of the stress they are currently experiencing. Goals must be realistic and reachable to incite feelings of accomplishment.

Enhance Executive Function Skills

Executive functions are cognitive skills that control behavior and facilitate the attainment of goals. They are important to manage all of life’s tasks. Executive function skills include:

  • Working memory—Being able to retain information and put it to use when needed
  • Cognitive flexibility—Thinking about something from multiple angles
  • Inhibitory control—The voluntary inhibition of impulses which is the ability to have self-control over thoughts and actions  
  • Attention—Selectively focusing on a stimulus while ignoring irrelevant stimuli
  • Organization—Manipulating memory to plan and prioritize information

Developed executive function skills promote healthy relationships, academic success, and appropriate behavior. Additionally, they are responsible for regulating emotions, self-monitoring, and understanding points of view. The effects of executive function skills combined lead to resiliency.

Healthy Lifestyle

Preserving a healthy mind is imperative to managing stress. Lifestyle adjustments are often beneficial. Consume a diet of proper nutrition; the body needs healthy fats, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals to combat mental and physical illness. In combination with dietary changes, exercise releases endorphins that boost mood. Getting enough sleep at night provides a period of rest and healing for the brain. The aim is to keep the brain healthy to boost the thinking skills and mental energy necessary for resilience.

Maintain Positive Relationships

Strong interpersonal relationships with family and friends lend support during a crisis. Unconditional love and support is normally a product of positive relationships. Having relationships around builds resiliency because the individual knows they have others for support in a crisis. This also generates a happier mindset.

Acceptance

Readiness to accept any negative transpiring events is a central aspect of resiliency, but that is solely for unchangeable stressors. While accepting the challenges that cannot change is a characteristic of resiliency, do not view stress as hopelessly undefeatable. Even in instances where an individual is not in control, they can choose how they respond to a given situation.

Self-Discovery

As we learn about ourselves, we are building the foundation for resiliency. Tragedy and trauma cause individuals to analyze who they are. Amid self-discovery, many establish self-esteem, self-acceptance, and self-efficacy. They locate a larger purpose from their crises that bring them comfort in times of stress—anything from charity work to participating in meaningful activities.

Promoting Resiliency in Children

Childhood is a critical stage for developing resiliency. Parents, teachers, and other authority figures play a key role in promoting its development. Children who display resiliency continue to mature mentally and emotionally at normal rates despite adversity. However, without resiliency, children face the risk of sleep disturbances, poor appetite, difficulty concentrating at school, fluctuating mood, headaches or stomachs, and losing interesting in activities they previously enjoyed. The following can promote resilient traits and behaviors.

Resiliency In the Classroom. Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Maintaining A Positive Family Environment

For optimal development, children require a family who is nurturing, sensitive, and present. Parents especially promote resilience through their parenting styles. Resilient children have parents who actively participate in their lives. In their awareness, they ensure the child has their share of independence to grow into their own person. Even when hardships like divorce occur, families must openly communicate their emotions to set the basis for productively expressing emotions and reframing negative experiences. Maintaining a trusting relationship with at least one adult drastically reduces the possibility of poor resiliency.

Supportive Community

Community contains the sectors of businesses, faith-based organizations, first responders, the media, health care professionals, school personnel, and town leaders. A community that promotes resilience is prepared to respond in case of emergencies. Its leaders form connections with the community’s residents, creating a sense of security integral to a child’s resilience. The community also contributes activities (i.e. sports, church groups, etc.) that teach children responsibility, belonging, and other skills great for building resiliency.

Classroom Environment 

Students, which comprise the majority of the population of young people in developed countries, spend most of their time at school. Thus, teachers have the responsibility of promoting resilience. The main focus should be on fostering positive peer relationships, as well as the student-teacher relationship. Implementing a curriculum that includes peer interactions allows students to practice the socialization needed to overcome adversity. Research shows student appreciate a teacher that demonstrates “authority and influence over the class” and that they “trust and have positive regard for the student” (van Uden, 2014). A teacher is meant to provide structure to the classroom to allow students to learn, which undoubtedly enhances resilience by introducing them to problem-solving skills.

Prevent Bullying

Bullying is an intentional act of aggressive physical or verbal behavior directed towards an individual in a lower position of power. Behaviors such as making threats, teasing, spreading rumors, isolating another, or hurting their body or possessions are considered bullying. Being bullied is a type of emotional trauma. Lessening that by preventing the occurrence of bullying promotes resilience.

Regulating one’s emotions is paramount to resilience, yet bullying stems from the inability to express emotions productively. The process of bullying prevention begins in the home and at school. Families and teachers must teach children how to express their emotions in a non-aggressive manner. This reduces the chance of them taking their frustration out on their peers.

References

Levine S. (2003). Psychological and social aspects of resilience: a synthesis of risks and resources. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 5(3), 273–280.

Padesky, C.A., & Mooney, K.A. (2012). Strengths-Based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: A Four‐Step Model to Build Resilience. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 19(4). doi: https://doi.org/10.1002/cpp.1795

Russo, S. J., Murrough, J. W., Han, M. H., Charney, D. S., & Nestler, E. J. (2012). Neurobiology of resilience. Nature neuroscience, 15(11), 1475–1484. doi:10.1038/nn.3234

Van Uden, J.M., Ritzen, H., & Pieters, J.M. (2014). Engaging students: The role of teacher beliefs and interpersonal teacher behavior in fostering student engagement in vocational education. Teaching and Teacher Education, 37, 21-32.

Taking Responsibility: 3 Simple Tips to Take Control and be more Responsible

A useful guide to responsibility: What it is, what does it mean to be a responsible person, how does it benefits us, how I can be a more responsible person. Discover the difference between responsibility and guilt, and everything you need to know about social responsibility.

Responsibility

What do we mean by responsibility? If you stop to think, this concept, surely, has been hovering over our heads since we’re kids. Almost from the moment, you get to decide whether to follow the rules and obey or “challenge authority” (mom and dad) we have heard the words “You have to be responsible”.

If you ask a child what it means to be responsible, he or she will say something like “do the right thing,””do what Mom and Dad say,””do my homework”. Adults use the term responsibility to make children understand and assume that they must behave well and do the tasks adults request of them.

Do you think the term responsibility involves more than just obligations? What comes to your mind when you think of responsibility?

What does it mean to be responsible?

If we look at the etymological origin, the meaning of responsibility is not so much related to the tasks performed or the obligations, but rather with commitment involved.

Becoming a responsible person means being able to consciously make decisions, conduct behaviors that seek to improve oneself and/or help others. Most importantly, a responsible person accepts the consequences of his or her own actions and decisions.

The word responsibility comes from the Latin “responsum” (the one who is forced to answer to someone else). The verbs “Respondere and Spondere” are closely related and were widely used in the legal field. The first meant defending or justifying a fact in a trial and the second meant swearing, promising or assuming an obligation.

Therefore, we can define a responsible person as one who accepts the results of the decisions he or she makes. Oxford dictionary defines responsibility as:”The state or fact of being accountable or to blame for something.

This definition of responsibility emphasizes the need for the person to comply with the negative consequences of his or her actions.

From what we can see, it is a term that has different evaluations and can be quite abstract, but we use it regularly in our daily lives.

Why is it important to be responsible?

Being responsible brings us many benefits. It can help you achieve your goals and objectives in any area of your life. Responsibility allows you to create principles, morals and helps you to lead your life. Being a responsible person helps us to:

  • Be more honest: When we tend to tell the truth and keep our promises, the people around us will believe us and see us as an honest person.
  • Be more independent: Assuming the consequences of our actions will help us make better decisions.
  • Be more reliable: By being responsible, we gain other’s trust and we will also gain confidence in ourselves. Doing the right thing will make us feel good. And even if we are wrong, we will be satisfied because we know that we have done our best.

The value of responsibility

Responsibility is taught from childhood. Both in families and in schools, the aim is to educate in values and morals.

It is clear that everyone wants a committed and responsible partner, responsible children who don’t get into trouble, responsible parents and teachers who take care of the children, professionals who do their work responsibly. Why is that?

Because having people like that around us generates confidence, gives us security. We think,”yes, he is a responsible person, he will do it and things will work out. Feeling safe is one of the basic necessities in Maslow’s pyramid.

This is one of the reasons why in our society, responsibility is so positively and highly valued because it gives us security, confidence, and a certain stability.

How can I be more responsible?

There is no magic formula that makes us more responsible. However, responsibility can be trained.

If you want to fulfill your purposes, your obligations, and commitments, what you need is, to a large extent, predisposition and motivation. Now, if you’re still reading this then it’s a sign that you do want to be more responsible so here are some guidelines for you:

  1. Set goals: It’s important to know what we do things for. Having a sense and direction helps us to be consistent and to continue to do our duty. If you think the goal is too long term, set small goals to achieve it. I advise you to write them down. It sounds silly, but putting it on paper makes them real. Writing your goals can help you be more responsible!
  2. Objectivity: What is under my control or up to me and what is not? Make a list of the things that depend on you and you can control them. Your attention must be directed to those aspects, for what does not depend on you is not your responsibility.
  3. Routines: If it takes a lot of effort to “get dressed”, it’s best to get organized. If you have a routine, you’ll know what to do at every moment. But not only that, sometimes, knowing how much time you have to put in the effort also helps. “Come on, it’s only an hour of study before I go to the movies!”
  4. Rewards: Internal attributions come into play here. If you’ve reached what you set out to do, why not admit it? It’s your moment, give yourself a pat on the back.
  5. Be honest with yourself: Have you failed, was it something that you could control? Take responsibility, assume the consequences and analyze what you could have done differently, how would you improve for another time?
  6. Share your plans: I’m not talking about posting on social networks. No, I mean something more intimate. Talk to your partner, your mother or your best friend and tell them what you’re going to do, when and how. This way they will ask and become more involved and there will be no escape, you will have to comply.
  7. Operationalize: This means that the things you can take responsibility for are actions. For example, picking up your room, delivering a job, preparing food, etc. These are concrete behaviors that you can take on as responsibilities and obligations to fulfill, but you cannot assume responsibility for the consequences. For example, the teacher can give you an A, people might like or not the food you prepared or flatter you but this is not up to you. Therefore, specify activities and tasks that you have the resources and willingness to do and get on with it!

I’m not going to trick you, becoming a responsible person will not come overnight. It requires effort and a commitment. Remember, the key to success is consistency. I encourage you to focus and get it.

You can start by writing your final goals in capital letters and their subtypes or sub-objectives with minuscules. It begins little by little, assuming responsibilities and step by step.

Remember the responsibility for your actions (not the arbitrary consequences). If one day you don’t get the result you were expecting or you haven’t found the clues to using your willpower, don’t punish yourself. Analyze, think that you are on the right track because you are realizing the difficulties and accept the challenge again.

Responsibility & guilt

Guilt is not the same as responsibility. Being responsible for something doesn’t mean guilty. This stuff that seems so basic but how many times have you been surprised saying: “It’s not my fault!”

To understand each other, I’m going to tell you a story, which may even look familiar:

“You found a WhatsApp message just as soon as you got up. You have to finish and deliver the project by 13.00h. In addition, it is essential to be on time to the meeting and to do things perfectly, because it is a very important client. You invest all morning in this assignment, all your effort. When you leave the house, you take the subway, but it’s late. “I should’ve left earlier, I’m gonna get caught.” You’re already five minutes late. You leave the subway and there is a rally that crosses the avenue “I can’t believe it! Did it have to be today?” You’re going to the other sidewalk, you’re 15 minutes late. You get to the office, wait for the elevator. When you get upstairs, you look at the clock before you go in but you are 20 minutes late. The client’s gone, your boss is going to kill you.”

  • I told you it was so important that you got here on time! Look at the time! The client’s gone very angry because of your tardiness! It was your responsibility!
  • You think I did it on purpose? It’s not my fault that the subway was late and there was a rally cutting down the avenue!

What’s going on here?

Everything you did was with good intentions, effort, and interest. However, different factors have caused you to fail to deliver the project on time.

  • What is the real responsibility? Deliver the completed project by 13.00h
  • Whose responsibility is it that the client got angry? The client’s own responsibility, because we cannot control the emotions that another person feels.

Guilt carries implicit components that don’t help us at all. For example, it is not the same being responsible for a decision as being guilty of a decision. What does guilt involve?

  • Voluntary Action: To make someone feel guilty of something, you need an active search to get that result.
  • The result will be negative. If you’re guilty of something, that something is going to be negative.
  • It adds up: The fact that we blame someone for an event means that the only way to prevent it from happening would be to eliminate the culprit. However, being responsible means that he or she engaged in certain behaviors that helped produce that outcome.
  • Guilt leads us to think about the cause – consequences: Not everything in life happens because of cause and effect. Most things depend on a multitude of factors, as in the story we’ve seen before. Even sometimes, changing one of them doesn’t give us get a different result.

It is important that we bear this in mind because sometimes we take responsibility for things that we cannot control, that we could not change even if we wanted to change it with all our might. Feeling guilty for events, results or situations that do not depend on us affects our mood, frustrates us and often angers us.

The same thing happens when they make us feel guilty. We see it as unfair because what has happened was not in our plans either. Before blaming someone, ask yourself if the negative results obtained have been intentionally sought by the other person or not. Make sure you have done everything in your power to fulfill your responsibility.

Responsibility: Why do I feel bad when I’m not responsible?

In social psychology, Wiener’s theory, the theory of attributions refers to the explanations given by each one of us to the causes, reasons or results of what happens to us. Attributes have a strong influence on the way we feel, how we relate to others and even how we act. And of course, it influences us when we take on responsibilities.

There are:

  1. External attributions: When the explanation or cause of the facts is transferred to something external. We have no responsibility. For example, when we say that “you get on my nerves” as if we were not in control of them and it was inevitable to feel that way. Most people use this type of attribution to evade responsibility, doing so in the wrong way. Another case could be when we say “it was such bad luck”, implying that we have all the skills and abilities necessary to obtain an optimal result, however, chance has negatively influenced the result= zero responsibility.
  2. Internal attributions: The explanation or cause of the facts is in ourselves. It can be used when you succeed “thanks to me this happened”,”without my effort it wouldn’t have been possible”. Also in a situation where we know that there have been negative consequences for another and we assume that we have been involved. We ask for forgiveness by taking on the responsibility “I’m so sorry”,”Sorry, I didn’t realize”.

Clearly, a person’s attribution style can have a great influence on their self-esteem, their self-concept and, why not, their happiness. For example, someone who does not take responsibility for his or her accomplishments out of excess modesty will have a low self-concept. Giving the impression that his accomplishments never depend on him. On the contrary, a person who always takes credit for his or her merits will give the impression of being a self-righteous, arrogant, and narcissistic person.

What do you think will happen if we use internal attributions for negative and external results for positive ones? Exactly the same.

We must be consistent and objective. It is good to follow our principles and take responsibility for the consequences of the things we do wrong, but for the things we do well. This will give us emotional balance and promote our self-confidence.

3 tips to be more socially responsible

When we speak of social responsibility, we are referring to certain specific guidelines that are set in a given society, with the aim of ensuring that co-existence is correct, peaceful and leads to well-being.

Social responsibility affects relationships with others, but also with oneself:

Tip 1: Commitment

One of the angles of social responsibility is commitment. We commit ourselves continuously. In our work, with family, friends, partners, etc. Commitment means making a promise to someone and keeping it.

It’s funny because on many occasions, we make promises to ourselves and we skip them. “On Monday I will start eating healthy for sure”, ” I’m going to the gym three days a week, no excuses”. I am absolutely sure that one of these promises rings a bell for you, and I am also sure that one of them has not been fulfilled. Don’t you think it’s strange that even though we’re committed to ourselves, we don’t carry out our promises?  Imagine what would happen if you made those promises to someone else:

  • “This Monday, yes or no, grandma, I’m going to take care of you”: But you don’t show up.
  • “Today I have to work, but tomorrow I will help you to study son”: But you don’t help him.
  • “I’m teaching at the gym three days a week.” But you don’t show up.

Why do responsibilities and commitment towards others seem more important than to ourselves?

Tip 2: Obligations

The second angle of social responsibility is obligations. They’re the ones that are taught from childhood. At every age and at every stage of life, it is up to us to learn and incorporate into our repertoire different tasks, in order to adapt ourselves to the society. These are our responsibilities and/or obligations.

Many times, these obligations are not said out loud, they are just assumed. We have certain activities that become a part of our obligations. For example, Mom always puts the washing machine in, Dad always does the shopping, my brother always takes out the dog, I set the table.

What if one day Mommy gets off work late? No clean clothes

What if one day my brother forgets to take the dog out? He pees inside the house

What if dad doesn’t have a car to go shopping that day? No food

They may seem extreme examples, because in general, what happens is that responsibilities rotate. However, sometimes this happens and we find ourselves in situations like “Mom, I don’t have any clothes!” Dad, you haven’t bought me the cookies I like!”,”John is grounded because the dog has peed!”

I invite you to consider examples in which the people around you had implicit obligations and responsibilities, not agreed upon, have failed to fulfill them, and it has become a conflict when it comes to assuming the consequences. Whose responsibility is it? Whose fault is it?

Tip 3: Willpower

Willpower could be defined when we continue to make efforts and sacrifices to achieve a goal or objective, which will bring us great satisfaction in achieving it.

This becomes more relevant when they are short-term goals. It’s easier to maintain willpower. Therefore, it is good to set small goals when the effort has to be very constant over a long period of time.

It also helps to wonder why. Why did I decide to do this? Do I still want that? What do I have to do to get it? Answering these questions will give you strength and make you reaffirm your decision, prompting you to continue forward!

As always, I invite you to comment below, what did you think? What do you do to be responsible? If you have any questions or want to share your opinion, go ahead.

This article is originally in Spanish written by Patricia Sanchez Seisdedos, translated by Alejandra Salazar.

Career Coach: The perfect guide for a successful career

From an early age, we all ask, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” The answer inevitably evolves, beginning as youthful longings of becoming an astronaut or princess and later transforming to a more mature occupation. With such a question comes the matter of attainment: What are my career options? Is there special training involved? How do I secure the appropriate connections in my job? Even if already employed, a career coach can be the perfect guide for any successful career.

Career Coach

What Does a Career Coach Do?

A career coach is a professional who offers expert career advice. They are specially trained to identify a client’s strengths and then build on proficiencies to help people plan a career path. While working together, a career coach is like a personal cheerleader. They provide tips on creating an attractive resume and cover letter, locating job opportunities, and how to optimally respond to interviews. For clients that are already employed, a career coach advises on improving a work environment and earning promotions. The plan is tailored to the exact needs of the client. 

They differ from career counselors. Their focus is not solely on academics, as they consider all aspects of a client’s life. This includes not only strengths, but interests, values, and support system too.

Signs You Need a Career Coach

The backgrounds of those seeking a career coach are diverse. Clients come from numerous employment situations, varying in education level and socioeconomic status. However, the one commonality is they all desire a successful career, yet do not feel empowered with resources to reach their goals. Hiring one is nothing to be ashamed of. Here are signs you should consider one:

  • You’re unemployed
  • You’re anxious about the future
  • You feel unfulfilled
  • You’re tired of job hopping
  • You want a promotion
  • You have job stress
  • You dread going to work
  • You have poor lifestyle habits (i.e. unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, not sleeping)
  • You are unsure how to navigate a new job position
  • You need unbiased advice
  • You’re unprepared for an interview

Average Cost of a Career Coach

Don’t you prefer to get paid for your hard work? Career coaching is someone’s profession, so logically, sessions are not free. The cost varies depending on the needs of the client, the number of sessions scheduled, and the length of each session. The coach’s previous experience and credentials impact the cost as well. On average, a two-hour session can range from $75 to $250.
 
Most cannot accomplish their career goals in a single session. Multiple sessions are optimal to build a lasting relationship with your coach. Some have monthly services instead. Monthly packages are between $450 and $2,500. Group rates are less expensive. Remember, a career coach is an investment. You contribute time, effort, and resources to further your professional career.

How Can a Career Coach Improve Your Career Options?

Maybe you know what you want to do with your life, but you are struggling to execute a plan. Or perhaps your aspirations are undiscovered and necessitate direction. A career coach is helpful in either situation. They can expand your career opportunities through the following tasks:

Goal Formation and Tracking

Goal formation is the crucial to meeting with a career coach. If you are already certain of your goals, a career coach ensures they are specific, attainable, and realistic. They increase your sense of accomplishment by dividing your goals into long-term and short-term. Just because you are not reaching your end goal immediately, you are still showing progress. Career coaches track this progress.

There are clients who are unsure of their goals. A career coach uses a series of vocational tests which determine the client’s interests and skills. The client then chooses career options based on their strengths.

Assisting in the Job Seeking Process

A career coach has a role in the job seeking process. They research the current market for career opportunities and facilitate networking for their clients. Networking creates connections for future occupational promotions or opportunities.

Enhancing Resumes

A career coach understands how imperative an impeccable resume is to establish a career. Essentially, your resume is your first impression with your future employers. While they do not draft the entire resume, they teach clients the skills to do so. They are available for editing and proofreading and for suggestions on additional details that will enhance your resume.

Advising On Employment Related Conflicts

Conflict is part of working with others. Every employee is bound to encounter controversy of one form, but a career coach strives to reduce problems in the workplace—specifically those involving human resources. With an improved work environment, companies can focus on expanding job positions.  

Advocating for Clients with Differences

Clients who suffer from a disability or another adversity benefit from an advocate like a career coach. A career coach promotes the client to the intended employer. By depicting how their client would be an asset, employers see their value. Career coaches with an interest in disability negotiate job positions for their clients who require accommodations.

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Personal Benefits of a Career Coach

The benefits of a career coach are not entirely confined to your professional career. They extend into your personal life too. During your sessions with a career coach, you practice leadership, communication skills, and conflict management. These are the kinds of people skills which carry over into your relationships in daily life. As you grow as a person, you gain emotional intelligence to effectively express your emotions and respond to others with empathy.

How A Career Coach Relieves Anxiety

Lacking direction in your professional life leads to significant anxiety. You fear for the future not knowing your purpose, and each rejection is a blow to your self-esteem. Job stress is hindering you from feeling fulfilled in your current career situation. Career coaches relieve anxiety by providing clarity to your worries. By advising on a plan to reach your goals, you can overcome setbacks of rejection and implement actions to change aspects of discontentment in your job position.  

Career Coaching While Currently Employed

As previously mentioned, a career coach is not solely for the unemployed. For clients interested in pursuing a different career, they counsel clients on how to properly search for a new job while already employed.

Career coaching is advantageous even for those who have a stable job with a reputable company. If you seem to be stagnant in your current position, advice from a career coach can lead to a promotion and/or a raise in salary. A career coach aims to help clients make the most out of developing opportunities in their present career.

Employers ranking high within a company profit from career coaching. They discuss what goals they have for the company, and the career coach proposes which employees have the attributes to contribute to those goals.

Preparing for A Career Coach Session

It is important to note that a career coach does not do the work for you. Their job is to equip you with the resources and guidance to achieve your goals. For career coaching to be successful, you have to be willing to set aside the time, energy, and dedication. Knowing what to expect from a career coaching session makes the process less overwhelming. There are steps you can take to prepare.

Preparing for A Career Coach Session

Tell Your Story

The foundation of a career coach’s work is the client’s story. What is your background? What inspired your passions? Be ready to dive into the nitty-gritty details with complete honesty. Your career coach cannot assist you in your goals if they do not know the real you.

Prepare Your Resume

Arriving at your first session with a completed resume is a good indicator you are seriously committed to furthering your career. Your resume and cover letter are a reasonable starting point for the session because it is a reflection of how you are marketing yourself to employers.

Generate a List of Questions

Initially, meeting with a career coach is overwhelming while contemplating multiple thoughts, ideas, and plans for your career. The main topics you wish to address are easily disorganized. Although your coach is prepared to surmount any beginning obstacles, think about what you want out of your coaching. Generating a list of questions lends structure to the session and guarantees none are accidentally neglected. For example:

  • What are my strengths?
  • What are my weaknesses?
  • Do I have passions and interests?
  • How can I incorporate my interests into a career?
  • What past jobs have I liked the most? The least?
  • What does a successful career look like to me?
  • What are my goals?
  • Which aspects of my current job to I dislike?

Maintain Realistic Expectations

Rome wasn’t built in a day, or so the saying goes. The same applies to your career goals. It’s unlikely your career goals will come to fruition in a day. Do not attend your coaching session with unrealistic expectations. You won’t leave your first session with your dream job, but you can return home with empowering resources and hope of a satisfying future.

Finding a Career Coach

Not every career coach is for you. While searching for a coach, keep your goals at the forefront of your mind. Find a coach that aligns with those goals and meshes with your personality. You must feel comfortable with your coach to have productive coaching sessions.

Contact associations and organizations you are affiliated with to find a career coach. Educational facilities are also equipped for career coaching recommendations because they are trained to assist students in kickstarting their careers. Try college career offices near your area.

Coaches receive certification through the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches (PARCC) and the International Coaches Federation (ICF). Browsing the online databases gets you one step closer to the career of your dreams.

Respect: What is it, types, examples, learn and teach respect

Respect: a useful guide. Learn what it is, why it is important, types and examples. Discover interesting tips on how to teach it. What to do when we are disrespected? How do you learn to respect yourself? How to respect others? In this article, we answer all these questions.

Respect

What is respect? Concept and definition

The word respect comes from the Latin word “respectus” meaning attention, regard or consideration. It can be defined as “esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person, personal quality or ability, or something considered as a manifestation of a personal quality or ability“.

It is a very important component of both personal identity and interpersonal relationships. To feel respected could be considered a basic human right. Disrespect is a very important thing that can lead to break-ups and even violence.

It is a concept that refers to the ability to value and honor another person, both his or her words and actions, even if we do not approve or share everything he or she does. It is accepting the other person and not trying to change them. Respecting another person is not judging them by their attitudes, behaviors or thoughts. It is not expecting for someone to be otherwise.

Our differences are positive because it creates our identity. This means that individual differences exist, but above all to understand that as members of a society we are equal. All people are due respect for the simple fact of being people. Equality is in balance. That is why it is very important to teach children from an early age the value of it. The best way to teach respect is to become a role model for our children.

Respect for others is very important, but for yourself is fundamental since you will value others to the extent that you are able to value yourself.

“don’t do what you don’t want to be done to you,” and “respect and value.”

Some synonyms of respect would be deference, obedience, attention, courtesy, tolerance, compliance or admiration.

Why is respect important?

Without it, interpersonal relationships will be filled with conflict and dissatisfaction. If we don’t respect others, they will not respect us, and if we don’t respect ourselves we will not be respected by others either.

It is essential to feel safe, to be able to express ourselves without fear of being judged, humiliated or discriminated against.

Being respectful of others, being respected and respecting ourselves increases our self-esteem, self-efficacy, mental health, and well-being.

Types of respect

There are many types, the most important of which are: self-respect, for others, for social norms, for nature, for values, for laws and norms, for culture and for the family.

It is learning to tolerate, not discriminate and avoid actions that may offend others. Some examples of consideration in everyday life are: greeting or speaking to others in a kind and respectful way, giving up your seat in public places, treating others as you would like them to treat you, etc.

  • For self: This kind refers to the ability to respect oneself, to value and appreciate oneself. Accepting oneself regardless of what others think.
  • For others: This kind refers to the act of tolerating accepting and considering another person, even though there may be differences between them, or between the way they think. Some examples would be; respect for parents, men and women equally, teachers, older people, other’s religious beliefs, respect for people of different sexual orientation (lesbians, transgender, gay, bisexual, intersex, etc.), etc.
  • For social norms: This kind refers to the ability to respect all the norms that govern society. Some examples of this type of respect would be: respect for courtesy rules, working hours, other people’s belongings, letting them speak and listen, respecting others opinions.
  • For nature: This kind refers to the appreciation of the environment (animals, plants, rivers, etc.). Some examples of this type of respect would be; not throwing garbage in rivers, forests, or fields, not tearing up plants or mistreating nature, not wasting water, not harming animals or insects, recycling, using environmentally friendly means of transport, etc.
  • For the family: This kind implies being able to understand and respect each other within the family, and implies being able to follow a set of rules of coexistence.
  • For values: This kind refers to the ability to honor our own principles.
  • For culture: This type of value refers to the ability to recognize that there are other beliefs and be able to respect them. Some example of this kind of respect would be; not trying to impose our beliefs on others, avoid making judgments about the opinions of others, etc.
  • For national symbols: This kind refers to the ability to value and appreciate the symbols of a nation. For example, the anthem or the flag.
  • For human beings: This type refers to the ability to comply with legal norms, respect laws, etc.

How to teach respect?

This atribute is a two-way street. Hal and Yates studied respect through words and found out that between parents and children and teachers and students respect is the main aspect of the relationship between them.

These authors learned that it is about reciprocity, meaning that we get back what we receive, therefore if parents respect their children, they will receive the same respect back. The important aspect of this study was that parents and teachers were the ones responsible for teaching respect.

You can start teaching respect to children, maybe this song and tips might help:

1. Respect your children

Take into account your child’s tastes and preferences. Don’t make him do something he doesn’t want, just like you wouldn’t make an adult do it. Suggest, encourage, advise, but don’t force. If your child has their own way of doing things, let your child do it. Don’t pretend to have complete control over your child’s behavior or preferences. Accept their decisions and let them make their own decisions as well.

When we accept children’s differences, they feel listened to and respected. They learn in their own flesh how to treat others who have different opinions and to respect others despite their differences.

2. Stay calm and don’t shout

If you want to teach respect, it is important to set an example and always keep a calm tone. Shouting at a person is disrespectful, too. Although it can be difficult when you feel frustrated, try not to shout.

3. Don’t use negative labels or insults

Telling our child, “you’re a bad boy” or “you’re useless” is very harmful to self-esteem, but it also encourages a disrespectful attitude. So, when he/she behaves badly, it is better to say: “What you have done is wrong”, focusing on his action by not judging the child”. Discover the power of effect. Prophecies come true.

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4. Understand why he/she disrespected you.

When your child is disrespectful, it’s best to understand why he or she has done it and help them explore their feelings. For example, if your child calls you “bad,” we’ll ask why he or she said it, whether it’s because they’re angry or sad. We need to think about what might have upset him, and say, “Are you angry about this?” We must be empathic to their anger and make them understand that not because of that anger a person is bad and that hurting others is not a way to solve problems. Once they understand this, we can negotiate with them how to solve their anger.

5. Don’t let them disrespect you.

Don’t let your children or anyone else disrespect you. Be a good role model for them, not letting anyone take advantage of you or accepting yourself.

Portraying respect goes hand in hand with self-esteem. The higher the self-esteem the lower the possibilities you will accept disrespect. Remember that us humans strife to achieve respect but we have to focus on providing ourselves with the respect we deserve.

6. Set limits

When teaching respect, it is important to set limits on what is right and wrong for children. When they behave disrespectfully, point out the behavior, calmly, without shouting, as we have mentioned before. However, if there is a lot of emotional activation, if the child is very upset, it is better to wait for him to calm down, or even help him to do so.

7. Apologize when you’re wrong.

When you’re wrong, you don’t keep your promise or you’re too hard on your child, it’s important to apologize to them. Not only will we convey humility and the importance of asking for forgiveness, but we will also teach them respect.

8. Congratulate your children when they are respectful

It is important for them to learn the actions that are right and respectful. Let them know that what they have done is right because then they are more likely to repeat it.

Respect at the workplace

Globalization has made that most of our workplaces have diverse people, from different races, religions, etc. This is very important because having a diverse workplace helps boost productivity. However, what is most important in a diverse workplace is to maintain respect among coworkers to reduce job stress.

To keep respect at the workplace it is important to be polite with each other, don’t judge people, control your anger, inspire others, etc. Practicing humility, respecting other people’s time, trying to be empathic are important variables at the workplace.

Learn to respect yourself

Sometimes it’s hard to get others to respect us if we don’t do it ourselves.

1. Treat others the way you want to be treated

It’s a pretty cliché phrase, but it’s true. If you want to be respected, start by respecting others. People tend to be reciprocal.

2. Respect yourself

If others see that you have this, they will also consider and appreciate you and your needs. Consider yourself a priority.

3. Use body language

Body language is very important because it helps to transmit a lot of information. Although many times the information we send with the body is contradictory to our words. Therefore, if we give our opinion but with a faint voice, it is more likely that no one will take into account what we are saying. But on the contrary, if we express what we think in a firm voice, looking into the other’s eyes and confident in ourselves, they are more likely to respect us.
Discover here tips for effective communication skills.

4. Speak positively

Even if you do not behave in an arrogant or haughty manner, do not underestimate yourself, or play down.

5. Surround yourself with the right people

Some people are just always disrespectful and no matter what we do they will always disrespect others. These people we should keep further away from us as possible. If you can’t keep them away then learn to ignore their comments.

6. Defend yourself against disrespect

If they disrespect you or don’t take you seriously, defend yourself. Don’t allow it. Don’t attack or respond in the same way either. With a “What you said has hurt me”, “That comment was inappropriate” or “I won’t allow you to speak to me like that”, these phrases will help for this behavior not to repeat again.

7. Boost your self-esteem

Many times we are not respected because we don’t consider ourselves worthy of it. This may be conscious or unconscious. Even if we rationally know that we do deserve respect, sometimes unconsciously we don’t end up believing it. That is why it’s important to work on your self-esteem.

8. Develop assertiveness

Assertiveness is a way of defending our rights while respecting those of others. By being assertive, we will avoid others taking advantage of us, besides increasing our self-esteem. To do this, it is important to learn to say no when something doesn’t feel right or doesn’t suit you.

Respect Others

What to do with lack of respect?

Do you feel that others don’t respect you and take advantage of you? Here are a few tips to help you overcome disrespect.

  • Value your educational trajectory or other forms of education that you have had. If you are not fortunate enough to have a formal education, value your life experience and life skills.
  • Honor your body and listen to it. Take care of it without forcing it, do physical exercise and eat properly.
  • Listen to yourself, attend to your needs, whether they are a need for rest, disconnection or fun.
  • Learn to communicate assertively, as mentioned above.
  • Stay away from people who don’t do you any good and from toxic relationships.
  • Find out what your goals and objectives are in life and work to achieve them.

How do we respect others?

  1. Listening to the other person.
  2. Being empathetic, understanding each other and putting ourselves in their shoes.
  3. Using assertive communication, that is, defending our rights while respecting the rights of others, in an educated and non-aggressive manner.
  4. Keep in mind that our approaches, ideas, and opinions may differ from other people and none is wrong. No one has the absolute truth.
  5. Apologizing to each other when we make mistakes.
  6. Keeping other people’s secrets.
  7. Complying with and respecting laws and regulations
  8. Taking care of the common spaces and the environment.
  9. Interest in others, their everyday life and how they feel.
  10. Respecting the privacy and intimacy of others.
  11. Respecting others spaces and belongings, not to invade or use what is not ours without permission.
  12. Respect personal space.
  13. Make sure we include rather than exclude others.
  14. Helping others when it is in our power to do so.
  15. Being grateful.

Fear: Everything you need to know about being scared

In the famous words of Franklin Roosevelt, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself!”,  but what exactly is fear, what does it look like, and how does it work? What are the different kinds? Can you actually be scared to death? What happens to our bodies and brains when we feel scared and how can it be managed? What are some tips to deal with being scared?

Fear

What is fear?

Fear is the response to something dangerous- whether emotionally or physically. Defined by the Cambridge dictionary as:

“an unpleasant emotion or thought that you have when you are frightened or worried by something dangerous, painful, or bad that is happening or might happen.”

It’s essential for us to feel it because if we didn’t have it, we wouldn’t be protected against potential threats. It is adaptative. Fear stems from our fight-or-flight mode which comes from our sympathetic nervous system. Fear should be distinguished from anxiety– the response that occurs when a threat seems unavoidable or uncontrollable.

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What does fear mean?

Traits and behaviors of fear

Fear can make us do just about anything… buy that hotel room online because “6 other people are looking at this room right now”, buy that home security system that has everything included, or inspecting a dark attic while holding a baseball bat because your wife heard a noise. Humans are wired to feel fear and behave accordingly.

The tell-tale signs of fear are what put our body into its flight-or-flight mode. The signs include hyperventilation (a higher heart rate), the constriction of peripheral blood vessels, dilation of the central blood vessels (this causes blushing), piloerection (making a cold person warmer, making a scared animal look more impressive), muscle tension increases (this causes goosebumps), sweating, hyperglycemia (increased blood sugar levels), dyspepsia (the feeling of butterflies in the stomach), and increased serum calcium. When all of these functions happen, our brain realizes that there is danger, and the result is fear.

Can you die from fear?

Yep, it’s possible to be scared to death! When people feel quite scared, their fight-or-flight mode turns on giving them a large rush of adrenaline. This increased level of adrenaline can be damaging to the heart and triggers calcium channels in the heart to open up. When calcium goes into the heart cells, the heart muscles contract forcefully.

Essentially, the calcium doesn’t stop because the adrenaline doesn’t stop, and the heart muscles can’t relax. This can lead to the development of a heart arrhythmia known as ventricular fibrillation– when the heartbeat isn’t regular. This arrhythmia leads to a drop in blood pressure which, if strong enough, cause the brain to cease blood flow and consciousness is lost.

Causes of fear

Fear can be learned, cultural, natural, and evolutionary. If a kid has a bad experience with clowns, he might have a phobia of them later on in life. Culturally, different cultures it different phenomena. Fear is embedded into our nature- we can’t survive without it. Scientists believe that the phobia of heights is something embedded in us and that came out during the Mesozoic period of time. Since then, most of us evolved to have a slight phobia of tall heights.

Fear is characterized by rational or appropriate and inappropriate or irrational. An irrational fear is also called a phobia. It’s a twist of the normal response to fear. “Phobia” is the Greek stem for “fear of”. Some of the most common phobias are public speaking, heights, needles, spiders, snakes, ghosts, tight/enclosed spaces, and rejection.

People who suffer from a fear of fear, also known as anxiety sensitivity, are likely to have a personality or identity issue to begin with which is what helps the fear phobia develop. Many people also develop an affect phobia– a phobia of negative feelings. It’s not uncommon for those with anxiety disorders to develop a fear of phobia. This is because they perceive a fear response as negative and will do everything in their power to avoid that response. Phonophobia is the technical term for the fear of phobias.

Fear

Psychological theories of fear

Some psychologists have suggested that there are only a small set of innate and basic emotions that the rest of our emotions stem from. Of those include anger, angst, acute stress reaction, anxiety, horror, fright, panic, happiness, sadness, and fear. They believe that fear comes from a behavioral response and has been preserved through evolution.

Others suggest that the feeling of being scared isn’t only dependent on the nature of a person, but by their social and cultural interactions which help guide them to know what is scary. For example, being scared of the monster under the bed or having a parent look in the closet for the Boogeyman.

The psychoanalytic theory of fear comes from Sigmund Freud. He believes that the scary object/idea is not the original subject of fear. For instance, while I may be scared of clowns, it’s because when I was smaller, I was bitten by a dog while watching a clown.

The learning theory combines cognitive theory and behaviorism. This theory means that a phobia develops when the fear response is punished or reinforced- in either a positive or negative way.

There is also the option of a biological basis with the focus mainly on neuropsychology- mental disorders are caused by physiological factors. Neuropsychologists have found that there are some genetic factors that could play a role in phobia development. They’ve also found that certain medications that affect brain chemistry are useful in helping to treat phobias- mainly medication that raises serotonin levels.

How does fear affect the brain?

Fear neurocircuits in mammals

When fright is felt (via any of the five the senses), three main areas of the brain are affected. First, the thalamus collects the data from the senses. Second, the sensory cortex takes the data from the thalamus and begins to process and interpret it. After, the sensory cortex takes the processed information and spreads it throughout the two amygdalae (fear), hypothalamus (fight-or-flight), and the hippocampus (memory). However, it has also been found that when people are presented with a scary face, the occipital cerebellar regions of the brain are activated. Those include the fusiform gyrus, inferior parietal, and the superior temporal gyri. People who have damage to their amygdala might be unable to experience feeling scared.

The response to fear is automatic and we won’t know it’s going on until it’s over and has run its course. The main part of the brain where the feeling of scared is really felt is in the amygdala. It’s essential for our adaptation to emotional learning memory and stress. Our brain has two amygdalae and each one forms a part of our circuitry of fear learning. When we feel a threat, our fight-or-flight response begins. Essentially, this means that the amygdalae produce a secretion of hormones that influence both feeling scared and aggression.

Once the feeling of fear or aggression has started, the amygdala release hormones into the body in order to keep the human alert so they may be ready to run, fight, and move at any moment. Some of these hormones include norepinephrine (increases heart rate, blood flow, and glucose release for energy), epinephrine (regulates heart rate and metabolism, dilates air passages and blood vessels), and cortisol (increases blood sugar and the feeling of stress). Once the threat and reason for terror has subsided, the amygdala sends this information to the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) in order to have it stored for the future. This is known as memory consolidation and happens through a process known as synaptic plasticity.

This synaptic plasticity occurs because the amygdalae and the hippocampus work together to create memories surrounding the situation. Stimulation of the hippocampus causes the person to remember specific details about the scary situation. Neuron stimulation in the amygdalae generates memory formation and plasticity. When this process occurs frequently, known as fear conditioning, it can lead to having a phobia or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Some MRI scans have shown that the amygdalae in people who have been diagnosed with panic disorders or bipolar disorder are larger overall and more wired to have a higher level of fright.

Fear pheromones

As mammals, like other birds, reptiles, insects, and aquatic organisms, we release an odor called pheromones. Also known as alarm substances, fear pheromones are signals that are chemical and meant to defend oneself from danger. For example, think of a skunk or a stink bug. When they feel scared, they release an odor- their pheromone- to try and make the danger go away via the foul smell. In many animals, the release of the pheromones is meant to let other members of the species around them know that there is danger. This pheromone-alarm can lead to a change such as defensive behavior, dispersion, or freezing depending on the species and situation. For example, it’s been found that rats can release pheromones that cause the rats around them to move away from the rat releasing pheromones.

Humans work slightly differently than animals in that respect. When we feel scared, other humans naturally react differently than how the rats acted in the scenario above. Unlike in animals, humans’ alarm-pheromones haven’t been chemically isolated yet- but we know they exist. Androstadienone is a steroid in the form of an odor that comes from deep within the human body and is found in human sweat, hair, and plasma. Androstenone is another related steroid that is used to communicate dominance, competition, or aggression. One study found that terror responses may be gender specific.

Fear

Is fear contagious?

Can it be contagious, though? An interesting study found that it’s possible to smell the difference between human exercise-induced sweat and human feeling scared/nervous/anxiety-induced sweat. This means that we can literally smell terror and that, yes, it can be contagious. When someone is scared, the other people around them can feel it. If those other people are sensitive enough, they might begin to feel it as well. This is a simple survival instinct. When one member of the gazelle herd feels scared because of a lion running towards them, the other members should, too. Unlike animals who use smell to communicate, humans usually communicate by language, both verbal and body. However, humans are able to communicate some emotions via smell and fear is one of them.

Fear isn’t just contagious via smell, but also via genetics. One study showed that a generation of lab rats who were trained to associate cherry blossoms with electric shock had children and grandchildren who were all nervous about the cherry blossom even though the younger generations had never experienced any shock association with cherry blossoms. In their brains, the areas known for smell were bigger- likely to be able to smell the cherry blossom and avoid what their ancestors were wary of. Known as epigenetics, the genetic code gets modified and turns off/activates certain genes.

Fear within society

According to a Gallup Poll done in 2015, within the U.S., the top 10 fears people have (not in any order) are:

  • Terrorist attacks
  • War
  • Gang violence
  • Criminal violence
  • Failure
  • Death
  • Spiders
  • Being alone
  • Nuclear war
  • The future

In 2008, one author analyzed the top words on the internet that followed the phrase “fear of…” and found that the top ten were:

  • Snakes
  • Failure
  • Clowns
  • Flying
  • Death
  • Heights
  • Intimacy
  • Driving
  • People
  • Rejection

Management and treatment

Pharmaceutically, fear conditioning (PTSD, phobias) has been proven to be manageable using glucocorticoids. This is because the glucocorticoids prevent the fear-conditioned behavior. Psychologically, cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is successful to help people overcome what they’re scared of.

CBT is useful through exposure therapy because people are able to confront what they are scared of in a safe way that helps them learn how to suppress the fear-triggering stimulus or memory. One study has shown that up to 90% of people who try exposure therapy for phobias are able to decrease the phobias overtime. Another study showed that our brains can overwrite bad, scary memories with stimulation of the amygdala.

True facts about fear

  • Fear is contagious and we can smell it! A group of women who smelled the shirts of men- half with anxiety induced sweat and half with exercise-induced sweat- could smell the difference between the two types of sweat.
  • We remember being scared. When we are scared, our brains save the situation in our memory so we can remember not to repeat the situation.
  • Our brains can overwrite fear!
  • It’s possible to be scared to death. When our bodies produce to much adrenaline, our hearts become overworked and we can collapse unconscious.
  • Fear is genetic! Epigenetics is real and our genetic makeup can warn us to be scared and wary of something.
  • The fear gene, known as stathmin, is stored in the amygdala and is what groups us into people who can jump off cliffs and those who can’t get near one.
Fear

Tips to overcome fear

  • Be aware that you’re feeling scared. You can’t fix what you don’t know. You aren’t what you’re scared of- you’re the awareness that is experiencing it.
  • Identify what’s making you scared.
  • Find the root of it.
  • Therapy. Cognitive Behavior Therapy and exposure therapy are both forms of therapy that are helpful in overcoming phobias.
  • Hypnosis is a common method to help people overcome some phobias.
  • Yoga can help release any bad energy and anxiety in the body. By releasing some negative energy, the scared feelings can become less powerful.
  • Read books or watch movies on your phobia. Sometimes you’ll find helpful hints or interesting facts about your phobia that will help alleviate it.
  • Be grateful. Rather than being scared about having to speak publicly, think about what a great opportunity it is to be able to share what you’re going to say. Switch the situation around.

Let us know what you think in the comments below!

Oedipal or Oedipal complex: What does it entail and its symptoms

The Oedipal complex is a term that everyone hears at least once in their lifetimes, but what is it? What are the symptoms? What is an Electra complex? Can an Oedipal complex be resolved? What happens if it isn’t resolved?

Oedipal

What is Oedipal?

The Oedipal complex, more famously known as the Oedipus complex, is a term that describes a child’s feelings of desire toward their opposite-sex parent and jealousy, resentment, and anger toward their same-sex parent. A girl feels she is competing with her mother for her father’s affection. A boy feels he is competing with his father for his mother’s affection. Essentially, a child sees their same-sex parent as a rival for the opposite-sex parent’s affection and attention.

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The term Oedipal complex originated thanks to Sigmund Freud, the renowned Austrian neurologist, in his 1899 book The Interpretation of Dreams and later on in his theory of psychosexual stages of development. The concept became more and more important as Freud expanded his concept of psychosexual development.

Freud named the oedipal complex after the character in Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex who kills his father and marries his mother. In the Greek myth, written around 429 B.C., the character Oedipus is abandoned at birth because an oracle told his father that he would be killed by his son, so his father abandons him on a mountainside to die. Resulting in Oedipus doesn’t know who his parents are. Oedipus was rescued by a Sheppard and told that he will one day marry his mother and kill his father. Mortified, Oedipus runs away. It is only once he had killed his father and married his mother that he found out who they really were.

What is the Oedipal Complex?

The Oedipal Complex, in Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, is a child’s desire for sexual involvement with the opposite-sex parent- mostly a boy’s desire for his mother. The desire is kept under wraps and out of conscious awareness by being repressed. However, Freud believed that even the repressed desire had an influence over how a child behaved and played a role in their overall development- namely in the phallic stage of psychosexual development. Freud also believed that a successful completion of the phallic stage involved identifying with the same-sex parent which would lead them to develop a mature sexual identity. The Oedipal complex occurs in between the ages of three and five.

The phallic stage of psychosexual development is the third stage in Freudian psychoanalysis that occurs between the ages of three and five or six. The theory suggests that this stage is where a child’s libido and desire center upon their genitalia as the erogenous zone. Essentially, a part of the body sensitive to sexual stimulation. The phallic stage is an important point when it comes to forming a sexual identity. Freud suggested that during this stage in the development, a child develops a sexual attraction to their opposite-sex parent and hostility toward the same-sex parent. That is to say, this is the point in which he develops the Oedipal complex.

What is the difference between an Oedipal Complex and an Oedipus complex?

There isn’t a difference between the Oedipal complex and the Oedipus complex. They refer to the same concept. Both words come from the same word stem “oedip-”. The term “Oedipus” derives from the character in the Greek myth while “Oedipal” means “of, or relating to, the Oedipus”.

Oedipal

What is the difference between an Oedipal Complex and an Electra Complex?

When Freud used the term “Oedipal complex”, he referred to both boys and girls although he admitted that each sex experiences it differently. Freud was heavily criticized on his views of female sexuality and he himself admitted that his understanding of women was a bit underdeveloped. Freud believed that girls experience “penis envy” when they discover they don’t have a penis and feel resentment toward their mother for “sending them into the world insufficiently equipped.” This resentment would give way to identifying with the mother and the process of internalizing the characteristics of the same-sex parent would begin. Psychoanalyst Karen Horney refuted Freud’s “penis envy” idea with “womb envy”. The idea being that men feel resentment because they lack the ability to bear children.

Carl Jung, among others, didn’t agree with Freud that the Oedipal complex covered both boys and girl. The term Electra complex was brought into being to describe the desire girls feel for their fathers and jealousy for their mothers. Jung also suggested that when a girl discovers that she doesn’t have the penis like the one her father has, she imagines that she will get a penis if he makes her pregnant. This results in the girl becoming more emotionally close to the father and becoming more resentful towards her mother whom she believes castrated her.

The term “Electra” comes from a Greek myth where Electra was the daughter of the Agamemnon who planned her mother’s murder.  

Symptoms of an oedipal complex

Symptoms will show both consciously and unconsciously. However, there are some signs that can show an Oedipal complex. Some of those include from a child’s perspective:

  • A little boy being possessive of this mother and telling his father not to kiss or touch her.
  • A little girl declaring that she plans to marry her father when she grows up.

Some symptoms from a man’s perspective:

  • Feeling and thinking that your father shouldn’t kiss or hug your mom. The physical intimacy between the couple makes you naturally jealous.
  • You want to sleep next to your mom. You want to try to take your father’s place.
  • You deal with sexual impotency. Essentially, every time you’re aroused, you think of your mom.
  • Your mother is your priority. You think about her constantly. She becomes more important than a wife or children.
  • You have unstable relationships and jump between relationships often. The thought of sharing a bond with another girl isn’t acceptable.
  • You get into verbal fights with your father. You may shout at him to stay away from your mother.
  • You are attracted to older people. If a woman is older and has characteristics like your mom, she’s instantly more attractive.
  • You admire your mom too much. You love the way she dresses, walks, talks, and acts. You can’t help but compliment her.

Oedipal

How is an oedipal complex resolved?

A child faces a developmental conflict at each stage in Freud’s theory of psychosexual development that must be resolved in order to create a healthy adult personality. The process to develop a healthy adult personality is to identify with the same-sex parent in order to resolve the conflict in the phallic stage (the Oedipal complex).

Within Freud’s theory, there are three types of personality: the id, the superego, and the ego. The id refers to the personality that is present at birth and acts according to a pleasure principle that needs should be met immediately. For example, if you’re thirsty, you should drink. However, needs aren’t always met immediately and tension results because of it. The id, in order to relieve tension, relies on a primary process of creating mental imagery through fantasy, hallucinating, and daydreaming. For example, you’re hungry and start daydreaming about a big, juicy burger. The superego is the moralistic part of the personality that forms later on in childhood due to parenting styles and social influences. The ego is the balance between the id and the superego by fulfilling the needs of the id and the superego yet also making sure they stay realistic.

In order to resolve the Oedipus complex, Freud suggested that while the primary id wants to get rid of the father, the more realistic ego understands that the father is much stronger than the child. Boys will experience what Freud called castration anxiety, a fear of both figurative and literal emasculation. As a boy becomes more aware of the differences physically between girls and boys, he will assume that the female’s penis has been removed and that the father will also castrate him as a punishment for desiring his mother. In order to resolve this internal conflict, identification, the defense mechanism, kicks in. This is when the superego is formed and becomes part of the inner moral authority. An internalization of the father tries to suppress the urges of the id and make the ego act upon these more ideal standards.

A child’s superego retains the character of the father and the strong feelings of the Oedipal complex are repressed because of it. However, other influences contribute to the repression of the complex, too. Such as social norms, religious teachings, and cultural influences.

It is out of the power play between the id, ego, and superego where the overall sense of right and wrong emerge. Sometimes, however, these repressed feeling can also result in an unconscious sense of guilt which can have a strong influence over the individual’s conscious actions.

What happens if an oedipal complex isn’t resolved?

When a conflict in a psychosexual stage isn’t resolved, a fixation at that point in development can be the result. Freud theorized that boys who don’t deal with their Oedipal complex become fixated with their mother, “mother-fixated”, while girls become “father-fixated”. As adults, these people will seek out partners who resemble their opposite-sex parent.

Let us know what you think in the comments below!

Brain Gym: 16 Activities That Will Help Your Brain Stay Younger

Brain Gym for a healthy mind. A few years ago, we started to learn about the importance of training our brains. Today we know that in order to enjoy life to the fullest, our brain needs to be in shape as well. Find out the 16 brain gym exercises that will help your brain health.

Life expectancy has risen, and as we age, our brain starts deteriorating. A few good habits can help slow down cognitive aging and help keep the human brain in shape. In this article, we’ll talk to you about different brain gym strategies that will help you build new neural connections and boost your cognitive reserve. Lifestyle and our habits play an important role in the physical changes that our brains undergo. The sooner you start training your brain, the longer it will stay in shape. Sign up for your brain gym!

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Is it really possible to improve a specific cognitive skill by training with a brain gym routine? Sometimes you may find yourself wondering if a brain gym routine will actually make it possible to improve our memory, planning, spatial orientation, processing speed, reasoning, creativity, etc. While there isn’t any magic recipe to keep cognitive aging at bay, you can start some exercises to slow it down and improve cognitive reserve. Take your brain seriously and try some of the brain gym exercises that we have below.

Brain Gym can your brain plasticity. The brain has the amazing ability to adapt and change depending on our experiences. Brain plasticity is what makes this adaptation easy, and is what allows us to help mold and adapt our brains to different circumstances or surroundings.

There is one notable type of brain plasticity, called functional compensatory plasticity, that causes a small group of elderly people to achieve almost the same amount or higher cognitive activity than their younger counterparts, despite their age. If we think of the average aging individual, we can expect their cognition to slowly decline as they age. However, in the case of functional compensatory plasticity, the brain actually compensates for the lack of cognitive activity, ultimately activating more brain parts than others of their own age or supposed cognitive state.

Brain gyms help the brain adapt, which we have shown is an essential part to brain health, especially as we age. Changing some simple habits and practicing mentally stimulating activities can help keep the brain active which makes it easier for the brain to create neurons and connections. Take a look at our suggestions and put them into action.

Brain Gym: 10 ways to keep your brain sharp

Exercising these powerful cognitive skills helps regenerate neural connections. Brain gyms can help slow down cognitive decline, which can delay the effects of neurodegenerative effects.

1. Brain gym while you Travel

Travelling stimulates our brains, exposes to new cultures and languages, and helps us learn about the history of a new place. According to a study, having contact with different cultures gives us the ability to learn about different cultures, which helps improve creativity and has important cognitive benefits.

Brain Gym: If you have the resources to travel, do it! Visit new places, emerge yourself in the culture, and learn from the natives. If you can’t travel, make an effort to surround yourself with different cultures and people, and visit new places right in your own city.

2. Brain gym while you Listen to music

Listening to music can be a great activity because music is a powerful stimulus for our brains. Certain studies have shown how listening to music activates the transmission of information between neurons, our ability to learn, and our memory. Listening to music can also slow neurodegenerative processes (this effect was only present in those who were familiar with music).

Listening to music can also positively affect our mood and activate almost all of our brain, which makes it a great way to stimulate the brain.

Brain Gym: You can add music to so many parts of your day. Turn on the radio when you’re cooking or driving in the car. Play your favorite “cardio” or “pump-up” playlist when you’re at the gym… and remember, it’s never too late to learn how to play an instrument! There are tons of video tutorials on YouTube that can help you get started.

3. Brain gym while enjoying nature

The best gym is being in nature. It helps us disconnect from our daily routines and obligations, and reduces stress and anxiety. According to this study, being in nature, whether it be out at a park or seeing trees from the window, helps reduce attentional fatigue. Living in areas with gardens or trees improves attention and inhibits our impulses. Being in nature also gets us moving and helps us increase the amount of physical exercise we do.

Brain Gym: Being in nature is good for our health and well-being. You don’t need to go live in the countryside to get these benefits- talking away in green areas, or even hanging some pictures of nature, can give us some of these benefits. Try to get away on the weekend and go to the mountain or beach. Find a great hiking route and make it a weekend activity. You’ll get some exercise and it’s a great brain gym!

4. Write things by hand and train your brain

Take handwritten notes rather than typing on a computer or tablet. Writing by hand is a brain gym exercise because it helps boost memory and learning, according to this study. Writing also helps us process and integrate learned information.

Brain Gym: Leave your laptop at home and get yourself a notebook. You can also think about getting a tablet that allows you to write and later turns your words into text.

5. Brain gym: Physical exercise

According to many studies like this one, doing and enjoying exercise created new neurons within our brain, improves learning, cognitive performance, and boosts neuroplasticity. A recent study established that starting physical exercise when there are already signs of dementia might not be that a beneficiary as starting while being completely healthy. Therefore, you should start exercising as soon as possible.

Brain Gym: According to studies, aerobic exercise is the best for us. Get out and run, dance, swim, skate, or even just walk around. Getting started can be difficult, but just think about the pay-off!

Brain gym and exercise

6. Brain gym: Keep your work area clean and organized

A recent study has shown that doing work that doesn’t challenge your brain, as well as working in an untidy environment, can actually cause damage to your brain health in the long-run.

Brain Gym: A clean work environment makes us feel calm, which allows our brain to work better. Throw out papers and things that you don’t need. Clean up your desk and the space around you.

7. Learn a language and exercise your brain

According to a study, speaking two or more languages helps protect from cognitive deterioration. The study discovered that bilingual people had a higher IQ and received higher points in the cognitive tests compared to others in their age group. This can happen even after learning a language as an adult.

Brain Gym: Sign up for a class in French or Spanish or Portuguese or any other language you’ve ever thought about learning! Try to watch movies in their original languages (with or without subtitles), you’ll start to pick up the sounds and your brain will get a great workout. Today, we have access to great resources online, all it takes is a little searching!

8. Brain gym: Sleep

According to a study, sleeping too much or too little is associated with cognitive aging. As an adult, it has been shown that less than 6 or more than 8 hours of sleep leads to worse cognitive scores as a consequence of premature aging in the brain.

The right amount of sleep is vital for the proper function of our bodies, as well as our well-being. Both sleeping too little and sleeping too much can have negative effects on cognitive performance, response time, recognizing errors, and attention.

Brain Gym: Try to keep an adequate sleep schedule by creating a routine. Try to go to sleep and wake up everyday at the same time. If your one of those people who tends to sleep too little, try going to bed a little earlier over time. Put your phone, TV, computer, etc. away at least 30 minutes before bedtime to reduce any symptoms of technological insomnia. Make sure your room is a comfortable temperature, there’s not too much light or sound coming in, and that your room is clean and ready to be slept in. Doing this can even help you become a morning person!

9. Brain Gym: Read

People who don’t read a lot have been shown to have lower cognitive performance compared to avid readers, according to a study. Those who don’t read often receive lower scores in processing speed, attention, language, and abstract processing.

According to researchers, this low performance in subjects who read little affects their brain’s ability to adapt after suffering from brain damage. More highly educated people use their brain’s resources to compensate for the cognitive deterioration due to aging. In others words, they have a higher level of functional compensatory plasticity, as we mentioned before. This can be applied the same was for people who read often.

Brain Gym: If you like to read, you’ve got it pretty easy. If you don’t like reading and it doesn’t appeal to do, don’t worry! There are tons of different genres to try out. You’ll find that some things are easier to read, like graphic novels. You can read magazines, newspapers, etc. about anything you like, and you’ll still get all the benefits of reading. It’s just a matter of keeping your brain active.

10. Brain gym: Practice yoga and meditation

Meditation can have long-term changes in your brain, according to this study. People who have been meditating for years have more gyri in the (ridges in the brain that are used in quickly processing information). This is also another proof of neuroplasticity, as our brain can adapt and change depending on our experiences.

According to another study, practicing yoga for 20 minutes improves speed and precision in working memory and inhibitory control (the ability to inhibit behavior when it’s necessary) tests. These measurements are associated with the ability to pay attention, and hold on to and use new information.

Yoga and meditation help us use our mental resources more efficiently, and helps us reduce stress and anxiety, which improves our performance.

Brain Gym: Meditation and yoga are “in” right now, so it shouldn’t be hard to find classes and get started. If you don’t want to go to a class, there are tons of instructors on YouTube to show you how to meditate and do yoga, without having to leave the house.

11. Brain gym: Eat well and avoid drugs

What we eat affects our brains. Eating well helps keep our brains young and prevents cognitive decline. We already know that there are “superfoods” can work together to help keep our bodies healthy. However, a diet of varied fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, and few processed foods, can also greatly improve our overall health. A healthy diet doesn’t only help prevent a large number of diseases caused by diet, but it also helps slow down physical and cognitive aging. Brain Gym comes also from the consumption of different nutrients. Watch below to discover how food affects your brain.

Alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs all contribute to an increased risk of suffering from different types of diseases and contributes to premature aging.

Brain Gym: If you want to learn how to eat well, you should talk to a nutritionist or doctor who can best guide you to the best diet for you. Don’t trust “miracle diets”, they don’t work and can be dangerous for your health. Choose fruits and vegetables over sweets and whole grains over white bread. Keep an eye on how much sugar and fat your eating, and cut out as much alcohol as possible. It can be hard to get started, but ask for stop smoking tips if you need it!

12. Brain Gym: Control your stress levels!

Take care of your mental health! Mental health issues and constantly thinking negatively affects our overall well-being. However, this study has shown that it also affects our brain in the long-term. Having suffered from depression or anxiety disorders increases the risk of having dementia.

Brain Gym: Control your stress levels with some relaxation techniques. Listening to relaxing music helps relieve stress, and practicing yoga or meditation can also help keep stress at bay. If you’re not sure if you have a mental health issue, get in touch with a mental health specialist.

13. Brain Gym: Try new things

New studies have shown that immersing yourself in new hobbies that require some kind of mental challenge helps improve and maintain cognitive function and can help prevent cognitive deterioration.

Brain Gym: Take the time to try to learn new things. It doesn’t matter if you’re good at them or not! The important thing is that you have fun and you challenge your brain. Try learning how to play chess, how to sew, take on a DIY project, draw, write, learn how to play an instrument, etc.

14. Brain Gym: Spend time with your family and friends

Social relationships stimulate our brains, which helps keep it active and younger for longer. Socializing also helps reduce stress and improves our mood, which helps with our overall mental health.

Brain Gym: Spend more time with your loved ones (especially those who transmit positivity), meet new people, make new groups of friends, etc.

15. Brain Gym: Use your brain whenever you can

“Use it or lose it”, kind of. The best way to make sure your brain keeps working the best that it can is to constantly use and challenge it. We have access to new technology, which makes our lives easier, but it also makes our brain lazy. Before, we had to make an effort to learn and remember something. Now, many tasks have become computerized, which makes our brains go on autopilot. Try to give your brain the chance to work before reaching for the calculator or the GPS or Google.

Brain Gym: Try to solve math problems without a calculator, limit how often you use your GPS, and try to remember information on your own.

Memorize a list of words. For example, try to memorize your grocery list before leaving the house and time how long it takes you to remember it.

In the following video, you’ll see how you can help your brain work well and stay young. We can help our brains create new neurons, even as adults. Sandrine Thuret explains how we can help create new neurons.

This post was originally written in Spanish by CogniFit psychologist Andrea Garcia Cerdan

Amygdala: The powerhouse of emotions

Our brain is a palace of structures. It dictates everything we do, how we think, how we behave and how we feel. In this article, we will focus only on the amygdala (sounds like a character out of a Star Wars movie): From what it is, functions, neurophysiological aspects of the amygdala, what happens if it gets damaged, and its relationship with other brain areas.  

Amygdala

What is the amygdala?

The amygdala is a structure in the limbic system that is involved directly with motivation: Particularly related to survival and our emotions. It is also responsible for processing emotions such as fear, pleasure, and anger.

The amygdala is the house where all of our emotions are stored. One of its main functions is to help us to recognize potential threats when we encounter them. When doing this, it revs the body up in preparation for a fight or flight response by increasing our breathing and heart rates. It is also responsible for evaluating the emotional intensity of various situations. This is especially important because since we encounter certain situations repeatedly, from emotional memory, our amygdala wouldn’t need to fire up… unless our brains say otherwise.

The word ‘amygdala’ was derived from the Greek word for “almond” since this part of our brain is shaped like one. Like most other structures in our brain and in other animals, we have two amygdalae. Each amygdala is located on each of the left and right temporal lobe. Since it’s in very close proximity to the hippocampus, the amygdala is involved with the influence of memory consolidation. Memory consolidation is the process that stabilizes a memory trace right when it has been obtained.

Amygdala: The limbic system

To understand the amygdala a little bit better, this article is going to give a swift review of the limbic system and why it’s important.

The limbic system is not a separate system, but a system composed of several key structures in the brain including the diencephalon, mesencephalon, and telencephalon. The limbic system specifically includes the amygdala, thalamus, hippocampus, hypothalamus, basal ganglia, and cingulate gyrus.

You can find the limbic system nuzzled immediately underneath the cerebrum. The limbic system is important because it is responsible for the formation of memories, and our emotional lives are stored in this area of the brain. The components of the limbic system regulate endocrine and autonomic function in response to any sort of emotional stimuli. In short, the three key functions it is known to deal with are arousal (stimulation), memory, and emotions.

Hemispherical differences

Since we possess two amygdalae, it has been noted that the left and right amygdala serve a different purpose in how we process our emotions. Even though the left and right amygdala have independent memory systems, they still work as a team to encode, store and interpret our emotions.

Studies have reported that electrical stimulations to the right amygdala provoke negative emotions of sadness and fear. When looking at the left side, electrical stimulations induce unpleasant (anxiety, sadness, and fear) feelings, yet also has the ability to induce positive emotions such as happiness.

The right hemisphere is commonly associated with declarative memory. Declarative memory stores various information and facts from previously experienced events which need to be consciously recalled. The right amygdala is also responsible for the retention of episodic memory. Episodic memory stores the autobiographical memory, which allows you to recall sensory and emotional experiences of a particular event.

Development of the amygdala

The development of the amygdalae is an interesting tale that consists of developmental differences between the right and left amygdala, as well as sex differences.

When looking at this area of the brain, there are some observable differences in the growth of the amygdalae. The left is the first to develop, reaching its peak 1.5-2 years before the right. Looking aside from the early growth of the left, the right has a continuous increase in volume for a longer period of time. The right side of the amygdala is often associated with face recognition and fear stimuli. As for the left, it is said that its early development provides infants with the capability of being able to detect danger.

There are also considerable differences in the development of the amygdalae between male and females. In the early stages of development of the brain, it is seen that the limbic system in females grows much more quickly than in males. For males, the structural development of the amygdalae occurs over a longer period of time, while females reach their full growth potential 1.5 years before their counterparts. It is noted that reasoning behind the slower development of the male amygdalae is due to relatively larger sizing.

Sex distinction

In regards to the differences in sexes, this area of the brain is one of the best understood. As briefly described above, we see that the amygdala is larger in male adults and in adult rats.

Adding to size, the functioning of the amygdalae differs in males and females. In one study, participants amygdala activation was looked at by watching a horror movie. Results of this study showed a completely different lateralization in the amygdalae between males and females. They showed that enhanced memory of the film was related to more activity occurring in the left amygdala and not the right. For males, it showed that the memory of the film was related to the right and not the left.

The left is responsible for the recollection of details, which results in more thought than action in response to emotionally stressful stimuli. This can be used to attribute why we see less of a physical response in women than in men. The right has been linked to taking action and has been linked to negative emotions. In this scenario, this is why we see males respond to emotionally stressful stimuli in a physical manner.

Functions of the amygdala

  • Memory – This area of our brain has been linked to the storage of our emotional memory. The amygdala is heavily involved in calculating the emotional significance of events that occur in our lives. Since the amygdala has connections to other regions of the brain, it also has an influence on emotional perception. What this means, is that the amygdala alerts us to notice significant events even when we are not paying attention.
  • Arousal – Sexual desire is largely mediated by the limbic system. Activation of our amygdala can cause sexual feelings, memories of sexual intercourse, penile erections, orgasms, uterine contractions, and ovulation.
  • Hormonal secretions  When experiencing stressful events, our amygdala sounds the alarm by sending a distress signal to our hypothalamus. When this happens, the hypothalamus activates the SNS (sympathetic nervous system) by sending signals through autonomic nerves to the adrenal glands. Then, the glands will respond by pumping out epinephrine, also known as adrenaline. The amygdala is also strongly modulated by serotonin, norepinephrine, epinephrine, and dopamine.

What happens if the amygdala is damaged?

Because there are two amygdalae, if there is a bilateral lesion, there is a reduction in aggression and fear. This may mean you may adopt a superman complex and feel like nothing can hurt you or scare you… unless it’s kryptonite. A study was done on monkeys who had bilateral lesions of their amygdala and researchers reported a huge drop in fear and aggression, just as we see in our human counterparts.

Don’t hold your breath there though. Even though the monkeys showed a significant drop in fear and aggression, humans are faced with a lot more when the amygdala is destroyed. A bilateral lesion can cause an individual to have an impaired ability to interpret emotional facial expression. Kind of sounds like Autism. This type of lesion has actually been linked to autism, with MRI scans detecting an increase in amygdala volume.

Neuropsychological correlates of the amygdala

Advancements in neuroimaging technology have made it possible for neuroscientists to make significant findings related it. Data has shown that the size of an individual’s amygdala can be linked to anxiety, and how size may fluctuate due to antidepressant medication consumption (left). Certain studies have also shown children with anxiety tend to have smaller amygdalae.

Aside from those two interesting facts, data has shown that the amygdala plays a large role in particular mental disorders as well as other mental states.

Fear

A very rare genetic disease known as Urbach-Wiethe disease is responsible for focal bilateral lesions of the amygdala in people. Such a disease results in individual’s showing no signs of fear. This finding of the disease continues to prove that the amygdala plays a large role in triggering the state of fear.

Aggression

Several studies that have looked at animals have repeatedly shown that stimulating the amygdala induces sexual and aggressive behavior. 

Schizophrenia 

Schizophrenic patients are known to have enlarged ventricles, as well as enlarged amygdalae.

Social interaction

It has been said that there is a positive correlation between amygdala volume and the size and complexity of social networks. Size, in this case, means the number of contacts an individual may have, while complexity stands for the number of different groups an individual belongs to.

Data reveals that the larger a person’s amygdalae are the larger amount of social networks an individual has.

It has also been shown that the amygdalae are responsible for processing the violations of personal space. It has been observed in fMRI scans that this region of our brain is activated when it is sensed that a person is standing very close to them. For example, the person who is being scanned is aware when the observer is physically close to them, then when the observer is standing at a distance.

Sexual orientation

In recent studies, it has been suggested that there may be possible correlations between connection patterns in the amygdala, and sexual orientation. It has been reported that homosexual males have a tendency to show more feminine patterns in the amygdala than heterosexual males do. Homosexual females tended to show more masculine patterns in the amygdala than heterosexual females.

Bipolar Disorder

It is well documented that in bipolar disorder, there is great amygdala dysfunction during facial emotion processing. Those who have bipolar disorder have also displayed increased activity in their amygdala.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Patients who suffer from PTSD typically have a hyperactive amygdala in response to various stimuli that are in some way connected to trauma.

Depression

It is also overactive in those who suffer from depression, especially when you present them with sad stimuli. However, when presented with “happy” stimuli, their amygdala is under-active.

Anxiety

It is responsible for setting off a chain reaction for this disorder. It begins to react because some environmental stressor has convinced this area of the brain that you are in danger. However, this is only an issue to worry about when the amygdala is regularly triggered.

Amygdala and other brain regions

It holds some very special connections with other areas of the brain. It is known to make reciprocal connections with the hypothalamus, thalamus, septal nuclei, hippocampus, parahippocampal gyrus, orbital frontal cortex, the brain stem, and the cingulate gyrus.

The amygdala receives input from all senses as well as visceral inputs. Visceral inputs derive from the hypothalamus, parabrachial nucleus, septal area, and orbital cortex. Visual, auditory, and somatosensory information comes through via the temporal and anterior cingulate cortices. Olfactory sensory information is received from the olfactory bulb.

Some output pathways of the amygdala include:

  1. Stria terminals
  2. Ventral amygdalofugal pathway
  3. Directly to the hippocampus
  4. Directly to the dorsomedial nucleus of the thalamus
  5. Directly to the entorhinal cortex

Amygdala/emotional hijacking 

Emotional hijacking is an event that occurs when an individual’s cognitions are overpowered by their emotions. You normally see emotional hijacking occur in the context of fear and aggression. A perfect example of emotional hijacking to kick off this section is when Mike Tyson bit Evander Holyfield’s ear. According to Daniel Goleman who coined the term amygdala hijacking, this bad decision on Tyson’s behalf is the perfect example of it.

The neocortex – the “thinking” brain, has been completely overridden, and the amygdala fires up taking over total control of the brain; Thus the name “amygdala hijacking.” Hijacking can cause a person to perform irrationally, making decisions that are destructive. Not only does this take a toll on an individual (people who experience emotional hijacking are very remorseful after they realize and reflect on what they have done), their social relationships also take a huge hit. Emotional hijacking can lead to verbal or physical attacks, and such a surge of rage can easily cause an individual to severely harm a person, giving them the capacity to kill.

Something to keep in mind is that emotional hijacking is a phenomenon that requires build up. Troubling past experiences that are crippling an individual can be the direct link to why someone will have an outburst like this. When a person has an outburst, they don’t last long, but the consequences can be quite damaging as a result.

However, there is no need to worry. Not all emotional hijacks are distressing. Goleman states that there are positive hijacks. He gives an example that if a joke strikes a person as funny, and their laughter is explosive, that is a limbic response.

There are three signs you can look out for if you happen to experience an emotional hijack:

  • Strong emotional reaction
  • Sudden onset
  • Post-episode realization if the reaction was appropriate or not/regret

Areas of the brain are especially fascinating, especially when looking at them in more depth. Learning about them gives us an idea of what’s going on within ourselves, and we are able to give a reason for our behavior.

Is this your favorite part of the brain after reading the article? Do you have a favorite area of the brain? Please let us know in the comments below! We hoped you enjoyed this article. 🙂

Social skills: Tips for better and healthier relationships

Social skills. Do you have a hard time starting conversations? Do you avoid speaking to strangers because they intimidate you? You can’t change the subject in a conversation without it seeming abrupt? People think you don’t know how to listen? Do you interrupt a lot?  In this article, we give you some tips on how to improve your social skills and how to teach social skills to your children.

What are social skills?

Social skills are those that allow us to communicate and interact effectively with others. We communicate through verbal language, gestures, posture, the tone of voice and even our physical appearance. That is why if we want to improve our social skills we must have an effective communication of all these aspects.

Human beings are social animals. Our life is based on relationships with others, hence the importance of knowing how to manage ourselves in social environments. Satisfactory social relationships contribute greatly to our levels of well-being and quality of life. In addition, cultivating and maintaining a supportive network with loved ones prevents psychological disorders and problems. We will also have better working relationships. By being good communicators we will get what we want more easily.

Social Skills

Developing and training our social skills is about paying attention to how we communicate with others and the messages we send.

Like any skill, social skills are learned. There are people who have managed to learn them easily and almost unaided. Other people find it more difficult, but it is nothing that cannot be acquired through practice.

Consequences of a lack of social skills

A deficit in social skills can be very damaging.

  • It will reduce our success in creating and maintaining social relationships.
  • Our self-esteem will be damaged.
  • Difficulty expressing our desires and needs.
  • Widespread emotional distress.
  • Academic and work performance will be reduced.
  • More likely to develop a psychological disorder, such as anxiety, social phobia, depression.

How to improve social skills

Non-verbal communication

With non-verbal communication, we transmit more than we think, and we usually don’t pay attention to it. There are different kinds of nonverbal communication that we can modify to improve our social skills.

  • Body movement: hand gestures and head movements.
  • Posture: the way your body is sitting or standing, if your arms are folded.
  • Eye contact: the amount of eye contact often determines the level of trust and sincerity that is transmitted.
  • Non-Verbal Language: they are non-linguistic vocal aspects, such as tone of voice, speed, intonation, prosody, etc.
  • Closeness or personal space: determines the level of intimacy.
  • Facial expression: such as smiles, eyebrow movements and muscles surrounding the eyes.
  • Physiological changes: such as sweating or facial redness.

How do we master the art of non-verbal communication? It is important to know the consequences of our non-verbal behavior in order to use it more consciously. All behaviors can be useful depending on the situation, none of them are wrong in themselves. It is also important to look at other’s gestures to see what they are really communicating.

How do we improve our non-verbal language?

  • The absence of hand gesturing can cause our speech to be flat and monotonous. Hand movements are a way to emphasize the speech and our interlocutor can follow it better. However, very rapid gesturing can be distracting and annoying. Therefore, make sure your gestures are slow and keep pace with what you’re saying.
  • If we want to transmit kindness and friendliness the best thing is that our posture be open and relaxed. Crossing arms and legs can transmit disagreement, discomfort, nervousness. If our shoulders are down and we look down, we are transmitting insecurity. On the contrary, if we are standing upright and looking ahead we transmit security.
  • It is very important to maintain optimal eye contact. If we do not look into the eyes of our interlocutor, he may think that we are hiding something or not trusting him. However, keeping your eyes fixed can be very uncomfortable and challenging.
  • It is very important to respect the personal space of our interlocutor. This will depend on each individual’s own characteristics and the level of confidence. If you get close to the other person and the other person turns away, respect him or her and don’t keep getting closer. If on the contrary, the other person approaches you, perfect, you have established a new level of intimacy. We must pay attention to the signals he/she sends us. For example, if we touch his shoulder and notice how stiff he gets, it’s best not to touch him. Some people are very reluctant to make physical contact with strangers.
  • The facial expression should be consistent with our speech. If it is not, the other person will perceive you as untruthful. A good way to connect with others is to “imitate” each other’s facial expressions. This comes naturally to many people and has to do with empathy, but other people find it harder. If the other person smiles, you too, if he looks sad, do the same. But don’t look forced, because it may be unnatural and the other person may notice.
  • Physiological changes, such as sweating or turning red, can be more difficult to control.  A good way to do this is by practicing relaxation, breathing or other techniques.

Social Skills: Conversation skills

We often find it difficult to start and maintain conversations. Especially with people, we don’t know much about, we don’t get out of the typical dull conversation about the weather. Ask yourself:

  • Do I have trouble starting conversations?
  • Am I running out of subjects to talk about?
  • Do I avoid talking about myself?
  • Do I talk too much about myself?
  • Am I interrupting constantly?
  • Tips to improve our conversation

In the following video, Celeste Headlee gives you 10 tips for better conversations.

  • Listen and let them know you are paying attention. Use interjections as “ahá”. It sounds silly but it’s important. You can also paraphrase or repeat the last thing he or she has just said, be careful though no one likes a parrot.
  • You can start a conversation by talking about the weather, making a compliment (“I love that sweater you’re wearing”), or by taking advantage of the theme of the book you’re reading. Anything you may have in common (school, work,etc.)
  • Do nothing else while you’re talking. Listen and talk, nothing more. Multitasking can damage your relationships. Try not to think about what you have to do next, don’t look at your cell phone. Focus on the present moment, the conversation.
  • Don’t be dogmatic, enter into any conversation assuming that you have something to learn from the other person. Don’t try to impose your opinion. Talk openly.
  • Use open-ended questions: how, when, where, why. Let the other person express themselves. Avoid using questions that are answered with yes or no, as it greatly reduces the quality of the conversation.
  • If you don’t know something, say it. Show yourself honest. Assuming that we don’t know anything makes us look more sincere, more pleasant and sympathetic.
  • Don’t equate your experiences with theirs. If she’s talking about a family member who has passed away, don’t talk about when a family member of yours died. It is also often a way to play down the other person’s experiences.
  • Don’t be repetitive. Don’t tell the same story over and over again, people get tired. If you have already told something that has happened to you or that you have achieved, don’t bring it up all the time, without it having anything to do with the subject.
  • Don’t give too much detail. Save dates, irrelevant names, irrelevant details.
  • Never interrupt. For people who are impulsive, this is hard for them because we talk a lot slower than we think and we are constantly thinking about what we could say. Notice when you interrupt, and always apologize when you do. Every time try to figure it out first until you stop. It is extremely frustrating to try to say something when you are being interrupted all the time.

Social Skills: Assertiveness

Assertiveness is a basic social skill that has been much talked about in recent years. Assertiveness consists of defending your rights, making requests, putting ourselves in our place respecting the rights of others. You can find out more about assertiveness in this article.

Social skills in children

Children learn social skills in a variety of ways: imitation, social and experiential reinforcement.

Social Skills

We have already mentioned the importance of having good social skills and exercises to improve them, but how do we pass them on to our children?

  • If you want your children to have social skills, be a good example. Be careful of your behavior when you are in front of your child because he or she will copy it. Therefore, apply all the advice listed in this article.
  • If the child is defending his or her rights properly, when he or she acts politely, listens to others and with consideration, carefully reinforce the child with caresses, smiles, smiles, and words of congratulations. If not, we explain to them the consequences of behaving in that way and try not to pay any more attention to them until they change their attitude.
  • For example, if a child is asking for something by yelling, we can say,”That’s not a good way to ask for things. When you ask me without shouting and please, maybe I will give it to you.” When he does well, we will grant him, if it is a reasonable request.
  • Cultivate their self-esteem.
  • Promote their ability to listen. Listen to him and tell him that we can learn a lot if we listen to others.
  • Encourage him to relate to others. The best way to train in social skills is to practice them.
  • Don’t let your child isolate himself. Encourage them to participate in activity groups with other children.
  • Help them to solve their conflicts properly, respecting others and himself.

This article is originally in Spanish written by Andrea García Cerdán, translated by Alejandra Salazar.

The comfort zone: What it is and is it beneficial? Tips to break out

The comfort zone. It contributes to making us feel mentally safe in our everyday life. Developing a routine such as arriving to work always at the same time using a fixed mode of transportation or cooking a good meal we have a lot of experience with contribute to reaching a higher productivity in these tasks. However, on the other hand stepping out of this powerful state of comfort has proven to be even more beneficial for the individual. But how can this be when we are constantly told to follow a routine in order to achieve maximum performance? Keep reading to find out.

The comfort zone

What is the comfort zone?

The word “comfort zone” is widely accepted in the English language and appears frequently in everyday life.

It generally describes a “behavioural state within a person operates in an anxiety-neutral condition, using a limited set of behaviours to deliver a steady level of performance, usually without a sense of risk”.

What this suggests is a steady performance if the person does not experience a change in anxiety. If however fluctuations in anxiety and skills are seen, a change in performance, either upwards or downwards, will be observed as a result.
To grow as a person, it is essential to break out of this state of comfort every once in a while by exposing yourself to a change in anxiety. Nevertheless, it is a difficult process stepping out of our comfort zone as at the beginning of this process, the person doing so will experience more anxiety than before.

Why do we feel at ease inside the comfort zone?

A lot of reasons exist why humans are wired to stay within the comfort zone.
Each of us has our own “comfort zone” where we feel at ease. It implies familiarity, safety and security keeping our anxiety and worry at a minimal level. Challenging yourself by stepping outside this zone of comfort would mean increased levels of anxiety and stress triggering a hormonal cascade. Human beings are naturally wired to avoid these changes in anxiety and stress.

Why is it so hard to leave our comfort zone?

  • Stress and Anxiety: Whenever we break out of our comfort zone, a stress response followed by anxiety is triggered. The natural response is to remove the stressor as quickly as possible. The only way to achieve this is mainly returning back to the comfort zone which makes keeping yourself out of your comfort zone extremely challenging.
  • Uncertainty: This will be a natural consequence if someone leaves his or her comfort zone. For the majority, the feeling of uncertainty leads to insecurity and can be perceived as a threat activating a stress response. The more uncertain you are, the higher will be your levels of stress mentally and physiologically.
  • New situations require extra energy: Inside your comfort zone, the person has established a routine allowing him or her to perform the tasks automatically (without a lot of thinking). These processes are run by the basal ganglia (a brain area responsible for executing habit-based behaviour), tasks such as shaving, brushing our teeth or bathing. If we stay within the comfort zone, the associated tasks are run by this area of the brain operating very energy efficient.
    Novel tasks, on the other hand, require the input of the prefrontal cortex (a brain area responsible for logical reasoning) which consumes a lot more energy than the basal ganglia. If the energy is depleted (which happens quickly in the prefrontal cortex), we feel discomfort as the prefrontal cortex is tightly linked to the amygdala (the emotional centre of our brain). According to these points, remaining inside the comfort zone seems highly favourable. It provides a state of mental security leading to regular happiness, low anxiety and reduced stress. However, we are often told to leave this state of comfort. This is achieved by expanding your comfort zone and is highly recommended. In order for this to happen though, we temporarily need to abandon this state of comfort, a task which is not so easily accomplished.

The comfort zone, the optimal performance zone and the danger zone

Before we can talk about leaving the comfort zone, we have to understand the core concepts, mainly the existence of three different zones:

  1. The comfort zone
  2. The optimal performance zone
  3. The danger zone.

We first look at an early experiment conducted with mice in 1907 by Yerkes and Dodson.
The study revealed “anxiety to improve performance until a certain optimum level of arousal has been reached. Beyond that point, performance deteriorates as higher levels of anxiety are attained.”

This suggests an increase in performance when anxiety levels are higher than normal. However, if the person is too anxious, performance will drop again. This relationship can be applied to the three different zones. We find ourselves in the comfort zone when anxiety levels are minimal. Depending on what extent we leave our comfort zone, anxiety levels can increase sharply or only marginally. In the case of a marginal increase of anxiety levels, the person experiencing it will be in the optimal performance zone. This is a state where increased skills are seen and where the elevated anxiety levels can be kept under control.

A real-life example would be an important job interview. If the person is not required to attend the interview, he or she is in the comfort zone and anxiety levels are minimal. However, as soon as the day of the interview has come, anxiety levels rise. When conversing with the manager, the potential employee is not only able to control his/her anxiety levels, but most of the times even possess increased communicative skill. He is now operating in the optimal performance zone.

But what happens in the event where anxiety levels do not increase only by a little, but significantly? The person would leave his or her comfort zone too but would end up in the danger zone in which performance is worse than in the comfort zone. The level of anxiety would simply be too high. Following the example, imagine the same job interview with a person suffering from autism (a disorder in which the affected person finds any social interactions extremely challenging). For this person, anxiety levels will be much higher when he or she is invited to the interview which leads him to perform worse (he skipped the optimal performance zone completely). For this individual, a task which would not have caused the anxiety to rocket would have been more appropriate in order to shift swiftly from the comfort zone to the optimal performance zone.

But why is it beneficial to leave the comfort zone?

A few benefits have become already visible, mainly the increase in performance and the acquisition of new skills when being pushed away from the comfort zone. However, the list of advantages does not stop there.

  • Increase in productivity: Comfort is a productivity killer. If we do not have the sense of uneasiness to complete a given work before a deadline, we tend to postpone and do the minimum work required. This phenomenon is often seen in students procrastinating. If the deadline for an assignment is far, the work they put in tends to be low. However, as soon as the deadline is approaching, they start to increase their productivity drastically as they are now in the optimal performance zone.
  • Radical changes become easier to handle: Some people always wish to stay within their state of comfort, however leaving the comfort zone sometimes just happens out of the blue and there is nothing you can do about it (change of job, move to a different home, change in a relationship, an illness). A person that has already left the comfort zone once or twice will be more able to handle also those life changes and transitions. It is important to be at peace with the unknown to combat the negative effects that change can bring. Leaving the comfort zone on a regular basis can help with exactly this.
  • Expansion of your boundaries in the future: Leaving the comfort zone creates a feeling of anxiety which has to be coped with. The more times you leave your state of comfort, the better you are able to cope with this increase of anxiety. This allows you to become accustomed to this state of optimal anxiety where you perform at your best. Ultimately you are willing to push yourself more when repeatedly exposed to the unknown.

Tips to break out of your comfort zone

  • Become aware what lies inside and outside of your comfort zone!
    What are the things that you want to accomplish but triggers a feeling of anxiety in you? Identifying these is of utmost importance in order to know how to expand your comfort zone. Draw a circle and write everything down you associate with discomfort outside of the circle. Inside the circle, you write down everything that triggers comfort. This process will allow yourself to identify not only your discomforts but also your comforts.
  • Consider failing as something positive!
    It sounds difficult, but try to see failure as your teacher. What did this negative experience teach you? You can use this knowledge to increase your chance of success for the future.
  • Surround yourself with people taking risks!
    If you are willing to improve your skills to leave the comfort zone, stick to people that do exactly that. The influence of them will certainly have an effect on your behaviour.
  • Honesty with yourself!
    We have all been there. A task that we are afraid of is waiting and we say “I don’t have time for this right now!” Most of the times though, you are lying to yourself. Instead be honest and say “I’m afraid to do this!”. Confronting your fears will increase your chances of moving forward more easily.
  • Take it slow!
    Start by taking small steps when moving out of your comfort zone. Try making a plan of goals you want to achieve. Try to not be overambitious in a short period of time or you risk becoming demotivated. It is essential for you, to return to your comfort zone from time to time as explained in the next paragraph.

Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.

Brian Tracy

Why should we return to our comfort zone from time to time?

Though it is important to break out of your comfort zone, it is equally important to also return to this state of comfort from time to time. It is indeed beneficial to leave the comfort zone, but staying outside for too long and you might end up getting your stress and anxiety levels too high. Ultimately, you have to return to the comfort zone to prevent your anxiety levels from taking over and you end up in the danger zone. Once in this zone, your performance drops sharply and leaving the comfort zone for good becomes even more challenging than before. For this reason, allowing yourself some breaks from time to time is essential.

Orthorexia Nervosa: The eating disorder that’s taking over

Orthorexia Nervosa. Eating healthy has become the main subject today in social media. There has been a craze over who is the fittest and who eats healthiest. While eating healthy is highly important to health and lifestyle, when staying away from unhealthy foods leads to shying away from eating out with friends, and struggling to find something on the menu that doesn’t make you cringe are good signs that you might be one of the many people with an eating disorder called orthorexia nervosa.

Orthorexia Nervosa

You might not have heard of this disorder, and it may not even seem like a classic eating disorder, but you might recognize some of the symptoms of orthorexia nervosa. Maybe a friend is obsessed with what they eat, wanting everything to be organic, low calorie, and what most people consider to be “healthy”. Do you think you might have orthorexia nervosa?

What is Orthorexia Nervosa?

Orthorexia nervosa was introduced in 1997 by doctor Steve Bratman when he suggested that dietary restrictions intended to promote health may lead to unhealthy consequences. These unhealthy consequences were social isolation, anxiety, reduced interest in other daily activities, worse cases severe malnutrition or even death. The term Orthorexia nervosa comes from the Greek ορθο meaning right or correct and όρεξις meaning appetite. The term nervosa indicates an unhealthy psychological state.

Orthorexia nervosa is not included in the DSM-5, however, authors Steve Bratman and Thom Dunn from the University of Northern Colorado proposed the following criteria:

Criterion A. Obsessive focus on “healthy” eating, as defined by a dietary theory or set of beliefs whose specific details may vary; marked by exaggerated emotional distress in relationship to food choices perceived as unhealthy; weight loss may ensue, but this is conceptualized as an aspect of ideal health rather than as the primary goal. As evidenced by the following:

  1. Compulsive behavior and/or mental preoccupation regarding affirmative and restrictive dietary practices believed by the individual to promote optimum health. (Footnotes to this criteria add: Dietary practices may include the use of concentrated “food supplements.” Exercise performance and/or fit body image may be regarded as an aspect or indicator of health.)
  2. Violation of self-imposed dietary rules causes exaggerated fear of disease, sense of personal impurity and/or negative physical sensations, accompanied by anxiety and shame.
  3. Dietary restrictions escalate over time, and may come to include the elimination of entire food groups and involve progressively more frequent and/or severe “cleanses” (partial fasts) regarded as purifying or detoxifying. This escalation commonly leads to weight loss, but the desire to lose weight is absent, hidden or subordinated to ideation about healthy food.

Criterion B. The compulsive behavior and mental preoccupation become clinically impairing by any of the following:

  1. Malnutrition, severe weight loss or other medical complications from restricted diet
  2. Intrapersonal distress or impairment of social, academic or vocational functioning secondary to beliefs or behaviors about healthy diet
  3. Positive body image, self-worth, identity and/or satisfaction excessively dependent on compliance with self-defined “healthy” eating behavior.

In 1997 the test, called OTRO-15 was designed by Doctor Bratman and has been recently been validated as a tool to detect orthorexia nervosa. You yourself might not align with any of the characteristics, but you might know someone who does.

Dr. Bratman’s Test for Orthorexia Nervosa Detection:

  • Do you spend more than 3 hours a day thinking about your diet?
  • Do you plan your meals days in advance?
  • Do you think that the nutritional value of food is more important than the pleasure that you get from eating?
  • Have you seen your quality of life decrease as your diet improved?
  • Have you become more strict with yourself over this time?
  • Has your self-esteem improved while eating healthy?
  • Have you given up food that you liked for “healthy” foods?
  • Is it difficult to practice your diet when you go out to eat, causing a distance between you and your family and friends?
  • Do you feel guilty when you don’t follow your diet?
  • Do you feel happy and at peace when everything is under control and you eat healthily?

If you answered “yes” 4 or 5 of these questions, you need to take a step back from your healthy eating and try to control what may become a food addiction. If you answered “yes” to the majority or all of these questions, you have an obsession with healthy food.

Orthorexia Nervosa Symptoms

It starts with an innocent attempt to eat better and take care of yourself, choosing foods that make you feel good. You start to cut out hydrated fats, sugar,  processed foods, animal protein, and grains, and you end up with a diet of organic fruits and vegetables and only eating “clean” foods.

While eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia nervosa aim to drop weight, orthorexia nervosa is characterized by the desire to eat “proper” food that the body needs.

People with orthorexia nervosa don’t limit how much they eat, which is generally a characteristic of other eating disorders, but it does reduce the “allowed” food groups, depending on the quality of the food, which could be a potential health risk.

We know that eating well and keeping track of what you eat is a good thing, but the problem is when you start obsessing over what you eat. Without realizing, you start planning your life around food, and it starts to affect other aspects of your life. Orthorexia nervosa causes you to lose sight of your original goal, which is to eat well and take care of yourself and leads you to create strict eating guidelines that might not be attainable.

 It’s important to understand that the problem isn’t being conscious of what you eat, but, like with any addiction, it’s when this decision to eat well is practiced in excess. The danger isn’t in the food, but rather in how to approach it.

Orthorexia Nervosa Treatment

Since orthorexia nervosa is still not part of the DSM, a structured treatment is not available. However, orthorexia nervosa is multi-faceted, therefore many areas of treatment are involved., First the person involved must admit there is a problem and be able to identify what caused it. Then the therapist needs to start working with them on flexibility and less rigid eating as well as working through underlying emotional issues.

While orthorexia nervosa is not a condition your doctor will normally diagnose, recovery can require professional help. We recommend you seek a professional or practitioner skilled at treating eating disorders.

Orthorexia Nervosa and Celebrity Diets

You’ve probably heard of celebrity diets, seen healthy eating pictures on Instagram, and seen amazing transformations after eating healthy. You might even feel like you want to copy these trends and diets because you’ve seen them work so well on other normal people like you! I’ll give you a few examples (I’m not sure if they’re really true, but if the shoe fits…).

They say that Madonna chews her food 50 times before swallowing and that Jean Paul Gaultier drinks 68 glasses of orange juice a day. Julia Roberts is rumored to be addicted to soy milk. Angelina Jolie, among many others, is said to eat cloves of garlic to stave off various diseases. Kim Kardashian was able to lose, like, 70 lbs in a few months with a protein-based diet. Gwyneth Paltrow published a book called “It’s All Good”, in which she talks about Hollywood’s obsession with “healthy” food. In her book, Paltrow suggests cutting out dairy, sugar, eggs, certain fish, potatoes, corn, soy, tomatoes, eggplant, and all types of processed foods, meat, and a long list of other “no-no’s“. No one should attempt to try this diet on their own, as it could seriously affect your health. Our brain needs nutrients to function properly, and eating disorders affect the brain.

The problem with this social phenomenon is that these celebrities don’t actually have an obsession with food, and yet it’s an ideal that they push on to their readers and society. More than one of these practices, without the supervision of a specialist, could cause major health issues.

Try it for yourself. Type in #cleaneating on Instagram and you’ll see a plethora of social media stars with their perfectly made meals, telling you how “carb free is the way to go!”. You’ll wake up one day without realizing it and open your Instagram while sipping your organic wheat-grass smoothie.

Dr. Bratman who recovered himself from Orthorexia nervosa stated:

“I pursued wellness through healthy eating for years, but gradually I began to sense that something was going wrong. The poetry of my life was disappearing. My ability to carry on normal conversations was hindered by intrusive thoughts of food. The need to obtain meals free of meat, fat, and artificial chemicals had put nearly all social forms of eating beyond my reach. I was lonely and obsessed…I found it terribly difficult to free myself. I had been seduced by righteous eating. The problem of my life’s meaning had been transferred inexorably to food, and I could not reclaim it.”

To make sure this doesn’t happen to you, take a minute to think about it. Eat well, take care of yourself, and give yourself a little treat every once in a while. Take a look at the tips below to see how to resist the urge to follow the crowd.

Following a healthy diet does not mean you are orthorexic, however, keep in mind that if it is taking up an inordinate amount of time and attention in your life; deviating from that diet is met with guilt and self-loathing; and/or it is used to avoid life issues and leaves you separate and alone, it might be time to visit your primary physician.

In the following video, you can hear first-hand from someone who suffered orthorexia nervosa and how nutritionists value this eating disorder.

Orthorexia Nervosa: Tips on Healthy Eating Without Obsessing

  1. Don’t take health advice at face value without doing your own research: Before starting the diet your favorite celebrity is doing, talk to a specialist.
  2. Find joy in eating, not food: Eating is beneficial to our bodies, and not only on a physiological level but on a psychological level as well. When we eat, we release dopamine, which is also known as the happiness hormone. If you feel guilty when you eat because your food isn’t 100% organic, you end up blocking the production of serotonin.
  3. Find beauty systems outside of the celebrity world: This is good for both you and your children. The most important thing you can do for yourself and loved ones learn to tolerate, love yourself and work on your self-esteem. After that, you have to learn how to do your own research and judge for yourself if you really think that what you’re reading is true. Compare and contrast articles and specialists, and always be wary of “magic diet pills”.
  4. No reading labels: There are no “good” and “bad” foods. Repeat this mantra until it’s stuck in your head. It’s all about moderation. Don’t obsess over calories, and enjoy the simple act of eating! You’ll see the benefits over the long term.
  5. Don’t lose sight of your relationships: People who suffer from orthorexia nervosa reach a state of social isolation because of their fear of eating out in restaurants or at friend’s houses. It might seem like a leap, but it’s just a small road from reading labels in the store to turning down dinner invites. Orthorexia nervosa is a 21st-century eating disorder.
  6. A glass of wine, a beer, some fries, or a little hamburger everyone in a while never hurt anyone!: Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If you get back looks when snacking on your go-to sin, remind yourself that it’s ok! You have to be mentally flexible and tell yourself “today I’m having that chocolate, and I won’t feel bad about it.” It’s important for you- but for someone with orthorexia nervosa, it’s impossible. Your brain needs different nutrients to function properly- don’t starve it!
  7. Do a social media detox: Clean up your social networks. Unfollow, delete, and block the accounts that make you feel like you shouldn’t be eating something. Try this trick: if you go to the profile and see a picture with some lettuce and 4 nuts that are more filling to see than to eat, run away.

Breathing Techniques: Exercises and types of breathing

Breathing Techniques. Controlling our breathing is one of the most effective means of intervening in our bodily and physiological state. Breathing connects the mind and body. Breathing exercises can help us relax, control anxiety, insomnia, etc. Breathing techniques improve our attention and reduce negative thoughts. Discover here the different breathing techniques, why they work and the advantages and disadvantages of each one of them.

Breathing Techniques. Photo by terimakash0. on Pixabay.com

What are breathing techniques and how do they work?

Breathing to relax is not a new technique. Buddhist and Oriental cultures have practiced these techniques for centuries. Meditation and mindfulness exercises rely heavily on respiratory control.

Deep breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the involuntary activity of the organism when we are at rest. Shallow breathing stimulates the sympathetic system, which is responsible for putting into operation different organs to prepare us for action. The latter is the one that is activated during periods of stress, and its activity is the one that we want to counteract by learning different breathing techniques.

Of all automatic responses, respiration is practically the only one we can voluntarily control (along with blinking). It is a gateway to our body’s autonomous system, which we can use to send messages to our brain.

The following are various breathing techniques which, although they can be used in any case, are especially effective for specific purposes.

Breathing Techniques: Different types of breathing.

Clavicular respiration

Because it is a type of shallow breathing, the ribcage does not allow the lungs to expand as much as they would in deeper breathing.

How do you know if you normally use this type of breathing? Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your abdomen and breathe normally. Which of the two hands rises? If the upper one rises, your breath is clavicular, if the lower one is abdominal. There are people which both hands rise, this means that the breathing is quite deep and could be adequate.

This type of breathing is inefficient because the greatest amount of blood to collect oxygen occurs in the lower areas of the lungs, which implies that you are getting little oxygen. This rapid and shallow breathing results in poor transmission of oxygen to the blood and therefore little nutrients to the tissues.

  • Advantages of clavicular breathing: This type of breathing provides us with oxygen quickly, and can be useful when we have to run to catch the bus.
  • Disadvantages of clavicular breathing: Oxygen supply is insufficient, and maintained over time can increase stress and make our brain and our body not functioning properly.

Diaphragmatic or deep breathing

Diaphragmatic or deep breathing, also called abdominal breathing, consists of bringing air to the lower part of your lungs, using the muscles of the diaphragm. You will see your abdomen rise, hence its name.

For many, deep breathing may be strange and unnatural. This may be because in our society it is desirable to have a flat belly, and for this, especially women, tend to retain their abdominal muscles and in turn prevent a deep breath. It also happens because of continued stress and anxiety that maintains clavicular breathing his abdominal contraction may also be due to stress and continued stress.

  • Advantages of diaphragmatic or abdominal breathing: This breathing technique allows a complete flow of oxygen to our body, allowing it to function properly. The heart rate goes down as does the blood pressure.
  • Disadvantages of diaphragmatic or deep breathing: This breathing technique has no disadvantage other than the need to learn it, since many people do not have it automated.

Thoracic Respiration

In thoracic breathing, the intercostal muscles intervene, and with it, the rib cage. Usually this type of breathing is done to make us aware of this part of the body. It is not used independently but rather as an additional phase for complete breathing.

Complete breathing

Deep or complete breathing requires the air entering your nostrils to fill the different areas of your lungs. When you breathe deeply your abdomen (or belly), your diaphragm rises and your chest. In the following section we describe in detail how to carry it out.

  • Advantages of Complete Breathing: This breathing technique provides the body with a superior state of calm and relaxation. Our body receives a large supply of oxygen, reducing our heart rate, blood pressure and blood cortisol levels, which increase anxiety symptoms when high.
  • Disadvantages of Complete Breathing: While deep breathing can be done automatically, complete breathing can’t since it is somewhat more complicated to perform if we are not used to it. This is part of the breathing exercises, as we will detail below.

Breathing Techniques to Calm Anxiety

When we want to practice breathing techniques we have to first find a comfortable place to do it. Sit with our backs straight and our arms supported. The room should be a pleasant temperature and not too bright. Focus on your current breathing and determine if it is very agitated and more clavicular?

Breathing Techniques

Complete Breathing Technique

One of the most effective breathing techniques to lessen our anxiety is the complete breathing method, which we mentioned earlier. To do it correctly first we must be aware of the different types of breathing.

  • Place your hand on the chest and another on the belly. Through inhalation, you raise only the upper hand. Hold the air and expel it through your mouth to make it more conscious. Repeat a couple of times
  • Now, with your hands in the same position we will try to raise your lower hand the one on the belly but not the chest. Repeat a couple of times more.
  • Then, when inhaling, bring the air to the lower part and then to the upper part, causing the lower hand to rise first and then one on the chest.
  • When we have already mastered it, we will perform complete breaths making a slight pause between inhalation and exhalation. Each process of inhalation and exhalation should last about the same time.

Asymmetric breathing technique

Another breathing technique is by making the inhalation shorter and lengthening the exhalation. For example, breathing in at one time and exhaling in 5 or 6. This is particularly effective because our heart rate increases with inhalation and decreases when the air is expelled. In this way, by extending this expulsion we are enhancing those effects.

Resistance breathing technique

The resistance breathing technique consists in creating, a resistance when releasing the air. There are many ways to create resistance, for example by blowing air through your mouth with your lips together, hissing through your teeth, through a straw, or even through singing. We can emit sounds with the exhalation, like the Ohm syllable, or simply vibrating our vocal cords. This sound resonates our rib cage and our skull providing a very pleasant sensation.

Dynamic breathing technique

There is a type of breathing that requires some imagination but can become very relaxing. As you inhale, imagine a wave covering your body from head to toe. Look at the different parts of the body and relax them if you notice tension. When you release the air, imagine that the wave is retreating from head to toe.

How do we know that we are relaxing? If the relaxation is being effective, you may feel a kind of tingling or heat on your fingertips.

Breathing techniques for sleeping

Symmetrical breathing for better sleep

Place one hand on the chest and one hand on the abdomen. Inhale through the nose in four takes, making sure that it is your belly that swells (not the chest). Exhale through the nose in four other takes. If your body asks you, you can extend both inhalation and exhalation to 5 or 6 takes. Then you can perform two or three normal breaths and return to inspiration and exhalation in 4 or 6 strokes. You can repeat the cycles five or six times.

This technique is useful to calm us in any situation, but works very well before going to bed. Counting your breaths helps keep unwanted thoughts from interfering with our sleep.

You can vary this technique by replacing counting for words such as inhale-exhale, etc.  If 4 intakes of air are too much you can make it shorter.

Fractional breathing for better sleep

This technique is similar to the previous one but now you will hold your breath. Inhale in 4 takes, hold the air counting to 4 and exhale in 4 takes. Then two or three normal breaths and it starts again.

Breathing Techniques for Attention

Breathing exercises can help us improve our focus and concentration. In this way, we will not only improve when working or studying, but we will manage to control unwanted thoughts.

Alternate Breathing to Improve our Attention

A very effective exercise to focus our attention is alternate breathing. To do this place your fingers on the nostrils as if you were to cover your nose. When you take air, lightly move a finger to cover one of the nostrils. When you release the air, open the nostril that you had closed and at the same time with a single movement of the hand, close the opposite nostril. To visualize it better, form with your hand the letter C and make lateral movements, from right to left alternately covering a nostril at a time.

There are variants to this technique. You can alternate the order of the inhale-exhale nostrils. For example, you can inhale on the left, exhale on the right, and then inhale on the right and exhale on the left.

This type of breathing is very useful to focus attention and fill you with energy. That is why it is not the most appropriate to do before bed.

Breathing techniques for children

Teaching children to control their breathing and using it to calm themselves is one of the best long-term investments that can be made. Support and encourage your children to practice breathing regularly and do it consciously, as if it were a habit. Teach them the different breathing techniques and how they affect how they feel.

  • Breathing the flowers: To practice this breathing technique imagine that you are smellin flower, draw air through your nose and expel through your mouth. By using flowers you can teach children to connect with their breathing and learn how it makes them feel.
  • Bee breathing: This breathing technique is practiced sitting or lying comfortably, close your eyes. Breathe through your nose and cover your ears. Vibrate the vocal cords making the sound “mmm”. The sound resonance has a great soothing effects that children often enjoy.
  • Rabbit’s Breathing: Perform three short, quick inhalations and release the air slowly. Role-play that the children are rabbits and they are on a scavenger hunt. This breathing technique can be very useful for children who find it difficult understand their breathing.

How to create a breathing routine

To master these breathing techniques and find out which one works best for you, constant practice is necessary. These tips can help you keep the practice going.

  • Choose a quiet place where you can sit or lie comfortably.
  • Don’t worry if you do not get it on your first try, with practice you will improve.
  • Try to practice every day 5 or 10 minutes in the morning. If you feel like it, you can extend the practice time. Don’t be too ambitious at first.
  • Practice the breathing techniques always at the same time of the day, for example before bed, or when waking up. This will make it easier to create a habit.
Breathing  techniques

Some people find breathing techniques difficult to master or not to their liking. Another healthy way to control breathing is through exercise, progressive relaxation techniques or yoga.

This article is originally in Spanish written by Andrea García Cerdán, translated by Alejandra Salazar.

Pica Disorder: What is is? Discover everything about this eating disorder

Pica disorder also called “pica” is not well known but has serious health implications. It is a type of eating disorder in which there is an irresistible desire to eat or lick non-nutritive substances such as toothpaste, cigarette butts, detergent, mud, hair, plaster, chalk, condoms, paper, things that have no food value. It is a strange food illness in which the person is affected physically, mentally and even culturally. We explain more about this curious and unknown eating disorder that affects not only children but also adults.

What is Pica Disorder?

Pica Disorder is characterized by the urgent desire to eat non-nutritive substances without nutritional value in a compulsive way.

Usually, if we think about this disorder we associate it with children. There is a stage in the development of the child whose curiosity leads him to put objects in his mouth. However, when it occurs in children who are older than 5 years old, the alarms should set off.

When we talk about adults with Pica disorder they often have intellectual disabilities. This disorder is also associated with people who have some kind of nutritional deficiency, such as a lack of iron, and pregnant women or individuals with other mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, anxious patients or as a way to attract attention.

It is closely related to obsessive-compulsive disorder since individuals suffering from OCD as well as those suffering from pica disorder are often aware of their behavior but can’t stop even though it is unhealthy and unreasonable.

History of Pica Disorder

The term “pica” comes from the Latin word that means “magpie”. The magpie does not show a preference for food or non-food substances.

In some modern cultures, the pica behavior happens in a ritualistic way. In the nineteenth century in the southern United States, this behavior was common among slaves and this practice is still accepted in some cultures. It has been part of religious ceremonies, magical beliefs, and healing attempts. In many cultures, the clay ingestion is used for its medicinal properties.

Risk Factors in Pica Disorder

It is not known exactly what are the causes of this alteration, but there are a series of risk factors that make it more likely to suffer from this disorder:

  • Stressful and Chaotic Family Environments
  • Having addictive behaviors or an addiction
  • Lack of a social support
  • Parental negligence
  • Mother-child separation
  • Epilepsy
  • Brain damage
  • Culture: In African countries, pica is more common among women and children. In a study conducted in Nigeria, the incidence of pica in adolescents and boys was between 25% and 46%.

Hypothesis on Pica Disorder

The causes of this eating disorder are unknown. To explain pica disorder experts have proposed some hypotheses that include cultural factors, low socioeconomic status, psychological disorders and other diseases.

1. Nutritional Facts

Nutrition deficiencies are the most common theories to explain why Pica Disorder appears. Lack of minerals such as iron and zinc are common. Although malnutrition is often diagnosed at the same time as pica, a link has not been established.

2. Sensory and physiological

These theories are based on the opinions of patients who claim to enjoy the taste, texture or odor of the substance they are ingesting. It has been discovered that people with this disorder have a reduced activity of their dopaminergic system in the brain. Low or abnormal levels of dopamine may be related to this disorder.

3. Neuropsychiatric

There is evidence that certain brain lesions are associated with abnormal feeding behaviors.

4. Psychosocial

As previously stated one of the risk factors for the development of this eating disorder is the existence of a pattern of behavior similar to anxiety disorders. In this disorder eating non-food substances relieves the stress they feel.

Symptoms and Complications of Pica Disorder

Pica disorder symptoms may vary according to the non-food substance ingested. Often individuals with pica disorder suffer from the same symptoms as anorexia such as mineral deficiency, unhealthy nails, hair and weight loss. Symptoms due to ingestion of non-food substances are as follows:

  • Sand/soil consumption produces gastric pain symptoms and occasional bleeding.
  • Biting ice causes teeth decay.
  • Clay ingestion leads to constipation.
  • Swallowing metal objects causes intestinal perforation.
  • Eating fecal material causes infectious diseases.
  • Lead intake causes kidney damage and mental retardation.

The complications associated with pica can be divided into five groups:

  1. Inherent toxicity.
  2. Obstruction.
  3. Excessive calorie intake.
  4. Nutritional deprivation.
  5. Others (parasites and teeth damage).

The clinical consequences of pica disorder may have wide and very serious implications. Lead poisoning in children can lead to serious impairment of intellectual and physical development. Individuals with pica disorder also have a higher risk of developing very serious health problems such as abdominal pain, intestinal and colon obstruction.

The most extraordinary and serious case is the Rapunzel Syndrome (a mass of hair anchored in the stomach) has been observed in children, in people with mental retardation, people with malnutrition and halitosis.

Pica Disorder Diagnosis

For this disorder to be diagnosed by an expert the person has to meet a number of requirements that are included in the DSM-5 (diagnostic manual developed by the American Psychiatric Association). The criteria for diagnosing Pica Disorder are:

  1. Persistent eating of non-nutritive, nonfood substances for a period of at least one month.
  2. The eating of nonnutritive, nonfood substances is inappropriate to the developmental level of the individual.
  3. The eating behavior is not part of a culturally supported or socially normative practice.
  4. If occurring with another mental disorder, or during a medical condition, it is severe enough to warrant independent clinical attention.
Pica Disorder

It can be difficult to recognize a person who is suffering from this disorder because sometimes they feel embarrassed to tell you what is going on. It is necessary for the doctor to ask directly about eating habits and pica disorder behaviors.

If you believe or suspect that your child is suffering from this disorder, contact your doctor immediately. 

Treatment for Pica Disorder

There is no standard treatment. A multi-professional team of experts should take into account biological, psychological and social factors. Behavior modification has shown some effectiveness in some cases and in short follow-up. As a type of eating disorder, clinical intervention is focused on cognitive-behavioral therapy and family therapy.

  • Behavioral interventions have proven effective in treating children with a developmental disorder. Re-education therapies are conducted for parents to see how they supervise their children while playing and to guide certain behaviors in the home such as avoiding any type of toy that can be toxic, avoid play dough, lead-based paints or if they have pets at home pick up the feces so the little one can’t access them. Although the sporadic appearance of symptoms in young children may be normal, when it persists in time, appropriate measures must be taken.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy is very effective and is applied in people with intellectual disabilities, behavioral problems, individuals with autism and other disorders. This type of therapy teaches new behaviors through the reinforcement of positive behaviors and the punishment of unwanted behaviors.
Pica Disorder- CBT therapy

If it is due to a nutritional deficiency due to a lack of minerals, a blood test will be carried out, and transfusion therapy will restore its levels back to normal as well as a cognitive-behavioral intervention will be performed with follow-up sessions.

Few studies have attempted to examine the efficacy of pharmaceutical treatments, so psychopharmacology experts believe there is no specific drug to treat pica. Doctors don’t have any particular medicine but do advise opting for serotonin inhibitors.

This article is originally written in Spanish by Noemí Vega Ruiz, translated by Alejandra Salazar.

Psychologist vs Psychiatrist: together for better treatment

Psychologist vs psychiatrist has been a question on the minds of a plethora of people who are seeking professional help. In the society that we live in today, we sometimes do not have time for ourselves. In between the appointments, classes, work, supermarkets, mortgages and an occasional workout we forget to take care of our mind. When people think about health, they usually look into the physical aspects of what we consider healthy. Somebody who follows a healthy diet that consists of all the needed macro and micro-nutrients. Somebody who takes the time to exercise a few times a week. A person that plays a sport. These are the people that inspire us and these are the people we aspire to be. In chasing the goal of a perfect physical health, we often forget about our mental health.

Psychologist vs Psychiatrist: Education

psychologist vs psychiatrist

Psychologists

If your goal is to pursue a career in psychology you will first need an undergraduate degree in psychology. After that, and, depending on a country, psychologists will be required to go to graduate school. In graduate school, they will obtain a title of a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD).

Students need to be careful with the distinction of the two. Some countries consider a Ph.D. degree to be a solely research oriented doctoral title that does not allow a person to practice with people. In many countries throughout the Ph.D. degree, the students are required to develop and design a scientific study. In the end of their doctoral degree, the students will write a dissertation and present it to specifically assigned judges. They might then go on to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship and continue their work in research. PsyD is considered to be a clinical degree. It does not include a research aspect and is solely focused on producing practitioners in the field of mental health. Many times before a Ph.D. or a PsyD degree can be obtained, students are required to undergo a one or two-year Master of Science degree.

Throughout the course of their clinical training future psychologists will have constant supervision. They will have practicums with different age-groups and different mental health problem populations.

Psychologists can differ from one another in regards with different treatment approaches. The majority fall between the two categories, one being the psychodynamic approach and the other – cognitive-behavioral therapy.

In many countries, only those who complete all the required conditions and certified themselves will then be able to use the protected title of a “psychologist”.

Psychiatrists

psychologist vs psychiatrist

Psychiatrists need to get proper medical training. They will have the same medical education as every other medical doctor you might see if you go to a hospital. Instead of a Ph.D. or a PsyD degree, psychiatrists will hold a Doctor of Medicine degree (MD). Depending on the country medical schools have different requirements.

In the United States, a student needs to complete an undergraduate degree and then apply for medical school where they will spend 4 years. In the UK, for example, medical school lasts for 5 years and students apply straight after finishing secondary education. After the completion of medical school students have to undergo different residency or foundation programs in order to be considered fully specialized and trained psychiatrists. In the US the training lasts for 4 years and that’s where the students specialize in Psychiatry. The UK students study for 2 additional Foundation years where they practice in hospitals before they can specialize. After that, they take 4 years and have to pass two exams in their specialization.

Psychiatrists train in diagnosis and treatment for various mental disorders like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. They also get training in a different psychotherapeutic treatment approach like cognitive-behavioral therapy. Many psychiatrists then further specialize in the fields of neuropsychiatry, geriatrics, psychopharmacology, and others. Compared with psychologists, psychiatrists treat people who have more severe mental problems. These mental disorders usually required prescribed medicine.

That is where one of the main distinctions between a psychologist and a psychiatrist comes in. Being fully trained medical doctors psychiatrists are allowed to prescribe drugs to their patients, while psychologists cannot do so. Psychologists have to refer their patients for medication.

Job Outlook & Salary

Bureau says that both, psychologists and psychiatrists have a similar job outlook. The salary is different for both of the professions, however, with major differences between countries as well. Psychiatrists, being qualified medical doctors, earn significantly more money than psychologists do. Their average salary rounds up to about $160,000 in the U.S. with psychologists almost reaching the $70,000 mark in the United States in 2010.

Psychologist vs Psychiatrist: similarities

The similarity is quite obvious. Both of the professions deal with people who have mental health problems. They will both will try and help you with these problems by talking and offering therapy. Both of the professions will attempt to arm you with the tools to solve your issues. Apart from treating patients, both of the professionals keep up with the recent and up-to-date research and sometimes, both of them can participate in the ongoing investigations. These investigations can deal with a variety of topics ranging from psychophysical studies to brain studies with the use of neuroimaging methods.

Psychologist vs Psychiatrist: differences

The professions have different regulations, distinct certificates, and licensing procedures. On top of that, different countries have different ways of categorizing these two. Countries tend to protect certain profession titles. Education professions and doctors usually fall under the category of protected titles. Psychologists and psychiatrists do too in the majority of nations. This happens due to the fact that both of the professions have a high contact with the society. And if one were to think about the population both psychologists and psychiatrists have to deal with on a daily basis, they start to understand why the protected titles are necessary. This all sounds confusing and, in reality, it is.

Both professions treat in a different way as well. Psychologists can treat in a variety of different ways depending on their approaches: psychodynamic, cognitive-behavioral, humanistic.

Psychiatrists, being medical doctors, rely more on pharmacological approaches in combination with the most common therapy for given disorders.

Apart from those who are suffering from disorders, there are many who would like to pursue a career in mental studies. The question of psychologist vs psychiatrist comes up again. Both of the professions require a different amount of study, different perspectives, and opportunities. Apart from just clear cut clinicians, there are many sub-fields in both specialties. The psychologist vs psychiatrist problem then becomes even more confusing. Students should be able to learn the difference between the two and understand the different ways both professions can take them.

Psychologist vs Psychiatrist: mental disorders

We don’t often focus on the things that we truly enjoy. Maybe we focus on things that others like and with that, we undermine our own wants. Everybody’s needs are different and not a lot of people know or have the ability to satisfy their own needs. This can lead to many various conditions that undermine our mental health. People fall into spirals of depression, develop different types of anxiety and phobias.

This is just the iceberg of some mental disorders that can be influenced by the environment. We also cannot forget the genetic component. Both depression and anxiety have a link to genetics. Apart from these two disorders, we have a variety of others. Learning and attention disabilities are appearing more and more in various countries. Developmental and personality disorders are becoming more often. Some countries diagnose their population a bit too much, others do not understand the notion of a mental disorder.

The psychologist vs psychiatrist question also comes up due to the fact that psychologists and psychiatrists are able to view mental disorders in a different way. When people find themselves in trouble they should be able to ask for professional help and they should be able to know who to ask for help. The psychologist vs psychiatrist dilemma that many people face should not be one.

Psychologist vs Psychiatrist: Major Depression

Different countries will have different regulations for the diagnosis of various mental disorders. In the US, both of the professionals will look at the last edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual to diagnose a patient and treat him or her with depression. The diagnosis will be quite similar to the Major Depressive Disorder with symptoms ranging from loss of interest or anhedonia, depressed mood, feeling sad, guilt and worthlessness and many other symptoms. A professional needs to be able to check off 5 from the list in order to be able to diagnose a patient with a Major Depressive Disorder.

Psychiatrists: Major Depression

A psychiatrist will pursue a series of activities and interventions. The doctors will provide these therapeutic techniques throughout the process of treatment. Before the start of treatment, they will establish a therapeutic relationship with the patient. The patient should be aware of all of the treatment procedures and the psychiatrist will take into account the preferences of the patients.

Psychiatrists will then compose a complete psychiatric history of the patient. They will look for manic symptoms in order to conclude that it is indeed major depression and not bipolar disorder. The doctors will look at any treatments that the patient has undergone or is undergoing at the moment. This step will especially include the history of all of the side effects, if any, to prescribed medication, the assigned dosages and how long the patients were taking the medicine.

Being doctors, psychiatrists will compose the general medical history and overlook any other medications that the patient might be taking. Importantly, they will check for substance use history and whether the patient has undergone treatment for those if present. Psychiatrists will then compose an individual history of the patient including the major events that happened to the patient, social, work related history, and family histories.

Psychiatrists: Major Depression treatment

These clinicians will also assess the patients based on suicide risk and hospitalize them, if necessary. Then, they will consider a treatment setting for the patient that is the most appropriate and the least binding, if conditions allow. Psychiatrists will then attempt to maximize the quality of life of the patient which includes personal hygiene, interpersonal and work relationships etc. They will then establish a connection with all of the other clinicians that are overseeing the patient.

When choosing the initial treatment, psychiatrist’s goal is to reduce the symptoms and promote remission of the episode. Doctors need to look at how severe the symptoms are and other factors that might contribute to patients’ depression (biological, environmental, social). They need to take into account patient’s preferences. (1) Psychiatrists need to consider which treatment methods would be the best for a particular patient, both providing pharmacotherapy in the form of anti-depressants (in the case of psychotic features, antipsychotic medication) and combining with psychotherapy. In certain cases, psychiatrists may consider electroconvulsive therapy for, especially severe cases.

Psychologists: Major Depression

Psychologists will pursue a series of activities and interventions for the patients as well and establish a therapeutic relationship. They will also keep track of all of the psychiatric, personal and social history of the patient.

Psychologists will mainly use psychotherapy in order to treat depression, depending on their approach. It is especially helpful when the depression is in the mild or moderate form. They will help the patients understand the life events that could have led to depression itself. They will help the patients to accept these life events and look towards the future with practical goals.  Psychologists will focus on cognitive distortions of the patient and maladaptive thoughts and try to decrease the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness in the patient. They will help the patients learn how to deal with the milestones in their life and the symptoms in order to prevent depression in the future.

For the most part, psychologists use two different types of therapy:

  1. Interpersonal Therapy (IPT): this is where patients learn how to deal with their social relationships and to communicate their emotions in a better and more adaptive way. IPT focuses on learning new social skills and creating a support circle around the patient.
  2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): psychologists help patients realize the maladaptive thought and try to teach them to realize when the thoughts occur. They also try to teach the patients to change the thoughts and behaviors that contribute to depression and focus on social skills.

Psychologist vs Psychiatrist: Anxiety

There are many different types of anxiety. Both psychologists and psychiatrists are able to treat anxiety and the phobias that might be associated with it. A psychologist might be able to treat various phobias with the help of exposure therapy and behavioral techniques and help ease some behavior patterns that appear in anxiety. Psychologists can offer to counsel and achieve those behavioral changes. They can help with abuse and trauma. A psychiatrist will be able to diagnose you right away and will deal with more severe types of anxiety. Since a psychiatrist is a medical doctor he or she will be able to prescribe medication along with providing psychotherapy.

Psychologist vs Psychiatrist: similarities in treating mental disorders treatment

Both professionals can treat psychiatric disorders in a similar fashion. For example, in the case of major depression, it is quite common to combine psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy in order to achieve maximum goals. Both psychiatrists and psychologists recognize that and implement it into their treatment strategies.

Psychologist vs Psychiatrist: differences in treating mental disorders treatment

In some cases, however, psychiatrists and psychologists differ in their approach to treating certain psychiatric problems. A great example would be bipolar disorder. The goal of a psychiatrist is usually to help the patient autonomously manage medication due to the fact that bipolar disorder requires medication that lasts for quite a while, if not for life. This is psychiatrist’s primary focus when it comes to patients diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Psychologists, on the other hand, recognize the fact that patients with bipolar disorder need pharmacotherapy, but they focus more on psychotherapy. They can use cognitive-behavioral therapy for both the depression and the manic phases of the disorder, helping with thought distortions and maladaptive behaviors that happen as a result of the disorder.

Psychologist vs. Psychiatrist: Who should you see? 

Patients will usually see a primary physician first. The primary physician will refer these patients to a licensed and certified clinical psychologist. This psychologist will start therapy with the individual and work on making the patient look at their own thoughts and behaviors.

For disorders that are more serious in nature (e.g. schizophrenia, bipolar disorder) should see a psychiatrist for a proper medication treatment plan. For mild to moderate depression, anxiety, stress it is better to see a psychologist who can then refer you to a psychiatrist, if needed, for pharmacotherapy and further treatment.

A psychiatrist can come in as a referral from a psychologist for a prescription of medicine. After that, the two professionals work together in order to achieve the best and proper individualized treatment for the patient in hand.

At times, both of the professionals can view various mental problems from different perspectives.

The goal for both professions is to provide the best possible treatment. We cannot say that one of the professions is better than the other one because both of them work for the good of the people. Often times they work together in a collaboration to help their patients.

Bibliography

American Psychiatric Association. Treating Major Depressive Disorder: A Quick Reference Guide. Practice. 2010;(October):1–28.

Nail biting: Everything you need to know to stop doing it.

Nail biting habit or onychophagia is one of the most common nervous problems. Do you want to stop biting your nails forever? In this article, we reveal the strategies that will help you get rid of this annoying habit once and for all. If you are a mother or father, it will guide you to help your children leave this habit and save you many unnecessary efforts. How to stop biting nails?

Nail Biting

How many times have you tried to stop biting your nails?

You probably have tried everything and even your relatives, close ones and friends have suffered with us.

It often becomes such an automated and unconscious habit that we only realize when we have mutilated our finger and it hurts. We are ashamed of our hands and try to hide them whenever we can. We have had infected fingers or fingers with the bruises. Our teeth might even be crooked due to our efforts in twisting them to nail bite. If you feel identified with these anecdotes, do not hesitate to continue reading.

If you feel identified with these anecdotes, do not hesitate to continue reading.

What is its cause? Why do we bite our nails?

Usually, stress is the main cause for this nervous habit, beginning during childhood. It is a way to manage anxiety either from our own initiative or through imitation of an adult.

It is important to remember that anxiety and stress are not negative in themselves. They prepare us for action and mobilize our resources to deal with day-to-day situations. However, if the anxiety is excessive or continues in time it can have more serious consequences, both psychological and physiological. Once the habit is established, nail biting can happen when we are anxious or stressed, but there may also be no apparent cause. It may happen when we have our hands free because we have simply developed it as a habit. 

Nail Biting-What can I do to stop it? Tips

1. Control stress and anxiety to stop nail biting

The first thing to do is attack the main cause: stress and anxiety. It will always depend on what is causing this stress. If it is something that overwhelms us and we can’t manage it for ourselves, the best we can do is go to the psychologist’s office, who can do a personalized and complete approach.

For minor stress issues, we can learn relaxing techniques such as mindfulness meditation, yoga, music, etc.

2. Make the habit conscious

In most cases, the act of bringing your fingers to your mouth is unconscious, we do it without realizing it. In order to treat the habit, it is essential to pay attention in order to bring it back to our consciousness and avoid impulsive behaviors. Psychologists use self-reports and timetables where the patients have to point out the times that we perform a certain behavior and in what situation. This is a timetable that shows time, day and activity as well as how many times and how long you have bitten your nails. We can add a column that indicates our anxiety level.

This strategy is also useful to know in which situations we are more likely to bite our nails and to be more attentive and avoid it. It also helps us to see our progress, since it is ideal to keep the self-report until the undesirable behavior ceases altogether.

Another tool that can be very useful is to describe when we turn to nail biting. For example: “I’m working on my computer and I put my chin on my hand. The nails approach my mouth and I begin to nibble them”. Another example: “I start rubbing the side of my finger with another, I find an irregularity on my nail and rub it more. I bring my hand to my mouth and try to match the edge of the nail”. This helps make more conscious the behaviors that come before biting our nails. This will help us to realize when our hands are close to our face, to stop and move them away. 

Lately there have been advertising products that promise to help us stop nail biting. They are nail polishes with an unpleasant bitter taste that supposedly will make the habit disappear easily. The fact is that these types of methods have not shown long term effectiveness for these nervous habits. It might work to make the habit more conscious, but this will work only for a while since we will get used to the flavors.

3. Behavior inconsistent with the nail biting habit

Once we know the situations we are most likely to bite our nails, we have to find a behavior that we can do easily and substitute for nail biting. For example, the easiest thing would be to tighten our fist or any object that we have in our hand, for 5 or 10 seconds, enough so that the nail biting impulse disappears. But we could also put on gloves, hide our hand under our thigh if we are sitting down, etc.

4. Stimulus Control

Often, what leads us to nail biting (even in people who do not have this habit) is an irregular nail or a lifted cuticle. Therefore it is very important that we carry with us at all times a file and/or nail clippers. Thus, when we detect some irregularity we can eliminate it, avoiding nail biting.

It is also helpful to take some time, a night preferably, to examine your nails and keep them without irregularities. This will prevent further temptations to nail bite or to bring your fingers in your mouth. It is also important to keep them hydrated and apply transparent hardening nail polish so that they gain strength and it will be more difficult to bite.

Nail Biting

5. Reinforcements

We can involve people around us as assets to help us stop. They don’t have to only punish us when we do it but instead, reinforce or congratulate us when we have not engaged in nail biting. We also have to congratulate ourselves.

We can carry a photo diary, in which we take pictures regularly to see our progress and keep us motivated. It is important that we know that it is very likely that there will be relapses, as in all psychological problems. After a while without biting our nails, we are likely to return. However, that does not mean we have failed. Relapses are very common, as we are going to go through more delicate and more vulnerable moments. Try to live these relapses as learning opportunities for next time. In addition, you will have all these tools, which will help you to start the process again, and it will never be like starting from scratch. It will become easier for you to stop biting your nails until the habit disappears.

This article is originally written in Spanish by Andrea García Cerdán, translated by Alejandra Salazar.

Negative Emotions: How Can Anger Be Beneficial?

Anger, sadness, ego and despair are some of the negative emotions that we all associate ourselves to, especially during trying and struggle days. As human nature, we tend to get more and more sucked into our negative emotions, but did you know these negative emotions can actually help us.Yes! You might be thinking I am making this up but it’s true, psychologist have provided us with evidence that as humans we need a goal, a drive to keep us motivated and these negative emotions can help us do that.

Negative Emotions

To understand how negative emotions may help us, we first need to define what is a positive emotion? According to Cohen and Fredrickson (2009), positive emotions are positive feelings of joy, interest, contentment and love which arise from desirable situations. So positive emotions are happy feelings, but can a person have positive emotions 24×7? Is that even natural? And what happens if we always experience positive emotions? In a nutshell, being positive is good, but experience positive emotions always is not a typical behavior. This implicates that we are suppressing our negative emotions and are not expressing it, which in time will portray inverse effects on our body and brain.

What can negative emotions teach us?

According to Psychology Today’s article ‘Beyond Happiness: The Upside of Feeling Down’ by Matthew Hutson, our perception of negative emotions is emphasized on the word negative, but they don’t necessarily have to have a negative impact on our lives. Negative emotions can help identify where our troubles are and how to fix them. Similarly, in 2015, Huffington Post published an article ‘How To Turn Negative Emotions Into Your Greatest Advantage’ stated that negative emotions actually act as a catalyst for positive experiences and positive realization if we learn to respond to them in the right manner.

We have established the fact that negative emotions can actually act as a driving force in our lives. Now, let’s try to understand the technique so that your negative emotions can help you.

The first and the foremost aspect of understanding negative emotion is to recognize and express your negative emotions. Hiding your emotions is not going to do any good for you. It’s perfectly normal to feel angry, upset, embarrassed, or any other emotion on a daily basis. If you’re not sure how to express these emotions, think about talking to a therapist. 

What’s the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist? 

Secondly, it is essential to identify each negative emotion as an incentive to change yourself into a better person. We have negative emotions to be more aware of our situation and to try to improve them further. If you’re not sure where your negative emotions are coming from, try to think about when you started feeling them. Knowing what’s causing these feelings is essential to using them to your benefit. 

Finally, know that negative emotions have an unseen power. Psychologist Julie Norman in her book ‘The Positive Power Of Negative Thinking’ mentions that in her experience, she saw that pessimists were able to thrive because they turned a negative emotion, like anxiety, into action. Think about if you were able to turn every feeling of anger or anxiety into a productive moment in your life!

Optimism vs. pessimism 

How can you use negative emotions to your benefit?

  • Negative emotions and relationships: we have the maturity to understand that any positive or negative act has an inverse effect on our relationships. But in a study conducted in 2008, ‘The Positives of Negative Emotions: Willingness to Express Negative Emotions Promotes Relationships’, it was concluded that expressing negative emotions are connected to facilitate positive relationship outcome increasing intimacy and bridging close relations. Remember that fighting doesn’t mean that the relationship is doomed. Arguing allows for communication and can be beneficial for relationships. 
  • Anger:  Feeling angry about situations or people is inevitable, but anger can actually bring about the creative side in you. In a journal  ‘A Dynamic Perspective on Affect and Creativity’, the authors studied participants on their negative and positive emotions. The study asked their participants to rate their emotions at the beginning and at the end of the day, it was noted that individuals who initially started their day with negative emotions and ended with positive emotions, had the most creative output. How is this possible? The article further stressed that the participants reported that when they channeled their negative emotion of anger into their work, a creative outcome was achieved.
  • Negative emotions from embarrassment or shame: We all have gone through that feeling of humiliation, shame, and embarrassment. That feeling that arises when someone says “you’re not good enough”. Initially, our negative emotions stir up and the feeling of despair sets in but gradually feelings of  “I will show them that I can do it” or “I will prove myself to them” accelerate and that is the positiveness that is achieved due to channeling our negative emotions.
  • Using ego as a positive tool: Ego has a negative connotation to it, the evils of ego have the power to either destroy someone or make someone. What is the ego? In short, ego defines the ‘I’ or ‘the self’, your self-perception. So just like other negative emotions, we have discussed, the ego can do us great harm, having a large ego or thinking we are greater than others takes us downhill. But funneling our ego during troubled times, such as when we think too little of ourselves is transforming our negative emotions to a positive stride. It is this ego” that helps us grow and raise our spirits high during low times. Once again it depends on our perception of a negative emotion. An individual needs ego to help them build their self-confidence and know their worth. But to be able to balance their ego is significant.

It is easy to get trapped in between our negative emotions, but to know that you are in total control of yourself and that you have the ability to transform your negative emotions to positive emotions is crucial. Here are some tips to help you regulate your emotions:

  • Know what your mind is trying to tell you about your negative emotions. Accept it and express it.
  • Be mindful and aware of what’s going on. Don’t let the situation take the best from you.
  • Don’t let your negative emotions drive you instead you driving your negative emotions to something positive.
  • A regular self-report helps you balance your emotions and keep them in check. 
  • Have friends and family around you during emotional times, listen to them. Your good wishes will always help you reignite the spark that you need to change your negative emotion to a positive outcome.
  • These are trying and tiring times and know that these too shall pass.
  • Change your attitude and reconstruct your negative emotions to something beneficial for yourself.

Focus on the positive side of your negative emotions, remember that the term negative emotions don’t mean it’s not good for you. You can do it!

Migraine Triggers: What are Migraines and How to Avoid Them

Knowing migraine triggers may help you avoid them

What are migraines?

Though migraines are common (migraines and tension type headaches are the second and third most common disease in the world) the exact cause of migraines is still not fully understood. However, specialists have been able to determine common migraine triggers. Knowing what these triggers are might help you prevent a future migraine by avoiding the migraine triggers that we’ll talk about below.

Migraines are ranked as the seventh most disabling disease among all diseases globally, and the leading cause of disability among all neurological disorders. Migraines and headaches are leading causes of outpatient and emergency department visits and are particular issues for women during their reproductive years. However, many people who suffer from migraines and headaches do not receive adequate treatment and care, instead choosing to rely on over the counter medications, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen. Healthcare and lost working days due to migraines cost as much as $36 billion in the US alone.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are four types of headache disorders:

  • Migraines
  • Tension type headaches
  • Cluster headaches
  • Medication overuse headaches

Migraines will often begin in childhood, mostly during puberty, and mostly affects those between 35 and 45 years old, but recurs over the lifetime. It is also twice as common in women than men, mostly due to hormonal differences. Migraine frequency can vary from between once a week to once a year.

Different types of neurotransmitters

Though the causes are not completely understood, it appears to result from a combination of genetics and environmental factors. Brain chemistry, such as the lowering of serotonin levels, may be a factor, but researchers are still studying the role of serotonin in the brainstem. Migraines are thought to be the result of the activation of a mechanism in the brain, which releases the inflammatory substances around the nerves and blood vessels of the head that causes a migraine. You can tell you have a migraine as opposed to a regular headache because your headache will be:

  • Moderate or severe
  • Pulsating
  • On one side of your head
  • Aggravated by movement
  • Lasting from hours to 2-3 days

If your headache has all of these features, accompanied by nausea and sensitivity to light and sound, you’re probably experiencing a migraine. Hopefully, this list is helpful in avoiding potential triggers and future migraine attacks.

15 Common Migraine Triggers

Stress

It’s well known how bad stress is for the body. Stress is the most commonly reported migraine trigger, most likely because it is so personal and difficult to control. Stress can cause more frequent migraine attacks, make migraine attacks worse, and make migraine attacks last longer. Even after the stressful situation ends, the sudden release of tension can cause a migraine to occur – this is called a weekend migraine. Though it is virtually impossible to avoid stress, you can learn ways to manage it better, such as eating healthy, exercising regularly, and learning relaxation techniques, like yoga or meditation.

Hormone changes

Since migraines affect twice as many women as men, it’s no surprise that hormones play a large part. Fluctuations in estrogen seem to be the trigger for many women. Those with a previous history of migraines often report that they have headaches before or during their periods when estrogen levels are at their lowest. Hormone medications, such as contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy have been reported to either worsen or help migraines, depending on the woman.

Sleeping in

Changes in sleeping patterns can trigger a migraine, which is why it’s important to try to wake up around the same time every day. Sleeping in may cause what’s known as a “weekend migraine” especially if there is a large difference between your weekday and weekend timetables.

Too much or not enough sleep may be migraine triggers

Lack of sleep

On the other hand, fatigue and a lack of sleep is also a very common migraine trigger. Fatigue can also be a warning sign for an impending migraine attack. Either way, it seems that any kind of sleep disturbance is a trigger for many people, and you should try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day regardless of it’s a weekday or weekend.

Perfume

Many migraine sufferers report that attacks are triggered by strong perfume and other strong odors. Additionally, osmophobia is an aversion to that is a unique characteristic of migraine sufferers, during their attacks.

Weather and barometric pressure changes

Weather can cause changes in brain chemistry causing a migraine, especially on days with bright sunlight, extreme heat or cold, pressure changes, or high humidity. Even though you can’t change the weather, you can track what weather conditions are your personal triggers, if any, and stay indoors or take migraine medications at the first signs of a migraine.

Alcohol

Alcohol increases blood flow to the brain, which can cause a migraine. Any kind of alcohol can act as a migraine trigger, but it seems to be particularly red wine, especially in women.

Medications

Self treating with medication can be a double-edged sword; taking too much can lead to a medication overuse headache, which are caused by chronic and excessive use of medications used to treat headaches.

Caffeine

Unfortunately, caffeine can act as both a trigger and treatment for migraines. You just have to be aware if you are sensitive to caffeine, and carefully monitor how caffeine affects you.

Cheese

Tyramine is a substance that is produced as the protein in a food or drink ages. It’s not sure why tyramine causes migraines, but it can be found in in foods like aged cheeses, processed meats, dried fruits, and even red wine.

Sex

Any kind of fervent physical activity can cause headaches and migraines, including sex.

Dehydration

Dehydration and hunger are bad for the body overall, and one of the results can be a headache or migraine. People who suffer from migraines should try not to skip meals and drink plenty of water.  

Food additives

Artificial sweeteners, and preservatives such as sulfites and nitrates can trigger a migraine.

Tannins

Tannins are found in red wine, but they are also found in teas, red apples, and pears. Tannins are flavonoids mostly found in the skins of the fruits which give those foods and drinks their bitter taste.

Bright lights or loud sounds

Bright, flickering, or pulsating lights can be a trigger for a migraine attack. Unfortunately for some, bright sunlight on its own can be a trigger for some migraine sufferers.

Bright lights and flashing lights may be migraine triggers

Migraines are so prevalent, but so treatable, why is this? There seems to be a stigma around seeking treatment for headaches; as a chronic migraine sufferer myself, I also prolonged seeking treatment because I believed I could just self medicate with pain relievers. Keep in mind that many of these triggers act in combination with each other, so keeping a sort of headache journal can help narrow down your own personal migraine triggers, avoid future migraine attacks, and be helpful in describing your migraine disorder to your physician.

Questions? Leave me a comment below!

References:

Burch RC, Loder S, Loder E, Smitherman TA. The prevalence and burden of migraine and severe headache in the United States: updated statistics from government health surveillance studies. Headache. 2015 Jan;55(1):21-34. doi: 10.1111/head.12482.

Cutrer FM, et al. Pathophysiology, clinical manifestations and diagnosis of migraine in adults. 2015.

Dalkara, T. & Kılıç, K. Current Pain and Headache Report (2013) 17: 368. doi:10.1007/s11916-013-0368-1.

Fukui, PT, Gonçalves, TRT, Strabelli, CG, Lucchino, NF, Matos, FC, Santos, JPM, Zukerman, E, Zukerman-Guendler, V, Mercante, JP, Masruha, MR, Vieira, DS, & Peres, MFP. (2008). Trigger factors in migraine patients. Arquivos de Neuro-Psiquiatria, 66(3a), 494-499. https://dx.doi.org/10.1590/S0004-282X2008000400011

Houle TT, Butschek RA, Turner DP, Smitherman TA, Rains JC, Penzien DB. Stress and Sleep Duration Predict Headache Severity in Chronic Headache Sufferers. Pain. 2012;153(12):2432-2440. doi:10.1016/j.pain.2012.08.014.

Steiner TJ, Stovner LJ, Birbeck GL. Migraine: the seventh disabler. The Journal of Headache and Pain. 2013;14(1):1. doi:10.1186/1129-2377-14-1.

Tekatas A, Mungen B. Migraine headache triggered specifically by sunlight: Report of 16 cases. European Neurolology. 2013;70:263-266

Triggers: Environmental and physical factors. National Headache Foundation.

Weather-related migraines. Neurology Now. 2013;9:12.

World Health Organization (WHO)

 

More on CogniFit’s brain games

Understanding Your Brain and Stress: What Happens When We’re Stressed?

It’s time to talk about our good ol’ buddy stress. For most of us, it seems to cling to us all day every day, no matter how many times you try to part ways. It’s just become a part of us, so much so that we might feel weird or empty without it. But what is stress? What exactly does stress do to our bodies, to our brains? Why is it such a good thing to have sometimes, but other times seems to overwhelm us? It’s time that we learn more about the delicate relationship between our brain and stress.

Understand your brain and stress

Check your understanding

How much do you know about stress? Take this short quiz to find out!

1. Stress is inevitable.
  • These days, it may seem like we can't avoid stress. Often times, what you think is stressful now you probably won't think is stressful in the future. Try looking at the things that stress you out in a different perspective, or look for ways to make your life easier!
2. People can choose whether or not to be stressed.
  • As you'll learn in this article, stress isn't a switch you turn on and off. Stressful situations spark many complex reactions within your body and cause physiological changes so that you're equipped to handle the stress. While we can manage it, we can't choose whether or not to be stressed.
3. Exercise is a good stress reliever
  • While it may be hard to fit it into tight schedules, exercise is great to relieve stress! It releases feel-good chemicals called endorphins, and lifts your mood for the day. And even better, it clears your mind so you can be more focused and productive in the workplace.
4. Stress is a good for when you need to be motivated
  • When talking about reaching deadlines or a set goal, some stimulating stress can be good for you. It may provide you with enough to get though the day, or to be a little more productive. But pay attention to how you feel- frustration, irritability, and anger can be signs that you're experiencing too much stress.
5. We'd all be bored without stress
  • Stress has become such a big part of our lives that we might feel empty without it- but we don't have to! Think about all the things you could take time to enjoy without the stress of all your responsibilities. It's very possible to do, so start looking for ways you can de-stress!

The biological mechanisms of stress

When we experience a stressor, it sets off reactions in our body to help prepare us to handle it. For example, let’s say you’re camping in the woods for the weekend, and you’re just about head to the tent for the night. All of a sudden, you hear a loud crash, and you turn around to find a huge bear looking through your stuff!

Seeing the bear stimulates your hypothalamus to release two hormones, called corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH) and arginine-vassopressin (AVP)CRH travels down to the anterior pituitary and stimulates the release of corticotrophin into the blood stream. Once corticotrophin reaches the adrenal cortex (a gland on top of the kidneys), the adrenal cortex increases the production of cortisol and other hormones called catecholamines. 

Surely this must sound very complicated, but here’s the basic idea. Seeing the bear stimulates the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis, which eventually causes the production of the stress hormone known as cortisol. This hormone causes many changes in our body so that we can properly deal with our stressor.

Your body and stress

AVP rushes to the kidneys and tells it to make less urine and bring more water back into the body. It also sends signals to our blood vessels to constrict, which raises our blood pressure and allows the oxygenated blood to go where its needed. Cortisol limits the amount of insulin production so that less glucose is stored. It then sends all the glucose it can to the rest of the body, so that it has immediate energy when it goes into the “fight or flight” response. Finally, catecholamines such as epinephrine (adrenaline) work with cortisol to get the heart pumping more blood, faster.

Different types of stress can have different impacts on our body. When stress is prolonged, it can have detrimental effects. Here are just a few:

  • Cortisol suppresses the immune system, so the longer cortisol stays in your system, the more at risk you are of getting colds, infections, cancer, food allergies and gastrointestinal issues.

  • The longer your blood vessels are constricted and your blood pressure is elevated, the more at risk you are for vessel damage and plaque buildup. In other words, you’re much more likely to have a heart attack the more you’re stressed.

  • Cortisol can cause weight gain in many ways. One way is because of the high levels of glucose in the blood and the low levels of insulin. This means other cells that need the glucose can’t get it, so they send signals to your brain to tell you you’re hungry. As a result, you overeat, and the unused glucose is stored as fat.

Your brain and stress

Stress can change neural networks

Prolonged periods of stress can cause increased branching in the amygdala– the fear center of the brain. This means that small, less stressful situations can cause huge rises in cortisol levels. Conversely, the hippocampus– which is responsible for learning, memory, and controlling stress- deteriorates and weakens our ability to control our stress.

Stress can shrink your brain

Studies with rat brains have shown that stress can also cause your brain to shrink. Fewer connections between neurons in the prefrontal cortex inhibit our ability to make decisions and judgments. And because the hippocampus deteriorates with prolonged stress, it can make it harder to learn and remember things.

Stress can be detrimental to mental health

Serious mental health problems can arise from stress because of the chemical imbalances cortisol can cause. Because cortisol can make us feel tired after a while, large amounts can have us feeling low in energy or depressed. In other cases, stress activation can lead to severe feelings of anxiety. In many cases, it can actually influence our personality, causing us to be more irritable, hostile, angry or frustrated.

Since stress is such a big part of our daily lives, its more important than ever to take precautions to protect our brain and our body. For tips on how to reduce your stress, click here.

Common Phobias: Living In Fear

Being afraid of things is very common and typical. Fear is a natural response to an immediate threat. It is natural to be afraid of things if they pose you danger and it is natural to worry about something that is going to happen in the future. It happens to everybody and it is something that is very common and typical. However, when does that fear and anxiety turn into phobia? How does one become so terrified of a certain thing that he avoids it at all costs? A phobic will concentrate on that stimuli that brings them fear if it’s present and cannot look away. What keeps them in that vicious cycle? Well, that whole escaping mechanism. Of course, we tend to escape things that scare us but if we do it and then we feel relief for escaping them, then we are actually reinforcing ourselves to be scared of that object or stimuli. If we stick around and see that, actually, there is nothing to be scared of, then we might be able to get rid of the phobia. There are many phobias in the world but there are some that stick out. Common phobias are persistent over time and appear everywhere around the world.

Common Phobias: Living In Fear

Specific phobias divide into different subtypes:

  • Situational subtype: you are afraid of a certain situation, like flying or bridges
  • Blood-injection-injury subtype: you are afraid of any type of injuries or anything that has to do with blood
  • Animal subtype: you are afraid of animals
  • Natural environment subtype: fear of something that occurs in nature like lightening or water.

Specific phobias include an unreasonable, irrational and excessive fear that is triggered by a presence or anticipation of that stimuli that fears them or a specific situation. People will showextreme anxiety when they are presented with the stimulus, in many cases they will have a panic attack, which is why they keep on avoiding the stimulus to the best of their abilities. This avoidance behavior, many times, causes impairment in their daily functioning and daily activities.

Common Phobias: Living In Fear

Common phobias include:

  • Agoraphobia: fear of crowds or leaving home or a safe place. People are scared to be in a place where they cannot escape and often experience panic attacks when they find themselves stuck in a crowd.
  • Acrophobia: fear of heights. A very common one. People tend to avoid tall buildings, balconies bridges and anything else that brings forward their fear.
  • Arachnophobia: fear of spiders. Falls within the animal subtype. This phobia has gender differences and women are more likely to have it than men.
  • Cynophobia: fear of dogs. A lot of times brought on by a traumatic experience involving a dog.
  • Mysophobia: fear of contamination. Germs and dirt make people anxious and fearful. This phobia is closely related to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
  • Ophidiophobia: fear of snakes
  • Pteromerhanophobia: fear of flying. Very common but very easily treated with exposure therapy using systematic desensitization and gradual exposure to flying objects and in the end, flying itself.
  • Trypanophobia: fear of injections
  • Astraphobia: fear of thunder and lightning.
  • SOCIAL PHOBIA: one of the biggest and most common phobias in the world. People fear social situations and they avoid places and situations where the anxiety attack will be triggered. Social anxiety disorder (social phobias) involve being afraid of feeling inadequate, embarrassed and humiliated. Social phobias themselves divide into three categories.
    • Interaction phobias: mixing with others
    • Performance phobias: public speaking or eating with others
    • Generalized phobias: any type of situations that involve people

Common Phobias: Living In Fear