Tag Archives: stress

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.

Empathy: Can you put yourself in someone else’s shoes?

You’ve probably talked or heard about it, but do you really know the implications of empathy and its meaning? Empathy is much more than putting yourself in the other person’s shoes.  Find out everything you need to know about empathy: What is empathy, definition, and concept, characteristics of empathetic people, types of empathy, differences between empathy and assertiveness, its benefits, how to improve or practice it and much more. If you want to share your experience or ask us any questions please leave your comment below.

Empathy

What is empathy? Definition and Concept

The term “empathy” comes from the Greek ἐμπάθεια: empátheia. Dictionaries define it as a feeling of identification with something or someone. The Oxford dictionary defines it as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

The first description of empathy is the one we usually use and refers to the emotional aspect. The second is the cause of the first since it would be impossible for us to feel if our cognition and thoughts didn’t allow it.

Therefore, we could say that empathy is the ability to put oneself in the other’s place, both emotionally and intellectually. Thus, the verb “empathize” appeals to the action of understanding other’s reality, including cognitively and emotionally.

The art of understanding emotions is more complex than it may seem. A study done by the University of Amsterdam indicates that empathy is bidirectional. This means that empathic interaction is significant for both individuals, for the one that is empathic and the one who feels comprehended.  It is easy to see that we are not empathic to the same extent everybody in the same way.

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Empathy: Characteristics of empathic people

People who feel empathy share a number of personality traits or behavioral patterns among themselves that foster the development of empathic capacity. Take a look at the following list to know the main characteristics of empathic people:

  • They are highly sensitive. Empathetic men and women are good listeners, open-minded to new experiences, kind and selfless. They are usually attentive to the needs of others and do not hesitate to lend a hand. It is not surprising, then, that they have a fascinating ability to transmit good feelings while interacting with others. However, the negative side of being highly sensitive is that people are more susceptible to feeling more empathy, more than they can handle. Therefore, any offense or ugly gesture they may receive hurts them more.
  • They capture people’s emotionality. As if it were a sponge, someone empathic is capable of absorbing the emotions of others. The mood of the other person has a significant influence on that of a person with a high level of empathy so that their emotionality is intensely adapted to both negative and positive feelings. Thus, it is difficult for them not to feel overwhelmed if they meet someone who is going through a time of anxiety and stress, or not to catch the joy of a happy person.
  • Your kindness can affect your own well-being. Having a big heart and caring sincerely for others are indisputable virtues. The disadvantage of this is that empathic people become more dedicated to other people’s problems than to their own, which often leads to frustration, stress, and difficulties in managing their lives.
  • They are careful with their language. Communication is essential to demonstrate empathic skills. When we empathize with others, we review our words twice before we say them because we are aware of the impact language can have on the other person’s well-being, for better or for worse.
  • They avoid extremes. People with empathy prefer the middle ground. They avoid extreme thinking. Therefore, when they surround themselves with someone who is extremist, they are able to teach them that not everything is black or white, but that there are many colors from which to perceive things and the most appropriate thing is to be open to that diversity that life offers us.
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Types of empathy

There are different types of empathy among which are:

Affective empathy: also called emotional empathy, it consists of three differentiated elements. To begin with, you need to feel the same emotion as the other person. Then, a distressing component appears as a natural reaction to vividly perceiving the feelings of the other. Finally, this leads to compassion.

Cognitive empathy: refers to the intellectual potential to perceive and understand the emotions of others. It could be said that cognitive empathy is the previous step to feeling affective empathy. It is necessary to learn to recognize emotions and then to understand their repercussion on one’s state of mind.

Unconscious empathy: Unconscious empathy implies a high level of involvement. Excessive involvement can lead to confusion caused by emotional contagion. Unconsciously empathetic people become so involved in others’ emotions they end up making them theirs. Consequently, controlling, and managing one’s emotions becomes tremendously complex.

Conscious empathy: This kind of empathy involves less emotional involvement. Conscious empathy allows you to observe the other person from an objective perspective and distance, which is essential to encourage emotional self-regulation and allow for a better understanding of the other person’s needs. A person who consciously empathizes is more effective in helping others because they support others without being overwhelmed with their feelings. This is the healthiest way to empathize because in this way you don’t carry the weight of the emotions that don’t correspond to yours and you can offer your best self.

Intercultural empathy

From empathy, one learns to respect and value the decisions of others, and also to understand the concerns and aspirations of others. And this process occurs in the same way across cultures. To empathize with other cultures means to know and understand the importance that each person gives to their customs, traditions and artistic productions.

To recognize multiculturalism is to accept human diversity because not all people are equal and have not grown up in the same environment. There are many cultures, languages, religions, professions, ways of thinking, skin tones, etc. and they are all equally valid.

Intercultural Empathy

It is essential to teach this kind of empathy in school, as children educated in the diversity of ethnic groups will develop a much healthier and more open way of thinking. Moreover, learning to accept the differences and not confront them will avoid numerous social problems in the future.

Empathy and assertiveness

It is important to make the distinction between empathy and assertiveness, given the confusion that both terms can cause.

To begin with, the similarities observed indicate that both empathy and assertiveness are considered to be potentially developable social skills in all human beings, since both can be learned in different contexts intentionally, by chance or due to daily life experiences.

Both skills need respect to be put into practice: respect for others (because the last thing you want is to hurt others’ feelings or hurt them) and respect for yourself (because you are defending the rights of another human being). In addition, other qualities such as honesty, integrity, and consistency are important.

The differences are more noticeable. While assertiveness implies a more personal aspect where there is a concern for not attacking others with words while allowing others to express their thoughts and opinions. Empathy doesn’t restrict or concern itself about feelings or others opinions when it needs to be expressed. Assertiveness defends the words that are pronounced, and empathy understands the words that others pronounce.

In conclusion, when we have the capacity to say what we think without hurting someone else’s feelings, and we also have the capacity to understand others by giving them the opportunity to speak, and express what they think, an enriching dialogue is established. This allows both parties to learn from each other, and communication flows clearly towards the goal that has been established.

These are two very useful skills for learning and communicating that complement each other. Both of these skills need to be learned to develop excellent communication and listening abilities.

Benefits of empathy

Empathy has many benefits. Let’s look at some examples:

1 – Helps emotional harmony:

Empathic people connect quickly with others, making the vast majority feel comfortable and making interpersonal relationships seem easier.

2- Helps to be objective and fair:

The best way to gain the respect of others is to show it to ourselves, even if we may differ in opinions.

3- It improves self-esteem and stimulates our learning:

Feeling that we have a positive effect on others works as a powerful personal enhancer. Furthermore, the empathic exercise allows us to learn from other’s, enriching the prism of reality with different perspectives.

4- It transmits generosity:

Those who demonstrate empathy are collaborative and more successful. It helps them act as brilliant catalysts for change by influencing others to achieve common goals

5- Strengthens professional relationships and maintains them over time:

Working empathically increases the strength of the bonds. This aspect is great in negotiation as well as in those cases in which it is necessary to seal agreements based on trust.

6- It helps show our most peaceful and constructive side:

There is numerous scientific evidence to corroborate that empathy and violence are, neuropsychologically, incompatible with each other. As our understanding increases, our inclination to belligerence decreases and the way we are perceived socially improves.

Keys to practicing empathy

Like all skills, empathy can be trained. Here are some tips for practicing empathy:

  • Listen with an open mind and without prejudice. Be respectful of others.
  • Pay attention and show interest in what they are telling you because it is not enough to know what the other person feels, but we have to show them you care.
  • Do not interrupt while being talked to and avoid becoming experts at giving advice, rather than trying to feel what the other person feels.
  • Learn to discover, recognize and reward the qualities and achievements of others. This will not only contribute to building their capacities but will also reveal our concern and interest in them.
  • When we have to give our opinion on what we are being told, it is very important to do so constructively, to be honest, and not to hurt anyone.
  • Be willing to accept differences with others, be tolerant and patient with those around you and with yourself.

Scientifically Proven Healthy Habits- Get Back On Track!

Scientifically proven healthy habits: Stress, anxiety, and general unhappiness are all caused by an imbalance in our lives. In other words, a balanced life is a happy life. What are the healthy habits that you want to carry into the future? Love, friends, work, and family are the basic pillars of happiness, but there are other areas that play an important role as well. Exercising, eating well, spirituality, nature, altruism, and down-time are all important “secondary” areas that need to be full and thriving in order to feel the “happiness” that we all strive for. What are the 7 keys to happiness?

Healthy habits

In modern societies, our daily habits are directly related to the four most common causes of death- cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, obesity, and cancer. The WHO (2008) warned about a global epidemic of obesity throughout the world and the costs that would come with it. Correcting just one behavior -drinking, smoking, physical exercise, or diet- ensures that you live a longer and better life. Do you feel trapped in your bad habits? Do you have a hard time finding happiness outside of drinking, going out, eating, and other potentially dangerous habits? It might not seem like it, but healthy doesn’t always mean boring, and not everything good is unhealthy!

Changing your daily habits can have countless benefits on your physical and mental health. Unlike medication and therapy, there is no extra cost, no doctors appointments, and no stigma attached to making lifestyle changes. Healthy habits can also be “neuroprotectors” and help reduce the possibility of cognitive deterioration caused by aging.

Therapy, however, is a great option for many people, especially if it seems like the problems they’re having are more serious than lifestyle changes can help. If you’re thinking about going to therapy, it’s important to know if you should see a psychologist or a psychiatrist, as they have different specialties. Due to financial and institutional pressure, it’s become more common to have “express therapy” sessions, where the psychiatrist will prescribe more medication and spend less time treating the possible psychological symptoms that the patient is suffering from. Before seeing a psychotherapist, try to make some healthy habit changes and see where it takes you.

6 Healthy habits that improve well being

1. Exercise

This healthy habit can help reduce the risk of a number of diseases and is therapeutic for a number of physical alterations from prostate cancer to diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

A number of studies have shown how exercise can help reduce the risk of depression and some neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Anxiety, eating disorders, and depression have also been shown to be reduced through exercise, as well as chronic pain and some symptoms of schizophrenia.

Both aerobic and anaerobic exercise are effective, and it seems that sessions of 30 minutes or more of high intensity workouts are most beneficial.

This healthy habit provides benefits due to its varied effects, like the release of serotonin, which improves sleep, and endorphins. The psychological effects of exercise include improved self-esteem, self perception, interruption of negative thoughts, and relaxation.

2. Diet

There is scientific evidence that proves that a healthy, balanced diet can improve well-being. The ideal diet would be made up of the following:

A diet with a mix of multicolored fruits and vegetables
Fish like salmon has omega-3 acids. Avoid fish with high mercury levels like shark, tuna, etc.
Reduce caloric intake

There are some foods like fish, vegetables, fruit, and a variety of reduced animal fats that are neuroprotectors. There are currently studies being done to test how Vitamin D, folic acid, S-Adenosyl methionine, and fish fat supplements.

healthy habits-Eating

3. Nature

For thousands of years, people knew how to use nature as a source of health and wisdom. Shamans searched for places with abundant nature, yogis delved into the jungle, and Native Americans had their visions in nature. There have been studies conducted about how being in nature can improve subjective, cognitive, emotional attention, and spiritual well-being.

Nature also offers us silence that cities and highly populated areas can’t. The constant movement of human presence has cognitive, emotional, and psychosomatic consequences, which can produce chronic stress, attentional difficulties, and sleep and cardiovascular difficulties. Nature provides with the peace to find ourselves.

4. Social Relationships

Social relationships are a healthy habits that is central to physical and mental well-being. Rich relationships have been shown to reduce health risks from the flu to stroke, death, and multiple other pathologies. Good social habits are associated with happiness, higher quality of life, resilience, cognitive capacity, and even knowledge and wisdom.

These conclusions are based in the field of social neuroscience, which shows that we are independent creatures, made to relate and empathize with others, and equipped with brain systems like mirror neurons.

This healthy habit of maintaining healthy social relationships is very important, and our society today makes us more isolated than every. For example, Americans spend less time with their family and friends, fewer intimate relationships, and are less involved in groups and communities.

5. Recreational activities

Participating in activities just for fun is a healthy habits that helps improve well-being. From a behavioral point of view, people with mood disorders don’t show interest in recreational activities, and participating in these activities has been shown to raise interest. So, the lower you feel, the more important it is to do something you enjoy!

These activities can be anything, from playing games to seeing friends. It also helps improve social relationships and maturation in children. Better sense of humor, reduced stress, and improved mood and immune system are all consequences of taking part in activities that you enjoy.

6. Relaxation and stress management

While stress is universal and often impossible to avoid, there are ways to manage it. Activities like Tai Chi and Qui Gong are becoming more and more popular in modern societies, and have been associated with physical and psychological benefits related to depression and anxiety. Some western stress management techniques are self-hypnosis, visualization, and progressive muscle relaxation. Other competitive techniques like yoga and meditation are practices by hundreds of thousands of people around the world, showing a variety of therapeutic effects.

Tips to promote healthy habits

  1. Do some kind of exercise and get some rest. You don’t have to go out an run a marathon, but getting moving for a few minutes each day will help you make it into a daily habit. And, who knows, maybe you’ll even start to like it!
  2. Reflect on your habits. Do you do anything too much (eating, drinking, etc.)? How do you feel after binging? Balance is key, and there’s time for everything.
  3. Slow down! Stress is the biggest cause of anxiety. If you’re starting to feel stressed, take a break and practice some stress relief techniques.
  4. Do something you life. Our passions are what keep us going, and your life can’t get in the way of having some time just for you.
  5. Spend time with family and friends.

Any questions? Feel free to leave me a comment below 🙂

References

Clark, C., & Stansfeld, S. A. (2007). The effect of transportation noise on health and cognitive development: A review of recent evidence. International Journal of Comparative Psychology, 20, 145–158

Deslandes, A., Moraes, H., Ferreira, C., Veiga, H., Silveria, H., Mouta, R., . . . Laks, J. (2009). Exercise and mental health: Many reasons to move. Neuropsychobiology, 59, 191–198

Gu, Y., Nieves, J. W., Stern, Y., Luchsinger, J. A., & Scarmeas, N. (2010). Food combination and Alzheimer disease risk: A protective diet. Archives of Neurology, 67, 699 –706

Hamer, M., & Chida, Y. (2009). Physical activity and risk of neurodegenerative disease: A systematic review of prospective evidence. Psychological Medicine, 39, 3–11

Jetten, J., Haslam, C., Haslam, S. A., & Branscombe, N. R. (2009). The social cure. Scientific American Mind, 20, 26 –33

Pryor, A., Townsend, M., Maller, C., & Field, K. (2006). Health and well-being naturally: ‘Contact with nature’ in health promotion for targeted individuals, communities and populations. Health Promotion Journal of Australia, 17, 114 –123

Stathopoulou, G., Powers, M., Berry, A., Smits, J., & Otto, M. (2006). Exercise interventions for mental health: A quantitative and qualitative review. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 13, 179 –193

Sui, X., Laditka, J., Church, T., Hardin, J., Chase, N., Davis, K., & Blair, S. (2009). Prospective study of cardiorespiratory fitness and depressive symptoms in women and men. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 43, 546 –552

Walsh, R., & Shapiro, S. (2006). The meeting of meditative disciplines and Western psychology: A mutually enriching dialogue. American Psychologist, 61, 227–239

This article was originally written in Spanish by Xabi Ansorena

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

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.

Fight or Flight: All You Need to Know About This Response

Fight or Flight. The sympathetic nervous system is one of two subdivisions of the autonomic nervous system, which is part of the peripheral nervous system. All of these subdivisions may seem confusing, but all you need to know about the sympathetic nervous system starts with the peripheral nervous system.

Fight or Flight

CNS vs. PNS

For starters, the nervous system has two main divisions consisting of the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS). The central nervous system is arguably easy to wrap your head around because it consists of just the brain and the spinal cord. The peripheral nervous system is comprised of everything other than the brain and spinal cord.

Due to how vague the definition of the PNS is, it has to be broken down into multiple different subsets. The two main divisions of the PNS are the somatic and autonomic nervous systems.

The somatic nervous system is also considered the voluntary nervous system because it allows us to interact with our external environment. This is done through voluntary movement of skeletal muscles and our senses.

The autonomic nervous system regulates our internal environment or controls the body functions that we do not have conscious control over. This is a rather complex task as well, so the autonomic nervous system has two subdivisions known as the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.

The sympathetic nervous system controls our “fight or flight” response to a dangerous event, but it is also active at a baseline level in order to maintain our body’s homeostasis. The parasympathetic nervous system is the complimentary partner to the sympathetic nervous system. After experiencing a “fight or flight” response, the parasympathetic nervous system takes over in a “rest and digest” response. This allows the body to return to rest.

Fight or Flight: Functions

Fight or Flight

Now that we have a handle on where the sympathetic nervous system lies within the complex wiring of the complete nervous system, we can look at its specific functions.

Traditionally, we experience fight of flight when presented with harmful or life-threatening situations. Our body reacts in ways that can either help up flee the situation, or power through and fight the situation.

The fight or flight response is the primary process of the sympathetic nervous system. It allows us to handle stressful situations by suppressing non-vital bodily functions and enhancing survival functions. During a fight or flight response digestion is slowed or halted. This allows for the energy and resources normally used in digestion to be repurposed to increasing heart rate, getting more oxygen-rich blood to muscles, or dilating pupils.

Our bodies are able to make this response through two pathways. One pathway uses neurotransmitters, and other pathway uses hormones. The difference between a neurotransmitter and a hormone is a bit tricky to understand, especially when talking about the sympathetic nervous system. This is because the same chemical can be a neurotransmitter and a hormone.

What are the types of neurotransmitters

How is this possible? Well, a neurotransmitter is any chemical that is released from a neuron and travels across a synapse. A hormone is a chemical that is secreted from a gland.

Physiology of Fight or Flight

How does the sympathetic nervous system really impact your body? How do these messages get sent to the various parts of your body?

The First Basic Response Pathway

A two-neuron chain of signaling is required for almost every message that the autonomic nervous system relays. The first pathway is made up of the following: a preganglionic cell, a ganglion, a postganglionic axon, and an effector organ.

A preganglionic cell is a neuron that is rooted in the spinal cord. Its axon synapses onto a ganglion, which just a term for a cluster of neurons located in the PNS. From there the axon of the ganglion, referred to as the postganglionic axon, synapses onto the effector organ. An effector organ is any organ that can respond to stimulus from a nerve.

More on synapses 

What neurotransmitters are used in this pathway? The preganglionic axon releases acetylcholine, which binds to acetylcholine receptors on the ganglion. The postganglionic axon then releases norepinephrine onto the effector organ. The effector organ is then either stimulated or inhibited based on the receptors present. The receptors are what determine the action of the neurotransmitter.

The Second Basic Response Pathway

This pathway is referred to as the sympathoadrenal response. This pathway is made up of a preganglionic cell, the adrenal gland, blood vessels, and effector organs.

The preganglionic cell functions the same way as a preganglionic cell in the first response pathway functions. It is rooted in the spinal cord and has an axon that synapses, and releases acetylcholine, onto the next part of the pathway. However, in the sympathoadrenal response, the next part of the pathway is the adrenal gland.

The adrenal gland is made up of the adrenal medulla and the adrenal cortex. When acetylcholine is bound to receptors in the adrenal medulla, it signals hormones to be released into the bloodstream. These hormones are norepinephrine and epinephrine. These two hormones are also found in other parts of the body as neurotransmitters. Norepinephrine is even used as a neurotransmitter in the first pathway. However, as stated previously, the same chemical can be both a neurotransmitter and a hormone. It just depends on where it was released from!

When epinephrine and norepinephrine are released into the bloodstream, they have a wide spreading and fast impact on the effector organs. Just like the first pathway, the effector organ can either be stimulated or inhibited based on the receptors present.

Fight or Flight and Anxiety

Sympathetic Nervous System

In many cases, our bodies have not quite caught up with modern day events. The stress our ancestors experienced running away from predators is much different from the stress you feel before an exam. However, our bodies have a hard time differentiating types of stress.

These stresses that we face today are predominately psychological and unfortunately longer lasting than running from a predator. The danger with perceiving a modern situation as threatening and then subsequently activating your fight or flight response is that the response will be active as long as you feel threatened.

Anxiety has been linked to both the inappropriate triggering of the fight or flight response, as well as the length of time spent in the response state. Panic attack symptoms are very similar to the physiological changes that occur during fight or flight, and while the panic attack will eventually subside, this does not completely stop the fight or flight response.

You can still feel the emotional impact that an unwarranted fight or flight response has on you after the response has subsided. This can include worry and a heightened sense of danger. Unfortunately, this can have not only a psychological toll but a physiological toll as well.

The sympathetic nervous system is so good at redistributing energy to vital survival functions, but if this response stays on for too long, or is continually being stimulated, some health problems may arise.

Digestive problems can occur because the gastrointestinal tract is not getting enough oxygen-rich blood to do its job. Similar types of problems can arise with other parts of the body that are not getting enough blood flow.

It is important to engage in stress relieving activities, as well as relaxing in order to help your parasympathetic nervous system “rest and digest” to counteract “fight or flight”.

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.

Joyful laughter boosts brain health and reduces stress hormone

Joyful laughter boosts brain health and reduces stress hormone

Joyful laughter boosts brain health and reduces stress hormone

We are all familiar with the saying, “laughter is the best medicine.” And this motto may not only be a good medicine for the health of your body but also a good medicine for your brain. Joyful or mirthful laughter produces brain wave frequencies similar to those seen among people who reach what is considered the desired “true state of meditation,” according to a new study.

The new research out of the Loma Linda University in Southern California, presented at the Experimental Biology 2014 conference meetings in San Diego on April 27th, 2014, suggests that Humor Associated with Mirthful Laughter (HAML) is gaining increasing attention as a non-pharmacological lifestyle intervention that integrates mind and body to promote greater wholeness, health, and wellness, and offers therapeutic value for alleviating symptoms from a variety of chronic medical conditions.

“Humor Associated with Mirthful Laughter sustains high-amplitude gamma-band oscillations. Gamma is the only frequency found in every part of the brain,” study researcher Lee Berk, DrPH, MPH, of Loma Linda University, said in a statement. “What this means is that humor actually engages the entire brain – it is a whole brain experience with the gamma wave band frequency and humor, similar to meditation, holds it there; we call this being, ‘in the zone.’”

For their research, scientists measured brain activity from nine cerebral cortex scalp areas in 31 participants. Subjects were connected to an EEG monitor as they watched 10-minute video clips that were humorous, distressful, or spiritual in nature. The EEG monitor measured and recorded the power spectral density of all brain wave frequencies from 1 to 40 Hz.

When the participants watched the humorous videos – which provoked Humor Associated with Mirthful Laughter – their brains produced significant gamma wave levels, similar to what you would see when a person meditates. Meanwhile, when they watched the spiritual videos, their brains produced significant alpha brain wave bands, similar to what you’d see when a person is at rest. And when they watched the distressing videos, their brains produced flat brain wave bands, similar to what you would see when a person is detached and does not want to be in a situation, researchers noted.

The findings showed that humor engaged the whole brain, including the entire gamma wave range frequency. Researchers were even able to pinpoint a figure for the optimal laugh: a 30-40 hertz frequency, the same brain wave frequencies seen among people who reach what’s considered the “true state of meditation.”

“When there is mirthful laughter, it’s as if the brain gets a workout because the gamma wave band is in synch with multiple other areas that are in the same 30-40 hertz frequency,” explained Berk. “This allows for the subjective feeling states of being able to think more clearly and have more integrative thoughts. This is of great value to individuals who need or want to revisit, reorganize, or rearrange various aspects of their lives or experiences, to make them feel whole or more focused.”

Since it is well known that laughter can be a stress reliever, the research team wanted to determine whether humor may reduce brain damage caused by cortisol.

Researchers analyzed one group of elderly individuals who had diabetes and another group of elderly people who were healthy. Both groups were required to view a 20-minute humorous video, before completing a memory test that measured their visual recognition, learning ability and memory recall. A third group of elderly individuals were asked to complete the memory test without watching the funny video. The team then compared the results of all three groups. Cortisol levels for all participants were recorded before and after the experiments.

Scientists found that both groups who watched the humorous video showed a significant reduction in cortisol levels, compared with the group that did not watch the video. The groups that watched the funny video also showed greater improvement in memory recall, learning ability and sight recognition, compared with those who did not watch the video. The diabetic group demonstrated the greatest improvement in both cortisol levels and memory test scores.

“It’s simple, the less stress you have the better your memory,” Berk said. “Humor reduces detrimental stress hormones like cortisol that decrease memory hippocampal neurons, lowers your blood pressure, and increases blood flow and your mood state.”

“The act of laughter – or simply enjoying some humor – increases the release of endorphins and dopamine in the brain, which provides a sense of pleasure and reward.” He said that these neurochemical changes in the brain also increase “gamma wave band frequency,” which can improve memory.

“So, indeed,” he added, “laughter is turning out to be not only a good medicine, but also a memory enhancer adding to our quality of life.”

Brain vacations: stress, boredom and travel.

Brain vacations: stress, boredom and travel.

This common experience shows that our brains can run on ‘automatic pilot’, taking us through life’s familiar routines without bothering to link up with our conscious attention.

The two most common reasons for this are stress on the one hand, and boredom on the other. Stress over-stimulates us and can disrupt our ability to attend to the world. Given that attention is the gateway to memory, this is why some of these memory blanks often happen during periods of stress or worry.

But we can also travel on automatic pilot not because we are stressed, but because our minds have wandered due to lack of stimulation and challenge.

This is an example of a common feature of how our brains work – the so-called ‘inverted U’ shaped curve where we function at our best – remembering our journey to work for instance – when there is an optimal, medium amount of mental stimulation.