Sunday, January 29, 2017

Should you plan your leisure time, or does that take the fun out of it?

Should you plan your leisure time, or does that take the fun out of it?

MARCH 30, 2016

n the common narrative, we are all scheduled to the hilt. Our work lives are dictated by 15-minute slots on Outlook. So should you treat your leisure time the same way, scheduling in that workout and drinks with a friend?
No! Say researchers at Washington University. According to a series of studies (written up in Time -- originally in Health -- see link here), people who schedule their leisure time enjoy it less. It feels too much like work.
Longtime readers know I am quite a planner, and so I have to admit, I have been puzzling over this contribution to the marketplace of ideas since alert reader ARC sent me that link. I feel this conclusion is lacking some nuance, much like people used to think that fat makes you fat, and now we know it is not so simple. Other research has found that anticipation accounts for a major chunk of human happiness. It is hard to anticipate something you haven’t planned.
There are likely some other things going on too. Some people hate to plan and some people love to plan. If a study (and maybe the population at large) had more “Ps” than “Js” in the old Myers-Briggs taxonomy, you might decide that planning was problematic, when in reality it is problematic for some people and not for others. I also think it is quite possible that the researchers hit upon the phenomenon that we never feel perfect bliss in the moment. You can be unhappy at a party you have looked forward to for months because your feet hurt. (I would point out -- if you planned to go, and enjoyed the anticipation, however, you still reaped real enjoyment! Just not during. But does it have to be during to count?).
But anyway, let us say this conclusion is true: planning our leisure means we enjoy it less. So what? The problem with accepting the logical conclusion -- stop planning your leisure time! -- is that in order to enjoy leisure time at all it has to happen. And if you have a busy life with moving parts -- for instance, if you are a working parent of small children -- you have to plan or there will be no leisure in your life beyond watching TV. That is the easiest thing to do, and it does not require any planning to do during the downtime that presents itself after the kids go to bed or are occupied with other things.
Now I grant that watching TV with a glass of wine can certainly be fun. I will even grant that if you have a dinner reservation at a hot restaurant with your two best friends -- which required coordinating with their schedules, and calling the restaurant, and booking a sitter if you are the sole adult in charge -- you may, while sitting on the couch watching TV, feel like it is a bit of trouble to roust yourself, get dressed, give the sitter instructions, and so forth. If a researcher talked with you at that moment, you might express your displeasure. However, in the grand scheme of things, you will probably still be happy you went. The evening will be a source of more happy memories than sitting on the couch with the wine would be.
I think this gets at the distinction between effortless fun, and effortful fun. Because effortful fun involves, well, effort, and effort can be unpleasant, it is always easier to under-invest in this side of life. But if we refuse to engage in effortful fun because of that unpleasantness, this would basically mean a life of no parties, no performances that could not be decided on as you were walking past the venue at the last possible second, no getting together with friends who have busy schedules, no book clubs, no volunteer gigs, etc. I find it hard to believe that such a life would be more enjoyable than one that was better planned.
In other news: The New York Times ran a very nice profile of my brother-in-law and his work in health care.
In other, other news: I am writing a piece about how to become an "intellectual middleman/woman." A lot of innovation is about combining ideas from disparate fields. So how do you expose yourself to different ideas? Some suggestions so far: following different thought leaders on Twitter, buying new magazines to fill the white space of airport wait time, etc.

Thursday, January 26, 2017


10 Homework & Study Tips for Students with ADHD/ADD

Jan 02, 2017

Every child will likely have trouble with homework at some point. But for children with ADD and ADHD, the problem can go beyond a few assignments. Among other things, children with ADD and ADHD face challenges with focusing, patience, and organizing. These challenges can make it hard for students to perform to the best of their potential in, and out of, the classroom.
Children with ADD and ADHD can be hasty, rushing through their homework and making mistakes. They may lose homework, struggle to organize thoughts and tasks, and fail to plan ahead.
The challenges your child faces can be overcome with practiced habits and proper study skills for ADD/ADHD students. With these 10 ADD/ADHD homework tips, your child can learn how to focus on homework with ADD/ADHD and achieve success in the classroom.


Children with ADD and ADHD can be easily distracted by their surroundings. Find a comfortable place where your child can work with few distractions. Use this as a quiet study space away from noise and movement where your child can clear his or her mind and focus.

It is important for kids with ADD/ADHD to have a consistent routine. This will help your child start his or her homework and focus. Set a time each day for your child to sit down and complete his or her work.
ADD and ADHD can make it hard to focus, so breaks are a must. Studying in short spurts can help. Give your child regular breaks from homework for a snack or a walk, and let the mind refresh and reset! This will give your child a chance to burn off extra energy and improve concentration when he or she returns.
It’s hard to always know what is happening with your child at school. Talking to his or her teacher can help make sure you’re informed. Ask the teacher about sending regular reports on your child and updates on homework assignments. If possible, meet with them every few weeks and for progress reports. Knowing what is going on in the classroom can help you and your child’s teacher make changes to make sure your child is learning effectively.
Organize school supplies and make checklists and schedules for homework and assignments. Help your child get his or her bag ready for school the next morning and make sure all homework is complete. You can make organization fun for your child with coloured folders, special pencils, stickers and cool labels.
Encourage your child to always try his or her best. Although your child should be completing his or her work independently, it is okay to help when asked. Help your child look at challenges in a positive light to keep him or her motivated. This will show that you are willing to always help him or her do better.
Whether it is auditory, kinesthetic or visual, knowing how your child learns is important. Change studying habits to fit his or her learning style with graphs, visuals, music, walking, or talking out loud. Every child learns differently. Studying in a way that works for him or her can help improve understanding and retention.
Read our Complete Study Guide For Every Type Of Learner for more study tips!
Children with ADD/ADHD can become easily frustrated and overwhelmed. Encourage your child to keep going as long as he or she can, but don’t push your child too much. If he or she has hit his or her limit, stop for the night. If homework hasn’t been completed for the following school day, send the teacher a note to explain.
Congratulate your child after he or she finishes his or her homework. You can also do something special, like a small treat or trip to the park. Even if your child was not able to finish his or her work, praise his or her efforts and strive for a new goal the next day.
Sitting for long periods of time can be challenging for students with ADD/ADHD. Letting your child get up to move around can help him or her maintain focus. Try making studying into a physical activity, where your child counts out steps when practicing math problems like addition and subtraction. Having something he or she can fidget with while doing work can also help. Stress balls are a great item your child can take with him or her wherever he or she goes.


Children with ADD and ADHD feel at times they cannot control their own actions. They can become easily distracted, which can lead to poor grades, frustration, and disappointment. These ADD/ADHD study tips will help your child conquer these academic challenges, with improved concentration, time management and organizational skills. Most importantly, they will also help boost self esteem and confidence.
Remember, these changes won’t happen overnight. It will take time for your child to adjust to new routines and habits. Once you, and your child, understand how to study and do homework with ADD/ADHD, your child will be on the way to more effective learning.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017



When kids can’t focus and are having trouble in school they are often labeled as having a learning disability. And these days it seems that, more often than not, children with problems focusing or paying attention are given the ADHD/ADD label.
Some children genuinely have a complex medical condition in which their brain works overtime, impeding their ability to focus on a single thought or activity. But too many kids that are placed in the ADHD/ADD spectrum are kids who have simply not learned, or have not been taught how to pay attention.
Like reading, spelling, counting and writing, paying attention is a skill that children need to learn.
Here are some simple techniques to use in the classroom that will help children stay focused on the task at hand.
Share these strategies with your child’s teacher. Most likely, your child’s teacher will be very receptive to any tips that will help distracted children to pay attention.
  • Get Their Attention. Before addressing your child, say his name. When you say the child’s name you give him a cue that you are about to give information or directions.
  • Repeat Instructions. You’ve just given your child some instructions. Does she understand them? Have her repeat them back to you or explain them back in her own words.
  • Eyes Front. Have your child look directly at the person who is speaking to them. When the eyes wander, the brain follows.
  • Emphasize It. When giving key instructions be sure to repeat key words. Stretch them out. Say them louder.
  • Remove Distractions. If the classroom fish tank is distracting, ask to have your child seated out of its direct sight-line, or have it moved to another area.

Monday, January 23, 2017

How to Introduce Peanut-Containing Foods to Your Infant to Avoid Allergy

New guidelines from the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases provide insight

By Matthew Greenhawt, M.D.
Nearly 2 percent of U.S. children suffer from a peanut allergy, and the number of cases may have tripled in the last decade. Peanut allergy can be severe, is not often outgrown and has no cure or treatment beyond careful peanut avoidance. That said, we now know it may be possible to prevent peanut allergy from developing based on when peanut-containing foods are first given to a child.
Recommendations on when to first give an infant peanut-containing foods to help prevent peanut allergy have changed. We used to tell parents to wait until the child was age 3 if the child had a family history of allergy (one or both parents or a sibling). Then we recommended parents not delay introducing any food past 4 to 6 months, but we didn't say exactly when parents should first give peanut-containing foods. Now, based on new research, we have updated our recommendations regarding the right time to first introduce peanut-containing foods.
New guidelines released Thursday by the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases recommend peanut-containing foods be introduced as early as 4 to 6 months of life. The new recommendation is based on three recent studies examining the best time to introduce peanut-containing foods to prevent peanut allergy. The most convincing of these studies was the Learning Early About Peanut (LEAP) trial from England. In it, infants with moderate-to-severe eczema (a type of skin rash) and/or egg allergy were randomly introduced to peanut-containing foods between 4 to 11 months, or told to deliberately avoid peanut-containing foods until age 5. Those who ate peanut-containing foods in the first year of life had an 80 percent lower risk of developing peanut allergy. This study showed early peanut introduction is very safe (most reactions that occurred were mild) and there were no negative effects on growth. Children fed peanut-containing foods early breast-fed as long as those who had delayed introduction.

Based on the results of the new studies, all of which showed early peanut introduction resulted in lower rates of peanut allergy, NIAID assembled a panel of experts to update the national recommendations on when peanut-containing foods should be introduced. The panel decided early peanut introduction seems to be a strong factor in preventing peanut allergy from developing and has issued the following three recommendations:

1. Infants with severe eczema, egg allergy or both should have introduction of age-appropriate peanut-containing foods as early as 4 to 6 months to reduce the risk of peanut allergy.
2. Infants with mild to moderate eczema should have introduction of age-appropriate peanut-containing foods around 6 months, in accordance with family preferences and cultural practices, to reduce the risk of peanut allergy.
3. Infants without eczema or any food allergy may have age-appropriate peanut-containing foods freely introduced in the diet, together with other solid foods in accordance with family preferences and cultural practices.
The recommendations have a few highlights. First, early peanut introduction is recommended for all infants, with special emphasis on children with severe eczema and/or egg allergy, who are at the highest risk to develop peanut allergy. Second, peanut-containing foods should not be a baby's first food. Babies should all have started at least one or two other solid foods, so they do not gag or reject the texture of solid food, which could be mistaken for signs of a possible allergy. Third, babies should never be given the whole peanut – this is a choking hazard. The new recommendations make multiple suggestions for an appropriate form of peanut-containing foods for babies to try.


Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Importance of Early Intervention for Pediatric Mental Health

Prevention and Early Intervention in Mental Health- Early Childhood to Puberty

Early Childhood to Puberty

Early childhood through puberty is an important time in childhood development, as it comes with more time spent outside of the home and increasingly complex thought processes for kids.[i] Children become more socially aware, starting to compare themselves to their peers and becoming more interested in their place in the world.[ii] Self-esteem, individuality, and relationships all grow in importance, and children begin to reason as they are exposed to different people and ideas. These changes increase the importance of not only having a healthy and stable support system at home but also trying lots of new things in a safe way.[iii] This is a sensitive period in brain development as children are more receptive to receiving new information and internalizing experiences.[iv] During this stage, children begin to understand themselves and the rules of the world, leaving them particularly vulnerable to intense experiences.[v]
  • Nutrition: Nutrition during early childhood through puberty is important for both daily functioning and brain development. Nutrition is not only calories but the quality of the food as well. Generally, a healthy diet should consist of fewer processed foods and more nutrient-dense foods like vegetables, fruits, fish, and good fats.[vi], [vii] In a review of 12 studies examining the impact of diet and on children’s mental health, healthy diet was associated with better mental health in children in multiple studies and children with high levels of unhealthy food intake consistently reported higher levels of internalizing behavior, like social withdrawal or anxiety, and externalizing behavior, such as aggression or fighting.[viii],[ix] This information is particularly concerning in the United States, where empty calories from added sugars and solid fats make up almost half of what children consume on a daily basis, and 6.5 million children live in food deserts—areas more than a mile away from a super market—making it more difficult to access quality food.[x]
Safety & Security:
  • Adverse Childhood Experiences: A large amount of research has been done on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) and their impact on later health problems. The ten experiences included in studies of ACES are:
  • 1) Physical Abuse
    2) Verbal Abuse
    3) Sexual Abuse
    4) Physical Neglect
    5) Emotional Neglect
  • 6) Living with a family member who is incarcerated
    7) Living with a family member who is diagnosed with a mental illness
    8) Living with a family who abuses substances
    9) Exposure to violence against one’s mother
    10) The absence of one parent through divorce, separation, or other factors
  • Studies consistently find that the more Adverse Childhood Experiences an individual has the more likely he or she is to develop health problems later in life, including heart and lung disease. ACES have also been strongly linked to long-term mental health and substance use disorders. Higher ACES are associated with earlier first time tobacco and alcohol use,[xi]  and increase one’s likelihood of heavy drinking and self-reported alcoholism by two to fourfold.[xii] Compared to those with no ACES, individuals with exposure to five or more Adverse Childhood Experiences are seven to ten times more likely to report illicit drug use or addiction.[xiii] There is also a relationship between the amount of ACES experienced and the likelihood of suicide attempts into adolescence and adulthood.[xiv] In terms of specific mental health disorders, each experience increases the likelihood of both lifetime and recent major depressive episodes, and experiencing seven or more ACES is linked to a fivefold increase in reporting hallucinations.[xv],[xvi] These early experiences, which occur at surprisingly high rates across all socioeconomic groups, have a clear impact on long-term development and health outcomes.
  • Community Violence: A child’s sense of safety in their community also affects their mental health. Studies estimate that 50% to 96% of children living in urban areas have been exposed to some form of community violence, with rates of exposure staying stable over time.[xvii] Exposure to community violence is split into three areas: victimization, witnessing violence, and hearing about violence. A child’s reaction is related to both the level of exposure and age. While victimization has the largest association with externalizing and internalizing behaviors, all three types have significant effects on experiencing symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including being constantly on guard and repeatedly thinking about the trauma.[xviii] These effects are likely related to the ‘collective traumatization’ that results from consistently being exposed to the idea that no one is safe and the world is a dangerous place.[xix] Young children are more likely to show internalizing behaviors, while adolescents are more likely to respond with externalizing behaviors like ‘acting out.’ Even though children may not be able to express feelings in a way that adults can understand, children still need help and support after exposure to violence.[xx]
  • Homelessness: Children experiencing homelessness are exposed to many factors that impact both their short- and long-term mental health, including increased exposure to trauma and fewer school supports. By age 12, 83% of children experiencing homelessness will have experienced at least one serious violent event.[xxi] Around 80% of children experiencing homelessness report symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and over 60% report symptoms of depression.[xxii] This results in three times the rate of emotional and behavioral problems as non-homeless youth in schools.[xxiii]  Children experiencing homelessness are four times as likely to show delayed development and twice as likely to experience learning disabilities compared to other children.[xxiv] Long-term, about 75% of these students drop out of school.[xxv]
  • Family: As children are being exposed to different types of people and events outside of the home, stable, engaged family supports are important for mental health. For example, studies show that children living in single parent homes, where the parent may not be as available due economic and other pressures, have twice the rate of emotional, behavioral, and attentional disorders compared to children in two-parent homes.[xxvi]

During this stage, sometimes referred to as middle childhood, schools provide an important opportunity for addressing the mental health and well-being of children. In terms of prevention and early intervention, schools allow us to provide all students with the tools they need to be mentally well and to watch for early signs that a child might need extra support. Programs that target an entire class, in addition to providing a spectrum of mental health services as needed, can change each child’s long-term development, even for those who are at-risk for developing mental health disorders. A well-researched example of a school-based prevention program is PAX Good Behavior Game (GBG). PAX GBG, which is on SAMHSA’s National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices, is a game that targets early elementary school students using a classroom game of ‘kernels’ to promote positive behavior and decrease unwanted behavior called ‘spleems.’[xxvii] PAX GBG has been found to improve a number of outcomes. For example, schools that use PAX GBG had a 50 to 90% decrease in disruptive or disorderly behavior in school settings, a 10 to 30% decrease in the need for special education services, and a 30 to 60% reduction in referrals, suspensions, or expulsions.[xxviii] The Washington State Institute for Public Policy found that the benefits of the program far outweighed the costs, with the state seeing $58.56 of benefits for each $1 they spent on the program.[xxix] Long-term, PAX GBG improves mental health and related outcomes, particularly for those with the highest levels of aggression. After participating in PAX GBG in first grade, those with the highest levels of aggression were half as likely to use special education services by the age of 21, more than twice as likely to graduate from high school, and 20% less likely to have a personality disorder by age 21.[xxx] It has also been linked to reductions in suicidal thoughts and actions.[xxxi]

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Stop Complaining, Especially To Each Other


By Scott Christian

Why cutting back on your complaints is a healthy move for any relationship.
I'm a complainer. I always have been. It's probably one of my greatest flaws. And though I've gotten a lot better over the years, not complaining is still something that I consistently have to work at. Because it's like a reflex. Something bad or stupid or annoying happens, and my mind wants to give voice to it. A pathological urge to vocalize the transgression rises up from the depths of my lizard brain, and it takes everything in me to keep it from leaping out.
All of which to say, if you're a complainer, I feel your pain. If you're not one, then God bless you, you're a much better person than I'll likely ever be. On the plus side, my years of complaining has given me a bit of insight as to why we complainers do it. And it somewhat falls into the category of “misery loves company." But it's more than that. Complaining, besides being unpleasant to listen to, is a deeply self-absorbed act. And it mostly comes from a place of insecurity.
Complaining, more than anything, is a cry for validation. The complainer not only wants to point out the bad thing that happened, the complainer also wants everyone within in earshot to commiserate over said injustice. Basically, it's a vocal request for love and acceptance. When you complain, you want to be elevated above the person or thing that's bugging you. In your mind, it's almost as if the bad thing happening is a chance to show the world that you are worthwhile. After all, elevation can only be achieved by people agreeing with/validating you.
It's a toxic way to live, and it's especially dangerous within the context of a relationship. Because complaining doesn't solve anything. In fact, it often makes things worse. A healthy reaction to an annoying or angering thing is to feel annoyed or angry. But then you have to let it go. Especially if it's something you can't fix; like traffic or bad weather. You feel the emotion, you acknowledge it, and then you move on. When you complain, however, you don't let it go. You hold onto it, you marinate in it. You give it far more weight than it deserves. And then, even worse, you end up drawing your partner into that toxic marination.

The key to avoiding such toxicity is to not give voice to the thing that's bothering you. Don't entertain it in anyway. It's perfectly okay to feel angry or annoyed. In fact, that's healthy. What's not healthy is extending the lifespan of that feeling. And complaining can extend its lifespan indefinitely. If there's nothing you can do about it, move on. When you move on, you end up purging a lot of that negative energy. Which means you don't bring other people down by constantly voicing negative things. And you also don't hold yourself down by stewing on them.
A relationship that's empty of needless complaining is one that allows for joy and positivity to infiltrate it. With time, that joy and positivity can actually begin to take up more and more space. The less you complain, the less you'll actually want to complain. Because the brain is all about habit. And, much like any other bad habit, the more you avoid it, the less you'll want to return to it.
Trust me, it takes practice. And you have to give yourself grace for failing, because you will. But it's worth it. The world will look like a much better place when you stop complaining. And your relationship will be infinitely better for it.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

13 Concerning Signs of Mental Illness in a Child

Nearly 1 in 5 children has an emotional or behavioral disorder

Susan Newman, Ph.D

ost parents have an instantaneous desire to protect their children. We tend to our children’s needs: If an unexplained rash appears, we see the doctor. If a fever spikes, we see the doctor. If a bone seems injured, we see the doctor.
Visible wounds are relatively easy to recognize. It's different when a child begins having problems at school or with friends, or if he or she becomes uncooperative and has inexplicable outbursts. Such occurrences often leave parents feeling confused and unsure about what to do.
Nearly one in five children is affected with an emotional or behavioral disorder. You may recognize that something is not right, but what it is or what to do remains a mystery. 
Warning Signs and Parent Radar
A doctor, relative, or friend may tell you it’s "a stage," but you feel that the “stage” has lasted too long, the behavior is too disruptive, or failing grades don’t improve no matter what you or the school tries.
The following warning signs may indicate a problem needing specialized attention. The list is culled from Ann Douglas’s book, Parenting Through the Storm: Find Help, Home, and Strength When Your Child Has Psychological Problems. You are looking for indications that your child may be experiencing one or more of these symptoms, which are also atypical for his or her developmental stage and not related to a move, divorce, or other stressful event:
  1. Your child is having more difficulty at school.
  2. Your child is hitting or bullying other children.
  3. Your child is attempting to injure himself.
  4. Your child is avoiding friends and family.
  5. Your child is experiencing frequent mood swings.
  6. Your child is experiencing intense emotions such as angry outbursts or extreme fear.
  7. Your child is lacking energy or motivation.
  8. Your child is having difficulty concentrating.
  9. Your child is having difficulty sleeping, or is having a lot of nightmares.
  10. Your child has a lot of physical complaints.
  11. Your child is neglecting his or her appearance.
  12. Your child is obsessed with his or her weight, shape, or appearance.
  13. Your child is eating significantly more or less than usual.
(For a more complete list including infant warning signs and helpful forms, click here.)
By listening to your parent radar, and with Ann Douglas’s help, you can voice your concerns and begin the journey of finding (and fighting for) the help your child may need. Few are better able to guide parents through the agonizing uncertainty and turmoil of a child with a mental health problem than Douglas. In addition to raising four children, all of whom had serious mental health challenges—bipolar disorder, anorexia, ADHD, Asperger’s, and depression—she has done parents’ homework for them, integrating other family stories and advice from child psychologists and other professionals in the field. She also explains unfamiliar clinical jargon and how to navigate the mental health system.
Even once you have a diagnosis, it is critical to listen to your parent radar. Mark, the father of a 12-year-old diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder, an anxiety disorder and a moderate developmental disability, told Douglas that his son “didn’t have the ability to say what he really needed…until your child can help you with that part, trust your gut and be that voice.”
Navigating the “Storm”
Should you find yourself and your child on the emotional roller coaster of a mental-health challenge, you will, as the book’s subtitle suggests, need help and hope. You must take care of yourself and stay strong for your child, and also know when to befriend others who have faced similar challenges so you don’t feel isolated and alone. Douglas compassionately explains how to develop essential coping skills to support your child while also taking care of the rest of your family and your marriage.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Six relaxation techniques to reduce stress

Practicing even a few minutes per day can provide a reserve of inner clam.

Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter
We all face stressful situations throughout our lives, ranging from minor annoyances like traffic jams to more serious worries, such as a loved one's grave illness. No matter what the cause, stress floods your body with hormones. Your heart pounds, your breathing speeds up, and your muscles tense.
This so-called "stress response" is a normal reaction to threatening situations, honed in our prehistory to help us survive threats like an animal attack or a flood. Today, we rarely face these physical dangers, but challenging situations in daily life can set off the stress response. We can't avoid all sources of stress in our lives, nor would we want to. But we can develop healthier ways of responding to them.
One way is to invoke the "relaxation response," through a technique first developed in the 1970s at Harvard Medical School by cardiologist Dr. Herbert Benson, editor of the Harvard Medical School Special Health Report Stress Management: Approaches for preventing and reducing stress. The relaxation response is the opposite of the stress response. It's a state of profound rest that can be elicited in many ways. With regular practice, you create a well of calm to dip into as the need arises.
Following are six relaxation techniques that can help you evoke the relaxation response and reduce stress.
1. Breath focus. In this simple, powerful technique, you take long, slow, deep breaths (also known as abdominal or belly breathing). As you breathe, you gently disengage your mind from distracting thoughts and sensations. Breath focus can be especially helpful for people with eating disorders to help them focus on their bodies in a more positive way. However, this technique may not be appropriate for those with health problems that make breathing difficult, such as respiratory ailments or heart failure.
2. Body scan. This technique blends breath focus with progressive muscle relaxation. After a few minutes of deep breathing, you focus on one part of the body or group of muscles at a time and mentally releasing any physical tension you feel there. A body scan can help boost your awareness of the mind-body connection. If you have had a recent surgery that affects your body image or other difficulties with body image, this technique may be less helpful for you.
3. Guided imagery. For this technique, you conjure up soothing scenes, places, or experiences in your mind to help you relax and focus. You can find free apps and online recordings of calming scenes—just make sure to choose imagery you find soothing and that has personal significance. Guided imagery may help you reinforce a positive vision of yourself, but it can be difficult for those who have intrusive thoughts or find it hard to conjure up mental images.
4. Mindfulness meditation. This practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing, and bringing your mind's attention to the present moment without drifting into concerns about the past or the future. This form of meditation has enjoyed increasing popularity in recent years. Research suggests it may be helpful for people with anxiety, depression, and pain.
5. Yoga, tai chi, and qigong. These three ancient arts combine rhythmic breathing with a series of postures or flowing movements. The physical aspects of these practices offer a mental focus that can help distract you from racing thoughts. They can also enhance your flexibility and balance. But if you are not normally active, have health problems, or a painful or disabling condition, these relaxation techniques might be too challenging. Check with your doctor before starting them.
6. Repetitive prayer. For this technique, you silently repeat a short prayer or phrase from a prayer while practicing breath focus. This method may be especially appealing if religion or spirituality is meaningful to you.
Rather than choosing just one technique, experts recommend sampling several to see which one works best for you. Try to practice for at least 20 minutes a day, although even just a few minutes can help. But the longer and the more often you practice these relaxation techniques, the greater the benefits and the more you can reduce stress.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

9 Signs That You Might Be a Perfectionist

you may not have a meticulously organized junk drawer or a closet full of clothes organized by color or sleeve length, but perfectionist traits may still be affecting your life—and holding you back. Can you relate to any of these habits?

  1. You think in all-or-nothing terms. Something is either right or wrong, good or bad, perfect or a disaster. You tend to think in one extreme or the other, rather than seeing the characteristics of people and situations existing along a continuum. For example, you tend to think, "She is mean,” instead of, “She can sometimes be mean.”
  3. You think, and then act, in extremes. Have you ever acted on a sentiment like this, more than once?: "I had one cookie and screwed up my diet...I might as well eat them all.”
  5. You can’t trust others to do a task correctly, so you rarely delegate. Others may see you as a micro-manager or control-freak, but you see your actions as just wanting to get the job done right.
  7. You have demanding standards for yourself and others. You believe in always giving your best and you expect others to do the same. And you are scared to death of looking like a failure.
  9. You have trouble completing a project because you think there is always something more you can do to make it better. You obsess about sharing your book, project, meal, invitation, business card, website, article, or speech with others. You want to make sure your work is the best it can be before revealing it.
  11. You use the word “should” a lot. “I should do this," and “They should do that,” may be common phrases, both out loud and inside your head. You have certain “rules” you believe that you, and others, should follow. And when those rules aren't followed, you are not pleased.
  13. Your self-confidence depends on what you accomplish and how others react to you. You strive for excellence and need validation from others to feel good about your accomplishments. What’s more, once you have achieved a goal, you quickly move on to the next one.
  15. You tend to fixate on something you messed up. You may have done something right, but still focus instead on the one mistake you made.
  17. You procrastinate, or avoid situations where you think you might not excel. It may seem counterintuitive, but many people who procrastinate or avoid doing something are actually perfectionists: They're afraid they will fail. Their rationale is, “I might not be able to do it perfectly, so why bother at all?”

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Benefits of Mind-Wandering

Robert M. Sapolsky on recent brain research about letting your mind wander—and why it’s good for you

it’s well known that an idle mind is the devil’s playground. Which makes me wonder if an idling engine is the devil’s mode of transportation. Which I’d realize is nonsensical, except that now I’m thinking of this beautiful California mountain town called Idyllwild, reminding me how Kennedy Airport used to be Idlewild Airport, which is mentioned in the theme song of the 1960s TV show “Car 54, Where Are You?” Which makes me wonder if 54 is a prime number. But then I feel embarrassed—it’s an even number, ninny!—reminding me of that really embarrassing thing I once did.
A wandering mind can bollox up all sorts of useful activities—like trying to finish the first paragraph of a newspaper column with a clearly stated thesis. In studies asking subjects at random what they’re thinking, researchers have found that during some tasks, we spend about half our time “mind-wandering,” that is, having thoughts unrelated to the work at hand.

How is mind-wandering generated in the brain? One finding is provocative. Stick people in a brain scanner, and when their minds are wandering, one region that activates is the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC). This is surprising, because it’s a relatively recently evolved brain region, central to executive functions like long-term planning, working memory and decision-making. It’s the last brain region that you would expect to get involved with something as frivolous as mind-wandering.
Perhaps the activation of this brain region is actually a response to mind-wandering rather than a mediator of it. Suppose the mind-wandering brain circuit, wherever that is, activates and the dlPFC tries to put a brake on it, essentially saying: “Hey, we’re trying to get something done—enough daydreaming!”
A recent study examined these issues and produced what was, to me, an unexpected finding. Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vadim Axelrod of Bar-Ilan University in Israel and colleagues stimulated the dlPFC in subjects by giving them a repetitive task (monitoring number sequences on a screen and pressing the space bar whenever a certain digit appeared). Researchers asked the subjects intermittently what they were thinking about and, predictably, rates were high for “task-unrelated thoughts.” Their minds were wandering.

The scientists also used “transcranial direct current stimulation,” in which an electrode is attached to the scalp, sending low electrical currents that activate neurons directly underneath. Electrodes were positioned over the dlPFC (or, for a control group, over an unrelated brain region) and turned on or off during the repetitive task. (Importantly, subjects typically couldn’t detect the current.)
The result? Stimulating the dlPFC increased the amount of mind-wandering. And did performance on the task plummet? No; it even improved a smidgen.

What does it mean that this hard-nosed, task-oriented, executive brain region helps to mediate mind-wandering? Why should the dlPFC want us to daydream? Probably because it can be beneficial.
For starters, mind-wandering fosters creative problem solving. It also aids decision-making by allowing you to run future-oriented simulations in your head: “Hmm, so how might things be if I decide to do X? How about if I do Y?” It’s ideal not just for thinking about possible outcomes but also for thinking about how different outcomes would feel.
There are also other benefits. You’re doing a tedious, repetitive task and you’re tempted to stop. This is a version of what psychologists call “temporal discounting”—that is, going for instant gratification instead of holding out for the larger delayed reward. In such situations, mind-wandering distracts from the temptation and, as shown experimentally, helps people resist temporal discounting. During more challenging tasks, in which mind-wandering would decrease performance, I’d predict that the dlPFC instead inhibits mind-wandering.
In short, this can-do executive region of the brain seems to have evolved to take into account two pieces of wisdom known to smart human executives: Distraction makes tedium more tolerable, and truly creative solutions to tough problems are often found by following a wandering path.