Uncertainty

November 1, 2020 § Leave a comment

Worried about the future? The science behind coping with uncertainty

Living with uncertainty can be unnerving and anxiety-inducing, whether it’s climate change, Brexit, exam results or simply waiting for a call. Fortunately there are ways to build resiliience

By Helen Thomson

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TWO minutes, 58 seconds. Two minutes, 59 seconds. Three minutes. One blue line or two? Our lives are full of moments where we hold our breath, waiting, our future in the balance. Whether it is three minutes for a pregnancy test, three months for an exam result or three years to find out what will happen with Brexit, time spent waiting for the news that could change everything can be filled with excitement and hope, or fear and anxiety.

Now though, we are starting to understand how our capacity for coping with such uncertainty varies, and the toll that not coping well can take on our physical and mental health. With that comes the revelation that our ability to tolerate periods living in limbo has actually decreased over the past few decades. That has profound implications for many aspects of our lives – from the medical advice we are given and choices we make about it to how we cope with times of personal struggle, political upheaval and even longer-term existential threats like climate change.

Read more: Quiz: How well do you cope with uncertainty?

Thankfully there are ways to identify how tolerant we each are to spells of uncertainty that invade our lives, and methods we can use to manage and build resilience to them. It may be true that nothing in life is certain, but we can all learn how to traverse life’s limbos better and emerge from them relatively unscathed.

“It’s more stressful not knowing if a shock is coming than knowing you’ll definitely get zapped”

Limbo is, of course, the first circle of hell in Dante’s Divine Comedy. It is a place where people have no hope yet live in longing. It is described as a gloomy, dimly lit wood – dark, deep and foggy. What are first mistaken for cries of anguish are in fact sighs of sadness.

Not knowing isn’t nice. We are curious. We like to know what is going on, what might happen and what the long-term effects of our actions might be. Our brains are geared towards predicting the future; our very perception of the world is generated by combining memories of our past with information from our senses, to make an educated guess about what is about to happen. Experiencing uncertainty makes us feel very uncomfortable.

In fact, we find uncertainty so unsettling that people would rather know they are going to receive an electric shock than wait for the possibility of one. This was shown when researchers at University College London got people to play a computer game where snakes were hidden behind certain rocks. Each time participants found a snake, they got a small electric shock. The computer measured uncertainty using the players’ guesses and their stress response based on how much they sweated and their pupil size. People were more stressed if they were uncertain whether a shock was coming than if they knew they were definitely going to get zapped.

“It’s the state that uncertainty generates,” says Benjamin Rosser at Liverpool John Moores University in the UK. “If you’re in a situation where something bad is definitely going to happen, you know what you’re dealing with and you can start thinking about ways of coping. If you are in a situation where the outcome could be positive or negative, you’re in a preparatory frame of mind and you’re less prepared for either outcome.” Think about a time of recession – in some ways it can be more stressful waiting for the possibility of lay-offs at work than just being told “you’re sacked”.

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We all differ in our ability to cope with not knowing how things will turn out. Scientists call this trait our “intolerance of uncertainty”. Where we sit on a spectrum of intolerance affects how we experience everyday situations, from waiting for a bus to waiting for news of a loved one in hospital. “It means that in life’s ambiguous scenarios, two people with the same information can react in two completely different ways,” says Rosser.

Say your partner should have been back from work 20 minutes ago. Those with a low intolerance of uncertainty will assume they are stuck in traffic. A person with a high intolerance of uncertainty might immediately think they have been involved in an accident and worry until they arrive home.

Of course, sometimes having a high intolerance of uncertainty is a good thing, says Michel Dugas at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. “There are certain jobs where it’s a benefit. Obviously, you don’t want your air traffic controller to say, ‘well I don’t know what’s going to happen, but that’s OK.’” Equally, if you are a detective or a brain surgeon, a high intolerance for uncertainty is critical for some aspects of the job.

But for the most part, an extreme dislike of the unknown is undesirable. It can provoke fear, anxiety and a perception of vulnerability. People who are less tolerant of uncertainty will engage in “safety behaviours”, says Dugas. “These are strategies that prevent undesirable outcomes in our future – phoning your partner all the time to check in with them, is a prime example.”

While some safety behaviours allow us to minimise uncertainty and the associated anxiety, too many, paradoxically, just make things worse. “Safety behaviours in the absence of a realistic threat are actually maladaptive,” says Dugas.

This has been demonstrated in a lab experiment. Healthy people were told to engage in daily safety behaviours to prevent the spread of germs – washing their hands every time they touch a door handle, for instance. At the end of a week, they showed increased avoidance in contamination-related tests, and overestimated contamination threats. Too many safety behaviours mean that we never learn that uncertainty isn’t always dangerous, and if you never have to experience negative outcomes, you never realise how good you might actually be at coping with them, says Dugas.

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Watch and wait: how you cope with uncertainty influences treatment choices

It is hard to put a figure on exactly how many people have extreme intolerance to uncertainty – it isn’t in psychiatry’s diagnostic manual as a condition in its own right. Instead, it is what doctors call a “vulnerability factor” for other conditions, such as generalised anxiety disorder. It is the most important factor contributing to whether people develop anxiety disorders in the first place, and whether they persist. These disorders affect 1 in 20 people.

Worst-case scenario

So how can you work out how well you deal with uncertainty? You could use a scale developed by Dugas and his colleagues, in which you decide to what extent you agree with 27 statements such as “It’s unfair that life is uncertain” (see “How much do you fear uncertainty?”, for a short version).

Another technique that therapists use is called a “catastrophising interview”, in which you are asked to consider a current worry, such as the outcome of a job application. They then ask you what it is that worries you about this situation. You might say you need the extra money. They would then ask you what worries you about that. “What if I can’t pay my rent?” you say. They ask you what worries you about that. “Where would I borrow the money from? What if I default on my credit card? Would my children have to move schools?”

“We continue to drill down into the details of your worry until we get to the bottom of it,” says Frances Meeten, a psychologist at the University of Sussex, UK. “We note how many ‘what if’ scenarios you generate from your initial worry, how many future negative outcomes you imagine. The more you have, the higher your intolerance of uncertainty.” Normally, this test is used before and after an intervention to see whether it is working, says Meeten, rather than using it to figure out how uncertainty might affect your life.

Many factors can influence how uncertainty affects us. “It’s like any other personality trait,” says Dugas. “There’s an interplay between our traits and our life experience. If I’m quite intolerant of uncertainty but my life is extremely predictable, I won’t have any problem. If my life is chaotic, I might experience severe anxiety from the same level of intolerance.” (See “Paralysed by the unknown“)

There are, however, wider medical implications of intolerance of uncertainty. “It’s influential for all kinds of health outcomes,” says Paul Han at the Maine Medical Center Research Institute.

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For a start, your doctor’s personal uncertainty threshold has huge implications for your health. For instance, women are more likely to end up with a vaginal birth after a previous caesarian section if their doctor has a low intolerance of uncertainty. This trait also makes doctors more likely to offer a new genetic test, prescribe generic drugs, adopt a cutting-edge therapy and feel comfortable talking to patients about grief and loss.

However, doctors who are more intolerant of uncertainty are more likely to recommend a pregnancy termination following abnormal results from prenatal genetic tests, and are less willing to use newer therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, for eating disorders. Doctors may also give different advice depending on how well they think their patients can cope with uncertainty – in some cases even withholding information or not offering interventions with uncertain outcomes.

Paralysed by the unknown

The impact of an extreme intolerance of uncertainty can range from everyday worry to severe anxiety to, at its worst, a coma-like state. In 2016, researchers in Sweden reported on a rise of resignation syndrome, or “uppgivenhetssyndrom“, among child and adolescent asylum seekers facing deportation.

More than 400 cases have been reported in which children fall into depression, then gradually withdraw into a stupor until eventually they require a feeding tube and no longer respond to even painful stimuli.

This particular state appears to be specific to Swedish refugees, although it exists in similar forms throughout the world, appearing as a reaction to sudden periods of uncertainty. The encouraging news is that, in the Swedish cases, the resolution of uncertainty – “restoration of hope to the family”, in the words of researchers who studied the phenomenon – was enough to start a process of full recovery.

Your own intolerance of uncertainty can also affect health outcomes. For instance, people who have a high tolerance of uncertainty have better emotional well-being after a cancer diagnosis and experience less distress after receiving genetic test results. It is also associated with a better quality of and less irritability in people with epilepsy, as well as lower language impairment and fewer motor symptoms in Parkinson’s. On the other hand, a high intolerance may make people more likely to adhere to their medication.

It also affects people’s ability to cope with particular treatment regimes, says Han. Sometimes, men with localised prostate cancer can choose a “watch and wait” approach, whereby they have regular scans rather than immediate treatment that can have side effects including incontinence and impotence. This approach means enduring long periods of limbo between scans. Several men in this position, who spoke to New Scientist confidentially, described this choice as one of the most difficult decisions they’d ever had to make – and one that sometimes caused a rift with loved ones, whose ability to cope with uncertainty differed from their own.

Contending with the unknown can place great strain on relationships, says Dugas. When couples with a high intolerance of uncertainty have difficulties, they might leave each other immediately rather than wait and see what might happen, he says. Or people have difficulty developing relationships in the first place, because they aren’t prepared to go through that initial period of uncertainty – will they call, do they like me, should I ask them out to lunch? “This makes them very hesitant to form relationships, and when they do make the effort, they want too much certainty about the future from the start, which scares the other person off.”

The good news is that our discomfort with the unknown can be manipulated, so we can learn how to boost our resilience. In one experiment, students were told to read a story in which the main character had either a high or low intolerance of uncertainty and try to put themselves in that person’s mindset. Their own intolerance of uncertainty was then tested. After the manipulation, the group reading about a character who is more rattled by uncertainty generated far more steps in subsequent catastrophising interviews about their own real worries.

In the real world, you need to treat your intolerance of uncertainty as you would a phobia, says Dugas. “If you’re scared of dogs, we’d expose you to them slowly and carefully to help you develop the understanding that most dogs are not dangerous. The same holds true for intolerance of uncertainty.”

To cure people’s fear of uncertainty, we get them to experiment with their safety behaviours, says Dugas. He describes one person who was overanxious about her son going out by himself. She made him call her as soon as he left the house and stay on the phone while he was on the bus, until he reached his friend’s house. Dugas encouraged her to let her son hang up when he got on the bus and call back when he arrived. The next time the son just called when he arrived, then finally didn’t call at all. “There’s no magic bullet, it’s about putting ourselves in a situation where we can learn that uncertainty isn’t dangerous, and we know this leads to a decrease in anxiety over time.”

Minimising safety behaviours without outside intervention isn’t easy. “It’s not impossible, but it’s difficult,” says Dugas. “Safety behaviours are really sneaky, they’re hard to identify and we mostly don’t realise we’re doing them.”

Silver linings

We are using safety behaviours more and more, though. Over the past two decades, our intolerance of uncertainty has increased significantly, according to Nicholas Carleton at the University of Regina in Canada and his colleagues. Their recent analysis of 52 studies of students showed that intolerance went up by about a fifth between 1994 and 2014.

The team believes cellphones and internet access, which both grew rapidly over the same period, might be to blame – increasing safety behaviours by offering us immediate access to emergency services, loved ones and information that isn’t always helpful. “Cellphones nourish our safety behaviours,” says Dugas. To practise what he preaches and minimise his own safety behaviours, he doesn’t own a cellphone. “You know what, nothing awful has happened yet,” he says.

There are strategies to help you cope with uncertainty that don’t involve ditching your phone or resorting to professional help (see “How to build resilience when life is in limbo”). Throwing yourself into an engrossing task can provide a welcome distraction and make time pass more quickly, for instance. And practising mindfulness meditation can help keep you in the moment, stopping you from agonising about future outcomes.

Don’t forget that a degree of intolerance can be useful, however. It helps to lower your expectations. Bracing for the worst can minimise the impact if bad news arises, but timing is everything. To avoid unnecessary worry, you need to assume the best for as long as possible before bracing for the worst towards the end of the wait, says Kate Sweeny at the University of California, Riverside.

Finally, it may be helpful to concentrate on finding the silver lining in any potential bad news. In the 2016 US presidential election, Hillary Clinton supporters who preemptively looked for the good in Donald Trump being elected were less shattered when he won, Sweeny found. But be cautious, this strategy can backfire: Trump supporters who tried to find an upside to Clinton winning were less thrilled when their candidate did.

Alongside the everyday uncertainties that we face, many of us are living in a particularly uncertain time. In the UK, Brexit has loomed large for more than three years, putting the future of the country in the balance. Could the perpetual uncertainty about the nation’s ties with the European Union be causing the population harm?

“With Brexit there’s an enormous amount of uncertainty, so you might find there are more people having to deal with more uncertainty and more anxiety as a result,” says Dugas. “But it might go the other way and make people less anxious, because they go on with their life even though they are experiencing more uncertainty. They realise they can cope with this big, long-term limbo, so the small things are also easier to cope with.”

Deal or no deal, pass or fail, two blue lines or one – one thing is for certain: uncertainty isn’t going away. If you need to build some extra resilience to it, Meeten has some final advice: Instead of weighing yourself down with worry or trying to problem-solve every eventuality, try sitting with that uncertainty for a while. You’ll see that, most of the time, nothing particularly bad happens. And talk to others about how they cope. “Taking a step back and realising that your way of dealing with uncertainty isn’t set in stone, that others might not feel the same way about that same situation, that it’s a personal perspective that is changeable, is one of the strongest messages we can give people.”

How to build resilience when life is in limbo

Make a note of “safety behaviours” you rely on to cope when you don’t know how things will turn out. Then attempt to reduce these little by little.

Challenge yourself to let your uncertainty play out without using any safety behaviours.

Assume the best for as long as possible; only brace for the worst at the end of the wait.

Distract yourself to pass the time more quickly.

Practise mindfulness meditation to keep yourself grounded in the present.

Find a silver lining in case the awaited outcome is negative.

Talk to others about how they cope with uncertainty; try to take their perspective.

Sit with your uncertainty for a short time and see what happens.

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ACE and Inflamation

June 24, 2019 § Leave a comment

CHILDHOOD abuse has long been suspected of increasing a person’s risk of developing disease later in life. Now researchers studying inflammation in the bloodstream think they might know why.

Previous studies have suggested that childhood trauma increases a person’s risk of developing heart disease, diabetes and other disorders normally associated with obesity in adulthood.

To investigate further, Andrea Danese at King’s College London and his colleagues monitored 1000 people in New Zealand from birth to the age of 32, noting any factors that created stress, and recorded levels of C-reactive protein in their blood. The protein is a marker of inflammation and has been linked to heart disease.

They found that people who reported having been physically or sexually abused, or rejected by their mothers at a young age, were twice as likely to have significant levels of C-reactive protein in their blood (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0610362104).

Danese believes that stress induces abnormal levels of inflammation in children, which has repercussions in adulthood. “Inflammation is a natural response to physical trauma such as cutting yourself or getting an infection,” he says, “but psychological stress can also trigger inflammation, because stress is really the anticipation of pain.”

He suggests that constant stress could also reduce a child’s ability to produce glucocorticoid hormones, which are the main mechanism the body uses to turn off inflammation. His team now plans further work to measure glucocorticoid levels in people who were exposed to stress during childhood.

“This is much stronger than simply saying that people who have a harder time in childhood are more miserable or depressed as adults,” says Andrew Steptoe at University College London, who has studied the relationship between emotional triggers and heart disease. “They have elegantly connected childhood stress to a real adult risk of disease.”

Danese hopes his work will help people identify those at risk of developing heart disease at an earlier age.

For more information on ACE click here 

ACE Aware Scotland

June 19, 2019 § Leave a comment

ACE aware Scotland just put together the most amazing conference in Glasgow last week. Gabor Mate was the guest speaker the Hungarian-born Canadian physician with a background in family practice and a special interest in childhood development and trauma, and in their potential lifelong impacts on physical and mental health, including on autoimmune disease, cancer, ADHD, addictions and a wide range of other conditions.

I counted 3 standing ovations during the day, amazing considering the bulk of the audience was made up of downtrodden thrid sector / nhs managers. For one day, listening to the speakers, they had hope. Hope that sense would prevail. Gabor spoke about illness caused by exposure to ACE’s and how it manifests itself in later life, in autoimmune diseases, mental health issues and even MS. Dealing with the elephant in the room, the trauma itself rather than the effects of the trauma results in a much better outcome – research led – evidence based. One of the biggest cheers came when Gabor spoke about when he gave evidence to a government committee in the USA. He spoke about ACEs and how we should include an understanding of them in treatment. They didn’t listen and just kept asking the same questions over and over again. Eventually he said ‘you expect me as a physician to practice evidence based medicine, but you don’t practice evidence based politics’.

For more about ACE go to mindschange.co.uk

Girl Geek Networking Dinner

August 31, 2013 § Leave a comment

Last Night I attended a Girl Geek dinner and networking event. It was absolutely wonderful and inspirational. GirlGeeks.org, encourage women to develop their careers in technology, as well as:

Develop GirlGeeks content for training via classes as well as online and video-based seminars.

Even “after the bubble”, the world is a new place, and technology for communication and community-building are more important than ever. Girl Geeksensure that women and other often-overlooked groups have the freedom, motivation and resources to participate in this new world.

Organised by Morna Simpson founder of FlockEdu.co.uk she introduced the illustrious panel by saying that today the Tech Community in Scotland has developers from a range of backgrounds.  Alongside maths, physics and computing graduates, I know linguists who love natural language programming, fine-artists who are into open-source sculptors who develop physics-engines and weavers who do front-end development.

But the digital sector is made up from many more people than that. There is a place for marketing, sales, designers, and a host of others too.At heart many of these people are motivated and united by the idea of building new things that can change the world for the better.

Don’t forget the heroes of digital technology are all visionaries who saw the potential of digital technology to democratise knowledge, create better economic systems and a fairer society.

Girl Geek Scotland is a place where we hope to bring together all of kinds people for inspiring discussion and productive networking.

We are delighted to bring such an influential group of WOMEN together to share their knowledge with Scotland’s current and future entrepreneurs. Now I told you I would give a more detailed introduction to our guests. But honestly each person has such an extensive CV that it could take all night. So instead I have tried to select some highlights for you.

Heidi Roizen, Venture Partner with Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Director for TiVo, Eventful, TrustID, ShareThis and XTime

She is a Venture Partner with leading global venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson. She is also currently a

corporate director for TiVo (NASDAQ:TIVO), DMGT (LSE:DMGT), Eventful, TrustedID, ShareThis and XTime. Her prior board experience includes Great Plains Software, the Pacific Exchange, the Software Publishers Association and the National Venture Capital Association, in addition to numerous academic and non-profit boards. Roizen also currently teaches the class “Spirit of Entrepreneurship” in the engineering department at Stanford University.

Karen White, President and Chief Operating Officer, Addepar

Karen has spent over 25 years in the technology industry as a successful operating executive and investor focused on enterprise and business software. Karen was most recently CEO and Chairman of Syncplicity, where she grew the company to more than 30,000

business customers over 3 years. Previously, Karen led worldwide corporate and business development at SolarWinds, a top network management software company. She joined the team while they were still privately held and the company debuted its successful IPO in May 2009. Before SolarWinds, Karen served as managing director at Pequot Ventures, a private equity firm with $1.8 billion under

management, where she established and led the software investing team in Silicon Valley.

Ann Winblad, co-founder and Managing Director of Hummer Winblad Venture Partners

Ann Winblad is the co-founder and a Managing Director of Hummer Winblad Venture Partners. Hummer Winblad Venture Partners (www.humwin.com ) is a leading venture capital firm focused on software investing and manages over $1 billion in cumulative capital. Since Hummer Winblad Venture Partners’ inception in 1989 the firm has launched over 100 new software companies.

Wendy Lea, CEO of Get Satisfaction recognised as a Top 100 Woman of Influence in Silicon Valley

Wendy Lea is the CEO of Get Satisfaction. Wendy currently serves as an angel investor, strategic advisor and board

member for a long list of startup companies. Wendy serves on the board of Silicon Valley Social Venture Capital (SV2.org) and Corporate Visions. She has been recognized as a Top 100 Woman of Influence in Silicon Valley and was awarded the Watermark’s “Woman Who Made Her Mark” award.

Dr. Suzanne Doyle-Morris – Chaired the session and 

is author of both’ Beyond the Boys’ Club: Strategies for Achieving Career Success as a Woman Working in a Male Dominated Field’ and’ Female Breadwinners: How They Make Relationships Work and Why They are the Future of the Modern Workplace’.

She is a Saltire Fellow has recently founded a new tech company, inclusIQ uses gamified e-learning to help managers reduce unconscious bias in the workplace to create smarter and more competitive teams.

At the end of the night there wasn’t one person who didn’t feel a little more energised, a little more determined to succeed with their venture.

Well done Girl Geeks and well done Morna. I am very much looking forward to the next event.

For information on Courses run by MindsChange Training Company

For information on coaching and hypnotherapy.

For a Sound Recordist in Scotland

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Scientists link obesity to gut bacteria

December 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

Scientists link obesity to gut bacteria

By Pippa Stephens in London

Obesity in human beings could be caused by bacterial infection rather than eating too much, exercising too little or genetics, according to a groundbreaking study that could have profound implications for public health systems, the pharmaceutical industry and food manufacturers.

The discovery in China followed an eight-year search by scientists across the world to explain the link between gut bacteria and obesity.

 Researchers in Shanghai identified a human bacteria linked with obesity, fed it to mice and compared their weight gain with rodents without the bacteria. The latter did not become obese despite being fed a high-fat diet and being prevented from exercising.

The bacterium – known as enterobacter – encourages the body to make and store fat, and prevents it from being used, by deregulating the body’s metabolism-controlling genes.

“This is a very important phenomenon,” said Professor Zhao Liping, who with a team at Shanghai Jiao Tong University carried out the research. “It is the last missing piece of evidence bacteria causes obesity.”

Other academics not linked to the project were quick to seize on its potential implications.

Dr David Weinkove, lecturer in biological sciences at Durham University, said: “If obesity is caused by bacteria, it could be infectious and picked up from some unknown environmental factor, or a parent. It might not be behavioural after all.”

Dr Weinkove said Prof Zhao’s research paved a way to intervene in obesity and could allow new drugs to be developed for treatment.

The study was published in the peer-reviewed journal of the International Society for Microbial Ecology.

Governments around the world are grappling with an obesity pandemic. Chronically overweight people are at a greater risk of suffering from a heart attack, cancer, and diabetes.

According to government and academic studies, nearly 50 per cent of all adults in the US and UK will be obese by 2030.

The UK government estimated that the total cost of obesity – the cost of healthcare as well as the wider burden on the economy – could amount to £50bn a year by 2050 if the pandemic was left unchecked, according to a report by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

Although the Shanghai research was on a small scale, it is bound to add to a heated debate between the health profession and food and drink manufacturers and fast-food chains over responsibility for obesity.

Prof Zhao said treatment with a specially developed diet could be cheaper and more effective than surgery for the morbidly obese and could be available within three years.

There are 10 times more microbes than human cells in our bodies and they can be beneficial. There are between 200 and 300 different species in a typical person.

The Shanghai team fed a morbidly obese man a special diet designed to inhibit the bacterium linked to obesity and found that he lost 29 per cent of his body weight in 23 weeks. The patient was prevented from doing any exercise during the trial.

Prof Zhao said such a loss in an obese patient using this diet was unprecedented. The patient also recovered from diabetes, high blood pressure and fatty liver disease.

The diet of whole grains, traditional Chinese medicines and non-digestible carbohydrates changed the pH in the gut which limited the bacterium’s activity.

Enterobacter also release chemicals, called endotoxins, which cause insulin resistance and a slower uptake of glucose from the blood after eating. Patients take longer to feel full, so they eat more.

A control for calorie intake was not possible as administering the diet with normal bacteria would cause unsustainable hunger, as the bacteria stops fat stores being mobilised and satiating the body, Mr Zhao said.

http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/0b7af978-493a-11e2-9225-00144feab49a.html#axzz2FSbEakR0

 

For info on how to get fit go to   http://www.hypnosis-glasgow-scotland.co.uk/articles.html

 

 

A Lovely Post from Psychologytoday.com

December 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

Mindfulness Training and the Compassionate Brain

Meditation cultivates concentration, empathy, and insight at a neural level.

Published on December 18, 2012 by Christopher Bergland in The Athlete’s Way

There is a gamut of recent neuroscientific studies that support the transformative power of mindfulness and compassion meditation. Different types of meditation are being shown to create different changes in the brain. In this entry I will compare different types of meditation and look at the science behind how they cultivate concentration, empathy, and insight at a neural level. 

In the wake of the Sandy Hook school shootings, we are all looking for ways that we can stop the violence and bloodshed. One angle that I see is to demystify ‘meditation’ and teach young children simple techniques for practicing mindfulness and compassion directed thought.

The weekend after the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut the Dalai Lama spoke to a gathering of Thai Buddhist monks in New Delhi, India about “Reaching the Same Goal with Different Paths.”

The Dalai Lama said that “In the twenty-first century, even in countries with no previous tradition of Buddhism, interest is growing among ordinary people and scientists. The ethics and discipline described in the Vinaya are the foundation for training both in concentration (shamatha) and insight (vipassana). He clarified that with the help of concentration our mind has the ability to remain still and by applying analysis we achieve understanding.”

“However,” he said, “we must remember the rest of humanity. If we can create a more peaceful world, everyone benefits. And to achieve this I think we need to take a more secular, rather than a religious, approach to fostering ethics. Compassion really brings about inner peace and inner strength. Those who practice compassion become calmer and less subject to fear.”

He backed this up by reporting that scientists have also found that when you have compassion, your physical as well as your mental health improves. In recent years multiple studies have come out showing the benefits of mindfulness and compassion meditation.

Mindfulness Training and the Compassionate Brain

Cultivating empathy through compassion meditation affects brain regions that make a person more sympathetic to other peoples’ mental states. Richard Davidson, the William James and Vilas Research Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at University of Wisconsin-Madison, is a pioneer in this field of meditation as a tool for brain plasticity.  Davidson and associate scientist Antoine Lutz have been working on this research for years.

“Many contemplative traditions speak of loving-kindness as the wish for happiness for others and of compassion as the wish to relieve others’ suffering. Loving-kindness and compassion are central to the Dalai Lama’s philosophy and mission,” says Davidson, who has worked extensively with the Tibetan Buddhist leader. “We wanted to see how this voluntary generation of compassion affects the brain systems involved in empathy.”

Davidson and Lutz’s work suggests that through mindfulness training, people can develop skills that promote happiness and compassion. “People are not just stuck at their respective set points,” Lutz says. “We can take advantage of our brain’s plasticity and train it to enhance these qualities.”

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain imaging shows that positive emotions such as loving-kindness and compassion can be learned in the same way as playing a musical instrument or being proficient in a sport. The scans revealed that brain circuits used to detect emotions and feelings were dramatically changed in subjects who had extensive experience practicing compassion meditation.

The research suggests that individuals — from children who may engage in bullying to people prone to recurring depression — and society in general could benefit from such meditative practices, says Davidson.

The capacity to cultivate compassion, which involves regulating thoughts and emotions, may also be useful for preventing depression in people who are susceptible to it, Lutz adds.”Thinking about other people’s suffering and not just your own helps to put everything in perspective,” he says, adding that learning compassion for oneself is a critical first step in compassion meditation.

The researchers are interested in teaching compassion meditation to youngsters, particularly as they approach adolescence, as a way to prevent bullying, aggression and violence.

“I think this can be one of the tools we use to teach emotional regulation to kids who are at an age where they’re vulnerable to going seriously off track,” Davidson says. Compassion meditation can be beneficial in promoting more harmonious relationships of all kinds, Davidson adds.

“The world certainly could use a little more kindness and compassion,” he says. “Starting at a local level, the consequences of changing in this way can be directly experienced.”

Various techniques are used in compassion meditation. Controls in the Davidson and Lutz study were asked first to concentrate on loved ones, wishing them well-being and freedom from suffering. After some training, they then were asked to generate such feelings toward all beings without thinking specifically about a particular individual.

Creating Educational Video Games That Foster Empathy

In 2010 Richard Davidson challenged video game manufacturers to develop games that emphasize kindness and compassion instead of violence and aggression.

With a recent grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Davidson is working with Kurt Squire, an associate professor in the School of Education and director of the Games Learning Society Initiative, to design and rigorously test two educational games to help eighth graders develop beneficial social and emotional skills – empathy, cooperation, mental focus, and self-regulation.

“By the time they reach the eighth grade, virtually every middle-class child in the Western world is playing smartphone apps, video games, computer games,” says Davidson. “Our hope is that we can use some of that time for constructive purposes and take advantage of the natural inclination of children of that age to want to spend time with this kind of technology.”

The project grew from the intersection of Davidson’s research on the brain bases of emotion, Squire’s expertise in educational game design, and the Gates Foundation’s interest in preparing U.S. students for college readiness-possessing the skills and knowledge to go on to post-secondary education without the need for remediation.

“Skills of mindfulness and kindness are very important for college readiness,” Davidson explains. “Mindfulness, because it cultivates the capacity to regulate attention, which is the building block for all kinds of learning; and kindness, because the ability to cooperate is important for everything that has to do with success in life, team-building, leadership, and so forth.”

He adds that social, emotional, and interpersonal factors influence how students use and apply their cognitive abilities.

The project will focus on designing prototypes of two games. The first game will focus on improving attention and mental focus, likely through breath awareness.

“Breathing has two important characteristics. One is that it’s very boring, so if you’re able to attend to that, you can attend to most other things,” Davidson says. “The second is that we’re always breathing as long as we’re alive, and so it’s an internal cue that we can learn to come back to. This is something a child can carry with him or her all the time.”

The second game will focus on social behaviours such as kindness, compassion, and altruism. One approach may be to help students detect and interpret emotions in others by reading non-verbal cues such as facial expressions, tone of voice, and body posture.

“We’ll use insights gleaned from our neuroscience research to design the games and will look at changes in the brain during the performance of these games to see how the brain is actually affected by them,” says Davidson. “Direct feedback from monitoring the brain while students are playing the games will help us iteratively adjust the game design as this work goes forward.”

Their analyses will include neural imaging and behavioural testing before, during, and after students play the games, as well as looking at general academic performance.

The results will help the researchers determine how the games impact students and whether educational games are a useful medium for teaching these behaviours and skills, as well as evaluate whether certain groups of kids benefit more than others.

“Our hope is that we can begin to address these questions with the use of digital games in a way that can be very easily scaled and, if we are successful, to potentially reach an extraordinarily large number of youth,” says Davidson.

THE BEST WAY TO GET FIT – A Scientific Approach

October 25, 2010 § Leave a comment

For many decades, scientists have been conducting research into fitness and how best to achieve it. Largely, the findings make their way to peer reviewed journals and not as far as the general public other than in dribs and drabs. What’s interesting is that scientists have actually broadly reached a consensus. This article looks at the do’s and don’ts of fitness and busts a few myths along the way.
One of the first studies of fitness was published in 1953. They looked at bus conductors and bus drivers. The results published in the Lancet (vol 265, p1053) showed that the conductors suffered half as many heart attacks as drivers. The link between the sedentary life of the drivers vs the constant climbing of stairs and health was made.
These days, the advice is 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week. Studies suggest that only one third of adults achieve this. This, in spite of fitness and exercise being implicated in the prevention of strokes, cancer, diabetes, liver and kidney disease, osteoporosis, brain disease, dementia and depression.
For the full article follow this link – Hypnosis Glasgow

Stress and Ageing

September 4, 2010 § Leave a comment

Young people deal better with stress than their older counterparts according to Nancy Pachana of the University of Queensland, Australia.  In elderly people under stress “there is more low-level anxiety and depression”.  Research on rats found that when put in a stressful situation, after two weeks, older rats had much higher levels of the stress hormone, corticosterone than the younger rats. Also, they showed increased activity in the area of the brain associated with anxiety. This may well be due to the NLP anchoring effect. Anchoring, happens when the unconscious mind is exposed to a highly emotional state, extreme happiness, sadness or stress for instance. At that point, the unconscious mind searches the fice senses for the trigger for this particular emotion and neurologically links it to that trigger. It is then primed for the next time. Essentially we get better at doing the emotional state. That’s great in an evolutionary sense if the sight of a tiger will produce an excellent fight or flight response, but not so good in our daily lives in the office.

Having nurtured this ability to produce a highly tuned stress response over the years, Hirotka Shoji of the National Centre for Geriatrics and Gerontology in Obu, Japan suggests that the brains ability to damp down the release of corticosterone is reduced with age.

Dylan Evans in his book “Placebo”  highlights the research on baboons which shows that those males at the bottom of the social hierarchy have thickened blood and exhibit behaviours which look very similar to depression. One theory is that this is a prolonged acute phase response to being constantly kicked and scratched. The continual activation of this acute phase response then becomes a way of life. This may explain why humans who are under constant stress may also be in a constant state of acute phase response with the attendant symptoms of sickness behaviour (depression) and thickened blood. Could this be the reason why people suffering from stress and depression are far more likely to die of a heart attack?

The importance of decreasing the stress response in our lives must be our mission. If you are still young, to avoid setting up patterns of behaviour and if you are old because you have a reduced ability to deal with it.

For more information about ways to deal with stress –

NLP      or     Hypnosis

Glasgow Women’s 10K 2010

May 9, 2010 § Leave a comment

I would just like to say a big congratulations to all my clients who completed the 10K today.

www.mindschange.com

Confidence Building

February 24, 2010 § Leave a comment

 

If you have little confidence you may recognise this kind of self talk – I really don’t want to meet these people, I don’t know them, they probably wont like me, what if I say something stupid, what if they reject me…. and so on. My goodness your poor unconscious mind. No wonder its terrified. You have just mentally rehearsed a number of scenarios where the evening went terribly. You weren’t just politely ignored, you were wholeheartedly rejected and probably they were extremely rude and told you to your face. The chances are that you have never ever been treated so dreadfully in your adult life, ever. Chances are, you may have been rejected verbally and unkindly in school and that’s when this particular pattern of your behaviour began. However as adults we have grown out of being so blatantly rude in company but our unconscious mind is still that rejected seven year old and hasn’t grown up. That’s because we learn conscious polite social behaviours but do next to no work on our unconscious mind, we let it just run riot, thinking whatever it wants and not reining it in to serve our purposes.

Put it this way, if you had a seven year old child who was going to a party and you talked to them the way you talk to yourself what outcome would you expect. ‘Darling, at the party today, everyone will probably hate you, they will think everything you say is stupid… have a lovely time.’ You just wouldn’t do that would you and we really don’t need to explain why, it’s pretty obvious. And yet that is the way so many of us mentally prepare for job interviews, public speaking, meeting new people. Brilliant! 

The thing you need to know about your unconscious mind is that it doesn’t really know the difference between a real and a vividly imagined event. So if you daydream about an event going badly your unconscious mind thinks it actually  happened to a very large extent. You may repeat that process many times during the day so by the time the real event happens as far as your unconscious mind is concerned, you have had a number of similar experiences which went so badly that you ended up feeling awful, so no wonder it’s seriously concerned.

How many times have you come away from a situation which you had been worried about thinking how well it went compared to how you had imagined it. May I suggest that you change your pattern of behaviour and see what happens. Make a deal with your mind to only imagine a positive outcome for an upcoming event. You do not have a time machine, so you can’t ever know how something will turn out. You have two choices, think well of it or not. Which of those choices is going to make you feel better and give you more resources? If you do something successfully ten times then you relax and feel confident, it’s a natural response. Whatever choice you make it’s a fantasy so you may as well fanaticise in a way which leaves you better prepared.

 This is about training your mind and not letting it run riot. You have had negative thoughts in the past which have become a habit  and that needs to change now and it can with a little effort initially.

Imagine a musician preparing for a recital who plays one wrong note whilst rehearsing because that note is  easier to play than the one written. Would they carry on rehearsing playing the wrong note because it was easier or would they spend the rehearsal time perfecting playing the right one? Sometimes its easier to think about all the things which could go or have gone wrong because that is the habit we have developed. But I am suggesting making the effort to make pictures in your head of all the things which could go well, speak to yourself in a positive way and feel in your body the feeling of a successful outcome. And when reviewing a past event only think about the things which went well. After a party for instance, only think about the people who made you feel good and completely ignore the others.

Give it a go for a month, a week , what have you got to loose. notice the difference it makes. Then please post a comment to let me know what happened.