How To Overcome Loneliness

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, says of loneliness, “The more I’ve learned about happiness, the more I have come to believe that loneliness is a terrible, common, and important obstacle [to happiness].” We have all experienced loneliness in our lives. We know that it is an experience that is not about being alone. We can be by ourselves in solitude and never feel lonely. Or we can be with a crowd of people and feel completely, totally alone in the world.

What Sparks Loneliness

If loneliness is not related to being alone, then what circumstances create this sad and sometimes debilitating feeling? How can we be proactive in avoiding these circumstances and enriching our emotional lives with greater happiness?

In a study conducted by the National Institute of Aging, researcher John T. Cacioppo notes: “The main psychological difference between lonely and non-lonely people is that the former perceive stressful circumstances as threatening rather than challenging and cope passively and withdraw from stress rather than trying to solve the problem.” The study identified the relationship between those who score high for loneliness and those who have the highest blood pressure.

An Epidemic Of Emptiness

While about one in five Americans is reported to be lonely, a study from the British Mental Health Foundation shows Britain is currently in the grip of an “epidemic of loneliness.” This type of loneliness is described as a “patchwork of feeling unhappy, stressed out, friendless and hostile.”

Andrew McCulloch, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, says: “Human beings are, of course, social animals, and we’ve evolved to live in extended family groups. If we’re not in a group like that we begin to feel anxious, depressed and begin to find it increasingly difficult to regulate our own behavior.”

The Way Of Elimination

Most studies on loneliness point to a lack of belonging, an absence of being valued, cared about, and appreciated for our contributions to the group. As human beings, we have a need to belong with others and be part a community. Being with others in a meaningful way is identified as a key to eliminating loneliness. Mahatma Gandhi said: “The best way to find your self is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

By participating in activities that help others, giving of ourselves and serving those in need, we create meaningful relationships that provide us with purpose, fulfillment and greater happiness. Nourishing others has demonstrated the ability to eliminate loneliness and enhance our quality and enjoyment of life.

For a free download on creating excellent communication in relationships, visit www.changingbehavior.org.

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Is Instant Energy Bad For Your Health?

Available everywhere and promising instant energy, energy drinks have grown in popularity over the last decade. They allow us to get more done faster, but at what costs? The largest population they are pitched to is the "under 30" group. This includes high school and college students as well as athletes, both school age and professional.

Our over-worked culture is moving beyond coffee for its morning wake up and afternoon pick-me-up to the energy drink solution. This product comes with it's own health concerns. Energy drinks contain significant amounts of caffeine and sugar and can include other stimulants such as ephedrine, guarana, and ginseng, which have all been shown to have potential health concerns. Here are some points of consideration you may want to be aware of before gulping down a can or two of the elixir.

Things To Consider:

  • Energy drinks contain as much caffeine as a cup of coffee. Consumed quickly, the caffeine and sugar provide a jolt of energy by stimulating your stress system. This can also raise your blood sugar and blood pressure levels, causing your heart to beat faster and work harder.
  • The contents of these energy drinks can produce symptoms that may include anxiety, insomnia, irritability and nausea that can be severe enough to require medical attention or hospitalization.
  • Energy drinks, if taken during exercise, can dehydrate the body and deplete much needed calcium and potassium.
  • Because of the energy provided by the caffeine and sugar in energy drinks, they have become popular as mixers with alcohol. This can lead to an individual not being aware of the level of intoxication, which might allow them to drive under the influence.
  • Bad reactions to energy drinks have been reported to U.S. poison control centers published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
  • In a report of nine cases of adverse reactions to the energy drink Redline, patients reported nausea and vomiting, high blood pressure, tremors, dizziness and numbness.

There is the impression that because these drinks are available over the counter and can be bought in any retail store, they are not a "substance" that we should use carefully. This couldn't be further from the truth.

While energy drinks can be part of a balanced lifestyle when consumed sensibly, as with all things related to health and lifestyle, we need to exercise moderation and good judgement to avoid the problems that can arise from inappropriate or excessive use.

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A Different Approach To Spring Allergies

One of the most important aspects of addressing any health issue is to understand the cause and effect of how and why you are experiencing your symptoms and what they represent. Seasonal allergies are, for many, the down side to the beauty of spring and summer. Itchy, runny eyes and nose, sneezing, coughing, and even wheezing can dictate an individual’s activity choices, where they can go, and even what they can eat.

None of this is desirable, and much of it has been shown to be preventable. To understand how you can take control of your seasonal allergies, let’s explore where they come from. Foreign proteins are found in many airborne substances, such as pollen, dust mites, and ragweed. When mucous membranes that come in contact with these foreign proteins are not immunologically competent enough to break down the proteins, the membraneS secrete mucous, fluids, and histamine. This causes the itching, swelling, irritation, and watery excretions that make seasonal allergies so challenging.

To improve allergy symptoms, steroid or steroid-like medications are often prescribed. These are anti-inflammatory chemicals that reduce the allergic immune reaction to the foreign proteins.

By building up our immune and adrenal system, we can enable our bodies to be better able to handle these allergens, which cause the allergy reactions. Our adrenals are located either on top of or within the kidneys and produce cortico-steroids and other natural anti-inflammatory as part of our “national guard” system. Hans Selye, MD, PhD, who spent over 50 years researching the adrenals and immune system, discovered the important nutrition and lifestyle components to keeping this important body system working well: 

  • A diet rich in B, C, E, and A vitamins (or supplementation)
  • Unsaturated fatty acids, such as fish oils
  • Adequate protein intake
  • Minerals to aid the production of natural allergy fighting anti-inflammatories 
  • Adequate sleep and rest
  • Elimination of infections
  • Reduction of emotional stress
  • Moderate exercise
  • Avoidance of over exertion
  • Avoidance of traumas as well as dental and medical surgery
  • Elimination of extreme temperatures indoors and out

Seyle’s research demonstrated that by taking good care of our adrenal and immune system, allergies may be greatly reduced and, in some cases, eliminated. Applying some of these principles may allow you to enjoy this spring more while experiencing fewer symptoms.

Apologies: Men vs Women

For most of us, it does not come as a surprise that men and women think, behave, and are in many ways fundamentally different from one another. We also know that hormones play a large role in these differences. Now science is beginning to unravel the specifics of how male and female brains function, in large part because of male and female hormones that craft our brain development and orient our behaviors. These differences in brain function and hormones may be the reason why men and women approach apologizing in completely different manners.

Two new studies look at the brain function of men and women and offer some interesting observations regarding the subject. One study is from the University of California in collaboration with the University of New Mexico, led by researcher Richard Haier, a psychology professor at the University of California.

The findings of their study show that generally men have 6.5 times the amount of gray matter relating to general intelligence compared with women. Women on the other hand have nearly 10 times the amount of white matter related to intelligence compared to men. "These findings suggest that human evolution has created two different types of brains designed for equally intelligent behavior," said Haier. But apparently these types of intelligent behaviors manifest differently.

Women apologize more often than men do, according to a new study led by researcher Karina Schumann, a doctoral student in social psychology at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. It appears it is not that men are reluctant to admit wrongdoing, they simply have a different perception regarding what they feel rises to the level of requiring an apology.

The research team saw no difference in the number of times men and women acted in ways that elicited apologies, but there was a distinct difference in the male and female perception of what constituted a situation that requires an apology.

"Men aren't actively resisting apologizing because they think it will make them appear weak or because they don't want to take responsibility for their actions," says Schumann. "It seems to be that when they think they've done something wrong they [men] do apologize just as frequently as when women think they've done something wrong. It's just that they think they've done fewer things wrong.”

For more information about this topic, you can access a free excerpt from my bestselling book Changing Behavior: Immediately Transform Your Relationships with Easy to Learn Proven Communication Skills by visiting www.changingbehavior.org.

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What Your Sleep Position Says About You

In a BBC report linking certain sleeping positions with health risks, British scientists revealed that the sleeping position of an individual may provide clues to their true personality in addition to revealing health clues. It is an interesting theory and I became interested to learn whether a person's usual sleeping position could really hint toward character flaws or health symptoms. Here's what I learned through further study.

Professor Chris Idzikowski, director of the Sleep Assessment and Advisory Service, analyzed six common sleeping positions that he believes are linked to specific personality types. "We are all aware of our body language when we are awake but this is the first time we have been able to see what our subconscious posture says about us" Professor Idzikowski noted.

The sleep study identified that most people are unlikely to change their sleeping position during the night. We are also creatures of habit. Most people sleep the same way every night. Only 5% of the study participants were reported to have slept in a different position on different evenings. Another interesting reveal of the study was that only one in ten individuals cover themselves completely with a blanket. Most people expose a leg, an arm, or both feet.

Professor Idzikowski also examined the effect of various sleeping positions on health. You may have read that some positions are believed to help aid digestion, while other positions are believed to promote snoring and restlessness.

Here are the six common positions studied by Professor Idzikowski. The study's findings related each position to certain personality traits and health implications. See if you agree with the findings based on your own sleep patterns.

  • Fetus position – A majority (41%) of the study participants, with 200% more females than males, sleep in this curled-up position. The personality appointed to this position is that the sleeper has a tough exterior and is shy and sensitive but warms up quickly.
  • Log position – This study identified that 15% of people sleep in this position. Sleeping on your side with both arms down suggests that you are a social, easy-going person who is trusting and possibly gullible.
  • Yearner position– The third most popular position, utilized by 13% of the participants, is the side-lying position with both arms out in front of the body. This position is considered to be open-minded and yet cynical. They can be suspicious and stubborn.
  • Soldier position – 8% of the sleepers in this study lie on their back with their arms down and close to the body. This position is paired with people who are reserved, quiet, not fussy, and hold themselves and others to a high standard. This position also has a higher rate of snoring due to the back position.
  • Free fall position – Only 7% of the sleepers lie on their bellies with arms under or wrapped around a pillow and their head turned to the side. These individuals were considered brash, outgoing, and uncomfortable with criticism.
  • Starfish position – Those who lie on their backs with arms near their head or pillow make up the smallest group of sleepers, with only 5% utilizing this position. Starfish sleepers are considered good listeners, helpful, and  uncomfortable being the center of attention. Sleeping in the starfish position is likely to lead to a poor night's sleep due to snoring.

It will be interesting to see how future studies add to the knowledge revealed by Professor Idzikowski. In the meantime, take some time to ponder whether the associated personality traits are accurate for your style of sleeping. Consider ways to remedy any undesirable traits or health consequences.  

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Should You Curb Your Blabbermouth?: Social Costs And Benefits Of Gossip

Gossip is one of the most unconscious addictions many of us suffer from. If you want to do a little experiment, count how many times a day you talk about other people: those you know and even those you don't like celebrities and politicians.

It's not that all gossip is bad. There are basic social functions that gossip serves. The first function is that it creates an informal exchange of information. Think of popular referral websites like "Angie's List" that provide feedback from folks who utilize professional services. The "grapevine" gossip can be informative and can serve as a reference service when we are looking to find out if someone is trustworthy or if a doctor or dentist is a good practitioner.

Another purpose gossip serves is to control inappropriate behavior by creating fear of such behavior being broadcast through gossip and revealing information about an individual they would prefer to keep under wraps. Treating others badly, cheating on a spouse, or being thought of as a liar are typical behaviors that people will usually curb to avoid being gossiped about.

Gossip can also be part of storytelling and an attempt to understand human nature and why people behave as they do. We are often like curious detectives talking about what a person did or said to attempt to understand their motives and how they might be feeling about us. This is one way we try to resolve our realtionship conflicts by talking about the person with friends, family, and even therapists.

When gossip is bad or ugly, we step over the line and maliciously critize and "bad mouth" someone for the purpose of either putting them down or building ourselves up. We may critize others in an attempt to deflect our own fears of inadequacy and insecurity.

Gossip can range from insightful storytelling or social therapy to destructive behavior that diminshes others and ourselves. An important thing to remember about gossip is well stated in the Spanish proverb: "He who gossips with you will also gossip about you."

 

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Navigating Controlling Relationships

In each of our lives, we run across individuals who want everything to go their way. They have tend to have strong personalities, strong wills, and often strong egos that make them controlling, often narcissistic, and manipulative. Here I will discuss the ramification and what you can do to navigate controlling relationships more effectively. 

They might be a friend, spouse, relative, or even a boss, but people of this description often try to suppress us from voicing our opinions. When we are dealing with family members who have a history of being demanding, it is easy to become manipulated by them, sometimes to keep the peace or because other family members go along with their demands. Unlike with family, we can choose to have relationships with friends or not. But even elective friendships become toxic when one individual disregards the needs and feeling of the other person. These situations are not only frustrating but can also have an affect on our health and our morale. 

The Toll Of Controlling Relationships

These types of relationships take their toll on us physically, emotionally, and even spiritually. They can become the source of continued anxiety and frustration, creating stress that can become physically debilitating if it goes on long enough. These relationship stressors have been shown to cause chronic conditions, such as skin problems, asthma, and stomach or bowel issues.

With emotional relationships like these, we can lose our sense of self and self worth. The only way we can avoid these types of relationships and the negative feelings they engender is to empower ourselves and take control over the quality and tone of our relationships.

To appreciate an actual situation, let's discuss dealing with a friend who is never on time for scheduled meetings and appointments. This makes you feel disrespected and not valued. In addition, his being late also has ramifications for you, causing you to be late for appointments as well.With this scenario in mind, let's review some steps you can take to regain control of your time, your feelings, and your relationship.

Strategies

Start by being honest with yourself about how you feel when your friend or family member acts in a controlling and disrespecting manner. Decide how you would like to change the situation, and make a goals list of how you can achieve that outcome.

 An example would be to admit that your boyfriend's lateness really drives you crazy and is underminding your relationship and causing you resentment. Then, imagine a solution you can apply to change the usual outcome. Try discussing this strategy with others and see how explaining it either confirms or alters your strategy.

1. Be Specific: Be very specific about what is important to you in terms of what you are determined to change about your experience. It is important to be committed to your goals no matter how small or large they may be.

2. Express Your Opinions: If you are determined to transform a relationship, an important action step to take is not to allow yourself to stifle your opinions or preferences. Telling others of your goals and preferences anchors them into a deeper commitment. If your friend or boyfriend cannot be on time, then let them know you are willing to leave without them the next time they are late for an event. 

3. Don't Back Down: Be absolutely firm about your commitment to change your toxic friendship or relationshand. At the same time, don't be afraid to let go of expectations in the relationship. Often when we let go of our expectations, things have a way of working out on their own.

It is important to take control over negative or toxic relationships. Only you can empower yourself and take control over your life and your feelings. It takes effort and time, but it's worth it.

 

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A Healthier Relationship With Food

 

Our mood and our food are intimately connected. It's interesting that the emphasis is usually on how things from outside our bodies affect our insides when in reality so much of what is going on inside affects our outsides. This is really evident in terms of weight loss and weight gain. The way we feel about ourselves, our work, or our life, whether we are fulfilled or dissatisfied, has more to do with what or how much we choose to eat than eating a certain food affects how we feel.

One of the reasons diets don't work is because the "work" is being done on the outside of the problem instead of the inside. I have been a nutritionist for over 30 years and have seen thousands of patients who want to change the way they look or the way they eat.

When we start to "work" on the goal, within a relatively short period of time, they become aware of underlying feelings and emotions associated with not eating foods that "medicate" or mask their feelings. They often become discouraged because the feelings are uncomfortable and sometimes painful. It is our human nature to avoid pain and move towards pleasure. It takes courage to truly tackle and confront the underlying issues of "food and mood." Rather than focusing on the outside of the problem, we need to focus on the inside instead.

Here is an exercise you may find to be of value. If you are dealing with mood or food issues, keep a journal for 10 days. Write down everything you eat. Also write about how you feel when you don't eat what you want and how you feel when you do eat what you want.

Just becoming more aware of what you are putting in your mouth, and how it translates to how you feel after you eat a particular food, can be the start of a healthier and happier relationship with food and your mood.

 

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The Root Of All Misunderstandings

When couples are asked what in their relationship makes them feel fulfilled, the answer is inevitably that they feel “understood and cared about." Contrary to what many believe, misunderstandings are not the real problem in our relationships. It is not the misunderstanding that creates bad feelings and unhappiness in relationships, but rather not feeling that the person care most deeply about doesn’t understand who we are and what we are feeling.

In order to feel loved, we must experience that others understand us and regard us as good and valuable human beings. If our significant others do not understand or get who we are and how we feel, we are left with a feeling of being misunderstood. It can also lead to feeling alone because only someone who truly knows us can truly love us for who we actually are.

When we are in a relationship, we do not want to continually explain ourselves to another person, or justify our values, beliefs or the choices we make. If, after a time, that person cannot be present with us, listening and sharing their own thoughts and feelings, the relationship quickly deteriorates. This is why one of the important focal points in good couples counseling is learning what is called “active listening.”

Being present

The main purpose of active listening is to let your partner know that you are truly listening to them and that you are really “present” to them as well – meaning that they have our full attention. And by giving them our full attention, we can more authentically understand how they feel and what their point of view and opinions are about the important discussions that make up all relationships.

A key component of active listening is reflecting back to the other person what we understand they were communicating to us, so that we can be sure that we understand and not misinterpret their communication. When we do this, we ask questions to clarify, such as “Are you saying that you were upset that I did not go to your aunt’s house for dinner on Sunday, even though you had said it didn’t matter if I went or not?

By working together so that the listening partner and the speaking partner both understand that clarifying their understanding of what is being communicated and also participating in active communication as well as active listening, the relationship can take on a greater depth, intimacy and fulfillment.

Effective communication is always the key to avoiding misunderstanding and nurturing any good relationship.

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The Connection Between Brain Function, Behavior, And Your Emotions

There are three parts of the human brain, referred to as the "triune brain." Paul D.MacLean, an early research director for the National Institute of Mental Health, postulated the Triune Brain Theory. It states that the human brain is a product of three stages of evolution and is actually three separate brains that have evolved into one brain over long periods of time.

Three Parts

The first section [the lowest portion of the brain] is comprised of the top part of the spinal cord, the medulla oblongata, the pons, and the cerebellum. MacClean calls this “the reptilian brain.” As he stated, “at its base [the human brain] was a variation in the elaboration of the reptilian brain."

The limbic system [located in the mid-portion of the brain] states MacClean, "was an elaboration of the new mammalian brain from the Jurassic period". He termed it the "mid-brain" or the neo-mammalian brain (new mammal).

The upper most and largest part of the human brain, the cerebral cortex, encompasses our logic centers, our "intellect." MacClean termed this portion "the neo-cortex" (new cortex).

Fundamental Behavior

The Reptilian or "vegetable brain" [recall the autonomic nervous system functions], is fundamentally concerned with homeostasis, which is involved in regulating all of the body functions that allow each of us to be human, get up every day, and live our lives. If you do not have a well-functioning lower brain, if you have a tumor, if you have a trauma, if you’re in an accident, if something happens to your brainstem, you may no longer have the capacity to control the day to day homeostatic functions to maintain your life.

Interpreting Information

Embedded inside the Limbic System is a structure identified as the Reticular Activating System, which has pathways as well as neurons traveling throughout the lower brain, up through the medulla oblongata, across the Limbic System, and into the Neo-Cortex or the "thinking brain".

The Limbic System and Reticular Activating System interpret sensory motor messages that are "incoming" from the person's environment. It is in this portion of the brain that we not only interpret the "incoming stimuli and information," but we also select methods for survival and adaptation.

Here is where it gets exciting to put the anatomy and physiology of brain function and the psychology of personality together!

Putting It All Together To Survive

We know the neo-cortex is our thinking, intellectual brain – our "smart brain" – and most of us know individuals who are brilliant academically or intellectually yet they are emotionally dysfunctional in the extreme. Our thinking brain would presume that being "smart" or intellectually capable would exercise dominion over one's emotions, however, the missing piece of information here is that our emotions actually are a survival adaptation mechanism that each of us individually develops as we process our early environment and social conditioning. Nothing is more powerful in the human being than its drive to survive! Hence, our emotions win the day in the battle between thinking and feeling.

It is critically important for each of us to understand that our emotions represent how we learned to adapt in our surroundings and environment, especially during the first 0-5 years of our development. Our familial "input" taught us, as did Pavlov with his dogs, how to respond to the stimuli we received as infants and toddlers.

Your Brain And Relationships

This embedded neurological conditioning is not overcome by the thought process, as the thought process for humans is the "newest" component to our primordial brain. It is in the adaptive portion of our brain where we form our "personality" and where we become conditioned to create and interact within relationships.

When we understand the possibility that the interpersonal issues that frustrate us may come not from "being difficult" or having "bad intent" but rather from our drive to survive and our interpretation of the stimulation and environment we were conditioned by, then we can begin to be "kinder and gentler" towards ourselves and others.

In summary, our emotions are the way we learn to live and survive in our world. We cannot "think them" into changing, but we can step back and appreciate the service and challenge they offer us in our daily lives.

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