38 Unconventional Coping Strategies

A list of uncommon strategies for coping with stress, depression, and anxiety. Includes a free PDF version of the list to print and use as a handout.

Image by Daniel Sampaio Donate if you want (Paypal) from Pixabay

Effective coping skills make it possible to survive life’s stressors, obstacles, and hardships. Without coping strategies, life would be unmanageable. Dr. Constance Scharff described coping mechanisms as “skills we… have that allow us to make sense of our negative experiences and integrate them into a healthy, sustainable perspective of the world.” Healthy coping strategies promote resilience when experiencing minor stressors, such as getting a poor performance review at work, or major ones, such as the loss of a loved one.

Like any skill, coping is important to practice on a regular basis in order to be effective. Do this by maintaining daily self-care (at a minimum: adequate rest, healthy meals, exercise, staying hydrated, and avoiding drugs/alcohol.)

As an expert on you (and how you adapt to stressful situations), you may already know what helps the most when life seems out-of-control. (I like reading paranormal romance/fantasy-type books!) Maybe you meditate or run or rap along to loud rap music or have snuggle time with the cats or binge watch your favorite show on Netflix. Having insight into/awareness of your coping strategies primes you for unforeseeable tragedies in life.

“Life is not what it’s supposed to be. It’s what it is. The way you cope with it is what makes the difference.”

Virginia Satir, Therapist (June 26, 2019-September 10, 1988)

Healthy coping varies greatly from person to person; what matters is that your personal strategies work for you. For example, one person may find prayer helpful, but for someone who isn’t religious, prayer might be ineffective. Instead, they may swim laps at the gym when going through a difficult time. Another person may cope by crying and talking it out with a close friend.

Image by Victor Vote from Pixabay

Note: there are various mental health treatment approaches (i.e. DBT, trauma-focused CBT, etc.) that incorporate specialized, evidence-based coping techniques that are proven to work (by reducing symptoms and improving wellbeing) for certain disorders. The focus of this post is basic coping, not treatment interventions.

On the topic of coping skills, the research literature is vast (and beyond the scope of this post). While many factors influence coping (i.e. personality/temperament, stressors experienced, mental and physical health, etc.), evidence backs the following methods: problem-solving techniques, mindfulness/meditation, exercise, relaxation techniques, reframing, acceptance, humor, seeking support, and religion/spirituality. (Note that venting is not on the list!) Emotional intelligence may also play a role in the efficiency of coping skills.


Current Research

In 2011, researchers found that positive reframes, acceptance, and humor were the most effective copings skills for students dealing with small setbacks. The effect of humor as a positive coping skill has been found in prior studies, several of which focused on coping skills in the workplace.

A sport psychology study indicated that professional golfers who used positive self-talk, blocked negative thoughts, maintained focus, and remained in a relaxed state effectively coped with stress, keeping a positive mindset. Effective copers also sought advice as needed throughout the game. A 2015 study suggested that helping others, even strangers, helps mitigate the impact of stress.


Examples of coping skills include prayer, meditation, deep breathing, exercise, talking to a trusted person, journaling, cleaning, and creating art. However, the purpose of this post is to provide coping alternatives. Maybe meditation isn’t your thing or journaling leaves you feeling like crap. Coping is not one-size-fits-all. The best approach to coping is to find and try lots of different things!

Image by Amanda Oliveira from Pixabay

The inspiration for this post came from Facebook. (Facebook is awesome for networking! I’m a member of several professional groups.) Lauren Mills sought ideas for unconventional strategies via Facebook… With permission, I’m sharing some of them here!    


Unconventional Coping Strategies

  1. Crack pistachio nuts
  2. Fold warm towels
  3. Smell your dog (Fun fact: dog paws smell like corn chips!) or watch them sleep
  4. Peel dried glue off your hands
  5. Break glass at the recycling center
  6. Pop bubble wrap
  7. Lie upside down
  8. Watch slime or pimple popping videos on YouTube
  9. Sort and build Lego’s
  10. Write in cursive
  11. Observe fish in an aquarium
  12. Twirl/spin around
  13. Solve math problems (by hand)
  14. Use a voice-changing app (Snapchat works too) to repeat back your worry/critical thoughts in the voice of a silly character OR sing your worries/thoughts aloud to the tune of “Happy Birthday”
  15. Listen to the radio in foreign languages
  16. Chop vegetables
  17. Go for a joy ride (Windows down!)
  18. Watch YouTube videos of cute animals and/or giggling babies
  19. Blow bubbles
  20. Walk barefoot outside
  21. Draw/paint on your skin
  22. Play with (dry) rice
  23. Do (secret) “random acts of kindness”
  24. Play with warm (not hot) candle wax
  25. Watch AMSR videos on YouTube
  26. Shuffle cards
  27. Recite family recipes
  28. Find the nicest smelling flowers at a grocery store
  29. Count things
  30. Use an app to try different hairstyles and/or makeup
  31. People-watch with a good friend and make up stories about everyone you see (Take it to the next level with voiceovers!)
  32. Wash your face mindfully
  33. Buy a karaoke machine and sing your heart out when you’re home alone
  34. On Instagram, watch videos of a hydraulic press smash things, cake decorating, pottery/ceramics throwing, hand lettering, and/or woodwork
  35. Shine tarnished silver
  36. Create a glitter jar and enjoy
  37. Tend to plants
  38. Color in a vulgar coloring book for adults

Image by A_Different_Perspective from Pixabay

Click below for a PDF version of “Unconventional Coping Strategies.” This handout can be printed, copied, and shared without the author’s permission, providing it’s not used for monetary gain.

Unconventional Coping Strategies


  • Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP
  • With Lauren Mills, MA, LPC-Intern (Contributor)
  • Lauren Mills, MA, LPC-Intern (Supervised by Mary Ann Satori, LPC-S) is a therapist in Texas and a current resident in counseling.     

I’d like to acknowledge all members of Therapist Toolbox – Resources & Support for Therapists who submitted ideas!


If you have an uncommon coping skill, post in a comment!

coping strategies

Alcarelle: A Hangover-Free Alternative to Alcohol

Alcarelle is a synthetic version of alcohol, providing all the “feel-good” effects of alcohol with none of the associated risks; this alcohol-alternative may be available in a bar near you within the next five years!

Alcarelle

Alcarelle, providing liquid courage without the consequences of alcohol: no hangover, no calories, and no harmful impact on your health. Sound too good to be true? Maybe… but maybe not.

Alcarelle is a substance that mimics the effects of alcohol; the Alcarelle website proclaims, “Like alcohol, but better.” Essentially, it’s a synthetic, non-toxic version of alcohol that activates the same neurotransmitters as booze, inducing the “warm fuzzy” feelings of tipsiness. Created by English neuropsychopharmacologist, David Nutt, the active molecule in Alcarelle provides the relaxing and social lubricating qualities of alcohol with none of the associated dangers.

Nutt, who specializes in the research of drugs that affect the brain, especially in the areas of addiction, anxiety, and sleep, discovered the substance while researching alcohol’s effects in hopes of developing a “sober up” (alcohol antagonist) pill.

According to a 2019 interview in Men’s Health, the Alcarelle effect “plateaus” after three drinks. The implications are that you won’t get hammered or black out when you drink it.

Currently, Alcarelle is in the development stage. Nutt’s plan is for the alcohol-free substitute to be available within the next five years; it will likely be offered in the form of a concentrated extract to mix into drinks.

What role will Alcarelle play in the treatment of substance use disorders? It’s unknown if someone could build a tolerance for or become dependent on it. Could Alcarelle be the next harm-reduction or treatment method for alcohol use disorders? Could its use help with other addictions or mental health disorders? Could it potentially reduce the rates of alcohol-related accidents and diseases?

On the other hand, Alcarelle could lead to abuse and/or dependence (similar to how methadone, a treatment for opioid use disorders, produces powerful addictive effects). Also, it could end up being the equivalent of a “gateway” drug, increasing the user’s chances of later developing a substance use disorder.    

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

Bottom line: too much is unknown at this point. Alcarelle may not make it past the testing phase. (Currently, only a prototype of the synthetic molecule exists and funding for the project is limited.)

While I’m hopeful that an alcohol-alternative could advance the treatment of substance use disorders (especially since I believe the ultimate treatment, while yet undiscovered, will be pharmacological), I don’t anticipate Alcarelle being a magical “cure-all.”


5 Quick & Easy Mood Boosters

Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

Need a boost? Here are five evidence-based, instant mood boosters for when you’re feeling down.


5 INSTANT MOOD BOOSTERS

Click here for additional tips to improve mood and reduce stress.

Listen to music

Turn on the radio or search for your favorite song on YouTube. Music can evoke a powerful emotional response. Listen to something upbeat with a positive message to boost your mood. Music activates areas in the brain that are responsible for processing emotions.

“Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.” 

Confucius

In one study, participants who listened to upbeat music while actively trying to feel happier experienced improved mood as well as increased happiness over the next two weeks.

A 2017 study indicated that listening to your favorite songs impacts the brain circuit involved in internally focused thought, empathy, and self-awareness. Interestingly, it doesn’t matter what type of music you choose; the mood-boosting effect is consistent across genres.

Music may also play a role in restoring neuroplasticity or as a therapeutic intervention. In 2013, researchers found that listening to uplifting concertos from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons was linked to enhanced cognitive functioning. An additional benefit to listening to music is improved mental alertness; memory and attention in particular may be enhanced.

Find a green space

Go hiking, find a sunny spot to sit outside, or simply open the window and listen to the sound of the rain falling. According the U.S. Forest Service, spending time in nature can reduce stress, improve mood, reduce anger/aggressiveness, and increase overall happiness. If you’re upset or frustrated, you’ll recover more quickly in a natural setting, such as a forest. Nature is a highly effective mood booster!

Alternatively, consider a stroll in the park for a boost. Researchers found that individuals with depression who took an hour-long nature walk experienced significant increases in attention and working memory when compared to individuals who walked in urban areas. Interestingly, both groups of participants experienced similar boosts in mood; walking in an urban area can be just as effective!

More recently, researchers found that people who regularly commute through natural environments (i.e. passing by trees, bodies of water, parks, etc.) reported better mental health compared to those who don’t. This association was even stronger among active commuters (walking or biking to work). If you commute through congested or urban areas, consider an alternate route, especially when you’re feeling down.

Spending time outside does more than just improve your mood. A 2018 report established a link between nature and overall wellness. Living close to nature and spending time outside reduces the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, preterm birth, stress, and high blood pressure. Exposure to green space may also benefit the immune system, reduce inflammation, and increase sleep duration.

Read/view something inspiring or humorous

Do you have a favorite inspirational book or collection of poems? Do you like viewing motivational TED Talks? Do you enjoy comedy shows? Maybe you like watching videos of baby goats or flash mobs on Facebook. (I do!)

One study found that viewing cat videos boosted energy and positive emotions while decreasing negative feelings (such as anxiety, annoyance, and sadness). Internet cats = Instant mood boost. However, if cyber cats are not your thing, search around to find something enjoyable to read or watch for your happiness quick-fix.

Plan your next adventure

I’m happiest when I’m traveling the world. Unfortunately, I have limited vacation days (as well as limited funds), which means I don’t get to travel as often as I’d like. Happily, planning a trip may produce the same mood-boosting effects as going on a trip.

In 2010, researchers found that before taking a trip, vacationers were happier compared to those not planning a trip. A 2002 study indicated that people anticipating a vacation were happier with life in general and experienced more positive/pleasant feelings compared to people who weren’t. In both studies, researchers attributed happiness levels to anticipation. (The brain releases dopamine during certain activities, causing us to feel pleasure. Dopamine is also released in anticipation of a pleasurable activity.) For a mood boost, start planning!

Cuddle a pet

Spending time with your fur baby will instantly boost your mood. According to research, pets are good for your mental health. Teens undergoing treatment for drug and alcohol abuse experienced improved mood, positive affect, attentiveness, and serenity after brushing, feeding, and playing with dogs.

A 2018 study indicated that dog therapy sessions reduced stress and increased happiness and energy in college students. Earlier this year, researchers found that just 10 minutes of interaction with a pet reduced stress by significantly decreasing cortisol (a stress hormone) levels.

Other studies suggest that animal-assisted therapy reduces anxiety and loneliness and combats homesickness.

Research also indicates that pets help seniors and older adults cope with physical and mental health concerns. Dog ownership is also linked to better cardiovascular health and a longer life.

“Happiness is a warm puppy.”

Charles M. Shultz

The next time you’re having a bad day, listen to your favorite song, go hiking in the woods, watch a TED Talks, start planning your next vacation, or spend some quality time with a furry friend… you’ll feel better!

mood

Kratom: A Safe Alternative to Heroin?

Kratom is a tropical tree native to Southeast Asia. It’s becoming increasingly popular in the United States. It’s used for pain relief, mood enhancement, and to manage opioid withdrawal symptoms or reduce/stop opioid use. This post explores the use of kratom as a potential treatment for opioid use disorder.

Kratom (mitragyna speciosa) is a tropical tree native to Southeast Asia and, like coffee, is part of the Rubiaceae plant family. Ingesting the leaves produces a high. Taken in small amounts, it leads to stimulant-like effects (i.e. increased energy and focus – stronger than caffeine, less intense than cocaine). When taken in larger doses, the high is similar to that of an opioid (euphoria, drowsiness, “pinned” pupils, dry mouth, sweating, nausea, constipation, etc.) Kratom is unique in that it produces both stimulant and opioid-like effects.

Note: “Opioid” is the term used for any drug that binds to the opioid receptors in the brain. An “opiate,” on the other hand, is a naturally occurring chemical found in the poppy plant, such as morphine or codeine. All opiates are opioids.

Image by GOKALP ISCAN from Pixabay

In the United States, kratom users cite pain relief as a primary motive for use. It’s an opioid agonist, and works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain. It can be effective for both acute and chronic pain. Others report using kratom for energy, increased focus, lower levels of anxiety, to reduce/stop the use of opioids, to reduce symptoms of PTSD or depression, and to elevate mood.

Kratom is legal in Virginia; it’s sold at vape or “head” shops as a loose powder or in capsules. (Alternatively, kratom can be purchased online.) Packaging is typically labeled “botanical sample only; not for human consumption.” The extremely bitter powder can be sprinkled over food or brewed into a tea. It’s easily swallowed in capsule form.

What does kratom mean for the opioid epidemic in America? Will it one day play a key role in the treatment of opioid use disorders? Or will it fall into the “harm reduction” category? Is it a natural pain medication, a safe alternative to highly addictive opioid pain killers?

Or, will we find that kratom, like heroin, is habit-forming and deadly? Currently, the research is mixed.

An Alternative to Opioid Drugs

The results of a 2019 survey published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence revealed that 90% of respondents found kratom effective for relieving pain, reducing opioid use, and easing withdrawal symptoms.  

In 2011, researchers discovered that kratom alleviated morphine withdrawal symptoms. A more recent study indicated that it may reduce morphine use.

Earlier this year, researchers found that kratom use was associated with significant decreases in the occurrence and severity of opioid adverse effects; it lessened the discomfort of opioid withdrawal. Multiple studies have substantiated these findings, suggesting that it could be a useful medication for opioid addiction and withdrawal.

Interestingly, in 2007, it was found that kratom reduced alcohol withdrawal behaviors. More recently, researchers discovered that it was associated with decreased alcohol use; this suggests that it may help those with alcohol use disorders (AUD) in addition to opioid addiction.

Image by Abel Tadesse from Pixabay

Harm-Reduction

Compared to heroin, kratom is less addictive and has milder withdrawal symptoms. Furthermore, the risk of overdose is low. A 2018 literature review indicated that it may have harm-reduction potential for individuals who want to stop using opioids.

Dangerous & Addictive?

According to the CDC, there were 152 kratom-involved deaths between July 2016 and December 2018 (“kratom-involved,” meaning it was a factor). In seven of those deaths, kratom was the only substance found in toxicology tests (although it should be noted that the presence of other substances was not fully ruled out). It’s possible to overdose on kratom, and when combined with other drugs or medications, it can be fatal.

In rare cases, kratom has been linked to liver toxicity, kidney damage, and seizures. In the case of a 32-year-old woman who was using it for opioid withdrawal, it was likely the cause of acute lung injury. Use may also cause cardiac or respiratory arrest.

Image by Simon Orlob from Pixabay

Kratom’s harmful effects are not limited to the body; a 2010 study linked chronic use to alterations in working memory. In 2016, researchers found that kratom use was associated with cognitive impairment. An additional 2016 study supported previous findings that it may affect learning. In 2019, researchers found that high doses were linked to memory deficits. In contrast, a 2018 study indicated that high kratom consumption was not related to long-term cognitive impairment. That same year, researchers found that long-term kratom use did not appear to cause altered brain structures. More research is needed in this area.

Regarding whether or not kratom is addictive, multiple studies have found that regular use leads to dependence, withdrawal symptoms, and cravings. Kratom cessation may also cause psychological withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety and depression.

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Bottom Line

Will kratom step up as the hero of today’s opioid epidemic? Doubtful. And for kratom to be a viable treatment option, more conclusive research is needed. Additionally, researchers must study the safety of long-term use.

While it’s unlikely, kratom use could lead to adverse health effects or cognitive impairment; it could also fatally interact with other substances or medications. Furthermore, long-term use may lead to addiction. In sum, the majority of the literature suggests that kratom is, by no means, safe.

That being said, when compared to shooting heroin, kratom is safe (a safer alternative, at least). And if someone chooses to use it to reduce/stop their opioid use, I’ll view it as harm-reduction. Until we have more answers, I will hold to the harm-reduction view… it has the potential to save lives.


kratom
  • References
  • Apryani, E., Hidayat, M. T., Moklas, M. A. A., Fakurazi, S., & Idayu, N. F. (2010). Effects of mitragynine from mitragyna speciosa korth leaves on working memory. Journal of Ethnopharmacology129(3), 357-360.
  • Burke, D., Shearer, A., & Van Cott, A. (2019). Two cases of provoked seizure associated with kratom ingestion. Neurology, 92(15), 4.5-030.
  • Coe, M.A., Pillitteri,J.L, Sembower, M.A., Gerlach, K.K., & Henningfield, J.E. (2019). Kratom as a substitute for opioids: Results from an online survey. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 202, 24-32. ISSN 0376-8716, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2019.05.005
  • Eggleston, W., Stoppacher, R., Suen, K., Marraffa, J. M., & Nelson, L. S. (2019). Kratom use and toxicities in the United States. Pharmacotherapy: The Journal of Human Pharmacology and Drug Therapy.
  • Gutridge, A.M., Robins, M.T., Cassell, R.J., Uprety, R., Mores, K.L., Ko, M.J., Pasternak, G.W., Majumdar, S., & van Rijn, R.M. (2019), Therapeutic potential of g-protein-biased kratom-derived and synthetic carfentanil-amide opioids for alcohol use disorder. The FASEB Journal, 33:1, 498.3-498.3.
  • Halpenny, G.M. (2017). Mitragyna speciosa: Balancing potential medical benefits and abuse. ACS Medicinal Chemistry Letters, 8(9), 897-899. DOI: 10.1021/acsmedchemlett.7b00298
  • Hassan, Z., Muzaimi, M., Navaratnam, V., Yusoff, N.H.M., Suhaimi, F.W., Vadivelu, R., Vicknasingam, B.K., Amato, D., von Hörsten, S., Ismail, N.I.W., Jayabalan, N., Hazim, A.I., Mansor, S.M., & Müller, C.P. (2013). From kratom to mitragynine and its derivatives: Physiological and behavioural effects related to use, abuse, and addiction. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 37:2,138-151, ISSN 0149-7634. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2012.11.012
  • Hassan, Z., Suhaimi, F., Dringenberg, H. C., & Muller, C. P. (2016). Impaired water maze learning and hippocampal long-term potentiation after mitragynine (kratom) treatment in rats. Front. Cell. Neurosci. Conference Abstract: 14th Meeting of the Asian-Pacific Society for Neurochemistry. doi: 10.3389/conf. fncel (Vol. 58).
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  • Hughes, R. L. (2019). Fatal combination of mitragynine and quetiapine–a case report with discussion of a potential herb-drug interaction. Forensic Science, Medicine and Pathology15(1), 110-113.
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  • Khor, B.S., Amar Jamil, M.F., Adenan, M.I., & Chong Shu-Chien, A. (2011). Mitragynine attenuates withdrawal syndrome in morphine-withdrawn zebrafish. PLOS ONE 6(12):e28340, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0028340
  • Kumarnsit, E., Keawpradub, N., & Nuankaew, W. (2007). Effect of mitragyna speciosa aqueous extract on ethanol withdrawal symptoms in mice. Fitoterapia, 78:3, 182-185. ISSN 0367-326X, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fitote.2006.11.012
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  • Singh, D., Müller, C.P., & Vicknasingam, B.K. (2014). Kratom (mitragyna speciosa) dependence, withdrawal symptoms and craving in regular users. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 139, 132-137. ISSN 0376-8716, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2014.03.017
  • Singh, D., Narayanan, S., Müller, C.P., Swogger, M.T., Rahim, A.A., Abdullah, M.F.I.L.B., & Vicknasingam, B.K. (2018). Severity of kratom (mitragyna speciosa korth) psychological withdrawal symptoms. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 50:5, 445-450. DOI: 10.1080/02791072.2018.1511879
  • Singh, D., Narayanan, S., Müller, C. P., Vicknasingam, B., Yücel, M., Ho, E. T. W., … & Mansor, S. M. (2019). Long-term cognitive effects of kratom (mitragyna speciosa korth) use. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs51(1), 19-27.
  • Swogger, M.T., & Walsh, Z. (2018). Kratom use and mental health: A systematic review. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 183, 134-140. ISSN 0376-8716, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2017.10.012
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  • Yusoff, N. H. M., Suhaimi, F. W., Vadivelu, R. K., Hassan, Z., Rümler, A., Rotter, A., Amato, D., Dringenberg, H. C., Mansor, S. M., Navaratnam, V., & Müller, C. P. ( 2016). Abuse potential and adverse cognitive effects of mitragynine (kratom). Addiction Biology21:98– 110. doi: 10.1111/adb.12185

The Remarkable Link Between Diet & Mental Health

What foods are associated with increased psychiatric symptoms? What should you eat if you want to boost your mood? Learn what researchers have found when it comes to diet and mental well-being.

diet

You may have heard of the “food-mood connection.” Research indicates that our food choices greatly impact not only physical health, but mental well-being. Some foods seem to boost mood and reduce psychiatric symptoms while others are linked to depression and anxiety.


Mood Thugs

Sugar negatively impacts mood and slows memory and learning. High-sugar diets are associated with smaller brain volume. Furthermore, sugar will make you less alert and more tired. A recent study found that the idea of a “sugar rush” is myth.

Sugar is not the only villain; fat can be just as harmful. One study found that a high-fat diet may lead to symptoms of depression and anxiety. Furthermore, trans fat may lead to poor memory function.

If you have bipolar disorder, avoid processed meats such as jerky, hot dogs, etc. Researchers found that nitrates in processed meats are associated with mania.

Mood Champions

A diet high in fiber and vegetables (with limited added sugar) has been linked to improved mood and a reduction in depressive symptoms. Interestingly, women seem to benefit more than men, and the effect is even greater when exercise is added. A vegan or plant-based diet is associated with lower levels of depression, anxiety, and stress.

Fruits and vegetables are good for mood, but raw fruits and veggies are better. A raw diet is associated with higher levels of mental wellbeing and lower levels of psychiatric symptoms. According to a recent study, the top raw foods associated with mental wellness are apples, bananas, berries, carrots, citrus fruits, cucumbers, grapefruit, kiwi, lettuce, and dark, leafy greens.

diet

So how many servings of fruit/veggies should you eat per day for optimal mental health? At least 8, according to one study that found happiness benefits were evident for each portion for up to 8 servings per day.

What nutrients should you include in your diet for improved mental health? Research indicates the following are important for mental wellbeing:  Omega-3 fatty acids (fish, flaxseed, walnuts), phospholipids (egg yolk, soybeans), niacin (liver, avocado, brown rice), folate (legumes, beets, broccoli), vitamin B6 (chickpeas, tuna), and vitamin B12 (sardines, fortified nutritional yeast).


In sum, skip the fast food and soda; head to the salad bar instead to feed your mood and your belly!

diet

5 Remarkable Research Findings in Health & Human Behavior

As a #researchNerd, I’m obsessed with new discoveries and scientific explanations, especially when it comes to human behavior. Here are five interesting studies that have been published this year (and it’s only April!)

5 Recent Research Findings in Health & Human Behavior

I’m something of a #researchNerd. I fell in love with my research and stats class in college. My undergrad study (on tipping behavior) was even published in a peer-reviewed international journal!

It was in grad school that I strayed from the research path to pursue a more clinical route (counseling).

Today, to satisfy my appetite for science, I subscribe to ScienceDaily, an amazing site that posts short summaries of the latest research findings in health, technology, and society.

Here are some of the more interesting research findings from ScienceDaily in 2019 (and it’s only April!):

Recipe for Distress

February 21, 2019

We already know there’s a link between junk food and certain medical conditions (i.e. obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes), but more and more researchers are finding a strong correlation between diet and mental well-being.

In this study, researchers found that people who ate more junk food (sugar-sweetened snacks/drinks, fried foods, etc.) had higher levels of psychological stress.

Original Study: Mental health status and dietary intake among California adults: A population-based survey

Why Is It So Difficult to Move on after a Breakup? Because Science

March 11, 2019

It turns out, there’s a reason it’s hard to forget about all the good times with your ex or get that cringe-worthy mishap at work out of your head; it takes more brain power to forget than to remember. According to a recent study, it takes a “moderate amount” of brain power to intentionally forget something. (#worthIt)

Original Study: More is less: Increased processing of unwanted memories facilitates forgetting

“Killer” Style: Men and Women Serial Killers Have Distinct Methods

March 20, 2019

Are you being “hunted”? Or “gathered”? It turns out, male and female serial killers have distinct approaches when it comes to killing. Evolutionary science may explain why men tend to stalk their victims while women’s victims tend to be people they know.

Original Study: Sex differences in serial killers

All about that Bass (Or Not…)

April 3, 2019

…obese persons were considered “less human.”

This unsettling study revealed that individuals with obesity are not only stigmatized, but dehumanized. Researchers found that obese persons were considered “less human.” This type of attitude can lead to ridicule or discrimination.

#fightStigma

Original Study: Blatant dehumanization of people with obesity

A Million Reasons to Read to Your Young Child!

April 4, 2019

Researchers found a “million word gap” for children who weren’t read to at home. In fact, kids who grow up with books hear about 1.4 million more words than their counterparts by kindergarten.

Original Study: When children are not read to at home


Hungry for more research findings? Keep discovering!

research findings

4 Strategies for Better Decision-Making

Individuals with “big picture” styles of reasoning make better decisions. Learn four strategies for “big picture” thinking to get optimal results.

A recent study found that a “big picture” style of thinking led to better decision-making. (“Better” decisions were defined as those resulting in maximum benefits.)

If you took the Myers-Briggs (a personality assessment), and fell on the “Intuition” side of the spectrum (like me!), it’s likely you’re already a “big picture” thinker. If you’re on the “Sensing” side, you’re more apt to examine individual facts before considering the sum of all parts when decision-making.

“Big picture” thinking is a practical and balanced method of reasoning. It suggests taking a step back (zoom out!)… and looking to see how all pieces fit together for more effective decision-making.

The following strategies promote “big picture” thinking for better decision-making:

1. Get a good night’s rest

Researchers from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center found that sleep is essential for “relational memory” (or the ability to make inferences, i.e. “big picture” thinking) for good decision-making.

Before making a tough decision, sleep on it; you’ll wake up with a new perspective! In addition to healthy sleep hygiene, the following strategies have been found to improve sleep:

2. Don’t deliberate for long

Research indicates that when weighing out options, it’s ideal to take small breaks. For more effective decision-making, don’t deliberate for long periods of time or you’ll start to lose focus. If things become fuzzy, you won’t see the big picture.

3. Bay day = bad decision

One study found that a positive mood is related to a “big picture” thinking style. Good moods are associated with broader and more flexible thinking. A positive mood enables someone to step back emotionally, psychologically distancing themselves from the decision at hand.

If you’re feeling salty, hold off decision-making. Instead, try one (or all!) of the following research-based techniques for boosting your mood:

4. Get a second opinion

Ask around to learn how others’ view your situation. Every perspective you collect is another piece of the “big picture” puzzle.

Seek opinions from those you trust (only those who have your best interests in mind). Make sure you ask a variety of people (especially those with whom you typically disagree). The end result is a broader and more comprehensive awareness of what you’re facing.


Employ all four strategies to optimize your thinking style and decision-making skills!

decision-making

  • References
  • American Academy of Sleep Medicine. (2010, April 4). Maintaining regular daily routines is associated with better sleep quality in older adults. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 18, 2018 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100401085336.htm
  • American Academy of Sleep Medicine. (2008, June 12). Moderate Exercise Can Improve Sleep Quality Of Insomnia Patients. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 18, 2018 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/06/080611071129.htm
  • American Chemical Society (ACS). (2012, August 19). Good mood foods: Some flavors in some foods resemble a prescription mood stabilizer. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 10, 2018 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120819153457.htm
  • American Psychological Association. (2018, April 23). Let it go: Mental breaks after work improve sleep: Repetitive thoughts on rude behavior at work results in insomnia. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 18, 2018 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180423110828.htm
  • Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care. (2012, May 14). A walk in the park gives mental boost to people with depression. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 18, 2018 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120514134303.htm
  • Berman, M. G., Kross, E., Krpan, K. M., Askren, M. K., Burson, A., Deldin, P. J., Kaplan, S., Sherdell, L., Gotlib, I. H., & Jonides, J. (2012). Interacting with nature improves cognition and affect for individuals with depression. Journal of Affective Disorders, DOI: 10.1016/j.jad.2012.03.012
  • Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. (2007, April 21). To Understand The Big Picture, Give It Time – And Sleep. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 17, 2018 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/04/070420104732.htm
  • Black, D. S., O’Reilly, G. A., Olmstead, R., Breen, E. C., & Irwin, M. R. (2015). Mindfulness meditation and improvement in sleep quality and daytime impairment among older adults with sleep disturbances. JAMA Internal Medicine, DOI: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.8081
  • Curry, O., Rowland, L., Zlotowitz, S., McAlaney, J., & Whitehouse, H. (2016). Happy to help? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of performing acts of kindness on the well-being of the actor. Open Science Framework
  • Demsky, C. A. et al. (2018). Workplace incivility and employee sleep: The role of rumination and recovery experiences. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, DOI: 10.1037/ocp0000116
  • The JAMA Network Journals. (2015, February 16). Mindfulness meditation appears to help improve sleep quality. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 18, 2018 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150216131115.htm
  • Labroo, A., Patrick, V., & Deighton, J. served as editor and Luce, M. F. served as associate editor for this article. (2009). Psychological distancing: Why happiness helps you see the big picture. Journal of Consumer Research, 35(5), 800-809. DOI: 10.1086/593683
  • Northwestern University. (2017, July 10). Purpose in life by day linked to better sleep at night: Older adults whose lives have meaning enjoy better sleep quality, less sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 18, 2018 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/07/170710091734.htm
  • Ohio State University. (2018, July 13). How looking at the big picture can lead to better decisions. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 18, 2018 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/07/180713111931.htm
  • Spira, A. P. (2015). Being mindful of later-life sleep quality and its potential role in prevention. JAMA Internal Medicine, DOI: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.8093
  • Stillman, P. E., Fujita, K., Sheldon, O., & Trope, Y. (2018). From “me” to “we”: The role of construal level in promoting maximized joint outcomes. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 147(16), DOI: 10.1016/j.obhdp.2018.05.004
  • Turner, A. D., Smith, C. E., & Ong, J. C. (2017). Is purpose in life associated with less sleep disturbance in older adults? Sleep Science and Practice, 1(1), DOI: 10.1186/s41606-017-0015-6
  • University of Michigan. (2009, June 3). Feeling Close To a Friend Increases Progesterone, Boosts Well-being and Reduces Anxiety and Stress. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 18, 2018 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090602171941.htm
  • University of Oxford. (2016, October 5). Being kind to others does make you ‘slightly happier’. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 18, 2018 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/10/161005102254.htm
  • Zisberg, A., Gur-Yaish, N., & Shochat, T. (2010). Contribution of routine to sleep quality in community elderly. Sleep, 33(4), 509-514.

Why “Playing Hardball” Doesn’t Work

How can you consistently get great results with customer service representatives? Hint: “Playing hardball” doesn’t work. Instead, use seven basic counseling skills to get the best deal.

Years ago, I was visiting new friends at their home to watch a college football game on TV. (It should be noted that I’m not a big sports fan, but my at-the-time boyfriend was.) The game was pay-per-view (pre-ordered through the cable company).

We were relaxing in the living room, eating snacks and chatting, waiting to watch some football. When the game didn’t play as scheduled, they called the cable company… and much to my dismay, the male friend starting yelling and cursing at the customer service representative.

I felt embarrassed, and couldn’t help thinking how awful it would feel to be on the receiving end of that call. (It’s not like it was the representative’s fault, afterall.)

At one point, my angry friend got too worked up and ended up handing the phone over to his female counterpart. I thought, Thank god! She’ll smooth this over... And then she proceeded to shout and curse! Yikes.

What is it that makes people treat another human being like scum? Why does the belief persist that belittling, cursing, intimidating, i.e. “playing hardball,” is the way to go?

More recently, my husband and I went to a store to pick up an item he’d ordered online. He had previously called the store to ensure he’d be able to use a gift card for part of the balance, and was assured he could.

Upon arrival, we were informed that since his credit card had already been charged, there was no way to apply the gift card to his purchase. My husband was soooo mad! His typically easy-going, relaxed demeanor changed. He started arguing with the clerk; he was rude and sarcastic. Naturally, the clerk became defensive (and somewhat defiant). I wanted to disappear. My husband ended up paying full price for the item. The clerk’s day was probably ruined. I wondered if things would have turned out differently had my husband been his usual friendly self.

Why it is widely believed that playing hardball is the best approach for getting what you want?


Why Playing Hardball Doesn’t Work

Think about what motivates you to go out of your way to help; maybe you’re inspired to assist someone in need because they’re friendly (and likeable). Or maybe you feel sorry for them. Maybe you want to help them because they’ve helped you in some way or shown you a kindness; you’re happy to return the favor.

It’s much less likely you’re motivated to help the angry guy who insults you. So why would it be different with customer service? Customer service reps are human, and therefore deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

In my experience, consideration and good manners (thanks, Mom!) go a long way with customer service. Not once have I yelled or threatened. And I (almost) always get optimal results.

By utilizing one or more of the following therapeutic techniques, you can be more effective when returning an item without a receipt, requesting a lower interest rate, or asking your cable company for a better deal.

Use these 7 counseling skills to receive optimal customer service

1. Unconditional positive regard

Instead of bracing yourself for the worst, anticipate that they’ll be able to help.

As a professional counselor, I value my clients while appreciating their unique perspectives and views.

This same principle can be applied to conversations with a customer service representative. Approach them with respect. Appreciate the services they provide. Treat them with courtesy. Rather than, “I need this issue resolved,” try, “Hi [their name], how is your day going?”

Don’t brace for the worst, but anticipate that you’ll receive the help you need. Instead of an aggressive hardball approach, open with, “I’m hoping you’re the person who can help me with…” It’s likely the person you’re speaking with will strive to live up to your expectations; they will be the person who can help you.

2. Empathy

Empathy, the ability to understand another’s perspective and sense their emotions, is crucial to all helping relationships. Empathy is not sympathy or feeling sorry for someone. Sympathy pities; empathy empowers.

Empathy has the potential to open the door for exploration and healing.

To illustrate, I’ll discuss empathy’s role in counseling. Imagine a client who’s afraid she’ll be deemed selfish or weak for contemplating suicide. She recently lost her job and is going through a horrific divorce. She feels worthless; she thinks the world would be better off without her.

Empathy drops you into in her shoes and allows you to experience her anguish. To convey empathy, I’d say, “I can see you’re in a tremendous amount of pain. It’s gotten so bad, suicide seems like the only solution.” Empathy validates her suffering and recognizes that her pain is unbearable. Empathy has the potential to open the door for exploration and healing. (In contrast, the opposite approach would be to scold her, to tell her “it’s not that bad,” or to say she’s only looking for attention. All of those things are harmful and would invalidate her struggle.)

When applied to customer service, empathy acknowledges the experience of being a service representative. If you’re empathetic, you understand what they feel. You recognize the challenges of dealing with angry customers who yell or threaten (like my football-loving friends).

Furthermore, unlike playing hardball, which creates resistance, fear, and defiance, empathy promotes helping behaviors. Convey empathy by saying, “I can’t imagine what you must deal with.” Or “I imagine this job requires a lot of patience.” Empathy has also been linked to persuasiveness.

On the flip side, if the customer service rep empathizes with you, you may have a better chance of convincing them to grant your request, at least according to one study.

3. Genuineness

With clients, I say what I mean. I share what I’m thinking or feeling. I’m myself, flaws and all. Genuineness promotes trust and strengthens the therapeutic relationship.

When talking to a customer service rep, don’t put on an act by playing hardball. Don’t play tough and/or make threats. That’s not how you’d treat a co-worker or an acquaintance (at least, I would hope not?)

And don’t play dumb. Instead of, “I had no idea my payment was late,” try, “My payment was two days late, but since this is the first time, would you consider waiving the fee?” You could also explain your situation: “Honestly, I’ve always been happy with your services, but since the rates went up, I’ve been thinking about canceling. I’ve researched [competing company] and they have better rates. I’m not sure if I can afford your services anymore.” The rep would probably be able to relate (and even empathize), which translates to a better outcome for you.

4. Call them by name

Dale Carnegie said, “A person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” While using a name isn’t a “textbook” counseling skill, what it conveys is.

Using a name conveys respect. It makes that person feel important and valued. Speaking a person’s name also commands their attention. In a counseling session, to make the greatest impact with my words, I’ll say the client’s name before sharing a thought. A name is powerful.

The hardball approach is often dismissive; instead, repeat the rep’s name after they introduce themselves to help you remember. (Write it down if you’re on the phone.) Use their name throughout the conversation. Someone who feels respected, important, and valued is more likely to help than someone who feels disrespected, unimportant, and unappreciated.

5. Patience

Patience is invaluable in counseling. I’m patient with clients who are guarded and resistant to help. I’m patient in sessions; I sometimes sit in silence, allowing for the time to process, contemplate, or sort through thoughts. I’m patient when a client isn’t progressing. (Change takes time.) Lastly, I’m patient with myself when I say the wrong thing or when it seems my efforts aren’t helping.

For the person seeking assistance from customer service, patience is an asset. Hold times can be ridiculously long. It also takes time to connect with an actual human. And when you do connect, they could say you’ve reached the wrong department. They may transfer the call to someone in a different department (who may then transfer you again). You may be placed on hold more than once (and have to explain yourself multiple times). The call could be dropped and you’d have to start the entire process over.

Alternatively, if you’re dealing with in-person customer service, the line could be long. There could be a crying baby nearby or a man with a stinky odor standing in front of you. Or maybe the person behind you keeps bumping into you. It could be too hot or too cold in the store. When you finally get to the front of the line, the clerk may not know how to help. You’d be asked to step aside and wait for the manager, which would take even more time.

Patience is an art; it can be cultivated through mindfulness and gratitude. To foster patience, anticipate that your customer service issue is going to take a considerable amount of time. Expect to run into some unforeseen snags. If you’re already rushed or in a bad mood, skip it. Instead, make that call or trip to the store when you’re relaxed and have plenty of time to spare.

6. Humor

Okay, this is another one that’s not an official counseling skill, but it’s one of my counseling skills. What’s more, research suggests that when used appropriately (and never at a client’s expense), humor is a powerful tool for healing.

In my experience, humor allows clients to open up and relax. It improves mood and helps clients to view their problems from an alternative perspective. Humor is an important coping skill and may reduce mental health symptoms. Humor connects us; laughing together fosters positivity.

Also, never underestimate the power of laughing at yourself. If you can find humor in your flaws and life fails, you can forgive yourself and move on. (It’s refreshing to not have to take yourself so seriously.) Humor makes me a better counselor… and a better person.

Humor connects us; laughing together fosters positivity.

When talking to a customer service rep, use humor instead of playing hardball. Poke fun at yourself or your inadequacies. If your issue is even slightly humorous, go ahead and make a joke about it or have a laugh.

Example: a year or so ago, I had a problem with my FitBit. According to FitBit, I was climbing hundreds of flights of stairs every day. I contacted customer service to report the issue. In my email I wrote, “Although I wish it were true, I can assure you that I have not been climbing hundreds of flights of stairs on a daily basis. Please assist.” They sent a new FitBit.

Humor generates positive feelings; research suggests that a positive mood increases helpfulness. For in-person customer service, instead of playing hardball, try smiling. A smile may increase your chances of getting the help you need. A happy customer service rep is more likely to grant your request.

7. Remain calm

Composure is the opposite of reactivity. An effective clinician is calm and serene; this promotes healing while reducing client anxiety. Moreover, it’s essential to remain calm in a crisis or with trauma work. Reactivity, on the other hand, is chaotic and ineffective.

When you react, you lose a small piece of your control. The more you react, the more out of control you feel. When fully escalated, you give up all your power; you’ve essentially handed it over to the person you’re reacting to. Furthermore, when emotions are heightened, the logical part of your brain becomes less active. You’re driven by your emotions.

In contrast, remaining calm enables you to respond instead of react. Maintaining composure will almost always benefit you in an argument.

Similarly, it’s to your benefit to remain calm when talking to a customer service rep. When playing hardball, it’s difficult to keep your cool. If you get angry or upset, you lose effectiveness. Research indicates that when negotiating, people dealing with angry counterparts are more likely to walk away from the deal. Expressing anger has limited effectiveness when employed as a negotiation strategy. If you happen to anger the customer service rep, you won’t end up getting what you want, at least according to one study.

To increase your ability to regulate your emotions, practice mindfulness meditation or deep breathing exercises. Neurofeedback is another tool for training your brain to remain calm.

Conclusion

In conclusion, playing hardball is rarely effective. The best strategies for getting your needs met include respect, genuineness, and empathy. Use a customer service rep’s name throughout the conversation. Be patient. Increase your likability with humor; remain calm (no matter what). The above methods will boost your odds for great customer service.


Do you have any tips for getting exceptional customer service? Share about it in a comment!

playing hardball

Sleep Deprivation: What Dreams May… Cure?

What happens to your mind and body when you’re sleep-deprived? Poor-quality sleep is linked to a variety of health conditions, including obesity and heart disease. Poor sleep leads to cognitive impairment and poor judgment. A lack of sleep can even lead to schizophrenia-like symptoms! Learn why sleep is essential for health and well-being.

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, about 10% of Americans struggle with chronic insomnia and up to 35% of Americans experience insomnia at least occasionally. I’m part of the 10%. I’ve spent countless nights tossing and turning, dreading the obnoxious sound of “quantum bells” (my cell phone alarm) as daylight slowly creeps in. Due to this, I’ve done quite a bit of research on the subject. (And as a clinician, it’s important for me to know the relationship between restful sleep and mental health so I can educate my clients.)

Sleep recharges us; it makes it possible for us to remember what we learned throughout the day.

We all know that basic sleep hygiene is essential (i.e. having a regular sleep schedule, refraining from watching TV or reading in bed, avoiding alcohol before bedtime, etc.) And if you struggle with insomnia, you’ve probably heard of sleep medications and supplements like Ambien, trazodone, or melatonin. We also know how vital sleep is to health and wellness. Sleep significantly impacts mood, energy levels, and overall well-being. Sleep recharges us; it makes it possible for us to remember what we learned throughout the day.

Knowing how crucial sleep is for both physical and mental fitness, I set out to explore what happens when we don’t get enough. What exactly does a lack of sleep do to a person? I sifted through the research to learn more about the impact of sleep deprivation. This post explores how sleep deprivation affects physical health, perceptions, memory, and critical thinking.

SLEEP AND YOUR PHYSICAL HEALTH

Sleep deprivation is associated with signs of aging

Sleep deprivation has been linked to aging skin. One study found that poor-quality sleepers had more fine lines, uneven pigmentation, and reduced elasticity.

It makes sense that chronic sleep deprivation is associated with signs of aging; sleep is needed for overall rejuvenation (mind and body), which includes skin cell renewal. For smooth and supple skin, high-quality sleep is essential.

Snoring and sleep deprivation are linked to obesity

A 2016 study looked at the relationship between sleep characteristics and body size/weight. Snoring was associated with having a higher BMI, a larger waist, and more body fat. (It should be noted that snoring doesn’t cause obesity; the two are simply related.)

Poor sleep quality and shorter durations of sleep were linked to larger body size and more body fat. The relationship between sleep and obesity is further explored in the next few paragraphs.

If you’re dieting, you’re more likely to lose body fat when you’re getting adequate sleep. Researchers studied participants who slept for either an average of seven and a half hours or five and a quarter hours per night over a 14-day period. Calorie consumption was the same; participants lost similar amounts of weight. However, when participants slept more, they lost more body fat; in fact, about half of the weight they lost was fat. Sleep-deprived participants lost only a pound of fat; the other five pounds were fat-free body mass. Furthermore, it was found that sleep helps with appetite control; this is due to ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite and promotes fat storage. Sleep-deprived participants had higher levels of ghrelin.

If you’re watching what you eat, incorporate healthy sleep habits to maximize your efforts; adequate sleep is needed for optimal weight loss.

Sleep affects our food choices

Other studies have examined specific the ways sleep deprivation affects food choices and calorie intake. Sleep deprivation is associated with especially poor food choices the day following poor-quality or no sleep. One study found that sleep deprivation led to strong cravings for junk food. The researchers measured increased activity in the part of the brain that responds to rewards, but decreased activity in the “decision-making” part of the brain. Study participants choose unhealthy items (i.e. pizza, donuts) over fruits and vegetables.

Another study looked at total calorie intake; sleep-deprived participants consumed an extra 385 calories per day. They also ate higher-fat foods. Additionally, researchers found that a sleep-deprived person purchased items that were higher in calories when grocery shopping.

A 2016 study looked at the relationship between sleep deprivation and the consumption of high-calorie, sugar-sweetened caffeinated beverages in a sample of 18,000 adults. It was found that adults who averaged less than five hours of sleep per night were more likely to consume sugary drinks like soda or energy drinks than their well-rested counterparts. The researchers weren’t able to determine whether drinking caffeinated beverages caused people to sleep less or whether being sleep-deprived caused people to crave more sugar and caffeine; it’s likely that both are true.

Without high-quality sleep, it’s difficult to lose body fat.

Regarding obesity, sleep deprivation plays a significant role. A lack of sleep causes us to feel hungry. We crave junk foods and consume more calories. At the same time, sleep deprivation promotes fat storage while decreasing our energy levels. Without high-quality sleep, it’s difficult to lose body fat.

If you struggle with chronic insomnia, make an active decision to make healthy eating a habit; you’ll be less likely to submit to your cravings. Visit the grocery store only when you’re well-rested. Know that you may not feel like exercising; practice determination. Be mindful to counter some of the health risks associated with sleep deprivation.

In addition to obesity, sleep deprivation is associated with heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke. A lack of sleep takes a toll on the heart. In a recent study, researchers looked at 24-hour shift workers. It was found that sleep deprivation led to a significant increase in cardiac contractility, blood pressure, and heart rate. Furthermore, study participants experienced thyroid changes and an increase in cortisol (the stress hormone).

Research also indicates that chronic sleep deprivation and disrupted sleep are linked to an increased risk of developing or dying from coronary heart disease or stroke. Diabetes and hypertension are associated with sleep deprivation as well.

A lack of sleep may impact women more than men. Researchers found that women who got less than eight hours of sleep per night were at a higher risk of heart disease and other heart-related problems when compared to men who got the same amount of sleep.

Have you ever noticed that you heal slowly or get sick more often when you’re sleep deprived? According to research, chronic sleep deprivation is associated with reduced immune function. If you’re not regularly getting at least six to seven hours of sleep, you’re more susceptible to illness. Your immune system won’t be as effective at eliminating viruses and bacterial infections.

Chronic sleep deprivation is associated with bone loss

Sleep even affects your bones. One study found that chronic sleep deprivation was associated with a loss of bone mass (in rats, at least). The rats underwent sleep restriction measures for three months. A lack of sleep led to significant decreases in bone density, volume, and thickness.

SLEEP AND YOUR BRAIN

Sleep deprivation is associated with increased pain sensitivity

The first part of this post examined sleep’s impact on physical health; the next half will explore how sleep affects the mind, including the way we sense and perceive the world around us. Research indicates that sleep deprivation and/or disruption increase sensitivity to pain. Interestingly, in one study, stimulants like caffeine had the ability to “normalize” the pain sensation (meaning it would feel the way it would with adequate sleep).

Sleep and chronic pain seem to be intricately connected, but the relationship is not fully understood; up to 88% of individuals with chronic pain report sleep issues and nearly 50% of individuals with insomnia have chronic pain..

A lack of sleep affects the way you hear and process sounds

In addition to the sensation of touch, sleep deprivation affects the perception of sound. A lack of sleep impairs central auditory processing (CAP). CAP is crucial for aspects of hearing such as language comprehension, identifying sounds, and recognizing patterns.

In one study, participants took a longer time identifying sounds after being deprived of sleep for 24 hours. It appeared there was a “transfer delay” (from hearing to identifying and then interpreting). To be effective, CAP requires alertness and concentration.

Sleep deprivation affects the formation of memories

We know that sleep deprivation causes cognitive impairment; the brain can only store so much information before it must recalibrate. During sleep, memories are encoded; the brain “consolidates” memories by strengthening them and transforming them from short-term into long-term memories. Without sleep, long-term memories can’t form. Short-term memories are lost and/or altered. Even procedural memories are impacted by sleep deprivation. A lack of sleep leads to forgetfulness and an inability to retain new information.

Sleep affects the way we interpret emotions

Sleep deprivation impairs your ability to interpret facial expressions. A recent study found that a lack of sleep made it difficult for participants to recognize the facial expressions of happiness or sadness. Interestingly, the ability to detect anger, fear, surprise and disgust was not affected. This suggests we’re biologically wired to recognize the emotions related to survival. The researchers hypothesized that the brain preserves functions that perceive life-threatening stimuli while sacrificing functions associated with empathy, bonding, and friendship.

“Real life” implications: If you’re majorly sleep-deprived, you could misinterpret the intentions of others, negatively impacting relationships with co-workers, family, friends, and others. Furthermore, you could read people wrong or miss important social cues; you might not respond appropriately or you could seem lacking in empathy.

When someone is sleep deprived, they’re slower to adopt another’s perspective

In addition to perception and memory formation, sleep deprivation impacts decision-making skills and thoughts, including the ability to accurately assess a situation.

If you have chronic insomnia, you might experience interpersonal problems.

In 2015, researchers hypothesized that sleep deprivation would impair the capacity to recognize sarcasm. Study results didn’t support the hypothesis, but the research generated an unexpected outcome. It was found that someone who was sleep-deprived was slower to adopt another person’s perspective. Implications? If you have chronic insomnia, you might experience interpersonal problems.

Sleep deprivation affects our moral judgment

Sleep deprivation affects moral judgment. In one study, participants were sleep deprived (awake for 53 continuous hours) and then faced with moral dilemmas. They had difficulty solving the dilemmas and making appropriate judgments. Other studies support this as well; a lack of sleep is related to decreased moral awareness. When you’re faced with a tough decision, especially one that involves ethics or morals, be sure to get adequate sleep. You can’t always trust your moral compass.

Sleep deprivation is linked to impaired decision making

Moral decisions are taxing if you’re sleep deprived… the opposite is true with risky ones. Sleep deprivation alters areas in the brain that assess positive and negative outcomes; sensitivity to rewards is enhanced while attention to negative consequences is diminished.

If you haven’t slept, tough decisions can wait.

Researchers found that when gambling, sleep-deprived individuals were more optimistic about their odds of winning. Another study found that sleep deprivation made it difficult for study participants to come to a quick decision when pressured. Sleep-deprived participants also made more mistakes. If you haven’t slept, tough decisions can wait.

A lack of sleep affects optimism

If you’re not getting enough sleep, you could lose your ability to remain positive-minded. Research indicates that individuals with insomnia have lower rates of self-esteem and optimism. In 2017, researchers found that sleep-deprived study participants were less likely to focus on positive stimuli. An inability to think positively is also a symptom of depression.

A lack of sleep can lead to schizophrenia-like symptoms

Sleep deprivation can lead to perceptual distortions, cognitive disorganization, and anhedonia (an inability to feel pleasure).In a 2014 study, participants experienced psychosis after staying awake for 24 hours. The sleep-deprived individuals reported attention deficits and being more sensitive to light, color, and brightness. They exhibited disorganized speech, which is a common symptom of schizophrenia. Participants also reported an altered sense of time and smell. Some of them actually believed they were able to read thoughts; others noticed an altered body perception. Implications? If you miss a night (or two) of sleep, don’t be surprised when you hear voices or when your reality is somewhat altered.

Conclusion

In conclusion, sleep deprivation, especially when it’s chronic, is detrimental to your health. Based on my review of the research, poor-quality sleep can adversely impact your skin, your weight, your cardiovascular system, your immune system, and your bones. (It should be noted that I barely skimmed the surface of an immense body of scientific data on sleep.)

Sleep is also related to brain health. Sleep deprivation impairs sensory perceptions, memory formation, the ability to assess your environment, moral awareness, critical thinking skills, and mood. Sleep deprivation can even induce psychosis.

If you’re like me (the one out of 10 Americans with chronic insomnia), in addition to practicing good sleep hygiene, go ahead and Google “CBT for sleep.” Research suggests that for some, CBT is more effective and longer-lasting than sleep medication. Do a little bit of research. CBT is not a quick fix for insomnia, but it’s worth a try; and your health and wellness are definitely worth it!

sleep deprivation

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The Psychology of Motivation

What is the psychology behind motivation? This post examines the research on motivation and reviews the implications. The conclusion reached is contrary to what you may believe.

What is motivation? According to Merriam-Webster, to motivate is “to provide with a motive.” A motive is defined as “something (such as a need or desire) that causes a person to act.”

Motivation is highly sought after in today’s society; it’s the golden ticket to success. You would think achievement (as an end result) is motive enough, but this proves to be false. We desire success, but are often unable to maintain our drive. It fades away before goals are reached. For example, a dieter is initially motivated by weight loss, improved sleep, and increased energy; these are all powerful motivators. But it’s not enough. Why?

This article is about what it is that motivates us (and why that driving force is often short-lived). (Hint: There are no secrets, tricks, or hacks.)



1. Motivation can be intrinsic (arise from within) or extrinsic (influenced by outside forces)

Intrinsic motivation is rewarded internally. An example of an intrinsic drive is pursuing the study of archeology because it holds a strong appeal or attraction. The behavior of engaging is the reward. Research establishes a strong link between interest and intrinsic motivation. Alternatively, extrinsic motivation refers to externally rewarded motives, such as writing a paper for a grade or performing well at work for a raise.

Practical application: If you’re looking to achieve a goal, but lack the drive, create an incentive. Be creative. Choose rewards that are meaningful.

2. The Role of Dopamine

Studies have found that dopamine, a neurotransmitter, plays a considerable role in drive. More recently, researchers have speculated there are specific areas in the brain responsible for motivation.

To consider: A lack of inspiration or drive could indicate chemical imbalance, especially if paired with feelings of sadness or hopelessness, fatigue, or thoughts of suicide. If debilitating, you may be depressed. Seek professional help.

3. Self-efficacy and perceived competencE

Research indicates that if you believe you can accomplish something, you’re more likely to achieve it than if you doubt yourself. This is a reoccurring theme in motivation literature. Self-efficacy is key.

Practical application: Evaluate your confidence. Do you view yourself as capable? On a scale from 1-10, how confidant are you that you can achieve [insert your goal here]? You won’t maintain the motivation to lose weight if you believe you’ll always be heavy. Self-doubt is a trap. To cultivate self-efficacy, focus on your past accomplishments and successes. Reframe negative thoughts. (Instead of This is impossible, try This is difficult, but manageable.) Increase your self-efficacy by setting – and achieving – one or two easy goals.

4. Having a sense of control leads to greater motivation

If you believe that life “happens” to you or that you are powerless to circumstances, you have an external locus of control. (This is sometimes known as learned helplessness.) It’s difficult to sustain motivation with this view. We can’t control all the variables in life, but we can control our choices and reactions. We control who and what we allow to negatively impact us. This knowledge is empowering. It allows for motivation and can foster an increased sense of efficacy.

Practical application: List or think about some undesirable aspects of your life (rent, a car accident, a difficult colleague, etc.) Select one item from your list and then write ways you can exercise control. (For example, you can’t control a difficult co-worker, but you control what you say to them, how you respond to them, and so on.) Recognize that your decisions directly impact the quality of your life.

The greater the perceived value of an outcome, the stronger the motivation. If you value living in a tidy home, you will be motivated to clean. For someone who doesn’t mind a mess, a clean house holds little value.

Practical application: You want to save money, but struggle to see the immediate benefits. Create a list of all the ways saving can improve your life, both now and in the future. Consider what’s currently important to you. If it’s spending time with family, link that to saving money. (Extra savings mean you can afford to dine out or take vacations with your family.) By increasing outcome value, you may increase your level of motivation. Apply this principle to all aspects of your life.

6. Goals and deadlines are motivating

Define your outcome with a measurable goal and place a time limit on it. By defining exactly what you want (I want to lose 10 lbs.) and then giving yourself a deadline (in 3 months), you’re creating a blueprint. Having a goal map makes it easier to stay motivated by providing direction.

Practical application: When you need motivation, first consider the steps required to accomplish your goal. Be as specific as possible. And then create a deadline. (Note: Deadlines can be flexible. If you don’t meet your deadline, it’s easy to give up, leaving you the opposite of confident and effective. Instead, if a deadline isn’t met, push it back a week. Be reasonable. Revise your goal if needed. Remember to be solution-focused.)

7. Money is a motivator

Researchers discovered that cash is a driving force. Money is a classic example of an extrinsic motivator – and it’s effective. So how can you use this information?

Practical application: There are apps and programs that pay you to stay on track. An example is the Achievement app; you earn points for exercising, drinking water, sleeping, and doing other health-related activities. Once you earn 10,000, you receive $10. Additionally, the weight loss program HealthyWage pays you to lose weight. (Be careful – there’s also a chance you’ll lose money!) If you dread going to work, think about your paycheck. Lastly, to motivate employees, offer small bonuses or other cash incentives linked to performance.

8. Working together on a task enhances motivation

Working toward a common goal with a partner or a group seems to enhance motivation.

Practical application: This practice can be applied in the workplace or at school. Don’t work on projects alone; find someone who shares your enthusiasm. If you want to start an exercise routine, ask a friend (who also wants to get in shape) to hit the gym with you. It seems we’re able to inspire and motivate each other; when one person’s motivation wanes, the other’s kicks in.

9. The source of motivation changes as we pursue our goals

There’s something called “promotion” motivation. We’re good at setting goals and feeling motivated. Initially. Then, somewhere along the way, our motivation switches. It becomes “prevention” motivation. For example, the promotion motivation for losing weight may be fitting into a certain pair of jeans. When the jeans fit, the motivation becomes prevention motivation. Prevention motivation is harder to sustain.

To consider: Have a variety of motivational strategies. Recognize that motivation will change as you pursue your goals.

10. Once something becomes a habit, it persists long after motivation is gone

This may be the most valuable finding of all. With motivation, there are variables: Self-efficacy, deadlines, money, etc. A habit supersedes the variables. There will be times we lack motivation, no matter how effective we feel or how much we value the outcome. If we act out of habit, we don’t have to rely on motivation. Of course, the tricky part is creating a new habit. Habits, which are formed by repetition, reorganize information in your brain so that an action becomes automatic and is no longer tied to a motivational cue.

To consider: Researchers assert it can take anywhere from 15 to 254 days to form a habit. In addition to repetition, you must remove cues that trigger habits you’re trying to quit while adding cues that trigger desired behaviors.

In conclusion, there are many factors related to motivation including self-efficacy, outcome value, and financial incentive. Our motivation changes as we pursue goals, indicating the need for a variety of motivational strategies. We know that dopamine plays an important role and that there are structural regions in the brain responsible for motivation.


A friend of mine recently asked how I motivate myself to go to the gym when I get off work. “It has nothing to do with motivation,” I responded. “I just do it; it’s not an option not to.”

I’m fully aware I lack motivation. However, I recognize that motivation, while advantageous, is not a prerequisite for success. It’s too fickle; it lacks the staying power of habit and the might of determination.


Don’t rely on motivation to achieve your goals. Instead, invest in the determination it takes to form a habit.


motivation

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