If you can change the way you think, you can change your brain.
That’s the conclusion of a new study, which finds that challenging unhealthy thought patterns with the help of a therapist can lead to measurable changes in brain activity.
In the study, psychiatrists at King’s College London show that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy strengthens certain healthy brain connections in patients with psychosis. This heightened connectivity was associated with long-term reductions in psychotic symptoms and recovery eight years later, according to the findings, which were published online Tuesday in the journal Translational Psychiatry.
“Over six months of therapy, we found that connections between certain key brain regions became stronger,” Dr. Liam Mason, a psychiatrist at King’s College and the study’s lead author, told The Huffington Post in an email. “What we are really excited about here is that these stronger connections lead to long-term improvements in people’s symptoms and overall recovery across the eight years that we followed them up.”
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT is a psychotherapy technique that was developed in the ‘70s and is commonly practiced today. CBT targets depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses by helping patients to identify dysfunctional thought patterns and beliefs, and ultimately to replace them with healthy ones.
In the case of schizophrenia and psychosis, CBT can help patients reframe their thinking around unusual perceptions or paranoid thoughts ― for instance, the belief that others are out to get them.
“CBT helps people learn new ways of thinking about and responding to their difficulties,” Mason said. “What we think makes it effective is that people can take the tools they have learned and practiced in therapy, and then continue to use them long after the therapy has ended.”
In rewriting their deeply-ingrained thought patterns, it seems that patients also quite literally rewire their brains.
In a previous study, Mason and his team showed in a previous study that psychosis patients who received CBT had stronger connections between brain regions involved in accurate processing of social threats. The new findings reveal that these changes are enduring, and they may be critical to long-term recovery.
In the original study, patients with psychosis underwent brain imaging both before and after three months of CBT. The patients’ brains were scanned while they looked at images of faces expressing different emotions. After undergoing CBT, the patients showed marked increases in brain activity. Specifically, the brain scans showed heightened connections between the amygdala, the brain region involved in fear and threat processing, and the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for reasoning and thinking rationally ― suggesting that the patients had an improved ability to accurately perceive social threats.
“We think that this change may be important in allowing people to consciously re-think immediate emotional reactions,” Mason said.
For their new research, Mason and his colleagues followed 15 of the original study participants, tracking their health over the course of eight years using medical records. At the end of the eight years, the participants also answered questions about their overall recovery and well-being.
The researchers found that heightened connectivity between the amygdala and prefrontal cortex was associated with long-term recovery from psychosis. The exciting finding marks the first time scientists have been able to demonstrate that brain changes resulting from psychotherapy may be responsible for long-term recovery from mental illness.
There’s a good chance that similar brain changes also occur in CBT patients being treated for anxiety and depression, Mason said.
“There is research showing that some of the same connections may also be strengthened by CBT for anxiety disorders,” he explained.
The findings challenge the “brain bias” in psychiatry, an institutional focus on physical brain differences over psychological factors in mental illness. Thanks to this common bias, many psychiatrists are prone to recommending medication to their clients rather than psychological treatments such as CBT.
“Psychological therapy can lead to changes in the mechanics of the brain,” Mason said. “This is especially important for conditions like psychosis which have traditionally been viewed as ‘brain diseases’ that require medication or even surgery.”
“This research challenges the notion that the existence of physical brain differences in mental health disorders somehow makes psychological factors or treatments less important,” Mason added in a statement.
Achievement rarely produces the sense of lasting happiness that you think it will. Once you finally accomplish the goal you’ve been chasing, two new goals tend to pop up unexpectedly.
We long for new achievements because we quickly habituate to what we’ve already accomplished. This habituation to success is as inevitable as it is frustrating, and it’s more powerful than you realize.
The key to beating habituation is to pursue, what researchers call, enduring accomplishments. Unlike run-of-the-mill accomplishments that produce fleeting happiness, the pleasure from enduring accomplishments lasts long after that initial buzz. Enduring accomplishments are so critical that they separate those who are successful and happy from those who are always left wanting more.
Researchers from the Harvard Business School studied this phenomenon by interviewing and assessing professionals who had attained great success. The aim was to break down what these exceptional professionals did differently to achieve both long-lasting and fulfilling success.
The researchers found that people who were both successful and happy over the long term intentionally structured their activities around four major needs:
Happiness: They pursued activities that produced pleasure and satisfaction.
Achievement: They pursued activities that got tangible results.
Significance: They pursued activities that made a positive impact on the people who matter most.
Legacy: They pursued activities through which they could pass their values and knowledge on to others.
Lasting fulfillment comes when you pursue activities that address all four of these needs. When any one of them is missing, you get a nagging sense that you should be doing more (or something different).
The behaviors that follow are the hallmarks of people who are successful and happy because they address these four needs. Try them out and see what they do for you.
1. They are passionate. Jane Goodall left her home in England and moved to Tanzania at age 26 to begin studying chimpanzees. It became her life’s work, and Goodall has devoted herself fully to her cause while inspiring many others to do the same. Successful, happy people don’t just have interests; they have passions, and they devote themselves completely to them.
2. They swim against the current. There’s a reason that successful and happy people tend to be a little, well, different. To be truly successful and happy, you have to follow your passions and values no matter the costs. Just think what the world would have missed out on if Bill Gates or Richard Branson had played it safe and stayed in school or if Stephen King hadn’t spent every free second he had as teacher writing novels. To swim against the current, you have to be willing to take risks.
“To be normal is the ideal aim of the unsuccessful.”
– Carl Jung
3. They finish what they start. Coming up with a great idea means absolutely nothing if you don’t execute that idea. The most successful and happy people bring their ideas to fruition, deriving just as much satisfaction from working through the complications and daily grind as they do from coming up with the initial idea. They know that a vision remains a meaningless thought until it is acted upon. Only then does it begin to grow.
4. They are resilient. To be successful and happy in the long term, you have to learn to make mistakes, look like an idiot, and try again, all without flinching. In a recent study at the College of William and Mary, researchers interviewed over 800 entrepreneurs and found that the most successful among them tended to have two critical things in common: they were terrible at imagining failure, and they tended not to care what other people thought of them. In other words, the most successful entrepreneurs put no time or energy into stressing about their failures as they see failure as a small and necessary step in the process of reaching their goals.
5. They make their health a priority. There are an absurd number of links between your health, happiness, and success. I’ve beaten them to death over the years, but the absolute essential health habits that successful and happy people practice consistently are good sleep hygiene (fights stress, improves focus, and is great for your mood), eating healthy food (helps you to focus), and exercise (great for energy levels and confidence).
6. They don’t dwell on problems. Where you focus your attention determines your emotional state. By fixating on your problems, you create and prolong negative emotions and stress, which hinder performance. However, by focusing on actions to better yourself and your circumstances, you can create a sense of personal efficacy that produces positive emotions and improves performance. Successful, happy people don’t dwell on problems because they know that they’re most effective when they focus on solutions.
7. They celebrate other people’s successes. Insecure people constantly doubt their relevance, and because of this, they try to steal the spotlight and criticize others in order to prove their worth. Confident people, on the other hand, aren’t worried about their relevance because they draw their self-worth from within. Instead of insecurely focusing inward, confident people focus outward, which allows them to see all the wonderful things that other people bring to the table. Praising people for their contributions is a natural result of this.
8. They live outside the box. Successful and happy people haven’t arrived at where they are by thinking in the same way as everyone else. While others stay in their comfort-zone prisons and invest all their energy in reinforcing their existing beliefs, successful people are out challenging the status quo and exposing themselves to new ideas.
9. They keep an open mind. Exposing yourself to a variety of people is useless if you spend that time disagreeing with them and comforting yourself with your own opinions. Successful, happy people recognize that every perspective provides an opportunity for growth. You need to practice empathy by putting yourself in the other person’s shoes so that you can understand how their perspective makes sense (at least, to them). A great way to keep an open mind is to try to glean at least one interesting or useful thing from every conversation you have.
10. They don’t let anyone limit their joy. When your sense of pleasure and satisfaction are derived from comparing yourself to others, you are no longer the master of your own happiness. When successful, happy people feel good about something that they’ve done, they don’t let anyone’s opinions or accomplishments take that away from them. While it’s impossible to turn off your reactions to what others think of you, you don’t have to compare yourself to others, and you can always take people’s opinions with a grain of salt. That way, no matter what other people are thinking or doing, your self-worth comes from within. Regardless of what people think of you at any particular moment, one thing is certain — you’re never as good or bad as they say you are.
Bringing It All Together
People who are successful and happy focus on activities that address a variety of needs, not just immediate achievements.
What other habits can make you happy and successful in the long term? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below, as I learn just as much from you as you do from me.
Nutella, the popular hazelnut spread, is being removed from supermarket shelves around the world as a result of a report that suggested one of its ingredients, palm oil, is linked with cancer.
Already, one of Italy’s larger grocery chain, Coop, has stopped selling the spread, according to the BBC. The European Food Safety Authority report, released in May 2016, said the palm oil in spreads such as Nutella was more likely to have carcinogenic components—including Glycidyl fatty acid esters— than other vegetable oils. It’s unclear why the eight-month-old report is only now causing panic.
The report found that palm oil becomes more carcinogenic when heated above 200°C (392°F). While no consumers typically eat the spread heated at that temperature, some companies do cook palm oil at high temperatures to burn off its natural red coloring and to neutralize its odor. Ferrero, the maker of Nutella, told Reuters its industrial processes do not reach that high temperature.
The report stopped short of saying people should stop consuming palm oil altogether—more research is needed before that conclusion can be drawn. Still, it hasn’t stopped some supermarket chains from taking action. So far there are no reports of the spread being pulled from stores in the US.
The chocolatey spread can be traced back to the food rationing days in Europe following World War II. Back then, it was mostly marketed as an affordable, nutritious spread for toast. The product hit the US in the 1980s, and quickly gained a loyal following. Initially, US consumers used the spread more as a dessert topping, but data show those habits have changed through the years to reflect more European habits.
Playing music keeps your brain sharp.
Musicians may also be more mentally alert, according to new research. A University of Montreal study, slated to appear in the February issue of the journal Brain and Cognition, shows that musicians have significantly faster reaction times than non-musicians.
The findings suggest that learning to play a musical instrument could keep your brain sharp as you age, and may help to prevent certain aspects of cognitive decline in older adults.
“As people get older, for example, we know their reaction times get slower,” Simon Landry, the study’s lead author and a Ph.D. student in biomedical ethics, said in a statement. “So if we know that playing a musical instrument increases reaction times, then maybe playing an instrument will be helpful for them.”
For the small study, the researchers compared the reaction times of 19 non-musician students and 16 student musicians who had been recruited from the university’s music program and had been playing an instrument for at least seven years. The participants included violinists, percussionists, a viola player and a harpist.
“We’re only now starting to better understand the benefits of musical training and they seem to range beyond simply playing music.”Simon Landry, Ph.D. student at the University of Montreal
Each participant was seated in a quiet room and asked to keep one hand on a computer mouse and the other on a small box that occasionally vibrated silently. The participants were instructed to click on the mouse when the box vibrated, when they heard a sound from the speakers in front of them or when both things happened at once. The stimulations were done 180 times each.
As hypothesized, the musicians had significantly faster reaction times to non-musical auditory, tactile and multisensory stimuli than the non-musicians.
Landry says this is likely because playing music involves multiple senses. With touch, for instance, a violin player has to feel the string on her finger, but she also needs to listen for the right sound to be produced when she’s pressing on the string.
“This long-term training of the sense in the context of producing exactly what is desired musically leads to a strengthening of sensory neural pathways,” Landry told The Huffington Post. “Additionally, using the senses in synchronicity for long periods of time ― musicians practice for years ― enhances how they work together. All this would lead to the faster multisensory reaction time.”
Previously, Landry also investigated how musicians’ brains process sensory illusions. Together with their previous findings, the results suggest that musicians are better at integrating input from various senses, the study’s authors noted. More studies are needed, however, to determine whether and how musical training might slow the natural cognitive decline that occurs as we age.
“Playing a musical instrument has an effect on abilities beyond music,” Landry concluded. “We’re only now starting to better understand the benefits of musical training and they seem to range beyond simply playing music.”
If you needed any more reason to pick up an instrument, check out this TEDEd video on how playing music benefits your brain:
Sometimes a bout of insomnia can be linked to a specific stressful event or circumstance, but for many, it’s simply the way their brains and bodies work.
Now, new research has identified for the first time eight specific genes that are linked to insomnia or excessive daytime sleepiness, which refers to when someone feels tired for an unusually high percentage of their waking hours. (This can be a symptom caused by not getting enough sleep, other sleep disorders, a side effect from taking another medication or an underlying medical condition.)
What’s more, the data showed that some of the genes associated with disturbed sleep identified in this study seemed to be linked to certain metabolic and neuropsychiatric diseases, too, like restless legs syndrome, schizophrenia and obesity.
“It was [previously] known that sleep disturbances may co-occur with many diseases in humans, but it was not known that there are shared genetic components that contribute both to sleep problems and these conditions,” Richa Saxena, study co-author and assistant professor of anaesthesia at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, told The Huffington Post.
Estimates suggest as many as 30 percent of people around the world have some type of trouble sleeping. And approximately 10 percent of people in the U.S. have symptoms that could be clinically diagnosed as insomnia.
And while environmental factors ― like how noisy your neighborhood is, whether kids or work is waking you up during the night, or stress over a traumatic experience ― undoubtedly affect sleep, so do the traits that you inherit from your family.
Studies have previously identified genes linked to some sleep disorders like narcolepsy and sleep apnea, but these are the first genes specifically linked to insomnia.
The new study looked at the prevalence of insomnia, sleep problems and excessive daytime sleepiness in 112,586 European adults who had participated in a UK Biobank study. Everyone also had their genes mapped for the study ― and additional information about weight and other diseases or chronic conditions was collected.
The discovery also revealed that some of the genes most strongly linked to sleep disturbances were also linked to restless legs syndrome, insulin resistance, depression, schizophrenia and obesity.
Specifically, the genes linked to insomnia were most strongly related to those associated with restless legs syndrome, insulin resistance and depression. The genes linked to individuals sleeping longer on average were linked to schizophrenia risk. And the genes associated with excessive daytime sleepiness were also linked to obesity.
Previous epidemiological studies that looked at incidence of sleep trouble and incidence of some of these diseases suggested there was a connection, Saxena said. “But it was not known [until this study] that there are shared genetic components ― shared underlying biological pathways ― that contribute to both sleep problems and these shared conditions,” she said.
Do the new findings mean that everyone who has trouble sleeping is at higher risk for restless legs syndrome, schizophrenia and obesity? Not necessarily ― and most likely no, Saxena said.
“This research is not yet able to determine if disturbed sleep causes these disorders or vice versa,” she explained.
In reality, it is likely that many different genes contribute to both sleep problems and these medical problems, Saxena said. But this new study does suggest that these problems share genes and underlying pathways.
Practically speaking, the research is a long way off from actually helping anyone sleep better or better manage these various conditions, Saxena added. But the hope is that researchers could design and test various drugs to target these genes.
For now, it’s big news that there may be a genetic reason people with these disorders are more likely to have troubled sleep.
Sarah DiGiulio is The Huffington Post’s sleep reporter. You can contact her at sarah.digiulio@.
It’s actually a little hard to believe we, as both a goat- and yoga-loving society, have slept on this concept for so long. Leave it to Lainey Morse of Albany, Oregon to realize something as glorious as goat yoga.