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This may help college students avoid stress, depression & hangovers

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Despite what you see in movies and Snapchat stories, the first few months of college can be a tenuous time for many. Sharing a bedroom with a stranger, navigating a new class schedule with more freedom — and homework — constantly meeting new people and living on a steady diet of pizza and (increasingly better) cafeteria food can easily combine to create a stressful first semester.

Fortunately, a new study suggests that taking a few deep breaths, some meditation and other mental exercises may help students make it through. Freshmen who participated in an eight-week “mindfulness” program were less likely to experience depression, anxiety and alcohol-related incidents, like a hangover or blackout, than a control group who did not, according to a study published in a recent issue of the peer-reviewed Journal of American College Health.

“Students’ mental health is incredibly important for their success,” said Kamila Dvorakova, one of the authors of the study. “Interventions that are based on mindfulness and compassion are focused on strengthening (students’) ability to do well in college.”

Mindfulness training typically includes exercises aimed at helping participants be present and in touch with their thoughts. The students studied in the research were exposed to the “Breathe” curriculum, a program focused on teaching mindfulness to young adults. As part of the study, students participated in group sessions centered around skills like body awareness and understanding and working with their thoughts. They also received cards to use at home to remind them to perform mindfulness techniques, such as taking three deep breaths in response to stress.

Though the study observed a relatively small group of students (109 in total), the findings provide some insight into strategies campuses can use to help ease the transition to college for students and help them have a healthier experience overall.

Colleges and universities have struggled to cope with a growing number of students facing mental health challenges while in school. Mindfulness training is of course no replacement for counseling, but it may complement existing resources available on college campuses, said Dvorakova, the compassion and caring fellow at the human development and family studies department at Pennsylvania State University.

“It’s not just having a counseling center,” she said. “The treatment is super important, but that’s at the end of the line when things already went downhill. What can we do to prevent that?” She suggests that colleges do more to indicate to students that they value wellness and health in addition to academic achievements.

The findings also come amid mindfulness’s growing cache in the corporate world. Companies are increasingly offering employees’ sessions on how better to cope with stress as well as boost focus and memory. What’s more an explosion of other apps and tools has helped turn mindfulness and meditation into a nearly $1 billion industry.

Via: This trick may help college students avoid stress, depression and hangovers 

Signs you have high emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence can mean the difference between behaving in a socially acceptable way and being considered to be way out of line.

While most people will have heard of emotional intelligence, not many people really know how to spot it – in themselves or in others.

Emotional intelligence is essentially the way you perceive, understand, express, and manage emotions.

And it’s important because the more you understand these aspects of yourself, the better your mental health and social behavior will be.

It might be these are things you do without even really thinking – which can be the case for a lot of people. Or it might be that these are skills you know you need to work on.

Either way, improved emotional intelligence can be very useful in all sorts of circumstances – be it in work, at home, in school, or even when you’re just socializing with your friends.

So if you want to know if you’re emotionally intelligent, simply check the list below.

1. You think about your reactions

Emotional intelligence can mean the difference between a good reaction and a bad reaction to circumstances. Emotions can contain important information that can be useful to personal and social functioning – but sometimes these emotions can also overwhelm us, and make us act in ways we would rather not.

People who lack emotional intelligence are more likely to just react, without giving themselves the time to weigh up the pros and cons of a situation and really thinking things through.

People who are less able to regulate their negative feelings are also more likely to have difficulty functioning socially – which can exacerbate depressive feelings.

People with major depression have been shown to have difficultiesunderstanding and managing their emotions. And research has also shown that more depressive symptoms are present in people with lower emotional intelligence – even if they are not clinically depressed.

2. You see situations as a challenge

If you are able to recognize negative emotions in yourself and see difficult situations as a challenge – focusing on the positives and persevering – chances are that you’ve got high emotional intelligence.

Imagine for a moment you lost your job. An emotionally intelligent person might perceive their emotions as cues to take action, both to deal with the challenges and to control their thoughts and feelings.

But someone with poor emotional skills might ruminate on their job loss, come to think of themselves as hopelessly unemployable, and spiral into depression.

3. You can modify your emotions

Of course, there are times when your feelings can get the better of you, but if you are an emotionally intelligent person, it is likely that when this happens you have the skills needed to modify your emotions.

For example, while average levels of anxiety can improve cognitive performance – probably by increasing focus and motivation – too much anxiety can block cognitive achievement.

So knowing how to find the sweet spot, between too much and too little anxiety, can be a useful tool.

It is clear that moderation is the key when it comes to managing our emotions. Emotionally intelligent people know this and have the skills to modify their emotions appropriately.

And this is probably why emotional intelligence has been shown to be related to lower levels of anxiety.

4. You can put yourself in other people’s shoes

If you are able to extend these skills beyond your own personal functioning, then that’s another sign that you have high levels of emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence can be particularly important in workplaces that require heavy “emotional labor” – where workers must manage their emotions according to organizational rules.

This can include customer service jobs, where workers may need to sympathize with customers – despite the fact that customers may be yelling at them.

This is why workplace emotional intelligence training is now common – with the most effective training focusing on management and expression of emotions, which are directly linked to communication and job performance.

It’s also worth pointing out that emotional intelligence is a cognitive ability that can improve across your lifespan. So if you haven’t recognized much of yourself in the traits listed above, fear not, there’s still time for you to work on your emotional intelligence.

Via: 4 signs you have high emotional intelligence, according to academic experts 

6 Ways To Boost Your Brainpower 

Here’s food for thought: The average adult human brain has about 100 billion cells.

Scientists used to think that past childhood, the brain stopped developing. Once all of its connections formed, they were set for life, and then, all these cells would simply begin their inexorable decline.

Now, we know different: Neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to create and reorganize synaptic connections) continues throughout life. And these days, the scientific community actively researches the myriad ways this happens and how we can boost our brainpower.

Although we’ve long known about the areas that “feed the brain” (e.g., good nutrition, learning new skills), here are some recent findings on boosting brainpower:

1. Take advantage of blueberry season

A diet rich in plant-based foods (fruits and vegetables) helps brain cognition and staves off dementia. (Conversely, we know that too much salt, sugar and trans fat lead to inflammation and brain shrinkage.) One specific study is among the evidence linking blueberries to brain power as we age. Blueberries contain flavonoids (plant pigments) which are known to generate a variety of health benefits, including the potential to protect brain neurons.

2. Exercise for body and brain

Exercise is good for our hearts, but it has also been shown to have a strong positive impact on our brains. Exercise can create new brain cells as well as lead to improvement in general brain performance. One scientific study in particular focused on brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), finding a 32 percent increase in BDNF levels in exercisers. BDNF is a protein within nerve cells that in essence keeps those cells optimally functioning, and contributes to their growth as well as to the growth of new neurons. It appears that vigorous workouts can increase BDNF levels.

3. Work right to think right

Environmental (“green”) office spaces have always maintained a good reputation. Now, it turns out that in addition to better productivity and fewer sick days, they also have an impact on better brainpower. In 2015, a study conducted by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health showed that cognitive functioning is substantially improved for those who work in “green” offices. Much of this is due to better air circulation and ventilation, which can result in lower levels of volatile organic compounds (VOC) and carbon dioxide in the air. Check with your employer or an environmental expert on how you might facilitate a “green” office space. In the meantime, consider indoor plants. Simply adding a few of these can reduce indoor pollution and help filter the air.

4. Lead a musical life

Listening to music, singing or playing an instrument “exercises” our brains. This is in part due to the release of the feel-good chemical dopamine. A 2015 study found that classical music, specifically Mozart, can be linked to the brainwave activity which impacts attention and cognitive function. It turns out music is a coping mechanism for pain and depression (which involve brain chemicals). In addition, one researcher postulates that the strong emotions evoked by music can enhance brain memory.

5. Clear the house, clear the mind

Princeton Neuroscience Institute (PNI) researchers published an article in the Journal of Neuroscience which detailed their discovery of an interesting phenomenon: Multiple stimuli present in the visual field at the same time compete within the brain, resulting in lowered performance. This basically means that clutter causes distraction, and that distraction impedes the brain from focus and information processing. The findings of their study imply that a clean environment translates to a clear mind.

6. Meditate for peace (and strength) of mind

Multiple sources have provided evidence on the connection between mediation and positive brain changes. These include a study that ties an increase in gray matter density to meditation. Even 20 to 30 minutes a day of meditation/mindfulness can result in the following definitive brain changes:

· An increase in the gray matter of the anterior cingulate cortex (located behind the brain’s frontal lobe)

· An increase in gray matter density in the prefrontal cortex (regulates problem-solving, emotion and planning)

· An increase in the cortical thickness of the hippocampus (responsible for learning, memory, and susceptibility to stress and related disorders)

· A decrease in the size of the amygdala, the source of fearful and anxious emotions (known as the brain’s “fight or flight” mechanism)

So, with this new knowledge, let’s go back to that original statistic: The average adult human brain has about 100 billion cells. Just think about how we can nurture all those cells and what would happen if we did …

Via: 6 Ways To Boost Your Brainpower 

Health risk for men with gray hair

By; Korin Miller men with grey hair(Photo: Getty Images)

Via: Health risk for men with gray hair

Compassion, one way to be happy and successful 

  • Compassion for others can lead to more friends, success and sustainable happiness
  • Training to be more compassionate changes your brain for good

Looking for a way to be happier? Are you seeking deeper connections with friends or looking for more friends? Want to relate better to your co-workers?

Try a little compassion.
Compassion, as one scholar describes it, is “experiencing feelings of loving kindness toward another person’s affliction.” It’s related to, but a little different from empathy, which the same scholar defines as “feeling with someone, that is, sharing the other person’s emotion.”
But compassion is not for the touchy-feely Oprah set alone. The U.S. military and professional sports teams found real success with mindfulness and compassion training. In fact, the baseball team that incorporated mindfulness practice into their routine last year, the Chicago Cubs, won the World Series. The “lovable losers” hadn’t won a World Series in 108 years.
“‘This training is not for wimps,’ as my grad student, who was a former football player, used to say,” said Amishi Jha, an associate professor of psychology. “This is for the toughest of the tough who want to make the world better and benefit personally, too.”
Jha has U.S. Department of Defense contracts to teach mindfulness and compassion to the military. At the University of Miami, she works with football players and regular students to teach them resilience in the face of high stress, and regular everyday stress, too.
What she, and many other scholars have found, is that compassion is key to coping. The compassionate tend to have deeper connections with others and more friends. They are more forgiving and have a stronger sense of life purpose. Many studies have shown these results.
Compassion also has direct personal benefit. The compassionate tend to be happier, healthier, more self-confident, less self-critical (pdf), and more resilient.
But if you’ve ever struggled to find loving kindness for the guy who cut you off on your morning commute, know you are not alone.
Recent politics have exposed real anger, coldness and polarization among Americans, polls say. We may even be getting less compassionate, as a 2009 study showed.
Compassion takes practice. But if you do practice, the experts promise the next time you get cut off, while you may not be happy about it, it won’t ruin your morning.

How do you get to compassion?

A whole industry exists to teach you compassion, but it doesn’t have to cost you money. You can start simply with a common exercise called the Loving Kindness Meditation. All you need is a quiet space and about 20 minutes, or 15 minutes if the thought of having to find 20 stresses you out.
In that quiet space, sit in a comfortable position. Focus on your breath and try to clear your mind. The key is to be present in that space in that time. Then mentally focus on your heart area and think about someone you feel tenderness toward. This could be your spouse or your mom or your child.
Dwell on those positive thoughts for a little bit. Then extend that same feeling toward yourself. Ruminate on that for a little while. Then expand that feeling out to others. Maybe think of someone you aren’t as close to and think tenderly about them.
As time allows add more people to that circle. After a little practice, you can add people who don’t automatically inspire tender thoughts. Serious practitioners eventually add in all of humanity.
This may sound a little woo-woo, but several studies show this simple exercise really does strengthen your sense of compassion.

Why does it work?

Even short-term exercises like this broaden your attention, your thinking and your overall sense of well-being in a way that lasts. That’s in part because it changes your brain.
Compassion helps your brain become more flexible to instinctively help you become more altruistic, or pro-social, toward others.
You also become more accepting of your own failings. That’s what a 2014 study in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience found. In this experiment, there were three small groups of women who were subjected to videos of distressing images. One group got empathy training. Another got compassion training.
The control group got basic memory training. When researchers looked at their brains before and after two training rounds, they saw a difference in reaction to the same distressing video.
The people with the compassion training still felt these negative emotions, like those with empathy training did, but the part of their brain connected with reward and positive effect also lit up.
For the empathy trained, the part of the brain associated with threat and social disconnection was engaged instead. That suggests they’d likely shy away from the pain they were seeing and not be as apt to help. That also meant those who had the compassion training saw an increased positive affect of the training and decreased negative affect, as compared to the other trainings.
Compassion prompts your brain to have a wider sense of what’s going on and it gives you access to more ideas on how to act. When your brain feels threatened like it does with pain, even someone else’s, it focuses on the pain only to make it go away, and shuts down those other avenues that incentivize you to help.

Who should you try compassion training?

Compassion training has helped others who experience regular stress in their work. After compassion training, doctors and nurses who suffer a lot of professional burnout become better caregivers and feel empathy without internalizing a patient’s distress as their own.
Soldiers who took compassion training recovered faster from stressful situations, such as basic training. Their heart and breathing rates return to normal much quicker than those soldiers who don’t get the training.
The best place to meditate? At work.

School children who did a short eight-week compassion training program functioned better overall, a study showed. After the training, even students who struggled with mental challenges such as ADHD had better attendance and behavior records, and their grades improved.
Dr. Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi developed a cognitively based compassion training program at Emory University that is based on Tibetan contemplative methods. Negi has seen stressed students and members of the public make remarkable progress.
“There is a real benefit to this practice, including physical health benefits and a real reduction in physical signs of stress,” Negi said. His studies have documented success in specific patient populations, including breast cancer survivors and people with PTSD, and for those with run-of-the-mill stress.
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“Creating an environment in which people can learn soft skills andemotional intelligence — these are so important,” Negi said.
The happiness that can come from compassion training is the kind that lasts, unlike the fleeting feeling of happiness that might come, for example, when you buy a new car. (Scientists call this the hedonic treadmill effect.) Happiness derived from compassion is sustainable.
“Developing compassion, sets a foundation for the stability of the mind,” Jha said. “And developing intrinsic compassion, a concern for the suffering of others and for oneself, that can be very powerful … for all involved.”

Via: Compassion, one way to be happy and successful

Are You A Night Owl? It May Be A Gene Mutation 

Do you get your best work done late at night and then struggle to wake up in the morning? New research suggests your night owl tendencies could be hard-wired in your genes.

In the new study, researchers looked at 70 people from six families and found that a mutation in a gene called CRY1 was common among those who have a condition known as delayed sleep phase disorder (DSPD). In people with this condition, the circadian clock runs behind, so they wake up later than normal, and go to bed later than normal.

The mutation was absent in the members of these same families who did not have DSPD, the researchers said. In addition, the researchers showed in lab experiments that this gene may play a key role in driving the circadian clock. [Top 10 Spooky Sleep Disorders]

This is the first genetic mutation found to be associated with DSPD, the researchers said.

“Carriers of the mutation have longer days than the planet gives them, so they are essentially playing catch-up for their entire lives,” Alina Patke, the lead author of the study and a research associate in the Laboratory of Genetics at The Rockefeller University, said in a statement from Cell Press. The findings are published today (April 6) in the journal Cell.

The circadian clock is an internal rhythm that guides nearly all life on Earth. In people, it dictates when one feels tired, hungry or awake. It even regulates body temperature. Most people are hard-wired to a 24-hour clock, but up to 10 percent of peoplewith DSPD follow an internal clock that runs on a longer loop.

“A person like a bartender, for example, might not experience any problem with the delayed sleep cycle,” Patke told Live Science. “But someone like a surgeon who has to be in the OR in the early morning – that’s not compatible.”

Patke and her colleagues first identified the DSPD-linked mutation seven years ago, in a 46-year-old U.S. woman who had come to a sleep clinic after a long struggle with her late sleep cycle.

Patke’s team andother researchers analyzed the woman’s natural sleep patterns. She was placed in an apartment for two weeks that was isolated from all time cues. [5 Surprising Sleep Discoveries]

“It didn’t have windows, TV or internet,” Patke said. “Then we told her to live on her own timeline and to eat and sleep according to what her body told her to do.”

In this isolation, the woman settled into a rhythm that stretched about 1 hour longer than the typical 24-hour circadian cycle, and her sleep was fragmented, Patke said.

In sequencing her genes, the researchers identified the CRY1 mutation. The mutation is a single-point mutation in the CRY1 gene, meaning just one “letter” in its genetic instructions is off.

In the new study, Patke’s team confirmed CRY1 genetic mutation’s link to delayed sleep phase disorder by looking for the mutation among the woman’s extended family, and in other population samples.

Using a database of genomic information for people in Turkey, the researchers identified people who carried the mutation in CRY1. In collaboration with researchers at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey, the researchers reached out to these people, and were able to conduct interviews and perform further DNA sequencing with the members of six families.

Among the Turkish family members, 39 carried the CRY1 mutation, and 31 did not. Data revealed that the sleep cycles of those carrying the gene were clearly late-shifted. Their midpoint of sleep naturally fell between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m., while the midpoint of sleep for those who did not carry the mutation fell around 4 a.m. [5 Things You Must Know About Sleep]

Clinical studies estimate that up to 10 percent of people experience delayed sleep phase disorder, and not all the cases may be linked to this single mutation, the researchers said.

In fact, Patke said that she is a night owl and often works late into the night. But she does not carry the CRY1 mutation.

“I checked,” she said. “Not everybody who had this behavior necessarily has this mutation, but it does seem to have an effect on a large part of the population.”

There are likely other underlying genetic causes for the condition, Patke said.

Still, identifying at least one genetic mutation behind the sleep disorder represents an important step.

“Understanding how the rhythms are controlled opens the door to eventually manipulating them with drugs,” Patke said.

Also, she said that if a drug is eventually found to help night owls align their sleep schedules to normal patterns, a similar pathway could tapped to help travelers deal with jet lag.

In the meantime, the researchers emphasized there are strategies that people with delayed sleep phase disorder can use to try to reset their clocks.

Patke advised practicing “good sleep hygiene,” which involves going to bed at a set time every night, even on weekends, and waking up at a set time each morning. Avoiding bright lights (including laptops and smartphones) at night also helps, as does exposing yourself to the sunlight first thing in the morning.

“Even if you have this mutation, it’s not unchangeable destiny,” Patke said. “There are steps you can take to try and match your internal rhythms to the outside world.”

Via: Are You A Night Owl? It May Be A Gene Mutation 

Here’s Why You Sleep Much Less As You Age 

Researchers have found that insomnia occurs because certain brain mechanisms change as people age. 

As people age, many experience difficulties sleeping. But a new study suggests that it’s actually our sleeplessness that’s aging us.

In a study published in the journal Neuron this month, researchers found that insomnia occurs because certain brain mechanisms change as people age.

Lead study author Matthew Walker, head of the sleep and neuroimaging laboratory at University of California, Berkeley, said sleeplessness is the result of the loss of neuronal connections in the brain that pick up on the body’s cues that it’s tired. In experiments that compared the amount and type of chemical signals involved in sleep in younger mice to older ones, neuroscientists found that the chemical signature was the same regardless of age. The problem is that the receptors in the brain that receive that signal decline with age, Walker explained in a press release. That means the aging brain has the same sleep cues inside of it, but it’s unable to pick up on those cues. “It’s almost like a radio antenna that’s weak,” Walker added. “The signal is there, but the antenna just can’t pick it up.”

Walker said that while the assumption has been that insomnia was a consequence of aging, insufficient sleep may actually be a contributing factor to aging itself. Scientists have found causal links between a lack of sleep and cardiovascular diseasediabetes, and obesity. When it comes to memory, sleep is a “Goldilocks issue”: Both too much and too little aren’t very good, according to a Harvard-based Nurses’ Health Study.

The Sleep Foundation says that older people need seven to nine hours of sleep a night, the same amount as growing adolescents. But they are not getting it. The National Institute on Aging found that 13 percent of men and 36 percent of women over age 65 take more than 30 minutes to fall asleep. And they often sleep less deeply and wake up more often throughout the night.

But sleep deprivation can actually begin much earlier in life ― often affecting people in their late 20s and early 30s, Walker said. In fact, by the time a person hits 50, they will only have about 50 percent of the deep sleep that they were getting in their early 20s. By 70, individuals have little, if any, high-quality deep sleep. Sleeping pills, he said, are often prescribed to older adults. But a sedated sleep just means you aren’t waking up throughout the night, not that you are getting your necessary deep sleep.

Walker, who holds several patents focused on consumer-based sleep measures, is the author of the forthcoming book Why We Sleep. The National Institutes of Health funded this study.

Via: Here’s Why You Sleep Much Less As You Age

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