Summary: A new study reports the rhythm of your breathing can influence neural activity that enhances memory recall and emotional judgement.
Source: Northwestern University.
Breathing is not just for oxygen; it’s now linked to brain function and behavior.
Northwestern Medicine scientists have discovered for the first time that the rhythm of breathing creates electrical activity in the human brain that enhances emotional judgments and memory recall.
These effects on behavior depend critically on whether you inhale or exhale and whether you breathe through the nose or mouth.
In the study, individuals were able to identify a fearful face more quickly if they encountered the face when breathing in compared to breathing out. Individuals also were more likely to remember an object if they encountered it on the inhaled breath than the exhaled one. The effect disappeared if breathing was through the mouth.
“One of the major findings in this study is that there is a dramatic difference in brain activity in the amygdala and hippocampus during inhalation compared with exhalation,” said lead author Christina Zelano, assistant professor of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “When you breathe in, we discovered you are stimulating neurons in the olfactory cortex, amygdala and hippocampus, all across the limbic system.”
The study was published Dec. 6 in the Journal of Neuroscience.
The senior author is Jay Gottfried, professor of neurology at Feinberg.
Northwestern scientists first discovered these differences in brain activity while studying seven patients with epilepsy who were scheduled for brain surgery. A week prior to surgery, a surgeon implanted electrodes into the patients’ brains in order to identify the origin of their seizures. This allowed scientists to acquire electro-physiological data directly from their brains. The recorded electrical signals showed brain activity fluctuated with breathing. The activity occurs in brain areas where emotions, memory and smells are processed.
This discovery led scientists to ask whether cognitive functions typically associated with these brain areas — in particular fear processing and memory — could also be affected by breathing.
The amygdala is strongly linked to emotional processing, in particular fear-related emotions. So scientists asked about 60 subjects to make rapid decisions on emotional expressions in the lab environment while recording their breathing. Presented with pictures of faces showing expressions of either fear or surprise, the subjects had to indicate, as quickly as they could, which emotion each face was expressing. NeuroscienceNews.com image is for illustrative purposes only.
The amygdala is strongly linked to emotional processing, in particular, fear-related emotions. So scientists asked about 60 subjects to make rapid decisions on emotional expressions in the lab environment while recording their breathing. Presented with pictures of faces showing expressions of either fear or surprise, the subjects had to indicate, as quickly as they could, which emotion each face was expressing.
When faces were encountered during inhalation, subjects recognized them as fearful more quickly than when faces were encountered during exhalation. This was not true for faces expressing surprise. These effects diminished when subjects performed the same task while breathing through their mouths. Thus the effect was specific to fearful stimuli during nasal breathing only.
In an experiment aimed at assessing memory function — tied to the hippocampus — the same subjects were shown pictures of objects on a computer screen and told to remember them. Later, they were asked to recall those objects. Researchers found that recall was better if the images were encountered during inhalation.
The findings imply that rapid breathing may confer an advantage when someone is in a dangerous situation, Zelano said.
“If you are in a panic state, your breathing rhythm becomes faster,” Zelano said. “As a result, you’ll spend proportionally more time inhaling than when in a calm state. Thus, our body’s innate response to fear with faster breathing could have a positive impact on brain function and result in faster response times to dangerous stimuli in the environment.”
Another potential insight of the research is on the basic mechanisms of meditation or focused breathing. “When you inhale, you are in a sense synchronizing brain oscillations across the limbic network,” Zelano noted.
Up to 70 million Americans have a sleep disorder, the most common of which is insomnia; 10 percent of American adults struggle with chronic insomnia and 30 percent report occasional or short-term insomnia
Research finds you can remain consciously aware even while your brain and body are sleeping
Insomniacs who report being awake even when their brain wave patterns indicate they’re sleeping have increased activity in brain areas associated with conscious awareness during the dreamless phase of sleep
If you struggle with insomnia and frequently feel you’ve not slept a wink, processes involved in reducing your conscious awareness during sleep may be impaired. Practicing mindfulness meditation is thought to target these processes and may help improve your sleep experience
Sleeping pills are very limited in their effectiveness and have serious side effects. Safe and natural sleep aids include melatonin, 5-HTP, valerian, chamomile tea and CBD oil
According to the American Sleep Association,1 up to 70 million Americans have a sleep disorder, nearly 40 percent unintentionally fall asleep during the day at least once a month and nearly 5 percent have nodded off while driving at least once. Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder, with 10 percent of American adults struggling with chronic insomnia and 30 percent reporting occasional or short-term insomnia.
Interestingly, insomniacs will often insist they’ve not slept a wink all night, even though they’ve actually been sleeping. Researchers have now discovered there’s a reason for this discrepancy in experience, and it has to do with consciousness. In a nutshell, even though the brain is sleeping, insomniacs remain consciously aware, and therefore believe they’ve not slept at all.
Many Insomniacs Remain Conscious Even When Asleep, Study Finds
Daniel Kay, a psychology professor at Brigham Young University in Utah who led the study,2 told Medical News Today,3 “… [Y]ou can be consciously aware and your brain [can] be in a sleep pattern. The question is: What role does conscious awareness have in our definition of sleep?” Traditionally, it’s been believed that sleeping involves the absence of conscious awareness, but Kay’s team was able to conclude that this is not categorically true.
To investigate the role of consciousness during sleep, the team analyzed the sleep patterns and subjective experience of 32 people with insomnia and 30 who reported sleeping well.
Once the participants were deemed to be asleep, based on their brain patterns, a radioactive tracer was injected into their arms. Using brain imaging, the researchers were able to examine neurons that remained active during sleep, and their exact locations. The following morning, the participants were asked about their subjective experience of their sleep. Medical News Today explains the results:
“The study found that people with insomnia who reported that they had been awake, even when the polysomnography showed otherwise, had increased activity in brain areas associated with conscious awareness during the dreamless phase of sleep — that is, nonrapid eye movement sleep …
[I]t is normal during the process of falling asleep for the brain to send inhibitory neurons that make people less and less consciously aware until they’ve reached a state of deep sleep. However, what the findings of the new study suggest is that people with insomnia may not feel as though they’re asleep until their brain experiences a greater inhibitory activity in areas that are linked to conscious awareness.”
Normal Sleepers May Not Get as Much Sleep as They Think
As noted by the authors,4 “Brain activity in the right anterior insula, left anterior cingulate cortex, and middle/posterior cingulate cortex may be involved in the perception” of insomnia. People who reported sleeping well turned out to have increased activity in the same areas of the brain as insomniacs. The reason for this is because your brain goes through “an inhibition process” when you fall asleep, gradually lowering your conscious awareness.
While insomniacs require a greater level of inhibition before their consciousness recedes, many good sleepers report falling asleep long before their brainwaves indicate that they’re actually sleeping. This is basically the reverse situation of insomnia: Good sleepers lose conscious awareness at a very low level of inhibition, making them believe they fell asleep much faster than they actually did, based on their brain patterns.
Mindfulness Meditation Recommended for Insomniacs
So, if you struggle with insomnia, frequently feeling you haven’t slept a wink, what can you do? Kay says, “In patients with insomnia, processes involved in reducing conscious awareness during sleep may be impaired. One of the strategies for targeting these processes may be mindfulness meditation. It may help the patients inhibit cognitive processes that are preventing them from experiencing sleep.”
Practicing “mindfulness” means you’re actively paying attention to the moment you’re in right now. Rather than letting your mind wander, when you’re mindful, you’re living in the moment and letting distracting thoughts pass through your mind without getting caught up in their emotional implications.
You can add mindfulness to virtually any aspect of your day — even while you’re eating, working or doing household chores like washing dishes — simply by paying attention to the sensations you are experiencing in the present moment. Mindfulness meditation, on the other hand, is a more formal practice in which you consciously focus your attention on specific thoughts or sensations, and then observe them in a nonjudgmental manner.
This is just one type of meditation; there are many forms available. Transcendental meditation, for instance, is one of the most popular forms of meditation, practiced by millions of people around the world. It’s simple to perform. Simply choose a mantra that has meaning for you, sit quietly with your eyes closed and repeat your mantra for a period of about 20 minutes, twice a day.
The idea is to reach a place of “restful” or “concentrated” alertness, which enables you to let negative thoughts and distractions pass by you without upsetting your calm and balance. Some aspects of mindfulness, mindfulness meditation, and other forms of meditation overlap.
For instance, focusing your mind on your breath is one of the most basic, and most rewarding, relaxation and meditation/mindfulness strategies there is. To learn more about meditation and the different forms of practice available, see “Meditation Connects Your Mind and Body.”
Common Factors That Keep You Awake
Aside from the possibility that you’re simply misperceiving your inability to sleep, certain environmental factors can make it more difficult to fall asleep. This includes such things as:5
Your pillow being too hot. A cool pillow, and more importantly the room temperature overall, will decrease your core body temperature, which induces drowsiness. In one study, insomniacs equipped with a cooling cap fell asleep within 13 minutes — three minutes faster than normal sleepers — and remained asleep 89 percent of the night. Reader’s Digest6 suggests placing your pillow in the freezer for a few minutes before bed to cool it down.
Starting a new medication. A number of different drugs can cause insomnia, including blood pressure medications, antidepressants and steroids. Oftentimes, this side effect can be ameliorated by changing the time at which you take the drug. Beta-blockers, prescribed for high blood pressure and/or arrhythmia, for example, are typically best taken in the morning instead of at night.
Pets. As much as you love your fur-babies, if they’re hogging your bed or filling it with hair, consider keeping your pets out of your bed. According to one Mayo Clinic study,7 while some find their pets help them sleep better, approximately 20 percent of pet owners admitted the animal disrupted their sleep in one way or another.
Cold feet. While cooling your head induces sleep, cold feet can keep you tossing and turning. The solution: Wear socks to bed.
Exhaustion. While exhaustion is frequently confused with tiredness, the two are not the same. When exhausted from stress or overwork, your brain tends to be on high alert. This “cognitive popcorn” can make it difficult to fall asleep, no matter how exhausted your body is. Rather than falling into bed right away after a long day, try winding down, allowing your mind to settle before trying to fall asleep.
When Anxiety or an Overactive Mind Keeps You Awake
One of my favorite tools for resolving anxiety that contributes to insomnia is the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), which combines tapping on certain points of your body with verbal statements that help pinpoint the underlying issues. In the video above, EFT therapist Julie Schiffman demonstrates how to tap for sleep.
EFT helps to release worries, fears and even physical symptoms that stand between you and a good night’s sleep by reprogramming your body’s reactions to many of the unavoidable stressors of everyday life, making it easier to take them in stride.
When stress triggers are reduced, you will naturally sleep better. In 2012, a triple blind study8 found that EFT reduced cortisol levels and symptoms of psychological distress by 24 percent — more than any other intervention tested. This is enormously significant, as there are few things that will destroy your health faster than stress.
Researchers at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine discovered that how you cope with stress might have an even greater impact on your sleep than the number of stressors you encounter. They also found that mindfulness therapies worked best for suppressing the “mental chatter” that inhibits the onset of sleep. Lead author Vivek Pillai, Ph.D., wrote,9 “While a stressful event can lead to a bad night of sleep, it’s what you do in response to stress that can be the difference between a few bad nights and chronic insomnia.”
Avoid Sleeping Pills for Insomnia
To learn more about the ins and outs of sleep, and lots more tips and strategies to improve your quality and quantity of your rest, please see “Sleep — Why You Need It and 50 Ways to Improve It.” Whatever you do, avoid sleeping pills. Not only do they have extremely limited benefits, the side effects can be quite severe. Take Belsomra, for example, a next-gen type sleeping pill that acts on a neurotransmitter called orexin “to turn down the brain’s ‘wake messages.’”
The company’s own clinical trials showed the drug allowed people to fall asleep an average of six minutes sooner than those taking a placebo, and stay asleep 16 minutes longer. More than 1,000 consumer complaints against Belsomra have been filed with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, with complaints ranging from lack of effectiveness and next-day drowsiness to sleep paralysis, heart problems and suicidal ideation. One in 5 reports claim the drug made them the opposite of sleepy.10
Other research has found sleeping pills like Ambien, Lunesta and Sonata reduce the average time it takes to fall asleep by about 13 minutes compared to placebo, while increasing total sleep time by about 11 minutes.11 Interestingly, participants believed they had slept longer, by up to one hour, when taking the pills. This is thought to be due to anterograde amnesia, which causes trouble with forming memories.
When people wake up after taking sleeping pills, they may, in fact, simply forget they’d been unable to sleep. Sonata is also associated with addiction.12 Studies have also shown that use of sleeping pills increase your risk of death and cancer.13 To learn more about the hazards of sleeping pills, see Dr. Daniel Kripke’s e-book, “The Dark Side of Sleeping Pills.”14
Natural Sleep Remedies
Fortunately, there are far safer options. While you work on addressing the root causes of your sleep problems, temporarily using a natural sleep aid may help you get to sleep easier. Following are a handful of alternatives:
Melatonin. In scientific studies, melatonin has been shown to increase sleepiness, help you fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep, decrease restlessness and reverse daytime fatigue. Melatonin is a completely natural substance, made by your body, and has many health benefits in addition to sleep. Start with as little as 0.25 milligrams (mg) and work your way up in quarter-gram increments until you get the desired effect.
5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP). One of my favorite sleep aids is 5-HTP. 5-HTP is the hydroxylated form of tryptophan. It easily passes your blood brain barrier when it is converted to serotonin (thereby giving mood a boost) and then to melatonin (enhancing sleep). I believe this is a superior approach to using melatonin. In one study, an amino acid preparation containing both GABA (a calming neurotransmitter) and 5-HTP reduced time to fall asleep, increased the duration of sleep and improved sleep quality.15
Valerian root. Studies have found valerian root helps improve the speed at which you fall asleep, depth of sleep (achieving deep sleep 36 percent faster16) and overall quality of sleep.17 Start with a minimal dose and use the lowest dose needed to achieve the desired effect, as higher dosages can have an energizing effect in some people. Typical dosages used in studies range between 400 mg and 900 mg, taken anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours before bed.
Chamomile tea. This herb is typically used in the form of infusions, teas, liquid extracts or essential oils made from the plant’s fresh or dried flower heads. It has sedative effects that may help with sleep, which is why chamomile tea is often sipped before bed.
Cannabidiol (CBD) oil. Another alternative is to take CBD oil. By bringing tissues back into balance, CBD oil helps reduce pain, nerve stimulation and muscle spasm. It also promotes relaxation and has been shown to improve sleep.
The subconscious mind is akin to that unseen portion of an iceberg which remains underwater. Some believe that up to 95% of our mental activity takes place in the subconscious, just below our conscious awareness. This ‘underwater’ portion of the mind is never inactive, though, as it continues to collect and process information even when we are asleep.
According to the Freudian model of the unconscious, the contents of the subregions of the mind are the primary guiding influence on a person’s behavior, habits and urges. And in his study of the psyche, revered psychoanalyst Carl Jung relates the importance of paying attention to what is going on in the lower parts of the mind, saying, “until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
While this model may be debatable to some scientists, sages and those devoted to personal development have long known that these regions of the mind are programmable with conscious intention, a process which can be achieved with affirmation and mantra.
As a spiritual tool, monks of the eastern traditions have been using mantras since time immemorial, most recognizably along with prayer beads. The value of this type of meditation is well-understood by practitioners, although, difficult to quantify. It offers a simple but powerful means of creating the emergence of desired positive outcomes in personality, habits, beliefs and emotions.
“Mantra is really just a specialized grouping of sounds and vibrations which positively affect the mental and physiological planes. The effects of sound on the brain have been demonstrated in Electro Encephala Graph (EEG) charts as well as by documented physical changes (skin temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate among them). While we may consciously want to remove certain thought patterns, they can be difficult to dislodge because they are formed at subconscious levels. This is where mantra can be very effective.” ~Christina Sarich
Speaking on how this process works, Hindu priest and international speaker Dandapāni explains how mantras are similar to affirmations in how they work to reprogram the subconscious mind. In an interview with Brian Rose of London Real, Dandapāni answers the question of why the simple concentrated repetition of sound can so powerfully brings about positive changes in personal behavior.
“You can say they are prayer beads, but they’re actually more like affirmation or mantra beads. So, we use these to actually program our subconscious. So as we chant on each bead, we chant an affirmation. I am happy, or I’m confident. And we repeat the same chant over and over again, and there are 108 beads… one chant over and over again.”
There is more to it than just saying a phrase 108 times, however, and as he explains, three ingredients are necessary: “Concise choice of positive words, clear visualization, and a corresponding feeling.”
The process of visualization is extremely important in clarifying for the mind the precise object in focus. If you were to chant, ‘I love apples,’ the brain would become confused by the word apple, however, unless a very clear picture of the apple is presented along with the mantra.
Regarding a corresponding feeling, he explains how feeling is emotion and emotion is energy, quoting the late Nikola Tesla.
“He [Tesla] had this beautiful saying which kind of encapsulates Hindu philosophy really well. He said that, ‘to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.’ Everything is made up of energy that’s vibrating at its own frequency. What we believe is that if your subconscious is filled with patterns that are vibrating at a certain frequency… and if you can go into your subconscious and create a pattern, infuse it with energy that’s vibrating at a certain frequency, you can attract things of a similar nature to it.”
The combined of effect of intentionally applying sound, visualization and emotion to create positive change can override the contents of the subconscious mind. He elaborates further in the video below:
May 19, 2017 Lose your temper on the road? Frustrated with colleagues at work? You may be cutting your life short, warns molecular biologist Elizabeth Blackburn–who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2009–and health psychologist Elissa Epel, who studies stress and aging.
The authors claim in their new book, The Telomere Effect, that negative thoughts harm your health at the DNA level. Research has shown that a person’s “social relationships, environments and lifestyles” affect their genes. “Even though you are born with a particular set of genes, the way you live can influence how they express themselves.”
Blackburn and Epel say components of DNA called telomeres determine how fast your cells age. Short telomeres are one of the major reasons human cells grow old, but lab tests have shown that they can also grow longer. In other words, aging “could possibly be accelerated or slowed -and, in some aspects, even reversed.”
Research Proves That DNA Is Reprogrammed by Words and Frequencies
The aging and lifespan of normal, healthy cells are linked to the so-called telomerase shortening mechanism, which limits cells to a fixed number of divisions. During cell replication, the telomeres function by ensuring the cell’s chromosomes do not fuse with each other or rearrange, which can lead to cancer. Blackburn likened telomeres to the ends of shoelaces, without which the lace would unravel.
In one study, telomere length, an emerging biomarker for cellular and general bodily aging, was assessed in association with the tendency to be present in the moment versus the tendency to mind wander, in research on 239 healthy, midlife women ranging in age from 50 to 65 years.
“People who score high on measures of cynical hostility tend to get more cardiovascular disease, metabolic disease and often die at younger ages. They also have shorter telomeres.”
Pessimism shortens telomeres too.”When pessimists develop an aging-related illness, like cancer or heart disease, the illness tends to progress faster… They tend to die earlier,” warn the authors.
Ruminating over a bad situation is also destructive. “Rumination never leads to a solution, only to more ruminating… When you ruminate, stress sticks around in the body long after the reason for the stress is over.” The resulting depression and anxiety only make your telomeres shorter. Trying to suppress thoughts and feelings makes matters worse. “The more forcefully you push your thoughts away, the louder they call out for your attention… In a small study, greater avoidance of negative feelings and thoughts was associated with shorter telomeres.”
Even lack of focus is bad for telomeres because “when people are not thinking about what they’re doing, they’re not as happy as when they’re engaged.” To reverse the harm to telomeres, try meditation and long-distance running.
Senior Lecturer in Neuropsychology and Cognitive Psychology, Bangor University
May 4, 2017
Being caught talking to yourself, especially if using your own name in the conversation, is beyond embarrassing. And it’s no wonder – it makes you look like you are hallucinating. Clearly, this is because the entire purpose of talking aloud is to communicate with others. But given that so many of us do talk to ourselves, could it be normal after all – or perhaps even healthy?
We actually talk to ourselves silently all the time. I don’t just mean the odd “where are my keys?” comment – we actually often engage in deep, transcendental conversations at 3am with nobody else but our own thoughts to answer back. This inner talk is very healthy indeed, having a special role in keeping our minds fit. It helps us organise our thoughts, plan actions, consolidate memory and modulate emotions. In other words, it helps us control ourselves.
Talking out loud can be an extension of this silent inner talk, caused when a certain motor command is triggered involuntarily. The Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget observed that toddlers begin to control their actions as soon as they start developing language. When approaching a hot surface, the toddler will typically say “hot, hot” out loud and move away. This kind of behaviour can continue into adulthood.
Non-human primates obviously don’t talk to themselves but have been found to control their actions by activating goals in a type of memory that is specific to the task. If the task is visual, such as matching bananas, a monkey activates a different area of the prefrontal cortex than when matching voices in an auditory task. But when humans are tested in a similar manner, they seem to activate the same areas regardless of the type of task.
In a fascinating study, researchers found that our brains can operate much like those of monkeys if we just stop talking to ourselves – whether it is silently or out loud. In the experiment, the researchers asked participants to repeat meaningless sounds out loud (“blah-blah-blah”) while performing visual and sound tasks. Because we cannot say two things at the same time, muttering these sounds made participants unable to tell themselves what to do in each task. Under these circumstances, humans behaved like monkeys do, activating separate visual and sound areas of the brain for each task.
This study elegantly showed that talking to ourselves is probably not the only way to control our behaviour, but it is the one that we prefer and use by default. But this doesn’t mean that we can always control what we say. Indeed, there are many situations in which our inner talk can become problematic. When talking to ourselves at 3am, we typically really try to stop thinking so we can go back to sleep. But telling yourself not to think only sends your mind wandering, activating all kinds of thoughts – including inner talk – in an almost random way.
This kind of mental activation is very difficult to control, but seems to be suppressed when we focus on something with a purpose. Reading a book, for example, should be able to suppress inner talk in a quite efficient way, making it a favourite activity to relax our minds before falling asleep.
But researchers have found that patients suffering from anxiety or depression activate these “random” thoughts even when they are trying to perform some unrelated task. Our mental health seems to depend on both our ability to activate thoughts relevant to the current task and to suppress the irrelevant ones – mental noise. Not surprisingly, several clinical techniques, such as mindfulness, aim to declutter the mind and reduce stress. When mind wandering becomes completely out of control, we enter a dreamlike state displaying incoherent and context-inappropriate talk that could be described as mental illness.
Loud vs silent chat
So your inner talk helps to organise your thoughts and flexibly adapt them to changing demands, but is there anything special about talking out loud? Why not just keep it to yourself, if there is nobody else to hear your words?
In a recent experiment in our laboratory at Bangor University, Alexander Kirkham and I demonstrated that talking out loud actually improves control over a task, above and beyond what is achieved by inner speech. We gave 28 participants a set of written instructions, and asked to read them either silently or out loud. We measured participants’ concentration and performance on the tasks, and both were improved when task instructions had been read aloud.
Much of this benefit appears to come from simply hearing oneself, as auditory commands seem to be better controllers of behaviour than written ones. Our results demonstrated that, even if we talk to ourselves to gain control during challenging tasks, performance substantially improves when we do it out loud.
This can probably help explain why so many sports professionals, such as tennis players, frequently talk to themselves during competitions, often at crucial points in a game, saying things like “Come on!” to help them stay focused. Our ability to generate explicit self instructions is actually one of the best tools we have for cognitive control, and it simply works better when said aloud.
So there you have it. Talking out loud, when the mind is not wandering, could actually be a sign of high cognitive functioning. Rather than being mentally ill, it can make you intellectually more competent. The stereotype of the mad scientist talking to themselves, lost in their own inner world, might reflect the reality of a genius who uses all the means at their disposal to increase their brain power.
Nobel Peace Prize nominee and Zen Buddhist master, Thich Nhat Hanh has a very different theory about why our ecosystems are dying and our financial systems are crumbling. The Vietnamese monk credited with bringing mindfulness to the West believes that our desperation to succeed at all costs fuels our voracious economic system. An innumerable number of worldly ‘sicknesses’ come from this singular philosophical vice.
“Each one of us has to ask ourselves, What do I really want? Do I really want to be Number One? Or do I want to be happy? If you want success, you may sacrifice your happiness for it. You can become a victim of success, but you can never become a victim of happiness.”
Thay – as his followers call him, is no stranger to the ideology of the movers and shakers in our world economy. He was invited to speak in Silicon Valley by Steve Jobs once, and has met with the World Bank president Jim Yong Kim. He has also met with senior Google engineers to discuss how they could develop technologies which could be more compassionate and bring about positive change, instead of increasing people’s stress and isolation, taking them away from nature, and one another.
He recently explained his concern with how people pin their happiness on success in an interview with the Guardian.
“If you know how to practice mindfulness you can generate peace and joy right here, right now. And you’ll appreciate that and it will change you. In the beginning, you believe that if you cannot become number one, you cannot be happy, but if you practice mindfulness you will readily release that kind of idea. We need not fear that mindfulness might become only a means and not an end because in mindfulness the means and the end are the same thing. There is no way to happiness; happiness is the way.”
Thay warns, however, that practicing mindfulness just to be more productive at work, or only to enjoy more material success will leave the practitioner with a pale shadow of awareness compared to what true mindfulness can provide. He suggests:
“If you consider mindfulness as a means of having a lot of money, then you have not touched its true purpose. It may look like the practice of mindfulness but inside there’s no peace, no joy, no happiness produced. It’s just an imitation. If you don’t feel the energy of brotherhood, of sisterhood, radiating from your work, that is not mindfulness.”
As company executives in banking, oil production, agriculture, manufacturing, tech, and other fields strive to be successful, are they missing out on the true peace that might come from preserving an ecosystem, or helping to protect biodiversity? Are these titans of industry reflective of our social and political slant toward ever-increasing spending, a lack of accountability fiscally and environmentally, and the disassociation workers feel from their families and friends while constantly trying to work harder and earn more?
Thay says that all businesses should be conducted in such a way that all the employees can experience happiness. He says that helping to change society for the better can fill us with a sense of accomplishment that doesn’t come from focusing purely on profits.
When top CEOs make 300% more than their workers, and include stock incentives, luxury cars, and healthy expense accounts, how can balance truly be upheld?
When the world’s top 3,000 firms are responsible for over $2.2 trillion in environmental damage, how can we find joy from nature?
When even Facebook cofounder Dustin Moskovitz, who now heads up the software firm Asana calls out the tech industry for a lack of work-life balance, how can anyone find time to practice mindfulness or meditation?
Furthermore, even loss of life is acceptable in the name of profits. The ‘business’ of war has allowed the 100 largest contractors to sell more than $410 billion in arms and military services. Just 10 of those companies sold over $208 billion – while providing the means to kill millions.
Is it any wonder employees are broke, stressed out, and burned out from a lack of balance, no connection with other people, and an incessant work flow that promises very little reward, either financial or otherwise, from their toil?
Then there is the debt-based financial system of the Federal Reserve, propping up this entire show.
We also don’t need CEOs who make 300 times what their employees do, or ridiculous government policies which allow the notion of corporations as people, while ignoring the basic needs of real people.
Our courts have extended constitutional protections to the most unconscious among us, preserving a way of life that does not allow true happiness. Our constant aim for success has warped our original goal – to be happy. Isn’t that why people want more money, more power, and more ‘things.’ But as Thay says, this is a false way to attain happiness.
What this quiet Zen monk is trying to tell us is that our entire society is upside down. Our economic system protects mindlessness, not mindfulness.
He says that the primary affliction of our modern civilization is that we don’t know how to handle the suffering inside us and so we attempt to cover it up with all kinds of consumption.
Retailers peddle a host of devices to help us cover up the suffering inside. But unless and until we’re able to face our suffering, we can’t be present and available to life, and happiness will continue to elude us.
How do we change our economic policies so that all employees can be happy? It might help to look at our true goals. It might help to acknowledge the pain we’ve caused thousands of people by perpetuating war for the sake of profits. Success doesn’t automatically equal happiness, not if the definition of success only includes the bottom line.
We can measure success by our fulfillment in life, by the people we’ve been able to touch with our good deeds, or a mindful interaction, by having friends, experiencing love, being able to walk in a forest, or learn how to play a musical instrument.
Perhaps the true goal should be peacefulness instead of happiness, even. As Hanh has said:
“If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile and blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society will benefit from our peace.” This could be our new definition of success.
Lou’s tip: You can obtain the same results that cognitive therapy offers at no cost and minimal effort. Learn to understand what is the mind from the Buddhist perspective and practice meditation and mindfulness. Buddhism has been called the science of the mind for a reason. Most of what is valid in modern psychology today comes from Buddhism anyway. You might as well cut off the middle man.
A new study reports cognitive therapy appears to be most effective for treating social anxiety disorder.
Summary: A new study reports cognitive therapy appears to be most effective for treating social anxiety disorder.Source: Norwegian University of Science and Technology.Cognitive therapy shown to be most effective treatment.“We’ve set a new world record in effectively treating social anxiety disorders,” says Hans M. Nordahl, a professor of behavioural medicine at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).A team of doctors and psychologists from NTNU and the University of Manchester in England led by Nordahl examined the effects of structured talk therapy and medication on patients with social anxiety disorders.
Until now, a combination of cognitive therapy and medication was thought to be the most effective treatment for these patients. The researchers’ results, which were published in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, show that cognitive therapy on its own has a much better effect over the long term than just drugs or a combination of the two.
Nearly 85 per cent of the study participants significantly improved or became completely healthy using only cognitive therapy.
“This is one of the best studies on social anxiety disorders ever,” says Nordahl. “It’s taken ten years to carry out and has been challenging both academically and in terms of logistics, but the result is really encouraging,” he says.
Mistreating with “happy pills”
To clear up some terms: social anxiety is not a diagnosis, but a symptom that a lot of people struggle with. For example, talking or being funny on command in front of a large audience can trigger this symptom.
On the other hand, social anxiety disorder – or social phobia – is a diagnosis for individuals who find it hard to function socially, and anyone with this diagnosis has high social anxiety.
Medications, talk therapy or a combination of these are the most common ways to treat patients with this diagnosis. NTNU researchers set out to examine which of these approaches is most effective.
“A lot of doctors and hospitals combine medications – like the famous “happy pill” – with talk therapy when they treat this patient group. It works well in patients with depressive disorders, but it actually has the opposite effect in individuals with social anxiety disorders. Not many health care professionals are aware of this,” says Nordahl.
Drugs camouflage the problem
“Happy pills,” like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), may have strong physical side effects. When patients have been on medications for some time and want to reduce them, the bodily feelings associated with social phobia, like shivering, flushing and dizziness in social situations tend to return. Patients often end up in a state of acute social anxiety again.
“Patients often rely more on the medication and don’t place as much importance on therapy. They think it’s the drugs that will make them healthier, and they become dependent on something external rather than learning to regulate themselves. So the medication camouflages a very important patient discovery: that by learning effective techniques, they have the ability to handle their anxiety themselves,” says Nordahl.
World record in treating social phobia
NTNU researchers set up the project to compare the most recognized methods for treating social anxiety disorders. Well over 100 patients participated in the study and were divided into four groups.
The first group received only medication, the second group received only therapy, the third group received a combination of the two, and the fourth received a placebo pill. The four groups were compared along the way, and researchers conducted a follow-up assessment with them a year after treatment ended.
During treatment and right afterwards, the patients in groups two and three were managing equally well. But after a year, it was clear that the group two participants – those who had only received cognitive therapy – were faring the best.
Only with the help of cognitive therapy have researchers managed to increase the recovery rate in patients with social anxiety disorders by 20 to 25 per cent, as compared with the norm for this group.
“This is the most effective treatment ever for this patient group. Treatment of mental illness often isn’t as effective as treating a bone fracture, but here we’ve shown that treatment of psychiatric disorders can be equally effective,” says Nordahl.
Many patients don’t get adequate treatment
Torkil Berge is a psychologist at Diakonhjemmet Hospital in Oslo and head of the Norwegian Association for Cognitive Therapy. He says that social anxiety disorder is a public health problem with major negative consequences for the individual and for society. Nearly twelve percent of the population will be affected by this illness during their lifetime.
To clear up some terms: social anxiety is not a diagnosis, but a symptom that a lot of people struggle with. For example, talking or being funny on command in front of a large audience can trigger this symptom. NeuroscienceNews image is for illustrative purposes only.
“This is a hidden disorder, and many patients find it difficult to communicate their struggle to their healthcare providers. Thousands upon thousands of individuals end up not receiving adequate treatment. Of those who do get treatment, most are probably offered drug therapy,” Berge says.
“I can well imagine that the combination of drug therapy and cognitive therapy isn’t the best approach, as NTNU researchers have determined in this study,” he said.
Using metacognitive therapy
Nordahl and the rest of the research team have also worked to improve standard cognitive therapy. They have added new processing elements, which have shown greater effectiveness.
“We’re using what’s called metacognitive therapy, meaning that we work with patients’ thoughts and their reactions and beliefs about those thoughts. We address their rumination and worry about how they function in social situations. Learning to regulate their attention processes and training with mental tasks are new therapeutic elements with enormous potential for this group of patients,” says Nordahl.
The researchers now hope to develop standardized cognitive therapy further for patients who suffer from social anxiety disorders.
About this psychology research article
Source: Hans M. Nordahl – Norwegian University of Science and Technology Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain. Original Research: Full open access research for “Paroxetine, Cognitive Therapy or Their Combination in the Treatment of Social Anxiety Disorder with and without Avoidant Personality Disorder: A Randomized Clinical Trial” by Nordahl H.M., Vogel P.A., Morken G., Stiles T.C., Sandvik P., and Wells A in Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics. Published online October 2016 doi:10.1159/000447013
Paroxetine, Cognitive Therapy or Their Combination in the Treatment of Social Anxiety Disorder with and without Avoidant Personality Disorder: A Randomized Clinical Trial
Background: The most efficacious treatments for social anxiety disorder (SAD) are the SSRIs and cognitive therapy (CT). Combined treatment is advocated for SAD but has not been evaluated in randomized trials using CT and SSRI. Our aim was to evaluate whether one treatment is more effective than the other and whether combined treatment is more effective than the single treatments.
Methods: A total of 102 patients were randomly assigned to paroxetine, CT, the combination of CT and paroxetine, or pill placebo. The medication treatment lasted 26 weeks. Of the 102 patients, 54% fulfilled the criteria for an additional diagnosis of avoidant personality disorder. Outcomes were measured at posttreatment and 12-month follow-up assessments.
Results: CT was superior to paroxetine alone and to pill placebo at the end of treatment, but it was not superior to the combination treatment. At the 12-month follow-up, the CT group maintained benefits and was significantly better than placebo and paroxetine alone, whereas there were no significant differences among combination treatment, paroxetine alone, and placebo. Recovery rates at 12 months were much higher in the CT group (68%) compared to 40% in the combination group, 24% in the paroxetine group, and 4% in the pill placebo group.
Conclusions: CT was the most effective treatment for SAD at both posttreatment and follow-up compared to paroxetine and better than combined treatment at the 12-month follow-up on the Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale. Combined treatment provided no advantage over single treatments; rather there was less effect of the combined treatment compared to CT alone.
“Paroxetine, Cognitive Therapy or Their Combination in the Treatment of Social Anxiety Disorder with and without Avoidant Personality Disorder: A Randomized Clinical Trial” by Nordahl H.M., Vogel P.A., Morken G., Stiles T.C., Sandvik P., and Wells A in Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics. Published online October 2016 doi:10.1159/000447013
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