Science of the Spirit
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Butterfly

Simple techniques that can help alleviate anxiety

Anxiety is one of the most common mental illnesses. Anxiety is a normal reaction to many situations, but can become excessive (as in obsessive-compulsive disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder). According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 43 million Americans were diagnosed with some type of mental illness in the past year.

While there is no true quick fix, there are a few things you can do to make living with anxiety easier:

Speak

Whether you talk quietly to yourself or sit down and have a conversation with a loved one, talking through your anxiety can help you get through it. Seeking the help of a professional is sometimes best, especially if you need help taking hold of your anxiety disorder. Focus your energy on controlling your anxiety rather than giving in to it.

Comment: For more information on ways to alleviate anxiety and stress, see:


Family

Ecstasy could help alleviate anxiety for terminally ill patients

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© REUTERS/U.S.
Ecstasy pills, which contain MDMA as their main chemical, are pictured in this undated handout photo courtesy of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration
California scientists are testing whether the illegal psychoactive drug commonly known as Ecstasy could help alleviate anxiety for terminally ill patients, the trial's principal funder said on Tuesday.

At least a dozen subjects with life-threatening diseases like cancer, and who are expected to live at least 9 months, will participate in the double-blind trial over the next year in Marin County, said Brad Burge, spokesman for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.

Comment: It seems only right in the dying process, that one should have a say in lessening their fear, anxiety and depression.


Bulb

Harvard neuroscientist: Meditation not only reduces stress, it changes your brain

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© naturalhealth365.com
Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, was one of the first scientists to take the anecdotal claims about the benefits of meditation and mindfulness and test them in brain scans. What she found surprised her — that meditating can literally change your brain. She explains:

Q: Why did you start looking at meditation and mindfulness and the brain?

Lazar: A friend and I were training for the Boston marathon. I had some running injuries, so I saw a physical therapist who told me to stop running and just stretch. So I started practicing yoga as a form of physical therapy. I started realizing that it was very powerful, that it had some real benefits, so I just got interested in how it worked.

The yoga teacher made all sorts of claims, that yoga would increase your compassion and open your heart. And I'd think, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, I'm here to stretch.' But I started noticing that I was calmer. I was better able to handle more difficult situations. I was more compassionate and open hearted, and able to see things from others' points of view.

I thought, maybe it was just the placebo response. But then I did a literature search of the science, and saw evidence that meditation had been associated with decreased stress, decreased depression, anxiety, pain and insomnia, and an increased quality of life.

At that point, I was doing my PhD in molecular biology. So I just switched and started doing this research as a post-doc.

Comment: More information about Meditation and Its Benefits:


Butterfly

Curiosity: Making a choice to look deeper into everyday things to see their true significance

We all want to be happy; according to the Dalai Lama, it is "the very purpose of our life."

Yet despite the incredible advancement of modern-day technology and society, few of us are happy. A 2013 Harris Poll found that only one in three Americans say they're very happy.

Perhaps this is because the majority of our time is spent in unsatisfying work, repetitive daily routines, and nights passively watching a twittering screen.

But we don't have to settle for unhappy lives. We're all capable of achieving happiness and more meaning in life if we adopt the right attitudes and behaviors. Perhaps the most important attitude is curiosity.

Curiosity — a state of active interest or genuinely wanting to know more about something — allows you to embrace unfamiliar circumstances, giving you a greater opportunity to experience discovery and joy.

2 + 2 = 4

The power of uncertainty

We can't escape uncertainty so we may as well learn to embrace it and in so doing we open a door to possibilities...
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I dislike uncertainty as much as the next person, perhaps even more. My reaction to it can cause deep anxiety that negatively impacts my health, wealth and overall enjoyment of life. Yet, despite uncertainty's bad rep, I have learned that: a) no matter what we tell ourselves or how we arrange our circumstances, we can never be free of it, and b) learning to embrace it can lead to incredible possibilities that I didn't even know was on my radar. As long as we are living, breathing beings we will always live with uncertainty. Knowing how to manage and respond to it can make all the difference between a rich, fulfilling life and one that is always fraught with the anxiety of what "bad" things could happen.

Comment: One way to begin to practice getting skilled being in the present is developing situational awareness and preparing for as many future as best we can.
Situational Awareness - Observe, Orient, Decide, Act
Preparedness is the ultimate act of optimism


Light Saber

Acts of kindness spread easily in social networks just by observing people's generosity


Kindness and generosity elevates all our morals
Acts of kindness can spread surprisingly easily between people — just by observing someone else being generous.

They activate parts of the brain involved in motivating action and of social engagement, a new study finds.

In turn we are also more likely to 'pay it forward'.

Scientists call this the 'moral elevation' effect.

The first evidence from the lab of this effect was found in 2010.

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego and Harvard demonstrated moral elevation by having people playing a simple 'giving' game in the lab.

When people gave selflessly to others, researchers could see this act of kindness spreading from person to person.

One act of kindness was ultimately tripled in value by people subsequently giving more and more.

Comment: Perhaps observing others kindness and generosity reminds us of our built-in capacity for caring and the need for human connection.


Wine n Glass

Study: Alcohol and oxytocin work on brain in similar ways

Significant similarities have been highlighted by researchers between the behavioral effects of oxytocin and alcohol. The research team warns that the oft-used nickname hides the darker side of oxytocin, and claim that it bears more semblances with the effects of alcohol than previously thought

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© Shutterstock
Researchers at the University of Birmingham have highlighted significant similarities between the behavioural effects of oxytocin and alcohol.

The research, published in Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, draws on existing studies into the two compounds and details the similarities between the effects of alcohol and the 'love hormone', oxytocin, on our actions. The team warn that the oft-used nickname hides the darker side of oxytocin, and claim that it bears more semblances with the effects of alcohol than previously thought.

Oxytocin is a neuropeptide hormone produced in the hypothalamus and secreted by the posterior pituitary gland. It has long been established as playing a significant role in childbirth and maternal bonding. More recently it has been identified as a brain chemical with a key role in determining our social interactions and our reactions to romantic partners -- hence its nickname of 'the love hormone'.

Oxytocin increases prosocial behaviours such as altruism, generosity and empathy; while making us more willing to trust others. The socio-cognitive effects come about by suppressing the action of prefrontal and limbic cortical circuits -- removing the brakes on social inhibitors such as fear, anxiety and stress.

Dr Ian Mitchell, from the School of Psychology at the University of Birmingham, explained, "We thought it was an area worth exploring, so we pooled existing research into the effects of both oxytocin and alcohol and were struck by the incredible similarities between the two compounds."

Family

Five ways oxytocin shapes our social interactions

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© Psychology Today
New research is finding that oxytocin doesn't just bond us to mothers, lovers, and friends—it also seems to play a role in excluding others from that bond.

It's been called the cuddle hormone, the holiday hormone, the moral molecule, and more—but new research suggests that oxytocin needs some new nicknames. Like maybe the conformity hormone, or perhaps the America-Number-One! molecule.

Where does this many-monikered neuropeptide come from? Scientists first found it in mothers, whose bodies flood with oxytocin during childbirth and breastfeeding—which presumably helps Mom somehow decide that it's better to care for a poopy, colicky infant than to chuck it out the nearest window. And, indeed, one study found a shot of oxytocin more rewarding to rat-mommies than a snort of cocaine. (Don't worry, Dads: You can get some of that oxytocin action, too.)

As time went on, researchers found oxytocin playing a role in all kinds of happy occasions, from social activities (recognizing faces at a party) to more intimate ones (achieving orgasm with someone you met at that party). Lab tests found that oxytocin made people more trusting, more generous, and more gregarious. Thus oxytocin seemed, for a little while, to deserve its glut of touchy-feely nicknames.

In the past few years, however, new research is finding that oxytocin doesn't just bond us to mothers, lovers, and friends—it also seems to play a role in excluding others from that bond. (And perhaps, as one scientist has argued, wanting what other people have.) This just makes oxytocin more interesting—and it points to a fundamental, constantly recurring fact about human beings: Many of the same biological and psychological mechanisms that bond us together can also tear us apart. It all depends on the social and emotional context.

Comment: See also:

The intelligence of self observation and self-awareness


Family

Study of twins finds nature and nurture play equal parts in psychological makeup

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© Shutterstock
The effect of genetics versus the environment is around 50/50, a new study finds. When it comes to personality, intelligence, health and many other factors, nature and nurture play their part equally.

To reach this conclusion, scientists have reviewed almost every twin study conducted in the last 50 years. The research included data from 14,558,903 pairs of twins, measuring 17,804 individual traits across 2,748 separate publications.

Dr Beben Benyamin, one of the study's authors, said:
"There has still been conjecture over how much variation is caused by genetics and how much is caused by environmental factors — what people call nature versus nurture.

We wanted to resolve that by revisiting almost all the genetic twin studies conducted over the past 50 years, and comparing all of them together.
Dr Benyamin explained the study's results:
"...there is overwhelming evidence that both genetic and environmental factors can influence traits and diseases.

What is comforting is that, on average, about 50 per cent of individual differences are genetic and 50 per cent are environmental.

The findings show that we need to look at ourselves outside of a view of nature versus nurture, and instead look at it as nature and nurture."

Smoking

Smokers don't vote and mistrust politics

A University of Colorado Cancer Center study published in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research shows a new dimension to the marginalization of smokers: people who smoke are less likely to vote than their non-smoking peers.

"One on hand, the result is intuitive. We know from previous research that smokers are an increasingly marginalized population, involved in fewer organizations and activities and with less interpersonal trust than nonsmokers. But what our research suggests is that this marginalization may also extend beyond the interpersonal level to attitudes toward political systems and institutions," says Karen Albright, PhD, assistant professor at the Colorado School of Public Health, and the paper's first author.

The data comes from the Colorado Tobacco Attitudes and Behaviors Study (C-TABS), a questionnaire administered by Arnold Levinson, PhD, investigator at the CU Cancer Center, director of the University Health Smoking Cessation Program, and the paper's senior author.

Through random digit dialing, the study reached 11,626 people who completed a telephone survey querying a range of demographic, social, and behavioral factors. Questions included smoking behaviors and whether the respondent had voted in a recent election. Overall, 17 percent of respondents were smokers. Holding all other variables constant (included variables of socioeconomic status that were strongly associated with smoking), daily smokers were 60 percent less likely to vote than nonsmokers.

The study is the first to link a health-risk behavior with electoral participation, building on the work of a previous Swedish study that found an association between smoking and political mistrust. Voting is a direct behavioral measure of civic and political engagement that at least partly reflects trust in formal political institutions.

Comment: Maybe smokers are just smarter and cannot that easily be hoodwinked by our corrupt political system: