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Wed, 25 May 2016
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


The lunatic in my mind: Who's really in your head?

© Sportsphoto/Allstar
Mind games: the film Being John Malkovich took us inside the actor’s head.
Don't let negative thoughts control your self-image. It's your actions that really define you, says Susan David

Roger Waters of Pink Floyd called it "the lunatic in my head". He was describing the endless stream of internal thoughts and sensations - the inner voice - that we try to weave into a coherent story called "my life". The trouble is, this chattering narrator often gets things wrong, mixing biased reporting with snap judgments and old insecurities with unwarranted dread.

For instance, your first thought may be blandly factual. "I just had dinner with my in-laws" or "I have a project due on Monday." But within seconds that innocent thought has morphed into "My in-laws hate me" or "My job is going down the tubes" or "What waistline?! I look like a walrus!"

Comment: Read more about strategies that help with unwanted negative thoughts


Uncertainty can be stressful, but it can also aid performance

© Roberto David/IStockPhoto
Life is full of stressful situations. But the ones we can predict stress us out less, and may even help us learn, a new study suggests.
The most stressful situation is the uncertain one we can do nothing about

Interviewing for a new job is filled with uncertainty, and that uncertainty fuels stress. There's the uncertainty associated with preparing for the interview — what questions will they ask me? What should I put in my portfolio? And then there's the ambiguity when you're left to stew. Did I get the job? Or did someone else?

Scientists have recently shown that these two types of uncertainty — the kind we can prepare for, and the kind we're just stuck with — are not created equal. The uncertainty we can't do anything about is more stressful than the one we can. The results help show exactly what in our lives freaks us out — and why. But the findings also show a positive side to the stress we feel when not knowing what's ahead — the closer our stress levels reflect the real ambiguity in the world, the better we perform in it.

"There is a bias in the public perception" against stress, says Claus Lamm, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Vienna in Austria. But stress "prepares us to deal with environmental challenges," he notes, preparing us to fight or flee, and it keeps us paying attention to our surroundings.

Comment: While having a certain amount of stress may prove beneficial, having clarity of thought and feeling focused is much better. One of the best ways to deal with uncertainty or stresses of many kinds, is with Éiriú Eolas: The stress control, healing and rejuvenation program par excellence. Try the free on-line program and see if it doesn't make a difference.

Blue Planet

Blue space: Having a view of the ocean reduces stress

Maybe owning some ocean-front property is not such a bad idea. Actually, property with a view of the ocean will suffice as new research suggests an ocean view relieves stress.

The Michigan State study is the first to find a link between health and the visibility of water, which the researchers call blue space.

"Increased views of blue space is significantly associated with lower levels of psychological distress," said Amber L. Pearson, assistant professor of health geography. "However, we did not find that with green space."

Using various topography data, the researchers studied the visibility of blue and green spaces from residential locations in Wellington, New Zealand, an urban capital city surrounded by the Tasman Sea on the north and the Pacific Ocean on the south.

Comment: Why being near the ocean can make you calmer and more creative

Cardboard Box

Moving forward emotionally helps us to physically let go of the past

In the newly-released indie film "Hello, My Name Is Doris," sweet and eccentric Doris (played by Sally Field) is an older woman who lives in her deceased mother's immensely cluttered house. Needless to say, Doris grapples with hoarding issues, tightly clinging to all kinds of items from her past. Her home's disarray is a barrier of sorts, physically creating entrapment to what was and not what could be.

Doris blossoms through a new relationship with a younger man (played by Max Greenfield). Though the outcome of their relationship may not be the one she unequivocally pines for, their time together symbolizes hope for what is very well possible in her next life chapter. She's merely grateful for the friendship they share — for its impact.

It's not long after this realization that Doris finally summons the courage to embark on another venture: thoroughly cleaning out her house and letting go of everything that's no longer needed.

I found this particular storyline to be rather pertinent. Can emotional progress — the conscious act of emotionally moving forward — eradicate compulsive hoarding habits?

Comment: Conversely, taking charge of our home environment by de-cluttering, has the ability to generate fresh energy, create mental and physical space, and release negative emotions thereby making us feel much lighter both psychologically and spiritually.


This is what a technology-free childhood looks like

Niki Boon began photography while working as a physiotherapist in Scotland. Her interest waned as life got in the way and her traveling took her far away from her beloved darkroom. It was not until she returned home and settled down to start a family that her passion for pictures reignited.

Boon developed a photo series called "Childhood in the Raw", in which she documented her four children as they went about their technology-free life from the family's acres of property in rural New Zealand. The children do not have a TV or modern electronic devices, nor are they schooled.

She decided soon after enrolling her children in a school that disallowed computers and TV in early education that this philosophy would govern the entirety of their lives; rather than forcing traditional education, the children are encouraged to read and research as they discover new information.


Having more friends may mean feeling less pain

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Having more friends really may make you feel better, or at least feel less pain, a new study from England suggests.

People in the study who had larger social networks appeared to have a higher tolerance for pain, according to the findings, which were published today (April 28) in the journal Scientific Reports.

In the study, the researchers wanted to see if people with larger social networks had higher levels of chemicals in the brain called endorphins. Endorphins are linked to feelings of pleasure, as well as reduced feelings of pain. (Endorphins are, in fact, a more powerful pain reliever than morphine, according to the study.)

Comment: See also:


Friendships are better than drugs for taking pain away!

© ryflip / Fotolia
Friendships may really help take the pain away, research shows.
People with more friends have higher pain tolerance, Oxford University researchers have found.

Katerina Johnson, a doctoral student in the University's Department of Experimental Psychology, was studying whether differences in our neurobiology may help explain why some of us have larger social networks than others.

She said: 'I was particularly interested in a chemical in the brain called endorphin. Endorphins are part of our pain and pleasure circuitry -- they're our body's natural painkillers and also give us feelings of pleasure. Previous studies have suggested that endorphins promote social bonding in both humans and other animals. One theory, known as 'the brain opioid theory of social attachment', is that social interactions trigger positive emotions when endorphin binds to opioid receptors in the brain. This gives us that feel-good factor that we get from seeing our friends.

'To test this theory, we relied on the fact that endorphin has a powerful pain-killing effect -- stronger even than morphine.'

The researchers therefore used pain tolerance as a way to assess the brain's endorphin activity. If the theory was correct, people with larger social networks would have higher pain tolerance, and this was what their study found. Friendships may really help take the pain away!

Comment: Since our relationships with others form such an important part of our lives, being able to form intimate and meaningful relationships becomes of paramount importance. Engaging the vagus nerve is one of the best ways to help improve social communication and bonding. Vagus nerve stimulation releases hormones such as prolactin, vasopressin and oxytocin which are anti-stress and social-bonding hormones. Oxytocin is known as the 'cuddle hormone', so it is no wonder that the vagus nerve has been called the 'nerve of compassion'. In fact, the vagus nerve is intertwined with neural networks involved in pro-social and empathetic communication, involving muscle groups that are related in care-taking. Oxytocin is intimately involved in the experience of trust and love.

The breathing and meditation techniques of the Éiriú Eolas program are geared towards stimulating the vagus nerve. Visit the Éiriú Eolas site to learn more about the scientific background of this program and then try it out for yourselves, free of charge.


A love affair with the great outdoors

Growing up, my athletic prospects could best be described as abysmal. I didn't learn to ride a bike until I was seven, and I failed swim lessons three years in a row. At the end of the year cross country banquet, the best my coach could say about me was, "She wasn't last in a single race. Except for one, and that was just for most of it." But while I had no hopes of blossoming into an athlete, I could spend as much time as I wanted playing and exploring outside. The outdoors was forgiving. It did not ask me to be talented, fast, or to have hand-eye coordination. Nevertheless, it offered me challenges - to paddle farther, hike longer, or to simply take the time to appreciate it.

Comment: See also: Playing outside will make your kids smarter


Playing outside will make your kids smarter

© yummymummy
Today, the average American child spends as little as 30 minutes outside in unstructured play each day.

When I was a kid, I lived outside. Most warm evenings would have me and most of the neighborhood kids riding bikes, building forts, catching lightning bugs, or just laying in the grass until the streetlights blinked on or our mothers called us for dinner. I grew up in an age when organized athletics for five year olds were rare, when parents didn't orchestrate their children's every waking moment, when mothers and fathers didn't feel so pressured for their kids to perform and succeed. There was an abundance of free time and my mother didn't want me in her hair. I am a much better person for it.

Comment: Consider the frightening fact that today's children spend less time outside than the average prisoner! It is painfully obvious that children are suffering a severe play deficit. Read more about the important reasons to leave no child inside:


New study shows music may help babies learn language skills

© Yukmin/Getty Images
Learning a musical rhythm may help young babies learn language rhythms.
Babies who engage in musical play may have an easier time picking up language skills, a new study suggests.

US researchers compared nine-month-old babies who played with toys and trucks to those who practiced banging out a rhythm during a series of play sessions.

They found the musical group showed more brain activity in regions involved with detecting patterns, an important skill when it comes to learning language.

Previous studies in children and adults have found a relationship between music training and processing sound, but it has been unclear about whether people involved in those studies developed superior sound perception as a result of music training, or they had natural auditory skills that predisposed them towards music in the first place.

"Our study is the first in young babies to suggest that experiencing a rhythmic pattern in music can also improve the ability to detect and make predictions about rhythmic patterns in speech," said lead author Christina Zhao, a postdoctoral researcher the University of Washington's Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences (I-LABS).

"This means that early, engaging musical experiences can have a more global effect on cognitive skills," Dr Zhao said.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was small, enrolling just 39 babies and their parents, who took part in a dozen 15-minute play sessions over the course of a month.

Twenty of the babies listened to recorded children's music while they sat with their parents and helped pound out drum beats to music that included waltz rhythms and tunes like Take Me Out to the Ballgame, a baseball classic.

The other 19 babies also attended active play sessions that used toys and blocks, but without music.