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Sun, 24 Jul 2016
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


Why you shouldn't always stress about stress

A new book claims pressure can make you stronger but, asks Kashmira Gander, can we train our brains to cope better?

© iStock
Stress can raise the risk serious health problems, including obesity and heart disease.
Here's an unsettling thought: stress is inescapable. Coming to a sudden halt on the side of a motorway en route to a career-changing interview, or fighting against the clock to clean Nutella off a toddler's bridesmaid dress an hour before your sister's wedding is never going to be pleasant.

But life's pressures are not always negative. While intense, prolonged, stress undeniably raises the risk of serious health problems, world-leading neuroscientist Professor Ian Robertson argues in his latest book, The Stress Test, that life's pressures can in fact help us to flourish, with the help of the body's complex chemical processes. Stress can help to motivate us, and even strengthen the brain.

Peter Clough, professor of psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University, agrees, and says that we have become "stress-phobic" as a society, by inextricably connecting it to anxiety. In reality, most of us seek out more pressurised lives - chasing pay rises, promotions, and raising families - to reap the emotional benefits of satisfaction.

Comment: It is, indeed, the way we view and frame our day to day pressures, misfortunes and tests of mettle that determines whether we will rise to the challenge or sink into frustration and depression.

The book, Man's Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl, is a recount of life in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. The prisoners who lost their lives each day through psychological, emotional and physical breakdown, the author observed, were the prisoners who lost faith and could find no meaning - however subjective and personal - in their suffering.

Fortunately most, if not all, of us have never had to face the kind of situation Frankl and his fellow prisoners face, but the lessons he learned from his harrowing experience are universal and can be applied to any time of adversity.


Understanding musical rapture

© Hiroyuki Ito/Getty Images
How does music evoke goosebumps and spine tingles?
The skin comes out in goosebumps and tingles run up the spine. But how particular pieces of music can induce such rapturous effects in people has stumped researchers for centuries.

With the passing of time comes new technology though, and suitably equipped with modern brain scanning equipment, scientists may now have made some headway.

In the latest effort to understand "the chills", researchers in the US put out a call for music fans who either consistently experienced euphoric sensations on hearing certain tracks, or who hardly ever felt them at all.

Comment: Why do only some people get 'aesthetic chills' from listening to music?


Making art reduces stress hormones

© Girija Kaimal
A piece of art created by a study participant using both markers and modeling clay. They said the experience was "therapeutic, relaxing [and] thoughtful."
Whether you're Van Gogh or a stick-figure sketcher, a new Drexel University study found that making art can significantly reduce stress-related hormones in your body.

Although the researchers from Drexel's College of Nursing and Health Professions believed that past experience in creating art might amplify the activity's stress-reducing effects, their study found that everyone seems to benefit equally.

"It was surprising and it also wasn't," said Girija Kaimal, EdD, assistant professor of creative arts therapies. "It wasn't surprising because that's the core idea in art therapy":
"Everyone is creative and can be expressive in the visual arts when working in a supportive setting. That said, I did expect that perhaps the effects would be stronger for those with prior experience."

Comment: Read more about how 'creative pursuits could help with psychological well-being and, therefore, physiological health':

Take 2

Appreciate silence? It's harder than you might think

In Pursuit of Silence, a film by Patrick Shen
In a clamoring world of ever growing noise, a meditative film makes the case for less noise pollution.

If you live in a modern city, finding a quiet spot is a challenge. The buzz of traffic, planes, sirens and the racket of construction are probably the backing track of your daily life. And you'll get no respite by sitting at your computer even with headphones on: browsing the internet, you'll be interrupted by ads on autoplay or telltale beeps announcing a new message.

Most people seem to adapt to the cacophony, but are we paying a price?

Comment: Silence: Why it is so good for your brain
In silence, we can tap into the brain's default mode network.

The default mode network of the brain is activated when we engage in what scientists refer to as "self-generated cognition," such as daydreaming, meditating, fantasizing about the future or just letting our minds wander.

When the brain is idle and disengaged from external stimuli, we can finally tap into our inner stream of thoughts, emotions, memories and ideas. Engaging this network helps us to make meaning out of our experiences, empathize with others, be more creative and reflect on our own mental and emotional states.

In order to do this, it's necessary to break away from the distractions that keep us lingering on the shallow surfaces of the mind. Silence is one way of getting there.

Default mode activity helps us think deeply and creatively. As Herman Melville once wrote, "All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by silence."

2 + 2 = 4

4 common thoughts that stifle meditative bliss

Your mind is always busy. You really notice just how busy it is when you finally sit down to meditate. Those racing thoughts are perfectly normal. In fact, Eastern teachings liken the mind to a monkey that has been bitten by a scorpion jumping from tree to tree. It won't stop no matter how much you try to make it. The good news, though, is that in order to meditate, you don't have to. That's the secret. There are usually four different types of mental agitation, and the way to slow the discourse of your incessant thoughts is simply by observing them without judgment.

What All Forms of Meditation Have in Common

There are many types of meditation. You can utilize methods from around the globe, steeped in the traditions of many cultures. From prayerful meditation, to insight, to meditation, and even concentration on a Zen koans, there is one thing all of these tools have in common - they will cause you to become aware of just how you think.

Comment: Interested in learning more about the numerous benefits of breathing exercises and meditation? Try the easy to use Éiriú Eolas Stress Control, Healing and Rejuvenation Program here.

Cell Phone

Avoid texting so much: Science shows how it's psychologically messing with your mind

Texting is one of the biggest forms of communication in today's world. From being able to send an important message without the lag time of a phone ringing or having to leave a voicemail, to sending passively funny statements and exchanging pictures and emojis, it's become more than just a means of communication, but a multi-purposeful platform for self-expression. But is it entirely a good thing? Should we be speaking with one another more often instead?

While many of us get excited over the customized ding that indicates a new message, what about the aching feeling of waiting for an answer that never comes?

What about when you're busy and respond quickly to a question instead of your usual vibrant, upbeat reply, and your friend asks if you're okay because it seemed rude?

And how about feeling obligated to respond to every text, every time, on time? It's a lot of pressure to always be "on."

Comment: "Be the master of your technology, not its slave!"
See also: The Complete Guide to Breaking Your Smartphone Habit


Play: Get out of your comfort zones & have more fun!

"We should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once." - Friedrich Nietzsche
I have two left feet, so I'm glad Nietzsche wrote metaphorically. With this quote, I think he was saying something true and profound about the importance of play - that it's an essential part of living a good and balanced life.

What I hope to convey are some philosophical, scientific and personal reasons for why we should all get serious about messing around. I hope that by reading this, you'll feel compelled to actually pencil in some time for more frivolity.

Comment: Play is an essential part of living a good and balanced life:
For tens of thousands of years, play was a vital component of communal living and social cohesion among our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Once the kill had been made, or the day's supply of roots, shoots, nuts and leaves had been gathered, Grok played. No commutes. No stopping at the grocery store for a bouquet of roses for an angry spouse. No rushing to make the bank before it closes. The kids would scamper around, chasing each other. Adults might wrestle, race, have throwing contests, or even just hang out and groom each other. This was pure, unadulterated leisure time, and plenty of it. Play wasn't just about having fun (though that was a big part of it); it also had practical benefits. Groks that played together formed bonds, strong social ties that strengthened the collective power and safety of the tribe.

Light Saber

Be useful: A basic daily mission statement

Be Useful

These two words serve as my daily mission statement. Every time I feel a little lost or don't remember what I wanted to do, I go back to the basics. I just try to be useful.

Being useful is so simple. It not only helps other people but also yourself. Being useful makes me happy, because whatever it might be, there is never a single minute wasted being useful.

Sometimes I have a bad day. Sometimes it's hard to stay positive and I get lost in the world of negativity and criticism. Especially online it's easy to be negative.

Exactly then I usually try to remind myself to rather be useful instead. Because being negative and being an asshole is the opposite of being useful as there is little added value for anyone involved.

There are many ways you can be useful to other people and it's often more simple than you think - Here are my top 3:

Share knowledge

You can share knowledge and the things you know with people who might know less. That's why I always say that you are never too young to teach. There is always someone who might appreciate your opinion on whatever topic it might be.

On top of it, sharing knowledge is rewarding. You're not only helping others but yourself. Sharing knowledge helps you to reflect, form and communicate your thoughts more clearly.

Penis Pump

Jaw-dropping ignorance: "Study" proposes 'good' type of psychopath

© Unknown
There are two types of psychopath — not all are unhelpful and destructive.

Not all psychopaths are the same.There are two types of psychopaths — primary and secondary — according to new research.

Primary psychopaths can be cooperative, helpful and friendly. Secondary psychopaths, though, are usually destructive, unhelpful and perform badly at work.

Comment: What nonsense. Right off the bat, the author has defined terms improperly. Conventionally, a primary psychopath is born that way, with characteristic brain impairments, as detected through MRIs and other diagnostic tools. "Secondary psychopaths" is something of a misnomer - they don't necessary have the hereditary substrate of a primary psychopath, but come to resemble them through childhood neglect and abuse, poor social conditions, plus attempting to survive in a psychopathic society. While still anti-social, they are still not psychopaths. Actual psychopaths may differ in the scale of destruction they can wreak, but not in their propensity for it.

Comment: Ms. Schütte's conclusions are astonishing, given the growing amount of research now available on this intra-species predator. Interesting that the "study" is published by a business management journal. One might think it was a propaganda piece on behalf of psychopathy. Dr. Robert Hare and Paul Babiak wrote an entire book on psychopaths in business world, and came to the conclusion that they were nothing but destructive to the companies taken in by them. There's a simple explanation for her data: the group she identified as 'good psychopaths' simply weren't psychopaths. Or if they were, not nearly enough study was done on them to demonstrate this, or to uncover the ways in which they make others' lives miserable.


Simple ways to train your brain to improve focus, memory and cognitive function

© Shutterstock
What separates strategic, visionary thinkers from the rest of us? And why do we tend to worry about our ability to remember names—or where our keys are—rather than loss of cognitive memory that makes great performers?

These were questions that puzzled Sandra Bond Chapman, founder and chief director of the Center for Brain Health at the University of Texas—Dallas. She wondered if high-level cognitive function could be taught or improved and set about figuring out how to do so. As a result, she and her team have developed Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Training (SMART), a research-based brain training program that they claim can improve focus, memory, and cognitive function, starting with just nine hours of training.

Multitasking, information overload, and constant interruptions are impairing the way our brains work.

If that seems unlikely, randomized clinical trials indicate that even relatively short periods of this type of training can have an impact. A 2013 study found that just 12 hours of directed brain training altered brain function, increasing blood flow, enhancing information communication across key brain regions, and expanding the connections between brain regions that lead to new learning in adults over 50 years old.

"It's paradoxical that some of the things we think are good for our brain, the brain science is showing are almost like tobacco for the brain," Chapman says. Multitasking, information overload, and constant interruptions are impairing the way our brains work, she says.

Comment: Further reading: