4 Mental-Health Journaling Prompts For The Reflective Soul Who Doesn’t Know Where To Start

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There’s something so inexplicably satisfying about cracking open a brand-new journal. It’s a blank canvas on which you can record your thoughts, your worries, your dreams, and so much more. But beyond simply being a place to chronicle the events of your life and everything you feel about those goings-on, journaling is a great way to nourish your mental health. I may be going out on a limb here, but I’d venture to say that you’d be hard-pressed to find a mental-health professional who wouldn’t recommend journaling as a tool for general healing, coping with depression, and reducing anxiety.

Still, journaling can seem like a daunting task—especially if you’re not in the habit of writing about your feelings regularly. The good news? According to New York–based holistic psychotherapist Alison Stone, LCSW, there’s no such thing as a right or a wrong way to journal—and there’s not a specific amount you have to do it, either.

“For some people, it might be daily, while for others it might be weekly,” Stone says. “Experiment with not only what gives you the most benefit, but what is realistic for you to commit to on a regular basis.”

“Journaling is great for enhancing self-awareness through helping us detect and track patterns of behavior, thoughts, and feelings.” —Alison Stone, LCSW

In other words, if you want to let your thoughts flow freely every day for an hour, great. If it feels more natural to you to express yourself with a combination of words and pictures, bullet-journal-style, once a week, that’s great, too. Maybe you’re all about going out and buying a gorgeous journal that you feel excited to open all the time. Or maybe the thought of writing your feelings by hand is exhausting to you, and you’d prefer to dump them all in a Google Doc. Great, all-around, because, as is the case with so many things in life, the best thing you can do is listen to your own specific wants and needs to do what is authentically best for you.

And, no matter how or how often you choose to journal, there’s no question that it’s great for mental health. Below are a few of the heavy-hitting reasons why.

1. Journaling enhances self-awareness

Sometimes, it can be hard to pinpoint why we do, think, or feel certain ways about certain things. When you start journaling regularly, all of these things become a lot clearer. “Journaling is great for enhancing self-awareness through helping us detect and track patterns of behavior, thoughts, and feelings,” Stone explains.

For example, say you’re a single person (who doesn’t want to be single) whose anxiety spikes at night when you just happen to be scrolling mindlessly through Instagram, double-tapping photos of happy couples. In this case, a regular journaling habit may help you identify a pattern and lead you to change your behavior around Instagram.

2. Journaling can help alleviate stress

By simply jotting things down on paper, whether it’s feelings of anxiety and stress around a specific situation or just getting out the events of the day, journaling can help you get your thoughts and feelings out of your head. This simple act can make it easier to stop obsessing. “Doing this can help get rid of stress, clarify goals, and reduce symptoms of anxiety,” Stone says.

3. Journaling helps cultivate gratitude

Research has shown that gratitude can do quite a bit for our brains, happiness, and overall mental health. And according to Stone, journaling regularly is an effective means for identifying the things you’re grateful for. “This is an excellent benefit to journaling, because gratitude is a crucial part of overall mental health.”

If gratitude doesn’t flow out of you naturally during your day-to-day journaling habit, no big deal. Hey, a journal full of complaints and stressors is still helpful for identifying the things in your life that aren’t serving you—and that’s certainly productive. Still, try setting aside a few minutes of your journaling time to list out the things you’re grateful for.

Need a few prompts to get started on your healing journaling journey? Here are four that just may do wonders for your mental health.

If you’re anxious…

Anxiety is very, very prevalent in the United States. In fact, the condition impacts a whopping 40 million adults, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. While there are a number of effective ways to treat your anxiety, journaling is a great one to start with. In this case, here are two journaling prompts Stone suggests trying:

“When I’m feeling acutely anxious, three strategies I know work for me are…”

and:

“One example of how I successfully navigated my anxiety in a stressful situation in the past is…”

If you’re struggling with depression…

When you’re in the throes of depression, journaling just may be the last activity you’re jonesing to see out. Sure, zonking out with Netflix buzzing in the background or sleeping the day away may sound more appealing. But if you do have it in you to crack open your journal, doing so can help quite a bit. Here are the two prompts Stone suggests starting with:

“Even though I feel down, two to three things I feel thankful for are…”

and:

“One reasonable goal I have for myself this week is…”

So there you have it: Journaling can be a supplemental tool to help you along on your mental-health journey—so get started today. But if you haven’t already, do first seek the help of a professional to devise a personalized plan to treat your condition.

Journaling call also help you crush your fitness goals, and plan dreamy vacations.

The 5 Types Of Insomnia – Which Type Are You?

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Last week was a whirlwind. I traveled to NYC for The Today Show, then to Las Vegas for the technology show CES, and finally LA for Face the Truth with Vivica Fox. I’m exhausted just writing this sentence. The upside is that I was able to catch up on my reading on the flights. I read a lot of interesting material including a recently published study which reinforces what I’ve been sharing with my patients and readers for years…which is that there are several types of insomnia, not just one

A group of Dutch researchers identified five different subtypes of insomnia in their recently published study online in Lancet Psychiatry (a very prestigious journal). This study is different than other published studies in medical literature because it goes beyond subtyping that is focused merely on the type of symptoms someone may experience.

These referenced symptoms may include:

Difficulty falling asleep
Difficulty staying asleep
Awakening too early
The Dutch researchers approached insomnia in a completely different way. Instead of categorization based on symptoms, they based their categorization on different biological traits and a person’s life history. In scientific research, this is often referred to as a data-driven or bottom-up approach.

Doctoral candidate Tessa Blaken, at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience in Amsterdam, utilized the Netherlands Sleep Registry for her study. She looked at data on 4300 people, of which approximately 50% had a probable insomnia disorder (according to scores on the Insomnia Severity Index >10).

A statistical analysis of these 4300 people revealed five potential subtypes:

Sub-Type 1 (19%) references Highly Distressed Insomnia. People in this sub-type scored high on traits of distress, such as neuroticism, feeling tense, or feeling “down.”

Sub-Types 2 (31%) and 3 (15%) reference Moderately Distressed Insomnia. These groups of people had less distress in their lives, but were reward-sensitive (Type 2), or reward insensitive (Type 3). This means one group experiences pleasurable emotions tied with reward, while the other group experiences no pleasurable emotions derived from rewards.

Sub-Types 4 (20%) and 5 (15%) were also characterized with less distress than sub-type 1, but they were categorized differently than sub-types 2 and 3 because of the degree to which these groups experience insomnia in relation to stressful life events. People that fit into the sub-type 4 group are highly affected by stressful life events. People that fit into the sub- type 5 group are basically unaffected by events classified as stressful.

What does that mean for you?

It means there isn’t a one size fits all solution for insomnia. Insomnia takes multiple forms and what may trigger you or affect you may be different than someone else who suffers from a different sub-type of insomnia. You may need to experiment with various products or forms of remedies. Solutions may come as a therapy or in pill form, a tincture, beverage or spray. You may even need to try more than one to find what your individual body needs.

There appear to be at least three factors for you to consider:

The level of distress or anxiety in your daily life. Is it high, medium, or Low?
Do you get pleasure from rewards?
Do life events affect your sleep?
What else can you do right now?

Maintain a consistent wake up time to keep your circadian rhythm in sync. This will also help lower anxiety.
Exercise regularly. This is a great way to reduce stress and help improve your sleep quality.
Avoid caffeine. This is especially important if you’re an anxious person. Caffeine makes anxiety worse.
Plan for potential “bad nights.” If you know you have a stressful event coming up, expect that your sleep will be impacted. Make sure you have a good sleep environment. You may even consider going to bed slightly later than normal. Sleep deprivation may help you fall and stay asleep.
Consider taking magnesium in any form including magnesium oil. You can also get it from food (I like homemade Banana Tea) to help calm your nerves before bed. Read my post about magnesium to learn more about why this will benefit you.
If you struggle to sleep, see if you identify yourself in one of the five categories above. If you do, experiment with the strategies or remedies I mentioned earlier to help you fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer and sleep more soundly without waking too early.

Lucid Dreamers May Help Unravel the Mystery of Consciousness

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We spend around six years of our lives dreaming – that’s 2,190 days or 52,560 hours. Although we can be aware of the perceptions and emotions we experience in our dreams, we are not conscious in the same way as when we’re awake. This explains why we can’t recognize that we’re in a dream and often mistake these bizarre narratives for reality.

But some people – lucid dreamers – have the ability to experience awareness during their dreams by “re-awakening” some aspects of their waking consciousness. They can even take control and act with intention in the dream world (think Leonardo DiCaprio in the film Inception).

Lucid dreaming is still an understudied subject, but recent advances suggest it’s a hybrid state of waking consciousness and sleep.

Sleep paralysis. My Dream, My Bad Dream, 1915. (Credit: Fritz Schwimbeck/Wikimedia)

Lucid dreaming is one of many “anomalous” experiences that can occur during sleep. Sleep paralysis, where you wake up terrified and paralyzed while remaining in a state of sleep, is another. There are also false awakenings, where you believe you have woken up only to discover that you are in fact dreaming. Along with lucid dreams, all these experiences reflect an increase in subjective awareness while remaining in a state of sleep. To find out more about the transitions between these states – and hopefully consciousness itself – we have launched a large-scale online survey on sleep experiences to look at the relationships between these different states of hybrid consciousness.

Lucid Dreaming and the Brain

About half of us will experience at least one lucid dream in our lives. And it could be something to look forward to because it allows people to simulate desired scenarios from meeting the love of their life to winning a medieval battle. There is some evidence that lucid dreaming can be induced, and a number of large online communities now exist where users share tips and tricks for achieving greater lucidity during their dreams (such as having dream totems, a familiar object from the waking world that can help determine if you are in a dream, or spinning around in dreams to stop lucidity from slipping away).

recent study that asked participants to report in detail on their most recent dream found that lucid (compared to non-lucid) dreams were indeed characterized by far greater insight into the fact that the sleeper was in a dream. Participants who experienced lucid dreams also said they had greater control over thoughts and actions within the dream, had the ability to think logically, and were even better at accessing real memories of their waking life.

Another study looking at people’s ability to make conscious decisions in waking life as well as during lucid and non-lucid dreams found a large degree of overlap between volitional abilities when we are awake and when we are having lucid dreams. However, the ability to plan was considerably worse in lucid dreams compared to wakefulness.

Lucid and non-lucid dreams certainly feel subjectively different and this might suggest that they are associated with different patterns of brain activity. But confirming this is not as easy as it might seem. Participants have to be in a brain scanner overnight and researchers have to decipher when a lucid dream is happening so that they can compare brain activity during the lucid dream with that of non-lucid dreaming.

Ingenious studies examining this have devised a communication code between lucid dreamer participants and researchers during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, when dreaming typically takes place. Before going to sleep, the participant and the researcher agree on a specific eye movement (for example two movements left then two movements right) that participants make to signal that they are lucid.

The prefrontal cortex. (Credit: Natalie M. Zahr, Ph.D., and Edith V. Sullivan, Ph.D. – Natalie M. Zahr, Ph.D., and Edith V. Sullivan, Ph.D.)

By using this approach, studies have found that the shift from non-lucid to lucid REM sleep is associated with an increased activity of the frontal areas of the brain. Significantly, these areas are associated with “higher order” cognitive functioning such as logical reasoning and voluntary behaviour which are typically only observed during waking states. The type of brain activity observed, gamma wave activity, is also known to allow different aspects of our experience; perceptions, emotions, thoughts, and memories to “bind” together into an integrated consciousness. A follow-up study found that electrically stimulating these areas caused an increase in the degree of lucidity experienced during a dream.

Another study more accurately specified the brain regionsinvolved in lucid dreams, and found increased activity in regions such as the pre-frontal cortex and the precuneus. These brain areas are associated with higher cognitive abilities such as self-referential processing and a sense of agency – again supporting the view that lucid dreaming is a hybrid state of consciousness.

Tackling the Consciousness Problem

How consciousness arises in the brain is one of the most perplexing questions in neuroscience. But it has been suggestedthat studying lucid dreams could pave the way for new insights into the neuroscience of consciousness.

This is because lucid and non-lucid REM sleep are two states where our conscious experience is markedly different, yet the overall brain state remains the same (we are in REM sleep all the time, often dreaming). By comparing specific differences in brain activity from a lucid dream with a non-lucid one, then, we can look at features that may be facilitating the enhanced awareness experienced in the lucid dream.

Furthermore, by using eye signaling as a marker of when a sleeper is in a lucid dream, it is possible to study the neurobiological activity at this point to further understand not only what characterizes and maintains this heightened consciousness, but how it emerges in the first place.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

10 Things Insomnia Can Tell You About Your Health

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insomnia

Insomnia, or the lack of sleep, may lead to medical and psychiatric conditions. In some cases, it is these medical and mental issues that actually cause sleep problems. But whether insomnia is the cause or the effect, difficulty sleeping is definitely a sign that something is wrong with your health.

The National Sleep Foundation says that it’s always a good idea to have a general check-up with a health care provider if you have trouble getting regular sleep. It is important to determine if you have underlying health issues or sleep disorders because insomnia can affect the quality of your life.

1.    YOUR THYROID IS OVERACTIVE

You have a condition called hyperthyroidism if you have an overactive thyroid. This occurs when there’s more production of a hormone called thyroxine in the thyroid gland.

When you have hyperthyroidism, you could experience symptoms that seem to mimic other health conditions. Thus, it’s not always easy for doctors to catch the problem. Aside from insomnia, you may also experience the following symptoms of hyperthyroidism:

  • Change in appetite
  • Frequent bowel movement or diarrhea
  • Heart palpitations, rapid heartbeat, or irregular heartbeat
  • Muscle weakness and fatigue
  • Light menstruation and missed periods – for women
  • Fertility issues
  • Unusual sweating
  • Vision changes
  • Frequent dizziness
  • Hives and itching
  • Weight loss
  • Oversensitivity to heat
  • Swelling of the neck base

If your weight loss is sudden and you have two or more of these symptoms, it’s important to see a doctor for an assessment. Don’t forget to describe the changes you’ve noticed in your body to the doctor so that you can get the right diagnosis.

2.    YOU’RE HAVING ANXIETY ISSUES

What may be keeping you up at night are your concerns in life. Have you been going through something lately that’s causing a great deal of anxiety? Experts say that your mind can’t rest if you’re always anxious. If your mind cannot rest then you’re likely to sleep lightly and develop insomnia.

But the problem is that your sleeping brain cannot distinguish what’s happening compared to your waking brain. The neurotransmitters that send the signals in your brain won’t be able to cope with the threats that anxiety causes in your sleep. So, even if you think you’re making it through day by day with little or light sleep, it will eventually take its toll.

You have to see a therapist as soon as possible in order to sort out your anxiety issues. You have to find positive coping mechanisms that help calm your mind when you’re going to bed. For some people, these coping tools may include meditation, light exercises, and other soothing activities.

3.    YOU’RE PHYSICALLY STRESSED OUT

Just like mental stress or anxiety, physical stress may also lead to light sleeping. This is because your body’s temperature, heart rate, and adrenaline are higher, which affects your ability to engage in deep sleep, also known as REM sleep. REM sleep takes 25 percent of your sleep cycle. Its main functions are:

  • To store your brain’s long-term memories
  • To aid in your learning
  • To stabilize, enhance, and balance your mood

You lose the benefits of having deep sleep if your body can’t complete the REM phase of your sleep cycle. So, you wake up feeling more groggy and tired because your body didn’t actually get a good rest.

Thus, creating a relaxing routine for bedtime may help regulate your sleep cycle. You must also avoid doing heavy physical workouts two hours before you go to bed.

4.    YOU’RE EXPERIENCING ACID REFLUX

You won’t get a good night’s sleep no matter what you do if you’re suffering from acid reflux or heartburn. Diseases affecting the gastrointestinal tract can influence the quality of sleep because the acid contents from the stomach may rise back when you’re lying down the bed, according to the American Sleep Apnea Association.

You’re standing or sitting during the daytime so acid reflux won’t have much impact. When you’re reclining, however, the stomach acid can’t be pushed down to your stomach so you end up having interrupted sleep with a burning sensation in your chest and a sour taste in your throat. It’s an unpleasant feeling, to say the least.

There are over-the-counter medications to take care of this problem. You should see a doctor right away for the proper diagnosis or treatment. Apparently, 60 percent of patients with gastro issues suffer from sleep problems.

5.    YOU’RE HAVING HUNGER PANGS

Your bouts of insomnia might be related to your eating habits. If you have an irregular dinner schedule and you suddenly ate earlier, say between 5 p.m. to 6 p.m., then by 2 a.m. your brain triggers your body to demand fuel or food.

You get these hunger pangs because of a hormonal imbalance. This, once again, highlights the importance of having a routine so that you can be assured of a good rest. Try as much as possible not to mess with your dinner times so that it won’t also ruin your sleep cycle.

6.    YOU’RE DRINKING TOO MUCH COFFEE THROUGHOUT THE DAY

Do you know that coffee takes an average of eight to 10 hours to be completely eliminated in the body? If you drink a cup or two early in the day, at least 75 percent of it will be gone by the time you go home for dinner.

But if you drink coffee in the afternoon or less than six hours before you go to bed, then you may have problems getting decent sleep at night. Since caffeine is a stimulant, it can impede your sleep routine.

Ironically, if you’re trying to cut down on the coffee drinking, you might also experience insomnia since your body will go through withdrawal as an automatic response. You may also experience increased heart rate, headaches, and jitters that could impact your sleeping patterns.

But be patient as you get through the withdrawal stage. It’s much more positive to restore your sleep quality than continue to suffer from the effects of insomnia.

7.    YOU’VE GOT BAD SKIN, ESPECIALLY UNDER THE EYES

When you suffer from insomnia, your eyes turn puffy and the skin around it appears darker. This happens because sleep deprivation triggers your body to work double time to bring oxygen to your vital organs to prevent a breakdown, according to the experts via Telegraph.

But in doing so, your body doesn’t draw enough oxygen to the skin. So, in due time, the skin around your eyes grows darker because of the deoxygenated blood that flows through it. The dark circles also become more obvious because the skin around the eyes is thin.

Ever wonder why they call it beauty sleep? It’s because sleep has a positive effect on the health of the skin. Proper sleep allows:

  • Development of healthier hormones
  • Stimulation of the cells
  • Repair of body tissues
  • Formation of more collagen that will reduce skin aging

8.    YOU’RE LESS SHARP AND LACK FOCUS

Insomnia can lead to the deterioration of your cognitive function. You lose the ability to concentrate on a task. You also experience slow mental processing that could impact your ability to make decisions or solve problems.

The lack of sleep will dumb you down and affect your efficiency at work. You’ll be less sharp, less focused, and less alert. You won’t be able to grasp instructions or reason and state your case well because your cognition is impaired.

If you work at a high-risk job, where accuracy, vigilance, and safety are important, being an insomniac can definitely matter to your performance. A faulty brain function puts you and the people around you at risk. Thus, you need to see a doctor before you create a major blunder or accident that may hurt someone.

Long-term insomnia that’s not addressed or treated can lead to memory loss. This is because the lack of sleep doesn’t give your brain the chance to recover, recoup, and organize itself. There have been studies showing the improvement of memory recall following a night of good sleep. So, don’t delay finding a positive and doable solution to this problem.

9.    YOU’RE MORE PRONE TO COLDS, COUGH, AND FEVER

Do you always catch a cold or cough? Are you always the first one holed up in the bedroom during flu season? If you’re an insomniac, you’ll often find yourself with colds, cough, and fever because your body’s defenses against virus and bacteria are low.

A prolonged state of sleep deprivation is a lot similar to your body experiencing high levels of stress. As a result, your body’s immunities lower so you’re more vulnerable to getting sick.

Good sleep helps your body produce proteins called cytokines that help with infection and inflammation. When you’re not sleeping well, however, the level of this protein in your body drops so your antibodies weaken.

10.  YOUR BEDTIME ROUTINE AND SLEEPING CONDITIONS NEED TO BE IMPROVED

Your lifestyle plays a vital role in how you stay healthy. Perhaps the reason you’re having insomnia is that you don’t slow down from your activities even when you’re in bed. You also don’t make it a point to create a healthy environment for sleeping.

insomnia

Do you still use gadgets minutes before you shut your eyes? Studies have proven that this habit can disrupt your sleep cycle. Is your bedroom too messy or overly warm? The physical conditions around you can impact the quality of your sleep.

Make an effort to have a healthy routine and sleep conditions and see how much difference it will make in your sleep patterns. Don’t get used to the disorder and dysfunction; instead, listen to the signs your body is telling you.

FINAL THOUGHTS ON THINGS INSOMNIA CAN TELL YOU ABOUT YOUR HEALTH

People spend nearly more than a fourth of their lives in bed but most don’t really make an effort to make their sleep quality count. If you make positive changes to how you sleep, you should see improvements right away if you’re suffering from acute insomnia.

But if your insomnia still lingers for weeks and months, you need to get a proper medical diagnosis for the disorder that’s really ailing you. There are individuals who don’t actually know that they’re not getting good sleep or suffering from insomnia. For this reason, a visit to the doctor or a specialist will be a big help.

How to Use Humor to Become Happier and More Successful

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There are many times in life when a person with a sense of humor lightens the mood of a meeting, family gathering, or party. You may actually look forward to going to work if you know you can count on having a good laughor two at some point during the day. The endless meetings or tedious job tasks that are part of your workload are made more tolerable if these witty folks infuse their observations into the situation. If the person is the boss, even better. You can’t help but admire leaders who don’t take everything all that seriously, including themselves. Similarly, outside of work you may highly value your friends and family members who can either tell a good joke or make light of what might otherwise be a serious occasion, at least from time to time.

In a new study, University of Arizona’s Jonathan B. Evans and colleagues (2019), noted that although humor has the potential to create an environment conducive to positive outcomes, at work and elsewhere, this potential may fail to be realized. If a joke falls flat, the person telling it can look inept or even cruel.  Telling jokes can also influence the way you’re perceived by the people who you’re trying to entertain. Based on a model known as “parallel-constraint-satisfaction” theory, which proposes that stereotypes affect the way people interpret the behavior of others, Evans and his colleagues hypothesized that men would benefit and women would be penalized when using humor specifically in the workplace. Men will gain status when they make jokes, and women will lose.

This proposal may ring true if you think about comments over the years suggesting that women can’t be funny. Rather than add to this debate, however, the Arizona researchers looked not at what’s funny or not, but how telling jokes affects they way the joke-teller is perceived which, in turn, influence the joke’s impact. Think about times when you’ve been in a meeting or group setting in which a man constantly makes wisecracks while everyone else is trying to stay task-focused. Try as you might, you find yourself unable to suppress a giggle now and then. You don’t think any less of the jokester and, in fact, find your estimation of him rising as he shows his humorous side. Now imagine that it’s a woman in the role of jester. Do you still think of her as gaining in status, or does she just seem silly?

Parallel-constraint-satisfaction-theory (PCST) proposes that people evaluate a target along multiple dimensions simultaneously, influencing the way they evaluate others. With humor, the joke-teller can be seen as either serving a positive purpose by alleviating tension or as disruptive by distracting people from the task at hand. Gender interacts with this dimension, with male stereotype of a man being high in agency (individual drive) and rationality with women seen as low in personal agency and rationality. Men therefore have the humor-as-functional perception working in their favor but women, seen as irrational and flighty, are perceived as disruptive and even non-funny.

In the first of two studies, Evans et al. asked 96 online participants to rate the disruptiveness and functionality of humor as shown by either a male or female manager performing in an online video. The manager was described in the research materials as a highly successful and talented individual. As the research team predicted, participants rated as more disruptive and less functional the same jokes expressed by women as by men. In the second study, 216 online participants watched videos of either a man or a woman either telling jokes or not telling jokes. Following the presentation of the video, participants then rated the managers on their status, performance and leadership capability.

As the authors predicted, participants rated female joke-tellers as lower in status, which in turn led participants to view them as lower in performance and leadership capability than men. They note that, like an elbow nudge, humor’s meaning can be ambiguous. We impose onto that behavior, they maintain, our stereotypes about the joke-teller. There is no reason that the same jokes, whether told by a male or female, should have the same impact on those hearing the jokes. By supporting the PCST approach, the Arizona researchers showed that humor’s perception is bent by the gender of the joke-teller.

Thus, being sarcastic and teasing violates the female gender stereotype but fits perfectly with that of the male’s. Evans and his fellow researchers maintain that they have added to the literature regarding the lower proportion of female than male CEO’s. If men can get to the top by being funny, but women lower their status potential by engaging in the very same behavior, this would provide yet another cause of the glass ceiling for female executives.

To sum up, humor’s ability to provide fulfillment should be gender-neutral, but since the Evans et al. study suggests it’s not, perhaps there can come a time when, in the words of the authors, “increased awareness can help reduce its occurrence.” Give the female joke-teller some slack, and you’ll be part of that long-overdue impetus for change.

15 Signs That You’re An Introvert With High-Functioning Anxiety

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Anxiety is the voice in the back of your head that says, “something bad is going to happen.” It’s what keeps you awake at 2 a.m. thinking about something embarrassing you did — five years ago.

Not all introverts have anxiety, and extroverts and ambiverts can struggle with it, too. To be clear, introversion and anxiety aren’t the same thing. Introversion is defined as a preference for calm, minimally stimulating environments, whereas anxiety is a general term for disorders that cause excessive fear, worrying, and nervousness.

However, for many introverts, anxiety is a regular part of their lives. And indeed, anxiety is more common among introverts than extroverts, according to Dr. Laurie Helgoe.

What Is High-Functioning Anxiety?
Sometimes anxiety is obvious (think: panic attacks and sweaty palms), but that’s not always the case. Many people live with a secret form of anxiety called “high-functioning anxiety.” Outwardly, they appear to have it all together. They may even lead very successful lives. No one can tell from the outside that they’re driven by fear. Sometimes they don’t even realize it themselves.

Do you have high-functioning anxiety? Although not an official diagnosis, high-functioning anxiety is something countless people identify with. It’s closely related to Generalized Anxiety disorder, which affects 6.8 million adults in the U.S., women being twice as likely to experience it as men.

Symptoms of High-Functioning Anxiety
Here are fifteen common symptoms of high-functioning anxiety.

1. You’re always prepared.
Your mind frequently jumps to the worst-case scenario in any given situation. As a result, you may find yourself over-preparing. For example, you might pack underwear and makeup in both your checked luggage and your carry-on, just in case the airline loses your suitcase. People see you as being the reliable one — and often your preparations do come in handy — but few people (if any!) know that your “ready for anything” mentality stems from anxiety.

2. You may be freaking out on the inside, but you’re stoic on the outside.
Interestingly, many people with high-functioning anxiety don’t reveal just how nervous they are, which is another reason why it’s often a secret anxiety. You may have learned to compartmentalize your emotions.

3. You see the world in a fundamentally different way.
Your anxiety isn’t “just in your head.” Researchers from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel found that people who are anxious see the world differently than people who aren’t anxious. In the study, anxious people were less able to distinguish between a safe stimulus and one that was earlier associated with a threat. In other words, anxious people overgeneralize emotional experiences — even if they aren’t threatening.

4. You constantly feel the need to be doing something.
Which can be a real problem if you’re an introvert who needs plenty of downtime to recharge. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’re attending lots of social events; instead, you may feel a compulsion to always be getting things done or staying on top of things. Staying busy distracts you from your anxiety and gives you a sense of control.

5. You’re outwardly successful.
Achievement-oriented, organized, detail-oriented, and proactive in planning ahead for all possibilities, you may be the picture of success. Problem is, it’s never enough. You always feel like you should be doing more.

6. You’re afraid of disappointing others.
You might be a people-pleaser. You’re so afraid of letting others down that you work hard to make everyone around you happy — even if it means sacrificing your own needs.

7. You chatter nervously.
Even though you’re an introvert who prefers calm and quiet, you chatter on and on — out of nervousness. For this reason, sometimes you’re mistaken for an extrovert.

8. You’ve built your life around avoidance.
You’ve shrunk your world to prevent overwhelm. You stick to routines and familiar experiences that give you a sense of comfort and control; you avoid intense emotional experiences like travel, social events, conflict, or anything else that might trigger your anxiety.

9. You’re prone to rumination and overthinking.
You do a lot of negative self-talk. You often replay past mistakes in your mind, dwell on scary “what if” scenarios, and struggle to enjoy the moment because you’re expecting the worst. Sometimes your mind races and you can’t stop it.

10. You’re a perfectionist.
You try to calm your worries by getting your work or your appearance just right. This can bring positive results, but it comes at a cost. You may have an “all-or-nothing” mentality (“If I’m not the best student, then I’m the worst”). You may have unrealistic expectations of yourself, and a catastrophic fear of falling short of them.

11. You have aches, repetitive habits, or tics.
According to psychotherapist Annie Wright, your anxiety might manifest physically in your body as frequent muscle tension or aches. Similarly, you might unconsciously pick at the skin around your nails, tap your foot, scratch your scalp, or do other repetitive things that get your nervous energy out — even if you appear composed in other ways.

12. You’re tired all the time.
Your mind is always going, so you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Even when you sleep well, you feel tired during the day, because dealing with a constant underlying level of anxiety is exhausting.

13. You startle easily.
That’s because your nervous system is in over-drive. A slammed door, an ambulance siren, or other unexpected sounds really rattle you.

14. You get irritated and stressed easily.
You’re living with constant low-level stress, so even minor problems or annoyances have the power to frazzle you.

15. You can’t “just stop it.”
Anxiety isn’t something you can tell yourself to just stop doing. In fact, the above-mentioned researchers from the Weizmann Institute of Science found that people who are anxious have somewhat different brains than people who aren’t anxious. They noted that people can’t control their anxious reactions, due to a fundamental brain difference. (However, you can learn to cope with your anxiety and greatly lessen it — see the resources below).

What Are the Signs of Damaged Emotions?

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Healthy emotions are vital for well-being and harmonious relationships. Emotional damage can occur as a result of mental illness, trauma or a combination of both factors, and may impair a person’s ability to form relationships and handle everyday stressors. Learning to recognize the signs of damaged emotions allows you to identify problems sooner and alter the behaviors that perpetuate them.

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Trust Issues
While blind trust can be dangerous in some situations, an inability to trust loved ones can be a sign of emotional damage. According to AT Health, children who are abandoned by their parents often experience trust issues in adulthood, making it difficult to form close interpersonal relationships.

Lack of trust can result from painful past experiences, including acts of betrayal. Examples of situations that could trigger trust issues include abandonment as a child, romantic infidelity or a variety of forms of dishonesty.

Low Self-Esteem
Self-esteem refers to the way in which people view themselves and their worth. Low self-esteem can result from internal sources like mental health conditions or external causes like bullying. The “New York Times” lists low self-esteem as a common symptom of depression.

Signs of low self-esteem include shyness, anxiety about one’s appearance or competence, feelings of worthlessness and unnecessary guilt or shame. It’s possible to use positive affirmations to help raise self-esteem by reaffirming positive attributes.

Anger and Aggression
While unpleasant, anger is a natural emotional response that can be useful when channeled effectively. When managed improperly, anger is capable of tearing apart relationships and leading to frequent altercations between individuals.

Inappropriate anger can masquerade as jealousy, manipulation, suspicion or passive-aggressiveness. If allowed to continue unchecked, anger may even deteriorate into verbal or physical abuse. Long-term suppression of unpleasant emotions like anger can lead to inappropriate behaviors, reinforcing the need to handle anger as it arises.

Self-Destructive Behavior
Emotional damage often manifests as self-destructive or self-defeating behavior. Eating disorders, substance abuse and self-mutilation are examples of self-destructive behavior.

According to the American Humane Association, destructive behaviors like alcohol and drug abuse, suicide attempts and withdrawal can all result from emotional abuse.

Treatment Options
Many options exist for healing emotional damage. Counseling or group therapy can help patients work through unpleasant emotions and get to the heart of their issues. Trained mental health professionals offer solutions by teaching patients stress management techniques and coping skills to help deal with daily problems. When emotional damage affects married couples or families, couples counseling and family therapy may be helpful.

In cases of mental illness, medications like antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs may be prescribed in conjunction with talk therapy.

Night Owls May Experience ‘Jet Lag’ On A Daily Basis

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Some people declare themselves to be morning larks, or early risers, and they effortlessly wake up at the crack of dawn and fall asleep earlier in the evening.

Others, however, are night owls, or evening people, who stay up until the early hours of the morning and wake up later in the day, if left to their own devices.

Previous research has shown that the night owls face some health risks due to their daily rhythms. These include a tendency towards poorer dietary habits, which, in turn, can increase the risk of metabolic conditions, such as diabetes.

Now, a study led by investigators from the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom has found out how activity patterns in the brains of night owls are different from those of morning people. The study also highlights how these differences can impact their lives and levels of productivity in a world that typically favors early risers.

“A huge number of people struggle to deliver their best performance during work or school hours they are not naturally suited to,” notes lead researcher Dr. Elise Facer-Childs, previously of Birmingham University and now based at the Monash Institute for Cognitive and Clinical Neurosciences in Melbourne, Australia.

“There is a critical need to increase our understanding of these issues in order to minimize health risks in society, as well as maximize productivity,” she emphasizes.

The researchers have now published their findings in a study paper featured in the journal SLEEP.

Brain activity in night owls

For this study, the research team recruited 38 healthy participants. They divided the volunteers into two groups, putting 16 early risers into one group and 22 late sleepers into the second.

The researchers split the participants into these two groups based on their melatonin and cortisol circadian rhythms — the natural circulation of these two hormones affect sleep and waking cycles.

The researchers monitored the participants’ sleeping and waking patterns, and the volunteers filled in questionnaires about their rhythms. On average, late sleepers went to bed at 2:30 a.m. and woke up at 10:15 a.m.

To assess brain activity patterns, the investigators asked the volunteers to undergo MRI scans. The researchers also tested the participants’ performance on various tasks they undertook at different times throughout the day to see how sleep-wake cycles affected daily functioning.

The team noticed a difference in brain activity patterns between the two groups, namely that night owls had lower resting brain connectivity in brain areas that scientists primarily associate with maintaining a state of consciousness. They correlated this with shorter attention spans, as well as slower reactions and lower energy levels.

Early risers performed better and had faster reaction times during morning tasks. They also declared themselves as being much less sleepy at that time.

On the contrary, as expected, late sleepers performed best and experienced the fastest reaction times around 8:00 p.m. However, even at the time when they were at their peak performance, night owls did not do much better than their early rising peers.

This suggests that throughout the day — or from around 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. — resting-state brain connectivity is affected in late sleepers, adversely impacting their productivity.

Social expectations ‘could be more flexible’

Dr. Facer-Childs likens the night owls’ state throughout the day to a form of constant jet lag, emphasizing that this may have a significant effect on their well-being in the long run.

This mismatch between a person’s biological time and social time — which most of us have experienced in the form of jet lag — is a common issue for night owls trying to follow a normal working day.”

Dr. Elise Facer-Childs

“Our study is the first to show a potential intrinsic, neuronal mechanism behind why night owls may face cognitive disadvantages when being forced to fit into these constraints,” she adds.

For this reason, the researcher argues that societies need to take a long, hard look at their organizational structures, chiefly in terms of working hours and how to become more accommodating to people’s individuals needs. This flexibilty should mean that night owls can put their best foot forward while avoiding adverse health outcomes.

“To manage this [situation], we need to get better at taking an individual’s body clock into account — particularly in the world of work,” Dr. Facer-Childs argues.

“A typical day might last from 9:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m., but for a night owl, this could result in diminished performance during the morning, lower brain connectivity in regions linked to consciousness, and increased daytime sleepiness,” she warns.

She further advises that “If, as a society, we could be more flexible about how we manage time, we could go a long way toward maximizing productivity and minimizing health risks.”

 

Researchers shed light on the neural networks that appear to govern human consciousness.

via Identifying Brain Patterns of Consciousness — Neuroscience News Updates

Why Being A Night Owl Might Be Damaging Your Mental Health

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woman sleeping in bed

GETTY IMAGESCAIAIMAGE/PAUL BRADBURY

Not only is being a ‘night owl’ annoying when you have to get up for work the next day, it apparently affects more than just your body clock – it has a big impact on mental health, too.

According to a new study published in the journal Nature Communications, people who are naturally early risers are less likely to develop mental health problems than those who go to bed late and sleep in.

The large-scale genetics study, conducted at the University of Exeter, used data from 250,000 research participants signed up to the private genetics company 23andMe, and 450,000 people in the UK Biobank study. Participants were asked whether they were a “morning person” or an “evening person”, and their genomes were analysed, revealing certain genes people shared that appeared to influence sleep patterns.

Lead study author Samuel Jones, a research fellow studying the genetics of sleeping patterns at the University of Exeter, said:

“Part of the reason why some people are up with the lark while others are night owls is because of differences in both the way our brains react to external light signals and the normal functioning of our internal clocks.

“The large number of people in our study means we have provided the strongest evidence to date that ‘night owls’ are at higher risk of mental health problems, such as schizophrenia and lower mental wellbeing, although further studies are needed to fully understand this link.”

The results found uncovered an apparent causal link between being a night owl and being more prone to depression, anxiety and schizophrenia – with evening types 10% more likely to develop the latter condition.

However, they found no increased risk of obesity and diabetes among night owls, despite what some earlier studies have said.

Samuel Jones said the conclusion is that night owls are more likely to have to work against their natural body clock in school and the world of work, which may have negative consequences on their mindset.

So, how can you go about adjusting your sleep schedule? Hope Bastine, sleep psychologist for high-tech mattress maker Simba, says we need to identify our individual sleep needs first.

“Experiment with your productivity and your performance rate and adjusting your time schedule to that,” she told Cosmopolitan UK. “Find a rhythm, a schedule, a lifestyle that really suits you, and that makes you feel in harmony with yourself. Make sure your sleep schedule is as non-negotiable as possible.”

Putting sleep first? Done.

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