Sleep Science Still in Early Stages

-Rick Nauert, PhD

A new research review finds that sleep remains an enduring biological mystery with major clinical relevance.

Thomas Scammell, M.D., of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and colleagues discovered that in recent decades, new technologies have allowed neuroscientists to identify multiple brain circuits that govern the sleep/wake cycle, as well as the factors that can influence it, such as caffeine and light.

But the investigators also discovered the brain’s complexity is still a stumbling block in understanding sleep.

“In the last ten years, neuroscientists have had access to new tools with which we can test the roles of very specific neurons in the brain,” said lead author Scammell, a professor in the department of neurology at BIDMC.

“When we know the specific relevant players in the brain, it allows us to develop therapies to help people get to sleep or help sleepy people be more alert during the day.”

Specifically, two technologies developed since 2000 allow neurologists to switch specific neurons on or off. In a process called chemogenetics, researchers use drugs that have an effect only in a genetically-defined group of cells to determine the neurons’ role.

Optogenetics uses laser light to turn on or turn off targeted brain cells. These techniques have revealed which neuronal circuits promote wakefulness and sleep throughout the brain, especially in the brain stem and the hypothalamus.

“We can now interrogate neurons in a more precise way,” said Scammell. “The techniques are very similar, but optogenetics works over a short time scale, on the order of seconds. With chemogenetics, we can watch over several hours what happens when we turn certain neurons on or off.”

Sleep researchers have also made important discoveries about the fundamental chemistry of sleepiness in recent years. In a major breakthrough in the late 1990s, scientists discovered a previously unknown chemical, a neurotransmitter called orexin, required for maintaining long periods of wakefulness.

The loss of orexin production causes the common sleep disorder narcolepsy, which is characterized by chronic sleepiness and irregular REM sleep. Today, pharmaceutical companies make drugs that intentionally block the orexin system to treat insomnia. Researchers are also trying to develop drugs that mimic orexin to wake people up.

“A drug that acts like orexin could be as great for patients with narcolepsy as insulin is for people with diabetes,” said Scammell.

Neuroscience research has also revealed the brain circuity governing circadian rhythms, the biological clock that synchronizes sleepiness and wakefulness with night and day.

Located deep in the hypothalamus, the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) regulates circadian rhythms and is capable of maintaining them for some time even in total darkness. However, the SCN is no match for the digital environment when it comes to people’s sleep habits.

“People increasingly use their electronic devices in bed, which tricks the brain into thinking it’s being exposed to daylight,” said Scammell. “The internal clock gets reset, making it much harder to wake up in the morning.”

Phones and tablets are just one of the reasons about a third of all American adults are sleep deprived, getting much less than the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep per night.

That raises more questions about why some people need more or less than that, and why some people can tolerate a sleep deficit so much better than others. The links among lack of sleep or poor sleep and metabolic disease, cancer risk, and mood disorders also require further study.

With each of the brain’s hundreds of thousands of neurons networked to each other, scientists will need a deeper knowledge of the brain’s inner workings to understand how the circuits that regulate sleep interact.

“There’s tremendous dialog back and forth among these circuits,” said Scammell, who said today’s technology allows scientists to monitor dozens of neurons at a time within one region of the brain.

“Our ability to record activity in just a handful of neurons simultaneously is still not anything close to understanding the whole brain, but at least it’s a step in the right direction.”

9 Ways to Reduce Anxiety Right Here, Right Now

-Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.

When you’re feeling anxious, you might feel stuck and unsure of how to feel better. You might even do things that unwittingly fuel your anxiety. You might hyperfocus on the future, and get carried away by a slew of what-ifs.

What if I start to feel worse? What if they hate my presentation? What if she sees me sweating? What if I bomb the exam? What if I don’t get the house?

You might judge and bash yourself for your anxiety. You might believe your negative, worst-case scenario thoughts are indisputable facts.

Thankfully, there are many tools and techniques you can use to manage anxiety effectively. Below, experts shared healthy ways to cope with anxiety right here, right now.

1. Take a deep breath.

“The first thing to do when you get anxious is to breathe,” said Tom Corboy, MFT, the founder and executive director of the OCD Center of Los Angeles, and co-author of the upcoming book The Mindfulness Workbook for OCD.

Deep diaphragmatic breathing is a powerful anxiety-reducing technique because it activates the body’s relaxation response. It helps the body go from the fight-or-flight response of the sympathetic nervous system to the relaxed response of the parasympathetic nervous system, said Marla W. Deibler, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and director of The Center for Emotional Health of Greater Philadelphia, LLC.

She suggested this practice: “Try slowly inhaling to a count of 4, filling your belly first and then your chest, gently holding your breath to a count of 4, and slowly exhaling to a count of 4 and repeat several times.”

2. Accept that you’re anxious.

Remember that “anxiety is just a feeling, like any other feeling,” said Deibler, also author of the Psych Central blog “Therapy That Works.” By reminding yourself that anxiety is simply an emotional reaction, you can start to accept it, Corboy said.

Acceptance is critical because trying to wrangle or eliminate anxiety often worsens it. It just perpetuates the idea that your anxiety is intolerable, he said.

But accepting your anxiety doesn’t mean liking it or resigning yourself to a miserable existence.

“It just means you would benefit by accepting reality as it is – and in that moment, reality includes anxiety. The bottom line is that the feeling of anxiety is less than ideal, but it is not intolerable.”

3. Realize that your brain is playing tricks on you.

Psychiatrist Kelli Hyland, M.D., has seen first-hand how a person’s brain can make them believe they’re dying of a heart attack when they’re actually having a panic attack. She recalled an experience she had as a medical student.

“I had seen people having heart attacks and look this ill on the medical floors for medical reasons and it looked exactly the same. A wise, kind and experienced psychiatrist came over to [the patient] and gently, calmly reminded him that he is not dying, that it will pass and his brain is playing tricks on him. It calmed me too and we both just stayed with him until [the panic attack] was over.”

Today, Dr. Hyland, who has a private practice in Salt Lake City, Utah, tells her patients the same thing. “It helps remove the shame, guilt, pressure and responsibility for fixing yourself or judging yourself in the midst of needing nurturing more than ever.”

4. Question your thoughts.

“When people are anxious, their brains start coming up with all sorts of outlandish ideas, many of which are highly unrealistic and unlikely to occur,” Corboy said. And these thoughts only heighten an individual’s already anxious state.

For instance, say you’re about to give a wedding toast. Thoughts like “Oh my God, I can’t do this. It will kill me” may be running through your brain.

Remind yourself, however, that this isn’t a catastrophe, and in reality, no one has died giving a toast, Corboy said.

“Yes, you may be anxious, and you may even flub your toast. But the worst thing that will happen is that some people, many of whom will never see you again, will get a few chuckles, and that by tomorrow they will have completely forgotten about it.”

Deibler also suggested asking yourself these questions when challenging your thoughts:

  • “Is this worry realistic?
  • Is this really likely to happen?
  • If the worst possible outcome happens, what would be so bad about that?
  • Could I handle that?
  • What might I do?
  • If something bad happens, what might that mean about me?
  • Is this really true or does it just seem that way?
  • What might I do to prepare for whatever may happen?”

5. Use a calming visualization.

Hyland suggested practicing the following meditation regularly, which will make it easier to access when you’re anxious in the moment.

“Picture yourself on a river bank or outside in a favorite park, field or beach. Watch leaves pass by on the river or clouds pass by in the sky. Assign [your] emotions, thoughts [and] sensations to the clouds and leaves, and just watch them float by.”

This is very different from what people typically do. Typically, we assign emotions, thoughts and physical sensations certain qualities and judgments, such as good or bad, right or wrong, Hyland said. And this often amplifies anxiety. Remember that “it is all just information.”

6. Be an observer — without judgment.

Hyland gives her new patients a 3×5 index card with the following written on it: “Practice observing (thoughts, feelings, emotions, sensations, judgment) with compassion, or without judgment.”

“I have had patients come back after months or years and say that they still have that card on their mirror or up on their car dash, and it helps them.”

7. Use positive self-talk.

Anxiety can produce a lot of negative chatter. Tell yourself “positive coping statements,” Deibler said. For instance, you might say, “this anxiety feels bad, but I can use strategies to manage it.”

8. Focus on right now.

“When people are anxious, they are usually obsessing about something that might occur in the future,” Corboy said. Instead, pause, breathe and pay attention to what’s happening right now, he said. Even if something serious is happening, focusing on the present moment will improve your ability to manage the situation, he added.

9. Focus on meaningful activities.

When you’re feeling anxious, it’s also helpful to focus your attention on a “meaningful, goal-directed activity,” Corboy said. He suggested asking yourself what you’d be doing if you weren’t anxious.

If you were going to see a movie, still go. If you were going to do the laundry, still do it.

“The worst thing you can do when anxious is to passively sit around obsessing about how you feel.” Doing what needs to get done teaches you key lessons, he said: getting out of your head feels better; you’re able to live your life even though you’re anxious; and you’ll get things done.

“The bottom line is, get busy with the business of life. Don’t sit around focusing on being anxious – nothing good will come of that.”

Parents: Secure Your Own Oxygen Mask First!

-Holly Brown, LMFT

In the event of an airplane crash, you’re supposed to secure your own oxygen mask first before attending to your children. The same advice applies to parenting.

Parenting is challenging, no doubt. Kids are incredibly skilled button pushers, from remarkably young. Sometimes that’s accidental on their part; sometimes it’s intentional. But regardless, staying  calm and grounded yourself is pretty much a prerequisite.

So how do you do that when it feels like the plane is going down, every day? 1) Meet your own basic needs.

I know, this might seem odd, because if needs are basic, we must be meeting them, right?

But think about it. Are you getting adequate rest, nutrition, and exercise? Are you getting time to yourself to recharge when you’re feeling overwhelmed? Do you have the support to step away and attend to your own human requirements?

For most of us, the answer to at least one of those questions is no. If the answer to all three is no, then no wonder you’re struggling.

The reality is, some needs probably need to be sacrifices at least some of the time. But we need to be thoughtful and strategic about what we’re giving up, and how often. It’s time to recognize that you’re running on empty, and in that state, you have less adaptability and less tolerance (and that’s what you’re likely modeling for your children.)

2) Give yourself a time-out when you’re getting triggered.

Very few parenting situations require instant intervention. Sure, we don’t like that our kid is doing a certain thing, but it’s not necessarily a safety risk. If they’re making a mess, it can be cleaned up later. If they’re doing something you don’t like to the point that you’re feeling like you’re about to snap, then it’s better to discuss it later.

Yes, with small children, discipline is best in the moment. But if you’re not in any condition to handle discipline in an effective and calm way, then better to let something go by and wait for the next moment. Because it’s actually better to let them get away with something this time than to yell ineffectually anyway (which means you’re modeling a lack of self-control, and your children are going to focus a whole lot more on that than they are on their supposed transgression.)

When you lose it, you abdicate your authority. You don’t teach what you think you’re teaching. So giving yourself a time-out–and telling your children that you’ll be dealing with the subject or the behavior later–can be your best move.

3) Go big picture.

What I mean is, discipline should be a small part of your overall parenting plan. And if you don’t have a parenting plan, this is a great time to develop one (in conjunction with your partner, if you have one.)

Parenting plans should be based on what you value most. What do you feel you most want your child to learn? What can you not just say but do to move your children closer to those cherished ideals? Are you living in accordance with them yourself? Are you the role model you want to be?

Redesigning your way of parenting–no, not just parenting, but living–might seem like a tall order. But an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Stepping back and being thoughtful will serve you; you can start making the right changes instead of the same mistakes.

Parenting mindfully is the best thing you can do for yourself, and for your kids. It doesn’t necessitate a giant overhaul, but increased awareness, and that can start right now.

What’s My Attachment Style and Why Does It Matter?

-Sharon Martin, LCSW

If you’re in an unhappy relationship, feel stuck in a pattern of failed relationships, or can’t seem to find Mr. (or Ms.) Right, your attachment style may be the reason.

We all learn about human relationships from our first relationships – those with our parents or primary caregivers. Understanding your attachment style can help you get to the root of your relationship troubles.

Ideally, parents provide security and safety and children learn to trust that their parents will meet their needs. Parents provide comfort and help calm their children when they’re upset or afraid. As a result, children form a bond with their parents that builds a secure emotional foundation. Children can then confidently explore the world knowing their parents will keep them safe.

We know that humans are meant to connect to and depend on each other. Our survival hinges on it! Depending on others is healthy even in adult relationships. We are more successful and happy when we can form healthy, trusting attachments to other humans.

“We don’t have to do it all alone. We were never meant to.” – Brene Brown

There are three primary attachment styles: secure, avoidant, and anxious. I have described each attachment style below.

Secure Attachment

  • You had your needs met as a child. Your caregivers were attentive and responsive to your needs helping you to feel safe and cared for.
  • You feel comfortable being close and emotionally intimate.
  • You seek and maintain close, stable relationships.
  • You feel comfortable expressing your feelings and needs.

Avoidant Attachment

  • Your caregivers were probably distant, cold, or unresponsive. As a result, you became more independent and self-reliant, not wanting to depend on inconsistent people.
  • Close relationships tend to feel smothering and like they’re impeding your independence.
  • You pull away from intimacy when it feels too intense.
  • You need a lot of time to yourself.
  • You may resist commitment.

Anxious Attachment

  • Your caregivers were inconsistent in attending to your needs. As a result, you hold on tight in order to try to get your needs met.
  • You crave intimacy and can never get enough closeness.
  • You question whether you’re partner really loves you or whether you’re lovable and seek frequent reassurance.
  • An anxious attachment can be described as “needy” or “clingy.”
  • You desperately seek security and attention from your partner, but this can push him/her away.

Why does my attachment style matter?

Attachment theory originated with work of John Bowlby, who studied mothers and infants, but we now recognize that our attachment style is still at play in our adult romantic relationships. The parent-child attachment sets the stage for our ability to trust that our adult partners will meet our emotional needs.

Our attachment style becomes a blueprint for the rest of our intimate relationships. Our attachment style impacts our choice of romantic partners and how we relate to them. We replay these attachment patterns over and over with new people as a way to find evidence for our beliefs about ourselves. This is why people often feel stuck in the same kinds of relationship patterns. For example, many anxiously attached people date or marry avoidants who can never seem to give them enough closeness and reassurance. This confirms the anxiously attached person’s fears of abandonment and belief that s/he is flawed or unlovable.

Understanding your attachment style is useful not only because it gives you insights into your relationship with your parents and how you felt as a child, but it can also help you understand difficulties you have in your adult relationships. Ultimately, understanding your attachment style can help you figure out how you can change in order to have more fulfilling relationships. In other words, having a healthy relationship is about choosing the “right” partner and about developing a healthy, secure attachment.

How can I become more securely attached?

Although attachment patterns are well established, you can shift toward a more secure attachment style by learning new skills and practicing a lot.

A few ways to start changing your attachment style are:

  • Notice your relationship patterns. Becoming more aware of your anxious or avoidant behaviors is the first step in change.
  • Pay attention to what you need and how you feel.
  • Share your feelings with your partner.
  • Recognize cognitive distortions and challenge them.
  • Communicate your relationship needs and expectations clearly to your partner.
  • Take good care of yourself.
  • Do things that make you feel good about yourself; acknowledge your strengths and successes.
  • Work with a therapist (shifting your attachment style is hard work).
  • Spend time with people who model healthy relationships.

I hope this post has shed a bit of light on understanding your attachment style and how it influences your adult relationships. For additional information, I recommend the book Attached by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller. As always, be patient and gentle with yourself as you challenge yourself to change.

A “Natural” Treatment for ADHD

-Neil Petersen

Do you ever get ads trying to sell you such-and-such natural supplement that will treat ADHD? You can thank targeted advertising for that.

It occurred to me, though, that there’s one “natural” ADHD treatment that definitely isn’t a scam … nature.

OK, so it might be a stretch to call nature an ADHD “treatment.” But I do think if you want to get natural in your ADHD management, there’s something to be said for skipping the supplements and going for the real thing – the good old-fashioned outdoors.

For example, here’s one way you can incorporate nature into your ADHD coping toolbox: doing work outside.

As I’ve talked about in many previous posts, people with ADHD often have an especially hard time focusing when they are in unstimulating environments. That’s why things like working in public spaces with background noise or listening to music while you work can be useful ways of getting your ADHD brain into gear. Working outside serves the same purpose – feeling the breeze, hearing the birds, and all that pleasant nature-y stuff can help ease your brain into a more alert state compared with sitting in a quiet room.

Of course, working isn’t the only thing you can do outdoors – if you only go outside to cross items off your to-do list, you’re probably missing out!

After all, who doesn’t enjoy a good walk, run or bike ride in the open air? These are all great ways to clear your mind. And clearing your mind is no small feat when you have ADHD!

Maybe it’s no surprise that some research has even suggested spending time in green outdoor spaces as a way of temporarily improving ADHD symptoms. For example, one study found that children with ADHD concentrate better after going for a walk in the park – and that going for a walk downtown or in an urban neighborhood doesn’t seem to have the same effect. That study only looked at kids, but as far as I’m concerned, we never outgrow nature!

So if you’re looking for something natural and green to add to your ADHD treatment plan, skip the weird herbs and try the free alternative: nature. It’s the best “natural” ADHD treatment there is!

6 Secret Signs of Hidden Depression

-John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Lots of people walk through life trying to hide their depression. Some people with hidden depression can conceal their depression like pros, masking their symptoms and putting on a “happy face” for most others.

People with concealed depression or hidden depression often don’t want to acknowledge the severity of their depressive feelings. They believe that if they just continue living their life, the depression will just go away on its own. In a few cases, this may work. But for most folks, it just drags out the feelings of sadness and loneliness.

Dealing with the black dog of depression through concealing one’s true feelings is the way many of us were brought up — we don’t talk about our feelings and we don’t burden others with our troubles. But if a friend or family member is going through something like this — trying to hide or mask their depression — these signs might help you discover what they’re trying to keep concealed.

6 Signs of Concealed Depression

1. They have unusual sleep, eating or drinking habits that differ from their normal ones.

When a person seems to have changed the way they sleep or eat in significant ways, that’s often a sign that something is wrong. Sleep is the foundation of both good health and mental health. When a person can’t sleep (or sleeps for far too long) every day, that may be a sign of hidden depression.

Others turn to food or alcohol to try and quash their feelings. Overeating can help someone who is depressed feel full, which in turn helps them feel less emotionally empty inside. Drinking may be used to help cover up the feelings of sadness and loneliness that often accompany depression. Sometimes a person will go in the other direction too — losing all interest in food or drinking, because they see no point in it, or it brings them no joy.

2. They wear a forced “happy face” and are always making excuses.

We’ve all seen someone who seems like they are trying to force happiness. It’s a mask we all wear from time to time. But in most cases, the mask wears thin the longer you spend time with the person who’s wearing it. That’s why lots of people with hidden depression try not to spend any more time with others than they absolutely have to. They seem to always have a quick and ready excuse for not being able to hang out, go to dinner, or see you.

It’s hard to see behind the mask of happiness that people with hidden depression wear. Sometimes you can catch a glimpse of it in a moment of honesty, or when there’s a conversation lull.

3. They may talk more philosophically than normal.

When you do finally catch up with a person with masked depression, you may find the conversation turning to philosophical topics they don’t normally talk much about. These might include the meaning of life, or what their life has amounted to so far. They may even open up enough to acknowledge occasional thoughts of wanting to hurt themselves or even thoughts of death. They may talk about finding happiness or a better path in the journey of life.

These kinds of topics may be a sign that a person is struggling internally with darker thoughts that they dare not share.

4. They may put out a cry for help, only to take it back.

People with hidden depression struggle fiercely with keeping it hidden. Sometimes, they give up the struggle to conceal their true feelings and so they tell someone about it. They may even take the first step and make an appointment with a doctor or therapist, and a handful will even will make it to the first session.

But then they wake up the next day and realize they’ve gone too far. Seeking out help for their depression would be admitting they truly are depressed. That is an acknowledgment that many people with concealed depression struggle with and cannot make. Nobody else is allowed to see their weakness.

5. They feel things more intensely than normal.

A person with masked depression often feels emotions more intensely than others. This might come across as someone who doesn’t normally cry while watching a TV show or movie suddenly breaks out in tears during a poignant scene. Or someone who doesn’t normally get angry about anything suddenly gets very mad at a driver who cut them off in traffic. Or someone who doesn’t usually express terms of endearment suddenly is telling you that they love you.

It’s like by keeping their depressive feelings all boxed up, other feelings leak out around the edges more easily.

6. They may look at things with a less optimistic point of view than usual.

Psychologists refer to this phenomenon as depressive realism, and there’s some research evidence to suggest that it’s true. When a person suffers from depression, they may actually have a more realistic picture of the world around them and their impact on it. People who aren’t depressed, on the other hand, tend to be more optimistic and have expectations that aren’t as grounded in their actual circumstances. Non-depressed people believed they performed better on laboratory tasks than they actually did, compared to people with depression (Moore & Fresco, 2012).

It’s sometimes harder to cover-up this depressive realism, because the difference in attitude may be very small and not come across as something “depressing.” Instead of saying, “I really think I’ll get that promotion this time!” after having been passed over it four previous times, they may say, “Well, I’m up for that promotion again, but I doubt I’ll get it.”

Meditation Can Benefit ALS Patients

– Janice Wood

An eight-week mindfulness-based meditation program led to improved quality of life and psychological well-being in patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), according to new research.

In a randomized, open-label, and controlled clinical trial that included 100 patients, participants who underwent meditation training scored higher on a questionnaire specifically developed to assess quality of life in people with ALS, according to researchers.

They also reported lower levels of anxiety and depression, the study found.

These results remained stable, when not further improved, over a 12-month follow-up.

“There has been very limited investigation on psychological interventions that can promote quality of life in people with ALS,” said Dr. Francesco Pagnini, lead author of the study. “I found that very strange, as we are not able to cure the disease, but we all agree that the promotion of quality of life is the current main goal in ALS cases.”

“This is the first controlled trial in this field, suggesting that a mindfulness-based intervention can be a very important tool to increase the well-being of people with ALS,” he added.

Rat Study Finds Sons of Fathers Who Use Cocaine at Risk for Learning Disabilities

-Janice Wood

Fathers who use cocaine at the time of conceiving a child may be putting their sons at risk for learning disabilities and memory loss, according to a new animal study.

Researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania say the findings reveal that drug abuse by fathers — separate from the well-established effects of cocaine use in mothers — may negatively impact cognitive development in their male offspring.

The study, led by Mathieu Wimmer, Ph.D., a post-doctoral researcher in the laboratory of R. Christopher Pierce, Ph.D., a professor of Neuroscience in Psychiatry, found evidence that the sons of fathers that ingested cocaine prior to conception struggle to make new memories.

Their findings demonstrated that the sons — but not the daughters — of male rats that consumed cocaine for an extended period of time could not remember the location of items in their surroundings and had impaired synaptic plasticity in the hippocampus, a brain region critical for learning and spatial navigation in humans and rodents.

“These results suggest that the sons of male cocaine addicts may be at risk for learning deficits,” said Pierce.

Pierce and his research team propose that epigenetic mechanisms are at the root of the problem. Epigenetics refers to heritable traits that are not caused by changes in the DNA sequence, as is the case with genetic inheritance.

DNA is tightly wound around proteins called histones, like thread around a spool, and chemical changes to histones influence the expression of genes, which is an epigenetic process, the researchers explained.

The new study shows that cocaine use in dads caused epigenetic changes in the brains of their sons, changing the expression of genes important for memory formation.

D-serine, a molecule essential for memory, was depleted in male rats whose fathers took cocaine, the researchers said. They noted that replenishing the levels of D-serine in the sons’ hippocampus improved learning in these animals.

In collaboration with Benjamin Garcia, Ph.D., presidential professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics in the Epigenetics Institute at the Perelman School of Medicine, the researchers showed that cocaine abuse in dads broadly altered the chemical marks on histones in the brain of their sons, even though the sons were never exposed to cocaine.

Chemical modifications on the histones were changed to favor active transcription of genes in the hippocampus of male rats with a paternal history of cocaine use, allowing more production of the enzyme D-amino acid oxidase, which degrades D-serine, according to the study’s findings.

The researchers postulate that increased expression of the enzyme, driven by changes in the epigenetic landscape, cause the memory problems in the sons of addicted rats.

“There is substantial interest in the development of D-serine and related compounds, which are well tolerated by humans, as drug therapies,” Pierce said. “The ability of D-serine to reverse the adverse effects of paternal cocaine taking on learning adds potential clinical relevance to our research.”

Ethics Often Drives Millennial ‘Job Hopping’

-Traci Pedersen

Many younger millennials get a hard time about their sensitivities on political and employment issues, including their tendency to job hop. A new study published in the journal Sustainability indeed finds that young workers often leave a job because of a disconnect between their own beliefs and the workplace culture.

“Fewer people of this generation are just looking for a paycheck,” said Jung Ha-Brookshire, Ph.D., an associate professor of textile and apparel management and associate dean of research and graduate studies in the University of Missouri (MU) College of Human Environmental Sciences.

“They have been raised with a sense of pro-social, pro-environment values, and they are looking to be engaged. If they find that a company doesn’t honor these values and contributions, many either will try to change the culture or find employment elsewhere.”

For the study, the researchers interviewed employees working in textile and apparel industries involved in corporate supply chains. They found that young workers expressed the most frustration when their employers publicly voiced a commitment to environmental sustainability but did not follow through substantively in areas such as:

  • materials selection, including the use of recycled materials;
  • proper management of pollutants, including chemicals and dyes;
  • working conditions in textile factories;
  • product packaging, distribution, and marketing to consumers.

“We were interested in workers’ values regarding sustainability and corporate sustainability practices and whether a gap existed,” said Rachel LoMonaco-Benzing, a doctoral student in the MU College of Human Environmental Sciences. “Not only did we find a gap, but we also found that workers were much more likely to leave a job if they felt their values were not reflected in the workplace.”

To ensure a good fit with a potential employer, the researchers suggest that job seekers speak with current and former employees at various levels of the organization, asking questions about areas that are particularly important to them, such as sustainability, work-life balance policies, or community partnerships.

On the employer’s side, the researchers encourage businesses to understand that the new generation of workers have high ethical and social expectations. Being transparent with job candidates about corporate culture can help eliminate future frustration, they said.

Furthermore, allowing employees to have a say in cultural decisions through membership on committees and outreach efforts can help increase morale.

“I think this is another sign to the industry that business as usual is not going to work if you want to attract and retain these valuable workers,” Ha-Brookshire said.