These 9 Mental Habits Suck the Happiness from Your Life

-Andrea Bonoir

It’s never too late to change.

Over the course of our lives, we run across all types of people, and the fact that we’re prone to classifying them as “types” shows just how much we tend to believe that people behave in certain ways by nature.

How To Be Happy With Yourself As You Improve Your Life

The truth is, many aspects of our personality and emotional make-up develop over time through the psychological habits we have adopted — the ways we interpret events, the thoughts that run through our heads like clockwork, and the explanations we give ourselves for how the world works.

Few people want to become bitter and negative, and yet it’s not uncommon, especially for people who have experienced more than their share of tough times.

Want to have a more hopeful and optimistic outlook on life? See if you can minimize these mental habits that make people unhappy.

1. Not Forgiving Others

Many people equate forgiveness with forgetting that something happened altogether or with saying that what happened was OK. That’s not what forgiveness is about. Likewise, many people claim that they have forgiven someone for something, while in reality, they have not.

What real forgiveness means is allowing yourself to be free from the resentment of having been wronged, to accept that something has occurred, and to believe that you deserve to move on from it. It’s to declare your independence from perseverating on how to get revenge on another person, to stop dwelling on how to make them “make up for it,” and continuing to let that corrode your emotional well-being.

Forgiving is letting go in its healthiest, truest sense. Forgiveness doesn’t minimize the wrongness of someone’s actions. It just allows you to no longer be hurt by them. Forgiveness is associated with reduced depression, stress, hostility, improved self-esteem, and even physical health. When you look at its benefits, you’ll see it’s about being kind to yourself, not doing a favor for someone else.

2. Not Forgiving Yourself

Even more kind is allowing yourself to move on from your own mistakes. Regret, embarrassment, shame, and guilt from a single mistake can haunt you for years. And the ensuing negative thoughts, stress, and pessimistic outlook can create a dynamic in which you view the world in a bitter way — all because you feel that you are unworthy of feeling OK.

In fact, forgiving yourself has been shown to help reduce feelings of depression. If you find yourself plagued by thoughts of past mistakes, start noticing and exploring them: When are they at their worst? What feelings do they bring on? What makes them go away?

If you are locked in a never-ending fight with the thoughts, trying to “reason” your way out of them, see if, instead, you can learn to accept their presence without endorsing their meaning: “I’m having the thought again about the time I really was cruel to my parents. Hi, thought. I hear you there. You can’t hurt me right now, though, because I’m deciding what to have for lunch.”

3. All-or-None Thinking

It is amazing how frequently all-or-none thinking seems to underlie such a variety of unhealthy psychological states. From panic to low self-esteem, from perfectionism to hopelessness, it is not uncommon to uncover hidden and not-so-hidden patterns of this dysfunctional thinking in my clients when they are struggling with a negative worldview.

What all-or-none thinking does, by its very definition, is make your outlook on life more rigid. It magnifies negativity by making it appear bigger than it really is. It keeps your mind focusing on what’s gone wrong rather than what’s gone right, and it sets you up to see the bad in people, things, and life more often than the good.

See if you can catch yourself making this mistake in daily life: Are you inherently uncomfortable with shades of gray, and do you prefer things to be black-and-white? That might be good for organizing a closet, but when it comes to how you process the bad things that happen, it can hurt you.

4. Holding Others to a Higher Standard Than You Hold Yourself

When you are constantly disappointed and annoyed with people around you, it could mean that you are having an unlucky break and not being treated the way you deserve. It could also mean that you are choosing ill-fitting people to accompany you throughout life. Or, more likely, it could mean that you have a set of overly rigid standards for other people’s behavior that you don’t apply to yourself.

In fact, sometimes we are hardest on others when we see our own traits in them — things that we don’t like to admit or examine. Seeing these traits in others makes us uncomfortable. Like the classic hypocrite who crusades against sins far smaller than the ones he or she commits, it’s bound to create a disconnect within us that causes stress, hostility, and negativity.

Examine what’s really going on when you’re chronically frustrated with someone, whether it’s the stranger in the left-hand turn lane or your messy roommate. Are you looking at the whole picture? What if, instead of bathing in the negative energy, you chose to reflect on the last time you made a mistake and the way it may have looked to others? Sending empathy to others, even when you don’t want to, can be a surprisingly powerful tool to take away the anger.

5. Believing Things Will Never Get Better

Severe hopelessness can be particularly dangerous, putting people at increased risk for depression and even suicide. But even milder beliefs about how things will never improve can do significant day-to-day damage: “My sister will never get her act together,” “I’ll never be able to pay off my student loans,” and “The world is a bad place and getting worse” are all beliefs that show hopelessness and can blind a person to significant evidence to the contrary.

A lifetime is, for most of us, a decades-long ride that sees many highs and many lows, and many ebbs and many flows. Believing that there is a downward trajectory obstructs the beauty of everyday things and keeps you hopelessly and inaccurately believing negative ideas, giving them a staying power that they don’t deserve.

Imagine how much peace you can feel simply by allowing yourself to believe that harmonious and beautiful things yet to be experienced out there in the world. It takes practice to see them, but they are there and always will be.

6. Believing You Have Less Control Over Your Life Than You Really Do

Learned helplessness, first identified by Martin Seligman, involves the belief that we don’t have control over our situations even in cases when we do, and so we convince ourselves we shouldn’t even bother to try. This mindset has been shown to be correlated with depression, and for some people, it follows a period of time when they really did not have much control over their lives, perhaps while suffering from abuse or neglect, for example.

But when the belief that we have no power persists after we, in actuality, have gained power back, we’re denying ourselves the potential to make our lives better. We also increase the likelihood that we view the world as an inherently demoralizing place, convincing ourselves that we can’t make a difference.

The more we can feel that we steer our own ship, the more we can build a life that suits us. Are you underestimating your ability to get out of that dead-end job, find a partner who treats you well, or develop a peaceful resolution to your years-long fight with your brother? If so, you are doing yourself a great disservice and increasing your chances of letting your mindset harden into a bitter one.

7. Believing the Myth of Arrival

The myth of arrival refers to the idea that once you have “arrived” at a certain point in your life, everything will fall into place and the life you have waited for will finally begin. But sometimes this belief — that things will automatically get better once a certain thing happens — can be nearly as damaging as believing that things will never improve, because the former sets you up for a devastating letdown when things actually don’t get better.

“Once I finally meet the one/get my promotion/lose those 20 pounds/live in a bigger house/get my kids settled into independent and successful lives…then I’ll be happy” are common ways of thinking. But putting our happiness on hold — and in the hands of a random life event that may or may not have any effect whatsoever on our happiness — is giving way too much power to an external situation and not nearly enough to ourselves.

It robs us of the ability to find joy on our own terms. It makes us miss the proverbial journey because we’re so hyper-focused on the destination. Worst of all, it sets us up for a crash when we realize that it wasn’t those 20 pounds making us depressed, it was the fact that we were depressed, for different reasons entirely, that made us put on 20 pounds in the first place.

8. Overgeneralizing

It was one of the “cognitive errors” that Aaron Beck first identified as putting people at higher risk for depression, and it often manifests itself in believing that if you fail at one thing, you will fail at everything. The tendency to overgeneralize — to turn a molehill of a setback into a mountain — also underlies the thinking patterns of a lot of people who have pervasive negative views of the world around them.

Sometimes, this type of thinking can even look like paranoia: “Give anyone an inch, and they will take a mile” or “Just about everyone will take advantage of you if you let them.” It’s true that not every person is a paragon of virtue, but it’s also true that there is a lot of goodness out there if you just let yourself discover it.

And just because there are scammers doesn’t mean that you should stop helping those who aren’t. After all, helping others gives us a mood boost. So examine your beliefs to see if you are — against all available evidence — overgeneralizing the world into a dangerous or hostile place, which may show hostility coming from within.

9. Not Practicing Gratitude

Being grateful for things big and small brings big changes to your mental health. It is much harder to be bitter about slow service (“I AM NEVER COMING TO THIS RESTAURANT AGAIN!”) and have it ruin your whole night if you allow yourself to acknowledge how gorgeous the blooming trees outside the restaurant window were while you waited, or the fact that you are able to afford to pay someone to cook you a meal at all, or the fact that you were with someone who could make you laugh no matter how loudly your stomachs were growling.

Some people may think that gratitude meditation or keeping a list of things that you’re grateful for is hokey. But would you rather be a little hokey or be the person who goes his or her whole life without the mental and physical health benefits — lessened depression, improved immune system functioning, and heart health, among many others — that gratitude brings?

Mindfulness for Children: Fun, Effective Ways to Strengthen Mind, Body, Spirit

-Karen, Hey Sigmund

Mindfulness has an extraordinary capacity to build a strong body, mind and spirit in ourselves as adults, as well as in our children. Science has told us that it can help to protect against stress, anxiety, depression, illness and pain, ease the symptoms of autism and ADHD, improve academic performance and social relationships, as well as expand the capacity to experience positive emotions.

Mindfulness is about stepping back and seeing thoughts and feelings come and go, without judgement, but with a relaxed mind, fully focused on the present moment.

Children are wonderfully present in what they do, but as life picks up speed, the capacity to experience that calm, strengthening stillness can become more difficult to access. The sooner we can encourage the little people in our lives towards mindfulness, the greater their capacity for mindful presence will be. A regular mindful practice will ensure that existing neural connections are strengthened and new ones established.

Mindfulness for children generally works best it’s kept to about five minutes or less. Of course, if they’re able to go for longer, brilliant – go with that. Ready to play?

  1. Mindful Breathing.

    Get your kiddos into a comfy position and ask them to close their eyes. Next, ask how their breath feels as they draw it into themselves, and then as it leaves. If they put a hand on their belly, they’ll be able to feel the rise and the fall of their breath. Do this about five times – five inhales, five exhales. After five breaths, guide them to any thoughts and feelings they might be aware of, then invite them to let go of those thoughts and feelings. Ask them to imagine that the thoughts and feelings are bubbles, floating away, as they return to their breathing. Repeat the five breaths – five in, five out – and do this as many times as feels right.

  2. Thought Clouds.

    This is a slightly different take on the above exercise. When your mindful ones are into the rhythm of breathing in through the nose for three, and out through the mouth for three, ask them to try this: ‘As you breathe in, imagine that your thoughts are forming as little clouds above your head. Imagine the cloud floating away as you breathe out. Keep breathing slow, strong breaths and let your thoughts come, and then go.’

  3. The Mind(ful)-Body Connection.

    The way we hold our bodies has a powerful effect on the way we feel and the way other people see us. Different poses can actually change body chemistry. Nurture the awareness of the mind-body connection in your children by asking them to explore how they feel when they strike a pose. Here are some good ones to try, particularly if they’re about to do something that could make them a little anxious. In a quiet space where they feel safe and private, encourage them to strike one of these power poses and explore with them what they feel – hopefully more confident!

    •  Superman:  Stand with feet just wider than hip width apart. Clench fists, stretch both arms out, and fully lengthen the body. Expanding physical presence by stretching and opening up can increase feelings of power and pride (think of athletes who crosses the finish line first and throw their arms into the air).

    •  Wonder woman:  Stand up tall and strong with legs apart and hands on hips.

  4. And while we’re on superheroes …

    Ask them to switch on their super ‘Spidey-senses’ to find out what they can taste, smell, hear, see and feel in the moment.

  5. The Mindful Jar.

    A mindful jar works in a couple of ways. First, it will to help them to understand what happens when strong emotion starts to take hold of them. Second, it can help them find calm when they are feeling stressed, upset, or overwhelmed. Here’s how:

    Start with a jar and fill it almost to the top with water. Into the water, add a few big dollops of glitter glue (or school glue and dry glitter). Pop on the lid and give the jar a shake. Here are some words:

    Mindful Jars

    ‘Imagine that the glitter is like your thoughts when you’re stressed, mad or upset. See how they whirl around and make it really hard to see clearly? That’s why it’s so easy to make silly decisions when you’re upset – because you’re not thinking clearly. Don’t worry this is normal and it happens in all of us (yep, grownups too). [Now put the jar down in front of them.] Now watch what happens when you’re still for a couple of moments. Keep watching. See how the glitter starts to settle and the water clears? Your mind works the same way. When you’re calm for a little while, your thoughts start to settle and you start to see things much clearer.’

    The beautiful part of this exercise is that while they are learning about their emotional selves, they are also engaging in an act of mindfulness as they watch the glitter fall to the bottom of the jar.

  6. Safari.

    Oh but not just any safari! The idea here is to guide them towards switching on their senses, turning down their thoughts, and being fully engaged in the present moment. Take them outside and explain to them that they are on safari, looking for any animal that crawls, flies or walks. Let them know that they have to be quiet and alert, with their hearing, feeling and seeing super-senses switched on so they can discover tiny wild beasts that the world may or may not have seen before.

  7. Mindful Smelling.

    Take a bunch of delicious smelling things from around home – candles, fresh herbs, flowers, fruit, vanilla, cinnamon, grass – anything – and invite them to breathe in the smell and to feel what happens in their body as they do that. (‘The cinnamon reminds me of Christmas,’ or maybe ‘The lavender makes me feel sleepy.’)

  8. A Breathing Buddy.

    Have them lie down with a soft toy on their tummy. As they breathe, guide them towards noticing the toy moving up and down. This can help them to understand what it feels like to have strong breaths, which is a powerful way to calm themselves when high emotion overwhelms them.

  9. A Mindful Walk.

    Take a short walk together to help them to learn to be mindful while they’re moving. First, ask them to focus on their breath. Then turn their attention to anything else their senses tune in to in the moment – the breeze against their skin, the sound of the trees, the smell of fresh air, the way their body feels as they move. The idea is for them to experience the sensations, rather than to become too ‘heady’ by thinking too hard about them.

  10. The Mindful Snack.

    Next time you have a bite to eat together, try mindful eating for a few minutes. ‘Let’s try something called mindful eating. It’s where you slow things down when you eat so you can notice things you don’t usually notice. What does your food feel like to touch? What about the smell? What if you squish it a little – what does that feel like? Now take a bite but chew very slowly. Really notice your mouth moving up and down. Can you feel the food against your tongue and between your teeth. What does it taste like? What does it feel like? Keep chewing for a little while (20 to 30 seconds). When you’re ready, notice what the food feels like as it moves down your throat and towards your belly.’

  11. Guided Meditation.

    The Smiling Minds app has guided meditations for ages 7 to adult. It’s free, easy to use, and brilliant.

Being ‘still’ can be hard sometimes (for all of us). If your kiddos are squirmy at first, just keep practicing in short bursts until they become more used to it. Afterwards, do something fun with them – give them your full attention with a little chat about what they did, read a story, have a cuddle – whatever works for them, so they associate it with special, fun time.

Anything you do to introduce them to a mindfulness practice will be worth it. In no time at all they’ll be doing it on their own and gearing themselves with an incredible skill that will give them a solid, sturdy foundation from which to explore and experience the world.

Can You Cheat at Mindfulness and Self Compassion?

-Kellie Edwards

I have a client who laughingly says she loves to “cheat the system” — find a short cut, an easier way, a faster route and get “more bang for her buck.”

She remembers doing it as a child at school. When she was supposed to be learning how to touch type she got so frustrated with how slow it was she peeked under the hand-guard and typed faster by looking at the keys.

When she was studying and working in the corporate world she became addicted to multi-tasking — if she could possibly get two or more things done at once she would definitely feel like she was “cheating the system”, saving time and getting more done.

And when she was driving she used to compete with the other cars in the lanes next to her to see if her zippy lane changes could get her just that little bit ahead of the pack. No she didn’t have any car accidents, but she did feel she had an edge.

And this is not unlike many in our “quick fix” “instant” culture — if mindfulness was a pill we might all be taking it, but like exercise, it takes effort to realize the gains.

Cutting to the chase, getting the short answer, moving on faster and not wasting time doing it the standard way all felt like gaining ground and making the most of the time she had.

So when she came to me for coaching in mindfulness — and even self compassion — she was really keen to find short, sharp, quick fixes that could get her to the destination without sitting for hours or going on retreats.

The good news from Richard Davidson, pioneering researcher from The Centre for Investigating Healthy Minds is that even with as little as two weeks practice, we can achieve lasting change in both behavior and our brains.

With my help she also discovered many short exercises she can do throughout the day like this mindful pause, mindful driving and a gratitude bedtime routine she now does regularly with her children.

And it only takes a few minutes each day to experience brain changing gratitude that is rewiring her brain for happiness and well-being.

But (yes, you knew there would be a “but,” didn’t you?) she can’t cheat the system when it comes to lasting stillness and self compassion. And that’s where the deeper self acceptance and peace lie.

Just like multi-tasking reduces productivity and cheating in typing class didn’t really get her where she needed to go (she still has to look at the keys and it slows her down terribly) nor will whipping through practices of mindfulness and self compassion. Or trying to practice without slowing down and being still long enough to genuinely touch in on what is tender and fragile.

My client really resonated with this Facebook post when she noticed a bit of cheating going on:

facebook-post

She acknowledges that the pull of “getting more done faster” can interfere with genuine and heart felt mindfulness practice. The kind of practice that creates lasting peace and well-being.

So yes, she will keep doing her mindful pause, her mindful driving practices and the whole host of other short and realistic practices I teach busy parents like her — but she will also:

  1. Tune in to her tendency to move quickly and send that feeling kindness and compassion.
  2. Choose to slow down several times a day and just savor some stillness with no other agenda.
  3. Dedicate time to longer sitting practice that goes deeper and grounds her more strongly.
  4. Be curious about any disingenuous tone to her practice.
  5. Embrace her humanness and remind herself that in this crazy busy world of ours, “other people feel this” too, that this is a lifelong habit, heavily influenced by our culture, and that she needs to be patient with her efforts to shift it.

Mindfulness Can Help Young Kids Manage Emotions

-Rick Nauert, PhD

Mindfulness has been found beneficial for stress reduction, anxiety and depression, dietary challenges, addiction recovery, and many other conditions. Now it has found its way into a classroom where children as young as three are using its techniques to manage emotions and stay calm.

Using a strategy called Calm Classroom, Los Angles students, ranging from transitional kindergartners to fifth graders, are being guided by teachers three times during the school day through three-minute mindfulness exercises. The drills call on students to refocus their attention on deep breathing, relaxation, and body awareness.

Behind the move to bring mindfulness into the school day is the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Center for Child Anxiety Resilience Education and Support (CARES), which sponsors this and other programs that support student resilience. And although it’s still early in the school year, it seems to be having an effect, said Principal Akida Kissane-Long.

“The children of Joyner Elementary have responded extremely well to the Calm Classroom training and practice they received since their first day of school,” she said. “Discipline referrals have admirably decreased in just three weeks of school.”

To implement Calm Classroom at their school, teachers at Joyner underwent training with the CARES staff last August.

In practicing mindful awareness, an individual focuses attention on being in the moment as it is, without judgment — and with openness and curiosity.

And while the concept of mindfulness might seem abstract for children, students in the lower grades seem to be most receptive, center staff members said.

Young children practice mindfulness by doing stretching, focused listening, guided breathing, and body awareness exercises.

To help students manage tough feelings and prevent the children from developing an anxiety disorder, depression, or other major concern, the UCLA CARES Center is implementing Calm Classroom in collaboration with the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools.

There are plans for the center to train additional schools starting in the spring. The program is in more than 200 schools nationwide, according to the Luster Learning Institute, and has been taught to more than 200,000 students and their families.

“Mindfulness has many benefits for students, including better sleep, increased focus, reduced stress, and reduced challenges related to depression and anxiety,” said Dr. Patricia Lester, co-director of the center.

“The transition back to school can be an especially difficult one for many children. We want to inform parents and teachers about noticing when students are feeling stressed or even anxious about the transition back. Helping students learn to manage these emotions is an important part of early prevention and also helps build resilience,” Lester said.

These mindfulness exercises are most effectively led by teachers during times of transition — after lunch, before a quiz, or at the beginning or end of the day.

“Introducing mindfulness to students is a great way to teach them about emotion management and regulation as a common everyday practice,” said John Piacentini, director of the center. “Research shows that mindfulness can improve our working memory and executive functioning.”

Mindfulness could be especially beneficial for underprivileged families living in neighborhoods such as Watts.

“The majority of families in the Watts community live below the poverty line, which can cause challenges in accessing important resources, especially those related to behavioral health,” continued Piacentini. Calm Classroom helps students build skills early on in strategies for managing their emotions and identifying when they might be having a difficult time.

Mindfulness skills can be used anytime, anywhere, so children who practice them at school can call on them throughout their day — whenever and wherever needed.

“Children at any age can experience feelings of anxiety; we even notice it in babies,” explained Kate Sheehan, managing director of the CARES Center.

“Since this program targets kids all the way down to kindergarten and transitionary kindergarten, we are able to start helping them understand, at a very early age, how their emotions affect the way they feel physically and their reactions to different situations while also teaching them that they can control their emotions rather than react to them.”

The CARES team piloted the Calm Classroom program during the last academic year at the UCLA Lab School, where teachers noticed that students became more attentive and calm after transition periods, Sheehan said.

Lab School students were even using mindfulness techniques outside the classroom to help manage stressful or frustrating events, like waiting to be picked up from school or when separated from their parents during a family vacation.

“It’s like floating on a cloud,” observed one mindful student at the UCLA Lab School.

How Complaining Can Alter Our Perception

It is intuitive that a negative attitude and constant complaining are bad for us, but can it really affect our brain? It turns out that there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that negativity can alter our perception of life by changing the connection of the neurons in our brain. This would then result in increased stress levels, which is linked to chronic diseases and mental health problems.

A common perception of complaining or “venting” is that people feel better after getting their emotions out. Contrary to popular belief, however, studies have shown that expressing negativity can be bad for the mood of both the complainer and the listener, and here we briefly discuss a few findings on how negativity can impact our well-being.

Do Negative Thoughts Affect the Wiring of Synapses in Our Brains?

The synapses in our brain are separated by spaces known as synaptic clefts. When we think, synapses “fire” and send signals across these clefts to other synapses. This forms a bridge by which signals and information and transferred. The exciting thing here is that upon each trigger of an electrical charge, the synapses involved are actually brought closer in proximity to each other. This increases the likelihood that the correct synapses will share the appropriate link and fire together. Consequently, it becomes easier for that particular thought to be triggered.

What all this means is that thinking about something initially makes it easier to think about it again in the future. As such, if a person is constantly unhappy, it makes it more likely that he or she will continue to have negative thoughts if nothing is done about it. On the bright side, though, this also suggests that if we make a conscious effort to think positive thoughts, the positive feedback cycle helps us to become a more optimistic personality as well.

By repeating pessimistic thought processes, synapses that represent these negative inclinations gradually grow closer. Given that the thought that is most likely to surface is the one which can form a bridge between synapses in the shortest period of time, it is unsurprising then that in this case a pessimist would be more likely to remain the way he or she was.

Who We Spend Time With Can Change Our Thinking Subconsciously

In view of how negativity can change our behaviour, it is perhaps not all that surprising that who we spend our time with influences our brain as well. The basis of this is primarily linked to how we empathize with others. For instance, when we see another person experiencing some emotion such as joy, sorrow or anger, our brain attempts to fire the same synapses to relate to the observed emotion.

By trying to imagine what the other person is going through, this rewiring of our brain (or the phenomena of “mirror neurons”) can in fact contribute to our patterns of thought without us realizing it – in fact, the activation of this mirror neuron system has been shown in a study to be altered in adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). These findings were reported based on functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data on how brain activation differs between the ASD group and the control group when inferring the intention of an action. Therefore, it would then be logical that if we surround ourselves with people who are generally optimistic, our inclinations towards happy interactions would be greatly enhanced.

Stress Can Affect Our Health More Directly Than We Think

In addition to hurting our mental well-being, the act of venting can be detrimental to our physical health as well. For example, anger-related synaptic firing can be bad for our immune system when coupled with an increase in blood pressure, as well as a higher risk of conditions such as obesity, diabetes and heart problems.

The main contributing factor to all the negative effects of stress is a hormone in our body known as cortisol. This has been dubbed a “stress hormone”, as the levels of this hormone in our body are drastically elevated when we feel stressed out. In this regard, the release of cortisol by our adrenal glands in response to stressors such as fear is an integral component of our fight-or-flight mechanism. However, prolonged release leads to impaired learning and memory, higher cholesterol levels and blood pressure, and a weakened immune system.

To date, there are numerous studies which demonstrate the profound negative effects of stress on our physical and mental health. For example, it has been shown that cortisol production induced by social aggression and isolation can be a powerful trigger for mental disorders and reduced resilience, particularly for adolescents. To this end, scientists subjected mice that were genetically predisposed to mental illness to social isolation during adolescence. This triggered marked behavioural abnormalities that persisted even when the mice were returned to the group. More importantly, the effects of isolation stretched all the way into adulthood, implying that adolescent stress can cause long-term damage to mental health.

In another study, scientists specifically bred mice to be “bullies”, and then subjected other mice to aggression from these bullies. They found that the “bullied” mice would release cortisol that subsequently led to increased social aversion to other mice. Moreover, this “scared” behaviour in bullied mice disappeared when the cortisol receptors were blocked, indicating that excessive cortisol could lead to decreased resilience.

Taken together, the aforementioned findings highlight the negative effects of stress and could be implicated in the development of treatments for depression and other devastating psychiatric disorders. Additionally, they also suggest that in adolescents predisposed to mental illnesses, efforts to protect them from social stressors such as bullying and neglect could go a long way in reducing the risk of getting these diseases.

This school replaced detention with meditation. The results are stunning.

-James Gaines

Imagine you’re working at a school and one of the kids is starting to act up. What do you do?

Traditionally, the answer would be to give the unruly kid detention or suspension.

But in my memory, detention tended to involve staring at walls, bored out of my mind, trying to either surreptitiously talk to the kids around me without getting caught or trying to read a book. If it was designed to make me think about my actions, it didn’t really work. It just made everything feel stupid and unfair.

But Robert W. Coleman Elementary School has been doing something different when students act out: offering meditation.

Photo from Holistic Life Foundation, used with permission.

Instead of punishing disruptive kids or sending them to the principal’s office, the Baltimore school has something called the Mindful Moment Room instead.

The room looks nothing like your standard windowless detention room. Instead, it’s filled with lamps, decorations, and plush purple pillows. Misbehaving kids are encouraged to sit in the room and go through practices like breathing or meditation, helping them calm down and re-center. They are also asked to talk through what happened.

Meditation and mindfulness are pretty interesting, scientifically.

Photo from Holistic Life Foundation, used with permission.

Mindful meditation has been around in some form or another for thousands of years. Recently, though, science has started looking at its effects on our minds and bodies, and it’s finding some interesting effects.

One study, for example, suggested that mindful meditation could give practicing soldiers a kind of mental armor against disruptive emotions, and it can improve memory too. Another suggested mindful meditation could improve a person’s attention span and focus.

Individual studies should be taken with a grain of salt (results don’t always carry in every single situation), but overall, science is starting to build up a really interesting picture of how awesome meditation can be. Mindfulness in particular has even become part of certain fairly successful psychotherapies.

Back at the school, the Mindful Moment Room isn’t the only way Robert W. Coleman Elementary has been encouraging its kids.

After-school yoga. Photo from Holistic Life Foundation, used with permission.

The meditation room was created as a partnership with the Holistic Life Foundation, a local nonprofit that runs other programs as well. For more than 10 years the foundation has been offering the after-school program Holistic Me, where kids from pre-K through the fifth grade practice mindfulness exercises and yoga.

“It’s amazing,” said Kirk Philips, the Holistic Me coordinator at Robert W. Coleman. “You wouldn’t think that little kids would meditate in silence. And they do.”

I want to be as cool as this kid one day. Photo from Holistic Life Foundation, used with permission.

There was a Christmas party, for example, where the kids knew they were going to get presents but were still expected to do meditation first.

“As a little kid, that’s got to be hard to sit down and meditate when you know you’re about to get a bag of gifts, and they did it! It was beautiful, we were all smiling at each other watching them,” said Philips.

The kids may even be bringing that mindfulness back home with them. In the August 2016 issue of Oprah Magazine, Holistic Life Foundation co-founder Andres Gonzalez said: “We’ve had parents tell us, ‘I came home the other day stressed out, and my daughter said, “Hey, Mom, you need to sit down. I need to teach you how to breathe.”‘”

The program also helps mentor and tutor the kids, as well as teach them about the environment.

Building a vegetable garden. Photo from Holistic Life Foundation, used with permission.

They help clean up local parks, build gardens, and visit nearby farms. Philips said they even teach kids to be co-teachers, letting them run the yoga sessions.

This isn’t just happening at one school, either. Lots of schools are trying this kind of holistic thinking, and it’s producing incredible results.

In the U.K., for example, the Mindfulness in Schools Project is teaching adults how to set up programs. Mindful Schools, another nonprofit, is helping to set up similar programs in the United States.

Oh, and by the way, the schools are seeing a tangible benefit from this program, too.

Philips said that at Robert W. Coleman Elementary, there have been exactly zero suspensions last year and so far this year. Meanwhile, nearby Patterson Park High School, which also uses the mindfulness programs, said suspension rates dropped and attendance increased as well.

Is that wholly from the mindfulness practices? It’s impossible to say, but those are pretty remarkable numbers, all the same.

As the sea affects the brain

-Jennifer Delgado

Have you ever felt an incredible peace while walking along the sea, or maybe you felt more energetic and your mood was improved? The truth is that most people experience a feeling of calm, relaxation and well-being, when near the water. Why? Neuroscientists believe that the explanation lies in our brain.

The sea has a tremendous effect on our mind

In essence, the relaxing effect of the sea is due to the fact that represents a kind of “vacation” for our brain compared to the excess of the stimuli to which we submit it every day. In fact, we live in an environment overloaded of stimuli, these constantly bombard us causing an overstimulation that ends up generating a constant state of tension that prevents us to relax.

However, seeing the sea and hearing the sound of the waves allows us to disconnect from this chaotic environment, like we were creating a bubble around us. In fact, the movement of the sea and its immensity have an almost hypnotic effect, which generates a feeling of tranquility and well-being that allows us to regenerate ourselves.

– It induces a meditative state

The sound of the ocean waves induces a meditative state and stimulates an attitude of mindfulness. In fact, it is no coincidence that this sound is often used in relaxation sessions since it has been shown to cause changes in brain waves. In particular, the sound of the sea waves promotes the alpha waves, which have been linked to a state of attention without effort. These waves appear when we are relaxed and calm, so focused that the whole environment around us disappears, even time. Interestingly, these waves also promote a state of mental clarity and stimulate creative thinking.

– Stimulates creativity

When we are close to the sea, our brain changes its operational mode switching from “occupied” to “relaxed”. The interesting thing is that in this way it is activated the default neural network, which is exactly what has been connected to intuition and the appearance of the most original and creative ideas. What happens is that the sea allows us to forget our worries making sure that the prefrontal area of the brain transfers the control, letting creativity flow freely. In this state we are more open to new experiences and less critical.

– Generates a powerful state of awe and wonder

There’s nothing like watching the immensity of the sea to perceive a mixed feeling of awe and wonder in front of the immensity. In this regard, the psychologists of the universities of Stanford and Minnesota have found that this experience can foster a deep sense of well-being. This type of “expansionary” experiences force us to change the mindset through which we process what we are experiencing, so to produce a dramatic change in our way of thinking that also influences the decision-making process, making us think more about the others and be more generous. It was also shown that these experiences alter our perception of time, as if we were literally immersed in a big bubble.

– It improves cognitive performance

The environment we live in is full of ions, both negative and positive. It was discovered that the positive ions such as those that emit most of the electronic devices, drain our energy. Conversely, negative ions, which are present in large quantities in the sea, are generating a state of activation. In fact, a study conducted at Mount Carmel College in Bangalore revealed that negative ions have a positive effect on our cognitive performance. The researchers involved the participants into various tests of memory, attention and decision-making process and found that their performance were reduced when the air was full of positive ions and increased when there were more negative ions. Another study conducted at the University of California revealed that negative ions also stimulate the production of serotonin in the brain, a substance that helps us to relax while at the same time we feel full of energy.

Why we constantly think: “What if …?”

-Jennifer Delgado

What would have happened if I woke up before and didn’t miss the bus? What would have happened if I’d had the courage to talk to that very interesting person that I met? What would have happened if I had not broken up with my partner? And if I’d said to my boss what I really think?

These are some of the questions we constantly ask ourselves. What if, instead of taking this direction, we had made another choice? The possibilities are endless. In fact, we are perfectly aware that it is a kind of mental game, fantasy, yet we can not help but wonder “what if …?”

The situations that trigger these thoughts

1. “Almost” situation. It is a feeling you probably know well: everything seemed to be going well until a certain point, when something went wrong. Then you can not help but wonder what would have happened if you had done something different at some point of the journey.

For example, if you miss a flight because you arrived very late it is obvious that you can not help it. In this case you’ll be worry only about solving the problem. However, if you arrive just a minute late and the boarding gates close in front of you, you can not help but wonder what would have happened if you had woken up only five minutes before, if you had not met the traffic jam on the road or if you had not stopped to take that coffee.

This is a very painful feeling, since you were on the verge of achieving what you wanted, but you missed the opportunity for a bit. Therefore, you can not help but wonder where you went wrong and what you could do for this not to happen.

2. Abnormal situation. It is a fairly unlikely or rare feeling, something that usually does not happen. In this case, we can not help but wonder what would have happened if things had gone normally.

For example, imagine that one day you’re forced to take a different path to get to work and just in front of you is an accident that leaves you stuck for an hour, so you lose a meeting at work very important for your career. The chances that the road that you normally use to get to work was closed and that on the one you just taken there was an accident are few, but it went this way.

When you live unusual situations it will be difficult for you to stop thinking what would have happened if things had gone normally, if you had not met all the mishaps of the case. Who knows, probably you think also that it was a “sign of destiny”.

Why we tend to imagine routes that we don’t follow?

We constantly wonder what would have happened if we had taken a different direction to give meaning to our lives, to what is happening. Interestingly, imagining other possible scenarios helps us better understand our reality.

In this regard, a study conducted at Ohio University found that we tend to use this way of thinking according to the situation we’re living. We can imagine that things could have gone better or worse depending on the context.

These psychologists have found that when people know that they will not have a second chance to do things, they try to encourage themselves thinking that everything could have been worse, it is a form of consolation to help us accept what happened. But if we have a second chance we tend to think that things could have been much better, so we motivate ourselves to try once again and improve our performance.

The dark side of imagining fictitious scenarios

However, we must pay attention to this mechanism, because we can not always use it to cheer us up. In fact, if we ask us continuously “what if …?” we risk to begin living in a fantasy world and we’ll feel deeply dissatisfied with our lives. Returning to reality, we may feel frustrated and feel guilt, and this won’t help.

The tendency to keep thinking about what might have happened may reflect a deep dissatisfaction with the reality or past decisions that have not yet fully accepted. In fact, we will be more likely to think like this if in the past we have made decisions influenced by others or by circumstances, decisions that were not born within us and of which we feel uncertain.

Thinking of all possible scenarios may seem a harmless mental exercise, but at some point of our journey, we must learn to let go some things, otherwise those thoughts will turn into resentment, guilt and regret. And this won’t be of any help.

How Complaining Rewires Your Brain For Negativity (And How To Break The Habit)

-Annie Wood

“Spending today complaining about yesterday won’t make tomorrow any better.” ~Unknown

When I was about sixteen or so, one of my parent’s friends got into some trouble with the law. When we’d visit him he’d often shake his head from side to side and mumble, my life is in the toilet.

He said it many times, for many years, even when things seemed to have gotten better for him.

My life is in the toilet was his mantra.

At the time I thought it was funny, so I adopted it for myself, until one day I started to believe it. I’ve since dumped that charming phrase and gotten a new mantra.

Things haven’t magically become ideal for me since I did that. I mean, there’s this pinched nerve in my neck and those construction sounds across the street, and I could really use some more work, and…

Type of Drains

Everyone complains, at some point, at least a little, says Robin Kowalski, PhD, a professor of psychology at Clemson University.

There are different types of complainers, according to Kowalski, such as The Venter. The Venter is a “dissatisfied person who doesn’t want to hear solutions, however brilliant.”

Venting. We’re just letting off steam, right? Maybe not. I’ve personally found that the complain drain can be soul draining, not just for the complainer, but for all within earshot.

Other types you may have met along the way (or may be yourself) are the Sympathy Seekers, the I got it worse than you do, and the habitual everything sucks folks.

The Chronic Complainers, those living in a state of complaint, do something researchers call “ruminating.” This basically means thinking and complaining about a problem again and again. Instead of feeling a release after complaining, this sort of complaining can actually make things worse. It can cause even more worry and anxiety.

No one is suggesting you be a peachy-keen-Josephine and pretend all is swell when it isn’t. What I’ve learned in my mindfulness practice is to aim to do the opposite.

In mindfulness meditation, we try to experience fully the truth of the situation, in this exact moment, and allow it to just be. Easier said than done (but what isn’t?) Still, with practice, the need to express our dissatisfaction for things not being how we’d like them to be lessens.

Can’t We Just Call Roto-Rooter?

Running with this drain analogy…

Call Roto-Rooter, that’s the name and away go troubles down the drain!

When I was a kid I loved singing along to those Roto-Rooter commercials. Wouldn’t it be cool if we could “away go troubles down the drain?” Well, maybe we can.

Most of us may have been unintentionally reinforcing the nasty habit of complaining, by virtue of… complaining.

There’s something called “experience-dependent neuroplasticity,” which is the continuing creation and grouping of neuron connections in our brains that take place as a result of our life experiences.

Neuroscience teaches us that neurons that fire together, wire together. Donald Hebb, a Canadian neuropsychologist, coined that phrase back in 1949. What this means is that whenever we think a thought or have a feeling or physical sensation, thousands of neurons are triggered and they all get together to form a neural network.

With repetitive thinking, the brain learns to trigger the same neurons each time.

So, if you keep your mind looping on self-criticism, worries, and how nothing is working out for you, your mind will more easily find that part of your brain and will quickly assist you in thinking those same thoughts again.

This shapes your mind into greater reactivity, making you more vulnerable to anxiety.

Imagine a truck driving down a muddy road. The wheels create a groove in the mud, and each time that truck drives down that exact spot, the groove gets deeper and deeper.

The truck might even, eventually, get stuck in that mud rut. But it doesn’t have to. Instead of repeating the same negative complaints, we can drive our thoughts on a different road so we don’t get stuck in that negative mud rut.

Throughout our lives we are wiring our brains, based on our repetitive thinking. We get good at what we practice.

If we worry, creating more unease and anxiety, we become stellar worriers since our brain is responding, making it easier for us to worry each time we do it, thus creating our default mode living.

Default mode living is our habitual way of going about our lives. It’s our reacting minds as opposed to ourresponding minds.

Our reacting minds are often knee-jerk reactions to something. We often say or do things that we’ve said and done in the past, as if we were in that default mode living, on automatic pilot. But our responding minds come into play when we give ourselves a pause before responding to a situation.

We ask ourselves what’s really going on and what the next best step is. It’s a clearer response in the moment that’s not linked to past responses. So, how do we respond instead of react?

4 D.I.Y. Tips – Stop The Drain!

You’re stuck in traffic and not only are you complaining out loud to the cars that are in your way, you’re imagining getting home and complaining to tell your significant other all about it. You’re practicing this conversation in your head while in the car. Your heart races, your forehead tenses up. It’s all so very annoying! What to do?

1. Catch yourself.

During meditation we soon find out that our minds will wander. The moment when we notice it wandering and we bring it back to our focus, our breath, that moment is what one of my teachers calls “that magic moment.”

The catching yourself is the practice. Also, the not judging or berating yourself for having a mind that thinks thoughts. All minds think thoughts. That’s their job.

So to stop the drain:

  • Catch yourself in a complaint.
  • Stop complaining.
  • Congratulate yourself—you’re aware!

2. Be grateful.

I’ve tried it; I simply can’t seem to complain and be grateful at the same time!

I’m stuck in traffic, but I’m grateful to have a car. I’m grateful for the song that’s playing on the radio and the sunny day.

It doesn’t matter what you’re grateful for; it can be the smallest thing, just notice. Complaining could very well be the evil twin of gratitude. Favor gratitude.

3. Practice wise effort.

In Buddhism, wise effort is letting go of that which is not helpful and cultivating that which is skillful.

In the book Awakening the Buddha Within, Lama Surya Das breaks down wise effort into four aspects, the first one being, restraint: “the effort to prevent unskillful thoughts and actions.”

Make the effort to pay attention and catch your complaining, negative thoughts before they become words.

Try it out and see how it feels. You might be surprised as to where you habitually have been putting your energy. Everything takes a certain amount of energy.

Next time you find yourself caught in a complaining loop, pause and regroup. Make the choice to put your energy elsewhere. The more you do this, the easier it gets.

4. Make a new groove.

Just the way our thoughts created that groove to make negative thoughts easier to replicate, we can create a brand new groove for pleasant feelings.

The more often we allow our minds to remember the good stuff, the easier that kind of thinking becomes.

Do you want to be the person who’s never satisfied and can always find fault in others, yourself, and the world at large? Or would you rather be someone who sees things as they are and finds a way to make peace with it? Let’s pretend it’s up to you. Oh, wait, it is up to you.

So, what do you say? You don’t need Roto Rooter to flush your troubles down the drain. Just make a new groove.

Danger Behind the Wheel as Emotions Explode

-Rick Nauert, PhD

As Americans drive about the country on summer vacations, profound new research should give pause, or a warning, of behind the wheel behaviors. A newly released study finds that nearly 80 percent of drivers expressed significant anger, aggression, or road rage behind the wheel at least once in the past year.

The most alarming findings suggest that approximately eight million U.S. drivers have engaged in extreme examples of road rage, including purposefully ramming another vehicle or getting out of the car to confront another driver.

The study was performed by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “Inconsiderate driving, bad traffic, and the daily stresses of life can transform minor frustrations into dangerous road rage,” said Jurek Grabowski, Director of Research for the Foundation.

“Far too many drivers are losing themselves in the heat of the moment and lashing out in ways that could turn deadly.”

A significant number of U.S. drivers reported engaging in angry and aggressive behaviors over the past year, according to the study’s estimates:

  • Purposefully tailgating: 51 percent (104 million drivers);
  • Yelling at another driver: 47 percent (95 million drivers);
  • Honking to show annoyance or anger: 45 percent (91 million drivers);
  • Making angry gestures: 33 percent (67 million drivers);
  • Trying to block another vehicle from changing lanes: 24 percent (49 million drivers);
  • Cutting off another vehicle on purpose: 12 percent (24 million drivers);
  • Getting out of the vehicle to confront another driver: four percent (7.6 million drivers);
  • Bumping or ramming another vehicle on purpose: three percent (5.7 million drivers).

Nearly two in three drivers believe that aggressive driving is a bigger problem today than three years ago, while nine out of ten believe aggressive drivers are a serious threat to their personal safety.

Aggressive driving and road rage varied considerably among drivers:

  • Male and younger drivers ages 19-39 were significantly more likely to engage in aggressive behaviors. For example, male drivers were more than three times as likely as female drivers to have gotten out of a vehicle to confront another driver or rammed another vehicle on purpose.
  • Drivers living in the Northeast were significantly more likely to yell, honk, or gesture angrily than people living in other parts of the country. For example, drivers in the Northeast were nearly 30 percent more likely to have made an angry gesture than drivers in other parts of the country.
  • Drivers who reported other unsafe behaviors behind the wheel, such as speeding and running red lights, also were more likely to show aggression. For example, drivers who reported speeding on a freeway in the past month were four times more likely to have cut off another vehicle on purpose.

“It’s completely normal for drivers to experience anger behind the wheel, but we must not let our emotions lead to destructive choices,” said Jake Nelson, AAA’s Director of Traffic Safety Advocacy and Research.

“Don’t risk escalating a frustrating situation because you never know what the other driver might do. Maintain a cool head, and focus on reaching your destination safely.”

Tips to help prevent road rage:

  • Don’t Offend: Never cause another driver to change their speed or direction. That means not forcing another driver to use their brakes, or turn the steering wheel in response to something you have done.
  • Be Tolerant and Forgiving: The other driver may just be having a really bad day. Assume that it’s not personal.
  • Do Not Respond: Avoid eye contact, don’t make gestures, maintain space around your vehicle, and contact 9-1-1 if needed.

The research report is available on the AAA Foundation’s website and is part of the annual Traffic Safety Culture Index, which identifies attitudes and behaviors related to driver safety. The data was collected from a national survey of 2,705 licensed drivers ages 16 and older who reported driving in the past 30 days.

Source: AAA