A recent study has shown a link between generosity and happiness. Participants were randomly divided into two groups. Members of each group were given a sum of money. The experimental group were tasked to publicly pledge to spend the money on others. The control group were tasked to spend the money on themselves.
After having declared their pledge, each participant was asked to perform an independent decision-making task by which the researchers measured generosity. An fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scan of their brain activity was done during the performance of this task.
People who had pledged to spend money on others exhibited greater levels of generosity. They also showed a greater increase in their levels of happiness than the control group. Eliciting a public pledge has for some time been widely known as a technique to motivate generous behaviour. This particular study demonstrated that being generous has positive impacts on a person’s happiness. In short: commitment to generosity induces generous behaviour, which increases happiness. The study concluded that most people underestimate the link between generosity and happiness. And that they therefore overlook the benefits that prosocial spending can have on their happiness.
First, assess your current level of happiness. On a 0-10 scale where zero is no happiness and 10 is absolute happiness, where do you stand right now? Proceed by bringing yourself into a relaxed state of mindful awareness. Take a few deep breaths, a few mindful yawns. Yawning is the quickest way to eliminate excessive neural stress. Add a few super-slow movements, noticing any sensations, pains and aches. Your brain is sending relaxation signals to your muscles. When you have reached a deeply relaxed state, think of how you could benefit others in the next week. Pledge yourself to an act of generosity. It may be a monetary gift, a gift of time or another act beneficial to other people. But remember: to be a real act of generosity, it needs to have an associated cost for you. Once you’ve made your pledge, notice how it makes you feel. Assess your subjective level of happiness now. Notice if it has improved compared to the beginning of this exercise. Then proceed to fulfill your pledge and enjoy the double happiness it brings: to the recipient and to you.
Park SQ, Kahnt T, Dogan A, Strang S, Fehr E, Tobler PN. A neural link between generosity and happiness. Nat Commun. 2017;8:15964. Published 2017 Jul 11. doi:10.1038/ncomms15964
Physical exercise is known to have beneficial effects on general wellbeing and cardiovascular health. But did you know that exercising your body may also benefit your mind? A recent study suggests that exercise is effective in improving anxiety symptoms in people with a current diagnosis of anxiety and/ or stress-related disorders.
But what if exercise is not your thing and you always find an excuse why you “can’t” exercise? You may want to try a mindful approach. A study at the Washington State University looked at the effect of mindfulness on different aspects of exercise: perceived exertion, enjoyment and the emotional experience of a simple exercise of treadmill walking. Researchers found that when people approached the exercise with mindfulness, their focus, emotional involvement and enjoyment were higher than during their habitual routine and their perceived level of exertion lowered.
The next time you approach an exercise session, start with a series of deep breaths and mindful yawns. Yawning is the fastest way to turn off emotional centres in your brain and remove excessive neurological stress. When you start exercising, go extra slow. While doing the exercise, observe the sensation in your body and your emotional reactions to the exercise, without judgement. Pay attention to how the exertion feels when you go slowly and how the sensations change when you speed up. Try to stay in the present moment during the exercise and notice the subtle shifts in your physical impressions and your mood. Keep moving for a while and then pause as you focus your attention on the changes in your mental state. Repeat this several times with any exercise and you’ll train your brain to enjoy the exercise strain. By exercising mindfully, you’ll get more benefits and will be more likely to continue an exercise ritual.
Stubbs B, Vancampfort D, Rosenbaum S, et al. An examination of the anxiolytic effects of exercise for people with anxiety and stress-related disorders: A meta-analysis. Psychiatry Res. 2017;249:102‐108. doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2016.12.020
Cox, Anne E et al. “Mindfulness and Affective Responses to Treadmill Walking in Individuals with Low Intrinsic Motivation to Exercise.” International journal of exercise science vol. 11,5 609-624. 3 Jan. 2018
Teive HAG, Munhoz RP, Camargo CHF, Walusinski O. Yawning in neurology: a review. Arq Neuropsiquiatr. 2018;76(7):473‐480. doi:10.1590/0004-282X20180057
The Oxford English Dictionary defines stress in the psychological and biological sense as “an adverse circumstance that disturbs, or is likely to disturb, the normal physiological or psychological functioning of an individual”. When we hear about stress, we usually think of a negative impact that a stressful situation might have on us. Indeed, excessive stress is one of the major agents in causing physical and psychological problems. Now in coronavirus times in particular, we need to pay close attention to our levels of stress. The World Health Organisation warns that the COVID-19 pandemic is inducing a considerable degree of fear, worry and concern. The main psychological impacts are elevated rates of stress or anxiety. While these external circumstances are unavoidable, can we help ourselves cope with the situation by changing our perspective on stress itself?
Some level of stress may be motivating and prompt us into action. In fact, many people need the pressure of a deadline to accomplish in record time a difficult task they’ve been postponing for weeks! Recent studies show that how you perceive stress matters. If your perception of stress is negative and you see the situation as threatening, this may lead to negative outcomes. If your perception of stress is positive you may instead see the situation as a challenging opportunity for growth and personal development, this may lead to more positive outcomes. In fact, if you change your perspective and look at stress as an opportunity rather than as a threat, this can improve your chances to respond to the stressful situation in positive ways. If you change your mindset about stress in general, your cognitive, physiological and affective stress responses can become more constructive. You focus more on the positive sides of your life than the negative ones and this can improve your ability to cope with the situation.
So how can we recognise signs of excessive stress and change our perspectives on stress to develop a more positive view? Try this experiment: take a sheet of paper and write on top the stressful situation you’d like to examine. Divide the rest of the paper in two columns. On the left write all the threats that you are perceiving. Go into details and write down every thought that comes to mind. When you’ve finished, take a moment to close your eyes and do a few yawns. Yawning is the fastest way to reduce any neurological stress caused by the first part of this exercise. Make sure you yawn mindfully, observing where the yawn starts, how it develops and where it ends. Pay attention to every feeling and sensation the yawn brings you but don’t dwell on any, just mindfully observe them and let them go. You can add a few super-slow stretches, as slow as the slow motion movie on your smart phone. For example, try to spend a whole minute to roll your head from one shoulder to the other.
Now, let’s turn the threats into more positive affirmations. Staying in the mindfully relaxed state you’ve just achieved through yawning and stretching, in the right column re-write the sentences you wrote in the threats column but this time as opportunities for personal growth and positive change. Use your intuition to come up with strategies for change without generating excessive stress and don’t forget to write down your ideas. Visualize what now appear to be obstacles to growth, write down your ideas for how they might be overcome, and then savour the rewards that will come as you find the right balance of stress and confidence to insure success. Now try them out!
The role of stress mindset in shaping cognitive, emotional, and physiological responses to challenging and threatening stress. Crum AJ et al. Anxiety Stress Coping. (2017)
Delineating the relationship between stress mindset and primary appraisals: preliminary findings. Kilby CJ, Sherman KA. Springerplus. 2016 Mar 15;5:336
A recent study indicates that a large difference between sleep patterns during the week and on the weekend may impair your attention.
While a sleep-in on the weekend may be beneficial to recover from lack of sleep during the week, the irregularity of the sleep pattern may be detrimental to your cognitive performance.
Participants of the study were given a device to follow their sleep pattern for a week. On the test day, they were given a visual attention task to track movements of balls on a screen or to focus on a central point. Meanwhile their brain activity was recorded.
The results indicated that longer weekend sleep duration was associated with greater resting-state functional connectivity within the Default Mode Network (parts of the brain associated with imagination, creativity, and predicting potentially positive and negative outcomes).
Participants who slept longer on the weekend than during the workweek, showed greater deactivation of the Default Mode Network and displayed a better attentional performance.
This beneficial effect was only observed at the beginning of the workweek, indicating that the benefit of the catch-up sleep may be limited to mild sleep loss.
Sleep loss may also result in increased effort of performing middle to high attention-demanding tasks.
However, inconsistent sleep duration and inconsistent sleep timing are two independent indexes of sleep inconsistency.
Unlike inconsistent sleep duration, inconsistent sleep timing has been associated with worse attentional performance.
It would appear that even mild social jetlag can impair performance during regular working hours.
If you can, take advantage of the lockdown period of fewer social commitments to improve your sleep regularity. For a week choose to go to sleep 😴 at the same time and wake up at the same time in the morning.
The visual attention task activated frontal, parietal and occipital cortices, cerebellum, and thalamus and deactivated the Default Mode Network:
Jitka helped me to be able to better focus on, connect the dots, and compare the many creative thoughts running through my head.This coaching process is really good for helping you sort things out to make decisions. Thank you Jitka
Wondering if it’s possible to turn your anxious brain into a positive and optimistic one?
These days it’s easy to feel anxious or even fearful or depressed. But remember, all thoughts and experiences are stored in our brains as memories. Which do you think leave a deeper impression: positive thoughts and events or negative ones? The Default Mode Network, the part of our brain dedicated to creativity and imagination, creates both positive and negative predictions of what may happen in the future. Overfocusing on the negative thoughts and feelings can trigger anxiety or even a threat response. This is an important function and potentially life-saving as it may protect you from making mistakes that could threaten your life, or the achievement of your goals. If constantly reinforced, though, this tendency to negativity may lead us to anxiety and depression. The good news is that there’s a fabulous tool that can reverse this process. Professor Barbara Fredrickson talks about “positivity ratio”: generating 3 positive thoughts for every negative thought can help us overcome this default negativity and thrive. Higher positivity ratios are “predictive of flourishing mental health and other beneficial outcomes”.
First of all, you need to be mindful of your thoughts. Try to constantly monitor what you’re thinking in every moment. How do you know you may be having negative thoughts? You probably don’t feel that great. So when this happens, stop for a moment, become aware of your thoughts and observe them for a moment, without criticism or judgement. Then replace the negative thought with 3-7 positive thoughts. The more the better. You may even go on a positivity rampage and create many more positive thoughts. These in turn will create positive feelings and you will start to feel better.
Fredrickson, B. L. (2013). Updated thinking on the positivity ratio. American Psychologist, 68, 814-822.
Fredrickson, Barbara (2009). Positivity: Top-Notch Research Reveals the 3-to-1 Ratio That Will Change Your Life. New York: Crown.
Is the coronavirus situation making you anxious? Do you feel like your brain is in constant overload from the bad news about Covid-19 coming from the outside world? In fact, anxiety and stress can make the temperature of your brain go up. Did you know that there’s a simple mechanism that can make it quite rapidly go down? It’s something that you do naturally and that in fact all mammals do instinctively. The secret to cool down your brain is yawning.
Yawning is a mechanism that makes the temperature of your brain go down. There are now more than 60 studies showing how essential yawning is to maintain a healthy brain, and not a single one to dispute this evidence-based discovery. Yawning will help you reduce your anxiety, gain a greater clarity and calm down the overload. This in turn will allow you to make better decisions and look at what’s happening with a little more distance.
To induce yawning, start with focusing you your breath. But breath in a different way from your normal breathing. Breath in counting 5, briefly pause and slowly breath out counting 11. Try to breathe out as if you were blowing your birthday cake candles. I’m not asking how old you are, but I’m guessing that you’re more than 11, so it takes a little bit to blow them all! This process should make you start yawning. If the yawning is not coming, fake it until you make it. You could even try to find a “yawning animals” video online. I can almost guarantee you that you’ll start yawning after watching some cute mammals yawn.
After doing 5-10 yawns, try to yawn “mindfully”, meaning being fully present with the yawn in the here and now. Observe where the yawn starts, how it develops, when it ends… Notice the difference between the mindful yawn and the previous yawns. Notice the subtle shifts in your mental state and your mood. Repeat the mindful yawns until you reach a relaxed state of mindful awareness. Try to maintain this state as much as possible and don’t get “heated up”, literally, about the news. It’s not doing your brain any good. But if it happens, you now know what to do to cool your brain down to protect it.
The facemask debate is ongoing, but rest assured there’s no need to get anxious about wearing a facemask. Recent research has shown that it won’t heat up your brain. And it has the added benefit that you can yawn in public anytime as your face is already covered 😊
Yawning and stretching predict brain temperature changes in rats: support for the thermoregulatory hypothesis. Shoup-Knox ML, Gallup AC, Gallup GG, McNay EC. Front Evol Neurosci. 2010 Sep 24;2:108.
Effect of wearing an N95 filtering facepiece respirator on superomedial orbital infrared indirect brain temperature measurements. DiLeo T, Roberge RJ, Kim JH.J Clin Monit Comput. 2017 Feb;31(1):67-73.
I struggled to find my real “Why”. Why, I wanted to be successful and what would push me through the tough times. In November 2019 I decided to give Neuro coaching a try and was put in touch with Jitka Horcickova. Jitka immediately made me feel at ease and comfortable with her. She has a beautiful soul that shines through and is extremely patient. After our first session I felt like I had found my why and I was feeling a clarity that I didn’t have before. She asked me to ask my intuition if I needed another session and I agreed to one more and it was after this second session that my deepest why was reveled to me. Through out both sessions I would have insights into my subconscious mind and learn more and more about what I needed to do or accomplish. IT truly is an incredible experience and Jitka made the whole process so easy and comfortable, even when I had tears streaming down my face. Thank you so much for your help in finding my deepest why and helping me discover my path to Freedom.
Terri Read, Christchurch, New Zealand
Jitka´s open heart and calm manner made me feel relaxed and present in our sessions. She has a lot of compassion for others and is eager to help. Her excellent listening and analytical skills have helped me move through my issues. She gives helpful suggestions without being pushy, and is a joy to work with. I highly recommend booking a session with Jitka
Kjersti Hattrem, Oslo, Norway
Ho fatto una sessione con Jitka per smettere di fumare e devo dire che e’ il metodo migliore che abbia mai provato. Sicuramente richiede della volontà’ ma se si vuol smettere di fumare e’ un grande aiuto e Jitka e’ bravissima.
Translation: I had a session with Jitka to quit smoking and I have to say it’s the best method I’ve ever tried. Surely it requires will ‘ but if you want to quit smoking it’s a great help and Jitka is great.
The Cognition an Brain Science Unit at the University of Cambridge is using cognitive theory and innovations in neuroscience to understand and improve mental wellbeing across the lifespan.
The Unit organised an exciting festival of medical research for volunteers and supporters.
I was able to visit their MRI and MEG sections. I tried a virtual reality game for early diagnostics of Parkinson’s disease (luckily good news for me 😉). It was exciting to talk to the researchers about their most recent projects.
Very interesting research is going on in areas of
– language (how our brain is able to fill up gaps and the difference between filling gaps with language versus filling up gaps in drawing
– artificial intelligence (creating a model of the brain using AI, then damaging certain areas and studying what happens)
– Alzheimer disease research (creating 3D models of brain damage and trying to establish how to slow down progression using drugs)
Dr Darren Dunning presented a talk “Can mindfulness training improve adolescent mental health?” His team first did a meta analysis study to establish the efficacy of mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) for children and adolescents in studies that have adopted a randomized, controlled trial design. Indeed, the meta-analysis “reinforced the efficacy of using MBIs for improving the mental health and wellbeing of youth”.
The team then involved a large amount of teenagers in a comparative study. They are now awaiting data analysis that is being performed by an independent team who don’t know which results are from which group to avoid bias. The team is hoping to secure £7M funding for a longitudinal study.
Incidentally, his talk was the day after The Guardian published “The mindfulness conspiracy”. This article puts in doubt the role of mindfulness in relation to social engagement.
But many studies have indicated that mindfulness-based interventions may be a useful tool in dealing with many issues such as stress, mental and physical health issues, addictions, grief, pain, in pregnancy and many others. As always, more research is needed. Hopefully, Professor Dunning will secure the necessary funding to provide more substantial evidence!
NEUROTIP: Have a brief mindful moment: close your eyes and take one mindful breath. This means you REALLY notice that you are breathing. Feel the formless stream of air at the tip of your nose and let thoughts and sounds pass without evaluation. Notice how this brief mindful moment affects your mood and perception of the world. Return to your activities or continue breathing mindfully as long as it feels good.
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