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Mental Health

Sharing is Caring: 4 Ways How Helping Others Can Improve Your Own Life

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To this day many people prefer taking, rather than giving. They are always asking life for more, wondering what more they can achieve, get and experience.

But turns out that giving is not just more important than taking, not just what we – as humans – should naturally be inclined to, but also the thing that gives us true satisfaction and can improve own life.

Without having tried it, however, there’s no chance you can know what the real benefits are.

There are many ways in which helping others, sharing, caring, giving what you can, doing good deeds, etc. can make you a better person and help other people too, while making the world more peaceful.

In case you want to live better and also contribute beyond yourself, here’s how helping others can turn your whole life around:

1. A sense of purpose

Let’s admit it. We’re all looking for meaning in life.

Often, focused only on ourselves and living the daily life, we forget there’s more behind all this.

There’s purpose beyond materialistic possessions, reaching our goals in life, getting a new job, finding the right partner, or else.

When you start doing more for others, and less for yourself, you receive more than you can imagine.

You find meaning in your life if you decide to volunteer, or to just be a better person and always help when you can.

So if you still haven’t found true meaning in your life, ask yourself what you can do today to help someone in need, or to show somebody that you care.

2. Volunteer, and you’ll be happy and healthy

According to a report by Harvard Health Publications, volunteering and the level of happiness and health in people’s lives are closely related. Let’s break this down.

For a start, when you join a volunteering organization, you’re part of a community, you feel like you belong. You’re taking part in something bigger than you, and it makes you smile and be truly grateful.

You start feeling good about yourself, and often can’t even describe it to others in your life. There’s nothing selfish about it, and you don’t even need to talk about it. It’s this feeling of contentment, where you don’t need to change anything, or to ask life for more, you just help others and feel happier day after day. What’s more, it’s great for the mind, body and soul too.

It’s one of the most natural stress, depression, loneliness and anxiety relievers. No need for medicine, spiritual practices, special programs, or else. You just need to go out there and start helping people.

It’s a therapy for the soul to see those in need smiling because of what you’re doing. And that makes you sleep better at night, feel good about yourself, and your other problems you thought you had in life don’t seem like a big deal now.

3. Doing good can help your professional life

You won’t be helping others with the goal of exceeding in your career, of course, but it will increase your chances of landing a job a lot, as a government study suggests.

How does this happen?

Well, turns out the skills you build while volunteering make you a better candidate for employers. It lets you explore new fields too, and you acquire knowledge at the same time. Then, you can easily put these into practice in whatever career you pursue.

What’s more, if you’re determined to excel at this, there are plenty of volunteering programs that offer further training. Things like that look good on your CV too, show that you care about the community, are open to side projects, and know how to work with other people.

Once you give it a try, you’ll end up becoming a better communicator, understand the real meaning of teamwork, will somehow start brainstorming ideas and solve problems more creatively, will be managing your time better and thus become more organized.

When all these are first experienced at an unpaid position, where no one expects you to do your best and there’s no pressure from superiors, you learn the skills necessary to move to the top of your career in the future, even before you’ve started a job in the field.

4. You build relationships

You know networking is crucial for your success in life and in business. Well, helping others can help you with that too. First of all, you’re connecting with people in a more meaningful way than usual when you’re doing good for the sake of making their life better. That’s the social aspect and it also gives you fulfillment and makes you feel great.

But you also meet other people doing the same, potential employers, influencers, and more. This expands your network and you can never know what opportunity will come out of this.

At the same time, you’re feeling more confident and comfortable around new people and let go of social anxiety. That lets you make friends too, which will stay in your life even when you’re not doing this anymore.

Once you land a new job, or open a new chapter in your life, socializing and putting yourself out there won’t scare you. You’ll be free to approach new people, and will effortlessly communicate without fear of rejection or wondering what to say.

In a nutshell, helping others is one of the most profitable, practical and satisfying things you can do with your life. And it doesn’t need to be big. You can complete smalls tasks or join a community that cares for a cause you’re passionate about.

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Sarah Williams is a 29-year old freelance writer whose passion is observing people and taking a lesson from every experience. You can connect with Sarah on Wingman Magazine, where she regularly shares her thoughts about personal growth.

          
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Mental Health

Want to Help Your Teens? Make Their Lives Predictable

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Establishing consistent routines at home for your teen may generate pushback, but it could also set him or her up for future success.

Researchers at the University of Georgia found teens with more family routines during adolescence had higher rates of college enrollment and were less likely to use alcohol in young adulthood, among other positive outcomes.

The findings were published recently in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

“If we’re going to make a difference in our lives and in our family members’ lives, we have to make a difference in the everyday,” said lead author Allen Barton, an assistant research scientist at the Center from the Family Research and the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences. “Routines play an important role in making that happen.”

Researchers analyzed data collected from more than 500 rural African American teens beginning when they were 16 and continuing until they were 21.

The teens whose primary caregivers reported more family routines – such as regular meal times, consistent bedtimes and afterschool schedules – reported less alcohol use, greater self-control and emotional well-being and higher rates of college enrollment in young adulthood.

Researchers also analyzed biological samples from the teens and found that those with more family routines during adolescence showed lower levels of epinephrine, a stress hormone.

The benefits of family routines generally persisted even after the researchers took other factors into account such as levels of supportive parenting, household chaos and socioeconomic status.

Routine, consistency and predictability, the research suggested, are powerful influences on a teen’s life.

“We often lose sight of the mundane aspects of life, but if we can get control of the mundane or the everyday parts of life, then I think we can have a major impact on some bigger things,” Barton said. “These findings highlight how you structure your teen’s home environment really matters.”

The research has important implications for family-centered interventions, Barton said, including focusing more attention on increasing predictability and positive routines at home.

“The big takeaway is to help your child navigate the teen years, make their lives predictable,” Barton said. “There has been a lot of research about the importance of routines for healthy development with young kids. These results are some of the first to show that even with teens, it appears routines are similarly powerful.”

The paper, “The profundity of the everyday: Family routines in adolescence predict development in young adulthood,” is available at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1054139X18304130?via%3Dihub

Additional authors are Gene H. Brody, Tianyi Yu, Steven M. Kogan and Katherine B. Ehrlich from the University of Georgia and Edith Chen from Northwestern University.

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Mental Health

Strong Committed Relationships Can Buffer Military Suicides

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Can being in a strong committed relationship reduce the risk of suicide? Researchers at Michigan State University believe so, especially among members of the National Guard.

Suicide rates for members of the military are disproportionally higher than for civilians, and around the holidays the number of reported suicides often increases, for service members and civilians alike. What’s more alarming is the risk of suicide among National Guard and reserve members is even greater than the risk among active duty members.

When returning from a deployment, National Guard members in particular are expected to immediately jump back into their civilian lives, which many find difficult to do, especially after combat missions. Some suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression or high anxiety in the months following their return. These mental health conditions are considered at-risk symptoms for higher rates of suicide.

The researchers wanted to know what factors can buffer suicide risk, specifically the role that a strong intimate relationship plays. They discovered that when the severity of mental health symptoms increase, better relationship satisfaction reduces the risk of suicide.

“A strong relationship provides a critical sense of belonging and motivation for living – the stronger a relationship, the more of a buffer it affords to prevent suicides,” said Adrian Blow, family studies professor, and lead author. “If the relationship is satisfying and going well, the lower the risk. National Guard members don’t typically have the same type of support system full-time soldiers receive upon returning home, so it’s important that the family and relationships they return to are as satisfying and strong as possible.”

The researchers surveyed 712 National Guard members who lived in Michigan, had been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan between 2010-2013 and reported being in a committed relationship. The study measured three main variables – mental health symptoms, suicide risk and relationship satisfaction – each on a separate ranking scale. The soldiers were asked questions such as how enjoyable the relationship is, if they ever thought about or attempted suicide, how often they have been bothered by symptoms of depressive disorder, etc.

Results showed significant associations between each of the mental health variables (PTSD, depression and anxiety) and suicide risk, indicating that higher symptoms were predictive of greater risk.

However, once couple satisfaction and its interaction with mental health was factored in, the association between mental health symptoms and suicide risk was changed. Specifically, for those with higher couple satisfaction, the increased symptoms of PTSD, depression and anxiety were no longer a risk for suicide.

“Our findings show that more needs to be done to enhance the quality of relationships to improve the satisfaction level and through this decrease the suicide risk,” Blow said. “Having a partner who understands your symptoms may help the service member feel understood and valued. There are family support programs available, but we need to do more to enhance relationships post deployment. Relationships do not get enough consideration in the role they play in preventing military suicides, and I would love to see more attention devoted to this issue.”

Other co-authors included Adam Farero from MSU; Heather Walters and Marcia Valenstein from University of Michigan; and Dara Ganoczy from the Veterans Health Administration. The study was funded by the Veterans Administration. The study was published in the official journal of the American Association of Suicidology.

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Mental Health

The Joy of Giving Lasts Longer Than the Joy of Getting

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The happiness we feel after a particular event or activity diminishes each time we experience that event, a phenomenon known as hedonic adaptation. But giving to others may be the exception to this rule, according to new research from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

In the paper, “People Are Slow to Adapt to the Warm Glow of Giving,” forthcoming in Psychological Science, Chicago Booth Associate Professor Ed O’Brien and Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management’s PhD candidate Samantha Kassirer found that participants’ happiness did not decline, or declined much slower, if they repeatedly bestowed gifts on others versus repeatedly receiving those same gifts themselves.

“If you want to sustain happiness over time, past research tells us that we need to take a break from what we’re currently consuming and experience something new. Our research reveals that the kind of thing may matter more than assumed: Repeated giving, even in identical ways to identical others, may continue to feel relatively fresh and relatively pleasurable the more that we do it,” O’Brien explains.

The researchers conducted two studies. In one experiment, university student participants received $5 every day for 5 days; they were required to spend the money on the exact same thing each time. The researchers randomly assigned participants to spend the money either on themselves or on someone else, such as by leaving money in a tip jar at the same café or making an online donation to the same charity every day. The participants reflected on their spending experience and overall happiness at the end of each day.

The data, from a total of 96 participants, showed a clear pattern: Participants started off with similar levels of self-reported happiness and those who spent money on themselves reported a steady decline in happiness over the 5-day period. But happiness did not seem to fade for those who gave their money to someone else. The joy from giving for the fifth time in a row was just as strong as it was at the start.

O’Brien and Kassirer then conducted a second experiment online, which allowed them to keep the tasks consistent across participants. In this experiment, 502 participants played 10 rounds of a word puzzle game. They won five cents per round, which they either kept or donated to a charity of their choice. After each round, participants disclosed the degree to which winning made them feel happy, elated, and joyful.

Again, the self-reported happiness of those who gave their winnings away declined far more slowly than did the happiness reported by those who kept their winnings.

Further analyses ruled out some potential alternative explanations, such as the possibility that participants who gave to others had to think longer and harder about what to give, which could promote higher happiness.

“We considered many such possibilities, and measured over a dozen of them,” says O’Brien. “None of them could explain our results; there were very few incidental differences between ‘get’ and ‘give’ conditions, and the key difference in happiness remained unchanged when controlling for these other variables in the analyses.”

Adaptation to happiness-inducing experiences can be functional to the extent that it motivates us to pursue and acquire new resources. Why doesn’t this also happen with the happiness we feel when we give?

The researchers note that when people focus on an outcome, such as getting paid, they can easily compare outcomes, which diminishes their sensitivity to each experience. When people focus on an action, such as donating to a charity, they may focus less on comparison and instead experience each act of giving as a unique happiness-inducing event.

We may also be slower to adapt to happiness generated by giving because giving to others helps us maintain our prosocial reputation, reinforcing our sense of social connection and belonging.

These findings raise some interesting questions for future research – for example, would these findings hold if people were giving or receiving larger amounts of money? Or to giving to friends versus strangers?

The researchers have also considered looking beyond giving or receiving monetary rewards, since prosocial behavior includes a wide range of experiences.

“Right now we’re testing repeated conversation and social experiences, which also may get better rather than worse over time,” O’Brien explains.

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Aging

Music: The Secret to Mental Health and Balance While Aging

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No matter where you travel, you’ll notice one universal truth — music has a very particular and powerful hold on us all. Cultures everywhere make and love music. This has been the case throughout history. We have used music to relax, communicate and celebrate — the human brain is hard-wired to react to music. According to Kimberly Sena Moore, a neurologic music therapist, “Your brain lights up like a Christmas tree when you listen to music.”

The magic of music goes much further than entertainment — there a surprising number of health benefits for the elderly, and there is a lot of evidence to support the fact that music is a secret weapon when it comes to maintaining optimal mental health and balance in our old age.

Boost Memory by Learning to Play an Instrument

If you want to ensure your memory is strong well into your winter years, consider picking up an instrument. Regardless of what you prefer to play, the act of learning how to play will sharpen your memory recall. This is because the process of learning and playing an instrument requires a great number of complex tasks, such as reading musical notes and knowing where to place your fingers. In time, this expands your working memory capacity and your ability to multiprocess without feeling overloaded. You will also be able to remember information for longer periods.

Music Can Act as a Stress Reliever

Coping with stress can become more difficult as we get older. We have less resilience to it, and it can affect us differently, which is stressful in and of itself. On top of changes in response to stress, we can experience changes in triggers as the years go by, so it is important we all find a way to cope.

There have been many studies to show music has a notable (and positive) effect on our stress and blood pressure levels. In fact, this is the case even if we’re not conscious. One study involving surgery patients found the use of music before an operation reduced stress levels to an even greater degree than anti-anxiety medication. The act of singing sends small vibrations throughout the body, which lowers cortisol (the stress hormone) levels and releases endorphins, thereby helping to keep you calm and collected in trying times.

Music Can Reduce Falls in the Elderly

Remarkably, studies show when the elderly exercise while listening to music, it helps them maintain balance and reduce the risk of falling. Falling is a huge concern for those over the age of 65, and music might well be the answer. According to a 2011 Swiss study, where participants were trained to walk and perform certain movements in time to music, they experienced 54% fewer falls when compared to the control group. The study also found that walking speed and stride length increased as a result.

A Good Drum Beat Can Kickstart Brain Function

The brain instinctively syncs to a rhythm. Because of this, therapists use drumming to get through to patients with severe dementia who don’t normally respond to external stimulus. When dementia patients hear music, you can detect a noticeable shift. They show more of an interest in their surroundings, they clap to the beat or even sing. This is because music can stimulate many parts of the brain simultaneously. Music which was popular when the patient was between the ages of 18 and 25 generally gets the most positive response.

Music Can Soothe Physical and Emotional Pain

Swedish researchers have found your favourite music can be a great pain reliever, as it can distract us and boost positive emotions. Interestingly, by evoking nostalgia, music can help us get through the pain, both physical and emotional.

Music Can Combat Depression and Boost Happiness

A serotonin imbalance in the brain causes depression. When you listen to music, you experience a boost in serotonin, so music can be used as a tool to combat depression in the elderly. Doctors claim the simple act of singing can release oxytocin, providing a significant mood booster. So while music alone may never entirely relieve the symptoms brought about by depression, it can certainly do its bit to enhance wellbeing.

Music Provides Opportunities for Social Interaction

Music can provide an essential source for social contact, which promotes interaction and a sense of belonging. This is increasingly important as we age. By incorporating music therapy and joining a choir, the opportunities to socialise and collaborate let us make new friendships and create new bonds.

Music Can Improve Quality and Quantity of Sleep

Many seniors don’t get as much sleep as they need, which can cause serious medical issues in time. Lack of sleep has been shown to have a profound and negative impact on mental health and wellbeing. A 2009 meta-analysis found music can improve the quality and quantity of sleep. Of course, the benefits may not happen overnight. But if you persist, in as little as three weeks, you should notice a pay off from this relaxation technique. Some of these include falling asleep faster and remaining asleep for longer.

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Health

The Mind-Body Connection

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One of the most important things I learned from my experience of depression was how closely linked my physical and mental well-being are.  In the thick of it, I remember many days of trying to figure out why I felt so low.  I talked through with my therapist all the various stressors which could have been affecting me that day. This included all my thoughts and feelings, and possible resolutions to my troubles. Only to figure out later on that I hadn’t had enough sleep the night before…and when I got enough sleep the next night, my mood was hugely improved.

It’s still true if I don’t sleep well, I’ll invariably feel a bit low the next day.  Not to the extent that I’m depressed, but I definitely notice being more irritable and sensitive to things which wouldn’t normally bother me that much.  Being sick is another example of when not feeling great physically affects my emotional resilience and makes everything else that much harder.  On one occasion, when I was horribly sick and sleep deprived, I burst into tears because I dropped my toast, butter side down, on the kitchen floor!

And who hasn’t heard of the phenomenon of being “hangry” ie: getting so hungry you start getting angry.  I’m sure this is a regular for me coming up to lunchtime at work.

The Mind-Body Connection

It seems so obvious now, the mind-body connection is important, but it took me such a long time to figure it out.  For the longest time, I didn’t realise every little fluctuation in my level of happiness didn’t necessarily indicate anything major going wrong other than my body trying to say, “take care of me, please!”  Of course, sometimes there are other things going on when you’re feeling down. But I guess I found it useful to realise that my physical health is connected to my emotional well-being, too.

Now that I’m working as a therapist, I’ve noticed this theme with clients as well.  Whenever someone says to me they are having a bad day, the first thing I ask about is how they’ve slept, whether they’ve eaten, or if they are sick at the moment.  Of course, the answer is not always this simple but I’ve been surprised at the number of people who will say, “Actually, I didn’t sleep at all last night…and now you mention it, no wonder I’m feeling a bit crappy today.”

Separating Mind and Body

These days we are very good at separating mind and body.  Our mind – our thoughts, perspectives, moods, and emotions – almost seems like a completely different thing to our physical experience of the world.

These days, it’s essential to think about our physical and mental well-being as interconnected and it’s equally important to take care of both.  I’m not one to preach about what this might mean for you. I’d be the last person to advocate that everyone should stick to any particular health regime – I’m firmly from the school of doing whatever works for you!

But I think what it boils down to is a little self-care (and for me personally, a healthy dose of balance) is good for both body and mind. I find noticing the effect of one on the other is helpful in understanding my experience of the world.

What are your thoughts on the mind-body connection?

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LGBTQ

The Power of Language and Labels

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A while ago I posted a meme which said, “Better to have lost in love than to live with a psycho for the rest of your life.”

I liked it, of course, otherwise, I wouldn’t have posted it. Eleven others did too, some commenting on Facebook, “Amen to that,” and “Definitely!!”

Then this: “Hate it. It’s beat up on people with mental illness time again. Ever had the amazing person you love tell you that they just can’t deal with your mental illness anymore? Our society is totally phobic about people with mental illness having intimate relationships.”

Woah, that came a bit out of the blue. I hadn’t made the link between “person with a mental illness” and “psycho”, otherwise I wouldn’t have posted it. It didn’t say, “Better to have lost in love than to live with a person with a mental illness for the rest of your life.” I had linked “psycho” with the often weird, unspoken assumptions people make when in relationships, which have kept me out of long-term relationships all my life.

It made me think, though. Suppose it had read, “Better to have lost in love than to live with an idiot for the rest of your life.” Would that have been a slight against people experiencing unique learning function?

Probably a more accurate meme would have been, “Better to have lost in love than to live with an arsehole for the rest of your life.” But that’s not what the image said.

For the record, I have had someone I loved tell me he couldn’t cope with my unique physical function anymore. It was hard to hear, but ultimately he was the one who lost out. And I know intuitively many would-be lovers haven’t even gone there — again, their loss and my gain, because why would I want to be with anyone so closed-minded?

The power we let labels have over us can be overwhelming. If I had a dollar for every time a person called someone a “spaz” in my presence, I’d be wealthy. If I got offended because “spaz” is a shortened version of “spastic”, which is one of my diagnoses, and I got another dollar for that, well — I’d be angrily living in the Bahamas.

I think the evolution of language — and the generalization of words like, “gay,” “spaz,” “idiot” and “psycho” — creates the opportunity for them to lose their charge and liberate us from their stigma. By allowing them to continue having power over us, though, we re-traumatize ourselves every time we hear them. Words are symbols and they change meaning over time and in different contexts.

I celebrate that “gay” means “not for me” rather than “fag”; that “spaz” means “over-reacting”, not “crippled”; that “idiot” means “unthinking”, not “retarded”; and that “psycho” means “someone with weird, unspoken assumptions”, not “a crazy person”.

By letting words change meaning for us, we are redefining diversity and creating social change. It’s not a case of, “Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me.” It’s recognizing that, unless someone is looking directly at us menacingly, calling us gay, spaz, idiot or psycho, we’re not in their minds — they’ve moved on.

Maybe it’s useful for us to move on with them?

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