Now the science is in. Singing is really good for you and the most recent research suggests that group singing is the most exhilarating and transformative of all.
Creating music together evolved as a tool of social living. Groups and tribes sang and danced together to build loyalty, transmit vital information and ward off enemies. (Since I still can’t carry a tune I figure all my enemies have long ago been warded off.)
“What has not been understood until recently is that singing in groups triggers the communal release of serotonin and oxytocin, the bonding hormone, and even synchronises our heart beats.”
“Singing helps people with depression and reduces feelings of loneliness, leaving people feeling relaxed, happy and connected. What’s more, the benefits of singing regularly are cumulative. People who sing have reduced levels of cortisol, indicating lower stress.” (The research must have been done on people who could carry a tune. My cortisol levels still go up when singing)
Now the good news (for me) . . .
One of the great things about singing is that you can receive the wellbeing benefits even if you aren’t any good. One study showed that:
“Group singing can produce satisfying and therapeutic sensations even when the sound produced by the vocal instrument is of mediocre quality.”
“The current research into the neuroscience of singing shows that when we sing our neurotransmitters connect in new and different ways. It fires up the right temporal lobe of our brain, releasing endorphins that make us smarter, healthier, happier and more creative. When we sing with other people this effect is amplified.”
I still can’t carry a tune but at least no one . . . so far . . . has tapped me on the head since second grade.
Read the entire article: The Neuroscience of Singing
Declutter! Focus! Do one-thing-at-a-time! Plan! Schedule!
There are thousands of books and articles teaching us how to be organized. I’ve read them. I understand them. I don’t follow them.
I rarely keep a things-to-do list except when I’m overwhelmed or feel lethargic. I’m a fly-by-the-seat of my pants kinda person. My process is divergent, I am a piler not a filer, not logical and I used to think there was something wrong with me.
AND NOW I’m vindicated! Read this excerpt* (emphasis is mine):
“Sometimes, we place too much faith in the idea that if something looks well-organized, then we’ve got our lives under control.”
“It’s all too easy to fall into this trap. Many of us feel embarrassed about our cluttered desks, for example, assuming that they are an externalization of our internal chaos. Yet emptying your desk may, ironically, clutter your mind more than ever. All those tasks—read that book, reply to that letter, pay that bill—still exist. But lacking physical reminders that you trust, you may be forced to rely on your subconscious to remind you of all these incomplete tasks. Your subconscious will do a pretty good job of that: it will remind you every few minutes. An empty desk can mean an anxious mind.“
“Nor are empty-deskers necessarily better organized in their work lives. In 2001, Steve Whittaker and Julia Hirschberg, then researchers at AT&T Labs, studied the behavior (pdf) of “filers”, who scrupulously file away their paperwork, and “pilers” who let it accumulate on their desk and any other convenient horizontal surface.”
“. . . the researchers discovered that the “filers” accumulated bloated archives full of useless chaff. Whittaker has a term for this: “premature filing.” That’s what happens when we take a new document and promptly file it in a fit of tidy-mindedness before we really understand what it means, how it fits into our ongoing commitments, and whether we need to keep it at all. The result: duplicate folders, folders within folders, folders holding just a single document, and filing cabinets that serve as highly-structured trash cans.”
“Meanwhile, the “pilers” flourished. They were much more likely to throw paperwork away—after all, it was in plain sight on their desks—and when they did file something, they were more likely to understand it. Paradoxically, the messy workers had lean, practical and well-used archives. Their organizational system was messy, but it worked.”
“It’s possible to over-structure your life in other ways, too. As the psychologist Marc Wittman told Quartz in August, a partly or wholly unplanned holiday tends to feel longer and fuller than a holiday in which every decision has been made in advance. Critical decisions have to be made in the moment, which means you pay more attention to what’s happening and have richer memories after the fact. But to carry out Wittman’s advice, of course, means letting go and taking a risk. Switching off autopilot always carries an element of danger. That’s why it works.”
“One fascinating study conducted in the early 1980s examined the well-worn question of how structured one should make a calendar. Some people think that if you want to get something done, you should block out a time to do it on the calendar. Others think that the calendar should be reserved only for fixed appointments, and that everything else should be a movable feast”
“The study, run by the psychologists, Daniel Kirschenbaum, Laura Humphrey and Sheldon Malett explored this question, asked undergraduates to participate in a study-skills course. Some were advised to set out monthly goals and study activities; others were told to plan activities and goals in much more detail, day by day.”
“The researchers, assuming daily plans would work better than months were wrong: “The daily plans were catastrophically demotivating, while the monthly plans worked very nicely. The effect was still in evidence a year later. The likely explanation is that the daily plans simply became derailed by unexpected events. A rigid structure is inherently fragile. Better for both your peace of mind and your productivity to improvise a little more often.”
I believe our brains are hard-wired to be logical or creatively divergent. What works for one person, one situation, will not work for another. If I could learn to stop berating myself when piles and projects surround me you can stop berating yourself for being overly organized.
*Source: Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives (Riverbed) by Tim Harford, Financial Times columnist.
“Omar was the same size as all the other kittens in his litter when he was taken home by his owner Stephy Hirst in 2013.”
“But now the 120cm (3 ft 11 in), 14kg (31 lb) Maine Coon from Melbourne, Australia, could be the world’s longest domestic cat.”
“Omar has also displayed a talent for opening doors, kitchen cupboards, shower screens and wardrobes.”
“Omar typically rises at 5:00 am, eats a couple of scoops of dry cat food for breakfast, lounges around the house, plays in the backyard, naps on the trampoline and eats raw kangaroo meat for dinner.”
Read the full article by the BBC’s Greg Dunlop , click here: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-39931050
Research shows our brains are plastic, moldable and easy to please and despite sayings to the contrary, you can, in fact, teach an old dog (or cat) new tricks. But you have to give your brain a reason to get started.
Here are excerpts from the article:
“Our brains like treats, MRI scans are clear about that. The reward pathway involves several parts of the brain, including areas such as the prefrontal cortex. Food, water, sex and pleasurable activity light up these areas and travel around the brain. If you want to build a habit, make it fun.
“Overall, recent brain scans show that certain areas of the brain light up when a new behavior is started, and the most effective way to keep the areas lit and happy is through rewards. Otherwise, we’re programmed to be lazy and efficient.”
“In the past year, neuroscientists and psychologists have teamed up to study habit learning and how the brain reacts to new behaviors. They’ve found that some neurons, the cells that fire information across our brain and tell us what to do, are linked to motivation, reward association and habit learning.“
“When we like a new action, our brain pumps out feel-good chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin, and we’re more likely to repeat the action to get the same pleasurable response.”
“Just like Pavlov’s dog, if we can motivate ourselves to repeat an action with a reward several times, we can potentially make it stick. And if we lump two or three of those habits together, they can cascade in the brain and lead to the likelihood of sticking with several good habits at once. Hey, even monkeys can learn how to build habits through repetition without much instruction, Brown University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers reported.”
1. Make a Plan for 2 months . . . or longer!
Figure out what works for you, and don’t get discouraged by what seems to be common knowledge. Pop culture has promulgated the idea that it only takes 21 days, or 3 weeks, to form a new habit, but research shows that, depending on the person and habit, changes can take two months or longer.
“To figure out which cravings are driving particular habits, it’s useful to experiment with different rewards,” which may take days or weeks, Charles Duhigg writes in The Power of Habit. “During that period, you shouldn’t feel any pressure to make a real change … think of yourself as a scientist in the data collection stage.”
2. Be Realistic
Don’t set yourself up for failure or place your expectations too high.
“ . . . it’s common for people to set their sights cripplingly high in a moment of ambition, only to feel crushed when they fail to live up to those unrealistic goals.”
“That crushed feeling sends negative pulses rushing through your neurons, which destroys good associations with the habits you’re building. Try the smallest steps possible . . . to feel happy about the smallest success you can accomplish.”
3. Reward Yourself
“If you want to be motivated, you have to do something you enjoy and feel comfortable doing.”
Read entire article: Habits and How to Make Them
There are studies which indicate happiness is over-rated and we should strive instead for contentment. I say we should strive for happiness and be grateful when we are simply content.
How to get happy in a hurry, according to neuroscience
From the book The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time by UCLA neuroscience researcher Alex Korb
Know what Prozac does? It boosts the neurotransmitter serotonin. So does gratitude!
1. “Write a running gratitude list or simply ask yourself what you’re grateful for: A warm house, a pet you love, new shoes, a cellphone – doesn’t matter how big or small. Gratitude boosts both dopamine and serotonin, the two most powerful neurotransmitter chemicals involved in giving you a feeling of calm and well-being.”
“Don’t worry if you can’t immediately find things to be grateful for. The mental search for gratitude alone will begin to elevate the level of those pleasure chemicals”.
2. Label negative feelings. “Simply saying to yourself “I’m sad” or “I’m anxious” almost too easy for happiness. Yet in one fMRI study – ‘Putting Feelings into Words,’ participants viewed pictures of people with emotional facial expressions. Each participant’s amygdala [the brain’s fight-or-flight alarm bell] activated to the emotions in the picture. But when they were asked to name the emotion, the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex activated and reduced the emotional amygdala reactivity. In other words, consciously recognizing the emotions reduced their impact.”
3. Make a decision. “Just deciding to do something can reduce worry and anxiety right away. “Making decisions includes creating intentions and setting goals – all three are part of the same neural circuitry and engage the prefrontal cortex in a positive way, reducing worry and anxiety.”
“Making decisions also helps overcome striatum activity, which can pull you toward negative impulses and routines. Finally, making decisions changes your perception of the world – finding solutions to your problems and calming the limbic system.”
“And you don’t have to worry about making the “right” decision? The “good enough” decision is good enough to make our brains go into at-ease mode. AND you can decide not to decide or change your decision!”
4. Touch people, appropriately! This is one of the easiest ways to release oxytocin which is the pleasure-inducing ‘cuddle chemical’] It can be as simple as a handshake or a pat on the back.
“A hug is the best but if you don’t have anybody to hug get a massage which has been shown to boost your serotonin by as much as 30 percent. Massage also decreases stress hormones and raises dopamine levels.”
(There are three major symptoms for fibromyalgia: depression, fatigue and whole body pain. I have all three and then some . . . The worst for me is fatigue, with depression coming in second and whole body pain third. I follow the research, always hoping something new will be discovered in its treatment.)
New research on treatments for depression presents an intriguing finding: a healthy diet may help depressed patients.
New Research on Treating Depression With Diet
by Sumathi Reddy, The Wall Street Journal
It is part of the nascent field of nutritional psychiatry which uses changes in diet to help treat mood disorders.
“The study in the journal BMC Medicine, found that a third of patients assigned to a group that followed a modified Mediterranean diet met the criteria for remission in 12 weeks, compared with just 8% in a control group.”
“There is a large body of evidence, both observational studies and animal studies, that links diet to the risk of developing depression and the prevalence of depression, said Felice Jacka, a professor of psychiatric epidemiology and nutritional psychiatry at Deakin University in Australia and senior researcher on the study. Dr. Jacka is also president of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research.”
“Psychiatrists cautioned that the study provides no evidence that diet changes could replace traditional treatments for depression; but it could be beneficial as an add-on treatment.”
(Here’s where it becomes problematic for people with major depression and people like me who are too lazy to cook)
“It may also be an impractical prescription: cooking healthy meals requires motivation and planning, a big demand for depressed patients. Depressed patients have difficulty putting plans into action so would likely require assistance, experts said.” (Assistance in the form of a personal chef . . .)
“They have this sense of fatigue and inability to get up and go, and any mental effort they feel is overwhelming and exhaustive,” said Robert Shulman, associate chairman of psychiatry at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. “(YUP, I’ll eat to that)
“The study, the first randomized controlled one, consisted of 67 people diagnosed and already being treated for a major depressive disorder. The mean age was 40 and most were overweight.
About half were in a dietary-intervention group. They received help planning a diet which included a lot of fruits, vegetables, beans, fish, whole grains, lean red meat, olive oil and nuts, and cut back on sweets, (OUCH) processed foods, soft drinks and other unhealthy items.”
‘”Dietary changes may be especially helpful for people who are mildly depressed and don’t want to go on medication, said Joshua Weiner, a psychiatrist in McLean, Va. “If you have a motivated patient I’m all for this,” he said. “The problem is many kinds of patients aren’t motivated.”’
Results may be better for people who have poor eating habits to begin with, he said.”
Read the entire article click HERE
(Alas . . . the indicators for healthy eating are piling up. It’s so much easier to pop a pill.)