Savour positive emotions to boost wellbeing

Appreciating the breathtaking moments of life can help build positivity

Appreciating the breathtaking moments of life, and savouring the emotions associated with them, can help build positivity and boost wellbeing

“Concentrate [yourself] upon the moments of a life that is itself but a moment.” This quote from Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray could have been taken from a modern manual on mindfulness, or an article on positive psychology. It also sums up new research that encourages us to savour the emotions associated with special moments to enhance feelings of wellbeing.

The university study reveals that the it’s not just the response we have to something beautiful or breathtaking or moving, but the ability to keep hold of positive emotions – to savour them – that can boost wellbeing. And the research looked at people who can and people who can’t savour the moments of life, and who are perhaps more inclined to feel depressed.

“It’s important to consider not just how much emotion you experience, but also how long these emotions persist,” said researcher Aaron Heller, University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate and assistant professor of psychology at the University of Miami. He added: “We’re looking at how one person can savour a great deal from that beautiful sunset or a memorable meal, but how another person who might be susceptible to depression can’t savour that sunset and those positive emotions subside quickly.”

The study looked at how the effect of a positive emotion on neural pathways in the brain, even if it lasts for a few seconds. The research found it could “predict the persistence of a person’s positive emotion minutes and hours later… [leading to] a growing understanding of how mental disorders such as depression might be manifested in the brain”.

The study explored sending frequent prompts sent to people via their smartphones, to help embed positive emotions more regularly and efficiently. The researchers also suggested that meditation, and showing kindness and compassion to others, could impact on an individual’s ability to savour the moments – and the positive emotions – of life.

New campaign challenges ‘headclutcher’ images of depression

Time to Change is calling on the media to stop using stereotypical 'headclutcher' images to depict depression. (image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/Jeanne Claire Maarbes)

Time to Change is calling on the media to stop using stereotypical ‘headclutcher’ images to depict depression. (image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/Jeanne Claire Maarbes)

What does a depressed person look like? Permanently sad, often clutching their heads, much like this person in this picture to the left? It’s the stereotypical image that’s likely to spring to mind when thinking of someone with depression. But a new campaign from Time to Change, called Get the Picture, wants the media to think differently about how they depict depression.

Its poll of 2000 people revealed that:

  • 80% of people don’t believe that ‘headclutching’ photos tell the truth about what it feels to have a mental health problem.
  • Images showing suicide may trigger suicidal feelings (among a third of people who responded to the poll).
  • Most importantly, people with mental health problems don’t look depressed all the time.

I agree with Time to Change that to continue to show depression in this cliched way merely exacerbates the stigma around mental illness. Members of the public are invited to take part in the campaign by taking a fun ‘headclutcher’ selfie and tweet it with the hashtage #GoodbyeHeadclutcher.

I will do my bit by being more creative when researching images to illustrate this blog.

Social snubs are harder to shake off if you’re depressed

Not fitting in and being rejected by the crowd hurts more if you're depressed. (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/StuartMiles)

Not fitting in and being rejected by the crowd hurts more if you’re depressed. (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/StuartMiles)

The hurt of being snubbed by someone who used to be your friend, or being rejected by social groups goes deeper and lasts longer if you’re suffering from untreated depression, according to a study from the University of Michigan. This seems to be adding insult to injury to people who may already be feeling bad about themselves. However, there is a scientific reason to explain this.

The researchers tested stress-reducing chemicals (called opioids) in the brains of depressed and non-depressed people in the context of online dating, where likes and rejections often come in equal measures. In short, when depressed people received rejections they found it harder to regulate their emotions, while non-depressed people were able to cope with the social stress and move on without giving it much more thought.  When someone liked them back, both depressed and non-depressed people felt an uplift (which the researchers were surprised about, because depression can affect the ability to feel joy). However, the feeling of social acceptance was short-lived in people with depression.

Feeling down? Sit upright to avoid a slump in mood

If body posture affects your mood, then slumping can make you feel down. (pic courtesy of Master isolated images/Freedigitalphotos.net)

If body posture affects your mood, then slumping can make you feel down. (pic courtesy of Master isolated images/Freedigitalphotos.net)

If you’re feeling low, chances are your body posture will mirror your mood. You may slump or slouch, as your body slackens and gives up the fight. Yet, new research has found that this also works the other way round: our body posture can have an effect on our emotions. If you slump, you’re more likely to keep hold of negative thoughts.

In tests, the researchers asked 30 depressed people to sit either in a slumped (depressed) or upright (non-depressed) posture while imagining themselves in a scene in front of them, where positive and negative words flashed on a computer screen. They found that upright patients were able to recall a balance of positive and negative words, whereas the slumped patients showed “recall biased towards more negative words”.

They concluded that posture has more of an impact on mood than previously believed. The body can influence the mind and how we feel about ourselves.

The researchers said: “Training patients in mindful body awareness might be useful because it fosters an intuitive understanding of the interplay of bodily and emotional processes.” In other words, becoming more conscious of the mind-body connection might mean you could catch yourself before you fall into a slump. Becoming aware of your posture could therefore be a quick boost to your mood.

Have you caught ’empathic stress’?

Scientists say stress is contagious. (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/ddpavumba)

Scientists say stress is contagious. (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/ddpavumba)

Has your boss ever started huffing and puffing, even when everything is going to plan and to deadline, and you can’t help but start to feel the pressure too? Or how about you’re watching a tense moment on TV and you feel yourself far more stressed than you should?

Scientists say stress could be as catching as the common cold. Just being around stressed individuals, or watching them stress out, raises levels of the stress hormone cortisol even if you’re an observer. This was the main finding of a study by the Max Planck Institute for Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig and the Technische Universität Dresden. The researchers found that observing stressful situations has a physical response – and say that this form of ’empathic stress’ should not be ignored because it can lead to serious issues of burnout, depression and anxiety.

Empathic stress was worse when the observer stressed individual were in a relationship. But even watching stressful programmes on TV can raise cortisol levels. “Stress has enormous contagion potential,” say the researchers.

They added that people working as caregivers could be particularly susceptible to the harmful consequences of empathic stress. “Anyone who is confronted with the suffering and stress of another person, particularly when sustained, has a higher risk of being affected by it themselves,” they add.

Interestingly, while other studies have shown women to be more empathic than men, this piece of research showed that “men and women actually experience empathic stress reactions with equal frequency”.

A sense of ‘belonging’ can help beat depression

Feeling affinity with a group can help alleviate depression. (pic courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Feeling affinity with a group can help alleviate depression. (pic courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

If you’re depressed, you can feel lost and alone, as if everyone were against you. It can be a terribly isolating place, and it’s easy to withdraw from interacting with the world. Yet making the effort to connect with a group can be one of the first steps to recovery from depression.

A study from the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) discovered that finding a connection with social groups can help alleviate depression and anxiety and prevent relapse.

People who took part in the research joined either a community group with activities such as yoga, sports and art, or took part in group therapy. What made the difference in both groups was the sense of connection participants felt with the other group members. Those who did not identify with the rest of the group had a 50% chance of feeling depressed a month later. However, among those who felt a stronger connection with the group, less than a third were clinically depressed a month later.

The difference is a feeling of being supported by the rest of the group, of everyone being ‘in it together’. In other words, depressed people began to feel a sense of ‘us’ rather than ‘them’. The study concluded that “joining groups, and coming to identify with them, can alleviate depression”. 

What is significant about this research, however, is that the ‘group’ aspect of social interaction is crucial, rather than just the interpersonal relationships within groups. Finding groups with whom you have an affinity could be the first step to feeling lighter and happier.

More emotional support needed for the 6 in 10 mothers suffering postnatal depression

59% of new mothers suffer the baby blues, but 75% don't seek support from their midwife (image courtesy of m_bartosch/freedigitalimages.net)

59% of new mothers suffer the baby blues, but 75% don’t seek support from their midwife (image courtesy of m_bartosch/freedigitalimages.net)

Midwives believe that the main focus of postnatal care should supporting the new mum emotionally, and yet 75% of mothers do not turn to their midwives for help with the baby blues.

A Royal College of Midwives (RCM) survey has found that 75% of midwives think ‘organisational pressures’ determine the number of postnatal visits, while 60% think that mums need emotional support as a priority.

The percentage of women feeling down or depressed after giving birth  is 59%, says the survey, and midwives find themselves having to “paper over the cracks in an underfunded adn under-resourced postnatal environment”, which is having a “detrimental effect on the health of women and children”.

A quarter of the women who completed the RCM survey, carried out in conjunction with parenting website Netmums, say the maternity team had not asked them if they were coping during postnatal visits. Yet 24% of student midwives say they are adequately trained to deal with postnatal mental health issues, and 29% say they don’t feel confident enough to recognise mental illness or emotional illness in women who have recently given birth. The report recommends a review of midwifery training to ensure that they are equipped with the knowledge and skills to deal with these issues.

Sally Russell, co-founder of parenting website Netmums, says: “There is an urgent need for more support for new mums’ mental health. With over half the new mums in the UK suffering baby blues, we are in danger of letting vulnerable mothers slip through the net and suffer serious mental illness. Many women who are struggling often blame themselves for ‘not coping’, and so don’t necessarily know their midwife can help. As the RCM report shows, it’s vital we train more midwives to help vulnerable women at this crucial time. Every mum deserves to be treated with compassion and have the chance to talk about their mental health as well as their physical health.”

Postnatal depression can be an isolating and frightening experience for new mothers. If you feel you would like counselling support at this vulnerable time in your life, call 07956 823501 or email davanticounselling@gmail.com for a confidential appointment.

Could your stress levels today be picked up from mother when you were a baby?

Infants absorb stress and anxiety from their mothers, says research. (pic courtesy of Serge Betasius Photography/freedigitalimages.net)

Infants absorb stress and anxiety from their mothers, says research. (pic courtesy of Serge Betasius Photography/freedigitalimages.net)

Now and again, a new piece of research comes along that explains so much that my counselling clients are experiencing today. Such pieces of research pretty much sum up the reason why psychotherapy exists: to help heal the wounds of our past and come to terms with what was painful on our childhoods.

The issue with the past, however, is that so much of that early wounding happens in a pre-verbal phase. It’s when we are tiny babies when we don’t have words to express what’s going on that some of those hurts can happen. People may think that babies won’t know the difference. But, as adults having a crisis in later life, feeling unable to cope, we can often feel left with an unease that something isn’t right. We just can’t put it into words. It’s just a feeling that keeps playing out in unhelpful behaviours, situations and cycles that they feel stuck in. And some of those behaviours and feelings may be in response to the nurturing – or otherwise – we experienced as infants.

So, what’s this piece of research that I feel resonates with the wounds in my clients? (more…)

Turn Blue Monday into ‘Blooming Monday’

Mental health charity MHRUK is urging everyone to wear bright colours to combat Blue Monday.

Mental health charity MHRUK is urging everyone to wear bright colours to combat Blue Monday.

Today is meant to be the most depressing day of the year. Christmas festivities are well behind us, and it’s a while before the clocks go forward and we can enjoy some daylight on our journey to and from work. That’s why mental health charity Mental Health Research UK is urging us to change one thing about our appearance in a bid to brighten up the saddest day in the calendar.

It is calling on individuals and organisations to ‘ditch the grey on blooming Monday‘ and to pick bright colours from our wardrobes instead of our usual darker shades. Even if workplace dress codes insist on formal clothes, the charity says that people can brighten up their day with a colourful scarf, tie or even socks.

While this may sound lighthearted on a bleak day, the point of MHRUK’s campaign is serious: to combat the stigma of mental illness, raise funds to research into the causes of depression, and “develop better treatments to reduce the misery resulting from it”.

MHRUK found that 30% of workers leave home in the morning before sunrise and return home after sunset during the winter, putting them at risk of seasonal affective disorder.

Visit www.blooming-monday.com for ways to get involved in the campaign.

Workaholics are at risk of compulsive internet addiction

60% of people are at risk of compulsive internet usage, says research (pic: istockphoto.com/matka_Wariatka)

60% of people say they use the internet compulsively, says research (pic: istockphoto.com/matka_Wariatka)

It’s Monday morning. You log onto your emails at work and yet there are no surprises. Why? Because you’ve had your smartphone by your side all weekend and you’ve been checking your emails compulsively, unable to switch off. You see ‘relaxing’ as a pointless waste of time. Pushing yourself harder to achieve career success is what drives you. But it can also be what drains you.

If you recognise yourself here, then you could be among the 60% of workers who use the internet compulsively, often as a coping strategy. Increasingly it is high-fliers and overachievers whose internet usage can be excessive and compulsive, rather than students and the unemployed. That’s according to research among 516 people aged 18 to 65 by Dr Cristina Quinones-Garcia of Northampton Business School and Professor Nada Korac-Kakabadse of Henley Business School, which was presented at the British Psychological Society’s Division of Occupational Psychology’s Annual Conference in Brighton.

Using the internet was strongly linked to working obsessively, and overuse of the internet could lead to “measurable withdrawal symptoms” such as anxiety, isolation and depression. The researchers said that workaholics will often wake up several times in the night to check their emails, and their health and relationships suffer because they can’t manage to tear themselves away from their computer. They tend to be the high-achieving successful employees, but continued compulsive usage could lead to burnout.

This research is the latest in a growing body of evidence around the dangers of excessive internet use. A study by Missouri University of Science and Technology investigated the impact of heavy internet use on mental health and found that young people who used the internet excessively – including games, social media and email – showed signs of addictive behaviours, such as introversion, craving, loss of control and tolerance.

The Guardian offers five ways to curb your internet use and get your life back. However, if you’re worried that your internet use is getting out of control and having a negative impact on your life, email davanticounselling@gmail.com or call 07956 823501 to take the first step to speak to a therapist about it.