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.

Happiness 2014: how about giving up trying to please other people…?

For 2014, why not commit to being true to who you are - irregardless of the other person's reaction...? (pic: istockphoto.com.castillodominici)

For 2014, why not commit to being true to who you are – irregardless of whether other people accept or approve? (pic: istockphoto.com/castillodominici)

Apparently doing less is more in 2014. If you want to be happy, that is. Or it is according to a new book by Todd Patkin, who is quoted in an article as saying we should make 2014 the Year of the Quitter. His argument has a lot of truths in it. He advocates:

  1. Letting go of relationships that drain you.
  2. Stop being nice to people just so you think they’ll like you.
  3. Forget thinking that being a workaholic is cool.
  4. Stop putting such high expectations on yourself.
  5. Stop comparing yourself to everyone else and what they’ve achieved.
  6. Don’t live your life just to please others.
  7. Stop trying to please your partner.
  8. Stop putting so much pressure on your children.

Seems that his advice is to stop having such high, perfectionist standards. People who try to please others also have high expectations of reward, gratification and gratitude. Unfortunately, the pressure can be on the recipient of such people-pleasing behaviours. If he/she is not perceived to be sufficiently grateful and adoring then the response from the giver can be one of huffiness and passive-aggression. I think the advice on points 2 and 4 are the most salient.

2, because if you are just putting a nice face on to people, then what happens to your real face? Why tell a lie or contort your real self in a self-imposed pressure to be liked? Trying to please other people, if it compromises your true nature or what is in your heart, surely has to be a lie? So why perpetrate it, just because you want to be liked by somebody or are scared of hurting their feelings?

And 4, because it is often the high standards we set for ourselves that lead to our inner sense of failure. We give ourselves to-do lists that, frankly, can be impossible to fulfil. Are they a stick to beat ourselves with? Or a way to stretch ourselves and reach greater depths and breadths within ourselves?

Sometimes the line between the two can be rather slim. Check which side you’re standing on, to protect and build your own self-esteem.

Ultimately, if we do what we can with what we’ve got at the time, who’s to say we’re not good enough…?

Can spirituality make you more resilient to depression?

Researchers says spiritual beliefs can protect the brain from mood disorders such as depression. (pic: istockphoto.com/Skaya)

Researchers says spiritual beliefs can protect the brain from mood disorders such as depression. (pic: istockphoto.com/Skaya)

Apparently it can. A scientific study has suggested that spirituality gives people who are prone to depression a thicker outer part of the brain – which may offer some protection from depression.

The report studied 103 adults aged 18-54 from a family background of depression, and took MRI scans of their brains. They found a thicker cortex – the part of the brain that processes senses, language and emotion – in the survey participants who said religion or spirituality was important to them, compared with those who didn’t. A thinner cortex is linked with higher risk of depression.

However, being spiritual does not give you a thicker cortex, the researchers reported. Nor does more frequent attendance at church.

Myrna Weissman, professor of psychiatry and epidemiology at Columbia University and chief of the Clinical-Genetic Epidemiology department at New York State Psychiatric Institute, who worked on the study, said: “Our beliefs and our moods are reflected in our brain, and with new imaging techniques we can begin to see this. A thicker cortex associated with a high importance of religion or spirituality may confer resilience to the development of depressive illness in individuals at high familial risk for major depression.”

What to make of these results? The researchers had previously found a 90% decreased risk of depression among the adult children of parents who were suffering from it. The therapeutic value of these findings is not clear, not even to the scientists, who believe that it’s the start of further research.

Weissman says the body and mind are connected – but how? Does having faith or belief in something beyond the physical here-and-now body help sustain people through difficult times? In an area that must be incredibly difficult to measure, I’ll be interested in what scientists can prove in the future.

What are your chances of feeling SAD at work this winter…?

Mental health charity MHRUK says lack of natural light puts workers at risk of depression. (pic: istockphoto.com/fotomy)

Mental health charity MHRUK says lack of natural light puts workers at risk of depression. (pic: istockphoto.com/fotomy)

About a one in three chance, according to mental health charity Mental Health Research UK (MHRUK).

With many battling the torrential wind and rain to make it to their desks on time for the new-year return to work, it’s not just the weather and post-Christmas blues that are the problem. Leaving early in the morning when it’s dark, working in an office that has little natural light – and then returning home when it’s dark – is putting workers’ mental health at risk, says MHRUK.

Its survey of 2,000 people showed that 30% leave home in the morning before sunrise and return post-sunset in the evening. If their workplace is also dark, then this can put them at risk of winter depression, or seasonal affective disorder (SAD). One in 10 work all day with insufficient light –and half the people surveyed were concerned that their workplace did not have enough natural light.

MHRUK says it is estimated that a million working hours are lost each hour due to SAD. “The common unhealthy work culture where lunch breaks are frowned upon is a likely contributor to the increasing numbers of SAD sufferers,” says Dr Laura Davidson, mental health barrister and trustee of MHRUK.

The charity is calling on employers to bring more light into the workplace – offering decent lighting in darker areas if natural light is impossible. It is also attempting to counteract the gloom with its Blooming Monday campaign, encouraging workers to ditch the greys and embrace vibrant colours from their wardrobes. Monday 20 January is deemed the gloomiest day of the year – hence giving an excuse to defy the dark and wear more colourful, cheerful clothes to lift the mood.

SAD can affect your energy, appetite and mood. As well as putting yourself in light-filled environments as much as possible, the NHS advises that SAD can be treated with therapy and anti-depressants, where appropriate.

Mental health is key determinant of happiness, says global report

World Happiness Report 2013Mental illness has more effect on misery levels across the globe than physical illness, income or unemployment. That’s according to the World Happiness Report 2013 from the UN’s General Assembly, which concludes that there is a relationship between the scale of mental illness and the levels of national happiness.

About 10% of the world’s population suffers from depression or anxiety, and these disorders account for a fifth of all disability – putting pressure on productivity and the economy. However, the report adds that governments are not prioritising mental health, or putting their money where their misery is, as only a third of people who need treatment are receiving it. And it calls on schools and workplaces to be more mental-health conscious.

It says: “Good, cost-effective treatments exist for depression, anxiety disorders and psychosis, and the happiness of the world would be greatly increased if they were more widely available.”

Interestingly, the report details factors from childhood that impact on life satisfaction as an adult. Number one is the child’s emotional development, followed by behaviour and intellectual development. The most important family influence is the mother’s emotional health.

The happiest country in the report is Denmark, followed by Norway, Switzerland, Holland and Sweden. The US comes in at 17th, and the UK is 22nd in the list. Factors the UN takes into consideration when assessing happiness are: “real GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on, perceived freedom to make life choices, freedom from corruption, and generosity”.

The report concludes that subjective wellbeing has a huge influence on communities and the economy. “People who are emotionally happier, who have more satisfying lives, and who live in happier communities, are more likely both now and later to be healthy, productive, and socially connected. These benefits in turn flow more broadly to their families, workplaces, and communities, to the advantage of all.”

Volunteering boosts mental health and helps you live longer

Doing good for others is also doing good for yourself. (istockphoto.com/chrisbrignell)

Volunteering has more of a feelgood factor than initially believed: people who volunteer report lower levels of depression and higher levels of life satisfaction. They’re even more likely to live longer, too. That was a key finding in a study carried out at the University of Exeter.

The review found a “20% reduction in mortality rates” among those who volunteer compared with those who don’t. Anecdotally, volunteers have said they feel benefits to their self-esteem and wellbeing by offering a helping hand. The study backs this up with scientific evidence. However, it also warns that too much volunteering can have the opposite effect, and people can begin to feel burdened.

Dr Suzanne Richards, who led the study, said: “Our systematic review shows that volunteering is associated with improvements in mental health, but more work is needed to establish whether volunteering is actually the cause. It is still unclear whether biological and cultural factors and social resources that are often associated with better health and survival are also associated with a willingness to volunteer in the first place.”

Volunteering rates are 22.5% in Europe, 27% in the US and 36% in Australia.

Can gardening boost your mood?

anima gardening

Keen gardeners who enjoy spending time with their rakes, plants and mowers feel they are happier, have more purpose and are less depressed than people who are not at all green-fingered.

A survey for Gardeners’ World magazine found that 90% of gardeners say that gardening boosts their mood. Eight out of 10 people who love gardening say they are satisfied with their lives, compared with two-thirds (67%) of people who classify themselves as non-gardeners.

Gardeners’ World editor Lucy Hall said: “Our research means we can definitely say gardening makes you happy. Part of it comes from nurturing something, but it also brings a natural optimism that no matter how bad the weather, there’s always next year.”

It’s not just gardening that lifts the spirits. Anything that takes people into the outdoors seems to boost the mood. The survey of 1,500 people also found that 78% of walkers and 75% of people who go fishing are also satisfied with their lives.

You can ‘catch’ depression from friends, says study

anima action on depression

Action on Depression has launched a campaign to challenge stereotypes about depression. www.actionondepression.org

Vulnerability to depression can be catching, especially at times of life transition, according to a scientific study.

People who think in a certain type of way – who respond negatively to stressful life events, and believe things won’t change and their own deficiencies are somehow to blame – are described as having ‘cognitive vulnerability’ by the researchers at Notre Dame University in Indiana. Cognitive vulnerability is a risk factor for depression, they say, even if people haven’t suffered from depression in the past.

Cognitive vulnerability can be ‘catching’ at times of big change, like going to college for the first time. The researchers’ study of 103 pairs of students sharing rooms on campus found that levels of cognitive vulnerability were contagious. Students would pick up on the other person’s levels of cognitive vulnerability. Those with higher levels after three months would show more depressive symptoms at six months.

Study author Dr Gerard Haeffel says this could have implications for predicting who might become depressed in future. He adds: “Surrounding a person with other who exhibit and adaptive cognitive style should help to facilitate cognitive change in therapy.”

This news comes during Depression Awareness Week 2013. Depression Alliance is launching Friends in Need to help end the loneliness that accompanies depression. And Action on Depression in Scotland has launched a new campaign ‘Never judge a book…’ to tackle stereotypes about depression.

To speak to a counsellor one-to-one about depression, email info@animacounselling.co.uk or call 07956 823501.

Later-life crisis creates ‘silver sufferers’, says research

A later life crisis can be transformative in a positive or negative way. (pic: istockphoto.com/belory4ka)

A later life crisis can be transformative in a positive or negative way. (pic: istockphoto.com/belory4ka)

Move over, mid-life crisis. It’s the later-life crisis that’s becoming more of a concern for the helping profession. A third of people say they’ve had a life crisis in their 60s, in research by University of Greenwich psychologist Dr Oliver Robinson. How they respond to the crisis can determine the quality of the rest of their lives.

Men and women experience life crisis equally, with 32% of male respondents and 33% of female saying they’d had a life crisis since the age of 60. Reasons for the crisis – which is defined as two or more stressful events – include bereavement, illness or injury – as well has caring for a loved one who is ill or disabled.

A life crisis can trigger an existential anxiety about frailty and death. People can either respond by living life to the full and enjoying every moment, or they can become withdrawn and increasingly isolated.

Dr Robinson says: “It seems that when loss-inducing events occur together or in close proximity in time, a person’s capacity to cope in their 60s is overwhelmed and a later life crisis is precipitated. This range of reactions suggests that later life crisis is always transformative, but this transformation can lead towards either growth or decline.”

Google searches suggest mental illness is seasonal

There are fewer Google searches on mental illness when summer is in full bloom.

There are fewer Google searches on mental illness when summer is in full bloom.

When the sun’s out and your mood lifts after a seemingly interminable winter, you’re not imagining it if you think you feel better and brighter. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) may be more prevalent than previously believed.

Searches on Google suggest that mental illness may have strong links with seasonal patterns, according to research by the Graduate School of Public Health at San Diego State University. Previous studies on mental illness patterns have been done by phone, but may not have been accurate because people can be reluctant to reveal the state of their mental health. But the researchers were able to monitor passively the queries people typed in to Google’s search engine.

The research team monitored mental health queries in the US and Australia between 2006 and 2010. The findings were grouped according to type of mental illness. They found that mental health queries were “consistently higher in winter than in summer”. Examples of this include:

  • Summer searches for eating disorders are down 37% in the US and 42% in Australia compared with winter.
  • Searches for suicide are 24% lower in the US and 29% lower in Australia in the summer.
  • Bipolar Disorder searches are down 16% and 17% in the US and Australia respectively during summer months.

“We didn’t expect to find similar winter peaks and summer troughs for queries involving every specific mental illness or problem we studied. However, the results consistently showed seasonal effects across all conditions,” says James Niels Rosenquist, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital.

The researchers plan to look at other mental illness trends – even down to patterns in mental illness queries on different days of the week.