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.

Employees turn to drink and drugs to cope with work stress

anima drinking for stress

A Mind survey reveals that 57% of UK workers drink to alleviate stress.

UK employees are so overwhelmed by stress at work that they’re turn to drink and drugs to help them cope. More than half (57%) drink after work, and one in seven drinks in the day to deal with workplace pressure, according to a survey of 2,000 workers by mental health charity Mind. More than a quarter (28%) smoke to alleviate their stress, 15% take antidepressants, and 10% take sleeping pills from their doctor.

Work is the biggest cause of stress , and yet there’s a culture of silence and secrecy surrounding anyone who’s stressed at work. One in five people has taken a day off sick for stress, but 90% make up a different excuse for being off. One in 10 has resigned because of stress – and yet one in five doesn’t feel able to talk to their boss about feeling overwhelmed. Managers are stuck, too: more than half who took part in the Mind survey said they’d love to do more to improve employee wellbeing, but 46% said preventing and handling stressed-out employees just wasn’t the company’s priority.

If you’re one of the one in six employees suffering from depression, anxiety or stress, don’t suffer in silence. Reach out for some help. Work-related stress is one of the areas Davanti Counselling specialises in. Call 07956 823501 or email davanticounselling@gmail.com for a confidential chat and to make an appointment.

“Use it or lose it”: be curious and active to keep dementia at bay, say scientists

anima dementia active lifestyle

Neuroscientists recommend a socially and physically active lifestyle to delay the onset of dementia. (pic: istockphoto.com/jupiter55)

Be socially active, be curious about life and other people, and keep your body fit if you want to delay the onset of dementia. That’s the advice from neuro-scientists who’ve studied what keeps the mind and memory functioning and alive.

A study shows that exposure to new activities, and seeking out rich and stimulating environments, can delay the formation of a particular protein in the brain that stops the cells communicating with each other, and can erode the person’s ability to learn, remember and pay attention. Scientists from the Center for Neurologic Diseases in the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Department of Neurology say that “prolonged exposure to a richer, more novel environment, even in middle age” can protect the hippocampus, the part of the brain susceptible to the effects of that protein – thus helping to preserve short- and long-term memory.

This piece of research says social and stimulating activity is more effective than aerobic exercise. However, a separate study from King’s College London says there is link between lifelong exercise and cognitive wellbeing.

The researchers interviewed 9,000 people over the years as they grew from age 11 to age 50. The study found that people who exercised every week performed better when tested on memory, learning, attention and reasoning at the age of 50 than people who exercised a couple of times a month or less. Fit men lost a third less of their brainpower, while fit women lost 25% less of their brainpower.

Report author Dr Alex Dregan says that while 150 minutes’ exercise per week is recommended, some activity rather than no exercise at all could benefit cognitive wellbeing, adding: “It’s widely acknowledged that a healthy body equals a healthy mind.”

While individuals can do their bit to stay healthy, experts are calling for more funding for research into causes and cures for dementia. The statistics about dementia are stark. One in three people over the age of 65 is likely to get Alzheimer’s, which is now the 10th leading cause of death in the UK, according to the Alzheimer’s Society.

Be mindful to stress less and sleep better

Mindfulness can benefit you day and night. (pic: istockphoto.com/2Mmedia)

Mindfulness can benefit you day and night. (pic: istockphoto.com/2Mmedia)

Mindfulness can have benefits during the night as well as the day, bringing peace of mind and more restful sleep, according to new research from the University of Utah.

People who describe themselves as mindful were proven to have more control over their mood and behaviour in daylight hours. And because their minds were quieter and their emotions more stable during the day, this translated into better sleep at night-time and an increased ability to manage stress.

People who took part in the research were prompted at various points of their everyday lives to “rate their emotional state and mental functioning”. The results suggest that “mindfulness may be linked to self-regulation throughout the day, and that this many be an important way that mindfulness contributes to better emotional and physical wellbeing”.

You don’t need to be trained in mindfulness meditation to reap the benefits of being mindful. Just check in with yourself at various points of the day to give you a chance to become conscious of how you’re feeling, and turn the volume up or down on your emotions.

Stop pursuing happiness if you want to be happy, say psychologists

Call off the pursuit of happiness if you want to be happy, say psychologists

Call off the pursuit of happiness if you want to be happy, say psychologists (pic: istockphoto.com/michaklootwijk)

It sounds a cruel irony, but if you put too much pressure on yourself to be happy it can have totally the opposite effect, according to psychologists. Focusing on your own fulfilment rather than your connections with others can leave you feeling lonely, they say.

Researchers from the University of Denver and the University of California, Berkeley, asked people to fill out an online questionnaire to gauge how far they valued happiness. They then filled out journals at the end of the day, reporting on stressful events during the day and how stressed and lonely they felt about them. The results showed that the higher someone values happiness, the lonelier they feel during a stressful event – regardless of their age, gender or background.

A second part of the experiment tested whether prioritising happiness is the cause of loneliness, asking people to watch a film clip after reading an article about the importance of happiness. Again, those who had higher expectations of happiness ended up feeling disappointed. The research authors say: “A desire for happiness can lead to reduced happiness and wellbeing. It may be that to reap the benefits of happiness people should want it less.”

This study backs up recent research from Germany suggesting that pessimists have a longer, happier life than optimists.

But rather than pessimism or optimism, perhaps it’s realism – and being grateful for what we have rather than continually wanting something more – that leads to real happiness? I’m reminded of the quote from Epictetu: “A wise man is he who does not grieve for the thing which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.”

Why do women suffer more job stress than men?

Mimosa is the symbol for International Women’s Day.

International Women’s Day on 8 March is an opportunity to celebrate and support women across the globe. But it’s also an annual opportunity for survey-makers to analyse the experience of women in the workplace.

This year, research shows that women feel they’re more stressed than their male colleagues. The 2013 Work and Wellbeing Survey by the American Psychological Association (APA) has found that while 86% of women say they have good mental health, more than a third (37%) say they feel tense or stressed out at work. This compares with 33% of men. Here are some of the factors making women feel stressed:

  • Women don’t feel there’s a level playing field at work. The APA survey found that 48% of women felt valued in their jobs, compared with 54% of men. And just 34% believe their employer gives them the resources to manage their stress.
  • Women have less job security than men. A report by PwC says that childcare costs and many women only able to work nine-to-five has harmed their career prospects. Its Women in Work Index  shows that the UK is ranked 18th out of 27 countries in terms of the opportunities it offers for women to advance in the workplace.
  • The pay gap isn’t cheering women up either. ‘Why is WonderWoman worth less than Superman?” asks the Chartered Management Institute, as it reflects on factors holding women back in the workplace.
  • There’s not enough ‘meaning’ in their jobs. Women aren’t always interested in power and money, says an Ernst & Young report. It’s ‘making a contribution’ that matters more. And the report advises women to seek our role models and mentors to help realise their ambitions.
  • Having no set goals can also make women feel stressed and lacking direction. That’s why the everywomanNetwork is encouraging women to invest an hour a week in their career ambitions.  Owning your dreams, and devising a plan to implement them, can make you feel more in control of your life.
  • Not having enough sleep can make the stresses of the day loom larger. You can feel irritated and overly sensitive if you’re sleep-deprived. Don’t be superwoman and think you can survive on four hours’ sleep a night like Margaret Thatcher. Get your eight hours in, where possible.
  • The inner critic can be a woman’s own worst enemy. Arianna Huffington, founder of Huff Post, is urging women to ‘stress less, live more‘. In an interview with CNN, she says women’s pressures are self-imposed, and they feel victims of the “critical voice that constantly judges us, according to which we are never good enough”.

In summary, more self-confidence, more sleep, more control over ambitions, and more encouragement seems to be the answer to alleviating women’s job stress. Not all achievable in one day, admittedly. But the most important thing is to turn down the volume on that critical voice in the head.

Why reading a good book can be therapeutic (and not just on World Book Day)

worldbookdayyaToday is World Book Day: a global reason to celebrate all that’s good about books and reading. The point of World Book Day is to get kids “exploring the pleasure of books”, but for adults it’s also an excuse to indulge in the curiosity and escapism a good book can provide. (As if you need an excuse!)

But reading isn’t just about entertainment or killing time on a commute. Studies have shown that bibliotherapy (a form of psychotherapy using reading materials) can help to reduce people’s negative thoughts and mild depressive symptoms.

Here are 10 ways reading can have a therapeutic effect:

  1. Reading helps you make sense of your world and your place in it. There’s a book somewhere that will have a story or situation that is similar to yours, and that you can identify with.
  2. Metaphors can make issues easier to come to terms with – especially if the problems are hard to talk about.
  3. Losing yourself in a good book is a great stress-reliever. It’s about creating some me-time, switching off from life’s stressors, and escaping to another world.
  4. Books stimulate the imagination and creativity. They may even tempt you to write your own feelings in a journal to help you process and understand what’s going on for you.
  5. You can rekindle your passion for stories and feel more alive and connected.
  6. You can feel uplifted and know you’re not alone by reading other people’s situations and understanding how they process and express their emotions.
  7. A word, a phrase, a gesture in a book may hold the essence of something deeply felt within that’s never been expressed before.
  8. Stories can hold deeper meanings for your life and touch you in a way that real-life situations can’t.
  9. Libraries are a ‘healing place for the soul’, according to the Ancient Greeks. The very act of reading can be healing – especially when you create the time and space.
  10. It can be exciting to go into a bookshop or library without knowing what you’re looking for, and trusting that the right book will leap out at you with the right message at the right time.

So, trust the process and go and grab a good book. You’ll feel all the better for it.