Pick puzzles over vitamins to preserve your memory

anima crosswordExercises like sudoku and crossword puzzles are more effective than herbal supplements and vitamins to keep your memory in good shape, say experts.

St Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, Canada, sifted through published research to analyse the most effective ways to keep the brain active and prevent cognitive decline in healthy older adults. They found no strong evidence to show that prescribed medication or vitamins such as B6 or omega-3 fatty acids could improve memory, thought or judgement. Instead, they found that mental exercises such as crossword puzzles, and even computerised brain-training programmes, could have more effect in preventing cognitive decline.

With the number of people in the UK with Alzheimer’s expected to soar to more than a million by 2021, we can expect to see more of this type of survey advising on the best way to keep your memory in tip-top shape. Other research out recently suggests that listening to sounds while you sleep can help your memory. While smelling rosemary oil can help you recall events from your past and remember to do things in future.

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 People can either respond by living life to the full and enjoying every moment, or they can become withdrawn and increasingly isolated.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.

How to make stress your cheerleader

Think of stress differently: perhaps it's there to cheer your performance.

Think of stress differently: perhaps it’s there to cheer your performance.

Stress doesn’t always have to be bad. The sweaty palms, dry mouth and butterflies in your stomach can be turned to your advantage – if you just think about stress differently.

Stress symptoms before speaking in public, for example, can be just the same as an extreme ‘fight or flight’ reaction. It can feel like something bad is about to happen. “But those feelings just mean that our body is preparing to address a demanding situation,” says Jeremy Jamieson, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Rochester. “The body is marshalling resources, pumping more blood to our major muscle groups, and delivering more oxygen to our brains.”

Jeremy researched the impact of stress by putting two groups of people – some of whom were prone to social anxiety disorder – in a stressful public-speaking situation. One group was told about the positive aspects of stress, and was asked to interpret any stress symptoms as beneficial. A second group was given no preparation about stress. Unsurprisingly, members of the first group felt they had more resources to cope with the task, even those with social anxiety disorder, and their physiological responses were less extreme than the second group.

Jeremy says: “Our experience of acute or short-term stress is shaped by how we interpret physical cues. We construct our own emotions.”

  • Think of stress as giving you that extra edge to your performance. The adrenalin is there to help, not hinder you.
  • Reframing the way you think about stress can help make it your master, not your servant.
  • If you feel butterflies coming on, breathe in the adrenalin from your belly through your nose. Breathe it back out through the muscles of your body, visualising that it’s touching the furthest reaches of your finger and toes. 
  • That way, stress can become your cheerleader, not your enemy.

Stories with mother help children make sense of their world

Hearing stories with mother helps children develop their own narratives about their lives. (pic: istockphoto.com/GeloKorol)

Hearing stories with mother helps children develop their own narratives about their lives. (pic: istockphoto.com/GeloKorol)

Mums are better than dads at telling stories to their children about past experiences, which helps kids develop their emotional skills.

This was the main finding from a piece of research called Gender Differences in Elaborate Parent-Child Emotion and Play Narratives. The researchers asked parents of children aged between four and five to reminisce about four past emotional experiences: one happy, one sad, a conflict with a peer and a conflict with a parent.

They found that mothers went into more detail when reminiscing with their children than fathers. They also included more emotional terms, which they then talked about with their kids. This helps children understand, develop and articulate their own feelings and point of view on these past experiences.

The researchers concluded: “Mothers appear to be helping children recount and understand their personal past more than fathers, and specifically, in working through difficult emotions that may facilitate emotion regulation skills.” The storytelling helps the children incorporate their own narratives into their lives.

For many adults who didn’t have such nurturing parents, coming to therapy to talk about their past, present and future can help them construct their own narrative and come to terms with what has happened to them. If you’d like to talk to a counsellor to help you make sense of your life, call 07956 823501 or email davanticounselling@gmail.com

Pressure to be ‘perfect’ gives children body-image issues

anima children body imageAnxiety about body shape is starting among children as young as four – and increasingly boys as well as girls have low confidence in their body image.

Four-fifths (78%) of teachers, lectures, support staff and leaders who responded to a survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) say that girls suffer from low self-esteem because of societal pressure to be ‘perfect’, and half (51%) believe boys have low confidence about their bodies. Anxiety levels are also growing: 59% of staff say that female pupils feel anxious about their bodies, and 30% say the pressures affect boys too. And comments about their bodies can be sensitive and easily taken to heart by 55% of girls and 27% of boys.

Girls are more likely to go on diets, and boys are more likely to turn to extreme exercise to get the body they think they want. Girls as young as four are conscious of what they’re eating, and girls aged 10 have been known to go on diets. Teachers have also noted obsession with hair  among boys and girls.

Teachers believe airbrushed and unattainable images in the media are mainly to blame. Two-thirds think there is more pressure on children’s body image than 10 years ago – and 84% think  girls are under pressure to maintain a particular body image, compared with 66% for boys. The issue is that the children then make themselves miserable once they have fixated on a particular body and realise they probably won’t be able to achieve it.

ATL is calling for more education and awareness in schools about healthy eating and exercise, as well as the practices of airbrushing so that children understand what is real and what is fake. ATL general secretary Mary Bousted says: “Young people want to fit in and it’s a hard part of growing up, but the pressure to have the “perfect” body should not be at the detriment to children’s wellbeing and happiness.”

Arguing parents make babies’ brains more sensitive to stress

Babies are affected by parents' arguments even when asleep. (pic: istockphoto.com/OSTILL)

Babies are affected by parents’ arguments even when asleep. (pic: istockphoto.com/OSTILL)

Growing up in a volatile household where the parents argue can affect the way a baby’s brain processes emotional tone of voice. Young children can respond to an angry voice even if the arguments happen when they are asleep.

That’s the key finding of a study from the University of Oregon, which did MRI tests on 20 babies aged six to 12 months. While asleep, the children heard sentences spoken in very angry, mildly angry, happy and neutral tones of voice by a man.

The research found that infants’ brains still respond to the emotional tone of voice they hear. “Infants from high-conflict homes showed greater reactivity to very angry tone of voice in brain areas linked to stress and emotion regulation,” say the researchers. They conclude: “Babies are not oblivious to parental conflicts, and exposure to them may influence the way babies’ brains process emotion and stress.”

This could provide an explanation for adults who are more prone to suffering stress, and it may make parents think twice before arguing in front of their kids.

Creating happy memories can boost depressed people’s mood

anima phonebox

Scientists say that associating a positive memory with an everyday object, like a phonebox, can be mood boosting.

When you’re in the grip of depression, it can be difficult to recall anything positive from the past or feel any optimism for the future. But scientists have tested a method of creating positive memories which have some evidence of boosting the mood of people who feel depressed.

The positive memory strategy is called Method-of-Loci (a way of linking something you need to remember with a location you know well)  and it was tested by researchers the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge (UK). The report of their findings was published in the Clinical Psychological Findings journal.

In tests, they asked people with depression to come up with 15 positive memories and then to associate those memories with a positive feeling or everyday object, such as a phone box or the front of their house. The outcome was that this technique of association was more effective in recalling happier memories, which could help alleviate depressive symptoms.

The scientists conclude: “Depression impairs the ability to retrieve positive, self-affirming autobiographical memories. Our study shows that richly elaborated or self-affirming memories in those with a history of depression can have a self-reported beneficial effect on mood.”

Praise kids for what they do – not who they are – to build self-esteem

'Person praise' can make a child feel shame when she does something wrong. (pic: istockphoto.com/Discovod

‘Person praise’ can make a child feel shame when she does something wrong. (pic: istockphoto.com/Discovod

You might think that praising a child with low self-esteem for his or her personal qualities might build their confidence and self-worth. But a study shows that giving this type of praise can backfire, and children can feel shame when they don’t succeed at something.

It’s better to praise the behaviour rather than the person. That’s the conclusion drawn by researchers at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Instead of saying ‘you’re great’, tell a child ‘you did a good job’. Being specific about what exactly they did well also helps to build self-esteem. And when they do fail at something, it feels like a temporary setback rather than an utter failure for which they are to blame. The study distinguishes between ‘person praise’ and ‘process praise’. Person praise puts the focus on the self, and therefore the child will blame himself if something goes wrong.

“Adults may feel that praising children for their inherent qualities helps combat low self-esteem, but it might convey to children that they are valued as a person only when they succeed,” says Eddie Brummelman, lead researcher at Utrecht University. “When children subsequently fail, they may infer they are unworthy.”

Shame is an incredibly difficult emotion to come to terms with as an adult coming to therapy. This study gives an interesting insight into the seeds of some of that shame in adulthood. And may spur parents to give a different sort of praise in future.

Study proves self-help books can help manage severe depression

anima self-help books

Reach for a self-help book as the first port of call in managing depression (pic: istockphoto.com/IvanBastien)

It can be hard to see the light when the cloud of depression darkens your days. But there’s evidence to show that reaching out for self-books and websites can help people who are severely depressed.

Researchers from The University of Manchester studied 2,470 patients with low and high levels of depression. They concluded that ‘low intensity’ interventions such as self-help books and interactive websites were as helpful to people with severe depression as they were to people with milder symptoms. They recommend using self-help books as an initial treatment option.

“Patients with more severe depression can be offered low intensity treatments as part of a stepped care model,” says Professor Peter Bower, who led the research at The University of Manchester.

Have you found any self-help books particularly helpful in managing your depression?