Relax And Be Cheerful This Holiday

The approaching holiday season invariably fills us with feelings of warmth and joyful anticipation. We can spend more time with family and friends, go on a vacation, take time away from work, relax and get refreshed. That said, unless we welcome the holidays with the right mindset, they can turn into sources of stress and anxiety.

The words “holiday stress” have in fact become part of popular jargon these days and for good reasons. We work all year long and when the holidays are approaching, it is only natural that we will try to make the best of them. However, the problem seems to lie in the fact that often in our eagerness to get the most out of the holidays or the festive season, we sometime end up overdoing things a little and this may often lead to stress, frustrations, disappointments, etc.

Don’t run after a “perfect holiday.” Quit trying to make the perfect holiday. This should be your basic guideline for cutting off the stress factor from your holidays. No matter what we are doing during the holiday season, visiting or preparing special dinners with family members and the friends, we always set certain expectations. And that is only natural. However, as it is with everything in life, things often don’t turn out exactly as we had planned. No matter how diligently you’ve planned your activities some slight disasters may still ensue. Kids may break out in tears when you were least expecting it, or you may get into arguments with your spouse. It is all how you look at it. Don’t see these things as spoiling your vacation. Take them in stride and do your best to make light of them and everyone will be happier for that.

Do not pander to other’s expectations. We often put unnecessary stress on ourselves by putting undue emphasis on other’s opinions and expectations. Giving and receiving gifts, for example, often acts as a common source of anxiety and stress during the holiday season. Have we chosen the proper gifts for such and such a person? Will he/she be happy with the gifts? Don’t fret too much over these things. Gifts do not make the holidays. It is the mutual sense of joy and camaraderie that does. As long as you’ve chosen your gifts with care and thought that must suffice since that is the best you can do after all.

Sometimes, even your kids may feel not happy with their gifts and that may feel bad for you. Nevertheless, don’t let that spoil your mood. Instead, try to reason with them. Kids are kids after all, and we cannot expect them to be all rational all the time, right?

How much money do you have to spend? Closely associated with the problem of gifts is the question of money, especially if money is a bit tight during holiday season. It is common to let the lack of money get in your way of enjoying the holidays to the fullest.

However, it needn’t be so. Come up with some creative ideas. For adults, a White Elephant gift exchange is a good idea. You may also consider some non-material gifts such as framed family pictures or notes or drawings from your kids are good options. Work within your means and those who really care for you will appreciate receiving such thoughtful gifts.

The same goes for decorations and other holiday preparations. Again, do not strive for perfection. The Christmas tree does not have to be the most spectacular in your neighborhood. Instead, try as much as possible to engage family and friends in the process. So, for instance, assign certain responsibilities for decorations to the kids alone. And you can be certain that the kids will be happy and proud of their handiwork and so will you and your guests.

Look back on your year and feel grateful. Finally, take some time to reflect on the past year and dwell on the good things that it has brought you. Of course, there will be a few things that didn’t turn out quite according to expectations. That is only natural (and expected, right?). So, don’t dwell on the negative but reflect on the good things and feel sincerely grateful that they have happened to you. We now know that feeling truly grateful gives us a natural high as these feelings release in our brains compounds such as serotonin and dopamine — responsible for immediately lifting our mood and making us feel happy and serene from inside.

On a final note, the most important thing is to be able to relax and feel joyful. If you can achieve that, the holidays will turn out to be a ‘perfect’ one for you.

A Fox News Radio contributor, Richardson has spent her educational and professional career learning human behavior. She holds a Master of Science in Counseling from the University of North Texas and is working to integrate cognitive behavioral therapy into the treatment programs for many clients. In April 2009, Richardson opened The Brain Performance Center.

 

 

WHAT DO THE HOLIDAYS HAVE TO DO WITH THE LONELINESS EPIDEMIC?

It is thought that the holidays are spent with loved ones and friends. From gift-giving to sharing fine meals, the holidays are synonymous with festive and happy gatherings across the world. However, not everyone looks forward to the holidays. Especially folks that are alone or isolated from their families and friends. This is a season that is supposed to be about happiness and the human spirit. However, for many loneliness gets worse during the holidays. Feelings of isolation deepen when it seems everyone else is surrounded by family and friends. Dealing with loneliness around this time can lead to depression, obesity, and more. It does seem like the loneliness epidemic does get worse during the holidays, but there may be some good news when it comes to treating loneliness.

The Loneliness Epidemic

Whether due to family issues, work-related problems, or society in general, loneliness is rapidly becoming an epidemic across the nation and globe. In fact, a recent study by the Angus Reid Institute found that nearly half of Canadians find themselves alone around the holiday season. Similarly, the number of Americans who feel alone and isolated has tripled since 1985. Industry experts have stated that while praying to God is an ideal solution, it does not negate the growing existence of loneliness for people from all walks of life. With persistent loneliness on the rise, alcoholism and binge-eating seem to be on the rise as well.

>READ: WHAT FACTORS DRIVE WOMEN TO BINGE EATING AT NIGHT?

This is because lonely people tend to feed their emotional problems with food or alcohol. This provides temporary happiness and a break from the norm — loneliness. The rise of social media has also contributed to this mess. We as humans have become digitized and de-sensitized in many ways, which has led to increased feelings of isolation and hopelessness.

Is There a Cure?

The loneliness epidemic is all too real. Whether the blame falls on social media, western politics or the rise of populism/individualism, more people are alone today than ever before. Several case studies and surveys cement the signs and symptoms of isolation. As mentioned earlier, overeating and alcohol abuse is a way for some folks to substitute feeling good for feelings of being alone, neglected or unwanted. However, did you know that researchers are working on a pill to combat loneliness?

What Does the Study Show?

The University of Chicago’s Brain Dynamics Library conducted the study over an eight-week period with placebo or pregnenolone. The latter is a hormone naturally produced by the body’s adrenal gland. The research team monitored participants who consumed both placebo and pregnenolone. Two hours after swallowing the tablets, participants looked at photos of emotional faces and neutral images.

>READ: FEELING LONELY? YOU’RE NOT THE ONLY ONE

Study volunteers conducted tests measuring the scale of loneliness. They found that many respondents had no one they could speak to in times of crisis. Many of their relationships felt superficial, forced and unreal. These respondents also stated they feel alone, isolated, and can no longer hold meaningful relationships with loved ones or friends. Similar studies in animals showed that pregnenolone can reduce threat responses and reactions to feelings of isolation. The latter is one of the main reasons for increased anxiety and panic attacks in humans. It also comes down to fear of the future, death or the unknown.

What Does This Mean for Loneliness and the Holidays?

While the drug cannot formally cure loneliness, developers believe it will reduce feelings of loneliness in human brains. The lead researcher on the project, Stephanie Cacioppo, a reputable neuroscientist, and her team have found that loneliness is not so much about self-preservation or ego. It is simply a desire to connect with others. The idea of the drug is to help people see and accept things as they are — rather than being skeptical of everyone and everything.The drug is still in the study and testing phase so we will have to see how it turns out in the near or distant future.

This holiday season if you are alone there are some things you can try.

Check out our guide for making friends in the digital age.
Consider volunteering. This will allow you to meet new people and increase good feelings since you will be helping others.
If you are dealing with feelings of self-harm this season or if you are self-medicating please reach out to a help group or counselor today.
Take care of yourself and be willing to ask for help if you feel you need it.

Child Brain Evolution – Studying Brain Development Stages

Brain evolution in a child displays a marvelous period of brain development since birth to five – creating more than a million neural links every second.

The evolution of the child’s brain includes many factors that also include external factors such as the child’s relations, experiences and conditions. Recent research in child brain evaluations depicts the human brain areas that grow the most during childhood and adolescence are the same parts that developed the most during evolving as humans veered from other hominids. The brain evolution studies help to monitor the brain development process from the newborn stage to the brain-building process in following years.

The Evolution Phases

The evolution of the brain accelerates from the birth of the child. The brain transformation in the earliest year is rapid, and the visible signs are evident to the naked eyes. The evolution showcases results as a helpless infant quickly transform into a walking, talking child and develop skills such as reading, interactions and ability to think logically.

At birth, the size of the human brain is less than a quarter of the size of an adult human brain. However, 90 percent of all of the brain development and evolution takes place in the first five years of human life. As a child, a human brain evolves rapidly, and the size of the brain itself doubles in size in the first year after the birth of the child. The human mind keeps developing, and by the age of 3, the brain reaches 80 percent of the adult brain size and goes up to 90 percent, i.e., almost full grown by the age of five.

Prenatal Development of Brain From Prenatal Stage to Birth
Prebirth for the brain developments, a process of brain evolution starts, but it is at an initial development phase, and the birth of the infant sees a brain with a complicated arrangement of more than 100 billion neurons. While the structure of the brain nerve cells starts with the prenatal stages; however, these nerve cells are in links during the prenatal period, and the rapid evolution begins after birth.

From birth to the time the child turns three, the brain undergoes a complete connection of neurons, and functional architecture of the brain formation occurs. These stages the child takes into account all the sensory experiences such as sounds, smell and voices, and that brings the brain nerve cells in connection. From birth to the age of three, the brain forms more than 1,000 trillion synapses in reply to environmental inducements like visions, noises and tastes. Due to these neural links a rigid system of neural connections shapes up in the formation of brain functions.

When the child turns three, the brain continues to build neural connections and begin to interact and respond to the new learning experience. This evolution phase is the time when the child reaches a brain development stage that enables them to talk correctly, display different emotional reactions and develop motor coordination of the body parts. Starting from age three and up to age 11, the brain neural system is at its most responsive levels and this decade of life is the time where the child has the brain ability to learn many new skills that become difficult at an adult age.

When a child turns 11 years of age, the brain starts to dock away from the excess neural networks where the most related neural pathways continue and become an active component of the grown-up brain structure, but little-used neural networks fade.

From ages 11 to 13, the brain starts to evolve into the ability of performing logical thoughts, improved memory and more complex problem solving. At this age, children are able to look at things in different ways and realize that there is more to some situations than just what is on the surface level.

The evolution of the human brain since childhood is a fantastic study that sees the initial stage of neural cells formation and leading to strong neural networks of complete brain development.

Originally posted on Katy Trail Weekly. Read the original article here.

Believe it or not – It IS possible to understand the teenage brain!!

Adolescence is the period between childhood and adulthood. This stage of life is marked by increased cognitive abilities, social sensitivity, and increasing independence. These changes make this time particularly perplexing to some adults, as they struggle to make sense of stereotypical adolescent behaviors such as risk taking, increased allegiance to peers and other behaviors that are sometimes described as ‘knuckle-headed’.

Twenty years ago, adolescent behavior was discussed as being influenced by “raging hormones.” In today’s world, we discuss adolescent behavior in terms of the “teenage brain “.  But what makes the teenage brain different from the child or adult brain? And do these differences have implications for education, learning and social interaction?

Here’s some latest research in adolescent brain development and how the current evidence might inform education during the teenage years. Using neuroscience, we’ve gained some interesting information about the physical changes that take place in the brain during adolescence.

The most important consideration to keep in mind regarding the brain during adolescence is that the brain continues to change. There is evidence for this from multiple lines of research, including cellular work on post-mortem human brain tissue, as well as longitudinal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies of brain structure and function.

With MRI, we have the ability to see how the living human brain changes from birth to old age by taking different kinds of pictures. One kind of picture we can take is of the structure–or anatomy–of the human brain, and we can use this picture to look specifically at two components of the brain’s structure: one component is grey matter, which is largely made up of brain cell bodies and their connections. And the other is white matter, which is primarily the long connecting fibers that carry signals between brain regions.

There have been a few studies now where hundreds of participants had their brains scanned multiple times across development, and we know from these studies that the amount of grey matter is greatest during childhood, but decreases during adolescence before roughly stabilizing in the mid- to late- twenties.  We also know that the amount of white matter increases almost linearly across adolescence. These are two major changes happening in the structure of our brain during adolescence.

We have also learned that these changes don’t all happen at once.  Structural changes are not occurring at the same time across the whole brain. Actually, areas of the brain that are involved in basic sensory processing or movement develop earlier than areas of the brain involved in more complex processes such as inhibiting inappropriate behavior, planning for the future, and understanding other people. These and other complex processes rely on areas in the prefrontal, temporal and parietal cortices, which are continuing to change in structure across the second decade of life.

So, how do these changes happen?

We still do not know the specific cellular mechanisms that underlie developmental changes in measures of grey or white matter, but it is often thought that these decreases in grey matter reflect, at least in part, changes in connectivity between brain cells. These changes include decreases in dendritic spine density (which is basically a proxy for how interconnected cell bodies are in the grey matter) and other cellular processes involved in synaptic pruning (which is the way that connections in the brain are broken). Histological work, which involves studying the cells using microscopes, has given us a better understanding of the cellular changes occurring in the human brain across the lifespan.

Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily. The continued reduction in synapses seen in the prefrontal cortex means that the brain is still undergoing changes in organization during adolescence. As humans, we have an excess amount of brain connections when we are children, and almost half of these connections can be lost in adolescence. We know that experience influences what connections are kept and subsequently strengthened. Thus we can think of adolescence as a time of transition rather than a time of loss in certain areas of the brain.

MRI can also be used to see how blood flows in the brain, which allows researchers to get a sense of how the brain is working. So if MRI alone reveals brain structure, you can think of fMRI (or “functional MRI”) as revealing brain function. Many fMRI studies have also shown changes in brain functionality across adolescence. For example, how we use areas of the brain involved in understanding other people changes between adolescence and adulthood.

This is especially true for “the social brain”. There are a number of cognitive processes that are involved in interacting with and understanding other people, and we can use functional MRI to see what areas of the brain are active when we engage in important social tasks like understanding the intentions or emotions behind facial expressions or understanding social emotions like guilt or embarrassment. Tasks like these consistently recruit a number of brain regions in the prefrontal and temporal cortex, which is sometimes referred to as the “social brain.”

Although adolescents and adults use the same areas of the brain during a number of social tasks like understanding intentions and social emotions, these tasks all show a similar decrease in activity across age in this medial prefrontal cortex area, which is a part of the brain often related to social processing Adolescents seem to use this part of the prefrontal cortex more than adults when doing certain social tasks.

So what does it all mean?

Neuroscience has helped us learn how the brain is changing in both its structure and function during adolescence, highlighting in particular the changes involved in areas of the brain used when we attempt to understand the thoughts, intentions and feelings of other people. These changes are relevant because of the developmental tasks that adolescents must accomplish. One of the major developmental tasks of adolescence is to learn how to successfully navigate our highly social world.

So, hang in there parents, having a malleable brain during adolescence is exactly how your teenager gains new social skills as well as higher levels of cultural rules and expectations. It’s just not going to happen overnight….

 

TEENS AND THE IMPORTANCE OF SLEEP

Does your teenager want to sleep all day and stay up late at night?

The first sign that your child is becoming a teenager is when they start sleeping in until 11. Most teenagers get an average of 7.5 hours of sleep per night, when to perform at an optimal level they really need 9.25 hours. This results in teenagers not filling up their “sleep tank”, affecting their moods, ability to think, perform, and react appropriately.

Teens are learning a tremendous amount of information on a daily basis. The same part of their brain that works when learning continues when teens are at sleep, repeating and rehearsing, the brain consolidates and improves on what they just learned. The lessons are effortless. What determines how well a person will perform is a good nights sleep. Having a good nights sleep is what you need to be on top of your game. Some schools have even changed to a later start time, and have noticed that students were more alert, on task, on time and attendance was up.

It is important to make sure your growing teen is getting enough sleep. Here are some easy tips to get your teens to sleep at night.

-Breathing exercises and meditation.

-Limit Caffeine intake.

-Don’t let your teen go to bed hungry.

-Include daily “Winding-down” time.

-Make the bedroom an inviting, relaxing environment.

-Maintain a regular wake up time.

For more info, on teens and sleep please watch the video below.

www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/teenbrain/view/