Judy’s “Psycho-Logical” Mind – How to live in the present moment

I always smile when people tell me they want to figure out how to live in the present moment.  My response is – it’s impossible not to live in the present moment, the present is all there is . . . this very nano-second in time.   

Full Disclosure

I’m simultaneously blessed and cursed.  I remember very little of my past (including yesterday) and have difficulty thinking about the future. I have to concentrate to plan ahead, only have goals if they have been imposed and my sense of time is . . . if it weren’t for the sun or the clock I’d have no sense of time . . .

My brain doesn’t “think” whole thoughts but rather gathers impressions, patterns, concepts.  When whole thoughts, words, come out of my mouth (or the computer keyboard) it’s the first time I’ve heard them.

It’s not that I practice living in the present moment . . . it’s simply how my brain is hard-wired.  If your brain is similarly hard-wired you know exactly what I’m talking about.  If your brain is wired differently you may be goal-oriented, remember details about your childhood, even be prone to anxiety and stymied about what I’m trying to describe.

Why it’s called “peace of MIND”

It’s our THINKING that focuses on the past or the future.  The measure of our peace of MIND is determined by how much we are able to focus our thinking in the present.

That’s largely why meditation, reading, sewing, exercise, painting . . . doing anything that captures your attention as you experience it creates the “flow” where past and future are not in your thoughts.

 Every time we think “should have”, “could have”, or “would have” we are THINKING about past experience. Every time we become anxious or fearful we are THINKING about a future, which may or may not happen. 

Maybe your reaction is . . .  that doesn’t make sense, for someone who spent decades as a psychotherapist analyzing, dissecting, bisecting life’s experiences, expectations and beliefs.   

“One hours reflection is worth 70 years of pious worship”

Because we are a composite of all our past choices and experiences, thinking, reflecting on the past is important IF our focus is to learn and grow.  Reflection about our past or future, without learning, is not usually helpful when we stay stuck in  “shoulds”, “coulds”, “woulds” or “what if’s”.

Irrespective of what happened yesterday or last year and what may or may not happen tomorrow, the present moment is all you have, however, your brain is wired. 

Reflect on that.

Happiness Hacks: The Write Way


“Happiness Hacks”  are quick and easy ways, based on scientific research, to lift your mood. We are compiling them into a book, but want to share them here with you.

“In the 1970s, a professor of psychology named James W. Pennebaker began experimenting with the effects that talking, confessing and self-understanding had on human well-being. Nearly 30 years later, he and his collaborator, Joshua M. Smyth, a professor of behavioral health and medicine, produced a body of research that found the emotionally connective and relieving effects of expressive writing to promote self-understanding, ease emotional pain and aid in physical healing.[viii] Since their book, Opening Up by Writing It Down, was published in 1997, their findings have been corroborated by other scientists’ independent studies around the world.”

The 2016 edition of their book explains that expressive writing:

•  Offers those who either don’t wish to talk about their feelings or have no one to confide in a way to unburden themselves

•  Reduces stress, fear and isolation

•  Boosts immune systems, optimism and sense of connectedness

•  Allows minds to process, organize and understand their experiences and feelings, enhancing learning and memory

“When expressing themselves in writing, people often report that they feel safe. They are actually creating an artifact—one that symbolizes some of their thoughts and feelings but is not them. With that safety, people often find they can put things down on the page that are often hard to speak about, and explore the deeper truths that we all carry with us.”

“The writing itself is a “made thing”—something with weight and substance. Therefore, it has a place in the world and you become identified with that creative construction. For many people, this gives them a way to bootstrap out of negativity and to start to identify themselves in a powerful and positive way.”

http://www.howlifeunfolds.com/stronger-connections/expressive-writing-a-path-forward-for-your-health

Happiness Hacks: Sing

“Happiness Hacks”  are quick and easy ways, based on scientific research, to lift your mood. We are compiling them into a book, but want to share them here with you.

In second grade we stood at our desk and sang. EVERY DAY.  The teacher traveled the room, bending down to intently listen to each child.  Those who were out of tune she tapped on the head to sit down.  There were two of us who always got tapped.
 
From third grade on  I silently mouthed the words anytime, anywhere there was singing, terrified someone would hear me.   
 

Now the science is in. Singing is really good for you and the most recent research suggests that group singing is the most exhilarating and transformative of all.

Creating music together evolved as a tool of social living. Groups and tribes sang and danced together to build loyalty, transmit vital information and ward off enemies.  (Since I still can’t carry a tune I figure all my enemies have long ago been warded off.)

Caterwauling beautiful music by Peggy

“What has not been understood until recently is that singing in groups triggers the communal release of serotonin and oxytocin, the bonding hormone, and even synchronises our heart beats.”

“Singing helps people with depression and reduces feelings of loneliness, leaving people feeling relaxed, happy and connected. What’s more, the benefits of singing regularly are cumulative. People who sing have reduced levels of cortisol, indicating lower stress.” (The research must have been done on people who could carry a tune.  My cortisol levels still go up when singing)

Now the good news (for me) . . . 

One of the great things about singing is that you can receive the wellbeing benefits even if you aren’t any good. One study showed that:

“Group singing can produce satisfying and therapeutic sensations even when the sound produced by the vocal instrument is of mediocre quality.”

“The current research into the neuroscience of singing shows that when we sing our neurotransmitters connect in new and different ways. It fires up the right temporal lobe of our brain, releasing endorphins that make us smarter, healthier, happier and more creative. When we sing with other people this effect is amplified.”

I still can’t carry a tune but at least no one . . . so far . . . has tapped me on the head since second grade.

(jw)

Read the entire article:  The Neuroscience of Singing

Happiness Hack: Maui Had a Ball-You Can, Too

“Happiness Hacks”  are quick and easy ways, based on scientific research, to lift your mood. We are compiling them into a book, but want to share them here with you.

“Maui’s Mini Tail”

Maui had a yellow ball.

Maui loved to chase a small yellow ball around the house. He would grab it with his paws and throw it up in the air, or bat it across the floor!  He loved  playing with the yellow ball, constantly chasing it around the house and batting it across the room.

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I should have learned a thing about feeling good from Maui but it took a book to teach me what Maui knew.

Peggy had a beach ball

When I was working with patients with major mental health problems (Schizophrenia, severe depression, manic depression), I read The Biopsychology of Mood & Arousal by Richard Thayer. I was surprised to learn that if you do a brisk activity for only 10 min, your mood goes up and stays up for 4 hours. It sounded almost too easy.  I found  a beach ball to put it to the test.

At the beginning of the next patient’s group therapy session I  asked everyone to rate their current mood on a scale of 1 to 10. One = horrible/awful/terrible/bad. Ten = wonderful/elated/ joyful/good.

I tossed the beach ball in the air and everyone joined in batting the ball to each other.  Sometimes we missed, sometimes we got hit in the head, but everyone swung at the ball, waved their hands around and had a little exercise.   AFTER 10 MINUTES we stopped and rated mood again.

Take a look at the chart below showing how each patient rated their mood at the beginning of the session, in blue, and where each patient rated their mood after tossing the ball for 10 minutes,  in green.

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Would the mood elevation last? After 3 1/2 hours, everyone rated their mood again.  All moods were still up with one exception. It had worked making my own mood elevated.

The chart below shows each patients mood before the ball toss started,  in blue, and where each patient rated their mood after 3 1/2 hours, in purple.

hourslaterchartThe average improvement in mood was 30%! In TEN MINUTES.

Of course, negative events can bring mood down again. (as happened to the one patient – letter i – in the group) but this is one of my favorite “tricks” to stay happy.

Maui always knew . . .  playing ball is good for you.

THE SCIENCE 

In his 1989 book The Biopsychology of Mood and Arousal, Robert E. Thayer discusses how 10 minutes of brisk exercise improves mood for four hours.  He describes how each of us has a daily biorhythm of ups and downs in energy (There’s a chart in the book on how to  figure out your own biorhythm).

Exercise is shown to boost endorphins and the neurotransmitter norepinephrine both of which improve mood.

Not only does exercise grow your muscles, it also grows neurons in your brain. Such neuron growth is associated with improved mood.  Research shows:

Regular exercise can relieve depression just as well as medication over a 4 month period, and even better after 6 months.

I personally use this concept to get and keep my own  mood up.  Ten minutes of activity is a cheap price for creating 4 hours of feeling good (or at the very least, feeling ok).

(Peggy)

How do you elevate your mood?  Let us know in the comments.

Click here for Time article It’s All in the Nerves: How to Really Treat Depression 

 

Happiness Hack: Today’s Good Happenings

We’re excited to let you know that we are compiling all the Happiness Hacks we’ve posted. This one was on Catnip as:

“Research shows you will be happier for 3 months – Music to my ears”

I played violin in the high school orchestra. It was enjoyable and got me out of physical education class. Practicing was another matter.  Practicing the violin was excruciating for me. It was solely focused on doing weird, complicated, boring scales over and over and over . . . no melody, NO FUN.   I would set a timer for 1 hour: polish my violin for 10 minutes; resin the bow for 5; tune the strings for 15 and; laboriously do scales for the rest of the time. I did get better.

If only I had known that I could have practiced being in a good mood while I was practicing scales.

Yup, research now shows the more you practice being in a good mood the better you get at keeping a good mood.

Our brains seek out familiar patterns. The more we consciously focus on positive thoughts the easier it is for our brain to access those thoughts and find positive patterns in other areas.  (Of course, there is a corollary  – focus on the negative and your brain will look for more negative connections).  So the more you think about the positive things in your life, the easier it is to think of good things in your life. 

Start at any time.  Like now. Think about something “positive/good” . . . a time you had fun or laughed at a joke or a childhood celebration.  It doesn’t even have to be about you or your life . . .  something “positive” you’ve witnessed, read about or even imagined.  Share it with someone and notice feeling happier.

The more you practice the easier it will be for your brain to access the positive and lift your mood.  

Here’s an easy practice session.

   Maui Practicing, not judy, by Peggy

Pawsitive Exercise

Each day for a week, at the end of the day, write down 3 good or positive things that have happened to you that day and why they happened. 

They can be:

  • BIG things (became a grandma, bought a Maserati, won the lottery)
  • Small things (took a nice shower, ate breakfast, paid the water bill on time).
  • The same things repeated each day or different things/events listed.

When you write down why they happened give yourself credit:

  • I won the lottery because I bought a ticket
  • I took a nice hot shower because I paid the water bill on time
  • I became a grandma because I became a mother because I have kept a good relationship with my daughter because I called her and had a positive conversation.

You don’t need a fancy journal –

a notebook, post-it-notes, napkins will work.

Just do this for one week.

Research shows you will be happier for 3 months!

My violin “practice” list would have looked like this:

  • I managed to get through another violin practice session without dying of boredom.
  • I played in tune, 75% of the time
  • I polished my violin and it’s shiny.

(jw)

Reference:  Seligman, M. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive Psychology Progress. American Psychologist, 60(5), 410-421. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.60.5.410

A Happiness Hack – Splish Splash

Each month we post “Happiness Hacks” on Catnipblog. They are quick and easy ways, based on scientific research, to lift your mood.

We are compiling them into a book, but want to share them here with you.

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I love waterfalls!  

One of my favorite places to go is the Columbia River Gorge, an area with the highest concentration of waterfalls in North America.  There are over 90!  I love it there and I will hike uphill for miles to see the waterfalls.

All my life I’ve loved the rain, going to the beach, having a water fountain in my yard, and taking showers. They all make me happy. Now I know why – negative ions.

Negative ions are produced by falling water and create changes in our levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that relieves stress, increases energy and reduces depression

“Negative ions increase the flow of oxygen to the brain; resulting in higher alertness, decreased drowsiness, and more mental energy.” 

WebMD. Pierce J. Howard, PhD

The WebMD article goes on to say “The air circulating in the mountains and the beach is said to contain tens of thousands of negative ions — Much more than the average home or office building, which contain dozens or hundreds, and many register a flat zero.”

Want to get negative ions?

  • Take a walk by a river or stream.
  • Walk in the rain.
  • Go to the beach.
  • Run in the sprinklers.
  • Have a water fight in a pool.
  • Hike to a waterfall.
  • Sit by a fountain.
  • Buy a negative ion generator for your home.
  • Or . . .  just take a shower.

(I didn’t list “wash dishes by hand” or “scrub the floor on your knees” because I believe adding detergent to water MIGHT create positive ions which we all know are not mood elevators . . .)

(PA)

References:

“Negative Ions Create Positive Vibes” By Denise Mann, WebMD, June 2, 2003.
The Owners Manual for the Brain: Everyday Applications from Mind Brain, by Pierce J. Howard, PhD
Biopsychology of Mood and Arousal, by Robert E. Thayer,

 

I remember I don’t remember being hung-over

I have little, VERY little, memories of my childhood or adolescence – or adulthood for that matter.  It concerned me when a therapist colleague said “not remembering” was an indication of repressed memory probably of horrible childhood trauma.  Ai yiiii yiiiiii.  Maybe I was beaten, or worse, and all these years believing I had nice parents.

I told a psychiatrist friend about my memory “affliction”thinking he would suggest decades of psycho-analysis at best and in-patient treatment at worst.  He looked passively at me and without the slightest hesitation said, “All that indicates is your childhood was boring.”

This is one of my aha moments that I DO remember and spurred me to investigate the neuro-biology of emotion.  What does that have to do with hang-over?  Read on!

Hung Over by Peggy

Excerpts from:

You already know without a doubt that most of your memories are ones that were highly emotional experiences.

“Emotional experiences can induce physiological and internal brain states that persist for long periods of time after the emotional events have ended, a team of New York University scientists has found. This study, which appears in the journal Nature Neuroscience,also shows that this emotional “hangover” influences how we attend to and remember future experiences.”

“How we remember events is not just a consequence of the external world we experience, but is also strongly influenced by our internal states–and these internal states can persist and color future experiences,”explains Lila Davachi, an associate professor in NYU’s Department of Psychology and Center for Neural Science and senior author of the study.”

“‘Emotion’ is a state of mind, . . . findings make clear that our cognition is highly influenced by preceding experiences and, specifically, that emotional brain states can persist for long periods of time.”’

” . . . data showed that the brain states associated with emotional experiences carried over for 20 to 30 minutes and influenced the way the subjects processed and remembered future experiences that are not emotional.”

“We see that memory for non-emotional experiences is better if they are encountered after an emotional event,” observes Davachi.

I’m so relieved!  Not only wasn’t I beaten . . . or worse . . .  the biggest hang-over I’ve experienced was the result of my exceptionally boring life.

(jw)

Initially posted on CATNIPblog.com

*To read the entire article, who the authors are and the research behind it click HERE.