Bits & Bites

WRITE MORE. WORRY LESS

If you suffer from acute anxiety, unfamiliar tasks probably fill you with dread and even panic. Researchers at Michigan State University suggest keeping a journal. The idea is to simply write down all of your fears a few minutes before a worrisome task presents itself.

In one experiment, researchers split students into two groups and assigned similar tasks on a computer. Both groups identified as major worrywarts, but “Group A” was asked to begin their task without preamble while “Group B” was given eight minutes to write down their thoughts about the assignment.

Both groups were hooked up to monitors measuring brain function. While each group had similar results in terms of speed, “Group B” performed their tasks with extreme efficiency, having used fewer cognitive resources in the process. One researcher likened it to a low-energy light bulb burning just as bright as a conventional bulb. It was like “Group B” flushed any pre-test anxiety by writing about it.

“Worrying takes up cognitive resources,” says Hans Schroder, a doctoral student in psychology. “People struggling with worry are constantly multitasking. They’re doing one task and trying to monitor and suppress their worries at the same time. Our findings show that if you get these worries out of your head through expressive writing, those cognitive resources are freed up to work toward the task you’re completing and you become more efficient.”

SOCIAL BONDS EQUAL LONGEVITY

If you’re a man and you want to live longer, Harvard researchers might have the key to longevity. The Harvard Study of Adult Development tracked the lives of 724 men for 79 years. The men were divided into two classes: sophomores at Harvard College and boys from Boston's poorest neighbourhoods.

Every year, beginning in 1938, researchers asked both groups about their work, their health, and their day-to-day routine. After nearly 80 years, researchers concluded that close relationships and not wealth, IQ or genetics, were key in boosting general well-being and feelings of contentment.

The latest director of the study, Robert Waldinger, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor of psychiatry at Harvard, says social connections are good while loneliness kills. “Instead of focusing on the quantity, it's vital to focus on the quality of our friendships,” says Dr. Waldinger. “When we gathered everything we knew about the men at age 50, it wasn't their middle-age cholesterol levels that predicted how they were going to grow old, it was how satisfied they were in their relationships.”

WHAT'S YOUR SLEEP ANIMAL?

Michael Breus is a sleep specialist and has written a book called The Power of When, which categorizes people by one of four types of sleeper. The self-proclaimed “sleep doctor” came to this realization when he treated patients complaining of insomnia. He was able to cure some while others kept losing sleep. This prompted Breus to consider that maybe some people weren't insomniacs at all, it’s just that their chronorhythms were different from most.

Breus breaks the four types of sleepers into four animal groups, each one representing a so-called “chronotype” that describes natural sleep habits and energy patterns. Knowing not to act like a wolf when you’re really a bear, says Breus, can help you have less painful wake-ups, fewer after-lunch slumps, and more productive workdays overall.

BEARS: (50 per cent of the population) Bears experience normal sleep schedules but never feel like they get enough sleep. Morning Routine: 7 a.m. to 11 a.m.; wake up and get the blood flowing with 10 minutes of stretching. Eat a light breakfast. Take 15 minutes to plan the day and then grab that coffee. Peak Productivity: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

LIONS: (15 per cent of the population) Lions are type-A personalities who do more before 7 a.m. than most of us accomplish all day. Morning Routine: 5:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. High-protein breakfast by 6 a.m. Avoid carbs. Peak Productivity: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

WOLVES: (20 per cent of the population) Wolves are definitely not “morning people,” so no wonder they’re usually late for work and on their third cup of coffee before 10 a.m. Morning Routine: Stand in front of a window and drink a 16-ounce glass of water. The sunlight helps boost energy as rehydration takes place. At 11 a.m., grab that coffee. It doesn’t hurt to catch a few more minutes of sunlight again if you’re able to. Peak Productivity: 12 p.m. to 8 p.m.

DOLPHINS: (15 per cent of the population) These porpoise people have irregular sleep schedules and often refer to themselves as insomniacs. Morning Routine: 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. Try jumping out of bed and into your running shoes. Break a light sweat and get some sun. Grab breakfast around 8 a.m. — half carbs, half protein, no caffeine (yet). Peak Productivity: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

BOOZE FREE

Winter’s tough to take for even the hardiest among us. We all have our coping mechanisms, from flying south and hibernating to Netflix-binging and sucking back Cabernet-Sauvignon by the barrel. The latter is the most harmful to our health, of course, so now that we’re free to roam the city without fear of frostbite, it’s time to get busy and take a break from booze... at least for a little while. Who knows? After a month or so you just might feel like a better, brighter you. Here are just a handful of benefits:

  1. Cut calories. One cocktail can contain as many as 300 calories. That’s about as many calories as a cheeseburger.
  2. Clear skin. Alcohol is a diuretic, which makes you urinate more. Booze also decreases the body’s ability to reabsorb water. As toxins build up in your body, it can start to show on your skin.
  3. Wake up on the right side of bed. Alcohol disrupts sleep. Sure, a glass or two of wine might act as a sedative, but if you drink more or you drink every night, your brain develops a tolerance. In turn, your brain maintains lighter sleep phases rather than the deep state needed for proper rest.
  4. Healthy liver. Your liver works hard at breaking down the alcohol you consume, but the process creates toxic by-products even more harmful than the alcohol itself. These toxins damage liver cells, promote inflammation, and weaken your natural defences. Only a few days of heavy drinking will start damaging your liver.
  5. Happiness. Sure, the double scotch you had before dinner makes you feel loose and maybe even elated, but that won’t last. Alcohol is a depressant. It inhibits your central nervous system. That’s why if you’re drinking to forget your problems, the solution usually backfires.
  6. Fewer sick days. Alcohol weakens your immune system. That’s why chronic drinkers are more likely to feel run down and contract summer colds and even more severe infections come winter like pneumonia and tuberculosis.

 

Spring 2018, Vol 10 N°2

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