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Self-hugs – The New Depression Prevention! October 12, 2018

Most of us aren’t giving ourselves the same love and compassion as we give others; we need to start flipping the usual “love thy neighbour” expression. We are our own toughest critic and this may be leading us to depression. Recent research from Sydney-based researchers have found that excessive perfectionism is linked to depression, and self-compassion may be the answer.

Self-compassion is being kind to yourself and allowing yourself the same forgiveness you give others for your mistakes. There are little mistakes we make throughout the day, something like forgetting to buy milk – an uncompassionate thought would be “oh you idiot, how could you forget that?” Try swapping this thought for “easily done, you can grab it tomorrow morning”, and there you have self-compassion. There are also more subtle forms linked with perfectionism, people get lost in the fact that they could always do better and are critical of themselves when they cannot achieve this unattainable goal. If you catch yourself after a long work day feeling like you could have done better/worked harder/answered that extra email, then stop and tell yourself “you did well today, keep up the good work!” It not only may help prevent depression, but it has been linked to improved life satisfaction and compassion for others, leading to more meaningful relationships.

The self-compassion practice may seem a bit awkward and contrived at first, you may not fully believe the positive words that you are telling yourself as you’ve been conditioned to the negative. Just continuing to practice it, it will feel more sincere and you may gradually find your subconscious changing its tone.

If you think you may have a problem with perfectionism or self-criticism, have a try of the exercises from the following link (I’ve been doing daily mindfulness meditations and try to incorporate a compassion-based meditation once per week).

http://self-compassion.org/category/exercises/

Written by Steph Folley

M. Ferrari et al. Self-compassion moderates the perfectionism and depression link in both adolescence and adulthood. PLOS ONE. Published February 21, 2018. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0192022.


Blow away the “brain fog” with these daily exercises! July 26, 2018

I want to start this blog with a short anecdote that prompted me into researching the effects of consistent (daily) exercise on alertness and brain function.

For a long period I was finding that how “on the ball” I was could differ greatly from day to day; some days I was switched-on and efficient whereas other days I felt slow, vague and distractible in my thoughts – sometimes referred to as a “brain-fog”. There were all manner of different explanations that I came up with to explain it: from random fluctuations in brain function, to stress, hormones, personal issues, diet and of course the amount of coffee I consumed. I’m a generally active person so exercise was not high on the list, however I was not taking into account that I was not exercising every day – rather I had a more inconsistent regime of exercising around 3 times per week.

It was only recently when I had a particularly good and consistent week of exercise (some form of exercise every morning) that I noticed that I also had a whole week of being “on the ball”. I was more efficient at work and more productive and sociable in the evenings. It clicked that the consistency of the exercise must be a factor in keeping yourself alert and switched on.

With a quick search the evidence that I found was substantial and fairly unanimous in the importance of every-day exercise for brain function. Most studies went by the 30-minutes of exercise per day principle. Firstly there were the short-term effects that I am likely experiencing on the days that I exercise. One of the simplest yet effective ways exercise was found to improve our focus is increased blood flow. As exercise increases our heart rate it therefore increases the amount of fresh oxygenated blood that is getting to our brain, hence improving its activity. It has also been found that our hippocampus, the part of our brain that is critical for memory and learning is highly active during exercise. In addition to this exercise induces short-term release of the “stress hormone” cortisol, which is in charge of improving our alertness and cognition. This short-term release is healthy compared to psychological stress that can cause long-term cortisol release, which can lead to depression.

Exercise was also found to reduce the stress response by lowering the reactivity of one of our body’s stress centres, the “HPA axis”.

It is clear that even just the short-term effects of regular exercise are worth getting off of our couches for, but it is really the long-term effects that are truly life changing. An overwhelming amount of research on consistent aerobic (cardio) exercise (30 minutes per day) shows that it improves neuron growth (learning), neural activity (switched-on-ness), stress coping, memory and improvements in brain structures (mental capacity). In the long term these reduce the risk of mental disorders such as depression, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

I hope that this can be as much of a motivation to keep up exercise for you as it was for me. At a risk of going on a different tangent here is something that helped me put things in perspective – a lot of literature on self-effectiveness emphasises us to look at what is “important” rather than what is “urgent”. Important things are things that direct us toward our goals/make us happy/improve our effectiveness, whereas urgent things are the day-to-day tasks that need doing at some point. We see tasks like cleaning the dishes and sending off that email as urgent so exercise goes out the window. We need to step back and look at what should be the priority – with everything we have learned up, I think that those dirty dishes can wait another 30mins!

References:

Carvalho A, Rea IM, Parimon T, Cusack BJ (2014). “Physical activity and cognitive function in individuals over 60 years of age: a systematic review”. Clin Interv Aging 9: 661–682.

Heinonen I, Kalliokoski KK, Hannukainen JC, Duncker DJ, Nuutila P, Knuuti J (November 2014). “Organ-Specific Physiological Responses to Acute Physical Exercise and Long-Term Training in Humans”. Physiology (Bethesda) 29 (6): 421–436.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neurobiological_effects_of_physical_exercise

Written by Stephanie Folley