By RACHEL YEHUDA
Genetics describes DNA sequencing, but epigenetics sees that genes can be turned on and off and expressed differently through changes in environment and behavior. Rachel Yehuda is a pioneer in understanding how the effects of stress and trauma can transmit biologically, beyond cataclysmic events, to the next generation. She has studied the children of Holocaust survivors and of pregnant women who survived the 9/11 attacks. But her science is a form of power for flourishing beyond the traumas large and small that mark each of our lives and those of our families and communities.
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You might wonder why you remember the moments that make you unhappy more clearly than the ones that make you happy, but human beings in general remember negative experiences more than happy ones.
Stanford University professor, Clifford Nass, explained that negative or stressful moments are processed differently in our brains, leading us to recall them in more detail than happy memories.
We are hardwired to dwell on negative experiences because they are platforms for learning.
Professor Teresa M. Amabile of the Harvard Business School asked more than 200 professionals working on various projects and at various companies to keep a daily journal over the course of several months.
Upon analyzing the entries, Professor Amabile found that a single negative setback – particularly in conjunction with the day’s progress – affected the worker twice as much as something good that happened during the day.
This could explain why you sometimes feel distraught after a criticism at the office, even hours after going home. But that doesn't mean we're born pessimists or incapable of seeing the bright side.
We are hardwired to dwell on negative experiences because they are platforms for learning. This, according to Professor Roy Baumeister, a social psychologist at Florida State University, is a key element in our survival.
Understanding this provides insight into ourselves and the way we react to the world around us. So, how do we stop dwelling on these awful moments when the recounting process ceases to be productive?
1. Admit to yourself that you’re thinking too much. After all, you can’t solve a problem if you don’t first recognize that you have one. Do you immediately feel affected by criticism? Are you sensitive to unsolicited advice from well-meaning friends or family members? Are you in the habit of ruminating on past failures? Acknowledging your emotions is the first step toward taking control of them.
2. Distract yourself. If you find yourself ruminating needlessly over a bad breakup, ask friends to go for an afternoon coffee. Immerse yourself in a hobby. Taking up activities such as sports, art, or crafting is a great way to take your mind off something negative.
The reason I got lost in the woods in the first place was that I was trying to clear my head after an argument with my mother. After the short excursion, I felt better equipped to deal with the situation.
3. Think about possible solutions to your problem. Remember the doctor Robin Williams met in Patch Adams? He told Patch to “look past the problem." Often, we as humans like to blow things out of proportion, just to make things sensational. Try to be as objective as possible — even if you still feel awful about the particular memory. For example, if you're recovering from the loss of a loved one, consider activities that make you happy and keep you busy, to help yourself avoid wallowing.
4. Be gentle with yourself. It sounds simple enough, but you’d be surprised how much more critical you are toward yourself than toward others. Confidence is key to success, but often a small setback is enough to destroy whatever self-worth you may have had. Again, try not to give too much credence to one or two perceived "failures." Believe in your ability to succeed again. Keep moving forward.
5. Know that it will take time. It's not about forgetting the bad things that have happened. It’s all about learning to accept that there are things we can't control and focusing on the things we do control.
It won't always hurt. You will make it through. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other, and you'll get there.
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Brené Brown studies human connection — our ability to empathize, belong, love. In a poignant, funny talk, she shares a deep insight from her research, one that sent her on a personal quest to know herself as well as to understand humanity. A talk to share.
by Michael Forrester, Prevent Disease
Mindfulness is “the intentional, accepting and non-judgemental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment”, which can be trained by a large extent in meditational practices.
The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published the results of a ground-breaking study that found that meditation appears to provide as much relief from some anxiety and depression symptoms as antidepressants.
Mindfulness-based trainings have shown beneficial effects on inflammatory disorders in prior clinical studies and are endorsed by the American Heart Association as a preventative intervention. The training provides a biological mechanism for therapeutic effects.
A study in Psychoneuroendocrinology by researchers in Wisconsin, Spain, and France reported the first evidence of specific molecular changes in the body following a period of intensive mindfulness practice.
Dr. Madhav Goyal of the John Hopkins School of Medicine, who led the research published inJAMA, singled out mindfulness meditation as the most effective form.
“In the group work that I’ve done with sufferers of anxiety or depression, I’ve found it very beneficial because it calms the mind. It’s not a new thing,” she adds.
That’s an understatement: Mindfulness is a meditation technique that has been advocated by Buddhism for 2,500 years. Paul Christelis, the Light Centre’s course leader and a clinical psychologist, defines it as “paying attention to your experience, on purpose, in the present moment, without judgment or criticism.”
Its crossover into Western culture has been gradual. But in 2004, its use in preventing the relapse of depression was approved by the U.K.’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice). It has rapidly gained traction since.
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by Bessel van der Kolk, MD
and Ruth Buczynski, PhD
Step 1: Start with Self-Regulation
Dr. van der Kolk: I would say the foundation of all effective treatments involves some way for people to learn that they can change their arousal system.
Before any talking, it’s important to notice that if you get upset, taking 60 breaths, focusing on the out breaths, can calm your brain right down. Attempting some acupressure points or going for a walk can be very calming.
Dr. Buczynski: So this is learning to modulate arousal?
Dr. van der Kolk: Yes, and there’s alarmingly little in our mainstream culture to teach that. For example, this was something that kindergarten teachers used to teach, but once you enter the first grade, this whole notion that you can actually make yourself feel calm seems to disappear.
Now, there’s this kind of post-alcoholic culture where if you feel bad, you pop something into your mouth to make the feeling go away.
“The issue of self-regulation needs to become front and center in the treatment of trauma.”It’s interesting that right now there are about six to ten million people in America who practice yoga, which is sort of a bizarre thing to do - to stand on one foot and bend yourself up into a pretzel. Why do people do that? They’ve discovered that there’s something they can do to regulate their internal systems.
So the issue of self-regulation needs to become front and center in the treatment of traumatized people. That’s step number one.
Step 2: Help Your Patients Take Steps Toward Self-Empowerment
The core idea here is that I am not a victim of what happens. I can do things to change my own thoughts, which is very contrary to the medical system where, if you can’t stand something, you can take a pill and make it go away.
The core of trauma treatment is something is happening to you that you interpret as being frightening, and you can change the sensation by moving, breathing, tapping, and touching (or not touching). You can use any of these processes.
It’s more than tolerating feelings and sensations. Actually, it is more about knowing that you, to some degree, are in charge of your own physiological system.
There needs to be a considerable emphasis on “cultivating in myself,” not only as a therapist, but also as a patient – this knowing that you can actually calm yourself down by talking or through one of these other processes.
So, step number two is the cultivation of being able to take effective action. Many traumatized people have been very helpless; they’ve been unable to move. They feel paralyzed, sit in front of the television, and they don’t do anything.
“Programs with physical impact would be very, very effective treatments.”Programs with physical impact, like model mugging (a form of self-defense training), martial arts or kickboxing, or an activity that requires a range of physical effort where you actually learn to defend yourself, stand up for yourself, and feel power in your body, would be very, very effective treatments. Basically, they reinstate a sense that your organism is not a helpless (tool) of fate.
Step 3: Help Your Patients Learn to Express Their Inner Experience
The third thing I would talk about is learning to know what you know and feel what you feel. And that’s where psychotherapy comes in: finding the language for internal experience.
The function of language is to tie us together; the function of language is communication. Without being able to communicate, you’re locked up inside of yourself.
“Without being able to communicate, you’re locked up inside of yourself.”So, learning to communicate and finding words for your internal states would be very helpful in terms of normalizing ourselves - accepting and making (the communication of internal states) a part of ourselves and part of the community. That’s the third part.
Step 4: Integrate the Senses Through Rhythm
We’re physical animals, and to some level, we’re always dancing with each other. Our communication is as much through head nodding and smiles and frowns and moving as anything else. Kids, in particular, and adults, who as kids were victims of physical abuse and neglect, lose those interpersonal rhythms.
“Rhythmical interaction to establish internal sensory integration is an important piece.”So, some sort of rhythmical interaction to establish internal sensory integration is an important piece that we are working on. With kids, we work with sensory integration techniques like having them jump on trampolines and covering them with heavy blankets to have them feel how their bodies relate to the environment because that’s an area that gets very disturbed by trauma, neglect, and abuse, especially in kids.
For adults, I think we’ve resolved rhythmical issues with experiences like tango dancing, Qi Gong, drumming – any of these put one organism in rhythm with other organisms and is a way of overcoming this frozen sense of separation that traumatized people have with others.
Dr. Buczynski: These are four keystones that can make healing from trauma faster and more effective. In order to give patients the best chance for recovery, consider these steps as you plan your interventions and treatments.
"Everything has life and deserves great respect."