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Your brain and gratitude

We can agree that almost each of us holds a diary once in life. In adult life, it can seem childish to keep journaling our thoughts and emotions, but it could help us in so many ways. For example, it allows us to think more clearly, to know oneself better, to reduce the amount of stress we feel toward something or a specific situation. It can also stop us from ruminating because putting emotions into words forces us to analyze everything around them and the most important: slow down our mind (83 Benefits of Journaling for Depression, Anxiety, and Stress, s. d.).

My focus on this article will be specifically on the emotion of gratitude, a very common one yet very underrated. Gratitude is one of the most complicated emotions in our society and because we link it to religion, we can feel indebted towards something or someone and everyone knows that this feeling isn’t a very good one (Singh, 2018).

However, studies show that the expression of gratitude through journaling or voice recording can have a huge number of benefits on different aspects of our well-being. It can help us sleep better (Wood et al., 2009), reduce stress and anxiety (Wood et al., 2008), lower symptoms of depression (Liang et al., 2020) and even reduce the risk of heart disease (Neighmond, 2015) according to the professor Paul Mills. A lot of studies are being conducted in the field of Positive Psychology and more particularly around gratitude. We now know that feeling grateful towards something has a more realistic (physical) impact on our brain and behaviour than what we previously thought. 

This year isolated us for a long time and thus our tendency to overthink and ruminate upon our “before Corona” life and uncertainty about our future could sometimes be very heavy and make us feel down for several days. That is why I suggest you try this by yourself and see if it works for you. If you are a writing person you can write down in a journal two or three things you are thankful for during your day. Another idea can be to share your gratitudes with a friend through a call or simply by messaging them. The fact of writing every day can feel heavy or exhausting for some of us and it can slide to the negative aspect of gratitude (guilt and shame). If it is being forced, feel free to listen to yourself and manage it according to your preferences.

Bibliography:
  • 83 Benefits of Journaling for Depression, Anxiety, and Stress. (s. d.). Retrived on 18th december 2020 from https://positivepsychology.com/benefits-of-journaling/
  • Liang, H., Chen, C., Li, F., Wu, S., Wang, L., Zheng, X., & Zeng, B. (2020). Mediating effects of peace of mind and rumination on the relationship between gratitude and depression among Chinese university students. Current Psychology, 39(4), 1430‑1437. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-018-9847-1
  • Singh, M. (2018, december 24). If You Feel Thankful, Write It Down. It’s Good For Your Health. NPR.Org. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/12/24/678232331/if-you-feel-thankful-write-it-down-its-good-for-your-health
  • Wood, A. M., Joseph, S., Lloyd, J., & Atkins, S. (2009). Gratitude influences sleep through the mechanism of pre-sleep cognitions. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 66(1), 43‑48. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychores.2008.09.002
  • Wood, A. M., Maltby, J., Gillett, R., Linley, P. A., & Joseph, S. (2008). The role of gratitude in the development of social support, stress, and depression : Two longitudinal studies. Journal of Research in Personality, 42(4), 854‑871. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2007.11.003
Featured image :
  • An Attitude of Gratitude. (2018, mai 30). Valleys Steps. http://www.valleyssteps.org/an-attitude-of-gratitude/

Author : Ardiana Dacaj

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Facts

Things you did not know about sleep

People spend a third of their time sleeping. While some go through life with the philosophy “sleep is for the weak”, science knows how important good sleep is for your health. There are some things in our everyday behavior, which affect our sleep, but conversely, sleep also affects various areas in our life. In the following, I would like to present to you some facts about sleep you may not have known yet.

Caffeine

Everyone knows that caffeine can help you wake up in the morning or make you more alert. But there are at least two other hidden aspects of caffeine most people do not know. Do you know how long caffeine stays in your system? If you drink a cup of coffee around 2 pm, 50% of the caffeine will still be in your system after about five to six hours. It could be that almost a quarter of that caffeine is still in your brain at midnight. As a result, it can make it harder for you to fall asleep. But not only this, caffeine also affects your brain during sleep. It turns out that caffeine can actually decrease the amount of deep, non-rapid eye movement sleep, which is important for restorative, deep sleep. As a consequence, it could be that you wake up the next morning and you do not feel refreshed, you do not feel restored by your sleep. 

Alcohol

It is often mistakenly thought that alcohol can be a sleeping aid. However, this is not the case. Alcohol can be problematic for sleep in three different ways. First, alcohol is considered a sedative. But sedation is not the same as sleep. In deep sleep, the brain is active and many brain cells fire and go silent together at the same time. This way, brain waves are generated. When you are sedated, none of this takes place. Sedation is a case where we are simply switching off the firing of the brain cells. This causes all the positive aspects of sleep to be lost. Furthermore, alcohol can actually trigger and activate the fight or flight branch of the nervous system during sleep. This causes you to wake up throughout the night, even if you may not notice it. As a result, you will not feel refreshed in the morning. Lastly, alcohol can block your rapid-eye-movement sleep. This kind of sleep is important for your emotional and mental health. 

Memory

Sleep is critical for learning and making new memories. Sleep makes your brain ready to absorb new information. But not only before, but also after learning, we need sleep. This is especially important for the consolidation of what has been learned. While we sleep, the same neurons are activated that were activated during the learning process. Thus, sleep is actually replaying and scoring those memories into a new circuit within the brain, strengthening that memory representation. This process is called replay. The final way in which sleep is beneficial for memory is integration and association. Sleep does not just simply strengthen individual memories; sleep will cleverly interconnect new memories together. 

Emotions

Lack of sleep makes us emotionally irrational and hyperactive. Studies show that the amygdala, which is the brain structure important for emotion, is almost 60% more responsive in sleep-deprived individuals than usual.  This is due to the communication between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. Normally, there is good communication between the two. In sleep-deprived people, however, this connection is significantly worse. As a consequence, the amygdala is responding far more sensitively due to a lack of sleep. What is more, sleep can help you soothe difficult emotional experiences. And so, perhaps it is not time that heals all wounds, it is the time during sleep that provides that form of emotional convalescence.

Immunsystem

There is a very intimate association between our sleep health and our immune health. Individuals sleeping less than seven hours per night are three times more likely to become infected by the rhinovirus, otherwise known as the common cold. That is because during sleep at night, the production of immune factors is stimulated. Furthermore, the body actually increases its sensitivity to those immune factors. Thus, your immune system is more robust after a good night of sleep.

Bibliography
Featured image:
  • Wiedmer, J., (2020). Good Night.

Author : Jessica Wiedmer

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current directions Facts

Why are some people left-handed?

Have you ever wondered why left-handed people are so rare? Everyone knows that right-handed people are more frequent than left-handed people. You may have heard different theories about how the handedness is determined, but you probably never heard of a theory explaining why left-handed people are so rare. Daniel M. Abram found a way to explain the small number of left-handed people with a mathematical model.

Only one out of ten people is left-handed. The fascinating thing is that this ratio has remained steady for the last 500’000 years. Until today, it is not exactly clear what determines the handedness. One thing we know, however, is that the handedness is nothing you can choose, it is given. Many different theories try to explain this. The observation that left-handed parents tend to have left-handed children more often than right-handed parents, can be explained either by the influence of genes or the environment. Studies with identical twins show that both genes and the environment influence handedness, since identical twins do not have the same dominant hand more often than other siblings do.

This implies that there must be a reason in evolution responsible for the small number of left-handed people. Daniel M. Abrams proposed a mathematical model, which suggests that the ratio of competitive and cooperative pressure is responsible for the small number of left-handed people. 

The advantages of left-handed people are most obvious when facing an opponent in combat or competitive sports. Because there are usually very few left-handed people, most athletes are used to train with right-handed people. When right-handed and left-handed people meet, the left-handed person will be better prepared than a right-handed opponent. Daniel M. Abrams showed that 50% of professional baseball players are left-handed. The imbalance, in the beginning, leads to an advantage for left-handed players. This is called the fighting hypothesis and is an example of negative frequency-dependent selection. The rarer a trait, the more valuable it is. But according to the rules of evolution, a group that has an advantage should grow until the advantage disappears. If all humans did was fight, natural selection would lead to more left-handed people. The number of left-handed people would grow until there would be so many of them that it would not be rare anymore and therefore left-handedness would not be an advantage anymore. Thus, in a purely competitive world, the ratio between left and right-handed people would be 50/50. 

However, human evolution is not only driven by competition but also by cooperation. Cooperative pressure pushes the handedness in the other direction. In golf, where performance does not depend on the opponent, only 4 percent of the top players are left-handed. The reason for this is a phenomenon called “tool sharing”. Many products and tools are made for right-handed people, as they also make up the majority of our society. Left-handed players are worse at using these tools. For this reason, left-handed people would be less successful in a purely cooperative world until they would no longer exist. 

To summarize, according to Abram’s mathematical theory, the stable number of left-handed people is seen as an equilibrium created by competitive and cooperative effects. 

Bibliography:
  • Abrams, D., (2015, February). Daniel Abrams : Why are some people left-handed ? Retrieved from
Featured image:
  • Wiedmer, J., (2020). Handmade.

Author : Jessica Wiedmer