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Mindfulness Apps Aim To Help People Disconnect From Stress

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From fires and hurricanes, to confrontational politics — with all that’s been going on, it’s no wonder the American Psychological Association found an increase in Americans’ stress levels over the last year.

Our constant checking of smartphones — with the bombardment of news and social media — can amp up our anxiety. So, why not use your device to help you disconnect?

Mindfulness apps, such as Simply Being, are an increasingly popular way to help manage stress. Using this app, you can tap into a soundtrack of soothing sounds to help clear your mind. (Cue babbling brook, singing birds, meditation gongs!)

The idea behind mindfulness is simple to explain, but hard to execute. The goal is to focus on the present moment, and to let go of regrets of the past or worries about the future. And some researchers say apps can be a useful tool to assist this practice.

“I think they can be helpful,” says Dr. Stuart Eisendrath, a psychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco who researches Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy. To read more from ALLISON AUBREY, click here.

New research suggests ways to improve your romantic relationships

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When people are uncomfortable with developing intimacy and closeness in their relationships, can they work to overcome this?

The tendency to distance yourself from others is characteristic of an “avoidant attachment style,” which research traces back to childhood. When caregivers are available to respond to children’s needs, attachment theory says, children develop a secure attachment style: They trust others and feel comfortable relying on the people they are close to. However, when caregivers fail to meet children’s needs, they can develop insecure attachment: either attachment avoidance or attachment anxiety (the worry that others will fail to be there for them).

Unfortunately for some, attachment style seems to be relatively stable over time. Indeed, research has found that people with secure attachment styles tend to have more stable and long-lasting romantic relationships as adults, whereas people with more avoidant attachment styles tend to experience more negative emotions in social situations and often behave in less constructive ways during conflicts. To read more from Elizabeth Hopper, click here.

How Messing With Our Body Clocks Can Raise Alarms With Health

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Research that helped discover the clocks running in every cell in our bodies earned three scientists a Nobel Prize in medicine on Monday.

“With exquisite precision, our inner clock adapts our physiology to the dramatically different phases of the day,” the Nobel Prize committee wrote of the work of Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young. “The clock regulates critical functions such as behavior, hormone levels, sleep, body temperature and metabolism.”

We humans are time-keeping machines. And it seems we need regular sleeping and eating schedules to keep all of our clocks in sync.

Studies show that if we mess with the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle — say, by working an overnight shift, taking a trans-Aatlantic flight or staying up all night with a new baby or puppy — we pay the price. To read more from Allison Aubrey, click here.

How Your Brain Stops a Bad Day from Making You Hate Everyone

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A new study shows how our brains prevent “emotional spillover” from biasing our first impressions of new people. Everyday life is filled with events that evoke emotional highs and lows—like celebrating a friend’s birthday, getting cut off in traffic, or even stubbing a toe. Amid all these ups and downs, how do we remain clear-headed in our judgments?

Remarkably, feelings about one situation rarely color our first impressions of new people or situations that we encounter soon afterward. We seem to have a built-in regulatory mechanism to protect us from this “emotional spillover,” and a recent study published in the journal Psychological Science explored a specific brain area that might be responsible. To read more from Summer Allen, click here.

Four Ways to Gain Perspective on Negative Events

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Your colleague’s critical comment keeps replaying in your mind. Two of your students are trapped in a “he said/she said” battle of wills. You can’t shake the anxiety you feel after hearing the latest news.

We hear that it’s important to acknowledge and work though our emotional reactions to negative events, yet when we do, we sometimes get caught up in cycles of rumination—which can make us feel even worse.

So, what is the best way to reflect on difficult circumstances without finding ourselves tossed around in an emotional spin cycle? The answer may lie in a teachable skill called “self-distancing”—one that educators and parents may be able to practice with their kids. To read more from AMY L. EVA, click here.

How to Overcome Stress by Seeing Other People’s Joy

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If you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, don’t cut yourself off from other people, says Kelly McGonigal. Instead, double down on your capacity for connection.

One evening when I walked into a classroom to teach my Science of Stress course, I found a newspaper waiting for me on the lectern. A student had brought in an article called “Stress: It’s Contagious.” The report claimed that stress is “as contagious as any airborne pathogen” and compared its toxicity to secondhand smoke.

As someone who studies both stress and empathy, I get asked about this research a lot. Does it mean that empathy is a liability, increasing your risk of exhaustion, depression, or burnout? If you are highly empathic, are you doomed to become a reservoir for other people’s pain and suffering? As an example, the news story described a study showing that participants had an empathic physiological stress response when they observed another person struggling. One of the researchers commented, “It was surprising how easily the stress was transmitted.” To read more from Kelly McGonigal, click here.

If You’re Stressed, You Need Empathic Friends

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Every fall, college freshmen begin the familiar tradition of establishing friendships with classmates in their dormitories.

But little do they realize how much choosing the right friends—notably, ones with empathy—could be beneficial during stressful times, says a new Stanford study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“The transition to college can be tumultuous,” said Jamil Zaki, an assistant professor of psychology at Stanford and co-author of the study. “Whom you end up making friendships with can play a significant role in how you’ll deal with the stress and hardship of freshman year.”

Stress is a natural reaction for college students, but knowing how to manage that stress is an important factor in a student’s success. A 2008 poll conducted by the Associated Press and mtvU found that 40 percent of college students said they felt stress regularly—and almost 1 in 5 seriously considered dropping out of school. To read more from MILENKO MARTINOVICH, click here.

How the Science of Happiness Can Help You Connect with Others

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After taking our free online course, many students see big changes in their relationships.

Judy is a breast-cancer survivor. When she found out that a woman in her yoga class was undergoing chemotherapy, she reached out to introduce herself.

Her timing couldn’t have been better: The woman was scheduled for a mastectomy two days later. “I told her I would be available to her any time day or night,” said Judy, who has been texting with the woman ever since. “I feel I’ve been able to provide a shoulder for her. She’s no longer a stranger.”

We know Judy’s story because she is a student in our Science of Happiness course, a free, eight-week online course that explores the roots of a happy, meaningful life. When we asked recent students how the course had impacted them, they shared everything from little habit changes to big life transitions, like quitting smoking or finding a new job. But one of the themes that kept coming up was how the course—which emphasizes how important relationships are for happiness—enhanced their sense of connection to others. To read more from KIRA M. NEWMAN, click here.

The Laws of Love

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We know what love is, why it matters, what it does for us, and what responses make or break our love relationships. This quiet revolution, has all happened in the last 20 years. But can love last? The evidence is that if you know how to do it, it can. Brain scans tell us that some long time lover’s brains respond in the same way, with the same excitement as those of new lovers to pictures of their beloved. If you can reach out and hold onto each other as you face life’s dragons together, every dragon you face makes the bond of trust and love between you stronger. We can have the loving lasting relationships we all long for. But only if we learn Love Sense.

We have solved the “mystery’ called love and we can learn to shape it. This is the doorway into greater happiness, better mental and physical health, more secure, resilient and confident adults and more loving partnerships and families. To see this interesting talk by Dr. Sue Johnson, click here.

Is Humility Good for Your Relationship?

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A new study suggests that people are more satisfied with their relationships when their partners are more humble. n Western culture, we’re encouraged to be vocal about our individual successes and accomplishments. We present our ideal self on social media, at job interviews, and on first dates. But is all this self-promotion good for our long-term relationships?

Recent research published in the Journal of Positive Psychology suggests it might not be. A group of researchers found that people are more committed to and satisfied with their romantic relationship when they perceive their partner as being more humble. The researchers recruited 349 participants to fill out several online questionnaires measuring how committed they are to their relationship, how satisfied they are with their relationship, and their partner’s humility. Over half of the respondents also reported how forgiving they are towards their partner and how grateful they are in their relationship overall. To read more from JEANETTE VAN DER LEE, click here.