Can changing your breathing pattern reduce coronavirus exposure?

sneezeThis blog is based upon our breathing  research that began in the 1990s, This  research helped identify dysfunctional breathing patterns that could contribute to illness. We developed coaching/teaching strategies with biofeedback to optimize breathing patterns, improve health and performance (Peper and Tibbetts, 1994; Peper, Martinez Aranda and Moss, 2015; Peper, Mason, and Huey, 2017).

For example, people with asthma were taught to reduce their reactivity to cigarette smoke and other airborne irritants (Peper and Tibbitts, 1992Peper and Tibbetts, 2003).  The participants  first learned effortless slow diaphragmatic breathing and then were taught that the moment they would become aware of an airborne irritant such as cigarette smoke, they would hold their breath and relax their body.  Then they moved away from the polluted air while exhaling very slowly through their nose and when the air was clearer they would inhale and continue effortless diaphragmatically breathing (Peper and Tibbetts, 1994).  From this research we propose that people may reduce exposure to the coronavirus by changing their breathing pattern; however the first step is prevention by following the recommended public health guidelines.

  • Social distancing (physical distancing while continuing to offer social support)
  • Washing your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds
  • Not touching your face
  • Cleaning surfaces which could have been touched by other such as door bell, door knobs, packages.
  • Wearing a mask and gloves

Reduce your exposure to the virus when near other people by changing your breathing pattern 

Normally when startled or surprised, we tend to gasp and inhale air rapidly. When someone sneezes, coughs or exhales near you, we often respond with a slight gasp and inhale their droplets. To reduce inhaling their droplets (which may contain the coronavirus virus), implement the following:

  • When a person is getting too close
    • Hold your breath with your mouth closed and relax your shoulders (just pause your breathing) as you move away from the person.
    • Gently exhale through your nose (do not inhale before exhaling)-just exhale how little or much air you have
    • When far enough away, gently inhale through your nose.
    • Remember to relax and feel your shoulders drop when holding your breath.  It will last for only a few seconds as you move away from the person.  Exhale before inhaling through your nose.
  • When a person coughs or sneezes
    • Hold your breath, rotate you head away  from the person and move away from them while exhaling though your nose.
    • If you think the droplets of the sneeze or cough have landed on you or your clothing, go home, disrobe outside your house, and put your clothing into the washing machine. Take a shower and wash yourself with soap.
  • When passing a person ahead of you or who is approaching you
    • Inhale before they are too close and exhale through your nose as you are passing them.
    • After you are more than 6 feet away gently inhale through your nose.
  • When talking to people outside
    • Stand so that the breeze/wind hits both people from the same side so that the exhaled droplets are blown away from both of you (down wind).

These  breathing skills seem so simple; however, in our experience with people with asthma and other symptoms, it took practice, practice, and practice to change their automatic breathing patterns. The new pattern is pause (stop) the breath and then exhale through your nose. Remember, this breathing pattern is not forced and with practice it will occur effortlessly.

The following blogs offer instructions for mastering effortless diaphragmatic breathing.

https://peperperspective.com/2017/06/23/healing-irritable-bowel-syndrome-with-diaphragmatic-breathing/

https://peperperspective.com/2018/10/04/breathing-reduces-acid-reflux-and-dysmenorrhea-discomfort/

https://peperperspective.com/2019/03/24/anxiety-lightheadedness-palpitations-prodromal-migraine-symptoms-breathing-to-the-rescue/

https://peperperspective.com/2017/03/19/enjoy-sex-breathe-away-the-pain/

https://peperperspective.com/2015/02/18/reduce-hot-flashes-and-premenstrual-symptoms-with-breathing/

https://peperperspective.com/2015/09/25/resolving-pelvic-floor-pain-a-case-report/

References

Peper, E., Martinez Aranda, P., & Moss, E. (2015). Vulvodynia treated successfully with breathing biofeedback and integrated stress reduction: A case report. Biofeedback. 43(2), 103-109.

Peper, E., Mason, L., Huey, C. (2017).  Healing irritable bowel syndrome with diaphragmatic breathing. Biofeedback. (45-4). /

Peper, E., and Tibbetts, V. (1992).  Fifteen-Month follow up with asthmatics utilizing EMG/Incentive inspirometer feedback. Bio­feedback and Self-Regulation. 17 (2), 143-151. 

Peper, E. & Tibbetts, V. (1994). Effortless diaphragmatic breathing. Physical Therapy Products. 6(2), 67-71.  Also in:  Electromyography:  Applications in Physical Therapy. Montreal: Thought Technology Ltd. 

Peper, E.  and Tibbitts, V.  (2003). Protocol for the treatment of asthma.  In:  Zheng, Y. (ed).  Clinical Practice of Biofeedback. Beijing:  High Education Press (HEP). 163-176. ISBN 7-04-011420-8

 


Reduce TechStress at Home

Adapted from the upcoming book, Peper, E., Harvey, R., & Faass, (in press). Tech Stress: How Technology Is Hijacking Our Lives, Strategies for Coping, and Pragmatic Ergonomics. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books.

fig 1 extended neck

Numerous people report that working at the computer at home is more tiring than working in the office.  Although there are obvious advantages to working at home, there are also disadvantages (e.g., no space to work, challenging ergonomics, no escape from the family, lack of nonverbal cues used to communicate, less informal sharing at the water cooler, increased multitasking by working and having to take care of the children).

A major challenge is having a comfortable work space in your home.  This may mean finding a place to put the computer, keyboard and screen.  For some it is the kitchen table, desk in the corner of the bedroom, or coffee table while other it is in a totally separate room.

Incorrect ergonomic arrangement and stressed work style often increases neck, shoulder discomfort and aggravates eye strain and tiredness. Regardless how your digital work space is organized, implement the following life and work style suggestions and ergonomics recommendations to promote health.

LIFE AND WORK STYLE SUGGESTIONS

Take many, many, many breaks.  Movement breaks will reduce the covert static tension that builds up as we sit in static positions and work at the computer.

  • Every few minutes take a small break such as stand up and wiggle or role your shoulders. When performing the movements, stop looking at the screen and look around the room or out the window.
  • Every 30 minutes get up walk around for and move your body. Use timers to notify you every 30 minutes to take a break (e.g., cellphone alarms or personal digital assistants such as Hey Google, Siri, or Alexa).

Improve vision.

  • Take vision breaks to reduce eye fatigue.
    • Every few minutes look away from the screen and into the far distance and blink. If at all possible look outside at green plants which relaxes the near vision induced tension.
    • Blink and blink again. When working at the computer we reduce our blinking rate. Thus, blink each time you click on a new link, finishing entering a column of numbers, etc.
    • Close your eyes by letting the eye lids drop down as you also relax your jaw. Imagine a hook on top of your head which is pulling your head upward and at the same time drop your shoulders.
  • Reduce glare and bright backgrounds
    • Arrange your computer screen at 90 degrees to the brightest light source.
    • Have a darker background behind you when participating in video conferencing (e.g., Zoom, Skype, GoToMeeting, WhatsApp, FaceTime). Your face will be visible.

Regenerate

  • When stressed remember to breathe. As you inhale let your stomach expand as you exhale let the air flow out slowly.
  • Stop watching and listening to the negative news (check the news no more than once a day). Watch positive and humorous movies.
  • Get fresh air, go for a walk, and be in the sun
  • Reconnect with friends and share positive experiences.
  • Remind yourself, that this too shall pass.

ERGONOMIC RECOMMENDATIONS: MAKE THE WORLD YOURS

Good ergonomics means adapting the equipment and environment to you and not the other way around. Optimizes the arrangement of the chair, desk, keyboard, mouse, camera, screen and yourself as shown in Figure 1.

Workstation-Setup1

Figure 1. Recommended arrangement for working at the computer.

Arrange the laptop

The laptop is challenging because if your hands are at the right height for data entry on the keyboard, then you must look down to see the screen.  If the screen at the right height, then you have to raise your hands to reach the keyboard. There are two solutions for this challenge.

  1. Use an external keyboard and mouse, then raise the laptop so that the top of the screen is at eye level. Use a laptop stand or a stack of books to raise the lap top.
  2. Use an external monitor for display, then use the laptop as your keyboard.

If these solutions are not possible, take many, many, many breaks to reduce the neck and shoulder stress.

Arrange the computer workstation

  1. Adjust the chair so that your forearms can rest on the table without raising your shoulders. This may mean sitting on a pillow. If the chair is then too high and your legs dangle, create a foot stool on which you can rest your feet.
  2. Adjust the monitor so that the top of the screen is at eye level. If the monitor is too low, raise it by putting some books underneath it.
  3. If possible, alternate standing and sitting while working.

RESOURCES

Ergonomic suggestions for working at the computer and laptop.

https://peperperspective.com/2014/09/30/cartoon-ergonomics-for-working-at-the-computer-and-laptop/

https://peperperspective.com/2014/02/24/optimizing-ergonomics-adapt-the-world-to-you-and-not-the-other-way-around/

11 tips for working at home

https://www.bakkerelkhuizen.com/knowledge-center/11-productivity-tips-for-homeworkers/?utm_campaign=US+-+19+03+20&utm_source=Newsletter&utm_medium=email

How our digital world activates evolutionary response patterns.

https://peperperspective.com/2020/01/17/evolutionary-traps-how-screens-digital-notifications-and-gaming-software-exploits-fundamental-survival-mechanisms/

https://peperperspective.com/2018/02/10/digital-addiction/

How posture affects health

https://peperperspective.com/2019/07/01/dont-slouch-improves-health-with-posture-feedback/

https://peperperspective.com/2019/05/21/relieve-and-prevent-neck-stiffness-and-pain/

https://peperperspective.com/2017/11/28/posture-and-mood-implications-and-applications-to-health-and-therapy/

https://peperperspective.com/2019/01/23/head-position-it-matters/


Coronavirus risk in context: How worried should you be?

The coronavirus which causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) appears to be a highly contagious disease. Some older people and those who are immune compromised are more at risk.  The highest risk are for older people who already have cardiovascular, diabetes, respiratory disease, and hypertension. In addition, older men over 80 years are much more at risk; however, the majority are smokers who have a compromised pulmonary system. Previous meta analysis showed that smoking was consistently associated with higher risk of hospital admissions after influenza infection. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to assume that over time all most all of us will become exposed to the virus, a few will get very sick, and even fewer will die.

The preliminary data suggests that most people who become infected may not even know they are infectious.  The absolute risk that one would die of this disease is low although if you do become very sick it may be more dangerous than the normal flu; however, the fear of this disease may be out of proportion compared to other health risks. For detailed analysis and graphic summaries see the updated research reports on the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) by Our World in Data and Information is beautiful. These reports make data and research on the world’s largest problems understandable and accessible.

It is worthwhile to look at the absolute risk of COVID-19.  To read that more than 51,000 people world wide have died in the last three months is terrifying especially with the increasing death rate in Italy and Europe; however, it needs to be understood in context of the size of the population.  The epicenter of this disease was Wuhan and Hubei Provence, China with a total population of about 60 million people.  Each year about 427,200 people die in the Wuhan and Hubei Province (the annual death rate in China is 7.12 deaths per 1000 people). Without this new viral disease, about 71,200 people would have died during the same two month period.  The question that has not been discussed is how much did the total death rate increase.  Would it be possible that some of the people who died would have died of other natural causes such as the flu?

The World Health Organization (WHO) and governments around the world should be lauded for their attempt to reduce the spread of the virus. On March 6, 2020, the United States Congress allocated $8. billion dollars to fight and prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

This funding will only partially prevent the spread of the virus because some people have no choice but to go to work when they are sick–they do not receive paid sick leave! This is true for about 30 percent of the American workers who have no coverage at work or the millions of self-employed workers (e.g. gig/freelance workers, waiters, cashiers, drivers, nannies, house cleaners).

To reduce the risk of the spreading COVID-19, anyone who feels sick or thinks they have been exposed, should receive paid sick leave so that they can stay home and self-isolate. The paid sick leave should be Federally funded and provide basic income for those whose income would be lost if they did not work.  Although it is possible that a few people will cheat and take the paid sick leave when they are well, this is worth the risk to keep the rest of population healthy. To provide possible relief, at the moment the House and Senate are working on a greater than $1 trillion dollar stimulus package. 

Personal and government responses to health risks are not always rational. 

Funding for health and illness prevention is driven by politics. For example, gun violence results in more than 100,000 people being injured each year and more than 36,000 killed—an average of 100 per day. Gun violence is a much more virulent disease than COVID-19 and more than 1.7 million Americans have died from firearms since 1968.

The Federal Government response to this gun violence epidemic has been minimal. For the first time since 1996 did the 2020 federal budget include $25 million funding for the CDC and NIH to research reducing gun-related deaths and injuries.

It is clear that the government response does not always focuses its resources on what would reduce injury and death rates the most.  Look at the difference in the national response to COVID-19 virus that has killed more than 5,780 people in the USA ($8.5 billion for the initial response) as compared gun violence that kills 36,000 people a year in the USA ($25 million).

Be realistic about the actual risk of COVID-19 without succumbing to fear.

COVID-19 is a pandemic and I expect that 30% to 70% of us will be infected this year.  Hopefully, in the next 18 months an effective vaccine will be developed.  In the mean time, there is no known treatment, thus optimize health and reduce the exposure to the coronavirus. Use the same precautions and treatment as you would do for the flu.

To make sense of the danger of COVID-19, look at it in context to the flu. Depending upon the severity the  flu, 9,000,000 to 45,000,000 people get sick from flu and between 12,000 to 61,000 die from its complications. as shown below in Figure 1.  

influenza-burden-chart2-960pxFigure 1. The estimated U.S. influenza burden by year (from: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/index.html)

This year the CDC estimates that there have been 20,000 to 40,000 deaths in the United States so far this year.  For comparison that is a thousand times  more deaths in the United States than have been blamed on the coronavirus so far.

 


Evolutionary traps: How screens, digital notifications and gaming software exploits fundamental survival mechanisms

Erik Peper and Richard Harvey

If athletes, psychologists, business executives, actors, students, politicians, job seekers and others use mental and actual rehearsal to improve their performances, would repeated watching of violent and aggressive streaming-videos, or playing hours and hours of first-shooter computer games be a form of rehearsal for aggressive behavior?

Arguably, mental and actual rehearsal is positively associated with improving health, such as preparing for an athletic competition or an academic exam and is negatively associated with health when playing aggressive, violent first-person shooter video games, or continuously watching aggressive or violent content on a variety of streaming platforms. Rehearsal–whether physical or in our imagination–impacts our health and performance in school, sports, therapy, politics, business and health.  Choose to rehearse activities that improve health and well-being.

  • Athletes use mental rehearsal to improve sports performance (Peper & Aita, 2017; Schenk & Miltenberger, 2019).
  • Surgeons use mental rehearsal and actual practice to improve performance (Spiotta et al., 2018).
  • Psychologists use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) rehearsal techniques to reduce anxiety and depression (Dobson & Dobson, 2018; Yamada et al, 2018; Cook, Mostazir, & Watkins, 2019)
  • Successful business executives rehearse presentations before a staff meeting (Couch & Citrin, 2018).
  • Actors and performers spend hours and days rehearsing their roles so that they portray and act it realistically during the performance .
  • Students take practice exams so that they will perform better on the actual exam.
  • Politicians, lawyers, and many others rehearse and practice being able to answer unexpected questions.
  • Job seekers rehearse elevator pitches so that they transmit in a few words what is important

Mechanisms of rehearsal

Both mental and physical rehearsal strengthens neurochemical connections in the brain so that the rehearsed behaviors become more automated, fluid and unconscious.  There is a saying in neurosciences,  “Neurons that fire together wire together.” –the more you rehearse a task, the more those specific neurological pathways are strengthened, leading to automatic and efficient outcomes.

We now spend hours a day being exposed to digital displays on our phones, computers, gaming consoles and other digital devices, immersing ourselves in content reflecting life promoting, positive behavior and sometimes violent, negative behavior. Children and adults spend much of their free time looking at screens, texting, playing computer games, updating social media sites with moment by moment accounts of sometimes trivial activities, or going down the rabbit hole by following one hyperlinks after another.  As we do this, we are unaware how much time has frittered away without actually doing anything productive. Below are some recent estimates of ‘daily active user’ minutes per day that uses a screen.

  • Facebook about an hour per day
  • Instagram just under an hour per day
  • Texting about 45 minutes per day
  • Internet browsing, about 45 minutes per day
  • Snapchat, about 30 minutes per day
  • Twitter, about 25 minutes per day

Adolescents interact with media for over 40 hours per week, or around 6 hours per day!

In spending much of our time with the screens, we rehearse a variety of physical body postures as well as a variety of cognitive and behavioral states that impact our physical, mental, emotional and social health.  Many researchers have lamented the loss of some social skills that develop during physical face-to-face contact.  The colloquial phrase, Use it or lose it, raises several questions about what is being lost when we spend so much of our waking time interacting with screens instead actually with other people?

It is almost impossible not to be distracted by the digital screen.  The powerful audiovisual formats override our desire to do something different that some of us become enslaved to watching streaming videos, playing computer games or texting. Moreover, the ongoing visual and auditory notifications from our apps interrupts and/or capture our attention. Why is it difficult to turn away from visual or auditory stimuli?  The answer has roots in our survival.

To attend to stimuli is an automatic evolutionary survival response. If we did not attend, we would not survive–Is the slight movement to the far right, just at the edge of our peripheral vision, a predator ready to attack?

tigera

Tiger in Kanha National Park, Madhya Pradesh, India 

Each time a stimulus occurs, we need to check it out to see if it is friend or foe, safety or danger. The response is so automatic that we are unaware that we have reacted until after we have responded. We all have experienced this. When a computer screen or cellphone screen is held by the stranger next to us, we automatically look at their screen and we may even begin to read their emails. Although we know that peering at some else’s screen is not proper, we are still feel compelled to do it!

Similarly, screens displaying computer games and other media can capture or hijack our attention by the rapid scene changes, primarily because the content is programmed so we receive intermittent rewards for our responses.  For example, the sound or visual notifications from our apps, cellphone messages, or social media trigger an impulse to scan the environment for information that may be critical to our survival. Even without receiving notifications, we may anticipate or project that there may be new information on our social media accounts, and sometimes we become disappointed when the interval between notifications is long.  One student talking to another might say: “Don’t worry, they’ll respond; It’s only been 30 seconds.” Anticipating responses from the media can interrupt what we are otherwise doing.  For example, rather than finish our work, we check for updates on social media, even though we probably know that there are no new important messages to which we would have to respond right away.

The mechanisms that help us survive by scanning our environment for predators may  now become an evolutionary trap and is exploited  to capture as many eyeballs as possible to increase market share, advertising revenue, and corporate bottom line.

We usually blame the individual for lack of self-control instead of blaming the designers of the digital apps, games and displays who have exploited this biological survival mechanism.  We expect that children have voluntary control as their brains are developing–but how could they not react to the stimuli that for thousands of generations, helped them to survive. It is similar to asking children to have control and say “No” to fast foods and sweets. The foods that were previously necessary for survival represented by moderate amounts of ‘salt, fat, acid, heat and sweet’ tastes are often found in excess in our modern commercial or packaged ‘fast food nation’ making it likely that people may fall into an evolutionary trap related to what they eat.

Presently, high levels of exposure to violent and aggressive streaming videos and computer games can be harmful as they provide the practice to rehearse violence, killing and aggression mentally. It would be too strong a statement to assert that everyone who plays violent video games will become delinquent, criminal or homicidal in an extreme form of aggression.  According to the American Psychological Association Task Force on Video Game Violence in 2017, it may be asserted that high frequency, long duration, high intensity interactions with violent video games or similar media content is highly associated with angry and aggressive thoughts, desensitization to violence, and decreases in empathy or helping others (Calvert et al., 2017).  Some forms of social media interactions also lead to a form of social isolation,  loneliness (phoneliness) (Christodoulou, G., Majmundar, A., Chou, C-P, & Pentz, M.A., 2020; Kardaras, 2017).   Digital content requires the individual to respond to the digital stimuli, without being aware of the many verbal and nonverbal communication cues (facial expressions, gestures, tone of voice, eye contact, body language, posture, touch, etc) that are part of social communication (Remland, 2016). It is no wonder that more and more adolescents experience anxiety, depression, loneliness, and attention deficit disorders with a constant ‘digital diet’ that some have suggested include not only media, but junk food as well .

The negative impact of watching digital media was prescient by Jerry Mander, one of the leading visionaries of the 20th century, in his 1978 book, Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, as well as by Joseph C. Pearce, author of books on human development and child development, in his 1993 book, Evolution’s End.

More recently, two superb books detail the harm that the digital revolution has brought, along with recommended strategies for how to use modern technologies wisely and live successfully in an e-world.  We are not saying to avoid the beneficial parts of the digital age.   We are saying to be aware how some material and digital platforms prey upon our evolutionary survival mechanisms.  Unfortunately, most people —especially children– have not evolved skills to counter the negative impacts of some types of media exposure.  It may take parental control and societal policies to mitigate the damage and enhance the benefits of the digital age. We highly recommend the following two books.

Glow Kids by Nicholas Kardaras, PhD describes the impact of excessive texting and computer gaming as well as strategies how to use digital media wisely

Deep Work by Cal Newport, PhD describes the impact of constant interruptions and offers rules for focused success in a distracted world.

book covers

References:

Calvert, S. L., Appelbaum, M., Dodge, K. A., Graham, S., Nagayama Hall, G. C., Hamby, S., Fasig-Caldwell, L. G., Citkowicz, M., Galloway, D. P., & Hedges, L. V. (2017). The American Psychological Association Task Force assessment of violent video games: Science in the service of public interest. American Psychologist, 72(2), 126–143. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0040413

Christodoulou, G., Majmundar, A., Chou, C-P, & Pentz, M.A. (2020). Anhedonia, screen time, and substance use in early adolescents: A longitudinal mediation analysis. Journal of Adolescence, 78, 24-32.

Cook L, Mostazir M, Watkins E, (2019). Reducing Stress and Preventing Depression (RESPOND): Randomized Controlled Trial of Web-Based Rumination-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for High-Ruminating University Students. J Med Internet Res, 21(5):e11349

Couch, M. A., & Citrin, R. (2018). Retooling leadership development. Strategic HR Review, 17(6), 275-281.

Dobson, D. & Dobson, K.S. (2018). Evidence-Based Practice of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, 2nd ed. New York: Guilford Press.

Kardaras, N. (2017).  Glow Kids, New York: St. Martin’s Griffin

Mander, J. (1978).  Four arguments for the Elimination of Television. New York: William Morrow Paperbacks.

Newport, C. (2019). Deep Work. New York: Grand Central Publishing

Pearce, J. C. (1993). Evolution’s End. New York: Harper One

Peper, E. & Aita, J. (2017). Winning the Gold in Weightlifting Using Biofeedback, Imagery and Cognitive Change. Biofeedback, 45(4), 77-82

Remland, M.S. (2016). Nonverbal Communication in Everyday Life, 4th ed.  London: Sage Publications Ltd.

Schenk, M. & Miltenberger, R. (2019). A review of behavioral interventions to enhance sports performance. Behavior Interventions, 33(2), 248-279.

Spiotta, A.M, Buchholz, A.L., Pierce, A. K., Dahlkoetter, J., & Armonda, R. (2018).  The Neurosurgeon as a High-Performance Athlete: Parallels and Lessons Learned from Sports Psychology. World Neurosurgery, 120, e188-e193

Yamada, F., Hiramatsu, Y., Murata, T., Seki, Y., Yokoo, M., Noguchi, R., … & Shimizu, E. (2018). Exploratory study of imagery rescripting without focusing on early traumatic memories for major depressive disorder. Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice91(3), 345-362.

 

 


Life has choices

When you woke up this morning, how did you feel? Were you looking forward to the day anticipating with joy what would occur or were you dreading the day as if once again you had to step on the treadmill of life?

photo

Whenever I ask this question of college students in their junior or senior year at an urban university about 20% will answer that they are looking forward to the day. The majority answer, “Well not really”, or even “Oh shit, another day”. For many students the burden of working 40 plus hours a week to pay for rent and tuition, worrying about financial debt, the challenge of commuting, and finding time to do the homework is overwhelming. Focusing on quality of life is not only a challenge for students, but for all of us.

Each day ask yourself, “Am I looking forward to my day and my activities?” If the answer is “No,” begin to explore new options. Ask yourself, “What would I like to do? Start to explore and imagine new options and then begin to plan how to implement them so that you are on the path to where you want to be.

Creating a worthwhile life is an ongoing challenge.  An inspiring essay by Steven James articulates this by exploring factors that contribute to sickness and health during the height of the AIDs epidemic.  He outline rules that contribute to 1) how to get sick, 2) how to get sicker (if you are already sick), and 3) how to stay well (or get better, if you are not so well to begin with).

Steven James’s Totally Subjective, Nonscientific Guide to Illness and Health: Ten-Step Programs

How to Get Sick

·       Don’t pay attention to your body. Eat plenty of junk food, drink too much, take drugs, have lots of unsafe sex with lots of different partners—and, above all, feel guilty about it. If you are overstressed and tired, ignore it and keep pushing yourself.

·       Cultivate the experience of your life as meaningless and of little value.

·       Do the things you don’t like, and avoid doing what you really want. Follow everyone else’s opinions and advice, while seeing yourself as miserable and “stuck.”

·       Be resentful and hypercritical, especially toward yourself.

·       Fill your mind with dreadful pictures, and then obsess over them. Worry most, if not all, of the time.

·       Avoid deep, lasting, intimate relationships.

·       Blame other people for all your problems.

·       Do not express your feelings and views openly and honestly. Other people wouldn’t appreciate it. If at all possible, do not even know what your feelings are.

·       Shun anything that resembles a sense of humor. Life is no laughing matter!

·       Avoid making any changes that would bring you greater satisfaction and joy.

 How to Get Sicker (If You’re Already Sick)

·       Think about all the awful things that could happen to you. Dwell upon negative, fearful images.

·       Be depressed, self-pitying, envious, and angry. Blame everyone and everything for your illness.

·       Read articles, books, and newspapers, watch TV programs, surf the net, and listen to people who reinforce the viewpoint that there is NO HOPE. You are powerless to influence your fate.

·       Cut yourself off from other people. Regard yourself as a pariah. Lock yourself up in your room and contemplate death.

·       Hate yourself for having destroyed your life. Blame yourself mercilessly and incessantly.

·       Go to see lots of different doctors. Run from one to another, spend half your time in waiting rooms, get lots of conflicting opinions and lots of experimental drugs, starting one program after another without sticking to any.

·       Quit your job, stop work on any projects, give up all activities that bring you a sense of purpose and fun. See your life as essentially pointless, and at an end.

·       Complain about your symptoms, and if you associate with anyone, do so exclusively with other people who are unhappy and embittered. Reinforce each other’s feelings of hopelessness.

·       Don’t take care of yourself. What’s the use? Try to get other people to do it for you, and then resent them for not doing a good job.

·       Think how awful life is, and how you might as well be dead. But make sure you are absolutely terrified of death, just to increase the pain.

 

How to Stay Well (Or Get Better, If You’re Not So Well to Begin With)

·       Do things that bring you a sense of fulfillment, joy, and purpose, that validate your worth. See your life as your own creation and strive to make it a positive one.

·       Pay close and loving attention to yourself, tuning in to your needs on all levels. Take care of yourself, nourishing, supporting, and encouraging yourself.

·       Release all negative emotions—resentment, envy, fear, sadness, anger. Express your feelings appropriately; don’t hold onto them. Forgive yourself.

·       Hold positive images and goals in your mind, pictures of what you truly want in your life. When fearful images arise, refocus on images that evoke feelings of peace and joy.

·       Love yourself, and love everyone else. Make loving the purpose and primary expression of your life.

·       Create fun, loving, honest relationships, allowing for the expression and fulfillment of needs for intimacy and security. Try to heal any wounds in past relationships, as with old lovers, and with your mother and father.

·       Make a positive contribution to your community, through some form of work or service that you value and enjoy.

·       Make a commitment to health and well-being, and develop a belief in the possibility of wholeness. Develop your own healing program, drawing on the support and advice of experts without becoming enslaved to them.

·       Accept yourself and everything in your life as an opportunity for growth and learning. Be grateful. When you fuck up, forgive yourself, learn what you can from the experience, and then move on.

·       Keep a sense of humor.

As you go into the New Year, remind yourself that life has choices.

 


Reduce stress, anxiety and negative thoughts with posture, breathing and reframing

This post has been adapted from Peper, E., Harvey, R., & Hamiel, D.  (2019). Transforming thoughts with postural awareness to increase therapeutic and teaching efficacy.  NeuroRegulation, 6(3), 153-169.  doi:10.15540/nr.6.3.1533-1 

When locked into a position, options appear less available. By unlocking our body, we allow our brain to unlock and become open to new options.

Changing positions may dissolve the rigidity associated with a fixed position. When we step away from the conflict, take a walk, look up at the treetops, roof lines and clouds, or do something different, we loosen up and new ideas may occur. We may then be able see the conflict from a different point of view that allows resolution.

When stressed, anxious or depressed, it is challenging to change. The negative feelings, thoughts and worries continue to undermine the practice of reframing the experience more positively. Our recent study found that a simple technique, that integrates posture with breathing and reframing, rapidly reduces anxiety, stress, and negative self-talk (Peper, Harvey, Hamiel, 2019). 

Thoughts and emotions affect posture and posture affects thoughts and emotions. When stressed or worried (e.g., school performance, job security, family conflict, undefined symptoms, or financial insecurity), our bodies respond to the negative thoughts and emotions by slightly collapsing and shifting into a protective position. When we collapse/slouch, we are much more at risk to:

When we are upright and look up, we are more likely to:

Experience how posture affects memory and the feelings (adapted from Alan Alda, 2018)

Stand up and do the following:

  1. Think of a memory/event when you felt defeated, hurt or powerless and put your body in the posture that you associate with this feeling. Make it as real as possible . Stay with the feeling and associated body posture for 30 seconds. Let go of the memory  and posture. Observe what you experienced.
  2. Think of a memory/event when you felt empowered, positive and happy put your body in the posture that you associate with those feelings. Make it as real as possible. Stay with the feeling and associated body posture for 30 seconds. Let go of the memory and posture. Observe what you experienced.
  3. Adapt the defeated posture and now recall the positive empowering memory while staying in the defeated posture. Observe what you experience.
  4. Adapt the empowering posture and now recall the defeated hopeless memory while staying in the empowered posture. Observe what you experience.

Almost all people report that when they adapt the body posture congruent with the emotion that it was much easier to access the memory and feel the emotion. On the other hand when they adapt the body posture that was the opposite to the emotions, then it was almost impossible to experience the emotions. For many people, when they adapted the empowering posture, they could not access the defeated hopeless memory. If they did access that memory, they were more likely be an observer and not be involved or emotionally captured by the negative memory.

Comparison of Posture with breathing and reframing to Reframing 

The study investigated whether  changing internal dialogue (reframing)  or combining posture change and breathing with changing internal dialogue would reduce stress and negative self-talk more effectively.

The participants were 145 college students (90 women and 55 men) average age 25.0 who participated as part of a curricular practice in four different classes.

After the students completed an anonymous informational questionnaire (history of depression, anxiety, blanking out on exams, worrying, slouching), the classes were divided into two groups. They were then asked to do the following:

  • Think of a stressful conflict or problem and make it as real as possible for one minute. Then let go of the stressful memory and  do one of the two following practices.
    • Practice A: Reframe the experience positively for 20 seconds.
    • Practice B: Sit upright, look up, take a breath and reframe the experience positively for 20 seconds.
  • After doing practice A or practice B,  rate the extent to which your negative thoughts and anxiety/tension were reduced, from 0 (not at all) to 10 (totally).
  • Now repeat this exercise except switch and do the other practice.  (Namely, if you did A now you do B; if you did B now you do A).

RESULTS

Overwhelmingly students reported that sitting erect, breathing and reframing positively was much more effective than only reframing as shown in Figure 1 and 2.figure 1Figure 1. Percentage of students rating posture, breath and reframing practice (PBRP) as more effective than reframing practice (RP) in reducing negative thoughts, anxiety and stress.slides Figure 2. Self-rating of reduction of negative thoughts and anxiety/tension

Stop reading. Do the practice yourself. It is only through experience that you know whether posture with breathing and reframing is a more beneficial than simply reframing the language.

Implications for education, counseling, psychotherapy. 

Our findings have implications for education, counseling and psychotherapy because students and clients usually sit in a slouched position in classrooms and therapeutic settings. By shifting the body position to an erect upright position, taking a breath and then reframing, people are much more successful in reducing their negative thoughts and anxiety/stress. They report feeling much more optimistic and better able to cope with felt stress as shown by representative comments in table 1.

Reframing Posture, breath and reframing
After changing my internal language, I still strongly felt the same thoughts. I instantly felt better about my situation after adjusting my posture.
I felt a slight boost in positivity and optimism. The negative feelings (anxiety) from the negative thoughts also diminished slightly. The effects were much stronger and it was not isolated mentally. I felt more relief in my body as well.
Even after changing my language, I still felt more anxious. Before changing my posture and breathing, I felt tense and worried. After I felt more relaxed.
I began to lift my mood up; however, it didn’t really improve my mood.  I still felt a bit bad afterwards and the thoughts still stayed. I began to look from the floor and up towards the board. I felt more open, understanding and loving. I did not allow myself to get let down.
During the practice, it helped calm me down a bit, but it wasn’t enough to make me feel satisfied or content, it felt temporary. My body felt relaxed overall, which then made me feel a lot better about the situation.
Difficult time changing language. My posture and breathing helped, making it easier to change my language.
I felt anger and stayed in my position. My body stayed tensed and I kept thinking about the situation. I felt anger but once I sat up straight and thought about breathing, my body felt relaxed.
Felt like a tug of war with my thoughts. I was able to think more positively but it took a lot more brain power to do so. Relaxed, extended spine, clarity, blank state of mind.

Table 1. Some representative comments of practicing reframing or posture, breath and reframing.

The results of our study in the classroom setting are not surprising.  Many us know to take three breaths before answering questions, pause and reflect before responding, take time to cool down before replying in anger, or wait till the next day before you hit return on your impulsive email response.

Currently, counseling, psychotherapy, psychiatry and education tend not to incorporate body posture as a potential therapeutic or educational intervention for teaching participants to control their mood or reduce feelings of powerlessness.  Instead, clients and students often sit slightly collapsed in a chair during therapy  or in class.  On the other hand, if individuals  were encouraged to adopt an upright posture especially in the face of stressful circumstances it would help them maintain their self-esteem, reduce negative mood, and use fewer sadness words as compared to the individual in a slumped and seated posture (Nair, Sagar, Sollers, Consedine, & Broadbent, 2015).

THE VALUE OF SELF-EXPERIENCE

What makes this study valuable is that participants compare for themselves the effects of the two different interventions techniques to reduce anxiety, stress and negative thoughts. Thus, the participants have an opportunity to discover which strategy is more effective instead of being told what to do.  The demonstration is even more impressive when  done in groups because nearly all participants will report that changing posture with breathing and reframing is more beneficial.

This simple and quick technique can be integrated in counseling and psychotherapy by teaching clients this behavioral technique to  reduce stress. In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), sitting upright can help the individual replace a thought with a more reasonable one. In third wave CBT, it can help bypass the negative content of the original language and create a metacognitive change, such as, “I will not let this thought control me.”   

It can also help in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) since changing one’s body posture may facilitate the process of “acceptance” (Hayes, Pistorello, & Levin, 2012). Adopting an upright sitting position and taking a breath is like saying “I am here, I am present, I am not escaping or avoiding.” This change in body position represents movement from inside to outside, movement from accepting the unpleasant emotion related to the negative thoughts toward a “commitment” to moving ahead, contrary to the automatic tendency to follow the negative thought. The positive reframing during body position or posture change is not an attempt to color reality in pretty colors, but rather a change of awareness, perspective, and focus that helps the individual identify and see some new options for moving ahead toward commitment according to one’s values. This intentional change in direction is central in ACT and also in positive psychology (Stichter, 2018).

CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS

We suggest that therapists, educators, clients and students get up out of their chairs and incorporate body movements when they feels overwhelmed and stuck. Finally,  this study points out that mind and body are affected by each other. It provides another example of the psychophysiological principle enunciated by Elmer Green (1999, p 368):

“Every change in the physiological state is accompanied by an appropriate change in the mental-emotional state, conscious or unconscious; and conversely, every change in the mental-emotional state, conscious or unconscious is accompanied by an appropriate change in the physiological state.”

The findings of this study echo the ancient spiritual wisdom that is is central to the teaching of  the Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh.  He recommends that his students recite the following at any time:

Breathing in I calm my body,
Breathing out I smile,
Dwelling in the present moment,
I know it is a wonderful moment.

References

Alda, A. (2018). If I Understood You, Would I have This Look on My Face?: My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks.

Cuddy, A. (2012). Your body language shapes who you are. Technology, Entertainment, and Design (TED) Talk, available at: www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are

Green, E. (1999). Beyond psychophysics, Subtle Energies & Energy Medicine, 10(4), page 368.

Hayes, S. C., Pistorello, J., & Levin, M.E. (2012). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy as a unified model of behavior change. The Counseling Psychologist 40(7), 976-1002.

Michalak, J., Mischnat, J., & Teismann, T. (2014). Sitting posture makes a difference-embodiment effects on depressive memory bias. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 21(6),

Nair, S., Sagar, M., Sollers, J. 3rd, Consedine, N., & Broadbent, E. (2015). Do slumped and upright postures affect stress responses? A randomized trial. Health Psychology, 34(6), 632-641. 

Peper, E., Booiman, A., Lin, I.M., & Harvey, R. (2016). Increase strength and mood with posture. Biofeedback. 44(2), 66–72.

Peper, E., Harvey, R., & Hamiel, D. (2019) Transforming thoughts with postural awareness to increase therapeutic and teaching efficacy.  NeuroRegulation, 6(3), 153-169.

Peper, E., Harvey, R., Mason, L., & Lin, I-M. (2018). Do better in math: How your body posture may change stereotype threat response. NeuroRegulation, 5(2), 67-74.

Peper, E. & Lin, I-M. (2012). Increase or decrease depression: How body postures influence your energy level. Biofeedback, 40(3), 126–130.

Peper, E., Lin, I-M., Harvey, R., & Perez, J. (2017). How posture affects memory recall and mood. Biofeedback, 45(2), 36-41.

Risking, J.H. & Gotay, C.C. (1982). Physical posture: Could it have regulatory or feedback effects on motivation and emotion? Motivation and Emotion, 6(3), 273-298.

Stichter, M. P. (2019). Positive psychology and virtue: Values in action. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 14(1).

Tsai, H. Y., Peper, E., & Lin, I. M. (2016). EEG patterns under positive/negative body postures and emotion recall tasks. NeuroRegulation, 3(1), 23–27.

Westfeld, G.E. & Beresford, J.J. (1982). Erectness of posture as an indicator of dominance or success in humans. Motivation and Emotion, 6(2), 113-131.

 

 


Toning quiets the mind and increases HRV more quickly than mindfulness practice

Adapted from: Peper, E., Pollack, W., Harvey, R., Yoshino, A., Daubenmier, J. & Anziani, M. (2019). Which quiets the mind more quickly and increases HRV: Toning or mindfulness? NeuroRegulation, 6(3), 128-133. 

Disruptive thoughts, ruminations and worrying are common experiences especially when stressed. Numerous clinical strategies such as cognitive behavioral therapy attempt to teach clients to reduce negative ruminations (Kopelman-Rubin, Omer, & Dar, 2017). Over the last ten years, many people and therapists practice meditative techniques to let go and not be captured by negative ruminations, thoughts, and emotions.  However, many people continue to struggle with distracting and wandering thoughts.

Just think back when you’re upset, hurt, angry or frustrated. Attempting just to observe without judgment can be very, very challenging as the mind keeps rehearsing and focusing on what happened. Telling yourself to stop being upset often doesn’t work because your mind is focused on how upset you are. If you can focus on something else or perform physical activity, the thoughts and feelings often subside.

Over the last fifteen years, mindfulness meditation has been integrated and adapted for use in behavioral medicine and psychology (Peper, Harvey, & Lin, 2019). It has also been implemented during bio- and neurofeedback training (Khazan, 2013; Khazan, 2019).  Part of the mindfulness instruction is to recognize the thoughts without judging or becoming experientially “fused” with them. A process referred to as “meta-awareness” (Dahl, Lutz, & Davidson, 2015). Mindfulness training combined with bio- and neurofeedback training can improve a wide range of psychological and physical health conditions associated with symptoms of stress, such as anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and addiction (Creswell, 2015, Khazan, 2019).

Mindfulness is an effective technique; however, it may not be more effective than other self-regulations strategies (Peper et al, 2019). Letting go of worrying thoughts and rumination is even more challenging when one is upset, angry, or captured by stressful life circumstances. Is it possible that other strategies beside mindfulness may more rapidly reduce wandering and intrusive thoughts?  In 2015, researchers van der Zwan, de Vente, Huiznik, Bogels, & de Bruin found that physical activity, mindfulness meditation and heart rate variability biofeedback were equally effective in reducing stress and its related symptoms when practiced for five weeks.

Our research explored whether other techniques from the ancient wisdom traditions could provide participants tools to reduce rumination and worry. We investigated the physiological effects and subject experiences of mindfulness and toning.  Toning is vocalizing long and sustained sounds as a form of mediation. (Watch the video  the toning demonstration by sound healer and musician, Madhu Anziani  at the end of the blog.)

COMPARING TONING AND MINDFULNESS

The participants were 91 undergraduate college students (35 males, 51 females and 5 unspecified; average age, 22.4 years, (SD = 3.5 years).

After sitting comfortably in class, each student practiced either mindfulness or toning for three minutes each. After each practice, the students rated the extent of mind wandering, occurrence of intrusive thoughts and sensations of vibration on a scale from 0 (not all) to 10 (all the time).  They also rated pre and post changes in peacefulness, relaxation, stress, warmth, anxiety and depression. After completing the assessment, they practice the other practice and after three minutes repeated the assessment.

The physiological changes that may occur during mindfulness practice and toning practice was recorded in a separate study with 11 undergraduate students (4 males, 7 females; average age 21.4 years. Heart rate and respiration were monitored with ProComp Infiniti™ system (Thought Technology, Ltd., Montreal, Canada).  Respiration was monitored from the abdomen and upper thorax with strain gauges and heartrate was monitored with a blood volume pulse sensor placed on the thumb.

After the sensors were attached, the participants faced away from the screen so they did not receive feedback.  They then followed the same procedure as described earlier, with three minutes of mindfulness, or toning practice, counterbalanced.  After each condition, they completed a subjective assessment form rating experiences as described above.

RESULTS:  SUBJECTIVE FINDINGS

Toning was much more successful in reducing mind wandering and intrusive thoughts than mindfulness. Toning also significantly increased awareness of body vibration as compared to mindfulness as shown in Figure 1.0 Intrusive wandering thoughts comparison

Figure 1. Differences between mindfulness and toning practice.

There was no significant difference between toning and mindfulness in the increased self-report of peacefulness, warmth, relaxation, and decreased self-report of anxiety and depression as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2. No significant difference between toning and mindfulness practice in relaxation or stress reports.0 relax comparison

RESULTS: PHYSIOLOGICAL FINDINGS

Respiration rate was significantly lower during toning (4.6 br/min) as compared to mindfulness practice (11.6 br/min); heart rate standard deviation (SDNN) was much higher during toning condition (11.6) (SDNN 103.7 ms) than mindfulness (6.4) (SDNN 61.9 ms). Two representative physiological recording are shown in Figure 3.

0 physiological comparison black white a

Figure 3. Representative recordings of breathing and heart rate during mindfulness and toning practice. During toning the respiration rate (chest and abdomen) was much slower than during mindfulness and baseline conditions.  Also, during toning heart rate variability was much larger than during mindfulness or baseline conditions.

DISCUSSION

Toning practice is a useful strategy to reduce mind wandering as well as inhibit intrusive thoughts and increase heart rate variability (HRV). Most likely toning uses the same neurological pathways as self-talk and thus inhibits the negative and hopeless thoughts. Toning is a useful meditation alternative because it instructs people to make a sound that vibrates in their body and thus they attend to the sound and not to their thoughts.

Physiologically, toning immediately changed the respiration rate to less than 6 breaths per minute and increases heart rate variability. This increase in heart rate variability occurs without awareness or striving. We recommend that toning is integrated as a strategy to complement bio-neurofeedback protocols. It may be a useful approach to enhance biofeedback-assisted HRV training since toning increases HRV without trying and it may be used as an alternative to mindfulness, or used in tandem for maximum effectiveness.

TAKE HOME MESSAGE

1) When people report feeling worried and anxious and have difficulty interrupting ruminations that they first practice toning before beginning mindfulness meditation or bio-neurofeedback training.

2) When training participants to increase heart rate variability, toning could be a powerful technique to increase HRV without striving

TONING DEMONSTRATION AND INSTRUCTION BY SOUND HEALER MADHU ANZIANI

For the published article see: Peper, E., Pollack, W., Harvey, R., Yoshino, A., Daubenmier, J. & Anziani, M. (2019). Which quiets the mind more quickly and increases HRV: Toning or mindfulness? NeuroRegulation, 6(3), 128-133.

REFERENCES

Creswell, J. D. (2015). Mindfulness Interventions. Annual Review of Psychology, 68, 491-516.

Dahl, C. Lutz, A., & Davidson, R. J. (2015). Reconstructing and deconstructing the self: Cognitive mechanisms in meditation practice. Trends in Cognitive Science, 19(9), 515-523.

Khazan, I. Z. (2013). The Clinical Handbook of Biofeedback: A Step-by-Step Guide for Training and Practice with Mindfulness. John Wiley & Sons.

Khazan, I. Z. (2019). Biofeedback and Mindfulness in Everyday Life.  New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Kopelman-Rubin, D., Omer, H., & Dar, R. (2017). Brief therapy for excessive worry: Treatment model, feasibility, and acceptability of a new treatment. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 29(3), 291-306. 

Peper, E., Harvey, R., & Lin, I-M. (2019).  Mindfulness training has themes common to other technique. Biofeedback. 47(3),

van der Zwan, J. E., de Vente, W., Huizink, A. C., Bogels, S. M., & de Bruin, E. I.  (2015). Physical activity, mindfulness meditation, or heart rate variability biofeedback for stress reduction: A randomized controlled trial. Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, 40(4), 257-268. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10484-015-9293-x