Category Archives: Happiness

22Jan/18
loneliness is embedded in society

Politics of loneliness

loneliness is embedded in society

loneliness by Alice Popkorn (https://flic.kr/p/a6RWak)

We have a new ministerial post in Britain: the minister of loneliness. Tracey Crouch was recently appointed to continue the work of Jo Cox and following the recommendations of a cross-party report. This is a positive move to address a problem that is embedded within a society that has championed individualism at others’ cost, a rat-race, and a ‘me-first’ model of economics (The Guardian editorial, 20th Jan, 2018). Happiness does not emerge from such a context, instead isolation for many, with very real effects upon health.

Of course this approach is not just evident in the marketplace and the workplace. It has been encouraged in schools where grades are the measure of success, and being better than everybody else is a driver. The reality is that no-one is better than anyone else, and on continually feeling that they must look a certain way, be on a certain social media channel, have certain material things and strive to be better than the others, the pressure builds. This is one of the main reasons for the ever-growing issue of childhood and teen ill-health. Loneliness is almost certainly in the mix. How lonely must it be to always be thinking about oneself?

“You are no better than anyone else and no one is better than you

~ John Wooden

Yet this is a society of our making. We must all wake up to this and build structures that promote collectivism and connection in line with our design to co-operate. It will not be enough to try and minimise suffering downstream by picking up the pieces. We need top down change in attitudes and beliefs, because what we are doing at the moment is not working. The next generation needs this desperately. They need to be prepared for the modern world: creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration — the 4Cs.

Suffering is part of life. How we address our suffering and support others who suffer determine what it is actually like. Suffering affords opportunities to learn and transform experiences. To try and wrap people up in cotton wool will not work. Giving them practical tools to roll with life’s ups and downs together with know-how, creating opportunities to pursue a purpose, to master chosen skills and feel a sense of autonomy are all part of a healthy, evolving society.

Those who are familiar with the scientific literature on loneliness know about the biological effects. There are several key points to consider. Firstly, it is the perception of loneliness that is the governing factor. Secondly, in the case of perceived loneliness, we switch at a gene level to being inflammatory. This makes sense because being isolated means that if we are bitten by the sabre-tooth tiger, our healing responses are ready to go. That’s basic biology at play. If we perceive ourselves to be part of a community and connected, we are pro-viral because we are more likely to pass viruses to on another. Great system, but being pro-inflammatory for a prolonged period has health consequences: e.g./ chronic pain, depression–the two largest global health burdens.

Tracey Crouch has a job of huge importance. This is not just about people who live alone. This is about how society functions to enable people to connect with purpose, to support and trust each other and to share a planet. Now that’s a job worth doing well!


A brief note on loneliness and pain

Chronic pain is often described to me as being a cause of loneliness for several reasons. Firstly because of the limits that the pain can seem to impose until the person learns skills and has tools to change his or her experience, and secondly because no-one else can actually feel that pain.

Pain is a shared experience however. Each person will suffer their own pain of course, and for different reasons, yet it is a conscious phenomena that most will feel. Being that it is unavoidable, it becomes essential that people understand pain so that they can address their needs with effect.

One of many actions that can be chosen and committed to, is that of making connections and ensuring meaningful interactions as often as possible. These practices and others can easily be interwoven into life as a means to address the effects of loneliness.

31Dec/13

The habits of happiness | Matthieu Ricard speaks

Previously a scientist, Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard, talks about happiness and the ability to train the mind to cultivate well-being, serenity and fulfilment.

How can we nurture happiness?

Ricard describes how we can do this in order to lead happier and fulfilling lives, blending the fundamentals of mind training with science.

Many people who are starting the journey towards changing their pain, begin from a start-point of unhappiness. Beginning the treatment and training programme by creating a positive mindset builds a strong foundation from where one can move forward, by both understanding pain and cultivating the practice of specific mind training techniques.

23Dec/13

Thoughts can be threatening

A threat can arise in many forms. Years ago, it would have been a wild animal that posed a potential danger, responded to with a fight or by running away — flight. Nowadays we don’t often face the physical threat of an animal attack, more likely it being the menace of street crime or the risk of an injury whilst undertaking activity. The context of each of these scenarios is very different with distinct and personal meanings that result in varying responses.

The key point about a threat is that is must be interpreted as being dangerous in order to arouse activity in the autonomic nervous system. This system is the link between what we think, the meaning we ascribe to a circumstance and how the body responds. With connections that reach far into the body systems, in particular the cardiovascular system and the gut, the autonomic system is a major player in creating awareness that something is potentially unsafe and hence drives behaviours to approach or avoid.

Most of the time we do not face a physical threat. However, familiar feelings in the body signify anxiety most likely on a daily basis: tension, butterflies in the stomach (actually changing blood flow that triggers neural activity), increased heart and breathing rates and perhaps a sense of panic. Why? Because of our thoughts.

Thoughts can be threatening. A thought that is lived, given significance, engaged with or is considered to be self-defining, will evoke emotional and physical responses. If the thought is one that plays a tape of an unpleasant past experience, fashions an image or a story that is troubling or builds a future of uncertainty, the autonomic system will be aroused. This happening over and over ensures that the system becomes more easily switched on and vigilant to a range of cues, even normal situations that can become threatening in some cases.

Feeling anxious is normal. It warns us that we need to place our attention upon the trigger and take the necessary action. Once this has been done, there is no need to continue to feel anxious, but often the association continues. Automatically there is a response to a thought, or waves of thoughts, and without control over this, the spiral continues. How can we gain control?

Mindfulness is a very potent way of tackling stress. The bodily feelings of stress are triggered by our perception of a situation being negative, risky, dangerous and somehow threatening to our beliefs about ourselves and our world. At the point where a thought or a situation prompts an automatic thought that is negative, these emerging from our belief system that has been evolving from a very young age, this propels us into greater suffering, pain, and sensitivity with increasing impact. Mindfulness practice refines the awareness of this process, maintaining a presence that prevents the dwelling upon the past or a leap into the future. Neither of these actually exist as they are constructs of our mind. The problem is the brain’s response to past or future thinking is very similar to actually being there — a lack of discrimination means that the same autonomic actions are triggered.

In the short-term, the autonomic responses are adaptive and useful. If they persist, the chemicals released over and over become problematic as certain systems are shut down due to the perception of danger. For example, the gut and reproductive system are not needed when we are escaping the clutches of a wild animal. But, similarly, chronic stress from an on-going negative assessment of a situation, thinking, will have the same effect. This is often a feature of infertility when the reproductive system is being impacted upon time and again.

The biological reality then, is that no matter what the situation, it is the individual interpretation that is key in determining what happens next. In developing mindfulness practice and emotional intelligence at the fulcrum point that is the automatic thought popping into consciousness, suffering, pain and on-going stress responses can be subdued and dissolved as presence and awareness rules over.

For further details about our treatment and training programmes for persisting pain and stress, call now 07932 689081

01Jan/13

Feel good in the New Year – here’s some simple tips

Facing the ups and downs of life is a normal part of the ride. Clearly some individuals will face steeper challenges than others. How we tackle these problems will vary according to what we know, our coping skills and resilience at that particular time.

From where do the ways in which we deal with these issues emerge? We are certainly not taught in school how to ‘change gears’ when we feel below par. There is no lesson on maintaining a positive outlook despite the circumstance or a GCSE on self-preservation.

By and large we learn our coping skills by observing and mirroring the responses of significant others, listening to the advice of elders and develop ways of responding whilst on the job. We then create strategies that fit with our current belief and world philosophy. Let us not also forget the essential ingredients of our make-up (genetics) and how they interact with the environment as part of this complex process of adaptation (epigenetics).

Here are some useful strategies that are we commonly use in the clinic to help individuals move forwards, and to fortify healthy notions of self for the benefit of physical health. Go on, change your chemistry and feel good!

1. Practicing a mindful approach to life: be aware of what is happening now with all your senses as opposed to living in the past or future in your head.

2. Smile. At others, whether you know them or not.

3. Hold a pencil between your teeth to activate ‘smiling’ muscles. Look at yourself in the mirror.

4. Watch a favourite funny film. Laughter changes your internal chemistry for the better.

5. The left ear stroke. This is simple conditioning but is a way of changing how you feel. Think of something really good and positive. When you have that warm, glowing feeling that signifies pleasure, stroke your left ear with your left index finger. Practice this often until you find that you can stroke the ear and evoke the very same positive feeling. Once you are able to do this, it means that you have ready access to positive emotions whenever you need.

6. Quiet time. Sister Wendy was recently interviewed, making a pertinent point about the lack of time we spend sitting quietly without distraction of the phone, Internet and television.

7. Observe others who look happy. Watch their expressions and body language. Allow your mirror neurons to soak up all the positive vibes.

8. Surround yourself with positive thinking people. Or at least ponder on those who have an optimistic outlook and manner. Read about successful or inspiring people, noting how they achieved their goals. It is usually by perseverance and hard work.