Friday, July 29, 2011

Law of threes

You know how it is, something happens three times in a short space of time and your ears prick up; the rationale being that the universe is giving you a nudge and here’s something you should take seriously and act on.

But I’m not superstitious (hmmm, maybe just a bit) so perhaps that should be lore of threes?

However, to the point - last week I received:
1. an email from a loved and respected friend suggesting I join Twitter
2. information from a respected blog-buddy sharing information about Twitter as a support for your blog
3. and noticed that a number of non-loopy bloggers who had been sceptical about Twitter have joined and begun tweeting.
Crap. That’s all I need, another distraction.

Tweeting = Fear
So being me, I took notice of the lore of threes, dug out my Twitter account, dusted it off and promptly felt like a right prawn.

I don’t know how to Tweet, I don’t understand the etiquette, the language, the genre (?) in fact I don’t understand much about it at all. And I especially don’t like that prickly, unpleasant out of depth feeling that could be called fear. You know the one, where the tummy harbours energetic butterflies resulting in queasiness, the hands sweat and the brain goes blank. Nope, I don’t like that at all.

Rationality prevailed! (...possibly) This is my standard reaction to being out of my depth. It’ll pass sooner or later - best just to forge ahead.

I haven’t lost my marbles (I hope).
So far, I’m using Twitter as a personal reminder about the importance of regular exercise, general well-being, brain health and connecting with others. But in the spirit of giving this a fair go and not being totally self-centred, I aim to share links to information on bullying, mindfulness, well-being, education and brain health. But then again, that might not happen at all. Maybe I’ll hate it, get bored and give it away as the time waster that I labelled it years ago.

For the moment though, I'm diving into the unknown, full of curiosity.

Getting some exercise and looking for interesting things to share:
Searching, searching:
Ta daaa:

cheers
Sue.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Random Acts of Kindness

are known to improve self esteem, happiness and overall well-being.

With no money spent
and no strings attached
what kindness can you give
to whom
today?
Boat sheds - Mornington

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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Norway

Today I'm over at jumpingaground sharing my thoughts for Norway and my blog friends with a Drabble (here).  For well expressed information, check out the Giraffability of Digressions,   Here.

East Side Gallery. Berlin.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Delectable sweetness?

It's yummy, but is it having a negative effect on our wellbeing?

Of course we're aware that biscuits, cakes and soft drinks are generously laced with sugars or sugar like products.  But when you're buying packaged and processed "convenience" foods it's a real challenge to decrease your sugar intake as it's been added to so many foods.

It's possible to avoid the obvious ones if you're determined, but as David Gillespie says in his blog  How Much Sugar  here: 
"A smoker is addicted to nicotine. Nicotine is found in cigarettes, cigars, tobacco, nicorettes and insecticide. It’s not the kind of thing you’re likely to come across by accident. In fact anyone consuming it, is doing so very much on purpose.  
If you decide that you no longer wish to be addicted to nicotine, there is a very short list of things you should stop doing:
Do not put cigarette in mouth.
If you discover a cigarette in your mouth do not light it.
Do not drink insecticide.
There. Done. Now you just need to wait about three weeks for the addiction to pass. Easy.
A Sugarer (the collective noun for people addicted to Sugar – and yes I did just make that up) has a much more daunting task ahead of them.
The active ingredient (from an addiction point of view) in sugar is fructose. Thanks to the marvels of modern food production, fructose is now embedded in almost every single food item on the supermarket shelf. Imagine how hard it would be stop smoking if everything you ate or drank contained the addictive ingredient.
Giving up fructose is far harder than giving up nicotine. You still have an addiction to fight but before you even get that far you’ve got to pick your way through a minefield of fructose filled foods." 
Well said David! Visit his informative website and blog for further information, Sweet Poison is (here) 

I was shopping this morning and dare I say, feeling just a little smug, after all I choose mostly fresh foods, and cook from scratch. I enjoy cooking (mostly ... when I have time). I'd been rabbiting on about hidden sugars and just out of curiosity had a look at some baby foods marketed as first solids, all pure, nothing added. All had at least 1 teaspoon of sugar per serve! Not just the fruit mixes, but the vegetable ones too. I hate to think what that does to the little ones emerging teeth, and so often you see young mums feeding their children convenience foods, then a fruit juice if not a soft drink that has been decanted into a baby bottle.

A browse through my pantry was in order now ... and were there any surprises?

You bet! The innocent looking and very handy herb blends have between 2 and three teaspoons per hundred grams, and are also stuffed with salts. I'm regularly adding a teaspoon or more of unnecessary sugar to meals that wouldn't be there if I'd used fresh herbs, and I don't want to think about that extra salt.

I knew tomato sauce was laden with salt and always choose the low salt option, but discovered that for each 20 ml (a modest sized dollop) there is one whole teaspoon of sugar. It's very easy to have double that at a barbeque, without really trying. However, if I chose my favourite Eggplant Pickle, there's a whopping two teaspoons per serve. Ouch.

What you can do 
Sugars aren't always labeled to be consumer friendly,  so you'll need to check out the labels of all foods very carefully if you want to cut down on those secreted away in foods.

There are a number of alternative names for sugars to look for on package labels - glucose, fructose, sucrose, lactose, maltose, corn syrup, dextrose.

No added sugar
What exactly does that mean? Simply that the manufacturer hasn't added any extra sugar to the product he's purchased. However, the product itself could be positively stuffed with sugar (or salt, or MSG or whatever)  and the label may be seen to be true and accurate.

I remember hearing about a rather scrumptious juice available at a juice bar here which claimed to have no added sugar. It emerged that whilst the juice bar didn't add sugar on the premises, their suppliers had already laced the beverage with generous quantities of sugar, but called it (correctly) fructose. I'd use the word obfuscation for that practise.

Health issues
As David cited, all of these extra sugars are creating massive health problems when they're over consumed, and as I've found, it's extremely challenging to be aware of all the food items where sugar is stashed, even when you're a relatively savvy consumer.

Given that the negative health effects may increase the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, leading to insulin resistance, not to mention tooth decay, I think it's worth being a wary consumer.  How about you?

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Reality TV meets the science of Positive Psychology


Making Australia Happy

Doctor Anthony Grant, one of the three presenters of the TV series, Making Australia Happy (2010) spoke at the recent Happiness and its Causes conference in Brisbane.

I wrote briefly about the series here (link). The excellent web site for the show is here (link)

The goal of the series was not to make the participants happy, but to introduce them to a number of interventions including Positive Psychology. It was hoped these would improve their levels of happiness over an eight week period. “The overarching aim of the series was to introduce positive psychology concepts to the general Australia public in order to encourage the use of scientifically validated approaches to the enhancement of wellbeing on an individual and community level.” says Dr Grant.

Participants were chosen so that the general public could identify with them; essentially they were 'the person next door'.

How happiness was measured
Dr Grant and his peers devised a happiness test, which incorporated a number of well-validated measures; this became known as the “Happy 100 Index”. (You can take the test here.) However, because the professionals wanted to go beyond a self-reported assessment, a range of physiological tests were also included, including blood pressure, stress, and sleep. Brain activity was measured before, during and after the programme.

The programme was holistic and acknowledged that diet and sleep can affect wellbeing significantly. As such, physical exercise levels, sleep patterns and diet were all examined. The participants were given feedback about the results, and sleep, exercise and dietary changes were encouraged as needed.

There was not a ‘one size fits all’ approach, but an acknowledgement that different interventions would suit different individuals.

The interventions included
     1. Eulogy. Write your own funeral speech including what you hope to be remembered for. It helps us focus on the goals and values that are most important to us.

     2. Random acts of Kindness or altruism. It’s known that doing something good for another has a positive effect on wellbeing. Participants were encouraged to engage in some form of meaningful activity for others.

     3. Mindfulness activities, exercises and training. Participants were introduced to ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) by Dr Russ Harris who also spoke at the conference. (More on this another time).

     4. Gratitude. Participants were encouraged to express appreciation and praise of others.

     5. Forgiveness. This tends to be the aspect many of us avoid addressing in our lives, and can be scary to confront. We harbour resentments, and these can be like a cancer of the soul.

     6. Reflection, review, renew. Participants were encouraged to pause and look at what was working or not.

The results
Dr Grant openly acknowledged that while he has expected some improvement in self-reported wellbeing, he had not expected the substantial improvements in the biological markers of well-being.

Participants with high blood pressure and cholesterol experienced a substantial drop in readings; levels of immunity increased as did measures of resilience.

Most interestingly, the brain scans showed less activity, participants were calmer, and as Dr Grant said in the presentation “a quiet brain is a happy brain”. A calm, happy brain is less agitated, with its owner more at ease with themselves and others.

The participants reported an increase in satisfaction with life, and this affect remained at the 6 month follow-up after filming was over. That's excellent news about things we can all adopt relatively easily.

There was no single overall most effective intervention, and although Positive Psychology sounds like it focuses only on pleasant emotions, participants were encouraged to embrace the full range of human experience – not to avoid or shy away from more challenging emotions such as sadness, grief or anger, but to build a full, rich and meaningful life accepting these emotions as part of that richness.

One of the beauties of the series that the viewer was able to relate to the participants, there was no embarrassment, cringe-worthy moments or feeling superior. I would describe it as supportive, and encouraging. These were real people trying to improve their lives. No winners, no losers, just people very much like you and me.

So if you’re feeling a bit down, a couple of things you can do RIGHT NOW (yes really) are check out your diet, turn off the electronic devices when you go to bed (all of them!) and right now, stand up, and do some gentle exercise.

If you're interested, you can do many of the exercises presented in the programme using the materials on the web site.  Here it is again!

I'm going to head off now and do 2 sets of step-ups before I begin getting dinner then I'll complete the Happiness questionairre. I wonder if I'll be game to share my score?

*If you're think you could be depressed please seek professional support - if you don't know where to start, try Beyond Blue (here), Lifeline (here) or your local GP (General Medical Practitioner).
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Monday, July 4, 2011

Blog break continues.

I'll be back in a couple of weeks as I am unlikely to be have internet connection on the journey home. The plan is to return to Victoria via western NSW. Hope to see you back here then.

South Bank. Brisbane 2011.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Transformers Choir & the power of music to heal.



Songwriting as a tool to process grief.

Dr Felicity Baker at the Happiness and its Causes conference discussed research into the power of music which showed that listening to music helps people who have had strokes improve their cognition and ability to think. She also discussed the therapeutic value of songwriting as a tool to help process grief as well as joy.

It’s like telling healing stories in a musical way. 

We heard in a panel discussion that musicians are sensitive souls who need to understand the depth of human emotions to be able to express them through song and music.

“It’s a gift to be able to move people to tears. Musicians are sensitive souls and need to understand emotion and to share, to be vulnerable in front of an audience for a living, to lay oneself bare, for the emotions to be bare, as a gift to the audience”.


The Transformers Choir
The Transformers are a group who experience extreme disadvantage in their communities and may experience mental health problems, general disability and homelessness in inner city Brisbane. Nonetheless they rehearse weekly and perform regularly. Their motto is a quote from Hans Christian Andersen: “Where words fail, music speaks”.
Transformers Choir - pic from here
The goal in creating the Transformers Choir was to bring people together as part of a community, to connect with others and let music do its magic. Creating music added a new focus to their lives. Participating in the group has given meaning to many and some group members say they feel less depressed. Apparently focusing on creativity in one sphere of our lives can encourage us to be creative in how we deal with ourselves in other areas.

The Transformer’s songwriter Brian Procopis, listens carefully to group members and collaborates fully with the contributors, it’s their experience he’s writing about, not his, and he’s very respectful of this. The bad stuff in life isn’t ignored or denied, and is incorporated into song, but the primary focus is on creativity and the process of writing the song. This was a really powerful illustration of the therapeutic effect of music and song that Dr Felicity Baker mentioned.

So much to think about. I’m in awe of the courage it must take to perform on stage when you are vulnerable, not only as a musician but as a member of a group disengaged from mainstream society.

This comment moved me deeply:  “The Transformers want to be inspirational and give to the audience”.

There we were, a privileged audience, consisting of professional, medical, creative, religious, artistic, and generally well to do people, being offered a gift from those who have little to give, expect themselves, their voices and their experiences.

It's really the greatest gift of all isn't it, to give yourself. Not a thing, not something with a dollar value, but yourself. They have nothing, but they gave everything.

I felt gratitude, but also humbled, privileged, honoured, energised, uplifted, and moved to tears.

They received a standing ovation.


***

Creativity. Music. Curiosity. 
A great combination to begin the healing process after bullying.


Given what we now know about the power of song-writing to aid healing, it'd be great if those who have been the targets of bullying, and are hurting in other ways, could have a go at writing about your experience in song and perhaps make up a tune for it. Or if that's a bit too daunting to start with, try singing a song perhaps while washing the dishes.  See what happens. Be inspired by the very obvious benefits the Transformers experience and see how it pans out in your life.

Articles about the Transformers Choir here and here.
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