Cortisol Stress and Eustress – How to Harness the Power of Your Stress for Good!

Cortisol is widely considered to be the ‘stress hormone’ and is one of the big underlying factors that make chronic stress so dangerous.

Stress itself is actually the result of multiple hormones and neurotransmitters that are released in response to what your body and mind perceive as some kind of threat. Whether this is a direct physical threat, or a more abstract ongoing source of concern does not matter as far as your body is concerned. Either way, you will experience an increase in adrenaline, cortisol, glutamate and dopamine that will cause you to become focused, that will cause your muscles to tense, that will make your blood more likely to clot (in case of injury), that will make your senses become heightened and that will redirect more blood and oxygen to your muscles and brain versus others organs.

All these changes are highly adaptive as short-term responses to danger but over the long term they can begin to take a serious strain on the body.

While it’s unlikely to adrenaline to remain heightened to such a degree in cases of chronic stress – which is responsible for the heart palpitations and tremors we associate with confrontations or with public speaking – increased cortisol is common in those with ‘ongoing stress’.

Health Effects of Elevated Cortisol

And if you are someone who experiences elevated cortisol stress, then this can have serious implications for your health.

Cortisol can increase the risk of chronic depression and other mental illness and can also reduce life expectancy. At the same time it also increases blood pressure and heart rate and can impair memory and other mental functions. It is commonly linked with insomnia as well as conditions like TMJ and irritable bowel syndrome.

Likewise, cortisol stress can wreak havoc on your diet and any attempts at weight loss. That’s because cortisol increases lipogenesis – the storage of glucose as fat – as well as increasing cravings and encouraging ‘snacking’.

Cortisol Isn’t All Bad Though!

A common mistake here though is to think of cortisol as a ‘bad’ hormone and as ‘the enemy’. In fact, there is no such thing and any hormone or neurotransmitter produced by the body has both positive and negative impacts.

Cortisol for instance is also necessary for ‘eustress’. Eustress is perhaps best described as being a desirable form of stress – the kind of stress that motivates us to work harder and to avoid procrastination. Without any stress for instance, you might not be so inclined to study for an exam – a little eustress is required in order to motivate you in this context.

Likewise, cortisol is also necessary in order to help you wake up in the mornings. Cortisol levels are naturally heightened in the morning and this is what helps to bring our brains alive after being dormant during sleep. Here it works against melatonin to help rouse us from sleep and is actually necessary to combat ‘sleep inertia’. It’s for this reason that bright light can actually be very effective at helping you to wake up.

Managing Cortisol Stress

With all this in mind, how do you go about managing cortisol stress and making sure that you are maximizing the positive effects while minimizing the negative aspects?

Often this will come down mainly to mental discipline and the ability to switch your focus ‘on’ or ‘off’ from a given task. There is an art to being able to engage your full focus and eustress while performing important tasks, but also being able to ‘switch off’ afterwards when you go home to relax. Therapeutic approaches like cognitive behavioral therapy or meditation can help you to train this ability.

Meanwhile, there are also a number of things you can do in order to reduce your levels of cortisol stress. These include engaging in regular physical activity, laughing, listening to music and socializing, all of which can help to encourage the production of neurotransmitters that can act as counterpoints to the cortisol.

Most important though is simply to recognize that cortisol and stress are tools that can be harnessed to improve your creativity, wakefulness and alertness. The key is to being able to engage them when they can be useful and to switch off the rest of the time.

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Physical Effects of Stress on the Body

If you have ever been highly stressed, then you will no doubt be aware of just how much of a toll it can take on you both mentally and physically. Stress is not only very unpleasant in terms of the effect it has on your mood; it is also a serious health concern that can have drastic negative impacts on your wellbeing and which greatly increases your chances of becoming ill.

Here we will look at the physical effects of stress on the body and specifically what changes occur as a result of it.

How Stress Impacts the Body

To understand the physical effects of stress on the body, it is important to understand its role in our evolutionary history. When we were still hunter-gatherers living in the wild, we would often encounter scenarios that posed immediate and serious threats to our lives – whether that was the presence of a predator, an antagonistic competitor or a natural disaster.

In any of these cases, we would then experience a surge of hormones and neurotransmitters in what is known as the ‘fight-or-flight’ response. Specifically, this neurochemical cocktail would include:

  • Dopamine
  • Norepinephrine/Adrenaline
  • Cortisol
  • Anandamide
  • Acetylcholine
  • Glutamate

All of these chemicals then serve the purpose of preparing us for combat/flight/injury via a number of physiological changes that increase our strength, speed and focus.

Sounds great, right? Well it is! In this condition we would stand a vastly improved chance of surviving an attack or outrunning a forest fire.

The only problem is that today, ‘stressors’ don’t tend to include predators and fires. Instead, stressors are chronic situations that tend to linger on our minds for extended periods of time. They are things like angry bosses, financial problems, relationship difficulties and large workloads – things that just don’t go away.

This then means that we end up living with the physical effects of stress for longer durations and thus get ‘worn down’ by them. Stress is a useful survival tool only in the short term.

What Are the Effects of Stress on the Body?

So if you are living with chronic stress, that means that you are living with numerous physiological changes that can potentially do a lot of damage over the long term.

Here are some of the effects of stress:

  • Elevated heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Skin problems caused by hormonal changes
  • Suppression of the immune system and resulting susceptibility to infection
  • Muscle stimulation leading to ‘stiffness’ and soreness
  • Possibly an increased chance of developing diabetes due to elevated blood sugar and insulin
  • Food cravings and fat storage due to increased cortisol
  • Insomnia and poor sleep due to increased mental activity
  • Headaches, possibly caused by tension
  • Impaired memory due to cortisol levels and interference to normal neurotransmission
  • Hair loss
  • Tiredness/exhaustion caused by adrenal fatigue
  • Heartburn and digestion problems owing to blood and resources being directed away from the digestive system
  • Irritable bowel syndrome/irregular bowel movements/stomach ulcers
  • Impaired creativity owing to the role of focus vs lateral thinking
  • Eventual reduction in brain tissue
  • ‘Hypersensitivity’ to pain caused by increased excitability of neurons
  • Loss of sex appeal – studies show that we are less attracted to those with higher levels of stress hormones
  • TMJ or ‘temporomandibular joint disorder’ – grinding of the teeth and resultant jaw pain
  • Increased risk of stroke
  • Accelerated ageing due to the shortening of ‘telomeres’ at the ends of chromosomes

As you can see then, the physical effects of stress on the body in the long term are highly negative and varied and can severely impact on health and quality of life.

While an increased heart rate, sensitivity and muscle tension is just what you need in a crunch – it’s not something that you should carry with you on a regular basis. If you are dealing with chronic stress then, you should make it an absolute priority to address and overcome this as soon as possible.

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How Cocaine Affects the Brain

Cocaine is one of the most widely used recreational drugs as well as one of the most highly dangerous and addictive. As with all drugs, the effects of cocaine are the result of its actions on the brain and modulation of neurotransmitters which in turn cause numerous subjective feelings and experiences. Understanding the way that cocaine affects the brain can help you to avoid potential addiction as well as enabling you to help others who might be abusing the highly destructive substance.

What Is Cocaine?

Cocaine comes from the coca plant and is created by turning the leaves into a powder. This powder can then be snorted for its effects, though in some cases it will be mixed with a base such as baking soda in order to give it a hard texture. In this form it is known as ‘crack’ or sometimes ‘rocks’ and can be smoked in a pipe. Crack cocaine is preferred by some as it allows the substance to reach the brain and take effect much more quickly – acting after 8 seconds as opposed to 10 minutes.

Cocaine exerts its effects specifically by acting on a part of the brain called the ‘ventral tegmental’ which is an area that is highly implicated in reward and motivation. Here it works to block the ‘reuptake’ of the neurotransmitter dopamine primarily via the dopamine transporters, but it also has similar effects on serotonin and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters once again are associated with reward, motivation, pleasure and alertness, and so this is how cocaine causes its effects.

Cocaine can also be referred to by a number of ‘street’ names and these include:

  • Crack
  • All-American Drug
  • Blow
  • Dream
  • Aunt Nora
  • Foo-foo Dust
  • Candy

Effects and Symptoms

In the short term then, cocaine causes the effects that are associated with above mentioned neurotransmitters and brain region. That means feelings of euphoria and pleasure as well as lots of energy, alertness and focus. It also suppresses appetite.

After about ten minutes however these effects wear off and the amount of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin all plummet leaving the user with a ‘crash’ or ‘come down’. This then leads to the opposite effects which include depression, lethargy, malaise and hunger/food cravings.

When used in higher amounts cocaine can also increase blood pressure and heart rate and cause users to grind their teeth. It can also lead to something unusual called ‘delusional parasitosis’ which is the feeling that they are covered in lots of tiny ‘bugs’ on or under the surface of their skin. This in turn can lead to incessant scratching and itching potentially causing sores and scratches on the skin.

When snorted, cocaine can damage the nose over time and cause nosebleeds in the short term. When smoked as crack, cocaine can also cause damage to the lungs. Over long durations cocaine can cause severe depression as a result of damage to the dopamine receptors in the brain.

Tolerance and Dependence

Addiction is a serious issue with cocaine which is highly psychologically and chemically addictive. This is due to the changes that cocaine causes in the brain by altering levels of dopamine receptors. Due to the sudden increase in dopamine that cocaine causes in the brain, adaptation occurs in order to help account for this by decreasing the number of dopamine receptors. In turn this then means that dopamine loses its potency in the brain and that more is needed to feel its full effects.

As a result, those who use cocaine will quickly find that the effects start to be less pronounced and that they thus need to have larger doses more often in order to enjoy the same effects. This is ‘tolerance’. At the same time, stopping using cocaine results in withdrawal symptoms as a result of ‘dependence’. Basically, when the addicted user stops using cocaine they are no longer getting the amount of dopamine activity they need in order to feel ‘normal’ and thus they experience withdrawal symptoms. Those include:

  • Agitation
  • Restlessness
  • Malaise
  • Vivid nightmares
  • Slow movements
  • Insatiable hunger

Treatment

If you or someone you know is showing signs of cocaine addiction then it is highly important to get immediate medical attention to help them overcome this affliction. Cocaine addiction mostly revolves around the tapering of cocaine use in order to gradually help them overcome their addiction without suffering severe side effects.

Meanwhile cognitive behavioral therapy may be used to try and treat their addiction while at the same time addressing the underlying psychological issues that might have led to the addiction in the first place. It’s also important to consider that many cases of cocaine addiction go hand in hand with addictions to other substances such as marijuana or barbiturates (which addicts can use to ‘cushion the crash’ on the comedown from cocaine use). These might also require treatment.

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Can a Health Tracker Really Help Your Sleep?

Jawbone UPI’ve been using the Jawbone UP now for a few days and have been gradually monitoring my sleep patterns with it. The device has been telling me precisely how long I’ve been spending sleeping, as well as how long I’ve spent in deep sleep or light sleep. It has also shown me how many times I’ve woken up and has been keeping track of all this information so I can see patterns over time.

I’m not alone in this current trend. It seems at the moment like just about everyone is jumping on the health tracking bandwagon and tracking sleep is a fun place to start. The question is… does it work? Can wearing a fitness band really improve your sleep and your health? Whether or not it provides accurate information, can it actually help you to improve your behavior and thus your health?

Benefits of Sleep Tracking

I have the first generation Jawbone UP and for that reason it doesn’t provide all that much detailed information compared with some devices. The new Microsoft Band and Samsung Galaxy Gear Fit both give you a heart rate reading which means you can see how your heart rate has fluctuated during your sleep as well. At least you can with the Microsoft Band – the Gear Fit needs you to turn the heart rate monitor on and it doesn’t use this information to add anything extra to its sleep tracking. The MB though uses a combination of heart rate and gyroscope in order to tell you not just whether you’ve been in light or deep sleep but also whether you’ve been in stage 1 or stage 2 sleep. Of course a few reviewers have questioned just how useful these devices are for measuring heart rate accurately and personally I’m most interested in the upcoming Jawbone UP3 which uses bio-impedance to measure the heart rate more accurately and efficiently (rather than using an optical system) and which can also measure skin temperature and hydration as a result.

But really you don’t need anything fancy to start benefiting from sleep tracking software. As long as you can see how long you’ve been in deep sleep you can tell how well you’re sleeping. This in turn then has two important impacts:

  1. It allows you to start looking for correlations and lets you do mini self-experiments. For instance, as most fitness trackers include pedometers (if not all), you can use them to see how far you’ve walked and how this correlated with how well you’ve slept. Likewise, you can see whether taking a hot shower before you go to bed improves your sleep, or whether eating a big meal just before bed damages it. Once you start to identify patterns and correlations, you can then take the best actions to promote great sleep and gradually see it get better.
  2. It motivates you to do better. If you’ve ever heard the expression ‘that which is recorded, improves’, then you’ll have an idea of how this can lead to much better behavior surrounding your sleep ritual. At the same time, being able to see gradual improvements and knowing that you’ll get numerical proof of your hard work both also encourage you to make the effort. In short this is a great way to motivate yourself to take action and that’s reason enough for many of us. Most fitness trackers also have a social element which lets you support your friends and which motivates those of a competitive disposition (I wouldn’t know anything about that…).

Silent Alarms

The Jawbone UP and some other trackers also have another cool feature that can improve your sleep – and that’s the option of a smart alarm.

For starters, the alarm on any smartwatch/fitness band works by vibrating on your wrist instead of making noise. This in turn has the advantage of allowing those who sleep in bed with their partners to create their own waking and sleeping ritual without disturbing one another. This is highly useful if you need to wake up early – or if you want to go running before you get ready for work.

Better yet though, devices like the Jawbone UP have a ‘smart alarm’ feature. This works by monitoring your movement in the night and whether you’re in deep or light sleep and then vibrates to wake you only when you’re in the lighter stages of sleep. In turn that prevents you from being woken when you’re in your heaviest and deepest sleep. Of course it makes sure you’re awake for the time you need to be but it also wakes you at a point when you will be the closest to waking anyway. In theory this should mean you’re able to jump up out of bed with much more energy and experience less ‘sleep inertia’.

Does it work? Yes and no. On the one hand you are likely to feel a bit more awake when it goes off (though it seems to miss the mark on occasion) but ‘jump up out of bed’ is definitely a little strong for describing what happens next. And knowing that you can get 10-20 minutes more sleep potentially is still often difficult to ignore.

Overall, sleep trackers are informative and if nothing else they encourage you to keep improving. This is really where their value lies and in that regard it’s pretty hard to fault them. And they’re only going to get better as they gain more sensors and features… watch this space!

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How to Use Mind Maps and Other Tools to Enhance Your Thinking and Recall

The human brain is truly incredible in its ability to conceptualize, organize and store information. So powerful is the human brain in fact, that Albert Einstein was able to come up with a working model of the universe that would fundamentally change the way we think about physics using nothing more than a pencil and a piece of paper.

But while the human brain is powerful, it is also limited in its capabilities. Our ‘working memory’ for instance – which is our capacity for storing information that we are ‘currently working with’ – is limited to roughly 7 +/- 2 (meaning 5-9) ‘bits’ of information – whereas our long term memory is subject to being lost or distorted and is by no means completely reliable.

Chart

It’s for this reason that we have developed numerous tools and systems that we can use to ‘extend’ the capabilities of our brains and to get more done. Using a pen and pencil, or perhaps a computer, there are numerous different systems that can be employed in order to help us organize our thoughts, visualize them and recall them. Here we will look at some of the best systems that have been developed by businesses, psychologists, memory masters and productivity gurus so you can start using them to learn and retain more information in your own life.

Mind Maps

Mind maps are diagrams of ideas and concepts that are all related under the same subject heading. These images start with a single word or picture that represents the central concept and from there will then have lines or tendrils radiating outwards to show all of the ideas that exist under that subject.

For instance then, if you were learning German nouns, then the central word might be ‘common German nouns’ and the categories coming out from that might be ‘furniture’, ‘animals’, ‘food’, ‘tools’. From here you would then have further lines radiating out from those words showing the individual nouns. Color coding and images can then further aid in making the words stand out more and be easier to identify.

What makes mind maps so effective, is that they organize information using a similar structure to the way your brain organizes information. In other words, they use an interconnected ‘web-like’ system, which mirrors the way that neurons interlink in the brain. This means that you get to see the individual terms alongside related topics and in turn can ‘jog your memory’ when you’re remembering the layout of your map and allow you to store the information logically in your own mind.

Mind maps aren’t just useful for learning a new topic though, they can also be useful for ideation. The generation of new ideas is largely thought to be the result of seeing connections between existing concepts that had previously been missed and by using mind maps to write down all your thoughts and the way they interlink, you can potentially encourage this. Create your mind map, then try drawing lines between items that wouldn’t normally be ‘linked’.

Likewise, you can also use mind maps for problem solving as they let you put all your thoughts on one page, you can use them for outlining articles, you can use them for note taking and you can use them for inspiring creative design decisions.

Mood Boards

A mood board is essentially a collage that you create in order to get ideas for a creative project. Say you were designing a website for instance but didn’t have any idea of the color palette you wanted to use, what you wanted your logo to look like or what the layout should be. In this case, you could then browse other websites and take screenshots of those pages you like the looks of in order to create a mood board filled with inspirational images. Then you could additionally add images of interior room designs, natural scenes or magazine covers – anything that you feel has elements you like the looks of.

From here, you would then be generating a collection of inspiration and when you take a step back from it to look at the page as a whole, you should see a design ‘direction’ begin to emerge. By combining all the elements you find inspiring, you can then create something new that will put you on track for your own web design. Alternatively, you can show this mood board to a professional designer who will then have an idea for the kind of things you’re going for. Mood boards are perfect for expressing abstract, creative concepts and also work well for interior design, wedding planning and more.

Flow Charts

Flow charts are designed similarly to mind maps but with one major difference – they are directional and intended to be read in a certain way.

Essentially what a flow chart allows you to do is to create a guide to aid decision making that can guide you or someone else through the right decisions in a variety of situations. Flow charts can aid your memory and automate processes so that you don’t need to think about them. When using them in this capacity they can work in a similar manner to a checklist, making sure that you don’t forget anything important. They can also aid decision making.

This will use a branching system with each branch representing the answer to a hypothetical question. A flow chart that explains how to choose the best workout program for instance might start by asking if you want to lose weight or build muscle primarily. Answering ‘yes’ or ‘no’ would then lead you to one of two different questions, each of which would have more optional answers.

Spreadsheets

Spreadsheets are relatively new tools compared to the other items on this list and require a computer or smartphone/tablet of some form in order to work. Nevertheless though, they are incredibly flexible and powerful and should not be underestimated.

Spreadsheets are effectively tables, except the individual ‘cells’ are ‘dynamic’ meaning that they can change depending on the content of the other cells. The most simplistic example of this might be to have one cell contain the sum of a column which could be used to calculate how long a series of tasks will take, or how much a selection of purchases will cost.

In more complicated examples though, they can provide much more useful information and save you a lot of time doing complex math. If you were planning a wedding for instance, you could create a spreadsheet that told you the overall price of catering dependent on the number of people you invited, the menu options you provided and the amount of alcohol. This could contain complex equations to work out how many tables you would need per person and thus how many bottles of wine you would need if your aim was to provide four bottles per table.

Spreadsheets require an investment of time up-front to create but once you have done this, you will be able to save countless hours. They are perfect for budgets, for expense sheets, for diet plans and for schedules.

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Coping With Stress and Homesickness at University/College

UniHomesickness is the feeling of depression or despondency caused by being leaving or being separated from home.

Homesickness is very common and affects most people throughout life but there are a few situations where it becomes especially common. Leaving home and your family, often for the first time for a prolonged period, to start a new life at university can trigger homesickness for instance – however much you may be enjoying studying and meeting new people. For many people, homesickness at university can be fleeting, evaporating once lectures begin and friends are made. For others, homesickness can come later or can remain for a long time.

The Symptoms of Homesickness

Often homesickness can feel mild; it may be a feeling of sadness that cannot be shifted or an unsettled feeling in the stomach. Sometimes however the symptoms can feel more overwhelming, depending on how serious the bout of homesickness is. Homesickness can cause headache or stomach aches, feelings of dizziness or nausea. Leaving home can cause people to become unhappy and despondent. They may feel nervous or withdrawn from social situations, a difficult position to be in when trying to make new friends. They may appear emotional or more irritable than normal. Additionally they may have difficulty concentrating on work or social situations.

How to Cope With Homesickness

Often homesickness is quick and can pass swiftly, leaving you able to settle into your new university home. However, sometimes it is more difficult to shake off feelings of homesickness. It is important to take time out to focus on helping yourself feel better. Luckily, while there is not a cure for homesickness, there are many ways to support yourself.

If you are feeling homesick:

Don’t Blame Yourself: Don’t be hard on yourself. Many people feel homesick after leaving home for the first time. Be realistic and do not put too much pressure on yourself.

Familiarize Yourself With Your New Surroundings: When you move to university this will normally mean moving to a new town or city as well and often this in itself can be jarring. Rather than staying in your room, make sure you take time to explore the area. More importantly, try doing ‘normal’ things like going shopping for food or doing your laundry. As you do this, the new surrounds will become a part of your habits and this will make the new location feel much more homely as a result.

Talk With Friends: Talk about how you feel. Many of your course mates and hall mates will be in the same position as you and may also be feeling low or more emotional than normal. Most people will have experienced homesickness before and will be able to help you talk through your feelings. Alternatively your personal tutor may be able to advise you.

Look After Yourself: Support yourself physically. Ensure you look after yourself by eating, drinking and sleeping a sufficient amount. Feeling tired and hungry will make your symptoms feel more unbearable. While it is often tempting to let your hair down and drown your sorrows, it is advisable to avoid excess alcohol consumption if you are struggling with sadness; this can negatively affect your body both physically and emotionally. Look after your health and you will feel better.

Keep Busy: Plan events to look forward to. If you are feeling low and despondent it pays to distract yourself with fun or exciting events. A night out with friends, a trip to the cinema or your favorite meal for dinner can help to brighten up your day.

Visiting Home: Plan a trip home. Taking a weekend to go return to your home will give you the opportunity to see your family and friends. It is important to give yourself enough time to settle into a new home and make new friends; returning home every weekend will prevent you from fully settling into your new home. Give yourself a couple of weeks to settle in before returning to see your family and taking some time away from university though and don’t rely on going home too often. While you visiting home can address symptoms in the short term, you still need to make sure that you give yourself time to adapt to your new way of life or you may never get used to the idea of becoming a student. The idea is to get to the point where university itself feels like home but this might mean dealing with some ‘withdrawal’ symptoms from your old home. Taper yourself off of home comforts just as you might taper yourself off of a drug addiction.

Reminders and ‘Anchors': Give yourself plenty of reminders of home. You may wish to take your furniture or decorations with you to university to help you settle into your new room more quickly. Framing pictures of your family and friends will help you to feel close to them.

On-Site Support: Speak to your personal tutor, your university counselling service or your GP if your feelings of homesickness do not improve. They will be able to discuss your feelings and symptoms and advise you on where to find support.

It is common to feel homesick when leaving home to start university. It can feel overwhelming but the important thing is to hang in there and to focus on the good. At the end of it you’ll have made some of the best friends of your life and enjoyed some of the best experiences. And more importantly, you’ll have developed the skills you need to adapt to new situations as needed.

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Barbiturates for Anxiety and Sleep Disorders and Their Risks

If you are suffering from insomnia or otherwise experience difficulty getting to sleep, or if you have severe anxiety, then your doctor may prescribe you barbiturates. Barbiturates are drugs that act on the nervous system and which have a mild sedative effect. They belong to the benzodiazepine family of antidepressants but can also be used in higher doses as anesthetics as well as anticonvulsive agents for treating seizures.

But how precisely do barbiturates exert their effect on the brain? Are they dangerous? And how do you deal with the potential risk of tolerance and dependence?

What Are Barbiturates?

Barbiturates work by suppressing the nervous system. They achieve this through a GABAergic action which essentially means that they can enhance the effects of GABA. GABA is ‘Gamma Aminobutyric Acid’ which happens to be the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. What this means, is that GABA suppresses and subdues the activity of neurons in the brain thus reducing the amount of brain activity and thereby helping to lull you into a more calm and relaxed state. They appear to do this by acting on the GABAa receptors (1). At the same time, barbiturates appear to reduce the action of glutamate. Glutamate is the main excitatory neurotransmitter which normally has the opposite effect of increasing the activity of neurons and stimulating more activity in the brain.

In small amounts, the use of these barbiturates has the positive impact of quietening activity in the brain, helping you to get to sleep and at the same time reducing anxious thought patterns that might be causing a patient distress. They might be used in conjunction with psychotherapeutic approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy in order to provide short-term relief while therapy helps to alter negative thought patterns.

Barbiturates are normally taken orally and might also be referred to as:

  • Amobarbital
  • Pentobarbital
  • Butarbital
  • Phenobarbital
  • Belladona
  • Butabital
  • Butabarbital

Side Effects, Tolerance and Addiction

In the short-term, barbiturates can have a number of side effects which may include drowsiness, confusion, headaches, nausea and difficulty waking up.

The bigger concern however is that barbiturates can be fatal if an overdose is taken. While a small amount of barbiturates will quieten the nervous system, taking large amounts can completely shut it down leading to coma or even death.

This in turn makes addiction a very serious issue to consider, especially as barbiturates are physically addictive.

Tolerance and Dependence

As with most psychoactive compounds, addiction is possible due to tolerance and dependence. Tolerance and dependence are essentially caused by your brain adapting to what might well become the ‘new normal’ for your neurochemistry. By increasing the effects of GABA in the brain and reducing the effects of glutamate, you essentially tell the brain that it doesn’t need to produce as much GABA or to have as many GABA receptors, while it will amp up the amount of glutamate it produces. Ultimately, it is trying to alter your brain chemistry to the point where it will be back to normal despite your use of the medication.

This then means that using a normal dose of barbiturates will no longer have the same effect – in order to get the therapeutic benefits you have to start taking larger and larger amounts. This is ‘tolerance’. Meanwhile, you will also find that when you stop using the medication, your brain chemistry is now even worse and thus you need to use them simply in order to feel ‘normal’. This is what causes withdrawal symptoms.

Ultimately, it is very important to avoid increasing your dose of barbiturates or to rely on them in order to get to sleep/deal with stress – otherwise you can end up adapting to them to the point where you will become addicted and reliant.

Recreational Use

Barbiturate addiction can also be the result of recreational drug use. Some people find the calming effects of barbiturates to be pleasurable and thus might use them in order to experience that feeling. More often though, barbiturates are used alongside other recreational drugs like heroin in order to reduce the feelings of ‘come down’ after use. It is used to ‘cushion the crash’. In this context they might go by the name ‘barbs’, ‘red birds’, ‘yellow jackets’, ‘yellows’ or ‘tooies’. This is still generally less common than addiction to prescription medication however.

Symptoms of Barbiturate Addiction

If you suspect that you or someone you know is struggling with a barbiturate addiction, then you should look out for a number of symptoms. These include:

  • Constant lethargy
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Difficulty walking and moving around
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty in waking
  • Risk taking
  • Secretive behavior

Meanwhile the symptoms of withdrawal can include:

  • Depression and irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Profuse sweating
  • Seizures
  • Stomach pain
  • Migraines

In the long term, abuse of barbiturates can lead to liver and heart problems, as well as potentially placing strain on interpersonal relationships. It is not unusual for a barbiturate dependence to result in divorce or loss of job.

Intervention

If the signs of barbiturate abuse are present then it is very important to intervene and to treat the issues. There are numerous approaches that can be taken to this end and it is advisable to involve a medical professional. When this is not possible however, you may be able to treat barbiturate abuse at home by gradually tapering dosages. It is important to avoid going completely ‘cold turkey’ as this can lead to the severe withdrawal symptoms described above. Instead, it is preferable to gradually decrease the amount of barbiturates until the user can safely end their reliance. Usually withdrawal symptoms will last for about two weeks before subsiding.

Meanwhile, psychotherapeutic approaches might help to give patients the tools they need to reappraise their use of barbiturates and to become more disciplined in their use.

It is also important to address the original issues that led to barbiturate use and abuse. There are a variety of other treatments that can help to address anxiety and insomnia and these may be useful in helping to end barbiturate abuse.

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Eysenck’s Personality Inventory (EPI) (Extroversion/Introversion)

The Eysenck Personality Inventory (EPI) measures two pervasive, independent dimensions of personality, Extraversion-Introversion and Neuroticism-Stability, which account for most of the variance in the personality domain. Each form contains 57 “Yes-No” items with no repetition of items. The inclusion of a falsification scale provides for the detection of response distortion. The traits measured are Extraversion-Introversion and Neuroticism. Continue reading

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Can Self-Hypnosis be Useful for Self-Development?

Hypnotism is a popular tool for many people looking to improve their mental health in a variety of ways. Hypnotism as a form of therapy claims to be beneficial for treating phobias, general anxiety, low confidence and addictions. Alternatively, you could see a therapist and hope to come away with a renewed sense of self confidence and purpose.

There are only a few problems. The first is that it’s uncertain just how effective hypnotism really is for treating things like phobias (1). The second is that seeing a hypnotherapist is just expensive and for many will be completely cost-prohibitive – especially as it’s uncertain whether it will even work!

And that’s where self-hypnosis comes in…

What Is Self-Hypnosis?

As the name might suggest, the idea behind self-hypnosis is that you are hypnotizing yourself in order to get the same therapeutic benefits that you might by going to see a hypnotherapist. Of course this means there are immediately going to have to be some differences and these include both theoretical advantages and disadvantages.

On the plus side, hypnotizing yourself means that you’re going to be able to feel whether or not what you’re doing is working and to thus adapt accordingly. Over time, you can feel yourself being successful or not and you can adjust the ‘treatment’ on the fly. At the same time, you’ll be starting out with a lot more information about the patient which you’ll be able to use to create a more tailored and thus hopefully more effective treatment.

On the downside, it’s obviously going to be challenging to talk yourself into a relaxed state and to concentrate both on giving and receiving the therapy.

The Process

With that in mind then, how do you go about using hypnosis on yourself? There are a few options but two of the ones you’ll see most often are:

  • To use a pre-recorded script
  • To use visualization

With regards to the pre-recorded script, this will essentially be a script that mimics whatever the professional hypnotist would normally say. This will either be something that you have downloaded yourself from the web that has been recorded by a professional, or it will be something that you have created yourself and recorded prior to your relaxation.

Either way, this has the disadvantage of removing the ability of the therapist to respond to you as they proceed. Normally they would look for cues that you were responding or not and then alter their approach accordingly but with a set script there is no dynamic element and thus the effect might be lessened. An advantage of this method though is that it can also be used in other contexts – for instance while you are falling asleep (at which point you will often be more suggestible). This also allows you to listen to the exact same script repeatedly which can potential help to cement it in your mind in the same way that using positive affirmations (repeating the same few phrases over and over) can be effective. You can even listen to a hypnotic script while cooking or doing other things that distract your conscious thought.

The other option is to use visualization instead of a script. Here you might imagine yourself in certain circumstances or as possessing certain traits and this could then in theory help you to ‘believe’ what you’re experiencing. For instance, if you visualize yourself being incredibly influential and successful at work and you make this very vivid while in a suggestible state, you can hopefully convince your brain to believe it’s actually real and thus enjoy the effects of the ‘law of attraction’ as this influences your behavior and the way others react to you.

In reality though, at this point the definition of ‘hypnotism’ is only very loosely applied – essentially this is just a form of meditation combined with visualization.

How Does Hypnotism Work?

The real question though is whether self-hypnosis actually works. Can it really help you to change your beliefs and to overcome mental health problems?

The idea behind hypnosis is seemingly sound. Essentially, self-hypnosis boils down to ‘suggestion’ meaning that you are suggesting truths to yourself that you will hopefully then take on board. The problem is that usually when we tell ourselves something, we simply reject it out of hand. If someone says to you, ‘you aren’t afraid of heights’, then the natural reaction is to say: ‘yes I am’.

With hypnosis, what you’re trying to do is bypass that rational part of your psyche in order to speak directly with the unconscious and to convince yourself therefore on a deeper level that you really aren’t afraid of heights.

To accomplish this, you must first get the conscious mind to take a lunch break, which is why it can be effective to put yourself in a ‘suggestible’ state first. By convincing yourself to completely relax and to stop questioning things you can thus be more persuasive when you use your ‘suggestions’.

At the same time, a hypnotic script should be written in such a way as to be very subtle with these ‘suggestions’. One way to do this is to use presuppositions. In other words, your statements don’t tell you that something is the case or should be the case, but rather they act as though it’s a given that this is true. For example, rather than telling someone:

‘You are starting to get sleepy’

The hypnotist will say:

‘Listen to the gentle sound of my voice as you begin to sink into a sleepy state’

By saying ‘as you begin to’, they are acting as though that is already the case.

Something similar can be created by using visualization – here you are not telling your brain what to believe but rather getting yourself to experience it.

Is Self-Hypnosis Effective?

That’s the principle and in theory it is sound. It’s worth noting though that the quality of hypnotic scripts can vary greatly depending on where you find them. Moreover, different people have varying levels of ‘suggestibility’ meaning that some people are much harder to convince. When a hypnotist uses hypnotism for a performance, the most important part of their act is quickly assessing the audience and choosing the most suggestible members to call up as participants.

Your experience with self-hypnosis then is going to depend on multiple different factors, ranging from the quality of the script that you find, to your own suggestibility.

With any hope, you would then be able to experience a kind of ‘placebo’ effect to the point where you’d create physical or emotional changes as a result of your newfound ‘belief’. It may be useful to this end for applications such as treating headaches but then again there isn’t much real ‘evidence’ to suggest that it is as effective as other treatments (2).

To answer the question posed in the heading directly: self-hypnotism can be effective but different people will have vastly differing experiences. The evidence for it is mixed, so you’ll have to make up your own mind!

Should You Use Self-Hypnosis?

So should you use self-hypnosis? Seeing as it is free to try, there is no reason why not.

Then again though, it’s also useful to note that there are many other ways you can ‘reprogram’ your own thoughts to treat mental health conditions or to generally improve wellbeing. Perhaps the best option for many people will be to use ‘cognitive behavioral therapy’ which is a very effective approach, recommended by many health professionals and shown to be effective in numerous studies. Like self-hypnosis, CBT can also be practiced alone from the comfort of your home and completely for free – though it helps to see a professional at the start of your treatment.

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How Therapy Can Treat Tinnitus

Tinnitus is a condition characterized by ongoing ringing or other noises in your ear that can’t be heard by anyone else. Tinnitus is not itself a disease but rather the name for the particular symptom, which can have a number of different potential causes ranging from the physical to the psychological.

While the causes are wide ranging however, they can be divided into two main categories: objective and subjective. Objective tinnitus is tinnitus that is actually caused by the existence of a small sound that can be heard in the ear. This noise might be caused by the contraction of muscles, by blood pumping through vessels or by fluid draining out of the ear. Objective tinnitus however only describes a small 5% of cases, with the vast majority being subjective.

In both scenarios, stress can make tinnitus considerably worse while in some instances of subjective tinnitus, the problem may even be caused entirely by psychological factors. In either case, there are therapeutic approaches that can help to treat the problem and provide some relief.

Tinnitus and Neurotransmitters

While tinnitus is not generally a dangerous condition, it can be highly frustrating and may negatively impact on your quality of life. Not only can tinnitus prevent you from sleeping properly but it can also distract you from what you are doing thus damaging your productivity and your enjoyment of a range of activities.

But the ironic aspect is that the stress that tinnitus causes may in fact be what makes tinnitus worse to begin with and there are a number of mechanisms through which this could occur.

For starters, stress increases the release of neurotransmitters that heighten senses and sensitivity thereby making you more likely to hear a ‘ringing’ in your ears. In this scenario, your brain becomes heightened to sensory input and starts looking for sounds where none exists, resulting in ‘false positives’ which you may hear as a ringing noise. These are the same neurotransmitters associated with the ‘fight or flight’ response and of course heightening senses in this scenario would be a positive thing – just not when you’re sitting in a quiet room at work. This problem is also more likely if you have difficulty hearing, as your brain might ‘compensate’ for the absent input. This is why studies have shown that tinnitus ‘phantom sounds’ are often heard in the same range as the hearing loss (1).

So when you’re very excited – i.e. stressed – you become so sensitive to noise that you sometimes hear it when it’s not there, especially if you have hearing difficulties. This is mediated by the release of hormones like norepinephrine and glutamate which are excitatory for the nerves. On the other hand, if you can calm yourself down then you will suppress neuronal activity through the release of substances like serotonin and GABA and this will help to alleviate the sound.

Tinnitus and Attention

Moreover, tinnitus gets worse because you focus on it specifically, which in turn tells your brain that that sound is ‘important’.

Chances are that right now you’re sitting in a room with a clock. Only you probably can’t hear the ticking noise unless you’re actively listening to it; when you work, read or chat with friends it will disappear. That’s because the same noise heard repeatedly causes a kind of ‘desensitizing’ effect that causes it to blend it into the background so you can hear more important things.

In theory, this same thing should happen with tinnitus. Only it often doesn’t because those suffering will find it almost impossible to stop focusing on the noise and making it worse.

How Therapy Can Treat Tinnitus

There are three main forms of therapy that can provide relief and long-term treatment for tinnitus. These include:

The Acoustic Desensitization Protocol/Tinnitus Retraining

This looks at retraining the patient to stop focusing on the sound of the ringing so that it blends into the background and they can no longer hear it. This is based around the same concept as the clock ticking and if you can ‘forget about it’ then you may find that the symptoms subside or even go away entirely over time. Actually, tinnitus will often subside over time on its own and this type of retraining can simply work to speed up that process.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy is also occasionally used to treat tinnitus and will take a similar approach to the desensitization protocol but with more on an emphasis on stress and the cognitive tools you can use to combat it. Cognitive behavioral therapy can teach specific coping skills for dealing with stress which may help patients to overcome anxiety that could be contributing to their heightened stress. You’ll also learn things like breathing techniques that you can use to relax when trying to sleep. CBT is very effective as a form of therapy particularly because it is fast and cost effective and can even be administered remotely via e-mail.

Sound Therapy

Sound therapy for tinnitus involves the use of a background noise designed to mask the sound heard in the patient’s ear. This can either ‘drown out’ the sound, or at the very least help them to distract themselves from it.

Antidepressants are also sometimes used in the treatment of tinnitus but generally these aren’t recommended as they have numerous unwanted side effects in many cases. If you can treat your tinnitus through therapy then this is far more preferable. Other non-therapeutic treatments include the use of hearing aids to try and restore lost hearing.

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