How Gratitude Changes Brain Waves

The idea that positive thoughts have power and change lives isn’t new. Until recently, however, the majority of doctors and scientists thought it was a bit “woo-woo” or flaky. Using brain scans and imaging techniques, the medical community has begun to see definite impacts on brain waves as a result of gratitude and positive thoughts.

Gratitude in the Brain

A recent study in NeuroImage and referenced in NY Magazine suggests that the brain rewiring that occurs as a result of gratitude lasts for an incredibly long time. To conduct this study, researchers out of Indiana University studied 43 participants who were already undergoing counseling to treat anxiety or depression.

The participants were broken into two groups. The first group of 22 people were asked to include “gratitude intervention” as part of their weekly therapy sessions. They spent 20-minutes writing a letter expressing gratitude to the recipient (although they were not required to send the letter.) They did this for four weeks, a total of one hour spent focusing on gratitude.

The second group functioned as the control group. Instead of including the gratitude letters, the participants in this group attended their weekly counseling sessions as usual.

In both cases, three months after their counseling sessions ended, the participants were asked to complete a “pay it forward” task while getting a brain scan. The pay it forward task was set up by researchers. Each participant was given a specific amount of money by imaginary benefactors whose names and pictures were provided to the participants. Participants were told that each benefactor would appreciate any or all of their gift being paid forward as a token of the recipients’ appreciation.

Although study participants knew this was an exercise, they were also told that the one of the transactions, chosen at random, would actually take place at the conclusion of the study. Based on the neural patterns, researchers concluded that the more money participants gave away, the stronger their feelings of gratitude. This correlated to increased activity in areas of the brain associated with empathy or thinking about others’ point of view.

Participants also completed a brain scan months later. Researchers found that the initial rewiring was still in place. They believe the effects of gratitude are so long lasting because one of the main regions activated is known to be involved in predicting the effects of one’s own actions on others.

The Spiral

These results seem to indicate that the effects of gratitude can spiral out to have far reaching effects. One person’s gratitude causes them to be kind to another. That person feels gratitude and is kind to someone else. And on it goes.

Although the research is still emerging, it seems clear that gratitude changes brain waves and has long lasting impacts.

Gratitude and Longevity

Living longer. That’s everyone’s goal. Living longer and living with vitality is the ideal. An emerging body of research seems to indicate that the two may be connected by gratitude. One’s mindset seems to be directly connect to physical health and enjoyment.

Physical Health

Renown fitness guru Robin Quivers references a 15-year study of 545 males between the ages of 64 and 87. The study found that men with a more optimistic attitude have a 50% lower risk of death. Gratitude, a key component of optimism, has been linked to lower blood pressure and a stronger immune system – key factors to living a long, healthy life.

In a similar study, referenced by Harvard Medical School, two psychologists asked participants to write a few sentences each week. Some were asked to write about things that had happened during the week for which they were grateful. Another set of participants were asked to write about things which annoyed them during the previous week. The control group was asked to write about things which affected them without any emotional emphasis.

This study went on for a period of 10 weeks. After that time, the participants who were asked to focus on positive events were more optimistic and felt better about their life situations overall. Those participants also exercised more and visited the doctor less, which seems to indicate a connection to physical health and well-being.

Mental Health

Good mental health is critical to enjoying life, no matter how long it is. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania conducted a study to determine the impact of positive psychological interventions on mindset. During one week of the study, the 411 participants were asked to write and personally deliver letters of gratitude to someone whom they’d never properly thanked.

The group that completed this task showed a significant increase in their happiness score when compared with the control group. Researchers also found that the benefits of this intervention lasted longer than others – up to a full month.

Robin Quivers notes that gratitude is associated with greater energy, alertness and enthusiasm. Gratitude has also been associated with deeper relaxation and increased feelings of wellbeing.

The connection between gratitude and mindset is well established. The connection between gratitude and physical health is still emerging, but it seems clear that more gratitude is connected to a longer, healthier life.

5 Things You May Not Know About Gratitude

Feelings of gratitude expand our horizons while deepening our connection to others. Happiness can be fleeting, anger counterproductive, but gratitude is transformative. It seems to make us more aware, kinder, and better persons.

Gratitude sometimes gets short shrift in our culture. Perhaps some people view it as a sign of weakness when so many are consumed with self-sufficiency and autonomy. However, studies show that feelings of gratitude are important to mental health, physical well-being, and success. Here are 5 things you may not know about feeling grateful:

Animals Experience Feelings of Gratitude Too

We tend to think of gratitude as a uniquely human quality. However, compelling examples of thankfulness appear to abound in the animal world too. The psychologist Dr. James Leuba recounts a rather amazing incident he witnessed. One night he noticed that two chimpanzees had been mistakenly locked out of their shelter during a freezing cold rainstorm. A zookeeper, perhaps recognizing his mistake, returned to let them in some hours later. Rather than immediately scurrying to warmth and shelter, the two chimps spent several minutes excitedly hugging their caretaker.

Gratitude Changes the Brain

Research shows that being grateful actually leads to changes in the brain. For instance, neuroscientists at Indiana University utilizing brain imaging technology found that subjects who were given “gratitude exercises”–such as writing thank you letters–actually showed differences in brain activity compared to a control group. In particular, practicing gratitude seems to boost activity in the anterior cingulate cortex and the medial prefrontal cortex, two areas associated with moral reasoning, judgement, and intersocial bonding.

The authors of the study concluded that gratitude functions like a muscle and that exercising it strengthens activity in the brain that supports optimism, willpower, and emotional well-being. Psychology writer Christian Jarrett sums up the findings well when he writes, “The more you practice gratitude, the more attuned you are to it and the more you can enjoy its psychological benefits.”

Gratitude Fosters Success

Feelings of gratitude are good for business.There’s been quite a lot of interest recently on how gratitude is conducive to entrepreneurial success. Studies show a thankful mindset is correlated with resilience, high morale, and the kind of persistence necessary to surmount daunting odds.

Research also shows that practicing gratitude at work helps lower burnout rates. Not surprisingly, companies that show gratitude to customers engender loyalty. And bosses that express gratitude at work encourage greater employee engagement. Apparently, a thankful attitude engenders  a virtuous cycle not only in the brain, but also the world of commerce too.

Being Grateful Strengthens Our Relationships

Gratitude is very important when it comes to relationships and expressing appreciation and thankfulness frequently makes for better marriages. In fact, scientists have put this idea to the test by creating something called the Losada Ratio, which  essentially divides instances of spousal appreciation by partner denigration to come up with a number that predicts the health of a marriage. For instance, high degrees of gratitude versus low nagging results in a strong positivity ratio, which is correlated with successful marriages. If you want your spouse and marriage to blossom, then gratitude is an attitude you should cultivate.

Gratitude Reduces Stress While Boosting Health and Happiness

Gratitude is key to happiness. The inspirational writer William Arthur Ward put it well when he wrote, Gratitude can transform common days into Thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” Research findings support this view. One recent study, for instance, found that individuals who keep gratitude journals have less stress, lower levels of inflammation, which translates into better psychological and physical well-being.

Being thankful for the small things in life is a small shift that makes a big difference. Perhaps Kristin Armstrong put it as well as anyone when she said, “When we focus on our gratitude, the tide of disappointment goes out and the tide of love comes in.”  

Scott O’Reilly is a freelance writer and the author of Socrates in Cyberspace: The Search for the Soul in the 21st Century by Scott David O’Reilly (2012-06-03), a book that explores the frontiers of consciousness.  He is also the co-author of Walking Out of Darkness, a book about overcoming loss and living more fully.” 

Beat Addiction with Gratitude

Quitting smoking, giving up drugs or alcohol, or managing lifestyle addictions is an incredible challenge. Many addiction therapists seek to help people discover the underlying emotional reasons for their addictions and work through them. A growing school of thought, one often prescribed in AA and similar programs, shows that embodying gratitude makes quitting easier and prevents recurrence.

Positivity

People who cultivate an attitude of gratitude are more positive and less likely to suffer from depression. Recovering from addiction is challenging and fraught with emotional pitfalls. According to Alcohol Rehab, a positive, grateful attitude helps addicts in recovery face these challenges by viewing them as a chance to grow rather than as something holding them back. As a result, recovering addicts who embody gratitude are less likely to relapse.

Selflessness

Many people in recovery struggle with being self-absorbed. As addicts, they spent most of their time thinking about their own needs and how to get them met, often to the exclusion of their loved ones or careers. When they begin recovering, this self-centered view often continues. Alcohol Rehab indicates that cultivating gratitude enables recovering addicts to feel satisfied about their own lives and focus more attention on others.

Physical Health Benefits

A prominent addiction recovery site references several studies from Psychology Today that point out a variety of ways gratitude improves physical health. For example, people who keep a daily gratitude journal take in 25 percent fewer fats and have 23 percent lower levels of cortisol (aka the stress hormone.) Further, researchers found that writing in a gratitude journal for 15 minutes prior to going sleep enabled study participants to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.

In terms of addiction, this means recovering addicts have lower blood pressure and a healthier immune system. They feel more rested and healthier. This becomes a recurring theme in the recovering addict’s life as their minds and bodies continue to heal from substance abuse.

Relationships

All of the above benefits are extremely helpful in overcoming addictions of any type. They also help improve relationships that may have been harmed as a result of smoking or alcohol and drug abuse. In fact, recovery programs agree gratitude alone begins to repair those relationships and improves them long-term.

What behaviors has gratitude helped you modify?

Do Animals Show Gratitude?

The short answer is “yes.” Animals do show gratitude, but maybe not in the ways we think. Veterinarians and animal behaviorists have studied interactions between animal groups and animals and humans to determine what animal gratitude looks like.

Dogs

As pets, dogs are loving and affectionate. They’re also higher maintenance than other pet choices. Dogs may understand this because they go out of their way to express gratitude. A study published in VetIQ, lists several ways dogs show their appreciation:

Intensity

Even the smallest bit of attention, from an extra treat to a belly rub, leads to a huge response from dogs. They wag their tails and lick like crazy to say thank you. Their wagging may knock owners off their feet and the licks may be slobbery and filled with drool. Dogs don’t mean to hurt anyone or be gross, they’re just saying “thank you.”

Closeness

Dog owners know the four-legged kids are always under foot or trying to curl up next to them on the couch. It can feel like they’re trying to trip or smother their owners, but really they’re just trying to show their love and gratitude.

Non-Judgement

Dogs love their owners no matter what. If their owner has had a bad day or has fallen on tough times, dogs are able to sense this and put extra effort into trying to cheer them up. If their owner has had an especially good day, dogs are right there to leap for joy and celebrate alongside them.

Primates

A study by Bonnie de Waal which recently appeared on Science Blogs, indicates that chimps and other primates express gratitude by sharing. Researchers observed chimps grooming each morning to determine the pattern of grooming for the day. Once the pattern was understood, researchers provided the chimps with leaves and branches.

They discovered that chimps were more likely to share this bounty with the individuals who had groomed them earlier in the day. Instead of randomly sharing the food, the chimps seem to keep track of who’d done them a favor and responded with gratitude by doing them a favor in return.

Interpreting animal behavior and understanding the motivation behind it is somewhat subjective. Despite this, the evidence seems to indicate that animals do understand when another creature is helping it and feel inclined to reciprocate. Whether or not that truly equates to gratefulness is a matter of interpretation. Many experts feel that it does indicate an expression of gratitude.

Breast Cancer Over 40

Most cases of breast cancer are believed to be caused by lifestyle choices such as smoking, drinking, poor diet and leading a sedentary lifestyle. That means even though the risk of breast cancer jumps from 1 in 227 women at age 30 to 1 in 68 women at age 40, you can still fight the good fight and do everything you can to minimize your risk.

Aging as a Breast Cancer Risk Factor

Almost all forms of cancer become a little more likely as we age. Breast cancer’s biggest jump in risk comes between age 30 and 40, and goes up to 1 in 42 women by age 50. The later a woman goes into menopause, when she no longer has a period, the higher the risk of developing cancer becomes. This, as well as the increase of risk with age, are linked to the hormone estrogen. The longer a woman has estrogen in her system, the higher the risk appears to be. Though there’s no conclusive proof of this, the evidence pointing in that direction is building.

Hormone Replacement Therapy

Studies have shown that women who used hormonal birth control methods tend to develop breast cancer more often than those who don’t—another link to a hormonal cause. And women who use hormone replacement therapy during menopause, particularly those who use it for at least five years, have a higher risk than those who don’t. But those given only estrogen replacement had a lower risk than those who were given combined treatment containing both estrogen and progestin. Most women are given combined hormones, unless they’ve had a hysterectomy, because of the increased risk of uterine cancer with estrogen alone.

Women considering hormones for birth control or hormone replacement therapy should discuss the risk factors with their doctor. Though studies seem to show an increased risk of breast cancer, many other things may affect a woman’s risk, and the benefits of the treatment may be more important than any potential drawbacks.

Prevention and Early Treatment for Older Women

Age may increase the risk of breast cancer, but good preventative practices still save lives. In addition to maintaining a healthy lifestyle and getting regular exercise, exams and mammograms are important for catching cancer as early as possible.

As women age, mammograms become vital in early detection. The higher your risk, the more diligent you should be about getting checked regularly. In older women, even 75 and above, more breast cancers are caught through mammography than by touch, and mammograms can catch the tumors when they’re still small. Smaller growths can usually be removed with a lumpectomy instead of a more invasive procedure like a mastectomy, which means an easier surgery and faster recovery.

Breast Cancer Myths Busted

Breast cancer treatment improves all the time, and more types of breast cancer than ever before are highly treatable, especially when caught early. Early detection as well as steps toward prevention are some of the most important ways to fight the disease. Myths that people pass along as truths unfortunately get in the way of real prevention by making people scared of common, harmless things like deodorants. Let’s take a look at some of the most common myths about breast cancer.

Myth #1: Bras Cause Cancer

Underwire bras have been demonized for contributing to the wearer developing breast cancer. The claim has been that the bra keeps lymph fluid from draining properly, allowing it to build up in the breast and become toxic. But a 2014 study found no link between breast cancer and brassieres.

Myth #2: Deodorant Causes Cancer

Internet rumors that spread to reports in the media have warned of a link between the use of deodorants and antiperspirants with breast cancer. Chemicals from the deodorant absorbed into the skin or through tiny nicks caused by shaving have been blamed for breast cancer growth. But researchers from the National Cancer Institute as well as the FDA haven’t found any conclusive evidence that this is true.

Parabens, a group of known carcinogens, are said to build up where the deodorant is used and grow tumors in the breast. But most major brands don’t contain them—if you’re concerned, you can easily check your deodorant ingredients list for them (they almost always end with “paraben”), and switch to a brand without them. The other concern is aluminum-based compounds that give antiperspirants the ability to block sweat. While aluminum can affect estrogen levels, which is a believed risk factor, experts claim the amount absorbed from antiperspirant use, even through tiny scrapes or cuts from shaving, is so miniscule it poses no risk.

Myth #3 Women with Large Breasts are at Higher Risk

The Susan G. Komen foundation lists several studies being done about breast cancer risks, and breast size is one of them. But currently, there’s no hard evidence that larger breasts on their own necessarily increase your risk.

Breast tissue more dense than average can indicate a slightly higher risk of breast cancer, but density has nothing to do with size. Small breasts can have denser tissue than large ones. And in the studies where larger breasts seemed to indicate higher rates of cancer, it’s possible that larger breasts were because of the women being overweight, which is a known risk factor.

Myth #4: Breast Cancer is in Your Genes, so You Can’t Prevent It

This may be the most dangerous myth, because it makes people believe they’re powerless to take charge of their own health. It’s commonly believed that if a member of your family has breast cancer or you test positive for certain gene mutations that are linked with it, there’s nothing you can do to prevent it aside from having a complete mastectomy.

The truth is that heredity and gene mutations do increase a woman’s risk of developing cancer. But they’re not cut-and-dried markers. According to the American Cancer Society, only 5-10% of breast cancers are because of mutated genes. A small percentage may be due to increased estrogen from things like the use of hormones in birth control or hormone replacement therapy. But most are believed to be preventable and are linked to things like smoking, drinking, being sedentary and eating a poor diet.

Forget the myths and make healthy choices in your life that can help you reduce your risk of breast cancer every day.

Ways to Show Gratitude to Your Caregiver

When you’re ill or recovering from surgery or other procedures, loved ones step in to help care for you and make sure your needs are met. In November, the month of Thanksgiving, it’s appropriate that you show them your appreciation, even more than you normally do. Here’s a few suggestions to show your caretaker you appreciate and care about them too.

Care Package

Care packages are a great way to say thank you whether your caretaker is male or female. There’s a wide variety of them available – everything from food to candles to soaps and so much more. With so many options, you’re sure to find the perfect care package or gift basket for your caretaker.

Handmade Crafts

If you’re feeling up to it and are physically able, handmade gifts are always appreciated. If you can knit, crochet or sew those are great places to start. Other ides could be handmade soaps, baked goods or a personalized painting, drawing or poem. Something from your heart that’s personalized for them will be received with love and honor.

Flowers

What woman doesn’t love flowers? Sending a bouquet of your caregiver’s favorite flowers (or picking them yourself if you’re able) is a great way to say thank you and bring a smile to their face. Add a heartfelt note of thanks to complete the gift.

Holiday Wreath

If flowers aren’t appropriate, think about giving a Thanksgiving or Christmas wreath. Wreaths come in a variety of sizes and designs so you’ll be able to find a gift that suits your caregivers tastes and your budget.

Books

Is your caregiver a reader? Maybe it’s a pleasure they share with you. Say thank you for their efforts with a book series or book-of-the-month subscription. If you can, pick books or a genre you’ll both enjoy and share the experience with them. Or consider a gift card to a reputable book seller like Amazon.

A Day Off

Being a caregiver is often a round the clock role. If you’re able to find someone to take over or fend for yourself for a few hours or a day your caretaker will happily take the time off and use it to relax or catch up on things they’ve been putting off.

What other ways do you have to say thank you to your caregiver?

Chemo Detox

Chemotherapy treatments involve introducing poisons into the body to kill cancer cells. Once the treatments are over, the poisons remain in the body for varying periods of time. Research indicates that altering diet and lifestyle following chemotherapy can help the body detox from the treatments.

The Poisons

One of the biggest ironies in medical science is that using deadly toxins in controlled doses can cure diseases. There are seven chemicals typically used in chemotherapy treatments, as explained by The Truth About Cancer.

Nitrogen Mustard

This compound is a metal binder. As such, the injection site is susceptible to pain and blood clots. It also binds metals found in the body.

Cis-platinum

This drug can hinder the bodies ability to eliminate toxins and may lead to renal toxicity. It’s also commonly associated with post-treatment nausea.

Doxorubicin

This chemotherapy drug is known to trigger hair loss and often leads to cardiomyopathy if allowed to build up in the body.

Methotrexate

This incredibly potent chemo agent can cause life-threatening complications such as damage to the lungs, liver and kidneys. In addition, it can lower blood cell counts and reduce the body’s ability to clot and fight infections.

Acyclovir

A commonly prescribed co-treatment during chemotherapy, this drug can interfere with the body’s ability to expel toxins and can cause nausea.

Vincristine

This drug is an effective cancer treatment, which can also lead to suppressed bone marrow (helpful in treating leukemia), neurotoxicity and renal failure.

Bleomycin

This commonly used chemotherapy drug is associated with build up of toxins in the lungs and may lead to lung fibrosis.

Chemo Detox

While the above toxins are life-saving, they shouldn’t remain in the body long-term. Cathy Biase, prominent Holistic Nutritionist and Professional Cancer Coach recommends taking several steps to begin a chemo detox for your body.

Clean Eating

This not only detoxifies your body, but also helps rebuild your immune system. Aim for whole grains, organic vegetables and junking the junk food.

Hydration

Water and herbal tea help your body eliminate toxins and waste. Herbal teas also often contain other compounds that aide in the detoxification process. For example, dandelion root tea contains compounds that are beneficial in cleaning the liver.

Juicing

Juicing extracts the nutrients from a variety of fruits and vegetables and introduces them to your body in their most pure and potent form. Be careful not to overwhelm your body if healthy eating or juicing wasn’t a regular part of your diet prior to chemotherapy.

Fiber

Fiber does an amazing job of absorbing toxins in the body and moving them through the digestive system and out. It also helps rebuild damaged gut flora for healthy digestion moving forward.

Exercise

Don’t do too much too fast. Engaging in gentle movements such as yoga or tai chi stimulates blood flow, which boosts detoxification. It also helps you lose weight – a two-fold benefit as excess fat can hold onto toxins.

Take a Tub

A warm bath in Epsom salts and baking soda is deeply relaxing. It also encourages the body to let go of any toxins it may be keeping locked up.

Sleep

During sleep your body renews and repairs itself. Getting a solid seven to eight hours of sleep a night significantly increases the body’s ability to detoxify.

Pay Attention to Your Environment

Items in your home can unknowingly be toxic. Check the labels on your skin care and household cleaning products. If necessary, replace them with natural options. Try to avoid plastic food storage containers and opt for glass ones instead.

By incorporating as many of these options as possible, your body will recover from the side-effects of chemotherapy more quickly and enable you to return to the life you love.

Reiki for Managing Chemo Symptoms

Physical Symptoms

Chemotherapy is one of the most successful cancer treatments. It works by destroying rapidly dividing cells. Unfortunately, as the good folks at breastcancer.org point out, cancer cells are not the only cells in the body that divide rapidly. Normal cells in the blood, mouth, intestinal tract, nose, nails, vagina and hair also divide rapidly.

These cells will eventually recover from the effects of chemotherapy while the cancer cells are less likely to do so. Until the healthy cells have recovered chemo patients are likely to experience a variety of physical side effects including anemia, diarrhea, nausea, hair loss, fatigue, memory loss and weight changes.

Emotional Symptoms

A cancer diagnosis is fraught with emotions, especially fear and anxiety. As treatment options are discussed, the idea of getting chemotherapy is even scarier – especially given the potential severity of chemo symptoms. Dr. Mitch Golant tells breastcancer.org that this feeling is quite normal. He suggests patients seek a support group and communicate their fears to the doctors and nurses involved in their care.

In the same article, a variety of complementary and holistic techniques are suggested including meditation, massage and yoga. Although the article doesn’t mention Reiki specifically, the concepts involved in Reiki treatment are also found in meditation and yoga.

Reiki Treatments

Supporting the idea of Reiki for managing the fear and anxiety associated with chemotherapy, Dr. Adonis Makris, a chiropractor with The Orthopaedic Therapy Clinic in Toronto discusses the relaxation and peace Reiki treatments provide. When bodies are held in the calm, relaxed state associated with Reiki, they’re able to heal themselves more effectively.

In the same article, Dr. Makris points out that Reiki has been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce bleeding and inflammation, and raise red blood cell count. Each of these physical benefits of Reiki improve the body’s overall health and hasten healing.

The combination of emotional and physical benefits makes Reiki and ideal complementary treatment for treating the symptoms of chemotherapy. Have you tried it? How did it work for you?

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