• Tired toddlers around the globe may be on to something: Apparently, the trick to falling asleep is to not try at all, and instead to try and stay awake, one study shows. Why? Because trying to stay awake is in fact tiring. [Science of Us]
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Much has been written about the concept of mindfulness in the past decade. Corporations have adopted mindfulness-training programs for employees. Elementary schools now teach mindfulness to students. It’s become a word that rolls off the tongue, but few of us really understand its utility.
To oversimplify, the goal of mindfulness is to slow down and to be present in your life as it happens. Critics of the mindfulness movement decry mindfulness as bohemian psychobabble. These critics point out that the simple concept of slowing down and savoring the present moment shouldn’t need to be taught. After all, children don’t need to be instructed to be present, because children are nothing if not exclusively attuned to their present environment.
And the critics are right. We were all born with the capacity for mindfulness. But there has been one recent invention that has ultimately derailed our abilities to stay mindful: That invention is the smartphone. Read more »
About a month ago, I noticed that I couldn’t help but check my phone when it vibrated. I could have been giving my very own TED talk with the President, Beyoncé and Meryl Streep in the audience (That’s everyone’s version of living the dream, right?), and if my phone vibrated — knowing that it was probably an email from Twitter that I would delete instantly, anyway, telling me that Paris Hilton just ate ice cream — I still would have had the nagging urge to check it. Even on a TED stage, in front of the freakin’ President of the United States!
The savviest of Be Well Philly readers may have noticed I was a bit quiet here on the blog these past two weeks. Sure, we kept cranking out great content—because that’s what we do, duh—but if you looked closely at the bylines, you might have noticed that my name was pretty much absent for two weeks straight. Why? Because I was basking up the sun and sand in Hawaii, that’s why.
Not to brag or anything, but it was a pretty sick vacation. If you’ve never been there, I hope Hawaii is in your bucket list. My husband, Chris, and I visited two islands during our two-week stay: Oahu and Kauai. Both offered totally different experiences—Oahu is more built up and developed, so you get more of a hustle and bustle, while Kauai, nicknamed the Garden Isle, is wild, green and gorgeous—but we had a blast exploring all the amazing beaches and hiking trails we could possibly squeeze into daylight hours.
This was by far the longest vacation I’ve taken from the blog and you lovely readers in over three years. I was lucky to have the fabulously amazing, totally reliable Adjua Fisher to fill in for me, of course, but when you’re passionate about your job, like I am, it can still be a tad unnerving to up and leave for any stretch of time.
According to a new ranking released by Movoto, a real estate website, New Jersey is the third most stressed-out state in the county, beating out both California and New York. Pennsylvania scored pretty much smack in the middle, at 25 out of 48. So why so stressed, Jersey? Two reasons that shouldn’t shock you: population density and housing prices.
The analysis used data from the U.S. Census’ American Community Survey and scored each state based on six criteria that reflect some of the most common causes of stress, including unemployment, population density and commute time. These scores were then averaged together to determine where each state fell in the overall ranking. Jersey came in closely behind Florida and Georgia, at first and second, respectively. Read more »
Philadelphia magazine’s annual Top Doctors issue is always one of my favorites. I’m biased, of course—I co-edit the thing every year with my fab coworker and Be Well Philly contributor Sandy Hingston—but it’s always intriguing to learn all about the groundbreaking medical research happening right here in Philly.
This year, in addition to the list of the 724 best physicians in the region, we delved deep (and I mean, deep) into the world of stress: Specifically, why the heck we’re all so stressed out, and how to calm the $%&! down. Sandy talked to local researchers about the biology of stress and wrote about some fascinating new research on where it comes from and how it affects our bodies; check out her piece here. I scoured the region to find the best people, classes, workshops and more to help you deal with your stress once and for all. I’ll post those resources—as well as a quiz to determine your stress level—on the blog in the coming weeks.
Meantime, go pick up the issue on newsstands now to stop your stress in its tracks. Next month, we’ll update our online database with the new list of 2014 Top Doctors, so stay tuned.
Let’s get this stress stuff under control, people. Our bodies and minds will thank us for it.
I have a knot.
It lives between my shoulder blades, a little to the right of center. I feel it when I sit at my computer, when I walk through the grocery store, when I’m stuck in traffic on the Schuylkill: a small hard knot, like a kink in a cord. Twenty times a day I bend down and touch the ground, trying to untie it. Twenty times a day I stretch — this way, that way, down and around — to try to work it out.
I know what tied my knot: deadlines, bills, two kids, a leaking roof, that long hard winter. Modern life, in other words. Chances are you’ve got a knot of your own. Or maybe your problem’s in your stomach. Maybe you can’t sleep at night. Maybe you drink too much, or eat too much. Get headaches. Grind your teeth. All of the above.
We call what tied my knot “stress” — the accumulation of worries, fears and doubts that bedevil us daily. We know it isn’t good for us. We’re told we should avoid it. (Yeah, right.) The entire $27 billion-a-year U.S. yoga industry is pretty much one giant stress-coping strategy.
Every day, it seems, science implicates stress in some new bodily disorder — obesity, depression, infertility, not to mention good old-fashioned high blood pressure and heart attacks. Now, research being done here in Philly says our stress-ridden lives are reprogramming us at a cellular level, affecting mankind’s future ability to cope with worries and regrets.
Other local scientists, however, say that conquering stress is surprisingly quick and easy — and that the power lies within our own minds.
I hope so. Because right now, my knot is killing me.
LET’S START WITH A QUICK recap of high-school biology. Remember the fight-or-flight response? Bunny sees fox. All on its own, bunny’s body yanks itself out of its customary equilibrium, drawing resources away from every function except those needed for escape. No sense expending fuel on digestion, reproduction or even cognition at a time like this; all that matters is speed.
Inside bunny, a cascade of nutrients — glucose for energy, endorphins to dull pain — is delivered to the muscles via a circulatory system hyped up by “stress hormones” that quicken heart and breathing rates and increase blood pressure. Once bunny makes it safely back to its burrow, the heartbeat slows and breathing calms via a release of counteracting hormones. The body returns to stasis, and resources can again be allocated to long-term work.
Fight-or-flight is expensive, in terms of bodily fuel. But it worked well enough for our ancestors that we made it through to here. We get into trouble with stress because contemporary life doesn’t offer the same sorts of challenges the Stone Age did. Instead of encountering rare instances of physical danger, we’re bombarded by continual alerts: Phone’s ringing! Email’s beeping! Baby’s crying! Bill’s due! We’re in a perpetual state of “anxiety,” which is what we call an abnormal response to stress. And we’re taking pills for it: We spend $2.1 billion annually on anti-anxiety medications like Xanax. Psychologist Robert Leahy says high-school kids today show the same anxiety levels as psychiatric patients in the 1950s.