Archives for category: Healthy brains

Anti-Stress Colouring Books for Adults Volume 1

Colouration image courtesy of Buzzfeed

Anyone trundling into a bookstore lately, or scrolling on etsy, has seen the explosion of colouring-in books aimed at adults.

Perhaps originally dismissed as a ‘hipster’ phenomenon, this past-time has attracted raised eyebrows, as well as pencils.

But for art therapists who use colour and art to soothe and de-stress their clients, it’s not a surprise at all.

Psychologist Dr Stan Rodski and illustrator Jack Dowling have trotted out the ‘Colouration Anti-Stress’ colouring book series for adults.

They explain their approach in fairly simple terms:

“The reasons why sometimes the brain doesn’t switch gears by itself when it should are not yet fully understood. However, we have made significant advances in helping the brain to ‘switch gears’. This book is designed to help you do just that. Brain studies show us that when under pressure we can ‘manually’ change ‘gears’. By focusing on the task of ‘colouring between the lines’ we can change our ‘brainwaves’ from being in a continual state of ‘BETA’ (pressured and stresses) to a more relaxed state of ‘ALPHA’.”

Colourtation – how does it work?

This kind of transition is important so we don’t burn-out, and also to help us along the flow to deep, restorative sleep (Delta waves).

Also, it helps promote ‘playfulness’ in adults, which recent publishings in The American Journal of Play found correlate with academic and reproductive success, stress reduction, and innovative performance at work.

Perhaps unsurprisingly then, HR departments at Bupa, Wesfarmers and ANZ bank are on board and are equipping staff with the books to keep them less frazzled.

As ANZ’s head of HR Kerri Harris told The Age: “I think we are all finding that the work environment is getting busier than ever with technology changing the way we work and are connected to the office… Personally, I have got a lot out of such a simple resource as it enables me to relax and change gears when required”.

Other colouring books have also aimed at getting to sleep and mindfulness with the same goal in mind for its users; colour, stay in the lines, focus, forget your woes!

Johanna Basford’s ‘Enchanted Forest’ topped the US Amazon booklist this year.

And the popularity is huge; Johanna Basford’s ‘Secret Garden’ and sequel ‘Enchanted Forest’ colouring book topped the Amazon booklist this year.

For people who want something a bit more light-hearted, there’s colouring books for rappers, tattooists, and even The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Sharpen those pencils!

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It came as quite a shock to many to hear of Yahoo! President and CEO Marissa Mayer’s recent decision to call back its thousands of remote workers to the slave yards (albeit very nice slave yards, no doubt) for the 9-to-5 grind.

Many at first glance (myself included) thought it sounded a death knell for the modern, flexible workplace: if industry trendsetters like Yahoo! aren’t into it, my employer just got grounds to haul my ass back into the fluorescent lighted, open-plan, modern factory for over 40 hours of my working week.

The giddy enlightenment that many modern employers were beginning to realise – that the happiness, and longevity of their employees at their companies is inextricably linked to their work-life balance, ability to see their families, and prioritise other important things like their health, (not to mention the key element of inherent trust it implies between colleagues) – seemed smacked in the face by such a decision.

And when Google piped-up to back Mayer’s call, it really felt like a backflip into old-school, big business rules, where dollars rule people, and your people come second.

But, while it might seem a shame these industry giants are opening these familiar doors once again, the reason could well be valid.

Huge, bloated, and with unhealthy vital signs, Yahoo! is like an overweight person at risk of a business cardiac – it needs to trim the fat, stat.

And the cause of the disease appears be one that is ages old, and that is a diagnosis of ‘social loafing’.

Social loafing was a term crowned by social psychologist Max Ringelmann in 1913 when he noticed that a group working together collectively produced less. The reason for this was not only poor coordination, but crucially a lack of motivation.

Later tests further showed that people will ‘social loaf’ if the goal is meaningless to them, and if individual input is not identifiable as part of the whole.

(Those of you who are measured by both group and individual performance in your workplace may now see why).

Other interesting outcomes showed;

– The magnitude of social loafing is reduced for women and for individuals originating from Eastern cultures.
– Individuals are more likely to loaf when their co-workers are expected to perform well.
– Individuals reduce social loafing when working with acquaintances and do not loaf at all when they work in highly valued groups.

So if all the above is true, how we end up on this road to remote working?

The theory goes that when we find work difficult, others presence is distracting, making work harder still (hello open plan offices!). But where our work is easy and fairly boring, having others present acts as a drive, forcing ourselves to compete (even if working independently). When two people work on the same goal this is even more pronounced: most animals will eat, run, and even procreate at an accelerated rate of productivity in the presence of other. Insert gym buddy here.

Perhaps initially the work at Yahoo! was challenging enough to allow workers this much space to roam. And then things got too easy…

Hopefully for Mayer, the effects of drive theory from the company’s new workspace will kick in soon.

Hopefully for us, the flow-on effects of this flexi recall don’t tip the delicate gains in flexible working for us mere mortals not located in Silicon Valley.

Drive and motivation for many people can also reside in the hope that we won’t have to spend ever day of the average 13000 working days in our lives chained to a desk.

Sickie, anyone?

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Flipper is a smart fish.

Not only can he do my favourite trick of warding off sharks, but he also uses his sleep time with an effectiveness most new parents can only dream of.

When sleeping, dolphins can’t afford the luxury of physically stopping for a kip. Instead they need to keep swimming, and crucially breathing, to stay alive.

So how do they sleep?

Scientists have found that they actually manage to switch off half their brain, so that the active part can control swimming and breathing, while the rest rests.

Better than that, they team up in pairs to sleep, switching off the respective inner hemispheres (halves) of their brains, so that the outer halves are alert for predators, attack, Elijah Wood, Paul Hogan etc.

Talk about teamwork.

Check out this highly educational video offering rare insight into dolphins and their brains at work.

Note, if you do not find this funny, we prescribe that you need more sleep.

Your snout is able to determine over 10,000 different smells using about 500 nasal receptors.

However for some people, smell is but a memory.

They are unable to smell a whiff of anything and this total loss of smell is known as anosmia.

It currently affects around 5% of the US population, which means there are around 16 million people unable to smell leaking gas, smoke, or even worse, themselves (resulting often, undertandably, in some level of social anxiety).

As well as that, they sometimes can’t taste the flavours in food.

Your brain portion that controls smell is located at the base of your skull, so even mild head injuries to the back of the head can result in anosmia, however this is often temporary.

But for those whose smell never returns, hallucination of smells can form in their place where people think they smell coffee, smoke or other alarming substances even when there is none.

Hallucinated smells of a particularly vile smell kind are called cacosmia as described by Bonnie Blodgett in her book ‘Remembering Smell’ where she was plunged into a flurry of terrible smells from rotten eggs to chemicals, mould and sick.

On a more positive note, there have been recent studies to suggest that those who have a good sense of smell are more emotionally sensitive (thought to be because the two areas of the brain related to emotion and sense are in the limbic system), and science has taken steps closer to proving the simple truth that a memory can be triggered by a smell due to the proximity of the amygdala (the part of the brain responsible for emotional memory) to the hypothalamus and olfactory tracts (nose!).

So if you can smell the roses, be thankful. Some people are getting noses full of nothing, or worse.

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Facts found in Oliver Sacks’ newest book ‘Hallucinations’.

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Love can come in the most curious forms.

In his latest book ‘Hallucinations’, Oliver Sacks tells a story about his patient, Gertie C., who suffers intense visual hallucinations as a result of Parkinson’s postencephalictic disease – or ‘frozen’ disease (as described in Sacks’ book and film ‘Awakenings’).

Sometimes frightening, sometimes funny, hallucinations are an offshoot of the disease which is thought to be due to a build up of proteins in the parts of your brain that deals with sight and movement.

After some distress at her visualisations, Gertie decides to submit to the oddities her brain conjures, and embrace the experience instead…

In the form of a hallucinatory gentleman caller.

Every night, he arrives faithfully on her doorstep with flowers, presents, love and warm companionship.

Who says love isn’t real?

Image courtesy of Telegraph.co.uk

Bad day at the office?

In the Olympics, if you choke, it’s 4 years ’til your next review.

Canadian swimming psychologist Hap Davis made his athletes watch video re-runs of their failures on repeat and scanned their brains to see what was going on under the lid.

Initially when watching the video, high level blood flow to their amydala (responsible for emotions) and low-level to their motor cortices (where movement is executed). This likely reflected their physical reaction at the time.

Once they talked it through and explained the feelings of the race, he asked them to re-watch the race.

This time, blood flow to the amydala and pre-frontal cortex (which controls planning) was less, and blood flow to the motor cortex more.

Effectively, talking it out took away the negative emotion.

Who knew?

Image courtesy of Justin Metz at Newsweek.

Been online for 8 hours today?

Churning through emails, checking Facebook, posting Powerpoints, playing with pixels?

Guess what.

You’re brain is on crack.

MRI scans in the US and China are showing that people who spend 38 hours a week online (that’s not hard) are producing brains that look like drug addicts’.

The grey stuff (the smart stuff that controls motor function, memory, emotion, senses and more) shrinks by up to 10-20%, and the white stuff (involved in spreading messages quicker, attention and decision matter) grows in its place.

Your cerebral cortex, the part responsible for thought, changes shape. And it can start to morph after a week of practice. And it continues to.

So we’re becoming quicker thinkers. But we can’t remember about what.

And we pay more attention to that cat video, but can’t tell someone why it’s funny.

Same goes for gamers; speed, agility and skill vs smiles, memories and living in that weird thing called reality.

The advice from the doctor? Switch off.

More on this at Newsweek.com

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