If You Really Want to Function at Your Best, Practice Gratitude

 

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When it comes to human potential and high stakes performance, most of us think of things like nutrition, exercise, sleep and stress reduction. What typically doesn’t come to mind is gratitude. And while there is plenty of evidence in the research literature that gratitude is good for us, can it enhance our performance?

First, a quick rundown of the benefits of gratitude:

• Gratitude improves psychological health by increasing happiness and reducing depression (Emmons, 2007).

• Gratitude improves self-esteem. 

• Gratitude increases empathy and decreases aggression.
And while I could make a great argument for why all of the above positively contribute to overall increased performance, I want to focus on the lesser known benefits of gratitude and how they apply directly to real time preformance.

• Gratitude reduces stess 

 

In a study conducted by Emmons (2007), 45 adults were taught to “cultivate appreciation and other positive emotions. Salivary DHEA/DHEAS and cortisol levels were measured, autonomic nervous system function were assessed and emotions were measured using a psychological questionnaire. Individuals were assessed before and 4 weeks after receiving training in the techniques.
THE RESULTS: There was a mean 23% reduction in cortisol and a 100% increase in DHEA/DHEAS in the Ss. Increased coherence in heart rate variability patterns were measured in 80% of the S’s during the use of the techniques.”

 

For years, research has shown gratitude not only reduces stress, but it may also play a major role in overcoming trauma.  A 2006 study published in Behavior Research and Therapy found that Vietnam War Veterans with higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  A 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that gratitude was a major contributor to resilience following the terrorist attacks on September 11.  Recognizing all you have to be thankful for – even during the worst times of your life – fosters resilience.

 

Grateful people sleep better. Writing in a gratitude journal improves sleep, according to a 2011 study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. Spend just 15 minutes jotting down a few grateful sentiments before bed, and you may sleep better and longer.

Steps to Practicing Gratitude – Lorie Hood (2012)

  • Get comfortable. Wiggle anything that needs to be wiggled. Maybe roll your shoulders or tip your head from side to side.

 

  • Take a few slow, deep breaths.

 

  • Begin to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Breathe at whatever pace is right for you.

 

 

  • Allow to come to your mind someone or something for which you feel grateful. If nothing comes right away, just keep breathing, enjoy the quiet and let your body relax. Just let go.

 

 

  • If/when something or someone does come to your mind, think of that person, pet or experience and the reasons you feel such gratitude.

 

  • In your mind, remember the experience or even tell the person specific reasons you feel so grateful. You can say, in your mind, “remember the time when…”

 

 

  • As you remember, allow the pictures to come to your mind and as the memories come up allow yourself to FEEL the feeling of gratitude. You will likely feel the swelling and warmth around your heart. This is a physiological and very real thing and it is very healing to your body.

 

Now, allow that warmth to spread out throughout your body. Keep breathing. You can do this for as long as you would like. Remember — This is about you giving your physical body a break. Just breathe…in through your nose and out through your mouth and let your body relax.

When you feel ready, wiggle your fingers. Wiggle your toes.  Take a big, deep breath and stretch. Open your eyes and welcome this new feeling.

In that short exercise, your body relaxed and your blood vessels opened up and all of the natural flow of blood and oxygen came more into balance. You can do this anytime, anywhere.

 

© Lorie Hood 2016

 

 

 

References:

R. A. Emmons (2007) Thanks! How the new science of gratitude can make you happier. New York: Houghton Mifflin.Original study: Emmons, R. A. & McCullough, M. E. (2003) Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well being in daily life, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 84: 377-89.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/amymorin/2014/11/23/7-scientifically-proven-benefits-of-gratitude-that-will-motivate-you-to-give-thanks-year-round/#43dcb0ee6800

How ‘Mad Men’ Taught Us about Trauma, Shame & Healing 

Don Draper, a character on the TV series “Mad Men,” was a survivor of childhood trauma. But when we first met Don, we met a man who had it all. He was at the pinnacle of his career, happily married to his gorgeous wife, Betty, and father of two adorable children. His haughty, arrogant and aloof facade was easily mistaken for genuine confidence. We soon found out, however, that Don was a man with flaws. An alcoholic, a womanizer and an adulterer, he lied about things, not the least of which was his fake identity. These flaws, or what a therapist would consider symptoms, were an indication that Don was unwell. Symptoms are often brilliant clues that let an individual know they have underlying yet blocked emotions, often from the past, that need attention and release. Don’s symptoms — drinking, womanizing and cheating — served two main self-protective purposes: To prevent contact with painful emotions from the past, which push up for expression. To prevent contact with unmet longings

Source: How ‘Mad Men’ Taught Us about Trauma, Shame & Healing | World of Psychology

Drinking during early to mid-adolescence can lead to chronic stress

Drinking during early to mid-adolescence can lead to vulnerability to chronic stress, according to new research from Binghamton University, State University of New York.

A research team led by Linda Spear, distinguished professor of psychology at Binghamton University, gave alcohol to rats every other day, starting from early to mid-adolescence. When the team looked at the same rats in adulthood, they found that adult males didn’t show hormonal stress adaptation, making them more vulnerable to chronic stress.

“Stress hormones are released when you get anxious or are in a stressful circumstance,” said Spear. “The classic stress hormone is cortisol in humans; it’s corticosterone in rats. When you expose the animals to a stressor, the first time they show a large hormone stress response. However, this hormonal response normally adapts over time, such that less hormone is released following repeated exposure to a relatively mild stressor. And that’s important, because cortisol or corticosterone helps you respond to an emergency.”

“But it’s bad to have elevated levels in the long term, because sustained elevations in these levels of these hormones have adverse effects on a lot of body systems. So cortisol is needed for emergencies, but you don’t want it elevated all the time. And what we found is that following adolescent alcohol exposure, adults don’t show that hormonal stress adaptation. They don’t adapt to the chronic stressor, which suggests that they may be more vulnerable later to chronic stress.”

Spear’s work is a part of a national consortium, funded by the National Institute of Alcohol and Alcohol Abuse, that’s examining, using animal models, the effects of alcohol exposure during adolescence.

“I think what these studies are showing is that there are long-lasting effects from adolescent alcohol exposure, and it is not innocuous. And these effects are most dramatic with exposures during mid- and early adolescence, which is the time when alcohol use is typically initiated in humans. So now we’re trying to understand the neural mechanisms that underlie these effects, and ways to prevent or reverse consequences of adolescent alcohol exposure,” said Spear.

The study, “Chronic intermittent ethanol exposure during adolescence: Effects on stress-induced social alterations and social drinking in adulthood,” was published in Brain Research.

When Home Isn’t a Safe Place – Children of Domestic Violence and PTSD….

PTSD - The Long Journey Home

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I grew up in a home where domestic violence was a way of life and as a child I heard and saw thing no child should ever see or hear. A place where home was not safe but filled with fear and anxiety and where my voice was never heard. No safe arms to run into to tell me it was going to be ok, in fact we never discussed it, not once that I remember. I felt like I was on my own taking care of myself and my own feelings and fears at a very young age. I often felt like I was the adult in the house frequently standing in between two adults who were arguing and fighting and telling them to stop.

I felt like I was the only one who knew that fighting and hitting and arguing were wrong, especially in front of the kids. I felt…

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The Joy of Connecting People to Themselves

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I love what I do. All of it. Absolutely and completely. I have always been fascinated by the human condition and the potential we hold within and beyond our minds and physical bodies. I am a human potential researcher and performance coach and I have been doing mind-body work in one form or another my entire life. From the body awareness I developed riding and training horses and as a professional dancer and choreographer to my mind-body medicine training and research in trauma and resiliency I did during my doctoral work at UVA – it all informs me.

Tonight I sit quietly as a client of mine receives his first professional massage. My client is a 52-year-old man with a family, two mortgages, an upper class lifestyle and all the typical stress related with it. He is also a senior vice president of a multi-billion dollar company and carries all of the related stress associated with his career.

The invitation for my client tonight was to allow himself to receive physical care. Before the session we talked about the various ways in which his body was (and had been for years) reacting to having to perform beyond it resources. I wanted for him to begin to really feel his body and relax into the places where he has held the stress of his job, the responsibility of his family and where he clung to the tenuous ties of his marriage. We have worked together as client and coach for several months and have laid the foundation for my client to take his understanding and experience of his mind-body to the next level.

I use the term mind-body as a singular term for a reason. The premise of my work is that the mind and body are, in their natural state, one. When we are born our mind and body are integrated in a dynamic, informative and interpretive way. The mind informs, influences and interprets the body and vice versa. As we develop, we consciously and unconsciously adapt to fit into the norms of our culture. In order to do this, in most developed countries, one must often separate the mind-body into parts – thinking parts and feeling parts.

There are myriad paths to reintegrating the mind-body. In my experience, massage is one of them. The massage therapist, a longtime colleague of mine, is a gentle man and a master at what he does. He is as non-threatening as he is big; and he is a big man. Calming and soothing, professional yet warm. He is a good match for my client.

So here comes the “joy” part. I have the joy and privilege of witnessing my client not only receive his first massage but also begin to reconnect with his physical body. As I sit on the couch next to the massage table, I hear my client say, “Wow, what is that?” To which my colleague responds “That is some tightness associated with…and the connection here with this muscle is…so that there is an imbalance here and…”

As I listen I notice the change in the quality of my clients voice. His voice becomes softer and his speech is less pressured. As the session continues I begin to hear deep, slow breaths. Breaths that are coming spontaneously and naturally as his body relaxes. He is on his way.

This is the good stuff. The part when I know the co-creative relationship between he and I, client and coach, has taken hold. The part where a man who was so stressed out that he was physically numb on one side of his body is now not only able to feel his body but reflect that feeling through his thoughts and words. The part where a man who had no experience with any kind of mind-body work is connecting the work he and I have done with what is happening with him on the massage table. The part where a client who had no idea what mind-body work or a coach was when I met him is curious and trusting enough to hop onto a massage table and allow himself to be open to the experience. This is the good stuff. And yes, it is my joy too.