Girls more depressed & you can blame social media

stick_figure_liking_it_500_wht_9170On the face of it today’s young people have never had it so good. Teenage pregnancies are down, fewer of them smoke and they drink less than previous generations.

So what have they got to be depressed about?

Well they spend an awful lot of time on social media, posting selfies, seeking approval from others. “Like me, like me” they seem to beg.

It’s a recipe for disaster and means they are continually comparing themselves with others. And it’s all artificial.

They spend hours making themselves up for selfies. I’ve taken loads of photographs at parties and invariably the women want to check the photos to make sure they’re OK.

Whether its posting selfies or posting posed photos on Facebook using cats, cuddly toys and even their babies as accessories, it’s all about wanting approval. Over half of teenagers are said to spend more than three hours a day on social media. (I’ve posted before about my views on Facebook)

And this is the most risk-averse generation we’ve seen for ages and maybe that’s part of the problem. No-one dares misbehave any more in case it gets on social media (as it will) and is then held against them later in life e.g. at job interviews.

It’s been said that young people work harder at schools. I don’t believe that for one minute. Exams are easier, course work is often group work and there has been such grade inflation over the years (at all levels in the education system) that you can’t rely on the grading system.

Nonetheless there has been a 10% increase in girls being treated for depression and a 50% increase in self-harming. For boys there has been a decrease over the same 10 year period.

The psychological distress reported includes sleep loss, inability to concentrate, feeling unhappy and worthless. Girls report suffering these twice as much as boys (30% of girls).

Whether or not social media is totally to blame it clearly plays a part. The head of the charity Sane believes the internet has played a huge part. No longer can students get relief from school or peer pressure at home. It’s now always-on.

But lets not forget pushy parents. Kids from better off families report higher levels of stress and anxiety. Lower status children seem to suffer less – perhaps because they have lower expectations, or maybe because they are more resilient.

Schools which have banned smartphones report better results. Parents need to think about reducing screen time and switching off the wi-fi.

As I’ve posted before about smartphone users – Get a Life!

The government has promised to put £1.4 billion into providing mental health support for young people. Maybe we should start helping them closer to home.


Walnuts good for women

P1030686Ladies, if you want to be more active, independent, and vigorous in your old age – eat a handful of walnuts each day.

A study over 30 years of more than 50,000 nurses (from the Nurses Health Study) found that those who ate about a dozen walnut halves a couple of time a week reduces their risk of becoming frail or needing care when elderly.

Scientists at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, say the walnut has more protective anti-oxidants than peanuts or brazil nuts and one of a few superfoods associated with a better quality of life.

The head of the research, Francine Grodstein, said “there is a lot of research that looks at specific health conditions in ageing … but less attention to research on quality of life and ability to maintain independence with ageing

She said the simple message from this study is that eating an overall healthy diet, including certain foods such as walnuts and other whole foods “may help women with the ability to do key everyday tasks as they age, like carrying groceries or dressing themselves

The study, funded by the California Walnut Commission, found that women who ate lots of nuts, fruit and vegetables and avoided cakes, biscuits and takeaway food were more physically independent as they aged.

OK so it’s not just the walnuts is it! The other healthy food involved included oranges, apples, pears and leaf lettuce.

To be fair to walnuts (the ones that look like brains) there was earlier research at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania that found a handful of walnuts contained twice as many free radical fighting anti-oxidants than a handful of another commonly eaten nut. So if you eat nuts make sure they’re walnuts.

They have also been linked to a lower risk of heart attacks and diabetes. A University of California study  found that eating them cut levels of a hormone implicated in prostate and breast cancer.

And a study at New York State Institute for Basic Research in Development Disabilities concluded that eating a daily handful could have a major impact on Alzheimer’s disease, reducing the risk, delaying its onset, and slowing its progression.

There is also some evidence that they can ease stress and boost your sex drive. So well worth a nibble.

Original story in The Times

Brits have happiness gene – did I read that correctly?

figure_standing_on_blank_note_text_10947Apparently we’re not such a bunch of stiff upper-lipped grumpy old men as we make out.

Researchers are actually suggesting that Britain comes high up the list of countries with a “happiness gene“.

That puts us alongside a diverse range of countries likeMexico, Ecuador, Ghana and Nigeria, as well as the ones you might expect such as Sweden and Denmark.

Gloomier countries include Arab and eastern Asian states such as Iraq, Egypt, South Korea and eastern european countries like Bulgaria and Romania.

Although the authors of the study say that happiness is due to a mutation that boosts the bliss molecule in the brain rather than a countries economic status or disease it’s hard not to think about the repressive regimes in the gloomy list – although corrupt African countries appear on the happy list.

Michael Minkov, professor of cross-cultural awareness at Varna University of Management in Bulgaria and Michael Bond at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, looked at data from 14 years of the World Values Survey and correlated them with known genetic variants.

One particular pattern of DNA seemed to explain the difference between people who were very happy and those less so.

It’s to do with a mutation called the A allele in the FAAH gene (no me neither) which determines how fast the body breaks down a brain chemical thought to play a part in pleasure and which carries signals between different parts of the brain.

So in countries like Mexico, Nigeria, and Ghana where 50% of the population described themselves as very happy, one-third had the mutation.

Although only 23% of Brits have the mutation (based on surveys of Americans with ancestral roots in Ireland and the rest of Europe so a bit suspect) nearly half of Brits say they are happy!

So is that a good thing? Well contrary to popular belief happy people don’t live longer. The idea that it they did was down to a statistical mistake and once the misery caused by illness was taken into account unhappy people lived just as long as happy people.

Sir Richard Peto, professor of medical statistics and epidemiology at Oxford University, said “Does unhappiness or stress itself directly cause illness? No …. Will it be generally believed? No. This will get forgotten and all the Mickey Mouse studies that showed what people want to believe will continue to be believed.”

His team looked at the British Million Women Study which asked participants about their illnesses and how happy they felt. It followed them for 10 years during which time 48,000 of them died.

Lead researcher Bette Lieu from the University of New South Wales said “Illness makes you unhappy but unhappiness doesn’t make you ill. We found no direct effect of unhappiness or stress on mortality, even in a ten-year study of a million women.”

Looking at over half a million women who were in good or excellent health and rated themselves as happy they found they were just as likely to die as those who were miserable or stressed.

However Professor Andrew Steptoe of University College London, who has written several studies linking happiness and a sense of control to a longer life, said “Richard Peto seems to think that no one has ever thought of the cause-effect relationship between happiness and health which is of course absurd. It’s a major issue in the field and one that has been evaluated with much more sophisticate measures than were used in the Million Women study“.

So perhaps there’s still time for you to be more cheerful. A study from the LSE of 10,000 people over 50 years of age into what social activities made them happy found that going to church was better than charity work or doing sport. Not necessarily because of the spiritual element.

Volunteering didn’t lead to better mental health – which may be due to the stresses involved.

And joining a political organisation is definitely not good for your health and will make you unhappy.

So the pursuit of happiness is not an easy path to find despite all the self-help books and gurus out there offering to hep you.

What becomes of the broken-hearted? Latest update

broken_heart_pc_1600_wht_1665Well some of them actually die it seems.

In the post below, updated a couple of times, it’s clear that there’s a real risk of someone elderly dying following a bereavement, particularly if they have a pre-existing condition.

Danish researchers have now found that younger people are also at risk of heart irregularities after the death of a partner.

People under 60 are 40% more likely to develop atrial fibrillation which has high risks of stroke and heart failure. They are more vulnerable to heart complications in the weeks following their loved one’s death or if it was unexpected. The risk is highest between 8 and 14 days after the loss of a loved one and it takes up to a year before the risks drop to normal levels.

The loss of a partner is considered one of the most stressful life events and is likely to affect most people, independently of coping mechanisms” the researchers said.

Previous posts

Researchers at St Andrews University looked at more than 58,000 couples and discovered that 40% of men and 28% of women die within 3 years of their partners – and some actually die on the same day or within a couple of weeks.

For men in particular this widowhood effect shortens their life expectancy, regardless of the actual cause of death.

After making allowances for the usual suspects ie cancer, accidents, alcohol, and even murders, they found that after the death of a partner the survivor is more likely to die as a result.

Famous examples include Johnny Cash who died 4 months after his wife, James Callaghan who died just 11 days after his wife of 67 years, and more recently a relatively young 40-year old man Simon Monjack died of a cardiac arrest 5 months after his wife Brittany Murphy and was said to have died of a broken heart.

The social effect of losing a partner means that the survivor can give up on life within 6 months. The japanese identified a condition 20 years ago known as stress cardiomyopathy, characterised by a sudden, temporary, weakening of the heart muscles, which is triggered by emotional stress or a break-up and is called the broken heart syndrome.

American doctors say the condition can be treated with heart drugs or aspirin.

But research from the Paul-Brousse Hospital in Paris – on 6,000 middle-aged adults over 5.5 years – found that people who were both depressed and had heart diseases were 5 times more likely to die than people who had only one of the diseases.

The combination tripled their chances of dying of any cause and quadrupled their chances of dying from a heart attack or stroke.

The good news is that carrots and broccoli can cut the risks of cancer and heart disease. Anti-oxidants such as carotenoids, which help fight the disease, are found in sweet potatoes, pumpkins, carrots, broccoli, green beans and spinach.

The high level of alpha-carotene found in the blood was linked to a reduced risk of death over 14 years from cardio-vascular disease and cancer. These carotenoids, alpha- and beta-,  and lycopene act as anti-oxidants which combat oxygen-related damage to DNA.

The research was carried out in Atlanta at the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention between 1988 and 2006 on over 15,000 adults from the age of 20.

And more research from America shows that middle aged men who drink a half-litre (nearly a pint) of orange juice a day can lower their blood pressure and cut heart disease.

Orange juice was known to be good for your heart but no-one was sure why. The research, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, showed that it contains a naturally occurring plant chemical called hesperidin. Drinking the orange juice every day for only 4 weeks can reduce average diastolic blood pressure readings by 3 to 5 points.

Updated 6 September 2011: Interesting Times article today on microneurographer Dr Yrsa Sverrisdottir who led a Swedish team which has discovered exactly how you can die of a broken heart.

This was a familiar problem to Japanese doctors in the 90s who found that the hearts of people who suffered emotional crises changed shape constricting blood flow. Sometimes people recovered spontaneously, sometimes they died.

Two years ago Sverrisdottir began studying patients with broken hearts, patients who would not necessarily be considered at risk of heart attacks but who had the symptoms.

She measured the activity of the sympathetic nervous system and related it to brain wave patterns. She says that when someone has a big shock or suffers distress the brain sends out waves of stress hormones – the fight or flight reaction – which can be overwhelming and affects the heart; in some cases stunning it.

It may stay in a constricted state for days as the person recovers – or doesn’t. Older women seem more at risk due to loss of oestrogen and testosterone which protect the body and give people mental stability.

It just demonstrates the fine balance between the brain and the body and also confirms what people have believed for centuries – that you can die of a broken heart.

Updated 12 September 2014: Researchers at Birmingham University think that during the grieving period elderly people may suffer from lowered immunity leaving them open to infection according to a report in Immunity & Ageing.

They investigated people who had lost loved ones within the last 2 months. People aged 18-45 were more depressed and anxious and had higher levels of cortisol (a measure of stress) but their immune systems were normal. People aged 65 and over shows impaired immune responses which were less efficient at tackling bacteria.

The scientist believe that the immune deficiency may be the result of an increase in cortisol which the younger people were protected from by another hormone DHEA.

Cortisol production doesn’t change over a person’s life-time but the production of DHEA starts reducing at age 30. Professor of immune cell biology at Birmingham, Janet Lord said “We could try and rectify this by giving patients DHEA to address the imbalance or encourage people to  engage with family and friends to keep cortisol levels down“.


Don’t stress about Xmas

snowman_pointing_pc_400_clr_4412For many people Christmas comes second only to financial problems as a source of stress in their lives.

And of course Christmas can be expensive too and we are as likely to be as stressed about that as we are about coping with everything that has to be done on the day.

Everybody feels stressed at times; it’s a natural response when we think or feel that we can’t cope, that things are getting on top of us.

Ways to de-stress and relax at Christmas

First tackle the way you think about Christmas. Do you look at it as a positive fun-filled time or just a lot of hard work? Has it got sad memories? Do you dread the in-laws?

Having a positive mental attitude and a sense of humour is really important for your well-being. Be positive rather than dwelling on the negatives in life.

Don’t focus on the things that can go wrong but on the things you will enjoy. Give yourself some credit for what you do well and remember the nice things that happened last year and see if you can laugh about the things that didn’t go quite to plan.

If you have children imagine their reaction to it and for young children how magic it all seems to them. And don’t try to be perfect in every way – this is a holiday after all.

When you feel you are in control of a situation you will feel less stressed; it’s the feeling of helplessness or not being able to change things that can lead to stress.

Another important factor in being able to resist or cope with stress is to have some kind of social support mechanism – both in practical terms (someone to do things for you) and emotional terms (a non-judgmental shoulder to cry on if necessary but definitely someone to talk to).

And you may not realise it but you are far more resilient than you think so look at how you behave and what you can do in practical terms to have a great time.

Talk to your partner and family about how you feel about Christmas and how they can help you make it even better. Can you simplify the way you usually do things eg fewer decorations, inviting people for a meal rather than giving presents? Are you sending cards this year or donating to a good cause?

  • christmas_figure_presenting_400_clr_7011Planning and time management is really important. How far ahead do you buy presents (throughout the year or at the last minute?).  Have you decided on the food for the holiday, sorted out the decorations?
  • More importantly who does what – make a “to-do” list and stick it up on the fridge for everyone to see. Get the kids involved too. It can be a fun thing for them especially if they get to cross things off or add fun stickers.
  • Check presents with moving parts, batteries etc before the shops close – get in some spare batteries (beware those items with the hearing aid type battery, they can be fatal if children swallow them), SD cards, blank DVDs, USB sticks, CD-roms or whatever might be required.
  • Don’t overdo the pre-Christmas festivities or the alcohol, or rely on coffee and chocolate to keep you going (only works in the short term and makes you irritable).
  • Get in training for the holiday ie plenty of sleep and exercise (you can do that when you’re out shopping or go to a boot camp). Learn to meditate, take a yoga class, do Tai Chi. These traditional exercises really work.
  • Last minute guests might be welcome or an unexpected diversion. Learn to be assertive – saying NO is fine, you really don’t have to please all the people all the time (and if that’s too hard for you tell them what you still have to do).
  • Eat regularly and don’t just pick at the food as you’re preparing it. Also eat healthily ie less junk food and more fish and vegetables.
  • Relax for 20 minutes doing something for you. Lock yourself in the bath room and have a relaxing hot bath with candles and oils, or go for a quiet walk. If you have a pet even better as they are good listeners and help you relax.
  • Worried about the children being under your feet? Don’t give them all the presents at once. Make sure that they have a favourite film to watch or some other activity to keep them occupied (remember the plan!)
  • Alternatively do you know a friend or neighbour who is great with children but hates cooking? Barter some child-minding time in return for cooking for them (or vice versa of course).
  • Slow down – your speech and your gestures, learn to be patient and make an effort to be friendly to everyone – even the dreaded in-laws or old Uncle George. It’s not forever and smiling is good for you!
  • When it’s all over spoil yourself and have a massage with aromatherapy oils. Alternatively shiatsu, reflexology and acupuncture have lots to offer.

Updated since first posted December 2011

Siesta bars new trend in France for stressed workers

cbkSiesta bars are the new trend in France with establishments opening  across the country.

ZZZen, the first to offer stressed workers a midday nap, charges €12 for a 15-minute micro-siesta and €27 for a 45-minute royal siesta.

A French TV programme, Envoyé Spécial, recently reported that a third of French managers had fallen asleep in meetings and that the nation could benefit from a lunchtime siesta. “Well-being and productivity would benefit if all executives followed this example“.

Le Monde then published an article saying that a siesta reduced stress and dimished sensitivity to pain.

Surprisingly perhaps 17% of French HR Managers thought it was OK for employees to sleep at work and welcomed the development. I’d like to run that by HR managers in the UK!

La sieste is a long-standing French tradition and not restricted, as I thought to Spain and Portugal. Workers used to take 2 hours for lunch and go home for a plate of steak and chips washed down by red wine followed by a nap.  Now, as in most developed countries, the lunch break is a mere 22 minutes on average and the journey to work time around 45 minutes so it’s no longer possible to have that midday energy boost.

Doctors and executives are blaming this for the rise of an irritable and unproductive workforce. The founder of ZZZen discovered this for himself when he worked at an American investment bank in London and enjoyed a sandwich at his desk for lunch.

ZZZen‘s clients include shoppers who want to relax and executives who want to boost their performance.

I think it’s a great idea. Vive La France!

A few years ago (2011) I posted about French lunchtime habits being under attack

You have to feel sorry for the French riot police, the CRS. They’ve been told they can no longer have a glass of wine with their lunch when on duty!

The police union aren’t happy about this attack on a Gallic tradition of having a 1/4 litre of red with their meals. The union is suggesting a very French compromise – having their meals and drink out of sight of the public. Other police departments are watching with more than interest as they fear the same rule will be applied to them.

French employment law prohibits alcohol in the workplace with the exception of, wine, beer, apple or pear cider (so now you know the French definition of alcohol) and police regulations forbid drinking altogether but this has always been officially ignored (and you have to admire the French for their willingness to ignore rules and regulations).

The CRS spend most of their time waiting to deal with riots and see the wine as a convivial tradition. Unfortunately last year riot police were seen drinking beer during demonstrations they were supposed to be policing.

Colouring Books for grown-ups?

IMG_0152I’be noticed them before but today saw a whole stand in a local branch of Sainsbury’s devoted to these colouring books.

They profess to aid mindfulness, creativity, and even stress relief. One is even called Art Therapy

Maybe they do some of these things but do you have to pin them up on the fridge door when you’ve finished them?