Stress is Bad for Relationships

>> Monday

At the Ohio State University Medical Center researchers followed ninety couples for ten years. The couples they chose were free of risky behaviors or psychiatric problems, and the researchers specifically tried to choose only people who were happy with their relationships.

The researchers wanted to find out how stress affects the likelihood of divorce. After the ten-year study, this is their conclusion: The more stress a couple experiences while talking to each other, the more likely they will divorce.

According to the researchers, women register higher levels of stress hormones during conflicts (adrenaline, ACTH, and cortisol) than the men they're arguing with. And women with the highest level of stress hormones during conversations with their spouses did not have higher levels of stress hormones than normal in other circumstances in their lives.

Does this concern you? Do you have stressful arguments with your spouse? You can do something to change it. Here are some things that will lower your stress during difficult conversations with your spouse:

1. Reduce the amount of caffeine, alcohol, and sugar you consume. These substances can increase your body's reaction to stressful circumstances. Read more about how they influence stress. Reducing or eliminating them may make things worse for a day or two, but then your stress level will begin to drop.

2. Learn better ways to argue. It seems the content — the actual topics — of your arguments would have the biggest influence on how much stress you experience, but the process you use is more important. If you use a good process, the intensity of the argument remains lower, which reduces the stress of that particular argument. So your arguments become more productive, which lowers your stress level over time too. Here is how to argue with a good process.

3. Learn better ways of listening. One of the biggest causes of stress in an argument is the lack of good listening. You cannot make your spouse listen well, but you can change the way you listen, and that's good enough to alter the course of the conversation. Learn more about listening here.

4. Lower your general upset-ability through meditation. Regular meditation makes you calmer to begin with, and makes your stressful reactions less intense during arguments, leading to more productive and less destructive interactions. Here's more about what meditation is, how it works, and simple instructions for meditation.

Do any of these and you will personally feel better, you'll be healthier, and your relationship will be happier. If you're married, you'll be less likely to divorce. And all this will improve your mood immediately and over time.

Adam Khan is the co-author with Klassy Evans of What Difference Does It Make?: How the Sexes Differ and What You Can Do About It.


End Worry With This Powerful Technique

>> Tuesday

Bertrand Russell, the mathematician and philosopher, used a technique on himself to prevent worry, and he recommended it to others in his book, The Conquest of Happiness. "When some misfortune threatens," he wrote, "consider seriously and deliberately what is the very worst that could possibly happen. Having looked this possible misfortune in the face, give yourself sound reasons for thinking that after all it would be no such very terrible disaster."

Of course, most of us would say, "But it would be a terrible disaster!"

Bertrand Russell anticipated this remark. He goes on to say that there are good reasons to honestly assert it might not be so bad: "Such reasons always exist, since at the worst nothing that happens to oneself has any cosmic importance. When you have looked for some time steadily at the worst possibility and have said to yourself with real conviction, 'Well, after all, that would not matter so very much,' you will find that your worry diminishes to a quite extraordinary extent."

I'd like to point out two things here. He said to look at the worst possibility "for some time." This is not a technique to do for ten seconds. Give it some time. If you really want to ease your worry, it will take a little time.

Also, he said when you can say to yourself it doesn't matter, and say it with real conviction, he does not mean pretending to say it with conviction. He means actually having looked at it enough to be able to legitimately say it really wouldn't matter that much.

He has a little more to say about the technique: "It may be necessary to repeat the process a few times, but in the end, if you have shirked nothing in facing the worst possible issue, you will find that your worry disappears altogether and is replaced by a kind of exhilaration."

This is an effective technique. It actually works, and surprisingly well. Dale Carnegie took the technique one step further and said, "Then try to improve on the worst," which I think most people would do anyway. But you can't skip ahead to improve-on-the-worst part and expect this technique to work. You have to go through a truly honest appraisal of what the worst would be and how bad that would actually be, until you realize with full conviction that even the worst wouldn't be that bad.

If you really do this exercise, you can really and truly cure yourself of a particular worry, and ease the strain on your system that the worry has been causing. To learn more about this technique and how to use it, read: The End of the World.

Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English).


Chatterbox: Building Competence Raises Mood For Life

>> Wednesday

7 year old girl building a Chatterbox smart speaker
Chatterbox is the world's first build-it-yourself, program-it-yourself smart speaker kit designed for kids to learn about artificial intelligence. It's a cardboard box with electronics inside that works like an Amazon Echo — without the privacy violation or "black box" mystery about how it works.

Check out this Vimeo video of what it looks like and kids interacting with it: Chatterbox.

Whether you're a parent or a teacher or just an intelligent, technology-minded person concerned about what technology is doing to children, you should back the Chatterbox Kickstarter project. Here's why:

* The more kids teach Chatterbox skills — like getting the weather, playing child-friendly news, setting timers and alarms, controlling lights, sending messages to or even calling mom and dad — the more kids learn about engineering, problem solving, language construction and critical thinking.

* The computer interface of the future is voice-driven artificial intelligence. Chatterbox prepares kids for this future where a human-like AI is ubiquitous by giving kids the tools and the motivation to create and use their very own AI.

* Chatterbox is screen-free, privacy-centric and both safe and healthy for kids. Chatterbox only listens when the button is pressed. And Chatterbox doesn't gather personal data.

* Chatterbox is also low-cost and environmentally friendly. The enclosure or case is made from 100% recyclable cardboard. Chatterbox’s internal components are powered by the Raspberry Pi computer and a custom-designed Chatter expansion board for microphone and speaker functionality. All internal components are designed to be reused again and again.

* Most or all of the consumer technology in children's lives is designed for passive consumption, engineered to be addictive and distracting. Chatterbox is the opposite, and offers a replacement for laptops, tablets and phones that gives kids an internet-connected computing platform where they are incentivized to learn, adapt and problem-solve using speech technology.

It was invented by my nephew, Kevin Elgan. Here's what he says about the project:

I’ve been focusing on education technology (or technology education) for children my entire career, first at Tynker (which teaches kids to code), then Piper (which is a build-it-yourself computer for children). Since then I’ve had a daughter of my own which has led me to reevaluate the role of technology in my family’s life. Now, more than ever, I’m passionately determined to revolutionize education technology in a healthy and socially responsible way.

I’ve spent the last year creating Chatterbox to help solve the “kids and technology” problem. On the one hand, kids are becoming screen addicts at an early age. On the other hand, smartphones, tablets and smart TVs are “black boxes” and kids have no idea how they work. Today’s technology is neither teaching kids how current technology works, nor preparing them to cope with future technology.

Increasingly, kids are using smart speakers as well — devices like the Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple HomePods. According to Commonsense Media, nearly one-quarter of households now have at least one smart speaker in their homes. Today’s toddlers are the first generation to grow up without any memory of the world before artificial intelligence in the home. Kids are treating talking smart devices like people — to be listened to, treated respectfully, and even obeyed.

While kids are immersed in technology, it’s all a big mystery to them. There is a common misconception that “using” technology “teaches” kids how technology works. They’re not learning how it all works, but instead they are learning to become passive consumers in the new world of surveillance capitalism. They’re learning to focus on phones instead of on the people around them. Kids are acquiring habits that will reduce their ability to create, grow and think for themselves.

This is all wrong. Kids should spend less time with screens. And they need to understand how the technology all around them works.

That’s why I created Chatterbox, the smart speaker kids build themselves. Once they’ve built it, they teach it how to talk using a Lego-like, building-block software interface. And they can keep teaching it new skills while learning a whole lot of new skills themselves along the way.

Here’s how Chatterbox solves the problems technology is creating for kids:

1. By building Chatterbox, kids learn what smart speakers are made of
2. By teaching Chatterbox, smart speakers are de-mystified so kids understand them
3. By crafting conversations, kids learn how to communicate clearly with people
4. By using Chatterbox, kids have fun building and creating
5. By making Chatterbox their main computer, kids get their eyes off screens
6. By pressing the Chatterbox button to talk, kids get used to privacy, not surveillance
7. By exploring Chatterbox, kids learn programming concepts like intents, logic, conditionals to build voice apps
8. By re-using Chatterbox, kids learn environmental responsibility (everything is re-usable or recyclable)

Every parent and every teacher wants to prepare their kids for the future. And that future is ubiquitous voice-interaction and artificial intelligence. Chatterbox teaches them to build it, teach it, use it, control it and, above all, understand it.

If you share our belief that technology for kids should be educational, private and respectful of kids, then please join our movement. Stay up to date with Chatterbox news by subscribing to our newsletter and help us change the conversation about kids and technology.

Get more information, see videos and photos and learn how you can support this education revolution on the Chatterbox Kickstarter page!

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An Experience of Nature Reliably Lowers Stress

>> Friday

Taking at least twenty minutes out of your day to stroll or sit in a place that makes you feel in contact with nature will significantly lower your stress hormone levels. That's the finding of a study that has established for the first time the most effective dose of an urban nature experience. Healthcare practitioners can use this discovery, published in Frontiers in Psychology, to prescribe 'nature-pills' in the knowledge that they have a real measurable effect.

"We know that spending time in nature reduces stress, but until now it was unclear how much is enough, how often to do it, or even what kind of nature experience will benefit us," says Dr. MaryCarol Hunter, an Associate Professor at the University of Michigan and lead author of this research. "Our study shows that for the greatest payoff, in terms of efficiently lowering levels of the stress hormone cortisol, you should spend 20 to 30 minutes sitting or walking in a place that provides you with a sense of nature."

- The above was excerpted from an article in Science Daily. Read the whole article here: Just 20 minutes of contact with nature will lower stress hormone levels, reveals new study.


Humor and Health on April Fool's Day

>> Sunday

AL SIEBERT, author of Survivor Personality, says according to his research, a good sense of humor significantly helps survivors cope with extreme stress. “Mental efficiency is directly related to a person’s general level of emotional arousal,” he says. “People are less able to solve problems and make precise, coordinated movements when strongly worked up. Laughing reduces tension to more moderate levels and efficiency improves.”

Anyone in a prolonged stressful situation can attest to this basic principle. Gerald Coffee, for example, was a POW in Vietnam. His captors treated him with unbelievable brutality. At one point he was taken to a “shower.” He hadn’t bathed at all in three months. This shower was littered with garbage. It was small and the walls were covered with slime. The water was cold, came from a rusty pipe, and only trickled out.

As he was trying to wash off, he felt depressed. He hadn’t held up under torture as well as he expected of himself. His head was down and he felt tired and sad and deeply disappointed in himself.

Then he looked up and saw someone had scratched a message on the wall that said, “Smile, you’re on Candid Camera!”

Coffee laughed out loud. The message was so out of place, it was funny. But Coffee also laughed because, he says, he appreciated so much “the beautiful guy who had mustered the moxie to rise above his own dejection and frustration and pain and guilt to inscribe a line of encouragement to those who would come after him.”

Humor can have a powerful affect on your mood and your ability to cope with difficult situations. The man who inscribed the Candid Camera line improved his own mood, and the moods of men who came after him, raising their spirits and making them more resilient.

In experiments, researchers have found humor also improves your cleverness. Imagine someone gave you a box of tacks, a candle, and some matches and told you to stick the candle to a cork board in such a way that the candle doesn’t drip wax onto the floor below. Could you do it? Whether or not you could do it, Alice M. Isen and her colleagues found, might depend on whether or not you’ve just seen the humor in something.

Before they were given the problem to solve, students were shown either a comedy film of bloopers or a film on math (which was not funny at all).

After watching the math film, 20% of the students successfully solved the problem. But 75% of the students who watched the comedy film were able to do it. That's a big difference! The solution is to pour the tacks out of the box and tack the box to the board, and then put the candle in the box.

Isen said, “Research suggests that positive memories are more extensive and are more interconnected than are negative ones, so being happy may cue you into a larger and richer cognitive context, and that could significantly affect your creativity.”

Let's use this insight. Let's raise our level of resilience and cleverness. On April Fool's Day, it is traditional to play practical jokes. It's been a custom in several countries for centuries. It may have its roots in the Hilaria festival of ancient Rome. I'm not making this up.

A good laugh is good for you, and a good practical joke is good for a laugh. I invite you to (safely and in good taste) have some good laughs today. And to get you started in the right direction, enjoy these compilations of practical jokes:

Read more about the value of humor and how to improve your sense of humor: See the Funny.

Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English).


The Surprising Story of Saint Patrick's Humble Beginnings

>> Saturday

One morning a sixteen-year-old boy was kidnapped from his house by a band of knife-wielding thugs and taken to another country, there to be sold as a slave. The year was 401 a.d.

He was made a shepherd. Slaves were not allowed to wear clothes, so he was often dangerously cold and frequently on the verge of starvation. He spent months at a time without seeing another human being — a severe psychological torture.

But this greatest of difficulties was transformed into the greatest of blessings because it gave him an opportunity not many get in a lifetime. Long lengths of solitude have been used by people all through history to meditate, to learn to control the mind and to explore the depths of feeling and thought to a degree impossible in the hubbub of normal life.

He wasn’t looking for such an “opportunity,” but he got it anyway. He had never been a religious person, but to hold himself together and take his mind off the pain, he began to pray, so much that “ one day,” he wrote later, “I would say as many as a hundred prayers and after dark nearly as many again...I would wake and pray before daybreak — through snow, frost, and rain....”

This young man, at the onset of his manhood, got a “raw deal.” But therein lies the lesson. Nobody gets a perfect life. The question is not “What could I have done if I’d gotten a better life?” but rather “What can I do with the life I’ve got?”

How can you take your personality, your circumstances, your upbringing, the time and place you live in, and make something extraordinary out of it? What can you do with what you’ve got?

The young slave prayed. He didn’t have much else available to do, so he did what he could with all his might. And after six years of praying, he heard a voice in his sleep say that his prayers would be answered: He was going home. He sat bolt upright and the voice said, “Look, your ship is ready.”

He was a long way from the ocean, but he started walking. After two hundred miles, he came to the ocean and there was a ship, preparing to leave for Britain, his homeland. Somehow he got aboard the ship and went home to reunite with his family.

But he had changed. The sixteen-year-old boy had become a holy man. He had visions. He heard the voices of the people from the island he had left — Ireland — calling him back. The voices were persistent, and he eventually left his family to become ordained as a priest and a bishop with the intention of returning to Ireland and converting the Irish to Christianity.

At the time, the Irish were fierce, illiterate, Iron-Age people. For over eleven hundred years, the Roman Empire had been spreading its civilizing influence from Africa to Britain, but Rome never conquered Ireland.

The people of Ireland warred constantly. They made human sacrifices of prisoners of war and sacrificed newborns to the gods of the harvest. They hung the skulls of their enemies on their belts as ornaments.

Our slave-boy-turned-bishop decided to make these people literate and peaceful. Braving dangers and obstacles of tremendous magnitude, he actually succeeded! By the end of his life, Ireland was Christian. Slavery had ceased entirely. Wars were much less frequent, and literacy was spreading.

How did he do it? He began by teaching people to read — starting with the Bible. Students eventually became teachers and went to other parts of the island to create new places of learning, and wherever they went, they brought the know-how to turn sheepskin into paper and paper into books.

Copying books became the major religious activity of that country. The Irish had a long-standing love of words, and it expressed itself to the full when they became literate. Monks spent their lives copying books: the Bible, the lives of saints, and the works accumulated by the Roman culture — Latin, Greek, and Hebrew books, grammars, the works of Plato, Aristotle, Virgil, Homer, Greek philosophy, math, geometry, astronomy.

In fact, because so many books were being copied, they were saved, because as Ireland was being civilized, the Roman Empire was falling apart. Libraries disappeared in Europe. Books were no longer copied (except in the city of Rome itself), and children were no longer taught to read. The civilization that had been built up over eleven centuries disintegrated. This was the beginning of the Dark Ages.

Because our slave-boy-turned-bishop transformed his suffering into a mission, civilization itself, in the form of literature and the accumulated knowledge contained in that literature, was saved and not lost during that time of darkness. He was named a saint, the famous Saint Patrick. You can read the full and fascinating story if you like in the excellent book How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill.

“Very interesting,” you might say, “but what does that have to do with me?” are also in some circumstances or other, and it’s not all peaches and cream, is it? There’s some stuff you don’t like — maybe something about your circumstances, perhaps, or maybe some events that occurred in your childhood.

But here you are, with that past, with these circumstances, with the things you consider less than ideal. What are you going to do with them? If those circumstances have made you uniquely qualified for some contribution, what would it be?

You may not know the answer to that question right now, but keep in mind that the circumstances you think only spell misery may contain the seeds of something profoundly Good. Assume that’s true, and the assumption will begin to gather evidence until your misery is transformed, as Saint Patrick’s suffering was, from a raw deal to the perfect preparation for something better.

The above was excerpted from the amazing book, Self-Help Stuff That Works.



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