FierceLookingForwardBeat Stress to Get a Fresh Start in 2014

Clearing the decks of the million little things that have been fraying your nerves is essential to creating a healthier lifestyle, stress experts at the Mayo Clinic report. Building on decades of research on what creates stress and why it’s so difficult to manage, Amit Sood, M.D., M.Sc., a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic, offers valuable advice about how stress gets under our skin.

At any given time, we each have an average of 150 “open files,” or unresolved tasks, that are competing for our attention. “We are a generation of jugglers,” Sood says, “and that leads to a cluttered, wandering mind. When the mind wanders, stress increases which, in turn, causes the mind to wander even more, which creates more stress.”

We average 150 "open files," or unresolved tasks, that clutter our minds, lead to stress and block goals. (Creative Commons)

We average 150 “open files,” or unresolved tasks, that clutter our minds, lead to stress and block goals. (Creative Commons)

This vicious cycle makes it nearly impossible for people to focus on breaking bad habits like smoking or overeating. To break the pattern, Sood explains that you have to work against the mind’s natural tendency to create stress. It also helps to close as many of those “open files” as possible or remove them from your life.

In his book, the Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living, he explains how the brain produces unwanted stress and offers actionable steps to help you calm your mind. The book addresses:

? How stress is linked to the wandering nature of the mind.

? Why common stress management practices don’t work for most people.

? How you can apply real-world skills to achieve weight loss, smoking cessation and other behavioral changes.

Spare the Praise; Encourage a Child

Every child needs occasional praise from a loving adult. African-American parents may work especially hard to encourage their children to help compensate for the challenges our kids face in the world.

But in order to be effective, that praise should be balanced, a new study reports.

Over-praising a child who has low self-esteem may do more harm than good, concluded researchers who observed parents’ tendencies to over-praise and children’s responses to different evaluations of their work.

“Inflated praise can backfire with those kids who seem to need it the most — kids with low self-esteem,” says Eddie Brummelman, lead author of the study and a visiting scholar at The Ohio State University.

While children with very high self-esteem respond well to high praise, children who are less secure about their abilities may find it a heavy burden that impacts performance on future tasks.

The research team defined inflated praise as sometimes adding an extra word to an evaluation of a child’s work. For example, adding words such as “incredibly” or “perfect” or using phrases such as, “You’re incredibly good at this,” as opposed to “You’re good at this,” or a more appropriate and balanced form of praise such as “well-done.” Parents in the study also used inflated responses like “fantastic!” or “super good!”

To measure the impact of praise, Brummelman and his team asked 240 children to draw “Wild Roses,” a famous Vincent van Gogh painting. Each child then received inflated, non-inflated or no praise written by someone they thought was a professional painter.

After reading the evaluations, the children were asked to draw other pictures, but they were allowed to choose which ones they would copy. They were told they could select pictures that were easy but told, “you won’t learn much.” Or they could attempt more difficult pictures in which “you might make many mistakes, but you’ll definitely learn a lot too.”

The research team reported that “children with low self-esteem were more likely to choose the easier pictures if they received inflated praise after drawing the initial picture. By contrast, children with high self-esteem were more likely to choose the more difficult pictures if they received inflated praise.”

The problem seems to be that however well-intentioned, “inflated praise may put too much pressure on those with low self-esteem,” Brummelman says.

“If you tell a child with low self-esteem that they did incredibly well, they may think they always need to do incredibly well. They may worry about meeting those high standards and decide not to take on any new challenges.”


Vitamin E May Delay Alzheimer’s Decline and Reduce Caregiving Time

Vitamin E (Selva/Creative Commons)

Vitamin E (Selva/Creative Commons)

More than 5.1 million Alzheimer’s patients struggle with activities of daily living. For many reasons — including social and economic stressors — Alzheimer’s disease is more prevalent among African Americans, and black women are more likely to be caregivers than women from other groups. Those who care for loved ones with Alzheimer’s are often frustrated because physicians have little to offer in the way of effective medication.

So, new research from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai offers a bit of good news. It seems that alpha tocepherol, fat-soluble Vitamin E (easily purchased in any drug store) may slow functional decline — including problems with dressing, preparing meals, shopping — in patients with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s.

“This trial showed that vitamin E delays progression of functional decline by 19 percent per year, which translates into 6.2 months benefit over placebo,” says Mary Sano, Ph.D., trial co-investigator and professor in the department of psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine. Taking the supplement also reduced the caregiving time.

Study participants were given a daily dose of 2,000 IU of vitamin E, but caregivers should consult a physician before adding vitamin E therapy to an Alzheimer’s patient’s daily medications. A large dose of vitamin E may interact with other medications or reduce blood clotting.