Thursday, May 16, 2019

Anxiety

The human brain is a clever organ. In a dangerous situation, it takes over the steering wheel to an auto mode. The fight-or-flight response is a natural reaction that occurs in the presence of something that is terrifying. The response is triggered by the release of hormones that prepare our body to either stay and deal with a threat or to run away to safety.



In ancient times when our ancestors lived in caves and had frequent face-offs with bears, tigers or other life-threatening organisms (or situations), they could either fight or escape. We have the same physiological and psychological response hardwired in our brain to prepares the body to react to the danger. In layman's terms, it is like a reflex action, but prolonged.

Imagine face off with a hungry lion during one of those relaxing morning walks. Unlikely, I know but work with me here ... You are walking down the usual route and suddenly a lion appears in front of you. You wouldn't think twice but run. Faster than Forest Gump, I know I would. In that instant, our brains sympathetic nervous system (reflex action part of the brain) kicks in and shuts down the prefrontal cortex (thinking and reasoning part of the brain). We are out of reasoning and rationalising part of the brain and our brain's prime objective is to make sure we survive.  So we fight or flight. Our body is prepared to fight or run and sometimes to freeze in fright. This brings in a number of physical changes to give the body increased strength.
  • Blood pressure, heart rate and blood sugars levels increase in order to supply the body with extra energy.
  • Increased muscle tension in order to provide the body with extra speed and strength.
  • The vision is heightened or sometimes it is a tunnel vision.
  • The onset of shallow breathing
  • The blood clotting function of the body speeds up.  
  • Adrenaline hormone is released. So it provides energy and makes the person alert to take prompt action.

All the physiological changes help the body to sustain the imminent threat. However, in an anxious mind, like mine, has a constant notion of perceived threat. A small whiff or sound, some distant memory and in most of the times absolutely nothing triggers the fight or flight response. A sheer state of panic and confusion takes over. That situation is called a panic attack. I tend to avoid doing things that I feel are uncomfortable as I know my body would react in the following way and that might freak me out.


  • Inability to breathe or swallow
  • A feeling of constraining force around the chest
  • Mild but concentrated pain in the chest
  • Sweaty palms
  • Cold hands and feets
  • Dizziness
  • Pain in shoulders
  • Feeling of terror
  • Dry eyes due to heightened vision
  • Having to pee frequently
  • Feeling claustrophobic
  • Lights feel too bright
  • Confusion
  • In an extreme case, numbness throughout the face  
  • Uncontrollable crying


Steps that I take to deal with anxiety

It is very important to have and maintain a strict routine. It helps in getting our body and our mind accustomed to our everyday life. The routine doesn't let the body get off balance by panic. Having a healthy body is the key to sound and calm mind, and vice versa. Thus to live a hearty life we should follow a wholesome lifestyle.

Diet



Eating healthy meals is vital for overall well being. Be fastidious to including all required nutrients in the diet. Eating on time is also crucial to routine. Staying hydrated is equally essential.

For me, I start my day with a glass of warm water followed by overnight soaked almonds. I focus on having balanced home-cooked meals. I make sure to include seasonal fruits and veggies. I drink from 3 to 4 litres of water a day.

When it comes to anxiety certain foods can feed it while others can soothe it. If you suffer from anxiety include seasonal fruits and veggies, lots of greens, eggs, yoghurt or buttermilk, walnuts, figs in your meals. Avoid coffee; Coffee activates the adrenaline gland and stimulates fight or fright response. Don't eat junk food or eat out too often.

Sleep Hygiene

 
Sleep hygiene includes a set of behaviours that one can adapt to help promote good sleep. It is a way of using behavioural interventions in our life that will help us start and maintain a good sleeping routine. Read more about it here

On a typical night, I brush my teeth and take a shower before going to bed. I put on comfy and clean nightwear. I turn on low-intensity light about 1 hour before bedtime and get away from my phone and other digital devices 30 minutes before going to sleep. I use the vanilla aroma in my room as it helps me calm my nerves. Last but not least I use sleeping meditation to doze off. I recommend the Headspace app they have some really nice guided meditation to sleep.

Calm the mind to relax the  body

Mindfulness



Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. A way of practising mindfulness is by paying attention to our surrounding. I practice this by noticing 3 things that I can see, touch and hear and describe them in my mind. This doesn't let the mind roam. Trying to be in present physically as well as mentally instead of being at a place while our mind is wandering around in multiple mental scenarios.

In our day to day life, our phones are somewhat the culprits by distracting us (or we are the culprits for being distracted by the phones. Or the algorithms that the apps are using ... ) The tech companies iterate their algorithms to grab our attention. Our mind is being exposed to too many attractive amusements especially meant to get a hold on our mind's time, personally. If you think of it this fight for our attention amongst the different apps is kind of evil. It is taking us away from the natural course of being focused on the work in hands. At this point, it is up to us to procure the sound mental state by controlling and training our mind to deal with such distractions.

I keep my conscious focus on only one task at a moment. Whenever I acknowledge myself doing something on my computer screen while simultaneously doing something else on my phone. I immediately take my attention to one thing.

Meditation



The benefits of meditation are numerous. For anxiety and depression, it trains the brain to be in the moment. It is believed that the human mind thinks an average of 70000 thoughts per day. If not half, some of them are bound to be negative and worrisome thoughts. Such thoughts are the food for anxiety. Meditation helps the mind in gaining control over thoughts.

Practising daily meditation for 10 to 15 minutes workes for me. It helps in building focus that is being deteriorated by my mind keeping multiple tabs on thoughts and emotions. By the end of the meditation session, I find my body calmer and my mind fresh. For instance, I have noticed that a part of my fight or flight response is a heightened vision due to which my anxious self makes my eyes feel quite dry, perhaps because of lesser blinking. After meditation, my eyes have just the right amount of moisture.

Journaling



Writing down our thoughts works well to organise our thoughts. venting on a piece of paper is cathartic and releases the pent up emotions. Helps us explore our emotions and heal. I must admit, I am not as disciplined with keeping a journal as I am with keeping up my other anxiety curing activities. However, when I enforce it on myself I always find some of that mental fog coming clear. It rationalises the preoccupied mind and lifts the mood. After writing I feel as I have taken a step further towards wellness.

Relaxed body to calm the mind

Breathing exercise

One of the common things with anxiety is breathlessness. I find myself hyperventilating with shallow breaths. At the time of the panic attack, I cannot quite catch my breath. Doing breathing exercise helps in the better intake of oxygen, relieves stress, lowers the blood pressure and releases endorphins. Whenever I am overwhelmed, I try to catch a few deep breaths, focusing on the movement of the diaphragm as I inhale and exhale. It helps in calming the anticipated/ upcoming outburst of panic.



Yoga

Relieves the physical symptoms of anxiety. My anxiety manifests as stiffness throughout my body to such an extent that I start feeling achy. Yoga helps in relaxing those muscles. It makes us aware of our body and gives us better control over our body.

Yoga also regulates breathing by conscious deep breathing. My shallow breathing during my panic attacks would have worked for me if I was a cavewoman and my life was on stake. However, for my day to day life, it doesn't provide the amount of oxygen that my body needs.



Exercise

Exercise promotes the release of endorphins.  Endorphins promote the mental and physical well being and relieves stress. I do 15 to 20 minutes cardio. Any vigorous workout that gets our muscles to work will help with. I personally prefer cardio, you may enjoy dancing, Zumba or Hip-hop maybe. The key is to focus on the body and don't be zoned out. Enjoy the feeling of tension and relaxation in different muscle groups. Turning the focus fully to the body while exercising doubles as a mindful practice.

Read my old post on anxiety here

Friday, May 5, 2017

Wrapping Up The April Blogs

Reflections on A-To-Z 2017

Artwork by

I have been posting a blog post every day during the month of April. I participated in A to Z blogging challenge for the second consecutive year. I have successfully completed the challenge and made myself proud. Yeyy! The bloggers from the challenge site suggested “If you made it through to the end of the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge, give yourself a big pat on the back" So, I obey and pat my back.

During this time I came across wonderful bloggers and learned so much. Reading so many awesome bloggers helped me post my blogs with more diligence. Never once, I found myself thinking "what if I can't pull it off". Last year, I gave much more attention and thoughts to my posts and topics, on the contrary, this year's post came fluently (Which was a blessing). I believe, my inquisitive nature gives me a lot to ponder on. This helps me as I write, with my head full of thoughts and ideas. 

Thanks to the readers and fellow bloggers who checked my posts and shared their thoughts and opinions. It wouldn't have been such an awesome experience without you all. Your reviews and feedback encouraged me to write! 

I thought about mentioning my favourite posts but they all are dear to me and I can't pick a few. So the following is the list of all my blog post during the month of April 2017. I hope you enjoy reading the posts as much as I enjoyed writing.

List of Blogs for A-To-Z Challenge 2017


Last year's reflections and post links here
Happy Summers!

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Sunday, April 30, 2017

Zodiacs: Just Fun & Games

We often need a reason to things going on in our lives and around us. It is only natural, as we have the cognitive ability to understand cause and effect. These set abilities have developed over time and now our reasons fall more into the category that provides empirical evidence. It was not like this always there was a time when people believed in many pseudo-logics with none or little evidence. So much so that ancient human thought that volcanoes, floods and eclipse are caused by the wrath of God(s). However, as our knowledge and understanding of the world around us improved we shrugged off the old ideas ... So no more human or animal sacrifice to appease the God(s), wrath, at least in the mainstream. Yeyy?





Yet some things remained. However, harmless though, Zodiac signs have no logical argument to support its workings. Zodiacs are some personality stereotypes that are based on the location of constellations relative to the sun during the month of a person's birth. It is pretty much saying that location of Sun, Moon and Constellations have the ability to dictate who you are as a person and what happens in your life. Now, how it "works"? Or I should say how you are sorted in your zodiac. I fall under the category of Aries zodiac. Meaning, based on the astrology's zodiac model, during the month of my birth the location of Aries constellation in the sky was tracing the same path as the Sun. 

Fun fact, we can't see that constellation of the zodiac in the month assigned to it because its location will be eclipsed by the Sun and well we can't see stars during the day. However, you can see it the best when the earth is on the opposite side of its orbit relative to that position. That will not be after six months as earth orbit is elliptical. For instance, Aries is best visible during the month of December. 


When I first got curious about how astrology works, I found the information on it. At that point, being a person of STEM academics, I needed to know the logic. Well, there was none. It is clear that zodiac system, or for that matters Astrology (not Astronomy), is not science. Astrology is not subjected to critique by other scientists, it is not based on evidence and the conclusions are incontestable/not falsifiable. 

Still, the enthusiasm with zodiacs is almost universal. Why does it seem to work? Why do we identify with the given traits? Well because they are pretty vague. It is one of those one size fits all. This point is best illustrated by James Randy's experiment on zodiacs. Watch it here.  This experiment is based on Guaquelin’s Horoscope ExperimentIn this experiment, they take birth date details of a group of people. After that, they provided them with their personalized personality traits. Each participant has to review the traits they receive. The result was surprisingly accurate, 94% of participants claimed their traits were in accordance with their personality. There was just one catch; the personalized traits given to all the participants were same. This effect is called the Burnum effect. 


The Burnum effect is a psychological phenomenon where people tend to register high accuracy to the personality traits that they suppose is oriented specifically to them. However, in fact, the traits are vague and general enough to apply to a wide range of people. The truth is such traits have something to offer to everyone. Read a Psychology Today's article on the Burnum Effect here.

If you think that it somehow still works and your designated sign is working well for you. I have a bad news, the signs that we follow now are outdated. Due to a phenomenon called axial precession, the earth wobbles on its axis, in a 26, 000 years cycle (read here). This changes the relative position of the sun and constellation. So, technically that makes me Pisces.  But the changes were never made in the field of astrology and it worked out alright. Well, it worked vaguely enough ... in light of Burnum effect or it never really worked. 


In the end, it is fun and entertaining to read your zodiac with your friends for a good time. However, I recognize the obsession of zodiacs is all over the world. Each newspaper has a dedicated section for the Zodiac. Why are we still doing this beyond logic, but I wouldn't bet my fortune on that. 

What's your Zodiac Sign? Do you follow with conviction or is it just fun and games? Feel free to voice your opinions in the comment section below. 


This concludes my A to Z 2017. Woohooo! 
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    Saturday, April 29, 2017

    Yearnings: A Poem



    I yearn for the things that will never be.

    To look at my own face, with eyes closed while I sleep.

    Feel my back pressed against my chest, as I cuddle myself asleep.


    To hold my thought in my hands and re-arrange them, maybe.


    To see the color of my smile, 


    The smell of my laughter,

    The taste of color white, 

    The sound of my perfume,

    The touch of ...  Oh what torment it is, you see?

    Damned are the things that will never be! 


    -Karnika Kapoor


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    Friday, April 28, 2017

    Xenos: The Neanderthal Man

    We, humans, are the only "intelligent" species on the planet. We do treat other animals unfairly. It seems like we have this monopoly over the planet and its resources that we don't tend to share with our fellow earthlings. Sometimes I like to think about other possible scenarios that could have been. What if it was not like this? What if the Neanderthals had survived? 



    We left our native land of Africa around 50000 years ago. Not to mention we spread like wildfire all over the globe. Neanderthals, our closest cousins, had left the native land 230000 years ago. They settled in Europe, Middle East and central Asia. They survived until, well, we reached there. We were quite same, yet quite different. That pretty much would have been like Bonobos meeting Chimpanzees. Man, the Homo sapiens and homo Neanderthals shared 99.7% of the DNA. We are from the same genus: meaning we are the descendant of same species Hominins (the great ape). 



    Fun fact: The name Neanderthals was given to them because their bones were first discovered in the caves of Neander valley. We called ourselves Homo (Man) sapiens (wise), the wise man. Not quite humble of us eh?  Ernst Haeckel proposed taxonomic name Neanderthal as Homo Stupidus. That name is obsolete now. As the matter of fact, The Neanderthals were not stupid. They had the same brain to body mass ratio as us. They were physically stronger than us. It is now believed that they had pretty refined societies too. To read more about the Neanderthals click here.

    So what happened to the Neanderthals? It is a mystery! There are a few theories. Moreover, there is an indication that all of the factors may have had a combined effect in the extinction of Neanderthals.


    Climate change: There was a super volcano, around 40000 years ago, in a location that is now in Italy. This volcano had blanketed the area with lava and ash. This may have led to the lowering of temperature that led to endangerment/extinction of the species

    Sapiens invasion: Humans and Neanderthals coexisted for a millennial. There might have been competition for resources amongst Neanderthals bands and sapiens bands. They were bigger and good at hunting and humans were innovative and formed larger bands. One can only imagine how the dynamics of society would have worked in those days. It is believed that the domestication of Dogs was advantageous to human over the Neanderthals. We might have starved them with our better skills on calling dibs on the resources or we may have slaughtered them because it could have been threatening. It is difficult to tell for sure.


    According to recent understanding, the Neanderthal and sapiens often interbred. Many of the modern humans have 2-4% of shared DNA. You can read more about Sapiens and Neanderthals interbreeding here. Now we can even sequence our DNAs with services that will tell us about our personal ancestry and likelihood of diseases. I am quite curious to sequence my DNA as I have bright red hair which is very rare in my location. Also, red hair indicates the presence of Neanderthal DNA. Find out other traits that are associated with the presence of Neanderthal DNA here.

    Now the interbreeding side of anything related to humans just spirals down and the ugly alley of eugenics. The Nazi's romanticizing the Aryan race had made this discussion tarnished with genocide. So much so that experts have lost interest in exploring that side. Well, it is all very fresh in human conscious and we cannot walk past it just yet. Maybe someday in future, when the political and emotional wounds of the racial scars will be filled and the world is ready to walk past the petty inclination claiming to be superior in one way or the other ... Until then, we should just heal the old wounds and learn to live in peace with our differences.




    The fact is there are no more Neanderthals. Had they survived, Wonder how the co-existing societies of modern human and modern Neanderthals would have been like. How would we have formed the governments and divided the resources? Would we have worked out on integrated society with them or would it have been a divided state of constant wars and the arms race between us? 

    What are your ideas on how would we have been with an equally intelligent species co-existing? Let me know in the comment section below. 



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    Thursday, April 27, 2017

    Weltschmerz

    There is something about the German language that makes it stand out amongst the other languages. It has some words that express our feelings and ideas so perfectly; so much so, it seems that there is a lexical gap in the other languages. Some German words just cannot be quite translated by just another word. One such word is Weltschmerz. 


    Weltschmerz comes from German Welt “world” and Schmerz “pain”. It means a universal pain, world-weariness, or melancholia about the state of the world. It is the sadness that is not because of some issue, but a feeling of depression because of existence itself. It is the feeling in which one realizes that the reality of world cannot fulfill the desire of one's heart. This term was coined by a romantic German author Jean Paul aka Johann Paul Friedrich Richter.  

    The contemporary meaning of Weltschmerz is the psychological distress of realizing that our frailties are the product of social, physical and circumstantial states of the world. The feeling of Weltschmerz may cause depression and may lead to social or mental withdrawal. Weltschmerz is the despair experienced when the world as it is does not line up with the world as we think it should be.

    The word Weltschmerz, in my mind, always takes me back to Charles Darwin. I recently read his book, on the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favored races in the struggle for life. That is the full name of the original book; I find it amusingly long and precise. The book is more popularly called Origin of Species. The book was brilliant and the ideas in it were strongly supported by evidence and reasoning. Many of the common questions of creationists in the debate panels with Richard Dawkins, were first handledly answered by Darwin in his book. Moreover, I found Darwin's knowledge of geology was far ahead his times, he more or less explained plate tectonics. 

    I, as a person living in 2017 with a world view on evolution as a given, cannot fathom the feeling of Weltschmerz that Darwin must have experience. Darwin traveled the globe in his youth. He was a naturalist on the HMS Beagle, a naval exploratory voyage around the world. He studied the geology and nature. He studied plants and animal life and collected fossils during his five-year-long voyage. After his voyage, he studied his finding on the theory of evolution. He didn't share his ideas with the world for twenty-one years. It was that time during which the world-weariness of preconceived idea of creation faced up to Darwin. Darwin was reportedly battling an undiagnosed sickness throughout his life. Nowadays, it is believed that Darwin's sickness was psychosomatic. He was raised a devoted Christian, during this time he was facing up the flaws in the creation idea and being accused of "killing the beloved God". This might have been the source of Darwin’s depression and Weltschmerz.


    I think the life and experience of Darwin, even though he was brilliant and ingenious for the knowledge that he imparted us, was filled with the Weltschmerz. You may read more about Darwin and his Theory of Evolution here.  The reality of life and the emotional leaning towards the desire of how we wished it should have been ... is heart-breaking. 

    If you wish to learn some more, awesome German words check here. Do you have a scenario that explains and represents the word Weltschmerz? Let me know in the comments section. 


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    Wednesday, April 26, 2017

    The Virtue Of Respect



    The thing about virtue is that it is not objective. It is a factor of culture and era, per se the year referring to or under consideration. If it was the 1500s the morality would vary from what it is in 2017. Across the globe, the virtues that people believe in changes. However, in the current age of globalism, the virtue of humans is approaching a saturation point. We more or less have the same kind of morals in society, nowadays. It is not quite a lot segregated as people believe it to be, at least for the younger people. The internet age is helping in ideas come together and irate into an optimal moral code. On a second thought, the current polarity the world makes me think, umm maybe not. Maybe we are more divided than ever. 

    Growing up I was often told to, respect my elders. So I obliged and paid my "due" regard to people who were older than me. As a grown up now, I found myself questioning should respect be granted based on age?  Respect: a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements. It is not the same as a courtesy or a good behaviour towards someone. One may say it is the same, but then why should it be limited to elders? Isn't that how we should behave by default? In this post, I am digging into the "Respect your elders" virtue that we teach children. Is it the right approach? Do all the people older than me deserve my respect by default? No!


    Politeness is a sign of civility. That should be taught to children irrespective of age. I have been "respectful" towards many people who did not deserve my respect. Now, when I look back to such people from the perspective of an adult, I find it obscure to fathom what I was told to do. From my adult judgment, some of those people were plainly grown up bullies to the younger me.  As a matter of fact, I am still in the process of unlearning that my respect is not depending on the fact that someone has spent more years than me on the planet. 

    This idea of default respect is a breeding ground to tame people into submission. Children should be taught to behave nicely with everyone, irrespective of age. The underlying idea of taming a child to curb the questioning to authority is unhealthy. We should, on the contrary, make them question the authority. Respect/listen/obey the elders are kind of a classical conditioning, which makes docile adults for the authoritative society. Why would we want that for the future generations? It is dormant, even regressive. 

    Respect has to be earned! It shouldn't be a product of relative ages. Everyone has had one of those mean aunt /uncles, a cantankerous old man in the neighbourhood or bully older cousins/siblings. A child should be made aware of the fact that not every older person is to be respected. They should be taught to retaliate and reject the bad authorities. I don't demand the people younger than me to respect me! That would be insanely obnoxious of me. I rather believe in mutual politeness and earned respect.
      
    Do you respect people based on age or do you believe, respect has to be earned? Let me know in the comment section below.


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