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Mental Health

Protect Your Mind as Much as You Protect Your Body

In a new epoch of Global Pandemic. Author Patrick Allan at LifeHacker pens some Stoic Wisdom for the ages.

Protect Your Mind as Much as You Protect Your Body
Stoic Wisdom in stone. Protect Your Mind as Much as You Protect Your Body. Photo by Paul VanDerWerf.

Epictetus in Enchiridion (28). asks why we don’t value our mind’s protection the same as our body’s:

“If a person gave your body to any stranger he met on his way, you would certainly be angry. And do you feel no shame in handing over your own mind to be confused and mystified by anyone who happens to verbally attack you?”


Here’s another version:

“If a person gave away your body to some passerby, you’d be furious. Yet you hand over your mind to anyone who comes along, so they may abuse you, leaving it disturbed and troubled—have you no shame in that?”

What It Means

This question that Epictetus asks is in the form of a mini thought experiment. If you were walking along and somebody took your body and did whatever they liked with it, you’d be angry, right? So you do your best to keep people from touching, grabbing, or moving your body unless you authorize it.

But for some reason we don’t usually exercise such stalwart defenses when it comes to our minds. We hand our minds over to anyone and anything that comes along, be it an advertisement, a politician, a social media post, the news, or just a stranger who wants to put us down and disrupt our day. Doesn’t that bother you?

What to Take From It

There are so many things out there that distract us, confuse us, make us doubt ourselves, get us angry, and push us in directions we never intended to go. This is because we let it happen. We choose to let those things in and affect us, and this is the unshakeable basis of stoicism itself.

Granted, it’s not easy to just block everything out. We have to battle against our own instincts and biology to do that. Still, we can all stand to defend our minds a bit more. Every day, think about ways you can guard your inner self from the never-ending onslaught of persuasion. Learn to recognize what an attack on your mind looks like—from something as small as a superfluous distraction to something bigger like a villainous acquaintance—and, once a day, say to yourself, “No, I’m not letting this in.” The same way you’d slap away an unwanted hand trying to grab your body, slap away an incursion on your mind.

Your body and mind are the only two things you’ll always own as long as you’re alive and coherent. No matter what, you always need them both as they are your two most valuable possessions. Why not defend them equally?

You can read all of Enchiridion for free here.

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How to Prevent Loneliness in a Time of Social Distancing

Here’s advice for preserving your mental health while avoiding physical proximity

How to Prevent Loneliness in a Time of Social Distancing
Human beings are social creatures. Necessary social isolation during the Coronavirus pandemic is a challenge for our social & mental wellbeing. (Credit: Richard Bailey Getty Images)

With increasing numbers of people isolated because of quarantine and social distancing, COVID-19 is not the only public health threat we should be worried about—loneliness is one as well.

While scientists are rushing to understand how the coronavirus works, researchers have long understood the toll that social isolation and loneliness take on the body. People who do not feel connected to others are more likely to catch a cold, experience depression, develop heart disease, have lower cognitive function and live a shorter life. In fact, the long-term harm caused by loneliness is similar to smoking or obesity.

In January, a national survey found that 79 percent of Gen Zers, 71 percent of millennials and 50 percent of baby boomers feel lonely. Similarly, the proportion of people who belong to any kind of community group, such as a hobby club, sports league or volunteer group, fell from 75 to 57 percent over the past decade. Even without the coronavirus keeping us apart, it seems the majority of the population suffers from poor social health.

Although isolation is the right response to the coronavirus pandemic, we need the exact opposite in response to the loneliness epidemic. So how can you cultivate your social well-being while avoiding infection?

An obvious answer is the device you are reading this article on. People often blame technology for the prevalence of loneliness, pointing out that we spend too much time scrolling through social media and not enough of it interacting IRL. Yet recent research by my colleagues at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health paints a more nuanced picture: how you use such platforms seems to matter more than how much you do so. We can all benefit from developing digital habits that support meaningful human connections—especially now that it may be our only option until the outbreak calms.

Whether you are quarantined, working remotely or just being cautious, now is the perfect time to practice using technology in socially healthy ways. Here are a few suggestions for how to connect without contact.

Face-to-face from afar: The next best thing to in-person interaction is video chat, because facial cues, body language and other nonverbal forms of communication are important for bonding. When possible, opt for video over messaging or calling and play around with doing what you would normally do with others. For example, try having a digital dinner with someone you met on a dating app, a virtual happy hour with friends or a remote book club meeting.

One-minute kindness: Getting lots of likes on a social media post may give you a fleeting hit of dopamine, but receiving a direct message or e-mail with a genuine compliment or expression of gratitude is more personal and longer lasting—without taking much more time. When you find yourself scrolling through people’s posts, stop and send one of them a few kind words. After all, we need a little extra kindness to counter the stress and uncertainty of the coronavirus.

Cultivate your community: The basis of connection is having something in common. Whatever your niche interest is, there is an online community of people who share your passion and can’t wait to nerd out with you about it. There are also digital support groups, such as for new parents or patients with a rare disease. Use these networks to engage around what matters most to you.

Deepen or broaden: Fundamentally, there are two ways to overcome loneliness: nurture your existing relationships or form new ones. Reflect on your current state of social health and then take one digital action to deepen it—such as getting in touch with a friend or family member you haven’t spoken with in a while—or to broaden it—such as reaching out to someone you’d like to get to know.

Use a tool: Increasingly, apps and social platforms are being designed to help us optimize our online interactions with loved ones, including Ikaria, Cocoon, Monaru and Squad. If you do well with structure, these resources may be a useful option for you. Or you can consider using conversation prompts, such as TableTopics or The And, to spark interesting dialogue during a video call.The coronavirus pandemic has reminded us that human connection can spread illness. But human connection also promotes wellness. Let’s take this opportunity to recognize the importance of relationships for our health and to practice leveraging technology for social well-being.

6 Habits of Super Learners

Learn any skill deeply and quickly

A sure test of your Mental Health is how deeply & quickly you learn. (iStock/Getty Images)

Becoming a super learner is one of the most important skills you need to succeed in the 21st century. In the age technological change, staying ahead depends on continual self-education — a lifelong mastery of new models, skills and ideas.

In a world that’s changing fast, the ability to learn a new skill as fast as possible is quickly becoming a necessity. The good news is, you don’t need a natural gift to be better at learning something new even when you have a full-time career.

Many polymaths (people who have excelled in diverse pursuits) — including Charles Darwin, Leonardo da Vinci and the Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman — claimed not to have exceptional natural intelligence.

We all have enough brainpower to master a new discipline — we use the right tools, approaches, or apply what we learn correctly. Almost anyone can learn anything — with the right technique.

Better learning approaches can make the process enjoyable. The key to rapid skill acquisition isn’t complicated. If you aim to learn a new skill to improve your career this year, some of these habits can be useful for you.

1. Super learners read a lot

Reading is to the mind what exercise is to your body. It gives us the freedom to roam the expanse of space, time, history, and offer a deeper view of ideas, concepts, emotions, and body of knowledge.

Your brain on books is active — growing, changing and making new connections and different patterns, depending on the type of material you’re reading. Highly successful learners read a lot.

In fact, many of the most successful people share this appreciation for reading — they don’t see reading as a chore but as an opportunity to improve their lives, careers and businesses.

Elon Musk grew up reading two books a day, according to his brother. Bill Gates reads 50 books per year. Mark Zuckerberg reads at least one book every two weeks. Warren Buffett spends five to six hours per day reading five newspapers and 500 pages of corporate reports.

In a world where information is the new currency, reading is the best source of continuous learning, knowledge and acquiring more of that currency.

2. Super learners view learning as a process

Learning is a journey, a discovery of new knowledge, not a destination.

It’s an enjoyable lifelong process — a self-directed and self-paced journey of discovery. Understanding any topic, idea or new mindset requires not only keen observation but more fundamentally, the sustained curiosity.

“A learning journey is a curated collection of learning assets, both formal and informal, that can be used to acquire skills for a specific role and/or technology area,” writes Sonia Malik of IBM.

Learning is an investment that usually pays for itself in increased earnings. More than ever, learning is for life if you want to stay relevant, indispensable and thrive in the changing world of work.

Super learners value the process. They don’t have an end goal, they seek consistent improvement. They keep mastering new principles, processes, worldviews, thinking models, etc. The “ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated” pursuit of knowledge is important for their maturity.

3. They adopt a growth mindset

You can’t go wrong cultivating a growth mindset — a learning theory developed by Dr Carol Dweck that revolves around the belief that you can improve intelligence, ability and performance.

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn,” argues Alvin Toffler, a writer, futurist, and businessman known for his works discussing modern technologies.

Cultivating a growth or adaptable mindset can help you focus more on your most desirable goals in life. It may influence your motivation and could make you more readily able to see opportunities to learn and grow your abilities.

The ability to keep an open-mind, acquire better knowledge and apply it when necessary can significantly improve your life and career.

4. Super learners teach others what they know

According to research, learners retain approximately 90% of what they learn when they explain/teach the concept to someone else, or use it immediately.

Teaching others what you know is one of the most effective ways to learn, remember and recall new information. Psychologists, call it the “retrieval practice”. It’s one of the most reliable ways of building stronger memory traces.

Learn by teaching someone else a topic in simple terms so you can quickly pinpoint the holes in your knowledge. It’s a mental model coined by the famous physicist Richard Feynman.

Known as the “Great Explainer,” Feynman was revered for his ability to clearly illustrate dense topics like quantum physics for virtually anybody. The Feynman Technique is laid out clearly in James Gleick’s biography, Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman.

The ultimate test of your knowledge is your capacity to transfer it to another. A better way to learn, process, retain and remember information is to learn half the time and share half the time. Example, instead of completing a book, aim to read 50 percent and try recalling, sharing, or writing down the key ideas you have learned before proceeding.

5. Effective learners take care of their brains

Keeping your brain healthy keeps it sharp. What you do or don’t do for your brain can significantly change how your record, process and retrieve information. Everyone wants to live an active life for as long as possible. And that goal depends on robust brain health.

That means eating lots of foods associated with slowing cognitive decline — blueberries, vegetables (leafy greens — kale, spinach, broccoli), whole grains, getting protein from fish and legumes and choosing healthy unsaturated fats (olive oil) over saturated fats (butter).

Fruit and vegetables combat age-related oxidative stress that causes wear and tear on brain cells,” says Dr Gary Small, a professor of psychiatry and ageing.

Our brains naturally decline if we do nothing to protect them. However, if you intervene early, you can slow the decline process — it’s easier to protect a healthy brain than to try to repair damage once it is extensive.

6. They take short breaks, early and often

Downtime is crucial to retaining anything you choose to learn. According to recent research, taking short breaks, early and often, can help you learn things better and even improve your retention rate.

“Everyone thinks you need to ‘practice, practice, practice’ when learning something new. Instead, we found that resting, early and often, maybe just as critical to learning as practice,” said Leonardo G. Cohen, M.D., Ph.D., a senior investigator at NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Better breaks help the brain solidify, memories during the rest periods. Whatever you choose to learn over time, it’s important to optimise the timing of rest intervals for better results.

Experts at the Louisiana State University’s Center for Academic Success recommends 30–50 minutes sessions. “Anything less than 30 is just not enough, but anything more than 50 is too much information for your brain to take in at one time,” says learning strategies graduate assistant Ellen Dunn.

Our brains’ neural networks need to time process information, so spacing out your learning helps you memorise new information more efficiently — give your brain enough time to rest and recover.

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The Dangers of Taking unprescribed Beta-Blockers for Anxiety

Some see the heart medication as a miracle drug for public speaking fears, anxiety and panic attacks, but it’s not without its risks

Self medicating with Bets-Blockers can be risky. (iStock/Getty Images)

While anxiety and panic attacks are considered ailments of the mind, their effects are mostly physical: Your heart races, you begin to sweat, maybe even shake. Rather than treat the anxiety itself, benzodiazepines treat the side effects, and while that works just fine for some, others are roped into a cycle of dependence — benzos are highly addictive and can essentially train someone into being incapable of handling their anxiety without them.

For that reason, psychologists and psychiatrists often prefer alternative treatments. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, traditional talk therapy and antidepressants like SSRIs can be effective, although they all require some dedication. But there’s an alternative both less addictive and less time-consuming: heart medication, in the form of beta-blockers. They offer some middle ground in that they work by making you physically less capable of panicking by controlling your heart rate. They’re typically prescribed for high-blood pressure and heart issues — by lowering one’s blood pressure, the heart doesn’t have to work as hard to circulate blood and is thus less likely to have a heart attack — but they’ve also long been prescribed for anxiety, despite that not being their intended function.

“Beta-blockers aren’t FDA approved for the treatment of anxiety disorders. However, they’ve frequently been used for the treatment of performance anxiety by students — those with a fear of public speaking and some with social anxiety,” says Charles Nemeroff, psychiatrist and medical director of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. “They reduce the effects of epinephrine and norepinephrine, which are responsible for the increase in heart rate, sweating and other autonomic effects of stress and anxiety. However, they aren’t without side effects in some patients, including an increase in depression. The reduction in heart rate also will, for example, prevent runners from reaching peak heart rates needed when out on the track.”

Despite not being FDA-approved for anxiety, doctors are still legally allowed to prescribe them for the condition. But it doesn’t mean that someone should take beta-blockers without a prescription at all, which some people are attempting to do. Because of the drug’s ability to greatly reduce anxiety without any of the tranquilizing effects of benzos, some cite beta-blockers as the perfect drug for public speaking or other stressful situations where performance counts. There are even startups marketing beta-blockers for just this purpose, like Kick, a company that connects people with online doctors who can prescribe the medication through digital consultations. For $50, Kick will arrange a quick online appointment with a physician who can write a legitimate prescription, without you ever needing to leave the house. 

But Nemeroff reiterates that this is potentially dangerous: For those with low blood pressure, for instance, as the medication further reduces blood pressure, it would likely cause the recipient to faint. Beta-blockers also commonly come with side effects like dizziness, fatigue and diarrhea. They can potentially worsen depression (again, as Nemeroff pointed out) or trigger severe asthma attacks as well.

So just because they’re not addictive in the same way benzos are (although it’s certainly possible to form a dependence upon them), your doctor knows far more than you or I about what’s best for your body, so always talk to them first. 

After all, do you really trust anyone who advises you to skip the doctor consultation before taking heart medicine?

This Simple Math Problem Supposedly Almost Fooled Einstein Himself

The famous physicist was very nearly defeated by this question from Max Wertheimer.

How a math equation almost fooled Albert Einstein himself!

In 1934, psychologist Max Wertheimer sent a letter to his friend, the physicist Albert Einstein, with the following puzzle enclosed.

There’s an old car that needs to go up and down a hill. The hill is 1 mile going up, and 1 mile going down . Because the car is old, it can only average a speed of 15 mph during the ascent, but may be able to go faster during the descent.

The question is: how fast must the car be going downhill, in order for its speed to reach an average of 30 mph for the entire 2-mile journey?

At the time Einstein received the letter, he had already been honored with the Nobel Prize for Physics, and come up with his famous E = mc2 equation. So this should have been super simple for him to figure out, right? Apparently not. According to German psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer’s book Risk Savvy: How to Make Good Decisions, Einstein wrote that he didn’t see the “trick” until he had already calculated the answer.

This Simple Riddle Almost Fooled Einstein - How To Solve It
Watch this video on YouTube.

YouTuber Presh Talwalkar breaks down the solution to the puzzle in a video, starting by working backwards, and calculating what is the necessary time for a car to average 30 mph on a 2-mile journey. By dividing the journey length, 2, by the speed, 30, you get the time: 1/15 of an hour, or 4 minutes.

Next, Talwalkar figures out how long the car takes going up the hill by dividing the length of that portion of the journey, 1, by its average speed, 15, which simplifies again to 1/15 of an hour, or 4 minutes.

So the car takes 4 minutes to climb the hill, but it must also take 4 minutes for the entirety of the trip, meaning there is no time to get down the other side. The conclusion, then, is that there is no right answer: Wertheimer sent Einstein a trick question.