Learning to Meditate

Posted Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Homestudy, Psychology

buddha-918068_640By Barbara Sternberg, Ph.D.

Meditation is a practice that is nearly as old as our oldest ancestors. It has been practiced in cultures around the world and is as popular today as it has ever been. Practiced by holy men and women and by individuals seeking the health benefits meditation can provide, it is a state of relaxed concentration and enhanced awareness. Also, it gives an inward focus that allows you to see and better understand the workings of your own mind.

Simple to learn, meditation is in fact a skill that can take a lifetime to perfect. If you are curious about meditation and would like to sample its benefits, start with one of the meditations outlined here. Remember to give yourself time–the benefits of meditation come with practice and patience. The more you can adopt an openly receptive state of mind, the more successful your meditating experience will be.

Focusing Inward

One of the most popular forms of meditation in the world’s many spiritual traditions involves meditating on one’s breath. Although it may seem mundane, and it certainly is repetitive, the process of focusing on one’s breathing can, over time, lead to all of the physical and mental health benefits meditation promises to provide, including reduced stress, improved mood and improved pain control. It can also provide a deeper pleasure in life and a sense of connection with one’s essential inner core of being.

Most people are caught up in the everyday details of life–our families and jobs, what we need to get done, checking our email and texting our friends, reading the news of the day, and watching our favorite television show. Most of us get so caught up in these details that we fail to pay attention to what is going on inside us–in our own hearts, minds, and bodies. In truth, popular culture is designed to get us to believe that happiness and satisfaction come from outside, in the world of popular culture and advertising messages. Focusing our attention inward can seem like a huge step in a different direction.

Relaxing Your Body

As you gain experience practicing meditation, you will find that the process naturally relaxes your body while at the same time it focuses your mind. As a beginner, however, it may be difficult to experience bodily relaxation in the early days or weeks of meditating. It may be helpful for you to practice a relaxation technique before you meditate, especially if you are aware of feeling tense or stressed.

Meditating on Your Breath

Paying attention to the inhalations and exhalations of our breath certainly isn’t exciting, but it does slow our minds to match the speed and rhythms of our bodies; we breathe an average of 12 to 16 times per minute. There are several different ways to do this, but one to try — in the early stages of meditating — is counting the number of breaths needed to build concentration. The structure of counting provides a structure so that we can quickly notice when our minds are wandering off the task.

Learn more about meditation in our homestudy course, Meditation.


The Basics of Addiction

Posted Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Homestudy, Psychology

alcohol-428392_640By Barbara Sternberg, Ph.D.

Alcohol and drug use are as old as civilization. Equally ancient is the mystery of why one person can use a substance moderately while another becomes addicted. New research is now shedding light on this complex genetic, and biological, psychological, and sociological phenomenon. Many people and clinicians today have strong opinions on the best way to treat addiction. Indeed, the question of whether “harm-reduction” approaches can be successful is highly controversial.

One of the major risks of alcohol and drug use is the potential for overdose. Overdose happens when a toxic amount of a drug or combination of drugs overwhelms the body. Alcohol and drug overdoses have the potential to cause serious health consequences or death. Various factors influence the degree of risk experienced by any particular alcohol or drug user.

An over-the-counter medication called Naloxone (Narcan®) can be used to counter the effects of overdose from opioids such as morphine or heroin and can save lives. It is only effective for treatment of opioid overdose. However, it has no effect if a person does not have opioids in his or her system.

Addiction is defined as the compulsive need to use a habit-forming substance, or an “irresistible urge” to engage in a potentially harmful behavior. Two defining characteristics of addiction are tolerance and withdrawal. Tolerance is the ever increasing need for more of the substance to obtain the same effect. Withdrawal refers to the uncomfortable physical and psychological symptoms that occur when substance use is stopped suddenly or withheld.

The term addiction has come to refer to a wide range of behaviors. While most commonly used to refer to ingestion of alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, and food, it is sometimes used to mean excessive indulgence in activities including work, exercise, shopping, sex, and video-game playing although there is insufficient research evidence to warrant including these activities as diagnosable psychiatric disorders. In DSM-5, pathological gambling is classified as a behavioral addiction.

Addictive behaviors have been characterized as patterns, habits, compulsions, impulse control disorders, and physical addictions. Many psychologists believe that they can be best understood as learned habits or behavior patterns. According to this view, addictive behaviors are maladaptive habits and behavior patterns which are subject to the same principles of learning that govern all behaviors. Old or maladaptive habits can be broken and replaced with alternative and less harmful behaviors. In this way, addictive behaviors can be unlearned and new, healthier behaviors learned in their place.

Learn more about addiction in our homestudy course, Addictions: Alternatives to Abstinence.


The Case of the Common Cold

Posted Posted in Continuing Education, Elder Care, Homestudy, Nutrition

The most prevalent of all human illnesses, the common cold, is a minor infection of the upper respiratory tract. It mainly involves the nose and throat but can extend to the sinuses, ears, and bronchial tubes. As a general rule, cold symptoms are milder than flu symptoms and most people recover in seven to ten days. Some signs of the common cold are:cold-treatment

  • low grade fever
  • sore throat
  • coughing and/or sneezing
  • nasal congestion or runny nose
  • slight muscle aches
  • mild headaches
  • watery eyes

Cold symptoms generally emerge between one and three days after a cold virus enters the body and resolve in a week — with or without medication. One cold in four lasts up to 14 days; this most often occurs in children, the elderly, and people who are in poor health. Smokers often have more severe, extended cold symptoms than nonsmokers.

Fewer than 5 percent of colds lead to such complications as bronchitis, middle-ear infection, or sinusitis accompanied by a prolonged cough, but between 5 and 15 percent of children who have colds develop acute ear infection when bacteria or viruses infiltrate the space behind the eardrum. A cold can produce wheezing, even in children who do not have asthma, and symptoms of asthma, bronchitis, and emphysema can be exacerbated for many weeks. Symptoms that persist for more than two weeks or that recur might be more allergy than infection related.

Post-infectious cough, which usually produces phlegm, may disrupt sleep and persist for weeks or months following a cold. This complication has been associated with asthma-like symptoms and can be treated with asthma medications prescribed by a physician. Medical attention is indicated if symptoms progress to:

  • sinusitis
  • ear pain
  • high fever
  • a cough that worsens as other symptoms abate
  • a flare-up of asthma or of another chronic lung problem
  • significantly swollen glands
  • strep throat
  • bronchiolitis
  • pneumonia
  • croup

Beginning in late August or early September, the incidence of infection rises gradually for a few weeks and remains elevated until declining in March or April. Seasonal variations in susceptibility may be related to cold weather or to months when school is in session―times when people spend more hours indoors and chances of interpersonal transmission are enhanced. Changes in relative humidity may also have an effect. Cold temperatures dry the lining of nasal passages and increase vulnerability to infection by common cold-causing viruses that thrive in such weather.

Over the course of a lifetime, a person has been estimated to spend the equivalent of five years suffering from the common cold. One-fifth of that time, cold symptoms are severe enough to require bed rest. Women get more colds than men―especially women between 20 and 30 years of age―and adults over 60 years of age get less than one cold a year on average.

Learn more about the common cold and influenza through our homestudy courses.