HUG your way to health

hug
v.
To clasp or hold closely, especially in the arms, as in affection; embrace.
n.
An affectionate embrace [probably of Scandinavian origin; akin to Old Norse huggato comfort]

The power of touch has intrigued researchers for decades. Studies show that touch has a beneficial effect on our perception of pain, treatment of medical conditions, and also emotional and physical well-being. Touch makes our stress hormones drop and it leads to a decreased perception of pain and a greater feeling of well-being. If the touch comes from a partner, a friend or a loved one, we have a greater sense of love and security. Touch is used as a therapeutic tool in several medical centers to comfort pain, depression and anxiety, even to boost people’s will to live, including premature babies.

Many years ago I saw a documentary about orphans of post Ceausescu Romania in the 1990’s and I was horrified. Thousands of children were living under terrible conditions in Romania’s huge state-run institutions. Those children were neglected and deprived of touch. Most of them were damaged in mind and body. Every institution employee was responsible for more than 20-30 children, there was no emotional bond and physical contact through touch or hugging with the children and the mortality rate was even as high as 50%.
Renee Spitz ‘s study (1946) and John Bowlby’s studies in the 1950’s showed that children need care and nurture to develop normally. Both researchers concluded that we need strokes such as hugs or physical touch as much as the air we breath, the water we drink, and the food we eat.

Virginia Satir, a pioneer in family therapy said that “We need 4 hugs a day for survival, 8 hugs a day for maintenance and 12 hugs a day for growth”.
Some may find the number unrealistic and not applicable to our everyday busy and stressful lives. The core truth is:  hugs can benefit the brain, the heart, the immune and other body systems and also our emotional health.

Dr. Kathleen C. Light of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill says that the people who get lots of hugs and other warm contact tend to have the highest levels of oxytocin.   A 20-second hug a day makes a big difference between how happy and relaxed we are. People in loving relationships show even higher levels of oxytocin when hugging.  Which is why people in healthy marriages, relationships and/or friendships are happier and feel less stressed. As human beings we are genetically programmed to form bonds, we need social contact and physical touch in order to be physically and emotionally healthy.

hug benefits for our physical health

  • decreases release of cortisol (stress hormone)
  • release of dopamine and oxytocin (bonding hormone)
  • lowers heart rates
  • lowers blood pressure
  • stimulates nerve ending
  • increases blood circulation

hug benefits for our emotional health

  • feels good
  • enjoyment being around other people
  • feeling accepted and understood
  • feeling compassion/compassionate
  • feeling more relaxed
  • overcoming fears
  • makes impossible days possible

It is essential to have permission before giving a hug. Sometimes your relationship with a person permits you to hug, other times you might receive a non-verbal or verbal message from someone that wants a hug. If you misread someone and gave a hug to person that didn’t want it, don’t sweat it. For some people hugging is hard, their difficulty might be part of their culture or previous experiences. Sometimes trust has to be built before a person feels safe enough to hug. Be respectful of the other person’s need for privacy and space.

People who hug more frequently tend to be more open about their feelings and connect easier to those around them. Hugs can bring a feeling of connection in your life. When you give hugs, you also receive. It ‘s ecologic, it ‘s portable and it ‘s free!
Now go and get your hugs for today!

 

 

 

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How learning changes the brain

People have the ability to develop across their lifespan, to change their emotional and mental responses, to dissolve the behaviour patterns that kept them away from living fulfilling lives and to form meaningful relationships. Even to recover from serious trauma and disease. The developing potential of the human nature was known to many psychotherapy schools all along and now with the recent dramatic developments in neuroscience there is tangible proof of it.
For many decades the prevailing dogma in neurobiology has been that the human brain is unchangeable and fixed in form and function by reaching adulthood. So basically it doesn’t matter how we evolve because we pretty much are stuck with what we already have…The term Brain plasticity comes to change this limiting perception of the human brain.

Brain plasticity and brain growth
Recent research in neuroscience has not only shown that the brain is continually evolving over our lifetime, but that it is receptive to environmental stimuli and can change in response to stimuli. Brain plasticity refers to the ability of the brain to change its structure and function in response to experience, and to change through new learning in order to adapt to different situations, circumstances and needs.

A neuron is the basic nerve cell. The brain contains nearly 100 billion neurons. The electrical firings and chemical messages running between neurons, are what produce our thoughts, feelings and interactions with the world around us. All the knowledge we possess, both intellectual and emotional, is created by our neurons communicating information to one another.

Neurons unlike other cells, are not renewable but new connections are always unfolding. The heredity of our ancestors in the form of our DNA directly shapes the connections within our brain. Though genes are extremely important in development, we also know that experience shapes our neural connections (synapses) as well. When neurons become active they have the potential to stimulate the growth of new connections among each other. These synaptic connections are created by both genes and by experience. Nature needs nurture. Whatever we chose to reinforce in our brains takes up space and leaves less space for other connections and pathways.

Changes in the brain manifest also as changes in our abilities. For example, when we learn a new language, each new word we learn reflects a change in our brain where new connections are created. When we forget someone’s name, the neurons connected to that memory have been degraded. Plas­tic­ity can also be observed in the brains of bilin­guals (Mechelli et al., 2004). It looks like learn­ing a sec­ond lan­guage is pos­si­ble through func­tional changes in the brain: the left infe­rior pari­etal cor­tex is larger in bilin­gual brains than in mono­lin­gual brains.

The impressive abilities of our brain as manifested in neural (brain) plasticity open new ways for the rehabilitation of people who had suffered brain damage or the possibility of fixing the pathological wiring that underlies psychiatric diseases. Neural plasticity, the change in neural connectivity induced by experience, may be the fundamental way in which psychotherapy alters the brain. Within psychotherapy the focus of attention on various domains of mental, somatic, and interpersonal life can create the neural firing patterns in the brain that enables new synaptic connections to be established (Siegel, 2007).

To summarize: the “trees” of our brain (neurons) are planted from birth, yet the bushes grow and spread throughout our entire life. Our brain has the ability to change through learning and experience, and to produce new nerve cells according to our needs (especially useful when cells are destroyed by accident or illness). Psychotherapy can also begin to create new neural connections: different ways to think, feel or behave.

The following video about brain plasticity shows little Jody who had half of her brain removed at age 3 and how she adapted to this huge change. I was deeply moved when I saw this video and I am grateful to Jody for inspiring me to write this post!

Brain plasticity

REFERENCES
Ginger, S. ((2004). Gestalt therapy: the art of contact.
Mechelli, A. et al. (2004). Structural plasticity in the bilingual brain.
Siegel, D. (2007). The mindful brain.


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From the heart

 

heart

This inspiring suggestion on how to navigate
in the sea of relationships comes from Jorge Bucay
a Gestalt psychotherapist from Argentina.
It was published in his book “Letters for Claudia” in 1989.
It lays the foundation of sharing the tender parts
of ourselves, yes…those things that we secretly wish
that the other person will give us
while we are too scared to express what we want.
May this inspire us to see our loved ones
with different eyes.

I want you to listen to me without judging me
I want you to give your opinion without giving me advice
I want you to trust me without expecting anything
I want you to help me without deciding for me
I want you to care for me without smothering me
I want you to see me without seeing yourself in me
I want you to hug me without suffocating me
I want you to encourage me without hassling me
I want you to hold me without holding me down
I want you to protect me without lying
I want you to come closer without intruding
I want you to know everything that displeases you about me
That you accept this and do not try to change it
I want you to know …that you can count on me today…
Unconditionally.

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Welcome to my blog!


Counselling and Gestalt therapy

I warmly welcome you to my blog! My blog is a place where I like to share my thoughts, reflections, useful tips and links to interesting articles or videos regarding psychotherapy and related topics. I am really excited about getting to know
all of you and interacting with you. I hope that my blog will give you a sense of who I am and it will provide you with helpful information about various subjects.
I will regularly post about how psychotherapy can support you, about mental and emotional well-being, tips and experiments to try.
Feel free to visit often and subscribe if you ‘d like to keep reading and staying in touch!
You are welcome to leave a smile, a comment or suggest topics for future posts.

love and bliss.
Anastasia

 

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