Tuesday, February 15, 2022

The Part of the Brain That Stops Anxiety and How to Use It.

Peer-Reviewed Publication + eurekalert.org

Parapluie. That's the French word for umbrella. Para means against. Pluie means rain. A parapluie keeps a rainstorm from getting you soaking wet.

Parasympathetic. That is the name of the system that calms you. Para, again, means against and sympathetic refers to the sympathetic nervous system, the system that revs you up when stress hormones are released. The parasympathetic nervous system is designed by nature to oppose the sympathetic nervous system and keep it from causing hyperarousal.

Just as your parapluie can protect you from a rain shower, your parasympathetic system can protect you from a deluge of stress hormones anywhere. But only if you open it. For example, when a plane drops in turbulence, everyone's amygdala releases stress hormones. Passengers who have their parasympathetic system open aren't bothered. But passengers with their parasympathetic system closed feel troubled. If their parasympathetic system remains closed as one downward movement after another releases one shot of stress hormones after another, hyperarousal develops, which causes an urge to escape. Since escape is impossible, panic may result.

Few of us would walk around in a rainstorm with a closed umbrella. But we do something similar emotionally. We carry around a closed parasympathetic system while getting showered with stress hormones. We do that because of two things. 

a - We do not know we have an anti-stress system, and focus on limiting or avoiding stress.

b - We know we have a parasympathetic system, and activate it using breathing exercises. Though exhaling activates the parasympathetic system, inhaling deactivates it. It's like opening and closing your parapluie repeatedly in a rainstorm as a way to stay dry.

Neurological researcher Stephen Porges found a way to keep the parasympathetic open for an extended period of time. He calls his discovery the social engagement system. The parasympathetic opens—and stays open—when another person's face, voice, or touch signals you that you are safe in their presence.

When a child is securely attached, their parent's calming face, voice, and touch become associated with the stressors the child encounters. The child carries these parasympathetic-opening connections with them into adulthood. When faced with uncertainty or stress, though the parent is not physically present, the psychologically present parent opens the parasympathetic.

If we weren't fortunate enough to develop these connections during childhood, we can acquire them now. Working with fearful fliers, I found their anxiety could be controlled by connecting the challenging moments of flight to a memory of saying wedding vows or of getting engaged.

I didn't know why these experiences controlled anxiety until I ran across Porges' research that the presence of a physically and emotionally safe person—or the memory of such a person—activates the parasympathetic system. Wedding vows and engagement, moments in which two people signal complete acceptance and mutual safety, fully activate the parasympathetic system. By linking this experience of full parasympathetic opening to flight, anxiety was controlled during flight.

This discovery makes opening the parasympathetic simple. All we need to do is link a physically and emotionally safe friend's face, voice, and touch/body-language to our emotional challenges. We do this two ways:

a - We link the parasympathetic-opening person to the feeling of getting revved up so that when we start getting revved up, the parasympathetic opens and keeps the sympathetic from going too far.

b - We pre-link emotionally challenging situations to the calming person's presence. We wouldn’t go to McDonald’s, order a Big Mac, and swallow it whole. Similarly, we break the challenging situation down into bite-size bits and link each bit, one by one, to the parasympathetic-opening person.

Monday, February 14, 2022

Breathing to Manage Your Stress - science and practice behind the powerful RSA breathing technique.

The role of the breath in meditation and stress management programs is well established. As a meditation strategy, focusing on the breath is primarily a tool for concentration, a place to focus the mind. As a stress management technique, slowing the breath, “belly breathing,” and focusing on the exhalation are all common (and effective) approaches to shifting the nervous system out of a state of hyperarousal.

In this post, I want to explore the science and practice of RSA breathing, a specific, well-researched strategy that may be the most powerful technique for reducing stress and anxiety that I know. This simple technique quickly changes your heart, your hormones, and your brain.

What is RSA?

RSA stands for Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia. Despite the very medical-sounding name, RSA is just a technical way of describing a pattern of breathing in which your heart rate and your breath become synchronized. When you are breathing at a specific rate, your heart rate increases as you inhale and decreases as you exhale. Your bodily systems become synchronized, and all sorts of interesting, “magical” things begin to happen.

For example, when you breathe at your RSA rate for 10-15 minutes, stress hormones (cortisol) decrease, and DHEA (restoration) hormones increase (McCraty et al., 1998). Breathing at your RSA rate also quiets down the brain regions involved in the stress response (Sherlin et al., 2010) and maximizes your heart rate variability—a measure of nervous system balance. So, when you breathe at your RSA, you are changing your entire system.

How to do RSA breathing

Learning to breathe at your resonant frequency is often a step-wise process. First, it is important to learn to relax the breathing such that the belly expands and contracts much more than the chest. This type of breathing is often called “belly breathing” or “diaphragmatic breathing.”

The second step is to attend to the quality of the breath, allowing it to become quiet, slow, long, relaxed, gentle, and natural. For many people, these two steps are enough to significantly shift feelings of stress and anxiety as well as change physiological responses associated with anxiety. If you need or want to take it to the next level, then you can begin applying the above breathing practices at a slow and consistent rate (usually around 6 breath cycles per minute), at which point it becomes RSA breathing.

Finding your precise RSA breathing rate is a little bit of an individual process and requires some physiological monitoring equipment, typically a pneumograph (breathing monitor) and something to measure heart rate variability. However, the vast majority of people have their RSA right around 6 breaths per minute. Some people are a little slower, some a little faster, but almost everyone is between 5 and 7 breaths per minute. This is pretty slow, given that the average breathing rate for adults is somewhere between 12 and 15 breaths per minute.

To breathe at 6 breaths per minute, you would complete one breath cycle (inhalation and exhalation) every 10 seconds; 5 seconds in, 5 seconds out. For most people, shifting from 12-15 breaths per minute to 6 is not a terribly smooth transition. Consequently, it is often best to begin lengthening the breath in a comfortable and gradual way, perhaps beginning at 8 breaths per minute and then slowing it down when it feels natural.

RSA and breath pacers

BreathCoach: A smart in-home breathing training system with bio-feedback

Without a great deal of practice, it is often challenging to breathe at this rate without some form of feedback or method to help you track and pace the speed of your breathing. Fortunately, there are numerous breath pacer tools available, many of which are free through the play store on your smart device. Simply type “breath pacer” into the search bar, and you will have many options.

While each specific breath pacer differs in appearance and settings, they all offer animations and/or sound patterns prompting you to inhale and exhale at a specified rate. You can choose the breathing rate on these programs, in some cases with great specificity, allowing you to choose the length of time for each component of the breath cycle (inhalation, pause, exhalation, pause).

RSA breathing with (or without) a breath pacer can also become a powerful meditation practice tool, providing a visual focus for your breath-focused meditation that simultaneously reduces stress and anxiety. Try doing this practice twice each day for 3-5 minutes each time, and see what you notice! 

This post is adapted from the book, Meditation Interventions to Rewire the Brain by Jeff Tarrant.


McCraty, R., Barrios-Choplin, B., Rozman, D., Atkinson, M., Watkins, A.D. (1998). The impact of a new emotional self-management program on stress, emotions, heart rate variability, DHEA and cortisol. Integrative Physiological and Behavioral Science. 33(2), 151-170.

Sherlin, L., Muench, F., Wyckoff, S. (2010). Respiratory sinus arrhythmia feedback in a stressed population exposed to a brief stressor demonstrated by quantitative EEG and sLORETA. Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, 35(3), 219-28. doi: 10.1007/s10484-010-9132-z

Tarrant, J. (2017). Meditation interventions to rewire the brain: Integrating Neuroscience Strategies for ADHD, anxiety, depression and PTSD. Eau Claire, WI: PESI Publishing and Media.

Sunday, February 13, 2022

An unexpected way to be repaired relationship

Peer-Reviewed Publication

January 6, 2015 - Breaking up is truly hard to do. And recovery from a breakup can be even harder. Your friends may consul you to put the whole thing out of your mind. But new research suggests that repeatedly reflecting on a break-up - even through participation in a research study - actually speeds emotional recovery.

"Breakups are ubiquitous - most adults have experienced at least one in their life - and are typically very distressing," says Grace Larson of Northwestern University. After studying divorce and breakups for years using longitudinal, multi-method designs, Larson and her then-adviser David Sbarra of the University of Arizona wanted to study whether these research techniques on their own were affecting participants.

One concern they had was that the studies could be harming participants, Larson says. "At first glance, it might seem like repeatedly reminding participants that they had just broken up - and asking them to describe the breakup over and over - might delay recovery," she explains. Indeed, in their new study, the researchers discussed with participants possible downsides to participating in the study, such as emotional distress, rather than benefits. They were surprised to find the opposite effect.

In the study, they split participants into two conditions: with one group, using a suite of methods for observing coping and emotions (such as questionnaires, psychophysiological measurements like heart rate monitoring, an an interview-like task); and with the second group, only asking them to complete initial and final questionnaires. All the participants had experienced a non-marital breakup within the previous 6 months.

As published today in Social Psychological and Personality Science, those who completed the more intensive set of tasks and measures four times over 9 weeks had better overall recovery from their breakups. The researchers specifically looked at "self-concept reorganization," the process of seeing and defining yourself separate from your ex and from the relationship. Asking the participants to reflect on their relationships helped the participants "build a stronger sense of who they were as single people," Larson says.

The work, she says, fits in well with studies showing how profoundly romantic relationships impact our self-concept. For example, she cites work by Art Aron and colleagues showing that in close relationships, people begin to feel as though they overlap with the person they are close to. "The process of becoming psychologically intertwined with the partner is painful to have to undo," she says. "Our study provides additional evidence that self-concept repair actually causes improvements in well-being."

The study is one of the first to look at whether the methods used in typical observational studies of well-being and coping can in and of themselves affect well-being. The researchers do not yet know exactly which aspects of the study caused these changes but they suspect it relates to participants thinking about their breakups from a distanced perspective. Or, Larson says, "it might be simply the effect of repeatedly reflecting on one's experience and crafting a narrative - especially a narrative that includes the part of the story where one recovers."

Another factor, she says, is that in the measurement-intensive condition, participants privately spoke about their breakups (into a voice recorder) four times. While the speaking task was not structured like a typical expressive writing exercise, having the ability to be emotionally expressive may have given the participants the well-documented benefits of expressive writing.

Larson recognizes that most people experiencing recent breakups will not have the option of participating in a scientific study but suggests finding other ways to regularly reflect on the recovery progress. "For instance, a person could complete weekly check-ins related to his or her emotions and reactions to the breakup and record them in a journal," she says, or write repeatedly about the process of the breakup "as though he or she were talking to a stranger about it."

"The recovery of a clear and independent self-concept seems to be a big force driving the positive effects of this study, so I would encourage a person who recently experienced a breakup to consider who he or she is, apart from the relationship," Larson says. "If that person can reflect on the aspects of him- or herself that he or she may have neglected during the relationship but can now nurture once again, this might be particularly helpful." 

One of the primary problems in relationships arises from how we envision our relationships. Conventional advice on relationships and intimacy often reads like a how-to manual or a “Six Steps to a Happy Relationship” workshop.

Relationships are not machines, nor are they electronic devices. A mechanical approach looks at relationships not as an art form to be cultivated but as a series of steps to master, as though we were assembling a device. Such a way of thinking about our relationships contributes mightily to our struggles.

Can you save our marriage?

People often ask me if their relationship is “salvageable.” That very question points to the problem—insufficient expectations. We shouldn’t be seeking a repair job or a salvage operation—again the language of machinery — but deep gratification and fulfillment. In its ideal form, a relationship is a creative, evolving, and beautifully raw experience in which two individuals craft their particular way of communing with each other.

Cultivating the relationship is an art form that requires sensitivity to the complexity and nuances of two people engaged in a most important dance of life. The deep fundamental change in how we view relationships begins with how we conceptualize uncertainty. Two individuals, committed to their individual process of becoming—the commitment to perpetual growth and self-awareness—can create the opportunity for joyful partnering.

Dancing together

A relationship is a co-participatory dance that embraces uncertainty as it spirals into deeper and more complex levels of understanding and experience. Just as each person must engage in their own growth, they need to expect the same of the relationship. The union needs to be seen as a vibrant and dynamic experience, not as a dormant and unchanging structure. “I’m in a relationship” sounds like you’re stuck inside a container. This may sound awkward, but imagine thinking instead, “I’m committed to the engagement and process of my relationship.”

Uncertainty is the essence of romance

Oscar Wilde wrote, “The very essence of romance is uncertainty.” If this is accurate, then predictability must be its downfall. Our inclination toward the predictable routine and formatting of our unions is counter to an emotionally vibrant and intimate experience.

The experience of falling in love was likely bathed in uncertainty. The absence of certainty required us to be present and stay attuned. Yet, once the romance has been secured, we replace uncertainty with predictability, and so we experience a loss of passion.

I’m not proposing that couples seek an unsafe, volatile experience but that they try to welcome currents of uncertainty and change, which can propel their individual growth and usher in a corresponding growth in the relationship. Embracing some degree of uncertainty is necessary to keep the relationship afloat. One person’s crisis or challenge inevitably provokes opportunity for growth in their partner. We are on this ride together.

Frequently in couples sessions, I’ve noticed that as one person begins to express himself, the other begins to react, even if non-verbally. In the midst of a session, Hank began to share some of his perceptions about his wife, Julia. Although he was talking in a non-adversarial way, I noticed Julia’s face tighten. I gently interrupted Hank to ask Julia what she was experiencing. She said, “I know what he’s going to say before he does. There’s no need for him to go on.”

This level of predictability leaves no room for surprise, wonder, or genuine inquiry. Certainty deadens the ability to be present and precludes playfulness, let alone spontaneity. When I asked Hank to continue, Julia was indeed surprised by what he had to share.

Think about how certainty affects your ability to be romantic and how it dulls your love life.

A new kind of commitment

The commitment to always love each other or to monogamy, regrettably, often fails. Commitment to the process might better assure continued love and fidelity—envisioning a lifelong process requiring that each person embrace the spirit of the coupling. Learning the tools of emotional and verbal intimacy are the bedrock of this journey.

Think of your partnership as the clay in the sculptor’s hands, but this is a clay that you don’t permit to harden. You keep crafting it. You can master the art of relationship by welcoming uncertainty and change as you become the artists of your engagement with each other.

The paper, "Participating in Research on Romantic Breakups Promotes Emotional Recovery via Changes in Self-Concept Clarity," by Grace M. Larson and David A. Sbarra, was published in Social Psychological and Personality Science online on January 6, 2015.

The journal Social Psychological and Personality Science is a collaboration from the Association for Research in Personality, the European Association of Social Psychology, the Society of Experimental Social Psychology, and the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, and is co-sponsored by the Asian Association of Social Psychology and Society of Australasian Social Psychologists.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Teens' same-gender friendships key to later satisfaction in romantic relationships


SOURCE:- eurekalert.org

Researchers have long known that the quality of an adult's romantic life is closely tied to both physical and mental health in adolescence. A new longitudinal study sought to identify the factors in adolescence that best predicted who would and would not have a satisfying romantic life in their late 20s. The study found that the skills teens learn in friendships with peers of the same gender were the strongest predictors of later romantic satisfaction.

The study, by researchers at the University of Virginia and James Madison University, appears in Child Development, a journal of the Society for Research in Child Development.

"In spite of the emphasis teens put on adolescent romantic relationships, they turn out not to be the most important predictor of future romantic success," says Joseph P. Allen, professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, who led the study. "Instead, it's the skills learned in friendships with peers of the same gender--skills such as stability, assertiveness, intimacy, and social competence--that correspond most closely to the skills needed for success in adult romantic relationships."

Researchers interviewed and observed 165 adolescents from ages 13 to 30; the youth lived in suburban and urban areas in the southeastern United States and the group was racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse. The study assessed teens' reports of the quality of their social and romantic relationships, as well as reports by close friends. Each year across a three-year period when the youth were in their late 20s, researchers also interviewed participants about how satisfied they were with romantic life.

The study found that progress in key social developmental tasks in adolescence predicted future romantic competence at ages 27 to 30, even though the adolescent tasks were in nonromantic areas. For example:

At age 13, adolescents' abilities to establish positive expectations of relationships with their peers and to be appropriately assertive with peers were the best predictors of future romantic satisfaction.

At ages 15 and 16, social competence--that is, teens' ability to establish close friendships and to manage a broad array of relationships with peers--was the best predictor.

And from ages 16 to 18, teens' ability to establish and maintain close, stable friendships was the best predictor of satisfaction romantically.

These factors were more closely associated than anything related to romantic behavior in adolescence, such as how much teens dated, whether they were involved physically in romantic relationships, their sexual behavior, and their physical attractiveness, according to the study. The researchers note that their study did not establish causal processes.

"Romantic relationships in adolescence are much more likely to be fleeting, and as such, they don't appear to be the main way teens learn skills needed for the future," suggests Rachel K. Narr, a doctoral student at the University of Virginia, who coauthored the study.

The study was funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Institute of Mental Health.

Summarized from Child Development, Adolescent Peer Relationship Qualities as Predictors of Long-Term Romantic Life Satisfaction by Allen, JP (University of Virginia), Narr, RK (University of Virginia), Kansky, J (University of Virginia), and Szwedo, DE (formerly at University of Virginia, now at James Madison University). Copyright 2019 The Society for Research in Child Development, Inc. All rights reserved.

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Do's and Don'ts for Living as an Introvert

***+++ Understanding your needs as an introvert is key to living a happily quiet life.

Learn how you feel when you are overextended, but also when you are getting isolated.

You are entitled to boundaries but set them thoughtfully and generously.

Tend to your introversion but tend to your relationships, too. ***+++

Do's and Don'ts - It’s been 12 years since my first post on this blog went live. Perhaps you’ve seen the “Introverts Unite” meme that makes the rounds periodically. Well, I’m just petty enough to point out that I said it first, in my first post, “Introverts Unite, Quietly” on August 26, 2009.

When I started this blog, there were very few people writing about introversion. Even Susan Cain’s blockbuster book, Quiet, was three years away. Today, scores of professional introverts are out there expounding on our quiet nature. Introverts have gotten kind of loud, and that's a good thing.

In truth, I don't feel I have anything new to say about introversion at this point, which is one reason among many I’ve been quieter than usual the past couple of years. So I’ve decided it’s time to wind things down here in the Introverts’ Corner. While this blog will remain up and I may add to it from time to time, I will also be starting a new blog here on Psychology Today about grief, because losing my husband last year is by far the most cataclysmic event in my life, and grief is more complex and exhausting than I ever could have imagined. Please look for my new blog in 2022.

The things I’ve learned about being introverted and the strategies I’ve adopted over the past 12 years are now fully integrated into my life. You can find posts focusing on all aspects of life as an introvert in the Introverts' Corner archives, but today, as I step out of the corner, I will provide some of the basic "do's and don’ts" I live by these days.

Introversion "Do's"

Learn to manage your calendar to avoid being either isolated or overextended. How many events a week can you handle without getting frazzled? How much time do you need between them? Plan accordingly.

Say “no thanks” when you don’t want company and “yes please” when you do, and learn to recognize the difference. You might have to think a bit before you commit to anything. There's nothing wrong with saying “Let me get back to you” to give yourself time to decide. Just be sure to get back to the person in a timely manner.

Learn to let pressure and implied criticism of your introversion roll off you. You know that introversion is perfectly healthy and other people’s opinions about the “right” way to be are just that: opinions. You don’t have to live by them or even argue with them. Just shrug and get on with your quiet life.
However, do help the people who matter to you most to understand you. This will make everyone’s life easier. You’ll get to live your introverted life, and they won’t take your need for solitude personally.
Rather than giving up the telephone altogether, encourage your friends to text before they call, or, in the case of people with whom phone calls tend to be lengthy (i.e., faraway friends), request that they schedule phone time with you. Some will resist, most will eventually understand.

But also learn to pick up the phone sometimes. My friends know not to call me willy-nilly, but sometimes they will call, and if I have no pressing reason not to pick up (for example, if I’m in the middle of something or I'm seriously not in the mood), I answer. I do so because I like my friends and it’s the nice thing to do. Also, my friends now know me well enough to know that I will eventually say, “OK, I’ve had enough phone time now,” and nobody is bothered.

I believe that friends go to friends' parties, but I always keep in mind that it's a lot easier to say “yes” to parties if I give myself permission to leave when I'm ready. And remember that when people say things like, “You can’t leave now! It won’t be a party without you!” they’re just making noises with their mouths. It doesn’t really mean you have to stay, and it will still be a party after you’re gone.

Remember—and this has been my soapbox for a long time—that there is nothing inherently superior about introversion or extroversion. They are simply different, and if you want people to understand and respect your introversion

Introversion "Don'ts"

Don’t overindulge your introversion to the point where solitude turns into isolation. Isolation can lead to rumination which can lead to depression. Just as you learn what it feels like to be overextended, learn to recognize when you are getting isolated and force yourself to act on it. Make a plan with someone. Leave the house.

Don’t be the last-minute “poozer,” as my husband and I called it—the person who frequently makes plans and then backs out at the last minute. I understand that sometimes following through on a plan sounds just too hard (perhaps your week was more taxing than you expected, for example) and you simply have to bow out, but use that privilege sparingly or you'll give introversion a bad reputation.
Don’t completely discount the value of loose ties. Yes, introverts prefer fewer, deeper friendships and that’s one of our strengths, but it is also to our benefit to maintain wider circles if for no other reason than that things happen—people move away, pass away, friendships grow apart. You want people in the pipeline should you lose a close friend for some reason. (This also applies to marriage; I’ve seen many very sad people in my bereavement support networks who did not maintain relationships outside their marriage and suddenly find themselves grieving and isolated.)

Don’t make friends do all the reaching out, and don’t assume they will be there even if you don’t put a lot of effort into the friendship. (See: answering the telephone, above.) Making and having friends sometimes requires doing things that might feel difficult, uncomfortable, or just wearisome. But be as generous with yourself as possible so that people will return the generosity when you need them.
Don’t always rely on others to make plans or to choose you as their friend. If you don’t always want to be surrounded by extroverts doing extroverted things, you will need to reach out to other interesting introverts you know and make introverted plans—museums instead of parties, perhaps, or lectures instead of karaoke.

These are the most important lessons I’ve learned these past dozen years that have helped me live a rich and fulfilling life as an introvert. Thanks, everyone, for joining me here in the corner. It’s been swell talking to you and learning from you. Go forth and live your best introvert life. Quietly.

Friday, January 7, 2022

Why doesn't Webb have deployment cameras?

As NASA's James Webb Space Telescope makes its way out to its intended orbit, ground teams monitor its vitals using a comprehensive set of sensors located throughout the entire spacecraft. Mechanical, thermal, and electrical sensors provide a wide array of critical information on the current state and performance of Webb while it is in space.

A system of surveillance cameras to watch deployments was considered for inclusion in Webb's toolkit of diagnostics and was studied in-depth during Webb's design phase, but ultimately, this was rejected.

"Adding cameras to watch an unprecedently complicated deployment of such a precious spacecraft as Webb sounds like a no-brainer, but in Webb's case, there's much more to it than meets the eye," said Paul Geithner, deputy project manager—technical for the Webb telescope at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. "It's not as straightforward as adding a doorbell cam or even a rocket cam."

First of all, Webb is big, undergoes many configuration changes during deployment, and has many specific locations of import to deployment. Monitoring Webb's deployments with cameras would require either multiple narrow-field cameras, adding significant complexity, or a few wide-field cameras that would yield little in the way of helpful detailed information. Wiring harnesses for cameras would have to cross moving interfaces around the observatory and add more risk of vibrations and heat leaking through, presenting a particular challenge for cameras located on the cold side of Webb.

Then there's the issue of lighting. Webb is very shiny, so visible cameras on the Sun-facing side would be subject to extreme glare and contrast issues, while ones on the cold, shaded side would need added lighting. Although infrared or thermal-imaging cameras on the cold side could obviate the need for illumination, they would still present the same harnessing disadvantages. Furthermore, cameras on the cold side would have to work at very cold cryogenic temperatures. This would either require 'ordinary' cameras to be encapsulated or insulated so they would work in extreme cold, or development of special-purpose cryogenic-compatible cameras just for deployment surveillance.

Notwithstanding these challenges, engineers mocked up and tested some camera schemes on full-scale mockups of Webb hardware. However, they found that deployment surveillance cameras would not add significant information of value for engineering teams commanding the spacecraft from the ground.

"Webb's built-in sense of 'touch' (for example, switches and various mechanical, electrical, and temperature sensors) provides much more useful information than mere surveillance cameras can," said Geithner. "We instrumented Webb like we do many other one-of-a-kind spacecraft, to provide all the specific information necessary to inform engineers on Earth about the observatory's health and status during all activities." Engineers can also correlate years of data from ground testing with telemetry data from flight sensors to insightfully interpret and understand flight sensor data.

Tinnitus affects women more severely than men

More men than women are affected by ear buzz, but the consequences are greater for women. Women also have a higher risk of severe hereditary tinnitus, according to a research project.

“Thus far, the results indicate that women are more affected by tinnitus than men are,” says Christopher R. Cederroth at Karolinska Institutet.

He is the leader of the TIGER project, in which several European researchers are collaborating. One of their objectives is to investigate gender differences in tinnitus.

“For instance, there were many indications that severe tinnitus increased the risk of suicide attempts among women, but not among men. This is what incited the TIGER project, which further motivated us to explore the sex and gender dimension of tinnitus,” he says.
A passing thing for most people

Jan Bulla is a professor at the Department of Mathematics, University of Bergen, and part of the same project. He explains that tinnitus is a non-existent sound, but something one experiences as a tone or a buzz in the ears.

“Sometimes people experience tinnitus after having been to a concert or a night club. This is normally a passing thing.”

There are few explanations to what causes tinnitus, apart from such things as hearing impairment, head injuries or jaw-related pain.

“According to physicians people experience tinnitus for many different reasons. This may also help explain why such a large part of the population, up to twenty per cent, experience it”, Bulla says.

For most people then, tinnitus is a passing thing, but for some it becomes permanent.

“It can be extremely uncomfortable and it affects the quality of life”, Bulla says.

Approximately one per cent of the population are affected to such an extent that it becomes debilitating according to the researcher.

No effective treatment

“There are no effective treatments other than cognitive behavioural therapy. We therefore need more research on what causes tinnitus and how it may be treated,” he says.

Cederroth emphasises that since there is no one-size-fits-all treatment, we are far from finding an effective treatment.

“Recent research results indicated that men and women respond differently to the existing treatment methods for tinnitus,” says Cederroth.

“But it will take time before these differences will be taken into consideration in medical practice,” he believes.
Gender differences in heridity

Bulla explains that tinnitus is often found in connection to afflictions such as headache, pains in the jaw and sound hypersensitivity. Early in the project, the researchers studied whether gender was a significant factor for tinnitus in connection to other afflictions.

“We expected to find gender differences here, but we found nothing except for the fact that women with tinnitus more often experience pains in the jaw,” he says.

Another trend that the researchers observed indicates that the connection between headaches and tinnitus is more prominent among men. But according to Bulla, they need to study a bigger data selection in order to know for certain.

“But we did find that women have a higher risk of severe hereditary tinnitus than men have.”

In one study, the researchers counted how many family members of a participant with tinnitus who experienced the same type of tinnitus.

“The gender differences are particularly clear in cases of constant and severe tinnitus. In other words, genes can play a significant part in this type of tinnitus”, Bulla says.

Difficult to research

The gender aspect of tinnitus has not been sufficiently studied before, but more research has been done on the topic in recent years, according to the researchers behind the project.

“I think the reason why gender differences have not been explored much in research on tinnitus is that the researchers often have very limited data material with small sample sizes to work with,” says Bulla.

According to him, gender differences in medical research have often been ignored due to the risk of losing statistical significance when data selections are divided into smaller groups based on gender. The data are often also divided into the participants’ type of tinnitus.

“The situation becomes even more complicated when examining severe tinnitus, since this phenomenon is not that common in the general population,” he says.

Moreover, Bulla emphasizes that their data material on tinnitus comes from few geographical areas.

“Much of the data we have are from Sweden. So we cannot know for certain whether the results apply to other countries or continents.”

May come from hearing loss

Bo Lars Engdahl is a researcher at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. He studies hearing and has contributed to the health study HUNT, which measures hearing and tinnitus among other things.

“In this study, we found that the prevalence of tinnitus was slightly higher among men,” says Engdahl.

This is related to the fact that men are more often hard of hearing. In Norway and the western world in particular, this is probably because women are less exposed to noise than men are, according to Engdahl.

“Hearing loss increases the risk of tinnitus, and tinnitus often occurs in the same area of the ear as the hearing loss. Your brain compensates for the loss of hearing.”

“It's like a phantom pain in the auditory system”, he says.
Men more often in noisy professions

Engdahl has also studied gender differences in tinnitus within various occupations. He found that bad hearing and tinnitus are more common within noisy occupations.

“Men are in the majority in these occupations,” he maintains.

More men than women are construction workers, mechanics and mine workers. But among the women, tinnitus was not most frequent among those working in noisy occupations.

“The professions in which loss of hearing was most common among women were positions such as laboratory assistants and office workers. In other words, not particularly noisy occupations.”

The majority of the women suffering from tinnitus fell under the category ‘no reported occupation’, which consists of homemakers and unemployed among others. This group was larger among the women, and there were also more women suffering from tinnitus in this group, Engdahl says.

“In the study, we did not only ask whether they experienced ear buzz, but whether they were troubled by it. Other health effects and stress related to unemployment, for instance, could cause increased affliction.”

Tinnitus more bothersome than hearing loss

The research project in which Engdahl has participated demonstrates, like the TIGER project, that many people are bothered by ear buzz. In the Hunt 2 survey in the late 1990s, researchers found that approximately 15 per cent of the population reported that they were bothered by tinnitus.

“A few people, however, suffer from such major affliction that the tinnitus takes over their lives. And to many, the tinnitus is more bothersome than the hearing loss.”

Engdahl also emphasises cognitive treatment as one of the few methods to treat tinnitus; in other words, there is no medicine you can take to get rid of the affliction.

“This treatment revolves around rendering the tinnitus harmless and gradually becoming friends with, or forgetting, the ear buzz. However, not everyone is receptive to this treatment.”

Since there is a clear link between hearing loss and tinnitus among some of the affected, hearing aids may also be helpful.

“Then you will hear several, competing sounds,” Engdahl explains.

“When it comes to tinnitus, the only thing that helps is to forget that it's there. But it's also an advantage if you're able to avoid things that might cause hearing loss. One of the treatments is also to endure more and more sounds – a type of sound therapy”, he says.

Warns against sound anxiety

Engdahl also warns against becoming afraid of sounds. You should look after your sense of hearing and be careful not to expose yourself to extremely loud sounds such as firecrackers and gunshots without using ear protection.

“But you should not be afraid to use your hearing. Normal sounds are not dangerous, and the ear is created to hear relatively loud sounds, also in nature.”

“Neither should you be worried about getting tinnitus from listening to music or being out among other people”, he says

Engdahl emphasises that if you get ear buzz after a concert, for instance, this is an indication that your sense of hearing has been overexerted, but the buzzing will disappear as soon as your sense of hearing has been restored. However, ear buzz is an important warning signal telling you that your sense of hearing is being overexerted, he maintains.

According to the researcher, the sense of hearing among the population seems to be going in the right direction, which is a positive sign.

“Those who were in their sixties and seventies twenty years ago were more hard of hearing than the same age group today. So we are heading in the right direction,” says Engdahl.

“I hope the same applies for tinnitus in the future, although studies indicate that the prevalence of long-term ear buzz is approximately the same today as twenty years ago.”

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