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Mindfulness meditation can reduce guilt, leading to unintended negative social consequences

Initially inspired by centuries-old Buddhist practices consisting of philosophies and meditations together, today a secular version of mindfulness — consisting of meditations alone — is becoming increasingly popular.

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Mindfulness meditation is a stress-management practice with ancient lineage that cultivates nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment, often by directing attention to the physical sensations of breathing. Initially inspired by centuries-old Buddhist practices consisting of philosophies and meditations together, today a secular version of mindfulness — consisting of meditations alone — is becoming increasingly popular.

There are phone apps that help generate self-awareness and many big corporations are folding mindfulness training programs into their curriculums. But there may be an unanticipated downside to secular mindfulness meditation practices, according to new research led by the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business, and published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

“Meditating can reduce feelings of guilt, thus limiting reactions like generosity that are important to human relationships,” said lead author Andrew Hafenbrack, an assistant professor in the Foster School who studies mindfulness.

Researchers wanted to know how mindfulness meditation reduces negative emotions, like anger and guilt.

“Negative emotions may not be pleasant, but they can help us navigate social situations and maintain relationships,” Hafenbrack said.

“If someone gets really angry and they yell at their boss, or something, and they get fired or make people feel unsafe, then you know that’s a bad thing,” Hafenbrack said. “Not all negative emotions are the same in terms of the kinds of behaviors that they queue up, though.”

When people feel guilty, it tends to make them focus outward, on other people, which can promote reparative actions.

“Meditating for short periods of time is a tool that can make people feel better, like popping an aspirin when they have a headache,” Hafenbrack said. “We have a responsibility as researchers to share not only the many positive effects of meditation, but also the inadvertent side effects, such as the potential for it to occasionally relax one’s moral compass.”

To better understand meditation practices, the researchers conducted eight experiments with more than 1,400 participants in the U.S. and Portugal. Participants varied for each experiment – some were U.S. adults recruited online, some were graduate students attending a university in Portugal, while another group was mostly undergraduates at the Wharton School of Business.

In their first study, the researchers demonstrated that mindfulness does reduce feelings of guilt. Participants were randomly assigned to either write about a past situation that made them feel guilty or write about their previous day. Then, they listened to either an eight-minute guided mindfulness meditation recording that instructed them to focus on the physical sensations of breathing or an eight-minute control condition recording in which they were instructed to let their minds wander. Participants who listened to the mindfulness recording reported feeling less guilt compared to those in the mind-wandering control group. This was true whether they had written about a guilty situation or their previous day.

The team then ran six other experiments to test whether mindfulness meditation would influence prosocial reparative behaviors, like making up with a friend after doing something that caused harm.

For example, in two experiments all participants were asked to recall and write about a time they wronged someone and felt guilty, before being randomly assigned to meditate or not. After that, they were asked to allocate a hypothetical $100 between a birthday gift for the person they had wronged, a charity for African flood victims, and themselves. Participants who had meditated allocated approximately 17% less to the person they had wronged compared to those who had not meditated.

The psychological process behind these allocation differences was reduced guilt. These and three other, similar experiments established that mindfulness meditation reduces the tendency to make amends for harming others.

“This research serves as a caution to people who might be tempted to use mindfulness meditation to reduce emotions that are unpleasant, but necessary to support moral thoughts and behavior,” said co-author Isabelle Solal, an assistant professor at ESSEC Business School in Cergy-Pointoise, France.

While focused breathing meditation is the most popular form of meditation, used in mindfulness programs such as the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction approach and Google’s Search Inside Yourself, the study also explored loving kindness meditation, which appears in those programs as well. Loving kindness meditation consists of imagery exercises in which one evokes other people and sends wishes that each is happy, well and free from suffering.

In the final experiment, participants once again wrote about a time they wronged someone and felt guilty, before listening to either a focused breathing mindfulness meditation recording or a loving kindness meditation recording. Participants in the loving kindness group reported higher intentions to contact, apologize to, and make up with people they had harmed compared to participants in the focused breathing meditation group. The difference was explained by participants’ increased focus on others and feelings of love.

“Our research suggests that loving kindness meditation may allow people to have the stress-reduction benefits of meditation without the cost of reducing repair, because it increases focus on others and feelings of love,” said co-author Matthew LaPalme, who was a research scientist at Yale University and now works at Amazon.

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5 Steps for women to reduce their risk of COPD

Women tend to develop COPD earlier in life than men and are more likely to have severe symptoms and be hospitalized with the disease. The good news? According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk for COPD.

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If you’re a woman who tries to stay healthy, you may exercise several times per week, watch what you eat and get 7-9 hours of sleep each night. But are you listening to your lungs?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a leading cause of disability and death in the United States, takes an especially heavy toll on women. You may think problems like shortness of breath, frequent coughs or wheezing are just signs of getting older, but it’s important to pay attention to these symptoms and discuss them with your doctor.

COPD is a serious lung disease that causes breathing problems and worsens over time. It has often been considered a man’s disease. Yet more women than men have been diagnosed with COPD in the past decade, and over the past 20 years more women have died from it, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Women tend to develop COPD earlier in life than men and are more likely to have severe symptoms and be hospitalized with the disease. The good news? According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk for COPD.

Don’t Smoke

You probably already know cigarette smoking is harmful  but did you know that women may be more vulnerable to the effects of smoking? Women who smoke tend to get COPD at younger ages and with less cigarettes smoked than men. COPD is the leading cause of death among U.S. women smokers.

If you do smoke, it’s never too late to quit.

If you thought vaping was a healthy alternative to smoking, think again. Researchers are still learning about the long-term health effects of e-cigarettes, but they may contain as many, if not more, harmful chemicals than tobacco cigarettes.

Avoid Pollutants

Among people with COPD who have never smoked, most are women. Women may be more vulnerable to indoor and outdoor air pollution. Women’s smaller lungs and airways mean the same amount of inhaled pollutants may cause more damage.

Working in places like nail salons, hair salons or dry cleaners can expose you to harmful chemicals. If you’re exposed to chemical fumes at your job, talk to your employer about ways to limit exposure. Better ventilation and wearing a mask can help.

Stay Current on Vaccines

People at risk for COPD are more likely to have serious problems resulting from some vaccine-preventable diseases. Ask a health care provider about getting vaccinated against the flu, pneumococcal disease and COVID-19.

Talk to Your Doctor About COPD

Women with COPD tend to be diagnosed later than men when the disease is more severe and treatments are less effective. If you think you could be at risk, or you are having symptoms, bring it up with your health care provider. Treatment can ease symptoms and improve your ability to exercise.

Learn More to Breathe Better

Find more information on COPD from NHLBI’s Learn More Breathe Better program at copd.nhlbi.nih.gov.

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2 Steps to save a life

“By equipping people with Hands-Only CPR training, we are empowering them to spring into action if a loved one needs help, as the majority of cardiac arrests occur at home.”

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More than 350,000 sudden cardiac arrests occur annually outside hospital settings. However, a hands-on emergency intervention like cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), especially if performed immediately, can double or triple a cardiac arrest victim’s chance of survival.

According to the American Heart Association, 70% of cardiac arrests – electrical malfunctions in the heart that cause an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) and disrupt the flow of blood to the brain, lungs and other organs – occur at home, but often family and friends who witness a child, spouse, parent or friend going into cardiac arrest hesitate to perform potentially lifesaving CPR for fear of making the situation worse.

“By equipping people with Hands-Only CPR training, we are empowering them to spring into action if a loved one needs help, as the majority of cardiac arrests occur at home,” said Dr. Anezi Uzendu, M.D., interventional cardiologist and American Heart Association volunteer.

As part of its Hands-Only CPR campaign, nationally supported by the Elevance Health Foundation, the American Heart Association aims to increase awareness about the importance of bystander CPR and offers these two simple steps:

1.      Call 911.
2.      Push hard and fast in the center of the chest of the individual experiencing cardiac arrest.

Using the beat of a familiar song with 100-120 beats per minute, such as “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees, can help you stay on pace with the necessary compressions.

“Being able to efficiently perform Hands-Only CPR in the moment can mean the difference between life and death, and by following these two simple steps we can increase someone’s chance of survival from cardiac arrest,” said Shantanu Agrawal, M.D., board certified emergency medicine doctor and chief health officer at Elevance Health. “As a longstanding supporter of the American Heart Association, we remain focused on working together to improve health inequities in our communities by expanding access to training and increasing the number of people who learn and feel confident performing Hands-Only CPR to save lives.”

To find more information, watch a livestream video demonstration of Hands-Only CPR or download a first aid smartphone app, visit heart.org/CPR.

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What you eat could contribute to your menstrual cramps

Roughly 90% of adolescent girls experience menstrual pain. Most use over-the-counter medicine to manage the pain but with limited positive results. Evidence has highlighted that diets high in omega-3 fatty acids and low in processed foods, oil, and sugar reduce inflammation, a key contributor to menstrual pain.

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Despite the fact that menstrual pain (dysmenorrhea) is the leading cause of school absences for adolescent girls, few girls seek treatment. An analysis of relevant studies suggests that diet may be a key contributor, specifically diets high in meat, oil, sugar, salt, and coffee, which have been shown to cause inflammation.

Roughly 90% of adolescent girls experience menstrual pain. Most use over-the-counter medicine to manage the pain but with limited positive results. Evidence has highlighted that diets high in omega-3 fatty acids and low in processed foods, oil, and sugar reduce inflammation, a key contributor to menstrual pain.

This analysis was designed to study the effect of diet on menstrual pain and identify which foods contribute to it and which can reduce it. Research was conducted through a literature review that found multiple studies that examined dietary patterns that resulted in menstrual pain. In general terms, these studies found that diets high in omega-6 fatty acids promote inflammation and foods high in omega-3 fatty acids reduce it. The muscles in the uterus contract because of prostaglandins, which are active in inflammatory responses. When measuring the Dietary Inflammatory Index, it was found that those on a vegan diet (that excluded animal fat) had the lowest rates of inflammation.

“Researching the effects of diet on menstrual pain started as a search to remedy the pain I personally experienced; I wanted to understand the science behind the association. Learning about different foods that increase and decrease inflammation, which subsequently increase or reduce menstrual pain, revealed that diet is one of the many contributors to health outcomes that is often overlooked. I am hopeful that this research can help those who menstruate reduce the pain they experience and shed light on the importance of holistic treatment options,” says Serah Sannoh, lead author of the poster presentation from Rutgers University.

“Since menstrual pain is a leading cause of school absenteeism for adolescent girls, it’s important to explore options that can minimize the pain. Something like diet modification could be a relatively simple solution that could provide substantial relief for them,” said Dr. Stephanie Faubion, NAMS medical director.

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