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How Talk Therapy Can Change Our Brains for the Better

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Talk therapy is often considered the soft option when it comes to mental health treatment. Yet millions of patients and numerous studies testify to its long-term effectiveness, and now researchers say one type of talk therapy can produce visible changes in patients’ brains. They published their research in the journal Translational Psychiatry.

One of the best-known and most successful techniques is called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT. People in CBT learn skills that allow them to challenge and disrupt unpleasant and negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. CBT is especially useful for people experiencing psychosis, a state of mind in which it becomes hard—if not impossible—to tell what’s real and what’s not. CBT for psychosis (CBTp) gives patients the tools to reframe their troubling thoughts and help calm themselves down.

For the study, researchers recruited 22 people who were already on medication to help with the symptoms of psychosis. The participants filled out questionnaires about their health and state of mind, then underwent brain scans.

The researchers divided the participants into two groups: Fifteen people continued taking their medication and did a six-month stint of CBT, while the other seven (the control group) simply continued taking their medication. The researchers tracked the participants’ health over the next eight years. At the end, the subjects filled out another questionnaire and underwent another brain scan.

Seven-and-a-half years after their treatment ended, the people in the CBT group showed clear signs of improvement, in both their brain scans and their health histories. Their brains showed stronger connections between several regions, including the amygdala, which helps identify threats, and the frontal lobes, which are vital for thinking and reasoning. People in the CBT group also reported feeling better about their mental health than people in the medication-only group, and felt they’d made more progress toward recovery.

Liam Mason of Kings College London was lead author on the paper. He says his findings dispel the notion that talk therapy is less important because it doesn’t physically change the brain. “This 'brain bias' can make clinicians more likely to recommend medication but not psychological therapies,” he said in a statement. “This is especially important in psychosis, where only one in ten people who could benefit from psychological therapies are offered them."

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Interactive Chart Tells You How Long It Takes to Get Frostbite
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For many people, winter means dry skin and high heating bills. But if you find yourself outdoors in the right conditions, it can also mean frostbite. Frostbite occurs when the skin and the tissue beneath it freezes, causing pain, loss of sensation, or worse. It's easier to contract than you may think, even if you don't live in the Siberian tundra. To see if frostbite poses a threat where you live, check out this chart spotted by Digg.

The chart, developed by Pooja Gandhi and Adam Crahen using National Weather Service data, looks at three factors: wind speed, air temperature, and time spent outdoors. You can hover your cursor over data-points on the table to see how long you'd need to be exposed to certain wind chills for your skin tissue to freeze. If the wind chill is -22°F, for example (10°F air temperature with 5 mph winds), it would take 31 minutes of being outside before frostbite sets in. You can also look at the time scale above the chart to calculate it a different way. If you bring your cursor to the 40-minute mark, a window will tell that frostbite becomes a risk after exposure to -17°F wind chill for that amount of time. You can play with the interactive table at Tableau Public.

Chart of cold weather conditions.
Adam Crahen, Pooja Gandhi

If you can't avoid being outside in extreme wind and cold, there are a few steps you can take to keep your skin protected. Wear lots of layers, including multiple socks, and wrap your face with a scarf or face mask before venturing into the cold. Also, remember to stay hydrated. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, drinking at least one glass of water before going outside decreases your risk of contracting frostbite.

[h/t Digg]

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Stop Your Snoring and Track Your Sleep With a Wi-Fi Smart Pillow
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REM-Fit

Everyone could use a better night's rest. The CDC says that only 66 percent of American adults get as much sleep as they should, so if you're spending plenty of time in bed but mostly tossing and turning (or trying to block out your partner's snores), it may be time to smarten up your sleep accessories. As TechCrunch reports, the ZEEQ Smart Pillow improves your sleeping schedule in a multitude of ways, whether you're looking to quiet your snores or need a soothing lullaby to rock you to sleep.

After a successful Kickstarter in 2016, the product is now on sale and ready to get you snoozing. If you're a snorer, the pillow has a microphone designed to listen to the sound of your snores and softly vibrate so that you shift positions to a quieter pose. Accelerometers in the pillow let the sleep tracker know how much you're moving around at night, allowing it to record your sleep stages. Then, you can hook the pillow up to your Amazon Echo or Google Home so that you can have your favorite smart assistant read out the pillow's analysis of your sleep quality and snoring levels the next morning.

The pillow is also equipped with eight different wireless speakers that turn it into an extra-personal musical experience. You can listen to soothing music while you fall asleep, either connecting the pillow to your Spotify or Apple Music account on your phone via Bluetooth or using the built-in relaxation programs. You can even use it to listen to podcasts without disturbing your partner. You can set a timer to turn the music off after a certain period so you don't wake up in the middle of the night still listening to Serial.

And when it's time to wake up, the pillow will analyze your movements to wake you during your lightest sleep stage, again keeping the noise of an alarm from disturbing your partner.

The downside? Suddenly your pillow is just another device with a battery that needs to charge. And forget about using it in a place without Wi-Fi.

The ZEEQ Smart Pillow currently costs $200.

[h/t TechCrunch]

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