Losing loved ones over different political opinions? You’re not alone

Picture credits: University of Louisville Department of Communication

Do you have a friend with whom you don’t feel like talking anymore just because he/she has a different opinion on the policies of your country’s President/Prime Minister? Do you often feel frustrated or angry because after so many years you’re getting to know his/her ‘actual’ political opinions? Do you feel sad that now your friendship is on the verge of becoming a void relationship? 

Trust me, you’re not alone. 

The modern world we are living in is constantly changing. Friendships are formed based on many factors: how long have you known someone, how common your interests are, etc. There is another parameter that has been added up in recent decades: politics. Yes, politics is also deciding if you are going to hang out with someone for a long time period. You are more likely to befriend with someone whose political opinion on a variety of political issues matches with yours than with someone who thinks in a completely opposite direction. I am not talking something that is purely fictional. I can speak for it because over the past year I have had many personal experiences where I didn’t feel like talking to some of my good friends because ‘I got to know the real them’. 

Surprised? I don’t think you should be surprised. A recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Centre has shown that the political divide is the new normal of the modern world. It’s a reality of the 21st century. Jocelyn Kiley, who is an associate director of research at the Pew Research Centre said that the political divide is on the rise and it hasn’t been so prevalent at any point in modern history. According to Pew, nearly 80% of the Americans say that they have “a few” or “no friends” on the other side. In other words, people supporting the Democrats say they have no friends or few friends who support the Republicans. And the vice versa. The worst part is that the percentage is very high- 80%!!! There is hostility too towards each other. People are letting go off their friendships that are as long as 30 years old. Blocking each other on different social media platforms has become quite common these days. An episode done on the “All Things Considered” podcast by NPR reported a story of a man named Davis who is 42 years old. Davis is a consultant in the US. He is black. During the protests in the country against police brutality, Davis got a reality check of one of his close friends. When his friend tried downplaying police brutality he said he couldn’t take it. He told his friend, “If this is your attitude, we can’t be cool anymore. I don’t respect you now. I don’t. Because people are really dying.” A story of Shama Davis from Los Angeles is another example. Having a disagreement with his friend Shama said, “Dude, I am done. Lose my number.” He unfriended the person he has been friends with for almost 25 years. 

A survey conducted by Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) showed that 8 out of 10 Republicans believe Democrats are socialists while Democratic party believes Republicans are racists. It’s like both are pointing at each other. 

The topic is so interesting that even academicians could not refrain themselves from exploring more deeply. A study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships has dived into the political divisions among people. The study is authored by Elina Buliga and Cara MacInnis from the University of Calgary, Canada. Participants were recruited for the study. Out of the total number of participants 142 identified themselves as Liberals while 70 identified themselves as Conservatives. The researchers found that the participants were more inclined towards friends/strangers who shared the same political beliefs than those with different political opinions. Long and established relationships didn’t seem to matter in front of difference of opinion in the political matters. The study does have some shortcomings like not every individual jeopardises his/her relationship with closed ones for the sake of politics. Nevertheless, it points out an interesting and important finding on the political divisions in the modern world. 

What needs to be done now?

Tania Israel, a professor in the counselling, clinical and school psychology department at the University of California, Santa Barbara believes it is not wise to ruin our good old friendships over politics. She says that we must take the first step and talk to people in person. Which is completely right. We should not let social media come in between because that’s not a real world and opinions on social media platforms don’t matter much. It’s time that we become not only tolerant but also acceptable of other people. Talk to your loved ones. Listen what they have to say. Say what you have to say. Talk. Talk and talk. Just not about politics.  

Diet and your Mental health

Picture credits: FitNtip.com

It is not rocket science to know that diet plays a crucial role in our mental health and overall well-being. In schools we came across a very common word quite frequently and that word is ‘balanced diet’. We were taught that foods rich in proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals should be taken and such diet is a balanced diet. Sadly, we seem to have forgotten the lesson now. We are jeopardizing our mental and physical health by eating junk food filled with ‘empty calories’.

Mental illnesses have become very prevalent. In the United States, nearly one in five adults is suffering from mental illness. The data is quite shocking. There are mood disorders, anxiety disorders, hypertension, etc. There is no single factor causing mental illnesses. There are genes, environment and chemicals in the brain contributing to mental health issues. However, through studies it is now being established that there is a relation between poor diet and poor mental health and the vice versa. When we eat good food it is often associated with feelings of well-being. A study was conducted by researchers on this line of thought and it was found that consumption of fruits and vegetables in good amount may be associated with higher levels of mental well-being in both the sexes. A systematic review of 12 epidemiological studies also found that eating good and healthy food items facilitates good mental well-being.

Good diet fighting depression

A clinical trial led by Dr Felice Jacka who is a director of Food and Mood centre at Deakin University, Australia became the first randomized control trial (RCT) that answers a very important question regarding good diet and good mental health. People who suffer from clinical depression get the best results when their treatment is a combination of medications and therapy. As it turns out, a good diet can also play a critical role in alleviating the symptoms of depression.

a. The Experiment

For the experiment, a total of 67 men and women participated. The participants were suffering from depression and were taking medications and/or going for therapy sessions regularly. The participants in the study were all consuming lower amount of fruits and vegetables, lower dietary fibres, too much sugar, too much unhealthy snacks and processed food. In other words, their diet was poor. Participants in the study were divided into two groups: an intervention group and a controlled group. Participants belonging to the intervention group were put on a Mediterranean diet (diet typically rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, whole grains, beans and olive oil) and met with their dietitian regularly. While people belonging to the controlled group were not put on Mediterranean diet but were required to attend social support groups. After 3 months, depression symptoms of the participants were recorded.

(Note: The scale used was MADRS scale (Montgomery–Åsberg Depression Rating Scale). The scale is from 0-60 in which a high score means an individual is very depressed as compared to a lower score. An average score of the participants came out to be 25).

The result?

People who took Mediterranean diet for 3 months improved their score on depression scale by an average of 11 points. While people who were on their usual diet improved by an average of 4 points.

b. The Diet

What should you Eat: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat/unsweetened dairy, raw unsalted nuts, legumes, eggs, fish, chicken, olive oil and lean red meat.

What should you avoid: too much sugary items, processed foods, breads, refined cereals, fast and fried food.

It will not be right to comment that a good diet is one thing that will help people fight depression. A causal relationship cannot be established. However, they are definitely co-related. A good diet helps and if followed properly benefits will be visible. Mental health problems have become quite common now and it is a good thing that scientists are diving deeper to find different ways through which such problems can be tackled. ‘We are what we eat’ is not after all a bad advice.

Control your bad habits using “The Mind-bus technique”

Picture credits: Pinterest.com

Do you like chocolates so much that it’s next to impossible for you not to have a small bite? Do you wish to eat those delicious butter cookies resting at a safe spot in your kitchen? Above all, do you know well enough that such food items have empty calories and yet you eat them to ruin your whole well-planned diet? If you’re like most people I am sure it happens with you. In spite of being aware of the repercussions of consuming refined sugar, you often fall prey to such strong cravings. But need not worry. Thanks to research psychologists who are dedicating a big part of their lives into discovering techniques so that you learn how to act upon your noble intentions.

The Experiment

In the British Journal of Health Psychology a research was published in the year 2013 that gives hope to people who are looking for breaking their bad eating habits. Researchers Kim Jenkins from Swansea University and Katy Tapper from City University London recruited participants for the study. Participants included people who were actually looking to break their bad habit of consuming chocolates. The participants were then divided into 3 groups:

  1. Cognitive “defusion” group: 45 participants
  2. Acceptance group: 45 participants
  3. Control group: 45 participants

In case of first group i.e. cognitive “defusion” group, 45 participants out of 135 were taught that ‘they were not their thoughts’. This is what’s referred to as cognitive “defusion”. The participants were made to imagine that they were actually the driver of a bus and all the disturbing & difficult thoughts were passengers. For the next 5 days the participants were given a bag full of chocolates. They were asked to carry with them the bag at all times and whenever they felt cravings they should practice the ‘mind bus technique’. In case of second group i.e. acceptance group, a technique called ‘urge surfing’ was introduced. In the following technique participants were instructed to accept all the uncomfortable thoughts they were having regarding eating chocolates and not control them. In case of last and third group i.e. control group, participants were instructed to control their thoughts and practice any relaxation technique to overcome the cravings. The participants of the study were asked to keep a diary to record all the chocolate consumption.

In the study it was concluded that the first group ate lesser chocolate compared to the other two groups. In other words, participants who followed the ‘mind-bus’ technique ate lesser chocolate during the period of 5 days when compared with the participants who were asked to control and acknowledge their urges.

Mind-bus technique beyond the chocolate consumption

It is important to note that the mind-bus technique is not limited to controlling chocolate urges or cravings of any bad food for that matter. We can apply it to any situation that involves negative thoughts. So, you can always apply the technique by following these steps:

  1. Think for a while a negative situation you want to resolve.
  2. Write down 3-5 negative thoughts involving that particular situation.
  3. Close your eyes and imagine you being a driver of a bus and all the negative/disturbing thoughts as passengers.
  4. Assign each of the negative thoughts a different voice, a different personality.
  5. Imagine you telling each of those thoughts things like, “Thank you for your kind suggestion. But I am the driver of this bus and this bus is under my control.”
  6. Visualize that you are letting those thoughts get off the bus one by one at different bus stops.

The research is not a panacea to controlling all our bad habits or negative life situations. Definitely, there are many flaws in the research (for an instance, participants selected for the study were already motivated and firm to let go off their consumption of chocolates so intrinsic motivation could have played a role. Therefore, it is not plausible to say that mind-bus technique was solely responsible for cutting down chocolate consumption of the participants). Nevertheless, we can try to become driver of the bus!!