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Here’s What Your Nightmares Really Mean

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Dreams are classified, according to experts, as “the stories the brain tells during sleep — a collection of clips, images, feelings, and memories that involuntarily occur during the REM (rapid eye movement) stage of slumber.” While that sounds almost idyllic, we know that dreams are not always pleasant. Nightmares are also common for most people and, in some cases, can be recurring.

Fortunately, nightmares are fairly benign for the most part. In fact, some professionals believe they can even serve as a message. Below, we chatted with experts about recurring bad dreams and broke down everything you need to know about them. Read on to find out why they happen, what they might mean and when they could be a sign of something more serious.

Why You’re Having Nightmares (And What They Mean)

“A nightmare is connected to and trying to help you with an unpleasant situation in your life,” Lauri Loewenberg, a certified dream analyst in Apollo Beach, Florida, said. “A recurring nightmare would likely be caused by either an ongoing difficult issue that is yet to be resolved … or a recurring behavior pattern that leads to a recurring difficult issue.”

Most dreams aren’t literal, but some themes or symbols may come up that can help you decipher what your nightmare is trying to tell you, Loewenberg said.

“For example, if you keep getting yourself into relationships with toxic people, you are likely to have recurring nightmares about snakes,” she said. “Or if you have a recurring behavior pattern of avoiding confrontations or difficult problems rather than facing them, you are likely to get recurring dreams of being chased.”

Negative self-beliefs, such as “I’m not lovable,” “I’m worthless” or “I’m not good enough,” can also end up manifesting in your dreams, said Anthony Freire, an eye movement desensitization and reprocessing specialist and founder of The Soho Center for Mental Health Counseling in New York. “And the more we hold on to these negative beliefs about the self, the scarier or more nightmarish the dream becomes,” he said.

Another common cause of nightmares ― especially recurring ones ― is trauma. These “tend to not be symbolic in nature, but rather a replay of the traumatic event. These are typically post-traumatic stress nightmares,” Loewenberg said.

Recurring nightmares can also be caused by health issues or medications, but they’re usually less common.

How To Make Nightmares Stop

In order to rid yourself of even the worst recurring nightmares, be prepared to identify and address the root causes. “Processing the underlying reason behind the nightmares would likely make them dissipate,” Freire said.

Depending on how intense your nightmares are, you could try one or more of these techniques:

Journal

Consider writing in a journal about both your nightmares and your real-life experiences during the day, Tracy Vadakumchery, a practicing pre-licensed mental health counselor and cognitive behavioral specialist at The Feel Good Center in New York, recommended. Doing so may make it easier to connect the dots and locate closure, she said.

Rewrite The Dream

Writing can also be powerful if you’re specifically focusing on the content of your dream. Try changing the outcome of your nightmare when you’re awake, Loewenberg suggested. This is especially effective with nightmares that are a result of past trauma.

“When doing this technique, be sure to write down all the details of the nightmare you can remember,” Loewenberg said. “Then, when you get to the end or the most frightening part of the nightmare, rewrite it.”

Avoid Screens Before Bed

“Watching TV or movies before bed will likely just make you dream a different version of your unresolved emotional business by combining it with any vivid scenes from a movie,” Freire said, adding that you should allow yourself “a good hour before bed to not keep your brain hyperactive with screens.”

When To Get Professional Help

If addressing your recurring nightmares on your own doesn’t work, consider reaching out to a mental health professional.

“If the nightmares occur more than two times per week and/or are accompanied by severe distress and impairment in functioning, it is time to check in with a professional,” said Nicole M. Ward, a California-based licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in trauma. “Impairments in function can include falling asleep at work, avoiding sleep and/or having frequent conflict within their personal or professional relationships.”

You should also think about seeing a therapist, Freire added, “if nightmares are keeping you from getting a good night’s sleep, and the accumulation of loss of sleep is causing other symptoms such as: fatigue, memory loss, anxiety, heart arrhythmias, etc.”

So don’t let bad dreams get in the way of good sleep.

How To Calm Your Nerves Before Public Speaking At Work

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No other everyday office opportunity can strike terror in employees quite like public speaking. Giving a presentation can be a chance to get your voice heard, but 1 in 4 Americans fear it. It scares more of us than snakes, hell, walking alone at night and insects, according to a 2018 survey by Chapman University.

But research shows there are ways to calm your jitters and not feel overwhelmed. Here are some that tips psychologists and experts have for the nervous public speaker:

1) Reframe those nerves as excitement.
Don’t listen to the advice of those “Keep calm and carry on” posters if you’re anxious about public speaking. Instead, try embracing your sweaty palms and racing heartbeat as signs of excitement. This reappraisal of anxiety can actually help stop nerves from overwhelming you, a 2014 Harvard Business School study found. How you think about your anxiety can change how you perform under it.

In the study, business professor Alison Wood Brooks recruited participants to sing the Journey song “Don’t Stop Believin’” in front of a group. Before they belted their hearts out, they were told to say, “I am anxious,” “I am excited,” or nothing. A video game measured how well they performed. The group that declared their excitement improved their singing performance more than the “anxious” and say-nothing groups.

Similarly, in a separate experiment, participants were asked to give a short public speech after being told to say “I am calm” or “I am excited.” The “excited” group gave better speeches, independent raters judged. Brooks suggested that this works because encouraging excitement can prime you to see the task as an opportunity, whereas trying to calm down can make you see the challenge as a threat.

2) Make it about the ideas you want to share; don’t make it all about you.
Yes, being asked to speak in front of your peers can be an honor. But don’t make the opportunity about more than it is if you’re worried about your boss’ approval or what the audience will think.

Amanda Hennessey, founder of Boston Public Speaking, has coached people for more than a decade. She advises taking the focus off of yourself and putting it instead onto the valuable information you are going to deliver. That way, the speech becomes “an exchange of ideas rather than a referendum of our self-worth,” she said.

Hennessey said public speakers in the office can focus on why the public speaking matters for their team or client and “what’s at stake for the people.”

“That brings us to that place of passion and purpose, where our bodies feel very alive,” Hennessey said.

If your mind starts to narrate a horror story about how your talk will go, Hennessey suggests a physically grounding technique to help you stay continually present.

“Feel your feet on the earth and start to notice things around you, look at something on your desk that makes you happy and really look at it,” Hennessey said. “We want to get back to the present, instead of projecting about the future.”

3) Don’t obsess over each word.
If you have done the necessary preparation, don’t monitor what you are about to say right before the public speaking opportunity, advises Sian Beilock, a psychologist who authored “Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To.” Looking at famous examples of people “choking” under pressure, she found that high-achieving people can underperform when they are struck by “paralysis analysis” and try to control every part of their performance by paying too much attention to step-by-step details.

“Oftentimes, the reason that we mess up, especially something that’s well-learned or practiced, is that we start paying too much attention to the details,” Beilock said. “When you’re focusing on every step of what you’re going to say right before you go in, that can be problematic.“

Beilock says a public speaker can distract themselves with an activity that takes their mind off what they are about to do. “One way that research has found to get rid of that monitoring is to focus on something at a higher level,” Beilock said. “In golf, they talk about one swing thought, or a mantra that encapsulates the entire putting stroke. When you’re speaking and you’re trying to get the point across, think about the three points you want to get across. What are the three goals?”

With those in mind, when you do open your mouth, you can focus on the outcome of what you’re trying to say rather than “every word coming out of your mouth,” Beilock said.

Hennessey suggests carrying positive self-affirmations that speak to you, such as “I got this,” “I release the need to prove my worth,” “I am excited to share what I care about,” or “I am enough.”

She said speakers can keep a copy of the words on a piece of paper in their wallet to read over before a talk. “Different ones appeal to different people,” Hennessey said. “If it sparks joy, it’s going to keep doing that and it’s going to be able to cut through the noise of our mind.”

4) Exercise.
There is a large body of research that shows aerobic exercise can reduce the body’s biological stress response. If this fits into your lifestyle and routine, go ahead and do it as part of your preparation for public speaking.

But don’t make the exercise a need you have to fulfill in order for a talk to go well. “Have it be OK if you suddenly you can’t [exercise],” Hennessey said. “You want to be careful about having rituals, but not getting so attached to them.”

Venezuelan migrant who sings for tips gets shot at stardom after chance meeting

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When Mexican singer Mario Domm overheard a Venezuelan migrant crooning Domm’s own song in exchange for coins outside a restaurant in Bogota, Colombia, he was moved to tears by the young man’s powerful voice.

Now Domm is helping the singer, 22-year-old Alexander Beja, pursue his dream of musical stardom.

Beja is one of 1.4 million Venezuelans now living in Colombia, after fleeing a deep political and economic crisis in their home country that has caused long-running shortages of food and medicine.

The young singer arrived in Colombia last year and began to sing regularly on the streets of northern Bogota, in hopes of earning what money he could.

On the day last month when he was overheard by Domm, Beja was singing a tune called “Venezuela.”

“He had a voice like a bazooka,” said Domm, who founded the pop group Camila in 2005. “He has to use it.”

Domm bought Beja a mobile phone, and the two now talk daily to coordinate Beja’s planned September visit to Mexico, where he is set to record a duet with Domm.

“That’s when my life split in half,” said Beja, who walked and took buses for weeks to reach Bogota from his hometown of Maracay, near Venezuela’s Caribbean coast. He reunited in Colombia with two brothers.

“Honestly I can only say that there was a connection. I think my talent, more than singing, is in connecting with people, transmitting what I feel, and that’s what happened,” said Beja, sitting in the living room of the small apartment he shares with his brothers in Soacha, outside of Bogota.

“He cried and I cried.”

While he waits for a Mexican visa, Beja has continued to sing a cappella outside restaurants in tony parts of Colombia’s capital, where appreciative patrons deposit coins and small bills into his hat.

Beja earns about $15 a day singing. One of his brothers works in a restaurant, while the other works as a photographer.

Despite his current difficulties, Beja is confident he can reach musical stardom with help from Domm.

In the meantime, as he prepares for another day of singing, he urges his fellow migrants to keep their chins up.

“Don’t give up – it’s always darkest before the dawn.”

Students will have to meet new vaccine requirements next school year

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Hawaii students will have to meet new immunization requirements in the upcoming school year, including showing evidence of having received the HPV vaccine by the time they enter seventh grade, the state Health Department announced.

The new requirements apply to students entering childcare or preschool, kindergarten, 7th grade, and colleges/universities. The mandates are also for all students entering school in Hawaii for the first time.

And they’re aimed at bringing Hawaii immunization rules in line with CDC recommendations.

“The Department of Health is now updating our vaccine schedules to be in conformance with national recommendations. We haven’t done this in decades,” said Health Director Bruce Anderson.

“It now conforms with what most physicians are normally recommending in terms of vaccine schedules.”

Opponents of the new mandates, however, are concerned about possible adverse reactions.

They also question the safety studies done on vaccines.

“We feel like that’s just a basic human right to not ever have to be forced medicated with anything that carries potential risk,” said Kimberly Haine, a founder of the group Hawaii For Informed Consent.

Under the new requirements, all seventh graders will have to show that they’ve received:

  • The Tdap vaccine (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis)
  • The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine
  • And the meningococcal conjugate vaccine

When they were under consideration, the new vaccine requirements got pushback from some parents who don’t believe they’re safe. There was particular concern about the HPV vaccine requirement.

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection, according to the CDC.

And the virus can lead to cervical cancer and other diseases. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends the HPV vaccine for boys and girls at age 11 or 12.

“We’re getting to a point, I think, where we’re leading the nation in these types of initiatives to keep our population healthy,” said Anderson.

While the state says the HPV vaccine is safe after undergoing rigorous testing, critics disagree.

“It’s also not communicable in a school setting, so why are we forcing it to be a school requirement? If you really think that it could help prevent cancer, shouldn’t that be a choice?” questioned Haine.

The new requirements come as more parents opt out of mandatory vaccinations for their kids ― a trend that’s led to outbreaks of diseases like mumps and measles.

In Hawaii, the only allowable exemptions to the vaccine requirements are for medical or religious reasons. Despite the relatively narrow exemptions, figures released earlier this year show that at some Hawaii schools, a third or more of the children are unvaccinated.

Uncontrolled high blood pressure is cutting into heart disease progress

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An uptick in deaths due to uncontrolled high blood pressure is slowing the progress in the fight against heart disease, according to a study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Deaths from heart disease overall have decreased in the past two decades, but the rate of that decline has slowed since 2010, the study found.

In addition to rising rates of deaths related to high blood pressure, rates of heart disease deaths linked to obesity and Type 2 diabetes — once declining — have leveled off.

The findings are worrying, especially given the recent medical and surgical advances in treating heart disease.

“The fact that we are not seeing that translate into improvement in death rates is concerning,” study author Dr. Sadiya Khan, a cardiologist at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago, said.

Khan and her colleagues searched a public Centers for Disease Control and Prevention database for death certificates from 1999 to 2017.

Death certificates don’t indicate what led to the ultimate cause of death — for example, a person’s cause of death may have been a heart attack, but the heart attack could have been caused in part by high blood pressure.

Uncontrolled high blood pressure, both chronic and acute, can contribute to a person’s death in a number of ways. “Hypertension that is really out of control could lead to a tear in a blood vessel,” said Dr. Deepak Bhatt, executive director of interventional cardiovascular programs at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

“It could also lead to swelling in the brain, heart attack, stroke, and contribute to heart failure and kidney failure,” Bhatt, who was not involved in the current study, said.

Other factors that could lead to heart disease deaths have also become more widespread in the past two decades, including obesity and Type 2 diabetes, Khan said.

The conditions are strongly linked and both are major risk factors for heart disease.

More than 93 million U.S. adults are considered obese, according to the CDC, and almost as many — 84 million — have prediabetes. An additional 30 million Americans have Type 2 diabetes.

We’ve noticed the leading edge of an emerging re-epidemic.

“Although we have celebrated significant declines in heart disease deaths and stroke over the last several decades, what we’ve noticed is the leading edge of an emerging re-epidemic,” Dr. Laurence Sperling, director of the Emory Heart Disease Prevention Center in Atlanta, said.

Indeed, heart disease remains the nation’s No. 1 killer of both men and women — claiming more than 800,000 American lives each year, according to the American Heart Association.

Sperling, who was not involved with this latest study, said the research should serve as a wake-up call.

“We need to be more actionable as opposed to complacent because these curves most likely will continue,” he said.

In 2017, in an effort to rein in high blood pressure, the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology lowered the threshold for what’s considered to be high blood pressure, from 140/90 mm/Hg to 130/80 mm/Hg.

“What we were taught was normal many years ago is now considered high blood pressure,” Dr. Ravi Dave, director of interventional cardiology at UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica, said. He was not involved in the new research.

“We were allowing patients to have higher blood pressure. Now the guidelines are much more strict.”

Mounting evidence has shown that when patients can get their blood pressure down to levels below what was previously considered “normal,” they greatly reduced their risk for heart attack and stroke.

Awareness and diagnosis are key. Dave said many patients can go years without ever knowing hypertension is taking a toll on their cardiovascular health.

“It’s a silent problem,” he said. “Most patients don’t have symptoms until it gets to be very high.”

Lifestyle factors are perhaps the biggest driver of hypertension. The American Heart Association recommends several ways to lower your blood pressure and keep it in a healthy range. Those include:

  • eating a well-balanced diet that’s low in salt.
  • limiting alcohol to two drinks a day for men, one for women.
  • exercising about 30 minutes a day, five days a week.
  • quitting smoking.
  • losing weight if your body mass index is over 25.

The JAMA study also showed racial disparities persist. African Americans had consistently higher cardiovascular death rates than whites.

And it suggested that the country is not on track to meet the heart health goals set by the American Heart Association: to improve cardiovascular health of the U.S. population by 20 percent, and reduce mortality from cardiovascular disease and stroke by 20 percent, by next year.

“The goals … were bold and ambitious,” Dr. Eduardo Sanchez, chief medical officer for prevention at the American Heart Association said.

“We cannot and will not be complacent about recent reductions and plateauing in the rates at which cardiovascular mortality is dropping.”

Best supplements for weight loss: Three supplements found to help weight loss

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BEST supplements for weight loss: Healthy eating and regularly exercise are key to losing weight, but a number of studies have also suggested the added aid of a supplement could help you lose some extra pounds.

Weight loss is best achieved through eating a healthy, balanced diet and regular exercise. Experts recommend eating at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day, basing meal on higher fibre starchy foods like potatoes and rice, eating some dairy or dairy alternatives, some protein, and choosing unsaturated oils and spreads and eating them in small amounts. Saturated fat, salt and sugar should be kept to a minimum. When it comes to exercise, adults should try to be active daily and aim to do at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity and strength exercises on two or more days. Some studies have suggested the addition of a supplement can help people shed the pounds.

Three supplements shown to help weight loss are garcinia cambogia extract, green coffee bean extract and glucomannan.

Gardenia cambogia extract

Gardenia cambogia is a tropical green fruit, shaped like a pumpkin.

The skin of the fruit contains hydroxycitric acid, which is the active ingredient found in gardenia cambogia extract supplements.

A number of animal studies have shown it can inhibit a fat-producing enzyme in the body and increase levels of serotonin, which can potential help to reduce cravings.

A 2011 review looked at 12 studies on gardenia cambogia and found, on average, it caused weight loss of about two pounds over several weeks.

Green coffee bean extract

Green coffee beans are coffee beans that haven’t been roasted, and their caffeine and chlorogenic acid content are believed to help aid weight loss.

Caffeine has been found to increase fat burning and chlorogenic acid has been found to slow the breakdown of carbohydrates in the gut.

Again, a number of studies – ones involving humans – have shown green coffee bean extract can help people lose weight.

A review of three studies found green coffee bean extract supplements helped people lose 5.4 pounds more than a placebo pill.

Added benefits of green coffee bean extract include helping lower blood sugar levels and reducing blood pressure.

Glucomannan

Glucomannan is a dietary fibre made from the root of the konjac plant.

It’s been found to help aid weight loss as it absorbs water and becomes gel-like, promoting the feeling of illness and helping people eat fewer calories.

Three human studies have shown glucomannan, when combined with eating a healthy diet, can help people lose 8 to 10 pounds in five weeks.

Other benefits of glucomannan are lowering blood sugar, lowering blood cholesterol and helping prevent constipation.

Another supplement food to aid weight loss is chia seeds.

Over the recent years, chia seeds have been dubbed a superfood, and their fibre content have been shown to temporarily suppress appetite.

Why red wine could be good for your gut – in moderation

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Red wine could be good for the gut, increasing the number of different types of helpful bacteria that can live there, according to researchers.

The benefits are likely to come from polyphenols – compounds that white wine, beer and cider have far less of, the King’s College London team says.

A glass a fortnight was enough to make a difference, but researchers say the findings are not an excuse to binge.

Polyphenols are also found in many fruits and vegetables.

Why does it matter?
Polyphenols, such as resveratrol in the skin of red grapes, are micronutrients that are thought to have beneficial properties and act as a fuel for useful microbes living inside our bowel.

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Our guts contain trillions of bacteria and other micro-organisms and this community of “friendly” bugs helps keep us healthy.

A growing body of research suggests small changes to our microbiota can make us more susceptible to illnesses such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, heart disease and obesity and may even affect our mood and mental health.

Our diets, lifestyles and some types of medication that we may take can upset this finely balanced gut ecosystem.

What was the research?

The study, published in the journal Gastroenterology, looked at thousands of people living in the UK, the US and the Netherlands.

The participants – all twins enrolled in health research programmes – were asked about their diet and how much and what type of alcohol they typically drank.

The gut microbiota of red wine drinkers was more diverse than that of non-red wine drinkers.

Gut bug diversity increased the more red wine a person consumed, although occasional drinking – one glass a week or fortnight – appeared to be sufficient.

None of the participants was a heavy drinker.

The researchers say heavy consumption is not recommended and would probably have a bad effect on gut bugs, as well as on a person’s general health.

What do experts say?

Researcher Dr Caroline Le Roy said: “This is an observational study so we cannot prove that the effect we see is caused by red wine.”

“If you must choose one alcoholic drink today, red wine is the one to pick as it seems to potentially exert a beneficial effect on you and your gut microbes, which in turn may also help weight and risk of heart disease.

“You do not need to drink every day and it is still advised to consume alcohol with moderation.”

She said she would like to do a follow-up study offering people red wine, no alcohol or red grape juice to see what effect each has on gut microbiota.

“We are starting to know more and more about gut bacteria. It is complex, and we need more research, but we know that the more diversity there is, the better it appears to be for our health.”

Alex White, assistant nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation, said: “The findings from this study are interesting, and the effects of our diet on the bacteria in our gut is a really exciting area of science.

“However, more research is needed before making any firm conclusions about any associations between red wine intake and changes in the gut flora, and whether this is likely to result in tangible health benefits.

“It should be remembered that high levels of alcohol intake are linked with an increased risk of a range of health problems including some cancers, heart disease, stroke and liver disease, and that to keep health risks from alcohol to a low level it is recommended that adults do not drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis.”

Dr Megan Rossi, a consultant dietician at King’s – not involved in the research – and a spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association, said: “There are merits in the findings. I wouldn’t recommend that people start drinking red wine, but if people do drink a little bit now and again then they shouldn’t feel guilty – and it might even be beneficial.”

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