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A Puppy a Day Keeps the Doctor Away? – The Influence of Cute Animals on our Overall Well-being

This week I read some research which was just too delightful not to share. I have often found myself scrolling endlessly through videos on instagram of cute baby animals until the early hours of the morning, I’m sure many of you can relate right? Cute animal videos evoke those ‘warm fuzzies’ we get where we feel happy, positive and all joyous inside. But alongside the instant feelings we get by looking at cute animals, they are beneficial to our general mental wellbeing in the long haul… who knew? 

A study published last year by the University of Leeds examined how watching images and videos of cute animals affected individuals blood pressure, heart rate and anxiety. During the study, participants watched a 30 minute slideshow containing a variety of different cute animals (puppies, kittens, baby gorillas ect.). Participants’ blood pressure, heart rate and anxiety levels were compared before and 30 minutes after watching the slide show. Significant reductions in the participant groups blood pressure and heart rate were found. There was also on average a 35% reduction in the levels of anxiety that the group felt overall (for some, their anxiety was reduced as much as 50%).

Another recent study has supported further the benefit of looking at cute animals (specifically dogs) on individuals overall well-being. In this between-groups study there were three groups of participants who spent five minutes either looking at (a) popular funny posts on Twitter, (b) cute pictures of dogs or (c) Donald Trump’s Twitter feed. Overall well-being was measured on an established scale both before and after the five minutes. The changes in well-being were then compared between the three groups. The biggest and most significant benefit to overall well-being was found in Group B who had looked at pictures of dogs for five minutes*. 

But what is it about baby animals that we are so drawn to? Apparently it’s all down to a phenomenon called ‘baby schema’. As human beings we are automatically drawn to creatures with big heads, chubby cheeks or large eyes near the centre of the face. The warm fuzzies I described earlier come about as a result of wanting to nurture the cute creature and keep it safe from harm (I guess that would explain my sudden need to internally combust whenever I see a puppy in the street).

If you are having a tough day/ week so far, take five minutes to ingest some of my favourite cute animal pictures below:

Hope that helped some of you, it certainly made me feel a bit calmer 🙂

Stay Safe!

*Just for those who wonder, participants in Group C actually experienced reductions in their perceived levels of well-being pre and post viewing Trumps twitter.

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How much do we actually know about mental health disorders? – Survey results

It was recently mental health awareness week, where organisations and influential individuals highlight the importance of looking after your own mental wellbeing and considering the effects of mental illness on an individual. This got me thinking about the term mental health awareness itself, and what it means to possess it.

We are increasingly seeing more people speaking out about their own experiences with mental illness, with big celebrities such as Adele recently discussing aspects of living with post-natal depression. I believe that as a nation we are becoming more aware of conditions such as stress, depression and anxiety, whilst considering the effect these can have on an individuals day-to-day life. This is only a good move in my opinion and a increase in awareness will hopefully help to beat the current stigma that individuals with a mental illness face on a daily basis.

But carrying on from this, I wonder how much the public know about other mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia? Personally I don’t see much information being disseminated about other mental illnesses that aren’t depression or anxiety. But it’s just as important that individuals are informed about all mental illness to challenge all forms of stigma.

I wanted to find out how much individuals felt they knew about a range of different mental health disorders. In order to do this I designed a little survey and posted this online. It asked participants to indicate on a scale (ranging from ‘nothing’ to ‘a lot’) how much they felt they knew about a number of mental health disorders, from depression to obsessive compulsive disorder. It then followed this up with two questions asking them if they would like to know more about the mental disorders mentioned and if they thought it would be beneficial for them. The results of this survey are outlined below:

Eighty one people took part in this survey. With regards to their perceived knowledge on a range of mental health disorders, the results are outlined below. The figure shows the average knowledge score and where this is placed upon the scale. The mental disorders mentioned have been sorted from most known about to least known about.

To be honest, I was not that surprised with the results. As I thought, individuals felt that they knew more about disorders such as depression and anxiety. I don’t know exactly why this is the case, but I could speculate that this is because these are more widely spoken about as opposed to illnesses such as dementia and schizophrenia. The next figures show the percentage responses to the two questions posed at the end of the survey:

The results above seem to be positive, with only 12% of participants indicating that they would not like to learn more about the mental disorders mentioned. On reflection I wondered if these people already felt that they knew a lot about all the disorders mentioned so they don’t see the purpose of learning more? Something to think about…

Further to this, 70% indicated that they see the benefit of learning more about the range of mental health disorders mentioned. I think this is great news and really encouraging going forward. I hope that in the future, more information is provided about all mental health disorders, not just depression and anxiety.

I realise on reflection that my previous posts on this blog have focused heavily on anxiety and depression. I aim to provide more information on a wider range of mental health disorders in my blog posts going forward. I hope you found these results as interesting and promising as I did.

Stay safe x

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The psychology behind stock piling – why do we do it?

I’ve been hearing a lot of people recently commenting how there seems to be a lack of items like hand wash, sanitiser and even toilet roll in the supermarkets. Hand sanitiser is currently being administered somewhat like tobacco; it’s being stored behind counters and you have to ask for it and even then you can only purchase a maximum of two at a time. The current lack of hygiene products is very much in response to the current coronavirus situation. But this got me thinking about the psychology behind stockpiling behaviours and why certain individuals do this.

Stockpiling, also referred to as panic buying is defined in the Cambridge English dictionary as ‘a situation in which many people suddenly buy as much food, fuel, etc. as they can because they are worried about something bad that may happen’. As the name suggests, this type of buying is fuelled mainly through anxiety. Research suggests that there are three factors that lead to an increase in anxiety in these situations: scarcity, maintaining a sense of control, and social proof.

Scarcity

Firstly, us humans psychologically respond to scarcity, we don’t like to feel like we have missed out on something important. If something appears rare, we are more likely to chase it (especially if it’s something we wanted in the first place). A good example of this is the Black Friday sales, which we see footage of on the news every year. We see how some people are prepared to queue for hours and fight with each other to get a cheap TV set, all emotionally fuelled of course. 

During the coronavirus outbreak, social media has used the hashtags #toiletpapercrisis and #toiletpapergate to display pictures of empty supermarket shelves, making toilet paper appear scarce and something that is running out. After seeing such images and information online, an individual can be motivated to stock up on toilet paper by ‘anticipatory regret’, we are protecting ourselves from a feeling of regret later down the line. I’m sure that we’ve all experienced that feeling of  remorse and regret of missing out on something and would understand others wanting to avoid these feelings.

Maintaining a sense of control

Secondly, some panic buying can be an effort to try and keep a sense of control in uncertain situations. A loss of control is not the same as feeling out of control; It addresses the everyday experience of being unable to take action to help produce a desired outcome in a given environment, which in this case might be to be able to personally cope if the coronavirus becomes a big issue for the country.

None of us are entirely sure of what is happening with the coronavirus at the moment, or what will happen in the near future. Stockpiling helps individuals to feel in control; it’s an aspect of their lives that they can actively control. In this case, panic buying toilet paper can help to ease the anxieties that an individual is feeling.

Social Proof

As human beings we are always subconsciously keeping an eye on what those around us are doing (even if you think otherwise!). Social proof is a phrase made popular by psychologist Robert Cialdini. In times where we are unsure of how to behave we will look to see how others are behaving, so social proof could be considered as a type of conformity. We believe at the time that others around us possess more information about the situation than us and that they have made their choices based upon this information they possess (spoiler: they usually don’t know much more than you do). Here’s a quick experiment for you: stand in the middle of town just looking up at nothing in particular. Keep an eye on the people around you and you might realise some of them looking up as well, us humans hate to think we are missing out on something!

I can think of a specific time in my life where I was majorly influenced by social proof. So it’s summer of 2017, I’m with a friend at a summer fair and we fancy a bite to eat. We head over to the food carts and there’s two options: a hamburger bar or a burrito stand. There were a couple of people waiting for hamburgers but the queue to the burritos was a lot longer. We went for burritos figuring that if the queue was longer, it must mean they are the best choice. In this case our decision to follow the herd paid off and after waiting 45 minutes in a queue I enjoyed eating the best burrito that I have ever had in my life. But the results of social proof aren’t always so tasty. In this case, an individual seeing another person bulk buying toilet roll may increase their chances of doing the same thing as they may fear that they are missing something due to their lack of knowledge about the current situation.

I find the psychology behind human behaviour like this all so interesting. On a slight side note, I also just found out that stockpiling is referred to as ‘Hamsterkauf’ in Germany. This great word translates to ‘hamster buying’ and literally refers to the way hamsters stuff their cheeks with food:

So have you been feeling more inclined to buy more of certain items because of the coronavirus? Or do the factors above have little effect on your behaviours? Let me know below.

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Sun, Sea and Self-doubt – The effect of reality TV and social media on self-image

I thought in this post we could explore the concept of body image and influences upon this. The theory behind our own perceptions of our body image seems increasingly relevant right now for a couple of reasons. Firstly, many of us will have made new years goals in an attempt to change how we look and feel about ourselves. This may include exercising more or giving up something that we feel is bad for our health.

Secondly, this Sunday marks the start of the biggest reality TV show in the UK right now – Love island. For those who are not aware of the format of the show, Love island brings together a group of people in a sunny villa somewhere lovely and hot. Most of these people appear to be young and what popular culture deems to be ‘attractive’ at the time. They all enter the villa looking for love, and I believe couples are made and challenged with the arrival of more young ‘attractive’ people throughout the series. I’ve never personally watched the show (apart from the one time a woman was watching it on the train next to me) so I can’t pass judgement upon it. But I thought I would explore the effects of this type of reality TV and the social media that surrounds it has on individuals behaviours with reference to their perceived self-image.

Watching shows like Love island can have a detrimental effect on our mental health and how we feel about our own bodies. As humans, we have a natural desire to make social comparisons. This means if we are unsure about something, we will look to others to determine our own social and personal worth based on how we stack up against others.

Seeing the contestants on Love island and their apparent ‘success’ from being on the show, a lot of people may place them in high regard and look to them to show them how to behave. The problem here is that the type of people that are contestants on the show demonstrate a lack of body diversity, with most being muscly and super-slim. Some may look at the bodies of the contestants and feel insecure about themselves. The shows boss has recently defended their casting decisions, stating that  contestants were chosen by the producers to represent an “aspirational version” of the show’s audience (Link here).

But what thought is given to viewers when suggesting these types of aspirations? The Mental Health Foundation recently ran a survey on body image. In their survey they found that seeing images of ‘ideal’ bodies can contribute to people feeling more distress and shame about their own body, if it does not match up to the presented aspirational ideal (Link here). Further to this, they found that 23% of 18-24 year olds said they had experienced suicidal thoughts and feelings because of concerns in relation to their body image. Fifteen percent said they had self-harmed or deliberately hurt themselves because of concerns about their body image. As a result of higher levels of body dissatisfaction, an individual may experience a poorer quality of life, psychological distress and be at risk of starting unhealthy eating behaviours.

With contestants going on to have very successful careers in social media afterwards, their influence expands way further than just the programme itself. It’s not unusual for contestants to be paid by companies to promote diet programmes, makeup and skincare on their social media platforms. But this can lead to their followers feeling inadequate and less worthy because they feel their body doesn’t look a certain way. More than a third of 18-24 year olds (34%) said images used in advertising and promotion on social media made them worry about their body image (Link here). An article from the NHS last week states that there has been a 37% rise in hospital admissions for eating disorders in just two years (link here). Claire Murdoch, national mental health director for the NHS said that individuals mental health was being damaged by “massive pressures about body image, fuelled through social media”.

‘In a Society That Profits From Your Self-Doubt, Liking Yourself Is a Rebellious Act’

As programmes like Love island carry on getting ever more popular, it’s even more important to spread the word and promote positive body image. Everyone has the right to feel at home and comfortable in the body they were born in. Below I’ve linked some great instagram accounts that I follow that actively promote self-love and acceptance, so feel free to follow them if you would like to:

https://www.instagram.com/i_weigh/?hl=en – I Weigh is a campaign about radical inclusivity.
https://www.instagram.com/dontcallmepretty_/?hl=en – Big on promoting self-love.
https://www.instagram.com/theinsecuregirlsclub/?hl=en – A space which promotes empowerment through embracing vulnerabilities.
https://www.instagram.com/peterdevito/?hl=en – A inspirational and inclusive photographer

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The effects of Christmas on mental wellbeing

Whilst putting together my previous post a couple of days ago, I got thinking about the festive period and the effect it has on mental wellbeing. To satisfy my curiosity, I had a browse of online research looking at the relationship between Christmas and mental wellbeing. I found the results of others research to be mixed to say the least. For example, there are articles outlining factors that can have a negative effect on an individuals mental wellbeing such as loneliness (link here) or the dreaded ‘holiday blues’ (more information about this can be found here). But a literature review conducted by Sansone & Sansone (2011) suggests that Christmas doesn’t actually have a negative effect on individuals mental wellbeing. They suggest that at Christmas time, less people are carrying out self-harm behaviour or suicide attempts when compared to other points in the year (link to this here).

I thought it would be interesting to carry out a quick survey to find out peoples views on Christmas and how it effects them mentally. I posted a survey online which contained two questions for people to fill in. The first question asked people to indicate what effect they felt the Christmas period had on their mental wellbeing. The second question encouraged individuals to explain the reasoning behind their first answer. 189 participants kindly took part in this survey, and an outline of the results are below:

The chart shows that for most, the Christmas period does appear to have some affect on their mental wellbeing (only 11% stated that there was no effect). Like the research I had found earlier, there was mixed results, with relatively even numbers of people experiencing good and bad effects to their mental health. Some individuals stated that they experienced both good and bad effects to their mental wellbeing during the Christmas period.

When looking at the reasons given for their answers, the top five ways in which individuals felt the holidays have a good impact on their mental wellbeing are below:

  1. Family – This was by far the most common reason people stated for boosts to their mental wellbeing. Some individuals enjoyed being in the presence of their family and catching up with people they hadn’t seen in a while.
  2. The Christmas spirit – Everyone generally appears to be more upbeat at this time of year. For some individuals, this feeling of cheer and unity was found to have a positive impact on their mental wellbeing.
  3. Decorations – Seeing tree lights, tinsel and glitter made some individuals feel instantly happier.
  4. Break from work – Some individuals appreciated the extra time in bed in the morning and the break from the pressures of their job
  5. Time to relax – Just having extra time to do things they enjoy and look after themselves.

Conversely, the top five ways in which people felt the holidays have a bad impact on their mental wellbeing are below:

  1. Family – This was a very common response, with a lot more individuals giving this as a main contributing factor to their poor mental wellbeing during the Christmas period. Some felt the pressure of having to make conversation with relatives, others just felt that being around all their family tended to lead to stressful events and negative interactions happening.
  2. Financial stresses – Individuals wallets and bank accounts felt the strain of having to take part in Christmas. This strain can lead to stress.
  3. Gifts – One person labelled this as ‘gift anxiety’, individuals were worried what gifts to buy everyone and making sure that these were appropriate.
  4. Missing loved ones – Some individuals are separated from their loved ones and this time of year reminds them that they are not here anymore.
  5. Stress – This covered individuals feeling stressed and pressured to carry out family traditions and other obligations that arise at this time of year.

I found the results above to be very interesting, especially the fact that family is both the most common factor in both of the top five lists. I think this really stresses that everyones minds are different and their own; what some really relish in doing may not be another persons idea of a good time.

I find myself relating to items from both lists and generally I feel that overall Christmas time results in mixed effects for my mental wellbeing. I would like to know what effect do the holidays have on your mental wellbeing? Are there any tips you would give to help others who may be struggling?

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Sadfishing – the latest social media trend or something more sinister?

The other week, I was watching daytime TV (something I rarely do these days actually) and there was a panel discussion show on. I heard them mention a word that I’d never heard before – sadfishing. On the TV show they had a discussion about it and the impact it can have on young people’s mental health. Watching this got me intrigued to know more about this latest social media behaviour and understand exactly how and why it can have such a detrimental effect on the mental wellbeing of some individuals.

So what is sadfishing? Put simply, sadfishing involves an individual posting an emotional message on social media in an apparent attempt to attract sympathy or hook an audience. They often exaggerate their feelings in order to elicit a desired response. This term was coined at the beginning of 2019 in response to Kendall Jenner sharing her ‘raw story’ and ‘awful’ past skin experiences on Instagram in order to encourage people to buy Proactiv, a type of skin care product [3].

An example of ‘sadfishing’

The phenomenon has also been used by other celebrities, with Justin Bieber recently telling his 119 million Instagram followers: “It’s hard to get out of bed in the morning when you are overwhelmed with your life.” These behaviours are starting to be copied by young people, with some of them being more open to sharing their sadness and mental health woes online.

But the uprise of this latest social media trend appears to be affecting the mental health of some individuals. Digital awareness UK recently released a report stating that the uprise in sadfishing is making it difficult for young people who are facing genuine mental health difficulties to seek online support [2]. They surveyed 50,000 teenagers (aged 11 – 16) and they found that for most of them who had posted something regarding their mental wellbeing, they had faced being bullied as a consequence of their post. This lack of online support may leave young people feeling disappointed can subsequently make their emotional or mental health problems worse. 

Sadfishing can also lead to a person becoming addicted, they crave the attention that they get from their actions [1]. If they don’t get the attention they desired, this could have a detrimental impact on their mental wellbeing. Sadfishing behaviours may result in individuals oversharing information, which can leave them vulnerable, as sometimes complete strangers may be reading what they post. The digital awareness report [2] describes a case study where a teenage girl who, after posting about her depression online, was approached by a friend of a friend who shared their experiences in a supportive manner. But this relationship soon turned sour, and ended up with him pressuring her to send explicit pictures.

In response to the information above I thought I would conduct a short survey to see if sadfishing is something that is still currently happening and try to understand the effect it has on the individuals carrying out these behaviours. I created a survey which I posted on Reddit, the results of which are quite interesting. 82 people completed the survey, all of which were under 30 years old.

When struggling with mental wellbeing or feeling sad, 26% of people stated that they were likely to post about it on social media. 27% of people indicated that they had posted about their mental wellbeing on social media when they had been struggling in the past. Of these people, the diagram below highlights what kind of response they were expecting from posting such information online:

What kind of response participants wanted

Compare this to the actual responses they state they have received:

An overview of actual responses received

When asked what effect sharing this information on social media had on their social media:

23% said it had a positive effect on their mental wellbeing.

27% said it had a negative effect on their mental wellbeing.

45% said it had neither a positive or negative effect on their mental wellbeing.

This survey is far from scientific quality, but I feel it outlines the role that social media plays as a method of communicating when an individual may be struggling with their mental health. I found it interesting that 1 in 5 of the people that posted information didn’t expect any response to it, almost like the process of posting was more of a cathartic release for them. I also feel the results show the difference in the effects of posting to social media on each individuals mental wellbeing. It would be interesting to investigate this further to understand what factors influence the effect of posts on mental wellbeing.

References:
[1] https://www.jameshornsby.essex.sch.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Sadfishing.pdf
[2] https://www.bbntimes.com/en/companies/sadfishing-the-latest-toxic-social-media-trend
[3] https://metro.co.uk/2019/01/21/sadfishing-social-media-trend-making-misery-profitabl-8367931/

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Mental Illness Awareness Week – What exactly is mental health stigma?

So this week (6th – 12th October) is Mental Illness Awareness Week. I thought in this post I could talk about one of the biggest issues for people living with mental health problems – the stigma surrounding it. I’ll be honest, I’ve never fully understood what the word ‘stigma’ actually means. I’ve assumed it is something to do with negative associations, but I’m curious to find out more. I thought I could add to the discussions this week by raising awareness of mental health stigma, what it is and the effect it has on the individuals whom it is directed towards. Hopefully others will find the information I uncover as insightful as I do.

The actual word stigma is derived from the greek word ‘stizein’. A stizein was known as a distinguishing mark that was branded into the flesh of slaves or criminals so that others would know who they were and that they were less-valued members of society (1). Because of the markings, these individuals were often avoided by others in public spaces (2).

A common definition provided by Erving Goffman in 1963 describes stigma as ‘an attribute that is deeply discrediting’ and reduces an individual ‘from a whole and usual person to a tainted, discounted one’ (2). Other researchers have built upon this initial work to define stigma as ‘stereotypes or negative views attributed to a person or groups of people when their characteristics or behaviours are viewed as different from or inferior to societal norms.’ (3).

Types of stigma

I found out that there are many different types of stigma when it comes to mental health. The main three being discussed were public stigma, self-stigma and label avoidance, although there are others.

Public stigma involves some individuals within the general population endorsing the stereotypes of mental illness they are presented with in their environment (this could be stereotypes presented from the media or from their peers). These individuals then act in a discriminatory manner towards the stigmatised, so an example would be an individual refusing to work with a person with mental illness because they think they might be dangerous.

Self-stigma is when an individual with mental illness discriminates against themselves. An individual can become aware of the stereotypes that others have attached to others with mental illnesses. They then start to agree with the stereotype and apply it to themselves. This type of stigma can lead to devastating effects on an individual’s self-esteem and self-efficacy, making them believe they aren’t good enough or worthy of what other people have (4).

Label avoidance refers to a type of stigma that results from an individual being publicly labeled through association. In the context of mental health an example would be if an individual was seen leaving a psychiatrist’s office, others may think she’s crazy. This type of stigma can have a negative impact on those suffering from mental health issues, as it may deter them from seeking the help that they need.

Effects of stigma for those with mental health issues

There are a number of ways that stigma can have an effect on individuals experiencing mental illness. Here are just a few I found:

Those with mental health issues may fall victim to prejudice, as others may make preconceived opinions on them that have no factual back-up. A study carried out found the top three misconceptions about mental health patients to be that they are dangerous and violent; that they have a low IQ or are developmentally handicapped and that they cannot function or hold a job (5). The strange thing is, studies have shown evidence to dispel these claims of violence and handicap, but people still have misconceptions.

As a result of these misconceptions, those with mental health conditions can fall victim to social distancing. This is where people are unwilling to associate with a person with mental illness. For example, others may turn down offers to meet up for a coffee with someone they believe to have a mental illness (6).

As a result of prejudice and social distancing, those with mental health issues may feel isolated from society. Sadly, the Queensland Alliance for Mental Health observed that people with mental health problems are “frequently the object of ridicule within the media” which does nothing to help the feelings of rejections individuals may feel from society (7). 

Stigma can also lead to internalised discrimination, where an individual suffering with their mental health starts to believe in the stereotypes and misconceptions placed upon them. This leads them to assume they are rejects socially and this has a massively negative impact on their perceived self-worth (8).

Although work is taking place to get rid of mental health stigma, there is still a long way to go. Unfortunately, we still live in a world where some people see having a mental illness as a sign of weakness. Personally, I think some of the strongest people I know are those who are able to live their day to day lives despite their mental health issues. Also, having a mental health issue does not make anyone less worthy or capable.

Have you ever experienced any mental health stigma during your life? Also what do you think can be done to help remove the current stigma?

References

  1. Arboleda-Flórez, J. (2003). Considerations on the stigma of mental illness.
  2. Goffman, E. (2009). Stigma: Notes on the management of spoiled identity. Simon and Schuster.
  3. Dudley, J. R. (2000). Confronting stigma within the services system. Social Work, 45(5), 449.
  4. Corrigan, P.W., Rafacz, J., Rüsch, N., (2011). Examining a progressive model of self-stigma and its impact on people with serious mental illness. Psychiatry Research 189, 339–343.
  5. Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario Division. (1994) Final report. Mental health anti-stigma campaign public education strategy. 
  6. Corrigan P et al (2001) Prejudice, social distance, and familiarity with mental illness. Schizophrenia Bulletin; 27: 219-226.
  7. Queensland Alliance for Mental Health (2010) From Discrimination to Social Inclusion. A Review of the Literature on Anti Stigma Initiatives in Mental Health.
  8. Livingston JD, Boyd J (2010) Correlates and consequences of internalized stigma for people living with mental illness: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Social Science and Medicine; 7: 2150-2161.

My Experiences, research

When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping – The effect of retail therapy on mental health.

This week I’ve been intrigued by the concept of ‘Retail Therapy’. I’m sure we’ve all been there, you’ve had a slightly rubbish week and you decide to go out and treat yourself to a new toothbrush, rug or whatever your heart desires at the time. To get scientific for a minute, previous researchers have defined Retail therapy as ‘The use of shopping and buying as a way to repair or alleviate negative feelings’ [1]. Others consider retail therapy to be the consumption of goods to compensate for feeling such as low self-esteem or perceived loss of power [2]. 

Looking further into previous research, studies have highlighted the benefits of retail therapy on an individuals mental health. For example, a study conducted in 2011 [1] found the act of shopping to have a positive effect for those experiencing a low or upset mood. Further to this, afterwards they found that the individuals did not regret spending money on these ‘self-treats’. 

But why exactly does the act of shopping have such a benefit on our mental health? Previous researchers have suggested the following reasons why:

It gives you a sense of control – Sadness can be associated with a perceived deficiency in personal control over one’s environment [3]. When we feel that our lives are out of our control, shopping can help restore a sense of personal control which can reduce sadness and negative feelings. When we shop, we are faced with making choices; researchers have stressed this as a good way of increasing an individual’s sense of personal control [4].

It’s a social activity – Like the old saying goes, misery sure does love company. When individuals are feeling sad, research has shown their desire for social connectedness to be higher than normal [5]. For some, going outside and physically shopping will provide them with social interactions which may help improve their mood [6]. 

It provides a distraction – Visiting a store is an experience, with plenty of smells, sounds and sights to be seen. All of this sensual stimulation can lead to shopping being perceived as a source of positive distraction [7]. While we are shopping, we can forget about our worries and anxieties for a little while.

It can be exciting – People get joy from how unpredictable some elements of shopping can be. Sometimes you don’t know what you are going to buy and this can lead to excitement and anticipation [8]. In addition to this, the process of shopping releases dopamine, a neurochemical which makes us feel happy and is responsible for the ‘high’ individuals may experience.

But not all previous research paints retail therapy in a positive light. Some researchers have questioned the appropriateness of shopping as a coping method, labelling it as ineffective and wasteful [9]. They argue that it can’t be the best coping mechanism, as most individuals do not have an endless supply of money.

For some individuals, the ‘buzz’ that they feel from buying things can become an addiction. Shopping addiction (also known as oniomania) is described as an addiction where an individual invests excessive time and resources to shop. People with oniomania are always chasing the next ‘high’, that sensation they feel from buying something new. Like any addiction, oniomania  really can have desperate consequences for individuals. It can lead to them losing their financial security or a losing their own feelings of self control. It can even have a detrimental impact on their relationships as they are likely to neglect these in place of craving their next shopping session.

Personally, I’ve always understood how shopping can be an addictive activity, especially now with the creation of online shopping which doesn’t help those with an unhealthy urge to shop. Reflecting on the research that I’ve found surrounding retail therapy and shopping addiction, I’ve decided to set myself a personal challenge. In the UK during October some people decide to give drinking up for the month, it’s known as ‘going sober for October’. I thought I’d put my own twist on this (bear with me) and decide to give up shopping for material and unneeded objects for a whole month, so I’m going sober in my own kind of way…

I know this is going to be tough and I don’t know how I’m going to reward myself for completing this (buying myself something to celebrate feels slightly inappropriate). I’ll keep you updated on my progress throughout the month.

So, what are your own shopping habits and what links do you think they have to your own mental health? I’d be interested to know. 

References:

  1. Atalay, A. S., & Meloy, M. G. (2011). Retail therapy: A strategic effort to improve mood. Psychology & Marketing, 28(6), 638-659.
  2. Woodruffe-Burton, H., & Elliott, R. (2005). Compensatory consumption and narrative identity theory. ACR North American Advances.
  3. Smith, C. A., & Ellsworth, P. C. (1985). Patterns of cognitive appraisal in emotion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 48(4), 813–838
  4. Inesi, M. E., Botti, S., Dubois, D., Rucker, D. D., & Galinsky, A. D. (2011). Power and choice: Their dynamic interplay in quenching the thirst for personal control. Psychological Science, 22(8), 1042–1048.
  5. Gray, H. M., Ishii, K., & Ambady, N. (2011). Misery loves company: When sadness increases the desire for social connectedness. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37(11), 1438-1448.
  6. O’Guinn, T. C., & Faber, R. J. (1989). Compulsive buying: A phenomenological exploration. Journal of Consumer Research, 16, 147–157.
  7. Kang, M., & Johnson, K. K. (2010). Let’s shop! Exploring the experiences of therapy shoppers. Journal of Global Fashion Marketing, 1(2), 71-79.
  8. Falk, P. & Campbell, C. (1993). The Shopping Experience. Sage Publications, London.
  9. Kasser, T., & Sheldon, K. M. (2000). Of wealth and death: Materialism, mortality salience, and consumption behavior. Psychological Science, 11(4), 348–351.
research

‘Makeup’ your mind – The relationship between cosmetics and mental health

Last week it was reported that the boss of L’Oreal, Jean-Paul Agon claimed Instagram is good for business, as it makes young women buy more make-up in an attempt to look like the filtered selfies they post. In an interview, Mr. Agon said the following:

“The more you make yourself look really great online, the more you have to work on yourself when you go out, because if, when people meet you, they discover that you are completely different from what they thought, then you have a problem.”

This quote has upset some individuals and I totally understand why. To me it suggests that young women need to be striving to look like instagram filters, which is not a beneficial mentality to have. The careless comments like the one made by Mr. Agon only add to the pressure that individuals already feel to live up to their digital appearance. This pressure is something which may be having a negative effect on their mental health.

Personally, I think the comments made were highly inappropriate and unprofessional, but it got me wondering about the relationship between makeup and mental health. As an individual who suffers from body dysmorphic disorder (I wrote a post explaining what this is in more detail here), I feel that makeup definitely has an effect on how I feel and my overall well being. Whilst researching I found out the following effects makeup can have on an individuals mental health:

It may increase confidence (and even cognitive ability?)

There is a psychological phenomenon known as the ‘lipstick effect’, which states that wearing makeup can lead to women feeling more confident. One study (1) found that women think of themselves as being more confident when they are wearing their makeup as opposed to going bare-faced. In addition to this, researchers from Harvard Medical School conducted a study (2) and found that women who applied makeup before completing a test experienced a greater boost to their positive feelings when compared to women who weren’t wearing makeup. On top of this, the women wearing makeup were actually found to perform significantly better on the test than their non makeup wearing counterparts. These results regarding cognitive ability really are astounding, but I wonder if there’s more at play here than simply wearing makeup or not.

The benefit of the ritual itself

According to research, the average woman spends 11 minutes a day putting on makeup (3). For some, this process can help to calm down any anxiety that the individual may be feeling. This is because the ritual of putting makeup on tends to be structured and routine. Anxiety feeds on uncertainty, so experiencing an event that has a degree of predictability helps to calm down any negative or unhealthy thoughts that may arise (5).

In addition to this, some individuals may even consider putting on their makeup as a form of ‘art therapy’. Art therapy is defined as ‘the belief that self-expression through artistic creation has therapeutic value for those who are healing or seeking deeper understanding of themselves’ (6). The make-up applying process provides individuals with a fun and creative outlet, allowing them to be expressive which may result in mental wellbeing benefits.

We perceive ourselves differently

Some women have been found to perceive themselves differently after applying makeup. Previous work describes a ‘camouflage’ effect that makeup can provide for individuals, which may lead them to perceiving themselves as more desirable. One study (9) found frequency of makeup usage to be positively correlated with self-perceived attractiveness. This suggests those who use makeup more often perceive themselves to be more attractive. 

Another study found similar results (10). In this study, 24 individuals levels of perceived attractiveness and desirability were measured before and after the application of foundation. When considering before and after the foundation application, significant differences were found in participants’ scores on scales measuring perceived attractiveness. Results of this study found individuals to report higher levels of perceived attractiveness, and desirability after the application of makeup. 

It can improve social interactions

In some cases, researchers have found the wearing of makeup to improve the social interactions that an individual has. Previous work has suggested that makeup allows women to better control their social impressions and self-image (7). As a result of this, an individual’s social confidence may be increased, and they may be more open to face-to-face conversation. In one study, results found that women would feel anxious if they would have to go outside without their makeup on and would try to avoid social interactions (8). Sadly, I find these results incredibly relatable.

It may help you to get a better night’s sleep 

Wearing makeup has also been linked to better sleep patterns. One study (4) looked at the effects of makeup usage on the sleeping habits of female Japanese students. Results found that individuals who wore makeup two or more days per week experienced higher quality sleep than others who wore makeup only one day a week or less. The researchers suggested that this could be down to a number of factors including the chemical compounds in makeup or the psychological stimuli of the application process.

But the relationship between cosmetics and mental health isn’t positive for everyone. Previous researchers (11) have suggested that the extended use of makeup in culture today has led to unrealistic images of beauty. These images can result in women feeling anxious, low levels of self-esteem and lower levels of confidence.

Reflecting on the research above, I feel that if you are using makeup you should be sure that its for the right reasons. Be sure to check in with your mental health and assess whether makeup is actually making you feel better mentally, or if you are chasing unrealistic ideas of beauty. Instagram filters may be great news for cosmetics businesses, but maybe not for your own mental health.

What are your experiences regarding makeup and your mental health? Or maybe you have an opinion on the research outlined above?

References

  1. Cash, T. F., & Cash, D. W. (1982). Women’s use of cosmetics: Psychosocial correlates and consequences. International Journal of Cosmetic Science, 4(1), 1-14.
  2. Palumbo, R., Fairfield, B., Mammarella, N., & Di Domenico, A. (2017). Does make-up make you feel smarter? The “lipstick effect” extended to academic achievement. Cogent Psychology, 4(1), 1327635.
  3. Bayless, K. (2019). 7 Reasons Why Wearing Makeup Can Make You a Stronger Woman. Retrieved 24 September 2019, from https://oureverydaylife.com/7-reasons-why-wearing-makeup-can-make-you-a-stronger-woman-10852571.html
  4. Nishihara, R., Wada, K., Akimitsu, O., Krejci, M., Noji, T., Nakade, M., & Harada, T. (2013). Effects of Makeup, Perfume and Skincare Product Usage and Hair Care Regimen on Circadian Typology, Sleep Habits and Mental Health in Female Japanese students Aged 18-30. Psychology, 4(03), 183.
  5. Prinzivalli, L. (2019). Can makeup ease anxiety? This beauty blogger (and her fans) think so. Retrieved 24 September 2019, from
  6. Slayton SC, D’Archer J, Kaplan F. Outcome studies on the efficacy of art therapy: a review of findings. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association. 22 April 2011; 27(3): 108-118.
  7. Cash, T., Dawson, K., Davis, P., Bowen, M., & Galumbeck, C. (1989). Effects of cosmetics use on the physical attractiveness and body image of american college women. The Journal of Social Psychology. 
  8. Fabricant, S. M., & Gould, S. J. (1993). Women’s Makeup Careers: An Interpretive Study of Color Cosmetic Use and “Face Value.” Psychology & Marketing, 10(6), 531–548.
  9. Guimarães, A. L. C. D. C. (2016). Can we feel prettier?: makeup usage among Portuguese women and Its potential extracted benefits: self-esteem, physical attractiveness, social confidence, social interactions, and satisfaction with life(Doctoral dissertation).
  10. Menezes, M. Facial Makeup and Self-Perception: The Effect of Cosmetics on Self-Esteem and Perceived Attractiveness/Desirability.
  11. Britton, A. M. (2012). The beauty industry’s influence on women in society.


research

Feeling purple? – The psychology of colour

When most people are trying to sleep, they keep themselves awake with things like worrying that they forgot to lock the backdoor or fantasising about the latest James Bond actor, not me apparently. This week my mind pondered about colours and their links with mental health and emotions. People may say they are feeling blue or they have been tickled pink, but what is the actual link between colours and emotions?

Apparently there is a thing called ‘colour psychology’, and for this post I thought I would share a bit that I’ve learned about this concept. Colour psychology refers to the psychological effects that certain colours can have on our bodies and minds. It explains how colour may be a powerful force in an individual’s life, with certain colours being able to evoke emotions and feelings. Previous research highlights how some colours have associations because the role it’s played in our evolution. In nature, red or yellow markings on an animal or insect are usually associated with danger, so our ancestors knew to be weary when faced with these. Likewise, our ancestors found colours such as green to be associated with rotting food or faeces which should be avoided, therefore this colour would induce a feeling of disgust. 

This week I also researched all about ‘Chromotherapy’. According to this type of therapy, each human needs a sun’s light to function and live. Further to this, the sun’s light can be split up into a seven-colour spectrum. If an individual has an imbalance of these seven colours it may result in them experiencing negative effects to their physical or mental well being. An example of a type of treatment offered currently is a chromotherapy bath, which is like taking a normal bath but the bath lights up certain colours to address particular health needs. For example red is used to support an individual’s circulatory functions as it is believed to increase the pulse, raise blood pressure and increase the rate of breathing. Whereas yellow is utilised to purify the skin and aid with indigestion. For those of you who would like to know more about chromotherapy in depth, there are some good sources of information here and here .

Having read about chromotherapy I was still a little on the cautious side when considering the power of colour on an individual’s emotional health. I did a little bit more delving and found a number of empirical studies that appear to support the links between colours and emotions. An overview of the links found between colours and emotions is outlined below (Full references can be found at the bottom of this post).

Links between colours and emotions found in previous research

Overall, previous research has produced many mixed results regarding the emotions that colours evoke. This is especially the case for red, where there appears to be a wide range of emotions, both positive and negative, linked to it. There have been a couple of reasons suggested in the past for these variations. Firstly, an individual’s culture or upbringing may play a role. People are more likely to make associations between colours and emotions according to what they were brought up with. For example, in India red is associated with purity, sensuality, and spirituality. On the other hand, some countries in Africa associate red with death, and in Nigeria it represents aggression and vitality. It’s considered a lucky charm in Egypt and symbolises good fortune and courage in Iran. Other researchers have also suggested that the specific shade can make a difference. With regards to red, dark red was found to be associated with anger and rage, whereas lighter shades of red were associated with love (6).

I thought I would do a little research of my own and decided to run a short online survey. In the survey, participants were presented with six colours in turn (red, yellow, blue, orange, purple and green) and for each one they were asked what emotion or mental state the colour made them feel. Forty-seven people kindly took part and a round up of the main results are below in word clouds. For those of you who are not familiar with word clouds, the size and vibrancy of colour is positively correlated with how often it was mentioned. For example, a big vivid word was a more common answer than a small grey one.

Red

The most common emotion that red made people feel was angry (5 people stated this). Feelings of caution were also felt when presented with this colour in particular. The word cloud shows a lot of emotions that appear to be warm in nature associated with this word (e.g. Love, Fierce).

Yellow


Overall, the results of this word cloud present yellow as a colour that draws out positive feelings and emotions. Most people stated that seeing yellow made them feel happy (4 stated this), which I thought could possibly be because it is the same colour as the sun? Others found yellow to be positively energising, making them feel awake and excited.

Blue


A vast majority of participants found blue to make them feel calm (15 people stated this). Blue also made many participants feel happy and relaxed. But in contrast to this, some participants had negative emotions occur when shown this colour, such as feelings of sadness and claustrophobia.

Orange


This colour appeared to be quite a high energy colour, with most participants stating that it made them feel alert (5 said this). It also appeared to provoke high energy emotions that were negative in nature, as some stated that it made them feel annoyed. Others found orange to be a playful colour, which they associated with fun and happiness.

Purple


Purple appeared to make people feel a whole range of emotions, with the most popular being regal and calm (but only 3 people stated these). It also appeared to stimulate people’s curiosity, with some people stating it made them feel inspired and inquisitive.

Green


Green appeared to make most people feel calm (8 people felt this). For many, they associate this colour with neutral, natural and peaceful feelings. A couple of participants found this colour to result in negative emotions such as sickness and nervousness.

So what’s my final opinion on the link between colour and emotions considering all the information presented? I believe something is there but the extent to which certain colours can provoke particular emotions needs more research in my opinion. I’m not sure that there is an instinctive link between colour and mental state (we don’t see red and feel alert by instinct). The link between colour and emotion appears to be something that is developed over an individual’s lifetime, with this link having the possibility of being influenced by an individual’s environment and cultural upbringing. Because of this, the meanings of colours and the effect they have on an individual’s mind feels ambiguous and uncertain at the current time.

I hope you have found this all as interesting as I did putting it together. As a bonus, I can now go back to staying awake worrying that I haven’t locked the backdoor at night.

References

1 –  Wexner, L. B. (1954). The degree to which colors (hues) are associated with mood-tones. J. Appl. Psychol. 38, 432–435. doi: 10.1037/h0062181 
2 – Hanada, M. (2017). Correspondence analysis of color–emotion associations. Color Res. Appl. 43, 224–237. doi: 10.1002/col.22171 
3 – Cimbalo, R. S., Beck, K. L., and Sendziak, D. S. (1978). Emotionally toned pictures and color selection for children and college students. J. Genet. Psychol. 133, 303–304. doi: 10.1080/00221325.1978.10533389 
4 – Kaya, N., and Epps, H. (2004). Relationship between color and emotion: a study of college students. Coll. Stud. J. 38, 396–404.
5 –  Sutton, T. M., and Altarriba, J. (2016). Finding the positive in all of the negative: Facilitation for color-related emotion words in a negative priming paradigm. Acta Psychol. 170, 84–93. doi: 10.1016/j.actpsy.2016.06.012 
6 –  Fugate JMB and Franco CL (2019) What Color Is Your Anger? Assessing Color-Emotion Pairings in English Speakers. Front. Psychol. 10:206. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00206 
7 – Madden, T. J., Hewett, K., and Roth, M. S. (2000). Managing images in different cultures: a cross-national study of color meanings and preferences. J. Int. Market. 8, 90–107. doi: 10.1509/jimk.8.4.90.19795