On silence

You may (or may not) have noticed my silence over the last few weeks. I’ve certainly noticed it myself. I’ve felt somewhat guilty for not posting. I mean, a good blogger has stuff written up and ready to post whenever, right? Okay, so I’ve not been doing this for long, maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. But I thought this is something I was passionate about? And it is… But I’ve been busy. Or have I just felt busy? Just overwhelmed at the amount of stuff that I have to do, stuff that’s coming up in the near future and the longer-term future. So I’ve needed to think. And maybe I’ve had too many thoughts. Too many negative, exhausting thoughts. And some nicer thoughts sprinkled in occasionally. But yes. I have been silent. And I’ve also been ill. In fact, I still am. I’ve had to take time off work this week and for that I feel guilty too. There’s so many things I could be doing, should be doing. But I can’t, because this illness is exhausting. It’s even tiring just writing out this stream of consciousness, but I felt like I just had to get something out there.

So, to the topic of silence. In real life, I am often quite silent (except at the moment, where I am coughing *constantly*). I feel that I do a lot more listening than talking. I usually only speak when spoken to. I’m not anti-social; but I do sometimes struggle with social anxiety and “just being shy”. Sometimes I just don’t have anything to say, and I’m beginning to learn that that’s okay. And, generally, I like to process my thoughts and feelings before I say anything; I’m quite mindful in that sense.

Being quiet was a key feature of my school career. I’d often be described as conscientious, but teachers would want me to speak up or participate more in class. But, for the reasons mentioned above, I stayed silent. And has it held me back? On the whole, I don’t think it has. There are times where I certainly would have benefited from talking more, but in the grand scheme of things… I’ve achieved most of the things I’ve wanted to so far. I’ve gone through school, gained A Levels, a Bachelor’s degree, a Master’s degree, held multiple jobs, got engaged, got married, moved cities, and most importantly I have an incredible set of family and friends.

I guess what I’m trying to say is… Don’t mistake silence for weakness. Sure, there can be awkward silences, or strained silences, or silences caused by bad situations. So it’s important to check in on people if you feel they are being more silent than usual. But there can also be comfortable silences, thoughtful silences, powerful silences. Don’t be afraid of silence; sometimes it’s necessary.

Improve your mood by… Caring

Welcome to a new post from Review of the Mind. In this post, I will be pulling out some information from a research study that has caught my attention, as well as some critical thinking. However, this is by no means an extensive or exhaustive review.


I recently came across a summary of an article on ScienceDaily. The headline: “A simple strategy to improve your mood in 12 minutes”; well, that’s pretty catchy, right? The article summarises research from a paper published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, titled “Caring for others cares for the self: An experimental test of brief downward social comparison, loving-kindness, and interconnectedness contemplations.”

Phew! Let’s break that down and define some of these terms:

  • Downward social comparison – Tess Knight states that this, “…refers to comparing ourselves to those who are worse off than us on the comparison point.” (2012)
  • Loving-kindness – This term is often found in research on meditation and mindfulness; Feldman, Greeson and Senville (2010) describe loving-kindness meditation as a way to “…increase feelings of…compassion for one’s self and others…”
  • Interconnectedness – This is about observing what experiences you may share with another person, and therefore what “connects” you to someone else.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s see what the article says…

Well, unfortunately I only have access to the abstract (a brief summary of the study), and to what ScienceDaily has to say on their article. Access to scientific articles is a huge problem – something I will no doubt talk about in a future post.

However, from the sources available to me, I can conclude the following…

The researchers asked volunteers to walk around a building, while noticing things about the people they encountered, to see whether this would have any impact on mood.

Volunteers were split into 4 groups: a control condition, a downward social comparison condition, a loving-kindness condition, and an interconnectedness condition.

The term “control condition” refers to a condition in an experiment where nothing has been changed or manipulated, and acts as a sort of baseline. In this case, people in the control condition of this study were asked to look at people and just notice physical appearances. This is in contrast to the experimental conditions, where something is fundamentally different; in the case of this study, the experimental conditions are “downward social comparison”, “loving-kindness”, and “interconnectedness”, as the participants in these 3 groups were asked to do different things besides just noticing physical appearances.

In the downward social comparison group, the volunteers were asked to look at people and think about, “how they may be better off than each of the people they encountered.”

For those in the loving-kindness group, they were asked to look at people and think to themselves, “I wish for this person to be happy.”

Finally, for the interconnectedness group, the researchers asked volunteers in this condition to think about how they are connected to the people that they encountered.

So, what did the researchers find?

The researchers found that adults who practised loving-kindness thoughts “had lower anxiety, greater happiness, greater empathy, and higher feelings of caring and connectedness than those in a control condition.” Sounds good to me!

The researchers also found that the interconnectedness condition “resulted only in beneficial effects on social connection.” This is to say, people felt more connected to each other after observing what they had in common with other people they encountered.

Finally, it was reported that downward social comparison did not have any beneficial effects on mood.

What do these results tell us? Well, we can make a few inferences:

  • Wishing people well – and really, genuinely meaning it – can boost your mood
  • Spotting similarities between yourself and other people makes you feel more connected to them – but doesn’t necessarily affect your mood
  • Comparing yourself to others by believing you are better than them in some way doesn’t seem to have an effect on your mood

So. That’s that. Nothing else to see here…

…Well, actually, there is.

Here are a few personal thoughts about this research:

  • The title certainly pulled me in; possibly due to my own biases or views on the world, in which I am a proponent of kindness. The link between kindness and increased wellbeing certainly appeals to me;
  • The results from the loving-kindness condition make sense to me; it’s similar to, in my own experience, the warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you help other people;
  • In terms of connectedness, I would expect to find some boost in mood, even if only a tiny one. In my head, it would make sense that feeling connected to someone, and perceiving that you’re “in the same boat”, would make you feel less alone in your experience and therefore a bit happier. Maybe?

Aside from my opinions, there are a few important things to note:

  • This was a brief exercise and looks at short-term outcomes – you would need a study spanning a longer period to figure out what effects these thoughts might have in the long run;
  • The participants were all university students, who put themselves forward for this study, and therefore their experiences are not necessarily representative of everyone else in the world;
  • The results are based on an experiment under controlled conditions, rather than something that has occurred naturally in the real world.

What I’m getting at here, is that controlled psychological studies are not perfect – but we can’t expect them to be! It is highly unlikely that any scientific study will accurately represent real life 100% of the time.

This isn’t to say we should ignore the results from this study, or any others that might share similar drawbacks; this research does offer insight into some concepts that we can test for ourselves in the real world. For example, you could try wishing others well and see how you feel. Keep a mood diary and become a scientist in your own right! If you do this, please let me know how you get on ☺


Thanks so much for taking time to read this post. Please feel free to leave a comment; let me know if there’s anything I haven’t made clear, or if you have any thoughts you want to add. I’m open to constructive feedback – I’m still new to writing in this format so if there’s anything I can do to make this better, please let me know!

Introduction

Hi there! My name is Eloise and I’d like to welcome you to my blog.

My main interests are psychology, mental health, and the research that focuses on these areas. I have been passionate about psychology ever since I began studying the topic during my A Levels. This led me to completing a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, and a Master’s degree in Mental Health Research. I am currently working as a Research Assistant in an NHS mental health trust, so I am hoping that this blog will aid me in creating quality content related to my field of work.

My intention for this blog is to make psychology and mental health research accessible to the public – and, from time to time, to use this platform to explore my own thoughts and feelings on various topics (which I will separate into the category, “Mindful Musings”).

The idea for this blog came to me around 3 years ago, in the run-up to starting my Master’s degree, with the help of my husband. We both thought it would be a good opportunity for me to practice my writing skills before I started university once again, thus preparing me for the work ahead. Despite good intentions, I never really got started; the most I did was track down a few articles on the topic I was most interested in at the time (the impact of social media on mental health), and write brief summaries of the articles. It’s possible these summaries may end up on the blog in some form or another, but time will tell.

And so, I classify myself as a beginner in the blogging game. Some may end up enjoying what I put out there, and others may not; but I am keen to learn and open to feedback from anyone who takes the time to read what I write!

Writing this first introductory post has been rather enjoyable in itself, so that’s a good start. Let the review of the mind begin…