Exercise Improves Mental Health in ADHD Children

Researchers from Dartmouth College found that exercise improves memory in children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD.

The data collected over the past few years has clearly shown that exercise is able to create neurobiological changes. This conclusion was announced by David Bucci, Associate Professor of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Dartmouth College.

The research found the effects of exercise on the brain were different depending on the age of the individual. Researchers further identified a gene that mediates the degree where exercise would have a beneficial effect. Bucci said this conclusion would have implications in terms of using exercise as a tool to intervene in the development of mental illness.

Bucci began his study of the link between exercise and memory with ADHD. This is one of the most common childhood mental disorders where the alarming choice of treatment is medication.

He said, “The notion of pumping children full of psycho-stimulants at an early age is troublesome. We frankly don’t know the long-term effects of administering drugs at an early age – drugs that affect the brain – so looking for alternative therapies is clearly important.”

Evidence presented from colleagues at the University of Vermont lead Bucci to focus on finding the relationship between exercise and ADHD. That study observed that ADHD children in Vermont summer camps, athletic events or team sports responded better to behavioral intervention compared to sedentary children with ADHD. While the empirical data was lacking, this was persuasive enough for Bucci to undertake his own study.

During their study, they observed laboratory rats with ADHD-like behavior, and showed that exercise reduced the extent of these behaviors. The researchers also observed that this was more beneficial to female than male rats, similar to what was observed between male and female ADHD children. From this finding, the research moved into investigating the mechanisms that affect the exercise and learning and memory improvement connection, primarily a brain-derived neurotrophic factor. This factor helped in brain development as the degree of BDNF in exercising rats correlated with improved memory. It also found that this factor had an extended effect in adolescents compared to adults.

Bucci said, “The implication is that exercising during development, as your brain is growing, is changing the brain in concert with normal developmental changes, resulting in your having more permanent wiring of the brain in support of things like learning and memory. It seems important to exercise early in life.”

With this latest paper, it was a move to take the studies of exercise and memory in rats and apply the same to humans. Bucci further explained that an individual’s genotype for BDNF affected whether exercise developed learning and memory. He said ”This could mean that you may be able to predict which ADHD child, if we genotype them and look at their DNA, would respond to exercise as a treatment and which ones wouldn’t.  The interesting question in terms of mental health and cognitive function is how exercise affects mental function and the brain.”

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Obesity and Depression Leads to Sleepiness

According to new research, obesity and depression are but two of the main reasons why an individual might feel sleepy during the daytime. This conclusion was reached after three studies conducted by Penn State researchers with a random sample of 1,741 adults.

The study found that obesity and emotional stress are the root causes for sleepiness and fatigue during the daytime. It also found that insufficient sleep and obstructive sleep apnea play roles in exacerbating the condition. These two are also linked to other medical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, depression, diabetes, obesity and accidents.

According to Alexandros Vgontzas MD, the study lead for the three studies, “The ‘epidemic’ of sleepiness parallels an ‘epidemic’ of obesity and psychosocial stress. Weight loss, depression and sleep disorders should be our priorities in terms of preventing the medical complications and public safety hazards associated with this excessive sleepiness.”

One of the studies was a seven year follow up, with 222 adults who reported excessive daytime sleepiness or EDS. With those with EDS, weight gain was one of the biggest predicting factor. He added, “In fact, our results showed that in individuals who lost weight, excessive sleepiness improved.”

Those from the same group who developed EDS within the same timespan was also reviewed. The findings showed, which researchers saying that this was for the time, that depression and obesity were the top risk factors for new-onset excessive sleepiness.

The third study, with a population of 103 research volunteers, found once again that depression and obesity were amongst the best indicators for EDS. He further added, “The primary finding connecting our three studies are that depression and obesity are the main risk factors for both new-onset and persistent excessive sleepiness.”

The study found that the rate of new onset excessive sleepiness was eight percent and the rate of persistent daytime sleepiness was 38 percent. These three studies were presented at SLEEP 2012 at the 26th annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies (APSS) in Boston.

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Lack of Sleep Related to High Anxiety

The latest technologies have provided scientists with evidence of how sleep deprivation leads to anxiety. These investigators have said that their findings demonstrate increased sleep loss exaggerates the level of anxiety for upcoming social events. This overreaction happens most often to those individuals who are already suffering from high anxiety, making them even more vulnerable.

There are two common features of anxiety disorders: sleep loss and amplified emotional response. With these findings, it is suggested that these features may not be independent but might actually be a causal relationship.

The study was conducted at the University of California Berkeley campus, where researchers used brain scanning techniques on eighteen healthy adults in two separate groups. One group had tests after a normal night’s sleep while the second group had theirs after a night of sleep deprivation. In both sessions, participants were exposed to an emotional task that had a period of anticipating potentially negative experience through an unpleasant visual image or a potentially benign experience or neutral visual image.

In functional MRI scans, it showed that sleep deprivation was amplified with the build up of anticipatory activity in the embedded emotional centers of the brain, most especially the amygdala, where responses to negative and unpleasant experiences were found. It was also found that in many emotional centers of the brain, sleep deprivation triggered a sixty percent increase in anticipatory reactions. The study further found that the effect of sleep deprivation was related to how naturally anxious an individual is in their natural settings.

The study concluded that individuals who were more anxious also showed the biggest vulnerability to the aggravating effects of sleep deprivation. The result further suggests that anxiety has a significant effect in elevating the emotional dysfunction and risk attributable mainly to lack of sleep.

According to the lead author of the study, Andrea Goldstein, “Anticipation is a fundamental brain process, a common survival mechanism across numerous species. Our results suggest that just one night of sleep loss significantly alters the optimal functioning of this essential brain process, especially among anxious individuals. This is perhaps never more relevant considering the continued erosion of sleep time that continues to occur across society.”

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Getting Shot in the Head

Before you start imagining video game head shots or gray matter splattered all over, this is a look at gunshots to the head from a scientific perspective. I was always curious whether the brain can register the conscious sensation of pain before a bullet does its damage. Two online articles have discussed this quite extensively, and both concluded that the brain would not be able to react to a direct hit from a gun.

In my research, I also found out a few pretty surprising things about whether shots to the head are always fatal and about brain damage. There may be some objections to these conclusions, but here are my findings:

  1. When shot in the head, in this day and age, one actually has a fifty percent chance of surviving. This shows that not everyone dies from head shots.
  2. Most people think that a bullet to the brain would damage it irreparably, but in reality a bullet wound may not necessarily damage the brain in areas essential for consciousness.
  3. If the individual does die from gunshot wounds to the head, it is not necessarily from the trauma of brain damage. It may also be other factors, such as blood loss. This is frequently the case, because the internal carotid artery clears a quarter a liter of blood per minute supplied directly to the brain. In high stress situations, the blood supply can double and with a hole in the head, the blood supply cleans out rather quickly.
  4. The level of brain damage is determined to many factors, such as the velocity, shape, size and material of the bullet. Furthermore, when the bullet hits the skull, fragments of bone also fly into the brain, resulting in more projectiles hitting the soft tissue. The structure of the skull is also a factor, as the pressure wave from the bullet and the fragments are contained in a small space, reverberating from the bone back into the brain echoing many times over.

So, gunshots to the head are not always fatal, and do not always result in permanent brain damage. While some may die, others may be able to react, think clearly and be able to save themselves in times of mortal danger.

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Caffeine as a Sports Enhancing Drink: An Examination of the Positive and Negative Effects of Caffeine for Athletes

Recently, energy drinks containing caffeine have become quite popular within the athletic community. Whereas formerly, caffeine was only ingested through drinks such as coffee, tea and in small doses soda, now the market for energy drinks has increased the access to caffeine.

Caffeine is one of the most consumed drugs in the country. A five ounce cup of coffee contains between 75 and 150 mg of caffeine, while a twelve ounce serving of soft drinks or an ounce of chocolate would have something between 25 and 60 mg of caffeine. Caffeine can  also be found in over-the-counter medications, such as analgesics, stimulants and allergy drugs, somewhere between 30 and 200 mg.

Nowadays, more and more of these energy drinks have appeared on store shelves. A standard sixteen ounce energy drink has between 140 and 170 mg with some having up to 300 mg of caffeine. Their increasing popularity has given rise to the question of whether the chemical can assist in the performance of athletes. The resulting answers give rise to words of caution as well as an assessment of their ability to help athletes have a better game.

Even the scientific community is deep in a debate determining if caffeine is a true ergogenic aid. Caffeine research is quite expansive, with a large number of factors that affect empirical results. These factors include one’s tolerance to the drug, the dosages and the type of activity. What has been determined though is that some activities can be enhanced while some others are limited with the use of caffeine. Another conclusion would be that long-term dependence on caffeine can result in problems regarding performance and overall health of the individual user.

This drug is considered as a central nervous system stimulant as it provides arousal and alertness together with the ability to fight off both mental and physical fatigue. The drug also affects cardiovascular, pulmonary and neuromuscular systems. As a result, many view caffeine as an ergogenic aid, thus aiding athletic performances. Currently, the World Anti-Doping Agency has removed caffeine as a prohibited substance, labeling it merely as a mild stimulant.

Caffeine is still very much an irony, especially when it comes to its effect on the neuromuscular system of an individual. In the laboratory setting, isolated muscle tissue increases in strength when exposed to the drug. However, in order for an individual to achieve this, it would require an ingestion of as much as 500 times the caffeine blood level one might experience even after several cups of coffee. At a more reasonable dose of 300 mg, there is no change in muscle strength or power. The measurable effects caffeine does have, though, are a decrease in reaction time and movement ability because of the arousal effects on the individual’s central nervous system. This effect would be important especially when reacting to the starting gun or the reaction to movements of an opponent.

Despite its reaction time improvement effect, it has a nugatory effect on the fine control movements of the individual. This is characterized with the reduction of hand steadiness and a reduction in fine motor skills. This would essentially affect the performance in sports activities such as archery and other skill competitions.

Another effect of ingestion of caffeine is the options of fuel utilization during exercise. The body has two choices for energy production, namely glucose and free fatty acids. Glucose is found in the blood while free fatty acids are found in cells throughout the body. When the body undergoes endurance events lasting more than two hours, the performance is affected by the available muscle glycogen and glucose in the blood. When the glycogen levels fall, so does blood glucose levels and results in deterioration in one’s performance. Caffeine affects this process through the release of the FFA’s from fat tissue, resulting in greater use of the FFA thus increasing performance. This spares the muscle glycogen and retains the blood glucose levels, maintaining the performance. Even moderate caffeine consumption, about 250 mg, creates this push for better performance.

Despite these benefits, there are also side effects from high doses caffeine. These include severe anxiety and nervousness, gastrointestinal discomfort and cardiac arrhythmia as well as elevated blood pressure. Caffeine is also a diuretic, inducing frequency of urination and a danger towards dehydration. Another major issue is the variable responses of individuals to caffeine. Levels dangerous to some may even just be enough for others to see marked improvements in their sports performance. The third and most important issue is the addictive nature of caffeine. This is often seen in caffeine dependent individuals, where withdrawal symptoms include headaches, fatigue and irritability as well as nausea. The dependence may also be psychological in nature, resulting in greater problems in the long run.

In the end, it’s up to the individual to decide whether or not to use caffeine as an aid in sports performance. A cup of coffee probably won’t hurt, but the regular use of high caffeine sports drinks might be worse in the long-run. Dependence would be the most glaring problem, especially in the psychological sense, as one might get to the point where they feel they are unable to perform at their best without ingesting the sports drink, and long-term high caffeine doses could lead to central nervous system fatigue. Despite its widespread use, caffeine is still a potent drug with effects on the individual and thus must be used with caution.

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Your Brain’s Responses to Caressing

Simple acts such as the nuzzling of the neck, the stroking of the wrist, or the brushing of the knee can signify either a tender loving touch or a highly demeaning action, depending on who’s doing the touching. These seemingly innocuous actions were recently studied by neuroscientists at the California Institute of Technology to determine the connection between touch and emotion.

The scientists from Caltech have found that the association of touch and emotion starts at the primary somatosensory cortex of the brain. This is a region of the brain that was previously thought to only provide responses to the basic touch and not the emotional attachments associated with the touch. These findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The research team measured the brain activity through heterosexual males laying in front of an MRI scanner. Each individual’s leg was caressed under two different conditions. The first condition exhibited a video of an attractive female bending down to caress them while the second condition showed a video of a masculine man doing the very same action. The participants indicated that they felt pleasure when the touch was perceived to come from the woman while they felt averse when the touch came from the man, despite the two touches being performed identically. This sensation was backed up when the experiences was related to the measured activity of the participant’s somatosensory cortex under the MRI.

According to Michael Spezio, a visiting associate at Caltech who also is an assistant professor of psychology at Scripps College in Claremont, “We demonstrated for the first time that the primary somatosensory cortex – the brain region encoding basic touch properties such as how rough or smooth an object is – also is sensitive to the social meaning of a touch.”

He further added, “It was generally thought that there are separate brain pathways for how we process the physical aspects of touch on the skin and for how we interpret that touch emotionally – that is, whatever we feel it as pleasant, unpleasant, desired or repulsive. Our study shows that, to the contrary, emotion is involved at the primary stages of social touch.”

Unknown to the subjects, the actual caress on their leg was exactly the same in both scenarios, and came from a woman. The touch felt different, according to the participants, when they had a well-founded belief that a man did the touching and not a woman.

The research was conducted at the Caltech Brain Imaging Center, to which Bren Professor of Psychology and Director of the Center Ralph Adolphs said, “The primary somatosensory cortex responded more to the ‘female’ touch than to the ‘male’ touch condition, even while subjects were only viewing a video showing a person approach their leg. We see responses in the part of the brain though to process only basic touch that were elicited entirely by the emotional significance of social touch prior to the touch itself, simply in anticipation of the caress that our participants would receive.”

The study was headed by spouses Valeria Gozzola and Christian Keysers, who were visiting professors at Caltech from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.
According to Gazzola, “Intuitively, we all believe that when we are touched by someone, we first objectively perceive the physical properties of the touch – its speed, its gentleness, the roughness of the skin. Only thereafter, in a separable second step based on who touched us, do we believe we value this more or less.”

She added that the experiment showed that the two-step vision is incorrect, just for separation between brain regions as many believe that touching distorts the objective representation of the kind of touch done on the skin.

Keysers added, “Nothing in our brain is truly objective. Our perception is deeply and pervasively shaped by how we feel about the things we perceive.”
The practical implication of these findings would be reshaping social responses to touch in people stricken with autism. Another avenue would be the use of film or virtual reality experience to help heal victims of sexual abuse, physical touch and torture, as gentle touch causes cringing in their victims. Other possibilities include exploration of sensory pathway development in infants or children in general.

Spezio says, “Now that we have clear evidence that primary somatosensory cortex encodes emotional significance of touch, it may be possible to work with early sensory pathways to help children with autism respond more positively to the gently touch of their parents and siblings.”

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How Suggestion Influences Behavior

Objects such as a lucky rabbit’s foot, a glass of wine, and a pill can all influence our perceptions and our behaviors. In this way, suggestion has the power affect one’s performance on a test, behavior at a dinner party, or the effects of a migraine.

A recent article penned by psychological scientists Maryanne Garry and Robert Michael of the Victoria School of Wellington in cooperation with Irving Kirsch of the Harvard Medical School and Plymouth University discussed the phenomenon of suggestion through examination of the relationship between suggestion, cognition and behavior. The article has been published in the June issue of Current Direction in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The two main authors studied the effects of suggestion on cognition and behavior. For his part, Kirsch focused on the effect of suggestion on clinical psychology. Garry delved into the effects of suggestion on human memory through funding from the Marsden Fund of New Zealand. According to Garry, “We realized that the effects of suggestion are wider and often more surprising than many people might otherwise think.”

In many studies, research showed that deliberate suggestion can influence how people perform on learning and memory tasks, the products of choice and their response to supplements and medicines. This is commonly called the “placebo effect.”

This begs the question, how powerful and all-encompassing an effect suggestion have on an individual’s life? Individuals anticipate different responses in various situations, and these expectations have an equivalent automatic response that influence the outcome expected. Thus, the anticipation of a specific outcome and the consequent thoughts and actions assist in bringing that outcome to reality. (A self-fulfilling prophecy, as it were).

For instance, a shy individual may expect alcohol to give them liquid courage in a cocktail party. While some may blame the wine as doing the talking, it is clear that the expectations of the effect of the wine played a major role in becoming the life of the party.

It is not the deliberate suggestion which influences thoughts and behaviors, as even second-hand or non-deliberate suggestions can provide the same effect. The article states that simple observation of individuals can help them feel special, a manifestation of the Hawthorne Effect. This makes individuals work better and harder, which is a worrisome effect according to Garry. He says, “Because although we might then give credit to some new drug or treatment, we don’t realize that we are the ones who are actually wielding the influence.”

Garry further elevates the importance of unintentional suggestion and its important implications, saying, “In the scientific community, we need to be aware of – and control for – the suggestions we communicate to subjects. Recent research suggests that some of psychological science’s most intriguing findings may be driven, at least in part by suggestion and expectations. For example, a scientist who knows what the hypothesis of an experiment is might unwittingly lead subjects to produce the hypothesized effect – for reasons that have nothing to do with the experiment itself.”

The unintentional effects of suggestion aren’t just found in the laboratory as they are present in many real world situations such as medicine, education and criminal justice. Current research has established evidence for the phenomenon of suggestion but there is still a lot to learn about the suggestion, cognition and behavior. The authors pointed out, researchers still do not understand the boundaries and limitations of these effects.

As Garry points out, “If a ‘real’ treatment and a ‘suggestion’ lead to a similar outcome, what differentiates between the two? If we can harness the power of suggestion, we can improve people’s lives.”

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My Latest Project: KoreaJobFinder.com

If I’ve been quiet lately, it’s because most of my time has been going into my latest project, which you can find at http://koreajobfinder.com. It’s a Korean job board that allows you to search by location, salary, hours, etc. For those who don’t know, I’ve lived and worked in Korea for the past four years. In that time I’ve spend a lot of time on existing job websites, and after being frustrated by the inability to perform an advanced job search, Korea Job Finder was born.

Probably 99% of the jobs in Korea for foreigners (English speakers) are teaching ESL, but because of a scarcity of quality job websites in Korea (companies like Monster and Careerbuilder don’t really have  a big presence, for whatever reason), I decided to have KJF cater to non-teaching jobs as well. I basically took all my complaints about existing job boards, and made that my “to-do” list for Korea Job Finder.

I realize this won’t be useful to most of the people who read this website, but I figured I’d throw it out there anyway. For one, it explains my inactivity recently, and secondly, with the recession as bad as it is, who knows who might consider up and moving to a different country to find a new job.

For the uninitiated, anyone with a bachelor’s degree in any subject can teach ESL in Korea. The school that hires you typically pays for round trip airfare, so you don’t have to move until after you’ve found a job. (If the school doesn’t offer this, insist upon it in the contract, or look for another job. There are plenty.) Salaries are typically $25,000 – $30,000 per year, but a) Korean taxes are only about 3%, and b) a lot of employers will pay for your apartment as part of the contract. All in all, you can live for quite cheaply in South Korea, and it’s not too difficult to save around $1,000 per month while living comfortably.

So for those living in South Korea or not happy with their job and looking for something completely different, check out Korea Job Finder. I’ve put a lot of time and effort into this website, so hopefully some of the readers here find it useful.

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How Your Chair is Killing You Softly

Because of the need to be working or at work, many individuals end up being nailed to their chairs for the greater part of the day. The normal eight hour day often extends to ten hours, leaving many with a more sedentary lifestyle. To cram more time, many end up eating at their desk, leading to greater issues health-wise for working men and women all over the world.

Many individuals eventually burn off the stress and the fat accumulated from a hard day’s work with an hour or two at the gym. Employers on the other hand, have started to experiment with standing desks to deal with the health issues associated with extended periods of being seated and non-movement. Having standing desks may be the extreme, but a new study from the ergonomics team of Cornell University also identifies issues when it comes to standing for extended periods of time.

Standing, the team says, “dramatically increases the risks of carotid atherosclerosis (ninefold the risk) because of the additional load on the circulatory system and it also increases the risks of varicose veins, so standing all day is unhealthy. The performance of many fine motor skills also is less good when people stand rather than sit.”

The team further found that standing stations, such as the so called treadputers, actually decrease the work productivity of the individual. While there is a great argument as to the kind of work actually being done, the common sense thinking is quite reasonable for those being switched from sitting to standing.

The happy compromise this team recommends is a regular and scheduled standing and walking, which they believe can compensate for any issues that may arise from long stretches of sitting. The process of breaking the “sitting cycle” so to speak is quite simple and is done this way:

  1. Sit comfortably when doing work at the computer.
  2. Use a height adjustable, downward tilting keyboard tray to find the best posture when performing the work,
  3. Take a break every thirty minutes by standing up for about two minutes and moving about.

Standing up from your chair is not enough as the recommended accompanying movement fosters blood circulation throughout the muscles. The movement need not be vigorous — doing jumping jacks or walking to the water cooler may be enough to get the benefits. There are many other ways to satisfy this movement requirement, such as walking to the printer, standing up during a meeting, or using the stairs.

Other recommended ways to foster the movement from the desk and help in the blood circulation are as follows:

  1. Spread out the office. If you have the space, create a layout that requires getting up from the desk. This includes having the printer or photocopier across the room or opting to walk up to an associate instead of just picking up the phone and dialing.
  2. Wearing Comfort. Wearing a stuffy suit or those attractive stilettos would only convince you to stay at your desk. Choosing comfortable office clothes and shoes can actually make you move more in the office.

In the end, not only will moving keep you healthy, it will also make you more productive and happy in the long run.

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Making Obsession into a Positive Force

Obsession can be a powerful force. It can provide energy, exhilaration, enhanced ability, and a sense of renewed purpose. But it also has the ability to unhinge and unbalance the obsessed individual. The most common signs would be neglect of other aspects of their personal lives, devaluation of other matters, and time consumption of great magnitude for the continuation of the obsessive behaviour. In some instances, when the obsession is removed or diminished, it can result in the obsessed person feeling devastated, equating their obsession with their only chance at happiness and contentment.

Despite its dangers, we should acknowledged that a good number of people who have achieved great things in their lives have been driven by some level of obsession. The secret, then, is controlling that obsession so it doesn’t negatively affect other areas of your life. When properly harnessed, there is an increase in the amount of energy, drive, determination, and increased adaptability despite the difficulties.

Here are some tips to harness obsession, and put this beast under your control without suffering its drawbacks:

  1. Distraction Schedule. Denying the existence of an obsession would be denying reality and it will only make the condition worse. Instead, at varying intervals, find an attractive and pleasurable activity that can break the obsessive habit. This break can help get you back to reality instead of being just cooped up in your own head.
  2. Completing Tasks. Oftentimes, obsession digs its dark talons into one’s psyche because of an uncompleted task or absence of proper closure. In order to control it, put goals and milestones in front of you. Once one of these milestones has been achieved, then take a break, and this will help recharge your batteries. This works best in conjunction with the previous tip.
  3. Larger Focus. Having a purpose or a mission can prevent one from falling into the quagmire of meaninglessness. If your mission brings upliftment to others, then you can find purpose and meaning, making your life more balanced, anchored and upright. With this, you can prevent obsession from overwhelming your life.
  4. Practice Grounding. There are many ways to ground oneself. Examples would be meditation, a physical activity or a martial art that can make other parts of your mind and body to do things aside from the obsessive behavior.
  5. Listen to Family. Being obsessed sends messages to others around you and when they tell you that, listen to them for your own good.

The key here is not extinguishing the obsession but in controlling it. Managing the obsessive behavior can make the obsession helpful rather than detrimental. Ultimately, the need to hold on to these obsessions will pass, leaving memories and good habits in how to control emotions to make them help you in the long run.

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