The 7 Best Eye Creams on Amazon, According to Customer Reviews

I’ve always been invested in skin-care products—cleansers, moisturizers, serums, you name it—but for one reason or another, I never quite know when an eye cream is the right fit for my skin. “When looking for eye creams, I typically advise my patients to look for products with retinoids, hyaluronic acid, and brightening agents,” Michelle Itidiare DNP, DCNP of Cranford, New Jersey, tells SELF. “These ingredients help to reduce fine lines, add hydration, and minimize dark circles.”

Since it can be difficult to narrow down which products are really worth the money, I took to Amazon to find out what eye creams my fellow shoppers are raving about. These products aren’t the retailer’s best for nothing—they have least four-star ratings and 500 or more customer reviews. Plus, several of them cost less than $25. How many eye creams is too many again?

Work Your Abs in Just 6 Minutes With This Workout From Celebrity Trainer Kira Stokes

One of the best things about doing compound exercises, or moves that recruit more than one muscle group at a time, is that you’re often working your abs and entire core without even realizing it. You don’t always have to feel your abs burning to be working them, which is great. But just like any other muscle group, it’s nice to do some abs-focused work every once and a while.

Kira Stokes, celebrity trainer, group fitness instructor, and creator of the Kira Stokes Fit app, is a big proponent of what she calls “time under tension ab work.” That pretty much means an abs circuit that keeps the muscle group fully engaged the entire time. It’s the sort of workout that makes your midsection burn. “The abs are just as important a muscle group as any other muscle group in your body,” says Stokes. Since they make up a large portion of your core, they’re worth focusing on instead of being just an afterthought in your workout routine, Stokes says.

“All of your movement stems from your core, it’s the powerhouse of your body,” Stokes adds. “And your abdominals are a massive part of your core.” When we say abdominals, we aren’t just talking the rectus abdominis, which is the superficial muscle on top that you think of when you picture abs. The abdominals include the rectus abdominis, the transverse abdominis (a deep abdominal muscle that runs along your sides and spine), and the internal and external obliques (the muscles along the sides of your stomach).

Having strong abs muscles will help improve your performance in workouts and your ability to move throughout daily life, says Stokes. “Your abs support you in those heavier lifting movements you do. When you deadlift, squat, even when you’re doing a bent-over row. If you don’t have strong abs, you’re probably going to feel it in your lower back,” Stokes says. She also adds that if you’re focusing on your abs, you also need to make sure you’re doing an equal amount of work on the back of your body—your lower back and butt—to maintain symmetry and avoid any muscle imbalances that could impact your movement patterns and increase your risk of injury.

Working your abs in this “time under tension” fashion is a great way to really challenge the muscles in a short amount of time. All you really need, Stokes says, is a few minutes of nonstop work. Below, Stokes shares an abs circuit that takes only four to six minutes to do.

The Workout

What you’ll need: Stokes uses a hand towel in the circuit below. You can also use a small exercise ball, or, if you don’t have anything on hand, you can do this without anything in your hands.

Moves:

  • V-up
  • Figure 8 Crunch
  • Hollow Hold to Knee Tuck
  • Butterfly Sit-up
  • Mountain Climber
  • Half Burpee Hop

Directions:

  • Do each exercise for 20 seconds.
  • Minimize rest in between each move.
  • Repeat the entire circuit two to three times.

Stokes encourages you to try your best not to release the contraction in your abs, and move quickly from one exercise to the next, to increase the time your abs are under tension. (Of course, if you need a break, take one. A burning sensation in the muscles you’re working is a good thing, but if you feel strain or pain in your lower back, stop and take the time to refocus your form.)

As you get more comfortable with the exercises and start to feel stronger, slowly increase the time to 30 seconds for each move.

And a few quick notes on form: Make sure your lower back is anchored down on the floor whenever you’re lying on your back, Stoke says. When possible, squeeze your butt cheeks to keep them engaged—this is a good trick to keep your lower back on the ground, and will help you avoid straining it.

Here’s how to do each move:

Exercise might improve health by increasing gut bacterial diversity

Bacteria, often synonymous with infection and disease, may have an unfair reputation. Research indicates there are as many, if not more, bacterial cells in our bodies as human cells, meaning they play an important role in our physiology (1). In fact, a growing body of evidence shows that greater gut microbiota diversity (the number of different species and evenness of these species’ populations) is related to better health. Now, research published in Experimental Physiology has suggested that the efficiency with which we transport oxygen to our tissues (cardiorespiratory fitness) is a far greater predictor of gut microbiota diversity than either body fat percentage or general physical activity.

The findings suggest that exercise at a sufficiently high intensity, to improve cardiorespiratory fitness, may support health through favourable alterations in the presence, activity and clustering of gut microbes. Such exercise-induced improvements, in cardiorespiratory fitness, often correspond with central (e.g. increased volume of blood pumped by the heart each beat) and peripheral adaptations (e.g. increased number of capillaries to transport oxygen from blood to muscles).

Before now, it was understood that higher cardiorespiratory fitness tended to coincide with greater gut microbiota diversity, but it was unclear whether this relationship was attributable to body fat percentage or physical activities of daily-living. Since cancer treatment is known to trigger physiological changes detrimental to cardio-metabolic health, including increased body fat percentage and declining cardiorespiratory fitness, this research was performed on cancer survivors. In total, 37 non-metastatic breast cancer survivors, who had completed treatment at least one year prior, were enrolled.

Participants performed a graded exercise test to estimate peak cardiorespiratory fitness, assessments of total energy expenditure and examination of gut microbiota from faecal swipes. The results showed that participants with the higher cardiorespiratory fitness had significantly greater gut microbiota diversity compared to less fit participants. Further statistical analyses highlighted that cardiorespiratory fitness accounted for roughly a quarter of the variance in species richness and evenness, independent of body fat percent.

These data offer intriguing insight into the relationship between cardiorespiratory fitness and gut microbiota diversity. However, given the cross-sectional nature of the study design, the research team’s findings are correlative in nature. The participant sample was restricted to women with a history of breast cancer, who tended to exhibit low cardiorespiratory fitness and other health problems, meaning generalisation to other groups should be made with caution.

Stephen Carter, lead author of the paper from Indiana University, is enthusiastic about continuing his team’s research:

“Our group is actively pursuing an interventional study to determine how variation in exercise intensity can influence gut microbiota diversity under controlled-feeding conditions to uncover how exercise may affect functional outcomes of gut microbiota, as well as, studying how exercise prescription may be optimized to enhance health outcomes among clinical populations.”

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Interval training may shed more pounds than continuous moderate intensity workout

Interval training may shed more pounds than a continuous moderate intensity workout, suggests a pooled analysis of the available evidence, published online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

And sprint interval training may be most effective for weight loss, the analysis indicates, although the breadth of training programmes studied makes it difficult to recommend one particular approach over another, caution the researchers.

Most physical activity guidelines recommend a high volume of exercise for weight loss, equivalent to an hour or more every day (420 minutes+/week). But few people can carve out the time needed to meet this recommendation, say the researchers.

They wanted to find out if interval training might match a continuous moderate intensity workout for overall weight loss (total absolute fat mass) and reductions in percentage body fat-the percentage of fat that makes up body weight-despite taking less time to do.

Interval training describes intermittent intense effort, interspersed with recovery periods. The two most common types are high intensity interval training, or HIIT for short, which includes various exercises; and sprint interval training, which includes running, jogging, speed walking, and cycling.

So they searched research databases for relevant studies that directly or indirectly compared interval training with continuous moderate intensity exercise over a period of at least four weeks.

The data from 41 studies involving 1115 people were combined for thematic analysis and the results data from 36 studies involving 1012 people were pooled.

Both interval training and a continuous workout reduced overall weight and percentage body fat, irrespective of starting weight or gender, the findings showed.

But while there was no significant difference in percentage body fat reduction between the two approaches, there was a significant difference in the amount of weight lost, with interval training proving the more effective method.

Interval training provided a 28.5 per cent greater reduction in weight, overall (1.58 kg vs 1.13 kg).

Further analysis, comparing sprint interval training with a continuous moderate intensity workout, revealed an even larger difference in weight loss.

Factors such as supervision; age under 30; walking, running, and jogging; study quality; and studies lasting more than 12 weeks all influenced weight loss in the interval training programmes.

“It is important to be aware of the possible risks and caveats associated with higher intensity training,” the researchers point out. “For example, it might increase the risk of injury and impose higher cardiovascular stress. Adherence should also be examined as higher intensity protocols can result in higher discomfort.”

And before anyone decides to take up sprint interval training as the most effective exercise for losing weight, the researchers sound a note of caution.

The wide variety of different interval training programmes included in their analysis “makes it difficult to generally recommend that one particular protocol is ‘best’ for modulating body adiposity,” they conclude.

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Brain connections that disadvantage night owls revealed

‘Night owls’ — those who go to bed and get up later — have fundamental differences in their brain function compared to ‘morning larks’ , which mean they could be disadvantaged by the constraints of a normal working day.

Research led by the University of Birmingham found that individuals whose internal body clock dictates that they go to bed and wake up very late (with an average bedtime of 2:30am and wake-up time of 10:15am) have lower resting brain connectivity in many of the brain regions that are linked to the maintenance of consciousness.

Importantly, this lower brain connectivity was associated with poorer attention, slower reactions and increased sleepiness throughout the hours of a typical working day.

According to the Office for National Statistics, around 12 per cent of employees work night shifts. We already know that there are huge negative health consequences for night shift workers due to the constant disruption to sleep and body clocks.

However, disruption can also be caused by being forced to fit into a societal 9-5 working day if those timings do not align with your natural biological rhythms. Since around 40-50 per cent of the population identify as having a preference for later bed times and for getting up after 8.20am the researchers say much more needs to be done to explore negative implications for this group.

The lead researcher, Dr Elise Facer-Childs, of the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Human Brain Health, says: “A huge number of people struggle to deliver their best performance during work or school hours they are not naturally suited to. There is a critical need to increase our understanding of these issues in order to minimise health risks in society, as well as maximise productivity.”

The study, published in the journal SLEEP, investigated brain function at rest and linked it to the cognitive abilities of 38 individuals who were identified as either ‘night owls’ or ‘morning larks’ using physiological rhythms (melatonin and cortisol), continuous sleep/wake monitoring and questionnaires. The volunteers underwent MRI scans, followed by a series of tasks, with testing sessions being undertaken at a range of different times during the day from 8am to 8pm. They were also asked to report on their levels of sleepiness.

Volunteers identified as morning larks reported to be least sleepy and had their fastest reaction time during the early morning tests, which was significantly better than night owls. Night owls, however, were least sleepy and had their fastest reaction time at 8pm in the evening, although this was not significantly better than the larks, highlighting that night owls are most disadvantaged in the morning. Interestingly, the brain connectivity in the regions that could predict better performance and lower sleepiness was significantly higher in larks at all time points, suggesting that the resting state brain connectivity of night owls is impaired throughout the whole day (8am-8pm).

Dr Facer-Childs, who is now based at the Monash Institute for Cognitive and Clinical Neurosciences in Melbourne, Australia, says: “This mismatch between a person’s biological time and social time — which most of us have experienced in the form of jet lag — is a common issue for night owls trying to follow a normal working day. Our study is the first to show a potential intrinsic neuronal mechanism behind why ‘night owls’ may face cognitive disadvantages when being forced to fit into these constraints.

“To manage this, we need to get better at taking an individual’s personal body clock into account — particularly in the world of work. A typical day might last from 9am-5pm, but for a night owl, this could result in diminished performance during the morning, lower brain connectivity in regions linked to consciousness and increased daytime sleepiness. If, as a society, we could be more flexible about how we manage time we could go a long way towards maximising productivity and minimising health risks.”

The research was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, and the Brazilian Institute of Neuroscience and Neurotechnology

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Teens living in US states allowing medical marijuana smoke less cannabis

According to a large-scale study of American high school students, legalizing medicinal marijuana has actually led to a drop in cannabis use among teenagers.

The study, published today in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse used the results of an anonymous survey given to more than 800,000 high school students across 45 states to calculate the number of teens who smoke cannabis.

It found that the number of teenage cannabis smokers was 1.1% less in states that had enacted medical marijuana laws (MML) compared to those that hadn’t, even when accounting for other important variables such as tobacco and alcohol policies, economic trends, youth characteristics and state demographics.

“We found that for every group of 100 adolescents, one fewer will be a current user of marijuana following the enactment of medical marijuana laws,” says Dr Rebekah Levine Coley, a Professor of psychology at Boston College, who led the study.

“When we looked at particular subgroups of adolescents, this reduction became even more pronounced. For example 3.9% less Black and 2.7% less Hispanic youths now use marijuana in states with MML.”

As the survey was administered over a period of 16 years, the researchers were able to compare the changes in teenager’s marijuana use in states that adopted MML with those that hadn’t, allowing them to more precisely pinpoint the effects of the legislation. Intriguingly, the study found that the longer the laws had been in place, the greater the reduction in teen marijuana use.

The results shine a light on an important debate taking place in America about the relative benefits and risks of decriminalizing marijuana.

“Some people have argued that decriminalizing or legalizing medical marijuana could increase cannabis use amongst young people, either by making it easier for them to access, or by making it seem less harmful.” says Dr Rebekah Levine Coley.

“However, we saw the opposite effect. We were not able to determine why this is, but other research has suggested that after the enactment of medical marijuana laws, youths’ perceptions of the potential harm of marijuana use actually increased. Alternatively, another theory is that as marijuana laws are becoming more lenient, parents may be increasing their supervision of their children, or changing how they talk to them about drug use.”

Importantly the study found that unlike medical marijuana laws, decriminalizing recreational marijuana had no noticeable effect on adolescents’ cannabis use, except for a small decline in marijuana smoking among 14-year olds and people from Hispanic backgrounds, and an increase in use among white adolescents. Neither policies had any effect on frequent or heavy users of marijuana, suggesting that these students are not easily influenced by state laws.

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What It’s Like to Be So Sleep Deprived That You Have Hallucinations

Six years ago, as I was sitting in my Native American literature class in college, I found myself doing that thing where your head sort of wobbles around on your neck as you try to stay awake. Every few seconds my head would fall forward and then snap back up. My eyelids felt weighted and would barely stay open. It was an early class by college standards—it started at 9:30—and I had only slept a couple hours the night before. And the night before that. And before that and before that. This had been going on for a couple of weeks.

The only thing keeping me awake during this class was an intense itchy sensation all over my legs. It was as if I was on Fear Factor, trapped in a glass case full of spiders and centipedes and all sorts of creepy-crawlies. Part way through the hour-and-a-half class, the itchiness became all I could concentrate on. I had no idea what my professor was talking about, and frankly I didn’t care.

The itchiness became unbearable as I scratched at my thighs under my desk. I started jiggling my legs and stamping my feet to make the itchiness go away, but nothing was working. I’m sure the people around me thought I was weird, but I didn’t care. I felt as if there were millions of needles stabbing me in the legs and I was afraid I was going to start crying in the middle of the lecture. I got up and went into the hallway to get my legs moving.

Out in the hallway, the itchiness quickly dissipated, much to my relief. I went back inside, took my seat, and assumed everything was fine. I tried to concentrate on what my professor was saying, but when I looked at her, something strange happened. Her short pixie cut began to grow. Her brown hair lengthened out to her shoulders, then her chest, then down towards her waist, all in a matter of seconds. My eyelids no longer felt heavy as I stared at her, wide-eyed with shock.

This is impossible, I told myself. But it looked so real. I had just witnessed something magical. I looked left and right to my classmates, but they were all staring straight ahead, completely unfazed. I looked back at my professor. Her hair was short again.

What just happened? I wondered. Then, a man entered the room. He walked past all of us students and headed straight for our professor. Something bad was about to happen. I could feel it. I looked to my peers, but no one seemed worried. I felt like I should do something, anything, to stop this man, but I stayed still. I watched in horror as the man approached my professor and stabbed her in the chest. I pushed my chair back from my desk, ready to run, but I blinked and everything was normal again. My professor, completely unharmed, continued teaching. There was no man in the room.

Something was wrong with me and I had no idea what to do.

I’ve never done drugs, but this felt like a bad trip (or what I would imagine being on a hallucinogenic drug feels like). My peers must have thought I was on something due to how bizarrely I acted. I was paranoid, my eyes were huge, and I couldn’t sit still. The rest of the class passed in a blur as I tried to figure out what just happened.

It was obvious to me that I must have hallucinated, but because this had never happened to me before, I couldn’t believe it. I knew I had been tired and groggy leading up to this, but I thought you had to be seriously sleep deprived to actually see and feel frightened by things that aren’t there.

It turns out I was, though. I had only been sleeping a few hours a night for a couple of weeks at that point. I had just gotten out of a serious long-term relationship and immediately jumped into something new. I was emotionally spent from the breakup but staying up almost all night with my new guy talking and getting to know each other; I was exhausted every day but pushed through it in an effort to pretend everything was OK. My confusion over the sadness of the breakup and the happiness of the new relationship was only compounded by my tiredness. I should have known that I needed more sleep, but logic wasn’t really working for me at the time.

According to Emmanuel During, M.D., a sleep specialist at Stanford Sleep Medicine Center trained in psychiatry and neurology, our brains don’t function as they should when we’re sleep deprived. “When we’re sleep deprived, it’s like the brain is on fire, like it’s on a stimulant drug,” he tells SELF. “Parts of the brain are working together in a chaotic way.”

Yes, sometimes this can lead to hallucinations.

Hallucinations aren’t quite as simple as just seeing something that’s not real. “It’s an experience with a perception of something that’s not present,” Dr. During explains. “At first the perception seems so real there’s no need to doubt it.”

They are different than illusions, which is when someone misinterprets what they’re seeing, such as when you mistake a coat hanging on a rack for a person. Hallucinations are also not the same as waking dreams (which is when you enter a dream state but with your eyes still open), Dr. During adds. He explains that when you hallucinate, you are still awake and conscious, not asleep.

Hallucinations are commonly experienced by people experiencing psychosis or those who have schizophrenia, people on a hallucinogen, or by people who have dementia. But it’s not unheard of for sleep deprived people to hallucinate, too.

Brandon Peters, M.D., a double board-certified neurologist and sleep medicine physician who practices at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, tells SELF that it’s actually fairly common for sleep-deprived people to hallucinate when sleep deprived for long enough. What constitutes “long enough,” though, depends on how long they’ve been awake versus asleep: With total sleep deprivation, meaning someone hasn’t slept at all overnight, hallucinations can start to occur after 24 hours but become more likely when a person is awake for 36 to 48 hours straight. When sleep deprivation occurs over time with short, intermittent periods of sleep, such as in my case, it will often take longer before hallucinations occur.

Dr. Peters, who is also an adjunct lecturer at Stanford University, says most hallucinations are visual. On rare occasions, though, they can be auditory or even tactile, such as when my legs felt itchy.

Experts don’t fully understand why hallucinations happen due to sleep deprivation.

The exact brain mechanism at play during hallucinations in general isn’t understood. The thinking is that visual hallucinations may occur when certain parts of the brain responsible for visual functioning get disrupted. Another possible reason is that it may have to do with changes in dopamine levels in the brain: “Excessive dopaminergic transmission in certain brain areas seem to be the best understood mechanism for hallucinations,” Dr. Peters explains. Or, in connection with sleep deprivation specifically, it could also be because the brain is so tired it enters a “mixed state of consciousness,” he describes.

Despite how exhausted a person may feel, they can usually tell they’re hallucinating. “There is often insight into the situation,” Dr. Peters says. In my case, I quickly realized that no one around me was seeing what I was seeing, leading me to understand that what I saw wasn’t real. (Dr. Peters notes that this use of reasoning and logic is harder to achieve for people who experience hallucinations as a result of psychosis.)

In some cases, sleep deprivation can lead to psychosis, although this is more rare. Dr. During says someone would have to be awake for around 72 hours straight before they would enter psychosis. “If you go on and continue [to stay awake], it’s possible to go into psychosis and develop delusions that will require psychiatric treatment,” he says.

But most people physically can’t stay awake that long, Dr. During points out. This means most sleep deprivation occurs over weeks and months of very little sleep, like in my situation. In hindsight, it took me a couple of weeks of only sleeping for a couple of hours each night before I hallucinated. “Most people can manage sleep deprivation for a long time,” Dr. During says. “We’re not good at gauging how much sleep we need.”

To avoid getting to the point of experiencing hallucinations, both Dr. During and Dr. Peters say people should be aware of the early signs of sleep deprivation. The most common early symptoms, they say, is a change in mood and increased irritability. People can also become impatient and short-tempered and have difficulty concentrating. You should make sleep a higher priority right away if you start noticing these symptoms.

Hallucinating was a huge wake-up call for me.

I never went to a doctor or a therapist after experiencing my hallucinations. On one hand, the episode was kind of embarrassing. I feared no one would believe me. I had never heard of anyone having hallucinations unless they were using drugs or had a serious mental health issue; If I went to the doctor, I was afraid people might make assumptions or judgments about me or think I was making everything up.

But I did begin prioritizing sleep, addressing things in my life that were causing emotional stress, and learning how to listen to my body. I never had another hallucination.

Most people can manage sleep deprivation on their own simply by getting more sleep, Dr. During and Dr. Peters agree. And even if sleep deprivation becomes serious enough that hallucinations occur, it’s usually not necessary to seek medical attention. “If it’s isolated and has a clear cause and stops when the cause is addressed, there’s no need to go to a doctor,” Dr. Peters says. “It’s a very common potential phenomena that doesn’t necessarily represent a serious condition.” (However, if you have a diagnosis for a psychiatric illness or are prone to psychosis, you should check in with your doctor when hallucinations occur.)

It made me realize how important it is to take care of myself and to listen to my body when it tells me I need more sleep. Hallucinating was terrifying not only because the things I was seeing were scary, but also because I felt like I wasn’t in control of my mind.

The solution—to get substantial, sound sleep—seems so simple, yet it’s still not always a priority for a lot of people. It wasn’t for me until this incident, so I’m much more wary of sleep deprivation today, regardless of how busy or distracted I might be. Unfortunately, I had to learn this the hard way, but it’s a lesson I’ll never forget.

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Here’s What Alexithymia Actually Is—and Why It Can Make Therapy Challenging

When you first enter therapy, it might be surprisingly difficult to answer the question, “How are you feeling?” Answering that question can be even more of a challenge if you deal with what is known as alexithymia, a dysfunction that makes it tough to recognize and name your emotions.

Many people who have depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or other mental health conditions also deal with alexithymia—and it’s also a more common issue than many people realize. For instance, Alyson Stoner, who is known for her roles in Cheaper By the Dozen and Camp Rock, recently told People that she had severe anxiety when she was six and eventually developed eating disorders, as well as alexithymia.

If you’ve never heard of alexithymia before, you’re not the only one.

Although alexithymia is well known among psychologists, it’s not something most people outside the field are aware of. And even though mental health professionals have known of the existence of this condition for years, it’s still a little bit of a mystery, John Richey, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at Virginia Tech who has researched alexithymia, tells SELF.

Alexithymia is essentially a dysfunction in the normal emotional awareness processes that makes it tough for people to put a label on their feelings, Richey explains. In research, it has been described as a “personality construct characterized by altered emotional awareness” and something that “negatively impacts empathic processing.” In practice, alexithymia makes it difficult to recognize when you’re feeling something and even more difficult to assign a name to it.

“We’re constantly applying labels to complicated internal states like happiness and sadness, and that takes practice over time,” Richey says. “For some people, for reasons that are not clear, they have difficulty decoding what’s going on inside their own internal world and giving it a name.”

That said, alexithymia isn’t actually a condition, and it’s not in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the diagnostic handbook used by health care professionals to diagnose mental disorders, Kathryn Moore, Ph.D., psychologist at Providence Saint John’s Child and Family Development Center in Santa Monica, California, tells SELF. “It’s usually an aspect of a person’s functioning and how they deal with emotions, but it’s not a separate diagnosis,” she says.

Alexithymia has been linked to a range of mental health disorders like depression, PTSD, schizophrenia, and autism spectrum disorder. It’s also associated with suicide, elevated mortality rates, and psychosomatic issues (e.g. a physical illness caused by mental conflict or stress).

It also seems to be more common in men than women, and people can experience alexithymia to varying degrees, Sophie Lazarus, Ph.D., a psychologist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells SELF. “People vary widely in the degree to which they are in touch with and able to describe their own emotions,” she says. “This likely depends on a number of factors, including how much this was modeled, reinforced, or punished in their early environment.”

A person might not be aware they have alexithymia.

Considering that alexithymia is characterized by a lack of awareness or recognition of an internal state, it’s probably not surprising that “people usually aren’t fully aware that they have this difficulty,” Richey says. That’s also why many people don’t seek treatment for it, which makes it difficult to know exactly how common it is on its own rather than when it occurs with a disorder, such as depression.

Even if someone is diagnosed with alexithymia, it can be difficult to treat. “There’s so little research on whether you can even get rid of it,” Richey says. But how you developed alexithymia likely matters in whether it’s treatable, he says. If you’re experiencing it as a result of depression or PTSD, for example, it’s likely that therapy (as well as treating the other mental health issues you’re struggling with) can help. But for others, alexithymia could just be “more an enduring trait over time,” Richey says.

For people who experience alexithymia, it may be helpful to:

  • Learn to connect your emotions with the physical feelings that can come with them, like an accelerated heartbeat, sweating, or sluggishness, Richey says.
  • Try cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to focus on identifying and understanding the connection between thoughts and emotions, Lazarus says.
  • Practice mindfulness and other exercises to increase your emotional awareness, Lazarus says.
  • Enter group therapy programs, Moore suggests, which will give you the opportunity to see how others talk about their emotions.
  • Reflect on your personal beliefs about emotion and what you think will happen if you display your emotions, Moore says.

Still, although therapy is generally recommended (and may be a given if you’re already treating another mental health issue), it’s not guaranteed to work for everyone. “Some people do well with starting to apply names and labels to emotions in the context of therapy, while others struggle with it profoundly,” Richey says. “It’s very specific to the person and the context.”

Overall, more research is needed to better understand alexithymia and how to treat it effectively. “As a field, we still don’t have a good understanding of why or how this happens in some people,” Richey says. “But we’re learning a little more each year.”

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Giving keener ‘electric eyesight’ to autonomous vehicles

Autonomous vehicles relying on light-based image sensors often struggle to see through blinding conditions, such as fog. But MIT researchers have developed a sub-terahertz-radiation receiving system that could help steer driverless cars when traditional methods fail.

Sub-terahertz wavelengths, which are between microwave and infrared radiation on the electromagnetic spectrum, can be detected through fog and dust clouds with ease, whereas the infrared-based LiDAR imaging systems used in autonomous vehicles struggle. To detect objects, a sub-terahertz imaging system sends an initial signal through a transmitter; a receiver then measures the absorption and reflection of the rebounding sub-terahertz wavelengths. That sends a signal to a processor that recreates an image of the object.

But implementing sub-terahertz sensors into driverless cars is challenging. Sensitive, accurate object-recognition requires a strong output baseband signal from receiver to processor. Traditional systems, made of discrete components that produce such signals, are large and expensive. Smaller, on-chip sensor arrays exist, but they produce weak signals.

In a paper published online on Feb. 9 by the IEEE Journal of Solid-State Circuits, the researchers describe a two-dimensional, sub-terahertz receiving array on a chip that’s orders of magnitude more sensitive, meaning it can better capture and interpret sub-terahertz wavelengths in the presence of a lot of signal noise.

To achieve this, they implemented a scheme of independent signal-mixing pixels — called “heterodyne detectors” — that are usually very difficult to densely integrate into chips. The researchers drastically shrank the size of the heterodyne detectors so that many of them can fit into a chip. The trick was to create a compact, multipurpose component that can simultaneously down-mix input signals, synchronize the pixel array, and produce strong output baseband signals.

The researchers built a prototype, which has a 32-pixel array integrated on a 1.2-square-millimeter device. The pixels are approximately 4,300 times more sensitive than the pixels in today’s best on-chip sub-terahertz array sensors. With a little more development, the chip could potentially be used in driverless cars and autonomous robots.

“A big motivation for this work is having better ‘electric eyes’ for autonomous vehicles and drones,” says co-author Ruonan Han, an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science, and director of the Terahertz Integrated Electronics Group in the MIT Microsystems Technology Laboratories (MTL). “Our low-cost, on-chip sub-terahertz sensors will play a complementary role to LiDAR for when the environment is rough.”

Joining Han on the paper are first author Zhi Hu and co-author Cheng Wang, both PhD students in in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science working in Han’s research group.

Decentralized design

The key to the design is what the researchers call “decentralization.” In this design, a single pixel — called a “heterodyne” pixel — generates the frequency beat (the frequency difference between two incoming sub-terahertz signals) and the “local oscillation,” an electrical signal that changes the frequency of an input frequency. This “down-mixing” process produces a signal in the megahertz range that can be easily interpreted by a baseband processor.

The output signal can be used to calculate the distance of objects, similar to how LiDAR calculates the time it takes a laser to hit an object and rebound. In addition, combining the output signals of an array of pixels, and steering the pixels in a certain direction, can enable high-resolution images of a scene. This allows for not only the detection but also the recognition of objects, which is critical in autonomous vehicles and robots.

Heterodyne pixel arrays work only when the local oscillation signals from all pixels are synchronized, meaning that a signal-synchronizing technique is needed. Centralized designs include a single hub that shares local oscillation signals to all pixels.

These designs are usually used by receivers of lower frequencies, and can cause issues at sub-terahertz frequency bands, where generating a high-power signal from a single hub is notoriously difficult. As the array scales up, the power shared by each pixel decreases, reducing the output baseband signal strength, which is highly dependent on the power of local oscillation signal. As a result, a signal generated by each pixel can be very weak, leading to low sensitivity. Some on-chip sensors have started using this design, but are limited to eight pixels.

The researchers’ decentralized design tackles this scale-sensitivity trade-off. Each pixel generates its own local oscillation signal, used for receiving and down-mixing the incoming signal. In addition, an integrated coupler synchronizes its local oscillation signal with that of its neighbor. This gives each pixel more output power, since the local oscillation signal does not flow from a global hub.

A good analogy for the new decentralized design is an irrigation system, Han says. A traditional irrigation system has one pump that directs a powerful stream of water through a pipeline network that distributes water to many sprinkler sites. Each sprinkler spits out water that has a much weaker flow than the initial flow from the pump. If you want the sprinklers to pulse at the exact same rate, that would require another control system.

The researchers’ design, on the other hand, gives each site its own water pump, eliminating the need for connecting pipelines, and gives each sprinkler its own powerful water output. Each sprinkler also communicates with its neighbor to synchronize their pulse rates. “With our design, there’s essentially no boundary for scalability,” Han says. “You can have as many sites as you want, and each site still pumps out the same amount of water … and all pumps pulse together.”

The new architecture, however, potentially makes the footprint of each pixel much larger, which poses a great challenge to the large-scale, high-density integration in an array fashion. In their design, the researchers combined various functions of four traditionally separate components — antenna, downmixer, oscillator, and coupler — into a single “multitasking” component given to each pixel. This allows for a decentralized design of 32 pixels.

“We designed a multifunctional component for a [decentralized] design on a chip and combine a few discrete structures to shrink the size of each pixel,” Hu says. “Even though each pixel performs complicated operations, it keeps its compactness, so we can still have a large-scale dense array.”

Guided by frequencies

In order for the system to gauge an object’s distance, the frequency of the local oscillation signal must be stable.

To that end, the researchers incorporated into their chip a component called a phase-locked loop, that locks the sub-terahertz frequency of all 32 local oscillation signals to a stable, low-frequency reference. Because the pixels are coupled, their local oscillation signals all share identical, high-stability phase and frequency. This ensures that meaningful information can be extracted from the output baseband signals. This entire architecture minimizes signal loss and maximizes control.

“In summary, we achieve a coherent array, at the same time with very high local oscillation power for each pixel, so each pixel achieves high sensitivity,” Hu says.

Multitasking increases in online courses compared to face-to-face

About two years ago on campus, he encountered a student entering data into a spreadsheet using a desktop computer. Next to the desktop computer, the student had a laptop computer open with Netflix streaming. Beside the laptop was the student’s smartphone, which the student was listening to through a pair of wired headphones. Being curious about the simultaneous use of three screens, Dr. Lepp asked the student what she was listening to on the headphones.

“Oh, that’s my online biology course,” the student replied to Dr. Lepp’s complete amazement.

This phenomenon of multitasking across three or four internet-connected devices simultaneously is increasingly common. Dr. Lepp and his colleagues Jacob Barkley, Ph.D., and Aryn Karpinski, Ph.D., of Kent State’s College of Education, Health and Human Services were curious to know how often this happens during online education, a method of delivering college and even high school courses entirely via an internet-connected computer as opposed to a traditional face-to-face course with a teacher physically present.

Nationwide, millions of students take online courses each year, and the trend is increasing rapidly. Dr. Lepp and his colleagues wondered if students multitask more frequently in online courses compared to face-to-face courses.

“This question is important to ask because an abundance of research demonstrates that multitasking during educational activities significantly reduces learning,” Dr. Lepp said.

Dr. Lepp, Dr. Barkley and Dr. Karpinski, along with the help of Kent State graduate student Shweta Singh, surveyed 296 college students. Each student surveyed had recently completed an online, for-credit college course and a traditional face-to-face college course. The survey asked students how often they participated in common multitasking behaviors during their previously taken online courses as well as their previous face-to-face courses. These behaviors included texting, using social networking apps, emailing, off-task internet surfing, talking, doodling and other distracting behaviors. The survey also measured students’ preference for multitasking and their belief in their ability to self-regulate their behavior.

Results of the study revealed that students’ multitasking behavior is significantly greater in online courses compared to face-to-face courses. Additionally, in online courses, the students who prefer to multitask do indeed multitask more than students with less of a preference for multitasking; however, in face-to-face courses, the students who prefer to multitask do not multitask more frequently than students with less of a preference for multitasking.

“This is likely because in face-to-face courses, a physically present teacher and the presence of conscientious students help to enforce classroom policies and behavioral norms against multitasking,” Dr. Lepp said.

Finally, students who were confident in their ability to self-regulate their behavior multitasked less in face-to-face courses when compared to students who were not so confident in their ability to self-regulate behavior. However, in online courses, even those students who believe they are good at self-regulation could not resist multitasking. Indeed, they multitasked at a similar frequency to other students.

“This suggests that how we teach students to self-regulate for learning applies well to traditional face-to-face courses, but perhaps it does not apply well to online learning,” Dr. Barkley said. “Because multitasking during educational activities has a negative impact on learning, it is important to develop methods for reducing this academically disadvantageous behavior, particularly in the increasingly common online learning environment.”

The researchers say that students can learn to be more singularly focused and to minimize multitasking.

“For example, during online learning and any other educational activity, put all distractions away, including smartphones and tablets,” Dr. Lepp said. “This should become habit. This can even be practiced during leisure. For example, when watching a favorite TV show or sporting event, focus on the show and don’t get distracted by texting friends and posting to social media.”

For students struggling with multitasking in required online courses, Dr. Karpinski suggested that students try taking the course on a computer in a quiet part of the library where there are already norms in place which discourage many distracting behaviors.

“Additionally, as universities increase their online course offerings, even for students already living on or near campus, these same universities might consider computer labs dedicated to online learning that are proctored in an effort to keep students on task,” Dr. Karpinski said.