TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Family Dinners Protect Against The Effects of Cyberbullying

An argument for sitting down to dinner

About 1 in 5 young people experience some form of online bullying, which can have serious effects on mental health and behavior. However, a recent study shows that eating dinner as a family may actually protect against some of the negative effects of being bullied.

In the new research published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, the researchers surveyed 18,834 students between the ages of 12 and 18 from 49 schools in the Midwest. Their findings showed a positive association between cyberbullying and problems like anxiety, depression and self-harm as well as substance abuse like frequent drinking and prescription drug abuse.

Interestingly, the researchers found teens eating dinner with their families reduced the effects of cyberbullying. The data show that when there are no family dinners, there’s an increase in the rates of problems with cyberbullying, but four or more family dinners a week resulted in fewer problems.

“With more frequent dinners comes more regular family contact, which facilitates parental guidance and support, open communication with parents and siblings, and opportunities for adolescents to express problems and concerns as they arise,” the study authors write.

The researchers acknowledge that their findings do not conclude that bullying on its own is enough to increase the risk for mental health and behavioral problems, nor are family dinners necessarily enough to protect against them, since there are several other factors in an adolescent’s environment that could play a role.

It’s likely that having family dinners can serve as a release for young people, and that they benefit from communicating their problems and frequently interacting with their family. It’s an argument for seeing family meals as more than just an opportunity to eat.

TIME health

5 Ways to Relax In No Time At All

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Ever felt like you just can’t unwind after a demanding week? That’s because stress triggers your body’s fight or flight response: your adrenaline starts pumping, your heart beats faster, and your blood pressure rises, explains Ash Nadkarni, MD, an associate psychiatrist at Brigham & Women’s Hospital. “Long-term overexposure to stress hormones can cause increased risk of health problems such as anxiety, depression, heart disease, weight gain, and memory and concentration problems,” Dr. Nadkarni adds.

That’s not exactly a relaxing thought. So what should you do when calming classics like downward-facing dog and chamomile tea don’t work? Check out these alternative ways to de-stress recommended by experts and recent studies.

Health.com: 12 Signs You May Have an Anxiety Disorder

Wake up early

It may feel counterintuitive to deprive yourself of sleep, but giving yourself an extra 15 to 20 minutes before you head out the door will leave you feeling more refreshed—and less frazzled. “Take time in the morning to center yourself,” says San Francisco-based psychologist Leslie Carr, PsyD. “A lot of people shoot out into their days like a rocket ship and it never gets better from there,”

Consider that caffeine takes 20 minutes to be metabolized for you to feel its effect. During that time, think about your goals for the day or read something inspirational. You might find that your normally crazy day goes a little smoother.

Health.com: 25 Surprising Ways Stress Affects Your Health

Create a soothing space

Research suggests that warm colors like red excite you and cooler, muted colors like blue, green, or grey relax you, says Molly Roberts, MD, president of the American Holistic Medical Association—but surrounding yourself in any color you find soothing can help bring on calm. “The theory behind the use of color therapy is that colors enter the eyes, which then send messages along the nerve pathways to the area of the brain that regulates emotion,” Roberts says. “There are a lot of ways to surround yourself with colors that can ease stress throughout the day.” Her suggestions: at home, paint an accent wall; and at the office, drape a soothing-colored scarf over the back of your chair and change your computer screensaver.

Clean out your junk drawers

When you’re feeling emotionally drained, chances are whipping out your Swiffer is the last thing you want to do. But the truth is, tidying up your home can also tidy up your mind. “Having a mindset of de-cluttering helps to manage stress,” says Lauren Napolitano, PsyD, a psychologist at Bryn Mawr Hospital in Pennsylvania. “Purging unused items gives a sense of order to your physical environment, which helps you feel calmer about your stressors.” She suggests starting with a small project, like your kitchen junk drawer. “Tangible or visible organization leads to emotional organization,” Napolitano says. If you’re ready to take it up a notch, schedule monthly donation pickups with Goodwill to keep yourself in the de-cluttering habit.

Visualize your stressful thoughts

Your coworker just threw you under the bus. Your husband forgot to walk the dog. When it’s that kind of day, try thought diffusion, “a sort of visual mindfulness meditation, a way to sweep out whatever is buzzing around unhelpfully in your head,” says Erin Olivo, PhD, an assistant professor of medical psychology at Columbia University and author of Wise Mind Living: Master Your Emotions, Transform Your Life.
Health.com: The Worst Ways to Deal With Stress
Here’s how it works: Imagine your thoughts are like clouds in the sky, and let them drift by above you. “When you begin to observe your thoughts as mental objects that simply come and go, they become less unpleasant, less threatening and less emotionally powerful,” Olivo says.

Watch cat videos

There’s a reason Buzzfeed links are popping up all over your newsfeed. There’s nothing that will relieve some tension like watching a baby masterfully dancing to Beyonce or a cat riding a Roomba in a shark costume.

“After a stressful day, looking at these funny things actually activates the part of the brain that delivers tranquility and a calm physiological response,” says Rose Hanna, a relationship counselor and professor of psychology and women’s studies at California State University Long Beach. “This decreases anxiety and helps tremendously with reducing stress.”

Health.com: 14 Reasons You’re Always Tired

13 Ways to Beat Stress in 15 Minutes or Less originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

You Asked: What’s the Best Bedtime?

Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

The earlier the better? 11 PM? Sundown? Sleep experts say it’s not that simple. But there is a time range you should shoot for if you’re questing for a perfect night’s sleep

Every hour of sleep before midnight is worth two after midnight. Your grandparents (and great grandparents) probably adhered to that creaky adage. “The mythology is unfortunate, because there’s no pumpkin-like magic that occurs,” says Dr. Matt Walker, head of the Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab at the University of California, Berkeley. And while nothing special happens to you or the quality of your sleep at the stroke of midnight, many do wonder: What’s the best time to go to bed?

Walker says your sleep quality does change as the night wears on. “The time of night when you sleep makes a significant difference in terms of the structure and quality of your sleep,” he explains. Your slumber is composed of a series of 90-minute cycles during which your brain moves from deep, non-rapid eye movement (non-REM) sleep to REM sleep. “That 90-minute cycle is fairly stable throughout the night,” Walker explains. “But the ratio of non-REM to REM sleep changes.”

He says that non-REM sleep tends to dominate your slumber cycles in the early part of the night. But as the clock creeps toward daybreak, REM sleep muscles in. That’s significant, because some research has suggested that non-REM sleep is deeper and more restorative than lighter, dream-infused REM sleep—though Walker says both offer important benefits.

What does this have to do with the perfect bedtime? The shift from non-REM to REM sleep happens at certain times of the night regardless of when you go to bed, Walker says. So if you hit the sack very late—at, say, 3 AM—your sleep will tilt toward lighter, REM-heavy sleep. And that reduction in deep, restorative sleep may leave you groggy and blunt-minded the next day.

That’s unfortunate news for nightshift workers, bartenders, and others with unconventional sleep-wake routines, because they can’t sleep efficiently at odd hours of the day or night, Walker says. “The idea that you can learn to work at night and sleep during the day—you just can’t do that and be at your best.” Your brain and body’s circadian rhythms—which regulate everything from your sleeping patterns to your energy and hunger levels—tell your brain what kind of slumber to crave. And no matter how hard you try to reset or reschedule your circadian rhythms when it comes to bedtime, there’s just not much wiggle room. “These cycles have been established for hundreds of thousands of years,” Walker explains. “Thirty or 40 years of professional life aren’t going to change them.”

When it comes to bedtime, he says there’s a window of a several hours—roughly between 8 PM and 12 AM—during which your brain and body have the opportunity to get all the non-REM and REM shuteye they need to function optimally. And, believe it or not, your genetic makeup dictates whether you’re more comfortable going to bed earlier or later within that rough 8-to-midnight window, says Dr. Allison Siebern, associate director of the Insomnia & Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at Stanford University.

“For people who are night owls, going to bed very early goes against their physiology,” Siebern explains. The same is true for “morning larks” who try to stay up late. For either type of person—as well as for the vast majority of sleepers who fall somewhere in between—the best bedtime is the hour of the evening when they feel most sleepy.

That means night owls shouldn’t try to force themselves to bed at 9 or 10 if they’re not tired. Of course, your work schedule or family life may dictate when you have to get up in the morning. But if you can find a way to match your sleep schedule to your biology—and get a full eight hours of Z’s—you’ll be better off, she adds.

Both she and Walker say your ideal bedtime will also change as you age. While small children tend to be most tired early in the evening, the opposite is true for college-aged adults who may be more comfortable going to bed around or after midnight. Beyond college, your best bedtime will likely creep earlier and earlier as you age, Walker says. And again, all of this is set by your biology.

Siebern suggests experimenting with different bedtimes and using sleepiness as your barometer for a best fit. Just make sure you’re rising at roughly the same time every morning—weekdays or weekends. It’s fine to sleep an extra hour on your days off. But if you’re getting up at 6:30 during the workweek and sleeping until 10 on weekends, you’re going to throw off your sleep rhythms and make bedtime more challenging, she says.

TIME psychology

Can You Really Predict What Will Make You Happy?

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Here’s what most people think will make them happy, in order of importance:

Via The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain:

A survey of more than 2,015 people conducted by the British research company Ipsos MORI revealed that people believe the following five factors are most likely to enhance happiness (they are listed in order of importance).

1) More time with family
2) Earning double what I do now
3) Better health
4) More time with friends
5) More traveling

Are they right?

Looking at the research, and sticking with just these five options, the order of importance looks more like this:

1) Better health
2) More time with friends
3) More time with family
4) More traveling
5) Earning double what I do now

Health

How people value health varies dramatically based on age, which probably isn’t too much of a surprise. Tali Sharot points out that:

Only 10 percent of respondents from fifteen to twenty-four years old rated better health as one of the top five factors that would make them happy, as opposed to 45 percent of people over seventy-five.

That said, economists value your health as equivalent to an extra $463,170 a year, dwarfing other factors:

Improvement in health has one of the largest effects on life satisfaction; a move from having a very poor health to having an excellent health is worth around an extra £300,000 a year.

A good deal of research lumps friends and family together. Harvard Happiness expert Daniel Gilbert (author of the bestseller Stumbling on Happiness) sums up much of his research by saying:

Family & Friends

We are happy when we have family, we are happy when we have friends and almost all the other things we think make us happy are actually just ways of getting more family and friends.

Having a better social life can be worth as much as an additional $131,232 a year in terms of life satisfaction:

I find that an increase in the level of social involvements is worth up to an extra £85,000 a year in terms of life satisfaction. Actual changes in income, on the other hand, buy very little happiness.

Slumdwellers in Calcutta are much happier than you might expect largely due to relationships.

Travel

Travel, in terms of vacations, provides a modest benefit. (Commuting, on the other hand is devastating to happiness and might even end marriages.)

Money

Money, once you get above a pretty good salary, doesn’t add much happiness:

…people in the US who make $75,000 a year…are just as happy as those who make $150,000. Any higher income is not going to increase emotional well-being, but a lower income is associated with less emotional well-being, Scollon explained.

That said, how you spend money can affect how much it increases happiness. And at the risk of splitting hairs, while money has very little effect on moment to moment happiness, it is associated with being more satisfied with your life when looked at in the big picture.

Why do we get it so wrong?

Looking at Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness my main takeaway was this:

Much of our unhappiness springs from the fact that we’re terrible at accurately remembering how things made us feel in the past, so we make bad choices regarding the future.

In Gilbert’s own words (and backed up by many studies):

We overestimate how happy we will be on our birthdays, we underestimate how happy we will be on Monday mornings, and we make these mundane but erroneous predictions again and again, despite their regular disconfirmation.

Do you dread going to work, going to the gym or to that family gathering? How do you really feel when you finally get there or after? It’s often very different from your prediction. Some things that look like an enormous chore to do in the future are actually very fulfilling in the moment and afterward… like, oh, blogging.

Stop trusting your memory. Write things down.

Does that seem like work?

Well, Gilbert has a great research-backed suggestion that is quick and easy:Look at other people, what they do, and how they react in the moment:

This trio of studies suggests that when people are deprived of the information that imagination requires and are thus forced to use others as surrogates, they make remarkably accurate predictions about their future feelings, which suggests that the best way to predict our feelings tomorrow is to see how others are feeling today.

Want to learn more about what will make you happy? Go here.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Why Waiting Actually Makes You Happy

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Want to know the secret to happiness? Wait for it.

No, really. Wait for it. As long as the “it” is an experience, according to a series of new studies published in the journal Psychological Science.

We already know that experiences make you way happier than things do. Studies have shown that spending money on experiences as opposed to goods is more meaningful, makes you less likely to compare yourself to others, and encourages more social engagement. (Vacations trump solo shopping sprees, in other words.) You get those same pleasurable effects long before you even make the purchase and now, researchers have found, waiting to buy those experiences is a lot more fun, too.

One study asked college students to think about a purchase they were going to make in their near future, whether material or experiential, and report how they felt while waiting. People were more excited when waiting to buy an experience—and more impatient when waiting to buy something material.

The next study pinged more than 2,000 people enrolled in the scientific project trackyourhappiness.org throughout the day on their smartphones, asking how happy they were feeling at that moment. Of those daydreaming about a purchase they would soon make, experience-buyers won again in the happiness department.

In the final two studies, researchers scoured newspaper articles about people waiting in long lines and found that people queuing up for an experience, like buying concert tickets or delicious food, were better behaved than those waiting to buy stuff, like gadgets. And when people were asked to reminisce about times they’ve waited in line, they rated experiential waits as more pleasant.

It’s a little counterintuitive why experiences make us happier. After all, you’ll have a material purchase far longer than you’ll actually be on vacation. “The irony is that although this is true in a material sense, it is not true psychologically,” the study authors write–we’re far too good at adapting, which dulls our appreciation for the material objects that surround us every day. So reconsider that fancy TV and take a trip instead. Just make sure to give yourself enough time to savor the wait until takeoff.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

1 in 7 People Suffer From Being ‘Sleep Drunk’

Alarm clock
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Severe disorientation while waking up or falling asleep could be a real problem

It’s a scene familiar to about 15% of us. Your alarm goes off in the morning, but instead of waking up alert (if not especially chipper), you’re entirely confused by what’s going on. You may be disoriented, not know where you are, and you may even try to answer your alarm as though it were a phone call.

If that’s happened to you, it’s because you’re sleep drunk.

According to a new report published in the journal Neurology, sleep drunkenness—which is having trouble coming to full wakefulness after sleep, accompanied by intense confusion and disorientation, and even sometimes violent reactions and amnesia—is a serious and surprisingly common problem.

Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine interviewed 19,136 people ages 18 and older about their sleep behaviors, mental health, and medication use and found that about 15% of the participants had experienced a sleep drunkenness episode in the last year, with over half of those people reporting experiencing an episode a week. Further data suggests there may be a connection between sleep drunkenness and other factors, including mental health.

Among those who had reported sleep drunkenness episodes, 84% also had either a sleep disorder, a mental health disorder or were taking drugs like antidepressants, which suggests that sleep drunkenness could be a symptom of—or a red flag for—other problems that could disrupt sleep quality.

The researchers say that even though sleep-related problems like sleep drunkenness get less attention compared to behaviors like sleep walking, they can be just as dangerous, and more research should be done to determine the best ways to treat it.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

5 Weird Ways Stress Can Actually Be Good for You

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We hear over and over again that stress is unhealthy. And all that talk makes us, well, stressed. But getting worked up isn’t always a bad thing, says Richard Shelton, MD, vice chair for research in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Alabama Birmingham; after all, the body’s fight-or-flight response is meant to be protective, not harmful.

It’s only when stress becomes chronic, or when we feel we’re no longer in control of a situation, that it negatively affects our health and wellbeing.

Here, then, are five reasons you should rest easier when it comes to everyday stress—and how a little short-term anxiety can actually benefit your brain and body.

It helps boost brainpower

Low-level stressors stimulate the production of brain chemicals called neurotrophins, and strengthen the connections between neurons in the brain. In fact, this may be the primary mechanism by which exercise (a physical stressor) helps boost productivity and concentration, Dr. Shelton says. Short-term psychological stressors, he adds, can have a similar effect, as well. Plus, animal studies have suggested that the body’s response to stress can temporarily boost memory and learning scores.

Health.com: Best and Worst Ways to Cope With Stress

It can increase immunity—in the short term

“When the body responds to stress, it prepares itself for the possibility of injury or infection,” says Dr. Shelton. “One way it does this is by producing extra interleukins—chemicals that help regulate the immune system—providing at least a temporary defensive boost.” Research in animals support this idea, as well: A 2012 Stanford study found that subjecting lab rats to mild stress produced a “massive mobilization” of several types of immune cells in their bloodstreams.

It can make you more resilient

Learning to deal with stressful situations can make future ones easier to manage, according to a large body of research on the science of resilience. It’s the idea behind Navy SEAL training, Dr. Shelton says—although you can certainly benefit from less extreme experiences, as well. “Repeated exposure to stressful events gives [SEALs] the chance to develop both a physical and psychological sense of control, so when they’re in actually combat they don’t just shut down,” he says.

Health.com: 25 Surprising Ways Stress Affects Your Health

This idea may even hold true at a cellular level: A 2013 University of California San Francisco study found that while chronic stress promotes oxidative damage to our DNA and RNA, moderate levels of perceived daily stress actually seem to protect against it and enhance “psychobiological resilience.”

It motivates you to succeed

Good stress, also known in the scientific community as eustress, may be just the thing you need to get job done at work. “Think about a deadline: It’s staring you in the face, and it’s going to stimulate your behavior to really manage the situation effectively, rapidly, and more productively,” says Dr. Shelton. The key, he says, is viewing stressful situations as a challenge that you can meet, rather than an overwhelming, unpassable roadblock.

Eustress can also help you enter a state of “flow,” a heightened sense of awareness and complete absorption into an activity, according to research from psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Flow can be achieved in the workplace, in sports, or in a creative endeavor (such as playing a musical instrument), and Csikszentmihalyi argues that it’s driven largely by pressure to succeed.

Health.com: 13 Ways to Beat Stress in 15 Minutes or Less

It can enhance child development

Moms-to-be often worry that their own anxiety will negatively affect their unborn babies—and it can, when it’s unrelenting. But a 2006 Johns Hopkins study found that most children of women who reported mild to moderate stress levels during pregnancy actually showed greater motor and developmental skills by age 2 than those of unstressed mothers. The one exception: the children of women who viewed their pregnancy as more negative than positive had slightly lower attention capacity.

Health.com: 12 Signs You May Have an Anxiety Disorder

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Therapy and Antidepressants Work Better Together Than Just Pills Alone

A combination of antidepressants and therapy work to help severely depressed patients recover

Depression is a tricky, often very individual disease, which can have both physical and psychological symptoms. New research out on Wednesday shows that patients with the most common kind of depression—meaning episodes of being low as opposed to chronic depression, which can last years—recovered better if they were treated with both cognitive therapy and antidepressants, compared to people who only received drugs.

“We think antidepressants work from the bottom up on the brain, smoothing hyperactivity in the area near the brain stem where emotions are generated. And cognitive therapy may work from the top down in the frontal cortex. You learn you’re more controlled than you thought you were,” says study author Steven Hollon, a professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University.

In the study, which was published in JAMA Psychiatry, the researchers studied 452 depressed adults at three medical centers in the U.S. who were randomly assigned to either treatment with antidepressants, or antidepressants with cognitive therapy. While many clinical trials of depressed patients are for a fixed period of time, in this study, the end point was recovery—meaning the patients experiences 6 full months without symptoms of depression. The group who had therapy and drugs fared better.

The researchers say the impetus for the study is a growing consensus that patients with depression need more than just their symptoms treated. In a corresponding editorial, Dr. Michael Thase, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, said finding treatment options for people who do not respond to conventional methods is a top research priority. “There is no debate about whether cognitive therapy should be thought of as a first-line option, but what should a psychotherapist do when it doesn’t work?” he asks.

Beyond cognitive therapy and antidepressants, Thase, among others, wants more research into the efficacy of methods like mindfulness, interpersonal psychotherapy, and dialectical behavior therapy.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Robin Williams’ Parkinson’s: The Link Between the Chronic Disease and Depression

Robin Williams
Tracey Nearmy—EPA

Williams' widow reveals actor was battling early Parkinson's

Receiving a positive diagnosis for Parkinson’s can be devastating. It’s a chronic disease that progressively worsens, causing formerly competent men and women to gradually lose control of their own bodies, and it’s the second most common neurodegenerative disorder after Alzheimer’s. As revealed on Thursday by his wife, the late actor and comedian Robin Williams was privately battling the early stages of Parkinson’s on top of his more public struggles with anxiety and depression.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) acknowledges there is a link between Parkinson’s and depression, though the association is not always biological. It’s estimated that about half of all people with Parkinson’s will experience depression at some point during the disease. For some, depression can be spurred as a result of receiving the diagnosis, learning that the new ailment may turn their mind against their body.

Other research has shown that depression may be the result of biological factors that the two diseases share and that a chemical imbalance in the brain could contribute to both. For instance, changes in levels of hormones and neurotransmitters in the brain, like dopamine and serotonin, caused by Parkinson’s may increase the likelihood that a person will also develop depression, since both are involved in mood regulation. But it should be noted that Williams’ depression and anxiety were likely established separately from his Parkinson’s.

What’s known about the connection is that having depression on top of Parkinson’s can negatively influence the outlook for the disease. People who have both depression and Parkinson’s have higher levels of anxiety and trouble moving, according to the NIH, compared to people who have just one or the other. Similarly, individuals with both diseases may have greater difficulty concentrating than people who suffer from depression alone.

Williams’ death, by an apparent suicide earlier this week, is a reminder of the weight that people with both diseases carry. As Williams’ wife said, “It is our hope in the wake of Robin’s tragic passing, that others will find the strength to seek the care and support they need to treat whatever battles they are facing so they may feel less afraid.”

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

A New Key to Understanding Depression

New research looks at the possible link between inflammation and depression

Scientists are studying alternative explanations for complicated conditions like depression, and researchers from the University of Cambridge are looking into a preliminary but interesting theory that a protein released into our blood when our bodies are responding to infections—referred to as an inflammatory marker—may have a role in mental health.

The researchers hypothesize that there similar mechanisms that underlie chronic diseases, from heart disease and diabetes to mental illness and even skin diseases. In their new study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, they studied 4,500 people in long-term study called the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents in Children. They looked at blood samples of the participants when they were 9 and checked in on the participants at 18 to see if they had depression or psychosis, or a history of it. The blood samples were assessed for levels of a protein called interleukin-6 (IL-6), an infection marker, and C-Reactive Protein, an inflammation marker.

Kids whose blood samples classified as having high levels of IL-6 were also shown to have double the likelihood of experiencing depression than people’s whose IL-6 levels were low.

In a statement on their research, one of the study authors Dr. Golam Khandaker compared our immune systems to thermostats. Most of the time, thermostats are turned low and turned up high when we have an infection, but for some people, the thermostat is always turned up high. For these people, they may be more likely to have chronic syndromes, and be more likely to suffer depression.

Other research has looked at the link between inflammation and mental disorders. For instance, Gary Kaplan, an osteopath who runs the Kaplan Center for Integrative Medicine has argued that inflammation caused by hyperactivity of immune cells can impede blood flow to the brain and harm neural pathways. His argument is that there may be a link between inflammation and neural disorders like depression and dementia in the brain.

The research linking depression to inflammation and glitches in our immune systems is still very new, but it opens the possibly that treatments we already understand, like anti-inflammatory agents, could possibly be used, the authors say. While now it’s still early science, it’s a new way to look at a disease that’s so complex—and can be hard to treat.

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