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  1. Last week
  2. For better or worse, we’ve inherited a worrying brain. This was really good news for our ancestors, who had to survive harsh conditions and constant predators and did so by being able to pay close attention to potential threats and dangers. But this is not so helpful for us modern humans though, who can find ourselves pulled into future “what if” thoughts that can fill many an hour of our waking lives. In my previous blog, “How Worry Takes Us Away From Our Lives“, I suggested some ways that we might work with minor worries and mental ruminations. In this blog I would like to elaborate on that, and offer some suggestions for what to do when we are feeling particularly stuck in intense worry feelings. I find for myself that I experience this most when I am worried about the well-being and health of a family member, when am sitting with uncertainty, or waiting on some resolution of a problem over which I have little control. Each of us has our own worry triggers, but the grip of worry is something we commonly experience as human beings. Here are some things that you can try when you are gripped by worry: 1. Be aware of where your mind is traveling. Often our minds travel to far away places down dark roads, without us being fully aware. For example, it is not uncommon for parents to experience a behavior crisis with their young child and have thoughts such as “if he/she is behaving this way now, how are they possibly going to get through high school and function in life?” Before they know it, they are 10 years into the future, which leads to helpless feelings because we can’t do anything about something that hasn’t happened yet (and often won’t happen at all). It is common for our mind to jump way into the future and have these kinds of worse-case scenario thoughts like a runaway train. When this happens, recognizing we are 10 steps into the future can remind us to bring our thinking back to right now. Ask: “What is happening today, and is there anything helpful I can do about it right now?” Look for places where you have control. Maybe there is a small action step that you can take. For example, someone worried about their financial future might identify what they can do now, such as set up a weekly budget, or make an appointment to meet with a financial advisor, or see if there are unneeded items in the house they might sell for a bit of immediate cash. Know that you may not be able to control your initial worst-case scenario thoughts, but you can choose to keep bringing your mind back to today when it wanders away to unhelpful places, and focus on small action steps you can control, even if that is simply taking care of yourself. 2. If a worry is particular consuming, choose an activity that you can engage in mindfully, something that will allow you to put the focus of your attention on the task at hand. For me, folding laundry, cleaning my house, and going for a run help to step me out of feeling immobilized by my own thoughts and feelings when they are very intense. For some people it might be knitting or gardening or doing a puzzle. Something that involves the body in motion or a mental activity can be helpful to bring our attention to the present moment and task in front of us. Often when people talk about this they say “I distracted myself by doing X.” But I like to flip that kind of thinking around. Our ruminating thoughts are the distraction, pulling us away from what is actually happening. When we focus our full attention on an activity in this moment, we step back into our lives (and can often dial down the ruminating part of our brain). 3. Identify the inner and outer resources you have to meet potential challenges. For example, if you are worried about a medical issue, outer resources to focus on might include the skilled doctors and nurses that you have on your team to help you, books that offer you information about how best to take care of yourself, or the neighbors next door who are willing to watch your kids if you have doctors’ appointments. Inner resources might include your ability to carefully weigh information and not make impulsive decisions; motivation to take care of your body in any ways you can, or courage that you know is there because of others challenges you have faced in your life. Bring your attention to all of the resources you can think of that are there for you to draw on. Know that they are with you as a source of strength. 4. Call up genuine, positive emotions. As much as we may be gripped by fear, anxiety and worry, we often still have the capacity during these times to experience emotions such as care, love, appreciation or gratitude. When we focus on these, it can help to ease our pain and suffering. For example, when I was with my daughter for a medical procedure and was grappling with my worrying mind, it helped me to focus on the kindness and care of the nurses and doctors, and to send feelings of care and concern to other parents who were with their children in the hospital. Once you identify a genuine positive emotion (don’t come up with something that doesn’t feel true for you), it can be helpful to magnify it and dwell in the felt sense of this feeling in your body. It isn’t about pushing away difficult emotions that may be present, but about calling up positive emotions that you might otherwise overlook in the face of intense worries, that could help to nourish you. Dwelling in the love and care of those around you can be especially helpful during challenging times. 5. Practice self-compassion. While it is useful to stop or redirect spiraling, unhelpful, future-based thoughts, it is important that we don’t discount our own emotions by pushing them away, telling ourselves we are silly to feel this way or berating ourselves for having our feelings. Instead, we can acknowledge that what we are experiencing is difficult. We can offer compassion and comfort to ourselves the way we might do to a friend going through a similar situation. We can picture a wise, loving self holding or being with the younger, scared parts of ourselves. I find this especially helpful in the middle of the night when my worries can feel most intense. Letting ourselves know we are on own side can go a long way. 6. Don’t hold your worries alone. Reach out for support and engage in social connection with others. This worrying mind is part of our shared common humanity, and we all go through situations that are scary or difficult. Knowing that you are not alone, and allowing others to support you, can help to bring ease to angst and suffering. Too often people feel that they don’t want to “burden others.” Sometimes others can offer us perspective and the ability to see a larger picture. Sometimes others can simply be with us for support. Some people in our lives might be best at problem-solving and helping us take action. Think about what you might most need from others and who in your life might best fill that need. Then don’t be shy about reaching out. Ask yourself: “If this other person were going through what I am, would I want them to reach out to me so I could be there for them?” We are all here for each other and knowing that we do not need to bear our difficulties alone can help to bring ease to even our biggest worries. View the full article
  3. Researchers have discovered that variations in the efficacy of psychological treatment for phobias are associated with the serotonin transporter gene. View the full article
  4. Many recent studies that have been done on volunteer work show how it’s connected to better health. Physical effects on the body, such as lowered blood pressure can be measured and impacted through helping others. Though some of us are introverts, humans need social connection in order to survive and thrive. Helping others not only makes you feel good about yourself, but your actions have lasting effects on those you serve, which can be just as rewarding as knowing you’re contributing to your own self-improvement. Here’s how volunteering can be beneficial for your health: Improved self-confidence: Feeling needed and appreciated for your work can boost your confidence. Volunteering on a regular basis can give you a sense of purpose, fulfillment and accomplishment. Helping improve the lives of others through direct action can help you see how valuable you are, and why community is so important. The reward of volunteering can make you feel better about yourself, and improve your self-confidence. Often, people can have trouble with social interaction, and volunteering is a great way of meeting new people and building meaningful connections. Lower stress: Stress and high blood pressure is inextricably related, so lowering your stress levels can also aid in lowering your blood pressure. A study from Carnegie Mellon University showed that those over the age of 50 who volunteered regularly on average had lower blood pressure than those who did not. Aside from the physical activity performed while volunteering, being a volunteer helps you find a newfound sense of purpose, which can help you cope with stress in your personal life. Shifting your focus from your life to others can even help you forget about your stress. Being able to focus on helping those in your community and escape the everyday hustle can also help lower stress levels. Shifting your perspective and moving your attention to another’s situation can put your own problems into perspective. Having the feeling of making a difference for someone else might also make you feel like you can make changes in your own life. Helps with depression: Studies show that people who feel less lonely have a lower propensity to become depressed. The empathetic response felt while spending time with others in a volunteer capacity was shown to increase happiness through the study. Volunteering with others who all work toward the same goal increases social interaction, thus diminishing the lonely feeling that so many face from living along — especially in old age. Surrounding yourself with people who share the same interests can help you build a support system, and having a strong support system has been shown to decrease depression, despite vulnerability as a result of genetic and environmental factors. By volunteering you also commit to being available to a person or an organization for a specific period of time. They count on you to show up at a certain time for a couple hours a week, making you accountable. When you have to get out of bed and show up knowing these people depend on you, it can be a great tool to cope with depression. Longevity: A study from 2012 shows the life expectancy of volunteers to be longer than those who don’t volunteer. It is believed that the main reason those who volunteer live longer than those who don’t is because of lowered feelings of loneliness, as well as lowered levels of stress, as mentioned before. However, the results of this study apply only to those who volunteer for genuine selfless reasons, rather than those who volunteer for their own self-interests, like resume building. In fact, the data show that people who volunteer to help themselves have the same mortality rate as those who don’t volunteer at all. Volunteering for the right reasons on a regular basis can reduce early mortality rates by 22%, according to a review of the health effects of volunteering. Once you start volunteering, you’ll know in your heart that the scientific evidence supports the positive outlook you have after leaving the soup kitchen, animal shelter or nursing home. Whatever reasons you start your volunteering journey, you will be surprised at the impact it has on your life forever. View the full article
  5. Earlier
  6. I have previously written about the possible benefits of using virtual reality (VR) in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Now it seems that virtual-reality based cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has more wide-reaching benefits and can help reduce momentary paranoia and anxiety, as well as improve social cognition in individuals with psychotic disorders. In a February 2018 study published in The Lancet (Psychiatry), researchers conducted a randomized controlled trial of personalized virtual-reality based cognitive-behavioral therapy in 116 patients with a DSM IV-diagnosed psychotic disorder and paranoid ideation. Patients were randomized to 16 virtual-reality therapy sessions, each an hour-long, which resulted in a significant reduction in self reports of momentary paranoia immediately after treatment as well as at a six-month follow-up. In contrast, the control group — who received typical care including antipsychotic medication, regular psychiatric consultations, and social and community functioning — showed a slight increase in momentary paranoia. The group that received virtual-reality therapy also showed statistically significant decreases in momentary anxiety, compared with those in the control group. Those decreases also remained significant at follow-up. Additionally, researchers observed a significant drop in safety behaviors, such as lack of eye contact, in the group who received the virtual-reality therapy. At follow-up, this group showed less paranoid ideation in the form of lower levels of ideas of persecution and social reference. The treatment also was associated with a small increase in time spent with others at the 6-month follow-up; a decrease was seen in the control group. Patients who underwent virtual-reality therapy also showed improvements in self-stigmatization and social functioning. The study authors noted that the benefits for social functioning might take some time to emerge after therapy, as patients in symptomatic remission do not immediately start spending more time with other people. They said: “When patients increasingly feel more comfortable in social situations and learn that other people are less threatening than anticipated, they might try and succeed to make and maintain social contacts and find hobbies and jobs.” It is interesting to note that no significant differences were found between the two groups in terms of depression and anxiety, or in quality of life measurements posttreatment and at follow-up. One of the benefits of virtual-reality based CBT is that it can be used to circumvent some of the limitations of exposure-based therapeutic exercises for paranoid ideation. In virtual-reality settings, the environment and characters can be completely controlled by the therapist, and the therapy is in real-time rather than retrospective and therefore not as vulnerable to patient bias. The therapy used took place in four virtual social environments — a street, bus, café, and supermarket. The therapist was able to control the characteristics and responses of up to 40 human avatars, enabling personalized treatment exercises for each patient. Said the authors: “Patients and therapists communicated during virtual reality sessions to explore and challenge suspicious thoughts during social situations, drop safety behaviors during social situations (such as avoiding eye contact with, keeping distance from, and refraining from communication with avatars), and test harm expectancies.” Several limitations of the study were cited. For one, because follow-up was restricted to 6 months, the long-term effects of virtual reality-based CBT were not measured. Also, some of the patients opted not to participate in the study because traveling to the therapy location proved too frightening. Because of this the patient sample have been somewhat biased, because some of the most paranoid and avoidant patients did not participate. While more research is needed, it appears that the benefits of virtual-reality based therapy go beyond helping those with OCD. Those with psychotic disorders and paranoid ideation can be helped as well. View the full article
  7. Suicide: From the Edge and Back Again

    About ten years ago, when I was teaching public speaking at a school in Canton, Ohio, I had a female student I’ll never forget. She was going through a deep depression and was suicidal. She told me that she’d attempted suicide twice by throwing herself under a bus. Both attempts had obviously failed. I advised her to see a psychologist as soon as possible. The memory of the 18-year-old girl was permanently etched into my mind because of the strangeness of her suicide attempts. Last week, I ran into the girl. I recognized her face, but did not connect her to those sad circumstances right away. “Hello,” I said. “Do I know you?” she asked. “I think you were one of my students.” “Where?” “In Canton.” “What’s your name?” she asked. I told her my name, and she remembered me. She told me her name, which I didn’t recall. Then, she said, “I was having some really hard times back then.” When she said that, it all came back to me. I realized she was the same student who had attempted suicide twice. “But I’m great now,” she said. Then, our reunion got even happier. She continued, “I’m buying some sundresses to wear at Disney World. I’m going to Florida tomorrow.” From deep depression to Disney World. “That’s how life works,” I said. “Yep,” she said. “The good with the bad.” Reader, I’m sharing this with you because it can never be stated often enough. If you’re suicidal, don’t do it. Your situation will change if you can just wait things out. My father died by suicide. He held on for many months, suffering from major depression, but on a cold day in March in 1982, he took his own life. If he could have refrained from taking his own life, his situation would have eventually changed for the better. I firmly believe this. He would have gotten on better medication. He would have found a new job. Maybe he would have taken up alcohol and become an alcoholic, but at least, he’d be alive. I’m reminded of Stephen Sondheim’s “I’m Still Here,” a song which narrates a long life of major ups and downs, but through it all, the singer reminds us that she’s still here. I’ve been truly suicidal twice in my life. The first time was when I was in my twenties, and I was dating an extremely controlling man. He had taken me out to a beautiful restaurant with delicious food and fancy tablecloths. There were even ice sculptures carved into the shapes of lovely swans. But I was so miserable because he had my future mapped out for me; we were going to marry, and I was going to have his children. I felt as if I was with a kidnapper, and there was no Stockholm syndrome going on. The second time was just after my first bout of cancer. My oncologist put me on a new anti-cancer med that had a possible side effect of making people suicidal. God, I just wanted to die. So I know what it feels like to want to take my life, but by the grace of God, I never have tried. I’ve had the wherewithal to get myself out of these situations. In the first case, I ditched the crazy guy, and in the second case, I stopped taking the meds. I held on until things changed. I also knew how terrible suicide is on families and friends due to the death of my father. He put us through horrible times, and I wouldn’t want to do that to my family and people I love. It’s an awful feeling to be abandoned by a parent. In many ways, you never get over it. So reader, if you’re feeling suicidal, hold on. Your situation will eventually change, and the sun will come out. Who knows? You might find yourself in a new outfit drinking a cocktail in Disney World. It could happen. View the full article
  8. Anxiety issues can start early. Very early. In fact, you can spot the signs in toddlers. Which is important because contrary to what many people believe, anxiety struggles don’t dissipate with age. Kids don’t grow out of their anxiety. Instead, their anxiety simply morphs into other behaviors. According to Janine Halloran, a licensed mental health counselor who specializes in kids and teens, separation anxiety may turn into refusal to go to school. Kids also start coping with their anxiety in unhelpful, unhealthy ways. For instance, they might develop specific rituals when getting out the door for school, said Katie Hurley, LCSW, a child and adolescent psychotherapist. This is why it’s vital to intervene early. Below, you’ll learn what anxiety looks like in toddlers, along with what to do when you notice these signs. Signs of Anxiety in Toddlers According to child and family therapist Clair Mellenthin, LCSW, “Anxiety often presents itself as emotional or behavioral symptoms in childhood.” For instance, she said, some typical symptoms include: excessive crying, fear of being left alone, hypervigilance, food restriction and nightmares. Additional signs include: Rigidity. Anxious toddlers insist that parents do things in a particular manner or order, said Natasha Daniels, a child therapist and author of the book How to Parent Your Anxious Toddler. She shared these examples: You have to tuck them in a certain way; they’ll only drink from one cup; they tell you where to stand and how to hold them. “All children love routine and structure, but anxious toddlers will implode if it is not done exactly as they require.” Fear of new situations. Many toddlers feel uncomfortable in new situations, and it can take them some time to adjust. However, anxious toddlers, Daniels said, “hold onto you for dear life.” They might need you to hold them the entire time; hide behind your legs and never come out; demand to leave; or refuse to go inside, she said. Intense separation anxiety. Anxious toddlers usually need to have you in sight at all times, and they’ll panic if they don’t, Daniels said. They will follow you everywhere, and have a meltdown if you need to leave without them, said Halloran, author of the Coping Skills for Kids Workbook, and founder of Coping Skills for Kids. Intense tantrums. Tantrums are totally normal for toddlers. However, tantrums that take 45 minutes or more and occur regularly (not because your child is tired, hungry or overstimulated) are red flags, according to Hurley, author of several books about children, including her latest No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident and Compassionate Girls. Regression. Anxious toddlers tend to exhibit regressed behavior, Hurley said. For instance, if your child is potty-trained, they might have frequent accidents, or if they’re night-trained, they might wet the bed, she said. Sleep issues. “Anxious toddlers have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep, and will get up multiple times a night to seek out a caregiver and explain that they had a bad dream or they are scared,” Halloran said. Repetitive behaviors. They might twirl their hair or bite their nails in order to calm their anxiety, Hurley said. Excessive phobias and fears. Anxious toddlers may fear monsters, the dark, bugs and other animals, said Halloran. They may have “fears around the bathroom,” such as “getting flushed down the drain, fear of the water, fear of things in the water.” And these fears will interfere with completing daily tasks: They refuse to go into the bathroom or refuse to stay in their room and go to sleep, she said. Sensitivity to sound. Anxious toddlers might cover their ears when they hear loud noises like bathroom hand dryers, Halloran said. They might “have big reactions to loud sounds like garbage trucks, vacuums, or garbage disposals. They can also be extremely reluctant in big crowds or at parties.” Food issues. “Sensory issues are more prevalent in anxious toddlers and this often impacts their little mouths and body. Lumps and bumps in food will make kids gag and develop some pretty intense picky eating,” said Daniels, who also hosts the AT Parenting Survival Podcast, which focuses on child anxiety. They might only eat a few foods, refuse to try new foods or not want different foods to touch on their plate, Halloran said. Physical symptoms. Daniels noted that anxious toddlers tend to get constipated more often. Hurley suggested looking for complaints of tummy aches. “Not all anxious toddlers will exhibit all these signs, but these are some common ways that anxiety expresses itself in the toddler years,” Halloran said. What to Do About Anxiety If you notice any of these signs, the first step is to talk to your pediatrician. “It’s always important to rule out any medical causes of symptoms when kids are young,” Hurley said. Ask your pediatrician for recommendations for child therapists who specialize in working with toddlers. Halloran also recommended seeing an occupational therapist because many anxious toddlers have sensory issues. “These professionals can help support your child in learning effective self-regulation and coping strategies, and give you tools you can use at home too.” According to Hurley, “Cognitive behavioral therapy is highly effective for helping young children cope with symptoms, and play therapy can help children work through their triggers and stressors.” Mellenthin suggested finding a registered play therapist at the Association for Play Therapy: http://www.a4pt.org/page/TherapistDirectory. Reading books to your child about anxiety also can be helpful. Daniels suggested Andi Green’s book Don’t Feed the Worry Bug; and for kids 5 and up, Karen Young’s book Hey Warrior and Dawn Huebner’s book What to Do When You Worry Too Much. Having a child who’s struggling with anxiety can understandably make you anxious. You might be upset that they have to see a therapist—and delay treatment. But, as Daniels noted, denying that anxiety exists serves no one, especially not your child. “When we intervene earlier, we help teach children how to manage their anxiety in safe and healthy ways,” Halloran said. We also equip them with effective tools that they can take with them into young adulthood and beyond. According to Daniels, young kids can learn to name their anxiety, and use language to express their fears. They can learn how anxiety works and grows (i.e., with avoidance). But we have to teach them. “Anxiety comes with some wonderful traits,” Daniels said. “Anxious kids tend to be the most empathetic, intelligent, kind-hearted kids I know. They are my favorite type of people. They are true gems; we just have to teach them how to get rid of the anxiety so they can really sparkle.” View the full article
  9. I was at my dentist’s office the other day when I heard the assistant, I’ll call her Emily, talking with the office receptionist. Emily asked her boyfriend to buy her an anxiety cube. My ears perked up when I heard the word “anxiety” so I asked how the cube worked and if she suffered with a lot of anxiety. She smiled sheepishly nodding yes. I told her I was a psychotherapist who teaches people how to ease anxiety and asked if she wanted me to share a bit of education that might help. She and the office receptionist both nodded yes. Anxiety Is a Signal I told them, “Anxiety is really a signal that we have one or more underlying core emotions, like sadness, anger, fear and even excitement, pushing up for expression. Emotions get blocked by anxiety when we previously learned from our cultures, families, or peer groups, that the emotion was not welcomed. For example, if when we showed fear to our parents, we were told not to be so weak, we would think twice before expressing our fear again. In that scenario, our brain would learn not to show fear less we would also be humiliated on top of afraid. From then on, any time the environment made us afraid, we’d feel anxiety instead.” We block fears and other core emotions with muscular constriction, holding our breath, coming out of our body, and many other ways. So now, instead of experiencing our core emotions, we experience anxiety. In a way, knowing this is great news! Because now, when we have anxiety, there is something we can do to ease it: we can look for the underlying emotions. In fact, with practice, any time we feel anxiety, we will immediately remember to look for the underlying core emotions coming up and tend to them in healthy and safe ways. The look on their faces was something close to enthralled. “Wow. That really resonates,” the receptionist said. I gave them my card with my writing website and invited them to check out some of my articles and YouTube videos to learn more about emotions. I thought it would help, I told them. Using Anxiety as a Signal on Our Own and with a Therapist Here’s another personal example of how understanding emotions helped me with my anxiety. I used to get very anxious at the thought of going to a funeral. When I learned about the biology of emotions and The Change Triangle, I realized I was anxious because I was blocking the sadness and grief that naturally arose when someone I knew died. Growing up, my family of origin didn’t do sadness. Instead, my mother worked hard to cheer me up. As a result, my child brain assumed it wasn’t ok to feel sad and I was supposed to be happy. From then on, every time something in the environment triggered my sadness, I’d get anxious instead. Once I learned it was natural to feel sad in response to losses, I was determined to get reacquainted with my sadness. I learned to welcome the experiences sadness brought up like wanting to cry or feeling heavy in my heart. My anxiety then went away. As a psychotherapist, I help people who have been disconnected from their core emotions, sometimes for years, get connected to them again so they feel more vital and alive. When I first met Sally, she got anxious any time she felt angry. Through our connection and by teaching Sally techniques to lower anxiety such as grounding and breathing, she could connect to her anger again and use it wisely. Sally listened to what her anger was trying to tell her. She soon learned to use it to assert her needs and to set boundaries with her family so they could not take advantage of her. I love The Change Triangle, a practical tool to work with emotions instead of numbing or avoiding them. The Change Triangle guides us to identify the core emotions underneath our anxiety. We can then work with core emotions to not only reduce anxiety but listen to what the core emotions are trying to tell us (they are there for good reasons!) to thrive as best as possible under our individual life circumstances. Core emotions are, in fact, a compass for living. Unfortunately, our schools and communities don’t yet educate people on how anxiety, depression, and other symptoms, are related to avoiding our core emotions. It’s on us to find information and educate ourselves. Knowledge is power. And when it comes to anxiety and emotions this is doubly true. View the full article
  10. Many people with depression feel an unbearable, knock-you-off-your-feet sadness, a debilitating despair. They feel like they’re drowning or suffocating. They feel a deep, all-over aching pain. Even breathing feels arduous. But many do not. In fact, many people with depression don’t feel anything except for numbness or emptiness. Dean Parker’s clients often describe a “thick feeling throughout their body.” Some describe feeling like they’re “covered in lead.” Others describe being “in a fog.” Still, others say things like: “I have no emotions,” “Nothing gives me pleasure,” “Nothing gives me joy.” Counseling psychologist Rosy Saenz-Sierzega, Ph.D, has worked with clients who initially feel a profound despair, which then turns into numbness. “Clients at times refer to this as an ‘emotional hangover’—having nothing left to give after having experienced such extreme emotional outpour.” Other clients tell Saenz-Sierzega that they’re unable to feel anything at all. Which isn’t a neutral state of mind; her clients tell her it’s terrifying and isolating. They start to feel helpless and hopeless and become “fearful that they will never again be able to feel.” They “feel as though there is a wall or barrier between them and other people—it’s very lonely behind that wall,” she said. Author Graeme Cowan, who struggled for five years with clinical depression, described having “terminal numbness.” “I couldn’t laugh, I couldn’t cry, I couldn’t think clearly. My head was in a black cloud and nothing in the outside world had any impact. The only relief that came was through sleep, and my biggest dread was waking up knowing that I had to get through another 15 hours before I could sleep again.” The Origin of Your Numbness There are various reasons why people feel numb during their depression. For some, it’s because they’re consciously pushing down their feelings or repressing them, an “unconscious process where strong emotions and/or trauma is ‘forgotten,’” said Parker, a Dix Hills, NY, psychologist who specializes in mood and anxiety disorders and relationship counseling. When his clients describe their depression, Parker encourages them to start their sentences with “I feel.” More often than not, this is when they start crying and become emotional. They start “talking about their deep, suppressed emotions.” Similarly, Saenz-Sierzega has found that many of her clients who experience numbness in their depression are unable to admit, acknowledge and process their emotions. Which, for them, stems from being emotionally neglected by their parents. Some were raised by parents who struggled with substance abuse, mental illness or bereavement. Others were raised by controlling parents who fought in front of them, “had strict rules, and portrayed perfection as a reality and a necessity,” said Saenz-Sierzega, who works with individuals, couples and families in Chandler, Ariz. These parents both relied on their children and placed their own needs above them. For instance, Saenz-Sierzega has heard these kinds of statements in session: “My dad would critique my basketball games and tell me all the mistakes I made.” “My mom would talk to me about all her boyfriends.” “When my dad died, I realized I lost my mom too — she was so obsessed with the loss of my father, I never had a mother again.” “My dad would just come home after work and drink out on the porch.” “My parents don’t even know me.” “My parents never talked about their feelings.” “I learned that conflict is to be avoided at all costs.” In therapy, Saenz-Sierzega helps her clients reconnect to their inner child in order to understand their emptiness and fill the void. “One’s younger self—the person you were as a child—holds a lot of the answers as to why we feel, think, and behave the way we do today.” Other people feel numb because of accompanying anxiety. Parker has found that when people describe being in a fog, they’re really talking about anxiety. Some experience anxiety and dread in the early morning or evening, he said. “It can be purely associated with an anxiety disorder, but often there’s a feeling of being trapped and underneath is a tremendous sense of hopelessness, helplessness and depression.” It’s also common in depression to lose interest in things you previously enjoyed, which can lead to numbness. Parker once worked with a man who was passionate about politics. However, after his depression descended, he lost all interest in the political scene. Others may become so overwhelmed by their circumstances that they can’t yet process what’s happening. Which is when numbness sets in, Saenz-Sierzega said. Self-Help Strategies When you have depression (or any illness), the best thing you can do is to seek treatment. There are also strategies you can try on your own. Parker and Saenz-Sierzega shared several below: Keep a journal. Parker suggested rating your mood from 1 to 10 on a daily basis, or several times a day if it changes (1 being “suicidal, hopeless, filled with dread, worst depression ever” and 10 being “joyful and filled with energy”). Next to your rating, write down the thoughts that coincide or produce these feelings, he said. Expand your feelings vocabulary. Saenz-Sierzega suggested finding a comprehensive “feelings list” to help you better express yourself (like this one). Find resources that resonate with you. Memoirs, for instance, can help you put words to what seems like indescribable feelings and experiences. Parker suggested reading William Styron’s book Darkness Visible. “It offers the best description I’ve read of the phenomenological experience of depression.” Here’s an excerpt: “The madness of depression is, generally speaking, the antithesis of violence. It is a storm indeed, but a storm of murk. Soon evident are the slowed-down responses, near paralysis, psychic energy throttled back close to zero. Ultimately, the body is affected and feels sapped, drained.” If you’ve experienced emotional neglect during your childhood, Saenz-Sierzega recommended reading books on the topic. Check out the book Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect. Also, the author Jonice Webb pens an excellent blog called “Childhood Emotional Neglect” here on Psych Central. Nurture yourself. In your journal, also write down your needs, and create a plan for nurturing yourself, Saenz-Sierzega said. “Treat your current self as that neglected child and attend to your needs.” She shared this example: One of your needs is to have a voice, so you commit to speaking up for yourself. When someone asks your opinion, you plan to offer it. When something happens that you don’t agree with, you will speak up. You will request a raise. You won’t justify your decisions to others. Depression can manifest in different ways—one of which is numbness, which may stem from various sources. Sometimes, as Parker noted, there’s no explanation. Either way, it’s vital to seek treatment for your depression, and to remind yourself that “despite how permanent it feels, [this] numbness is not permanent,” Saenz-Sierzega said. Remind yourself that you can, and you will get better. View the full article
  11. The world really wants us to count our blessings. News articles and blog posts tout the many benefits of gratitude, from improved health to better sleep and happier moods. Entrepreneurs and business behemoths like Oprah Winfrey swear by gratitude journals as a solution to stress and the secret to their success. But practicing gratitude doesn’t come naturally to everyone — myself included. For one thing, the thought of keeping a gratitude journal can sound like a chore, another to-do item in my already Type A lifestyle. Even worse is the feeling of being bad at gratitude, when we’re too grumpy or anxious or sad to focus on the good in our lives. I hear the same thing from clients and friends, many of whom are caught in the self-defeating cycle of thinking, How can I fail at something so simple as being grateful? If you’re someone who cringes at the thought of keeping a gratitude journal, it doesn’t mean you’re a jerk who takes good things for granted. Gratitude practices are not one-size-fits-all, and trying to box yourself into a system that feels forced will lead you to feel worse, not better. Instead, you may need a more pragmatic practice — and to get creative about self-reflection so it better serves your personal style. Why practicing gratitude can be a challenge Gratitude can be especially hard when things get tough. Life is not roses and sunshine all the time, and a single news sound bite can quickly remind you of the violence, political upheaval, and natural disasters going on all around the world. Add personal challenges or work anxiety to the mix, and you’re likely to be too overwhelmed and stressed out to do a complete 180 turn to focus only on the good. Forcing yourself to do so makes gratitude feel inauthentic — more like the homework that you dreaded in fifth grade rather than an exercise meant to enhance your happiness. Strike a balance We all have different needs when it comes our well-being. For many people, developing an authentic way to practice gratitude involves acknowledging positive and negative emotions equally, rather than trying to use gratitude to mute out unpleasant or painful feelings. Learning to embrace negative emotions is healthy, and studies show that people who ignore negative emotions experience more distress. Those who learn to cope with difficult emotions, on the other hand, build mental strength and resilience. If a gratitude practice is being used as a shield that allows you to ignore painful feelings or serious problems, it’s almost certainly having a net negative effect. Anxious skeptics, try this gratitude exercise The following mindfulness exercise is one that has worked for me. I affectionately refer to it as “gratitude for people who hate gratitude.” Over the years, I’ve discovered different variations of it, like High, Low, and Interesting and Rose, Thorn, Bud. Each operates on the same core principle: to acknowledge the things that went wrong and that there is room for improvement tomorrow, while taking note of the high moments, too. You might do this exercise with your family around the dinner table. Or you might practice it solo as a way to “close up shop” at the end of your work day and transition into downtime. If you prefer a ritual in the morning, you can try it when you first wake up and apply it to the previous day’s events. To complete the exercise, answer these three questions: Daily High – What was the “high point” of your day? Daily Low – What was your “low point” of the day? Importantly, what could you improve upon for next time? Daily Hero Moment – What did you feel proud of today? Alternatively, who was a “hero” to you today? Embracing negative emotions? Check. Expressing gratitude? Check. Room to grow tomorrow? That too. You don’t have to call it a gratitude practice, if that still makes you want to run for the hills. It’s more a reflection — a balanced way to take stock of the okay, the great, and the to-be-improved. © 2017 Melody Wilding // a version of this article was originally published on Quartz. View the full article
  12. Teens and anxiety. The two seem to go hand in hand. If you are a parent looking to help your teen through this tough and often turbulent time, then you are not alone. Anxiety in children and teens is on the rise and you will want to know what you can do to make this time easier for them. To make a difference, here are some options that will help your teen not only feel better but receive the right support from you. Encourage physical activity: Physical activity is one of the best ways teens can deal with anxiety. It’s mentally and physically healthy, productive, and something they can do with you or their peers. Whether it’s yoga, a run, a workout at the gym, or anything else, physical activity is a wonderful recommendation for helping anxious teens. It’s great during an anxiety-rich day and as maintenance for the lasting anxiety in your teen. Sleep 8-9 hours a night: Lack of sleep can make any teen more anxious, so make sure that they are getting the recommended 8-9 hours of sleep each night. To make that easier to accomplish, you can try making a deal with your teen to put away electronics after a certain time in the evening, and offer incentives for them to get the right sleep. This is often a tricky thing to guarantee, especially with those who have active social lives and decent amounts of homework, but it can be done. Just set up a plan with them that is agreeable to all perhaps as an “experiment” to start. Once he or she sees the benefits of it, they might even be self-motivated to get the sleep they need — we can hope! Limit the caffeine: You probably know yourself that when you have too much caffeine, you can get jittery and anxious, so now imagine your teen having that jittery feeling on top of the already existing anxiety. When you are that age and dealing with anxiety, caffeine just makes it worse until it can get unbearable. So, limit the caffeine that your teen takes in, whether it’s from coffee or sugary drinks. You’ll find that it can help reduce your teen’s anxiety, too, especially if they are used to having these drinks on a regular basis. If they see the positive results, they may even take this new “no caffeine” rule seriously on their own. Find some new and productive hobbies: Keeping busy and distracted with fun and entertaining activities is a fantastic way of getting rid of anxious energy. Help your teen find a new activity that is full of potential. Creative pursuits involving music, art, theatre and singing/dancing are all what we consider to be right-brained activities. These can feel like an escape and help your teen relax while expressing themselves in a safe environment. Other hobbies that can be helpful include reading/writing, model building, chess/games, sports and school clubs and volunteering. Have an anxiety-friend: If there is a loved one in your family or close friend that deals with anxiety on a regular basis, put them in contact with your teen. In our modern times, snapchat or texting can be a “safe” way for your teen to communicate with someone when they are having a tough day. You will be able to trust that your teen is communicating with someone safe. Your teen will benefit from knowing they are not alone and learn new ways of managing their emotions. A new perspective from a trusted family member/friend will go a long way toward helping your teen manage this challenging time. Teen anxiety is a real concern in our world with all of the stressors that pop up during this time in life, but when you have the right tools in place, dealing with the anxiety can get a little easier and a whole lot more realistic. It simply comes down to having the best tools to get the job done, and this will help. View the full article
  13. Take back control. Anxiety…we all feel it. Anxiety symptoms vary from general distress to sweating palms to nausea-inducing stomach cramps. For some. it’s an uncommon visitor, a fleeting shadow beneath the door. For others, it’s the friend you let crash on your couch one night, who now refuses to leave. Regardless of its frequency or severity in your life, anxiety has a penchant for showing up uninvited and requiring your attention. That’s why you should learn how to deal with your anxiety and its effect on your life, for when it inevitably comes knocking on your door. Here are some tips from Coach Monique for how to deal with anxiety, so you can take back control of your life: 1. The “Delete, Delete” Technique. In order to deal with anxiety, first reframe your thinking to be more positive. Coach Monique goes over this technique in more detail in her book, Most People Don’t Need a Therapist, They Just Need a Change. The third chapter, “When You Change Your Thoughts, You Change Your Life,” covers negative thought patterns and positive examples in using the “Delete Delete” technique. In summary, we invite anxiety into our lives every day with the little things. Every time you fixate on an embarrassing memory or a negative aspect about yourself, you’re opening the door to anxiety and all of those uncomfortable anxiety symptoms. But you have control over your actions, your thoughts, and feelings. So when you feel yourself starting to go down a negative path, be present and delete your bad thought. Simply say aloud or to yourself, “Delete Delete.” Imagine that your brain is a dry-erase board and you’re simply wiping the negativity away with a wet rag. For example, the other day I was enjoying a walk when I remembered an embarrassing memory from high school. Rejection, failure, isolation. There was no obvious trigger for the memory and no reason for it being there. Nor was there anything to gain in my brain reminding me of awkward missteps and uncomfortable moments. This memory had the potential to ruin a perfectly good hike on a sunny day. Instead of letting it do just that, I sat on the bench and said “Delete, Delete” and thought about something else. Then, a couple of American robins hopped across the grassy field in front of me, rooting worms from the mud. Within moments, I felt better and could resume my hike with no problem. The “Delete Delete” technique allows you to take a moment for yourself and actively alter the course of your thinking. The Scary Truth About What Happens To Your Body When You’re Stressed 2. Make Yourself Bigger. Imagine you’re at a campground. You set your tent for the night and you’re about to start cooking dinner when a brown bear shambles through the spare tree line, snuffling for food. He’s twice your size and stubbornly hungry. You raise your arms over your head, casting a greater shadow. You jump and scream until the bear decides he’d rather steal food out of an unlocked food safe than deal with you. Now, pretend that bear is your anxiety. Don’t let it steal your food. You bought it for you. Standing taller and acting bigger naturally tricks your brain into being more confident. If you need an extra boost, try smiling, as well. It’ll feel weird at first, smiling for no reason. But give it a moment and you might find that you’re not faking it anymore. These tricks tap into your physicality. Since your brain and your body are intrinsically linked, altering one affects the other. Smiling and making yourself bigger is like resetting the circuit breaker in your brain. 3. Take Deep Breaths. Have you ever caught yourself holding your breath? Sometimes, I’ll be so transfixed on a project that I don’t notice I’m not breathing until my head is ringing louder than a brass bell. You feel ridiculous, of course — how do you forget to breathe? — but it’s more common than you think. We’re trained to work ourselves to death. While being motivated and hard-working are valuable traits, don’t forget your well-being in the process. Take a step back, breathe deep. Relax. You don’t need more than five minutes to reset your state of mind. A poor breathing habit causes stress, muscular tension, and influences your mental-emotional state. If you don’t think you can set time in the day to breathe deeply, there are plenty of free meditation apps that remind you to take time for yourself. Some examples are Headspace, Calm, and Stop, Breathe & Think. 4. Exercise. The endorphins released during exercise naturally relieves tension and stress, boosts physical and mental energy, and enhances general well-being. For most people, the main issue is scheduling! You might feel discouraged by the sheer list of responsibilities on your roster, but there are easy and quick ways to pencil exercise into your life. Try the “5 X 30 Rule”: The rule says that everyone should jog, walk, bike, or swim five times a week for thirty minutes. Maybe park your car at a distance from work and walk the rest of the way. Remember to be patient with yourself. You shouldn’t abandon your full-time job to run a marathon tomorrow. Find the time in small things, such as taking the stairs to your office instead of the elevator or doing small interval workouts when you get out of the bed in the morning. Set daily goals, and aim for consistency rather than intensity. The most important goal is that you set a schedule that can be implemented consistently years from now. Red Alert Warning: ‘Hanging In There’ Is Hazardous To Your Health 5. Ask Yourself, “What’s the Source of My Anxiety?” If you keep a journal, track your anxiety levels throughout the day. Look for a pattern. If you don’t journal, there are other ways to track your day — for example, you can text yourself and check the time stamp before bed and then think about what happened around that time frame. Perhaps you’re in conflict with a coworker or dreading a weekly meeting. The source of your anxiety sometimes hides in the minutia of daily life. Record parts of your day. You might surprise yourself. This guest article originally appeared on YourTango.com: 5 Ways To Outsmart Your Anxiety (So It Stops Controlling Your Life). View the full article
  14. Between good mental health and a diagnosable mental health disorder, there is a vast no-man’s land of different mental states. The nature of life means that we will inevitably experience dizzying happiness, desperate sadness and everything in between, including a certain amount of fear, worry and anxiety. In fact, it wouldn’t be normal to never experience negative emotions, but generally speaking we should feel pretty OK most of the time. This isn’t, however, the case for everyone. Some people find themselves feeling very anxious and worried more often than not, yet to an outside observer they appear completely well. This phenomenon is increasingly becoming known as “high-functioning” anxiety. High-functioning anxiety isn’t a diagnosable condition, and if you live with it, you appear to cope with life tolerably well. You get up in the morning, look after your children, make your way to work, perform proficiently and push down your feelings of panic and worry. If you are affected by high-functioning anxiety, it can be extremely difficult to distinguish between the normal worry of life, and something which would justify a trip to the doctors — you just know that anxiety and unhappiness is your default state. This opens up a lot of questions about how we define mental illness, and how much we put down to personality or normal low mood. For example, in the first throes of grief, depression is often seen as natural and therefore not a clinical issue. You might be extremely unhappy, but not diagnosably so. With high-functioning anxiety, you will experience at least some of the main characteristics of a diagnosable anxiety disorder, but at what’s generally considered “subclinical” levels — especially as your personal and professional lives function as usual. When Life’s a White-Knuckle Ride Debra Kissen, PhD, co-chair of the public education committee for the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, says of high-functioning anxiety that, “Many people are walking around with extremely high levels of anxiety that are near meeting the criteria for anxiety disorders, but they’re white-knuckling their way through it.” If you live with high-functioning anxiety, you may have come to regard a vague sense of dread and headachey worries as a normal part of life — companions that you can’t avoid. The other less well reported but still very evident symptoms of anxiety such as digestive problems, fatigue and muscle aches can also be an issue. You may rely on emotional crutches such as overeating, smoking or drinking a bit too much — but usually not in a pronounced enough way to stop you from operating as normal. Alternatively, you may be very restrictive in your lifestyle in order to feel in control, embarking on strict diets and assiduously avoiding anything you consider unhealthy, perhaps even exercising excessively. All in all it can be a stressful, lonely, and exhausting way to live — where anxiety is a major feature of each and every day, but there isn’t any support to help you deal with it. Apart from this, you may also feel that you can’t give yourself the permission to seek help, rest or self-care, because in your own estimation you don’t have a “proper” illness. How to Cope with Frequent Anxiety Acknowledge the problem: The first thing to acknowledge with high-functioning anxiety is that, while you may not necessarily be diagnosably unwell, living with fear and worry is not something you have to accept. You may also want to consider that despite functioning capably, these feelings still disrupt your wellbeing enough to warrant a chat with your doctor. They will be in a far better position to judge the extent of your anxiety; particularly if for you, it’s nothing out of the ordinary. Pay attention to your thoughts and actions: You could also take up journaling to get more of a handle on your feelings. It may transpire that you have developed several coping mechanisms which aren’t immediately obvious either to you or others, and keeping track of your actions and emotions will reveal them to you. For example, you may avoid networking events with colleagues because while you can cope professionally, the idea of socializing with workmates fills you with dread. This kind of insight allows you to assess just how much anxiety is holding you back (if at all), and the influence it has on your relationships and career. This might be less dramatic than with other forms of anxiety, but still a tangible thing. Whatever the outcome, these negative feelings aren’t an inevitability, and you can do things to change them. Consider various treatments/therapies: Although only your doctor can say for sure, you may not want or need any pharmaceutical intervention to help you live with your anxiety. However, talking therapy can benefit many people and your doctor (as well as online resources) can help you find professionals that will be able to assist you. Make lifestyle changes to improve your general wellbeing: Meditation is often cited as an anxiety-reliever, and you may find a group meditation class led by a experienced teacher provides you with both the space to relax, and a support group who understand your experiences. If applicable, cutting down on your alcohol consumption will help you avoid its depressive after-effects, and creating a good work/life balance can also make a difference. For example, instead of working through lunch, ensure you take a walk in order to wind down, and turn off your email notifications on your personal phone. The most important thing, however, is to give yourself the permission and time to enact self-care. Prioritize your own wellbeing, and anxiety needn’t be a such a prominent feature in your life. View the full article
  15. Mark Twain is quoted as saying: “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” The more I observe the happenings of my own mind the more I see truth in this statement. As I am writing this I’m waiting to find out the results of an MRI on my foot, to determine whether I have a stress fracture. I’ve been worrying now for a week, since I first injured it (after a run). I love to run and be active, and the thought of having to wear an orthopedic boot and be laid up for 6 weeks is making me anxious. To have this happen during the spring (my favorite season) when the weather is finally getting nice is adding to my upset. And therein lie the fascinating workings of the mind! I’ve been paying attention to my thinking a lot over this past week. When I’m meditating, my mind has found its way to worrying about my foot. When I’m walking around and feel some sensation in my foot, my mind likes to wander there as well. When I’m not feeling sensation in my foot I’m wondering about whether I have a stress fracture and hoping that I don’t. It’s been taking up a lot of space in my mind lately. But here is the most interesting part: All of my upset has been because of living in some anticipated future. My irritability, my bad mood at times, my worry have nothing to do with this present moment. Each time I find myself experiencing anxiety or upset about my foot I check in and see what’s really happening. And each time I discover that I am in some mental rehearsal in my head, envisioning how much less fun I am going to have getting through the next 6 weeks without my beloved activities. When I stop and bring myself back to what is actually happening right NOW, it is an opportunity to awaken. Right now I might be having a quiet, peaceful space to meditate, and save for my mind pulling me into my worry thoughts I am actually quite enjoying the space of this moment. Or I am sitting with my patients engaged in helping them, or perhaps I am having a dinner with my friends and enjoying the company and connection. The reality is, I am usually not miserable or anxious about what is happening right NOW. In fact, I have many meaningful moments to fill each day if I choose to rest my attention there. Yet worry can take us away from our lives. And often, minor worries can consume more of our days than we may realize. (My next blog will elaborate on how we can manage bigger worries). So this minor injury has been an opportunity to remind me to practice three things: To bring compassion to myself for whatever I am experiencing — I’m human after all, and the human mind worries. To notice how much my thoughts (especially about anticipating the future) contribute to my unhappiness. To bring my attention back to what is happening right now, and choose where I want to focus my attention (rather than let my mind wander aimlessly in unhelpful ruminations). This foot injury is seemingly minuscule in the grand scheme of life, but it has been a great opportunity to notice up close and personal the workings of my mind. (It turns out it isn’t a stress fracture, but another injury that requires some need for rest as well). But if it wasn’t this, it could easily be some other worry creeping in. Our minds tend to wander much of the time, often to the past or future, or to self-referential thinking. In fact, neuroscientists suggest that the default setting of our brain is in this mind-wandering state much of the time. Most of our ruminations do not serve us in any helpful way because this is the kind of thinking that can’t solve anything. But it can take us away from our lives. So the next time you find yourself caught up in mental ruminations, see if you might try the following: Name what you are feeling (i.e., I notice I’m feeling anxious, worried; AND this is difficult). Send some compassion to yourself. Notice the feeling but recognize that you are not the feeling (note the difference between “I am worried” vs. “I notice that I am experiencing worry in my body”). The noticing helps us to gain a bit of distance. Check and see if your discomfort/upset is about something happening right now, or something that may (or may not) happen in the future. If it is something upsetting right now, allow yourself to be with the feelings that are arising and choose wise actions to help you cope with what is happening. Do what you can to improve the situation. Practice self-compassion. If you are stuck in ruminations or unhelpful mental anticipation, notice that and choose to direct your attention to something in THIS moment. Notice what is OK about this moment and let your mind rest there (i.e., I am having lunch outside. The sunshine is warm on my face. I am enjoying this food that I prepared). Each time your mind gets pulled away, gently direct it back and ask yourself if you are OK in this moment. Choose to rest there. Even if this moment is filled with some emotional pain or challenge, it is easier to cope with right now/this moment/today rather than with now + everything that might happen in the future. It isn’t easy to tame our worries, but being aware of the nature of our minds is a good first step. (Stay tuned for my next blog, which will suggest some ways to manage more intense worries that may grip us.) View the full article
  16. What Causes driving phobia

    so far, there's only 2 people on this post. I thought there would a lot of people dealing with this problem. I have a fear of driving, and 5 months ago I wanted to learn to drive so that I can have the freedom to go wherever I want to go especially from home to work. Now, that you have mentioned GAD or general anxiety disorder - maybe it did affect me. I do have thoughts about worrying too much. I have failed 2 driving test here in the United States. But after each experience, I felt I know what I wanted to do, but the anxiety attacks kicks in, and I panicked. Even though I get into the car, when I start the car I get these unsettling thoughts on what is going to happen to me. I get nervous. I have hit 2 cars now by hitting the curb by miscalculating my turns - First, when I am practicing in a parking lot, and the other on my 2nd driver's test. I hope this is the right support group to deal with my phobias about driving.
  17. Hi, I am doraima29 and have a phobia on driving. As I decided last year about 5 months ago, I wanted to drive as I want the freedom to go wherever I want to go, and of course, use this new skill to go from home to work as I relied on public transportation. I have a fear of driving as I get thoughts about getting hit around me, and I believe I am the one who is nervous and getting anxiety attacks while I am at the behind-the-wheel. So I have taken 16 times in the car taking driving lessons from 2 instructors for 3 months on practicing how to drive a car. I have failed on 2 driving test, and I wanted to overcome my phobia on driving.
  18. hi I'm new here I can't leave my house alone - I'm agoraphobic and socialphobic for 10 years No one wants to be my friend and nobody cares if I'm alive or no. People saying what there's no point to be a friend with a toxic person who can't go out by myself. I dunno what to do anymore, I can't stop worrying what I don't have anyone (except my mom), zero support or friend
  19. Mindfulness. Most people have heard of it. But what exactly is it and why would you ever want it? The image people usually associate with mindfulness is someone sitting off by themselves, shut off to the world, blissfully enjoying a mind devoid of thoughts. Not only is that not true, but it’s actually impossible. Our minds are “thought” generating machines. You can’t shut them down. But you can develop a practice of “not believing everything you think” and put your mind it in “its place” as servant, not master. Occasionally our thoughts are original and generated from our own thinking. However, many thoughts tend to be sound bites we’ve overheard or had drummed into us as kids. They get adopted by default. Ever get upset and found yourself on auto pilot reciting verbatim what was said in your family when you were a child? Parents experience this when they hear their parent’s words coming out of their mouths, even after they’ve vowed to never do that to their own kids. Autopilot. When we hear something over and over, whether in our head or from others, we get programed by this repetition to trust these thoughts and accept them as true. You know how you become used to something, like a new fashion trend or a song you initially didn’t like, after you’ve been exposed to it for a while? The more we repeat a thought, the more it becomes habitual and the more it sounds reasonable. And because we hear our thoughts in a familiar voice — usually our own — we begin to blindly (or mindlessly) trust the thought. Bad idea. “The mind is the manifestations of thought, perception, emotion, determination, memory and imagination that takes place within the brain. Mind is often used to refer especially to the thought processes of reason.”1 What mindfulness involves is the practice of observing one’s thoughts, feelings, and sensations without reacting to them. By not reacting I mean we don’t automatically launch into a behavior or action as a result of hearing the thought. We pause and consider whether in that present moment the thought we are having, particularly if it is a call to action, is appropriate. I might be driving when someone abruptly cuts me off. I feel scared and angry. I have the thought, “that guy needs to be taught a lesson.” Probably a bad idea to act on that thought, but if I have no practice in considering the merits of my thoughts, I might get carried away by emotion and just react. What’s worse is I might even blame the other driver for my actions because they “made” me feel angry and then not take responsibility for my own choice to react. Problem is that we routinely react to thoughts without even knowing what we are doing. You have a thought about needing to get gasoline for the car and before you know it your mind boards a “train” that takes you all over town picturing all the gas stations, wondering what the price is today and if you should only get $10 worth because it’s Friday and the price will probably go down on Sunday night. It’s like there is a drop down menu that accompanies every thought and if you engage with that thought you will be presented with a myriad of related links that lead to even more links and your entire day can be hijacked by just that one thought. So it’s not the “thinking” that’s problematic. It’s the hijacking of our attention and time with our accompanying auto-reaction to our thoughts that have us living in our heads (our imagination) and keep us from being present to what’s currently happening in our lives. I liken this to sitting on the bank of a river and watching the water flow. Many things are being carried down the river but we don’t usually let our visual attention follow every leaf, twig or piece of debris. That would make us dizzy in the same way following every thought leads to overwhelm and anxiety. The practice of mindfulness helps with what we call “monkey mind.” This refers to the way monkeys chatter and move incessantly. Our mind, our thoughts, move like this, too. They never hold still! The mind is meant to be our servant. It is supposed to respond to commands from us to think about something specific or generate ideas or solutions. Instead we have become the servant of our thoughts; jumping and reacting to every one. There is a great expression, “Don’t believe everything you think.” Thoughts, most of which are simply provided by what we hear in our environment, are simply spewed out by our brains. They are like random blips that don’t necessarily mean anything except to inform us of the nature of the inner dialogue we are constantly having with ourself. And what is an “inner dialogue”? We all have them and, no, it doesn’t mean you have a personality disorder. Have you ever found yourself not able to get “that tune” out of your head? There are many conversations (often called “self talk”) we constantly have with ourself. If you pay attention and notice this background inner talk you’ll see it tends to be an undercurrent of negative comments incessantly badgering us. Not a very positive influence on our mood. There are lots of good exercises on how to deal with monkey mind. Most techniques are quite doable and simply need practicing to generate a new awareness, less anxiety and less monkey mind. We will address this in an upcoming piece. Reference: 1. The Difference Between Brain and Mind View the full article
  20. How Much News Should We Expose Ourselves To?

    Read today’s news and it’s easy to get depressed — one troubling story after another. An online survey taken about a year ago by the American Psychological Association (APA) reports that 57 percent of Americans say that the current political climate is a very or somewhat significant source of stress. How do we keep our balance when we’re buffeted by fierce social and political winds? We’re each challenged to find a path that works for us — and make adjustments along the way. Here are some survival strategies that may or may not have resonance for you. Limiting Exposure I watch less television news than I used to, although there are some informative news programs with interesting guests. I want to know the basics of what’s going on so that I don’t get blindsided by some stunning development. I read news captions and selective articles on the Internet and in newspapers at my gym. But everyone is different. The problem with chronic exposure to troubling events is that it can release a stress response in our body that can have damaging long-term effects. Any perceived threat, such as a dog charging us, a horrendous news story, or the latest political debacle can trigger an alarm that prompts our adrenal glands to flood our body with hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Our body is designed to be resilient enough to deal with passing stressors. But when we’re continually in the fight, flight, freeze mode, our stress response may get stuck in the “on” position. As described on the Mayo Clinic website, when the stress-response system is activated long term, cortisol and other stress hormones can interfere with other bodily processes, increasing the risk of heart disease, sleep problems, memory impairment, digestive problems, anxiety and depression. Each person needs to get a felt sense for what they can handle without feeling overwhelmed or traumatized, and weigh the risks of over-exposure with the risks (both to yourself and society) of remaining ignorant. Some people with sensitive nervous systems seek protection by exposing themselves to very little news, if any. Others may have sensitivity to lurking danger and stay glued to the news as a way to manage their anxiety. Others read or watch just enough to be informed, so they’re not oblivious and can vote wisely, but without being glued to the TV or computer screen, like a moth being drawn to a flame. Others find the news interesting or entertaining rather than distressing. The news media cranks out a dizzying amount of news every day. One part of self-care is to know our boundaries in relation to how much we can expose our psyches to without feeling paralyzed or besieged. Self-Care Practices We all know the importance of self-care, but in today’s turbulent times it’s especially essential. Meditation and mindfulness practices can help regulate our nervous system. Physical activity helps release stress from the body. I find yoga, meditation and exercise to be especially helpful, along with having a decent diet. Whatever resources help you discharge stress and maintain some inner balance, such as art, music, or nature walks (alone or with a friend), can be revitalizing. Most of us lead busy lives, so taking care of ourselves is easier said than done. We need to use our creativity to see how we might design a life that includes activities and practices that replenish us. Just do your best without stressing out about it or over-thinking it. Emotional Support It might surprise you to realize how many people feel the same way you do. Feeling alone and powerless is one of the greatest stressors. It’s not unusual to feel a reactive anxiety or sadness about our current political situation. In fact, it might mean that you care enough to be deeply affected by current events. Finding friends or a support group where you can share your feelings and concerns can be enormously reassuring and healing. You are not alone with your concerns. Talking with a therapist about your fears and feelings can also be very helpful, especially if you are finding yourself not sleeping or functioning well due to depression or anxiety. Giving emotional support to ourselves is also important. Can we find a way to be gentle with our feelings without concluding that something is wrong with us? A process such as Gendlin’s Focusing can be a helpful way to make room for our feelings without being debilitated by them. Contributing to Our World Being part of the solution instead of part of the problem can be empowering. As philosophers and psychologists have written, we have little control over what happens to us, but more control over how we relate to what happens. Perhaps you are already contributing to society through your work and lifestyle. Or maybe you want to consider joining causes that can make a difference. We’re not condemned to wallow in terminal powerlessness. Even a small effort to make the world better might help you feel better. Small acts of kindness can have rippling effects. I find some comfort in remembering that sometimes an individual — or a society — needs to hit bottom before finding their way forward. Hopefully there won’t be too many more bottoms. Whether there are or not, it may help to remember that we’re in this together and that the human spirit is very resilient. Take some deep breaths, remember who you are, join with like-hearted people, do your best to live in the moment, and allow yourself to abide in meaningful moments of joy and connectedness with others. View the full article
  21. What would you guess people are most stressed out about in their careers? One might assume that hating your job, or dealing with the frustration of finding a new one, would top the list. But according to the results of an annual survey that I send several thousand readers of my email newsletter, the most common problem people face is that they don’t feel confident. Readers said things like: I want to start a business, but I fear looking foolish. I feel I shouldn’t have been picked for the role I am in. I feel like a sham. I doubt myself and find it hard to ask for what I want. These responses are from smart, accomplished individuals. Most of them have advanced degrees. Some of them have earned high-ranking leadership positions at Fortune 500 companies that are household names. Why are they questioning their competence? Unfortunately, confidence is an elusive goal for many people. And that’s because we fundamentally misunderstand the way it works. We tend to think confidence is a personality trait, and treat it as a pre-requisite for action. So we put off signing up for a dating site because we feel insecure about our looks, or neglect to apply for jobs because we worry that we won’t be competitive. But the truth is that confidence isn’t an innate trait; it’s a quality gained through experience. We should take risks in order to build confidence — not the other way around. The misunderstood history of self-confidence Why are we so obsessed with the idea of self-confidence? Many cultures — particularly that of the US — –view extroversion, charisma, and social skills as highly desirable qualities. After all, if you’re going to pursue life, liberty, and happiness, you’ve got to believe in yourself. Research also shows we’re more attracted to people who are outgoing. We automatically equate outward displays of confidence with competence. Influenced by the rise of youth culture, wealth, and consumerism after World War II, confidence took on a powerful mystique in American culture, contributing to the self-esteem movement of the 1980s and 1990s. High self-esteem was suggested to be the key to success in life — –so powerful it could fix deeply complex issues like inner-city violence. This ushered in an age of supposed solutions to artificially force self-esteem — from participation awards and meaningless gold stars to showering children with praise, regardless of what they’d done. Entire cottage industries popped up selling superficial solutions to boost people’s confidence in 20 minutes or less by repeating positive affirmations to themselves. But as the movement hit a fever pitch in the 1990s, renowned psychologist Roy Baumeister grew concerned about the lack of hard evidence backing up claims that positive self-esteem could cure all ills. He undertook a sweeping review of research, which confirmed his skepticism. Out of 15,000 scholarly articles written about self-esteem over three decades, only 200 met rigorous research standards. A former advocate of the movement, he concluded that there was no proof that high self-esteem improved academic achievement, job success, or health outcomes. What the self-esteem movement showed is that it’s not enough to simply be told you’re special. Nor should we attempt to protect ourselves from struggle and negative feelings like uncertainty and fear. When we attempt to shield our children and ourselves from the normal range of human emotions that comes with seeking out new experiences, we are robbed of the chance to build authentic, healthy confidence. Earning confidence through trial and error The key to cracking the confidence may lie in tackling those uncomfortable emotions head on, as entrepreneur Steph Crowder did live on her podcast. She candidly shared how a recent bad review from a listener had blindsided her, ruining her day. But how she handled it made all the difference. A lot of people might be tempted to follow the conventional wisdom “fake it till you make it” and try to cover up her reaction with false positivity. However, research shows that keeping up appearances is stressful — and can actively undermine well-being. Instead, Steph took her listeners through the process of listening to bad feedback and learning from it. Studies show people who deal effectively with their emotions in this way, an active coping skill called emotional regulation, have higher resilience and greater self-esteem. Steph’s example illustrates the face that the only way to build self-worth is through behavior. You have to put yourself in difficult situations, so that you can learn how to survive them. Do the work We would all do better if we understood, as Mindy Kaling has put it, that confidence isn’t something that ought to come to us naturally. Rather, as she writes in her bookWhy Not Me?, “confidence is like respect: it’s something you have to earn.” Kaling recalls: “When I started at The Office, I had zero confidence. Whenever Greg Daniels came into the room to talk to our small group of writers, I was so nervous that I would raise and lower my chair involuntarily, like a tic. Finally, weeks in, writer Mike Schur put his hand on my arm and said, gently, ‘You have to stop.’ Years later I realized that the way I had felt during those first few months was correct. I didn’t deserve to be confident yet.” Over time, however, as she gained experience, Kaling became more confident. The same applies to all of us. We need to do things that we think are scary — not because we have blind faith that we’ll succeed, but simply because those things are worth doing. As research from Angela Duckworth suggests, struggling builds character. Failure breeds wisdom and maturity. We need to fail and experience discomfort, and over time, build a track record of demonstrated success. Once you’ve proven to yourself that you can perform in front of a crowd or run a marathon or ask a person out on a date, it’s a lot easier to have confidence the next time you face a big challenge. And so if you don’t feel confident in your life, don’t treat it as a personal flaw. Perhaps you simply need more practice. Let’s learn to view confidence not as a personality trait but as an acquired skill — one that’s available to all of us, if we’re willing to put in the work. © 2017 Melody Wilding, as first published in Quartz View the full article
  22. The Truth about Building Self-Confidence

    What would you guess people are most stressed out about in their careers? One might assume that hating your job, or dealing with the frustration of finding a new one, would top the list. But according to the results of an annual survey that I send several thousand readers of my email newsletter, the most common problem people face is that they don’t feel confident. Readers said things like: I want to start a business, but I fear looking foolish. I feel I shouldn’t have been picked for the role I am in. I feel like a sham. I doubt myself and find it hard to ask for what I want. These responses are from smart, accomplished individuals. Most of them have advanced degrees. Some of them have earned high-ranking leadership positions at Fortune 500 companies that are household names. Why are they questioning their competence? Unfortunately, confidence is an elusive goal for many people. And that’s because we fundamentally misunderstand the way it works. We tend to think confidence is a personality trait, and treat it as a pre-requisite for action. So we put off signing up for a dating site because we feel insecure about our looks, or neglect to apply for jobs because we worry that we won’t be competitive. But the truth is that confidence isn’t an innate trait; it’s a quality gained through experience. We should take risks in order to build confidence — not the other way around. The misunderstood history of self-confidence Why are we so obsessed with the idea of self-confidence? Many cultures — particularly that of the US — –view extroversion, charisma, and social skills as highly desirable qualities. After all, if you’re going to pursue life, liberty, and happiness, you’ve got to believe in yourself. Research also shows we’re more attracted to people who are outgoing. We automatically equate outward displays of confidence with competence. Influenced by the rise of youth culture, wealth, and consumerism after World War II, confidence took on a powerful mystique in American culture, contributing to the self-esteem movement of the 1980s and 1990s. High self-esteem was suggested to be the key to success in life — –so powerful it could fix deeply complex issues like inner-city violence. This ushered in an age of supposed solutions to artificially force self-esteem — from participation awards and meaningless gold stars to showering children with praise, regardless of what they’d done. Entire cottage industries popped up selling superficial solutions to boost people’s confidence in 20 minutes or less by repeating positive affirmations to themselves. But as the movement hit a fever pitch in the 1990s, renowned psychologist Roy Baumeister grew concerned about the lack of hard evidence backing up claims that positive self-esteem could cure all ills. He undertook a sweeping review of research, which confirmed his skepticism. Out of 15,000 scholarly articles written about self-esteem over three decades, only 200 met rigorous research standards. A former advocate of the movement, he concluded that there was no proof that high self-esteem improved academic achievement, job success, or health outcomes. What the self-esteem movement showed is that it’s not enough to simply be told you’re special. Nor should we attempt to protect ourselves from struggle and negative feelings like uncertainty and fear. When we attempt to shield our children and ourselves from the normal range of human emotions that comes with seeking out new experiences, we are robbed of the chance to build authentic, healthy confidence. Earning confidence through trial and error The key to cracking the confidence may lie in tackling those uncomfortable emotions head on, as entrepreneur Steph Crowder did live on her podcast. She candidly shared how a recent bad review from a listener had blindsided her, ruining her day. But how she handled it made all the difference. A lot of people might be tempted to follow the conventional wisdom “fake it till you make it” and try to cover up her reaction with false positivity. However, research shows that keeping up appearances is stressful — and can actively undermine well-being. Instead, Steph took her listeners through the process of listening to bad feedback and learning from it. Studies show people who deal effectively with their emotions in this way, an active coping skill called emotional regulation, have higher resilience and greater self-esteem. Steph’s example illustrates the face that the only way to build self-worth is through behavior. You have to put yourself in difficult situations, so that you can learn how to survive them. Do the work We would all do better if we understood, as Mindy Kaling has put it, that confidence isn’t something that ought to come to us naturally. Rather, as she writes in her bookWhy Not Me?, “confidence is like respect: it’s something you have to earn.” Kaling recalls: “When I started at The Office, I had zero confidence. Whenever Greg Daniels came into the room to talk to our small group of writers, I was so nervous that I would raise and lower my chair involuntarily, like a tic. Finally, weeks in, writer Mike Schur put his hand on my arm and said, gently, ‘You have to stop.’ Years later I realized that the way I had felt during those first few months was correct. I didn’t deserve to be confident yet.” Over time, however, as she gained experience, Kaling became more confident. The same applies to all of us. We need to do things that we think are scary — not because we have blind faith that we’ll succeed, but simply because those things are worth doing. As research from Angela Duckworth suggests, struggling builds character. Failure breeds wisdom and maturity. We need to fail and experience discomfort, and over time, build a track record of demonstrated success. Once you’ve proven to yourself that you can perform in front of a crowd or run a marathon or ask a person out on a date, it’s a lot easier to have confidence the next time you face a big challenge. And so if you don’t feel confident in your life, don’t treat it as a personal flaw. Perhaps you simply need more practice. Let’s learn to view confidence not as a personality trait but as an acquired skill — one that’s available to all of us, if we’re willing to put in the work. © 2017 Melody Wilding, as first published in Quartz View the full article
  23. In some interesting research on obsessive-compulsive disorder, researchers at the University of California Los Angeles have developed an artificial intelligence system that predicts whether patients with OCD will benefit from Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). The February 2018 study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, used a functional MRI machine, or fMRI, to scan the brains of 42 people with OCD before and after four weeks of intensive, daily cognitive behavioral therapy. Researchers specifically analyzed how different areas of the brain activate in sync with each other — a property called functional connectivity — during a period of rest. The researchers then fed the participants’ fMRI data and symptom scores into a computer and used machine learning (that’s where the artificial intelligence comes in) to predict which people would respond well to treatment. The machine-learning program demonstrated 70 percent accuracy. It also correctly predicted participants’ final scores on a symptoms assessment within a small margin of error, regardless of how they responded to the treatment. Dr. Jamie Feusner, a clinical neuroscientist and the study’s senior author, said: “This method opens a window into OCD patients’ brains to help us see how responsive they will be to treatment. The algorithm performed far better than our own predictions based on their symptoms and other clinical information.” Dr. Feusner goes on to say that if the study’s results are replicated, treatment for OCD could someday start with a brain scan. While I find this study fascinating, it also makes me a little uncomfortable. I will be the first to admit I have a limited understanding of neuroscience and artificial intelligence, but I shudder to think that CBT (specifically exposure and response prevention therapy which is the evidence-based treatment for OCD) would not even be offered to someone with OCD based on a preliminary scan of their brain. I see obsessive-compulsive disorder as so complicated. Could it really be that easy to predict who will or will not benefit from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy? There are already many known reasons why exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy doesn’t work for some people. You have to be totally committed to it, and there are various aspects of OCD and this therapy that can make that commitment difficult. The degree of family support and understanding of OCD as well as comorbid diagnoses are just two more examples of why exposure and response prevention therapy might not initially be successful. In addition, there are therapists out there who think they understand ERP therapy, only to make common mistakes during treatment that jeopardize their patients’ success. As I’ve said, OCD is complicated, so it is not surprising that treating it is often a complex undertaking best left to experts in obsessive-compulsive disorder. To me, it’s a bit of a paradox — the fact that an impersonal machine (artificial intelligence) might lead to more personalized treatment. I know this is the wave of the future, and of course I can imagine the possible benefits and discoveries that are likely to arise from cutting edge research involving the brain. I just hope that we don’t get so caught up in data and test results that we neglect to pay attention to the whole person and their individual circumstances. View the full article
  24. Do you often feel hopeless, like you’ve failed so many times that it’s not even worth trying anymore? Do you frequently dwell on all the mistakes you’ve made and all the relationships you’ve lost? Maybe you just feel like your life will never be meaningful so there’s no use trying to be anything or do anything. If thoughts like this are controlling your life, you may be using self-victimization to cope with issues you feel unable to manage. Exploring the Victim Mentality and the Role of the Victim The victim mentality can display itself in a variety of ways. People who play the role of a victim believe everything that happens to them is completely out of their control, therefore, it is never their responsibility. They blame others when bad things happen to them and they have an extremely negative outlook on life. They are resistant to help and respond to any advice or assistance with reasons why it won’t work and explanations as to why the problem is unsolvable. Many people with a victim mentality also use passive aggressive behavior and manipulation to get what they want from others. This type of behavior is frequently seen in those who are addicted to drugs and alcohol. They will feel and act helpless to convince their loved ones and friends that their life is really as bad as they believe it is. They frequently use this behavior to manipulate loved ones into enabling their addictive behaviors by giving them money, drugs, protection, or companionship. Playing the victim is an extremely damaging and self-defeating behavior. Individuals who do this tend to develop relationships that involve mistreatment or abuse, they reject opportunities to have fun or deny any enjoyment, and they fail to prioritize their own well-being, eventually setting themselves up for failure and pain. Many individuals in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction are comfortable in the role of the victim, but drug and alcohol rehab programs challenge them to assume responsibility for their behaviors and take control of their lives. This requires giving up that victim role and the helplessness that comes with it and taking ownership of their lives instead. Identifying Victim Mentality It’s not always easy to identify the behaviors of victim mentality within yourself, but to overcome self-victimization and addiction, it is necessary to identify the beliefs that fuel these behaviors. According to WebMD, there are several characteristics and beliefs associated with the victim mindset that you can identify within your own thought patterns.1 You believe that others are intentionally trying to hurt you. You don’t consider the other person’s perspective and automatically assume that they are out to get you. You feel helpless. You believe the world is against you and you are powerless to change anything. As a result, you expect the worst and blame others for your problems. You relive painful memories repeatedly and seek revenge. Instead of forgiving and moving on, you choose to keep those memories alive and refuse to forgive those who have harmed you in the past. You refuse to accept the help of others or consider other methods for coping. You identify as a victim by refusing the help of others and assuming other coping strategies will not work. Because you gain attention, money, affection, or some other advantage by being a victim, you don’t want to stop. You tend to exaggerate your problems. You believe that everyone else’s lives are so much easier than yours and you are the only one who experiences such extreme problems. These five beliefs are some of the most common ones held by individuals who struggle with identifying as a victim. If you believe that a loved one is self-victimizing, here are a few questions to ask yourself that may help you identify his or her behavior:2 Do conversations tend to revolve around their problems and issues? Do they constantly say negative things about themselves? Do they always seem to be miserable? Do they blame others for the bad things that happen to them? Do they always expect the worst? Do they express the belief that the world is out to get them? Modifying Thoughts and Beliefs to Change the Victim Mindset Playing the victim greatly hinders any efforts towards sobriety. At a drug rehab center, counselors and therapists work with addicted individuals to identify and address the victim mentality. In doing so, people learn that while they may not be able to control everything that happens to them in life, they do control their feelings, emotions, responses, and their overall happiness, and if they continue to blame others for their unhappiness, they will never be fully focused on their sobriety. Additionally, in rehab, people are encouraged to practice self-reflection and acknowledge that perhaps their victim mentality is a result of traumatic experiences, a need for validation, or a desire for human connection. Because of this internal reflection, individuals in recovery can learn to modify negative thoughts and beliefs about themselves with the following strategies (among others). Accept responsibility for past and present decisions and actions. Taking ownership of decisions, as well as the consequences of those choices, is a huge step in overcoming the victim mentality and the addictive behaviors that accompany it. Accepting responsibility empowers an individual to help themselves by using the resources, coping strategies, and skills they have learned in drug and alcohol rehab instead of using all their effort to blame others. Learn to accept mistakes. In order to stop being miserable, bitter, and angry, a person must accept that the people in their lives have made mistakes, and they have made mistakes too. To move forward in a life of sobriety and wellness, they must let go of these negative feelings and potentially even forgive those who have wronged them. Recognize self-worth. Instead of assuming that they don’t deserve to live a happy life, continually repeating negative self-talk, or intentionally doing things to harm themselves, individuals in drug rehab will learn to understand their own value and self-worth, as well as the importance of self-care in recovery. In modifying these negative thoughts and beliefs about themselves, they will be empowered to let go of the victim role and accept responsibility for their lives. Breaking the victim mentality isn’t easy, but it is a necessary part of recovering from addiction. Many aspects of drug and alcohol rehab will help individuals identify and resolve this behavior, so they can live a fulfilling, meaningful life that is free from substance abuse. References: https://blogs.webmd.com/art-of-relationships/2016/05/6-signs-of-victim-mentality.html https://sites.insead.edu/facultyresearch/research/doc.cfm?did=50114 View the full article
  25. OCD and Identity

    I’ve previously written about some of the factors involved in recovery avoidance in OCD. Often those with the disorder are fearful of giving up rituals they believe keep them and their loved ones “safe.” Even though people with OCD usually realize their compulsions do not make sense, the terror that comes with losing what they perceive as control over their lives can be so real that they choose not to fully engage in exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy. They are afraid of getting better, of living a life without the “safety net” of OCD. There are those with obsessive-compulsive disorder who compare how they feel to Stockholm Syndrome, where hostages (those with OCD) side with their captors/abusers (the OCD). While I’d known those with OCD might find it hard to leave their disorder behind, it had never occurred to me that they might not want to rid themselves of obsessive-compulsive disorder and all it entails. To me it is so counter-intuitive that I never even considered it. Why would anyone want to live with an illness that robs them of everything they hold dear? It’s hard for me to comprehend, but then again, I don’t have OCD. Perhaps because living with obsessive-compulsive disorder is the only life many who suffer with OCD have known, it might feel, in a way, comfortable. It is like family (though a dysfunctional one, at best). No matter how much our family might annoy us, and no matter how much we might even despise some of our family members, we still love them and want them around. Is this same type of love/hate relationship common with OCD? And what will those with OCD do with all the extra time they’ll have once they are not slaves to hours and hours of daily compulsions? While this freedom is obviously a good thing, it can also be a daunting and frightening task to try to figure out how to spend time previously stolen by OCD. Also, there is no question we are all shaped and influenced by many different factors in our lives, including our illnesses. Do those with OCD believe they won’t be their real selves if their illness is under control? For those who are able to see their obsessive-compulsive disorder as separate from themselves, I wouldn’t think this would be an issue. But maybe it is. Perhaps those with OCD believe not having their disorder as an integral part of their lives might change their true identity. To complicate matters more, it might be difficult for people with the disorder to even know what they believe. Are their thoughts their own or is it their OCD talking? In my son’s case, getting treatment for his OCD is what allowed the real Dan to emerge. In over ten years as an advocate for OCD awareness and treatment, I have never heard from anyone with obsessive-compulsive disorder who felt their true self had been compromised after ridding themselves of this horrible disorder. Indeed, it is just the opposite. With OCD on the back burner, they were finally free to be their authentic selves. View the full article
  26. How would you define happy? And how would you define sad or anxious? We all know what emotions are, until we are asked to define them in ways our kids can understand. Emotions are complex things. Yet helping our kids become emotionally intelligent requires us to help them learn to understand different emotions so that they can be better able to deal with those emotions in a socially acceptable manner. We now know that emotions drive behavior, and that tears, tummy aches or headaches, or resistance to school may hide difficult-to-express feelings such as anxiety. Many researchers and psychologists now agree that when we teach kids about emotions from the earliest age, we give them important tools that help them navigate emotions. Studies by specialists like John Gottman, PhD, have shown that kids thrive when they are taught to identify their emotions and to treat those emotions as normal. Put differently, when we teach our kids that emotions are normal, we make it easier for them to express emotions and reduce instances of meltdowns or other “inappropriate” ways of expressing emotions. After years of expecting kids to “toughen up”, there is now indisputable proof that a child’s emotional state has a great impact on his social and psychological state. James Gross, PhD, one of the leading researchers on emotion regulation, believes that one can learn to regulate his or her emotions. His studies have shown that we can learn to alter the emotions we experience, when they are experienced and how they are experienced. Many other researchers agree that increasing children’s awareness of emotions can help them learn to express those emotions without turning to meltdowns or aggressiveness. Here are a few tips to help foster your child’s emotional intelligence: 1. Embrace even the darkest emotions. Emotions are not easy to define, especially for kids. A kid might know he’s feeling “something” but he won’t necessarily know what that “something” means. In other words, our kids cannot learn to identify their emotions if they don’t know what those emotions are. Embracing emotions means helping your child understand that emotions are a normal part of life. It means using age-appropriate resources to talk to kid about emotions. It means taking advantage of everyday situations to help your kids better understand and name their emotions. Ask them to tell you about their happiest moment during that day. Ask them what made them sad. But remember that becoming our children’s emotion coach begins by learning how to manage our own emotions first. When we embrace our emotions and talk to our kids about them, we show them how to manage their own emotions. 2. Help your child understand how emotions change the body. We feel emotions in certain parts of our body. That’s why your kid will talk about a tummy ache, a headache or even throw up when faced with an anxiety-inducing situation. A relatively recent study found that we all experience the same bodily sensations in response to our emotions. Helping your child become more aware of how emotions manifest in her body — does she get sweaty palms, does her heart beat faster? Does she get butterflies in her tummy? Teaching your child to be aware of what triggers her emotions can make it easier to deal with difficult emotions before they get out of control. 3. Talk about where emotions come from. Emotions are our way of reacting to external stimuli. Your child may be more anxious before participating in certain activities, or she may get a tummy ache always before her swimming lesson. We are all born with a few emotions but we learn other secondary emotions from our environment. How we react to our kids emotions has an impact on their emotional intelligence. A child who is teased for displaying a certain emotion, say anger, may develop a secondary emotion such as shame every time she gets angry. Talking about what triggers emotions is also important because it helps you show your child that you are there and that you can help her find a solution. When we help our kids understand what drives their emotions, we increase their awareness of what triggers their emotions and makes it easier for them to deal with emotion-provoking situations. 4. Give your child the tools to express emotions. Providing your child with a safe environment to express emotions teaches him how to deal with those emotions by himself. There are multiple resources and techniques that provide practical tips to help children deal with strong emotions such as such anger and anxiety in socially acceptable ways. The thing to remember with developing our kids’ emotional intelligence is that when we create a safe environment in which they can express their emotions, we give them the tools they need to manage those emotions by themselves. View the full article
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