Thursday, January 31, 2013

Understanding Depression Disguises

Via WebMd
Many people think of depression as an intolerable sadness or a deep gloom that just won't go away. Yet depression can also be sneaky, disguised in symptoms that can be hard to identify. If you've had unexplained aches or pains, often feel irritable or angry for no reason, or cry at the drop of a hat -- you could be depressed.

Fortunately, you can be proactive with depression. Learn how these less obvious symptoms can reveal themselves and when you should seek out depression treatment.

Common Depression Symptoms

Common symptoms of depression include feeling sad, hopeless, or empty or having lost interest in the things that previously gave you pleasure. But other, less obvious symptoms also may signal depression, including:

Anger, irritability, and impatience. You may feel irritated and angry at family, friends, or co-workers, or overreact to small things.
Sleep problems. You may have trouble sleeping, or you may wake up very early in the morning. Or you may sleep too much and find it hard to get up in the morning.
Anxiety. You may have symptoms such as anxiety, worry, restlessness, and tension. Anxiety and depression often occur together, even though they are two separate problems.
Crying. Crying spells, crying over nothing at all, or crying about small things that normally wouldn't bother you may be signs of depression.
Inability to concentrate. If you are depressed, you may be forgetful, have trouble making decisions, or find it hard to concentrate.
Pain. If you have aches and pains that don't respond to treatment, including joint pain, back pain, limb pain, or stomach pain, they could be signs of depression. Many people with depression go to their doctor because of these types of physical symptoms, and don't even realize that they are depressed.
Substance abuse. Having a drug or alcohol problem may hide an underlying problem with depression. Substance abuse and depression often go hand in hand.
Appetite changes. You may have no desire to eat, or you may overeat in an effort to feel better.
Isolation. You may feel withdrawn from friends and family -- right when you need their support the most.
Depression Symptoms: Men and Women May Differ

Not everyone has the same signs and symptoms of depression. In fact, men and women may experience depression differently. Women more often describe feeling sad, guilty, or worthless when they are depressed.

Men are more likely to feel tired, angry, irritable, and frustrated, and they often have more sleep problems. A man may feel less interested in hobbies, activities, and even sex. He may focus excessively on work in order to avoid talking with friends and family about how he feels. Men also may be more likely to behave recklessly and use drugs or alcohol to deal with depression. Some men with depression can become abusive. More women attempt suicide than men do, but men are more likely to succeed -- almost four times as many men die from suicide as do women.

Many men do not acknowledge feelings or symptoms of depression. They don't want to admit that something may be wrong or talk about their feelings. But men and women can both feel better with treatment.

Depression Symptoms: When to Seek Treatment

It can be hard to admit to yourself that you may be depressed, let alone ask for help. Here are two good reasons why you should consider depression treatment:

Treatment works. Even people with severe depression can find relief, and so can you.
Early treatment is better. As with many other health problems, getting treatment early on can ease symptoms more quickly. If you wait to get help, your depression can become more severe and harder to treat.
Talk to someone. There are many people willing to help you overcome depression, but the first step you have to take on your own is to let someone know how you are feeling. It may help to start by talking to a close friend or family member. Ask them for support in finding depression treatment. The sooner you get treatment, the sooner you will start to feel better. Don't hesitate -- call your doctor or a medical health professional if:

You think you may be depressed
You notice symptoms of depression such as sadness, hopelessness, or emptiness, or if you have less obvious symptoms such as trouble sleeping or vague aches and pains
Depression symptoms make it hard to function
If you have thoughts about dying or committing suicide, seek immediate medical help. You may feel hopeless now, but treatment will give you hope -- and help you see that life is worth living.

Depression Treatment: Give it Time to Work

Certain medications and medical conditions such as thyroid problems can cause symptoms of depression, so your doctor may want to rule them out. If your doctor thinks you may be depressed, he or she can refer you to a mental health professional.

Depression treatment involves either antidepressant medication, psychotherapy, or both. People with mild to moderate depression can benefit from therapy alone. People with more severe depression usually do better with medication and therapy. Note that once you start treatment, you may notice improvements in symptoms such as sleep or appetite before begin to you feel less depressed.

Antidepressants work by affecting brain chemicals called neurotransmitters that regulate mood. Antidepressants effectively treat depression in most people who take them. However, they can take four to six weeks to notice an effect, so it's important to be patient. Antidepressants can also have side effects, including weight gain and sexual problems. So it may take some time to find the right medication that works best for you with the fewest side effects.

Psychotherapy treats depression by helping you:

Learn new, more positive ways of thinking
Change habits or behaviors that may make your depression worse
Work through relationship problems at home or work
Help you see things in a more realistic way and face your fears
Help you feel hopeful, positive, and more in control of your life
It can take time to break old patterns of thinking and behavior, so give therapy some time to work.

Depression Treatment: How to Help Yourself

In addition to the help and support you get from your therapist and/or doctor, there are a few things you can do on your own that will help you feel better:

Stay physically active. Exercise helps boost your mood, and research has shown that it may also help ease depression.
Get a good night's sleep. Sleep helps us heal from many health problems, including depression. Getting the right amount of sleep, but not too much, helps you have more energy. Try to go to sleep and get up at the same time every day. Make your bedroom a comfortable place for sleeping and sex only -- banish TV and use curtains to keep out bright outdoor light.
Stay connected. Spending time with supportive friends or family will make you feel better -- even if you don't feel like it will. It may help to choose low-key ways to connect. Go to a light-hearted movie, meet for a coffee and some people watching, or take a walk in a nearby park. The contact you get from others, along with depression treatment, can help bring you out of the dark and back into the light.

One Thing To Do Today: January 31, 2013 #ottdt

One Thing To Do Today: With my abilities I could be a great _______ (fill in the blank)

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

One Thing To Do Today: January 30, 2013 #ottdt

One Thing To Do Today: Consider if you focus on material things too much, too little or just enough

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Who Says Stress is Bad For You?

Another great article I stumbled upon using my SuperBetter app, that I had to share with my readers.


If you aren't already paralyzed with stress from reading the financial news, here's a sure way to achieve that grim state: read a medical-journal article that examines what stress can do to your brain. Stress, you'll learn, is crippling your neurons so that, a few years or decades from now, Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease will have an easy time destroying what's left. That's assuming you haven't already died by then of some other stress-related ailment such as heart disease. As we enter what is sure to be a long period of uncertainty—a gantlet of lost jobs, dwindling assets, home foreclosures and two continuing wars—the downside of stress is certainly worth exploring. But what about the upside? It's not something we hear much about.

In the past several years, a lot of us have convinced ourselves that stress is unequivocally negative for everyone, all the time. We've blamed stress for a wide variety of problems, from slight memory lapses to full-on dementia—and that's just in the brain. We've even come up with a derisive nickname for people who voluntarily plunge into stressful situations: they're "adrenaline junkies."

Sure, stress can be bad for you, especially if you react to it with anger or depression or by downing five glasses of Scotch. But what's often overlooked is a common-sense counterpoint: in some circumstances, it can be good for you, too. It's right there in basic-psychology textbooks. As Spencer Rathus puts it in "Psychology: Concepts and Connections," "some stress is healthy and necessary to keep us alert and occupied." Yet that's not the theme that's been coming out of science for the past few years. "The public has gotten such a uniform message that stress is always harmful," says Janet DiPietro, a developmental psychologist at Johns Hopkins University. "And that's too bad, because most people do their best under mild to moderate stress."

The stress response—the body's hormonal reaction to danger, uncertainty or change—evolved to help us survive, and if we learn how to keep it from overrunning our lives, it still can. In the short term, it can energize us, "revving up our systems to handle what we have to handle," says Judith Orloff, a psychiatrist at UCLA. In the long term, stress can motivate us to do better at jobs we care about. A little of it can prepare us for a lot later on, making us more resilient. Even when it's extreme, stress may have some positive effects—which is why, in addition to posttraumatic stress disorder, some psychologists are starting to define a phenomenon called posttraumatic growth. "There's really a biochemical and scientific bias that stress is bad, but anecdotally and clinically, it's quite evident that it can work for some people," says Orloff. "We need a new wave of research with a more balanced approach to how stress can serve us." Otherwise, we're all going to spend far more time than we should stressing ourselves out about the fact that we're stressed out.

When I started asking researchers about "good stress," many of them said it essentially didn't exist. "We never tell people stress is good for them," one said. Another allowed that it might be, but only in small ways, in the short term, in rats. What about people who thrive on stress, I asked—people who become policemen or ER docs or air-traffic controllers because they like seeking out chaos and putting things back in order? Aren't they using stress to their advantage? No, the researchers said, those people are unhealthy. "This business of people saying they 'thrive on stress'? It's nuts," Bruce Rabin, a distinguished psychoneuroimmunologist, pathologist and psychiatrist at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, told me. Some adults who seek out stress and believe they flourish under it may have been abused as children or permanently affected in the womb after exposure to high levels of adrenaline and cortisol, he said. Even if they weren't, he added, they're "trying to satisfy" some psychological need. Was he calling this a pathological state, I asked—saying that people who feel they perform best under pressure actually have a disease? He thought for a minute, and then: "You can absolutely say that. Yes, you can say that."

This kind of statement might well have the father of stress research lying awake worried in his grave. Hans Selye, who laid the foundations of stress science in the 1930s, believed so strongly in good stress that he coined a word, "eustress," for it. He saw stress as "the salt of life." Change was inevitable, and worrying about it was the flip side of thinking creatively and carefully about it, something that only a brain with a lot of prefrontal cortex can do well. Stress, then, was what made us human—a conclusion that Selye managed to reach by examining rats.

Selye had virtually no lab technique, and, as it turned out, that was fortunate. As a young researcher, he set out to study what happened when he injected rats with endocrine extracts. He was a klutz, dropping his animals and chasing them around the lab with a broom. Almost all his rats—even the ones he shot up with presumably harmless saline—developed ulcers, overgrown adrenal glands and immune dysfunction. To his credit, Selye didn't regard this finding as evidence he had failed.Instead, he decided he was onto something.

Selye's rats weren't responding to the chemicals he was injecting. They were responding to his clumsiness with the needle. They didn't like being dropped and poked and bothered. He was stressing them out. Selye called the rats' condition "general adaptation syndrome," a telling term that reflected the reason the stress response had evolved in the first place: in life-or-death situations, it was helpful.

For a rat, there's no bigger stressor than an encounter with a lean and hungry cat. As soon as the rat's brain registers danger, it pumps itself up on hormones—first adrenaline, then cortisol. The surge helps mobilize energy to the muscles, and it also primes several parts of the brain, temporarily improving some types of memory and fine-tuning the senses. Thus armed, the rat makes its escape—assuming the cat, whose brain has also been flooded with stress hormones by the sight of a long-awaited potential meal, doesn't outrun or outwit it.

This cascade of chemicals is what we refer to as "stress." For rats, the triggers are largely limited to physical threats from the likes of cats and scientists. But in humans, almost anything can start the stress response. Battling traffic, planning a party, losing a job, even gaining a job—all may get the stress hormones flowing as freely as being attacked by a predator does. Even the prospect of future change can set off our alarms. We think, therefore we worry.

Herein lies a problem. A lot of us tend to flip the stress-hormone switch to "on" and leave it there. At some point, the neurons get tired of being primed, and positive effects become negative ones. The result is the same decline in health that Selye's rats suffered. Neurons shrivel and stop communicating with each other, and brain tissue shrinks in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, which play roles in learning, memory and rational thought. "Acutely, stress helps us remember some things better," says neuroendocrinologist Bruce McEwen of Rockefeller University. "Chronically, it makes us worse at remembering other things, and it impairs our mental flexibility."

These chronic effects may disappear when the stressor does. In medical students studying for exams, the medial prefrontal cortex shrinks during cram sessions but grows back after a month off. The bad news is that after a stressful event, we don't always get a month off. Even when we do, we may spend it worrying ("Sure, the test is over, but how did I do?"), and that's just as biochemically bad as the original stressor. This is why stress is linked to depression and Alzheimer's; neurons weakened by years of exposure to stress hormones are more susceptible to killers. It also suggests that those of us with constant stress in our lives should be reduced to depressed, forgetful wrecks. But most of us aren't. Why?

Step away from the lab, and you'll find the beginnings of an answer. In the 1970s and '80s, Salvatore Maddi, a psychologist at the University of California, Irvine, followed 430 employees at Illinois Bell during a companywide crisis. While most of the workers suffered as their company fell apart—performing poorly on the job, getting divorced and developing high rates of heart attacks, obesity and strokes— a third of them fared well. They stayed healthy, kept their jobs or found others quickly. It would be easy to assume these were the workers who'd grown up in peaceful, privileged circumstances. It would also be wrong. Many of those who did best as adults had had fairly tough childhoods. They had suffered no abuse or trauma but "maybe had fathers in the military and moved around a lot, or had parents who were alcoholics," says Maddi. "There was a lot of stress in their early lives, but their parents had convinced them that they were the hope of the family—that they would make everyone proud of them—and they had accepted that role. That led to their being very hardy people." Childhood stress, then, had been good for them—it had given them something to transcend.

More recently, Robert Sapolsky of Stanford University has studied a similar phenomenon in alpha males. He's seen plenty of "totally insane son of a bitch" types who respond to stress by lashing out, but he's also interested in another type that gets less press: the nice guy who finishes first. These alphas don't often get into fights; when they do, they pick battles they know they can win. They're just as dominant as their angry counterparts, and they're subject to the same stressors—power struggles, unsuccessful sexual overtures, the occasional need to slap down a subordinate—but their hormone levels never get out of whack for long, and they probably don't suffer much stress-induced brain dysfunction.Sapolsky likes to joke that they've all been relaxing in hot tubs in Big Sur, transforming themselves into "minimalist Zen masters." This is a joke because they've clearly come by their attitudes unconsciously: Sapolsky studies wild baboons.

Sapolsky's and Maddi's work points to a flaw with much of the neurobiological research: so far, it has done a poor job of accounting for differences in how individuals process stress. Researchers haven't identified the point at which the effects of stress tip over from positive to negative, and they know little about why that point differs from person to person. (This is why they don't like to tell people that a little stress can be good, says Rabin—because "we don't know how to judge for each individual what a 'little' stress is.") The research thus tends to paint stress as a universal phenomenon, even though we all experience it differently. "If there are rats or mice or cultured neurons in a dish that seem superresilient to stress, far too many lab scientists view this as a pain in the ass, something that just throws off patterns," says Sapolsky. "It's only people who are tuned into animal behavior or humans and the real world who are interested in how amazing the outliers are." Explaining these outliers' healthy attitudes, says Sapolsky, is now "the field's biggest challenge."

As Maddi's work makes clear, a lot of the explanation stems from early experiences. This may be true of Sapolsky's baboons as well. Sapolsky suspects that part of what makes an animal a dominant Zen master instead of an angry alpha lies in what sort of childhood he had. If an adult baboon picks up on conflict around him but keeps his cool, "quelling the anxiety and exercising impulse control," that may be behavior his mom modeled for him years earlier. The key? Factors such as how many steps the baby baboon could take away from his mother before she pulled him back—i.e., how much she allowed him to learn for himself, even if that meant a few bumps and bruises along the way. "I think the males who had mothers who were less anxious, who allowed them to be more exploratory in the absence of agitated maternal worry, are more likely to be the Zen ones who are calm enough to resist provocation," he says. A little properly handled stress, then, may be necessary to turn children into well-adjusted adults.

Part of the explanation will also be found in genes. Scientists have already identified one that helps control how the brain processes serotonin; some variants seem to protect people from depression, depending on whether they've suffered through previous traumas. This gene may not mediate everyday stress, but others are bound to be fingered eventually, and "once people have found scores of genes," says Sapolsky, "I'm willing to bet the farm that that's going to begin to explain who gets depressed after disastrous unrequited love and who just feels lousy for two weeks."

The X and Y chromosomes also play a role in how people respond to stress, though how much of one isn't clear. Men and women both experience stress as a rise in adrenaline and cortisol. What differs is their reaction. Women "are more likely to turn to their social networks, and that prompts the release of oxytocin, which mutes the stress systems," says Shelley Taylor, a psychologist at UCLA. If they're surrounded by loved ones when a stressor arises, she says, "there's some evidence they don't even show as much of the initial hormonal response." Without that response, there's less risk of long-term harm to the brain. It's a critical concept—yet it wasn't on stress physiologists' radar until the mid-'90s, when Taylor pointed out that most stress research in animals and humans had been conducted overwhelmingly on males.

Finally, there's that murky territory where genes and environment interact, with lifelong effects: the womb. It's not hard to find studies suggesting that maternal stress harms later child development. But what the evidence means, no one knows. "Project Ice Storm," a survey of nearly 150 expectant mothers who toughed out a 1998 squall in Quebec—some without power for up to 40 days—is one of the scariest studies. Late last year researchers reported that the women's children had lower-than-average IQs and language skills at age 5; they say the storm and its stress on the mothers had "significant effects [on the children] … in every area of development that we have examined." The study surveys many children in great detail, but it doesn't mean all pregnant women should panic about their stress levels (or panic about the fact that they've just panicked). An ice storm isn't the same kind of stressor that people encounter in everyday life, and the women in the ice-storm study don't necessarily represent all women. Those who were stuck in Quebec during the storm were likely some of the ones with the fewest resources. Their children may have been prone to low scores as 5-year-olds simply because they were poor.

A lot of the research on stress and infant development can be picked apart this way, says DiPietro, of Johns Hopkins. Also, she notes, "nobody ever got funded by saying stress doesn't harm babies." DiPietro herself is a rare exception. Two years ago, she showed that women under moderate stress in mid-to-late pregnancy wound up with toddlers who were developmentally advanced, scoring highly on language and cognitive tests. In an upcoming paper, she confirms the trend: 2-week-old babies whose mothers were under moderate stress show evidence of faster nerve transmission—and possibly more mature brain development—than those whose moms had stress-free pregnancies. It's hard to know what to make of the findings, but DiPietro has an intriguing theory. A stressed-out mother's "internal environment"—her heartbeat, blood pressure and other signals the fetus can perceive—is constantly in flux. Her restlessness may stimulate the fetus's brain, giving it something to think about. In this light, DiPietro thinks, the kind of mild to moderate stress that is pervasive in many women's hectic lives may be beneficial, perhaps even "essential," for fetal development. The idea is controversial—but if it's correct, it certainly complicates the theory that stress can permanently damage a child in utero.

When Stanford's Sapolsky gives lectures on stress, he cites the "depressing" research on failing neurons, some of which he has conducted. But his talks end optimistically, thanks to his observations in the wild. "If some baboons just happen to be good at seeing water holes as half full instead of half empty … we should be able to as well," he once told an audience. Even if we're not born well equipped to deal with stress, he said, "we can change," because as humans, we ought to be "wise enough to keep this stuff in perspective."

So how do we do that? One place to start is with the human equivalent of Zen baboons: Buddhist monks. Their mental stability and calmness isn't mystical; it's biological. The brain can grow new cells and reshape itself, and meditation appears to encourage this process. Monks who have trained for years in meditation have greater brain activity in regions linked to learning and happiness. "The mind is far more malleable than we previously assumed," says Saki Santorelli, executive director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Studies at the center have shown that meditation can help people cope with stress. It may repair or compensate for damage already done to the brain.

Not all of us want to or can become monks; not all of us can spare even eight weeks for a course at the Center for Mindfulness. But there are quicker ways to learn to harness and handle stress. For this article, I tried one: the Williams LifeSkills program, a cognitive mini-makeover based on the research of Duke University psychiatrist Redford Williams. LifeSkills teaches adherents to approach life like a Zen baboon, picking the right battles—and it can be completed in a day and a half. "You won't achieve enlightenment, but it will help you," Williams told me before I embarked on the course, which gave me a formula for assessing conflicts (How important is this to me? Should I be mad? Can I do something about the problem? Would that be worth the trouble?). He was right. I did feel a bit calmer afterward. But then, I had willed myself to. I liked Williams; I was hoping his program would work.

This is the problem with all stress-management tactics: you have to want them to succeed and be willing to throw yourself into them, or they'll fail. If you force yourself to do them, you'll just stress yourself out more. This is why exercise relieves stress for some people and makes others miserable. It's also why Sapolsky says he's "totally frazzled" but doesn't bother with meditation: "If I had to do that for 30 minutes a day," he says, "I'm pretty sure I'd have a stroke."

For all of the science's shortfalls, there's animal research that suggests why something that should lower stress can actually cause stress if it's done in the wrong spirit. In a classic study, scientists put two rats in a cage, each of them locked in a running wheel. The first rat could exercise whenever he liked. The second was yoked to the first, forced to run when his counterpart did. Exercise, like meditation, usually tamps down stress and encourages neuron growth, and indeed, the first rat's brain bloomed with new cells. The second rat, however, lost brain cells. He was doing something that should have been good for his brain, but he lacked one crucial factor: control. He could not determine his own "workout" schedule, so he didn't perceive it as exercise. Instead, he experienced it as a literal rat race.

This experiment brings up a troubling point about stress. Psychologists have known for years that one of the biggest factors in how we process stressful events is how much control we have over our lives. As a rule, if we feel we're in control, we cope. If we don't, we collapse. And no amount of meditation or reframing our thinking can change certain facts of our lives. With the market languishing and jobs hemorrhaging and the world going to hell, too many of us probably feel like that rat in the second wheel: it's hard to convince ourselves we're in control of anything.

But stress science even provides a little hope here, if we go back to Selye. He first published his ideas during the Great Depression—a time of stress if ever there was one, and a time in which survival demanded creativity. That Depression ended. Now we're entering what may be a new one, and we'll need more creative thinking to get out of it. We're going to have to figure out what parts of our future we can control, and we'll need to engage with them thoughtfully. Fortunately, we have the kind of brain that permits that. Sure, it will be stressful. Maybe that isn't a bad thing.

One Thing To Do Today - January 29, 2013 #ottdt

One Thing To Do Today: Think twice before you buy anything today

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Feared Loneliness: Empty Nest Syndrome

Published on July 11, 2011 by Linda Walter, LCSW in Life Without Anxiety via Psychology Today

Congratulations, you have raised your son/daughter in such a way that they can leave home to live on their own. Perhaps they're going off to college, perhaps getting married, or perhaps moving into their own place to start a job. No matter what the reason, you are cutting the apron strings. What mixed emotions this causes!

Almost everyone faces this new transition with anxiety, stress, and joy. We don't know whether to celebrate our new found freedom or cry at feared loneliness. We might feel happy and sad, confident and scared, optimistic and full of dread all at the same time. This array of feelings may be for yourself, your child, or both you and your child. Having all of these mixed emotions is perfectly normal. But, it doesn't have to be a crisis, it is a stage in life, a transition that most of us hope we and our children will reach. After all, when a child is ready to leave home it usually means that we, as parents, have been successful in raising them to be self-sufficient and independent - one of the most important jobs a parent has.

Try to think of other times when you have let your child go off on their own and how each of those incidents has taught both of you important lessons. Perhaps the first time you let your child go off on their own was when they went to sleep at their grandparents the first time, or when they went on a play date without you, or went to nursery school, or kindergarten. There were many times throughout their lives when you let them venture out on their own, armed with the tools and values you gave them to be successful. Perhaps those times went smoothly, perhaps there were some problems. But, the fact that you let your child go off without you again means that you trusted them to have learned from previous experiences or to struggle through present experiences and come out comfortably on the other side.

All of us deal with stress and anxiety in different ways. And this is a stressful time. For some, it is a time when we shift our full time focus from our children to our aging parents. For others, it may be a time when we're preparing for retirement. Either way, we need to be prepared to face the stress head on with a plan at the ready.

When your child leaves home your job as a parent changes. You go from being a physically present parent to a more remote one. You still have the job of parenting, it's just in a different way. You may no longer hear the day to day details of your child's life, you may no longer be able to tell their daily moods, whether they're happy or sad. This is certainly an adjustment. But, a necessary adjustment, one that is in the best interests of your child.

Feeling the emotions of an "empty nester" is not just isolated to mothers. Men also go through their own feelings about this transition in life. Their reactions may be different and their reasons for their mixed emotions may not mirror their spouse's, but, they too will go through an adjustment period.

What steps should you take to survive this time of transition?

Stress and anxiety can have the effect of making us short tempered, depressed, self- absorbed. This may lead to arguments with your spouse. It's important to remember that both of you are making an adjustment that seems difficult. The best thing you can do for each other is to listen, be a shoulder to lean on, and be supportive. Understand that you are going through this stage in life together and that it will help to be there for each other. For those of you who are single parents, ask friends and relatives to be there for you for the added support you will need. Try to find others in a similar stage of life with whom to talk.

Listen to your child and what they may and may not need of you. See what their idea is of how they see this new relationship with you. It's important to be supportive and encouraging of them. Let them know that even though this is new for them, you believe they can be successful in this new phase of their life. You want to try to connect with them in an adult to adult manner.

Now is the time to take care of you, to nurture yourself in whatever ways feel good to you. You may want to join an exercise class, learn something new (painting, an instrument, etc.), connect with old friends, make new friends, go back to school, get a job, volunteer, or learn a new language. There are so many things you can do for yourself, all it takes is sitting down and thinking about it. You can also get involved in projects you have been putting off for a while. Projects like getting your home organized, planning a trip, making something.

Try to reconnect with your spouse in ways that you couldn't when there was a child living at home. Go on dates, take a class together, have discussions that don't revolve around your child. If you're single, you may want to develop relationships with the opposite sex or spend more time socializing with friends.

If you find that you can't shake "the blues", that you're having trouble sleeping or are sleeping too much, have no appetite or are eating too much, or don't feel like getting out of bed, it's best to make an appointment with a therapist. Perhaps you need a few individual sessions or to join a support group.

When a child leaves home it marks the beginning of a new phase of life, not only for them, but for their parents also. Seize the time to develop yourself in new ways so that you may look forward to what's ahead. Above all, give yourself a break, allow yourself to feel sad, happy, optimistic, and/or scared, whatever emotions you feel. And remember, you are not alone!

Conquering Fear


To help patients, therapists often counsel either changing behavior to address their fears or denying fears as irrational. Now, a third approach argues that accepting fears can loosen their grip.

The boss loves your work. Your spouse thinks you're sexy. The kids—and even the cat—shower you with affection. But then there's the Voice, the nagging presence in your head that tells you you're a homely, heartless person.

Even people who appear supremely fit, highly successful and hyper-organized are sometimes riddled with debilitating doubts, fears and self-criticisms.

"Most people are struggling with difficult thoughts and feelings. But the show we put on for others says 'I've got it handled,'" says Steven C. Hayes, a professor of psychology at University of Nevada-Reno. In reality, however, "there's a big difference between what's on the outside and what's on the inside."

Cognitive-behavioral therapy aims to help patients conquer their self doubts in two ways: Either by changing the behaviors that go along with it (I'm so fat—I need to get to the gym!) or by challenging the underlying thoughts, which are often distorted. (I'm 45-years old and I'm comparing myself to anorexic models. Get serious!)

Now, a third-wave of cognitive-behavioral therapy is catching on in psychology and self-help circles. It holds that simply observing your critical thoughts without judging them is a more effective way to tame them than pressuring yourself to change or denying their validity.

" 'Tame' is an interesting word," says Dr. Hayes, who pioneered one approach, called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. "How would you go about taming a wild horse? You wouldn't whip it back into a corner. You'd pat it on the nose and give it some carrots and eventually try to ride it."

This new psychology movement centers on mindfulness—the increasing popular emphasis on paying attention to the present moment. One of its key tenets is that urging people to stop thinking negative thoughts only tightens their grip—"like struggling with quicksand," Dr. Hayes says. But simply observing them like passing clouds can diffuse their emotional power, proponents say, and open up more options. ("Here's that old fat feeling again. You know, this happens every time I look at fashion magazines. I am sure judging myself harshly. Do I want to go to the gym? Or I could go to a movie. Or I could stop reading magazines.")

"Part of what mindfulness does is get to you to recognize that these critical thoughts are really stories you have created about yourself. They are not necessarily true, but they can have self-fulfilling consequences," says Zindel V. Segal, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto who devised Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy to help depressed patients. "If you can get some distance from them, you can see that there are choices about how to respond."

Mindfulness also involves paying attention to your breathing and other physical sensations while observing your thoughts so you have a tapestry of information to consider, says Dr. Segal. In fact, neuro-imaging studies have shown that when people consider problems mindfully, they use additional brain circuits beyond those that simply involve problem-solving.

Although some critics initially dismissed mindfulness-based therapies as vacuous and New Age-y, dozens of randomized-controlled trials in the past decade have shown that they can be effective in managing depression, panic disorders, social phobias, sleep problems and even borderline personality disorder.

A study of 160 patients with major depression, led by Dr. Segal and published in the Archives of General Psychiatry last month, found that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy was just as good at as antidepressants at warding off relapses of depression.

The National Institutes of Health is funding more than 50 research studies involving mindfulness treatments for psychological problems.

A growing number of therapists are also using mindfulness-based acceptance in their practices. Katherine Muller, associate director of the Center for Integrative Psychotherapy in Allentown, Pa., says she sometimes brings out a little plastic gnome to represent a patient's negative feelings. "The idea is, 'These feelings are going to come. What are you going to do about them?' " she says. "You don't have to react to them at all. Just allowing them to exist takes away their power."

She also finds that practicing mindfulness is more effective at easing her own fear of flying than being reminded about the safety statistics.

On one flight, she says, "all my cognitive skills were going right out the window." Then another psychologist suggested focusing on the tray table rather than fighting her fears. "It helped me center my head and get a grip," she says. "It gave me a chance to watch the movie and talk to the person next to me, rather than focus on how the plane might go down in a fiery ball."

Psychologist Dennis Tirch, director of the New York Center for Mindfulness, Acceptance and Compassion-Focused Therapies, uses this formula to help even people with profound developmental disabilities take control of their emotions: "Feel your soles of your feet. Feel yourself breathe. Label your emotions and make space for your thoughts."

Extending some compassion for yourself is also an important part of the new mindfulness therapies, Dr. Tirch says. "I can't tell you how many clients I have who are just beating themselves up about things" says Dr. Tirch. "Give yourself a break—not so you can curl up in bed and stay home, but so you can interact better with the world."

Kindness and accepting your thoughts nonjudgmentally doesn't mean having to settle for the status quo, proponents say. Rather than be paralyzed by negative thoughts, you can opt to change your situation—get to the gym or work harder—but with a clearer set of options based on what really matters.

Some critics note that such advice doesn't sound so different from standard cognitive-behavioral therapy or being kind to the "inner child" of earlier psychotherapy approaches. And some experts say that still more scientific data are needed to evaluate its effectiveness, particularly now that it's being applied to such a wide array of disorders.

It's also not clear yet who might benefit most from mindfully accepting their thoughts rather than reasoning with them. For example, Dr. Tirch thinks that it's still important to convince someone with severe agoraphobia that a piano won't fall on their head if they leave the house.

Yet Marsha Linehan, a professor of psychology at the University of Washington, found that the acceptance therapy she developed in the 1990s enabled suicidal patients and those with borderline personality disorder to accept their feelings and get help while trying to challenge them would only have created more bad feelings.

"It's the nonjudgmental part that trips most people up," says Dr. Linehan. "Most of us think that if we are judgmental enough, things will change. But judgment makes it harder to change." She adds: "What happens in mindfulness over the long haul is that you finally accept that you've seen this soap opera before and you can turn off the TV."


via SuperBetter

An Ally is a powerful social relationship. It's someone you trust, someone who makes you smile, and most importantly, someone you can see or talk to often—ideally at least once every two weeks.

Why it Matters
Hundreds of scientific studies over the past decade have shown that having at least two strong social relationships dramatically increases positive health outcomes and helps us succeed in our goals.

Every strong social relationship has four traits in common: positivity, honesty, support and closeness.

Positivity: You feel good when you see each other.
Honesty: You can talk to each other honestly about problems and challenges in your lives.
Support: You feel comfortable asking each other for help.
Closeness: You make time for each other. You see each other in person or talk on the phone at least once every two weeks.
Find those four traits and you've found yourself an ally.

How it Works
Allies make each other stronger in four key ways:

Stronger immune systems: Social support from at least two people is linked to better immune functioning—our wounds heal faster, we catch fewer colds, and we even fight diseases like cancer more effectively.
Lower stress levels: Positive social interaction reduces the levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in our bodies.
Cardiovascular impact: Spending time with people we like lowers our blood pressure and decreases our heart rate.
Social resources: Allies help us gather the resources we need to achieve our goals.

And the best part is that it works both ways. Every time you connect with an Ally, you're making THEM stronger, too.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Pursuing Self-Improvement, at the Risk of Self-Acceptance

Interesting article I found using my Super Better app. Originally posted in the New York Times.

Pursuing Self-Improvement, at the Risk of Self-Acceptance
Published: November 4, 2011

Self-improvement is a deeply embedded American trait, something other cultures find both admirable and amusing. The notion that we can constantly make ourselves better is, in theory, a great idea.

But when does it become too much?

“There’s a tendency to seek and seek and seek and never find,” said Kristen Moeller, creator of the Web site (The motto? “Stop Waiting. Start Living.”) “It becomes one more addiction.”

It’s not that trying to find ways to improve ourselves is a bad thing — not at all. “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp,” the poet Robert Browning wrote. But when we’re constantly reaching rather than occasionally being satisfied with what we have in front of us, that’s a recipe for perpetual dissatisfaction.

“We grew up with the idea that we can do anything,” said Hollee Schwartz Temple, a professor of law at West Virginia University and co-author of “Good Enough Is the New Perfect” (Harlequin, 2011). “But we took that to mean that we have to do everything. And many women took it as you have to do everything perfectly.”

Ms. Temple and her co-author, Becky Beaupre Gillespie, a former journalist, surveyed about 1,000 mothers in their 30s and 40s nationwide and interviewed about 100 for their book. They found that the women broadly fell into two categories: “never enoughs” and “good enoughs.”

Never-enough women felt they had to be the best at everything and often agreed with the sentiment that “I need to be a superstar even if it kills me,” Ms. Temple said.

Those in the good-enough category were, as is self-evident, fine with not being the best as long as they felt they were doing pretty well. But more important than how these women described themselves was how they described their lives.

“The never-enoughs more often described their marriages as poor, or even a disaster,” Ms. Temple said. “The good-enoughs were more satisfied and happier in their marriages. And they were just as likely to advance in their careers as the never-enoughs.”

None of this may seem particularly new. You can’t have it all. Perfection is the enemy of the good. But the struggle to find the balance between stagnation and stress — sinking into a rut or racing on the hamster wheel — resonates even more now in these economically down times, when even your best efforts don’t seem to be reaping the rewards you expected.

“In our culture, there are so many different messages about being successful, and we try to implement all of them,” Ms. Gillespie said. “We need the courage to choose which definition of success we want.”

And the courage to realize that we may explore and seek, but there are often no answers — or not the ones we want, said Ms. Moeller, who wrote the book “Waiting for Jack” (Morgan James Publishing, 2010) about her attempts to get in contact with Jack Canfield, author of “Chicken Soup for the Soul” (Heath Communications Inc., 1993). The book’s title and theme refer to her realization that she, like so many people, was waiting for someone to provide the answers instead of looking inside herself.

“It’s natural for a lot of people to search for something more,” Ms. Moeller said. “Or something happens and they want to make sense of it.”

But we can’t go around with the idea that “one day I’ll arrive; one day I’ll be whole,” she said. “It’s an illusion that one day I’ll be fixed.”

Such constant searching, she said, leads to a sense that you’re waiting to live your life rather than living it. Or you’ll feel that you’re always falling short, because rarely is the road to self-improvement easy or straightforward, and it’s certainly not the same for everyone.

On her blog, Ms. Moeller listed, somewhat tongue in cheek, the signs of a self-help junkie, including these:

¶ “You could own a small island in the Caribbean for the amount of money you have spent on seminars, retreats, coaches, workshops and books, and yet you are still not satisfied.”

¶ “After each course you take, you claim that you now know that you are perfect just as you are, but then you hear about this new course that really sounds perfect and you secretly think, maybe this one will be IT.”

Trying to figure out ways to make ourselves better is nothing new. Dale Carnegie’s seminal “How to Win Friends & Influence People,” was first published in 1936. The first 12-step program, Alcoholics Anonymous, began a year before that in 1935.

This striving for self-improvement and the belief that we can all achieve success if we just work hard enough and figure out the right path, has political, not just personal, ramifications.

David Brooks, a New York Times columnist, wrote in a 2003 Op-Ed page column that Americans “always had a sense that the great opportunities lie just over the horizon, in the next valley, with the next job or the next big thing,” adding, “None of us is really poor; we’re just pre-rich.”

That idea that we can all potentially occupy the executive suite is one of the reasons that Americans have been less ready than some other cultures to protest income inequality, said Daniel Letwin, an associate professor of history at Pennsylvania State University.

But Occupy Wall Street and its offshoots may indicate a sea change.

“Clearly, throughout U.S. history there’s been two competing streaks among Americans — acceptance of, even admiration for the wealthy, when people buy into notions of fluid mobility and equal opportunity, and indignation when the inequalities of wealth and power become too grotesque, when the prospects for ordinary people stall no matter how hard they’re trying, and the system seems rigged,” Professor Letwin said.

Occupy Wall Street can be seen both as a rebellion and as an acknowledgment that most of us won’t ever reach the pinnacles of power — and perhaps don’t even want to, Ms. Temple said.

The reality, she said, is “a lot of people are finding that ‘I don’t want to aspire to what I always thought I wanted to aspire to.’ ”

Of course, I still hope one day to grow the beautiful tomatoes and tasty zucchini and cook up lovely meals with my homegrown bounty. It’s not an impossible dream. But I’ll put aside the composting for now and leave the television where it is. After all, as we’ve learned, there’s no point in pushing this self-improvement thing too far.

Mini Rituals for Acceptance

Another great find via my Super Better app. I've used the "it's okay bowl"

1. THE IT’S OKAY BOWL: Get a bowl from the kitchen and make it the “It’s Okay” bowl. Write down the thing you wish would change on a piece of paper then place it in the bowl. Continue with as many items as you like.
2. FIND AN EPIC JAM: What’s your favorite song about acceptance or perseverance even when down on your luck? Play your song, imagining yourself the hero in the epic adventure of your life contending with obstacles.
3. GO OUTSIDE YOURSELF: Think of a friend who has an issue that they wish would change. Sometimes it’s easier for you accept a challenge that belongs to someone else. When our friends are going through tough times, we don’t tend to judge them as much as we judge ourselves. Accept your friend’s painful issues. That’s just how it is for them right now. You know it’s going to get better. Having this issue doesn’t make them a better or worse person than anyone else. Now beam that same acceptance at yourself and your own issue.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Optimism - Learned Optimism

First things first: when scientists talk about "optimism," they're not saying, "force yourself to be happy." Optimism doesn't mean you have to think everything is super-peachy, or that you can't be realistic (or even cynical!).

Rather, science focuses on "learned optimism," which means teaching yourself to recognize, evaluate, and challenge negative reactions and then build the habit of focusing on positive ones. Optimism is a practice that can help you become happier, but it doesn't force you to be Pollyanna.

The concept of learned optimism was pioneered by psychologist Martin Seligman. We can all build a talent for a more positive "explanatory style"—that is, we can learn to examine our reactions to challenges and setbacks, evaluate them realistically, and focus on more positive emotions, possibilities, and outcomes. Doing this actually helps you be more energized to face and overcome adversity.

"Explanatory style" is what scientists call how we talk to ourselves about the "whys" of a particular event we experience. In any situation, you can have an internal narrative that makes you feel negative (pessimism), or one that helps you feel positive (optimism). The research has defined three components to explanatory style:

Personal: You place yourself as the cause of an event and blame yourself for things happening that maybe, just maybe, you had no had control over. For example, "I missed the traffic light because I'm so slow!" rather than, "That traffic light turned red really quickly." The first is "internal," the second "external." Of course, it's still important to take responsibility for your own actions; just don't feel guilty or defeated about things you had no part in.
Pervasiveness: You can see an event as being universal ("I always do that") or specific ("I did that this one time"). When you give yourself a specific explanation for something happening, it's a lot easier to see how to fix it or prevent it. Seeing things as pervasive is also called catastrophizing—making a catastrophe out of everything. Once you do that, it's easy to give up and lose hope.
Permanence: You imagine that how it is right now is how it will always be—forever. This is the case of, "I didn't get that job, so I'll never work again," versus "I didn't get that job, but maybe the next one will work out." Recognizing that things can and do change is an important part of optimism.
Psychologist Carol Dweck found there was a strong link between the belief that one can change and how persistent one is in the face of adversity. That is, the more one believes one can learn and develop abilities through practice and effort, the more likely one is to face and overcome a challenge, whether it's learning calculus, speaking in front of strangers, or simply getting out of bed.

Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson further showed that the positive emotions resulting from learned optimism can enable a "broaden-and-build" process that can helps build resilience in the face of challenge, as well as improves social, mental, and physical abilities. In a state of optimism, we are better able to innovate and come up with new solutions. Negative emotions trigger survival-centric crisis reactions and narrow our focus, Fredrickson found.

Why It Matters
Studies show that learned optimism reduces stress and anxiety, boosts grades or productivity, and improves physical health, careers, and relationships. Possibly even more importantly, learned optimists exhibit increased resilience when faced with challenges and adversities, be they catastrophes or little frustrations we face every day.

Research has also shown that how we explain things to ourselves, even before we're aware we're doing it, can have a profound effect on our ability to move forward in life. Whether we're facing small tasks such as doing our taxes, or life situations such as depression, learning a new set of skills about how to talk to ourselves and training our reactions and perceptions of what might happen can be a powerful tool for motivation, performance, health, and success.

How It Works
In study after study, people who have learned how to recognize, interrupt, and challenge negative feelings and thoughts about a challenge have proved to be more persistent and powerful in facing down that challenge. How you feel and what you do when faced with a challenge isn't a direct result of the challenge itself, but come from what you believe about the challenge.

The basis of the practice of learned optimism is the "ABC model," developed by psychologist Albert Ellis: we encounter Adversity, we react with thoughts that "congeal" into Beliefs, and these beliefs have Consequences. Seligman added D and E to that model: Disputation of negative (and often unsupported) beliefs, and the Energization that results. Energization can take the form of you spending longer on a task, or doing more each day, or simply feeling better.

This can be tricky to learn. It requires us to intercept thoughts as they turn into emotions, which can be a very quick process. That moment when something happens and you feel a jolt of emotion—say, when a car cuts you off in traffic—that's the moment! Training yourself in the individual elements of the process can help you automatically practice a more positive explanatory style.

Adversity: The event. A car cuts you off in traffic when you're already running late or are otherwise stressed.

Belief: The thought that pops into your mind: "What a jerk! He did that intentionally to me! Now I'll be even more late. I can never win, can I?"

Consequence: The result of the negative thought. You're angry, your pulse goes up, your stress levels increase, and you might even be a worse driver for the next few minutes!

These three steps are vital to recognize in your everyday actions and interactions. Once you can do that, in the moment, using the next two steps can help you change the ultimate consequences of that adversity for the better.

Disputation: Question your interpretation of the event. Are there any facts you can point to—past experience, what's around you—that give alternate explanations of why the event occurred? How useful is it to focus on this event right now? Is it really important in the grand scheme of things?

Energization: This is the celebration of breaking the negative emotions and pessimistic explanatory style. You did it! You did something positive, and got yourself out of a negative state. Having a more positive state also opens you up to focus on doing something else.

Monday, January 21, 2013

How to Cope With Empty Nest Syndrome

Empty nest syndrome: Tips for coping

Worried about empty nest syndrome? Find out how an empty nest can affect parents, what you can do to prepare for the transition and how to cope.

By Mayo Clinic staff

If your last child is all grown up and about to leave home — or he or she has already moved out — you might be experiencing some mixed emotions. Understand why empty nest syndrome happens and what you can do about it.

What's empty nest syndrome and why do some parents experience it?

Empty nest syndrome isn't a clinical diagnosis. Instead, empty nest syndrome is a phenomenon in which parents experience feelings of sadness and loss when the last child leaves home.

Although you might actively encourage your children to become independent, the experience of letting go can be painful. You might find it difficult to suddenly have no children at home who need your care. You might miss being a part of your children's daily lives — as well as the constant companionship. You might also worry intensely about your children's safety and whether they'll be able to take care of themselves on their own. You might struggle with the transition if your last child leaves the nest a little earlier or later than you expected — or at a time different from when you did. If you have only one child or strongly identify with your role as parent, you might have a particularly difficult time adjusting to an empty nest.

What's the impact of empty nest syndrome?

In the past, research suggested that parents dealing with empty nest syndrome experienced a profound sense of loss that might make them vulnerable to depression, alcoholism, identity crisis and marital conflicts.

However, recent studies suggest that an empty nest can also provide parents with many benefits. When the last child leaves home, parents have a new opportunity to reconnect with each other, improve the quality of their marriage and rekindle interests for which they previously might not have had time.How can I cope with empty nest syndrome?

If you're experiencing feelings of loss due to empty nest syndrome, take action. For example:

Accept the timing. Avoid comparing your child's timetable to your own personal experience. Instead, focus on what you can do to help your child succeed when he or she does leave home.
Keep in touch. You can continue to be close to your children even when you live apart. Make an effort to maintain regular contact through visits, phone calls, emails, texts or video chats.
Seek support. If you're having a difficult time dealing with an empty nest, lean on loved ones and other close contacts for support. Share your feelings. If you feel depressed, consult your doctor or a mental health provider.

Stay positive. Thinking about the extra time and energy you might have to devote to your marriage or personal interests after your last child leaves home might help you adapt to this major life change.

Can I prevent empty nest syndrome?

If your last child is about to leave home and you're worried about empty nest syndrome, plan ahead. Look for new opportunities in your personal and professional life. Keeping busy or taking on new challenges at work or at home can help ease the sense of loss that your child's departure might cause.

I'm Back...on Blogger

My experience with the other website was unsatisfactory. So over the next few days I will be importing entries from the other blog back on to my good old and true, blogger. I'm sorry for any confusion or inconvenience this may have caused. We will be back in running in no time. In the mean time, I hope you enjoy a second reading of some of my current posts as they get published to this blog site. Thank you for your patience.

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