OCD and Computational Psychiatry

There is a relatively new field of research known as computational psychiatry, which focuses on the development of mathematical models to better understand defects in the brain — defects that lead to adverse behaviors.

A new study published in the journal Neuron discusses findings from this type of research into the fundamental processes of OCD. Senior author Benedetto De Martino says:

“Medicine today is very much about decoding the mechanisms in the body. When we are talking about something like a heart valve, that’s a mechanical part that can be clearly understood. But the brain is a computational device that has no mechanical parts, so we need to develop mathematical tools to understand what happens when something goes wrong with a brain computation and generates a disease. This study shows that the actions of people with OCD often don’t take into account what they’ve already learned.”

In other words, what those with OCD know as true does not correlate with how they act. De Martino uses hand washing as an example. Some people with OCD know their hands are clean, but still they can’t stop washing them. That is a separation of belief and action. It’s interesting to note that the degree of separation between beliefs and actions directly corresponds to the severity of OCD symptoms.

To those of us familiar with obsessive-compulsive disorder, this is not surprising news. We already know that those with OCD are typically aware their compulsions make no sense, but are unable to stop them. De Martino, however, is hopeful that continued studies will be beneficial. He says:

“Just as studying people with lesions in the hippocampus has historically taught us about the inner workings of memory, studying people with OCD can give us new insights into how beliefs and actions are linked.”

Christopher Pittenger, director of the OCD research clinic at Yale University finds the study interesting, but also acknowledges it can be difficult to generalize findings from computerized methodology to the real world. Dr. Pittenger says, “In order to make things trackable, you make them simple.” As we know, the real world is not simple, especially a world with OCD, so it is important to repeat these studies with different types of tasks. You can read here for more details about the study and what tasks were used.

I understand that studying the brain in relation to the disconnect between belief and action has potential value, both in understanding OCD and in treating it. How great it would be if researchers could actually pinpoint the physical cause of OCD and other brain disorders! Still, I have to admit I’ve yet to wrap my head around computational psychiatry for OCD. I think it’s because I’m so used to dealing with the thoughts, feelings, and emotions of those with the disorder, it’s hard to put that all aside and just focus on the science.

The bottom line is we need both — the researchers who work tirelessly to unlock the secrets of obsessive-compulsive disorder, and the professionals, advocates, and loved ones who continue to support those who are truly suffering from the disorder. Together, hopefully, we can beat OCD.

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Coping with What You Can’t Control

There are many things in life we can’t control—everything from tiny annoyances to tragedies. We can’t control if our grandmother gets cancer and passes away. We can’t control if we get cancer.

We can’t control what others think, say or do. We can’t control what others think of us. We can’t control who our loved ones hang out with. We can’t control who we work with or who’s in charge. We can’t control Mother Nature, or today’s traffic.

But, of course, we can control our reactions to all the things we can’t control.

I’m sure you’ve heard that statement many, many times. And it’s true, of course. But, in the moment, we’re often left wondering, how do we react when we’re really upset? How do we react when it feels like our world has stopped—or exploded?

Below two therapists shared their suggestions.

Feel what you’re feeling. Give yourself the space and permission to feel whatever emotions arise. Name your feelings. Acknowledge them, without judging yourself, without beating yourself up, without saying, “I shouldn’t be feeling this way.”

“Being honest with what is happening for you will give you the opportunity to heal from it,” said Stacey Ojeda, LMFT, a psychotherapist who specializes in working with clients on healing and adjusting to sudden and traumatic loss, such as suicide, homicide, medical traumas and accidents as well working with those who’ve survived sexual assault and abuse. “Avoiding what feelings come up doesn’t make them go away, it just prolongs the healing process.”

So tell yourself the truth. Honor your feelings. Accept them. Ojeda shared these examples: “I’m just really hurt that [he] called me ugly. It really hurt my feelings and I feel sad and embarrassed about it”; “I am so angry that I have cancer. It feels really unfair and I am really scared.”

Take deep breaths. When we get overwhelmed, our breathing becomes shallow, which spikes our stress. Practicing deep breathing helps to calm us. It’s also a reminder that you can control your breath—even when there’s little else you can control, said Daniela Paolone, LMFT, a holistic psychotherapist who utilizes mind-body techniques, education, pain management approaches and more, to help those with chronic illness, pain and anxiety get back to living life with greater ease and comfort.

To begin, place one hand on your belly button. Inhale through your nose, so your belly expands out and fills with air, like a balloon, she said. Exhale, so your belly moves inward. “As you inhale you can say to yourself that you are breathing in health and healing and on the exhale, you are breathing out any worries and concerns.”

Don’t fixate on reasons. If I lost 10 pounds, he wouldn’t have left me. If I didn’t eat so much sugar, I wouldn’t have cancer. If I reminded him to wear his seatbelt, he wouldn’t have broken bones.

“When you get caught up on the ‘why’ and trying to find the perfect answer for why the event took place, it stops you from moving forward and finding what you can control in that moment,” Ojeda said. Relinquish your search for reasons, and what-ifs.

Create a jar of gratitude. “When events or situations in life go wrong, it is really easy for us to only bring our energy and attention to those problems,” Paolone said. And then we get stuck. And then we dwell (and drown) in this dark place.

Paolone understands what it’s like to have darker moments. She lives with various health issues and chronic pain. She finds having a jar of “good moments” to be particularly helpful. This is where she includes events and experiences that she’s appreciative of, such as: feeling healthy enough to get a haircut; meeting a good friend for lunch; sipping a favorite tea and reading the paper; having a supportive family, seeing a caring doctor who sits and listens to her concerns.

What are you appreciative of, even in the midst of frustration or pain?

Move your body. Some research has found that individuals who participate in a regular yoga practice are better able to manage strong emotions, Paolone said. Also, moving our bodies promotes blood circulation and releases tension, “which is exactly what you need to do when overwhelmed by life circumstances.”

If yoga isn’t your thing, what movement do you enjoy? What rejuvenates you? What calms you?

Turn to trustworthy people. Sometimes, when we’re feeling out of control, we disconnect from loved ones. We isolate. We withdraw. However, this is precisely when we “need someone who can be stable to help ground us back down,” Ojeda said.

Another reason people don’t reach out for support is because they don’t want to burden someone else with their problems. “I always challenge my clients to ask themselves if their friend or family member was experiencing a similar ‘out of control’ experience, would you want them to come to you or keep it to themselves?”

You also can combine connection with movement by taking a walk with a loved one, Paolone said.

Remind yourself it’s not permanent. No matter how horrible you feel, remind yourself that it won’t last forever. As Ojeda said, “feelings are constantly changing.” They invariably ebb and flow. “Can you think back to another time you felt really awful and stuck, but then it passed?” 

When you can’t control a situation, you feel overwhelmed, powerless, helpless and hopeless. It’s demoralizing to think there’s nothing you can do. Or maybe we know there are many things we can do, but we don’t have the energy. When this happens, when you feel this way, move slowly. Honor yourself. Take one small, tiny step. Take a breath. Text a loved one. Write a few words about what you need. Take your time. In other words, be kind and gentle with yourself.

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How to Be Proactive Instead of Reactive and Bothered by Others’ Requests

“If we didn’t spend so much time reacting to things, we would spend less time feeling bothered. We would be able to relax in our lives the way our mind relaxes in meditation.” – Angel Williams

You wake up and immediately think of all the stuff you feel you must do today. Rather, consider that this list is what you either told yourself is necessary, contains some that you figure you’ll maybe get around to, some that are totally unnecessary and not time-sensitive, and still more items others added to your workload or responsibility by someone else. Some of these are undoubtedly a real chore, while other tasks are less onerous but still something you’d rather not do. Yet, it isn’t the planned to-do list that often bothers you but those situations and problems that require you to act. Here’s the difficulty: You’re reacting to things — and that bothers you.

Here are some suggestions on how you can be proactive instead of reactive, and to mitigate the feeling of obligation or pressure, so as not to allow yourself to become bothered by what lies ahead.

Dealing with the Unexpected

Granted, everyone experiences the unexpected. How can you deal with these situations without instantly going into reaction mode so that they bother you? It may be tough at first, but you can do it.

Take this as an example. Your boss suddenly drops a hot project on your desk and that throws your evening’s activities with the family off the planned agenda. You dive in, not without some disappointment at what you’re missing out on and not without a tinge of resentment toward your boss.

To prevent your personal reaction from escalating into full-blown bother, take a few deep breaths. Remind yourself that you are fully capable of handling this task, and your boss has confidence in your abilities or you wouldn’t have been given the assignment.

Run through a mental list of how you’ll tackle this project in a step-by-step fashion. Enlist help if you need it. Don’t be afraid to ask the boss for more time if it is warranted and won’t jeopardize the deadline.

It’s also important that you let your family know you’ll be tied up for a while. Promise to reschedule the activity you had planned with them. If that is not possible, pledge to spend time with them in another special activity – and make sure to keep your promise.

While you’ll still have to do the work your boss gave you, you’re now more in control of the process and the timing. That eliminates the reaction and erases the bother to a certain degree.

It might also help to remind your boss that you’ve come through on this urgent assignment and ask for time off to compensate for it. You are worth it and your boss knows it.

Dealing With Requests from Co-workers, Family Members and Friends

Other situations and things that tend to cause reaction and bother can be dealt with in a comparable way. Some, however, require more deliberate action, undertaken tactfully.

Suppose you’re nearly finished for the day with whatever tasks you’ve identified and worked on according to your planned schedule. Just as you’re ready to tidy up your desk and head out the door, a co-worker entreats you to give him or her a hand with some task. Instead of brushing off the request, consider whether you’ve asked for such a favor of this person before. If so, and the help was readily given, you may wish to reciprocate the favor. After all, that’s only fair and it shows that you are willing to give as well as take. With the two of you working on the task, it should be accomplished quickly. At the very least, you both can make some serious headway so what remains to be done won’t take that long the next day.

If, however, this co-worker always waits until the last minute and expects you to help regardless of your plans, say you have plans and you won’t be able to help. You could also be more direct and say that coming to you for assistance at the end of the day is a pattern and you don’t appreciate it. Therefore, you’re not going to help this time. Be sure you stand firm with your decision.

What about issues with family members or friends that suddenly interfere with whatever you’ve got planned? How can you effectively deal with their requests? Here, make sure that you understand the scope of the request, determine if it’s legitimate or does this person merely want to spend some time with you? Do they have another motive for asking, such as needing to discuss a problem with you? Ask questions if you need more input before you decide whether to grant their request. It could benefit both of you if what results is finding resolution to a pressing issue or discussion smooths the relationship.

Quick Recap

Summarizing the strategy, first take a few deep breaths. Think about who is asking for or demanding your help and whether you want or must comply. Consider your strengths next. Determine what you need. Prioritize steps. Enlist help. Ask for more time if you need it. Get to work.

While you may not be as relaxed as you are when you meditate, or engage in an enjoyable leisure activity, you will lessen the anxiety, dampen any resentment and increase your self-confidence. Knowing you have the ability, fortitude and strength of character to see this thing through is a great boost to your self-esteem as well.

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Some Reassuring Thoughts About Needing Reassurance

Even the most secure people need reassurance sometimes. It’s part of being human. Even if you need lots of validation, this is nothing to be ashamed of.

Many of us didn’t receive enough reassurance growing up. We didn’t get the memo that we’re lovable, wonderful, or just ok as we are. A reassurance deficit may keep us on the wheel of continually looking outside ourselves for validation to help us feel valued and grounded.

If we grew up with lots of shaming, criticism, or neglect, we may not have developed a secure internal base. If we didn’t have a healthy attachment with caregivers, we may not feel a secure and stable inner platform from which to operate confidently in the world.

The Reassurance We’re Really Seeking

Our sense of self develops through our interactions with others. We don’t exist as isolated entities. Seeking reassurance can be a healthy expression of our vulnerability. Our emotional well-being requires validation and reality checks from others.

But there are pitfalls to giving and receiving reassurance. Have you ever revealed your concerns or fears to a friend and your friend tried to reassure you by offering advice or saying “There’s nothing to be afraid of?” or “everything will be ok”? Although their intention is good, their advice may leave you feeling worse! If you are feeling afraid, you may now have an added dose of shame — believing that something is wrong with you for feeling that way!

The reassurance we seek doesn’t usually come by getting false reassurance or advice, but by feeling validated for whatever we’re feeling. We feel comforted through caring and empathy. Rather than hearing, “You don’t need to be afraid,” we might feel reassured by hearing something like, “I can understand how that’s scary”, or “I’d be afraid too if that were happening to me”, or “Sure, how could anyone not feel anxious in that situation?”

Of course, if a person is seeking advice, you might offer your viewpoint — or direct them toward a source of potential help, such as a therapist to explore an issue, or a medical practitioner if it’s a health concern. But most often, people simply need your empathic ear and caring heart. A human connection usually offers the most comfortable reassurance, rather than your advice or perspective. Feeling heard offers the reassurance that your friend is not alone. Being with them in their struggle is inherently reassuring.

If you find yourself needing reassurance, it doesn’t mean you’re an insecure person; it simply means you’re human. It takes courage to reach out and ask for help or support when needed.

You might begin a conversation with a friend by saying something like, “I’m feeling a need for some reassurance (or support) right now. Do you have some time… or when would be a good time to talk?” Or, “There’s something bugging me. Would it be ok to talk with you about it?” A friend may be touched by our vulnerable expression and trust… and be happy to listen.

You might also want to say what you need, such as, “I just need you to listen” or “I need a sounding board.” Or, if you want a reality check, you might say, “If you have any thoughts, input, or perspectives on what I’m saying, please let me know.”

Be a bit careful about taking too much time when seeking reassurance from a friend. People have limited time and attention spans. You may want to check in with the person or use your intuition about when it feels like enough—when you or your friend has reached a limit. A good friend may tell you. Others may not want to offend you, but may distance from you if there is not a balance between speaking and listening.

At some point–or on a different occasion–you can reciprocate by offering your presence, attention, and caring to your friend. If you find yourself needing lots of support, there’s nothing wrong with that. But you may want to consider seeking a therapist about a stubborn or recurring issue.

Letting It In

A big obstacle around seeking reassurance is this: Do we let it in when we get it? Continually seeking reassurance may be a sign that we’re not fully soaking it up when it drifts our way. I’ll address this more in a future article.

It’s human to seek reassurance. No one is totally self-sufficient, even if they pretend to be. The most insecure people are those who don’t acknowledge their fears and insecurities. It’s a blessing to find people with whom we can be vulnerable and talk to them when we feel anxious or insecure. A reciprocal sharing of our humanity, including our need for reassurance, builds trust and connection.

If you like my article, please consider viewing my Facebook page and books below.

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4 Ways You Could Be Sabotaging Your Relationship and What to Do About It

Most of us want to have a successful relationship, and yet there are behaviors that we engage in that are surefire ways of wreaking havoc on our relationship. A likely cause is that we didn’t know that our behavior was unhealthy and destructive. For this reason it’s important to reflect on our actions and assess whether they’re harmful to our relationship. So examine these sabotaging behaviors and determine whether you’re making any of these mistakes.

Not addressing past hurts

If you enter into your relationship with un-addressed issues from prior relationships, whether with romantic partners or family members, it can come up and be damaging to your new relationship. You can be setting yourself up for failure if you don’t address these past issues. And it’s even worse if you’re thinking that you don’t need to address these issues, as it’ll be harder for you to see how they’re affecting your relationship. Keep in mind, that when people perceive their partners as having more emotional baggage, they value them less as a romantic partner and are less committed to them.

So develop a plan to address your past hurts. Whether you make the decision to talk to the person you’ve been holding onto thoughts about, begin journaling or choose to talk to a professional. Determine what’s best for you.

Having unexpressed needs

Being in a relationship and not expressing your needs may very well lead you to feel unfulfilled. And having unexpressed expectations will likely lead you to be regularly disappointed in your partner because they will never be able to live up to expectations that only you know, which could also be unrealistic.

So, talk to you partner. Tell them your needs. You might not get everything you’re asking for, but there will be a conversation and you’ll be clear on what needs will be met. And let your partner in on your expectations. You may come to realize that you have unrealistic expectations of your partner and/or your relationship. Be sure that your expectations aren’t coming from your comparison of other relationships.

Holding onto relationship myths

Most people, at some point in time, have believed a relationship myth. Whether thinking that conflict is bad for a relationship, that their partner can complete them, or will know what to do and say to make them happy, that relationships must be 50/50, or if you’re truly in love passion will never fade. If you’re holding onto any of these myths or any others, it’s bound to negatively affect your relationship.

It’s important to take the time to evaluate your thoughts about your relationship and assess whether they are healthy and accurate ones. You may also want to talk it over with someone you trust who has been in a healthy long-term relationship.

Not communicating effectively

Healthy and clear communication is essential in every relationship. If you’re expecting your partner to know how you feel, you’re passive aggressive in your communication, yell when you’re unhappy or make any other communication mistake you’re building a shaky foundation for your relationship.

Examine how you communicate with your partner. Ensure that your goal is always to have them clearly understand your thoughts and feelings. Actively listen to your partner and repeat back what they’re saying to confirm that you understand them. And be sure to assess what if any changes you need to make to communicate more effectively.

As it’s possible that you could be sabotaging your relationship and not even realize it, it’s important to regularly reflect on your behavior. Examine if your actions are strengthening your relationship or possibly destroying it.

Reference:

Booth-Butterfield, M. & Sidelinger, R. (2009). “Starting Off on the Wrong Foot: An Analysis of Mate Value, Commitment and Partner “Baggage” in Romantic Relationships”. Human Communication. A Publication of the Pacific and Asian Communication Association. Vol. 12, No. 4, pp.403-419.

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Finding Hope: How to Turn Disappointments into Strengths

Disappointments can be deeply painful, crushing to our self-esteem and shaking up our world. Disappointment is defined as “the feeling of sadness or displeasure caused by the unfulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations.” So, naturally, disappointments leave us feeling sad, regretful, dismayed and sorrowful. And given the current news today, from the numerous worldwide natural disasters to the country’s political instability, more people are experiencing an array of emotions associated with disappointment.

When we are disappointed, we tend to focus on the outcome itself that caused our feelings of disappointment. We may feel paralyzed to do anything to make our circumstances or ourselves feel better and we focus only on the feelings of loss surrounding our un-actualized dream or goal. With this information in mind, one can spot the similarities between feeling disappointment and mourning. This is because mourning is part of disappointment.

By going through the mourning process, the hope needed to improve our situation and to help us feel better when facing disappointing situations and times is found. When disappointments, as with other losses such as a loved one dying or a relationship ending, are not properly and fully mourned, we end up feeling “stuck” — reflecting our emotional mourning process hitting a wall. And emotional pain that is not expressed in healthy ways or is shut down by repression, can be transmitted in destructive and unhelpful ways, for example by having more conflicting relationships than usual, being more easily angered or frustrated, feeling more depressed, feeling more anxious and/or drinking more alcohol or other substances to self-medicate.

After fully mourning our disappointments, feelings of hope represent our newly gained emotional and cognitive growth by seeing new possibilities, perspectives and options available to us to ponder and act upon  In this way, feeling disappointed can be seen as an opportunity to grow and learn. And in my experience of working with individuals in my practice, digesting and incorporating emotional pain related to disappointment strengthens people and their relationships.

It’s important to be mindful of not falling into the trap of generalizing a specific disappointment and thereby creating a downward cycle of self-sabotaging thoughts like, “I’m not good enough” or  “This always happens to me.”  People struggling with depression and/or anxiety when facing disappointment may be more likely to generalize a specific disappointment and disappointments may trigger a cycle of self-sabotaging thoughts or make their depression and/or anxiety worse, especially if many disappointments happened over a short time span.

Remember that allowing yourself to experience the pain of disappointment and to express your feelings about it will lead to emotional and cognitive growth and greater degrees of resiliency and grit.

Below are a few strategies to keep in mind to help with finding the hope in life’s inevitable disappointments:

  • Acknowledge you are actually disappointed. This may sound obvious, but for many, simply stating they are disappointed can be painful since for them disappointment is associated with feelings of failure and feeling like a failure. It’s important to keep in mind disappointments are a normal part of life and a part of being human.
  • Tune into your feelings. As stated above, feelings of sadness, regret and loss are associated with disappointment. Acknowledging your feelings means you’re taking yourself and your circumstances seriously. It also indicates you’re on your way and open to learning from your disappointing experience.
  • Do not minimize or avoid your emotions.  It’s normal to want to avoid feeling painful emotions by means of distraction or self-medicating with alcohol or other substances. But, ultimately shutting down a mourning process by these means will not help us in the long run and our emotional growth and ability to cultivate the hope needed for change and learning will be stunted.
  • Be patient with yourself. Give yourself the time to process feelings of loss triggered by a disappointment. As with any physical trauma or injury, our injured emotions stemming from disappointment will take time to heal, time to regroup and transform into hope.
  • Take the time to figure out what went wrong. Once you’ve allowed yourself to grieve your feelings of loss brought about by a disappointment, take the time to figure out what may have gone wrong and work on determining what part was in your control versus what wasn’t. Examine your expectations and your goals and apply what you’ve learned to what you can do differently in the future.  

 

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Finding Hope: How to Turn Disappointments into Strengths

Disappointments can be deeply painful, crushing to our self-esteem and shaking up our world. Disappointment is defined as “the feeling of sadness or displeasure caused by the unfulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations.” So, naturally, disappointments leave us feeling sad, regretful, dismayed and sorrowful. And given the current news today, from the numerous worldwide natural disasters to the country’s political instability, more people are experiencing an array of emotions associated with disappointment.

When we are disappointed, we tend to focus on the outcome itself that caused our feelings of disappointment. We may feel paralyzed to do anything to make our circumstances or ourselves feel better and we focus only on the feelings of loss surrounding our un-actualized dream or goal. With this information in mind, one can spot the similarities between feeling disappointment and mourning. This is because mourning is part of disappointment.

By going through the mourning process, the hope needed to improve our situation and to help us feel better when facing disappointing situations and times is found. When disappointments, as with other losses such as a loved one dying or a relationship ending, are not properly and fully mourned, we end up feeling “stuck” — reflecting our emotional mourning process hitting a wall. And emotional pain that is not expressed in healthy ways or is shut down by repression, can be transmitted in destructive and unhelpful ways, for example by having more conflicting relationships than usual, being more easily angered or frustrated, feeling more depressed, feeling more anxious and/or drinking more alcohol or other substances to self-medicate.

After fully mourning our disappointments, feelings of hope represent our newly gained emotional and cognitive growth by seeing new possibilities, perspectives and options available to us to ponder and act upon  In this way, feeling disappointed can be seen as an opportunity to grow and learn. And in my experience of working with individuals in my practice, digesting and incorporating emotional pain related to disappointment strengthens people and their relationships.

It’s important to be mindful of not falling into the trap of generalizing a specific disappointment and thereby creating a downward cycle of self-sabotaging thoughts like, “I’m not good enough” or  “This always happens to me.”  People struggling with depression and/or anxiety when facing disappointment may be more likely to generalize a specific disappointment and disappointments may trigger a cycle of self-sabotaging thoughts or make their depression and/or anxiety worse, especially if many disappointments happened over a short time span.

Remember that allowing yourself to experience the pain of disappointment and to express your feelings about it will lead to emotional and cognitive growth and greater degrees of resiliency and grit.

Below are a few strategies to keep in mind to help with finding the hope in life’s inevitable disappointments:

  • Acknowledge you are actually disappointed. This may sound obvious, but for many, simply stating they are disappointed can be painful since for them disappointment is associated with feelings of failure and feeling like a failure. It’s important to keep in mind disappointments are a normal part of life and a part of being human.
  • Tune into your feelings. As stated above, feelings of sadness, regret and loss are associated with disappointment. Acknowledging your feelings means you’re taking yourself and your circumstances seriously. It also indicates you’re on your way and open to learning from your disappointing experience.
  • Do not minimize or avoid your emotions.  It’s normal to want to avoid feeling painful emotions by means of distraction or self-medicating with alcohol or other substances. But, ultimately shutting down a mourning process by these means will not help us in the long run and our emotional growth and ability to cultivate the hope needed for change and learning will be stunted.
  • Be patient with yourself. Give yourself the time to process feelings of loss triggered by a disappointment. As with any physical trauma or injury, our injured emotions stemming from disappointment will take time to heal, time to regroup and transform into hope.
  • Take the time to figure out what went wrong. Once you’ve allowed yourself to grieve your feelings of loss brought about by a disappointment, take the time to figure out what may have gone wrong and work on determining what part was in your control versus what wasn’t. Examine your expectations and your goals and apply what you’ve learned to what you can do differently in the future.  

 

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Screening Your Sanity

Dancing in the Rain: Learning to Live With Treatment-Resistant Depression & Chronic Pain“Do you not give a damn about your father?” my Dad growled into the phone.

The truth is I cared — probably too much. And for my own health and well-being, I had to step back from my Dad’s snark-filled comments and Mt. Vesuvius rage.

Family — or at least the idealized notion of family — is sacrosanct to me. I cherish my relationships with my beloved aunties and uncles. When they aren’t teasing me for the latest Mattism (losing my keys, wallet, or mind), they are prodding me about my latest love interest or travel escapade. And as for my late mother, she was equal parts mentor and matriarch. From joyfully recalling the day’s events to lunching with her and her tennis girlfriends to Thanksgiving bowl-a-thons, I smile — ruefully — at the fond memories. There is a tinge of sadness too as I recall our family’s joyfulness.

More than molding me, my mother moderated — with her trademark compassion and wit — my father’s sharper edges. More professional than personable, my father would never be in the running for Mr. Congeniality. But with my mother’s not-so-subtle influence, he concealed his gruff demeanor with an amicable, if not warm, countenance.

How times have changed.

Without my mother’s softening influence, my father’s shrillness has spilled out. Never particularly warm or engaging, his biting commentary (“If you really cared about your father”) now imbues our conversations.

As his eldest son, I vacillate between compassion and disdain toward him. Yes, I am sympathetic that your wife of 37 years passed away. I want to help. Why are you hurling mean-spirited invectives toward me? I don’t understand. While the debate rages on, compassion would normally eke out a narrow victory — and I would endure his caustic comments and morose self-pity.

Until it didn’t.

After four plus years, I pulled away — more for my own self-preservation. After another dispiriting conversation, I would rhetorically ask myself, “Why am I doing this?” During each father-son conversation, anxiety would ensnare me as Dad collected and filed his weekly grievances: my brothers, aunts and uncles, and me. While I wanted to support him, the emotional toll was too exacting: my own health and well-being.

And so I went cold turkey. While I still cling to my idealized family hovering around the kitchen table or, yes, commemorating the latest Thanksgiving bowl-a-thon, I now understand that you create your own family. For some, that will include a doting father; for others, that will consist of beloved aunties and uncles. And, perhaps for you, that will include lifelong friends spanning your recess through university days.

Your family doesn’t have to share your last name; it is more important that they share a sense of love and appreciation for you. Pulling away from my father’s domineering ways, I have luckily found that with my beloved aunties and uncles. You can too — even if takes screening one family member’s call(s) for another.

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Inner Strength: How to Build a Firm Foundation for Living Your Best Life

Inner strength is created through effort and determination. At the core of it is the trust that one way or another you will be able to deal with whatever you may encounter in life — whether it be a crisis or simply the challenges of daily life.

If you do not let them crush you, hardship and adversity provide a opportunities to steel your inner fortitude. But you can also develop and strengthen it by deliberately enhancing key psychological attributes that will make you stronger and more resilient:

Strengthen Your Sense of Self

Increase your self-knowledge. Be honest and as objective as you can about your strengths and weaknesses, abilities and values, and generally get to know how you tick.

Choose self-acceptance. It means to be okay with your quirks and shortcomings, to be authentic and real. Practice self-compassion when life has knocked you and self-forgiveness when you have not been your best.

Set boundaries. Know your values and limits. Bravely stand your ground when something is not acceptable to you.

Increase Emotional Stability

Resist drama and emotional turbulence. This requires a willingness to tolerate difficult feelings like sadness, disappointment, frustration, worry and fears. Fluctuations in mood are a normal part of life. While significant emotions should not be denied and need to be understood, with some degree of self-control you can keep your cool and stay strong.

Beware a sense of entitlement to a trouble-free life. No one can claim exemption from hard knocks and unfulfilled expectations, hopes and dreams. An emotionally mature person deals with challenges with as much grace and competence as possible.

Manage Your Energies

Commit to self-care with healthy habits and practices. Inner strength is on shaky ground when your body is deprived of its true needs. You also need to be discerning about what you do and how you do it – when to persist, when to cut your losses and let go. But most of all, allow humor and lightheartedness. No matter how serious a situation, it is often possible to find something funny and laugh at absurdities or even at yourself.

Approach Life with Realistic Optimism

See things objectively as they are. Take stock of the situation and aim for an overall perspective. Bring to mind the whole picture and take the long view. Ask yourself how the current issue fits into the big scheme of things.

Be proactive and deal with the demands of the moments, rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.

Be aware of automatic negative thoughts. Instead adopt lateral thinking and look outside the square. Be flexible and open to consider new options. Adjust to new developments. See problems as learning experiences that will help you become stronger and wiser.

Review Your Social Life

Are you connected or dependent? Are you easily swayed and persuaded? Is the company you keep appreciating your individuality or do you have to change who you are to please others? Is there peer pressure to fit in? What is the group think? What are the ‘shoulds’ and demands to be a certain way? Whose values do you live by? Are you making your own choices and decisions or do you do what you think is expected of you?

Make sure to surround yourself with people who have values and goals that resonate with you. Where there is mutual support and respect for the other. If necessary and possible stay away from toxic people who demean you or who try to clip your wings.

And most of all, become comfortable in your own company. Practice being alone and quiet, just with yourself. Only when you are able to be at peace with yourself, will you develop the ability to be truly self-directed and self-reliant.

Cherish Spiritual Connection

Whatever your religious beliefs, centre yourself in something bigger than yourself. Make time for Being, with moments where all Doing stops. Prayer, contemplation or tuning into universal energies will help you do that.

Find something that gives your life meaning and purpose. It could be something that gives you joy or something that is of benefit to others. Whatever makes your heart sing will enhance your inner life, give you direction and establish a solid foundation for living life to the full.

To develop and cultivate your own inner strength, choose from the above descriptions those areas where you are most lacking. Concentrate on one at a time and seek out resources that show you in greater detail how to enhance those abilities. It may be challenging to step outside your comfort zone and expose yourself to failure and mistakes. But that is part of becoming stronger: not be deterred by hiccups but persist with transforming yourself into a person who lives their best life from a position of inner strength.

What is your experience with inner strength — or lack of it? What do you need to develop most? How have you become a strong person? What additional ways have worked for you?  What advice would you give others?

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Psychology Around the Net: October 14, 2017

Who’s ready to learn more about why some of us are likely to spend more money on certain items, how cannabis could increase violent behavior, a new documentary about anxiety and depression, and more?

You sweet readers, I hope!

Why Friday the 13th Is Considered to Be Bad Luck: Yesterday was Friday the 13th (well, depending on when you read this), and several psychologists and other scientists weigh in on why many of us don’t like the number 13 (also known as triskaidekaphobia) and where Friday comes into play.

Michael Phelps Talks Anxiety In ‘Angst,’ A New Mental Health Doc: After wrangling his own anxiety and depression, five-time Olympian Michael Phelps became an advocate for mental health awareness. Now he’s appearing in a Angst: Raising Awareness Around Anxiety, a new documentary that focuses on children and young adults who talk about their experiences with anxiety.

The Psychology Behind Spending Big: You might not be surprised to find that people tend to be attracted to more expensive items that they could actually purchase for far less because they believe that high price tag just must mean better quality. However, you might be surprised to know that it’s more than just “all in our heads”; it’s actually in our brains, too. Example? One study not only recorded people giving high ratings to wine they were told was more expensive; it also showed via functional magnetic resonance imaging of their brains that they actually enjoyed drinking the expensive wine more.

Psychiatrists Can’t Stop Mass Killers [New York Times Opinion Piece by Dr. Richard A. Friedman]: After a mass shooting, there are two social matters you can bet your life savings will pop up: gun control and mental health reform. On the matter of mental health reform, Dr. Friedman — a professor of clinical psychiatry — says psychiatrists can’t prevent mass murderers for many reasons, not least of which many of them avoid the mental health system altogether.

Cannabis Consumption Increases Violent Behavior in Young People in Psychiatric Care: Am I the only one getting whiplash from the contradictory research reports involving cannabis? A new study out of the University of Montreal involving more than 1,000 patients between 18 and 40 years old with mental illnesses and who have been seen five times during a one-year period after being discharged from a psychiatric hospital “demonstrates that sustained used of cannabis is associated with an increase in violent behavior in young people” and that the association between continuous cannabis use and violence is stronger than the association between alcohol and/or cocaine use and violence.

Gabe Howard: Why We Should Talk About Mental Health At Work: Last but not least, Psych Central’s very own Gabe Howard — host of The Psych Central Show — was recently interviewed by Dan Schawbel of Forbes regarding how mental health conversations have changed, how employers and employees are handing mental health discussions in the workplace, his advise to human resource workers, and more.

Source: http://ift.tt/2jgn2Ba