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Sep 30

Postpartum Depression Can Hit New Dads Too


By Dr. Rosalind Dorlen, clinical psychologist

I have treated many women over the years for postpartum depression. You may have heard the research that says fluctuating hormones in new mothers can make them susceptible to postpartum depression or the more benign form of “baby blues.” In fact, the data says about one-out-of eight women experience full-blown postpartum depression.
But it’s not just women who feel sadness or depression after becoming a new parent. A new study states that about 10 percent of new fathers experience postpartum depression too. While this study is making the rounds of news headlines, it’s not all news to me.

In the past few years, I’ve worked with many men who contacted me after they became fathers. That doesn’t include the several other men who were my patients before their wives delivered and became noticeably more depressed after their baby’s birth.
The same hormonal factors that affect women do not apply to men, whose depression occurred either during their wife’s pregnancy or shortly after the birth of their child. In the men I have treated, the factors related more to the effects of sleep deprivation combined with a number of psychological and relationship factors.
For example, several men were having difficulties because they felt ignored by their significant other and upstaged by all the attention their babies were getting. They appeared to feel jealous and envious of their newborn, which made them feel angry and guilty for wishing their child had not been born. These feelings triggered off cascading emotions of anger toward themselves for having such frightening thoughts toward their spouse or significant other, just at the same time they were expected to be more sensitive and responsive to their families.
Employment challenges, sleep deprivation and financial stress added to their difficulties. Clearly, they were feeling depressed, sad, anxious and angry. Cognitive psychotherapy was very helpful for them as they began to understand and creatively develop strategies to deal with their emotions and strong reactions to the changes that had occurred in their lives.
While the percentage of men suffering from postpartum depression is lower than the percentage of women, it is more than twice the rate of depression in the general population of men. This may have adverse effects on the men, his children and partners, as well as other children in the family.
So what is there to do if you are a new dad or man who feels depressed? Or perhaps you know a father or man who is depressed? Most important, know that he’s not the only one feeling this way. Talk to trusted friends, family members or other fathers. If the sadness doesn’t seem to go away after a few weeks, consider consulting with a psychologist. It may seem embarrassing or humiliating to get help. But psychologists are trained to help people cope with life problems, such as resentment or sadness about a new baby.
Remember that depression in both men and women is a treatable mental health condition that responds well to a combination of cognitive, dynamic and behavioral psychotherapy, relaxation techniques and exercise, and in some cases medication.
– See more at:

By RICK NAUERT PHD Senior News Editor
New research attempts to explain why depression is linked to memory problems.

Brigham Young University investigators used an approach known as “pattern separation” to discover that depression appears to blur the ability to differentiate things that are similar.

Researcher found that the skill to differentiate items fades in adults in proportion to the severity of their symptoms of depression. The more depressed someone feels, the harder it is for them to distinguish similar experiences they’ve had.

If you’ve ever forgotten where you parked the car, you know the feeling (though it doesn’t mean you have depression).

“That’s really the novel aspect of this study — that we are looking at a very specific aspect of memory,” said Dr. Brock Kirwan, a psychology and neuroscience professor at BYU.

The study is found in the journal Behavioral Brain Research.

Depression has been generally linked to memory problems for a long time. To find out why, Kirwan and his former grad student D.J. Shelton put people through a computer-aided memory test.

The participants viewed a series of objects on the screen. For each one, they responded whether they had seen the object before on the test (old), seen something like it (similar), or not seen anything like it (new).

With old and new items, participants with depression did just fine.

They often got it wrong, however, when looking at objects that were similar to something they had seen previously. The most common incorrect answer was that they had seen the object before.

“They don’t have amnesia,” Kirwan said. “They are just missing the details.”

This can be a challenge in a number of everyday situations, such as trying to remember which friends and family members you’ve told about something personal — and which ones are still in the dark.

The findings also give an important clue about what is happening in the brain that might explain this.

“There are two areas in your brain where you grow new brain cells,” Kirwan said. “One is the hippocampus, which is involved in memory. It turns out that this growth is decreased in cases of depression.”

Because of this study, we know a little more about what these new brain cells are for: helping us see and remember new experiences.

Source: Brigham Young University

Sep 28



This week we’ll explore Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – PTSD. What is it? And why is it so controversial?

Many people in the world are exposed to extraordinary, traumatic events- wars, earthquakes, accidents and crime. Most recover in time but, for some, the trauma takes over their lives, leaving them unable to function.

Mike Williams talks to a war veteran and a tsunami survivor, who tell their stories of how they came to be diagnosed with PTSD. But do the public know what this diagnosis really is? Or has it been confused with a broader term for anyone who has suffered a trauma? Is it a useful diagnosis across cultures?

Listen here:

Sep 28

Telomeres the Key to Longevity?


by Stasia Bliss on September 17, 2013.
Have you ever heard of telomeres? They have made their appearance in the news now and again and are back in the spotlight to be more intensely explored by science and more fully understood by the population at large, it seems. What are they and how do they work? Could understanding and affecting telomere length be the key to longevity and health?

Telomeres are strands of DNA stuck to the end of chromosomes. When you were born you had somewhere between 15,000 and 35,000 of these little clasp-like protecting pairs sitting at the ends of your genes. It seems that as most people age, the number of telomeres reduces until there are less 4,000 or so – which is apparently one suspected cause for death. It was previously thought that telomeres only get shorter, but recent studies prove these assumptions wrong, as we now know that telomeres can get longer as well.

What makes telomeres grow?

It seems that there is more to a healthy lifestyle and attention to food quality than ever expected. Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, superfoods and antioxidants as well as engaging in regular exercise, a positive attitude and healing emotional trauma actually make telomeres grow longer. Antioxidants such as Resveratrol and selenium – especially selenium found in blue corn can be very beneficial to the growing of telomeres.

Dr. Lawrence Wilson at the Center for Development has commented on telomeres and what contributes to their lengthening, including information derived from the book The Immortality Edge by M. Fossel, G. Blackburn, and D. Woyarowski. In this exploration of telomeres it is found that exercise is beneficial, specifically lighter exercise in younger people and shorter spurts of more vigorous exercise in people age 40-50. Increasing yang energy in the body is also recommended verses increasing yin. Yin and yang are concepts of Chinese medicine and point to specific qualities in food and the way food is prepared, thought patterns,movement and exercise.

Yang energy could be increased through eating more fresh foods – especially those which grown beneath the earth or those lightly cooked like grains. Meat, eggs and sea salt are considered the most yang – though it is encouraged to eat in balance – so as not to get overly yin either. Drinking more water increases yang as does limiting processed and reaching for more whole foods. Certain practices such as fasting can increase yang energy, where over-eating increases yin. Getting enough rest also increases yang in the body which is thought to lengthen telomeres.

Scientist have found that deep-seated emotional traumas such as childhood abuse can shorten telomeres and so it is thought that healing emotional wounds and addressing psychological issues can have the opposite effect of lengthening them. Yoga and meditation, especially for around one hour per day, can lengthen telomeres and may be one of the greatest keys to longevity.

One thing is certain, a healthy, wholesome diet along with positive mental patterns, good sleep and exercise are now scientifically proven ways to lengthen ones life. The telomeres which hang onto the end of our chromosomes apparently measure the length of our lives and a well-balanced lifestyle helps to not only keep these precious telomeres in tact, but lengthen them – one of the greatest keys to understanding longevity science has perhaps ever discovered. So if you didn’t have an excuse before to eat right, exercise and meditate, now you do. Science is now proving what natropaths, yogis and metaphysics have been saying for decades or longer. A healthy lifestyle really does help you to live longer by lengthening telomeres. There is only one kink in the awareness that needs deeper understanding. Cancer cells seem to have longer telomeres too.

Though cancer cells grow longer telomeres, they are actually inhibited by a healthy lifestyle. This one understanding is preventing the sudden plunge into researching drugs which might help lengthen telomeres, as they could potentially stimulate cancer cell growth as well. The benefit to eating right and exercising is that the other benefits gained from a healthy lifestyle help to balance and cleanse the body so as to make it an unfit environment for cancer cells to live in, while at the same time lengthening the telomeres of all the healthy cells. Could telomeres be the key to longevity? For now, it seems closer to the whole truth about biological life extension than anything else.

Written by: Stasia Bliss

By Deborah Kotz
How motivated would you be to forgo the cheesecake, practice relaxation techniques, and hit the gym if you knew that altering your lifestyle could not only slow, but actually reverse the aging of your cells? For the first time, researchers have produced preliminary evidence that this could be the case.

In a small study involving 35 men in their 50s and 60s, researchers at the Preventive Medicine Research Institute and the University of California, San Francisco, found that the 10 participants who adopted several healthful lifestyle changes for five years experienced a 10 percent lengthening of their cell’s telomeres, indicating that the cells would have a longer lifespan. Telomeres are the protective ends of chromosomes that protect against DNA damage — analogous to how the plastic tips on the end of shoelaces keep those from unraveling.

The other 25 men in a control group had a 3 percent shortening of their cell’s telomeres, over five years which typically occurs during that aging time frame.

“Shortened telomeres have been shown to play a role in heart disease, colon cancer, stroke, dementia, and premature death,” said study leader Dr. Dean Ornish, UCSF clinical professor of medicine and president of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute. “But our study is the first to show that any intervention could lengthen telomeres.”

Still, he added, the findings need to be replicated in larger clinical trials where participants are randomly assigned to make lifestyle changes and then compared to a group assigned to keep their health habits the same.

The vast array of health habits adopted in this study, which was published Monday in the journal Lancet Oncology, required a lot of effort on the part of the volunteers — all of whom had early-stage prostate cancer that was being closely monitored instead of treated.

Participants ate a mostly vegan diet rich in plant-based protein, fruits, vegetables, unrefined grains, and legumes — with only 10 percent of their calories coming from fat. The men also were told to walk or get some form of exercise for 30 minutes, six days a week, and they attended hour-long support-group sessions on a weekly basis. In addition to all of this, they practiced an hour of stress management techniques such as meditation, yoga stretches, or progressive muscle relaxation every day, which probably also helped them sleep better.

Twice monthly sessions with study support staff helped the men stick with these lifestyle patterns for five years, though some were more compliant than others.

“It’s a small study, but it’s big science,” said Dr. David Katz, a prevention medicine specialist at Yale University’s Prevention Research Center who was not involved in the study. “The message we’re getting from this and other studies is consistent: We don’t have the medical capacity to tweak genes and make chronic diseases go away, but we can refashion our fate at the level of our DNA by the behavior choices we make.”

Katz, author of the new book Disease-Proof, believes that following a healthful lifestyle can lower a person’s risk of developing diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes by 80 percent. Like Ornish’s plan, the healthy lifestyle he advocates includes reducing stress, exercising, remaining socially connected, and following a plant-based diet rich in grains and produce. Getting about eight hours of sleep a night and avoiding smoking are also important, he said.

Whether we really need to cut way back on dietary fat to keep our telomeres long remains a matter of debate.

“I certainly have no disagreement with the study’s dietary plan,” Katz said. “But I think if they re-ran the study using an optimal Mediterranean-style diet — with olive oil, avocado, nuts, and seafood — they would get exactly the same results.”

While Ornish may disagree, he did point out that the research found that those men who implemented more modest lifestyle changes had a more modest improvement in their telomere length.

“It’s not all or nothing,” Ornish said. “The more you change, the more you improve, and not everyone needs to make changes to this degree.”

What’s more, not everyone can. Someone dealing with chronic pain or depression might not be capable of making such a dramatic lifestyle overhaul. “You need to consider your starting point,” Katz said, “and be honest and insightful about any barriers standing in your way.”

Deborah Kotz can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @debkotz2.

Sep. 21, 2013 — A recently published study strongly suggests men succumb to sexual temptations more than women — for example, cheating on a partner — because they experience strong sexual impulses, not because they have weak self-control.

Previous research has shown that men are more likely than women to pursue romantic partners that are “off limits.” However, until now, the explanation for this sex difference was largely unexplored.
One possible explanation for this effect is that men experience stronger sexual impulses than women do. A second possibility is that women have better self-control than men. The current study’s results support the former explanation and provide new insight into humans’ evolutionary origins.
“Overall, these studies suggest that men are more likely to give in to sexual temptations because they tend to have stronger sexual impulse strength than women do,” says Natasha Tidwell, a doctoral student in the Department of Psychology at Texas A&M University, who authored the study. Paul Eastwick, assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin, co-authored the study.

“But when people exercise self-control in a given situation, this sex difference in behavior is greatly reduced. It makes sense that self-control, which has relatively recent evolutionary origins compared to sexual impulses, would work similarly — and as effectively — for both men and women,” Tidwell said.
Recently published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, the study was composed of two separate experiments: the first, to determine how the sexes reacted to real-life sexual temptations in their past and, the second, to pick apart sexual impulses and self-control using a rapid-fire reaction time task.
In order to test their first hypothesis, researchers recruited 218 (70 male, 148 female) study participants from the United States.

Participants were first asked to recall and describe an attraction to an unavailable or incompatible member of the opposite sex. They then answered survey questions designed to measure strength of sexual impulse, attempts to intentionally control the sexual impulse, and resultant behaviors.
“When men reflected on their past sexual behavior, they reported experiencing relatively stronger impulses and acting on those impulses more than women did,” says Tidwell.
However, men and women did not differ in the extent to which they exerted self-control.

“When men and women said they actually did exert self-control in sexual situations, impulse strength didn’t predict how much either sex would actually engage in ‘off-limits’ sex,” added Tidwell.
“Men have plenty of self-control — just as much as women,” says Eastwick. “However, if men fail to use self-control, their sexual impulses can be quite strong. This is often the situation when cheating occurs.”

In order to measure the strength of sexual impulse relative to the strength of impulse control, the researchers recruited 600 undergraduate students (326 men, 274 women) to participate in a “Partner Selection Game.”

Participants were very briefly shown images of opposite-sex individuals; the images were tagged either “good for you” or “bad for you.” Participants were asked to accept or reject potential partners based on the computer-generated “good for you” or “bad for you” prompt. While they were shown photographs of both desirable and undesirable individuals, participants were instructed to make acceptance and rejection choices based on the computer-generated tags. In some trials, participants were asked to accept desirable and reject undesirable individuals; in other trials, participants were asked to go against their inclinations by rejecting desirable individuals and accepting undesirable individuals.

Men experienced a much stronger impulse to “accept” the desirable rather than the undesirable partners, and this impulse partially explained why men performed worse on the task than women did. However, this same procedure estimates people’s ability to exert control over their responses, and men did not demonstrate a poorer ability to control their responses relative to women.

By MICHELLE CASTILLO / CBS NEWS/ August 12, 2013, 5:56 PM
Having labor that is induced or augmented may lead to a greater chance of having a child with autism, new research reveals.

The U.S. government estimates that one in 50 school-aged kids has an autism spectrum disorder, which is the designation for a group of developmental brain disorders. All the conditions include some level of impairment when it comes to social skills, communication and behavioral issues.

New study links pollution to autism
Researchers looked at data from the North Carolina Detailed Birth Record and Education Research databases, which included 625,042 live births linked with school records. Of the group, 5,500 children had been diagnosed with autism.

Induced labor occurs when a medical professional intervenes in order to jump start the labor process. This usually happens when the woman is past her due date and has yet to go into labor or if there are problems with the baby or the mother’s health. The doctor or midwife can use hormone medication (Pitocin) or other methods to open the mother’s cervix, begin contractions and help her body prepare for vaginal birth.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 23.1 percent of all births in 2008 were induced.

Doctors may also augment labor to help along the birth if the process stops or slows down for some reason. This method is less commonly used than inducing labor and often requires medication.

Overall, the researchers estimated two out of every 1,000 autism cases in boys could potentially be prevented by not inducing or augmenting labor. Though the numbers seemed small, they were statistically significant, meaning not due to random chance.

Mothers who had induced labor were 13 percent more likely to have a child with autism. Mothers with augmented labor were 16 percent more likely to have a kid with the disorder. If a mother had both methods used on her, the child was 27 percent more likely to be diagnosed with autism during childhood.

For comparison, the authors noted that a mom who had other pregnancy problems, like diabetes, increased the risk of autism in her children by 23 percent, and if the fetus was ever in distress, the chance went up 25 percent.

C-sections did not affect the rate of autism.

Study links flu with autism risk
Other conditions during pregnancy have recently been linked to increased autism risk. An August 2012 study showed that mothers who were obese were 67 percent more likely to have children with the disorder compared to those who maintained a normal weight during pregnancy.

Taking the anti-epilepsy drug valproate has been linked to a five-fold higher risk of having a child with an autism spectrum disorder in an April 2013 study published in JAMA. Exposure to air pollution while with child was also significantly connected to higher rates of autism, a June 2013 Environmental Health Perspectives study revealed.

Though the risk in the new study may seem alarming to some, Dr. Jeffrey L. Ecker, an obstetrician at Massachusetts General Hospital, told HealthDay that mothers shouldn’t be concerned if they need to have their labor assisted — nor should they go against their doctor’s recommendation.

“Women should not conclude that if they need induction or augmentation their child will have or be at high risk for autism. Nor should they seek to avoid induction (or) augmentation,” Ecker, who was not involved in the study, said. “The latter reaction would … almost certainly (increase rates of) cesarean delivery, an intervention that we know has important (negative) effects on both maternal and neonatal health.”

The study published in JAMA Pediatrics on Aug. 12.

Sep 21

Depression in the Media


By Diane Stresing
Medically reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
Depression is a serious illness, and it’s relatively common, affecting more than 20 million people in the United States. The majority find that their depression symptoms improve with treatment. But many people who might benefit from treatment don’t seek help because of a pervasive stigma associated with depression or because of confusion and misunderstandings about depression symptoms.

Historically, the media has been blamed for presenting inaccurate depictions of depression and other mental disorders and for stigmatizing them and making it difficult for people with depression symptoms to admit they need help. But recent studies indicate things are changing, and many experts agree the media can help educate people about depression.

Depression and the Media: A Short History

While mental disorders have probably existed as long as people have, the medical community didn’t recognize depression as a disease category until the early 1950s.

Almost as soon as the condition had a name, tranquilizers and antidepressants became widely available, and popular media began shaping attitudes about mental illness and medications used to treat anxiety, depression, and other disorders. Still, throughout the ’70s and ’80s, open discussions about mental illness were rare.

In the 1980s, depression was primarily portrayed by mental health practitioners and the media as having multiple causes, some biological and some experiential or environmental. In the 1990s and beyond, however, media portrayals of depression suggested its causes were almost entirely biological. Thanks in part to rulings in the ’90s that allowed television and magazine ads for prescription drugs, depression gained additional media attention.

Are Media Depictions of Depression Accurate?

Accurate or not, media portrayals, especially prescription drug ads, function as a type of education about diseases and medical conditions, including mental illness. Analyzing media portrayals of depression and its treatment is “a huge topic,” says Michelle B. Riba, MD, MS, associate director of the University of Michigan Depression Center.

“Pharmaceutical advertisements provide a sort of stigmatizing way of looking at women,” says Dr. Riba. “A lot of women look horrible, haggard, and worn, and are single — then after they get treated they look better,” Riba notes, adding that women shown “after treatment” in the ads are typically pictured with a man.

And the stereotypes aren’t limited to a single group. “When you look at magazines, both advertisements and articles, mostly white women are portrayed as suffering from depression,” says Riba. Men, on the other hand, are primarily featured in ads for drugs given to people with psychotic disorders, while ads for schizophrenia medications, she says, “often feature more racially mixed people.”

In addition to ads, articles about depression also shape public opinion. An analysis of articles about depression in popular men’s magazines such as Men’s Health and Sports Illustrated shows that depression is depicted almost entirely in stories about success at work rather than discussions about feelings. Violence, while less often portrayed, is a frequent theme in articles about depression, although Riba points out, “it’s actually rare that people with depression are linked to violence.”

A More Realistic View of Depression

“Views are often shaped by headlines,” Riba says. That includes reporting on how mental illness can contribute to violent crimes, as well as human interest stories and celebrity accounts of their experiences with depression.

“When [actress] Brooke Shields talked about her postpartum depression, that was a good example of how [media] can educate,” says Riba. Television news icon Mike Wallace has also talked openly about his depression, Riba notes, with the goal of encouraging the media to cover mental illness topics accurately and in a balanced or neutral manner.

At least one recent analysis of television news coverage suggests media depictions of depression are improving. Although the study found that only a small percentage of all news items about specific health issues focused on mental health, the vast majority of those about people with mental illnesses were either neutral or positive, and more than half of the news items were categorized as positive “recovery focused” while just 12 percent were classified as negative. The analysis indicated a significant change from previous studies, which found media depictions of mental illnesses to be largely negative.

However, according to another study, media reporting of celebrity suicides increase suicidal behaviors and associated risk factors among depressive patients; in fact, it concluded that more than 5 percent of those in the study attempted suicide after learning of a celebrity suicide.

Removing the Stigma Associated with Depression

Mental health experts agree that media attention can be used to encourage public discussions about treatment for depression and other mental illnesses, and to remove the stigma of seeking help.

Riba says she appreciates editorial cartoons like some she’s seen in The New York Times and other publications that can add levity to the serious topic of depression without targeting someone going through the illness. “Laughing at the topic, but not at people, is a good way to remove stigma,” she says.

“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” ~ Leo Buscaglia

Sep 20

Why Men Cheat More Than Women


By JANICE WOOD Associate News Editor

New research suggests men succumb to sexual temptations more than women — for example, cheating on a partner — because they experience stronger sexual impulses, not because they have weaker self-control.

Recently published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, the study was composed of two experiments. The first was designed to determine how the different sexes reacted to real-life sexual temptations in their past, while the second was designed to pick apart sexual impulses and self-control using a rapid-fire reaction time task.

“Overall, these studies suggest that men are more likely to give in to sexual temptations because they tend to have stronger sexual impulse strength than women do,” said Natasha Tidwell, a doctoral student in the Department of Psychology at Texas A&M University, who co-authored the study.

“But when people exercise self-control in a given situation, this sex difference in behavior is greatly reduced. It makes sense that self-control, which has relatively recent evolutionary origins compared to sexual impulses, would work similarly — and as effectively — for both men and women.”

For the first experiment, researchers recruited 70 male and 148 female participants from the United States.

The participants were asked to describe an attraction to an unavailable or incompatible member of the opposite sex. They then answered survey questions designed to measure strength of sexual impulse, attempts to intentionally control the sexual impulse, and resulting behaviors.

“When men reflected on their past sexual behavior, they reported experiencing relatively stronger impulses and acting on those impulses more than women did,” Tidwell said.

However, men and women did not differ in the extent to which they exerted self-control, she noted.

“When men and women said they actually did exert self-control in sexual situations, impulse strength didn’t predict how much either sex would actually engage in ‘off-limits’ sex,” added Tidwell.

“Men have plenty of self-control — just as much as women,” add co-author Paul Eastwick, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin. “However, if men fail to use self-control, their sexual impulses can be quite strong. This is often the situation when cheating occurs.”

For the second experiment, designed to measure the strength of sexual impulse relative to the strength of impulse control, the researchers recruited 600 undergraduate students — 326 men, 274 women — to participate in a “Partner Selection Game.”

Participants were very briefly shown images of opposite-sex individuals; the images were tagged either “good for you” or “bad for you.” Participants were asked to accept or reject potential partners based on the computer-generated “good for you” or “bad for you” prompt.

While they were shown photographs of both desirable and undesirable individuals, participants were instructed to make acceptance and rejection choices based on the computer-generated tags.

In some trials, participants were asked to accept desirable and reject undesirable individuals; in other trials, participants were asked to go against their inclinations by rejecting desirable individuals and accepting undesirable individuals.

Men experienced a much stronger impulse to “accept” the desirable rather than the undesirable partners, and this impulse partially explained why men performed worse on the task than women, according to the researchers.

However, this same procedure estimates people’s ability to exert control over their responses, and men did not demonstrate a poorer ability to control their responses relative to women, the researchers noted.

Source: The University of Texas at Austin

Sep 19

7 Tips to Become a Better Listener


Listening isn’t the same as hearing someone speak. And it’s not as natural or automatic as many people think.

In fact, most of us make mistakes when listening to others. For instance, we might be more concerned with being heard and voicing our own perspective, according to Mudita Rastogi, Ph.D, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Illinois.

“Often, people come to the conversation with an agenda… When they think they are listening, they are only waiting to get their point across.”

We also might not listen with an open mind. Rather, we might “listen to validate [our] assumptions.”

Listening is a skill, which means that it’s something you can work on and practice. Below, Rastogi shared her tips for becoming a better listener.

Clear your mind. “Check in with your own internal feelings, assumptions and mindset. Ask yourself if you are really ready to listen.” How do you expect this conversation to go? How would you feel about this? For instance, you might think that you’ll be frustrated, Rastogi said. But try to keep an open mind. While you’ve been frustrated in the past, this time might be different. Put your assumptions aside, and “listen for new or different information.”
Ask open-ended questions. For instance, instead of asking, “So did you do what I suggested?” say: “Tell me what you decided to do.” Instead of “Are you upset?” ask: “How do you feel about this?” Instead of “Can you do it this way?” ask: “How shall we tackle this problem?” And instead of “So did you go to college?” say: “Tell me more about yourself.”
Attend to your own nonverbal cues. You don’t just listen with your ears. You listen with your entire body. Make eye contact. Lean forward. Eliminate distractions by putting your phone away and turning off the TV. “Tune into their body language. Nod in affirmation.”
Confirm your understanding. “Listen, and then relay it back to the speaker to clarify if you have understood them correctly,” Rastogi said.
Confirm whether they felt heard. Ask the other person if they felt like you listened and really heard what they were saying.
Consider the written word. “If it is an emotion-laden topic, write down your part, take notes when the other person talks, or send an email.”
Take a breather. When all else fails, take a break, Rastogi said. “A time out helps you come back with a fresh ear.”
Listening goes beyond hearing words. It’s an active process that requires practice.

It’s also a gift. “Listening fully to someone is one of the best gifts we can give them,” Rastogi said.

Sep 19

Cohabitation With Children: What Are the Risks?


Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW
Many authors have written about the benefits and drawbacks of cohabitation in recent years. In my recent Huffington Post article Should I Move In With My Partner?, I write, “While there aren’t any easy answers to the question of whether couples should cohabitate, being aware of the risks involved may help you to make a more informed decision.” However, what I neglected to address in this article is the issue of how to make a wise decision about moving in with a partner when one or both of you have children.

Adding children to the mix makes cohabitation even more complicated. Yet there doesn’t appear to be much research about the impact of parental cohabitation on children. Since single parents make up over 40 percent of all U.S. households, this is an important topic to explore.

If you’re a single parent who is considering cohabitation what are the risks? The answer to this question is two-fold because there are multiple risks. First of all, there is some evidence that cohabitation increases your risk for breakup and divorce — if you decide to marry. Secondly, we need to consider the risk to children who may have a negative reaction to multiple caregivers and loss.

In my opinion, you need to consider that your child may have established a close bond with your partner so they might experience it as a loss if you break up. The late Judith Wallerstein, a distinguished psychologist, was one of the few authors who wrote about this topic. In What About the Kids? she writes, “If they genuinely grow to like or even love the person you’ve invited into your lives and that person disappears one night, it’s another loss. It’s frightening when people disappear and it’s awful to feel rejected.”

Over the last fifty years, there has been a quiet shift in the landscape of family life in America. Approximately two-thirds of couples live together before marriage and this number is compared to one-half of couples 20 years ago according to The Pew Research Center. Rand sociologists, who study family demographics, surveyed 2,600 couples who lived together without marriage. One of the most interesting findings of this study is that young adults who cohabitated had lower levels of commitment than those who marry. Further, couples who cohabitate report lower levels of certainty about the future of their relationships, especially if they are males. While the evidence is mostly anecdotal, most experts agree that cohabitation puts children at risk for possible losses that may compound the original breakup of the family home.

Let’s take a look at some statistics that shed light on this topic:

• Over 50 percent of couples who cohabitate before marriage are broken up within five years (Cherlin, 2009)
• Over 75 percent of children born to couples who are not married no longer live with both parents by the age of fifteen(Cherlin, 2009)
• 47 percent of American women who give birth in their twenties are unmarried at the time (New York Times)
• U.S. taxpayers spent $112 billion in 2011 helping to support children and families with unmarried parents (Washington Post)

It’s no secret that marriage rates are on the decline. In 1960, 72 percent of Americans were married. Today approximately 50 percent are. Understandably, there’s a lot of fear about marriage. Since the divorce rate has hovered around 50 percent for decades, the question for many is: Why marry when there is one in two chances it won’t work out? However, what many people forget is that just because a couple isn’t married when they break up it doesn’t mean they don’t have issues to resolve such as financial claims related to property or combined assets.

One thing is for certain, researchers have found that before you decide to live with someone, it is incredibly important that you and your partner are on the same page. Dr. John Curtis, author of Happily Un-Married highlights the “expectation gap” as a critical consideration before moving in with your partner. He states that the fundamental difference between men and women according to a recent Rand Study is that many women view living together as a step towards marriage while many men see it as a test drive.

What are your motivations for living together? If you want to develop a deeper bond, and most significantly, you see cohabitation as a step toward marriage, having differing expectations may be a problem.

If you decide to cohabitate these are steps to minimize damage to your children:

• Sit down with your partner and clarify your expectations about the future. This can enhance your chances of remaining in a committed relationship.
• Be careful not to bypass these discussions and fall into “sliding not deciding,” according to author of The Defining Decade, Meg Jay.
• Don’t ask your children’s permission to cohabitate — this is too much responsibility for them and will be harder for them to recover from if you breakup.
• Discuss parenting strategies such as how you are going to handle conflicts that will arise with children and between them — especially if you are blending families.
• Prepare your children carefully. Make sure they’ve met the person many times and feel comfortable with them. Reassure your children that they are still a priority and that your partner will not replace their biological parent.
• Set household routines that accommodate your partner and your children. Have regular discussions and share meals together so you can check in about how household issues are going.

Before you make the decision about whether or not to cohabitate, consider the risks to your children if it doesn’t work out. Ask yourself: Am I selling myself short by moving in with my partner? Would cohabitation put my children at risk for more loss? Weigh the advantages of tying the knot or delaying cohabiting until your children launch. In the end, consider that your child may grow to genuinely like or love this person and if the relationship ends, it’s another loss. However, if you decide to cohabitate, approach your new lifestyle with optimism and confidence — because you’ve taken all the steps to enhance your chances of success.

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Sep 18

The Problem with Porn


Dr. Peggy Drexler
The new film Lovelace recounts the days when viewing porn meant looking both ways before slinking into a dark and dubious establishment. These days, of course, there are no dark rooms required. A widely-reported University of Montreal study concluded 90 percent of all pornography comes from the web; boys, the study reports, seek out porn by age 10. And as for breadth of content, a few quick search terms can direct you – often unintentionally — to a hardcore porn site that proclaims itself “the largest bestiality” source online. You might want to be there when your child searches: “My Little Pony.”

While usage numbers vary, it’s clear that the supply of porn is bountiful, and much of it is free. Predicted consequences, however, tend to depend on agenda. For boys (still the prime consumer), porn use may poison attitudes toward women, create confidence-sapping comparisons of dimensions and performance, crowd out actual relationships and even carve new neural pathways. Seen often enough, the unusual or bizarre can seem usual, setting up new expectations for both genders. Recall an early episode of HBO’s Girls in which Hannah passively allows herself to be flipped over while her partner performs anal sex until he’s satisfied. Boys see rougher, less mutually agreeable sex through porn and act it out in real life. Girls acquiesce.

Is it any surprise? Excessive violence in films and on TV has been joined by excessive sex, much of it acted out according to porn-established norms: The girl dresses up like a porn star; the boy ejaculates immediately. Even Disney films contain veiled references and insinuations, never mind what they’re seeing on cable TV. Even if much of this is artistic commentary, without discussion, kids begin to believe this is how sex really works. As for porn, blocking and filtering are simply denial. Kids are naturally sexually curious, and will find their way to it. Parents should know how to respond before the questions are even asked.

Questions like: What is porn? Is it the Victoria’s Secret catalog? Am I ‘bad’ if I like looking at porn? What does ‘normal’ sex look like? For parents, the job is to keep the answers frank and honest. And frequent. Say that porn is part of sexuality, but it doesn’t define it. It’s a commercial enterprise that makes money by taking a natural and beautiful part of being human to the extreme, saturating it with lurid excess. Watch it if you want to, but remember: What you see has nothing to do with who you are, or how you’ll interact with a partner in real life. Teenagers in particular have a need to understand what is real and what is made for entertainment. Help them figure it out — which includes watching it yourself to find out what, exactly, they’re seeing. (Chances are you’ll be surprised.) Break down scenes and relay truths: No, stamina is not a measure of manhood; yes, both partners should experience pleasure from the act. Let kids of all ages know that porn is not a taboo topic; that they can, and should, ask you about anything they might have seen, or think they want to see. Then direct the conversation to their feelings — how did you feel about what you saw? — and assure them that all feelings are normal.

And if kids don’t have questions, or seem too shy to ask, it’s the parents’ job to both start and continue the dialogue. Silence doesn’t mean lack of curiosity. Let them know that sexuality is complicated, and that people often have complicated feelings about it that may take years to understand. Keep in mind that girls are just as curious as boys, so don’t leave daughters out of the conversation. And most of all, don’t freak out when you walk in on them watching. Their interest is normal, and they shouldn’t be made to feel otherwise. Remember that the way to live with porn is to help kids put it in perspective and to develop a critical eye towards what they’re seeing.

Sep 17

“When my aunt is at work, I take care of my 4-year-old cousin who has autism. Her doctor says that developmentally she’s like an 18 month old. I’m writing because she has really bad separation anxiety. Every few minutes she asks when her mommy is coming. Do you have any suggestions on how I can help her feel more comfortable?”
This week’s “Got Questions?” answer is from child psychologist Michelle Spader, of Ohio’s Nationwide Children’s Hospital, a member of the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network.
Thanks for your question. It’s helpful to know that your cousin is developmentally like an 18 to 24 month old. Children at this stage often have separation anxiety. So your cousin seems to be going through something that’s both common and normal. Sometimes separation anxiety eases over time. Meanwhile, here are some suggestions to help her through the day:
Talk with her autism therapy team
Hopefully your young cousin is receiving autism-related therapy. So first and foremost, I encourage you and your aunt to enlist the members of her therapy team in addressing her separation anxiety. A speech therapist, for example, can help her learn language related to understanding past, present and future. An understanding of “future,” in particular, can help her grasp that her mommy will come for her. Her behavioral therapist or psychologist can help your young cousin develop coping strategies.
Say it with pictures and stories
Children with autism or other developmental delays often do better with visual supports than repeated verbal explanations. For example, you can create a “Where is Mommy?” page. On the paper, paste a picture of her mom at her workplace. Next to it, have a picture of your young cousin with you in your home. When she asks if her mommy is coming, point to the picture of her mom and say, “Mommy is at work right now.” Then point to the picture of the two of you in your home and say, “She’s coming here to pick you up this evening.” (Learn more about visual supports and download the AS-ATN/AIR-P Visual Supports Guide here.)
Similarly, you might try writing and illustrating a simple social story. Social stories are short narratives designed to help those with autism understand a situation. Your social story might be about a little girl who goes to stay with her older cousin while her mother is at work. Have it illustrate how the little girl misses her mother but comes to understand that her mom always comes to get her at the end of the day.
Create a daily schedule
Many individuals with autism crave predictable routines. Consider making a daily schedule that illustrates the order of your young cousin’s day. Start with the first thing that happens – perhaps “Say goodbye to mommy. Give her a kiss.” Include a photo or drawing.
The next picture should illustrate what she does next while in your care. Eat breakfast? Watch Sesame Street? Continue, in order, with the day’s predictable events (a snack, going outside to play, going to the store, etc.) The last picture will be of her mother walking into the door.
Now when your little cousin asks when mommy is coming, you can show her in the context of the day’s events.
Establish a separation routine
When your aunt leaves in the morning, it may help if she and her daughter have a simple, consistent and cheerful routine. This might be a kiss and saying, “See you later. I love you!” Please caution your aunt against sneaking out of the house when her daughter isn’t looking. In the short term, that may avoid tears. But it can backfire by causing greater anxiety.
I hope these tips prove helpful. Please let us know at

by Lisa Frederiksen

Underage drinking – as in repeated binge drinking – is one of the key risk factors for developing a long-term problem with drinking.

It is often considered a right of passage; something most teens and young adults under 21 go through. As such, the focus is often on keeping young people safe, whether that be parents hosting a party with alcohol and taking away all car keys or offering to drive, no questions asked. Yet, young adults, ages 18-20, have the highest rate of alcohol dependence (alcoholism) in the United States, according to the U.S. Surgeon General’s “2007 Call to Action to Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking” report.

New and/or advances in brain imaging technologies (e.g., fMRI, SPECT, PET) of the past 10 – 15 years and the resulting research is shedding new light on this issue. Neuroscientists, doctors and other medical professionals are now able to observe how the brain develops and the impact of alcohol (and other drugs — illegal or prescription) on the developing brain.

The image below is a time-lapse of brain imaging studies reprinted with permission from Dr. Paul Thompson of UCLA’s Laboratory of Neuro Imaging. This image study shows brain development, ages 5 through 20 and beyond. It was thought (until these new brain imaging capabilities) that the brain was fully developed by adolescence. We now know it’s not. There is a great deal of brain development — brain changes — occurring between ages 12-20, often through age 25. These brain changes are related to:

1) Puberty. Puberty triggers new hormonal and physical changes, as well as new neural networks instinctually wired into the species to encourage the species to take risk and turn to their peers. See video, “It’s Time We Tell The Whole Truth About Puberty” for a more full explanation.

2) Development of the cerebral cortex (front area) — the “thinking” part of the brain. This involves neural networks wiring within the Cerebral Cortex — the idea of learning calculus vs. memorizing multiplication tables, for example. It also involves neural networks in the Cerebral Cortex writing to those in other areas of the brain — the idea of controlling emotions, which originate in the Limbic System, with logical thought, which originates in the Cerebral Cortex, for example.

3) “Pruning” and “strengthening” of neural networks. Pruning is when neural connections (explained below) that are not used or are redundant fall away (get “pruned”), and those that are used get strengthened, which makes the remaining neural connections more efficient (similar to the way an insulted cable wire works more efficiently than a non-insulated one). This concept is explained in more detail at The Partnership at Drug website, A Parent’s Guide to the Teen Brain.

Underage drinking is one of the five key risk factors for developing a life-long problem with drinking. 18-20 year-olds have the highest rate of alcoholism in the United States.
The middle brain image is approximately age 12, the 2nd from far right brain image is approximately age 16. The lag-time between puberty and the start of cerebral cortex development – a time when the species’ brain is instinctually wired to take risks and turn to their peers – is often the time when teens start experimenting with drugs and alcohol and other risky behaviors.

About Neural Connections

We are born with about 100 billion brain cells — billions of them — also known as neurons but only a relatively small fraction are ‘wired.’ From birth to around puberty, our brains are ‘wiring’ neural networks like crazy — a wiring process that allows neurons to “talk” to one another via neural connections. Neural connections in the brain control everything we think, feel, say and do.

A neural connection requires brain cells (neurons), synapses (the gap between the branchlike extensions of a brain cell) and neurotransmitters (the chemical messenger that takes a message from one brain

cell’s branchlike extension, across the synapse, to receptors on the receiving brain cell’s branchlike extension). There is an expression sometimes used to describe this process — “neurons that fire together, wire together“ and this wiring together is sometimes called a “brain map.” (Norman Doidge, M.D. The Brain That Changes Itself)

Over the course of our lives, we create neural connections (brain maps) for all of the functions our bodies and brains do. In other words, we create neural connections for riding a bike or typing on a computer or talking on the phone or reading a book or running, breathing, reciting multiplication tables, eating, talking with our hands — everything!

Alcohol works on neural connections in many parts of the brain, but the neural connections initially most affected are those in the Limbic System (the pleasure/reward/pain center of the brain) because those connections require the neurotransmitter, dopamine. Dopamine is our “feel good” neurotransmitter — without it, we have a hard time feeling pleasure. Thus, when we drink, it’s these neural networks that “tell” the brain that drinking makes us feel good. We develop a memory of that feeling (thanks to other neural networks), which is why people want to drink, again. Think about it — if there were no feel good feelings from drinking alcohol, we likely wouldn’t drink it.

About Alcohol Use / Abuse / Addiction — Why It Matters How Much A Person Drinks

It’s important to understand there are three stages of drinking — use / abuse / addiction. It’s common to assume that drinking is either normal or alcoholic. With this assumption, it’s common to excuse some rotten drinking behaviors (e.g., fights, DUIs, arguments) because we don’t want to think of our loved one as an alcoholic. Understanding the differences and the consequences can help us want to intervene earlier rather than later in order to help young people stop their abusive drinking before they cross the invisible line to addiction.
•Alcohol use is defined as moderate drinking — 7 standard drinks per week, with no more than 3 of those 7 drinks in a day, for women, and 14 standard drinks per week, with no more than 4 of those drinks in a day, for men. A standard drink is either 5 ounces of wine OR 12 ounces of beer OR 1.5 ounces of spirits (vodka, for example). [Note: 35% of American adults do not drink any alcohol — none.]
•Alcohol abuse is when a person exceeds these drinking limits and has problems related to their drinking, such as arguments with family and friends about their drinking, binge drinking (defined as 4 or more drinks for women and 5 or more drinks for men), blackouts, lying about how much they’re drinking, driving while under the influence, work or school performance problems, arrests, unplanned or unprotected sex — in other words, doing things they just would not do if they hadn’t been drinking.
•Alcohol addiction (aka alcoholism) is a chronic, relapsing brain disease caused by biological, environmental and developmental factors. It occurs when a person’s alcohol abuse causes chemical and structural changes in their brain (by interrupting normal neural connections), which sets up the characteristics of alcoholism: tolerance, cravings, loss of control and physical dependence, in addition to the behaviors just described under alcohol abuse.

According to the World Health Organization’s AUDIT, all alcoholics go through the alcohol abuse stage but not all alcohol abusers become alcoholics. Alcoholism cannot be cured (meaning you can not go back to drinking after a period of time of abstinence), but it can be treated. Alcohol abuse drinking patterns, on the other hand, can be changed.

The Impact of Underage Drinking on the Developing Brain

As you look at the time-lapse image, again, notice how the brain develops from back to front (yellow/green to purple/fushia). This means that the portions of the brain that deal with emotion, memory, learning, motivation and judgment are the last to develop and, as such, are the most deeply affected by alcohol (or drug abuse) during ages 12 through 20, often through age 25.

For example, if a young adult repeatedly abuses alcohol (or drugs), the neural connections associated with memories and experiences related to alcohol abuse are the ones that are strengthened and thus embedded. By the same token, neural connections damaged by or not used because of alcohol abuse (those related to learning or judgment, for example) are pruned or not strengthened. This late stage brain development also explains why teens don’t know why they do some of the things they do, and why they take risks they likely would not engage in if they had a fully developed brain and the hindsight (memories and experiences) that go with it. Because the brain is NOT fully developed, adolescents are more vulnerable than adults to many of the effects of alcohol (e.g., memory, long-term cognitive deficits), and less vulnerable to others (e.g., sleepiness, loss of balance).

The Addiction Project’s section, Adolescent Addiction, explains these concepts further, as does this section, “Five Things to Know About Adolescent’s Brain Development and Use.”

Facts About Alcohol Abuse During Brain Developmental Ages 12 – 25
•According to NIAAA, nearly half of all people who ever met the diagnostic criteria for alcoholism in their lifetime were addicted (aka alcoholics) by age 21 and two-thirds were addicted by age 25. Thus, alcoholism is really a young person’s disease, but it often takes a person another 10 – 15 years before they seek treatment, which is why we generally think of alcoholism as something that happens to older adults.
•Age of first use is the most significant risk factor for a person becoming alcohol dependent (an alcoholic).
•Teens who start drinking before age 15 are 5 times more likely to develop alcohol problems as adults.

Understanding the impact of alcohol on the brain — especially during its critical developmental stage of ages 12 through 20 and beyond — is shedding a whole new light on the issue of underage drinking. In closing, it may also be helpful to know that the BRAIN CAN CHANGE and go back to “normal” if alcohol abuse is stopped.

For article sources and additional information:
•To learn more about addiction:
•To assess your own or someone else’s drinking:
•To learn more about the teen brain and alcohol/drugs:
•For a variety of information about alcohol abuse and alcoholism:
•For a statistical snapshot of underage drinking:
•For a variety of posts and comments on a variety of alcohol related topics, especially those that can help the family and friends of someone who drinks too much:

As part of its Parents Who Host Lose the Most Underage Drinking Prevention Campaign, Manhasset CASA is proud to feature the work of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. In its efforts to educate the Manhasset community to the health, safety and legal consequences of underage drinking, this week’s article “Behavior and The Teen Brain” has been provided by the Partnership to explain how the process of a teen’s brain development impacts their behaviors and decision making abilities:

“From early adolescence through their mid-20s, a teen’s brain develops somewhat unevenly, from back to front. This may help explain their endearingly quirky behavior but also makes them prone to risk-taking.

The parts of the adolescent brain which develop first are those which control physical coordination, emotion and motivation. However, the part of the brain which controls reasoning and impulses – known as the Prefrontal Cortex – is near the front of the brain and, therefore, develops last. This part of the brain does not fully mature until the age of 25.

It’s as if, while the other parts of the teen brain are shouting, the Prefrontal Cortex is not quite ready to play referee. This can have noticeable effects on adolescent behavior. You may have noticed some of these effects in your teen:

– difficulty holding back or controlling emotions,

– a preference for physical activity,

– a preference for high excitement and low effort activities (video games, sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll),

– poor planning and judgment (rarely thinking of negative consequences),

– more risky, impulsive behaviors, including experimenting with drugs and alcohol.

The development of the adolescent brain and behavior are closely linked. In a wink, hormones can shift your teen’s emotions into overdrive, leading to unpredictable—and sometimes risky—actions. Unfortunately, developing brains may be more prone to damage. This means that experimentation with drugs and alcohol can have lasting, harmful effects on your teen’s health.

Research shows that alcohol abuse during the teenage years negatively impacts the memory center of the brain (the hippocampus).

The use of drugs and alcohol may also disrupt the development of the adolescent brain in unhealthy ways, making it harder for teens to cope with social situations and the normal pressures of life.

Moreover, the brain’s reward circuits (the dopamine system) get thrown out of whack when under the influence. This causes a teen to feel in a funk when not using drugs or alcohol—and going back for more only makes things worse.

It is important to urge your teen to take healthy risks. Not only will participation in constructive activities—such as athletics or the arts—help him or her form positive lifestyle habits, it will help your teen’s forebrain develop as well. For more information regarding the teen brain, go to “A Parent’s Guide to the Teen Brain” at”

Manhasset CASA’s Parents Who Host Lose the Most: Don’t be a party to teenage drinking. It’s against the law campaign, was originally developed by the Drug-Free Action Alliance. CASA has partnered with many members of the community to educate parents and residents to the health, safety and legal consequences of underage drinking. For more information about the campaign or Manhasset CASA, call (516) 267-7548 or go to

How sleep affects us By: Beth Belle Cooper

Better sleeping is known to provide lots of health benefits. These can include better heart function, hormonal maintenance and cell repair as well as boosting memory and improving cognitive function. Basically, sleeping gives your body a chance to deal with everything that happened during the day, repair itself, and reset for tomorrow.

Sleep deprivation, therefore, actually harms us in several ways. One of the most obvious harms is that we have trouble focusing when we’re sleep deprived. Buffer cofounder Leo Widrich wrote about this before:

Someone who is severely sleep deprived is in fact as attentive and awake as you are. With one big difference to you. Here is what a recent study found: The sleep deprived person can in fact deliver the exact same results as someone who isn’t sleep deprived in any exercise. That is, given it is a non-repeated exercise and they give it their best shot. Odd right? Now onto this though:

The problem lies elsewhere. Whether we are sleep deprived or not, we lose focus at times. And that is precisely where the sleep deprived person lands in a trap. Once we start to lose focus and have received the right amount of sleep, our brain can compensate for that and increase attention. If we are sleep deprived, our brain can’t refocus.

The benefits of napping

Studies of napping have shown improvement in cognitive function, creative thinking, and memory performance. As I mentioned in my post about the body clock and your body’s best time for everything, we’re naturally designed to have two sleeps per day:

The idea that we should sleep in eight-hour chunks is relatively recent. The world’s population sleeps in various and surprising ways. Millions of Chinese workers continue to put their heads on their desks for a nap of an hour or so after lunch, for example, and daytime napping is common from India to Spain.

Naps can even have a physical benefit. In one study of 23,681 Greek men over six years, the participants who napped three times a week had a 37% lower risk of dying from heart disease. Not to mention a host of other positive outcomes that might occur from regular napping:

Sleep experts have found that daytime naps can improve many things: increase alertness, boost creativity, reduce stress, improve perception, stamina, motor skills, and accuracy, enhance your sex life, aid in weight loss, reduce the risk of heart attack, brighten your mood and boost memory.

Naps have been shown to benefit the learning process, helping us take in and retain information better. In one study, participants memorized illustrated cards to test their memory strength. After memorizing a set of cards, they had a 40-minute break wherein one group napped, and the other stayed awake. After the break, both groups were tested on their memory of the cards, and the group who had napped performed better:

Much to the surprise of the researchers, the sleep group performed significantly better, retaining on average 85 percent of the patterns, compared to 60 percent for those who had remained awake.

Apparently, napping actually helps our brain to solidify memories:

Research indicates that when memory is first recorded in the brain–in the hippocampus, to be specific–it’s still “fragile” and easily forgotten, especially if the brain is asked to memorize more things. Napping, it seems, pushes memories to the neocortex, the brain’s “more permanent storage,” preventing them from being “overwritten.”


Taking a nap also helps to clear information out of your brain’s temporary storage areas, getting it ready for new information to be absorbed. A study from the University of California asked participants to complete a challenging task around midday, which required them to take in a lot of new information. At around 2 p.m., half of the volunteers took a nap while the rest stayed awake.

The really interesting part of this study is not only that at 6 p.m. that night the napping group performed better than those who didn’t take a nap. In fact, the napping group actually performed better than they had earlier in the morning.

The lead researcher, Dr. Matthew Walker . . . said the findings support the idea that sleep is a necessary process that clears the brain’s short-term memory storage so there is room to absorb new information.

The same research team had found earlier that studying through the night, such as cramming the night before an exam actually decreases the brain’s ability to absorb information by almost 40%, which makes sense in light of this newer research into the effect of a nap on the brain’s learning abilities.

I love this analogy from Dr. Walker to explain the process of clearing out your brain’s storage with a nap:

Walker likened the process to having an email inbox in your hippocampus. This gets full, and you need to sleep to initiate the clearing-out process. Until you do, then the mail stays in the inbox and you can’t take in any more.

“It’s just going to bounce until you sleep and move it into another folder,” said Walker.

Dr. Walker also mentioned how these findings mean napping before learning is as important as it is afterwards:

Sleep prepares the brain like a dry sponge, ready to soak up new information.

Avoiding burnout

A study from Massachusetts showed how napping can help your brain recover from ‘burnout’ or overload of information:

To see whether napping could improve visual discrimination, a team led by Robert Stickgold, a neuroscientist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, had college students who were not sleep deprived stare at a video screen filled with horizontal bars. Periodically, three diagonal bars flashed in the lower left corner of the screen, and the students had to say whether these bars were stacked horizontally or vertically. The researchers graded students’ performance by measuring how long the diagonal bars had to be shown in order for them to answer correctly 80% of the time.

Students sat through 1,250 frustrating trials during each session, so those who did not nap did worse and worse over the course of the day. But students who took a 1-hour nap returned to their original performance levels in the next test.

The researchers in this study also experimented with moving the diagonal bars into different areas of the screen after several tests, which resulted in participants performing as well as they did at the beginning. Stickgold said this pointed out how quickly our brain’s visual centers become overloaded, since only three tests were enough to see a decrease in performance that could be overcome by changing the placement of visual input:

Burnout is a signal that says you can’t take in more information in this part of your brain until you’ve had a chance to sleep.

Another study showed that a 60– to 90-minute nap could be as good as a full night’s sleep for learning a visual perception skill. It seems as though our eyes are getting a lot of rest and repair when we’re asleep!

The benefits of a nap can even last for several hours, according to Professor Leon Lack from Flinders University:

Ten to 15 minutes of sleep seems to be the optimum period in terms of improving mental operations, performance, reaction times and subjective feelings of alertness. And that improvement in performance and alertness seems to be maintained for up to two and sometimes three hours after the nap. Interestingly, the five-minute nap just didn’t produce the same amount of improvement, while longer naps of 25 to 30 minutes led to subjects being somewhat drowsy and less alert for up to an hour after the nap.

What’s happening in your brain during a nap?

Some recent research has found that the right side of the brain is far more active during a nap than the left side, which stays fairly quiet while we’re asleep. Despite the fact that 95% of the population is right-handed, with the left side of their brains being the most dominant, the right side is consistently the more active hemisphere during sleep.

The study’s author, Andrei Medvedev, speculated that the right side of the brain handles ‘housekeeping’ duties while we’re asleep. The study looked at how active various parts of the brain were while participants were sleeping:

Medvedev and his colleagues used a type of brain imaging known as near-infrared spectroscopy, which involves placing optical fibers similar to electrodes symmetrically around a person’s scalp. These “optodes” send infrared light through the brain and measure how much light returns.

The intensity of light bouncing back provides an estimate of the blood flow in different regions of the brain. Blood flow, in turn, is an indicator of how active those regions are.

So while the left side of your brain takes some time off to relax, the right side is clearing out your temporary storage areas, pushing information into long-term storage, and solidifying your memories from the day.

How to get the most from your nap

It’s true that I’m a big proponent of naps now, but I wasn’t always. In fact, I was once vehemently opposed to napping, because I found that I was generally groggy and felt even more tired when I woke up from a nap.

The trick, I’ve found, is to work out what kind of nap suits you best. Unfortunately, this takes a lot of trial and error, but I definitely think it’s worth it. Here are some tips to help you work out the best way to get the most from your nap:

1. Learn how long you take to fall asleep

If you’re trying to nap for a specific amount of time, you definitely need to factor in the length of time it takes you to get to sleep. If you need some help to work this out, you could try using a fitness tracker like the Jawbone UP, or a sleep-tracking app on your phone. Once you have a rough idea, you can factor this into your napping time.

When I set an alarm to wake me up from a nap, I normally set it five to 10 minutes longer than I want to sleep, since this is about how long I take to get to sleep. If I’m still awake after 15 or 20 minutes, I reset my alarm and start over. Having an alarm set lets me relax knowing that I won’t fall asleep for hours and wake up groggy around dinner time.

If you don’t want to set an alarm, you could try this trick Michael Hyatt shared on his blog:

“Every day after lunch, I lie down on the sofa in my office,” he recounted. “I hold my car keys in my right hand and let my hand hang toward the floor. When the car keys fall out of my hand, I know I’m done.” (Evidently, the famous artist Salvador Dali had a similar practice.)

2. Don’t sleep too long.

Sleeping for the wrong length of time is exactly what made me hate naps originally. The problem is that this can give you sleep inertia–that feeling of waking up groggy and even more tired than you were before.

Dr. Sara C. Mednick who wrote Take a Nap! Change Your Life says sleep inertia happens when you wake up during deep, slow-wave sleep.

Since brain temperature and blood flow to the brain decrease during this sleep stage, it’s jarring to suddenly be awake and experiencing much higher rates of brain activity.

There is no benefit to napping longer than 90 minutes, because you will only begin another sleep cycle. Further, if you take a snooze too late in the day, it will contain too much slow-wave sleep.

This how-to guide for a caffeine nap explains how troublesome sleep inertia can be:

Limit your nap to 15 minutes. A half hour can lead to sleep inertia, or the spinning down of the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which handles functions like judgment. This gray matter can take 30 minutes to reboot.

The consensus across most of the research I dug up seemed to be either to go for a short, 15– to 20-minute nap, perhaps with a cup of coffee beforehand to wake up with more energy (though I’ll be impressed if you can coordinate this!) or to sleep for a full 90-minute sleep cycle, and wake up before your next cycle starts.

3. Choose the right time of day.

Napping when your energy levels are naturally decreased can help you avoid the dreaded infinite-hour feeling, where the day drags on as you try to ignore your sleepiness. This is usually sometime after lunch for those of us who work on a traditional 9–5 schedule:

Because of the natural cycles of our circadian rhythms, we are at our most tired twice during a 24-hour period. One peak of sleepiness is usually in the middle of the night, so the other, 12 hours later, falls smack-dab in the middle of the afternoon.

If you’re sleep deprived from the night before, you’ll feel this dip in energy even more strongly and be more inclined to nap. Rather than fighting it off with energy drinks or coffee, try a short nap to refresh your brain before taking on the afternoon.

If you’re lucky enough to have a napping place in your office as we do at Buffer, or Social Print Studio’s napping boxes pictured above, you’re off to a good start already!

4. Practice

The best way I’ve found to get better at napping is to practice. Figuring out what works for you can take a while, so try experimenting with different times of the day, different nap lengths and different ways of waking up (if you’re worried about grogginess, you could try an app like Warmly, which wakes you up slowly, or a sleep-tracking app like Sleep Cycle to wake you up during light sleep).

Don’t forget to set up your napping space with as little light as possible and grab a blanket to keep you warm while you’re asleep. Good luck!

–Beth Belle Cooper is a content crafter at Buffer, a smarter way to share on Twitter and Facebook. Follow her on Twitter at @BelleBethCooper

Reprinted with permission from Buffer.

Sep 6

Meditation is not just for new-agey folks sitting in the lotus position chanting “om.” Increasingly, mainstream medicine is waking up to the healing powers of daily meditation, with hospitals opening integrative medicine programs that use mindful and transcendental meditation and guided imagery, alongside traditional treatments. Research shows that meditation reduces stress, blood pressure and pain, improves attention span and the ability to focus and may even stimulate new brain cell growth. We checked with some local doctors to see why they’ve become big proponents of meditation. What is meditation exactly? There are dozens of types of meditation, from the Buddhist’s Zazen to guided imagery, but all help the mind to quiet down and heart rates to slow down. Dr. Jodie Katz, a family doctor in Ridgewood with Valley Medical Group, teaches Mindfulness Based Stressed Reduction, the most well-known and most studied. Mindful meditation has no religious affiliation. In her program, the breath is used as a guide to focus on the moment. Beginners are taught to focus on the sensation of breathing. When the mind wanders off, they are asked to simply notice where their thoughts have gone to, let go of those thoughts and bring attention back to the breath. Eventually, students work their way up to 45 minutes. How do you do it? There’s no right posture or pose, said Katz. You can do it sitting in a chair or lying down. It’s just important that you’re comfortable and in a quiet setting. Closing your eyes is a good way to focus inwards, but it’s not required. Begin by meditating a few minutes in the morning before the start of your day. How do you know when you’re doing it right and getting benefits from it? Here’s the catch: To succeed at meditating, you have to expect nothing, says Katz. “It’s really hard for us who are culturally so goal-oriented, for a moment to just experience something for what it is and see what happens.” Experts say you need to make it a daily habit to reap the most benefits. How does meditating reduce stress? We are wired to have a flight-or-fight response when under stress, whether you’re getting chased by a hungry lion or you’re stuck in rush-hour traffic late to an appointment — your heart and breathing rates increase, and your body releases stress hormones. We also have a physical stress response when we have anxiety-inducing thoughts about the future or past. Long-term release of these stress hormones put you at risk for heart disease, depression and digestive disorders. Researchers are still figuring out the exact biological mechanism behind meditation and stress reduction, but a May 2013 study published in the journal PLOS ONE suggests that meditating activates a relaxation response on the cellular level that counteracts the fight-or-flight response. After a group of 26 adults underwent eight weeks of meditation training, their blood samples revealed that genes associated with cellular efficiency, insulin production and chromosomal repair became more active, and genes associated with stress and inflammation were turned off. How does meditation affect the brain? A 2011 study in the journal Psychiatry Research found that novice meditators who participated in an eight-week workshop had an increase in the brain’s density within the left hippocampus (the area of the brain that controls learning and memory processes, stress response and one’s sense of self) compared to a non-meditating group. Meditation may also make your brain sharper, the way exercise makes your body tougher. A 2012 UCLA study found that long-time meditators had more folds in the cortex, which allows information to be processed, and more connection between neural pathways than people who did not meditate. The more folding, the better the brain is at processing information, making decisions and forming memories, according to the study authors. How does it relieve pain? Studies have shown that meditating reduces activity in the areas of the brain associated with processing pain. At Englewood Hospital’s Center for Integrative Healing, pain management nurse practitioner Cynthia Mulder and anesthesiologist Dr. Jeffrey Gudin use a form of meditation called guided imagery, before and after surgery. Guided imagery calms the sympathetic nervous system, Gudin said, so that it stops “kicking out those stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine.” Any reasons not to try it? “There’s no downside,” said Gudin. “It’s worth trying,” For more info visit; to learn more about the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction eight-week workshops at Valley Hospital visit – See more at:

Sep 5

Anxiety and Depression


By Diana Rodriguez
Medically reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH

People with anxiety disorders, like social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or phobias, spend most of their lives in an agitated state. After a while, that can take a huge emotional toll, and depression often sets in. But relief from both anxiety and depression can be achieved.

Why Anxiety Leads to Depression

Anxiety disorders are much more than just nervousness and worrying. They can cause terrifying fear about things that other people wouldn’t give a second thought to. Many people with anxiety disorders understand that their thoughts are irrational, but they still can’t stop them.

“It’s a cycle. Because when you get anxious, you tend to have this pervasive thinking about some worry or some problem and you feel bad about it. Then you feel like you’ve failed, and you move to depression,” says Sally R. Connolly, LCSW, a therapist at the Couples Clinic of Louisville in Kentucky.

The two conditions have a complicated relationship:

The incidence of developing depression in addition to an anxiety disorder is high — a little more than half of all people with major depression also suffer from severe and persistent anxiety, notes Connolly.
“People who are depressed often feel anxious and worried, so one can trigger the other. Anxiety often comes before depression,” she says.
Some of the research indicates a biological predisposition to both anxiety disorders and depression. A family history of these mental health conditions may also help explain the connection between anxiety disorders and depression.
“Especially with anxiety, more so than depression, there often is some family history, and so therefore we think that there may be some genetic predisposition to this,” says Connolly. “Some people are just worriers and pass it down.”

Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression

These are warning signs that a person may suffer from both anxiety disorder and depression:

Constant, irrational fear and worry
Physical symptoms like rapid heartbeat, sweating, and difficulty breathing
Constant feelings of sadness or worthlessness
Disinterest in hobbies and activities
Feeling tired and cranky
Panic attacks Treating Anxiety and Depression

Both anxiety and depression need to be treated, and treatment should be focused on both conditions together.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is often used to treat anxiety disorder with depression. CBT can teach people to manage their fears, anxieties, and depressive symptoms by figuring out what’s really causing them; they also learn how to take control of their emotions.
Antidepressant medications may also be prescribed to help treat both conditions; they are often used in conjunction with CBT.
Exercise can also help both anxiety disorders and depression. Exercise releases chemicals in the body that make you feel good, and it can help you relax. Treatment for anxiety disorders and depression needs to be administered and managed by a psychiatrist, Connolly says. “It’s really crucial for people with both [anxiety and depression] to have a good assessment to rule out bipolar disorder,” she says. Bipolar disorder, a condition in which emotions can swing from very low to very high levels of mania and depression, is treated much differently than anxiety disorder with depression.

No one has to suffer from anxiety disorder or depression, and certainly not both. People with anxiety disorder should speak with a psychiatrist, therapist, or other health-care professional about their symptoms, and start treatment before depression has a chance to set in.

Sep 4

Yelling at your kids?


By Rick Nauert PhD Senior News Editor

For many parents, yelling at their adolescent child is a normal event.

New research suggests this form of discipline may be as damaging as physical abuse.

Indeed, although most parents who yell at their children would not dream of physically harming their teen — shouting, cursing, or using insults — may be detrimental to the long-term well-being of the adolescent.

The research findings by Ming-Te Wang, assistant professor of psychology in education in the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Education, are found online in the journal Child Development.

Prior studies have shown that a majority of parents use harsh verbal discipline at some point during their child’s adolescence.

Despite this common form of discipline, relatively little research has explored the effects of this behavior.

The paper, coauthored by Sarah Kenny, a graduate student in the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, concludes that, rather than minimizing problematic behavior in adolescents, the use of harsh verbal discipline may in fact aggravate it.

The researchers found that adolescents who had experienced harsh verbal discipline suffered from increased levels of depressive symptoms, and were more likely to demonstrate behavioral problems such as vandalism or antisocial and aggressive behavior.

The study is one of the first to indicate that harsh verbal discipline from parents can be damaging to developing adolescents.

The finding that the negative effect of verbal discipline is comparable to the effects of physical discipline is surprising.

“From that we can infer that these results will last the same way that the effects of physical discipline do because the immediate-to-two-year effects of verbal discipline were about the same as for physical discipline,” Wang said.

Based on the literature studying the effects of physical discipline, Wang and Kenny anticipate similar long-term results for adolescents subjected to harsh verbal discipline.

Significantly, the researchers also found that “parental warmth”—i.e., the degree of love, emotional support, and affection between parents and adolescents—did not lessen the effects of the verbal discipline.

The sense that parents are yelling at the child “out of love,” or “for their own good,” Wang said, does not mitigate the damage inflicted. Neither does the strength of the parent-child bond.

Even lapsing only occasionally into the use of harsh verbal discipline, said Wang, can still be harmful.

“Even if you are supportive of your child, if you fly off the handle it’s still bad,” he said.

Another significant contribution of the paper is the finding that these results are bidirectional: the authors showed that harsh verbal discipline occurred more frequently in instances in which the child exhibited problem behaviors, and these same problem behaviors, in turn, were more likely to continue when adolescents received verbal discipline.

“It’s a vicious circle,” Wang said.

“And it’s a tough call for parents because it goes both ways: problem behaviors from children create the desire to give harsh verbal discipline, but that discipline may push adolescents toward those same problem behaviors.”

The researchers report that parents who wish to modify the behavior of their teenage children would be better advised to communicate with them on an equal level, explaining their worries and rationale to them.

For parents, keeping cool when confronted with a rebellious and often defiant teen, is a challenge.

Parents can acquire training via parenting programs that are offer parents insight into the ineffectiveness of harsh verbal discipline, and to offer alternatives, say the authors of the study.

The researchers conducted the study in 10 public middle schools in eastern Pennsylvania over a two-year period, working with 967 adolescents and their parents.

Students and their parents completed surveys over a period of two years on topics related to their mental health, child-rearing practices, the quality of the parent-child relationship, and general demographics.

Significantly, most of the students were from middle-class families.

“There was nothing extreme or broken about these homes,” Wang stressed. “These were not ‘high-risk’ families. We can assume there are a lot of families like this—there’s an okay relationship between parents and kids, and the parents care about their kids and don’t want them to engage in problem behaviors.”

Males comprised 51 percent of the study subjects, while 54 percent were European American, 40 percent African American, and 6 percent from other ethnic backgrounds.

Source: University of Pittsburg

Sep 3

Internet Porn and Attention


By Linda Hatch, PhD

Some people can look at internet pornography now and then and not become porn addicts. Others get hooked on porn very quickly and spend hours online, often jeopardizing their work, neglecting their families and wrecking their relationships.

Why are some people more at risk for internet porn addiction?

We look immediately for childhood trauma but there may be other contributing mental health issues which can be treated in order to reduce the risks and optimize the result.

ADHD and hyperfocus

There is enough research to strongly suggest that adults with ADHD are at much higher risk for addiction in general, including sex addiction. (See also my blog on ADHD and sex addiction.)

Being glued to the computer screen for hours on end looking at pornography can be seen in adults with ADHD as a symptom of that disorder, namely hyperfocus (or more properly perseveration) which is a form of rigid attention. The ADHD adult is more likely to be a porn addict because he cannot tear himself away from the pornography, meaning he cannot shift his attention away from one thing and onto another as easily as someone else.

ADHD testing involves evaluating 4 main factors or dimensions of attention.

•Problems Splitting Attention
•Problems Shifting Attention
The last of these, the ability to shift your attention from one thing to another as needed, is the factor that most obviously relates to the fixation that ADHD folks can have on internet porn.

Autism Spectrum” Disorder and hyperfocus

Dr. Russell Barkley has argued that what we call the ADHD “hyperfocus,” should really be called “perseveration” a symptom of the frontal lobe issues in ADHD.

He argues that “hyperfocus” is a term that more appropriately relates to autism spectrum disorders, where the person has a problem connecting different areas of the brain. The two terms seem to be used popularly to describe similar behavior of disappearing into the stimulus or activity.

However the reference to autism intrigued me because I have noticed that some sex addicts who have great difficulty staying abstinent form internet pornography also seem to have some symptoms of high functioning autism or Asperger’s Disorder. They have trouble with social relating, trouble understanding social/emotional cues, are obsessive and may have special talents.

The hyperfocus of the mildly autistic or Asperger’s Disorder person (as well as their social disconnect) would tend to place that person at risk for getting drawn into a compelling activity like porn viewing and would make it harder for them to abstain.

Posttraumatic Stress and Dissociation

Dissociation is a symptom of PTSD, a “zoning out” that can be mild or very severe. It is likely that posttraumatic stress and its resulting dissociative symptoms would add to the risk for internet pornography addiction.

Research suggests that it is not only the adult with a history of childhood trauma but also the veteran with service related stress or anyone with acute or chronic stress could have a greater risk for dissociation and addiction in general, including a fixation on internet porn.

To complicate matters, there is research that found prior ADHD leads to greater vulnerability to PTSD in veterans.

Trauma and ADHD seem to be intertwined and create a chicken-egg issue for further research. But regardless, both PTSD and ADHD separately or together create the risk for attentional issues related to porn addiction.

Evaluate and treat attention issues for a better outcome

Anyone with pornography addiction should be fully assessed for co-occurring psychological issues. ADHD, trauma and high functioning autism can stand in the way of progress. If they are identified and treated the outcome looks much brighter.

Sep 2

Recognizing your strengths and weaknesses


Most clients I see are resistant to help. Some are more obvious than others, but the creation of a comfort zone (whether it works or not is certainly up for debate) is how most of my clients survive. On a regular basis, I will highlight a moment from my work. Of course, the names and some details have been changed.

I’ve been working with Walt for a few months. Our work has been very intense. He’s a good kid but can be quite stubborn and belligerent. He’s told me to “shut the f@ck up” amongst other kind things. Walt really wants me to return the insult to reinforce that he’s a bad kid and really can’t be helped (I have not done so). But what externally gets under his skin is that I am not going away any time soon.

He usually begins our sessions questioning my credentials and asking why exactly he’s seeing me. He also says many things under his breath (which I regularly tell him is a sign of weakness. If he has an issue, he needs to say it aloud. That also bothers him as well.

Walt refuses to go to school. This stemmed from an incident earlier in the year. His parents tried to have him tested but he was uncooperative (shock I know). He even called his mother all kinds of names during our initial consultation.

Here’s the catch with Walt. He’s gifted. He is one of the smartest kids I have ever met. But…this is being held against him by many different parties. When he was younger and showed concerns with ADHD and Executive Functioning, the school told him to work harder because he’s smart. In other words, like I always say, bang your head harder into a wall because that accomplishes a lot doesn’t it??? I will never tell a kid he or she isn’t living up to his or her potential or to work harder. Both of these do not make a lot of sense to me. Everyone has potential to do anything and working harder doesn’t mean you’re working better.

Walt and I did have a breakthrough our last session. He has verbalized on more than one occasion that he hates being compared to his sister. While Walt is very intelligent, he doesn’t put forth his best effort and gets solid grades. Meanwhile, his sister works very hard and sees similar results. Walt feels that it’s not fair that his parents and others tell him that his grades could improve with more effort and yet his sister is praised for the same grades and working hard. This is a dangerous trap…it is important not to ever compare one child to another in the effort department. It doesn’t help motivate the child that is perceived to be putting forth less effort and can create resentment. If a situation like this is occurring, keep this conversation about each child. Throwing one under the bus creates numerous concerns.

Despite his resistance, Walt needs my services. He needs to understand how his behavior impacts himself and other around him on a regular basis. Until Walt begins to recognize this, he will continue to struggle. Once we improve this area, then the improvement of his executive functions will also begin to improve. Walt will take some time, but his family is committed to the process. As I always tell families, my work is a process…there is no quick fix or a cure in a can.

Please follow me on Twitter at ADHDEFCoach and Facebook. For more information on my work, check out and Feel free to email me at if you have any additional questions.

Sep 1

Couples Therapy


by Alyssa Siegel

The “extrovert” versus the “introvert” partner

One person gets their energy from high levels of stimulation; the other requires solitude to feel grounded. Introverts are not necessarily shy or anti-social, but they often prefer one-on-one or small group settings because they fell more in control. Extroverts tend to respond more quickly, hitting the send button or blurting out their thoughts before filtering them. Introverts need more time to process and come back to a conversation while an extrovert may want to talk it out. Neither approach is better, and the differences can be complementary. But, when a conflict arises, it is often each partner’s characteristic style of handling it, rather than the details of the issue itself that actually creates the problem.

My suggestion: It’s important for the extrovert to understand that how they communicate rather than what they say may be overwhelming to their introvert partner. Pushing a conversation with explanations or conclusions can result in a lock down in which the introvert feels like a deer caught in headlights, causing further withdrawal inward. The introvert, on the other hand, must understand that his or her partner has the best intentions, and the urgency to engage reflects a desire for intimacy and connection or anxiety about leaving conflict unresolved.

It can help if the couple establishes a general “rule” to take some time and space apart in moments of conflict with an agreed upon time to return to the conversation; an hour, maybe the next day, depending on the amount of time it takes for the introvert to regroup so that they aren’t flooded and the extrovert to cool down, both waiting respectively to feel centered again. Most of us can’t think clearly, express ourselves rationally or come to reasonable conclusions when we are least emotionally aroused. Otherwise, we risk saying things that may be hurtful rather than helpful, or we may throw up our hands just to end the conflict without it actually being resolved.

The “rational” versus the “expressive” partner

I work with a lot of activists, teachers and social workers who have partners that may not come from the same tradition or training. While this partner approaches conflict with compassion and reason based on their experiences, the other may have been raised in a home in which everyone yelled at each other. Swearing and insults flew freely and fights blew big but were quickly passed over, everyone going on with their day as usual. For them an eruption of anger is normal and even preferable to bottling it. Once they have had a chance to vent, they don’t understand why things can’t then just move on. When those words land on the person that has worked hard to use reason and ownership of their part in the conflict in their lives to avoid shaming and blaming, anger and insults mean a lot. They feel shocked and sometimes deeply wounded. On the other hand, to the non-trained partner, “I” and “feeling” statements from the “rational” partner come off as condescending and manipulative.

My suggestion: Decide on certain language that is off-limits such as “fuck you,” or “bitch,” or “I want a divorce,” etc, but also understand that these words are the result of extreme frustration, like a tea pot letting off steam at the boiling point. They are not necessarily meant to personally injure. It’s no worse to always overreact passionately in the face of conflict than it is to always react reasonably without any genuine expression of emotion. Build the boundaries by setting limits, and if you’re the rational partner, examine your style of “arguing” for its possible rigidities or hidden hostilities. A more genuine expression of feelings may be experienced as less false or aggressive and lead to a more meaningful conversation.

The “avoidant” versus “aggressive” partner

Though a subtly different dynamic than the “rational versus expressive” one, the “avoidant versus aggressive” interaction is no less painful. Most observers would blame a verbally aggressive partner for a couple troubles because of his loud and in your face style, but a passive partner who seems to turn the other cheek may secretly blame the other, refusing to take ownership of the couple’s difficulties. While the passive partner may feel bullied or abused, the aggressive partner may feel like he or she has been quietly undermined, dismissed or abandoned. The more the passive person shuts down or pulls away, the more the aggressive person leans forward and pushes in, demanding resolution or retribution because he or she feels like their partner doesn’t care.

My obvious suggestion: The aggressive partner should try backing off in order to give the passive partner room to step forward and work towards becoming more assertive in their communication. This behavior needs to be positively reinforced by empathic listening. Of course this is easier said than done because in the middle of a conflict, each partner must stop to reflect on their personal contribution to creating the difficulties.

A stop word can help. Choose a word that either partner can invoke to prevent a conflict from escalating or to call a time out to reflect and gather your words. Use the break to think about how you might be maintaining the conflict. Make a leap, stop acting defensive, and consider that what your partner is saying about you might be true. When both of you are ready, apologize for your behavior. “I’m sorry if I was ……..” Then each should talk about ways to change how you’re interacting. This dynamic generosity – the generosity of love, of support, of spirit – is especially important. One person needs to be willing to start approaching the other with generosity and the other will most likely follow suit, softening and reciprocating in this new way of being present with one another.

The “laid-back” versus the “organized” partner

Opposites attracted in this relationship, at least at first. One person was drawn to the other’s spontaneous and relaxed attitude while the other felt attracted by possibilities of greater certainty, order, and focus. Yet, over time, as the differences proved greater than imagined, each partner became increasingly frustrated. The free spirit now sees their partner as inflexible and rigid; the organizer sees the free spirit as irresponsible and flakey. The desire to change each other grows and they become locked in an unending argument over whose way of doing things should prevail.

My recommendation: Use a stop word to end the argument. Reflect on those qualities about your partner that originally attracted you. It was those qualities that are lacking in yourself and an unconscious desire to attain them that created a feeling of chemistry in the first place. Each person can do something to move closer towards the other’s style of interacting by assuming the behavior they first admired in the other. The organized partner can remind himself that just because he feels a sense of urgency, it doesn’t mean that all matters are urgent. Meditation and practicing letting go can help. For the laid back partner, practicing focus, single-mindedness, planning activities, may satisfy a secret desire for order and security and finally change the dynamic in the relationship.

The “committed” versus “one foot out the door” partner

It is very hard to make much progress in couples therapy when one person’s sense of commitment has changed. A partner may be at their wit’s end after years of frustration or unhappiness, one signature away from a lease on a new apartment. But until he or she feels ready, they have become resigned to live in the relationship, finding evidence for their unhappiness in each failed interaction with their partner. For them “the grass may be greener on the other side.” He or she has made their decision and nothing can change it. The other partner is, however, committed to making the relationship work and willing to make comprises or even sacrifices in order for it to continue.

My advice: Consider this. It’s incredibly easy to see a partner as the source of your unhappiness, and maybe sometimes they are. But just as often, they are the scapegoat for it. No one else’s life is as entwined, and it may feel as if the other is accountable for things that may actually grow from your own unresolved conflicts and unmet needs. Each partner can do a personal inventory of qualities about themselves that may have contributed to the impasse in the relationship. In other words, instead of blaming a partner, consider how your own behavior makes matters worse.

The committed partner might be served by also considering what it is they are holding on to. Are they sacrificing at all costs? Are they in love with the fantasy of what a partner or relationship “could be” rather than what they really are? Acting like the relationship has to continue as a matter of personal survival may not always serve its betterment. Sometimes a more neutral stance allows what is best to happen slowly become apparent. Don’t be so sure of anything. Despite what you think, your survival doesn’t depend on the relationship. Take an inventory of what’s valuable about yourself. If there isn’t going to be reciprocity, leave open the option that the relationship probably isn’t going to work.

Until a decision is made, stop blaming. Again, find a generosity of spirit within yourself – praise, support, and seek to make the partner’s life easier even when your feelings are hurt and resentment has been longstanding. If one partner changes his or her behavior, then chances are the other will pick up on it and do the same. Even if the relationship is ultimately not viable, you can part on more peaceful terms and enjoy kinder times as you come to your decision.

We all have it in us to be better partners. Every relationship can be improved. Relationships are never perfect and maintenance always necessary. With an attitude of generosity versus self-centeredness, self-responsibility versus blaming, open-mindedness versus defensiveness, intractable patterns can be broken and new, more satisfying ones formed.

There are many reasons to prefer being single. The lack of responsibility for another, the freedom in time and in choices. There are also many reasons to prefer being in relationship, such as the feeling of security that comes with knowing someone has your back, and the opportunity to grow and create memories with a partner who supports and respects you. Whatever you chose, honor yourself by asking yourself why it is that you seek out or avoid certain people or kinds of relationships, especially if it seems to be a pattern. Think about the ways in which you can be your best self, both alone or with a partner, and make sure that you are responsible for making that happen and don’t depend on anyone else to do it for you. If you want a relationship, seek out partners that inspire you, not only those that simply need you. Choose instead of waiting to be chosen.

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