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Feb 28

How Much Sex is Enough Sex?


By Laura Berman, PhD
Have you ever wondered if you and your partner have enough sex?

If so, you are not alone. Most couples think “Is our sex life normal?” at some point in their relationships, and it’s easy to feel like you might not be sexually active enough, especially when it seems like everyone around you is having sex all the time. Between the media and boasting friends, you might find yourself worrying about the action (or lack thereof) going on in your bedroom.

Here’s the good news. When it comes to sexual frequency, it doesn’t matter what is going on in other people’s bedrooms. It only matters that you and your partner each feel as though you are committed to satisfying one another’s desires.

A new study led by the University of Toronto has found that the key to sexual fulfillment lies not in a magic number, but in what researchers call “sexual communal strength.” Sexual communal strength occurs when couples prioritize one another’s sexual needs, even when it might at times conflict with their own energy level or desire. The researchers found that when people are motivated to meet their partner’s sexual needs, their own libido responds positively as a result. And, those partners are likely to have their sexual needs met in the end as well.

Think of it as teamwork in the bedroom. Instead of working to get your own needs met and thinking exclusively of your own desires and feelings, you consider your partner’s side of things as well as what is good for the “team” as a whole (i.e. your relationship). The benefits of doing so are two-fold. Not only does it ensure that your partner is satisfied and connected to you, but it also makes you feel desirable and attractive. It keeps in touch with your sexual side and it helps to maintain everything from healthy circulation to sexual response to fantasies.

Most importantly, it helps you to remember the importance of sex in a long-term relationship. A great sex life isn’t just about meeting a certain number of orgasms per week. It’s about connecting with your partner in a physical and emotional way, as well as about fulfilling each other’s desires and prioritizing each other’s needs.

Of course, this doesn’t meant that you should have sex when you really don’t want to or that you should engage in sexual acts that make you uncomfortable. However, the study does suggest a new way to think about sex. Instead of thinking “What can I get out of this?” or “Do I really want to have sex right now?” you might think, “What can I give my partner? How important is sex to him right now?” You could end up discovering that you are in the mood if you stay in the moment instead of casting sex off the table right away. I call this the “just do it” mentality, meaning that if you let your body and your mind stay open to the idea of sex, you will often find that you have much more sexual energy and desire than you actually realized.

At the end of the day, the right amount of sex is the amount that keeps both you and your partner happy. You might not always have the exact same number in your head, whether he wants more or you want less, or vice versa. But if you are motivated to fulfill each other’s needs and are a team player in the bedroom, you might find that you both end up getting what you want.

Feb 25

Relaxation Techniques for Depression


By Diana Rodriguez
Medically reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
People with depression often struggle with more emotional weight than depression alone. Depression and anxiety often go hand-in-hand, and stress can also challenge your emotional health. When anxiety and stress build up, they can affect your depression symptoms and make them more difficult to manage. Some simple relaxation techniques may help you escape your stress and anxiety, as well as better manage your depression.
How Relaxation Helps Depression

Caring for all aspects of your emotional health is important for managing depression, and that means easing stress and anxiety, too. A daily dose of relaxation may be just what the doctor ordered.

“Relaxation can help just about anybody,” says Jennifer L. Payne, MD, PhD, assistant professor and co-director of the Women’s Mood Disorders Center at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

Anxiety, which is common in people who have depression, can make people feel tense. The anxiety can be severe, says Dr. Payne, and may even lead to panic attacks.

“Certainly when someone is depressed, much of their outlook is negative,” adds Payne. “Relaxation techniques can help with that; it can bring people down a notch so that they’re not so anxious or negative.” Relaxation techniques such as meditation, massage, and exercise can also release endorphins, which are chemicals in the body that relieve pain and are thought to elevate your mood.

Relaxation also benefits your physical health. “It’s another tool to combat those physical effects of depression,” Payne says.

Relaxation techniques may even help prevent depression in some people. According to Payne, “Environmental stress can trigger depressive episodes, so if you have a genetic predisposition to depression, and you go through a stressful time, you are more likely to have a depressive episode. Learning how to control your stress levels may help prevent depressive episodes.”

Relaxation Techniques for Depression

Which relaxation techniques will be most effective for improving emotional health depends on the person, says Payne. Some people find a massage or pedicure to be calming, while those activities could actually cause stress for someone who doesn’t enjoy them. Your relaxation technique doesn’t have to be complicated — anything that makes you unwind and feel good will benefit your emotional health.

Here are some relaxation techniques known to help ease depression and anxiety. Try the ones that appeal to you, and discover which ones deliver the most stress relief.

Deep breathing. Deep, slow breathing can help you release anxiety and relax from head to toe. Try it at set times throughout the day or whenever you feel stress building. Combine deep breathing with meditation for even greater relaxation, stress relief, and focus.
Exercise. This is a great relaxation technique, says Payne, and it offers great physical health benefits, too. Yoga is a particularly beneficial therapy because it focuses on meditation, balance, deep breathing, and relaxation all at the same time.
Surround yourself with scents. Some people find certain pleasant aromas very relaxing. Known as aromatherapy, this technique can be as simple as lighting a candle scented with a favorite fragrance.
Take a vacation in your mind. Called visual or guided imagery, this relaxation technique uses your imagination to carry yourself away from daily stress. Picture yourself in a serene, peaceful place that makes you happy. Take time to experience all the sensations in your mind.
Warm up. Treat yourself to a long, luxurious soak in a bubble bath or lose yourself in the steam of a hot shower. Even sipping on a mug of hot coffee, tea, or cocoa can be soothing.
Scribble out your stress. If something’s bothering you and you just need to get it off your chest, a diary or journal can be your best friend. Take a few moments each day — or any time you feel down or stressed — to write about your fears, concerns, or frustrations.

Everyone’s idea of relaxation is different. It doesn’t matter what you do to relieve stress as long as it helps you feel better. Make time each day for a short respite, something that you look forward to and that will leave you feeling more hopeful as you face the rest of your day.

Feb 24

Treatment of Depression With rTMS


A procedure referred to as repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation, or rTMS, was developed in 1985 to test brain function in healthy individuals, and in those with various types of medical conditions. Recent studies, however, suggest that rTMS may also be used as a medical treatment for some psychiatric conditions, including depression.

When the brain is stimulated with rTMS, a magnetic coil is placed against the scalp about three inches beyond the hairline and to the left of the center of the head. The magnetic coil is made from two plastic loops, connected to look like a “figure 8.” Each of the two loops in the coil is about three inches wide.

rTMS works by creating magnetic pulses in the loops of the coil. These magnetic field pulses produce small electric currents that stimulate nerve cells in the brain. These magnetic pulses also stimulate muscles and skin in the scalp and cause a moderate tapping sensation to be felt in the scalp under the coil. rTMS does not involve passing electrical currents directly through the scalp. Therefore, in contrast to ElectroConvulsive Therapy (ECT), it does not require anesthesia.

The most promising use of rTMS is in the treatment of depression. Several studies, suggest that a several-week course of daily rTMS treatments may improve depression for up to several months. In addition, these studies suggest that rTMS is generally safe and does not cause the memory loss associated with ECT. In rare cases, rTMS has been reported to induce seizures.

Currently, treatment of depression with rTMS is an experimental procedure. Much more research will be necessary to prove the effectiveness of rTMS and determine the best ways to use rTMS (example: what parts of the brain should be stimulated, how fast, how often, etc.) to treat depression.

rTMS may someday provide an effective alternative to ECT. Because rTMS apparently has fewer side effects than ECT, it may be possible to someday use rTMS to treat milder cases of depression, or to use rTMS to speed improvement of depression being treated with antidepressant medications

Feb 23


A recent brain imaging study helps explain how we learn to copy actions through observation. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of participants’ brains, while they watched someone else perform a task, suggests that areas of the brain are used in a similar way to when the person is actually moving.

One of the most recently developed forms of neuroimaging, fMRI allows the observation of neural activity in the brain by tracking changes in the blood flow to neurons.

Dr. Scott Frey of the University of Oregon and his team took fMRI scans of the brain while 19 college-aged, healthy participants watched films of other people building or taking apart objects using parts of Tinker Toys.

“We’ve been looking at the process of motor learning through observation in the context of procedures,” Dr. Frey said. “Teaching a physical skill often involves someone demonstrating the essential action components after which the learner tries to reproduce what has been observed.

“This is true for behaviors ranging from learning to eat with utensils, playing an instrument or performing surgery. We wanted to know how the brain takes what is seen and translates it into a motor program for guiding skilled movements.”

In the study, brain scans of those simply watching were compared against scans from those planning to copy the actions in the correct order afterwards. Dr. Frey found that observing with the intention to copy used parts of the brain that also are used when learning by physically doing the activity. The participants’ accuracy in reproducing the actions a few minutes later was predicted by the amount of activity in the intraparietal sulcus (IPS), which is in the parietal lobe. This backs up previous findings that the IPS is involved in the processing of others’ intentions.

When the participants were asked to watch a film and copy the actions, but not necessarily in the same order, activity in these brain regions increased to a lesser extent. Dr. Frey believes that activity in the IPS may act as a “thermometer” to show how well a person is translating what they are seeing into plans for action.

“What appears vital is the intention of the observer, rather than simply the visual stimulus that is being viewed,” he said. “If the goal is to be able to do what you are seeing, then it appears that activity through your motor system is up-regulated substantially. This could prove important as a means of facilitating rehabilitation of individuals with movement impairments or paralyses.”

Brain damage long has been linked to problems using objects, with damage to different areas causing different types of problems. Sometimes a patient can perform an action properly but out of context. For example, one patient with damage to his right hemisphere tried to brush his teeth with a comb and eat with a toothbrush. This was not because he did not know what the objects were, as he was able to name them.

In a 2005 study, Dr. Frey confirmed the idea that skills in using objects can be separated from the knowledge of what they are. His team tested eight patients with a type of apraxia affecting object-related movement, five stroke patients without this type of problem, and six healthy participants.

The apraxia patients could identify objects but had problems in planning how to reach for them accurately. However, they had no problems with hand actions not involving objects, such as signaling “stop” or waving goodbye. They were also much more likely to have damage to the IPS.

Frey S. H. and Gerry V. E. Modulation of Neural Activity during Observational Learning of Actions and Their Sequential Orders. Journal of Neuroscience, Vol. 26, December 20, 2006, pp. 13194-13201.

Buxbaum L. J., Frey S. H. and Bartlett-Williams, M. Deficient internal models for planning hand-object interactions in apraxia. Neuropsychologia, Vol. 43, June 2005, pp. 917-29.

Johnson-Frey S. H. The neural bases of complex tool use in humans. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Vol. 8, February 2004, pp. 71-78.

Feb 22

Types of Brain Imaging Techniques


Brain imaging techniques allow doctors and researchers to view activity or problems within the human brain, without invasive neurosurgery. There are a number of accepted, safe imaging techniques in use today in research facilities and hospitals throughout the world.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, is a technique for measuring brain activity. It works by detecting the changes in blood oxygenation and flow that occur in response to neural activity – when a brain area is more active it consumes more oxygen and to meet this increased demand blood flow increases to the active area. fMRI can be used to produce activation maps showing which parts of the brain are involved in a particular mental process.

Computed tomography (CT) scanning builds up a picture of the brain based on the differential absorption of X-rays. During a CT scan the subject lies on a table that slides in and out of a hollow, cylindrical apparatus. An x-ray source rides on a ring around the inside of the tube, with its beam aimed at the subjects head. After passing through the head, the beam is sampled by one of the many detectors that line the machine’s circumference. Images made using x-rays depend on the absorption of the beam by the tissue it passes through. Bone and hard tissue absorb x-rays well, air and water absorb very little and soft tissue is somewhere in between. Thus, CT scans reveal the gross features of the brain but do not resolve its structure well.

Positron Emission Tomography (PET) uses trace amounts of short-lived radioactive material to map functional processes in the brain. When the material undergoes radioactive decay a positron is emitted, which can be picked up be the detector. Areas of high radioactivity are associated with brain activity.

Electroencephalography (EEG) is the measurement of the electrical activity of the brain by recording from electrodes placed on the scalp. The resulting traces are known as an electroencephalogram (EEG) and represent an electrical signal from a large number of neurons.

EEGs are frequently used in experimentation because the process is non-invasive to the research subject. The EEG is capable of detecting changes in electrical activity in the brain on a millisecond-level. It is one of the few techniques available that has such high temporal resolution.

Magnetoencephalography (MEG) is an imaging technique used to measure the magnetic fields produced by electrical activity in the brain via extremely sensitive devices known as SQUIDs. These measurements are commonly used in both research and clinical settings. There are many uses for the MEG, including assisting surgeons in localizing a pathology, assisting researchers in determining the function of various parts of the brain, neurofeedback, and others.

Near infrared spectroscopy is an optical technique for measuring blood oxygenation in the brain. It works by shining light in the near infrared part of the spectrum (700-900nm) through the skull and detecting how much the remerging light is attenuated. How much the light is attenuated depends on blood oxygenation and thus NIRS can provide an indirect measure of brain activity.

By JANICE WOOD Associate News Editor
New research has found that people with chronic insomnia have some key differences in the part of the brain that controls movement.

“Insomnia is not a nighttime disorder,” said Rachel E. Salas, M.D., an assistant professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “It’s a 24-hour brain condition, like a light switch that is always on. Our research adds information about differences in the brain associated with it.”

The researchers found that the motor cortex in patients with chronic insomnia was more adaptable to change — more plastic — than in a group of people who slept well. They also found more “excitability” among neurons in the same region of the brain in the people with chronic insomnia.

“This adds evidence to the idea that insomniacs are in a constant state of heightened information processing that may interfere with sleep,” said the researchers.

For the study, the researchers used transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), which painlessly delivers electromagnetic currents to precise locations in the brain, which temporarily disrupts the function of the targeted area.

According to the researchers, “TMS is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat some patients with depression by stimulating nerve cells in the region of the brain involved in mood control.”

The study included 28 adults, including 18 who suffered from insomnia for a year or more and 10 who reported no trouble sleeping. Each person was outfitted with electrodes on their dominant thumb, as well as an accelerometer to measure the speed and direction of the thumb.

The researchers then gave each person 65 electrical pulses using TMS, stimulating areas of the motor cortex and watching for involuntary thumb movements linked to the stimulation. The researchers then trained each person for 30 minutes, teaching them to move their thumb in the opposite direction of the original involuntary movement. They then gave the electrical pulses again.

The idea was to measure the extent to which their brains could learn to move their thumbs involuntarily in the newly trained direction, the researchers explained. The more the thumb was able to move in the new direction, the more likely their motor cortexes could be identified as more plastic, they noted.

Because lack of sleep at night has been linked to decreased memory and concentration during the day, the researchers suspected that the brains of good sleepers could be more easily retrained. The results, however, were the opposite. They report that they found much more plasticity in the brains of those with chronic insomnia.

“The origins of the increased plasticity in insomniacs is unclear,” said Salas. “it is not known whether the increase is the cause of insomnia.”

“It is also unknown whether this increased plasticity is beneficial, the source of the problem or part of a compensatory mechanism to address the consequences of sleep deprivation associated with chronic insomnia,” she added.

Salas speculated it is possible that many of the problems linked to insomnia, such as increased metabolism, increased cortisol levels, and constant worrying, might be linked to increased plasticity in some way.

The researcher noted that TMS may play a role in diagnosing insomnia, as there is no objective test. Diagnoses are based solely on patient reports.

There also is not a single treatment that works for all people with insomnia, she said, adding that TMS could potentially prove to be a treatment, perhaps through reducing excitability.

The study was published in the journal Sleep.

Feb 18

By RICK NAUERT PHD Senior News Editor

Treatment for Youth Anxiety Is Effective, LastingA new study confirms that current treatment strategies for youth with moderate to severe anxiety disorders are effective and provide long-term benefits.

As published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, researchers found that the majority of youth anxiety disorders responded well to acute treatment with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), medication (sertraline), or a combination of both.

Investigators found that youth participants maintained positive treatment response over a six month follow-up period with the help of monthly booster sessions.

As part of the NIMH Child/Adolescent Anxiety Multimodal Study (CAMS), researchers followed 412 children and adolescents ages 7-17 after they completed 12 weeks of acute treatment.

Treatment responders were offered six additional monthly booster sessions, with those initially on medication continuing this treatment; all youth, regardless of status at week 12, were re-evaluated three and six months later by trained clinicians.

Twenty-seven percent of study participants also reported receiving outside (e.g. nonstudy) psychotherapy and/or medication for mental health symptoms over the six month follow-up period.

The study found that over 80 percent of youth rated as positive responders to one of the three CAMS treatments at Week 12 were also rated as responders at both the three and six month follow-up evaluations.

Conversely, only five percent of youth who received combined CBT plus sertraline, and 15-16 percent of youth receiving either CBT-only or sertraline-only, failed to achieve responder status at any time during the study.

Youth in the combined CBT+sertraline group showed greater treatment benefits on some, but not all outcome measures, and used less nonstudy treatments than those in the CBT-only and sertraline-only groups.

Collectively, anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorders in children and adolescents. Often overlooked, severe anxiety can significantly impair children’s school, social, and family functioning, and if untreated, can increase the risk of depression, alcohol and substance abuse, and occupational difficulties in adulthood.

CAMS is the largest randomized controlled comparative treatment trial for child/adolescent anxiety disorders ever conducted.

Participants were recruited at six regionally dispersed sites throughout the United States (University of California Los Angeles, Duke University, Columbia University/New York University, Johns Hopkins University, Temple University, and the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinics/University of Pittsburgh).

They were randomly assigned to 12 weeks of treatment with cognitive behavioral therapy (Coping cat), the selective serotonin reuptake-inhibiting [SSRI] medication sertraline, cognitive behavioral therapy combined with sertraline, or pill placebo.

All participants had moderate to severe separation anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder or social phobia, with most having multiple anxiety, or other mental health disorders.

“The results of this study provide further evidence of the benefits of cognitive behavioral therapy and SSRI medication, alone or in combination, for treating clinically significant anxiety in children and adolescents,” said Dr. John Piacentini of the University of California, Los Angeles Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.

“A separate project by the CAMS researchers is now gathering information on how study participants are doing up to 10 years after study participation.”

Children diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) at ages 4 to 6 are more likely to suffer from depression as adolescents than those who did not have ADHD at that age, according to a long-term study published in the October issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry. Although it was an uncommon occurrence, the children with ADHD also were somewhat more likely to think about or attempt suicide as adolescents.

“This study is important in demonstrating that, even during early childhood, ADHD in is seldom transient or unimportant” said study director Benjamin Lahey, Ph.D., a professor of health studies and psychiatry at the University of Chicago. “It reinforces our belief that parents of young children with ADHD should pay close attention to their child’s behavior and its consequences and seek treatment to prevent possible long-term problems.”

Children with ADHD have trouble paying attention and controlling impulsive behaviors and are often overly active. This can cause poor performance in school, difficulties in social situations, and a loss of confidence and self esteem. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that about 4.4 million children, including about four percent of those aged 4 to 6, have ADHD.

Earlier studies of the long-term connections between ADHD, depression and suicidal thoughts produced mixed results. This study benefited from a more comprehensive assessment of depression over a decade, a focus on specific child and family factors that predict which children are most at risk, and consideration of other factors associated with suicidal ideas.

The study, performed by researchers at the University of Chicago and the University of Pittsburgh, followed 123 children diagnosed with ADHD at age 4 to 6 for up to 14 years, until they reached ages 18 to 20. It compared them with 119 children from similar neighborhoods and schools, matched for age, sex, and ethnicity. The children were assessed annually in study years 1 through 4, 6 through 9, and 12 through 14.

The researchers found that 18 percent of children diagnosed early with ADHD suffered from depression as adolescents, about 10 times the rate among those without ADHD. Children with early ADHD were five times as likely to have considered suicide at least once, and twice as likely to have made an attempt.

“Suicide attempts were relatively rare, even in the study group,” cautioned Lahey. “Parents should keep in mind that more than 80 percent of the children with ADHD did not attempt suicide and no one in this study committed suicide.”

Although the subtypes of ADHD–based on whether they had attention deficit or hyperactivity or both–predict subsequent depression and suicidal thoughts, distinct forms of the disease at age 4 to 6 were moderately predictive for specific problems later on. Children with inattention or combined subtype were at greater risk for depression. Those with combined type or hyperactivity were at greater risk for suicidal thoughts.

Far more boys that girls suffer from ADHD, but being female increased the risk of depression. Children whose mothers suffered from depression were also at increased risk.

Children with more complicated ADHD were most at risk, the authors conclude. “Greater numbers of depression, anxiety, oppositional defiant disorder, and conduct disorder symptoms at ages 4 to 6 among children with ADHD robustly predicted risk for depression during adolescence. Children with uncomplicated ADHD with few concurrent symptoms of other disorders were at low risk for depression, but children with many concurrent symptoms were at very high risk.”

Source: University of Chicago Medical Center

Feb 16

Why Novel Reading Reduces Anxiety



Why Novel Reading Reduces Anxiety“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.”
~James Baldwin, American author (1924-1987)

In The Power of Myth, the late scholar and famous mythologist Joseph Campbell explains that stories help give us relevance and meaning to our lives and that “… in popular novels, the main character is a hero or heroine who has found or done something beyond the normal range of achievement and experience.”

In response to Campbell’s discussion about how the hero’s journey in myth and literature is about creating a more mature — and better — version of oneself, the distinguished journalist Bill Moyers pointed out how everyday people — “who may not be heroes in the grand sense of redeeming society” — can still relate to a protagonist’s transformation, allowing even the most outwardly meek of us to embark on an inner kind of hero’s journey.

The simple act of reading a novel, then, can give us a psychological shot of courage, encouraging personal growth while reducing anxiety.

In fact, there’s even a term for this phenomenon: bibliotherapy. First coined by Presbyterian minister Samuel M. Crothers in 1916, bibliotherapy is a combination of the Greek words for therapy and books. And now author Alain de Botton has created a bibliotherapy service at his London company, The School of Life, in which bibliotherapists with PhDs in literature introduce people to books that de Botton states, “…are important to them at that moment in their life.”

The author of How Proust Can Change Your Life, a book that explains the significance of literature and how it gives insight into one’s own journey, and Status Anxiety, a nonfiction book about overcoming the universal anxiety of what others think of us, de Botton blends literary fiction and self-help through his bibliotherapy service. Dubbed a “brilliant reading prescription” by de Botton, this therapeutic approach helps encourage emotional healing by matching whatever personal challenges a person is going through with specific literature.

Of course, the concept behind bibliotherapy is nothing new. Inscribed over the door of the ancient library at Thebes was the phrase “Healing place for the soul.” And among the many examples of bibliotherapy practices over time, both Britain and the United States established patients’ libraries in hospitals during the First World War, where librarians used reading to encourage recovery for soldiers with physical as well as mental trauma.

Now, science is proving the mythologists, authors, and librarians right. A recent study at Emory University has shown that novel reading enhances connectivity in the brain as well as improving brain function. Published in the university’s eScienceCommons blog on December 17, 2013 by Carol Clark, the lead author of the study and neuroscientist, Professor Gregory Berns, is quoted as saying, “The neural changes that we found associated with physical sensation and movement systems suggest that reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist.” Clark also writes that Berns notes how the neural changes weren’t just immediate reactions, but persisted the mornings after the readings as well as for five days after participants completed the novel.

Good stories, then, not only help us relate to the hero’s journey, as Joseph Campbell pointed out, but the act of reading them actually can reconfigure brain networks. This means that not only are we able to escape from our problems while reading, it also increases compassion to another’s suffering — as well as perhaps to one’s own — which can be a major aid to self-growth and healing, as well as helping to decrease anxiety and depression.

Readers have intuitively known this all along. No authors, mythologists, or scientists need to explain to the readers who responded to a question in the Social Anxiety Network (posted in March 2012) about whether reading helps anxiety and depression. As one respondent said, “For me reading lets me escape into another ‘world’ it’s like I become the protagonist,” while another reader shares, “Definitely — it takes me to another world for a while and gets my mind off of obsessing over my problems, anxieties, etc. Reading a good book is always relaxing therapy for me.”

Looking at both the scientific and anecdotal evidence, it’s apparent that researchers and readers are on the same page. So remember that a prescription for your distress may just be an arm’s length away — to your bedside table, where that novel is patiently waiting for you to step inside and embark on your own inner journey.

Feb 16

Should Mindfulness Be Taught In Classrooms?


By TRACI PEDERSEN Associate News Editor

Should Mindfulness Be Taught In Classrooms?The practice of mindfulness has been shown to counteract the heavy toll of anxiety, stress, chronic pain, and illness on the body and mind; and if kids could learn these skills in school, they would be in great shape by the time they were adults, according to Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., a renowned proponent of applying the practice of mindfulness in schools.

Kabat-Zinn believes that in bringing mindfulness training to K–12 classrooms — what he calls “contemplative education” — students and teachers both will be able to reap the immense physiological benefits.

Kabat-Zinn is a professor of medicine emeritus and the founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

He recently addressed the Harvard Graduate School of Education on this topic.

“The reason I started this work in the first place is that I thought … it would be valuable if human beings actually knew how to meditate, how to really befriend themselves in a way that wasn’t to have an effect, not to get some good feeling … but because anything else is a kind of living a diminished life,” he said.

Mindfulness “allows us to meet the full catastrophe of the human condition. Difficult things happen, terrifying things happen, unwanted things happen, but the real question is how we’re going to be in relationship to them. That’s the challenge. And that’s what mindfulness is about,” he said.

“What we’re talking about is skill development. Compassion is a skill, kindness is a skill, attention is a skill, awareness is a skill,” he said. “So it’s not just for stress reduction.

“The development of these deep, positive, pro-social qualities for interacting, for relating, for emotional intelligence, and also for all of the intellectual qualities” that can be subverted by lapses in “our capacity to pay attention, sustain attention, and penetrate to the root of what’s actually going on … to me, if you learn that in school, you’re going to be in really good shape as an adult.”

Such efforts would change not only the immediate experience of learning for students, but also their lifelong pursuit of knowledge, he added.

“Real education never ends. You’re pulling on something that’s already intrinsic inside. It’s not like putting stuff in, it’s not like filling a pail. Instead, it becomes a love affair with learning. There’s very little that’s not really interesting if you, in some sense, are grounded in who you are.”

Source: Harvard University


How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep — Even When You’re DepressedPeople suffering from depression and bipolar are usually significantly affected by disrupted sleep patterns.

I remember all too well the frustration. Sometimes you spend hours in bed, unable to get out, yet you just can’t sleep. Other times you end up sleeping, but wake up at 4 a.m., your mind racing with all sorts of negative thoughts.

It’s not just me. Patrick Kennedy and Tricia Goddard, who I interviewed in Back From The Brink, rated getting the right amount of sleep as very important.

Depression both causes and is compounded by sleep disruption. The low energy caused by sleep deprivation also affects your ability to treat depression. How on earth can you make and attend appointments with experts, exercise or eat properly when you are perpetually exhausted?

And socializing? Don’t even go there — the last thing you want to do when tired is talk to people.

But what if you could take control of the situation, finally get a good night’s sleep and enjoy the benefits of restorative sleep and higher energy levels?

With a little bit of willpower and a change in routine, you can do this.

Sleep is important. In fact, respondents to my survey of over 4,000 people rated getting a good night sleep number 10 (out of 60) in importance for overcoming depression and bipolar.

So where do you start in finally getting a good night’s sleep?

Sleep Hygiene
In the same way that you maintain personal hygiene through washing your body and oral hygiene by brushing your teeth and flossing, sleep hygiene is a set of practices to follow as a routine, which will yield a good night’s sleep.

As a general point, this is a good idea even for those not suffering from depression, as there are many health benefits to a full night’s sleep.

There’s a huge list of practices which can form part of sleep hygiene, but it’s down to you as to which ones will work best for you. As a general rule of thumb, though, the aim is to create a routine which you can follow and an environment conducive to restful sleep.

I’m going to emphasize a couple here, but the one I recommend most is the one that is hardest to do:

Use your bed only for sleep.

You will find it harder to sleep if you stay in your bed all day, unable to move or act. I know I did.

This is because you end up associating your bed with a general state of inertia, rather than the place in which sleep occurs.

So even if you transfer to a sofa or somewhere else horizontal to lie all day, this is a very important step to take.

Don’t Force Yourself to Sleep
You can’t will yourself to sleep. And getting frustrated at your inability to sleep doesn’t help either. Nor does glancing at the clock every few minutes. Try some meditation exercises in bed, such as paying attention to your breath, which will help clear your mind a little and take attention away from the thoughts racing around in your head.

Have a Bedtime Routine
A bedtime routine, regularly followed, signals to your body that it’s time to start winding down, which helps encourage sleep. Things like avoiding upbeat music and stimulants like cigarettes, alcohol and caffeinated drinks and trying a little bit of meditation or yoga, putting on some relaxing music or some lavender essential oil or pillow spray can all help prepare you for sleep.

Maintain the Proper Atmosphere
If your bedroom isn’t a good sleep environment, you’ll find it difficult to relax. A bedroom which is dark, quiet and cool (but not cold) is crucial. Too light and you’ll struggle to sleep. Too noisy and you may be awakened by sounds during the night. If it’s the wrong temperature, you’ll be tossing and turning and kicking off the covers during the night.

Consider having a fan in the room. As well as helping to regulate the temperature, the ‘white noise’ of the fan’s engine can be a helpful noise to tune in to and help encourage sleep.

Sleep Better, Feel Better, Beat Depression
Once your sleep hygiene improves, you will feel more refreshed and energized and really feel the benefits of a good night’s sleep – and wonder why you didn’t initiate good sleep hygiene earlier!

Then you can start making real progress in boosting your mood. Not only will you have the energy and motivation to take action, you’ll also have the practice and experience of making changes to your lifestyle and routine, so you know that you can do it and it is beneficial.

To help you on your way to a better mood, I have created a free 30 Day Mood Boost Challenge. You’ll receive proven daily advice via email to take action which will start you on the path to feeling yourself again. The emphasis is on practicality, so each day you can do something small yet important to help improve your mood. Getting a good night’s sleep will really help you make the most of these opportunities to move toward feeling better for longer.

Feb 13

Caroline Cassels
February 13, 2014
Far from the conventional wisdom that it is better to overlook psychiatric patients’ smoking in favor of treating the predominant mental illness first, 2 new studies suggest that reducing cigarette consumption or butting out altogether is significantly linked to improved mental health outcomes.

“Clinicians tend to treat the depression, alcohol dependence, or drug problem first and allow patients to ‘self-medicate’ with cigarettes if necessary. The assumption is that psychiatric problems are more challenging to treat, that quitting smoking may interfere with treatment,” lead investigator Patricia A. Cavazos-Rehg, PhD, Washington School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, said in a statement.

However, the investigators found that quitting or reducing the daily number of cigarettes smoked was linked to lower risk for mood disorders as well as drug and alcohol abuse.

“We don’t know if their mental health improves first and then they are motivated to quit smoking or if quitting smoking leads to an improvement in mental health. But either way, our findings show a strong link between quitting and a better psychiatric outlook,” said Dr. Cavazos-Rehg.

The study was published online February 12 in Psychological Medicine.

Feb 12

By RICK NAUERT PHD Senior News Editor

High Marital Expectations Challenge Many RelationshipsNew research suggests that “today’s” Americans are expecting marriage to fulfill a different need from that desired by “yesterday’s” Americans.

Experts believe fulfillment of the new expectations will require large investments of time and energy in the marital relationship — and that, on average, Americans are actually making smaller investments in their marital relationship than in the past.

Those conflicting realities don’t bode well for the majority of marriages, according to Eli Finkel, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and the lead author of the study.

Nevertheless, today’s best marriages — those in which the spouses invest enough time and energy in bolstering the marital relationship to help each other achieve what they seek from the marriage — are flourishing even more than the best marriages of yesteryear.

Studying Relationship Trends
In the new study, researchers wanted to know how these divergent trends evolved. Many scholars and social commentators have argued that contemporary Americans are, to their peril, expecting more of their marriage than in the past.

But Finkel, who wrote the article in collaboration with Northwestern graduate students Ming Hui, Kathleen Carswell, and Grace Larson, disagrees.

“The issue isn’t that Americans are expecting more versus less from their marriage, but rather that the nature of what they are expecting has changed,” Finkel said.

“They’re asking less of their marriage regarding basic physiological and safety needs, but they’re asking more of their marriage regarding higher psychological needs like the need for personal growth.”

According to Finkel, these changes over time in what Americans are seeking from their marriage are linked to broader changes in the nation’s economic and cultural circumstances.

In the decades after America’s Declaration of Independence in 1776, the nation primarily consisted of small farming villages in which the household was the unit of economic production and wage labor outside the home was rare.

During that era, the primary functions of marriage revolved around meeting basic needs like food production, shelter, and physical safety.

“In 1800, the idea of marrying for love was ludicrous,” Finkel said.

“That isn’t to say that people didn’t want love from their marriage; it just wasn’t the point of marriage.”

Starting around 1850, the nation began a sharp and sustained transition toward urbanization, and the husband-breadwinner/wife-homemaker model of marriage became increasingly entrenched.

With these changes, and as the nation became wealthier, the primary functions of marriage revolved less around basic needs and more around needs pertaining to love and companionship.

“To be sure,” Finkel observed, “marriage remained an economic institution, but the fundamental reason for getting married and for achieving happiness within the marriage increasingly revolved around love and companionship.”

Starting with the various countercultural revolutions of the 1960s, a third model of marriage emerged.

This third model continued to value love and companionship, but many of the primary functions of marriage now involved helping the spouses engage in a voyage of self-discovery and personal growth.

Relationship Trends Today
“In contemporary marriages,” Finkel said, “Americans look to their marriage to help them ‘find themselves’ and to pursue careers and other activities that facilitate the expression of their core self.”

Finkel believes the historical changes, as having a marriage meet one’s needs for self-discovery and personal growth can yield extremely high-quality marriages.

Yet, he has doubts about whether the majority of American marriages can, at present, meet spouses’ new psychological expectations of their marriage.

According to Finkel, when the primary functions of marriage revolved around shelter and food production, there wasn’t much need for spouses to achieve deep insight into each other’s core psychological essence.

As the primary functions shifted to love and then to self-expression, however, it became increasingly essential for spouses to develop such insight.

“However, developing such insight requires a heavy investment of time and psychological resources in the marriage, not to mention strong relationship skills and interpersonal compatibility,” Finkel said.

Those marriages that are successful in meeting the two spouses’ love and self-expression goals are extremely happy — happier than the best marriages in earlier eras.

Yet, according to Finkel, divorce rates remain high, and average marital satisfaction among intact marriages is declining slightly, because most spouses simply are not putting the amount of time and psychological investment required to help each other’s love and self-expressive needs.

Spouses with children have reallocated much of their time to intensive parenting, and spouses without children have reallocated much of it to longer workdays.

Indeed, Americans are, on average, spending much less time alone with their spouse than they did several decades ago.

As such, there’s an increasing disconnect, on average, between the needs Americans are looking to their marriage to help them achieve and the resources they are investing to make such need fulfillment possible.

The good news is that there are relatively straightforward ways to allow your marriage to breathe. The suffocation model is all about supply and demand.

“You can demand less from your partner, focusing less on resource-intensive self-expressive needs, or supply more time and other resources into the marriage,” Finkel said.

He points to a seemingly simple, but very effective option, a 21-minute writing intervention that he and his colleagues developed that could help preserve marital quality over time, in which, spouses wrote about conflict in their marriage from the perspective of a third party who wants the best for all involved.

“The idea is that you can use limited resources better,” Finkel said.

“In general, if you want your marriage to help you achieve self-expression and personal growth, it’s crucial to invest sufficient time and energy in the marriage.

“If you know that the time and energy aren’t available, then it makes sense to adjust your expectations accordingly to minimize disappointment.”

Finkel’s article, “The Suffocation of Marriage: Climbing Mount Maslow Without Enough Oxygen” will appear in the journal Psychological Inquiry later this year.

Source: Northwestern University

Feb 11

The Power of a First Impression


By JANICE WOOD Associate News Editor

The Power of a First ImpressionNew research suggests that first impressions are so powerful that they are more important than fact.

A new study found that even when told whether a person was gay or straight, people identified a person’s sexual orientation based on how they looked — even if it contradicted the facts presented to them.

“We judge books by their covers, and we can’t help but do it,” said Nicholas Rule of the University of Toronto. “With effort, we can overcome this to some extent, but we are continually tasked with needing to correct ourselves.”

“Furthermore, the less time we have to make our judgments, the more likely we are to go with our gut, even over fact,” he added.

“As soon as one sees another person, an impression is formed,” Rule said. “This happens so quickly — just a small fraction of a second — that what we see can sometimes dominate what we know.”

A series of recent studies, presented at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) annual conference in Austin, shows that appearance affects everything from whether we end up liking someone to our assessment of their sexual orientation or trustworthiness.

Researchers also note that a first impression formed online — say from a Facebook photo — is often more negative than a first impression formed face to face.

Study on Sexual Orientation and Trustworthiness
In a study on first impressions of sexual orientation, Rule and his colleagues showed 100 people photos of 20 men, identifying them either as gay or straight. The researchers then tested the participants’ recall of the men’s sexual orientations several times to ensure perfect memorization.

After this learning phase, the researchers then showed the participants the faces again, varying the amount of time they had to categorize the men’s sexual orientations. The researchers found that the less time the participants had to categorize the faces, the more likely they were to categorize the men according to whether they looked gay or straight, rather than what they had been told about their sexuality. With more time, however, the participants reverted to what they had learned about the men’s sexuality.

“They seemed to judge by appearance when they were forced to make their judgments quickly,” Rule said. “When they were allowed more time, though, they judged according to what they knew about the individuals.”

The researchers noted that they labeled half the faces with their actual sexual orientation and half with their opposite orientation. They did this to “teach the participants to learn information that was opposite to their perceptions,” Rule said.

“It was important for us to establish a conflict between perception — how the face looked — and memory — what they knew about the man’s sexual orientation,” he said.

Rule points to the singer Ricky Martin, who for years denied he was gay before finally coming out.

“In the 1990s, people might see Martin and think ‘oh, that’s a gay guy,’ but then you’d recognize that it was Ricky Martin and think ‘oh, wait, that’s Ricky Martin — he told Barbara Walters that he was straight.’ So there’s a corrective process there: First impressions continue to assert themselves long after you know relevant information about a person,” he said.

Rule presented another study at the conference, which looked at how people categorized faces as trustworthy or not. In this study, facial appearance was a stronger predictor of whether people viewed someone as trustworthy than descriptive information provided, again, even if it conflicted.

“Together, these studies help to illustrate the often inescapable nature of how we form impressions of other people based on their appearance,” Rule said. “Not only should people not assume that others will be able to overcome aspects of their appearance when evaluating them, but also those of us on the other end should be actively working to consider that our impressions of others are biased.”

First Impressions in Person versus Online
Other research presented at the conference looked at the differences in how we form impressions in person versus online, through a video or by just watching people.

“If you want to make a good impression, it is critical that it is done in person,” said Jeremy Biesanz of the University of British Columbia, who conducted three studies comparing the accuracy and bias of first impressions when formed under different circumstances.

The first study analyzed a series of experiments involving more than 1,000 participants who met each other through either a 3-minute speed-dating style interview, or by watching a video of the person.

“What we observe here is that the accuracy of impressions is the same when you meet someone face to face or simply watch a video of them,” Biesanz said. “However, impressions are much more negative when you form impressions more passively through watching videotapes.”

While people could accurately attribute certain personality traits, such as extroverted, arrogant, or sociable, to others in person or by video, the magnitude of the positive attributes was lower via video, while the negatives attributes were higher.

The researchers found similar results in two other studies, including one that compared in-person impressions to those obtained through looking at Facebook photos. The other study compared in-person meetings to simply watching someone as a passive observer. In all cases, the passive means of making impressions were as accurate as the active ones, according to the researchers.

“However, there is an extremely large difference in the positivity of impressions,” he said. “More passive impressions are substantially more negative.”

First Impressions of a Romantic Partner
How we create first impressions is also important when looking for a romantic partner. And new research in this field suggests that whether you meet someone online or in person dramatically changes the judging process.

“People are more likely to use abstract information to make their evaluations in hypothetical than in live impression formation contexts,” said Paul Eastwick of the University of Texas, Austin, who presented results of his studies on gender differences in different romantic contexts at the conference.

What he found was that when men and women evaluate potential partners in person versus online, typical “ideal” gender preferences disappear.

For example, men generally say they care about attractiveness in a partner more than women, while women say they care about earning prospects in a partner more than men.

“But our meta-analysis reveals that men and women do not show these sex differences when they evaluate others in a face-to-face context,” Eastwick said. “That is, attractiveness inspires men’s and women’s romantic evaluations to the same extent, and earning prospects inspires men’s and women’s romantic evaluations to the same extent.”

The research suggests that in face-to-face settings, people rely more on their gut-level evaluations of another person, according to the researcher.

“They focus on how that person makes them feel,” Eastwick said. “It is very hard to get a sense of this information when simply viewing a profile. This disconnect can cause confusion and distress in the online dating realm, as potential partners that seem terrific ‘on paper’ prove to be disappointing after a face-to-face interaction.”

Photographs Predict Judgement
In another study, Vivian Zayas of Cornell University and Gül Günaydin of Middle East Technical University found that viewing a photograph can be a good predictor of how you will judge someone in person.

“Despite the well-known idiom to ‘not judge a book by its cover,’ the present research shows that such judgments about the cover are good proxies for judgments about the book — even after reading it,” said Zayas.

Her new research shows that initial impressions based on viewing a single photograph accurately predict how a person will feel about the other person in a live interaction that takes place more than a month later.

“Moreover, participants’ initial judgments based on the photograph colored personality judgments following the interaction,” Zayas said. “The results showed that initial liking judgments based on a photograph remained unchanged even after obtaining more information about a person via an actual live interaction.”

Source: Society for Personality and Social Psychology

Apparently, some types of cheating are worse than others.

Victoria Milan, a dating site for people seeking affairs, surveyed 5,000 of their members to find out their attitudes about cheating — specifically, how they felt about sexual affairs versus emotional affairs. It turns out, men and women have very different ideas about what’s forgivable and what’s not.

Here’s what they discovered:

72 percent of men said sexual affairs were worse than emotional affairs.
69 percent of women said emotional affairs were worse than sexual affairs.
76 percent of women would forgive their partner for a strictly sexual affair
Only 35 percent of men would forgive their partner for a strictly sexual affair.
80 percent of men said they would forgive an emotional affair.
Only 30 percent of women would forgive an emotional affair.
“Many people are searching for affection, a deeper connection that can lead to real, feelings, not just sex,” said Victoria Milan CEO Sigurd Vedal in a press release. “What kind of cheating is more painful? It totally depends on the individual, and maybe on gender as well.”

A study published last year in the journal Evolutionary Psychology agrees. Researchers from the University of Michigan found that women viewed “forming a deep emotional bond” during infidelity as a much bigger concern than men did.

Feb 8

Navigating Overwhelm And Body Image



From time to time I write about dealing with overwhelm on Weightless because often when we’re stressed, we tend to take it out on our bodies.

Just this morning as I was putting on regular clothes (that’s what I call pants made from less than 5 percent spandex and shirts I can’t wear to the gym), I could feel my face forming into a scowl.

And then the “have I gained weight?” question just popped up, followed by “Ugh. I hate my outfit. I hate my skin.”

For many of us who’ve struggled with body image issues, berating, questioning and criticizing our bodies may still be automatic. The words just spill out, like water from a faucet.

The very thing sparking our overwhelm may have zero to do with our bodies. But that’s the place we go to when our stress peaks.

Problem at work? Suddenly, your stomach feels unbearably big.

Had a fight with your spouse? Suddenly, your clothes feel tighter.

Have a mile-long to-do list? Suddenly, you need to buy different makeup, because everything you own makes your face look… strange.

I’m feeling overwhelmed about many actually wonderful, exciting things in my life, such as working on our new home and writing a book on creativity.

(I feel so ungrateful saying that I feel overwhelmed, but as I wrote this week, our feelings are valid — whatever they may be. And I’m going to extend this fact to myself and my experience.)

Right now, I’m staring at our green pool, piles of matted leaves in the backyard (it just keeps raining), and gutters that need repairing.

I’m staring at my journals with ideas and quotes scribbled inside, wondering how the heck I’m going to go from a messy draft to a completed, cohesive, coherent manuscript.

And I feel the overwhelm rising. Rising from my stomach and crashing into my chest. And I’m kind of freaking out.

But instead of berating my belly (or my personality or anything else about myself, which is my other default), I’m working on accepting my anxiety, pinpointing it, savoring the rain, and taking a very deep, slow breath.

I’m also paying attention to the thoughts swirling in my mind. Because what we tell ourselves plays a powerful role in perpetuating our overwhelm.

Here’s an excerpt on changing overwhelm-inducing thoughts from a piece I wrote with expert tips:

Let’s say you have a mile-long to-do list, and all you keep thinking is “I’ll never get this done.” That’s a damaging thought that can lead to distress and anxiety, Deibler said. And it paralyzes you from problem-solving and taking action, she said. But remember that you’re not a slave to your ruminations.

Ask yourself “In what ways might this [thought] be inaccurate, unreasonable or unhelpful?” Deibler said. Next, consider how you can think more realistically. Here, your goal is to generate alternative thoughts that will lead to positive emotions and behavior.

For instance, to revise the above overwhelming thought, Deibler suggested these alternatives: “I may not get it all finished today, but if I work on it or if I seek assistance, I will likely get it done;” “I know I’m feeling overwhelmed right now, but if I take a break, I may feel differently about this when I return;” “It seems overwhelming to me right now, but if I break it down into smaller parts, it may be more doable.”

For many of us — probably more like most of us — overwhelm is a real part of our days. And when we’re super stressed, frustrated, worried or feeling helpless, we may take it out on our bodies.

And when we do, we can acknowledge it, put our hands to our hearts and breathe. Just breathe.

Feb 6

Long-term unemployment may accelerate ageing in men, study finds

Men who are unemployed for more than two years show signs of faster ageing in their DNA, a study has found, Imperial College London reports.

Researchers at Imperial College London and the University of Oulu, Finland studied DNA samples from 5,620 men and women born in Finland in 1966.

They measured structures called telomeres, which lie at the ends of chromosomes and protect the genetic code from being degraded. Telomeres become shorter over a person’s lifetime, and their length is considered a marker for biological ageing. Short telomeres are linked to higher risk of age-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

The study, funded by the Wellcome Trust, found that men who had been unemployed for more than two of the preceding three years were more than twice as likely to have short telomeres compared to men who were continuously employed.

This trend was not seen in women, which may be because fewer women than men in the study were unemployed for long periods in their 30s.

Feb 5


Recently, I met a woman named Betty who told me she’s afraid to get a new job. She said she was forced to quit her jobIs Your Boss An Angry Bird? last year because of the company’s COO. He had been yelling at her, been verbally abusive, and was literally in her face about a project. She had had enough.

After 15 years of dedicating herself at this company, giving it her heart and soul, Betty finally told the big boss to “please back off.” She explained that he had been scaring her and bullying her and that she wasn’t going to take it anymore.

Job over.
Betty was quickly let go after a list of grievances suddenly appeared. Despite 15 years of having a stellar record and a high position in the company, the job was over. Now, Betty’s feeling afraid to work at another company — afraid of repeating that awful experience.

Betty was traumatized.
We therapists understand that someone like Betty’s boss takes nos and boundaries as a narcissistic rejection. What happens? A primitive rage is triggered from deep within the psyche of that extremely vulnerable person. This person doesn’t look vulnerable. He (or she) hides behind outward aggression or apparent “coldness.”

Anyone who’s been through this knows how tough it can be.
It’s hard to establish boundaries. It’s likely Betty’s boss had been mistreating her for a long time. I’ve worked with a few wonderful bosses — I’ve worked with some really difficult ones too. The difficult ones can sure wreak havoc on your health and happiness.

Dealing with a terrible boss?
1. Don’t take it personally. Detach. Know that there is something being triggered within your adversary that has nothing to do with you.

2. Laugh about it. Find a friend who can help you find humor. The only way I was able to detach from a particularly challenging boss was to call a funny friend. At one company, we thought we might be being listened to on the phones (our boss was super paranoid). So a girlfriend and I hitched a scheme where we would pretend on the phone that we were going to drive up in a white van and steal the company secrets. We would laugh uncontrollably. Nobody was really listening but it helped lighten the burden of dealing with a bad situation.

3. Find a mentor or advocate if possible. Poor Betty had no one to support her when she finally stood up to her boss. Too many women feel like they have to do it all on their own. No. Getting help is a strength.

4. Don’t get stuck in a pleasing cycle. Women often feel that if they just did it better or did _____, that extra effort will magically make a nutty boss less crazy. Then they try, try again to “get” the boss to be happy with them. This comes from a pleasing and appeasing schema women are used to engaging in.

5. Get the H%$% out of there. No need to throw yourself on the grenade time and time again. Use your anger and fuming energy to put together a great resume, network and find a new job. Always have options.

I referred Betty to a therapist who specializes in trauma. I know she will heal, learn from this and get better. Put some good vibes out there for Betty. A lot of us have been there.

What kinds of difficulties have you experienced at your job? What helped you? How did you cope with it?

Take care, cherilynnvelandSM

Cherilynn Veland, LCSW, MSW, is a therapist living in Chicago. She also blogs about home, work, life and love at

Feb 4

By JANICE WOOD Associate News Editor
A new study has found that when people engage in risky behavior, such as drunk driving or having unsafe sex, it’s probably not because their brain’s desire systems are on overdrive, but because their self-control systems are not active enough.

Researchers say this could have implications for how we treat mental illness or addiction, or how the legal system assesses the likelihood of a criminal committing another crime.

Researchers from The University of Texas at Austin, UCLA, Yale, and elsewhere analyzed data from 108 people who sat in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner — which allows researchers to see brain activity in vivid, three-dimensional images — while playing a video game that simulates risk-taking.

Using specialized software, the researchers looked for patterns of brain activity that preceded making the choice between risky or safe behavior.

The scientists then “asked” the software to predict what other people would choose during the game based solely on their brain activity. The software accurately predicted people’s choices 71 percent of the time, the researchers reported.

“These patterns are reliable enough that not only can we predict what will happen in an additional test on the same person, but on people we haven’t seen before,” said Russ Poldrack, Ph.D., director of UT Austin’s Imaging Research Center and a professor of psychology and neuroscience.

When the researchers focused their software on smaller regions of the brain, they found that just analyzing the regions typically involved in executive functions, such as control, working memory and attention, was enough to predict a person’s future choices.

This led the researchers to conclude that when we make risky choices, it is primarily because of the failure of our control systems to stop us.

“We all have these desires, but whether we act on them is a function of control,” said Sarah Helfinstein, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher at UT Austin and lead author of the study, which appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

For the study, the researchers used a video game called the Balloon Analogue Risk Task (BART). Past research has shown that the game correlates well with self-reported risk-taking, such as drug and alcohol use, smoking, gambling, driving without a seatbelt, stealing, and engaging in unprotected sex.

While playing the game, a person sees a balloon on the screen and is asked to make either a risky choice — inflate the balloon a little and earn a few cents — or a safe choice — stop the round and “cash out,” keeping whatever money was earned up to that point. Sometimes inflating the balloon causes it to burst and the player loses all the cash earned from that round.

After each successful inflation, the game continues with the chance of earning another reward or losing an increasingly large amount.

“Many risky decisions share this same structure, such as when deciding how many alcoholic beverages to drink before driving home or how much one can experiment with drugs or cigarettes before developing an addiction,” the researchers noted.

Data for the study came from the Consortium for Neuropsychiatric Phenomics at UCLA. The group recruited adults from the Los Angeles area to examine the differences in response inhibition and working memory between healthy adults and patients diagnosed with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

“Only data collected from healthy participants was included in this study,” researchers noted.

By RICK NAUERT PHD Senior News Editor

Teens’ Bonds With Parents Can Impact Romantic RelationshipsIn new research, the University of Alberta’s Dr. Matt Johnson found that the relationship between parents and teens — however stormy or peaceful — may influence whether those children are successful in romance, even up to 15 years later.

In the study, Johnson explores the complexities of the romantic ties that bind.

“Being aware of that connection may save a lot of heartache down the road,” according to Johnson, who reviewed existing data that was gathered in the United States over a span of 15 years.

Johnson’s findings, published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, revealed a “small but important link between parent-adolescent relationship quality and intimate relationships 15 years later,” Johnson said. “The effects can be long-lasting.”

Investigators discovered, perhaps not surprisingly, that good parent-teen relationships resulted in slightly higher quality of romantic relationships for those grown children years later.

However, the study also suggests a lesson in self-awareness when nurturing an intimate bond with a partner.

“People tend to compartmentalize their relationships; they tend not to see the connection between one kind, such as family relations, and another, like couple unions.

“But understanding your contribution to the relationship with your parents would be important to recognizing any tendency to replicate behavior — positive or negative — in an intimate relationship.”

“That doesn’t mean parents should be blamed for what might be wrong in a grown child’s relationship,” Johnson added.

“It is important to recognize everyone has a role to play in creating a healthy relationship, and each person needs to take responsibility for their contribution to that dynamic.”

Researchers based their findings on survey-based information from 2,970 people who were interviewed at three stages of life from adolescence to young adulthood, spanning ages 12 to 32.

Source: University of Alberta

By RICK NAUERT PHD Senior News Editor

Supplement May Slow Cognitive Decline in Older AdultsNormal aging is typically accompanied by some declines in cognitive abilities, but a new study suggests that impairment may be mitigated by a proprietary supplement including blueberries and green tea.

Physical activity and cognitive training have been found to be helpful in delaying cognitive decline, with dietary modifications and supplements recently generating additional interest.

In the study, University of South Florida researchers report that a formula of nutrients high in antioxidants and other natural components can help to boost the speed at which the brains of older adults processed information.

The USF-developed nutritional supplement includes extracts from blueberries and green tea combined with vitamin D3 and amino acids, including carnosine.

The compound was tested by the USF researchers in a clinical trial enrolling 105 healthy adults, ages 65 to 85.

Researchers Paula Bickford, Ph.D., and Brent Small, Ph.D., teamed up to investigate the effects of the antioxidant-rich nutritional supplement on the cognitive performance of older adults.

The two-month study evaluated the effects of the formula, called NT-020, on the cognitive performance of these older adults, who had no diagnosed memory disorders.

Those randomized to the group of 52 volunteers receiving NT-020 demonstrated improvements in cognitive processing speed, while the 53 volunteers randomized to receive a placebo did not.

Reduced cognitive processing speed, which can slow thinking and learning, has long been associated with advancing age.

The study, in which participants from both groups took a battery of memory tests before and after the interventions, appears in the current issue of Rejuvenation Research.

“After two months, test results showed modest improvements in two measures of cognitive processing speed for those taking NT-020 compared to those taking placebo,” said Small, a professor in USF’s School of Aging Studies.

“Processing speed is most often affected early on in the course of cognitive aging. Successful performance in processing tasks often underlies more complex cognitive outcomes, such as memory and verbal ability.”

Blueberries, a major ingredient in the NT-020 formula, are rich in polyphenols, a type of antioxidant containing a polyphenolic, or natural phenol substructure.

“The basis for the use of polyphenol-rich nutritional supplements as a moderator of age-related cognitive decline is the age-related increase in oxidative stress and inflammation,” said study co-principal investigator Paula C. Bickford, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Neurosurgery and Brain Repair, and senior research career scientist at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa.

“Non-vitamin polyphenols are the most abundant modulators of oxidative stress and inflammation in our diet. NT-020 is 95 percent polyphenols.”

One of the main ingredients of the supplement, called NT-20, is extracted from blueberries.

In several preclinical trials, researchers gave aging laboratory rats NT-020 to see if it boosted memory and other cognitive performance by promoting the health of neurons in the aging brain.

Those studies demonstrated that NT-020 promoted the growth of stem cells in the brain, produced an overall rejuvenating effect, benefitted animals with simulated stroke, and led to better cognitive performance.

The researchers plan future clinical trials with longer intervention periods so that the optimal time for taking the formula may be better understood.

Researchers also speculate that if the study had included participants who were less healthy cognitively, or those with memory impairments, they may have observed “more robust findings.”

“In the future, having markers of oxidative stress and inflammation, as well as brain-based measures of functioning, may allow us to identify the manner by which this compound, as well as others, may influence functioning,” they concluded.

The NT-020 formula was patented by the University of South Florida, in partnership with the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital, and licensed to Natura Therapeutics, Inc. The supplement is commercially available as NutraStem®.

The study was supported by a grant from the University of South Florida Neuroscience Collaborative to Small and Bickford. Bickford is a co-founder of Natura Therapeutics, Inc.

Feb 1

How to Build Better Boundaries in Your Marriage


Imagine the following scenario: A husband and wife are in a session with their therapist. She says that he’s always angry with her and makes mean comments. When the therapist asks her husband why he’s constantly mad, he replies that it’s because his wife tries to control him.

According to the wife, she tries to exert control because her husband doesn’t give her any time or attention. He says that’s because she’s always nagging him. She says she nags because he won’t do anything she wants.

It’s a prime illustration of not taking responsibility for your own actions, attitudes, thoughts or feelings. And that’s where boundaries come in.

The above example comes from the book Boundaries in Marriage: Understanding the Choices that Make or Break Loving Relationships by psychologists Henry Cloud, Ph.D, and John Townsend, Ph.D.

Boundaries Are About You
When you have clear boundaries, you know where you end and your partner begins, according to Cloud and Townsend. You also know that you’re not at the mercy of your spouse’s behavior or their problems.

Boundaries are really about you.

“When you build a fence around your yard, you do not build it to figure out the boundaries of your neighbor’s yard so that you can dictate to him how he is to behave. You build it around your own yard so that you can maintain control of what happens to your own property,” according to the authors.

That’s also how personal boundaries work. You can’t control how your spouse speaks to you. But you can control how you behave when they speak to you in that way. For instance, if they start yelling or calling you names, you can hang up the phone or leave the room.

In other words, you determine what you will and won’t tolerate or be exposed to. And you set consequences. Another example is eating dinner by yourself when your spouse is late, again. Other consequences may be more severe, such as separating.

Boundaries also may include emotional distance, such as: “When you can be kind, we can be close again,” or “When you show you are serious about getting some help, I will feel safe enough to open up to you again.”

Setting Boundaries with Yourself
It’s also important to set boundaries with yourself (i.e., not trying to change your spouse but focusing on changing yourself).

In the book Cloud and Townsend include an example of a husband who was regularly late for dinner with his wife and kids. His wife tried cajoling and nagging him to come home earlier.

But he only got defensive or told her she was overreacting. After a while, she decided to change her attitude and actions: She was going to be less angry about his lateness and more caring; and if he was going to be late, she’d eat dinner with the kids and put his food in the fridge.

She talked to her husband about her plan. He wasn’t happy about eating microwaved dinners, but she said he was welcome to rearrange his schedule to eat when the family did.

After a few days of eating many microwaved meals, he started coming home on time. He said it was because his wife was a whole lot nicer to him, so he wanted to be home – and he really hated reheating his dinner.

The Concept of “You Are not Me”
According to Cloud and Townsend, another key part of boundaries is the idea of “you are not me.” Your spouse isn’t an extension of you, and they’re not here exclusively to meet your needs.

Love breaks down when we don’t see our spouses as people but as “objects of our own needs.” This also means that when your spouse comes to you and reveals how they’re feeling – say about not feeling close to you – you don’t interpret it as an accusation and get defensive. Rather, you empathize.

“To have good boundaries is to be separate enough from the other person that you can allow her to have her own experience without reacting with your own. Such a clear stance of separateness allows you not to react, but to care and empathize.”

This also includes respecting each other’s differences – even when you don’t like them. Cloud and Townsend share the story of a husband who didn’t want to attend the same church as his wife, because he just couldn’t connect to the service. She viewed this as an affront, and believed that if he truly loved her, he would go.

Boundaries are the foundation of healthy relationships. They give partners the opportunity to grow as individuals and as a couple.

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