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Nov 30

Statins, prescribed to lower cholesterol and reduce risks of heart attacks and strokes, seem to diminish inflammation that occurs after people breathe airborne particles
November 24, 2014 |By Brian Bienkowski and Environmental Health News

One of the most widely prescribed drugs in the United States may have an extra benefit: protecting people from air pollution.

Statins, prescribed to lower cholesterol and reduce risks of heart attacks and strokes, seem to diminish inflammation that occurs after people breathe airborne particles.

“Health impacts from spikes in particulates in the air are substantial. Statins seem to protect not only lungs from these impacts but the heart, too,” said Dr. Norman Edelman, the American Lung Association’s senior medical advisor.

About one in four Americans over the age of 45 takes statins, including Lipitor, Zocor and other brand names.

Although drugs cannot be prescribed to protect people from air pollution, several studies show that people who take statins have fewer proteins in their blood that indicate inflammation of tissues, said Dr. Stephan van Eeden, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia who specializes in lung health. This inflammation may aggravate respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

Most recently, a study of 1,923 U.S. women found that those taking statins are less likely to have signs of inflammation, said Bart Ostro, an epidemiologist with California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment who led the study.

“There are some specific groups [such as diabetics] that seem to have higher levels of inflammation after long-term exposure,” Ostro said. “On the converse side, we found that people on statins seem to be protected from the inflammatory effects of PM2.5.”

In the women taking statins, there was no association between PM2.5 – the tiny particles emitted mostly by burning diesel and other fossil fuels – and the proteins indicating inflammation, while for most of the other groups the links were quite strong.

It’s not the first time researchers have noticed this link: University of Michigan researchers found decreased blood indicators of inflammation in people who took statins in a study of 92 people in Boston. A national study of 5,778 people also reported that statins canceled out the presence of signs of inflammation from PM2.5, carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide.

Scientists believe that inflammation is a key factor in heart disease.

“The older thinking was that plaque in coronary arteries caused heart attacks,” Edelman said. “Now the thinking is that it’s also due to some living tissue under plague that gets inflamed and that disrupts the plaque. We already knew statins ameliorate heart disease, and always thought it was through lipids, but here’s a new pathway.”

Around the world, studies have shown that whenever particulates increase, deaths from heart attacks and respiratory disease rise, too. Experts estimate that fine particles are linked to about 800,000 deaths annually worldwide.

Particulate pollution has been on a steady decline in the United States: The national average for PM2.5 decreased 34 percent from 2000 to 2013, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. However, high concentrations of the pollution still persist in some cities with heavy traffic and industry, such as Los Angeles and Chicago.

When van Eeden and colleagues gave statins to rabbits before exposing them to particulate matter they had decreased lung inflammation. In a second study of rabbits, statins seemed to help clear large particles from the lungs by promoting the movement of white blood cells to nearby lymph nodes, which protects the lungs against pending inflammation.

“It’s clear that if the animals are treated for about a month with statins before they’re exposed to particles, you can significantly lower the amount of particles generated in the lungs and decrease the blood vessel inflammatory process,” van Eeden said.

It’s not clear how statins may cause fewer particles in the lungs, but van Eeden said statin-treated rabbits have more particles in lymph nodes, suggesting the drugs stimulate particles to move to the nodes.

In another animal test mice given Zocor prior to oil fly ash or particulate exposure did not experience lung injuries and inflammation like their non-treated counterparts did, according to a 2011 study in Argentina.

Van Eeden and colleagues are now trying to figure out if the animal findings hold true for human lungs. So far, their work looks “very promising,” he said.

His lab is examining lung tissue from people who had part of a lung removed. Many were smokers and had a lot of particles in their lungs. They haven’t finished the study but so far they’re seeing that “it’s quite clear that people who used statins had less particles in their lungs,” van Eeden said.

“Once again it suggests anti-inflammatory properties and seems to clear the particles,” van Eeden said. “And these were people chronically exposed to air pollution or cigarette smoke.”

However, it’s too early for doctors to prescribe statins for people exposed to air pollution, said Dr. Martha Daviglus, a cardiovascular epidemiologist at Northwestern University and University of Illinois.

“We need more evidence. We already have a lot of people taking statins for cholesterol, and we don’t fully know the effect of taking the drugs for years and years, and decades yet,” Daviglus said.

The number of people taking the drugs is already expected to rise as the American Heart Association last year advocated for increased statin use to combat high cholesterol.

It remains unclear if people would have to take statins immediately prior to breathing air pollution, and, if so, for how long, in order for the drugs to help.

“It seems they have some good effects with regards to air pollution, but we need to conduct clinical trials with people living near roads or high-emitting facilities,” Daviglus said.

Ostro said it would be “somewhat of a leap” to prescribe statins to mitigate air pollution impacts, given some of their known side effects, such as liver problems.

Food and Drug Administration spokesman Kristofer Baumgartner said that any new claims about additional benefits for a drug have to be reviewed by a team of scientists, and the benefit would have to outweigh any risks.

Two pharmaceutical giants who sell statins, Pfizer and AstraZeneca, would not comment on the air pollution studies.

There is no research on whether other anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, would also protect people from air pollution.

Van Eeden sees potential for statins to play a role in reducing effects of air pollution, possibly in the near future. One possible group could be those suffering from asthma, which causes inflamed and constricted air passages.

“If this human study confirms what we found in rabbits, then if there is an episode of air pollution, maybe people at high risk can get a short course of statins for that period until the air pollution clears,” he said. He is currently seeking funding to test statins on firefighters to see if they reduce lung inflammation caused by smoke.

Edelman said the answer to protecting people is still cleaning the air.

“We don’t want people to start thinking now we have a drug to control effects of air pollution so we don’t have to worry about air pollution,” he said. “It’s still a large threat.”

This article originally ran at Environmental Health News, a news source published by Environmental Health Sciences, a nonprofit media company.

By Bob Cunningham

My daughter got her first IEP last spring when she was a fifth grader. She started attending middle school this fall and it seems to be taking a long time for the school to line up some of her service providers. Is there anything I can do to help get her IEP going at the beginning of the school year?

Unfortunately, this problem is not uncommon. Schools often have to deal with faculty and staff leaving and new faculty and staff starting. Schedules sometimes change at the last minute. A new school year may also come with shifts in policies and procedures.

All of these changes help explain why it can be challenging to transition your child’s IEP services from year to year—and especially from school to school. These kinds of things can fall through the cracks. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help the transition go as smoothly as possible for your child.

I’m grouping my advice for you in three buckets: what you can do now, what you can do to prepare for next year and how you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

What You Can Do Now That the School Year Has Already Started

If the new school year is off to a bumpy start, here are a few things you can do to help get your child’s IEP services up and running.

Send your child’s teachers an email about accommodations and modifications. Last-minute schedule changes mean it’s possible some of her teachers might not have read her IEP or might not even have a copy of it.

That’s why it’s good to reach out to her teachers as early as possible in the school year. Be brief but also specific about which accommodations and modifications help your child succeed in the classroom. You can also attach a digital copy of her IEP, just in case the teachers don’t have one handy.

Ask the service providers to check in with your child. Let’s say your child is going to be working with a special education teacher and with a speech-language pathologist. If these people are already working with other students in the school, it could help your daughter if they check in with her to see how things are going.

They can do this even if they haven’t started to provide her services. But they might not check in with her unless you request it.

Keep track of the related services your child is missing. Taking good notes can help you be specific when you ask the school to make up these sessions.

Keep in mind that kids are often pulled out of the classroom to receive speech therapy and other related services. Ask the school to consider your child’s strengths and weaknesses when scheduling the make-up sessions. It won’t help for her to miss classroom instruction if she’s likely to have a hard time catching up in those subject areas.

It might also not be best for her to be pulled from recess or elective classes, especially at the beginning of the year when she’s trying to reconnect with friends and make new ones.

What You Can Do to Prepare for Next Year

Once your child has started receiving all of her IEP services for this year, you can start to think about how to help get things off to a better start next year.

Ask for an IEP meeting at the end of April or beginning of May each year. This is late enough in the year that most schools will know of at least some of the pending staff and schedule changes. It’s also early enough that the end-of-year crush of paperwork hasn’t started to overwhelm many teachers and administrators.

Request a summer meeting with an administrator. Ask to meet with the principal, assistant principal or another year-round employee during the months when school isn’t in session. Summer is a great time to speak with someone who’ll be able to make sure your child’s services are put into place quickly.

The two weeks after the Fourth of July might be an especially good time to schedule this meeting. Most of last year’s issues will be wrapped up by then, next year’s have not yet emerged and administrators tend to take their vacations in August.

Send a copy of your child’s IEP to certain people. This is particularly important if your child will be switching to a new school next year. As soon as you can, send a copy of the IEP to the counselor or administrator at the new school. And as soon as you find out who will be teaching your child next year, consider sending those teachers a copy of the IEP too.

When you send someone a copy of your child’s IEP, include a little introduction. Mention that you and your child are looking forward to the new school year. Include some suggestions about what most helps your child get off to a good start in a new school year.

Talk to your child about positive ways to remind teachers about what’s in her IEP. Practice talking to teachers at home. This can help your child feel more comfortable speaking up in school.

For example, she could practice saying, “Last year I got to do my in-class writing on a computer, and it really helped me. I have an IEP for it, so I hope I can use a computer in your class, too.” Teachers are likely to get things moving if a student points out that she has an IEP and mentions something specific that really helps her.

How You Might Want to Think About Tone

Delays in starting up IEP services are frustrating. But parents who escalate tensions with the school may not make as much progress as parents who remain calm and cooperative. Here are a few things to consider.

Learn about your child’s rights. The law is clear. IEPs are to be fully implemented on day one of each school year. But when things aren’t getting done, you’ll have to decide what you can tolerate and what you and your child cannot tolerate.

While you’re deciding this, think about which parts of the IEP are the most important to put into place first.

Look for ways to work with the school. While there’s no legally acceptable reason for a school not to implement an IEP right away, it usually makes sense to look for ways to cooperate with the school while making sure your child is getting what’s she needs most. At the same time, it’s good to document all delays in case the situation doesn’t improve.

If the delays last for more than a few weeks, request an IEP meeting to formally address your concerns or even to ask that the school pay for private services. If that still doesn’t resolve the issue, consider requesting an impartial hearing by contacting the school or the school district’s special education office.

Be calm, clear and focused in your communications. Remember that communication between you and the school is the key to making sure your child’s IEP services are in place as soon as possible. Simply talking to teachers or administrators about your child doesn’t usually get the result you want. I recommend that you follow up in writing.

You’re also likely to get the best result if your emails or letters hit each of these three targets:

Ask for something specific.
Make clear that your request is based on your experience with what most helps your child.
Remain optimistic about what a great year awaits your child with the new teacher or school.
Clear, concise, positive communication can help everyone focus on what’s most important. In my experience, that’s the best way to get things done.

About the Author
Bob Cunningham, M.A., Ed.M., serves as in-house advisor on learning and attention issues at Understood.

Nov 29

Group Mindfulness Treatment Found As Effective as CBT

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By JANICE WOOD Associate News Editor

A new study has found that group mindfulness treatment is as effective as individual cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in patients with depression and anxiety.

The study was conducted at 16 primary health care centers in Skåne, a county in southern Sweden. Researchers from Lund University in Sweden trained two mindfulness instructors, from different occupational groups, at each health care center.

In spring 2012, 215 patients with depression, anxiety, or reactions to severe stress were randomly put into either a structured group mindfulness treatment with approximately 10 patients per group, or regular treatment — mainly individual CBT.

Patients also received a private training program and were asked to record their exercises in a diary, the researchers reported.

Before and after treatment, the patients answered questionnaires that estimated the severity of their depression and anxiety.

The researchers found that self-reported symptoms of depression and anxiety decreased in both groups during the eight-week treatment period. In fact, they said, there was no statistical difference between the two treatments.

“The study’s results indicate that group mindfulness treatment, conducted by certified instructors in primary health care, is as effective a treatment method as individual CBT for treating depression and anxiety,” said Jan Sundquist, Ph.D., who led the study.

“This means that group mindfulness treatment should be considered as an alternative to individual psychotherapy, especially at primary health care centers that can’t offer everyone individual therapy.”

Source: Lund University

By RENEE JAIN, MAPP

Anxiety What If Questions

“What if I don’t get asked to the dance?”

“What if you run out of gas and can’t pick me up from school?”

“What if we get robbed?”

“What if… [insert your child’s anxious thought here]?”

If your child’s anxious, it’s likely they do something I like to call what-iffing. This is the tendency to ponder possible future scenarios and then worry about them excessively in the form of ‘what if’ questions. As a parent, you also worry excessively… about your child’s worrying. You want to ease their pain. You may try to reassure them with words, comfort them with hugs, or even yell at them in frustration. If your child is not assuaged by any of these methods, please know you are not alone. Please also know there are approaches that can help.

Here’s the thing: Humans are natural-born time travelers. We travel to the past and future on a regular basis using just our minds. In fact, research shows that 47 percent of the time, we’re actually thinking about something other than what we’re doing. I’m sure you’ve been driving somewhere and have ended up at your destination without knowing exactly how you reached there. You see, we all have an uncanny ability to wander off with our minds, but ruminating on things that have yet to happen can be troubling as studies show that we tend to overestimate the uncertainty of the future.

Don’t get me wrong; thinking about the future has value. It helps us plan and set goals. It unleashes our creativity and imagination. The flipside is that our ability to visualize the future can be so realistic that if we’re worried about something, it can activate our nervous system. So, while we are the only species on Earth thinking critically about the future, we are also the only ones who can throw ourselves into a full nervous system response from a simple thought.

In other words, what-iffing about the future can be perceived by your child as some

Nov 28

Older Brains Can Still Learn – Maybe Too Much

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By JANICE WOOD Associate News Editor

Older people can actually take in and learn from visual information more readily than younger people, according to a new study.

This surprising discovery is explained by a decline in the ability to filter out irrelevant information as we get older, according to researchers at Brown University.

“It is quite counterintuitive that there is a case in which older individuals learn more than younger individuals,” said cognitive scientist Takeo Watanabe, Ph.D.

“Older people take in more at the same time as the stability of their visual perceptual learning declines. That’s because the brain’s capacity to learn is limited,” Watanabe said. When we learn something new, there is always a risk that information already stored in the brain may be replaced with new and less-important information.

For the new study, Watanabe and his research team recruited a group of 10 people between 67 and 79 years old and another group of 10 people between the ages of 19 and 30 for an experiment.

Over a nine-day period, they trained on a simple visual exercise. Shown a quick sequence of six symbols — four letters and two numerals — the volunteers were asked to report the numerals they saw. Their performance on a test at the end of training was compared to their score on a pre-test.

The volunteers were instructed to only bother with spotting the two numerals, but each symbol they saw had a background of moving dots, which would move with varying degrees of cohesiveness of direction. In the pre- and post-tests the researchers also asked the volunteers to report the direction of dot movement when they saw the numerals.

The researchers found that older people improved as much as younger people on the relevant task of identifying the two numerals.

But the researchers also found that the older volunteers also took in more about the directional movement of the irrelevant dots than the younger individuals.

The researchers explained that our brains normally have the ability to detect and suppress our attention to obvious and irrelevant features. As features become harder to pick up on, we simply tend to miss them altogether. As a result, we are usually able to ignore or filter out information that is not pertinent to the task at hand.

The fact that older people continued to pick up on irrelevant information suggests a failure of their brains’ attentional systems to suppress task-irrelevant signals, the researchers said.

Watanabe added that the findings will likely apply in other areas of life, since the ability to filter out irrelevant information is generally important to all forms of learning.

The researchers are now using brain-imaging techniques to observe what’s happening in the brains of older people as they learn. With greater understanding, it may be possible to devise strategies not only to help older people learn more effectively, but also to keep them from learning things they really shouldn’t, the researchers concluded.

The study was published in the Cell Press journal Current Biology.

Nov 27

by Terese Weinstein Katz

These girls, aged 12 to 15, never crossed the line into full eating disorders. In fact, they became healthy young women with normal-enough eating. Siena switched from a vegetarian diet to a gluten-free one, to one that involved lots of raw vegetables. Bella rarely ate much in front of her friends, though her weight tended to run a little higher than one might expect. Meagan dieted on and off, though never with much persistence. Caroline obsessed about being “fat” so often that her friends began to eye-roll. Kendra went through a phase of only eating “healthy” foods, fearing sweets and junk.

These stories, and a host of similar ones, have become normative in the world of girls approaching and just past puberty. Some, of course, do segue into bulimia or anorexia or binge eating disorder. But this edging toward the “thin line”, just this side of an eating disorder, has become close to inevitable in the life of teen girls. And no wonder: combine the normal anxieties, physical and social changes of this time, with our cultures confusing and unsupportive eating environment. This includes computer-altered images of ultra-thin models, an overabundance of foods with addictive qualities, media saturated with talk of diets meant to transform every body.

All parents these days face the challenge of fostering healthy food attitudes and habits. As I, and others, have written elsewhere, this usually involves a tricky balance of relaxation and firmness. Parents who regulate and restrict food choices usually don’t foster a relaxed and confident approach to food. On the other hand, guidance and role-modeling is surely called for in the midst of all this.

When it comes to this slippery-slope time for adolescent girls, however, parents can face new challenges—even when childhood eating issues have been minimal or non-existent before. So now, do you encourage or freak out if your normal weight teen wants to diet? Do you call a therapist when your daughter says she feels fat, or simply talk her through? Many good books and resources exist to help guide parents with eating disordered children. There are fewer for this very numerous group who may worry and fret and experiment, but essentially prove healthy and pretty much able to navigate through (see Resources, below).

As parents, we don’t necessarily have as much control as we’d like, but as with issues of substance use, we can communicate expectations, educate, and support. And often this does make a difference. Toward this end, I offer 5 guidelines to help the navigation:

1. Work on Your Own Eating Issues. You don’t have to be perfect weight, or without any diet worries at all, to set good examples. On the other hand, constant dieting, talk of being fat, etc., does not help. Eating as healthfully as you can, in as relaxed a manner as you can, is the goal. And where you do still struggle, you can talk honestly with your teen about where you are with it and what you’re trying to improve.

2. Be Firm About Nutritional Basics. While experimentation with different ways of eating may appeal to your adolescent, it is always important to get adequate protein and calories, no matter what. Growth continues to occur, remember, well into young adulthood. Sometimes a visit to a nutritionist or pediatrician—a non-parent professional, in other words—can help. Teens often don’t register that they have very different nutritional needs from the grown-ups that diet books target.

3. Emphasize Strengths Other Than Looks. Ultimately what really matters is who your teen is in all the ways that don’t involve looks and weight. Take interest in, encourage and compliment these other traits and achievements. If you see a few pounds creeping on, you don’t need to discuss it immediately unless asked for input.

4. Be a Family Where Talk is OK. An environment where it is taboo to discuss emotional issues can breed problems. This doesn’t mean everything has to be talked about, just that it would be safe and not bizarre to do so. This may be one of the factors—“we sit and we talk”–that makes family dinner a protective habit for teens.

5. Convey Trust. As alarming as it can be to see your child exhibit less-than-ideal eating attitudes, try to discuss it calmly. It matters that you convey confidence that your teen can understand and do better, that you trust she’s capable of that. (Of course, if this proves not to be true–you can proceed to the next step, seeking professional help.)

In the end, it’s hard for any of us, at any age, to grapple with the confusing food messages and choices in our culture. What’s important is to aim to do your best and not worry about perfection. And when it comes to kids and teens, remember that many who grow up with imperfect diets do become adults who care and make good choices after all.

Resources:
*The Renfrew Center has excellent educational materials and a book list for parents.
*EatSanely.com “Kids” archive has more discussion and ideas on raising kids to eat healthily and without fear

Nov 22

Autism / Asperger’s Quiz

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Autism / Asperger’s Quiz

http://psychcentral.com/quizzes/autism.htm

Nov 21

Borderline Personality Disorder Symptoms

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By PSYCH CENTRAL STAFF

borderline-personality-disorder-symptomsThe main feature of borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a pervasive pattern of instability in interpersonal relationships, self-image and emotions. People with borderline personality disorder are also usually very impulsive, oftentimes demonstrating self-injurious behaviors (risky sexual behaviors, cutting, suicide attempts).

Borderline personality disorder occurs in most by early adulthood. The unstable pattern of interacting with others has persisted for years and is usually closely related to the person’s self-image and early social interactions. The pattern is present in a variety of settings (e.g., not just at work or home) and often is accompanied by a similar lability (fluctuating back and forth, sometimes in a quick manner) in a person’s emotions and feelings.

These individuals are very sensitive to environmental circumstances. The perception of impending separation or rejection, or the loss of external structure, can lead to profound changes in self-image, affect, cognition, and behavior. They experience intense abandonment fears and inappropriate anger, even when faced with a realistic time-limited separation or when there are unavoidable changes in plans (e.g., sudden despair in reaction to a clinician’s announcing the end of the hour; panic or fury when someone important to them is just a few minutes late or must cancel an appointment). They may believe that this “abandonment” implies they are “bad.” These abandonment fears are related to an intolerance of being alone and a need to have other people with them. Relationships and the person’s emotions may sometimes be seen by others or characterized as being shallow.

A personality disorder is an enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior that deviates from the norm of the individual’s culture. The pattern is seen in two or more of the following areas: cognition; affect; interpersonal functioning; or impulse control. The enduring pattern is inflexible and pervasive across a broad range of personal and social situations. It typically leads to significant distress or impairment in social, work or other areas of functioning. The pattern is stable and of long duration, and its onset can be traced back to early adulthood or adolescence.

Specific Symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder
A person with this disorder will also often exhibit impulsive behaviors and have a majority of the following symptoms:

Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment
A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation
Identity disturbance, such as a significant and persistent unstable self-image or sense of self
Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating)
Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, or threats, or self-mutilating behavior
Emotional instability due to significant reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days)
Chronic feelings of emptiness
Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights)
Transient, stress-related paranoid thoughts or severe dissociative symptoms

Because personality disorders describe long-standing and enduring patterns of behavior, they are most often diagnosed in adulthood. It is uncommon for them to be diagnosed in childhood or adolescence, because a child or teen is under constant development, personality changes and maturation. However, if it is diagnosed in a child or teen, the features must have been present for at least 1 year.

Borderline personality disorder is more prevalent in females (75 percent of diagnoses made are in females). It is thought that borderline personality disorder affects between 1.6 and 5.9 percent of the general population.

Like most personality disorders, borderline personality disorder typically will decrease in intensity with age, with many people experiencing few of the most extreme symptoms by the time they are in the 40s or 50s.

Details about Borderline Personality Disorder Symptoms
Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment.

The perception of impending separation or rejection, or the loss of external structure, can lead to profound changes in self-image, emotion, thinking and behavior. Someone with borderline personality disorder will be very sensitive to things happening around them in their environment. They experience intense abandonment fears and inappropriate anger, even when faced with a realistic separation or when there are unavoidable changes in plans. For instance, becoming very angry with someone for being a few minutes late or having to cancel a lunch date. People with borderline personality disorder may believe that this abandonment implies that they are “bad.” These abandonment fears are related to an intolerance of being alone and a need to have other people with them. Their frantic efforts to avoid abandonment may include impulsive actions such as self-mutilating or suicidal behaviors.

Unstable and intense relationships.

People with borderline personality disorder may idealize potential caregivers or lovers at the first or second meeting, demand to spend a lot of time together, and share the most intimate details early in a relationship. However, they may switch quickly from idealizing other people to devaluing them, feeling that the other person does not care enough, does not give enough, is not “there” enough. These individuals can empathize with and nurture other people, but only with the expectation that the other person will “be there” in return to meet their own needs on demand. These individuals are prone to sudden and dramatic shifts in their view of others, who may alternately be seen as beneficient supports or as cruelly punitive. Such shifts other reflect disillusionment with a caregiver whose nurturing qualities had been idealized or whose rejection or abandonment is expected.

Identity disturbance.

There are sudden and dramatic shifts in self-image, characterized by shifting goals, values and vocational aspirations. There may be sudden changes in opinions and plans about career, sexual identity, values and types of friends. These individuals may suddenly change from the role of a needy supplicant for help to a righteous avenger of past mistreatment. Although they usually have a self-image that is based on being bad or evil, individuals with borderline personality disorder may at times have feelings that they do not exist at all. Such experiences usually occur in situations in which the individual feels a lack of a meaningful relationship, nurturing and support. These individuals may show worse performance in unstructured work or school situations.

You can also learn more about the detailed characteristics of borderline personality disorder.

How is Borderline Personality Disorder Diagnosed?
Personality disorders such as borderline personality disorder are typically diagnosed by a trained mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist. Family physicians and general practitioners are generally not trained or well-equipped to make this type of psychological diagnosis. So while you can initially consult a family physician about this problem, they should refer you to a mental health professional for diagnosis and treatment. There are no laboratory, blood or genetic tests that are used to diagnose borderline personality disorder.

Many people with borderline personality disorder don’t seek out treatment. People with personality disorders, in general, do not often seek out treatment until the disorder starts to significantly interfere or otherwise impact a person’s life. This most often happens when a person’s coping resources are stretched too thin to deal with stress or other life events.

A diagnosis for borderline personality disorder is made by a mental health professional comparing your symptoms and life history with those listed here. They will make a determination whether your symptoms meet the criteria necessary for a personality disorder diagnosis.

Causes of Borderline Personality Disorder
Researchers today don’t know what causes borderline personality disorder. There are many theories, however, about the possible causes of borderline personality disorder. Most professionals subscribe to a biopsychosocial model of causation — that is, the causes of are likely due to biological and genetic factors, social factors (such as how a person interacts in their early development with their family and friends and other children), and psychological factors (the individual’s personality and temperament, shaped by their environment and learned coping skills to deal with stress). This suggests that no single factor is responsible — rather, it is the complex and likely intertwined nature of all three factors that are important. If a person has this personality disorder, research suggests that there is a slightly increased risk for this disorder to be “passed down” to their children.

Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder
Treatment of borderline personality disorder typically involves long-term psychotherapy with a therapist that has experience in treating this kind of personality disorder. Medications may also be prescribed to help with specific troubling and debilitating symptoms. For more information about treatment, please see borderline personality disorder treatment.

Borderline Personality Test: http://psychcentral.com/quizzes/borderline.htm

Youth who enter puberty ahead of their peers are at heightened risk of depression, although the disease develops differently in girls than in boys, a new study suggests.

Early maturation triggers an array of psychological, social-behavioral and interpersonal difficulties that predict elevated levels of depression in boys and girls several years later, according to research by led by psychology professor Karen D. Rudolph at the University of Illinois.

Rudolph and her colleagues measured pubertal timing and tracked levels of depression among more than 160 youth over a four-year period. During their early teenage years, the youth in the study completed annual questionnaires and interviews that assessed their psychological risk factors, interpersonal stressors and coping behaviors. Parents also reported on their children’s social relationships and difficulties.

Published online by the journal Development and Psychopathology, the study is one of the first research projects to confirm that early puberty heightens risk for depression in both sexes over time and to explain the underlying mechanisms.

“It is often believed that going through puberty earlier than peers only contributes to depression in girls,” Rudolph said. “We found that early maturation can also be a risk for boys as they progress through adolescence, but the timing is different than in girls.”

Youth who entered puberty ahead of their peers were vulnerable to a number of risks that were associated with depression. They had poorer self-images; greater anxiety; social problems, including conflict with family members and peers; and tended to befriend peers who were prone to getting into trouble, the researchers found.

Levels of depression among early-maturing girls were elevated at the beginning of the study and remained stable over the next three years. These adverse effects were persistent in early maturing girls, who remained at a distinct disadvantage, even as peers caught up to them in physical development, Rudolph said.

“In girls, early maturation seems to trigger immediate psychological and environmental risks and consequent depression,” Rudolph said. “Pubertal changes cause early maturing girls to feel badly about themselves, cope less effectively with social problems, affiliate with deviant peers, enter riskier and more stressful social contexts and experience disruption and conflict within their relationships.”

Early maturation did not appear to have these immediate adverse effects on boys, who showed significantly lower levels of depression at the outset than their female counterparts. However, these differences dissipated over time, such that by the end of the fourth year, early maturing boys didn’t differ significantly from their female counterparts in their levels of depression.

“While early maturation seemed to protect boys from the challenges of puberty initially, boys experienced an emerging cascade of personal and contextual risks – negative self-image, anxiety, social problems and interpersonal stress – that eventuated in depression as they moved through adolescence,” Rudolph said.

Although the study examined the risk factors as independent measures, it’s possible that these elements mutually reinforce each other over time, the researchers said.

“But it’s important to note, as we find in our work, that only some teens are vulnerable to the effects of early maturation, particularly those with more disruption in their families and less support in their peer relationships,” Rudolph said.

Nov 17

By RENEE JAIN, MAPP

As all the kids line up to go to school, your son, Timmy, turns to you and says, “I don’t want to take the bus. My stomach hurts. Please don’t make me go.” You cringe and think, Here we go again. What should be a simple morning routine explodes into a daunting challenge.

You look at Timmy and see genuine terror. You want to comfort him. You want to ease the excessive worry that’s become part and parcel of his everyday life. First, you try logic. “Timmy, we walk an extra four blocks to catch this bus because this driver has an accident-free driving record!” He doesn’t budge.

You provide reassurance. “I promise you’ll be OK. Timmy, look at me… you trust me, right?” Timmy nods. A few seconds later he whispers, “Please don’t make me go.”

You resort to anger: “Timothy Christopher, you will get on this bus RIGHT NOW, or there will be serious consequences. No iPad for one week!” He looks at you as if you’re making him walk the plank. He climbs onto the bus, defeated. You feel terrible.

If any of this sounds familiar, know you are not alone. Most parents would move mountains to ease their child’s pain. Parents of kids with anxiety would move planets and stars as well. It hurts to watch your child worry over situations that, frankly, don’t seem that scary. Here’s the thing: To your child’s mind, these situations are genuinely threatening. And even perceived threats can create a real nervous system response. We call this response anxiety and I know it well.

I’d spent the better part of my childhood covering up a persistent, overwhelming feeling of worry until, finally, in my early twenties, I decided to seek out a solution. What I’ve learned over the last two decades is that many people suffer from debilitating worry. In fact, 40 million American adults, as well as 1 in 8 children, suffer from anxiety. Many kids miss school, social activities and a good night’s rest just from the worried thoughts in their head. Many parents suffer from frustration and a feeling of helplessness when they witness their child in this state day in, day out.

What I also learned is that while there is no one-size-fits-all solution for anxiety, there are a plethora of great research-based techniques that can help manage it — many of which are simple to learn. WAIT! Why didn’t my parents know about this? Why didn’t I know about it? Why don’t they teach these skills in school?

I wish I could go back in time and teach the younger version of myself how to cope, but of course, that’s not possible. What is possible is to try to reach as many kids and parents as possible with these coping skills. What is possible is to teach kids how to go beyond just surviving to really finding meaning, purpose and happiness in their lives. To this end, I created an anxiety relief program for kids called GoZen. Here are 9 ideas straight from GoZen that parents of anxious children can try right away:

1. Stop Reassuring Your Child
Your child worries. You know there is nothing to worry about, so you say, “Trust me. There’s nothing to worry about.” Done and done, right? We all wish it were that simple. Why does your reassurance fall on deaf ears? It’s actually not the ears causing the issue. Your anxious child desperately wants to listen to you, but the brain won’t let it happen. During periods of anxiety, there is a rapid dump of chemicals and mental transitions executed in your body for survival. One by-product is that the prefrontal cortex — or more logical part of the brain — gets put on hold while the more automated emotional brain takes over. In other words, it is really hard for your child to think clearly, use logic or even remember how to complete basic tasks. What should you do instead of trying to rationalize the worry away? Try something I call the FEEL method:

• Freeze — pause and take some deep breaths with your child. Deep breathing can help reverse the nervous system response.
• Empathize — anxiety is scary. Your child wants to know that you get it.
• Evaluate — once your child is calm, it’s time to figure out possible solutions.
• Let Go – Let go of your guilt; you are an amazing parent giving your child the tools to manage their worry.

2. Highlight Why Worrying is Good
Remember, anxiety is tough enough without a child believing that Something is wrong with me. Many kids even develop anxiety about having anxiety. Teach your kids that worrying does, in fact, have a purpose.

When our ancestors were hunting and gathering food there was danger in the environment, and being worried helped them avoid attacks from the saber-toothed cat lurking in the bush. In modern times, we don’t have a need to run from predators, but we are left with an evolutionary imprint that protects us: worry.

Worry is a protection mechanism. Worry rings an alarm in our system and helps us survive danger. Teach your kids that worry is perfectly normal, it can help protect us, and everyone experiences it from time to time. Sometimes our system sets off false alarms, but this type of worry (anxiety) can be put in check with some simple techniques.

3. Bring Your Child’s Worry to Life
As you probably know, ignoring anxiety doesn’t help. But bringing worry to life and talking about it like a real person can. Create a worry character for your child. In GoZen we created Widdle the Worrier. Widdle personifies anxiety. Widdle lives in the old brain that is responsible for protecting us when we’re in danger. Of course, sometimes Widdle gets a little out of control and when that happens, we have to talk some sense into Widdle. You can use this same idea with a stuffed animal or even role-playing at home.

Personifying worry or creating a character has multiple benefits. It can help demystify this scary physical response children experience when they worry. It can reactivate the logical brain, and it’s a tool your children can use on their own at any time.

4. Teach Your Child to Be a Thought Detective
Remember, worry is the brain’s way of protecting us from danger. To make sure we’re really paying attention, the mind often exaggerates the object of the worry (e.g., mistaking a stick for a snake). You may have heard that teaching your children to think more positively could calm their worries. But the best remedy for distorted thinking is not positive thinking; it’s accurate thinking. Try a method we call the 3Cs:

• Catch your thoughts: Imagine every thought you have floats above your head in a bubble (like what you see in comic strips). Now, catch one of the worried thoughts like “No one at school likes me.”

• Collect evidence: Next, collect evidence to support or negate this thought. Teach your child not to make judgments about what to worry about based only on feelings. Feelings are not facts. (Supporting evidence: “I had a hard time finding someone to sit with at lunch yesterday.” Negating evidence: “Sherry and I do homework together–she’s a friend of mine.”)

• Challenge your thoughts: The best (and most entertaining) way to do this is to teach your children to have a debate within themselves.

5. Allow Them to Worry
As you know, telling your children not to worry won’t prevent them from doing so. If your children could simply shove their feelings away, they would. But allowing your children to worry openly, in limited doses, can be helpful. Create a daily ritual called “Worry Time” that lasts 10 to 15 minutes. During this ritual encourage your children to release all their worries in writing. You can make the activity fun by decorating a worry box. During worry time there are no rules on what constitutes a valid worry — anything goes. When the time is up, close the box and say good-bye to the worries for the day.

6. Help Them Go from What If to What Is
You may not know this, but humans are capable of time travel. In fact, mentally we spend a lot of time in the future. For someone experiencing anxiety, this type of mental time travel can exacerbate the worry. A typical time traveler asks what-if questions: “What if I can’t open my locker and I miss class?” “What if Suzy doesn’t talk to me today?”

Research shows that coming back to the present can help alleviate this tendency. One effective method of doing this is to practice mindfulness exercises. Mindfulness brings a child from what if to what is. To do this, help your child simply focus on their breath for a few minutes.

7. Avoid Avoiding Everything that Causes Anxiety
Do your children want to avoid social events, dogs, school, planes or basically any situation that causes anxiety? As a parent, do you help them do so? Of course! This is natural. The flight part of the flight-fight-freeze response urges your children to escape the threatening situation. Unfortunately, in the long run, avoidance makes anxiety worse.

So what’s the alternative? Try a method we call laddering. Kids who are able to manage their worry break it down into manageable chunks. Laddering uses this chunking concept and gradual exposure to reach a goal.

Let’s say your child is afraid of sitting on the swings in the park. Instead of avoiding this activity, create mini-goals to get closer to the bigger goal (e.g., go to the edge of the park, then walk into the park, go to the swings, and, finally, get on a swing). You can use each step until the exposure becomes too easy; that’s when you know it’s time to move to the next rung on the ladder.

8. Help Them Work Through a Checklist
What do trained pilots do when they face an emergency? They don’t wing it (no pun intended!); they refer to their emergency checklists. Even with years of training, every pilot works through a checklist because, when in danger, sometimes it’s hard to think clearly.

When kids face anxiety they feel the same way. Why not create a checklist so they have a step-by-step method to calm down? What do you want them to do when they first feel anxiety coming on? If breathing helps them, then the first step is to pause and breathe. Next, they can evaluate the situation. In the end, you can create a hard copy checklist for your child to refer to when they feel anxious.

9. Practice Self-Compassion
Watching your child suffer from anxiety can be painful, frustrating, and confusing. There is not one parent that hasn’t wondered at one time or another if they are the cause of their child’s anxiety. Here’s the thing, research shows that anxiety is often the result of multiple factors (i.e., genes, brain physiology, temperament, environmental factors, past traumatic events, etc.). Please keep in mind, you did not cause your child’s anxiety, but you can help them overcome it.

Toward the goal of a healthier life for the whole family, practice self-compassion. Remember, you’re not alone, and you’re not to blame. It’s time to let go of debilitating self-criticism and forgive yourself. Love yourself. You are your child’s champion.

Simple tools can help alleviate your child’s anxiety. Start teaching your child coping skills with two animated lessons from www.gozen.com

Nov 16

Using Sound to Enhance Deep Sleep, Memory

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By TRACI PEDERSEN Associate News Editor

Using sound that matches a person’s particular brain activity during sleep may be able to enhance that individual’s quality of deep sleep, and as a result, benefit metabolism and cognition, according to new research by a graduate student at Northwestern Medicine.

“Sleep deprivation, particularly of deep sleep, has been linked to poor cardio-metabolic functioning as well as problems in cognition,” said Nelly Papalambros, a third-year graduate student at Northwestern University’s Interdepartmental Neuroscience Ph.D. Program.

“There have been attempts at improving deep sleep with moderate success, but these approaches many times have unwanted side effects.”

The sound stimulation is personalized through an algorithm developed by Giovanni Santostasi, Ph.D. The algorithm reads a person’s specific EEG frequencies, or brain activity, and matches the bursts of sound during certain phases of slow wave sleep. The sound is pink noise, much like soft static or humming.

“The algorithm is unique because it can be customized to a specific person, older people have less slow wave sleep and the amplitude of their slow waves is smaller, so it allows you to hone in on that specific person for optimal stimulation,” Papalambros said.

For the study, patients with elevated risk of cardiovascular disease stayed overnight at an inpatient sleep research clinic to get a baseline measure of their physiological data, including insulin, blood glucose, hormone, and inflammation levels and information regarding their sleep patterns.

“We are seeing if the sound stimulation has acute effects on their health, but I think this is something that people could need to use over weeks or months to see any long lasting change. The hope is that this is an intervention for people with metabolic problems,” Papalambros said.

Spectral analysis was used to measure delta waves, which occur during deep sleep. Papalambros took note of any changes in the power of the waves with and without sound stimulation. The findings showed that in young people, sound does enhance deep sleep, and it may also have a positive effect on older adults.

Papalambros also studied whether enhancing deep sleep might improve cognition or memory. Before and after participants fell asleep, they were given a word pair test. Similar to the metabolism study, participants came into the clinic for nights with and without sound stimulation.

“Instead of extending the amount of sleep you get, these studies are more about the quality of sleep you get. If we can enhance sleep then hopefully we can improve metabolic function and cognition,” Papalambros said.

“Sound is non-invasive and, in theory, this method could be used as a clinical method or even adapted to a smart phone.”

Source: Northwestern Medicine

Nov 13

By RENEE JAIN, MAPP

“I didn’t get invited to Julie’s party… I’m such a loser.”

“I missed the bus… nothing ever goes my way.”

“My science teacher wants to see me… I must be in trouble.”

Distort Reality GoZen Anxiety Relief

These are the thoughts of a high school student named James. You wouldn’t know it from his thoughts, but James is actually pretty popular and gets decent grades. Unfortunately, in the face of adversity, James makes a common error; he falls into what I like to call “thought holes.” Thought holes, or cognitive distortions, are skewed perceptions of reality. They are negative interpretations of a situation based on poor assumptions. For James, thought holes cause intense emotional distress.

Here’s the thing, all kids blow things out of proportion or jump to conclusions at times, but consistently distorting reality is not innocuous. Studies show self-defeating thoughts (i.e., “I’m a loser”) can trigger self-defeating emotions (i.e., pain, anxiety, malaise) that, in turn, cause self-defeating actions (i.e., acting out, skipping school). Left unchecked, this tendency can also lead to more severe conditions, such as depression and anxiety.

Fortunately, in a few steps, we can teach teens how to fill in their thought holes. It’s time to ditch the idea of positive thinking and introduce the tool of accurate thinking. The lesson begins with an understanding of what causes inaccurate thinking in the first place.

We Create Our Own (Often Distorted) Reality

One person walks down a busy street and notices graffiti on the wall, dirt on the pavement and a couple fighting. Another person walks down the same street and notices a refreshing breeze, an ice cream cart and a smile from a stranger. We each absorb select scenes in our environment through which we interpret a situation. In essence, we create our own reality by that to which we give attention.

Cognitive Distortions GoZen.com Anxiety Relief for Kids

Why don’t we just interpret situations based on all of the information? It’s not possible; there are simply too many stimuli to process. In fact, the subconscious mind can absorb 12 million bits of information through the five senses in a mere second. By intelligent design, data is filtered down so that the conscious mind focuses on only 7 to 40 bits. This is a mental shortcut.

Shortcuts keep us sane by preventing sensory overload. Shortcuts help us judge situations quickly. Shortcuts also, however, leave us vulnerable to errors in perception. Because we perceive reality based on a tiny sliver of information, if that information is unbalanced (e.g., ignores the positive and focuses on the negative), we are left with a skewed perception of reality, or a thought hole.

Eight Common Thought Holes

Not only are we susceptible to errors in thinking, but we also tend to make the same errors over and over again. Seminal work by psychologist Aaron Beck, often referred to as the father of cognitive therapy, and his former student, David Burns, uncovered several common thought holes as seen below.

Jumping to conclusions: judging a situation based on assumptions as opposed to definitive facts
Mental filtering: paying attention to the negative details in a situation while ignoring the positive
Magnifying: magnifying negative aspects in a situation
Minimizing: minimizing positive aspects in a situation
Personalizing: assuming the blame for problems even when you are not primarily responsible
Externalizing: pushing the blame for problems onto others even when you are primarily responsible
Overgeneralizing: concluding that one bad incident will lead to a repeated pattern of defeat
Emotional reasoning: assuming your negative emotions translate into reality, or confusing feelings with facts
Going from Distorted Thinking to Accurate Thinking

Once teens understand why they fall into thought holes and that several common ones exist, they are ready to start filling them in by trying a method we developed in the GoZen! anxiety relief program called the 3Cs:

Check for common thought holes
Collect evidence to paint an accurate picture
Challenge the original thoughts
Self-disputation – GoZen.com Anxiety Relief Kids

Let’s run through the 3Cs using James as an example. James was recently asked by his science teacher to chat after class. He immediately thought, “I must be in trouble,” and began to feel distressed. Using the 3Cs, James should first check to see if he had fallen into one of the common thought holes. Based on the list above, it seems he jumped to a conclusion.

James’s next step is to collect as much data or evidence as possible to create a more accurate picture of the situation. His evidence may look something like the following statements:

“I usually get good grades in science class.”

“Teachers sometimes ask you to chat after class when something is wrong.”

“I’ve never been in trouble before.”

“The science teacher didn’t seem upset when he asked me to chat.”

With all the evidence at hand, James can now challenge his original thought. The best (and most entertaining) way to do this is for James to have a debate with himself. On one side is the James who believes he is in big trouble with his science teacher; on the other side is the James who believes that nothing is really wrong. James could use the evidence he collected to duke it out with himself! In the end, this type of self-disputation increases accurate thinking and improves emotional well-being.

Let’s teach our teens that thoughts, even distorted ones, affect their emotional well-being. Let’s teach them to forget positive thinking and try accurate thinking instead. Above all, let’s teach our teens that they have the power to choose their thoughts.

As the pioneering psychologist and philosopher, William James, once said, “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”

For more unique anxiety relief techniques for tweens and teens, visit www.gozen.com

Nov 12

7 Signs Your Workplace is Toxic

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By MELODY WILDING, LMSW

For many people, the office can feel like a second home. You spend the majority of your waking hours there and your co-workers may likely be the people you interact with most in your life, after family or a spouse.

If you’re not happy with your work environment, that dissatisfaction can carry over into your personal life, damaging everything from your self-esteem to your friendships. Toxic workplaces also can have an impact on your health: the increased stress of working in a dysfunctional office can lead to job burnout, fatigue, listlessness, and depression.

If any of the above symptoms ring a bell with you, it’s time to take stock of the dysfunction in your workplace in order to evaluate if the situation is fixable — or decide if it’s time to move on with your career.

How can you identify if you’re trapped in a hostile workplace? Here are seven telling signs you may be working in a toxic office environment:

1. You’re told to feel “lucky you have a job.”

If you’ve ever heard this statement from your boss or HR, it’s a major red flag. This scare tactic is a means of threatening you into staying in a marginalized position, and is symptomatic of an organization that thrives on bullying behavior and control.

2. Poor communication.

Do you feel like you’re left out of the loop regarding important information? A pervasive lack of communication characterizes most toxic workplaces. You may get little to no feedback about your performance, and when you do, it’s negative and harsh — not the constructive type.

You may be doing the work of two, three, or four people, yet it’s not unusual for your boss or colleagues to take credit for your accomplishments. If you’ve had a discussion with management or HR several times regarding a lack of recognition and a dearth of growth opportunities (such as promotions, raises, and challenging assignments), yet have seen no changes, it may be time to leave.

3. Everyone has a bad attitude.

If you walk into work and everyone around you is miserable, a la “Office Space,” then you may be trapped in a hostile environment. In this type of office, there is no enthusiasm; no one coming in with smiles on their faces and no one ever says “I love working here.” A high turnover rate among employees is a good sign that people are fleeing very quickly, most likely because of their unhappiness and poor morale at the office.

4. There’s always office drama.

If cliques dominate your office, it can feel as if you’re back in high school all over again. You may be anxious and paranoid that your colleagues are talking about you. Toxic, cliquey co-workers are most likely to be found hovering around the water cooler whispering in each other’s ears. They make what should be friendly workplace competition seem hostile and dog-eat-dog. There’s always rumors or gossip floating around the office; misunderstanding, favoritism, and infighting are the norm.

5. Dysfunction reigns.

Do meetings feel like a waste of time, inevitably blowing up into disorganized chaos where nothing is accomplished? Are the company’s operations disjointed and failing? Toxic workplaces are full of confusion, arbitrary deadlines, lack of focus, and a general malaise that “this is the way it’s always been done.” If new policies or regulations are constantly getting added, or if management is never around to help solve problems, these are symptoms of a larger problem stemming from poor leadership and low morale.

6.You have a tyrannical boss.

This type of boss is always trying to control your every move and you feel as if he or she is just waiting to pounce on you for messing up. Toxic bosses usually seem unwilling to listen to others and feel as if their way is always the right way. Your boss loves wielding his or her power and showing others that they’re in charge. He or she probably isn’t willing to lend a hand to help in tasks or give you credit for a job well done. If you feel as if your boss would expect you to come to work even if you were on your deathbed, you might be experiencing a tyrannical and toxic boss.

7. You feel in your gut something is off.

When it comes to your instincts in this situation, trust them. If you feel like something is fishy at work, chances are you might be right. Does your boss seem a little shady? Are you asked to hide information from clients and customers? These are signs that something probably is not exactly what it seems. Pay attention to any physical symptoms you experience such as sleepless nights, feeling constantly vigilant, sweaty palms, a racing heartbeat — your body could be signaling a red flag of danger.

While none of these problems are acceptable, rest assured it’s possible to find healthy ways to manage difficulties with your boss and colleagues in order to overcome the stress and overwhelm working in a toxic environment brings. The first step to detoxifying is recognizing and becoming more aware of the dysfunctional patterns surrounding you. Remember, while you may not have control of the people and situations around you, you always have a choice about how you respond.

Have you ever worked in a toxic office environment? Do any of these signs sound familiar to you?

Nov 11

4 Things Psychologists Know That You Should Know Too

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By JONICE WEBB

It’s fun being a psychologist. Just as an engineer is fascinated by the true mechanics of electrical circuitry, we mental health professionals are intensely curious about the human brain.

What people feel and what those feelings mean; why people do what they do; it’s all of interest to us. In the process of doing our job day after day, we can often pick up on patterns and connections that give us flashes of a bigger picture. We see causes and effects and develop insights, understandings and intuitions that tell us basic human truths.

Sometimes new research studies come out that make us say, “Aha! I knew it!” Below are four such psychological principles. All four are the common knowledge of most mental health professionals. All are currently being studied and proven, and all are immensely useful information that everyone should have.

Our brains have a helpful chemical response when we see someone we care about. Have you ever felt a little anxious or uncomfortable at a conference or party while making small talk with acquaintances and strangers? Then, someone you know well and care about enters the room, and you suddenly feel more at ease? Studies have shown that at the moment your eyes alight upon a “known and felt” person, your brain releases a shot of oxytocin. Oxytocin is a hormone which reduces fear and anxiety, and increases both your eye contact and your feelings of trust and generosity. (Kai McDonald, 2008.)
The implications: Having emotional connections and healthy relationships with people increases the likelihood that you will experience the release of oxytocin in your brain, and also cause it in the brains of people you care about. So putting time and energy into forming and keeping healthy, solid bonds with the people in our lives can contribute to a calmer, healthier existence for all of us.

The most significant highs and lows in life are not caused by individual achievements and failures. Promotions, test failures, raises, business losses; none of these were rated as the most significant life events by subjects in a recent study. Instead, people rated relationship connections and disconnections as their most important life experiences. Falling in love, break-ups, happy and sad times with friends and loved ones all trumped individual achievements and failures. (Jaremka et al., 2010).
The Implications: We should place less value on career and financial failures and successes, and acknowledge what really matters: the people in our lives.

Mindful people are healthier and happier: A Brown University Study by Loucks, et al., 2014 showed that people who are more aware of what they are thinking and feeling in the moment (these researchers’ definition of mindfulness) have lower BMI (body mass index), lower fasting glucose, less smoking and higher levels of physical activity.
Another study by Kidwell, et al., 2014 found that teaching people to pay attention to their emotions helped them lose weight better than educating them about nutrition.

Still another study by Carlson, et al., 2014 found an actual difference on a cellular level between breast cancer patients who learned and practiced mindfulness and those who did not. In only three months of practicing mindfulness, the patients were able to lengthen their “telomores,” which are protein complexes which book-end the chromosomes.

The Implications: Paying attention to what you feel and why you’re feeling it pays off. It’s a skill, and it can be learned. People who have it are better at managing their impulses and reading their own physical and emotional needs. They are overall healthier both physically and emotionally.

Psychological abuse and neglect in childhood are just as (or more) damaging as physical and sexual abuse. A study which (Spinazzola, et al, 2014) followed over 5,000 children for twelve years found that those who received emotional or verbal abuse or were ignored (Childhood Emotional Neglect) showed equal or higher levels of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and suicidality when compared with children who were physically or sexually abused.
The Implications: If you struggle with anxiety, low self-esteem, depression or suicidal feelings, do not under-estimate the power of Emotional Neglect or emotional abuse in your childhood. You don’t have to be hit or molested in childhood to cause significant adult distress. Please note that all of these experiences and effects can be significantly improved by facing them head on, especially if you seek help as needed.

To learn more about how to become more emotionally mindful and how to heal from Childhood Emotional Neglect, see Running on Empty, or visit EmotionalNeglect.com.

Nov 10

Overcoming Fear With Oxytocin

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By JANICE WOOD Associate News Editor

Researchers at the University of Bonn Hospital have demonstrated that the bonding hormone oxytocin inhibits the fear center in the brain, allowing fear to subside more easily.

The study, which appears in the journal Biological Psychiatry, could usher in a new era in the treatment of anxiety disorders, according to the researchers.

The researchers note that significant fear becomes deeply entrenched in memory. For example, following a car accident, a person might become conditioned to feel quite anxious just hearing tires screeching.

Gradually, that person learns that not every screeching tire means danger. This active overwriting of the memory is known as “extinction.”.

“In this process, however, the original contents of the memory are not erased, but instead merely overlaid with positive experiences,” said psychiatrist René Hurlemann, M.D., from the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy of the University of Bonn Hospital.

“If there are dangerous situations once again, the fear, which was believed to have been already overcome, frequently flares up once more.”

Extinction is often used in therapy for anxiety disorders. For example, part of the treatment for a person suffering from a spider phobia is to have them gradually and increasingly come face to face with spiders.

First the patient views photos of spiders and then looks at living examples until finally he holds a tarantula in his hand. This helps the patient realize they do not need to fear the trigger — or the spider, researchers explained.

“However, this can take a very long time, because this confrontation with the fearful situation frequently has to be experienced. In addition, there may be relapses because the original trace of fear is still anchored in the memory,” Hurlemann said.

This is one reason researchers began looking for a way to overwrite fearful memories in a faster and longer-lasting way.

That brought them to oxytocin.

It has been known for a long time that the hormone oxytocin does not just have a bonding effect in the mother-child relationship and in the case of sex partners, but that it is also considered to be anxiolytic, meaning it reduces anxiety.

“Oxytocin actually reinforces extinction: Under its influence, the expectation of recurrent fear subsequently abates to a greater extent than without this messenger,” reported Hurlemann.

For the study, the research team induced fear conditioning in 62 healthy male subjects. In a brain scanner, using video glasses, the men viewed photos. For 70 percent of the images, they received a very brief, unpleasant electrical shock to the hand via electrodes.

“In this way, certain images were associated with an experience of anxiety in the test subjects’ memory,” Hurlemann said.

The scientists used two methods to prove that the pairing of a particular photo and pain was actually anchored in the mens’ brains. The expectation of an electrical shock was demonstrated by increased cold sweat, which was measured via skin conductivity, while the brain scans proved that the fear regions in the brain were particularly active.

Half of the test subjects then received oxytocin via a nasal spray. The rest received a placebo.

Then the extinction phase began. The men were shown the same pictures, but they no longer received electrical shocks.

In the men under the influence of oxytocin, the amygdala, as the fear center in the brain, was overall far less active than in the control group, whereas fear-inhibiting regions were more stimulated, the researchers reported.

Over time, the messenger caused the fear to initially be somewhat greater but then it abated to a far greater extent than without oxytocin.

“Oxytocin initially reinforces the test subjects’ conscious impressions and thus the reaction to the electrical shock, yet after a few minutes, the anxiolytic effect prevails,” explained Hurlemann.

The scientists said they hope that patients with anxiety can be helped more quickly with the aid of oxytocin and that a relapse can be better prevented.

“In addition,” they said, “the hormone likely facilitates bonding between the therapist and the patient, leading to more successful treatment.”

“However, this must first be demonstrated by clinical studies,” he concluded.

Source: University of Bonn

Nov 8

Five Things You Should Not Do After A Heartbreak

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By CLAIRE DOROTIK-NANA, LMFT

Getting through any setback is tough. Yet sometimes the most challenging kind are the ones that involve the heart. After a breakup, we’re likely to struggle with feeling rejected, unloved, not good enough, and, just simply, not wanted. And while recovering from heartbreak isn’t supposed to be easy, we can also make it harder on ourselves than it should be — without even realizing it.

Here are five ways:

Ruminate About The Past. Ruminative thinking has a negative, self punishing quality, and often takes hold without really being cued. It’s as if the thought, “I’m not wanted,” just pops into your head at any given moment — and usually several times a day. And when you entertain this thought — collecting evidence for why this may be true — not only do you end up feeling worse, you also stay stuck in the past. Active, solution focused thinking, on the other hand, asks the question, what do I need to do right now to feel better? Asking this question begins the process of searching for solutions — as oppose to replaying the heartbreak.

Stop Doing What You Love. Being in a relationship with someone involves sharing activities, interests, and lives together. And often, in the process, we can forget ourselves, let go of things that are important to us, and trade the things we love for time with our partners. While this is usually a mutually beneficial process, after breaking up, the challenge is to remember what you — and just you — are passionate about, and get back to it. Because this is the authentic you that was there before the relationship began and these are the things that inspire, fulfill, and drive you — and they can also be the things that pull you through.

Isolate. It’s the easiest thing to do when we feel bed. We stick our heads in the sand, assuming that no one wants to be bothered with our problems, burdened by our sadness, our brought down by us. Yet when we isolate, we are more likely to ruminate about the past, stay stuck in our bad feelings, and return to negative habits. And that bowl of ice cream isn’t going to take the sting out of a broken heart — it might just temporarily distract you, and that’s before it makes you feel worse. After all, isolating — like ice cream — tends to be addictive.

Stop Exploring Other Options. Sometimes we become so involved with a person that when things come to an end we forget that there was life before. And we forget that there are other choices, options, and people that we are perfectly capable of going after. Especially when we invested a tremendous amount of time and energy in cultivating a life with someone, we tend to hang on — afraid of losing the investment — and ignore that we may also be missing the other opportunities right in front of us. And heartbreak is a time to let go of the illusion that is no longer there and immerse yourself in the reality of what is in front of you today — which is not the one who broke your heart.

Listen To Anyone Else’s Relationship Advice. While everyone else may have the best advice for you — it’s just that, their advice. It’s not coming from you, and it probably will not work for you either. While you may be anxious to do anything but feel the way you feel, going through a heartbreak is a time to search inward, ask yourself what you most need, what you most want, and what you need to do for you. The solutions are probably already inside of you — curated through years of life experiences and learning who you really are — and if you take enough time to find them, they will be the right ones for you.

A broken heart may be one of the toughest things we will ever go through — but it is also a moment of definition as you come to terms with what was, and move forward with what is. And while you may not have had choice in having your heart broken, you do have choice in just what you are going to do about it.

Nov 8

Compassion Can Drive Aggression

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By RICK NAUERT PHD Senior News Editor

Caring for others or feeling empathy is a trait believed to be unique to the human condition.

New research suggests that while empathy can inspire gentle emotions and encourage nurturing behaviors, the feeling is also linked to unprovoked aggression.

University of Buffalo researchers discovered that under certain circumstances, feelings of warmth, tenderness, and sympathy can in fact predict aggressive behaviors.

To explain this behavior, researchers investigated the role of neurohormones.

The answer is that it’s not about anger or feeling personally threatened, says Michael J. Poulin, a professor at the University of Buffalo (UB).

In the study, “Empathy, Target Distress, and Neurohormone Genes Interact to Predict Aggression for Others — Even Without Provocation,” Poulin and Anneke E.K. Buffone, a graduate student in the UB Department of Psychology, discovered two neurohormones appear to be among the mechanisms contributing to the counterintuitive response.

Neurohormones are chemicals that act as both hormones in the blood stream and neurotransmitters in the brain.

“Both oxytocin and vasopressin seem to serve a function leading to increased ‘approach behaviors,’” says Poulin.“People are motivated by social approach or getting closer to others.”

However, people approach one another for many reasons, including aggression, says Poulin. Thus, it stands to reason that if compassion is linked to the action of these hormones and these hormones are linked to social approach behaviors, then they may account for the link between compassion and aggression.

To prove the hypothesis, researchers conducted a two-part study consisting of a survey and an experiment.

“The results of both indicate that the feelings we broadly call empathic concern, or compassion, can predict aggression on behalf of those in need,” says Poulin.

The survey asked people to report on someone close to them and explain how that person was threatened by a third-party. Then, participants described their emotions and reaction to the situation.

“That wasn’t surprising,” says Poulin.

People aggressing on behalf of others has been widely researched, but Buffone and Poulin say “the idea that empathy can drive aggression absent of provocation or injustice is quite novel.”

In the experiment, participants provided a saliva sample in order to measure neurohormone levels, then heard a compassion-evoking story about someone they never met, a fictional participant who was supposedly in another room with a second fictional participant.

The actual participants were informed that the pair in the other room, strangers to each other, who were to take a math test, would be exposed to a painful but harmless stimulus (hot sauce) to measure the effects of physical pain on performance.

During the test, the real subject had a choice on how much of a painful stimulus they would provide to the third party who was competing with the person they had compassion toward.

“The results of both the survey and the experiment indicate that the feelings we have when other people are in need, what we broadly call empathic concern or compassion, can predict aggression on behalf of those in need,” says Poulin.

“In situations where we care about someone very much, as humans, we were motivated to benefit them, but if there is someone else in the way, we may do things to harm that third party.”

And that reaction is not because the third party has done anything wrong.

“Consider parents who in order to benefit their child in competition might do something destructive to another challenger,” Poulin says, “or soldiers who in battle think more of protecting a comrade than fighting against a broader national threat.”

“Our study adds that our response is because of love or compassion for those we care about,” he says.

The research has been published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

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