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Sep 30

It’s a pretty common consensus that love takes work. Yet, 80 percent of Americans under 30 believe in a soulmate, the idea that there is one perfect person out there just waiting to be found. Even the expression “falling in love” makes it sound like love is out of our hands — that it just happens to us. Achieving long-lasting love isn’t usually easy, even when we meet the right person. However, it’s also not an endlessly laborious undertaking that takes more in struggle than it offers in pleasure. So how do we know when to give up on a relationship, and how do we know when to fight for it?
First, we should accept the reality that relationships, while in and of themselves have the potential to be fairly sweet and simple, are often made terribly complicated. When any two people with two separate minds, two separate pasts and two separate sets of baggage come together, the future will not likely be just one smooth sail into the sunset. Falling in love can be the most joyful experience in a person’s life, yet we tend to underestimate the level of fear, anxiety, sadness and even anger it can stir up, a subject I addressed in my recent blog, “7 Reasons Most People are Afraid of Love.”
In a backwards twist, these fears tend to grow even stronger the closer we get to someone else. Without knowing it, we all have defenses in us, based on hurtful past experiences, that now operate to push love away. So, when it comes to deciding when to call it quits on a relationship we once valued, the first thing we have to ask ourselves is, how much are my own defenses at work? What am I bringing to the table that could be sabotaging closeness?
When approaching the actions you should take before you opt to break up, it’s important to adopt the attitude that the only person you can truly change is yourself. You control 100 percent of your half of the dynamic. You’re not a victim in your relationship; ultimately you can always choose to move on. Playing the blame gamewill only leave you feeling powerless and going in circles. Even if you eventually decide that the relationship is not worth keeping, as long as you’re in it, you can make a practice of being the best person you can be. You can grow your own ability to love, to be open and to be vulnerable — skills that will greatly benefit you in life and in future relationships. These are skills I will elaborate on in my upcoming eCourse, “Creating Your Ideal Relationship.” And what better place to practice these relationship skills than in a relationship? With that in mind, here are five things to try before saying goodbye to your relationship.
1. Reflect on what drew you together.
We don’t always choose partners for the right reasons. Sometimes, we pick people who challenge us, who push us to grow and expand our worlds. Other times, we choose people whose defenses and negative traits fit with ours. If we tend to be passive or indecisive, for example, we may choose someone who’s pushy and domineering. These qualities that first draw us in can become the reasons we wind up falling out.
Unfortunately, that sparkly attraction we feel at the beginning isn’t always a good sign. It could be a draw that’s based on our history — a negative dynamic from our past that we subconsciously seek to perpetuate. If we were invisible in our families, for instance, we may seek a familiar scenario with a partner who doesn’t show a lot of initial interest, who doesn’t make us a priority or show his or her affections. If we had a parent who wanted to “perfect us,” we may find partners who “help us,” but we may later come to resent them for always seeing us as the problem that needs to be fixed or perfected.
While sometimes our partner selection can be off, it isn’t always to blame for a relationship’s downfall. If the attraction and excitement we felt at the beginning starts to fade, it doesn’t necessarily mean we chose the wrong person. That is why it’s so important to consider our early feelings in the relationship. If we were truly in love with someone at one point, it is possible for us to regain those feelings. We should think about what drew us to our partner and the years of shared history, in which we enjoyed activities, affection and intimacy. We can then look for the real reasons things took a turn for the worst and make a change that brings us back to those initial feelings and has a lasting impact.
2. Try breaking your routine.
One of the main reasons a relationship fails is due to the couple having entered into a “Fantasy Bond.” A Fantasy Bond is a term developed by my father, psychologist Robert Firestone, to describe an illusion of connection many couples form at some point in their relationship. A Fantasy Bond differs from real love in that sincere acts of kindness are replaced by routine, and form is favored over substance in the relationship. Couples enter into this scenario without even realizing it, as a means to feel a false sense of security, an illusion of fusion or “oneness.”
A Fantasy Bond has a “deadening” effect on a relationship, as two partners start to control each other and limit each other’s worlds. They become a “we,” while losing a sense of each of their identities as two separate individuals. Real contact and the give and take of loving exchanges are diminished. Partners take each other for granted and lose their attraction to each other. They stop supporting the unique interests and personality traits that light the other person up and make him or her who he or she is. This, in turn, creates a stale environment in the relationship, where both parties feel resentment and a lack of excitement toward each other.
There are many characteristics of a Fantasy Bond that are valuable to explore, however it is important to remember that this type of bond is not a black or white state of being. A Fantasy Bond exists along a continuum. Most couples find themselves somewhere on the spectrum, having entered into a bond to varying degrees. We can start to break free from fantasy by changing our way of relating in our relationship. A friend of mine recently adopted this strategy by deciding to take more initiative in his relationship, rather than passively going along with whatever his partner decided. He did this for himself without expecting anything from his partner. To his surprise, however, this shift in himself yielded a very positive response from his girlfriend, who appreciated him expressing himself and having a definite point of view. She became sweeter and softer in her approach to him and stopped acting as controlling in the relationship.
3. Determine if your past is impacting your present.
Often partners form a caricature of each other. They start to focus their attention on any flaws their partner has, even magnifying them and trivializing their strengths. In essence, they start to distort their partner, sometimes becoming critical of traits they once admired or found amusing. We don’t typically realize it, but our motivation for doing this again sources from our past. On an unconscious level, we often seek to recreate negative dynamics from our history. We may even provoke our partners to treat us as we were treated in our early life. We may also use old, unhealthy coping strategies in our relationships that were adaptive to our life as a child, but which no longer serve us. For example, if a parent intruded on us, we may have become introverted or kept to ourselves but these characteristics may make it hard for us to open up in our adult relationships.
Too often, we run the risk of projecting onto our partner and seeing them through a faulty filter that reflects the reality of our past. We may even provoke our partner to treat us in ways that are familiar from our childhood. To help get a hold of this, we can think about times when our partner was provoked us, then ask ourselves what we did just before that. Were we nagging, complaining, icing them or acting coldly? If we recognize the behaviors we are engaging in to recreate old dynamics, we can start to change our ways of interacting in order to get back to a much cleaner, more authentic way of relating to our partner. We can start to actually engage in loving actions and enjoy each other once again.
4. Recognize your fears of intimacy.
People often react to being loved. This has to do with the fears I talked about earlier that surround getting close to someone. When we get scared, we tend to pull away from our partner. We pick fights, become more critical, even react angrily to compliments or acts of love. More than anything, we start to withhold the traits that our partner once loved about us. We may stop being as affectionate or adventurous. We may resist engaging in activities we mutually enjoyed with our partner.
Acting against being withholding means being willing to be vulnerable. It means engaging in shared activities and putting a stop to patterns that push our partner away. Have we stopped caring about our appearance? Have we started working nonstop, failing to make our partner a priority in our lives? Think about the actions you’ve stopped taking as well as the ones you could start taking to reignite the loving feelings in your partner. When your partner does express love toward you, be accepting. Return the loving look. Don’t deflect his or her compliments. Even though it may feel hard or uncomfortable, try to accept the love directed toward you without saying or doing something that might interrupt your partner’s feelings.
5. Unilaterally disarm.
All relationships have heated moments of tension. As these moments arise more and more, and as we start to see our partner more critically, we may begin to build a case against them. This is fairly easy to do, as no person is perfect, and we can always file their mistakes into certain flaw categories. When we build a case against our partner, we tend to be set off faster, jumping on them the moment they slip up or overreacting to them. In times of stress, fights tend to escalate. We say worse and worse things to each other, things we don’t even mean. This leaves us feeling pretty lousy about ourselves and our relationship.
Instead of focusing on our partner, a highly effective technique to adopt is unilateral disarmament. That means dropping the case, taking a breath and not reacting in a heated way, no matter what our partner does or says. Try to have an open and compassionate attitude toward them and to respond with understanding. Don’t focus on correcting them or telling them what they can do to change. Instead, we should focus on taking full responsibility for our part of the dynamic. We should choose being close over being right. This attitude will often melt your partner’s heart and, regardless, will leave you feeling much better in yourself.
Whatever future your relationship holds, you will be empowered by the fact that you have the ability to change yourself. When you change and are willing to be vulnerable, your partner often softens and responds. As you do this, you should have what Dr. Dan Siegel describes as a COAL attitude toward yourself, in which you are Curious, Open, Accepting and Loving. When you love yourself, you are better equipped to act with integrity in your relationships. You become a person you respect, and you give your relationship its best chance at survival.
Learn more about Dr. Lisa Firestone’s eCourse “Creating Your Ideal Relationship: How to Find and Achieve the Love You Say You Want.”

Sep 29

I Can Be Social. But It’s Exhausting.


By Gwendolyn Kansen
I have Asperger’s you guys. I do. But I can still carry on a conversation.

I do the same give-and-take as anyone else. I get jokes. I even make them.

But being alert and responsive to others is not my natural state.

Listening to people; saying things the way they need to hear them; doing all those fancy little things a guy in New York Magazine called “social Kabuki” is great. For me though, it’s great the way writing is great. You love nothing more than doing it. You’ve never felt so completely yourself.

But it’s exhausting.

A few years ago some of my friends thought I went out all the time. I was very well-liked at the bar I went to. Even by neurotypical standards.

But other people went out twice as much as me. And it didn’t take half as much out of them.

If you have Asperger’s, it’s sometimes worse if you have developed some social skills. You actually do get invitations to do things. It’s bittersweet when people say things like “hey, why don’t you come out more?”

Because at any second you know you could say something weird and you’d never be invited again.

We let opportunities slide while keenly remembering all the years we were never invited anywhere.

I’ve gotten just this close to having that elusive social life we all dream of. I can see it through glass.

But I can’t get there.

I wish I didn’t have Asperger’s. If I didn’t I’d talk to way more people. I’d do a lot more and I’d learn a lot more about life.

I could also be there more for the friends I do have. I could focus on them when they’re overwhelmed instead of spending half my time being a paranoid, self-obsessed creep.

I know I’m being overly negative right now. But I’m telling the truth. My friends on the spectrum say these same exact things. We don’t want to be upbeat about this shit all the time. We don’t want to praise ourselves for our “honesty” and “attention to detail” when we’re dwelling on some very real lost opportunities.

We want real talk.

Sep 27

Video Game Features Key to Cognitive Improvements


By Rick Nauert PhD

Emerging research suggests particular components or features of a video game appear to influence cognitive health.

Investigators explain that the specific content, dynamics, and mechanics of individual games determine their effects on the brain. As such, researchers believe action video games might have particularly positive benefits for improving cognition.

The paper appears in Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, a Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences (FABBS).

“The term video games refers to thousands of quite disparate types of experiences, anything from simple computerized card games to richly detailed and realistic fantasy worlds, from a purely solitary activity to an activity including hundreds of others, etc.,” say the researchers.

They explain that a useful analogy is comparing concept of video games to the term food. In this context, one would never ask, “’What is the effect of eating food on the body?’ Instead, it is understood that the effects of a given type of food depend on the composition of the food such as the number of calories; the percentage of protein, fat, and carbohydrates; the vitamin and mineral content; and so on.”

In the study, Drs. C. Shawn Green and Aaron R. Seitz analyzed the science on the cognitive effects of video games. They explain that action video games — games that feature quickly moving targets that come in and out of view, include large amounts of clutter, and that requires the user to make rapid, accurate decisions — have particularly positive cognitive impacts, even when compared to “brain games,” which are created specifically to improve cognitive function.

“Action video games have been linked to improving attention skills, brain processing, and cognitive functions including low-level vision through high-level cognitive abilities. Many other types of games do not produce an equivalent impact on perception and cognition,” the researchers commented. “Brain games typically embody few of the qualities of the commercial video games linked with cognitive improvement.”

Green and Seitz noted that while action games in particular have not been linked to problems with sustaining attention, research has shown that total amount of video game play predicts poorer attention in the classroom.

Furthermore, video games are known to impact not only cognitive function, but many other aspects of behavior — including social functions. This impact can be either positive or negative depending on the content of the games.

“Modern video games have evolved into sophisticated experiences that instantiate many principles known by psychologists, neuroscientists, and educators to be fundamental to altering behavior, producing learning, and promoting brain plasticity.

Video games, by their very nature, involve predominately active forms of learning (i.e., making responses and receiving immediate informative feedback), which is typically more effective than passive learning,” say the researchers.

Source: Sage Publications/EurekAlert

Sep 25

Too Little Vitamin D May Hasten Mental Decline


By Steven Reinberg, HealthDay News

Study found adults with low levels more likely to have dementia, and poor memory and thinking skills.
Mental function may decline faster in older adults with low levels of vitamin D, a new study suggests.

Among more than 380 people the researchers followed for an average of five years, those with dementia had the lowest levels of vitamin D.

“It is unclear what vitamin D might be doing,” said study author Joshua Miller, chair of the department of nutritional sciences at Rutgers University School of Environmental and Biological Sciences in New Brunswick, N.J.

“There is good evidence that vitamin D gets into all cells of the body, including the brain,” Miller said, so it’s possible that vitamin D protects the brain from developing the plaques and tangles that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Unfortunately, “there’s a good chance that most people over 75 in the United States are vitamin D-deficient,” he noted.

Miller cautioned that there’s no proof that taking vitamin D supplements will slow mental decline, as this study only showed an association between the two.

“All we can say is that supplements might be helpful to you,” he said. “And the downside of taking supplements is very small.”

The report was published online Sept. 14 in the journal JAMA Neurology.

The recommended daily intake of vitamin D for older adults is 600 to 800 IU, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Vitamin D, called the sunshine vitamin, is found in fortified foods, such as milk, orange juice, cereals and yogurt. Fish, egg yolks and liver also contain the vitamin.

Miller and his colleagues defined four levels of vitamin D in blood: deficiency as less than 12 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL); insufficient as 12 to less than 20 ng/mL; adequate as 20 to less than 50 ng/mL; and high as 50 ng/mL or more.

The researchers found that most people in the study had levels of vitamin D that were too low; 26 percent were vitamin D-deficient and 35 percent were vitamin D-insufficient. Blacks and Hispanics had the lowest vitamin D levels, compared with whites.

Blacks and other minorities have higher concentrations of melanin, which makes their skin darker, but this inhibits synthesis of vitamin D, the researchers explained.

Also, dietary intake of vitamin D comes mostly from dairy products, and minority groups tend to consume low amounts of dairy foods, the study authors added.

The average age of participants in the study was slightly over 75 years old. At the start of the trial, 17.5 percent of the participants had dementia, almost 33 percent had some problems with thinking and memory (mild cognitive impairment) and 49.5 percent were mentally normal.

Vitamin D levels were lower among those with dementia at 16 ng/mL, compared with those with mild cognitive impairment (20 ng/mL) and mentally normal participants (19.7 ng/mL), Miller’s team found.

During follow-up, the rates of decline in memory, thinking and problem-solving among those who were vitamin D-deficient and vitamin D-insufficient were larger than among those with adequate levels of vitamin D, the researchers found.

Levels of vitamin D were not significantly linked with decline in the memory of things and events stored in long-term memory or with the ability to perceive visual and spatial relationships, the study found.

Dr. Sam Gandy, director of the Center for Cognitive Health at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, said, “Vitamin D levels should be checked at least once in people 55 and older, and should be a part of any evaluation of mental impairment.”

Gandy, who was not involved with the study, doesn’t think that older people should be taking vitamin D supplements as a matter of course, however.

“I would stop short of recommending general use of supplements by everyone,” he said. “But certainly everyone should have their levels checked at least once in midlife and if there is any mental issue.”

Sep 19

Teaching Autistic Students: College


By Gwendolyn Kansen
College can be great or horrible for young people with autism. There’s a good chance we get to live on our own for the first time. We get to discover ourselves. And other people. 😉

On the other side of the coin, it’s the first time we really have to be responsible for ourselves. We have to be fully aware of others while figuring ourselves out at the same time. A lot of mental illnesses come out in this age group.

Oh yeah, and we have to figure out what we’re going to do for the rest of our lives.

This post is for administrators as much as teachers. Administrators are in charge of the campus, which can make or break autistic students.

First off, I recommend living at school. I loved it. I wouldn’t know a quarter of what I know about human nature if I hadn’t.

College students are pushed into a pressure cooker with thousands of other young people during the most energetic time in their lives. There’s flash. There’s drama. A lot of the most important lessons are learned about friendship, sex, love, and self-control. For someone with autism, this is the immersion method for learning a new language. CBT teaches us what to do. But being thrown in the middle of all that will teach us five times faster.

Now, if the student has temper problems, or if her parents are worried she’ll be easily taken advantage of, that’s a different story. In that case the student should live at home. There are discreet ways to encourage more troubled autistic students to make friends on campus. Like wellness groups. Or anxiety seminars. A lot of colleges have those.

Gamer events are another good place for autistic students to make friends. Even if they’re not gamers. The nerd community is more accepting of us. Contrary to popular belief though, most nerds are not autistic. They just like things that aren’t *cool.*

On the academic side, time management is likely to be a problem. It’s a good idea for students to write down which assignments to do on what day and stick to it. All that loose time is a great thing, especially for autistic people. We take longer to get things done.

But sometimes you think you have three days; you wait until two and a half are over; and the assignment isn’t finished.

If you’re teaching autistic students, it’s a good idea to try to space assignments out evenly if you can. That way they’ll know what to expect.

If we’re still undiagnosed, academic problems might start showing up now. A lot of us are smart so we’re good in school. But with tougher assignments and more competition, we might fall behind in class now. Especially if the workload is heavy.

I never told my professors I have Asperger’s. But I suspect they knew there was something wrong. They gave me a lot of leeway.

Since college is a more egalitarian environment, it’s appropriate to ask your student if they need extra allowances. You can ask point blank if they have a learning disability. You’re both adults now. Your student might be insulted, but it’s important to make sure she gets help. After all, college is expensive. If she fails your class she’ll have to pay to take it again.

Now for that last one: finding a career path.

The hardest part of college for many smart people is that they’re exposed to people who are smarter. They have to try harder. And no matter how hard they try, they may never be as talented as Kenneth across the room.

Reality sucks.

Sometimes it sucks even more for autistic people. If you’ve read some of my other posts, you’ll know I’ve been in college for a long time. I’m finishing up an art program in New York.

I’m good at what I do. They’ve told me I am. But several of my professors have pulled me aside and told me that this just isn’t the right field for me. Not because of my talent. Because of my personality.

Because I have autism.

I told one of them. After she asked point-blank in private if I had a problem. I didn’t tell the others. But the answer was still clear.

Some people just aren’t going to do what they want.

Your autistic student is old enough to understand this. By now, it should be painfully clear to her that not everybody is a sparkling unicorn. Not everybody lives happily ever after. Some autism literature wants everyone to believe that we can “do great things” because of our precious, unique little minds.

But it’s not like that. Success is not the reward for pain. Sometimes….there’s just pain.

I’m glad my professors told me the truth. Because now I get to rebuild myself.

I get to let go.

Becoming an adult means letting go of who you thought you could be. Who you thought would love you. The person you thought you’d become.

Autistic people will learn these things just like everyone else. Everyone has limitations.

Unfortunately, we just have more of them.

I bet it’s painful for you to teach students with so many difficulties. It would be for me. But the best teachers I ever had were in college. The ones I really remember. The ones who encouraged my strengths, pointed out my weaknesses, and gave me the best advice they had for becoming a better person. Adult to adult.

If it weren’t for them, I would have been less inclined to keep living my life with dignity. I would have wanted to give up and be a slovenly couch decoration like so many of us choose to become.

You can snap us out of that. That’s your job as an educator: to instill a love of learning. If we have that, the world is always interesting. There’s always a reason to keep going.

You can be exactly what we need.

By Traci Pedersen

After Violent Video Games, Study Finds Teens Eat and Cheat MoreIn a new study, teens who played violent video games ate more chocolate and were more likely to steal raffle tickets during a lab experiment than were teens who played nonviolent games.

These findings were strongest among teens who scored the highest on tests of moral disengagement — the ability to convince oneself that ethical standards don’t apply to in particular situations.

“When people play violent video games, they show less self-restraint. They eat more, they cheat more,” said Dr. Brad Bushman, co-author of the study and professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University. “It isn’t just about aggression, although that also increases when people play games like Grand Theft Auto.”

The study included 172 Italian high school students, ages 13 to 19. They played either a violent video game (Grand Theft Auto III or Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas) or a nonviolent game (Pinball 3D or MiniGolf 3D) for 35 minutes.

During the study, a bowl of chocolate M&M’s was placed next to the teens, who were told they could freely eat the candy, but were warned that eating a lot of candy in a short time was unhealthy. Interestingly, teens who played the violent games ate more than three times as much candy as did the other teens.

“They simply showed less restraint in their eating,” Bushman said.

After playing the game, the teens worked on a 10-item logic test in which they could win one raffle ticket for each question they answered correctly. The raffle tickets could then be redeemed for prizes.

After being told how many answers they got correct, the teens were asked to take the appropriate number of raffle tickets out of an envelope — without supervision. Unbeknownst to the players, the researchers were aware of how many tickets were in the envelope so they could later determine if a player took more than he or she had earned.

Results showed that teens who played violent games cheated more than eight times more than did those who played nonviolent games.

The players were also told that they were competing with an unseen “partner” in a game in which the winner got to blast the loser with a loud noise through their headphones. (There was actually no partner.) Teens who played the violent games chose to blast partners with louder noises that lasted longer than did teens who played the nonviolent games.

“We have consistently found in a number of studies that those who play violent games act more aggressively, and this is just more evidence,” Bushman said.

The participants also completed the Moral Disengagement Scale, a measure of how well individuals hold themselves to high moral standards in all situations. One sample question was “Compared to the illegal things people do, taking some things from a store without paying for them is not very serious.”

Among teens who played the violent video games, those who scored higher in moral disengagement were more likely to cheat, eat more chocolate, and act more aggressively. There were no such differences among those who played nonviolent games.

“Very few teens were unaffected by violent video games, but this study helps us address the question of who is most likely to be affected,” Bushman said. “Those who are most morally disengaged are likely to be the ones who show less self-restraint after playing.

“One of the major risk factors for antisocial behavior is simply being male,” he said. “But even girls were more likely to eat extra chocolate and to cheat and to act aggressively when they played Grand Theft Auto versus the mini golf or pinball game. They didn’t reach the level of the boys in the study, but their behavior did change.”

The study is published online in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Source: Ohio State University

Sep 16

An Overthinker’s Nightmare


By Sharon Martin

A few years ago I remodeled my kitchen. Having to make that many decisions is an overthinker’s nightmare. If you’ve ever remodeled, you know that it’s one decision after another — fixtures, appliances, countertops, paint. Do you even know how many models of faucets are made?

People who overthink feel like their brains won’t turn off. They are constantly questioning, second-guessing, and evaluating to the extent that they create analysis paralysis, or the inability to make decisions.

Overthinking is common among anxious perfectionists. It is obsessive thinking or ruminating. Sometimes you can’t even decide something simple like what you want for dinner. Instead you say “I don’t know” or “I don’t care” and inevitably annoy your partner or friends because you never seem to have an opinion.

It’s easier for overthinkers to let someone else decide. For example, I tend to order the same thing repeatedly when I go out to eat. It’s just easier than choosing something unknown.

Even after agonizing over choices, overthinkers tend to regret their decisions and second-guess themselves.
Overthinkers tend to:

analyze things to death
second-guess everything
catastrophize or expect the worst
have insomnia
hate making decisions
prefer someone else to decide for them
regret often
struggle with letting things go
take things personally
be perfectionists
criticize themselves a lot
never feel 100 percent certain
feel anxious
feel like they can’t turn their brains off
Overthinkers easily get caught up in the “what-ifs.” What if I make the wrong choice? What if I wear the wrong thing? What if my boss hates my idea? What if my boyfriend disagrees?

Below are some ways to get out of an overthinking rut:

Plan a time to think about it.
For example, you can schedule yourself worry time from 8:00 – 8:15. Whenever you notice you are worrying or overthinking, redirect and remind yourself that you can think about this issue at 8:00, but until then you are focusing on other things. This way you aren’t thinking about it all day and letting it interfere with your productivity.
Put a time limit on it.
Similar to above, don’t allow yourself endless time to decide or worry. Allow a reasonable amount of time and when it’s over, you can no longer think about it. It’s done.
Limit your choices.
I didn’t have to look at all 12,000 refrigerator models. And you don’t have to read the review of every single parenting book on Amazon before making a choice. Fewer choices make deciding easier.
Distract yourself.
Distraction is a very practical strategy that we all use. Sometimes you need to find something else to do or think about to divert your attention. Talking to a friend, watching a funny video, reading, or music can do the trick.
Firmly tell yourself to stop thinking about it.
Snapping a rubber band against your wrist serves the same purpose. It’s almost a wake-up call to startle yourself into thinking and acting differently.
Write it down.
Simply writing the worry or dilemma down can help clear your mind and clarify your options and priorities.
Let go of perfection.
Life isn’t perfect. Just focus on making a “good enough” decision. Most decisions are not life-altering. I knew that if I hated Serene Grey on my kitchen walls, I could repaint it.
Embrace mistakes.
Taking action and making decision means that sometimes they will be wrong or people may disagree. The alternative is never trying anything, never stating an opinion, never getting what you really want. That’s no way to live.
Stay in the present.
When your mind is wandering into “what-if land,” practice some mindful meditation or grounding to bring your focus back to the present.
Don’t let yourself get stuck in indecision. Life is too short. When you’re trying to change, practice is always key.

By Rick Nauert PhD

The Difference between Depression and Premenstrual Dysphoric DisorderA new study addresses premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), a severe mood disorder which affects five to seven percent of all women of reproductive age in the United States.

Unfortunately, the disorder is often misdiagnosed as major depression or other mood disorders.

In the study, PMDD is determined to be a biologically different form of premenstrual syndrome. Women with PMDD who have experienced depression may make up a subset.

The findings are important because they give physicians more reason to search for a more specific diagnosis and could possibly lead to more precise treatments. There currently are few good choices, said Susan Girdler, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine. Girdler led the study.

“PMDD is not garden-variety premenstrual symptoms. PMDD causes severe impairment in quality of life, equivalent to post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder and panic disorder, that continually cycles on a monthly basis. Some women spend half their lives suffering from this disorder,” said Girdler.

In a study published in the journal Biological Psychology, Girdler and her colleagues measured biological responses to stress and pain.

Previous studies demonstrated that women with chronic major depression have a heightened biological response to stress and release more stress hormones, such as cortisol.

Girdler and her group previously have shown that women with PMDD respond conversely, with blunted stress responses.

The current study is the first known head-to-head comparison of the two groups and confirmed earlier findings.

“We found the greatest weight of evidence that PMDD and major depression are really two distinct entities in terms of biological response to stress and with respect to pain sensitivity and pain mechanisms,” Girdler said.

But more important, Girdler said, was the finding that women with PMDD who also had experienced depression in the past looked different from PMDD women who had never been depressed. Only the PMDD women with prior depression had lower cortisol and greater sensitivity to pain compared to non-PMDD women with prior depression. These differences between PMDD and non-PMDD women were not seen in women who had no depression history.

“So while the study shows that PMDD is biologically different from major depression, a history of depression may have special relevance for women with PMDD with respect to stress hormones and pain response,” Girdler said.

Current treatments for PMDD are effective in only about half of women. But, Girdler says, gathering more biological clues about PMDD could expand the treatment options.

Source: University of North Carolina

Sep 14

Understanding Orthorexia


By Marianne Riley

“Ah, I can’t do lunch, but would you want to grab coffee later on?” This is something I would say often to my friends. My circle was growing smaller. I rarely saw friends or even family. My apartment was my temple. The holder of all things healthy.

I prepared all of my meals after returning from my trip to Whole Foods. It was Sunday, my meal prep day, where I would hover over a stove baking bland free-range chicken, grass-fed steaks, organic broccoli and sweet potatoes.

After cooking and carefully putting my food into plastic containers, I ate. I ate in solitude. Mealtime was very important to me. All I cared about was food, feeding myself, perfectly timing out when I would eat and what I would eat.

Upon finishing my meal, I reached for the medicine cabinet where I would throw back a variety of vitamins and minerals, which I believed, were healing a host of “problems” ranging from digestive issues to anxiety. “Success, I feel healthy,” I would say to myself.

I picked coconut sugar over Splenda, grass-fed butter over olive oil, grass-fed steaks over salads, and full-fat grass-fed yogurt over sugar-free yogurt. Calories were not my concern, health was. I didn’t get an inch close to sugar-free anything. I was terrified of anything processed or artificial. Terrified it would make me unhealthy. Healthy was all I cared for.

Food aside, I certainly was concerned with my body image as well. Sure, I would avoid extra calories but the main fear was ‘bad’ food. Food that would take away my perfect health and body. I was orthorexic.

Orthorexia is the term for a condition that includes symptoms of obsessive behavior in pursuit of a righteous and healthy diet. Orthorexia sufferers often display signs and symptoms of anxiety disorders that frequently co-occur with anorexia nervosa or other eating disorders. A person with orthorexia will be obsessed with defining and maintaining the perfect diet, rather than a thin weight. He or she will fixate on eating foods that give them a feeling of being pure and healthy. Their health typically defines them.

An orthorexic may avoid numerous foods, including those made with artificial colors, flavors or preservatives; anything considered “processed,” fat, sugar or salt; animal, dairy, or gluten. There are many overlaps between orthorexia and other eating disorders; however, there are a few symptoms that are distinctive to orthorexia. According to Timberline Knolls, a residential eating disorder treatment center, the following are signs of someone who may be suffering from orthorexia:

Obsessive concern over the relationship between food choices and health concerns such as asthma, digestive problems, low mood, anxiety or allergies.
Increasing avoidance of foods because of food allergies, without medical advice.
Noticeable increase in consumption of supplements, herbal remedies or probiotics.
Drastic reduction in opinions of acceptable food choices, such that the sufferer may eventually consume fewer than 10 foods.
Irrational concern over food preparation techniques, especially washing of food or sterilization of utensils.
While orthorexia is less well known than other eating disorders, it is just as serious and potentially fatal. My spell under orthorexia ended me up in the hospital eight times for attempted suicide. I was experiencing OCD, anxiety, and depression as a result of my eating disorder.

After a number of therapists, psychiatrists, nutritionists, and medications, I hit my knees. Crying on the floor in my living room after having a panic attack for not being able to go to the gym at the time I wanted to go, it hit me like a ton of bricks: I had to beat this thing. Do I want to spend hours thinking about food? Planning my workouts? Doing rituals and compulsions around food and exercise? Lose more friends? Be miserable? No. I don’t.

So, I embraced recovery and I am still on that journey. I work closely with a professional body image/orthorexic coach who is helping me take the actions needed to move forward. I chose not to work with a therapist at this time. After years of therapy, I decided to take a different route. I also knew myself very well. I knew exactly what I needed to challenge. I learned that I am better with action-oriented behaviors versus talk therapy.

Challenging my eating disorder behaviors was my goal. I set out to eat one food off of my “feared foods” list each week. I also made myself tweak my workout schedule each week. For instance, instead of working out five days, I would work out four days. I also made a challenge list that included things I never let myself do because the eating disorder was holding me back. I can’t tell you how helpful this has been.

I am still in recovery and very fresh to the whole experience. I am still working on my challenge lists. But I can tell you this has been a very eye-opening experience. I am feeling small moments of freedom every day. No matter how hard or uncomfortable it is to challenge a negative or unhelpful thought, I do it. The more you entertain your negative thoughts, the more they will hover.

While I am not currently working with a therapist, I do recommend seeing one. I also recommend working with your doctor and having a complete workup done to rule out any underlying medical conditions. Psychiatrists are incredibly beneficial as well, if you are looking to identify whether medications are going to be helpful for you during your recovery.

Initially, I also worked with a nutritionist weekly. She helped me to integrate “fear” foods back slowly and in a way I didn’t find scary.

Lastly, please confide in someone. It doesn’t have to be a parent; it can be a boyfriend or girlfriend, relative, or friend. Just make sure it is someone you can trust and feel comfortable talking to.

You can recover. Don’t let yourself live in this misery any longer. Embrace freedom.

Sep 13

Research says the best way to bring change into your life is by creating new routines and sticking to them until they become habits.

The way to make sure we cultivate the new behavior is to reward ourselves. With motivation, we repeat the action again and again until it becomes ingrained.

How you go about it is entirely up to you. But here are some helpful steps you can take along the way:

1. Seek the purpose in everything you do.
Purpose drives meaning. When you have a purpose and you believe it can make a beneficial change in the world, you’re motivated to make things happen.

2. Stop listening to your amygdala.
The amygdala, an almond-shaped piece in the middle of your brain, is in charge of keeping you safe. But sometimes it gets in the way of you taking bold steps and moving with confidence. The next time you feel afraid to do something, do it anyway–it’s just your amygdala doing its job.

3. Cultivate great relationships.
Relationships are often portrayed as sustaining themselves by magic, but in truth they require time and effort. Think of them as an investment that grows with constant deposits of patience, care, and respect.

4. Build your mental toughness.
How? Stop yourself anytime you catch yourself blaming others, taking everything so seriously, or giving in to distraction. Stop blaming the past or external factors for the choices you make.

5. Make yourself a good listener.
Effective communication is one of the keys to building resilience and maintaining balance in your life. It’s the foundation upon which we build our lives, the way we understand others and allow them to know and understand us. And listening is central to communication–arguably the most important skill we possess.

6. Help others.
One of the best antidotes to stress is to get out of your own thinking, and the best way to distract yourself is by helping someone else. You can’t worry about yourself when you’re busy caring for others.

7. Ask questions.
Curiosity is among the best skills you can build. Curiosity about people, in particular, enriches your business networking. Interact with others and draw them out. You’ll learn amazing things and gain a reputation as a great conversationalist.

8. Carve out some time alone.
It’s easier for some of us to achieve than others, but a certain amount of alone time makes for a happy and productive life. A major cause of unhappiness is a lack of private time. Seek out ways to give yourself a few moments of solitude.

9. Keep a gratitude journal.
Grateful thoughts help to keep pessimism and worry at bay. Numerous studies have linked gratitude to greater happiness, satisfaction with life, and optimism. It may even help you sleep better.

10. Take a chance.
Risk can be scary, but we’re more likely to regret the things we did not take a chance on than the things we did. Practice taking smart risks–that is, risks related to something that’s meaningful to you.

11. Learn something new.
It doesn’t matter what field or how simple or difficult. New learning recharges your mind and makes you feel more competent.

12. Perfect your workspace.
Your environment can have a big impact on your effectiveness and productivity. Experiment with making your workspace one that’s suited to the tasks you do and a place where you enjoy spending time.

Change your habits and change your life.

Sep 11

Benefits of Couples Therapy After Infidelity


Although an affair is one of the most painful betrayals of trust that anyone can experience, it does not always mean the end of a relationship. Frequently, both partners hope to save the relationship and stay together despite the loss of trust and underlying problems that may have contributed to the affair.

Couples therapy can be a valuable tool to help partners work on their relationship and to reestablish trust and intimacy. It can help partners who no longer communicate in positive ways to improve their ability to share both the positive parts of their lives as well as the challenges that they face both in and out of the relationship.

Sometimes those who have been cheated on may feel that their partners are the ones who need therapy. But while an affair may be a failure and a betrayal on the part of only one partner, preserving and strengthening a relationship after an affair is the responsibility of both partners.

It should go without saying that the partners who cheated need to take responsibility for their actions. But those who have been cheated on need to be comfortable allowing their partners to identify the grievances and problems that they believe contributed to the affair. They also need to be willing to jointly address these problems in order to ensure that both partners are happier and more secure in the relationship in the future.

Success Doesn’t Always Mean Staying Together

Sometimes, success from couples therapy after an affair does not have to mean that a couple stays together. Even after therapy, the cheated on partner may come to realize that he cannot fully trust his partner again. Therapy can also help couples to realize that the underlying problems that contributed to the affair are too serious for them to be willing or able to work through.

Couples can also come to these realizations without therapy, of course, but the process of professional counseling can bring about these realizations more quickly and definitively. Counseling can help to ensure that each partner’s grievances and concerns are heard and can help the couple to create clear goals and expectations for moving forward. If the relationship still fails to recover after therapy, then couples can feel more confident calling it quits.

Another benefit that can be taken from counseling even if couples break up is a better understanding of what leads to relationship struggles and infidelity. Individuals can then take greater insight into what it takes to keep relationships going strong, as well as what can lead them to fall apart, into their future romantic partnerships.

Recognizing When Therapy Isn’t Working

Therapy is a productive process for most couples regardless of the ultimate outcome. However, there are times when therapy does not work out, and there are even times when the straying partner may be using therapy as a way to convince her partner that she intends to change when she doesn’t really mean to do so.

One warning sign that your cheating partner is not prepared to take therapy seriously is that you are doing all the legwork to make it happen. You are the one who found the therapist, you are the one who found a time that worked and you are the one who called for the appointment.

Another major warning sign is that your partner is using therapy sessions to lie or manipulate you further. If you start to feel that your partner is twisting the truth and using your sessions to make you feel guilty and to place a great deal of the blame on you, it may be time to cut your losses.

Sep 10

Hidden Bipolar Disorder in Major Depression


By Jessica Ward Jones, MD, MPH

According to Dr. Kathleen R. Merikangas from the National Institute of Mental Health and her colleagues, “Nearly 40 percent of people with a history of major depressive disorder report periods of hypomania that just miss the threshold for a bipolar diagnosis.”

Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depression, is a mental disorder characterized by alternating “highs” (what clinicians call mania) and “lows” (depression). Bipolar disorder affects about 2.6 percent of the U.S. population, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. People with bipolar disorder are generally diagnosed with one of several types: bipolar I, bipolar II, or cyclothymia. Bipolar I disorder patients have more severe mood swings, with periods of mania alternating with depression. Bipolar II patients experience alternating periods of depression and hypomania (a milder version of mania). People with cyclothymia have mood swings as well, but not severe enough to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Clinicians and researchers are becoming aware that there is a spectrum from major depression to pure mania.

To assess how often people with depression have subtle, undiagnosed bipolar symptoms, Merikangas and her team examined 9,282 people people surveyed in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R).

“The NCS-R is a nationally representative face-to-face household survey of the U.S. population conducted between February 2001 and April 2003. Lifetime history of mood disorders, symptoms, and clinical indicators of severity were collected using version 3.0 of the World Health Organization’s Composite International Diagnostic Interview,” writes Merikangas.

The team found that of the 9,282 people in the survey, 5.4 percent met criteria for major depressive disorder alone over the prior 12 months and 10.2 percent had a history of depression.

2.2 percent had major depression with subthreshold hypomania over the prior 12 months, and 6.7 percent had a lifetime history of depression with subthreshold hypomania.

Bipolar I disorder affected 0.3 percent of the respondents over the prior 12 months and 0.7 percent over their lifetime; bipolar II affected 0.8 percent, and cyclothymia 1.6 percent, respectively.

Added together, the bipolar spectrum conditions were nearly as common as major depression alone.

Almost 40 percent of people with a history of depression described periods with hypomanic symptoms that were just below the threshold for a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. These individuals tended to be younger when symptoms began, have more episodes of depression, have more anxiety, substance abuse, behavioral problems, and higher rates of suicide than those without subtle hypomanic symptoms. However, the severity of their illness was lower than those diagnosed with bipolar II.

In addition, those with a history of subthreshold hypomania had a family history of mania at the same rate as those diagnosed with mania themselves.

Those with subthreshold hypomanic symptoms and those with depression alone received treatment at the same rates.

Although subthreshold mania is not a diagnosis in the current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Diseases (DSM-5), a revision is due in 2013. Merikangas suggests that adding subthreshold bipolarity could be beneficial. “These findings demonstrate heterogeneity in major depressive disorder and support the validity of inclusion of subthreshold mania in the diagnostic classification. The broadening of criteria for bipolar disorder would have important implications for research and clinical practice,” write the authors.

“Such an expansion of the bipolar concept would likely lead to important changes in the treatment of patients who are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed despite elevated morbidity and mortality rates.”

These results are important not only for researchers, but for clinicians. In evaluating patients with major depression, clinicians can be aware of the possibility of subthreshold hypomania, and the tendency for these patients to have a poorer outcome than those with depression alone. Merikangas’s group suggests that enquiring about family history of mania can be especially helpful in evaluating this group. Furthermore, some of these patients may benefit from the addition of a mood stabilizer in addition to antidepressant therapy.

Dr. Merikangas’s results can be found in the August online edition of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Source: American Journal of Psychiatry

By Janice Wood

The pressure to be constantly available and respond 24/7 on social media can cause depression, anxiety, and reduce sleep quality for teenagers, according to a new study.

For the study, presented at a British Psychological Society conference, researchers Dr. Heather Cleland Woods and Holly Scott of the University of Glasgow provided questionnaires to 467 teenagers regarding their social media use overall, as well as at night time.

A further set of tests measured sleep quality, self-esteem, anxiety, and depression.

The researchers also measured the teens’ emotional investment in social media, which relates to the pressure felt to be available 24/7 and the anxiety around, for example, not responding immediately to texts or posts, they explained.

“Adolescence can be a period of increased vulnerability for the onset of depression and anxiety, and poor sleep quality may contribute to this,” Cleland Woods said. “It is important that we understand how social media use relates to these. Evidence is increasingly supporting a link between social media use and wellbeing, particularly during adolescence, but the causes of this are unclear.”

An analysis of the collected data showed that overall and night-time specific social media use, along with emotional investment, were related to poorer sleep quality and lower self-esteem, coupled with higher anxiety and depression levels.

“While overall social media use impacts on sleep quality, those who log on at night appear to be particularly affected,” Cleland Woods said.

“This may be mostly true of individuals who are highly emotionally invested. This means we have to think about how our kids use social media, in relation to time for switching off.”

Source: The British Psychological Society

Sep 8

Talking with Children about Infidelity


By Jenna Cyprus
The recent Ashley Madison hack exposed 32 million users for their involvement with the now-famous adultery-inspired dating site. It seems like a relevant time to discuss an issue that’s frequently shoved under the rug or ignored altogether. That issue involves children and marital infidelity. While spouses are obviously greatly affected by romantic affairs, psychologists argue that children may take the brunt of the blow.

If you’ve had an extramarital affair — or your spouse has cheated on you — there are obviously personal issues to sort through. In most cases, though, couples try to keep things under wraps and avoid telling friends and family members. However, what do you do with your own children? Is your affair a secret to them and should you keep it that way? Or should you come clean and tell them what happened?

Impact on Children

Making generalizations about how individual children will respond to an unfaithful relationship between parents is challenging. However, according to a survey of more than 800 children who have once been caught in the crossfire, the following emotions are common:

Loss of trust.
Roughly 75 percent of respondents say they felt betrayed by the parent who cheated. Furthermore, 70.5 percent say their ability to trust others was affected. Around 83 percent of respondents now feel like “people regularly lie.”
Confusion is a long-term effect of parental infidelity. If the infidelity occurs when a child is young, they may grow up to believe marriage is an illusion of love — or a sham. If the parents stay married during an affair, the child may become deeply confused about the meaning of both love and marriage.
Anger is a common emotion for adolescents. This anger typically is displayed toward the betraying parent and may be accompanied by violence or sadness. If not dealt with, this anger can lead to long-term resentment.
Young children often feel shame. If the affair is a secret, they feel the weight of hiding something from the world. If the affair is public, they may feel embarrassed and different.
It’s possible that children are more likely to be unfaithful in their own relationships if they know their parents were, too. While 86.7 percent of respondents say they believe in monogamy — and 96 percent don’t believe cheating is morally right — 44.1 percent say they’ve been unfaithful themselves.
To Tell or Not to Tell?

With so much on the line, many parents are unsure of what to do. On the one hand they want to be as honest as possible with their children, but on the other they don’t want to cause long-term issues such as a lack of trust, confusion, anger, shame, and infidelity. What are you supposed to do?

According to Rick Reynolds, the founder of a website dedicated to helping couples overcome infidelity, much depends on the timing of the situation and how much knowledge children have regarding the affair. “If the infidelity is a current event and the children don’t know about it, then absolutely do not discuss it with them,” says Reynolds. “Children don’t need to be involved in their parents’ marriage.”

If young children suspect something is wrong in the marriage, you should confront the issue with as few details as possible. You may want to say something like, “I didn’t treat your mother (or father) the way I promised her I would, but I’ve apologized and it won’t happen again.”

“If they are under 10, don’t lie,” Reynolds says. That means you must be truthful when asked a direct question. Otherwise, the consequences of lying may be more damaging than exposing the infidelity. However, that still doesn’t mean you have to tell them everything. You should avoid giving details and only discuss basics. “If there was a pattern of behavior, tell them about the pattern, not how many times sexual contact occurred,” Reynolds advises. “Details, such as names, aren’t important.”

In the end, the most important thing you can do is protect your children. While it may be difficult to cooperate with your spouse in the aftermath of an affair, it’s important that both parents coordinate their efforts and take a consistent parenting approach. Nothing is more disastrous than two parents playing a blame game and putting down each other. Not only does this hurt the child’s view of marriage, but it can drudge up additional resentment.

The reality is that you can’t give a perfect response to an imperfect situation. According to psychologist Kate Scharff, “It’s inevitable. At some point your child will stump you with a loaded question to which you have no idea how to respond without lying or revealing the too-painful truth.” It’s okay to tell your child you need time to gather your thoughts. There’s too much on the line to make rash decisions.

Sep 7

By Christine Schoenwald for

Parents, are you listening?

The way parents should discipline their children is a very polarizing topic. Some people think parents should always speak positively to their children, while others advocate firm discipline.

It’s difficult to know which way to go when your toddler has thrown their plate of chicken fingers onto the ground and is scream-whining at the top of their lungs.

There’s No Such Thing As Parenting the “Right” Way

An article on Medical Daily talks about a new study that may have the answer. While positive parenting tactics work well in many cases, time-outs and other punishments are more effective over time for children who have become defiant or violent.

“By investigating how the effectiveness of disciplinary responses vary by the type of noncompliance in toddlers, this study showed how to reconcile the contradictory recommendations of positive parenting and behavioral parent training with each other,” wrote Dr. Robert Larzelere, a professor at Oklahoma State University, and Sada Knowles, a doctoral student in the study.

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A voluntary sample of 102 mothers provided detail descriptions of 5 discipline episodes including hitting, whining, defiance, or just not listening.

After analyzing the mothers’ responses, the researchers discovered that the most effective disciplining tactic depended in part on a child’s behavior, and also whether the behavior was short-term versus long-term:

These were the top 3 most successful disciplining tactics:

Compromise. The winner of the most effective way to discipline a child was offering compromises, and was found to work no matter how badly the child was misbehaving.
Reasoning. This works best in the case of slightly annoying behaviors such as whining, but weren’t effective with defiant children or children that hit.
Time-outs and taking something away. These worked best when stronger punishments were needed.
4 Styles of Parenting and How They’re Affecting Your Family

However, if mothers used compromise as their go-to punishment when dealing with a defiant or violent child, they’d encounter more bad behavior, not less. Reasoning was the most effective way to discipline a child over a longer time span with the same types of children.

Strong punishments (such as time-outs) cut down on the bad behavior in the most oppositional kids, but only if used less than 16 percent of the time.

Remember: there are no bad kids, just bad behavior. And as long as you’re consistent with your punishment, actually try to communicate with your child on their level, and are aware of whether a punishment strategy is working or not, you’ll have a lot more success when handing out punishments.

Sep 6

6 Excuses People Make to Keep Drinking


By David Sack, M.D.

For most, drinking is something that is done on occasion, in moderation, and forgotten about in the interim. For others, because of a variety of factors that can include genetics, biology and environment, alcohol becomes more than an accompaniment to life; it becomes the main event.

Facing that reality, however, is tough, especially when the natural reaction when drinking first begins to spin out of control is to stack up all the reasons why cutting back or perhaps even eliminating alcohol altogether isn’t an option.

Those of us who work in addiction treatment hear these reasons often, and much of the process of healing is helping the person recognize them for what they are: excuses. Here are a few of the most common:

I don’t really have a problem but if I stop or cut down, people will think I do.
Stigma around addiction remains strong, and that can make coming to terms with the possibility that you have a drinking problem doubly disturbing. But here’s the reality: Those around you are probably more aware of your drinking than you realize, and letting them know you are taking a step back from alcohol is more likely to be met with relief than judgment — at least from those who truly have your best interests at heart.
Rather than getting too caught up in what people think or trying to convince yourself that you don’t drink any more than anyone else, allow yourself to take a personal journey to determine if you are one of the people who can moderate or not. If you can set limits and stick with them, great. If not, it’s time to reach out for help.

My social life will evaporate if I’m not drinking.
No one will invite me to a party. Everyone will feel awkward around me. I’ll be the Debbie Downer in the corner just saying no. We hear such phrases often, but here’s the truth: You set the tone. If you think it’s a big deal, it will be. If you don’t, it won’t. It may take a little work to overcome the unease that so many feel in social situations without a few drinks under their belt, but it will pay off much more to work on any anxiety issues you have than to work on how many shots you can down.
If you do discover your friends really don’t want you around unless you are matching them drink for drink, it’s an indication of a couple of things:

They’re not really your friends, they’re your drinking buddies, and it’s likely they have problems of their own that they don’t want to face.
You are better off without them.
I only drink wine, and that’s healthy.
It’s important to keep this in perspective. Several studies suggest that alcohol — red wine in particular — may benefit the heart and improve cholesterol levels. Other research, however, has challenged these findings. A recent study out of Sweden, for example, noted that it may well be that only people with a certain genetic profile see any improvement. One thing is certain: All of the studies that point to health benefits are talking about alcohol in very moderate amounts. In fact, U.S. health agencies recommend no more than two drinks a day for men and one for women.
If you really want to boost your health, there are many things you can do with much more power to prompt improvement than drink — most notably, exercise.

If I stop, I’ll never have fun again.
For many, especially the young, alcohol and good times seem synonymous, and a life without drinking seems flat and boring. But what we see again and again is that with continued sobriety comes a growing realization that you can still connect with friends, still laugh, still dance, still flirt, still enjoy yourself. In short, all you’ve lost by limiting or ending your drinking is what’s not fun: waking up feeling sick, wondering what you said and did, and dealing with the sometimes serious consequences.
Most also come to see that not everyone turns to alcohol to try to inject some fun in their lives. They’ve just been surrounding themselves with those who do.

I need it for stress relief.
We all know that stress can do terrible things to your physical and emotional health. So how can something that seems to take the edge off be bad? The issue is, it’s far too easy for one drink to become two or three or more, and that can prompt more problems that you’re solving. Research also shows that if having a drink normally mellows you out, it can have the opposite effect when you’re stressed. That can lead you to drink more as you chase the feeling you’ve come to expect. Stress and alcohol then feed off each other.
Pay attention when you find yourself saying, “I need a drink,” and if stress is becoming an unmanageable part of your life, reach out for help from a mental health professional, not a bottle.

I would miss it too much.
Those considering giving up alcohol often assume that even if they are successful, they’ve doomed themselves to a life of feeling sorry for themselves as they long for a drink. Talk to any of the 23 million people in successful addiction recovery and you’re likely to hear a very different story. Far from pining for their past life as a drinker, most come to view giving up alcohol as not much of a sacrifice when the payoff is better health, better relationships with those who are important to them, and the ability to live life to its fullest. Indeed, far from feeling sorry for themselves, they come to experience a much different sensation — gratitude.
David Sack, MD, is a psychiatrist, addiction blogger and CMO of Elements Behavioral Health, a nationwide network of addiction treatment programs that includes The Sundance Center alcohol rehab in Arizona and Clarity Way alcohol treatment center in Pennsylvania.

Sep 4

Lisa van de Geyn
As morning recess ends at Bracebridge Public School, a kindergarten to grade eight school in Ontario’s cottage country, the grade fours and fives of room 128 shuffle upstairs to their class, everyone talking in outdoor voices. Most are slow to settle. Back in their homeroom, a boy in a black-and-white hoodie stops at the aptly named Mindfulness Corner set up beside the coat rack.

The spot, outfitted with a table, gives students a place to go if they need a minute to calm down. A poster encourages kids to “Just be in the moment” and a Post-it reads “Breathe and smile.” The boy leans over the table and, with his hands on his tummy, takes three deep breaths before quietly completing a finger maze.

Laura Dursley, the school’s new vice-principal, has invited me to sit in on her weekly 11:10 a.m. mindfulness lesson with this class. Alongside learning reading comprehension, mastering decimals and studying the medieval period, these students are getting an education in emotions.

Bracebridge PS is one of dozens in the Trillium Lakelands District School Board that are integrating mindfulness in the curriculum as a tool to decrease student anxiety and stress and to increase concentration, attention span, self-regulation, compassion and self-esteem.

Mindfulness is a centuries-old concept rooted in meditation. It was widely introduced in the late-1970s by Jon Kabat-Zinn, an American doctor who developed mindfulness classes for patients dealing with all sorts of physical and mental ailments, and it has become increasingly popular over the past 20 years. It’s all about paying attention to your breathing and focusing on what’s happening in the moment in a non-judgmental way—which is easier said than done.

Doctors prescribe it to patients suffering from everything from cancer and migraines to anxiety, depression and adult ADHD, and major corporations have bought in, too (Google offers regular sessions to employees). It’s now creeping into elementary school classrooms in the United States and Canada, particularly in BC and Ontario.

Regulating emotions

Nine- and 10-year-olds often have a tough time settling after transitions, which makes Dursley’s post-morning-recess mindfulness lesson perfectly timed to focus and calm them for the rest of the day. Dursley instructs the students to take a seat around her, and then she pulls a singing bowl—a standing bell used in meditation, relaxation and music—out of her prop basket and asks the class what they’re to do when they hear the chime.

“We close our eyes and when we don’t hear it anymore we open them,” says one girl. “We think about our breathing,” another replies. When Dursley strikes the bowl, the kids close their eyes almost en masse. She instructs the quiet group to feel the air rush in and out through their nose and to notice the rise and fall of their belly with each inhale and exhale.

When the ringing stops everyone’s eyes open. “How was that?” she asks. A student shares that his mind had wandered away from his breathing. “Our minds are busy places, and even busier when we get upset or frustrated,” Dursely says, nodding reassuringly.

“Do you know the word ‘anchor’? Remember that your breath is like an anchor that keeps you in the moment,” she says as she pulls out a two-litre pop bottle filled with glitter in pink water. “The sparkles are what your minds look like when there’s lots going on in your head or when you’re angry,” she says, shaking the bottle. “When you focus on your breathing instead of reacting, you’ll see that the sparkles sink and the water becomes calmer and clear. This is what our minds look like when we concentrate on our breathing. When we’re calm it helps us make clear, wise decisions.”

For the next half-hour, the students practise breathing exercises. They end the session with Dursley asking which mindfulness activity they’ve most enjoyed. Their answers are pretty telling. “I could feel my breath more and calmed down when I looked at the sparkles in the bottle,” says one girl. A boy responds: “When I come back from recess I relax when I hear the singing bowl.”

Promising mindfulness research

Many educators believe it’s about time mindfulness has made its way into the classroom. If the Toronto District School Board’s recent survey on student mental health is any indication, it’s long overdue.

According to the board’s 2011–12 Student & Parent Census, released in June 2013, almost a third of the grade seven and eight students surveyed said they are concerned about relationship issues such as making friends and fitting in; nearly half worry about family matters all the time or often; the majority have anxiety about schoolwork all the time or often; 59 percent worry about their future; and 11 percent feel unable to overcome difficulties all the time or often.

Introducing mindfulness practice in schools has been the source of some controversy. Some parents and educators have questioned whether it’s too close to its Buddhist roots to be appropriate in secular schools, and others question whether it’s the best use of classroom time. But the evidence for its emotional and behavioural benefits is mounting.

Early research suggests mindfulness can help alleviate student anxiety and improve learning. A 2009 study published in Advances in School Mental Health Promotion found students learning about mindfulness reported being more relaxed and calm following their training.

Another study, out of the University of California, Los Angeles, found that kids in grades two and three who learned mindfulness techniques for an hour a week for eight weeks could better regulate their behaviour and showed improvement in executive functions, such as paying attention, making decisions and focusing without getting distracted.

One of the big players in mindfulness education is MindUP, a program founded by actress Goldie Hawn and developed with a team of neuroscientists, cognitive psychologists and educators. MindUP offers in-school training for educators as well as resource guides for pre-kindergarten to grade eight. University of British Columbia researchers found the program had a positive effect on students’ emotional control, academics, empathy, stress regulation and attentiveness.

Seeing real-life benefits

Parents and educators alike are seeing the positive impact of mindfulness lessons.

Sandra Northmore, whose daughter, Morgan, is in grade seven at Bracebridge PS, was introduced to mindfulness 10 years ago while dealing her mother’s cancer diagnosis. She didn’t know her daughter was learning the practice in school until they were renovating their home in 2012. “It was a very stressful time. Morgan sat my husband and I down and asked us to close our eyes and she walked us through a breathing meditation. It was a huge surprise and created calm for the whole family,” she remembers.

After a few years practising mindfulness at school, it’s become Morgan’s default for healthfully dealing with stress outside school, too. “When she’s busy, she centres herself by closing her eyes and taking deep breaths.”

What’s more, says Northmore, mindfulness education has far-reaching benefits. “This is a life skill that can support their years of education, their home life and their future as an adult. It can create a more thoughtful community at school, reducing unkind behaviours and enhancing a positive learning experience.”

For Morgan, who is two years away from the pressures of high school, the lessons have been invaluable. “School can be demanding, and it creates calm and balance to better get through the day,” she says.

Educators at Bracebridge PS are seeing positive results, says Dursley. There’s less bullying and conflict in class, and when there is, students are not as quick to lash out in mean-spirited ways. Students are more thoughtful and empathetic and can better articulate and regulate their emotions. Overall, there’s a happier atmosphere in the hallways and on the playground.

The exercises the school has implemented—lessons, classroom mindfulness corners and a mindful moment during morning announcements that involves standing in mountain pose as chimes ring—is one reason for a greater sense of compassion in the school. “The kids are now better able to remember strategies they can use to keep calm when they are anxious, angry or upset,” she says.

Mindfulness from day one

At W.T. Townshend Public School in Kitchener, Ont., kindergarten teacher Jennifer Evans is also using mindfulness tools in her classroom. “We have found that more and more elementary students are coming to school with some form of anxiety, and this seemed like a way we could help them control that worrying,” she says.

As a complement to a school-wide mindful moment each morning, Evans uses a “calm down” beanbag chair, squishy balls, deep breaths and books—such as Peaceful Piggy Meditation and Mindful Monkey, Happy Panda—with her students. “Some of the children will go to the beanbag chair to calm their bodies and refocus their energies without us even prompting them,” she says.

Health and wellness teacher Karen Snider, who spearheaded the practice at W.T. Townshend, tells her students—from kindergarten to grade six—that mindfulness lets us notice how we’re feeling, which can help us calm down when “big emotions” occur. “It’s an exercise for our brain. Like people lift weights to get stronger, we can strengthen our brain by taking time each day to practise mindfulness,” she says.

Snider uses the MindUP curriculum, and lessons from the Inner Kids and Mindful Schools programs. The response from colleagues has been so positive that she’s running lunch-and-learn sessions for teachers to work on their practice. “They say it starts the day on a calmer note and lets the kids give themselves some quiet grounding breaths to ease into class,” she says. “We’ve also had supportive feedback from parents—many have expressed gratitude for offering this kind of social and emotional learning.”

Mom Stacey Arnold has seen big changes in her son, Blake, 7, and daughter, Paige, 4, who both attend W.T. Townshend. Paige, who’s in JK, is already well-versed in the techniques. “She often describes things as green (good) or red (bad) choices and discusses how each affects others. For example, she’ll say to her brother, ‘Blake, please stop pushing me. That is a red choice and it hurts me. Make a green choice and say you’re sorry,’” Arnold says. “Before mindfulness, she would just push him back and it would turn into a fight between them.”

Snider’s passion for mindfulness has made it a significant part of the health curriculum at the school. “The idea of teaching kids a practice that can help them know themselves better, be more resilient and learn how to recognize their emotions was something the entire staff wanted to bring into the classroom,” she says. “And what better place to learn it and turn it into habit than in elementary school? We can give a generation of kids the skill set they need to help them deal with all that life throws at them.”

A version of this article was featured in our January 2015 issue, with the headline “Mind over math?,” p.43.

Sep 2

Selective Mutism in School: Tips for Teachers


Eileen Bailey from Health Guide

Selective mutism is an anxiety disorder where children are unable to speak in social situations. These children can speak at home and in situations where they feel relaxed. When placed in a social situation, such as school, children with selective mutism find it impossible to speak out loud. The following are ways teachers can help.

Meet with the child and parent before school starts, if possible. This is a good time for the child to become familiar with the classroom and you. Don’t expect the student to talk, this gives you a chance to meet the both the child and parent in a low pressure situation.

Look for information on selective mutism. You might start by asking the parent for information and resources to help you learn more about this condition. The book, The Silence Within, by Gail Kervatt, is a practical and informative book for working with children with selective mutism.

Treat it as an anxiety disorder, not defiance. When a child refuses to speak or answer your questions, you might see it as defiance. But children with selective mutism have an anxiety disorder. They are so filled with fear that they are unable to speak.

Ask the student if he or she would like to come in to the classroom early to help you get ready for the day. This gives you one-on-one time with the student, even if he or she isn’t ready to talk, it allows you to start to develop a relationship.

Let the child know that you are not going to force her to speak but that you are there to help. Trying to force the child to speak or punishing the child for not speaking only adds to the anxiety levels, making the child even more uncomfortable.

Create alternate ways of communicating. Some teachers find it helpful to provide the student with communication cards. These can help with basic communication, for example, cards for yes and no. Another card can be a bathroom pass that the student needs to hand you before leaving the room.

Pay attention to whether the student feels comfortable with any other students. You might see her whispering to another student during recess or gravitating to someone. Try to seat the other student close by and alert the parent so they can arrange time outside school for the children to get together.

Talk to the class, when the student is not present, about “shyness” and give them ways to help, such as inu in a safe environment. Don’t expect the child to talk, but ask about toys, books, etc and give the child a chance to interact with you.

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