Psychology Around the Net: July 21, 2018

Whether you read this with your Saturday morning coffee or while winding down after a busy weekend, you definitely want to make some time to catch up on the latest in this week’s mental health news!

This week’s Psychology Around the Net takes a look at the so-called “narcissism epidemic” of Western culture, whether or not “scream therapy” is a useful tool for treating anxiety, how poverty affects the mental health of menstruating women, and more.

How the West Became a Self-Obsessed Culture: Many blame smartphones and social media as the self-indulgent tools that have fostered a so-called “narcissism epidemic,” but according to British author and journalist Will Storr and his new book Selfie: How We Became So Self-Obsessed and What It’s Doing to Us, Western culture has always been self-obsessed; we’ve just spent the years building up a culture that helps overstate our own successes and failures.

Police Killings Tied to Worse Mental Health for African-Americans: A new U.S. study suggests that the police killings of unarmed black people are associated with worse mental health for African-Americans throughout the United States, even if they have no direct connection to the killings or deaths.

Millions Are Battling Mental Illness — These Entrepreneurs Are Trying to Tackle it Via Technology: Two entrepreneurs are using technology to help the millions of people who manage mental health problems every day. Alison Darcy has founded Woebot, a chatbot and app that utilizes the principles of cognitive behavioral therapy, and April Koh has cofounded Spring Health, which sells digital mental health benefits to employers. And these women aren’t going unnoticed — both are featured in Business Insider‘s list of 30 health-tech leaders under 40 to keep your eye on.

Beef Jerky and Other Processed Meats Associated With Manic Episodes: Could nitrates — the chemicals used to cure meats like salami, hot dogs, beef jerky, and other processed meats — contribute to mania? An analysis out of John Hopkins University shows it might.

New Study: Period Poverty Could Have Mental Health Consequences: Some of us take access to menstrual products for granted. For some of us, it’s like purchasing hygiene products as basic as soap. So, have you ever stopped to think of what your life would be like if you didn’t have such easy access to them? A new study reports that not only does a lack of access to these items not only disrupts everyday life like going to school and work, but can also put women at a greater risk for depression and anxiety.

Does “Scream Therapy” Actually Work for Anxiety? Psychologists Weigh In: “Scream Therapy” is exactly what it sounds like: pure, raw, and primal screaming at the top of your lungs. It’s controversial among psychologists, but psychotherapist Franklin Porter explains screaming — which is actually a component of “Primal Therapy” — isn’t a therapy by itself. It’s the release you feel after you scream that can acts as the bigger therapy tool.

Original Article

Reduce Anxiety by Shifting Focus to Positive Cues

Dr. Brady Nelson and colleagues at Stony Brook University recently published a study in the journal Biological Psychology which found that you can mute the brain’s anxiety/threat response with simple shifts in attentional training.

They found that a brief 5-10 minutes intervention of Cognitive Bias Modification (or CBM) training is enough to reverse a default neural response, a supposed hardwiring that creates a negativity bias in our attention. In CBM training the default gets shifted to allow a person to instead focus more on positive cues. At the level of cognition, this helps cuts off the cascade of an anxiety response.

Let’s imagine you’re giving a pitch to a group of investors. You’re nervous. Your gaze falls on the person in the front row. You notice their facial expression: a furrowed brow, sideways smirk, maybe a disapproving head shake. You begin to panic. You notice other people in the crowd looking the same. Your mind races and you can’t concentrate. You completely botch the presentation.

The negative feeling sticks with you, and every time you have to give a talk, you’re faced with a crippling sense of anxious dread, triggered by the thought of repeat failure.

But all the while, you didn’t notice that there were actually more smiling happy faces in the crowd than scowling ones.

Humans notice the negative more than the positive. It’s a hardwired evolutionary-based response that makes the brain more sensitive to loss than to gain. This negativity bias in cognition allowed us to survive as a species, but is crippling for life in the modern world.

New research, however, offers a solution: We can change our brain (and overcome anxiety) by training ourselves to pay more attention to the positive.

Train your attention, change your brain.

The tendency to pay attention to negative things is the reason you often have such difficult overcoming anxiety. It is, unfortunately, a default psychology. But the science is beginning to show that this default state can be overridden and reversed. You can train your attention. You can change your brain.

It’s called cognitive bias modification training, or CBM. A simple but highly effective intervention practice that nudges you to look for the positive things in your immediate environment.

The best cues you can use for training: Faces. Why faces? Because your brain is highly sensitive to the information they convey. You are programmed to detect all kinds of emotions, both positive and negative, on the faces of other people.

Try the following. Next time you’re in a social setting, challenge yourself to “find” the positive emotions on faces. There are several different contexts where this can work:

  • People watching (on transit, out in crowded public spaces, etc.): Start off by just watching other people in a crowd. Make sure that you’re looking around at people is “normal” given the context you’re in. You have to be careful that your people watching doesn’t become awkward staring.
  • Small group gatherings: These are places where there’s a larger group of people all broken off into smaller groups for discussion (e.g., networking event). As you engage in conversation with a few people, try to find the positive facial expressions.
  • Formal presentations: This can be a great place to do CBM training. But it can quickly backfire, as our initial example in the above intro illustrates. The reason is because those emotional reactions are directed towards you and what you’re saying. It’s much more personal. Work your way up to this last stage of CBM training.

Across all these contexts, what positive emotion cues are you looking for? It’s more than just a simple smile. Go deeper. For example, positive emotion (on the face) happens through the movements of tiny facial muscles. Look out for the ever-so-subtle musculature changes in these three main areas:

  1. The sides of the mouth pinching together and raising up (muscle called the zygomaticus major).
  2. The nose raising on either side and creating a “shelf” across a line of the nostrils (muscle called the levator labii).
  3. The outer edges of the eyes crinkling and creating a squinting expression (muscle called the orbicularis oculi).

The most positive facial cues are when all three muscle regions are activated (also creates the distinction between a “real” and “fake” smile). Challenge yourself to find people’s faces that have all three.

In addition to these in-the-moment interventions, there’s also now various CBM apps/games being developed. An online program called MindHabit includes a number of games that get users to find the smile in an array of faces. They also have a similar game that uses positive/negative words rather than faces.

Similarly, a new app called Happy Faces is giving user-friendly CBM training with various types of stimuli. A bonus feature with their app is it offers personalized training where you can include your own pictures as part of the game stimuli. So the faces you attend to during the game aren’t random strangers, but people you know.

Get into the simple habit of playing these games for as little as 5-10 minutes a day. These small exercises and games are easy to implement and have shown to effectively train attention. By focusing more and more on the positive, and pulling attention away from the negative, you are effectively cutting anxiety off at the pass. You aren’t letting it take hold. And now, new research is offering further evidence that it works by altering activation patterns in certain key brain regions.

The study: The brain’s response to CBM training

The researchers behind the study were curious to see if a single training session of CBM would affect a neural marker called the error-related negativity (ERN).

The ERN a brainwave that reflects a person’s sensitivity to threat. It fires whenever the brain encounters possible errors or sources of uncertainty, leading a person to notice things that might be going wrong around them. But it’s not all good. The ERN can go haywire. For instance, it’s known to be larger in people with anxiety-related disorders, including GAD and OCD. A large ERN is indication of a hyper-vigilant brain that is constantly “on the lookout” for potential problems—even when no problems exist.

In the current study, the researchers predicted that a single CBM training session would help curb this threat response and lead to an immediate reduction in the ERN.

The researchers randomly assigned participants to either a CBM training or control condition. Both groups performed a task, once before the training (or control) and then again after. They had their ERN activity monitored using electroencephalographic recording (EEG). This technology uses a wearable cap with embedded electrodes that track and record the electrical activity of the brain — in real-time. The participants in the study completed a task that generated a number of performance failures. What the researchers were curious to see was the level of reactivity the brain showed (in this ERN signal) in response to these failures. Remember:

  • a sensitive (and anxious) brain would see failures as more negative = larger ERN signal
  • a resilient (and calming) brain would see failures as less negative = smaller ERN signal

So the real question: Can a one-off “find-the-face” CBM task help pull a person’s attention away from the negative and lead to a smaller ERN?

In line with the predictions, they found that those who underwent the short CBM training elicited a smaller ERN compared to the control participants. The brain’s threat response was reduced from before to after the training, simply by instructing people to shift their attention towards positive (and away from the negative) stimuli.

The results indicate that CBM training minimizes the brain’s negativity bias by targeting the ERN—in effect by dampening the brain’s sensitivity to failure and uncertainty.

And an actual change in brain state through a single session of CBM is particularly encouraging when you consider the fact that cognitive-behavioral therapies (CBT) have not been shown to elicit such neural changes.

One important implication of this work is that CBM is capable of altering brain activity in people from a non-clinical population. Majority of prior research has looked at people with anxiety-related psychopathologies. Here the findings suggest that everyone can benefit from CBM, and that everyone looking to achieve peak mental performance can benefit from overcoming anxiety.

Recap and wrap-up

A minimal level of anxiety and stress is a good thing for peak performers. It keeps you on your toes. But too much of the negative, and things can begin to go awry. The question is, then, how do you stay in that optimal zone?

CBM training is highly effective in its ability to alter the target source of your brain’s hardwired negativity bias. Through implicit, experiential, and rapid-based training, we are coming to understand that the core negativity response can be muted in order to get into the anxiety sweet spot.

Remember to engage in these simple exercises, whether it’s in-the-moment or on an app. Your job is to override the negative default state, and direct your attention towards the positive, away from the negative. Start with the apps/games to familiarize yourself with the process. Then work your way up to real-life social situations.

Original Article

Ep 19: Does Being Quirky & Unique Mean You’re Mentally Ill?



It’s often postulated that people with unique skills, artistic abilities, or phenomenal talents must have a “touch of mental illness.” Thinking differently, they reason, is mental illness and, in order to be so unique, one must clearly think differently.

Gabe’s personal fictional hero, The Mad Hatter, is often credited with responding to Alice’s questioning whether or not she had gone mad with the answer, “I’m afraid so. You’re entirely bonkers. But I will tell you a secret. All the best people are.” (Mr. Hatter, of course, never said this, but rather Alice’s father . . . And only in the movie version.)

Is mental illness the same as madness? Are people who are different and interesting also mentally ill? If so, is mental illness actually a good thing? How do Gabe and Michelle feel about people co-opting mental illness to describe talent or unique in thought and action?

It’s a complicated conversation, so listen in to this episode to found out!

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“I would not give schizophrenia to my worst enemy.”
– Michelle Hammer

Highlights From ‘Is Quirky Thinking Mental Illness’ Episode

[1:00] Is mental illness a super power?

[5:00] Is mania positive or negative and why Gabe is not dead.

[7:00] Gabe & Michelle put things into perspective.

[11:00] Michelle’s brutally honest assessment of her career issues.

[15:00] Gabe brings up The Mad Hatter – and his famous quote.

[19:00] People don’t understand the horrors of mental illness.

[21:00] How we turned negative mental illness symptoms into positive ones.

Meet Your Bipolar and Schizophrenic Hosts

GABE HOWARD was formally diagnosed with bipolar and anxiety disorders after being committed to a psychiatric hospital in 2003. Now in recovery, Gabe is a prominent mental health activist and host of the award-winning Psych Central Show podcast. He is also an award-winning writer and speaker, traveling nationally to share the humorous, yet educational, story of his bipolar life. To work with Gabe, visit gabehoward.com.

MICHELLE HAMMER was officially diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 22, but incorrectly diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 18. Michelle is an award-winning mental health advocate who has been featured in press all over the world. In May 2015, Michelle founded the company Schizophrenic.NYC, a mental health clothing line, with the mission of reducing stigma by starting conversations about mental health. She is a firm believer that confidence can get you anywhere. To work with Michelle, visit Schizophrenic.NYC.

Original Article

Overcome the Most Common Fears that Prevent Lasting Relationships

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Overcoming fears can be challenging, no matter how much relationship advice you’ve read about dating and finding true love. In fact, many single women who do want lasting relationships or marriage are secretly afraid of taking that big step and truly falling in love.

That’s why one of the most important things you can do before you commit or get married is learning how to face your deepest fears about what happens to couples over the years.

Maybe you’ve thought one or more of these things in the past:

  • “I’m tired of being alone and going to sleep alone. Will I ever find a loving partner?”
  • “I really want a relationship, but I keep attracting unavailable people. What am I doing wrong?”
  • “Why do all my relationships end up the same?”
  • “I’m scared I’m destined to end up alone.”
  • “I want to share my life with someone. I want to wake up with a partner and share a dream or chat with my partner about the coming day.”
  • “I want to come home to someone with whom I can share my day. I hate coming home from work to an empty house.”
  • “I want someone to play with, to watch TV with, or go to a movie with, or go on vacation with. I’m so tired of doing these things alone and my friends have their own lives.”

If so, you’re not alone.

How Do We Know for Sure If We’re Experiencing Real Love?

Most people want to share their lives, yet many people have a very hard time finding and creating a loving connected relationship. Frequently, something is in the way of attracting their beloved.

Many of my clients were able to find the love of their life after healing the fears and blocks that were in the way, but that they couldn’t seem to identify on their own.

Here are four common fears single women have about dating and relationships you need to overcome if you want to fall deeply in true love (and maybe even get married).

1. Fear of Losing Yourself in the Relationship

As much as you might want a relationship, if the fear of losing yourself while in a relationship is greater than your desire for a relationship, this fear will win out over and over.

Do you believe that you have to give yourself up to be loved by another? Do you believe that you are not good enough the way you are so that you have to be overly nice and compliant in order for someone to love you? Is this what you’ve done in your relationships?

Giving yourself up is a prescription for never finding your beloved.

2. Fear of Rejection

Have you been hurt in relationships? Most of us have.

But is avoiding the pain of rejection more important to you than being in a loving, connected relationship?

Relationships can be painful, so until you learn how to manage the possible heartbreak, you might be pushing away the love of your life. Learning how to lovingly manage the loneliness, heartbreak, and helplessness of important relationships are vital to attracting your future life partner.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself If You’re Too Scared to Fall in Love

3. Fear of Making a Mistake

Are you too cautious because you are terrified of making a mistake — or making another mistake?

While we all need to be willing to make mistakes to move forward, there are ways of knowing early in a relationship whether this is the right person for you.

4. Fear of Self-Abandonment

When you abandon yourself rather than love yourself, you become invisible to others. Others tend to treat us the way we treat ourselves.

If you are ignoring your feelings, judging yourself, turning to various addictions to numb your feelings, and making others responsible for your feelings, you are unconsciously pushing others away and making yourself invisible.

When you make others responsible for your worth and sense of safety, it’s very easy to become “addicted” to the feeling of someone giving you the love you have not been giving to yourself. This generally taps into the other person’s fear of engulfment and they eventually pull away.

Since we attract at our common level of wounded-ness or our common level of health, becoming a healthy partner is essential for attracting a healthy partner.

Attracting a loving partner is knowing how to tell, early in a relationship, whether or not someone is who they appear to be. There are actually many ways of knowing early on whether or not someone is an appropriate partner for you.

This guest article originally appeared on YourTango.com: Why These 4 Common Fears May Be Killing Your Chances Of Finding True Love.

Original Article

The Power of Pausing Before Speaking

No doubt, you’ve wondered why communicating with a loved one isn’t always easy.

What we may overlook is how our emotional tone can poison the atmosphere for productive conversation. Practicing pausing before we speak can be a powerful way to create a friendlier climate for heart-to-heart communication.

We’re wired with a longing for love and intimacy. Attachment Theory tells us that we don’t thrive when we’re not feeling a safe and deep connection. There is a lot at stake in our partnerships. We want to be seen, heard, and understood. We want kindness, caring, and affection.

When these core needs aren’t met, we might sense danger. We might become irritable and reactive as our fight, flight, freeze response is triggered.

As a couples therapist, I often see people getting triggered. Deep down, there is a sweet and tender longing for connection. But what often gets communicated is not sweet at all. The emotional tone that comes across is caustic, attacking, blaming, and shaming, which is kryptonite to the connection.

It is sad to see how couples push each other away without much recognition of how they’re sabotaging themselves.

It is more satisfying to blame and shame another than to take responsibility for how we’re contributing to the mess. One way we contribute to discord and disconnection is by reacting rather than responding. Reacting is what our amygdala is good at. It is the product of millions of years of evolution. Without it, we would not have survived as a species.

Our sympathetic nervous system reacts immediately to real or imagined dangers in our environment. A tiger glares at us while hunting and we run for cover. Over-thinking it might guarantee that we’ll become lunch rather than find lunch.

Unfortunately, this is often our reaction when our sense of safety with our partner seems threatened. Perhaps an old trauma of disconnection is getting activated. We might shut down and not want to talk. We flee to the safety of the TV or a computer game. Or our preferred style might be to go on the offensive, perhaps with some version of “How can you be so self-centered? You’re clueless! It’s always about you!”

These words are not infused with the sweet nectar that might draw our loved one toward us. And our tone is not congruent with the vulnerable longing for connection that is being painfully frustrated.

What to do?

One of the hardest things to do when we’re activated is to slow down. When every fiber of our being is sensing a serious threat, we may feel compelled to unleash a nasty torrent of toxicity toward our partner, without realizing the effect we’re having.

Sadly, we often don’t realize the power we actually have over our partner, who probably wants the same thing that we do — a loving, safe connection.

The good news is that we have the power to contribute to creating an atmosphere of safety in our relationships. The first step is to pause before we react. I know it’s not easy, but if we can practice pausing when our blood is boiling, we turn down the heat and allow a chance for things to cool a bit before we open our mouths.

Pausing gives us a chance to collect ourselves, remember who we are, and get more of a handle on what’s going on inside us. Are we feeling angry, frustrated, sad, or hurt? Pausing gives us a change to notice these feelings—and become mindful about the tender needs and longings from which these feelings spring.

Pausing allows us time to be gentle with these feelings, which allows them to settle. It allows for self-soothing, which positions us to first notice and then convey what we’re feeling in a more responsible, authentic, congruent way.

If we can take a breath, notice the fiery sensations in our body and dance with this fire rather than unleash it toward our partner, we’re then positioned to contact and express our vulnerable feelings. By increasing safety in the relationship, we vastly improve our chance of being heard.

It’s much easier to hear, “I’m feeling sad and have really been missing you and would love to have some time together soon,” rather than, “You’re work is more important than me, why don’t you spend the night in your office!”

We can’t control how others respond to us, but we have some control over our tone of voice and choice of words.

If we can pause before speaking, we give ourselves the gift of contacting what’s really going on inside us — a tender and vulnerable longing beneath the layer of violent reactivity. If we can then find the courage to express our actual felt experience, our tender sharing might turn things around so that we get heard in a new way, which may then offer the deeper connection we’re longing for.

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

Original Article

6 Healthy Behavior Tips for Well-Being This Summer

Summertime should be a time for individuals, families and friends to spend together doing what makes them laugh, enjoy each other’s’ company, and contribute to everyone’s overall well-being. In the middle of vacation or weekend getaway planning, or just carving time out of your busy schedule for some fun activities, keep these six healthy behavior tips in mind.

“Summer means happy times and good sunshine. It means going to the beach, going to Disneyland, having fun.” – Brian Wilson

Get active outdoors.

With a preponderance of good-weather days to take advantage of, why not do just that? Get outside with friends and family and participate in the wealth of activities summertime seems to invite. Science shows that being outside in nature has wide-ranging health benefits, everything from reducing the risk of heart problems diabetes, stress, high blood pressure, premature birth and premature death to an increase in overall well-being. A popular health practice in Japan is “forest bathing,” and the desire to commune in greenspace has rapidly caught on in America. With all the national, state and city parks, as well as conscientious homeowners planting trees, shrubs and gardens, there’s ample opportunity to get outside and take in what nature has to offer. Exercise, play sports, go to the beach or amusement park, have a picnic, fish, snorkel, go for a walk. The choices are endless.

Hydrate and eat light.

Water is your body’s best friend when it comes to effectively combatting summertime heat. The sun is extremely dehydrating, along with challenging or vigorous physical exercise and activity when the temperatures soar. You may not realize you’re thirsty until the damage is already done. Avoid the risk of sunstroke and other medical complications, some of which can be life-threatening, by regularly drinking water and other non-alcoholic fluids. Health experts say to start by drinking 16-20 ounces of water 1-2 hours before exercising, and 6-12 ounces of water every 15 minutes when you’re outside. When you come back inside, you’re still not done rehydrating. Drink another 16-24 ounces. While you’re at it, avoid stuffing yourself in the heat. You’ll feel sluggish, unmotivated to get moving, and your digestive system will have to work harder to process all that food. Instead, eat light and avoid too much sugar and carbohydrates. You’ll sleep better at night too.

Put away the smartphone while driving.

You might think you’re wonderfully ambidextrous and adept at multi-tasking, yet the science is not on your side. It’s impossible to fully devote your attention and focus to more than one activity at once. Something’s going to give. When you’re behind the wheel, put away the smartphone, say all the experts. Even though you firmly believe it’s not all that dangerous to sneak in a quick text, call or peruse social media at the stoplight or while idling in traffic, the obsession to engage in this unhealthy behavior may do more than cause other drivers to honk their horns at you. You could very well cause or be in an accident because your concentration isn’t where it should be – on your driving.

Research shows that talking on a smartphone or other mobile device increases risk of a crash by 2.2 times, while texting increases that risk by 6.1 times. The researchers also found that females are more likely than males to use phones while driving, and more years of experience driving decreases distracted driving. They noted that drivers, while usually able to self-regulate in certain instances, such as in heavy traffic or curving road conditions, they’re less likely to be able to identify where it’s safe to use the phone. The strong recommendation: put the phone away until you can pull over to safely use the device.

Protect your skin from UV rays and exposure to carcinogens from barbequing.

Relaxing at the beach can be a prosocial way for friends and families to get in some quality time, yet it’s always wise to bring along several layers of protection against the sun’s harmful ultra-violet (UV) rays. Clothing you can add or shed certainly helps, including wide-brimmed hats, as do various sun protection factor (SPF) creams and lotions. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends choosing a higher-protection broad spectrum SPF sunscreen (30 or 50) that’s water-resistant for the best protection. Summertime cookouts on the barbecue have long been a favorite, yet new research shows that the skin (in addition to the lungs) absorbs harmful carcinogens from compounds released during smoking and grilling. Just because you’re wearing a shirt and pants, or other protective clothing doesn’t eliminate the exposure. For this reason, experts recommend washing those barbecue-smoke exposed garments right afterward.

Do your best to stay cool.

Excessive heat and high humidity are extraordinarily dangerous to your health, responsible for heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and organ and other bodily systems failure as the circulatory and central nervous systems shut down. When temperatures climb into the 100s, the humidity skyrockets, and remains there for days on end, you feel depleted, drained, unmotivated, dull and it takes longer to concentrate and focus. Keeping the body cool is a must, so make sure you have access to somewhere indoors where the temperature is controlled and cool. Whether that’s an air-conditioned room at home, a shopping mall, movie theater, restaurant, sporting event or entertainment venue, do your best to stay cool.

Laugh a lot.

Nothing makes you feel immediately better like a good laugh. In fact, laughter is such an excellent medicine, if it could be packaged and sold, it’d be worth millions. Since you can’t buy laughter, however, it’s priceless. Tell some family-friendly jokes at your next get-together to spark congeniality in the group. Be on the lookout for a good comedy on TV, through a streaming service, or at the movies. Sit back with those you care about and let yourself enjoy the humor. Go ahead and laugh out loud. Laughing helps you effectively cope with stress, make more of social relationships, helps in coping with distress, reduces feelings of anger and helps boost happiness. Smiling and laughing may even help you live longer.

“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy…” Great lyrics by George Gershwin from the classic song he wrote for the 1935 musical Porgy and Bess.

Original Article

Using the 5 Second Rule to Initiate Tasks

The title — The 5 Second Rule: Transform Your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage — intrigued me.

According to the publisher, Mel Robbins’s self-help book is “based on a simple psychological tool that the author developed to motivate herself. Using a technique that involves counting down backwards from five to one, she gave herself the extra push she needed to complete dreaded tasks, become more productive.”

Could this technique help solve my task-initiation problem?

I am a brain injury survivor. I have clusters of thin-walled blood vessels in my brain. Two of them bled. To prevent additional bleeds, I underwent brain surgeries, which left me with a number of challenging symptoms, including difficulties initiating tasks.

Though similar to procrastination in its end result, brain injury-related issues with task initiation feel very different. I am fully aware when I procrastinate, and I often laugh at myself in the process. When I procrastinate, I make conscious choices. Instead of working on the annual report, I choose to do the laundry, edit an essay, or take my dog for a walk. And when I run out of excuses or get too close to the deadline, I get started.

Trouble initiating tasks is more akin to the difficulty of shifting to a new undertaking after completing a long and involved project, when it feels almost impossible to switch to the next activity.

I usually have no idea that I’m having trouble initiating a task. I know with absolute certainty that I will get to the task—just not right now. In my mind, starting isn’t an issue, because this internal conviction that “of course I’ll do it” is so strong. It’s as if there’s a disconnect between the belief that I’ll do the task and the cognitive action required to actually initiate it. I’m not choosing to distract myself, and I’m not trying to postpone the inevitable. There’s simply no conscious awareness and no control over it.

Compounding the challenge is that brain injury-related task initiation problems don’t follow any recognizable pattern. They arise without warning and are frequently unrelated to the nature of the task, interfering equally with tasks I enjoy and those I’d rather avoid. They can last anywhere from several days to several years. They often end abruptly, for no apparent reason. When my brain releases me, I’m off and running, all signs of struggle gone, as if the problem never existed.

To combat my difficulties beginning an activity, my neuropsychologist suggested I keep a daily list and block off chunks of time in my calendar to work on those tasks. Fortunately, my brain injury brought on a level of rigidity—once an item is on that list, I feel compelled to address it.

Alas, identifying problematic tasks to include on the list is not straightforward, because the same “I know I’ll get to it” belief means there’s no problem, and it doesn’t occur to me that it belongs on the list. And I sometimes can’t initiate writing the list—I know I’ll write it, just not right now.

I’d recently been having trouble beginning a new essay on a topic I wanted to explore. It had been simmering in my mind for a while, and I felt ready to begin writing. But I couldn’t. I tried tricking my brain into cooperating by breaking the task into smaller and hopefully more manageable chunks.

I was able to sit down in front of my computer, but my brain refused to attempt the next task. Later, I managed to open a new file, but my mind wouldn’t move beyond that chunk. I left the file open, knowing I’d get to it (just not now). A few days later, I typed a title, but couldn’t start the body of the essay. I knew exactly how I wanted it to begin. The words were there. But I wasn’t.

Galvanized into action by Robbins’ five second rule, I was determined to try it the next morning.

As I finished getting dressed, I thought about working on the essay. “5-4-3-2-1” and there I was, at my computer, tapping away, the essay taking form just as I’d imagined it.

Every time my inner voice suggested I needed to take a breather, before I had time to question my motive, I applied the five second rule. “5-4-3-2-1” and I was back on track. After finishing a first draft, I wondered about working on another troublesome essay. Five seconds later, I was back at the keyboard. Feeling like I was on a roll and afraid that I’d fall prey to my damaged brain if I paused, I moved on to sending email queries about speaking engagements and book events.

The next problematic item that came to mind gave me pause—I needed to grade a pile of essays. This time, the five second rule failed, because common sense kicked in. I had reached my limit—fatigue overwhelmed me and my brain blanked out. I absolutely had to rest, or I’d be in no shape to do anything.

I came away from that day feeling good about myself. I’d been more productive than I’d been in a long time. But I was also exhausted. Applying the five second rule had thoroughly drained me.

I have since realized that the five second rule doesn’t work for me exactly the way Mel Robbins explained it. I haven’t abandoned it, but as with so many other things post-injury, I am learning to adapt it to my particular circumstances. I have to pace myself, and as soon as I recognize the early signs of fatigue, I use the rule to take a nap.

My conclusion?

The five second rule rules.

References

Robbins, M. (2017). The 5 Second Rule: Transform your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage. Savio Republic. ISBN-10: 1682612384

This guest article originally appeared on the award-winning health and science blog and brain-themed community, BrainBlogger: The 5 Second Rule: Task Initiation.

Original Article

Get Ready for Kindergarten Now

Imagine this scenario: Your partner tells you that you are going to a new place where you will have fun and meet new friends. Sounds good, right? The day comes and you are taken to a building you’ve never seen before and escorted to a room bustling with activity. You are introduced to the person in charge and told you can go be with the others. Then your partner disappears.

You don’t know anyone there. You don’t know what is expected of you, and you don’t understand the activities and routines. You don’t know where your trusted partner went and when, or even if, he or she will be back.

Daunting, huh. Yet this is what happens to many 5 year olds on their first day of kindergarten. Overwhelmed by all the newness and maybe feeling abandoned by a parent, they cry or tantrum or withdraw to the corner. Their parent is told that the child will adjust. Maybe. But is the distress really necessary?

Fortunately, the transition to kindergarten doesn’t have to be so stressful for either child or parent. If you have a child headed for kindergarten this fall, and especially if your child has had limited experience being left with a sitter or at daycare, you can take steps now to make the transition a happy (or at least not traumatic) one.

I met with Dr. Elizabeth Perkins, retired Education Director of the University of Massachusetts. Amherst Childcare Centers. For 23 years, she supported hundreds of families in making this important transition from home and neighborhood to the world of elementary school, Dr. Perkins offers this advice for preparing you and your child:

Consider your child’s temperament and age. Is he shy? Is she rambunctious? In preschool or daycare, it’s often possible for staff to accommodate different children’s personalities and energy levels. The larger class sizes of kindergarten and the pressure to complete a curriculum make it difficult for elementary school teachers to do the same. Dr. Perkins reminds us that there are lots of excellent children’s books available that can help you talk to your child about how to deal with shyness or the wiggles. Keep it positive. Don’t shame the child. Focus on what the child can do when feeling overwhelmed or like she just can’t sit still another minute.

In the case of a child whose birthday is close to the cut-off date for entry, do consider whether waiting a year is wise. “For some children”, Dr. Perkins notes, “academics and social interactions may be more successful if they are the oldest in the class, not the youngest.”

Visit the school and classroom if possible. The goal is to help your child become familiar with an unfamiliar place. At least walk around the building. Show your child what door she’ll be going in. Play on the playground. Children who are oriented in this way are often less anxious on the first day.

Arrange for your child to meet the teacher before the first day of school if you can. Many schools have teacher preparation days the week or so before opening day. See if you can arrange for at least a hello and a handshake. Don’t overstay. This isn’t the time for a parent teacher conference. The teacher has a great deal to do and will appreciate it if you keep the visit brief.

Get together with other kindergarteners: If you know other families with a kindergartener, arrange a play date. Meet at a park or the school playground. When a child sees at least one other child she or he knows that first day, it may take the anxiety level down quite a bit.

Practice school activities: You know there will probably be a circle time, a rest time, a reading time, a lunch time, etc. Set up the stuffed animals for circle time. Give your child practice with sitting still while you read a story aloud. Make lunch time predictable at home so your child gets into the rhythm of a more routine day.

Set up morning routines now. “The morning routine at home,” says Dr. Perkins, “often sets the tone for the whole day.” You’ll have less stress and a happier send off if you start practicing a few weeks before school starts. Set an alarm for when you will all need to get up. Practice getting kids dressed and having breakfast before letting them turn on a TV or use a device. Better yet, to avoid a struggle about getting through the morning routine and out the door, don’t permit screen use before school at all. Help everyone understand what needs to happen for everyone to leave home on time and happy.

Before the school year begins: If you know that a first day meltdown is probable, alert the teacher ahead of time and confer about the best way to handle it. Most teachers appreciate it when parents are pro-active. If you know your child will have problems with settling into school routines, make an appointment to meet early in the year to discuss ways to manage it.

On the first day: Do understand that your child is one of maybe 2 dozen the teacher is responsible for. The teacher doesn’t have the time to immediately respond to your concerns in the hubbub of the beginning and end of the school day. Just introduce yourself to staff and focus on helping your child get comfortable.

In the event of a first day meltdown: Stay for a while to help your child adjust. Usually if you are appropriate, teachers are only grateful. Connect the child with an activity and with other children. Tell your child when you’ll be back. Dr. Perkins explained that kindergarteners are often just developing a sense of time. She advises that you give your child something on which to anchor your return time like: “After lunch, there will be playground time and a rest time and then I’ll be back“.

Do provide contact information: On the first, day, hand the teacher a card with all your contact information on it in case the teacher has a concern or question about your child. Yes, the office probably has the information but it makes it easier for a teacher to give you a call if she doesn’t have to first go find your information.

Be open-minded. Teachers do have a reputation in the community. Sometimes a negative rep isn’t deserved or reflects an unusual situation with one child. Be attentive but give the teacher a chance.

Problems: If something happens at school that concerns you, talk to the teacher when children aren’t there. Dr. Perkins reminds us that it is best to frame those concerns as a question, not a statement or, worse, an accusation. Don’t lead with “Why on earth did you say that?” Or “Why didn’t you do. . .?” Instead, say, “Can you help me understand why you did this or that?”

The most important take-away

Dr. Perkins and I talked about the reality that not every parent can do all of this. Time and circumstances are different for every parent. “But”, says Dr. Perkins, “every child is likely to manage the transition to kindergarten better if a parent does everything she or he can to partner with the teacher to make it a happy one”.

From the time your child enters kindergarten, he or she will likely be spending more time each school day with the teacher and peers than with the family. A collaborative and friendly relationship with your child’s teachers will do much to ensure that your child will feel secure and will be successful”.

Original Article

Making Amends and Apologizing to Your Child

I often find myself apologizing to our daughter.

I truly believe the majority of parents do the best they can each day, based on the information they have, and the situations they find themselves in. This includes me, and yet I still often find myself apologizing to our daughter. It’s not that I’m an awful parent, it’s just that I’m human, and I make mistakes.

When my husband and I were expecting, I thought I’d be a pretty good parent — I mean, I was an experienced child and family social worker, I went to all our antenatal classes, and I had lots of support around me. Boy, was I in for a surprise!

Our daughter was the most beautiful baby ever born, but right from the beginning she was also strong-willed, full of energy, and she 100 percent believed that “sleep was for losers.”

It took a long time for me to really accept our daughter for exactly who she is, and to learn to parent her in the ways that she needs.

All of this means that despite my best intentions, I don’t always get it right, and sometimes I get it really wrong. The thing is, although it might seem counterintuitive, all of this has actually made me a better parent, and also a better social worker.

By not conforming to my expectations, our daughter has taught me so many lessons, but most of all she has taught me humility — I don’t have all the answers, and that’s okay. My willingness to now accept that I don’t have all the answers, and that I make mistakes along the way, means that I’m learning every day, and our daughter is also learning from me.

Some of the life lessons our daughter has been exposed to so far include:

  • Life doesn’t always turn out the way you expect
  • There’s always a lot to learn
  • Even parents make mistakes
  • Sometimes we hurt other people, and
  • Making amends can be hard, but it’s the right thing to do.

My husband and I have many of the same hopes and dreams as other parents, for example, that our daughter will be happy, that she’ll do well in school, and that she’ll meet someone special and share her life with them. However, we also hope that she’ll learn to appreciate beauty and kindness, that she’ll care for and be compassionate towards others, and that she’ll be both resilient and humble when necessary.

I’m acutely aware of our influence as parents, and in particular that our daughter learns far more from what we do, than from what we say. With this in mind, I’ve made an effort over the years to share my mistakes and learnings with her (where appropriate), and to model the process of making amends.

So how does a parent go about making amends with a child?

Basically, like much of parenting, it’s about placing yourself in your child’s shoes and treating them similarly to how you would like to be treated, and often that begins with an apology.

There are many ways to apologize, but here’s how I usually do it (and I’ve had a fair bit of practice):

  1. Get down to your child’s level and look them in the eye (if that’s okay with them)
  2. Tell them you’re sorry, and specifically what it is you’re sorry for
  3. Resist the urge to defend your actions by adding a “but” into the apology (see below)
  4. Commit to changing your behaviour in the future, and
  5. Consider asking for forgiveness.

Here’s an example of how I once apologized to our daughter:

“I’m really sorry I shouted at you before, it must’ve been scary. I was feeling angry, but it’s not okay for me to be like that. I’m going to try to stop shouting, and start taking some breaths when I feel myself getting angry. Can you forgive me for shouting at you today?”

I don’t think all of the steps above are necessary all of the time, sometimes a short apology is enough, for example:

“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to step on your foot, are you okay?”

In terms of my own parenting, the biggest change I’ve made in this area, compared with how I was parented, is the conscious decision to not add a “but” into the apology. For example:

“I’m sorry I got so mad with you, BUT, if you would just stop fighting with your brother …”

Apologies are about taking responsibility for your actions, not placing the blame on to someone else. In the case of children, if they contributed to the situation, then their behavior can be talked about later on — but let your apology stand alone as example of what to do when you’ve behaved poorly and you want to make amends.

A good apology can do wonders for a relationship, is an effect way to begin making amends, and it’s also great role modeling for our children. Wouldn’t it be lovely if it was just normal practice for everyone to apologize and try to make amends when they hurt someone … that’s the kind of future we want our daughter to be part of.

Original Article

Best of Our Blogs: July 24, 2018

Hey there. As I write this, it’s my birthday. For any of you celebrating your birthday today or this month, “Happy Birthday too!”

Every year, I lose a little bit of that magic. You know the way a five year-old counts every day until B-day with excitement and enthusiasm? To see my own son’s face light up on his special day reminds me of how time can remove that sense of joy.

While the years bring changes, loss, and greater challenges, I’m committed to returning to that sense of anticipation I had as a child. More importantly, I’m intent on practicing gratitude instead of expectation.

Yes, I’m more tired. I take longer to recover from a hike, and I’ve collected more chronic illnesses as I’ve gotten older. But I’m grateful to be here, writing this, and having the opportunity still to right wrongs, become wiser, and transform into the person I’ve always wanted to be.

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(Narcissism Meets Normalcy) – It’s the reason why narcissists need to be, “good,” and why this often results in them behaving badly.

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(Reaching Life Goals) – Do these three things and you’ll watch your life improve.

Original Article