Listen to this interview with Dr. Alex Lickerman, author of The Undefeated Mind: On the Science of Constructing an Indestructible Self.
Having to confront an indeterminate outcome that might be bad seems to cause more anxiety than having to confront an outcome known to be bad. In one study, patients requiring colostomies (a rerouting of the passage of stool from the rectum to an opening in the abdomen) that were potentially reversible were actually found to be less happy six months after their operation than patients whose colostomies were permanent. Why? Because uncertainty prevented them from adapting to the change, keeping them focused on and attached to what they still stood to lose. Uncertainty about the future has almost unequaled power to lower our life-condition in the present.
The converse of this, however, also seems to be true: anticipating something pleasant seems to have almost unequaled power to make our present glow. Anticipatory joy is often greater than the joy brought to us by experiencing the very things we anticipate. This is often because what we expect an experience to be like is often not what it’s like and the difference between our expectations and reality mutes our experiential joy. But it’s also because anticipating a pleasure is itself intrinsically pleasurable.
Like most Americans, when I learned that twenty children and six adults had been massacred in Newtown, Connecticut, I recoiled. Like most parents, my next thought was for my own son, the image I retain of his happy, smiling self for one moment replaced by an image of his tiny body lying twisted on the ground. Even as I write these words, an emotion I rarely feel—one I often can’t even make myself feel—threatens to overwhelm me.
Read Alex Lickerman’s “The Undefeated Mind”
Pearl Waldorf is offering Two creativity support groups are forming the first week of February. Yippee!! One on Monday Evening and one on Thursday Evening. The exact times are to be announced. The cost for these ongoing groups is $45 dollars per 90 minute session. She’ll require an 8 week commitment and your payment in full two weeks before our launch the first week of February. If paying in a large chunk doesn’t feel doable. Get in touch. She’ll work out a plan with you. Cruise on over to her website to apply now. Or feel free to share this opportunity with interested others.
“It’s a privilege to support you in finding and stoking your creative fire in your work, your art, your life!”
If you go back and read a bunch of biographies of people born 100 to 150 years ago, you notice a few things that were more common then than now.
First, many more families suffered the loss of a child, which had a devastating and historically underappreciated impact on their overall worldviews.
Second, and maybe related, many more children grew up in cold and emotionally distant homes, where fathers, in particular, barely knew their children and found it impossible to express their love for them.
It wasn’t only parents who were emotionally diffident; it was the people who studied them. In 1938, a group of researchers began an intensive study of 268 students at Harvard University. The plan was to track them through their entire lives, measuring, testing and interviewing them every few years to see how lives develop.
In the 1930s and 1940s, the researchers didn’t pay much attention to the men’s relationships. Instead, following the intellectual fashions of the day, they paid a lot of attention to the men’s physiognomy. Did they have a “masculine” body type? Did they show signs of vigorous genetic endowments?
But as this study — the Grant Study — progressed, the power of relationships became clear. The men who grew up in homes with warm parents were much more likely to become first lieutenants and majors in World War II. The men who grew up in cold, barren homes were much more likely to finish the war as privates.
Written by Sheenie Ambardar, M.D.
As a psychiatrist trained in psychopharmacology, it would be easy for me to rely exclusively on psychiatric medications as the be-all, end-all treatment option for patients with mood disorders. Psychiatric medications work, and they work fast, and I use them regularly in my practice to treat a host of problems and conditions, from depression and anxiety to bipolar disorder and chronic insomnia. That being said, I am always mindful of other, equally significant ways to enhance mood and wellbeing, specifically methods related to our ways of thinking and daily behaviors. Here then are my top 10 recommendations for improving depression and anxiety, sans medication:
1. Limit Your Time on Facebook
A recent cover article in The Atlantic magazine asked, “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” and confirms what I have been seeing in my own practice over the last several years. When Facebook is used as a casual tool to keep in touch with friends or stay in the social loop, it can be a useful distraction. However, when Facebook is used to keep constant tabs on others or to promote a certain self-image, it can lead to an unconscious need to compare ourselves to everyone in our social network. This frequently leads to jealousy, insecurity, misplaced feelings of superiority or alternatively, feelings of inadequacy. Limiting time on ubiquitous social media sites like Facebook may be hard at first, but it may be one of the best things you do for your mental health.
2. Stop Living Someone Else’s Life
Often, depression occurs when we wake up one day and realize we aren’t living our own dreams but are instead trying to please our parents, our spouse, our children, or our friends. Your life is yours; you are the sole creator or destroyer, no one else. If you need to set boundaries or disengage with certain negative influences in your life, so be it. Developing the courage to follow our own personal lodestar has a way of lifting our spirits and reducing feelings of being trapped and “stuck,” two of the leading causes of depression and anxiety.
3. Write It Out
Keeping a private diary or a written record of your thoughts can be one of the most effective ways of dealing with mood disorders. The mere act of writing down our thoughts and feelings can serve as a profound catharsis, and is especially helpful if we are uncomfortable expressing ourselves verbally. Often we simply feel better and less stressed after systematically sorting through our emotions on the written page. In fact, there is an entire field of psychotherapy called Journal Therapy, developed by Dr. Ira Progoff, which specializes in helping patients write their way to better mental health.
4. Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
Comparing ourselves to other people is one of the fastest ways to worsen depression and anxiety. Sure, it can sometimes impel us to work harder or get motivated, but more often than not, we feel inadequate and “less than.” This is unnecessary and a tremendous waste of time and energy. As a psychiatrist, I can assure you that the neighbor or friend you envy for their fancy car or huge house or perfect body has just as many problems as you (if not more). Try to focus on yourself, your own betterment, and your own life. Don’t obsess about other people.
5. Take Your Vitamins
I routinely recommend both fish oil and the B vitamins to patients experiencing depression and anxiety (in conjunction with psychiatric medications if those are needed), and the results have been very positive. Study after study has shown that taking a high quality fish oil supplement containing both the potent omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA can help with symptoms of depression and anxiety and even bipolar disorder. In addition, the entire range of B vitamins, including vitamins B12, B6, and folate, may also be helpful in regulating mood. If you are looking to go the natural route, I would recommend you give fish oil and the B vitamins a try!
6. Talk to People, Any People
So many depressed patients I see feel lonely, alone, and unloved. They can go days or sometimes even weeks without having a conversation with another human being. This degree of isolation exponentially worsens mood. The mere act of talking to another person, of opening your mouth and letting words come out, can lift mood instantly. Say hi to the friendly clerk at the grocery store, or casually compliment someone on their outfit, or just smile at a stranger. Notice how you feel better instantly!
7. Pick a Goal, Any Goal
It doesn’t really matter if you have a small goal or a big goal or a medium-sized goal, but whatever it is, try to work towards it, day by day, little by little. A life spent wandering aimlessly and without purpose creates a sense of unease and frustration, contributing significantly to feelings of depression and anxiety. Even a goal as simple as “I want to lose four pounds in two months” is a great way to bust out of the blues. If you dedicate yourself to something that has personal significance to you, your life will have more direction and focus. Pick achievable goals that are easy to bite off and chew, and watch your mood lift over time.
8. Read About Spirituality and/or Astronomy
This may seem like an odd suggestion, but even for the diehard atheists and agnostics out there, reading books on spirituality and/or astronomy can help us see the big, cosmic, universal picture and can, (somewhat ironically) help us regain a sense of comfort and mastery in our own lives. Pondering the big questions of life and coming to terms with the enormity and complexity of the universe may help us take our little old selves a little less seriously!
9. Experience the Bliss of Quiet Time
People who take time out for themselves on a daily or weekly basis, whether through yoga, meditation, reading a good book, daily prayer, or even a warm bath, often feel calmer and more at peace with themselves and the world. Time out helps you to see the big picture and prevents you from letting the daily difficulties and petty squabbles of life get you down. Even if just for 15 minutes a day, quiet time can instantly transform your state of mind and helps you retain control over your life.
10. You have to work on your happiness, it won’t just happen on its own
Happiness is a state of mind that takes practice, effort, and vigilance. You have to be willing to take a hard look at your life, cut out bad habits and people, and make changes in your own internal expectations and behavior. But relax! You have all the time in the world. My most urgent recommendation to patients is to not take things so urgently and to stop making life such a serious production. Ten thousand years from now, or 20,000 years from now, you won’t be here. Heck, the entire human race may not even be here! So why stress out? Try to have as pleasant and peaceful a time as you can during your short time on planet earth… you deserve it!
For more by Sheenie Ambardar, M.D., click here.
by Alex Lickerman
When life brings adversity such as profound loss or illness, we may sometimes feel defeated and powerless to change either the circumstance or our emotional response. Physician and blogger Lickerman tells us that things are only as bleak as they seem, and, using actual conversations with his patients, reveals the process of achieving an “inner life state” that mitigates suffering. More than presenting just a good theory or interesting stories, he interweaves compelling scientific research and core tenets of Nichiren Buddhism to flesh out this inner life state: nine central principles that moderate physical and emotional pain. The point of easing suffering is “not for solving problems but for establishing a life state that makes all problems solvable.” The interplay of dialogue, narrative, science, and faith flows effortlessly, interrupted only by thought-provoking observations such as “research suggests that the more we use our willpower, the weaker it becomes,” and “our expectations profoundly influence our responses to our experiences.” The principles are well constructed and the book well written; the author not only describes an undefeated mind but also teaches the thinking that yields one. Agent: Stephany Evans. (Nov.)
California Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation to put an end to so-called ex-gay therapy against LGBT youth, making his the first state to protect young people from such practices. The law goes into effect January 1, 2013, and prohibits state-licensed therapists from engaging in “reparative therapy” with minors. Advocates for the bill say that conversion therapy uses dangerous tactics that place youth at a high risk of depression and suicide. “Governor Brown today reaffirmed what medical and mental health organizations have made clear: Efforts to change minors’ sexual orientation are not therapy, they are the relics of prejudice and abuse that have inflicted untold harm on young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Californians,” Clarissa Filgioun, Equality California board president, said in a statement Saturday.
Withholding our truth is almost always damaging. Coming out with the truth is almost always relieving. As queer people, we know the oppression of withholding the truth about who we are or we have faced the consequences of refusing to withhold. We know that some make it their life’s work to deny ourtruths while others work to make room for us all to come out.
Dr. Robert Spitzer is a highly regarded psychologist who led the movement to remove homosexuality from the The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)in the 1970s. At the time he was considered an ally, a champion for the depathologizing of homosexuality. In a move that surprised gay rights advocates and his colleagues alike, Dr. Spitzer published a paper in 2003 that supported the idea that it is possible for gay men and lesbian women to fundamentally change their sexual orientation.