Category Archives: Health and Wellbeing

Can Embracing Bad Feelings Increase Your Well-Being?

September 5, 2017

Many people struggle with negative, even destructive feelings – about themselves, about others; about emotions aroused in their careers or relationships. Trying to stifle negative emotions — or feeling bad about having them to begin with — is pretty common. It causes much distress and struggle; and often brings people into psychotherapy.

The irony, here, is that resisting your “bad” feelings actually intensifies them. Psychological health and well-being grows from the opposite: Embracing them. Now, some new research provides empirical evidence that. In essence, you can feel better by allowing yourself to feel bad.

That’s what meditative practices help you learn to do, and that accounts for much of the rise in popularity of meditation, yoga, and other mind-body practices. Consider this: When you try to deny or stifle any “parts” of yourself – whether undesirable emotions, desires or fears, you become fragmented. But you need a sense of integration; of wholeness inside. That’s what grows your well-being and your capacity to handle the ups and downs, the successes and failures; part of that relentless change and impermanence that is life.

One of the new studies, conducted with 1300 adults in the course of three experiments, underscored that in its findings. For example, it found that that people who try to resist negative emotions are more likely to experience psychiatric symptoms later, compared with those who accept such emotions. The latter group – those who showed greater acceptance of their negative feelings and experiences – also showed higher levels of well-being and mental health. Continue reading

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Regrets About Sacrificing For Your Partner? This May Be Why

August 22, 2017

One of the hallmarks of a loving, healthy relationship is when partners envision their relationship as a kind of third entity—something in need of being served and supported in itself, by mutual accommodation; perhaps sacrificing what you want, sometimes, not just using the relationship as a vehicle for getting your partner to serve your own needs and desires.

But can accommodation and support for each other—mutuality—go too far, in ways that undermine the relationship? It can, especially when emotional issues, often unconsciously expressed, drive a partner’s agreeableness. That can give rise to depression and, especially, regret and resentment. We see that in psychotherapy often, with couples who bicker and foment over what each says he or she went along with for the other, but says it was “unappreciated.”

Recent empirical research documents how that happens, and why. Further, research shows that feeling supported by your partner is linked with greater willingness to take on new challenges and with overall greater wellbeing.

To explain and unravel all this, first consider that feature of positive, healthy intimate relationships. These partners consciously practice showing mutual support to each other’s needs, always with an eye towards what best serves their relationship long-term. They do this with an understanding that when differences arise, they’ll find compromise, a “middle way.” Sometimes that means “giving in” to the other’s desires in a particular situation—knowing that doing so best serves the relationship as a whole. But most importantly, that’s done with trust that neither one will exploit the sacrifice for manipulative, self-serving purposes.

But men and women don’t enter relationships in a vacuum. We learn gender roles in our intimate relationships. We form our patterns of attachment and connection from social norms and culture and from our experiences with our parents. That inevitably includes some emotional issues that may lie dormant, and intrude upon our relationships as adult. Many memoirs depict that with devastating, often painful accuracy.

Regretting Your Sacrifice To Your Partner

Foremost among those personal issues is the consequence of bringing a low level of self-worth or self-regard into the relationship. Or when you feel insecure about how much you can trust or count on your partner’s professed caring and love. The consequences can lead to accommodating and supporting what your partner wants as an ongoing way of relating to him or her. That fuels an imbalanced, unhealthy partnership, and is likely to generate a backlash of resentment, beneath the surface, until it erupts or just remains submerged, where it festers and creates a range of symptoms. That’s what we often see in both individual and couples therapy.

Now, a recent study from the Netherlands documents that, from a study of 130 couples. Summarized in this report, the research found that people with low self-esteem tend to feel Continue reading

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Psychedelic Drugs Can Enhance Mental Health

August 8, 2017

It’s good to see accumulating research demonstrate how psychedelic drugs can enhance mental health and activate a transformative experience in your life. This has been a slow turn, after years of prohibiting the scientific study of psychedelics because of a mixture of fear, political attitudes; and the damaging experiences of some who may have been emotionally fragile to begin with, or who took the drugs in risky situations, without a proper supportive environment.

For some time, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) has advocated and supported funding for research studies, and sponsored scientific conferences on the beneficial effects of mind-altering drugs. Now, one of the new emerging studies, from the Universityof Adelaide, reported in this summary of the research that the altered state of consciousness and temporary lack of ego that results from using psychedelic drugs could help some mental health patients recover from their symptoms.

The researchers have been studying the body of evidence around the use of psychedelic drugs such as LSD and magic mushrooms, and the impact they have on people’s sense of “self.” An article by co-authors Philip Gerrans and Chris Letheby in Aeon cites growing evidence to suggest that psychedelic experiences can be truly “transformative” — including helping some people with anxiety, depression, or addiction.

“We know quite a lot about the neurochemistry of psychedelic drugs and how they work on the brain. What’s poorly understood is the more complex relationship between the brain, our sense of self, and how we perceive the world,” says Gerrans.

The study, published in the journal Neuroscience of Consciousness, explained how users of psychedelic drugs often report that their sense of being a self or ‘I’ — distinct from the rest of the world — has diminished or completely “dissolved.” “This ‘ego dissolution’ results in a moment of expanded awareness, a feeling in which the mind is put more directly and intensely in touch with the world,” Gerrans says. Continue reading

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Want Long-Term Well-Being In Life? Your Mind Is The Key!

July 18, 2017

Some new research finds that long-term well-being in life is more dependent on psychological and social factors than on your physical state. That contrasts with the assumption many make that physical aging has the most impact upon your experience of life. In essence, the research shows that your overall conscious experience of life has greater impact. Your state of consciousness reflects a blend of emotional, mental and social experiences over the course of your life. I would include spiritual dimensions as well; i.e. your overall sense of purpose along the way.

According to researcher, Karl-Heinz Ludwig, “Ageing itself is not inevitably associated with a decline in mood and quality of life. It is rather the case that psychosocial factors such as depression or anxiety impair subjective well-being.”

And, “To date, the impact of emotional stress has barely been investigated.” The study, from researchers in Germany, was published in BMC Geriatrics and is described more fully in this press release.

“What made the study particularly interesting was the fact that the impact of stress on emotional well-being has barely been investigated in a broader, non-clinical context,” said lead author Karoline Lukaschek. “Our study therefore explicitly included anxiety, depression and sleep disorders.”

The research found that depression and anxiety had the strongest effect on well-being. Low income and sleep disorders also had a negative effect. However, poor physical health (for example, low physical activity or so-called multi-morbidity) seemed to have little impact on perceived life satisfaction. Among women, living alone also significantly increased the probability of a low sense of well-being.

All of these factors are important, Ludwig said, “…given that we know that high levels of subjective well-being are linked to a lower mortality risk.” 

Credit: Pexels/ Julian Jagtenberg

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Anxious? Fearing Risk May Be An Overlooked Source

June 20, 2017

This new study suggests that anxious people may be more disabled by fear of risk-taking than fearing a negative outcome. I’m generally skeptical of lab experiments, because generalizing the results to “real-life” situations is often off-base. However, this study may shed light on some of the drivers underlying some forms of anxiety.

In essence, the researchers looked at the differences between fear of risk-taking and fear of loss among people diagnosed with anxiety disorder. A controlled experiment found that anxious people had similar levels of loss aversion to healthy people, but showed enhanced risk aversion. “In other words, everyone is loss averse, but anxious people are more reluctant to take risks than non-anxious people,” said the lead author, Caroline Charpentier. That is, the research suggests that it’s aversion to taking risks that drives avoidance behavior observed in anxious people.

I think the research falls short in viewing the findings as a cognitive issue, benefited by new learning. But that ignores the powerful, and different emotional forces that underlie anxiety in different people. Two people can be diagnosed with anxiety disorder, but with very different underlying sources. That’s overlooked by Charpentier, who says, “It suggests that we should focus on encouraging anxious individuals to increase their tolerance of risk rather than dampening down their sensitivity to negative outcomes.”

Well, sure – and that highlights the problem: Underlying, often unconscious emotional issues inhibit dealing with anxiety. You can’t just increase your tolerance of risk by assuming it’s just a a new mental skill to acquire.

The research, from University College London and published in Biological Psychiatry, is described in this report.

Credit: CPD Archive

 

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Is There An Upside To Worrying?

June 6, 2017

 

New research from the University of California, Riverside, finds that some forms of worrying may be beneficial. It can activate motivation to address a problem, and – according to the researchers – help heal from trauma and depression. 

In this media release of the study, the lead author Kate Sweeny describes the role of worry in motivating preventive and protective behavior; that it leads people to avoid unpleasant events. She explains that worry is associated with recovery from traumatic events, adaptive preparation and planning, recovery from depression, and partaking in activities that promote health, and prevent illness. Furthermore, people who report greater worry may perform better — in school or at the workplace — seek more information in response to stressful events, and engage in more successful problem solving.

That’s a pretty extensive list of benefits, and I think the research may overlook that there are different levels of “worry” among different personalities and the kinds of emotional conflicts people experience have an impact. But she acknowledges that “…both too much and too little worry can interfere with motivation, but the right amount of worry can motivate without paralyzing.”

For example, she cites three situations of the positive benefit of worry:

  • Worry serves as a cue that the situation is serious and requires action.
  • Worrying about a stressor keeps the stressor at the front of one’s mind and prompts people toward action.
  • The unpleasant feeling of worry motivates people to find ways to reduce their worry.

Sweeny points out that as people brace for the worst, they embrace a pessimistic outlook to mitigate potential disappointment, boosting excitement if the news is good. Therefore, both bracing and worrying have an emotional payoff following the moment of truth.

“Worrying the right amount is far better than not worrying at all.”

The study, published in Social and Personality Psychology Compass, is described in more detail in this report from UC Riverside.

Credit: CPD Archive

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Seeking Greater Health And Well-Being? Try Showing Gratitude, Research Finds!

April 25, 2017

You’re probably aware of the periodic reminders we receive about the importance of feeling and showing gratitude towards others’ acts of kindness and generosity. And, that it’s also good to feel grateful for whatever’s positive in your own life. But such reminders are often couched in a moral or religious framework: that it’s good to do. But realistically, you might think that it isn’t all that relevant to what’s really important in life – like making money, or acquiring status and power.

So consider this: A new study finds a direct link between expressing gratitude and increasing your physical and emotional well-being. Not just a moral exhortation, showing gratitude increases your overall health.

I’m not surprised to see empirical confirmation of what I’ve found – and have recommended – to people for many years. So often we’re caught up in a sense of self-importance regarding our own troubles, whether major or trivial. We can easily sink into victimhood while ignoring all that we have to be grateful for in our lives; all that is positive in our life circumstances, despite the “negatives” that we may dwell in. Or comparing ourselves with others whom we imagine to be better off, in some way. 

In short, practicing an attitude of gratitude – really experiencing it – is a component of increasing resilience in the face of the fluid, ever-changing world we live in; and building greater psychological health.

This new study provides evidence of that. From the University of Montana and published in the Review of Communication, it examined the evidence of the connections between expressing gratitude and overall health. The authors find that gratitude – which stems from the actions of another and your response to them — is associated with psychological well-being and increased positive states such as life satisfaction, vitality, hope, and optimism. It also contributes to decreased levels of depression, anxiety, envy, and job-related stress and burnout. Moreover, people who experience and express gratitude have reported fewer symptoms of physical illness, more exercise, and better quality of sleep

The study’s authors, Stephen M. Yoshimura and Kassandra Berzins, suggest that “gratitude promotes social relationships by giving grateful people an appearance of warmth and responsiveness, increasing their trust in others, and motivating them to approach and bond with their benefactors.” Further, they point out that gratitude can help people find high-quality relationship partners and can lead to greater long-term relationship satisfaction because of the mutual support and caring it generates. And that, in turn, is an essential part of long-term psychological well-being.

The authors conclude, in a low-key way, “Social connectedness, perhaps through the increased willingness and ability to communicate gratitude, could serve as a recommendable health practice.”

No argument there!

Credit: Regenerate

A version of this article also appeared in Psychology Today

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Trump’s Election Makes Men More Aggressive, Research Shows

April 11, 2017

A new study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business finds that the emboldening of the extreme right that helped Donald Trump win the presidency has altered social norms. Part of that shift reflects an increase in men acting more aggressively toward women.

To explain, the researchers noted that such groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center have found an uptick of hate crimes and harassment taking place across the country. The rise of such incidents led Wharton researchers to examine whether a dimension of that might be found in differences in communications styles of men and women; for example, if their negotiation tactics changed – both before and after the election – depending on which gender they interact with.

Their experiments found a striking result: Post-election, male study participants were less cooperative, more likely to use adversarial strategies and less likely to reach an agreement with a partner. “We didn’t know Trump was going to be elected; we didn’t set out to study Trump’s election,” according to lead researcher Corinne Low. “We had the [lab experiment] sessions on the calendar already, and post-election, we looked at the data and saw that people’s behavior was profoundly different.”

“It appears that whatever Trump represents – that rhetorical style, that presence – seems to have consequences for other people’s behaviors.” Before the election, men were less likely to use aggressive negotiation tactics when they knew their partner was a woman – a pattern that could be classified as chivalry or a kind of “benevolent sexism,” Low says. “This tells us that if women’s outcomes are dependent on men’s whims, those whims could change. We could see the turning of the tide, and suddenly men are more aggressive.”

The experiments involved playing a “Battle of the Sexes” game in which men and women had to divide $20 with a partner. In some cases, participants were told the gender of their partner; in other cases, that information wasn’t provided. Each round had only two options for splitting the money: One partner would get $15 and the other would get $5, or vice versa; or, if they couldn’t agree, both would walk away with zero.

The researchers pointed out that previous studies suggest that political and world events can affect people’s behavior, including their displays of generosity, cooperation and fairness. “It appears that whatever Trump represents – that rhetorical style, that presence – seems to have consequences for other people’s behaviors,” Low says.

Many human rights and social justice groups have observed a spike in anti-Semitism and hate crimes following the election. “That’s anecdotal evidence that words matter,” Low says, “and what we have is lab evidence that this matters.”

 

Credit: Wisegeek

 

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You Have No Life? That’s The New Status Symbol!

March 7, 2017

Not surprising, really, but a new study highlights how enamored so many busy careerists are by their decline of leisure time. In fact, increasing numbers aspire to having no life.

The research found that some people boast about the lack of spare time as a status symbol —even an aspirational lifestyle. According to Harvard Business School’s Anat Keinan, the lead author of the study with colleagues from Columbia and Georgetown, “People used to spend their time in ostentatiously unproductive ways to show their status,” says Keinan. But now, something in our culture has changed about how status is achieved, as conspicuous ostentatious consumption has become less socially acceptable. Those wishing to flaunt their status have had to find more subtle ways to show their value. At the same time, our go-go workplaces are emphasizing and rewarding 24×7 productivity.

“When we talk about traditional conspicuous consumption, it’s about consuming scarce and expensive things like jewelry or money or cars,” Keinan says. “But the new conspicuous consumption is about saying, I am the scarce resource, and therefore I am valuable.”

Keinan pointed out that the notion of equating “busyness” with status flies in the face of decades of social history, where enjoyment of nonproductive leisure time was seen as a mark of a successful life. The ability to fritter away your hours was considered the apex of success as evidenced in books from sociologist Thorstein Veblen’s 1899 classic The Theory of the Leisure Class (he coined the term “conspicuous consumption”) to television shows such as “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” If you didn’t actually have a life of leisure, you could pretend you did by buying increasingly affordable luxury brands like Cadillac or Rolex.

The study’s findings were described by Michael Blanding in a Harvard Business School post, based on an interview with Keinan about the research, to be published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Blanding described six experiments the researchers set up to gauge our attitudes about luxury and busyness. As a preliminary test, the researchers combed through social media posts by celebrities compiled by Harris Wittels, author of Humblebrag, The Art of False Modesty, and found more than 1 in 10 were about being too busy or “not having a life.” (A typical example: “Hi, I’m 16 and I’m publishing 3 books and an album this year. Do you have any advice on how to handle it best?”) Continue reading

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East-West Exchange Has A Much Longer History Than Assumed

Part of the Tabula Peutingeriana, a 13th-century copy of an ancient road map, with Rome at center.

February 7, 2017

In this age of growing nationalistic reaction to globalization and the effects of international trade upon nations, it’s good to step back and gain a broader historical perspective about mutual influences that have occurred from antiquity. This new book by Michael Scott, Ancient Worlds: A Global History of Antiquity, provides that needed perspective. And it reminds us that interconnection and interdependence has always existed throughout history, but has become a daily, living reality in our global community.

Reviewed in The Wall Street Journal by Peter Thonemann, Scott’s book presents an illuminating and fascinating exploration of the multitude of connections and communications between Eastern and Western societies — long before the Silk Road: “From Carthage and Rome through Iran and Afghanistan to Xiaanyang and the Ganges basin.”

In his review, Thonemann writes:

Three and a half thousand miles east of Athens, near the modern city of Bhopal in central India, stands a brown sandstone pillar, 21 feet tall. Carved into its surface is a seven-line Prakrit-language inscription from the late second century B.C., giving us a fleeting glimpse into a life of unimaginable strangeness and wonder. “This Garuda-pillar of Vasudeva, the god of gods, was constructed here by Heliodoros the devotee, son of Dion, of Taxila, the Greek ambassador who came from the Great King Antialkidas to King Kasiputra Bhagabhadra, the Savior, prospering in his fourteenth regnal year.”

Heliodoros the Greek ambassador: what a person to find in central India! We are all too accustomed to think of ancient history as the history of Greece and Rome, with Europe and the Mediterranean at its center. But as Michael Scott reminds us in his sweeping “Ancient Worlds: A Global History of Antiquity,” the Greco-Roman world formed only a small part of a vast, interconnected network of highly sophisticated and literate Old World cultures, stretching from Carthage and Rome in the west through Iran and Afghanistan to Xianyang and the Ganges basin in the east.

These far-flung societies engaged in a long, slow-moving conversation with one another. The pillar of Heliodoros shows us a Greek from northern Pakistan proudly proclaiming his status as a “devotee” of the Indian god Vasudeva-Krishna. A century earlier, the Indian king Ashoka had placed a long inscription at the Greek city of Alexandria in Arachosia (modern Kandahar, Afghanistan), proclaiming his Buddhist faith in immaculate Hellenistic Greek prose; a century later, 120 merchant ships were sailing from Roman ports on the Red Sea to the Indian subcontinent each year. Mr. Scott’s book is an ambitious attempt to evoke this “big” ancient world, from the sixth century B.C. to the fourth century A.D. Continue reading

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Enjoying Life, Helping Others…And Your Longevity

January 24, 2017

Two new, unrelated, studies show interesting links between longevity and your experience of life; especially how you actually live it. I think both raise questions about the latter. To explain, researchers from University College London looked at previous findings that single occasions of of enjoyment and life satisfaction appeared linked with greater longevity. The researchers then extended that to look at the impact of enjoying life over a longer period.

The new study of over 9000 adults in their 60s was conducted at two-year intervals. It found that the death rate was progressively higher among people who experienced fewer occasions of enjoying life – even when accounting for other possible factors. Those reporting the most frequent experience of enjoying life had a death rate of 24 percent lower than others in the study. The researchers concluded that the longer an individual experiences life enjoyment, the lower the risk of death.

However, in my view, this study raises the question of what fuels and supports a sense of enjoying life through the years to begin with? I see a key source: having a sense of purpose and engagement in life — a reason for living — tends to lead to greater overall health, which can translate into greater longevity. And that larger purpose is associated with engaging in something larger than just oneself. — something that draws on one’s mental, emotional and creative capacities in the service of something meaningful.

The other study I referred to corroborates that point: It found that people who care for others, who provide emotional support and help people in some way, also experience longer lives. That joint study from several universities, described in this report from the University of Basel, was published in Evolution & Human Behavior.

I think the upshot of studies like these, combined with clinical observation, is that moving beyond fixation with yourself — your own ego, your body, your “needs” — is the key to mind-body-spiritual health over the long run. And it’s no surprise that longevity is a by-product.

Credit: Markgrove.tv

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Life’s Dilemmas And Crossroads – A Few Reflections

January 10, 2017

“People pay for what they do, and still more for what they have allowed themselves to become. And they pay for it very simply; by the lives they lead.” — James Baldwin (1924-1987). Baldwin’s observations reminds me so much of how often I’ve heard someone tell me, in one version or another, “I don’t like the person that I’ve become…”

Similarly, there’s the lament, “I waited too long…now what?” — I’ve often heard that from a person who’s awakened to realizing what they’ve wanted to do or express in their life, but always postponed. Or, they’ve discovered that they’ve been sleepwalking through the years. And there are fewer of them remaining.

Credit: CPD Archive

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Our Human Contradictions…At Year’s End

December 27, 2016
A few end-of-year thoughts, stirred by a recent NPR report about the ways our universe is likely to end, eventually. It reminded me that we organic entities, endowed with consciousness, are but specks on a planet that itself, is just a speck in this vast galaxy; just one of billions of galaxies. If we grasp that reality, we see how foolish we humans are: All in the same boat, all heading for demise and the infinite unknown. But rather than unite with love and joy and caring, and in the embrace of our common state – and fate – we descend into petty slights, grievances, anger, resentments, hatred. Never forgiving, never letting go. And, of course, we kill each other, as well. That’s what we do, whether in our family relationships, our own society, or throughout the world. Yes, as Shakespeare wrote, “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

Credit: BBC

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What’s Your Feeling About Getting Older? It Directly Affects Your Health

December 6, 2016

That old adage, “You’re only as old as you feel” is correct, according to a new study. It finds that your attitude about aging does, in fact, impacts your overall health. The research, from the Irish Longitudinal Study on Aging (TILDA) at Trinity College Dublin, found that negative attitudes to aging affect both physical and cognitive health in your later years. Moreover, participants who held positive attitudes towards aging had improved cognitive ability as they aged.

According to the lead researcher Deirdre Robertson, “The way we think about, talk about and write about aging may have direct effects on health. Everyone will grow older and if negative attitudes towards aging are carried throughout life they can have a detrimental, measurable effect on mental, physical and cognitive health.”

The study, summarized in Medical News Today, resulted in these major findings:

  • Older adults with negative attitudes towards aging had slower walking speed and worse cognitive abilities two years later, compared to older adults with more positive attitudes towards aging.
  • This was true even after participants’ medications, mood, their life circumstances and other health changes that had occurred over the same two-year period were accounted for.
  • Furthermore, negative attitudes towards aging seemed to affect how different health conditions interacted. Frail older adults are at risk of multiple health problems including worse cognition. In the TILDA sample frail participants with negative attitudes towards aging had worse cognition compared to participants who were not frail. However frail participants with positive attitudes towards aging had the same level of cognitive ability as their non-frail peers.

The researchers concluded that these findings have important implications for media, policymakers, practitioners and society more generally. Societal attitudes towards aging are predominantly negative. Everyone will grow older and if these attitudes persist they will continue to diminish quality of life.

Credit: CPD Archive

 

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High-Stress Job? Beware: An Early Death Is More Likely

screen-shot-2016-11-15-at-11-44-18-amNovember 15, 2016

A new study from Indiana University has found that people who are in high-stress jobs, and who typically have little control over their work — its flow, time-frame and impact – are more likely to die younger or have poorer health. compared with people who have more power and decision- making autonomy.

According to this news release from the Kelley School of Business, previous academic research has found that having greater control over your job can help you manage work-related stress. But it’s never suggested that it was a matter of life and death — until now.

The study, published in Personnel Psychology, used a longitudinal sample of 2,363 Wisconsin residents in their 60s over a seven-year period. The researchers found that for individuals in low-control jobs, high job demands are associated with a 15.4 percent increase in the likelihood of death, compared to low job demands. For those in high-control jobs, high job demands are associated with a 34 percent decrease in the likelihood of death compared to low job demands.

According to lead author Erik Gonzalez-Mulé, “We explored job demands, or the amount of work, time pressure and concentration demands of a job, and job control, or the amount of discretion one has over making decisions at work, as joint predictors of death. These findings suggest that stressful jobs have clear negative consequences for employee health when paired with low freedom in decision-making, while stressful jobs can actually be beneficial to employee health if also paired with freedom in decision-making.”

And, he added, “When you don’t have the necessary resources to deal with a demanding job, you…might eat more, you might smoke, you might engage in some of these things to cope with it.”

Credit: Interrete

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Being Kind To Others Elevates Your Wellbeing, Research Finds

screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-3-11-46-pmNovember 1, 2016

This small but useful study from Oxford researchers underscores our human interconnectedness; and that doing something positive for others enhances our own happiness. In a review of 400 published studies about the relationship between kindness and happiness, the researchers found that being kind did have a modest, but noticeable impact on the person’s happiness. 

Although the review of the 400 studies found that the effect is lower than some pop-psychology articles have claimed, the researches pointed out that future research might help identify which kind acts are most effective at boosting happiness. They noted that existing research does not distinguish between kindness to family and friends versus strangers and, taking this into account, targeted kindness rather than indiscriminate kindness may have a greater effect on happiness.

The study’s lead author Oliver Scott Curry pointed out that “Our review suggests that performing acts of kindness will not change your life, but might help nudge it in the right direction. We recommend further research is done to compare the effects of being kind to family and friends as opposed to strangers. This is an area about which we know surprisingly little at the moment.”

Nevertheless, this brings to my mind the teachings from most spiritual and philosophical traditions, which describe the greater joy and happiness one experiences when doing something positively for others; when giving to others. For example, this from the Sufi teacher Hazrat Inayat Khan (1882-1927):

“A person who, alone, has seen something beautiful, who has heard something harmonious, who has tasted something delicious, who has smelt something fragrant, may have enjoyed it, but not completely. The complete joy is in sharing one’s joy with others. For the selfish one who enjoys himself and does not care for others, whether he enjoys things of the earth or things of heaven, his enjoyment is not complete.” 

Credit: Explore Curiocity

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Yoga Practice Reduces Anxiety Disorder, New Research Finds

screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-11-36-58-amOctober 11, 2016

I’ve written previously about new research that shows how mind-body practices such as yoga and meditation have a positive impact mental and physical health. I recently came across a new study, and it adds to the accumulating evidence about the value of these practices. This one finds that yoga, in particular, can help reduce and diminish anxiety – the most widespread type that we describe – in the terminology of diagnostic categories — as “generalized anxiety disorder.”

Sound familiar? Anxiety, along with depression, are the two most prevalent symptoms that practitioners see; and the most often treated with psychotherapy — along with the many medications that pharmaceutical companies have created for this enormous market.

This new research by Georgia State University, and published in the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, looked at the effects of yoga on three people with anxiety disorder, and whether or not yoga could be helpful. That is, if yoga could serve as an alternative or additional treatment option for people suffering from anxiety.

In short, the researchers found that yoga tended to reduce worry, a primary symptom of anxiety.

As the lead author Jessica Morgan Goodnight explained, “When people have this diagnosis, they worry a lot–uncontrollably–about the future, which causes physical symptoms like muscle tension and trouble sleeping, and their lives and their relationships are impaired because of it.”

She reported that in this study, “Two participants showed decreases in daily worry ratings after they started yoga and reported less worry on a daily basis. The third participant was steadily increasing worry before starting yoga, but the increasing trend ended and began leveling out after she started practicing yoga.”

This is one small study, of course. But I think it’s significant because it shows that yoga can help people with anxiety reduce their symptoms. Other research has shown similar effects from tai chi, Qigong, and that even short-term meditation affects the regions of the brain that are related to anxious and depressed emotional states.

“It’s nice to provide options for people with mental health conditions to try to reduce their symptoms and increase the quality of their lives…(and this shows) yoga could be an option for people.” The researchers say pilot studies like this pave the way for more conclusive research to be conducted in the future.

Credit: UC Santa Barbara

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More Evidence: Literary Fiction Increases Your Emotional Capacities

screen-shot-2016-10-08-at-12-19-20-pmOctober 4, 2016

In a previous essay I argued that reading serious literature – not popular fiction – helps your “evolve” and deepen your self-awareness and emotional capacities; and I cited some research that provided evidence of just that. Now, a new study underscores and adds to those findings and observations.

In my earlier article I wrote, “Delving into serious fiction engages you in the core human issues that everyone grapples with, consciously or unconsciously. The prime one is the question of, “What’s the meaning of life; of my life? And, related issues concerning moral judgment, the impact of social conventions, conflicting paths in life, and so on.”

Related to that, I cited research reported in the New York Times: That reading serious fiction has a demonstrable impact on increasing empathy, social awareness and emotional sensitivity. The study found not only that reading serious fiction increased reader’s emotional awareness and empathy, but that pop fiction did not have the same effect. In my view, those findings illustrate an essential part of becoming more fully human.

And now, a new study has found that reading literary fiction appears to be associated with superior emotion recognition skills. This study found that participants who recognized and were familiar with authors of literary fiction tended to perform better on an emotional recognition test. This association held even after statistically accounting for the influence of other factors that might be connected to both emotion skills and reading more literary fiction, such as past educational attainment, gender and age.

The method of the study is described here, and was published in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics.

The authors then conducted a second study involving over 300 more participants. It also included a measure of participants’ self-reported empathy levels. This was to check that it’s not simply that people with more empathy are more attracted to literary fiction and also tend to do better at the emotion recognition test. Again, participants who recognized more literary fiction authors also tended to perform better on the emotion test. Moreover, this association remained even after controlling for the influence of differences in participants’ empathy levels.

The authors say they believe the apparent link between reading more literary fiction and better emotion recognition skills emerges because “the implied (rather than explicit) socio-cognitive complexity, or roundness of characters, in literary fiction prompts readers to make, adjust, and consider multiple interpretations of characters’ mental states.”

So – find a good novel or short story by a writer of serious fiction, and read on!

Credit: Pexels

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Childhood Insecurity Affects How You Deal With Adult Stress

screen-shot-2016-09-12-at-5-44-18-pmSeptember 20, 2016

This new study adds to the knowledge that child relationships have profound and lasting impact on a range of adult experiences, including personality traits, the potential for positive engagement with others; or for emotional disturbance. This study, published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, found that insecurity in childhood makes it harder to deal with stressful experiences as an adult. That’s often visible in how individuals respond very differently to situations that might be challenging or difficult in some way.

I think the upshot of this study, described below, adds to the growing knowledge that childhood experiences have lasting impact; a long “tail” throughout many dimensions of adult life. In this case, its impact is visible when dealing with potentially anxious or stressful situations.

The key challenge is determining what can heal the impact of the past and enable new growth.

In this summary of the current study, Christine Heinisch, one of the authors, points out that, “We know from other studies that our history of attachment directly influences how we act in social situations, but what about reaction to a neutral stimulus under emotional conditions?” Continue reading

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Bad Jobs Hurt Your Mental Health By The Time You’re 40

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No surprise, here: Yet another study has demonstrated that unengaging, insufficiently meaningful work — and the overall work culture — has negative impact upon mental health. And, it’s apparent by the time you’re 40.

This new research found that debilitating work experiences in your 20s and 30s have an accumulated negative impact on your mental health by the time you’re into your 40s. And that continues on, needless to say. The research found that people who were unhappy with their work early in their careers became more depressed, worried, and had more trouble sleeping.

Of course, many previous studies have shown that the majority of people are unhappy with their work – even hate it. For example, a 2014 survey by the Conference Board. But oddly — despite all the research and clinical evidence that debilitating work and unhealthy management impacts your mental health in increasingly harmful ways over time – those mental health consequences continue to be overlooked or ignored.

This new study was conducted by Ohio State researchers. It investigated the long-term health effects of job satisfaction, or lack of it, earlier in people’s careers. It analyzed data from longitudinal surveys of nearly 6500 American workers, in which people rated their level of satisfaction with their work.

According to the findings, described in this report from Ohio State, all participants reported a number of health issues after they reached the age of 40. Specifically, those people who expressed the lowest job satisfaction over the years reported much higher levels of depression, sleep problems, and excessive worry; as well as scoring lower on traditional mental health measures.

Moreover, those who initially reported high job satisfaction, but then had a downward trend, were more likely than the consistently satisfied group to report trouble sleeping, excessive worry, and symptoms of psychiatric conditions And among those who had low job satisfaction, their mental health was more affected than their physical health.

As one of the researchers, Hui Zheng, pointed out, however, “The higher levels of mental health problems for those with low job satisfaction may be a precursor to future physical problems. Increased anxiety and depression could lead to cardiovascular or other health problems that won’t show up until they are older.” Zheng added that a person does not have to be at the end of their career to see the health impacts of job satisfaction on mental health: the study participants were examined while in their 40s. Overall, “We found that there is a cumulative effect of job satisfaction on health that appears as early as your 40s,” said lead author Jonathan Dirlam.

Credit: CPD Archive

 

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Music While You Work Increases Teamwork

Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 11.51.39 AMAugust 30, 2016

So turn up the volume! A new study finds that playing music while people are working actually increases cooperation and teamwork. A series of experiments conducted by Cornell University found that music has an impact on the cooperative attitudes among workers.

According to a summary of the research, the question arose from the observation that “From casual acoustic melodies at the coffee shop to throbbing electronic beats at teen clothing outlets, music is used to mold customer experience and behavior.” The researchers wondered what impact it might have on employees? So they conducted two studies to test the effect of different types of music on the cooperative behavior of individuals working as a team.

The researchers, Kevin Kniffin, Jubo Yan, Brian Wansink and William Schulzer, published their findings in the Journal of Organizational Behaviordescribed in this summary from Cornell:

For each study, participants were grouped into teams of three. Each team member was given multiple opportunities to either contribute to the team’s value using tokens or keep the tokens for personal use.

When happy, upbeat music was played – researchers chose the “Happy Days” theme song, “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison, “Yellow Submarine” by the Beatles and “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves – team members were more likely to contribute to the group’s value. When music deemed unpleasant was played – in this case, heavy metal songs by less than well-known bands – participants were more likely to keep tokens for themselves. The researchers found contribution levels to the public good when happy, upbeat songs were played were approximately one-third higher compared to the less pleasant music. Continue reading

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Singles Experience Greater Personal Growth Than Married People

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Our culture is witnessing growing diversity in how people choose to live; with whom, their traditions and norms. But it’s practically a stereotype to portray single people as unhappy, unfulfilled, and lonely; perhaps emotionally troubled. Of course, that can be true for some. We see some psychotherapy patients, for example, who are single and experience significant conflicts in their romantic quests.

But that’s also a misleading assumption. In fact, new research from UC Santa Barbara turns that picture of single people on its head: It finds that single people have heightened feelings of self-determination and are more likely to experience more psychological growth and development than many married people.

According to the study’s lead author, Bella DePaulo, “It is time for a more accurate portrayal of single people and single life – one that recognizes the real strengths and resilience of people who are single, and what makes their lives so meaningful,” DePaulo adds, “The preoccupation with the perils of loneliness can obscure the profound benefits of solitude.”

And there are plenty who are solitary. Currently, Bureau of Labor Statistics show that 50.2 percent of the nation’s adult population were single as of 2014. “Increasing numbers of people are single because they want to be,” DePaulo points out. “Living single allows them to live their best, most authentic, and most meaningful life.” Continue reading

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Two Hidden Ways To Sustain Romance and Intimacy In Your Relationship

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The 18th Century Zen poet and teacher wrote “Not knowing how near the truth is, we seek it far away.” That describes the relentless search for new “truths” that promise to sustain emotional and sexual intimacy with your partner. But sometimes the most important information stares you right in the face; you don’t “see” it because it’s so obvious.

Here’s an example: It’s found in some new research on couples’ relationships from the University of North Carolina. It finds that couples whose partners feel and express appreciation to each other, and who take time to share in moments of joy tend to experience more ongoing, positive connections with each other. Such opportunities occur, especially, in the small moments that occur every day, in many people’s lives. But they’re often overlooked or ignored.

According to the lead researcher Sara Algoe, the findings point to the significance of “the little things.” They have big impact on relationship longevity and wellbeing. Moreover, we know that many other studies, have found that positive relationships are associated with greater overall health, over the years.

In a summary of the research, Algoe points out that one partner’s expression of gratitude reminds the other partner that he or she is a good relationship companion. The research method is described in detail here, but the upshot is that couples who expressed gratitude towards each other in those small moments reported that their relationships become stronger, more positive and flexible in their interactions with each other. Continue reading

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Mental Health Professionals Ignore Their Responsibility to The Public

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Those of us in the mental health professions are too silent and disengaged from an important responsibility we have to individual lives and society today. To explain, we live with increasing fears and insecurity, as we worry about what may lie ahead in this world: The increasing disruption and violence. Steady, unrelenting transition to a diverse and non-white majority U.S. culture. Continuing economic uncertainty. The impact of not dealing with climate change, and how it will alter the lives of future generations. And, especially, growing cynicism about the capacity of our social and governmental institutions to really understand or deal with any of these new realities of life.

In view of the above, we psychologists and psychiatrists should be playing a visible role in identifying what psychologically healthy living consists of, in the midst of today’s world: What it looks like, in our ideas, our emotions, our behavior; and in our public policies. And, what supports those features of mental health in the face of today’s challenges. I think we’re abdicating this role. I plan to write more about this in the future, but want to sketch out some ideas here, for discussion.

Generally, we can describe health as whatever promotes positive, constructive adaptation to change; what enhances flexibility and proactive behavior when dealing with changing or unexpected life circumstances; and mentally embracing the reality that our internal wellbeing and outward success are interdependent with those of others. Overall, that means behaving in ways that promote the common good, publically and privately. Interdependence, much of which is fueled by globalization and the merger of technology and communication, requires it.

This perspective asks us mental health professionals to take some positions and voice them publically. That is, articulate and advocate those social, cultural and political issues that promote psychologically healthy lives and society, rather than ignore those that undermine or impede them. To do so, we’re aided by a wealth of knowledge and information to draw on. It comes from clinical experience with a range of people who seek our help; and from extensive, published empirical research. The two sources converge. But too many of our mental health professionals don’t connect the dots. Or they don’t want to, perhaps in fear that voicing a position would erode their professional authority with their patients. Continue reading

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Why Women Who Have More Sexual Partners Are Less Likely To Divorce

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So often, what we assume to be true reflects an embedded set of conditioned attitudes. And those often reflect prevailing values and expectations more than real people’s behavior or trends within changing social and cultural circumstances. A new study highlights an example of that. Its findings contrast with “established” fact — that women who have multiple sex partners prior to marriage necessarily experience an increased likelihood that they will eventually divorce.

As our society evolves, people’s intimate relationships also evolve. That requires learning more about what supports lasting, positive partnerships, or their eventual dissolution. And how that information may show itself in changing survey data.

This new research from the University of Utah provides some insights into recent social and behavioral shifts. Although it found that women with over 10 sexual partners prior to marriage show an increase in divorce rates, so do those with only two. Both had higher rate of divorce. But the lowest was found in those with 3 to 9 partners. 

The research was published by the Institute for Family Studies and summarized in a report from the University of Utah. According to the lead author Nicholas H. Wolfiger, “In short: if you’re going to have comparisons to your [future] husband, it’s best to have more than one.” He added that sexual behavior has changed significantly throughout recent decades.

I think that’s definitely a no-brainer, but many may be unaware of just how much is evolving. For example, I’ve written previously about the increasing numbers of unconventional romantic-sexual couplings; and also that divorce or separation can be good for your health.  Wolfinger pointed out that the acceptance of premarital sex make more likely that its impact upon marriage instability would decline. He added, “All of the fanfare associated with hooking up is evidence that some young people have become comfortable with the idea of sex outside of serious relationships.” Continue reading

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The Trump Mentality: A Contemporary Conquistador?

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Both liberal and conservative writers express amazement over Donald Trump’s consistent inconsistencies – even incoherencies – regarding the positions he voices. But in fact there are no contradictions at all – once you realize there’s a larger theme, connecting them. It’s an overall, consistent mentality.

To explain, let’s look at the apparent discrepancies. One that’s particularly baffling is a seeming disconnect within Trump’s attitudes and behavior towards women. A recent New York Times story highlighted this. It described blatant, sexist objectification of women in his private relationships, relating to them as objects to seduce and possess as romantic conquests — until he becomes tired of them. And yet, he’s also promoted women to positions of management and responsibility in his business entities. So on the one hand, Trump looks like a conventional, though somewhat exaggerated, sexist skirt-chaser. But on the other hand, a modern, equality-promoting executive.

More broadly confounding are Trump’s multiple, ever-changing positions on policies, both domestic and foreign. They, too, appear incomprehensibly inconsistent from one moment to the next. Now you could explain that incoherency as the behavior of a more extremely bombastic, highly narcissistic politician. One who often expresses unanchored, off-the-cuff thinking. After all, narcissism is almost a job requirement for politicians, as Harold Lasswell described decades ago in his seminal book, Power and Personality.

But most narcissistic, power-seeking politicians want to garner enough broad support to get elected. Typically, they do that through charisma, crafted positions and calculated posturing for maximum appeal. That’s what doesn’t mesh with Trump’s emotionally unregulated — and ultimately self-undermining — indiscriminate attacks on others. Including needed allies or potential supporters, even. That latter, destructive mentality is more reminiscent of one of Gore Vidal’s bon mots: “It’s not enough that I succeed; others must fail.

So on the surface, Trump’s attitudes and behavior don’t appear to reconcile, whether about women in particular or his political aims. But they really do. There’s an overriding theme that ties them all together: An overall mentality – an emotional and mental perspective and attitude. It’s that of an unbridled, unquestioned sense of personal greatness; of total power to control, possess and dominate as one wishes; for whatever purpose desired, at any moment.

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Some Thoughts To Ponder…

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Think about this: All art, all literature; all science, even, reflects an attempt to understand who we are, what we are, and why we are…as well who this person is that each of us has become at this moment in time and space, on this planet.

And, these quotes to consider as you reflect upon the days and weeks ahead…or anytime.

“Any human anywhere will blossom in a hundred unexpected talents and capacities simply by being given the opportunity to do so.” — Doris Lessing (1919-2013), British writer; 2007 Nobel Prize in literature.

“Everyone, real or invented, deserves the open destiny of life.” — Grace Paley (1922-2007) Short story writer, poet, political activist.

Credit: Caleb George Morris

 

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The Impact Of Long-Term Resentment Among Family Members

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Thoughts I was reflecting on the other day….It’s so pervasive – and so debilitating, for so many families: Allowing anger, resentment, rivalries and related negative, unforgiving, emotional attitudes prevail in their relationships, up through and even beyond death. I’ve observed this to some degree in the majority of my patients and research, over the years. Such a waste of energy and spirit. Certainly confirms Tolstoy’s comment, “…each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Credit: CPD Archive

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Is Your Coworker Struggling With Depression?

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Here’s an informative article by Martha C. White, from Money. It quotes me a few times, especially about my emphasis on how the management and workplace culture can create emotional conflict for people, independent of what they be bringing to the workplace from their personal lives, outside of work.

The article follows:

The recent sad news that a young Apple employee was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at the company’s headquarters raises an important, if troubling, question: Would you know what to do if you suspected a coworker might be dangerously depressed?

Of course, if there is the threat of violence to themselves or others, calling 911 or contacting company security is the way to go—you shouldn’t put yourself in danger. But before a troubled person reaches that breaking point, mental health experts say they often tip their hand, indicating in ways that seem clear in hindsight that they were wrestling with depression.

The Warning Signs

Many of us see our coworkers more hours in a week than we see our own family members, which means we are in a unique position to detect a shift in a colleague’s mental state.

“It’s always a difficult issue, yet most coworkers can tell if something seems wrong or off in a colleague’s demeanor,” said Douglas LaBier, a business psychologist and the director of the Center for Progressive Development in Washington, D.C.

While saying things like they want to die, feel completely alone, or have nobody who cares about them are obvious indications of a troubled mental state, most people who struggle with depression in the workplace express their distress more subtly than that, noted Edward Yost, a human resources executive with the Society for Human Resource Management. More general feelings of being helpless or trapped, especially if expressed frequently, are more likely to be the kind of comments a coworker might express to another, he said.

Two hallmarks of depression that go hand in hand are isolation and withdrawal, said Gary Namie, director of the Workplace Bullying Institute. The isolation may be self-imposed or may be a result of being shut out of workplace cliques.

People who are depressed may withdraw from others and distance themselves from social interaction, Namie said, and because many people with depression are good at masking their feelings of self-negativity, a colleague may brush off a sudden disappearance from team lunches or department happy hours by blaming an increased workload or other job-related obligations.

For a conscientious coworker, those claims should be carefully considered, because there are two possibilities here, neither of which is great news from a mental health perspective. The first is that he or she is using work as an excuse to pull away from others. The second is that the person actually is overloaded with work all the time.

“Many become depressed and demoralized not just by personal issues outside of work, but by the management culture at work,” LaBier said. Whether the reason is a conflict with the boss or other management, no opportunity for advancement, or a sense of stagnation, “Feelings of being stuck and trapped result—which will cause emotional problems,” he said. Continue reading

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Prejudice Reduced After Just Brief Periods of Meditation

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This new research is both interesting and encouraging: It found that just seven minutes of meditation can reduce racial prejudice. The study, from the University of Sussex, was published in the journal Motivation and Emotion. It used the Buddhist mediation technique of loving-kindness meditation, which promotes unconditional kindness towards oneself and others.

Before describing this particular study, I want to point out that one important implication of this research, in my view, is that prejudices of all sorts are learned and conditioned from a variety of social and cultural forces; and, they can be consciously altered. Knowing this is especially important in our current era of reactive prejudice towards those who are “different,” and whose presence is becoming more visible as our society becomes increasingly diverse.

Regarding this study, the lead researcher Alexander Stell, said: “This indicates that some meditation techniques are about much more than feeling good, and might be an important tool for enhancing inter-group harmony.” This form of meditation is aimed at generating feelings of happiness and kindness towards oneself and others through conscious focus on repeating thoughts and phrases that are positive and beneficent, while visualizing a particular person.

According to Stell, “We wanted to see whether doing loving-kindness meditation towards a member of another ethnic group would reduce the automatic preference people tend to show for their own ethnic group.”

In the study, a sample of 71 white, non-meditating adults were each given a photo of a gender-matched black person and either received taped LKM instructions, or instructions to look at the photos and notice certain features of the face. Both conditions lasted just seven minutes. Details of the experiment are described in this summary from the University.

The researchers found that just seven minutes of loving-kindness meditation directed to a member of a specific racial group (in this case, a black person) was sufficient to reduce racial bias towards that group. Additionally the researchers measured levels of positive emotions that were either “other-regarding” (e.g., love, gratitude, awe, elevation) and those that were more self-directed (e.g., contentment, joy, pride). They found that people doing loving-kindness meditation showed large increases in other-regarding emotions. Those emotions were found to be what drives the reduction of bias.

Credit: CPD Archive

A version of this article also appeared in The Huffington Post

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Wisdom Requires Both “Head” and “Heart”

Screen Shot 2016-04-09 at 2.51.47 PMApril 5, 2016.

Of course! Our cognitive, logical, linear thought processes must be joined with our capacity for perspective and understanding of the larger context of a problem, for “wisdom” to emerge. This new study finds an interesting dimension of that “oneness”: the variability of the heart rate.

The research was described in this summary from the University of Waterloo. It found that heart rate variation and thinking process work together to enable wise reasoning about complex social issues. The study by Waterloo and the Australian Catholic University was published in  Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.

The authors state that their study breaks new ground in wisdom research by identifying conditions under which psychophysiology impacts wise judgment. “Our research shows that wise reasoning is not exclusively a function of the mind and cognitive ability,” says the lead author,Igor Grossmann. “We found that people who have greater heart rate variability and who are able to think about social problems from a distanced viewpoint demonstrate a greater capacity for wise reasoning.”

The study extends previous work on cognitive underpinnings of wise judgment to include consideration how the heart’s functioning impacts the mind. It points out that a growing consensus among philosophers and cognitive scientists defines wise judgment to include the ability to recognize the limits of one’s knowledge, to be aware of the varied contexts of life and how they may unfold over time, to acknowledge others’ points of view, and to seek reconciliation of opposing viewpoints.  Continue reading

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Open Marriages, Other Forms of Sexual-Romantic Coupling: On The Rise?

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I was recently interviewed for a New York Times article by Tammy La Gorce that portrayed the long-term open marriage of the actress Mo’Nique and her husband Sidney Hicks. The couple maintains that it works for them, despite the criticism and disbelief they often encounter. La Gorce’s article quoted my views about open marriage — what it means, and whether it “works,” from a psychological perspective. Because my views contrasted sharply with some of the others cited, especially those of Helen Fisher of the Kinsey Institute, I’m elaborating on them here.

First, the open marriage is just the current version of what became more visible during the early ‘70s because of the book, The Open Marriage, and the popular movie, Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice.” Overall, it’s part of a much broader shift, or evolution, underway today. It’s towards a sense of greater freedom to create and be open about different forms of intimate relationships; ones that people define for themselves as desirable and satisfying.

Increasingly, men and women seek to create and maintain an intimate relationship that they experience as fulfilling and meaningful. And that they define, themselves; not by others or conventional norms. How their relationships evolve down the road, over time, is something they will assess and judge for themselves. And we can see what the evidence shows.

It’s wise to suspend judgment, especially about psychological health, when views about the latter are contaminated by ideology or shared values and norms. As you grow through the adult years in today’s changing, increasingly diverse society, a broadened perspective enables you to realize that life can be complex; and can work differently for different people.

For example, Kim (not her real name) a divorced woman in her 40s, explained to me that she maintains a satisfying relationship with a man who also has a lifelong, supportive connection with a woman who is the mother of his three children. They find it works for them, given their life circumstances. And we can judge them from our own perspectives and life choices…or observe and respect what works for them. Continue reading

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Renewed Interest In Open Marriages?

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This New York Times article by Tammy La Gorce looks at the practice of the open marriage from today’s perspective. She quotes my views as follows:

“Douglas LaBier, a psychologist and the director of the Center for Progressive Development...said that from a psychological perspective, people shouldn’t assume that openness in a sexual relationship is bad.

“What’s at the core of it is a desire to form a healthy relationship,” he said. “…people want relationships in which they feel emotionally fulfilled and connected, and for some couples that means being transparent about outside partners. In marriage, the motto of the future may be “live and let live.” 

“I see a much more tolerant, nonjudgmental openness emerging,” Dr. LaBier said. “Everyone is different. You figure out what works for you, and if it’s not imposing something on someone else or hurting someone else, it’s acceptable.”

My views may be “outlier,” but they are based on solid observation and data about shifts in our culture, as I’ve described in other posts here. Of course, such views will be criticized from other perspectives. For the full New York Times article, click here.

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Does More Money or More Time Bring Greater Happiness?

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Here’s a bit of new research I came across. It’s findings sound intuitively obvious, but I think it’s important to emphasize: The study found that valuing your time over the pursuit of money is linked to greater overall happiness. This finding highlights one aspect of a link between healthy personal values and psychologically healthy lives. I regularly see this in my work, and wish it would be more soundly emphasized by my fellow mental health professionals.

In the research, a series of studies of nearly 5,000 people was conducted by the University of British Columbia. It found that there’s a pretty even divide among people’s preferences for valuing their time vs. their money. Unfortunately — but not surprisingly, given our cultural view about what’s most “desirable” in life — only about half of the study’s participants said they valued their time over money. However, slightly more than half of the people were found to value their time over their money.

The important finding, however, was that the preference for giving priority to time over making more money was associated with greater happiness in life. And happiness, wellbeing, equanimity and psychological health are all interwoven.

The study is described in detail here, and was published in the journal Social Psychological & Personality Science.

Interestingly, the study also found that older people also were more likely to say they valued their time compared to younger people. This raises questions about the impact of age upon one’s values and overall life perspectives; and whether the shift in mentality and values hat occurs with increasing age can be supported and grown at earlier stages of life. Continue reading

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Are You ‘Checked-Out’ On the Job? Here’s Why

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You may have heard about the Spanish man who was found to have not reported for work for six years, and no one noticed — although he continued to be paid. When finally discovered, he claimed that when he did go to work, he had nothing to do.

That may be an extreme example, but many people today are turned-off by their jobs in less visible ways. They become pretty disengaged from work – either mentally checking out, or in actual behavior if they can – like faking doing work, or skipping out to go to a movie. Surveys find disengagement as high as 70% of American workers. It’s no surprise that nearly every day a new survey pops up about how much people dislike their jobs and their management. The reasons typically include severe, unrelenting stress from too many demands and too few resources or rewards, such as cited in a poll of 7000 people. Both stress and just tuning out are often rooted in debilitating, undermining management behavior and workplace culture. For example, a survey of 2,000 workers found that 47 percent said their managers made them feel threatened, rather than rewarded, and 24 percent thought their bosses were poor communicators, lacking empathy.

Three Sources of Boredom and Disengagement

But I find three additional, often overlooked reasons why employees tune out or disconnect from their work, and become bored or depressed on the job:

Too Much Mismatch – This occurs when you start to realize that “I just don’t belong here.” An example is a woman working in financial services who described to me an increasing mismatch Continue reading

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Chronic Stress and Anxiety Will Damage Your Brain

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A new research review finds that chronic stress and anxiety puts you at increased risk for developing depression and dementia. Finding such an association is not new, but this examination of several studies was more extensive and conclusive. It examined a number of research reports of how brain areas are impacted by chronic anxiety, fear and stress.

In a summary of the findings, the authors concluded that there is “extensive overlap” of the brain’s neurocircuitry in all three conditions, which may explain the link between chronic stress and the development of neuropsychiatric disorders, including depression and Alzheimer’s disease.

The authors pointed out that experiencing anxiety, fear and stress is considered a normal part of life when it is occasional and temporary, such as feeling anxious and stressed before an exam or a job interview. However, when those acute emotional reactions become more frequent or chronic, they can significantly interfere with daily living activities such as work, school and relationships. The research was published in the journal Current Opinion in Psychiatry and conducted by Canadian researchers from the the Rotman Research Institute.

“Pathological anxiety and chronic stress are associated with structural degeneration and impaired functioning of the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex (PFC), which may account for the increased risk of developing neuropsychiatric disorders, including depression and dementia,” said Linda Mah, lead author of the review.

“Looking to the future,” she added, “we need to do more work to determine whether interventions, such as exercise, mindfulness training and cognitive behavioral therapy, can not only reduce stress but decrease the risk of developing neuropsychiatric disorders.”

Credit: Allouteffort

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To Get More Creative, Become Less Productive

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A recent Harvard Business Review article by Art Markman highlights the value of subverting your usual way of thinking and doing, in order to enhance creativity at work. I’ve seen this borne out in the experiences of those who’ve tried stepping out of their comfort zone, outside of their usual “box;” and become more of an “outlier” in their approach to solving problems or dealing with new challenges,

Markman writes:

There is a fundamental tension between productivity and creativity, and managers won’t get more of the latter until they recognize it. Productive people move through the tasks they have to accomplish in a systematic way. They make steady and measurable progress toward their goals. They make effective and efficient use of their time.

Creativity… doesn’t. Creativity needs time and space to grow. Although we can systematically engage in activities that are related to creativity, it is hard to systematize creativity itself. In particular, creativity is fundamentally about knowledge. Nearly all creative ideas involve people finding new uses for existing knowledge – some novel configuration of old insights. James Dyson developed his vacuum by drawing a parallel to sawmills. Fiona Fairhurst designed a faster swimsuit by understanding shark skin. George de Mestral invented Velcro by understanding cockleburs.

That means people need to have the time to learn things that are not obviously relevant to their jobs, so that they will have a broad and deep knowledge base to draw from when they need to be creative. Moreover, creative enterprises rarely involve steady and measurable progress. Instead, being creative involves trying lots of different possibilities, struggling down several blind alleys before finding the right solution. Continue reading

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Why Living Together Without Marriage Can Increase Your Mental Health

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 10.20.24 AMJanuary 26, 2016

I’ve written previously that we’re living through a steady, growing shift in our society, as men and women re-think what kinds of relationships they seek and prefer – whether straight or gay. For example, I’ve written here that part of this shift is towards increasing acceptance of a variety of emotional-sexual experiences of couples; including polyamory; and committed couples who choose not to marry.

Now, some new research adds to these findings, as well as to recent survey data, that younger people, especially, are more concerned with building a positive, sustaining relationship than with marriage, per se. The current study, described in this report from Ohio State University, found that both men and women experience as much of a boost in their emotional well-being whether they move in together or marry. It was a bit more for women, but interestingly, that boost occurred equally among men and women who had a prior relationship that didn’t work out.

That finding is significant for reasons that might not be visible on the surface: I think it reflects the reality that forming a lasting love relationship with the right partner requires a prior failure or two. Such experiences are like a “leavening” of your inner self. It builds the foundation for learning what kind of person – his or her values, character, outlook on life — meshes with who you are, along those dimensions. And that increases the likelihood that a couple will grow together, emotionally, sexually, intellectually and spiritually, rather than grow apart.

This new study was based on data collected throughout the 2000s. It found that, for young adults who moved on from a first relationship, both men and women received similar emotional boosts whether they moved in with their second partner or got married to them.

The findings suggest an evolving role of marriage among young people today, said Sara Mernitz, co-author of the study. “Now it appears that young people, especially women, get the same emotional boost from moving in together as they do from going directly to marriage,” she said. “There’s no additional boost from getting married.”

Claire Kamp Dush, co-author of the study, pointed out that “We’re finding that marriage isn’t necessary to reap the benefits of living together, at least when it comes to emotional health.” The study appears online in the Journal of Family Psychology.

Credit: Kari Layland

A version of this article also appeared in The Huffington Post.

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Can Divorce Increase Your Overall Health?

Screen Shot 2016-01-24 at 5.08.44 PMJanuary 19, 2016

Whether you approve or not, there’s no question that intimate relationships are steadily transforming — what we seek from them, how we engage in them, and what we define as desirable and fulfilling. Men and women increasingly pursue relationships that they define as positive, meaningful, and healthy, though they may differ from traditionally accepted norms. And the latter includes, even, recent advocacy regarding polygamy, as well as support for legalization of sex workers, as Amnesty International has announced,  Such developments stir considerable emotional and moral reactions, which is why it’s helpful to find research that studies that show how some of these shifts may to lead to positive outcomes regarding emotional and psychological health.

Here’s one example: It concerns the mental health impact of divorce. It’s an illuminating study because it contradicts previous research indicating that divorced and unmarried couples are less healthy than married ones. This current study, conducted by London-based researchers, found evidence to the contrary. For example, it found that people who have divorced and remarried are no more likely than those who have remained married to have cardiovascular or respiratory health problems in early middle age. And physical health is interwoven with mental health, as many studied have confirmed.

The research examined the health outcomes of people who are divorced, as well as unmarried, cohabiting couples. The research found that people born in the late 1950s who experience divorce and separation or live together without marrying “…have very similar levels of health in middle age to those who are married,” said lead author George Ploubidis in a Medical XPress summary. Continue reading

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Does Having More Money Or More Time Bring You Greater Happiness?

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 5.27.45 PMJanuary 12, 2016

Here’s a bit of new research I came across. I think it provides an example of healthy values among psychologically healthy people; and should be emphasized by us mental health professionals. The study found that valuing your time over the pursuit of money is linked to greater overall happiness. Not surprisingly, only half of the study’s participants said they valued their time over money.

The research consisted of a series of studies of nearly 5000 people, conducted by the University of British Columbia. It found that there’s a pretty even divide among people’s preferences for valuing their time vs. their money. Actually, slightly more than half of the people valued their time over their money — which is encouraging. 

The study’s basic finding was that the preference for giving priority to time over making more money was associated with greater happiness in life. The study, described in detail here, and published in the journal Social Psychological & Personality Science, also found that older people also were more likely to say they valued their time compared to younger people.

The study noted that a participant’s gender or income didn’t affect whether they were more likely to value time or money. However, the researchers pointed out they didn’t include participants living at the poverty level who may have to prioritize money to survive. That’s understandable, but it also points out how strongly our culture — incorrectly — associates increasing material wealth with personal happiness and wellbeing in life overall, as though they go hand in hand. And once you go down that road, it’s endless: how much is “enough?” Our social values make the criteria for having “enough” very elusive.

Credit: CPD Archive

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Living Together Or Married? No Difference In Your Emotional Health

Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 4.35.14 PMDecember 8. 2015

This new research is consistent with recent surveys that show younger people, especially, are more concerned with building a positive, sustaining relationship than with marriage, per se. The current study found that both men and women experience as much of a boost in their emotional well-being whether they move in together or marry. It was a bit more for women, but Interestingly, that boost occurred equally among men and women who had a prior relationship that didn’t work out. 

That finding is significant. I think it reflects the reality that form a lasting love relationship with the right partner requires a prior failure or two. Such experiences are like a “leavening” of the inner self; it builds the foundation for learning what kind of person – his or her values, character, outlook on life — meshes with who you are, along those dimensions. That increases the likelihood that a couple will grow together, emotionally, sexually, intellectually and spiritually, rather than grow apart. 

This new study, described in this report from Ohio State University, was based on data collected throughout the 2000s. It found that, for young adults who moved on from a first relationship, both men and women received similar emotional boosts whether they moved in with their second partner or got married to them. 

The findings suggest an evolving role of marriage among young people today, said Sara Mernitz, co-author of the study. “Now it appears that young people, especially women, get the same emotional boost from moving in together as they do from going directly to marriage,” she said. “There’s no additional boost from getting married.”

Claire Kamp Dush, co-author of the study, pointed out that “We’re finding that marriage isn’t necessary to reap the benefits of living together, at least when it comes to emotional health.” The study appears online in the Journal of Family Psychology and will be published in a future print edition.

Credit: NPCC/CPD Archive

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Even Short Periods of Meditation Will Reduce Racial Prejudice

Screen Shot 2015-11-28 at 6.01.45 PMNovember 24, 2015

Now this is encouraging news: A new study finds that just seven minutes of meditation can reduce racial prejudice. The study, from the University of Sussex, was published in the journal Motivation and Emotion. It used the Buddhist mediation technique of loving-kindness meditation, which promotes unconditional kindness towards oneself and others.

The lead researcher Alexander Stell, said: “This indicates that some meditation techniques are about much more than feeling good, and might be an important tool for enhancing inter-group harmony.” This form of meditation is aimed at generating feelings of happiness and kindness towards oneself and others through conscious focus on repeating thoughts and phrases that are positive and beneficent, while visualizing a particular person.

According to Stell, “We wanted to see whether doing loving-kindness meditation towards a member of another ethnic group would reduce the automatic preference people tend to show for their own ethnic group.”

In the study, a sample of 71 white, non-meditating adults were each given a photo of a gender-matched black person and either received taped LKM instructions, or instructions to look at the photos and notice certain features of the face. Both conditions lasted just seven minutes. Details of the experiment are described in this summary from the University.

The researchers found that just seven minutes of loving-kindness meditation directed to a member of a specific racial group (in this case, a black person) was sufficient to reduce racial bias towards that group. Additionally the researchers measured levels of positive emotions that were either ‘other-regarding’ (e.g. love, gratitude, awe, elevation) and those that were more self-directed (e.g. contentment, joy, pride). They found that people doing loving-kindness meditation showed large increases in other-regarding emotions. Those emotions were found to be what drives the reduction of bias.

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How Depression Damages Your Memory And Concentration

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November 10, 2015

A new study finds that depression can diminish what you retain in your memory, as well as interfere with your ability to stay mentally focused. This research confirms what we see clinically among people who experience persistent negative, depressed moods and mental states. I think these findings underscore we are one integrated bio-psycho-social-spiritual-environmental organism. All dimensions of ourselves and our life experiences, both “inner” and “outer,” affect all others – emotionally, cognitively and behaviorally.

The study, from the University of Texas at Dallas, and published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, is the first to show that depressive thoughts are maintained for longer periods of time for people with depressed mood, and this may reduce the amount of information that they can hold in their memory.

According to lead author Bart Rypma, “We have known that negative thoughts tend to last longer for those with depression. However, this study is unique in showing that, these thoughts, triggered from stimuli in the environment, can persist to the point that they hinder a depressed person’s ability to keep their train of thought.”

And, added researcher Nick Hubbard, “The fact that depressive thoughts do not seem to go away once they enter memory certainly explains why depressed individuals have difficulty concentrating or remembering things in their daily lives. This preoccupation of memory by depressive thoughts might also explain why more positive thoughts are often absent in depression; there simply is not enough space for them.” The UT Center for Brain Health’s summary describes how the study was conducted and the data it provided.

I think this research points to the value of both mindfulness meditation and psychotherapy. Both can help people build their inner resources for, on the one hand, managing the impact of depressed mood upon their mental focus; and on the other hand — most importantly — envisioning positive emotional experiences to create in daily life. Both forms of help can gradually subsume a person’s cognitive and emotional dimensions of depressed thoughts and attitudes; as well as help them expand beyond their often fixed, negative view of themselves, which impedes creating a more positive experience of life.

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Feeling Emotionally Connected To Work Is Linked With Greater Psychological Wellbeing…But Why?

Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 10.47.20 AMNovember 3, 2015

I came across this new research finding that people who feel emotionally engaged and connected with their work experience greater psychological wellbeing. That may sound obvious, though it’s good whenever empirical data confirms the obvious. But I think the missing piece in the research is what, exactly, promotes that sense of emotional connection with your work to begin with?

This study from Denmark, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, examined the well-being and other health-related outcomes in 5,000 Danish workers. It found significantly higher well-being for employees in workgroups with “the employee’s emotional attachment to, identification with, and involvement in the organization.” They also had lower sickness absence rates and fewer sleep disturbances.

The lead author, Thomas Clausen, suggests that efforts to increase emotional connection with work may lead to a happier, healthier workforce. This makes sense, of course. Most companies would likely agree. The problem is that sense of connection with work reflects many factors that organizational leadership often fails to recognize or address. For example:

  • Does senior leadership promote a positive work culture, in which workers are valued and provided opportunities for continued learning and development?
  • Is diversity encouraged and valued in practice, not just in company mission statements? 
  • Is there a workaholic and/or sexist management culture permeating the organization?
  • Perhaps most importantly, do employees experience a sense of impact their work has upon the product or service the company provides? The latter appears increasingly important to younger workers, as surveys show. 

I’ve written about these issues previously, and they are crucial for long-term, sustainable success within our culture of increasing interconnection, transparency and constant flux; of rapid technology change and generational shift regarding values, life goals, and how people re-define personal and career success. 

Credit: Forbes

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How Can You Deal With An Abusive Boss?

Screen Shot 2015-10-23 at 10.26.57 AMOctober 20, 2015

I’ve written previously about abusive bosses and psychologically unhealthy management in general, and I’m revisiting it a bit here, because of a new study that highlights the difficulty people have when dealing with this kine of management environment. And not just employees: sometimes researchers themselves have a naive understanding of the problem.

That is, some recent research about employees who deal with abusive bosses shows that a well-intentioned study of workplace behavior can produce findings that confound the researchers’ predictions. This research found one unsurprising result; but another part of the findings – which puzzled the researchers — is what caught my eye.

To explain, the research surveyed the ways in which employees behave when working for abusive bosses. Those are often people who are narcissistic, denigrating, arrogant and unsupportive — or outright undermining — of employee’s learning and development.

The unsurprising part of the findings was that just trying to avoid the abusive boss or plotting ways to retaliate didn’t work. That made things worse for the employee, according to the study, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology and summarized by Jena McGregor in the Washington Post.

Rather, the other set of findings is what got my attention. Here, the researchers predicted that “acts of compassion and empathy — employees who assist bad bosses by going above and beyond, helping bosses with heavy workloads even when they’re not asked” would lead to diminished abuse by those bosses. And, that “acts of kindness might help lessen future rude or abusive behavior.”

The researchers were surprised to discover that it didn’t happen. Instead, according to the study’s co-author Charlice Hurst, “Abusive supervisors didn’t respond to followers being positive and compassionate, and doing things to be supportive and helpful.” The researchers concluded that their findings seemed to “clash with common sense.”

Really? I think most anyone who’s ever worked for abusive bosses would laugh at such “common sense” assumptions. No, trying to be “nice” or empathic towards the narcissistic, arrogant boss who often makes conflicting demands on employees isn’t going to produce positive change. Continue reading

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Psychedelics Increasingly Used For Healing And Growth

Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 2.54.17 PMOctober 13, 2015

The benefits of psychedelics for a range of emotional conflicts has been gaining increased recognition and re-emergence into — hopefully — the mainstream of treatment. In addition, researchers who are now legally allowed to conduct studies on their benefits are also finding that psychedelic drugs can have profound, transformative effects upon people — not just those who experience emotional conflicts such as anxiety or PTSD. 

An analysis published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal finds, according to a summary of the research, that psychedelic drugs have a strong effect on one’s conscious experience. They include such as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), psilocybin, found in “magic mushrooms,” dimethyltryptamine (DMT), mescaline and methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). According to Evan Wood, one of the co-authors, “The re-emerging paradigm of psychedelic medicine may open clinical doors and therapeutic doors long closed.”

Much current research focuses on more overt emotional disorders or conflicts. For example, that LSD-assisted psychotherapy might help reduce anxiety from terminal illness. Another, that “magic mushrooms” helped alcoholics reduce their drinking; and, a study of the drug MDMA shows a reduction in PTSD symptoms in people with chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD.

But also highly intriguing are the observations that psychedelics can have lasting, significant effect on transforming your personality. For example, a Johns Hopkins study found that a single session of psilocybin can produce lasting personality changes. The Hopkins study reported that “Lasting change was found in the part of the personality known as openness, which includes traits related to imagination, aesthetics, feelings, abstract ideas and general broad-mindedness. Changes in these traits, measured on a widely used and scientifically validated personality inventory, were larger in magnitude than changes typically observed in healthy adults over decades of life experiences.”

In a recent Huffington Post interview, Johns Hopkins researcher Matthew Johnson discussed research by him and his colleagues on the effects of psilocybin and other psychedelics, which he calls a “paradigm shift,” that “Psychedelics open a door to the mind, and then what’s behind that door is really all about the participants and the intention that they bring to the session. The fact that the effects last beyond the time that you take the medication — that’s really a new paradigm in psychiatry.”

Credit: CPD Archive

 

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Why It’s Possible To Alter Your Personality

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 12.17.47 PMSeptember 29, 2015

The novelist Norman Mailer wrote in The Deer Park, it’s a law of life that “one must grow or else pay more for remaining the same.”

So true, though many people believe that who you are – specifically, your personality – is fixed. In fact, much conventional thinking in psychology holds that our personalities remain constant.

But that’s not accurate: We’re always changing and evolving, in some way – for better or for worse. Many of us mental health professionals witness that occur among our patients. Keep in mind that who we may “become” is being shaped and determined by who we are right at this moment, by the kind of person we are inside; the qualities that we express in our daily lives, relationships and aspirations.

It’s good to see some recent research that confirms our capacity to change and grow dimensions of our personality. Change occurs from awareness of what aspects of our personality we want to develop, and working hard to “practice” them in daily life.

One example: Researchers at the University of Illinois conducted a study that tested the degree to which people could “grow” a particular personality trait or quality over a period of 16 weeks. The research, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that the participants who desired to change some dimension of themselves did so, in contrast to those who displayed less interest. The researchers pointed out that the results were modest, but that they show, “…at the very least, people’s personality traits and daily behavior tend to change in ways that align with their goals for change.”

They explained that it’s an unfolding process: “Goals led to changes in behavior, which led to changes in self-concept, which prompted more behavior change.”

I think this highlights the importance of having a vision of your more “developed” self; some aspect or dimension of your personality that you aspire towards. That has the effect of drawing you towards expressing those qualities of yourself, like being pulled by a magnet. Continue reading

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How Your Personality Can Change And Grow — Or Stagnate Over Time

Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 2.12.45 PMSeptember 8, 2015

There’s an old Buddhist saying that if you want to see into your future, just look into a mirror. It’s true, that who we are right now, and at each moment of time into the future, shapes who we become – for better or for worse. Although that truth is evident to anyone who’s at all observant of how people’s lives unfold and evolve over time, it’s interesting to see empirical evidence supporting it. The latter helps those who think we’re fixed in our personalities over our lifetime. Unfortunately — and ironically — such people tend to be those of us in the psychological and mental health fields.

This new study from Germany focused on people who experience loneliness early in life can act in ways that increase that aspect of their personality – leading to more loneliness and poorer health over time. And the experiences we seek out can also affect and shape our personalities, in reverse, over time. As the research finds, “there’s evidence that personality changes as we get older. And just as we can strive to lose weight, there’s evidence we can intentionally change our personalities.

The researchers found that “our personality affects the likelihood that we’ll become more lonely (and feel less well) as we get older, but also that being lonely (and feeling less healthy) shapes our personality, potentially setting up a vicious circle of isolation.”

Although this study looked at negative personality traits and how they interact with life experiences, I think it’s more significant to consider how we can evolve and grow positive dimensions of ourselves over time, with conscious intent and a vision of how we want to “become.” Here, clinical evidence joins philosophical teachings. As the novelist Norman Mailer wrote in The Deer Park, it’s a law of life that “one must grow or else pay more for remaining the same.”

Credit: The Las Vegas Gentleman

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Feelings of Awe and a Sense of Meaning Alter Your Mental Health and Behavior

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 3.26.14 PMAugust 18, 2015

One of the themes I write about is that our vision of our future self – what we aspire to “become” over time – can affect our mental health, positively or negatively. I’ve described how the absence of a positive vision of your future can actually create depression over time. In our society it’s easy to become encased within oneself; too self-absorbed and disconnected from our interconnections with others that are part of reality of life, today. Some recent research illustrates that how we experience ourselves in the larger world impact on tendency towards anxiety and depression. Moreover, it affects how we relate to other people.

A good empirical confirmation of this comes from research from the UC Berkeley and UC Irvine. It found that people who experience a sense of awe – a sensation of being part of something much larger than themselves – prompts them to behave more benevolently, in a more giving manner, towards others. I think what happens, there, is that the awe-struck experience pulls you outside of yourself. It propels you into an experience of “forgetting yourself.” And that expanded awareness that your are part of, and interwoven with, something much larger than just your individual being carries over towards behaving more positively and generous towards others.

Participants in the research, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, consistently reported that awe produced “a reduced sense of self importance relative to something larger and more powerful that they felt connected to,” according to the lead researcher, Paul Piff. Subsequent analysis of the research data confirmed that this feeling of the “small self” was responsible for the increase of ethical, generous behavior they subsequently demonstrated in the study.

In a different but related way, a study of the impact of a sense of meaning and purpose upon one’s mental health found a strong connection. The research, published in the Journal of Social Service Research, found that people who create a sense of purpose and meaning in their lives, and seek to find and experience their “true self,” experience fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety. This study looked at role of having a sense of meaning and purpose in treatment programs for addiction, in particular. It found that, in that population, more symptoms of emotional disorders were found among those who lacked a sense of meaning in their lives. However, I think that it has implications for the population at large, and corroborates the larger theme that I described above about the value of learning to “forget yourself.”

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Reduce Your Social Anxiety By Serving Others

Screen Shot 2015-08-04 at 3.21.47 PMAugust 4, 2015

I think a recent study about social anxiety provides more evidence that fixating on our ego — our self-absorption — whether it’s heightened focus on our “needs,” our personal slights, real or imagined, our sense of self-importance, our desire to possess and control — is the root of many emotional and physical conflicts. In this study researchers examined what might help people who suffer from social anxiety, which can be very debilitating, frustrating, and isolating. It found that engaging in acts that help or benefit other people helps reduce social anxiety.

In effect, doing good for others helps socially anxious people become more socially engaged in positive, satisfying ways. That reflects letting go of preoccupation with one’s self; of how other’s will perceive you, think about you, form assumptions about you. Doing something for others pulls you out of that kind of anxiety-generating self-absorption.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University and published in Motivation and Emotion, pointed out that performing acts of kindness to the benefit of others is known to increase happiness, positive interactions and perceptions of the world at large. So they examined if, over time, acts of kindness change the level of anxiety that socially anxious people experience while interacting with others; and helps them to engage more easily.

The results of the study confirmed that. It found that a greater overall reduction in the desire to avoid social situations was found among those who actively lent a helping hand in the experimental situation. That is, acts of kindness helped counter feelings of possible rejection and levels of anxiety and distress. 

According to senior author Jennifer Trew, “Acts of kindness may help to counter negative social expectations by promoting more positive perceptions and expectations of a person’s social environment. It helps to reduce their levels of social anxiety and, in turn, makes them less likely to want to avoid social situations.” 

Credit: CPD Archive

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