Tag Archives: anxiety

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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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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Chronic Stress and Anxiety Will Damage Your Brain

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.03.47 PMFebruary 9, 2016

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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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.

Credit: Addinginspiration

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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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Why Anxious People Make Bad Decisions

Screen shot 2015-03-03 at 11.50.54 AMMarch 3, 2015

If you’re highly anxious, you’re going to have trouble making decisions in unpredictable, uncertain situations. That’s no surprise, but new research shows how and why that happens. I think the findings add to the value of meditation, which many studies have found builds your capacities to regulate stress and anxiety.

In this new study, researchers at at the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Oxford looked at people’s response to unpredictability. As reported in Medical Express, they found that people prone to high anxiety have a tougher time reading the environmental cues that could help them avoid a bad outcome. They have more trouble deciding how best to handle life’s uncertainties, in general.

“Our results show that anxiety may be linked to difficulty in using information about whether the situations we face daily, including relationship dynamics, are stable or not, and deciding how to react,” said study lead author Sonia Bishop, in a summary of the research. “It’s a bit like being Alice in Wonderland, trying to work out if the same rules apply or if everything is different and if so, what choices you should make,” she added.

For example, the researchers explained, a friend may suddenly lash out for no discernible reason. That friend’s behavior could reflect a typical variation in their day-to-day mood or interactions or, more dramatically, an underlying change in their relationship with you. The challenge for a person prone to anxiety is assessing the situation in context of what else has happened recently and responding appropriately.

The study, published in Nature Neuroscience, found that highly anxious people may catastrophize as well. For example, they may “interpret a lovers’ tiff as a doomed relationship or a workplace change as a career threat.” And, as Bishop noted, “An important skill in everyday decision-making is the ability to judge whether an unexpected bad outcome is a chance event or something likely to reoccur if the action that led to the outcome is repeated.”

The researchers suggest that a glitch in the brain’s higher-order decision-making circuitry may underlie this difficulty. For a full description of the study and how it was conducted, see this summary in Medical Express. 

Photo Credit: HomeArt / Shutterstock

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Meditation Changes Key Regions Of The Brain, Research Finds

 

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December 23, 2014

Here’s one more study that shows the powerful impact of meditation has upon regions of the brain associated with stress, empathy and sense of self. And in just eight weeks.

This new research conducted by Harvard researchers found measurable changes in the brain after an eight-week program. A report of the study from the Harvard Gazette, to be published in Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, pointed out that the study is the first to document meditation-produced changes over time in the brain’s gray matter.

“Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day,” says study senior author Sara Lazar of the MGH Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program and a Harvard Medical School instructor in psychology. “This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing.”

Previous studies from Lazar’s group and others found structural differences between the brains of experienced meditation practitioners and individuals with no history of meditation, observing thickening of the cerebral cortex in areas associated with attention and emotional integration. But those investigations could not document that those differences were actually produced by meditation.

For the current study, magnetic resonance (MR) images were taken of the brain structure of 16 study participants Continue reading

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Does Short-Term Meditation Work? Here’s What New Research Found

Screen shot 2014-07-23 at 11.11.03 AMJuly 22, 2014

This updated and expanded version of my July 15 article originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

I regularly encourage the people I work with to practice meditation. It builds a kind of inner “shock absorber” that helps you maintain calm and focus in the midst of daily stress and the multiple demands of living in today’s world. While that’s not the true purpose of meditation (another subject altogether), it’s certainly a by-product benefit. The problem for many people is that they say it takes too much time to devote to regular meditative practice.

Well, some new research looked the results of short-term meditation for your thought processes — your judgment in making decisions — and also your level of resilience in the face of negative emotional states. Here’s what they discovered:

Research conducted at INSEAD and The Wharton School, and published in Psychological Science, found that even short-term mindfulness meditative practice of about 15 minutes can help you make wiser choices when making decisions. In mindfulness meditation, you build awareness of the present moment and try to let go of other thoughts that intrude and distract.

The researchers found that meditation can help counteract the tendency to people to “have trouble admitting they were wrong when their initial decisions lead to undesirable outcomes,” according to the lead author Andrew Hafenbrack, from INSEAD. “They don’t want to feel wasteful or that their initial investment was a loss. Ironically, this kind of thinking often causes people to waste or lose more resources in an attempt to regain their initial investment or try to ‘break even.'” The researchers referred to this tendency as the sunk-cost bias — commonly known as “throwing good money after bad.”

Co-author Zoe Kinias added: “We found that a brief period of mindfulness meditation Continue reading

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Materialistic People Respond to Severe Stress With Compulsive Shopping

Screen shot 2013-10-22 at 10.29.03 AMA new cross-cultural study finds interesting links between materialism, response to external threats, fear of death and compulsive shopping. It found that highly materialistic, possession-oriented people tend to experience greater fear when faced with stress and threats to their lives; and engage in compulsive shopping in response, compared with less materialist people.

The study was reported in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science and summarized in Science Daily, According to lead researcher Ayalla Ruvio of the University of Michigan, “When the going gets tough, the materialistic go shopping, And this compulsive and impulsive spending is likely to produce even greater stress and lower well-being. Essentially, materialism appears to make bad events even worse.”

The study was conducted with participants from Israel and the U.S. The findings revealed that highly materialistic people who faced or perceived a mortal threat, reported significantly higher levels of post-traumatic stress symptoms and impulsive and compulsive buying than their less materialistic counterparts. “The relationship between materialism and stress may be more harmful than commonly thought,” Ruvio said.

The research explored the roots of these responses from the more materialistic individuals through a survey of 855 people in the U.S. The survey examined their attitudes about materialism and their fear of death. Researchers found that the more materialistic individuals are more likely to try to relieve their fear of death through impulsive and out-of-control spending. Click here for more description of the Israeli and U.S. parts of the study.

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Why the Workplace Is So Destructive to So Many People

Screen shot 2013-06-27 at 10.17.20 AMAs Yogi Berra famously said, “It’s déjà vu all over again.” We’re seeing yet another survey (they appear with increasing frequency) showing how negatively men and women feel about their workplaces; how damaging the workplace is to mental and physical health, and therefore to the economy. Recently some new high-profile initiatives raise hope about the possibility of meaningful change. But it’s crucial that both hone in the key source of the destructive impact careers and the workplace have upon so many people today: The leadership and management culture of companies, and the practices that result. Ironically, those are often at odds with the personal values and perspectives of the very people who occupy leadership roles, but are hamstrung by constraints from the very top — even when they’re part of it.

Jim, a senior VP, feels unsure about his future role in the organization as it undergoes major transition. His boss provides no information, saying, “just don’t worry about it.” Jim’s also in a bind about Continue reading

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How Managing Your Emotions Affects Anxiety

Screen shot 2013-05-25 at 10.55.04 AMPeople who anticipate and plan how they will deal positively with a difficult challenge or problem that they’re facing are likely to experience less anxiety, according to a new study. Here’s some empirical evidence that shows the damaging affects of denial, evasion or repression of troubling emotions — something well-known from clinical experience. Reported in the journal Emotion, the research suggests that the way you regulate your emotions, in bad times and in good, can influence whether — or how much — you suffer from anxiety. In a series of questionnaires, researchers asked 179 healthy men and women how they managed their emotions and how anxious they felt in various situations. The team analyzed the results to see if different emotional strategies were associated with more or less anxiety.

The study revealed that those who engage in an emotional regulation strategy Continue reading

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Daily Stress Affects Long-Term Mental Health

Screen shot 2013-04-06 at 10.51.03 AMOnce again, we find more evidence that daily stress has a long-term negative impact on mental health. Any research that highlights this fact is helpful, but it also draws attention to the role our social conditioning plays in generating the stress that debilitates mental health. And that’s not addressed as much as it should be. I’m referring to the ways we learn to behave in our public and private roles – in relationships, in our careers — that define “success,” and what you learn to do to achieve it, in ways that steadily create emotional conflicts. Without addressing those issues, which include over-emphasis on manipulation, self-centeredness, domination-submission struggles, to name a few — it’s difficult to describe what can support the “emotional balance,” the researchers cite as crucial for avoiding long-term emotional problems.

The latest research about this, published in the journal Psychological Science, was conducted by Susan Charles, UC Irvine professor of psychology and social behaviour, and her colleagues. Here’s what they reported:

Our emotional responses to the stresses of daily life may predict our long-term mental health. The research suggests that maintaining emotional balance is crucial to avoiding severe mental health problems down the road. The study examined this question: Do everyday irritations add up to make the straw that breaks the camel’s back, or do they make us stronger and “inoculate” us against later tribulations? Using data from two national, longitudinal surveys, the researchers found that participants’ negative emotional responses to daily stressors – such as arguments with a spouse or partner, conflicts at work, standing in long lines or sitting in traffic – predicted psychological distress and self-reported anxiety/mood disorders 10 years later. Continue reading

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The Power of Concentration

Screen shot 2013-02-28 at 11.09.56 AMIt’s good to see the growing convergence between Eastern perspectives and Western empirical research. Here’s another example: the power of concentration via the practice of “mindfulness,” from the Buddhist perspective — how it’s affirmed through research studies. In this essay by Maria Konnikova in the New York Times, she uses the example of how Sherlock Holmes trained his mind to concentrate on solving a case. He used, in effect, the practices of mindfulness meditation. She writes:

Meditation and mindfulness: the words conjure images of yoga retreats and Buddhist monks. But perhaps they should evoke a very different picture: a man in a deerstalker, puffing away at a curved pipe, Mr. Sherlock Holmes himself. The world’s greatest fictional detective is someone who knows the value of concentration, of “throwing his brain out of action,” as Dr. Watson puts it. He is the quintessential unitasker in a multitasking world. Click here for the complete essay.

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Why “Wanting” Material Things Is More Pleasurable Than “Having” Them

Screen shot 2013-02-08 at 11.00.36 AMSome new research shows that people who are driven by materialistic goals — getting and having material things — are more turned-on by the desire for acquiring them than actually possessing them. This underscores, I think, the essential emptiness that one ultimately feels when dominated by acquiring more and more — an endless quest anyway — and by defining one’s self-worth and status by the possessions one accumulates. The gap between one’s outer and inner life will take a toll, ultimately.

The study was published in the Journal of Consumer Research and summarized in Medical News Today as follows: Continue reading

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Loneliness Can Harm Your Overall Health

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A new study finds that loneliness has a negative impact on your immune system, and makes you more susceptible to illness. This should be no surprise: Everything is connected; we are one mind-body-spirit interwoven system, interconnected with the social and other “external” forces that shape our experience of life. The research, conducted at Ohio State University, was summarized in Science Daily as follows:

New research links loneliness to a number of dysfunctional immune responses, suggesting that being lonely has the potential to harm overall health. Researchers found that people who were more lonely showed signs of elevated latent herpes virus reactivation and produced more inflammation-related proteins in response to acute stress than did people who felt more socially connected.

These proteins signal the presence of inflammation, and chronic inflammation is linked to numerous conditions, including coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as the frailty and functional decline that can accompany aging. Reactivation of a latent herpes virus is known to be associated with stress, suggesting that loneliness functions as a chronic stressor that triggers a poorly controlled immune response. Continue reading

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Social Networks, Self-Esteem and Diminished Self-Control

Screen shot 2013-01-22 at 10.37.57 AMAn interesting study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh and Columbia Business School finds that positive comments and “likes” on Facebook and related social media, while apparently increasing self-esteem, can also have a negative impact on self-control in “real” life — at least with respect to diet and credit card debt. Published in the Journal of Consumer Research, the study is summarized in this Columbia Business School report, and in Science Daily:

Users of Facebook and other social networks should beware of allowing their self-esteem — boosted by “likes” or positive comments from close friends — to influence their behavior: It could reduce their self-control both on and offline, according to an academic paper by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and Columbia Business School that has recently been published online in the Journal of Consumer Research. Continue reading

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Stress Increases The Risk Of Death From Any Source

Research keeps accumulating that confirms the damaging impact of stress — all kinds — upon our mind/body/spirit. This analysis of several studies, reported in the British Medical Journal, sound that stress is linked with increased risk of death, from all sources. I think the larger issue that this highlights, indirectly, is that we are socially conditioned to adapt to values and behavior and a number of norms that, themselves, are unhealthy. That, in turn, generates a wide range of emotional and physical consequences. The report was summarized in MedPage today:

Even at low levels, psychological distress was significantly associated with an increased risk of mortality from several causes, researchers found.

A meta-analysis of 10 British cohort studies showed that the risk of all-cause mortality in adults with the lowest level of psychological distress — termed subclinically symptomatic — was significantly higher than that of asymptomatic adults at an age- and sex-adjusted hazard ratio of 1.20 (95% CI 1.13 to 1.27), Tom Russ, MRCPsych, of the National Health Service Scotland, and colleagues wrote online in BMJ.

The study measured the association of psychological distress with death by any cause, cardiovascular death, cancer death, and deaths from external causes using data from the Health Survey for England. The survey included data from 1994 to 2004 on 68,222 adults ages 35 or older, mean age 60 years, who were free of cardiovascular disease and cancer, and who lived in a private household in England at baseline.

Participants had measures of psychological distress taken at a household visit using a 12-item version of the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12) — a unidimensional scale of psychological distress that includes symptom measures for anxiety, depression, social dysfunction, and loss of confidence. Continue reading

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Can You “Grow Up” At Midlife? Here’s Five Ways

Not long ago conventional thinking about midlife held that it’s a time for holding on as best you can in the face of steady decline and loss. But if you’re a baby boomer, you know that’s shifted as fellow boomers show more attention to health and want continued vitality — even new growth – emotionally, sexually and creatively.

Nevertheless, many remain fearful of “going forth” or finding their “true self,” partly because they know that illness, tragedy, unpredictable events and death can and do occur. I’ve written about these themes in some of my previous posts. For example, about depression during midlife. But overall, I find that learning to embrace both the “positive” and “negative” experiences of midlife is the path to growing up into full adulthood. That’s especially relevant to the “Post 50” years. So — here are five suggested steps:

Elevate and Expand Yourself

Build the core emotional and mental strengths of empathy and compassion. Much research shows that this realm of your inner life is the foundation for well-being as well as for positive engagement and harmony, with people and events. Meditation helps “grow” those capacities. Research also shows that meditation leads to greater creative thinking. Another part of this step is “elevating” your perspectives about people and life situations. A broadened, more tolerant vista is especially crucial at midlife because seeing things from a “1,000 foot view” is the foundation for wisdom.

Embrace Death And impermanence

True, our culture avoids acknowledging death and change. But embracing them can lead to more intense connection with what really matters to you — what to go after, while there’s still time; and what to let pass by. Research conducted by the University of Missouri and the University of Leipsig confirms this, finding that awareness of death spurs re-thinking about your goals and values. It can also lead to greater physical health, through increasing your focus on healthy practices.

I wrote about change and impermanence in a previous post, and now, during midlife, Continue reading

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The End Of Mental Health — And Why That’s Good

The idea of mental healthas we know ithas reached a dead end. It doesn’t describe much of anything relevant to people’s lives today. If you Google “mental health,” most of what comes up describes mentalillness, not mentalhealth. Both practitioners and researchers focus more onunderstandingand treating emotional disturbance, than on describing what health is or how to build it.

That’s good, actually, because it opens the door to a needed, broad re-thinking of what psychological health looks like in today’s worldin your emotions, thoughts, attitudes, values and behavior. In this post I explain what’s brought us to this dead-end, and I sketch some features of psychological health that reflect new challenges and realities of today’s tumultuous world.

First, let’s look at why we’re at this dead-end. The aims of treatment for emotional conflictswhether via medications,psychotherapyor a combination of the twohave been, in essence, goodmanagement, coping and adaptation. That is, management of emotional conflicts that create dysfunction and symptoms like depression and anxiety. Coping withstressor sustained conflict in your work, relationships and other parts of your life. And good adaptation or adjustment to the norms, values and conventional behavior of the society or group you’re part of. Thosegoalsare useful, per se, but there are three problems with them. One is that Continue reading
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Overcome the Maladies of Midlife By Transforming What “Loss” and “Change” Mean

Despite the volumes of books and magazine articles advising midlife baby boomers how to prolong or renew their health, happiness and vitality, I continue to hear many of them tell me about feelings of stagnation and loss. Or worse, a sense of being on “a long slide home,” as one 50-something put it.

For example:

  • You happened to catch an old episode of“Sesame Street”or“Mister Rogers”on TV, and you felt engulfed by a wave of nostalgia and loss over your children, who are now grown and building their own lives without you.
  • You worry about whether your career has peaked, especially when you’re reminded every day of the hordes of younger people coming up right behind you — or who’ve now moved ahead of you.
  • You’re divorced and dealing with new challenges as a single person.
  • Or, you’re married/with a partner, but feelings of passion and intimacy have faded like autumn leaves.
  • You’re stressed about your financial future in your later years, given our economic uncertainty.

I think there’s a core reason why such feelings and experiences aren’t helped all that much by the midlife guides and programs out there: We’ve learned to experience midlife through Continue reading

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What Is Psychological Health In Today’s World?

The aftermath of the Tucson shootings is likely to spawn new discussion about serious mental illness and its legal implications. Coincidentally, the mental health establishment has been debating what to include or exclude as a mental and emotional disorder, for the forthcoming revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. For example, one controversy is whether to remove narcissism as a bonafide disorder.

In contrast to discussion about mental disorders, I think we’ve neglected its flip side: What constitutes psychological health in today’s world? What does it look like? And how can you promote it in your own life, your children and in society?

These questions loom large because the most psychologically healthy people and societies will be best equipped to create and sustain well-being, security and success in the tumultuous road we’re now traveling on.

Take a look: At the start of this second decade of the 21st Century our lives and institutions are reeling, trying to cope with an interconnected, unpredictable world turned upside down by the events of the first decade: terrorism that’s come home to roost; economic meltdown at home and abroad; rapid rise of previously “underdeveloped” nations; and in our social and political spheres, the rise of hatred, bigotry and intolerance, as Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupik commented on following the Tucson shootings. This upheaval has fueled what I described in recent posts a “social psychosis” that’s locked in conflict with a societal need to serve the common good.

The problem is that we know what severe mental illness as well as “garden variety” neurotic conflicts look like in daily life. Those have become more prevalent in the current climate. But what we think of as psychological health is pretty vague. Moreover, it’s a 20th Century view that doesn’t fit in the new world environment.

That is, psychological health has been pretty much defined as successful resolution and management of childhood traumas and conflicts; coping with stress and adapting to the world around you, as an adult. The problem is, that view has assumed a relatively stable and static world. One in which you can anticipate the kinds of changes or events that might occur. And when they do, a healthy, resilient person could bounce back to the previous equilibrium that existed. But today, there’s no longer any equilibrium to return to. Psychological health requires living with disequilibrium. Continue reading

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Why Psychotherapists Fail To Help People In Today’s World

Many people who enter psychotherapy today aren’t helped at all. Some end up more troubled than when they began treatment. And ironically, some therapists are examples of the kinds of problems they’re trying to treat. In this post I explain why that is and how to become a more informed�consumer when considering psychotherapy.

The popularity of the TV show “In Treatment” is one indicator that there’s a large, market for psychotherapy, today. Despite the decline of the more orthodox psychoanalytic treatment – the kind that Daphne Merkin described in a recent�New York Times article about her years in treatment – people continue to seek competent professional help for dealing with and resolving the enormous emotional challenges and conflicts that impact so many lives in current times. Beyond healing, they want to grow their capacity for healthy relationships and successful lives.

Many skilled and competent therapists are out there. (I use term “therapist” to describe psychologists, psychiatrists and clinical social workers – professionally trained and licensed practitioners.) Moreover, research shows that psychotherapy can be very effective. Either alone, or sometimes in combination with the judicious use of�medication.

Yet so often practitioners don’t help people very much. Some struggle for years in therapy with one practitioner after another, and never seem to make any progress. Others resolve some conflicts, but then are hit with others that hadn’t been addressed.

I see three reasons for this situation. One is rooted in the�kind of people therapists tend to be today. Their personal values, social attitudes and how they relate to conventional norms and behavior contrast in several ways with those of the “pioneers” from Freud’s era. That contrast impedes effective help.

Then there are the�kinds of problems that people experience. They’ve evolved over the decades, but especially since 9-11 and the near-depression that began in the fall of 2008. But many therapists aren’t in synch with the impact of that shift. They fail to understand how�21st Century conditions impact emotional lives and conflicts. Many are clueless about how life in today’s world interweaves with the dysfunctions or family conflicts that patients bring with them into their adult lives.

The third reason is the therapists’ vision of the�goals of treatment; what a healthy outcome or resolution of conflicts should look like, and how to get there. Many remain stuck within an older model – helping patients better manage, cope with or adjust to change and�traumas; build�resilience and restore equilibrium. But that’s no longer possible: Our�new environment is one of “non-equilibrium” and unpredictability. That creates new emotional and life challenges across the board — for intimate relationships, careers and for engaging with a changing society – the “remix” that America is now becoming.

The Psychotherapist – Past and Present

The early analysts were pioneers, adventurous explores of uncharted terrain. They were trying to uncover how human�personality and�unconscious passions evolve within people to create symptoms and dysfunctions. They courageously risked their careers when they called attention to the impact of repressed�sexuality. Aside from the accuracy of early theories about the causes of emotional disturbance, the practitioners’ aim was to reduce suffering. They wanted to help people develop more love, reason and independence – albeit within the context of the norms of their era that they, themselves, accepted.

Moreover, most were well-read in literature, history and culture, more so than today’s practitioners. That gave them a broad outlook and perspective on life. For example, Freud’s writings are filled with references from Shakespeare, Goethe and other great works of literature, drama and mythology. He drew on their themes, plots and character portrayals to help illuminate and understand the motives and�moral dilemmas underlying his patients’ emotional problems.

Most contemporaries and followers of�Freud possessed a radical spirit. They wanted to uncover the truth beneath patient’s symptoms; see beneath the surface. They shared the view that successful treatment was based on a love of the truth; that is, emotional reality. And that it must preclude any kind of sham,�deception or illusion.

Of course, Freud and his contemporaries interpreted their patients’ problems in many ways that were flawed. They made assumptions about psychological health that were part of the prevailing values and norms of post-Victorian, early-20th Century society – a largely patriarchal culture. For example, most assumed that a normal, successful life derived from being well-adjusted to those norms.

Nevertheless, their spirit of truth-seeking, rooted in broad understanding of human culture, literature and history, has become lost. Today’s practitioners tend to be�technicians, looking for the right technique that will treat the patient’s symptoms. Many tend to be cautious, often disengaged and detached people in their manner and interactions with patients. They are largely ignorant of philosophical,�religious, cultural and socio-economic forces that shape people’s psychological development, especially those in non-Western societies. And yet, all of those forces in all parts of the globe profoundly impact how and why we learn to think and behave as we do. Much current world conflict reflects those differences that define what we think in “normal” or “disturbed.”

Many therapists today simply assume that adjusting to prevailing values and norms reflects psychological health. Now that’s desirable for those whose conflicts have disabled them from minimally successful functioning. But it misses the mark for those whose conflicts are linked with their successful adaptation to begin with. The therapist then fails to explore their patients’ definition of “success” – how it’s shaped their�career and life goals, their conflicts and disappointments.

Some therapists will spend inordinate time ferreting out tiny truths about the patient’s family and�childhood, without figuring out which have relevance to the person’s conflicts today, and which don’t. They may ignore the impact of trade-offs and compromises patients made as they created their sexual and intimate relationship patterns

Overall, today’s practitioners tend to�share in, rather than�critique and examine, the social norms, values and anxieties of today’s world. Too often, they uncritically accept good functioning per se, and conventional values like power-seeking, as psychologically healthy. This blinds them from recognizing that “normal” adjustment can mask repressed feelings of self-betrayal, self-criticism, and the desire to be freer, more alive. All of those longings can conflict with or oppose parental expectations or the pressures from social class membership.

Emotional Conflicts In Today’s World

People’s problems have evolved. Up through World War II and into the 1950s-early 60s symptoms that were more typical of Freud’s time — hysteria or specific phobias, for example – diminished. People wanted help for fitting in with the apparent paths to success and�happiness and for dealing with conflicts that interfered with or limited it. Therapy often addressed things like guilt, inhibition, the need for approval, and dealing with the conflicts generated by defined, rigid roles for men and women. Desires or longings that deviated too much from the prevailing norms were troublesome and created conflicts, often unconscious.

The popular TV show “Mad Men” is a good portrayal of conflicts of that era, especially issues of�identity, longing for an authentic self and�gender�roles. At the same time, the men enjoyed the surface appearance of power and control. And women chafed against the limits imposed by gender roles, as the women’s movement began to arise.

The period of social upheaval of the late 60s and 70s created more openly conscious conflict and struggle for many people. The theme, here, was seeking more freedom from oppressive relationships and social constraints. Some therapists were able to address these issues in helpful ways. But others were bound by their own uncritical embrace of the very norms their patients wanted help to free themselves from.

Partly because of that disconnect, many�psychotherapy patients were attracted to the vision of personal development offered by the rising “new age” movement, although its gurus generally lacked any depth of understanding about emotional conflicts or psychological development.

Then, from the 1980s to about 2000 more men and women sought help to create more personally fulfilling, engaged relationships, and more personal meaning from their work. The�costs and limits of success became visible in patients who wanted help to create greater work-life “balance” while preserving their relationships and their upward climb in their careers. Dealing with the emotional fallout of the dot-com bubble burst added another dimension to these stresses. During this period of greater fulfillment-seeking, more people turned to�spiritual development as a companion to or substitute for traditional therapy, especially via older traditions like Buddhism and other Eastern practices.

And now, in the current era, emotional conflicts spring more from the psychological impact of our nonlinear, unpredictable, highly interconnected world. For example, financial and�career uncertainties. Changing practices in romantic/sexual relationships. Facing one’s responsibilities to fellow inhabitants of the planet, and for sustaining the planet for future generations. The psychological impact of these issues interacts with the legacy of family conflicts and their dysfunctions that people carry with them into the adult world. It’s a�new universe of potential pain and confusion that people are now struggling with.

What Helps?

Therapists need a vision of what healing and emotional health looks like, today, and how to help the patient achieve it. And therapists must engage in self-examination about their own values and attitudes. That’s one safeguard against rationalizing failure to help their patients examine these same issues within themselves. Otherwise, the therapist may collude with a patient to avoid confronting issues relevant to both of them. Then, it becomes like a Shakespearian play where the motives of the characters are visible to members of the audience, but the characters themselves remain oblivious to their�unconscious motives that propel them along.

Therapists bear a responsibility to help patients uncover the deeper truth about their life dilemmas – not just continue to detail all of its manifestations. Like the branches of a tree, all of them spring from the same trunk, the same roots. For one person, that might be a deep, unconscious desire to remain protected and secure like a baby. Or a desire to destroy one’s father or mother. It could be intense lust for power and domination. Exposing and confronting that core of truth can be liberating, like in fairy tales when the power of the�evil spirit is broken when you can call it by its name. At least you then have an opportunity to do something about it.

Being a more personally engaged therapist is also important today. People are increasingly turned off by therapists who maintain the old manner of silence and detachment. Or whose rigid focus invokes in patients the same unmet longings for nurturance and acceptance that patients may have experienced in their families to begin with.

The traditional practice is for the therapist to divulge little or nothing about him or herself. That’s been fading, especially in a Google world. More are drawn to people like the psychiatrist played by Gabriel Byrne on “In Treatment.” While that TV show has elements of a soap opera and the therapy sessions often sound like “life-management” discussions, the psychiatrist shows more openness and flexibility with his patients.

The viewer sees him as a human, himself, struggling with his own personal issues. People like that openness. It’s more consistent with psychoanalyst Steven Kuchuck’s�comment about Merkin’s article in�The New York Times. He described the greater appeal and benefit of practitioners who emphasize “…greater patient-analyst�collaboration, the analyst’s selective self-disclosure and other techniques designed to address many of the concerns and limitations Merkin has experienced…

In addition to personal qualities, therapists who are familiar with the broad impact of our post-9-11, post-economic meltdown world on people’s mental health are better positioned to help their patients. In addition to knowing that people’s emotional issues are tightly interwoven with global political, social and economic forces as I described above, it’s helpful for therapists to be tuned-in to demographic and other changes that are pulling many in our culture to move beyond motives of purely self-interest, and towards serving the�common good.

Similarly, too many practitioners tend to be sadly uniformed about the realities of life in business and career world — the political realities, the politics and conflicting agendas; the challenges of transparency, collaboration, and�innovation — all needed for success. Without that awareness it’s hard for them to�differentiate problems that people bring with them from in their�attachment issues and family relationships, from those that are reactive to confusing, demoralizing, non-linear challenges and constantly shifting goal posts in their workplace.

It’s also valuable for therapists to be current with new research relevant to dealing with today’s conflicts. Two recent examples:�One finds that people who maintain a long-range perspective of their past, present and future are better able to navigate through turmoil or setbacks and maintain greater well-being.�Another study finds that some adversity in life actually contributes to mental health and resiliency.

The upshot of all this is that you need to be an informed�consumer of therapy. To aid that, here are some useful questions to ask:

About Your Therapist:

  • Does the therapist seem to enjoy his/her work? Sound bored or depressed?
  • Does he or she convey a sense of�humor?
  • Does he or she seem to have a broad, understanding perspective about the variety of human lives?
  • What experience and knowledge does he or she have regarding the impact of work and careers on people’s lives? Be wary if the therapist indicates that such familiarity is irrelevant to treatment.

About Yourself:

  • Do you feel challenged by your therapist to look at yourself, but within a safe, respectful, non-judgmental environment?
  • Do you feel the therapist is capable of “seeing” you; your hidden truths?
  • Do you think the therapist is engaged and interested in helping you, as opposed to treating a diagnostic category?

Keep in mind that everybody has some barriers to facing and dealing with unpleasant truths about themselves. You might rationalize your own and conclude that you’re dealing with a bad therapist. Try to be open and honest with your perception. Use your�intuition, but in consort with your reason. Don’t’ hesitate to discuss these questions and your response to them with the therapist.

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For A Healthy Life In Today’s World: Reboot and Remix – Part 1

There’s an old saying that if you want to see into your future, just look into a mirror. That is, how you live your life each day — through your choices, your values and behavior — shapes and determines who you will be in the future.

Many people today don’t like what they see when they look into that mirror. Especially when so much feels out of control: Economic decline with no end in sight; social and political changes that can feel frightening, even threatening; career uncertainty; relationships unraveling under stress; climate disasters, both man-made and natural. All of these events impact your mental health and overall well being, as research and survey data show: Emotional, physical and social symptoms are rising, such depression and anxiety, obesity, demagoguery from media personalities like Glen Beck, emotional disturbance in the workplace…the list goes on.

All of that can make you feel frozen in today’s world. How can you find a psychologically healthy path into the future, in the midst of such confusion and turmoil? And, within a cultural and political environment that feeds self-serving, shortsighted behavior?

I’ve been addressing the impact of living in our new world upon people’s emotional health on my posts for this blog, Progressive Impact.In this post, I suggest three ways to “reboot” you life in positive ways, within today’s unpredictable, interdependent and often scary world.

Wake Up!

Common lore is that it’s harmful to wake up a person who’s sleepwalking, but that’s not true. And when you’re sleepwalking in your life, Continue reading

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Obama’s Handling Of The Gulf Disaster: The Psychology Behind The Criticisms

Criticism of Pres. Obamas leadership during the Gulf of Mexico disaster has been mounting in recent weeks. People are worried and concerned about the huge, unrelenting flow of oil and what it may do to our entire ecology. The Presidents press conference mitigated some of those criticisms, but many view his response as too little, too late. They ask why didnt he take command and speak to the nation several weeks ago?

A great deal of the criticism is justified, and its coming from both right and left.It includes not only his personal leadership but more broadly, the role and response of the federal government.

But I think theres another, additional basis for the criticism: The psychology of peoples fears when theyre confronted with such disasters, and how that shapes what they look for in a leader.

That is, the psychology of the criticism directed at Obama reflects something deeper than questions about BPs performance and/or untrustworthiness, given the cozy relationship big oil has had with the federal government. Its also deeper than debate over what governments proper role should be in dealing with this or other man-made disasters.

To explain, lets take a look at some criticisms coming from both the left and the right: On May 17, MSNBCs Chris Matthews erupted in anger atthe oil disaster. He railed about the profits BP reaps as it fails to fix it, but also criticized the Obama administration for letting BP control the disaster response. Calling this disaster capitalism, (from Naomi Kleins The Shock Doctrine) he questioned why the President doesnt just nationalize that industry and get the job done, adding that in China, they execute people for this.

Thats typical of Matthews sometimes over-the-top passion, but hes been making solid criticism of the President for, in essence, looking like an observer, standing on the sidelines, instead of getting in there and doing something.

Similarly, other critics have openly wondered why Obama hasnt shown more passion, like pounding the table, showing outrage; perhaps shouting.

Some conservative critics have Continue reading

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Building An “Inside-Out” Life

1. Why “Work-Life” Balance Is A Myth

Meet Linda and Jim, who consulted me for psychotherapy. Linda is a lawyer with a large firm; Jim heads a major trade association. They told me theyre totally committed to their marriage and to being good parents. But they also said its pretty hectic juggling all their responsibilities at work and at home They have two children of their own plus a child from her former marriage. Dealing with the logistics of daily life, to say nothing of the emotional challenges, makes it hard just to come up for air, Linda said. Sound familiar?

Or listen to Bill, a 43-year-old who initially consulted me for help with some career challenges. Before long, he acknowledged that hes worried about the other side of life. Hes raising two teenage daughters and a younger son by himself one of the rising numbers of single fathers. Hes constantly worried about things like whether a late meeting might keep him at work. He tries to have some time for himself, but its hard enough just staying in good physical health, let alone being able to have more of a life, he said. Recently, he learned he has hypertension.

Its no surprise that these people, like many I see both in my psychotherapy practice and my workplace consulting, feel pummeled by stresses in their work and home lives. Most are aware, at least dimly, that this is unhealthy that stress damages the body, mind and spirit. Ten years ago, a report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, found that 70 percent of all illness, physical and mental, is linked to stress of some kind. And that number has probably increased over the last decade. Much of this stress comes from struggling with the pressures of work and home and trying to balance both. The problem seems nearly universal, whether in two-worker, single-parent or childless households.

I think these conflicts are so common because people have learned to frame the problem incorrectly to begin with. That is, theres no way to balance work life and home life, because both exist on the same side of the scale what I call your outer life. On the other side of the scale is your personal, private life your inner life. Instead of thinking about how to balance work life and home life, try, instead, to balance your outer life and inner life.

The Other Balancing Act

Let me explain. On the outer side of the scale you have the complex logistics and daily stresses of life at both work and home the e-mails to respond to, the errands, family obligations, phone calls, to-do lists and responsibilities that fill your days. Your outer life is the realm of the external, material world. Its where you use your energies to deal with tangible, often essential things. Paying your bills, building a career, dealing with people, raising kids, doing household chores, and so on. Your outer life is on your iPhone, BlackBerry, or your e-calender.

On the other side of the scale is your internal self. Its the realm of your private thoughts and values. Your emotions, fantasies, spiritual or religious practices. Your capacity to love, your secret desires, and your deeper sense of purpose. In short, it embodies who you are, on the inside. A successful inner life is defined by how well you deal with your emotions, your degree of self-awareness , and your sense of clarity about your values and life purpose. It includes your level of mental repose: your capacity for calm, focused action and resiliency that you need in the face of your frenetic, multitasking outer life.

If the realm of the inner life sounds unfamiliar or uncomfortable to you, this only emphasizes how much you like most peple have lost touch with your inner self. You can become so depleted and stretched by dealing with your outer life that theres little time to tend to your mind, spirit or body. Then, you identify your self mostly with who you are in that outer realm. And when theres little on the inner side of the scale, the outer part weighs you down. You are unbalanced, unhappy and often sick.

When your inner life is out of balance with your outer, you become more vulnerable to stress, and thats related to a wide range of physical damage. Research shows that heart attacks, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, a weakened immune system, skin disorders, asthma, migraine, musculoskeletal problems all are linked to stress.

More broadly, when your inner and outer lives become unbalanced, your daily functioning is affected in a range of ways, both subtle and overt. When operating in the outer world at work, for example, or in dealings with your spouse or partner you may struggle with unjustified feelings of insecurity and fear. You may find yourself at the mercy of anger or greed whose source you dont understand. You may be plagued with indecisiveness or revert to emotional default positions forged during childhood, such as submissiveness, rebellion or self-undermining behavior.

Even when youre successful in parts of your outer life, neglecting the inner remains hazardous to your psychological and physical health. Without a developed inner life, you lose the capacity to regulate, channel and focus your energies with awareness, self-direction and judgment. Personal relationships can suffer, your health may deteriorate and you become vulnerable to looking for new stimulation from the outer-world sources you know best maybe a new win, a new lover, drugs or alcohol.

And that pulls you even more off-balance, possibly to the point of no return. The extreme examples are Continue reading

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Today’s Psychologically Healthy Adult — Neither Adult Nor Healthy

Becoming Sane….Part III

In previous posts on the theme of becoming sane in a turbulent, interconnected, unpredictable world, I described why conventional emotional resiliency doesnt work in the 21st Century; and what that means for building a psychologically healthy life in todays world.

In this post Ill explain why many of the conflicts men and women deal with today stem from this contradiction: The criteria for adult psychological health accepted by the mental health professions and the general public doesnt really describe an adult. Nor, for that matter, does it describe psychological health.

A contradiction, to be sure, so let me explain: As we entered the world of the 21st Century our definition of psychological health was largely defined by the absence of psychiatric symptoms. The problem is, thats like defining a happy person as someone whos not depressed. Moreover, sometimes what appears to be a psychiatric symptom reflects movement towards greater health and growth in a persons life situation.

But more significantly, our conventional view of psychological health is, in effect, a well-adapted, well-functioning child in relation to parents or parent figures. Or, a sibling who interacts appropriately in a social context with other siblings. Either way, it describes a person functioning within and adapted to a world shaped and run by parents, psychologically speaking.

That is, we pretty much equate healthy psychological functioning with effective management or resolution of child- or sibling-based conflicts. For example, resolving and managing such child-based conflicts as impulse control; narcissistic or grandiose attitudes; and traumas around attachment, from indifference, abandonment, abuse, or parenting that otherwise damages your adult capacity for intimacy or trusting relationships.

Healthy resolution of sibling-type conflicts includes learning effective ways to compete with other siblings at work or in intimate relationships; managing your fears of success or disapproval; containing passive-aggressive, manipulative or other self-undermining tendencies; and finding ways to perform effectively, especially in the workplace, towards people whose approval, acceptance and reward you need or crave.

Its no surprise, then, that many people feel and behave like children in a grown-up world. Examples permeate popular culture. A good one is the popular TV show, The Office. It often portrays the eruption of these sibling-type conflicts, as the workers act out their resentments or compete with one another to win the favor of office manager Michael, another grown-up child who is self-serving and clueless about his own competitive motives and insecurity.

Unconscious child-type conflicts are often visible within intimate relationships and family life, as well. They provide a steady stream of material for novels and movies. You can see, for example, fears of abandonment in a man who demands constant attention and assurance that hes loved; or low-self worth in a woman whos unconsciously attracted to partners who dominate or manipulate her.Of course its critical that you learn to become aware of and manage effectively whatever emotional damage you bring from your early experiences into adulthood. We all have some. Thats a good starting point for adult psychological health, but its not sufficient. A well-adapted member of a community of other children and siblings within a psychological world of parents is not the same thing as a healthy adult. Especially not within todays interconnected, non-linear world.

So without a picture of what a healthy adult would feel, think and do in the current environment, youre left with questions but few answers. For example:

  • How can you maintain the mental focus to keep your career skills sharp and stay on a successful path at work when you suddenly acquire a new boss who wants to take things in a new direction? Or if your company is acquired by another, or goes out of business?
  • How can you best respond, mentally, if you have a new baby and a drop in family income at the same time that globalization sidetracks your career?
  • How can you handle the pressure to work longer or do more business travel when your spouse faces the same demands?
  • Whats the healthiest way to keep your relationship alive with fresh energy or avoid the temptation of an affair?
  • And how do you deal emotionally with the threat of terrorism always lurking in the background of your mind while enjoying life at the same time?

We now live within a world where the only constant is change, and where a new requirement is being able to compete and collaborate with everyone from everywhere about almost everything.

Doing that with self-awareness and knowledge of how to grow and develop all facets of your being thats the new path to adult psychological health. But you need to know where to find the path.

Learning From The Business World?

Actually, I think we can learn a lot about whats needed for psychological health from changes occurring in the business world. Continue reading

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Becoming Sane….Part II

“What Happened To My Mental Health?”

In Part I of “Becoming Sane in a Turbulent, Interconnected, Unpredictable World,” Iwrote about why you need a new kind of emotional resiliency for success and well-being in todays world. Here, Ill extend those thoughts about resiliency to psychological health in general. Just as we need to redefine resiliency, I think we need to reformulate what a psychologically healthy adult looks like in this transformed world. Here are my ideas about that:

Throughout most of the last century, adult psychological health has been largely equated with good management and coping skills: Managing stress within your work and personal life; and effective coping with or resolution of whatever emotional conflicts you brought with you into adulthood and we all bring along some.

So, in your work that might include being clear about your career goals, and working your way up a fairly predictable set of steps to achieve power, recognition and financial success all the things that weve equated with adult maturity and mental health.

At home, it would mean forming a long-term relationship that withstands the power struggles and other differences that often lead to affairs or even divorce. You would assume that the healthy adult doest that via compromise at best, or disguised manipulation at worst. In addition, you would accept normal decline of intimate connection and vitality over time.

But the fallout from the worldwide upheaval over the last few years have turned all those criteria of health upside down. To be clear, its important to be able to manage conflicts that could derail your career or personal life. But doing that isnt enough to ensure future success, sanity or well-being in this turbulent and highly interdependent world we now live in.

Massive, interconnected forces within this globalized, unpredictable world add a host of new emotional and behavioral challenges to living a psychologically healthy, well-functioning and fulfilling life.

I deal with the fallout almost daily: People whove functioned pretty well in the past, but now feel as if theyre standing on tectonic plates shifting beneath them. Despite their best efforts, they struggle with mounting anxiety about the future of their own and their childrens lives, and confusion about their values and life purpose.

Theres the former Wall Street financial executive who told me hed always defined himself by making it through the next end zone in his career, working long hours to ensure financial success. Now, as his company and career crumbled, he found that in addition to sacrificing time with his family, he had sacrificed his health: He has diabetes and high blood pressure. Kind of a reverse deal-flow, he lamented to me.

And the management consultant, pressured to ratchet up her travel to keep her career on track. Id been coping with everything, I thought, she told me, though I dont like needing Zoloft to do it. Instead of her career becoming more predictable as she gained seniority, her career propelled her into an even wilder ride. Now I dont have enough time for my daughter or my husband, she said. What kind of life is this? . . . My husbands checked out, emotionally. And what am I teaching my daughter?

Or the lawyer, whod prided himself on eating what I kill, and Im a good killer. He told me he has more money than I ever dreamed of, but also says that, secretly, I hate what I do for a living. But whats the alternative, he asks, without looking like a dysfunctional failure if I opt out? After a failed marriage, he entered therapy and had begun to realize how his fathers unfulfilled dreams of success have impacted his own life when suddenly his father died. Im in a tailspin, he says; depressed and confused about what his own purpose in life is.

All of these people were on the kinds of life paths they expected would bring them predictable rewards. But counting on that linear upward climb is now hazardous to your mental health.

In fact, following that old path can make you more vulnerable to Continue reading

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“Recession Anxiety”

We see increasing media reports about people suffering from “recession anxiety,” depression, and even worse. Apparently, stemming from the global economic meltdown and what it’s done to our sense of stability; our expectations of continued “success” in life. I think these examples are just the tip of the iceberg. We’re living in a world that has been changing in front of our eyes, and is creating new psychological and behavioral challenges for everyone.

In this post-globalized, totally interconnected world, our old definitions of the psychologically healthy adult no longer fit. We need new thinking, new criteria about what constitutes healthy emotional attitudes, behavior, mental perspectives, and personal values in today’s world. I think thatoutward success and internal well-being are interwoven with responsibilities for the common good – the larger human community and the planet. We’re all global citizens, now. That shift calls for a new picture of psychological health and how to build it, individually and socially.

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