Saturday, May 20, 2017

3 Ways to Better Understand Your Emotions

Dealing effectively with emotions is a key leadership skill. And naming our emotions — what psychologists call labeling — is an important first step in dealing with them effectively. But it’s harder than it sounds; many of us struggle to identify what exactly we are feeling, and often times the most obvious label isn’t actually the most accurate.
There are a variety of reasons why this is so difficult: We’ve been trained to believe that strong emotions should be suppressed. We have certain (sometimes unspoken) societal and organizational rules against expressing them. Or we’ve never learned a language to accurately describe our emotions. Consider these two examples:
Neena is in a meeting with Jared and the whole time he has been saying things that make her want to explode. In addition to interrupting her at every turn, he’s reminded everyone again about that one project she worked on that failed. She’s so angry.
Mikhail gets home after a long day and sighs as he hangs up his coat. His wife asks if anything’s wrong. “I’m just stressed,” he says, pulling out laptop his to finish a report.
Anger and stress are two of the emotions we see most in the workplace — or at least those are the terms we use for them most frequently. Yet they are often masks for deeper feelings that we could and should describe in more nuanced and precise ways, so that we develop greater levels of emotional agility, a critical capability that enables us to interact more successfully with ourselves and the world (more on emotional agility in my new book of the same name, available here).
Yes, Neena may be mad, but what if she is also sad? Sad that her project failed, and maybe also anxious that that failure is going to haunt her and her career. With Jared interrupting her so frequently, that anxiety feels increasingly justified. Why didn’t the project work? And what’s going to become of her job now? All of these emotions feed into her anger, but they are also separate feelings that she should identify and address.
And what if what’s behind Mikhail’s stress is the fact that he’s just not sure he’s in the right career? Long days used to be fun — why aren’t they any more? He’s surely stressed, but what’s going on under that?
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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Adults Who Were Bullied as Children Can Suffer From Debilitating Symptoms Similar to PTSD

The negative symptoms of Adult Post-Bullying Syndrome can mimic those of PTSD or the effects seen from child abuse. 

The following is an excerpt from the new book Bullying Scars by Ellen deLara (Oxford University Press, 2016)

In interviewing the people in my research study, I began to notice something unusual. While many of the participants spoke of the bullying episodes they experienced as traumatic and described the impact they felt at the time and what they are left with now in terms of traumatic memories, no one explicitly said they felt like they had PTSD. However, collectively, they listed many symptoms that did fit the PTSD diagnosis. Still others clearly experience what I call adult post-bullying syndrome, or APBS. I have named it this to distinguish it from PTSD.
While APBS can share some symptoms with PTSD, there are distinct differences. One is that there can be both negative and positive aspects to APBS, whereas there are no positive aspects in the research literature associated with PTSD. The negative symptoms of APBS can mimic those of PTSD or the effects seen from child abuse. These effects, similar for child abuse, APBS, and PTSD, and lasting into adulthood, can include shame, anxiety, and relational difficulties. Further, negative cognitions about the self often occur after a trauma. This trauma-related thinking is often inaccurate and serves to support and maintain PTSD. The changes in emotional reactions that characterize PTSD can lead to unexpected and often unpredictable outbursts of anger and aggression. Something can happen to which the person with PTSD just reacts. There does not appear to be an intermediary step of thinking. There is the event, then the reaction. This is a critical difference between PTSD and APBS, where adults do not tend to show this kind of event/reaction immediacy but rather seem more inclined to take no action and instead ruminate on past and present events.
While there are negative aspects of adult post-bullying syndrome, there are some unexpected positives that seem to accompany it also. In interviewing people who appear to experience APBS, I noticed that they have a tendency to exhibit some, if not all, of the following issues:
Self-Esteem Issues and Shame
“I have low self-esteem, a poor self-image, and virtually no confidence in myself.”
“Unfortunately, I took right to heart, literally, the hurtful things that were said to me. Now that I am grown up I try to see things differently, but in my core I still believe they are true.”
Self-doubt and harsh self-judgment are byproducts of childhood bullying. They leave an indelible mark on self-esteem for those who suffer with APBS. Children take to heart relentless torment through name calling and castigation of their character and looks. Years later, as adults, people can still easily recall what they were bullied about: their weight, their height, their clothes, having acne, the people to whom they were attracted. People with APBS typically report having low self-esteem. They feel a sense of shame connected to the core of their being. People who feel a great deal of shame or who are shame-based can manifest this in arrogant behavior. This can be seen in vacillations in thinking between: “I’m a loser” and “I’m better than all of you.”
Problems Trusting Others
“I find it hard to trust other men at work.”            
“My worry that people are judging me is constant.”
Problems trusting others can take a generalized state form (as in “I don’t trust anybody”) or can be very specific to certain groups. People suffering with APBS tend not to trust others. They are particularly cautious in intimate relationships such as friendship and marriage, always expecting that they will be betrayed. Further, they do not trust people who look, act, or even dress like those who bullied them. This lack of trust is problematic for establishing relationships in the first place and for managing them.
Problems in Relationships
“You begin to think you don’t deserve anything. You don’t deserve a good relationship.”
“At the first sign someone is not nice, I distance myself.”
The problem of mistrusting others significantly impairs a person’s ability to connect with other people and then to stay connected. People who trust easily establish relationships readily and maintain them. They do not have attachment problems. Children who have been bullied and then end up with adult post-bullying syndrome often appear to either run from relationships or manage to get into abusive ones. After all, they have learned as children that their peers or siblings will treat them badly. For the most part, they never learned how to stop bullying as children. Consequently, they do not know how to and often do not even want to extricate themselves from physically or emotionally abusive relationships as adults. This is all they know. At the other end of the continuum are adults so scarred from their bullying experiences that they are willing to end even their marriages based on what, to others, might seem reparable. But to some adults suffering with APBS any hint of disrespect or bullying is intolerable,

“My strategy in relationships is to be a people-pleaser.”
A majority of those with adult post-bullying syndrome declared that they were “people-pleasers.” Never feeling quite good about themselves, never being good enough, based on the maltreatment they endured through bullying, they have determined that pleasing others is their best defense. It makes a kind of emotional sense. Having experienced numerous forms of bullying from verbal to emotional to sexual to physical, becoming someone that no one could object to seems like a good strategy. However, in the process authenticity of self can be lost. This is a high price to pay.

Food and Other Substance Misuse
“I drink a lot and I have used drugs to help me with the anxiety I feel about the bullying in my past.”
Numerous studies detail an association between bullying as victim, bully, or bully/victim and substance use in childhood. In my study, some adult participants reported using alcohol, other drugs, and food management to quell the feelings of anxiety or depression they experience related to bullying episodes from their childhood. Other research substantiates these findings. At this point, research on the consequences to adult mental health demonstrates long-term correlations between childhood bullying and outcomes such as anxiety, substance abuse, depression, and adult conduct disorders. One inquiry investigated bullying during 5th grade and its relationship to later heavy drinking and marijuana use. The sample was from the Raising Healthy Children project and included over 900 children. The study determined that “childhood bullying was significantly associated with violence, heavy drinking, and marijuana use” in adulthood even after controlling for other risk factors.

Do You Zone Out? Procrastinate? Might Be Adult ADHD

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Mindfulness just as effective as CBT for a broad range of psychiatric symptoms

Jan Sundquist (Photo: Kennet Ruona)

Mindfulness group therapy has an equally positive effect as individual CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) for the treatment of a wide range of psychiatric symptoms in patients with depression, anxiety and stress-related disorders. Researchers made the finding in a new study from the Center for Primary Healthcare Research (CPF) in Malmö, which is a collaboration between Lund University in Sweden and Region Skåne. 
The need for psychotherapy in primary healthcare is on the increase for patients who are suffering with a variety of mental health problems. However, individual therapy is costly and the supply does not meet the demand. Group therapy with mindfulness can be a viable alternative treatment, which at the same will free up resources in healthcare to be used more efficiently.
“Our new research shows that mindfulness group therapy has the equivalent effect as individual CBT for a wide range of psychiatric symptoms that are common among this patient group,” says Professor Jan Sundquist, who led the research group in the study which has been published in European Psychiatry.
He adds, “We have shown in a previous study that mindfulness group therapy is just as effective as individual CBT for the treatment of typical depression and anxiety symptoms; something we also observed in the new study.”
The study group included 215 patients with depression, anxiety and stress-related disorders. Patients were recruited from 16 different healthcare centres across Scania in southern Sweden for the eight-week randomised controlled trial. Researchers studied a broad range of psychiatric symptoms (measured by several types of questionnaires, e.g. Symptom Checklist-90, SCL-90) and how these symptoms changed during the treatment, either with mindfulness in group therapy or individual CBT.
The results showed that the average score for all 15 different subscales/indexes in the various questionnaires decreased significantly in both scales. The various scales measured, among others, symptoms of depression, general anxiety, stress and somatization, obsessive-compulsive disorder, interpersonal sensitivity, aggression, phobic anxiety, paranoid ideation and psychoticism. There was no difference in treatment effect between the two groups.
“As mental illnesses are increasing at a very fast rate it is absolutely essential to expand the treatment alternatives for this patient group in primary healthcare. Our view is that the scarce resources should be partly reallocated to mindfulness group therapy so that the limited availability of individual psychotherapy can be utilised in an optimal fashion,” concludes Professor Sundquist.

Publication: The effect of mindfulness group therapy on a broad range of psychiatric symptoms: A randomised controlled trial in primary health care
Professor Jan Sundquist
+46 40 39 13 78

Monday, May 15, 2017

Howie Mandel Gets Real About his ADHD & OCD

Howie Mandel Gets Real About his ADHD & OCD

Howie Mandel – comedian, actor, game-show host – talks about his experience with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

I’ve had ADHD symptoms for as long as I can remember, but it was only in the last decade that I learned they had a name. It is good to know that those four letters are what I’ve been coping with all these years. I wasn’t an easy child at home or in school. I didn’t earn my high school diploma, but I never felt any less loved by my parents.
I’ve been married for 30 years, so my wife knows how to handle me. If you asked her, she’d say it’s sometimes hard for her and our children to live with me. Every conversation is peppered with, “Howie! Howie! Are you paying attention?”
When I impulsively revealed on a talk show that I also have OCD, I was devastated — until I walked outside. People came up to me and said, “Me, too.” Those were the most comforting words I’ve ever heard. When you have mental challenges, you feel alone. You’re not.
I won’t tell you that having ADHD or OCD is a blessing, but both conditions are parts of who I am. They’re reflected in my comedy. While the conditions present challenges — I find it difficult to write or read a script — my career and life have been fruitful and fulfilling. I know some see ADHD as a gift, but, given a chance, I would gladly return it.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Improve Your Perspective Using Cognitive Reappraisal

Everyone feels negative emotions from time to time. There’s no getting around it. It’s what makes us human. Negative emotions can signal that something is important to us, or that we care about something. As unpleasant as emotional pain may feel sometimes, it plays an important role in our lives. However, when emotions get especially intense, they can actually get in our way. Sadness can turn into depression. Anxiety can trigger panic. Anger at a fever-pitch can result in hurt feelings. Because this higher intensity emotion can cause a lot of problems, it can be helpful for having a way of modulating it so it doesn’t rise to the level of being a problem.
You may have noticed when you’re in the middle of one of these intense emotional states, that your thinking becomes markedly one-note. Intense sadness out all thoughts that are not intensely sad. The same goes with other emotions. When we are angry, we have angry thoughts, and when frightened, frightening thoughts, etc. This results in a kind of tunnel vision, in which the only thoughts that occur to our minds end up stoking the fire of our emotions even more. You may have found yourself in a cycle where thoughts stirred emotions, which influenced your thoughts, which stirred the emotions, and on and on. This negative feedback loop is partly responsible for chronic emotional disorders, and in less severe cases, can really ruin your day.
One way to calm the fire of emotions down is through cognitive reappraisal (Barlow et al., 2011). This is merely the act of recognizing the pattern your thoughts have fallen into, and changing that pattern. By doing this, the emotions you are experiencing lose a bit of their intensity, and allow for you to more productively deal with whatever it is that got you triggered in the first place. For example, imagine you take a wrong turn on the way to a party and end up getting lost, making you considerably late. Your first response may be to get frustrated, appraising the situation by thinking “This road construction is terrible! The city needs to get it together to find a different way of detouring traffic.” This appraisal may make you angry. If you are prone to intense anger, your anger may run away with you, causing you to be fuming and ruin your time at the party once you arrive.
Now take a moment to consider another perspective you might have in this situation.
Other perspectives might cause you to experience other feelings. Consider the following reappraisals:
  • I always get lost. Why can’t I seem to do anything right?
  • Oh no! If I’m late to the party, everyone will be angry at me and no one will talk to me.
  • I have the birthday cake in the trunk. Now everyone at the party will have to wait for me before they can get started, and that’s miserable.
These different ways of thinking about the situation will obviously elicit different emotional responses. What’s interesting about them is that all of them contain at least a kernel of truth. None of them is out-and-out irrational. Some of them may be a bit extreme, but not irrational. This is significant because it illustrates there usually isn’t just one way of making sense of a situation. All are valid. This means it’s possible to take an alternative perspective that is more effective in helping us keep an even keel.
Now consider the following reappraisals:
  • Thank God I will spare myself 30 minutes of talking to Elizabeth. I dodged a bullet there!
  • I’m late again. I might as well enjoy the scenery while I’m driving around.
  • People probably won’t care that much that I’m late.
  • I’m usually on-time. What a fluke!
  • Life happened.
These appraisals also contain a kernel of truth. They are not merely the “power of positive thinking,” but reality-based ways of appraising the situation. Moreover, they would probably be more helpful in allowing for us to keep our head while we try to find our way to the party. While running over these new thoughts, you will still probably hear the old appraisal in your head: “This road construction is terrible! The city needs to get it together to find a different way of detouring traffic.” But now you can add some nuance to it, considering different perspectives, and thinking in a way that keeps a lid on your level of emotional distress. The point is to allow other ways of making sense of a situation to coexist with the more emotionally triggering appraisal. 
The next time you notice yourself getting in one of these emotion-thought feedback loops, consider a few cognitive reappraisals of the situation, and notice what happens to the volume of your emotions.

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Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Best Way to Move on After a Breakup

Susan Krauss Whitbourne Ph.D.Fulfillment at Any Age

... and it only takes 8.5 minutes.

Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., is currently a professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The author of over 160 refereed articles and book chapters and 16 books (many in multiple editions and translations), her most recent popular work is The Search for Fulfillment (January 2010, Ballantine Books). She also writes for the Huffington Post's "Post 50" blog and is a frequent commentator on local, national, and international media outlets and has appeared on the Today Show, NBC Nightly News, Dateline, CNN, Olbermann, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Money Magazine, USA Today, and
Her research covers a wide range of topics related to adult development and aging, including personality development through midlife, contributors to successful aging, predictors of memory performance, and the relationship between physical health and sense of personal identity. She teaches large undergraduate lecture classes and maintains an active lab of graduate students whose research focuses on life-span development, dementia, and functional abilities in older adults.
Recipient of a 2011 Presidential Citation from the American Psychological Association, she is the winner of national and campus teaching and advising awards. She has served in executive board and advisory roles in regional and national professional organizations including the American Psychological Association (Council of Representatives and Board of Educational Affairs), the Council of Professional Geropsychology Training Programs (Chair), the Society for the Study of Human Development (past President), the Gerontological Society of America (current Chair, Behavioral and Social Sciences Section), the National Association of Fellowship Advisors (Executive Board member), and Psi Chi (past Eastern Regional Vice President), and the Society for Emerging Adulthood (Founding Board member), as well as a member of numerous task forces and advisory panels at the national, regional, state, and campus levels. In June 2016, she begins her term as President-Elect of the Eastern Psychological Association.
At the University of Massachusetts Amherst, she teaches large undergraduate psychology classes and directs the Commonwealth Honors College's Office of National Scholarship Advisement. She grew up in Buffalo, N.Y. and graduated from the University at Buffalo. She received her Ph.D. in developmental psychology from Columbia University and completed a postdoctoral respecialization program in clinical psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Whitbourne lives in Amherst, Massachusetts with her husband and has the distinct pleasure of having raised two daughters who chose to follow their mother's profession. Her older daughter, Stacey, a developmental/health psychologist, is now a co-author on her adult development text, and her younger daughter, Jennifer is pursuing her doctorate in clinical psychology. Her hobbies include knitting and playing the piano, and through her frequent participation in aerobics classes, she practices what she preaches about the value of aging and exercise.