Archive for March, 2009

ADHD Symptoms? In Search of Alternative Treatments

Monday, March 30th, 2009

According to the National Institute of Mental Health “ADHD is one of the most common mental disorders in children and adolescents and also affects an estimated 4.1 percent of adults, ages 18-44, in a given year.” Now, with that said, psychology also has a “flavor of the day” diagnosis that gets put out in the media and when that happens it’s on people’s minds more and therefore it is looked for more often. When a person is looking for a diagnosis of ADHD, they may be more likely to spot the actual symptoms of difficulty focusing on organizing and processing information, seeking stimulation and experiencing moodiness.  Therefore, they may actually be more likely to spot ADHD and this can be wonderful for someone who actually has ADHD. However, diagnosis can be tricky as many people may show these similar symptoms with underlying issues may be stress, family conflict, grieving, addictive behaviors, or feelings associated with anxiety and depression.

If people are misdiagnosed, they are usually treated with stimulants which may be helpful, but is not healing for the underlying issues.  Whether the diagnosis is ADHD or another underlying issue, I often recommend that the person who is struggling seek alternative treatments to medication only. There are a number of good alternative suggestions people give to support the diagnosis of ADHD such as exercising, eating the right foods, moving, and even being exposed to blue light which arouses the frontal lobe of the brain, the area that is dampened in true diagnoses of ADHD.

Lydia Zylowska , M.D., is a Psychiatrist in Los Angeles who created a mindfulness-based intervention for adolescents and adults who suffer with ADHD (ADDitudes Magazine Article). In an initial pilot study, she brought participants through an 8-week program of cultivate a mindfulness meditation practice in daily life to help focus and retrain the mind. Here study included 24 adults and 8 teens, two thirds of who continued on stimulant medication and a majority of who struggled with comorbid conditions, mainly mood disorders. Seventy eight percent of participants reported a reduction in total ADHD symptoms above and beyond the use of medications. Thirty percent …


Is Expressing Anger Bad for Your Mental Health?

Friday, March 27th, 2009

A recent article on NPR explores the age old question of whether it’s therapeutic to act on your anger. Alex Spigel writes about a woman in San Diego who has built a store for the sole purpose of letting people in, covering them in protective gear, and giving them plates to smash to vent their anger. He then brings up new research by professor Jeffrey Lohr of the University of Arkansas that points to evidence that says venting this anger isn’t effective and the anger just continues to return.

I love Alex Spigel, but sometimes these topics can be oversimplified. It’s kind of like much of the spirituality research out there that measures level of spirituality by church attendance. Just because someone goes to church doesn’t mean they’re spiritual, they could be doing it out of family obligation or a longing for community. What’s not explicitly spelled out here is the difference between anger and aggression. Just because someone is expressing anger, it doesn’t mean they are aggressive or hostile. He points to this briefly when he says “Now, to be clear, Lohr isn’t pro-repression. Repression, he says, can also be bad for you. The key is to speak out your anger without getting emotional about it. Basically, we’re not supposed to yell at anyone anymore.”

To be clearer, there is absolutely nothing wrong with feeling or expressing anger. Whenever we’re frustrated or irritated we are feeling angry. We can be angry for a myriad of things from our partners making plans for us without asking to being abused as a child.

How we express this anger does make a difference.

Daniel Goleman writes about how the expression of anger can be a good thing. It is at times our outrage over injustice that moves us to action to help. It is our anger over the atrocity in Darfur that creates the motivation to help out, or maybe it’s the anger in getting abused that leads to the cry out for help, or if you’re a teenager, maybe it’s the anger over mom or dad just opening your door without knocking that leads to a discussion around new …


To Stress or Not to Stress, That is the Question

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

Throughout our lives we’ve been interpreting and making meaning out of all kinds of events. Every even by itself is just an event, but the way we see it, the importance we give it, how it weaves into the fabric of our cells makes all the difference. This meaning that we make then goes on to affect how we interpret other things, it informs the choices that we make and the behaviors that we conduct.

For example, if I were to get pulled over by the police for speeding I might think “the world is out to get me” or “I need to slow down.” I may miss the possibility that this may have saved me from an upcoming accident. Some people say life is like a blank canvas, go ahead and paint your masterpiece. The problem with that statement is that life is not like a blank canvas because we bring all of our past experiences, woundings, traumas, and triumphs with us to the seat. If you were abused as a child that is going to have an effect on how you view and interpret relationships and the world. If you are a veteran who has just come back from war and saw some of your friends wounded or killed, that is going to affect how you make meaning of many different things in life. Many different forms of therapy ask us to shift the way we seeing things, have a different outlook on life. It’s not so easy.

However, it’s also important to not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, says that people can survive any experience if they learn to make a more positive meaning out of it. He says, “even the worst circumstance can be transformed by our minds.”  We do walk around the world shaped by our experiences and the meaning we give to events can have a dramatic effect on how we feel emotionally and physically.

So the practice is to become aware of the meaning we are giving events and think of our initial interpretation as one slice of a pie and then asking …


Rumi's Advice: Welcome Your Sorrows?

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

Life is full of joys and sorrows. At one moment a baby is being born and at the same moment someone is dying. Someone is getting married and another is getting divorced. Someone just got the job of their dreams and another has been fired and faces eviction. Mindfulness is about cultivating awareness around all of these states of mind and body.

The 13th century Sufi Poet, Rumi, wrote “This being human is a guest-house. Every morning a new arrival, a joy, a depression, a meanness…Welcome and entertain them all!” We might say, welcome and entertain them all? Are you crazy? Why would I want to welcome and entertain these horribly uncomfortable feelings? All I want to do is get away from them, far, far away. Some of us stay in bed with the blankets pulled over, others self medicate with drugs and alcohol, while others pour themselves into work so they don’t have to feel.

The only issue here is that these uncomfortable emotions have no where to go, they’re still within us. We cannot push them away, because they are unable to leave the boundaries of our minds. In this pushing and struggling we give energy to the distress. It’s like sending hate to a blob of negative energy, it just eats it up and grows bigger.

Sarah was a client I had who developed a severe case of panic attacks after having children. She got to a point where she didn’t want to leave her house because everything “out there” may trigger her into another attack. After working with her for a while in therapy and having her, step-by-step, become able to approach, instead of avoid, these uncomfortable feelings, eventually they stopped having the same triggering effect. She realized she could learn to “be with” them instead of trying to fight against them and that eventually they would pass. We may all know this intellectually, but when we’re in it, it’s difficult to grasp unless we’ve practiced it and realize it through experience.

Rumi continues, “still, treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight.” In essence, each may be …


Surviving Depression: A Mindful Way

Friday, March 20th, 2009

Depression is one of the most profound challenges of our time. We know that 25% of women and up to 12% of men will suffer a clinical depression in their lifetime and many more will suffer with mild depression. Author and professional blog writer, Therese Borchard writes a wonderful blog about personal experiences with depression. Whether you or someone you know is suffering from depression or some psychological pain like sorrow or grief, it can feel like a burden on the mind and heart. Maybe we hold the feeling in and we become numb, walking around like a zombie, or maybe we feel like if we actually let the tears flow they would never end. Perhaps there is another way, a more gentle way to approach the pain inside.

In an earlier blog I mentioned a way we can work with the tormented mind through acknowledging the reality of the present moment and then sending a message internally to calm the distressed mind.  For example, the mind can seem fragmented, thrashing, anxious, fuzzy, numb, or any number of other ways. These states of mind can be uncomfortable and our automatic struggle with them or judgments of them only serves to feed the depression. The problem is, this struggle and avoidance of it leads to disconnection of what we are truly feeling and so the mind begins to get the better of us.

Here is another approach:

When we notice the struggle, we want to breathe in and acknowledge the mind and while we breathe out we can say to ourselves “It’s Ok.” So if the mind is anxious, just breathing in and saying “anxious mind”, breathing out “it’s ok”.

As you do this the mind may eventually change to a different feeling. See if you can notice this and then shift with it. It may start feeling fuzzy and so you can switch now to “breathing in, fuzzy, breathing out, it’s ok.”

Tip: Notice any judgments arising right now when reading this, “this will never work for me” or “nothing is going to change how I feel, how stupid.” These judgments are likely well known to you and have become automatic. …


Frustrated with Life? Advice from a Sage…

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

It’s easy to get wound up sometimes and put on our anti-rose colored glasses seeing the world as bitter and oppressive. You may be walking outside one day and say “what is up with this lousy weather, it’s too cold, what’s wrong with this world, and why doesn’t the newspaper person ever put the paper in the right place?” The day continues and you go to the post office only for the person in front of you to have 5 boxes, “why does this always happen to me,” you say. Later, you go to a sold-out movie and someone sits in front of you, “she’s too tall and I hate that perfume.” For many of us this may happen more often than we’d care to admit. The quick-fix might be to try and get rid of all the things that bother us. In other words maybe we can avoid all the annoying or anxiety provoking things in life in order to placate that part of us that gets so easily frustrated or anxious. In an extreme sense, this is how panic attacks are exacerbated and how agoraphobia is conditioned. Unfortunately, more often than not when I ask people, “how is that working for you,” they often say that it really isn’t.

An old sage Shantideva has a wonderful story that is a great analogy (I’ll embellish it a bit). There was a man who was barefoot and had to walk across a seemingly endless ground of blazing hot sands, cut grass, and fields of thorns. When he walked it hurt him. He would curse these pains when they came. One day he had a brilliant idea. He thought, “I will cover up the whole of the earth with leather and then I will no longer feel pain and I will be happy.” Soon he became exhausted and realized that this wasn’t going to work. However, in his exhaustion, he realized, if he could wrap the leather around his foot (e.g., shoes), he could walk freely.

What does this mean? This is a story that tells us it doesn’t work as well to try to change or …


McCartney's & Lennon's Wisdom: Let it Be

Friday, March 13th, 2009

Whether you’re one of the millions or billions of Beatles fans or not, John Lennon had a point when he said “Life is what happens while we’re busy making other plans.” In 1970 Paul McCartney composed the  hit song “Let it be”, after dreaming that his dying mother told him, “It will be all right, just let it be.” What wisdom can we derive from this? When we’re in high distress our harshest critical voices coming raining down saying “why can’t you just let it go, what’s wrong with you.” There’s a difference between the attitudes “let it go” and “let it be.” If we could all let go of the difficulties in our minds and bodies this mental health website would be non-existent. So what can we do?

For most of us, when we try to let go of something or push it away, it either keeps nagging at us or only comes back with more energy. What if we didn’t have to push our uncomfortable feelings and thoughts away? What if we could just “let them be.” At this point you might be thinking “why would I ever want to let these horrible thoughts and feelings be, I just want to get rid of them.” It is this very energy in trying to get rid of them that feeds them. We need a paradigm shift here entering the “being mode” instead of the “doing mode”.

We learn the practice of avoidance at an early age. Just think about a kid skinning his knee and starting to cry. You may notice others coming up to him trying to sooth him immediately by either giving him a lollipop or maybe making faces to distract him from his pain. While the intentions of the adults are good, it begins to teach the little boy that it is not ok to cry and to look outside for distractions to his pain. As adults our deepest pain can sometimes be emotional. So what do we “do?” We pop into “doing mode” and try to distract ourselves from our pain instead of “being with” our pain. Another option would be …


Calming Your Distressed Mind

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

Sometimes in life it’s helpful to have signposts that we can see to help bring us back to the present moment and reinforce a certain way of being that we aspire to. Just like signs on the road may help remind us to slow down or children crossing, we can use short verses in our day to day to remind us to be how we want to be.

Check for auto-pilot reaction before moving on: Take a moment to check in with any judgments that might be arising right now. For example, “short verses? Is he nuts? How could that ever help me?” or “What is this, an affirmation, those never work.” Or “why am I even continuing to read this?” If anything like this arises, this is normal,  just take a moment to notice the automatic judgment, let it be, take a breath to help ground to the here and now and then gently continue on with the next paragraph.

Acclaimed author, teacher, and Monk, Thich Nhat Hanh uses short phrases all the time to support himself in being more present, grounded, and aware in daily life. He has taught this practice to medical professionals, Psychologists, and students for many years now. He teaches the practices of walking and/or breathing and using these phrases to support us in calming our distressed minds and being more present to every day life.

For example,

  • You may take three steps while breathing in and say “Breathing in, I calm my body” and then with the following three steps “Breathing out, I relax.” You can then shorten this to saying “calm” as you breathe in, and “relax” as you breathe out.
  • “Breathing in, I notice the colors all around me, breathing out, I smile.” Then shorten to “Breathing in, colors, breathing out, smile.” Even if we don’t feel like smiling, the simple act of doing a half-smile sometimes can change the tension in our faces, which in turn affects our mood.
  • “Breathing in, I have arrived, breathing out, I am home.” Then shorten too “Breathing in, arrived, breathing out, home.” Have you ever had the experience where you were rushing home to relax. It doesn’t make …

Being Present Can Help Your Marriage

Monday, March 9th, 2009

In his recent blog, A Child’s ADHD Can Stress Your Marriage, John Grohol, Ph.D. cites an Washington Post article stating an increase in divorce rates among people who have children with ADHD. One person aptly comments that it also could be because one or more of the parents have ADHD and it’s not diagnosed making the marriage more difficult. Having children with ADHD or special needs is challenging and requires extra responsibility that taxes the family system. There is simply more effort and time required on the parent and child’s part which makes people more tired and when people get tired they tend to get irritable. When irritability is not taken care of, people get hurt, put their walls up and close down. When partners are closed down and aren’t able to feel or detect one another’s feelings anymore, empathy flies out the window, and connection is right on its tails. Without connection, there is no relationship and so this leads to higher rates of separation.

The quote from the Washington post that highlights this says:

Regardless of whether they had children with ADHD, [...] the parents asked to work with difficult children were four times as likely to exchange negative criticism and questions, or to ignore each other and trade nonverbal barbs, than the parents in the other group.

And regardless of whether they were dealing with easy or difficult children, parents who had ADHD children at home were three times as likely to be negative toward each other as parents who did not. Put another way, the parents of children with ADHD simply had less ability to respond to challenges with equanimity; they appeared to be psychologically worn thin.

How can we cultivate the ability to respond to challenges from a more grounded place instead of reacting from a state of imbalance? Psychiatrist and Holocaust Survivor Viktor Frankl noted:

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

As parents, there is so much to do and so much responsibility, it’s easy to get …


Is it Time to Unplug? Technology and Overconnection

Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

Ok…I’m outing myself. I was driving the other day with my mind wandering off the road and onto an idea for a wonderful blog that really got to the heart of people nowadays being potentially over-connected to a point where there isn’t time for oneself or to just be still. Very little effort is made to unplug as Therese Borchard courageously experimented with. So there I was driving, only to look up and find that I was three exits past where I needed to get off. Talk about being on auto-pilot. Sound familiar?

When you first learn how to drive a car, you need to think about all the intricate movements and are so present to where the foot is and where the hand needs to be placed. When driving through a new neighborhood, you’re very attentive to the street signs. But when things are familiar, the mind says “I got it, go ahead and take a break, let the mind wander a bit.” There may be nothing wrong with this, in fact, it could very well be where many creative ideas are born (e.g. new blogs). However, in an age where there is an overwhelming amount of things to connect to, we may be overconnected to a point where we become disconnected from ourselves.

I live in Los Angeles and was recently walking by the beach and watching people whizzing by on their bikes, people jogging and families taking walks. As I took a closer look I noticed that many of the people were carrying on conversations with their imaginary friends (aka their phones), even the father of a family walking was glued to his Blackberry furiously typing out some text or email. I looked to the right and saw the ocean and thought to myself, it is so easy now to not spend time with our thoughts, feelings, or emotions. It is so easy now to disconnect from the here and now and check out through technology. Now, I’m a big defender of technology, I actually think it can be enormously helpful, but if abused, it can take us away from a critical element …


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