Archives for January, 2011
Not that I am in the habit of turning to semi-obscure TV sitcom stars for wisdom, but I once found in the newspaper a quote from Jenna Elfman that struck me as so wise, I clipped it and kept it over my desk for years. Guru Elfman said, “Do other things. I don’t just act. It starts to feel like you’re digging into an open wound when you do the same thing all the time. It becomes achy, sore, and tiresome.”
The conclusions drawn in a paper titled “The mental health of mothers in and after violent and controlling unions,” published in Social Science Research are of the “well, yeah” sort for me. Reviewing longitudinal data from the Fragile Families and Child Well-Being study, the authors conclude that, "Overall, we find that women are still at risk for mental health problems even after leaving IPV [intimate partner violence] unions." Among the reasons cited for the continued mental health problems of women leaving abusive relationships are the presence of children, which requires continued interaction with the abusive partner; the stress of being a single parent; and financial hardship. All of which are undoubtedly correct, and certainly this paper importantly highlights the need to provide ongoing mental health services for women who have left abusive relationships. The data used focused on mostly minority low-income women with children, so this information is especially salient in these days of ever-deepening budget cuts to social services. But, not to trivialize the very serious matters of poverty and partner abuse, I’d like to toss one other interpretation into the mix, one that applies to everyone, not just people in such dire circumstances. It is this: Epiphany is just the beginning of change.
The other night I went to see a very entertaining jazz/swing band called the Jitterbug Vipers. Adding to the fun, singer Sarah Sharp wore her five-month-old son, Angus, in a wrap carrier while she performed. Angus was cheerfully mellow about the whole business, so I’m guessing it was not his first time in front of an audience. You can watch some video of that show here. (Video, with sounds, starts automatically. And annoyingly.) To preempt criticism, Sarah pointed out to the audience that Angus was wearing earplugs. They evidently were quite effective, because halfway through the set, Sarah turned him from facing out to facing in and he promptly fell asleep.
Consider the dotty old aunt who comes to family reunions and blurts things others might think but would never say. Things like, “You don’t need that second piece of cake.” Or “You’ll never get a job dressed like a hoochie mama,” or “Is that a toupee or a dead squirrel on your head?” Usually, a beat of shocked silence is followed by nervous chatter about anything else while the person critiqued dies a thousand deaths and silently vows never to attend a family gathering again. But what if Aunt Dotty actually speaks useful truths? She might be dead on with both her assessment and subsequent advice, according to a charming study published in The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. We know that decline in the brain’s executive function (EF) often results in lowered inhibitions, generally not considered a good thing. But this research finds an upside to lowered inhibitions.
“Mindfulness” is a buzzword these days—the latest fad based on ancient precepts. Yoga, of course, is a mindful practice now entrenched in modern culture. "Mindful meditation" (which sounds redundant) is taking hold. The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article about mindfulness in psychotherapy. And you've probably started hearing talk of mindful eating. Although the utility of mindfulness for weight control is not yet proven, a study funded by the NIH did find it helpful in controlling binge eating.
Few relationships are as complex as the one we have with food. We love it we hate it, we veer from overcontrolling with restrictive diets, to out of control with Mint M&Ms (my addiction). We know what we should do. But why we don’t do the right things is a riddle wrapped in an enigma dipped in secret sauce, and it appears connected to everything from socioeconomics to scheduling. For example, if calorie counts were listed on fast food menus, the thinking went, we’d make better choices, getting Little Macs instead of Grandes, and a cellophane packet of strangely preserved apple slices instead of French fries. Or not. I’ve been rummaging around in research about doing the right thing, eating-wise, and it is complicated.
I’m delighted to join the PsychCentral team and would like to take a moment to introduce myself and this blog. I’ve always been interested in psychology, but life took me this way and that, and I didn’t pursue a BA in the subject until I was in my 40s. (Note to anyone in midlife considering returning to college: totally worthwhile. It was great fun, and it’s taken my writing career in exciting new directions, including this blog.) I worked in a couple of research labs while in school--one in developmental psychology and one in speech cognition--and found those experiences absorbing and enlightening. Science can be an inexact science. There are myriad nuances to designing studies, executing them, and interpreting the results. How were terms defined? Who were the research subjects? Is there more than one way that the results can be interpreted, and what are the implications of that?