Archives for Stress
The more I read and think about New Year's Resolutions, the less I think they accomplish a dingdang thing. I've made a lot of resolutions that have led me absolutely nowhere. Mostly, they make me feel bad because I tend not to follow-up. Oh sure, I'll get back on my eating/exercise program as soon as the holiday minefield of homemade pound cake and mint M&Ms is behind us, but that's more about returning to...
I’ve been a science project since I was a troubled teen sitting across from my first shrink. I’ve warmed a lot of therapists' office chairs since then, and experimented with various strategies at different times. I've journaled and created rituals and signed contracts. I talked to the empty chair and my inner child. I've projected and rejected and introspected. It's been a lifeline and hobby. My therapists all dabbled in an array of theories and practices, but the one they all had in common, and that has provided me with the most useful tools, is cognitive therapy, which addresses thinking patterns. Nothing newfangled about cognitive therapy. Psychiatrist Aaron T. Beck first proposed it in the 1960s. It grew popular in the 1970s, and today is it’s the go-to for efficient therapy. One recent study finds it’s even helpful to people with schizophrenia. If it can help that kind of disordered thinking, it can help anyone.
My five-day experiment in unplugging was a flop. No, I didn’t cave and mainline Facebook during my Mexico-beach vacation. I didn’t crumble and tweet my every mojito, check my email, text, or even google anything. My computer stayed home and I kept my phone turned off and locked in the room safe. Despite all my prior misgivings, no trauma was involved. Not the slightest twinge. My husband had his computer with him and I wasn’t even tempted to peek. I never felt cut off, suffered no DTs, needed no substitutes. As anxious as I felt about not having a computer to write on for a week, I wasn’t even tempted to scribble a few lines with pen and paper. I read, sketched, ate, drank, swam, snorkeled and lounged. It was easy Some experiments don’t go as anticipated.
I’m going on vacation next week. A real, total-veg-out vacation at an all-inclusive beach resort. I’m shutting down my office and my brain. I haven’t taken a vacation like that in 20 years.* The resort has in-room WiFi, but I’ve decided to cut myself off and leave my computer at home. No working. No googling, no Facebook, no Twitter, no blogging (look for guest posts next week). Radio silence. It sounds great, right? Then why does the thought fill me with anxiety? Am I addicted to the Internet?
Here it comes, the avalanche of brain-training books, following the leaps and bounds made in research in recent decades. As we learn about the brain, the self-help industry is following the neurons to a happier, healthier you. Also with a better memory. A book called Train Your Brain to Get Happy crossed my path recently, so I picked it up. (Actually, I got a press release and requested a review copy from the publisher.) It’s not bad. It seems designed to appeal to people who like tinkering under the hood. It starts by presenting theories and research on neurological feats of wonder, such as how memories come together; and the brain under the influence of anxiety and happiness. (Take the quizzes for your own enlightenment but the assessments basically tell you that however happy you are, it’s not enough.) Then it has you pull out the wrenches and start tinkering, with tools such as basic cognitive-behavioral techniques, mindfulness techniques, ways to derail repetitive unhelpful thoughts, various brain-centric prescriptions for things that enhance happiness: fun, sex, food, sleep.
It’s been a very long week, and not in a good way. Righteous anger is a bitch. Trying to fit another thought into my overheated brain has been difficult and I've struggled to settle on something to write about. I didn’t want to write more about institutionalized sexism in the media. (Actually I did, but y'all have probably had enough.) Casting around for something to get traction in my brain, I thought about ancillary issues that might be interesting to me, and started searching the database for earnest topics, like “response to moralistic breaches.” And then a paper from the Journal of Consumer Psychology popped up and all dark thoughts dissipated. Who cares about anything when there are serious research papers out there saying things like: Embarrassment can arise in a variety of consumer situations, including purchase (e.g., buying personal lubricant or The National Enquirer), usage (e.g., using hemorrhoid medication and watching The View), and disposition situations (e.g., donating Milli Vinilli<cq> records to Goodwill and failing to recycle).
A friend was recently robbed at gunpoint on a dark street. She’s a little bruised from being pushed around, but she's generally OK. However, she says, she can’t stop thinking about it and wishes she could. Not unusual. In the psychological literature, that’s called repetitive thought, and it can be a bad thing except when it’s a good thing. As you probably already know, trying to suppress a thought is pointless—that old “don’t think about a white bear” parlor game. In fact, studies indicate that the more you try to suppress a thought, the more you will have it. So if you can’t stop a repetitive thought, what do you do with it? I found a fascinating article titled “Constructive and Unconstructive Repetitive Thought”, and it’s a 2008 literature review of different sorts of repetitive thoughts. I never thought about how many types there are. The article discusses…
My brain is tired. My work as a freelance writer requires a lot of thinking. Not only a lot of thinking, but a lot of thinking about a lot of different subjects. Research too. And then, after I’ve thought and researched and thought some more, I have to string together words to explain all that thinking and research in a way that might be interesting to other people. I’ve cranked out a lot of work in the past few weeks, on topics ranging from authors to canoeing, psychology to Dolly Parton. My jobs range from blog posts (I contribute to four) to writing books to editing reports. I’m not complaining. I enjoy my work and I’m lucky to have so much, and so much that is interesting. But I am wondering: What actually happens when your brain gets tired? Is it physiological or…what?
I put myself into psychotherapy for the first time when I was a teenager, and have returned at various times over the years when I’ve been overwhelmed by whatever. But when a friend compared my attitude about therapy to a fundamentalist’s attitude towards religion—implying that it is unyielding and intolerant of questioning—my feelings were hurt. Eventually, though, I had to concede that she had a point. My belief in therapy, as long as the therapist is worth a damn, has always been absolute. Even when therapy and its attendant revelations have made my life hell in the short term—and they have--they did good in the long term. I credit talented therapists with saving my life. I’ve never for a moment questioned therapy's efficacy, even after I’ve quit therapists who felt like a bad fit. And I've seen therapy (does it sound less threatening if I call it counseling?) help other people, too.
You know that old technique for measuring creativity, where you’re supposed to come up with as many uses for a paper clip as you can? I like to play a version of that game when I see interesting research. I've been puzzling over the new research about how the happiest places in the United States have the highest suicide rates. Curious, eh? The researchers speculate that this is because we all tend to compare ourselves with others, and people who are unhappy find scant comfort in comparing themselves with others if everyone is having a grand time but them. In other word, being unhappy in a happy place makes unhappy people unhappier. That’s feasible. But just for fun, let’s brainstorm some others possible reasons for this surprising finding.