Posts Tagged ‘Mental Health’

Positivity

August 28, 2019

Positivity

Positivity is the title of a book by psychologist Barbara L. Fredrickson, Ph.D. The subtitle is “Discover the Upward Spiral That Will Change Your Life.” Do not be put off by the hype. This book offers guidance on developing a more positive outlook on life

Readers of the healthy memory blog should know that a positive outlook is key to both mental health and physical health as well as a fulfilling life. Healthy memory blog readers should also be aware that we humans have a negative bias, which leads us to a negative outlook. This can be good if it forewarns us of danger, but, for most of us, at least danger does not loom around every corner.

Our negativity is further exacerbated by the nature of the news, which tends to feature negative articles, as well as the internet, which can further exacerbate negativity.

Indeed, the current president of the United States campaigned on fear and negativity and continues during his presidency to promote fear and negativity among his base (nazis and white supremacists) to increase, in his mind, his chances of winning reelection.

Six important facts about Positivity follow:

Fact 1. Positivity feels good. This alone could justify being positive as that the simple state of being positive is a pleasant experience.

Fact 2. Positivity changes how your mind works. Positivity does not just change the contents of your mind, trading bad thoughts for good ones; it also changes the scope or boundaries of your mind. It widens the span of possibilities that you see.

Fact 3. Positivity transforms your future. Although good feelings will forever be fleeting, over time, positivity literally brings out the best in you.

Fact 4. Positivity puts the brakes on negativity. In a heartbeat negativity can spike your blood pressure, but positivity can calm it.

Fact 5. Positivity obeys a tipping point. Dr. Frederickson writes, the most stunning and practical fact to emerge from the science of positivity is that its effects are nonlinear. Effects that are virtually nonexistent at one starting point grow disproportionately large at a different starting point. A tipping point is that sweet spot in between where a small change makes a big difference.

Fact 6. You can increase your positivity. You have more to say than you think, just as does the potential for life-giving positivity.

Positivity broadens and builds. Positivity opens us. The first core truth about positive emotions is that they open our hearts and our minds, making us more receptive and more creative.

Positivity transforms us for the better. This is the second core truth about positive emotions. By opening our hearts and minds, positive emotions allow us to discover and build new skills, new ties, new knowledge, and new ways of being.

In Person No More

April 15, 2019

The title of this post is the same as the third chapter in iGEN: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood, by Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D. There is a second part to this title which is “I’m with You, but Only Virtually.

When Dr. Twenge asked one of her iGen teens what makes his generation different, he doesn’t hesitate to answer: I feel like we don’t party as much. People stay in more often. My generation lost interest in socializing in person—they don’t have physical get-togethers, they just text together, and they can just stay at home.”

College students were asked how many hours a week they spend at parties during their senior year in high school. In 2016, they said two hours a week, which is only a third of the time GenX students spent at parties in 1987. Perhaps iGen-ers just don’t like partying; perhaps they just like to hang out. This is not the case. The number of teens who get together with their friends every day has been cut in half in just fifteen years, with especially steep declines recently.

College students in 2016 when compared against college students in the late 1980s spent four fewer hours a week socializing with their friends and three fewer hours a week partying. So seven hours a week less on in-person social interaction. This severe drop in getting out and getting together with friends occurred right when smartphones became popular and social media use really took off. Time spent with friends in person has been replaced by time spent with friends (and virtual friends) online.

Many malls across the country have closed. In activity after activity, iGen-ers are less social than Millenials, GenX’ers, and Boomers at the same age. This change in activities outside the home doesn’t mean teens are always staying at home having wholesome family time. So iGen’ers spend more leisure time alone. Dr. Twenge writes “Although we can’t say for sure, it’s a good guess that this alone time is being spend online, on social media, streaming video, and texting. In short, iGen teens are less likely to take part in every singe face-to-face social activity measured across four data sets of three different age groups. These fading interactions include everything from small-group or one-on-one activities, such as getting together with friends to larger group activities such as partying. “

Instead, they are communicating electronically. The internet has taken over. Teens are Instagramming, Snapchatting, and texting with friends more, and seeing them in person less. She concludes, “For IGen’ers, online friendship has replaced offline friendship.”

Unfortunately, these trends are leading to decreases in mental health and happiness. Among 8th graders here are the activities that decrease happiness among 8th graders (according to Monitoring the Future, 2013 to 2015). Video chat, computer games, texting, Social networking websites, and Internet. But there has been a decrease in the following activities that increase happiness: Sports or exercise, religious services, print media, and in-person social interaction.

One study with college students asked students with Facebook pages to complete short surveys on their phone over the course of two weeks—they’d get a text message with a link five times a day and report on their mood and how much they’d used Facebook. The more they used Facebook, the unhappier they later felt. Dr. Twenge concludes, “feeling unhappy did not not lead to more Facebook use. Facebook use caused unhappiness, but unhappiness did not cause Facebook use.

She reports that another study of adults fond the same thing: the more people used Facebook, the lower their mental health and life satisfaction on the next assessment. But after they interacted with their friends in person, their mental health and life satisfaction improved.

In a third study that randomly assigned 1,095 Danish adults to stop using Facebook for a week or to continue to use Facebook. At the end of the week, those who had taken a break from Facebook were happier, less lonely, and less depressed than those who had used Facebook as usual. These differences were sizable. 36% fewer were lonely, 33% fewer were depressed, and 9% more were happy. Those who stayed off Facebook were also less likely to feel sad, angry, or worried.

The risk of unhappiness due to social media is the highest for the youngest teens. Eighth graders who spent ten or more hours a week on social networking sites were 56% more likely to be unhappy, compared to 39% for 10th graders and 14% for 12th graders.

A commercial for Facebook suggests that social media will help you feel less alone and surround you with friends every moment. Unfortunately, this is not true for the always online iGEN. Teens who visit social networking sites every day are actually more likely to agree “I often feel lonely,” “I often feel left out of things,” and “I often wish I had more good friends.”

Research has also revealed that teens who spend a lot of time looking at their phones aren’t just at a higher risk of depression, they re also at an alarmingly higher risk for suicide. This is not to suggest that there is an alarming suicide epidemic, but there will likely be increasing in suicide rates.

We Need to Take Tech Addiction Seriously

March 26, 2019

The title of this post is the same as an article by psychologist Doreen Dodgen-Magee in the 19 March 2019 issue of the Washington Post. The World Health Organization has recognized Internet gaming as a diagnosable addiction. Dr. Dodgen-Magee argues that psychologists and other mental-health professionals must begin to acknowledge that technology use has the potential to become addictive and impact individuals and communities. Sometime the consequences are dire.

She writes that the research is clear, that Americans spend most of their waking hours interacting with screens. Studies from a nonprofit group Common Sense Media indicate that U.S. teens average approximately nine hours per day with digital media, tweens spend six hours and our youngest, ages zero to 8, spend 2.5 hours daily in front of a screen. According to research by the Nielsen Company, the average adult in the United States spends more than 11 hours a day in the digital world. Dr. Dodgen-Magee claims that when people invest this kind of time in any activity, we must at least start to ask what it means for their mental health.

Both correlational and causal relationships have been established between tech use and various mental-health conditions. Research at the University of Pittsburgh found higher rates of depression and anxiety among young adults who engage many social media platforms than those who engage only two. Jean Twenge found that the psychological development of adolescents is slowing down and depression, anxiety and loneliness, which she attributes to tech engagement are on the rise. Multitasking, a behavior that technology encourages and reinforces is consistently correlated with poor cognitive and mental-health outcomes. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have published the first experimental data linking decreased well-being to Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram use in young adults. Dr. Dodgen-Magee concludes that our technology use is affecting our psychological functioning.

The author has been examining the interplay between technology and mental health for close to two decades. She finds that while technology can do incredible things for us in nearly every area of life, it is neither all good nor benign.

The author writes that when the mental-health community resists fully exploring the costs associated with constant tech interaction, it leaves those struggling with compulsive or potentially harmful use of their devices few places to turn. She continues that recently a woman scheduled a consultation with her because she was concerned about her inability to focus. She was a self-described Type A personality who found herself simultaneously interacting with three or four screens for nearly 20 hours a day, determined to stay on top of every demand. When it came time for her biannual revision of an important procedural manual, she couldn’t focus on the single tasks for the time to do it effectively. She is not the only individual with this problem.

She writes that consequently our attention spans are short. Our ability to focus on one task at a time is impaired. And our boredom tolerance is nil. People now rely on the same devices that drive so much of our anxiety and alienation for both stimulation and soothing. While, for many people, these changes will never move into the domain of addiction, for others they already have. In a recent Common Sense Media poll, 50% of adolescents reported already feeling that their use had become addictive and 27% of parents reported the same.

She writes, “If Americans were interacting with anything else for 11-plus hours a day, I feel confident we’d be talking more about how that interaction shapes us. Mental-health professionals must begin to educate themselves about the digital pools in which their clients swim and learn about the impact of excessive technology use on human development and functioning. It is too easy for therapists to assume that everyone’s engagement with the digital domain looks just their own and to go merrily from there. We would serve our client well by understanding the unique way in which many platforms encourage addictive pattens and behaviors. We should also create non-shaming environments in which they can candidly explore how their tech use impacts them.

It’s time to put our phones down and begin an informed conversation about how technology is impacting our mental health. Our clients’ health and the well-being of our communities may depend on it.”

The Benefits of Mindfulness

April 7, 2013

This blog post has been derived primarily from the Scientific American Mind article1 “Being in the Now.” A preceding healthymemory blog post, “Being in the Now is Really Being in the Then,” made a technical correction, but the term as used in the Scientific American Mind article is generally accepted. Moreover, the healthymemory blog heartily endorses the claims made in this article. The immediately preceding healthymemory blog post describes a technique to help in achieving the benefits of mindfulness.

According to the Scientific American Mind article, mindfulness is a mental mode of being engaged in the present moment without evaluating or emotionally reacting to it. Currently, there are more than 250 medical centers worldwide that offer mindfulness-based therapies for mood and other disorders. Mindfulness training works by strengthening the brain’s ability to pay attention. The healthymemory blog strongly believes that this is the key benefit from mindfulness training. Memory is the center for human information processing including its maladies and disorders. Attention is the key process that determines what gets into memory and what is retrieved from memory. Accordingly, the ability to control one’s attention is a most important skill.

Another item from the Scientific American Mind article, “After receiving mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, patients report noticing that negative thoughts lose their power over time.” Also from the article, “Mindfulness training can relieve symptoms of ailments that stress can exacerbate such as psoriasis and fibromyalgia.” And, “By improving the ability to direct and monitor attention, mindfulness meditation could enhance people’s performance in pursuits as diverse as sports and surgery.” Mindfulness also provides an antidote to rumination, worry, and fear, and their adverse effects on mental health.

To find more healthymemory blog posts on mindfulness, enter “mindfulness” into the blog’s search block. Entering “meditation” will reveal even more relevant articles. Entering “Davidson,” will retrieve articles on Dr. Davidson’s Six Dimensions of Emotional Style, as well as meditation techniques to enhance and refine these respective dimensions.

1Jha., A.P. (2013) March/April, 26-33.

Can Optimism Be Bad?

May 22, 2011

Optimism and positive thinking are heavily advocated as means to not only happiness, but also to better physical and mental health. A recent article1 calls these beliefs into question. According to the authors, “…positivity is not all it is cracked up to be. Although having an upbeat attitude undoubtedly has its benefits, gains such as better health and wealth from high spirits remain largely undemonstrated. What is more, research suggests that optimism can be detrimental under certain circumstances.”

It should be appreciated that it is difficult to conduct research that does provide hard evidence that a positive attitude is beneficial. Most of the research is correlational and that can make it difficult to distinguish cause from effect. Obviously if you question a group that is healthier, happier, or more successful and rate their optimism or positivity scores against a group lacking in any of these attributes, it should not be surprising that the former group has higher ratings than the latter. It is also difficult to conduct controlled experiments on this topic. Suppose one group is given training on optimism and positive thinking and another group is not given this training and serves as a control. If the group given the training does score significantly than the control group, it could be the due to their being given special treatment, rather than the treatment it, oneself. This artifactual result is known as the Hawthorne Effect.

I think it is useful to make a distinction between the optimism/pessimism dimension, and the positive/negative thinking dimension. I think that the optimism/pessimism dimension is best regarded as a personality trait. That is, whether people see the glass as half empty or half full is basically determined by a personality trait. I tell people that I am a congenital pessimist. I definitely have a tendency to see the downside. There are benefits to being a pessimist, however. For example, pessimists have been found to be less prone to depression than were optimists after experiencing negative events such as a friend’s death. Although I need not extol the benefits of being an optimist, one obvious benefit is that optimists are more likely to persevere. It seems like most successful people have typically undergone failures, sometimes many failures, be before achieving success. Pessimists, however, having given up early, rarely achieve success.

Regardless of one’s innate disposition with respect to the optimism/pessimism dimension, I think it is important that everyone engages in both positive and negative thinking. Pessimists need to engage in positive thinking so that they will not overlook possible opportunities and will not give up prematurely in the pursuit of opportunities. If they like being miserable, fine, but positive thinking can make one happier and be more pleasant. The important point for pessimists is that they also activate the positive circuits in their brains (and if there aren’t any, to build some).

Optimists need to engage in negative thinking to keep them from pursuing foolish or unrealistic events. I remember reading about a married couple who were so energized after seeing the movie Rocky (the original, not one of the numerous sequels) that they put their entire wealth on a lottery tickets. Admittedly, this is an extreme example, but I think you get the idea, to be sure to activate the negative circuits of your brain (and if there aren’t any, to build some).

Unfortunately, positivism is oversold. I become angry when I hear someone tell a child that they can be anything they want provided they put their mind to it. While it is true that most people can probably achieve more than they think they can, a substantial contributor to success is opportunity, If opportunities are not available at the appropriate times, success is likely to be stunted. For example, the famed football coach, Vince Lombardi spent many years as an assistant coach before finally being offered the head coaching job with the Green Bay Packers. If memory serves me correctly, I believe I saw a movie2 in which Lombardi was ready to quit coaching before being offered the Packers’ job. As a result of this opportunity, he went on to become one of the most famous coaches of all time and had the Super Bowl Trophy named after him. This is a conjecture on my part, but believe that there were many potential Lombardi’s in the NFL assistant coaching ranks who never got the chance. Similarly, I think that there were potential Hall of Famers at the quarterback position, who either never were drafted, or who never got a chance at a starting position. There is nothing special about professional football. I think you can find examples in any endeavor you choose. Although you can and should prepare yourself for opportunity, you might need to realize that the opportunity might not come. And if it does not come, you should not view yourself as a failure, but rather as someone who did fulfill their existing potential.

1Lilienfeld, S.O., & Arkowitz, H. (2011). Can Positive Thinking Be Negative? Scientific American Mind, May/June, 64-65.

2I understand another movie is scheduled to come out in February 2012 with Robert DeNiro playing the role of Lombardi.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Epigenetics

August 18, 2010

This blog post is another in the series inspired by the book, The Scientific American Brave New Brain.1 That book presents a table contrasting the way the brain once was regarded, the way it is presently regarded, and some conjectures about what tomorrow might hold. According to Brave New Brain, we once thought that environment determines mental potential and that today we think that genes determine mental potential. Here I must take strong exception to Brave New Brain. There were some philosophical arguments that the mind began as a blank plate, tabula rasa, and that experience was written on that plate. The father of behaviorism, John Watson, argued that he could take an infant and raise it to be anything, a butcher, a baker, a candlestick maker, a physician, a lawyer, another psychologist. For him the environment determined everything and that if the proper environments were provided a child could become anything.

Even before Mendel discovered genes, there was the notion of blood and royalty. Certain people were regarded as inherently superior to others. When genes were discovered, some thought that there might be a scientific basis for this superiority, and that genetics could account for individual differences. According to Brave New Brain, that is the current belief. This is certainly not the case. Early in the twentieth century intelligence tests were developed. Arguments as to know much intelligence is attributable to genetics and how much intelligence is attributable to the environment raged. Charges of racism entered these arguments and charges and evidence that IQ tests were culturally biased raged. It should be noted that there are statistical techniques and research designs (controlled identical twins studies, for example) that allow estimates of what percentage of intelligence is genetically determined and what percentage is due to the environment. But these are statistical abstractions. Nature (genetics) and nurture (environment) are inextricably intertwined; they never appear in isolation.

The recent birth of the study of epigenetics has highlighted the interaction between the environment and genetics. The genome cannot be considered alone. Another layer of information stored with the genome is called the epigenome. It is a chemical switch that determines which genes are activated and which genes remain dormant. It does not alter the genetic code, but affects the specific expression of genes. It shuts down or revs up the production of proteins that affect mental states.

Today we know the role of epigenetics. The question for the future is how well can we develop our understanding of epigenetics and whether we can use it to enhance brain function. Research using mice provides reasons for optimism. One study involved mice that were born with genetic disorder resembling mental retardation. They were given a drug that activated epigenetic activity three hours before a training session. They exhibited no learning problems. So perhaps someday mental retardation might be remedied via epigenitic manipulation.

Drugs are not necessarily required for epigenitic manipulation. Researchers at MIT restored mouse memories by enriching the rodents environment. Not only were memories restored but evidence of epigenetic activity was found. Research on the benefits of enriching environments was done years ago, but that was before anyone had ever heard of an epigenome.

1Horstman, J. (2010). San Francisco” Jossey-Bass.