Tag Archives: Stress

ADHD, MDHD*: Attention, Mindfulness and the Zeitgeist of Disorder

IMG00054-20100925-1729Four articles in three sections of today’s The New York Times on how we do (and don’t) focus our minds – and how we can (and might) do so for the better.  They’re onto something.

In his review of Daniel Goleman’s new book, “Focus:  The Hidden Driver of Excellence,” Nicholas Carr describes how Stephen Dedalus “monitors his thoughts without reining them in” as an example of open awareness, one of many types of awareness Goleman details (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/03/books/review/focus-by-daniel-goleman.html?smid=pl-share).  In “Jumper Cables for the Mind,” Dan Hurley reports on tDCS at Harvard’s Laboratory of Neuromodulation, and research that shows low voltage electrical brain stimulation seems to enhance any number of cognitive functions(http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/03/magazine/jumper-cables-for-the-mind.html?smid=pl-share). David Hochman, in “Mindfulness at Every Turn,” details the increasing reach of mindfulness: the Marine Corps, Silicon Valley, The Huffington Post (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/03/fashion/mindfulness-and-meditation-are-capturing-attention.html?smid=pl-share).  And Clive Thompson’s “Brain Game,” the subject of Walter Isaacson’s review, proposes an increasing reliance on “intelligence amplification,” human cognition harnessed to the power of computers (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/03/books/review/smarter-than-you-think-by-clive-thompson.html?smid=pl-share). 

As a psychologist and psychotherapist who has been involved in mindfulness education since the late ’60’s (when it was called meditation), and integrative medicine before it had a name, this explosion of interest in expanding awareness and increasing attention – improving the powers of the mind – thrills me.  I’m all for anything that increases compassionate awareness and improves attention:  for my clients, my patients, our children, and certainly myself.

The idea of “more, better” is as American as it gets, and I’m all for more and better when it comes to the mind.  But I’ve got some reservations about the how of all this.  The selling of mindfulness seems somehow antithetical to the very acceptance mindfulness cultivation strives for.  And it may seem a strange thing for a psychologist whose focus is on problem solving to say, but life is not simply a problem to be solved.

Hegel supposed that all art is a reflection of the time in which it is created; the same is no doubt true of the psychological arts.  Ours is a time when excellence is valued.  Not necessarily the pursuit of excellence, however.  We like our accomplishments big and easy and fast.  And the improvement of mental functioning, while often shockingly quick when we begin proper training, is indeed a lifelong practice.  In it for the long haul, not simply for today’s trend.

Training takes practice.  So why bother?

When we correlate attention solely with achievement, we limit what the mind can do even as we improve our chances for success.  Just as an efficient laser requires vast numbers of atoms in an excited state, our human laser-like focus, so crucial for excellence in completing many tasks, requires a ramping up of very specific kinds of attention.  As we learn more about the brain’s neuroplasticity – and apply ever more sophisticated technology – exciting real life applications will allow us to improve attention.  An eye surgeon focuses his attention as well as his laser beam, and a good thing that is.  But while a  laser can attain and sustain this heightened excitation and focus, we, on the other hand, experience stress in response to the demand for constant laser-like focus.  We can focus our attention sharply and well – but only for so long.

We also require rest.

But what is the nature of the rest we require?  Not the sort of lack of attention we often choose: multi-tasking, zoning out, mindlessly watching tv, texting while talking and walking.  Divided attention does not refresh, it simply provides a break from the intensity of single focus attention.

What is the awareness that refreshes?

Open awareness, mindfulness, the meditative state.  The form really doesn’t matter.  Pick and choose,  try a form that suits, or try one and switch to another.  What matters is the ongoing practice of focusing awareness, even while accepting all the gyrations of mind that accompany the attempt to do so.  We can quiet the “monkey mind” with practice, but not by ignoring or drugging away our thoughts and feelings.

Focused attention AND open awareness.  We need both for success in accomplishing our goals, and success in living a fulfilled life.  Both.  And both can be improved – greatly – through practice.   It may seem an oxymoron, but research has shown what generations (and other cultures) know: the work of improving attention and awareness mean less stress, increased productivity, and happier lives.

* Mindfulness Disorder, with and without hyperactivity

Copyright © 2013  Marlin S. Potash, Ed.D.  All rights reserved.  

Multi-tasking taking its Toll? Psychological Survival Skills for the Recession – and Beyond

Juggle too much, you drop the ball. These are stressful times.

Oh, forget that! It’s always stressful times for some of us: not enough time, too much to do, not enough energy, too much pressure… Things have sped up so much, for so many of us. Michael Winerip quotes Nina Lentini in today’s New York Times , “Everybody works like this now. This is just the new reality.” http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/21/fashion/21genb.html

Which is why you laughed when your father told you to complain to your boss about your hours. 9 to 5? Ancient history. 8 to 8? Starting to look like pretty good hours, if you are really done at 8. Because this is closer to the truth: online, on the cell, on duty, 24/7.

The truth about multi-tasking: More does not equal more; more equals less. We do too many things at the same time, and do each less well than we think we do. We juggle too much, and sleep too little. And it’s affecting our health as well as our disposition (tired person = cranky person). http://videos.apnicommunity.com/Video,Item,1091439491.html. We need to sleep more, multi-task less.

How to get the incentive?
Try an experiment. Two weeks. Get to bed – and sleep – an hour earlier than usual. And try doing one thing at a time. You know, what Mr. Graessle told you in 10th grade Science class. Two weeks. See if it makes a difference; you know it will.

How to get the sleep you need?

Take it. Decide to get up earlier rather than stay up later. You’ll accomplish more when you’re not exhausted.
Imagine it. As you close your eyes, repeat to yourself, “I am falling asleep now, and will sleep restfully through the night.”

How to get the rest you need?

Take it. Take a 24-hour break from technology: no cell, no computer, no ipod, no alarm clock. This is what used to be called the Sabbath…
Take it. Just say no. No more. Not now. Not until I’ve finished this. No, it’s enough.
Take it. Breathe. Meditate. Focus on one thing at a time. Like watching the sky…
Imagine it. As you start to tell yourself you can squeeze in just one more thing, imagine how you’d feel if you just didn’t. Just this once. Or maybe not…

Copyright © 2010 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.

Reasons to Leave your Therapist, Part I: The Good Experience

Ok. So I lied: not ready to “go fishin'” yet. You see, it’s August, the traditional month most therapists take off (hit a beach on the Cape and you’re apt to see yours in a bathing suit). I, on the other hand, generally stay in the city and see patients. I figure just because most therapists take a break in August, psychological needs and interpersonal issues don’t necessarily.

So here I am, with a lighter load (many of my patients are off for part of August, too), thinking about the process of therapy. What helps, what makes it less effective, and, today especially, how to manage and understand the breaks: illness, vacation, I-think-I-need-to-try-this-alone-for-a-while. And ending therapy.

How in the world do you know when to end therapy? There are a number of scenarios, depending on you, your therapist, and your course of treatment. So let’s start with:

Part I: Leaving a good therapeutic experience. You’ve been in therapy what seems like forever. You look forward to your regular Monday afternoon sessions with Dr. Whoever. You save up stories during the week to share, you note things you need to discuss or get opinions on, you’re comfortable and always enjoy your sessions. You trust your therapist, even like your therapist (except, maybe, for that horrible taste in office furniture). So why in the world would you even think about ending therapy (we call it termination – but since neither of you are not terminating your life, just the therapy, it’s not a word I find myself using…).

If therapy’s gotten too comfortable, and you find yourself sharing views on the markets’ rise or fall, discussing the relative merits of one sort of restaurant (car, clothing line, gardening tip…you get the drift), or inviting your therapist to your son’s middle school graduation, it’s time to reassess. Maybe, hold on, even time to leave your therapist.

What! Leave, just when I’ve gotten comfortable, when I really trust this person?

Yes, leave. Graduate, perhaps. Or switch to another therapist with a fresh take, a different style, maybe even a different approach.

Therapy requires trust, a level of comfort, and communication to be effective. But really useful therapy, the kind that helps you learn about yourself and change, becoming more and more the you you want to be, that kind of therapy starts there, but moves on to so very much more. It’s not enough to get support, to feel understood and accepted. Crucial, but you can do better. And you should.

You should leave your sessions often feeling challenged to think in different ways, uncomfortable because you’ve felt emotions you haven’t in years, awkward because you are trying out new behaviors, angry because you’ve been pushed to confront something you’ve been avoiding, teary-eyed because your therapist ‘got it’. More than comfortable: growing, learning, taking therapy into real life, facing the hard stuff, sharing your fears and taking risks.

If that’s no longer happening in your treatment, bring the subject up in your next session. What have I learned and accomplished so far? What work remains to be done? What are my goals? What issues haven’t we tackled – and why? Do you think you can help me with the next phase, or have we done all we can together?

And then decide. Ending therapy. Ending therapy with this therapist and beginning anew. Getting a consultation. Or just taking a break and giving it some thought; maybe even with the help of the meditation you’ve been practicing.

Part II: The Not So Good Experience to come…stay tuned…

Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.

On Glasses Half-Empty or Half-Full. Part I: The Research

glasshalfemptyTough times, right? It’s easy to feel pessimistic. Well, read on. More evidence that an optimistic outlook correlates with better health, both physical and psychological.* After this week’s post on depression, that’s a pretty positive thing!

Results of a longitudinal study, published in the May issue of Health Psychology, provide yet more support for the value of learned optimism. Laura D. Kubzansky, PhD and colleagues of the Harvard School of Public Health tracked 569 individuals from age 7 to their mid-30s to see if certain personality traits influenced health later in life. Their findings: Children who were able to react less negatively to situations at age 7 – who viewed the world through the lens of optimism rather than pessimism – reported better general health and fewer illnesses 30 years later.

According to Dr. Kubzansky, “Certain characteristics already evident early in life are likely to spark positive or negative emotions, and also influence biological and behavioral responses to stress. Some traits may contribute to developing healthier behaviors and better social relationships, and ultimately more resilience in mid-life.”

Trained observers rated the 7 year olds’ behaviors, which were then assigned to three personality attributes, one of which was distress-proneness (the tendency to react negatively to situations). To determine adult health, participants rated their health and reported whether they had any of the following illnesses: heart disease, diabetes, cancer, asthma, arthritis, stroke, bleeding ulcer, tuberculosis or hepatitis.

For all the participants, having a more positive outlook (along with the ability to pay focused attention) in youth affected health the most. These effects were greater for women, suggesting that women may be more sensitive to interactions among emotion, behavior and biology, perhaps predisposing them more to certain health risks, such as heart disease. No differences in effects were found across race or ethnicity, childhood health or socicoeconomic status.

“Behavior and emotions generally linked to certain temperaments play a crucial role in long-term health,” Says Dr. Kubzansky. “Fortunately, early childhood characteristics can be shaped and guided by social, family and peer interactions. Interventions can focus on altering certain ways of responding and behaviors that frequently accompany particular traits to prevent certain diseases.”

Next up: Part II: How to change that half-empty glass into a half-full one. A slightly tougher task, so give me a few days, please?

*With special thanks to the American Psychological Association Public Affairs Office and DS who inspired this series.

Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.

NYC Stress?

American Psychological Association - 2008 Stress in America

American Psychological Association - 2008 Stress in America

The Angry Heart?

breakingheart1Another reason to deal with the stress of anger? The head-heart connection.  Results of a study of people with heart problems suggest a strong link between intense anger and sudden death.  Research conducted by Dr. Rachel Lampert of Yale University and reported in the current issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology studied patients with preexisting heart disease as they recounted something that had made them angry.  The findings?  Anger caused electrical changes, arrhythmias, in the heart.  People who showed this EKG ‘anger spike’ were 10 times more likely to have their defibrillators fire a life saving shock in the next three years than similarly ill patients whose hearts didn’t react to anger.

Studies to determine whether anger-reducing techniques help high-risk patients avoid irregular heartbeats are underway.  And this study didn’t address heart-healthy patients.  But maybe working on letting go of anger’s not a bad idea for all of us?  C’mon back soon for anger management class, ok?

Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash.  All rights reserved.

QUIET!

Enough!  It’s too noisy, too much of the time!  The cab driver’s talking on his phone and you can’t turn off the noise-machine in the back.  You enter your apartment to tv’s blaring.  Even on a quiet walk in the country you still can’t get away from the cellphones.  Shhhh! Please!  Sometimes, I need a few moments of silence.  Don’t you?
Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash.  All rights reserved.