Archive for June, 2011

June 26, 2011

The Misunderstanding of Social Anxiety

by Dave P.

The following article appeared in today’s N.Y. Times.

A BEAUTIFUL woman lowers her eyes demurely beneath a hat. In an earlier era, her gaze might have signaled a mysterious allure. But this is a 2003 advertisement for Zoloft, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (S.S.R.I.) approved by the F.D.A. to treat social anxiety disorder. “Is she just shy? Or is it Social Anxiety Disorder?” reads the caption, suggesting that the young woman is not alluring at all. She is sick.

But is she?

It is possible that the lovely young woman has a life-wrecking form of social anxiety. There are people too afraid of disapproval to venture out for a job interview, a date or even a meal in public. Despite the risk of serious side effects — nausea, loss of sex drive, seizures — drugs like Zoloft can be a godsend for this group.

But the ad’s insinuation aside, it’s also possible the young woman is “just shy,” or introverted — traits our society disfavors. One way we manifest this bias is by encouraging perfectly healthy shy people to see themselves as ill. Read more…

Research shows that some people are born outgoing and some people are introverts. That’s true of many animals. If you’ve ever observed a liter of puppies, some are rambunctious and some are shy. It’s part of the brain chemistry.

But the author uses social anxiety and shyness interchangeably throughout the article, despite making the initial distinction. She also calls them “sitters.” There is not a fine line between SAD and shyness, as the author states. Social anxiety is where your anxiety interferes with your enjoyment of life. Simple as that. While public speaking anxiety is an aspect, that is a small part of the problem.

When anxiety blocks a person’s ability to form close, satisfying relations, that is a serious problem, and sometimes medication is necessary. People who suffer from SAD often self-medicate – either to allow them to overcome their anxiety, or simply to ease the pain of loneliness. They often become alcoholics or become addicted to illegal drugs. Prescription drugs, while not a perfect solution, do allow many of these people to lead much happier and productive lives.

June 22, 2011

Lifelong Learning is Problematic for People With Reading and Writing Difficulities

by Dave P.

Unless you’re flipping burgers at the local McDonalds, your career probably requires you to continually learn new skills and technologies. Obviously, this can be a problem for people with learning disabilities. A new study show that adult students with reading and writing difficulties struggle in three areas in particular.

“First of all, society implicitly requires individuals to possess certain skills, and those who don’t are in trouble. Secondly it’s a matter of each individual’s attempts to handle his or her problems absorbing the education and to achieve good results. Thirdly, there is an existential dimension where individuals compare themselves with others and feel inferior,” says Nadja Carlsson, a special needs teacher with extensive experience with municipal adult education.

Students with learning disabilities often struggle in college, but those who persevere can find alternative ways to learn and perhaps get extra help from faculty members. Once in the workplace, however, those who have trouble learning may not be given the needed extra time or help to absorb learning materials. Thus, they may experience setbacks in their careers. In comparing themselves to others, their self-esteem can be damaged, which can open the doors to all sorts of other problems such as social anxiety and depression.

Read more…

June 22, 2011

Findings Indicate Risk Of Panic Attacks Increases Gradually After Stressful Event

by Dave P.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Just like everyone else, people with panic disorder have real stress in their lives. They get laid off and they fight with their spouses. How such stresses affect their panic symptoms hasn’t been well understood, but a new study by researchers at Brown University presents the counterintuitive finding that certain kinds of stressful life events cause panic symptoms to increase gradually over succeeding months, rather than to spike immediately.

“We definitely expected the symptoms to get worse over time, but we also thought the symptoms would get worse right away,” said Ethan Moitra, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.

But even if the events don’t seem to trigger an immediate panic attack, said Dr. Martin Keller, professor of psychiatry and human behavior and principal investigator of the research, patients, family members, or their psychiatrists need to keep their guard up.

“If they have the event and they are not feeling much different then maybe the vigilance on the individual’s part decreases somewhat,” Keller said. “With the knowledge we have, you may need to stay vigilant for three months or maybe longer. This is something you have to watch for.”

Read more…

June 21, 2011

July 2nd Presentation and discussion: Ways to Control Panic Attacks

by Dave P.

We postponed Leo’s talk about how to control panic attacks, so for those of you who wanted to hear the presentation and discuss that topic, you can by attending our next meeting on July 2nd.

If we have time, I’ll give a short talk specifically on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Many of the group regulars have been in CBT, so if you’re considering seeing a therapist, you might gain some valuable insight from this discussion.

For those of of you who haven’t attended one of our meetings, anyone can get up and give a talk. It’s a great way to deal with public speaking anxiety, and it’s also good for improving your communication skills. After the presentation, we’ll discuss the topic presented and members can share their personal experiences with the group.

You don’t have to participate. You can just sit and listen if you want. Several attendees have done that. There’s never any pressure on anyone to participate.

June 21, 2011

Ever Wonder Why You Can’t Tickle Yourself?

by Dave P.

To be tickled, it turns out, requires the element of surprise.

Scientists used an fMRI to examine neural responses when subjects experienced a tactile stimulus that was either self-produced or externally produced. In other words, the subjects tickled themselves or were tickled by others.

“More activity was found in somatosensory cortex when the stimulus was externally produced. In the cerebellum, less activity was associated with a movement that generated a tactile stimulus than with a movement that did not.”

When you try to tickle yourself, your cerebellum (the part of the brain that regulates fear and pleasure responses) predicts your movements and provides a signal that cancels the sensory response to self-generated stimulation.

It is not known whether the words “coochie-coochie-coo” were uttered during administration of the externally produced tactile stimulus.


June 20, 2011

Do You Sleep Better With Cooler Temperatures? Yes, Says Research.

by Dave P.

Do you find that you sleep better in the winter when you turn down the heat and pile on the blankets? It’s not just your imagination. Research concludes that you do sleep better when your brain is cool, and soon there may be a cap you can wear to cool your brain while you sleep.

According to the authors, a reduction in metabolism in the brain’s frontal cortex occurs while falling asleep and is associated with restorative sleep. However, insomnia is associated with increased metabolism in this same brain region. One way to reduce cerebral metabolic activity is to use frontal cerebral thermal transfer to cool the brain, a process known as “cerebral hypothermia.”

Participants received all-night frontal cerebral thermal transfer by wearing a soft plastic cap on their head. The cap contained tubes that were filled with circulating water. Source

With the high cost of power these days, many of us are foregoing use of the air conditioner — even when it’s uncomfortably warm. That might save us a few dollars a month, but it could be affecting the quality of our sleep.

Once these brain cooling caps are available, not only does it have the potential to reduce the metabolism in your brain, allowing you to sleep more soundly, but it could also cut down on your air conditioning bills.

June 17, 2011

Anti-Stress Kit

by Dave P.

Most stress comes from a feeling of being overwhelmed. It might be that you’re worried about meeting deadlines at work. It could be from having to deal with difficult people. Change is often very stressful, whether it’s buying a new house, getting married, starting a new job… And of course, with the current recession, most of us are concerned with our finances.

Sometimes we can simply avoid the stress. If you’re in toxic relationships, ending them can reduce stress.

Some things are not so easy to change. If you’re under pressure to meet deadlines at work, chances are, you can’t avoid that situation, so you’ll need to figure out a way to deal with it without it getting you so stressed out. Planning is usually the key.

Stress often results from a feeling of not having control over a situation. Conflict can be stressful, but it’s not conflict itself that’s bad; it’s how we deal with conflict that matters. We need to be assertive in our lives.

Look at difficult situations as challenges to be mastered rather than threats to your existence. Challenges offer us opportunities for success.

Accept your current situation. Inner turmoil is generated from things in life we’re having trouble accepting. Perhaps you didn’t handle a situation the way you would have liked. Maybe your presentation at work didn’t go as well as you would have liked. We can’t change the past. We can only live in the present and prepare for the future. Develop skills that will make your next presentation better.

Have some fun. Go for a bike ride. Play with the dog. Read a good book. Listen to music. Get a massage. Have some afternoon sex. Many of these activities stimulate the release of endorphins in the brain, which are our built in pain killers. Having a good laugh produces a natural “high.”

Adapt a healthier lifestyle. Lose some weight (if you’re overweight). Exercise regularly. Cut down on alcohol consumption. Get enough sleep.

More to come…

June 17, 2011

Two Doctors Discuss Social Anxiety Disorder (Video)

by Dave P.

The concept of lost opportunity strikes a chord with me. I didn’t find out what was wrong with me until I was in my early 40s. I thought about all the things I missed out on in life. The problem with dwelling on lost opportunities is, you wind up missing out on more opportunities.

Forgiveness is giving up all hope for a better past. We can only live in the present and plan for the future.

June 16, 2011

Stress Reduction Series

by Dave P.

For the next few weeks, I’m going to be posting some tips and tricks for reducing stress in your life.

We live in especially stressful times. The economy has been in a slump for about four years now and doesn’t seem to be showing any signs of recovery. Our political leaders can’t seem to agree on how to stimulate hiring, and many are only concerned with what will gain them popularity or campaign contributions. It wasn’t too long ago that politicians actually cared about our country, but times have changed.

So, how do you deal with stress in this age of uncertainty? How do you deal with a job you don’t like or money problems? How do you deal with an increasingly competitive environment? Those are some questions we’ll try to answer in this series.

First of all, unless you get a prescription for some strong pain killer, the effort needs to come entirely from within. You need to change your thought processes, but most of all, you need to become preoccupied with stress-reduction. It needs to be the primary or secondary focus of your attention for all of your waking hours.

So let’s get started.

The first relaxation technique we’ll get into is the practice of mindfulness. You may have heard of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and its founder Jon Kabat-Zinn. If you’ve ever watched a video of Jon giving a lecture, you can observe him practicing mindfulness while he’s talking. Look closely and you can see him focusing on his breath — specifically, the sensation of air flowing in and out of his nostrils.

Let’s try that now. Focus on the air flowing in through your nostrils and back out. Can you feel the difference in temperature? The air is cooler as you breathe in. It’s warmed as it flows down your trachea, into your lungs, and back out again. Observe the difference in temperature. Just focus on the air flowing in and out of your nostrils.

You can observe your breath while you’re reading. It doesn’t take much effort and it can keep extraneous thoughts at bay when you’re trying to concentrate on your work. Focus on your breath as you walk down the halls at work or when you’re doing chores. Divide your attention between the task at hand and your breath. It will improve your ability to concentrate and will help alleviate anxiety.

More to come in the next few days…

June 14, 2011

Social Anxiety – Personal Experiences (Video)

by Dave P.