Month: September 2015

Eight Ways Negative Thinking Can Impact Your life

We’ve all experienced our fair share of confidence highs and lows due to negative thinking. Some days may just seem easier than others. However, although it’s perfectly to experience changes in how we feel, some of us may find ourselves settling into a pattern of negative thinking more than others. This can not only be unhealthy, but can heavily contribute to our overall unhappiness and dissatisfaction with life. In fact, those who continually adopt a negative worldview will often find themselves not only unhappier, but chronically so. While there are a number of factors that can contribute to a negative mindset, including legitimate medical conditions like depression, some of us have merely taken to adopting a self-defeating and deprecating mindset. In other words, we allow ourselves to become our own worst enemies, rather than best friends.

How Negativite Thinking Can Impact Your Life

Negative attitudes can make the difference between someone who is confident versus someone who is self-loathing; someone who is optimistic versus someone who is pessimistic; or someone who sees themselves as in control versus someone who continually believes themselves to be a victim of the world around them. To reverse these attitudes, it’s important to address and reverse the negative thought processes that both form and feed them. Here, we will address 5 common negative thought processes of chronically unhappy people and, in doing so, we’ll examine how we can change these thought processes to improve not only our own happiness and well-being, but our overall quality of life.

1. Negative Assumptions

This is one of the most prevailing forms of negative thinking. This is when we automatically assume a situation to be negative, even if that may not actually be the case. Unfortunately, for many people this pessimism may be habitual and automatic. However, many situations are not inherently positive or negative, but rather are neutral, and it is our perspectives that shape them. The way we choose to relate to our experiences can make them either positive or negative.

 Take a rainy day for example, some of us might brush this off as an inconvenience, while others may see rain as beautiful and peaceful. Others, however, might view rain as something that negatively impacts their entire day. Regardless if they made plans or not, those who adopt a negative outlook may think of rain as ruining any chances they might have had to have fun that day. Perhaps they even think that they are personally victimized by the bad weather, seeing it as a sign of their own bad luck in life.

However, in most cases, this mindset is a choice, one which can instantly make us feel stronger or weaker; happier or sadder. In the case of a rainy day, it might be better to look at it as an opportunity to spend some quality time with ourselves or others indoors and get cozy, rather than being a terrible obstacle to our own happiness. It all depends on how we relate to the moment and what perspective we choose to adopt.

2. Self-Defeating Talk

Self-defeating talk refers to the messages that we use to reduce ourselves and our self-confidence. Such talk can lower our performance and our overall potential, because we don’t believe that we have the ability to succeed or do well. Common forms of self-defeating talk include the phrases “I can’t…” or “I’m not good enough…” or “I’m going to fail…” It’s unfair to make judgments on oneself without giving ourselves the opportunity to try in the first place. To put this in better perspective, consider if these words came from a “friend”. Would you consider someone who continually told you you can’t do things, or that you’re not good enough a friend? Probably not. So why accept these phrases from yourself? After all, we owe it to ourselves to be our own best friends, so just as we wouldn’t accept such negative feedback from outsiders, neither should we accept it from ourselves.

3. Getting Stuck in the Past

It’s important to learn from our past so that we don’t make the same mistakes in the present or future. However, there is a big difference between learning from the past and getting stuck in it. Those of us with a chronically negative mindset will often find ourselves wallowing on past personal setbacks and negative circumstances. Doing so prevents us from moving forward or growing as individuals. We can’t change what’s already happened, but we can control our present and decide our future. To do so, we have to remind ourselves that it is us who is incharge, not our history. Quoting the Wall Street Journal, professor Preston Ni reminds us that “Abraham Lincoln lost eight elections, failed twice in business and suffered a nervous breakdown before he became the president of the United States.” This in mind, focus not on the choices you’ve made in the past, but the choices you can make now. Moving on is an important first step to moving forward.

4. Comparing Ourselves with Others

Many of us are guilty of falling in with this negative mindset, but it can be highly toxic. As easy as it may be, we shouldn’t compare ourselves with others, especially if we’re depicting ourselves unfavorably in the comparison. While it may be tempting to look at others who appear to be more accomplished or successful than ourselves, we have to remember that success is relative. We each have our own successes and achievements that we can and should be proud of, even if they’re not identical to those of others. Negative social comparisons can lead to increased rates of anxiety, depression, stress, and making self-defeating choices. So rather than expending energy in acknowledging what we don’t have, to become happier and more satisfied with our lives we should appreciate what we do have and focus our energy in pursuing goals we have not yet achieved in a healthy and positive manner free from the negative clutches of envy.

5. Fear of Failure and Making Mistakes

Whether we like to acknowledge this or not, making mistakes is a necessary part of the learning process. Moreover, it’s a necessary and fundamental part of being human. While constant, repetitive mistakes can be attributed to not learning from our choices and actions, most often, mistakes are a sign of adapting to unfamiliar challenges and situations. We all need to stumble and fall before we learn to walk or run. The important thing, however, is to remember to get up afterwards. Oftentimes, the fear of failure or making mistakes is due to a tremendous amount of pressure one places on oneself to succeed. While setting high standards can be a good motivational tool, expecting perfection from all situations and outcomes not only takes the joy out of life, but can also lead to high amounts of stress and anxiety when we realize that our expectations aren’t exactly realistic. To be happy is to learn how to brace one’s humanity, flaws and all. Rather than thinking of mistakes as failure, they should be seen as a necessary stepping stone on the way to greater success.

Understanding Anger and How To Express It

Anger is one of the most commonly suppressed emotions. But why? Many of us have difficulty confronting our anger, seeing it as wholly irrational, even if it has a legitimate cause. Rather than dealing with what’s causing us to be angry, many of us simply choose to ignore these negative feelings, but doing so can cause more harm than good. A column by Matthew Huston in the New York Times entitled “The Rationality of Rage” points out a number of recent academic papers which examine the benefits of expressing one’s anger in certain interpersonal situations. Anger can be a tricky emotion, simply because it’s very powerful. Moreover, it can be fueled by a number of sources and can inspire us to lash out, even it’s at the wrong person or for the wrong reasons. But recognizing when we’re angry and expressing how we feel can be a necessary part of maintaining our mental health, so long as we do so in a way that isn’t abusive. Perhaps Huston explains it best in the following summary towards the end of his piece: “We tend to associate anger with the loss of control, but anger has clear applications and obeys distinct rules. It may be blunt, but it has its own particular logic. And used judiciously, it can get us better deals, galvanize coalitions and improve all our lives.”

The Philosophy of Anger

The nature of anger and it’s usefulness or lack thereof has been debated for centuries. Ancient philosophers like Aristotle argued that anger is good insofar as it is appropriate and moderate. He said: “the man who is angry at the right things and with the right people, and, further, as he ought, when he ought, and as long as he ought, is praised.” Furthermore, according to Aristotle, anger should neither be too strong nor too weak, and should be expressed at the right time. However, he did caution anger forged from passion. This is because this kind of anger almost always goes to excess since it is less easily controlled.

Unfortunately, as other philosophers began to agree, the opinion then evolved into believing that anger as a whole was bad, making it useless as an emotion. Famous stoic philosopher, Seneca, believed that anger was entirely dangerous because, by its very nature, it was difficult to control. In general, the stoic’s view of emotions were more extreme than that of the more nuanced Aristotle. It is they, perhaps, who developed our modern beliefs that emotions are an enemy to reason because they impede it. This perspective argues that, although emotions are a part of our human nature, they inhibit our best selves, which is to say our rational selves, leading us to do things that our ideal selves wouldn’t sanction.

Such sentiments would later be echoed by Immanuel Kant, who would argue that passions like anger compromise our sense of reason and corrupt our moral decisions, making them (and us) more dangerous. But what about Aristotle’s argument that anger has its time and place of usefulness? Dr. Mark D. White, chair of the Department of Philosophy at the College of Staten Island/CUNY, explains that “Today, many philosophers hold a more integrated view of the roles that both emotion and morality play in our ethical lives, more in tune with Aristotle than the Stoics but drawing heavily from both.” As such, even if we learn the value of our emotions to both our practical and moral reasoning, we must also learn to acknowledge the limitations of how well we can harness and control what are essentially elements of our primal nature. Dr. White notes: “Most of us are all too aware of how easily we can lose our tempers, and we should keep that in mind when we consider trying to put those tempers to use.”

Constructive vs. Destructive Anger

Thus a distinction must be made between constructive and destructive anger. It is constructive anger that Huston’s article focuses on. He cites a 2009 article in Negotiation and Conflict Management Research which reveals that “anger is more likely to lead to such mutually positive outcomes when it is low in intensity” and when it is “expressed verbally rather than physically.” Such anger when expressed, Huston explains, “can sometimes benefit all the parties involved, not just one of them, by clarifying boundaries, needs and concerns. Think of the loved one who doesn’t realize how strongly you feel about the relationship until you express feelings of frustration with it.”

The Benefits of Expressing Anger

In essence, rather than viewing anger and other emotions in extremes, like the stoics, it’s good to see anger through a more moderate perspective. Used constructively, anger can be a good way to express one’s discontentment with a situation so that the situation can be improved upon rather than resume in such a way as to make the individual uncomfortable. However, when left to its own devices, without control, anger can easily go from constructive to destructive. It is this anger that the stoics defined all anger by, and it is this anger that can lead to dangerous outcomes. Anger, like any powerful emotion, necessitates regulation to keep from excess, but, when controlled, is a necessary aspect of the human emotional spectrum, and is perfectly natural to experience, and healthy to express.

Many parents dread the day their child grows old enough to leave the nest. It’s not always easy to see the baby you once held in your arms grow too big for you to carry, and then eventually it will be time for them to leave for school or to strike out on their own. Nevertheless it’s an important milestone, both for parent and child. This will be the moment when your child truly forges their own independence and takes that necessary step into adulthood. For many of us, the worry that accompanies this departure largely stems from our own experiences and transition. We certainly had our own hopes, dreams, fears, and anxieties; we had our own successes and made our own mistakes.

It’s likely every parent’s hope that you can protect your children as much as possible from the harsh realities of the world that you may have faced at one point or another. It is these worries that are harbored the day your child announces they’re ready to leave, and as happy as you may want to be for them, it’s perfectly natural for you to miss them and for you to want to keep them safe as you always have.

There is no set way to make this moment or process easy, but there are some ways to make this transition more manageable for you and your child. Below are some tips that can help prepare your child for “leaving the nest” and make you feel safer as well:

1. Keep Communication Open

On first glance this seems simple, but talk really is the most powerful tool we have, both amongst ourselves and with our children. Of course, you might find that your child thinks they can manage perfectly well on their own without any of your help, but this is seldom the case. Regular contact is really important for both parent and child, to maintain a healthy support system that will allow your child to grow as an adult and as an individual. While texting may seem sometimes like a convenient alternative, particularly for your child, it cannot and should not replace hearing each other’s voices, as this can be an important way to strengthen your bond and reestablish connection over long distances.

2. Prepare for Rejection

This is probably one of the most difficult experiences for parents. Rejection has many forms; perhaps its when your kid tells you they’re going home and they mean back to their dorm or apartment, or they don’t tell you that they’re spending Thanksgiving or some other holiday with their friend or significant other’s family. Just keep in mind that while this feeling of loss may be painful, it’s not because they’re disregarding your importance as their parent. They’re just trying to feel autonomous so try not to take these instances too personally and discuss ways that you can spend time with them as well.

3. Don’t Lecture; Discuss

There is a fine line between discussion and lecture. A discussion allows for two voices to exchange ideas whereas a lecture is a lot more one-sided and dictatorial. Keep in mind that young adults, while still immature in a lot of ways, still want to be treated like adults. Your child will want you to hear their opinions and, more importantly, value them. Don’t lecture them on what they’re not doing or not doing right, instead ask them questions and listen to what they have to say. Treat them with the same respect you would a friend or peer, even though they’re still your child. They want to know that what they say matters.

4. Leave Room for Mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes. Chances are you did growing up and your kid will too. While getting in trouble is not good, everyone is prone to the occasional poor decision making and having to deal with the consequences. For your child perhaps this may be getting notice from their school for breaking a rule or getting a ticket, or even getting fired from their job. In any case they will have to deal with the repercussions of their own choices, and likely won’t need further consequence depending on the offence. If they try to come to you to talk about their problems and are met with hostility they will likely not do so again in the future, which can potentially lead to them getting in even more trouble since they’ll feel as though they can’t ask for help. Of course, judgment is key to determining whether or not a situation requires further intervention, but just be mindful that they’re still learning how to be an adult and that means learning to be responsible even when they’re on their own.

5. Consult, Don’t Pressure

This one may be tricky. As parents you want what is best for your child, even if they don’t always see that themselves. However, you must try to remember that what is best for them may not necessarily be the same as what was best for you at that age, and that their happiness is also important. For example, you might want your child to become a doctor or lawyer, but perhaps they love writing and want to major in English. Rather than pressuring them to follow a path they have no interest in and causing school to become a chore, allow them to pursue their own goals and ambitions, and encourage them to see the benefits and drawbacks of each career path they’re interested in pursuing. Ultimately if they’re going to be studying for years and working for years after, its a good idea for them to enjoy the field they’re working in. Let your child and their advisors craft the curriculum that will work best for them. If all goes well it won’t be a waste of money, even if it may not have been your first choice of study when you were in school. This also can be applied to a number of other situations in which your child will seek your input and advice but will pull back if they feel as though they’re being pressured into doing something they won’t enjoy. Allow them to come to you and feel supported. In this way you’re opening up an avenue for communication that enables them to keep you updated with their lives and respect your views and opinions on various matters when they come to you for help.

Having your child leave home isn’t easy, but it doesn’t have to be so stressful and torturous either. By following these guidelines you can learn how to communicate with your child so as to allow them their independence whilst simultaneously maintaining a loving, trusting relationship with them where they know they can come to you when they need you. And they will.

Link to this post

New Algorithm Can Diagnose Schizophrenia with Accuracy

According to the Schizophrenia and Related Disorders Alliance of America, or SARDAA, it is estimated that approximately 3.5 million people in the United States are diagnosed with schizophrenia. This disorder is at least partially genetic, and three-quarters of people with schizophrenia develop the illness somewhere around 16 and 25 years of age. SARDAA notes that there are also 5 key characteristics of psychotic disorders like Schizophrenia: delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech, disorganized or catatonic behavior, and negative symptoms.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, or NIMH, “Negative symptoms are associated with disruptions to normal emotions and behaviors. These symptoms are harder to recognize as part of the disorder and can be mistaken for depression or other conditions.” These include what NIMH calls the “flat affect” which is defined as being when a person’s face does not move when they speak or when they speak in a dull or monotonous voice. Other symptoms include when an individual is experiencing a lack of pleasure in their day-to-day lives, or they demonstrate an inability to begin or sustain planned activities, or some individuals may speak very little, even when forced to interact.

Can Computers Predict Schizophrenia?

The variety of symptoms which can sometimes be misidentified as other disorders make certain illnesses like Schizophrenia challenging to properly diagnose and even harder to predict in certain individuals who may actually be more predisposed to developing them. However, a recent discovery of an algorithm may actually make this process not only easier and more efficient, but also much more accurate. Mental health professionals have long noticed the disjointedness which may occur in the speech and speech patterns of individuals with Schizophrenia, usually manifested when one thought being expressed is not well connected to the next. Thus, analyzing speech through psychopathology isn’t a new area of study. In the 1990’s, many guidelines were developed to help doctors predict psychosis from listening to the patient’s dialogue. Many doctors can do so with remarkable accuracy, around 80%. But with computers, the accuracy can be as high as 100. According to a new study published in Nature, computer algorithms were able to perfectly predict which at-risk youth would go on to develop Schizophrenia over a 2.5 year period.

This was achieved by analyzing the spoken dialogues of the study’s subjects. From this data, the algorithms measured the coherent flow from one sentence to the next. If a single, jarring disruption was present, it was a sign that a psychosis would follow. One of the study authors, Guillermo Cecchi, explains: “When people speak, they can speak in short, simple sentences. Or they can speak in longer, more complex sentences, that have clauses added that further elaborate and describe the main idea…The measures of complexity and coherence are separate and are not correlated with one another. However, simple syntax and semantic incoherence do tend to aggregate together in schizophrenia.” Disruptions in sentence structure during speech can be an early indication of disorders like Schizophrenia which can impede coherency of thoughts and their expression through language.

The Advantage of Algorithms in Predicting Mental Illness

Why do these algorithms have an advantage over human analysis? Probably because computers don’t tend to lose focus. Whereas a doctor might momentarily lose their deep focus when jotting down notes on their patient, thus missing one of the more subtle episodes of speech disruptions, computers don’t have this difficulty. Computers have the advantage of being able to efficiently multitask without really having to compromise their focus on one task over another, thus they can analyze and record data concurrently and with more efficiency than humans.

The Future of Psychopathology

The first study conducted using these algorithms was admittedly small. Thus, one would expect that a larger sample would reduce the efficiency because the algorithms wouldn’t be able to maintain a perfect record when deployed on a wider scale. However, results of this study are still promising. This is because this research reveals that disruptions in speech patterns indicative of schizophrenia can be computed, thus making algorithms effective at advanced diagnosis of disorders like schizophrenia. Moreover, the high accuracy potential of such algorithms can potentially be used as an intervention allowing individuals to receive treatment and guidance before falling into a psychotic episode. Such diagnostic tools can help successfully combat the estimated 50% of people who are eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia and receive no treatment. Further research is needed to determine the exact effect such algorithms may have on the patients with schizophrenia and related disorders, but these early results point to a promising new direction of diagnosis and treatment.

Anxiety and Depression in Children On The Rise

A recent report by Psychology Today reveals that “Rates of depression and anxiety among young people in America have been increasing steadily for the past fifty to seventy years.” According to some estimates, at least 5 to 8 times more high school and college students meet the diagnostic criteria for depression and anxiety disorders than was true almost half a century or more ago. Initially, one might assume that this increased psychopathology could be due to a change in diagnostic criteria, however, it holds even when the measures and criteria used are constant.

Anxiety and Depression on the Rise for Young People

The most recent evidence of this rise in depression and anxiety for young people comes from a recently released study from Jean Twenge at San Diego State University. Twenge and her colleagues utilized information from the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, or MMPI, which has been administered to large samples of college students since 1938, and the MMPI-A, which provided data from younger adolescents of high school age since 1951, to determine changes in the reported mental health of these populations over time. Her results are consistent with other studies which reveal dramatic increases in anxiety and depression, in both children and young adults, over the last 5 or so decades.

Dr. Peter Gray, research professor at Boston College, writes: “We would like to think of history as progress, but if progress is measured in the mental health and happiness of young people, then we have been going backward at least since the early 1950s.” But why? Interestingly, this increased psychopathology seems to have little correlation with more realistic dangers like changes in economic cycles, wars, or any other world changing events. In fact, rates of anxiety and depression in younger populations were much lower during the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War, and the politically turbulent 1960’s and 70’s. What does this show? That perhaps feelings of anxiety and depression are more connected to how these young people view the world than the state of the world itself.

Anxiety as a Response to Self Control

In fact, these feels of anxiety and depression seem to strongly correlate with the individual’s own feelings of control or lack thereof over their own lives. As Dr. Gray explains: “People who believe that they are in charge of their own fate are less likely to become anxious or depressed than are those who believe that they are victims of circumstances beyond their control.” One might think that sense of personal control has increased over the past few decades. However, while progress has occurred in our ability to prevent and treat diseases, reduce the old prejudices which once limited citizens on the basis of race, gender, and sexuality, and increase wealth, feelings of control over their own lives has actually declined significantly within the past decade.

Measure of sense of self-control is measured through a questionnaire which was created in the late 1950s by Julien Rotter, called the Internal-External Locus of Control Scale. The questionnaire consists of 23 pairs of statements. One statement in each of the pairs represents belief in the internal locus of control, or control by the person, while the other represents belief in the external locus of control, or control of circumstances outside the person. The individual taking the questionnaire must determine which of the statements they feel to be more true. Dr. Gray provides the following example: “(a) I have found that what is going to happen will happen. (b) Trusting to fate has never turned out as well for me as making a decision to take a definite course of action. In this case, choice (a) represents an External locus of control and (b) represents an Internal locus of control.”

The Importance of Play

Studies have shown that a rise in externality and decrease in internality leads to anxiety and depression. After all, if we feel as though less things are in our control it may lead to feelings of distress. When feelings of anxiety and helplessness become too great it can lead to the development of depression. But why are children experiencing decreased internality? Signs point to a correlation between decreased play time. Playtime allows children time to explore and act independently from adult direction, but unfortunately, the amount of playtime children are allotted has decreased significantly within recent decades. Dr. Gray describes this essential time as being “ the means by which children learn to solve their own problems, control their own lives, develop their own interests, and become competent in pursuit of their own interests.” Thus a decline in this developmental time for children has lead to a deprivation in allowing children the opportunity to learn how to take control of their own lives. Even with the best intentions, Dr. Gray believes that while  “we may think we are protecting them, but in fact we are diminishing their joy, diminishing their sense of self-control, preventing them from discovering and exploring the endeavors they would most love, and increasing the chance that they will suffer from anxiety, depression, and various other mental disorders.”

Even in schools, less time is allotted for play than for more regimented curricular and extracurricular activities. Through this, children learn that what they want is insignificant when compared to what adults what for them. They are directed, organized, and ranked according to the expectations set by adults, thus, their sense of self is largely defined by others. In fact, Dr. Gray describes modern schools as being “a place where children have little choice about with whom they can associate. They are herded into spaces filled with other children that they did not choose, and they must spend a good portion of each school day in those spaces. In free play, children who feel harassed or bullied can leave the situation and find another group that is more compatible; but in school they cannot. Whether the bullies are other students or teachers (which is all too common), the child usually has no choice but to face those persons day after day.” The results of which, he notes, are disasterous.

That’s not to say that schooling and education aren’t important, however, and beneficial to the intellectual development of children and young adults. Rather, allowing kids the freedom to play and develop as individuals can enhance their education by instilling a willingness and motivation to be educated rather than depriving them of any choice. Perhaps by reinstating playtime and emphasizing its importance in the development of our children, we can collectively reverse the rising rates of anxiety and depression by allowing them the self-control they need to be both happy and healthy.

A male and female interlocking hands in what appears to be a strong, happy relationship.

Building Communication with Relationship Therapy

Most couples will argue from time to time. For the most part, this is normal behavior, because loving someone doesn’t necessarily …

Man sitting on couch holding hands over his face as his partner walks away angrily.

The Five Stages of Ending a Long-Term Relationship

Sometimes relationships just aren’t meant to be. Love has plenty of ups and downs, but increasing negativity can be a sign …

Vintage photo of a peaceful, beautiful nature scene with river and trees.

Smell The Roses: The Benefits of Nature Therapy

With the hustle and bustle of our daily lives and responsibilities, it can be hard to remember to take time to “stop and …