Recommended Reading

   Sweethearts Reduce Stress.
   How To Assert Yourself.
   Coping With Death And Grief.
   Mood For Thought.
   When Science Merges With Spirituality.
   Friends In Need.
   Urban Disorder.
   Retail Therapy.
   Synapses Of Spirituality.
   Seeing a virtual Shrink.

  Sweethearts Reduce Stress

   Spending a little quality time with your significant other may help your heart in the long run. Spouses and other partners seem to have a calming influence on a person's blood pressure, a new study reported in Psychosomatic Medicine shows. The study used portable monitors to track people's blood pressure on the fly. It turned out that the participant's pressure was lowest when they were with their partners, regardless of what they were doing. The team found that the participant's blood pressure was consistently lower than they were with their partners than when they were with another person or by themselves. And it did not matter where they were or what they were doing; the mere presence of the significant other calmed blood pressure.

The researchers theories that it is the familiarity of an intimate relationship that helps lower blood pressure. Partners, they hypothesize, may send out a ‘safety signal'. People who were dissatisfied with their partners still experienced blood pressure dips in their presence.

And this does not mean single people are doomed to high blood pressure, the findings simply suggest that comfortable relationships – close friends included have a soothing effect on blood pressure.

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  How To Assert Yourself

We all have problems with other people. When our relatives are unhappy about some thing they have the ability to make us feel guilty without even talking about it. We also have problem with people outside families. For e.g. if the tailor does a poor job on our dress, the manager of the tailoring shop, has the knowledge to explain in great details why your pants are so tight if you had specified a lose fitting.

Even our friends cause problems. If a friend suggests something to do for an evenings entertainment that doesn't appeal to you, the automatic response is to make up an excuse; you have to lie to your friend so your friend does not get hurt, at the same time feeling like a guilty for doing so. Each of us, at time gets into situations that confuse us. A friend for example asks us to deliver a letter to his aunt residing at Juhu, which is 30 k.m away from Nariman point in Bombay, where you are going to visit on an official tour from, say New Delhi. You rationalize “Well, a friend is a friend. He would do the same thing for me”. But other nagging thoughts intrude: “But I have never asked him to do the same type of things. He did not say whether the message was urgent. Why has he not sent the letter by post or sent a telegram?”

In situation like this, all of us feel: “When I say no, I feel guilty, but if I say yes, how come I am always doing these things? Or is this the price I have to pay to live with other people?”

If things like this happens, our instinct allows us no choice; we are going to feel afraid or angry. But when you can assertively interact with other people and by doing so have a chance of getting at least part of what you want, automatic fear or anger is less likely.

Being assertive means being able to say no, to speak up for yourself and being more effective in getting what you want. Asserting oneself is not primarily a way to get what one wants, nor is it a way of controlling others.

Assertive behavior involves direct expression of a person's feelings, preferences, needs or options in a manner that is neither threatening nor punishing toward any one else. There is no undue anxiety involved with assertion.

Assertion means standing up to ones right without being timid in doing so. Thus, assertion is simply a way of communicating directly and honestly among individuals. Most important a person has the ability to express his/her feelings and opinions appropriately.

Individuals who have difficulty in speaking up on their own behalf often experience depression and anxiety in human encounters. They feel that they are not appreciated and other people use them. They often complain of feeling uneasy/having headaches or indigestion. People such as these can become problem in family, social or official environments.

In contrast, individuals who have been taught to be assertive have great deal of self-confidence, receive positive reactions from others, feel less anxious in social situations and experience fewer physical problems. Thus it would seem that the ability to assert oneself when one chooses is a very desirable skill to acquire.

Thinking And Talking To Yourself

Underlying much nonassertive behavior are irrational beliefs that serve as a basis for our action. Such beliefs give rise to fear of other strong emotions and prevent one from acting assertively.

Here steps ABC indicate what most peoples thinking process consists of which can be improved extending two further steps D and E.

A is the activity or situation an individual finds upsetting for example asking for a raise. B is the irrational belief: “If I ask for a raise and my boss doesn't give it to me, I must be incompetent and a failure at everything and that's intolerable.” C is how the person consequently feels: anxious and depressed, and therefore avoids asking for a raise or asks in a nonassertive manner.

Now you force yourself to add D and E to this thinking process. D is the challenge or dispute we might give the irrational belief, such as, “what would be so awful if I asked in an ineffective manner? How could his rejection destroy me? What if I did not get the raise?”

With these challenges, we substitute F a more rational belief, such as, “It is inconvenient if I did not get the raise, but I can handle it.” This thinking process goes far to reduce the anxiety before one sees the boss.

So, a first step towards assertiveness is to challenge irrational beliefs – that we tell our self.

Delivering The Message

One of the key skills in becoming more assertive is learning how to deliver an assertive message. It is called an I DESC scripts. DESC is an acronym for Describe, Express, Specify and Consequences. When you want to deal with a person on a subject assertively, you describe the issue indicating specific details like to see and ending with the positive consequences are to that person of the organization or management he represent for making the change we want. 

For e.g. you are very much loaded with lot of work unrelated to my main responsibility. While I am very much busy with this sales report preparation, with your permission many people come to me, asking for preparing their departmental reports.

  E:  I feel overloaded and get confused over priority, none of my fault.

S: I would like you to stop those non-departmental staff coming to me. Otherwise give me two more assistant whom I can guide to write non-departmental reports.

C: If you do that, I can give you your own report always on time. Also I can write the report giving a lot more useful information to you.

If this assertive message has no impact, you might express a negative consequences: “If you do not help me in this regard, all your work may get delayed and there may be many hurriedly done superficial reports.”

By
Uday K Chakraborty

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  Coping With Death And Grief

Bereavement counseling, grief therapy was virtually unknown as a professional public service. For several years there was baffling reluctance to acknowledge the seriousness of grief. It was limited to providing informal assistance to the sufferers. For those who experienced difficulties family members, friends, the clergy or family physician would provide whatever support was necessary. Individuals were expected to grieve in isolation.  

Today there is increased society's compassion for the dying. There is a growing sense of responsibility for those who grieve and concern for the family of the dying. There is tremendous increase in efforts to assist the bereaved. There are support groups and increase in interest in books on the subject of death, dying and grief. Health and human service professionals have found interrelationship between endocrine, central nervous and immunlogical systems of the body. There is data showing that physical and mental health problems among the bereaved. Mortality data show that widowers of almost all ages are at increased risk especially within the 6 months following the death of a spouse. These aspects of bereavement require greater professional attention.

Those around the bereaved should not be puzzled by the behavior of the bereaved. Here are some useful clues and basic conclusions about the bereaved that must be understood:

  1. That the deeply bereaved need to talk about the deceased endlessly and monotonously. This behavior is not necessarily a sign of evasion or displacement of critical personality issues.
  2. Bereavement is a process that changes over the time (but time does not necessarily heal all wounds).
  3. Depressive symptoms and emotional swings may last for at least several months and often more than a year.
  4. Physical symptoms often appear in place of or along side psychological complaints.
  5. Sense of the pain of loss can persist over a lifetime, without this being a sign of an abnormality.
  6. People confronted with death wonder what they did wrong to call for the death or how they could have postponed the inevitable.
  7. Having failed to protect this beloved person they wonder if any useful powers are still at their disposal.
  8. They are confronted to redefine their own terms of existence.

Grief is a natural process. Everyone suffers losses. The person can emerge with greater confidence and deeper understanding of life in general, thereby greater able to realize more of a potential he or she possess; or let life's spirit ebb and his or her potential erode. In some difficult situations however, professional help through bereavement counseling or grief therapy may be necessary to cope with death, dying, and grief.

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Mood For Thought

When you are sad or down, all the self-help books tell you to close your mental doors behind you on unpleasant circumstances or failures you have experienced. They tell you to take possession of your mind to think happy thoughts, without letting circumstances or people affect you. Research proves exactly the opposite. When we are anxious or stressed – in other words, exactly when we need a mood boost – our minds become unable to provide one. That's because we are so preoccupied with our troubles that we don't have enough brainpower left over to suppress negative thoughts and when we try to distract ourselves, pessimistic notions are the only ones that come to mind. “ If you are really under stress, putting your self in a good mood by thinking positive thoughts becomes not only difficult – in fact it back fires, and you get the opposite of what you want,” says Daniel Wegner, PhD, a psychologist of University of Virginia. In an experiment, Wegner asked a group of people to put themselves in a good mood – which they did, fairly easily. But when they were also told to keep a nine-digit number in mind, they actually felt worse. The energy they had to control their mood was reduced by the effort of remembering the number. Instead, it is better to enlist the help of other people. It was found that talking to friends or relatives or a therapist, or any one who might be able to help you think about other things is more effective than relaying on your self for cheer.

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When Science Merges With Spirituality

When medicine fails, patients usually turn to God. But according to The Journal of pain, religion or spirituality help patients cope with the chronic pain of rheumatoid arthritis, in turn reducing pain and boosting the sense of well being. The report found that patients who used religion as a key coping strategy for their pain reported much higher level of emotional, social and disease - related support. “People coping with chronic illness or pain find it difficult to maintain a positive outlook or feel connected to God or the beauty of life. The results of this study suggest otherwise”, says doctor Francis J Keefe of Duke University Medical School in Durham, North Carolina. In study, people diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis were asked to keep daily dairies of their moods, religious and spiritual experiences, levels of pain and coping strategies. “People who reported decrease in pain using positive, religious and spiritual coping strategies were less like to experience joint pains and were more likely to experience positive mood and higher level of social support”, says Keefe. There were no reports of “Unusual phenomenon such as seeing visions or having out–of-body experiences, but rather experiences that ordinary people have in the context of daily life”.

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Friends In Need

According to research by the Mental Health Foundation in the UK, many people may like to lend a hand to a friend with a mental health problem, but in one in four people found out that a friend has mental illness when they are admitted to the hospital. The survey showed that for five people, the first sign of a friends mental health problem is a suicide attempt. This finding shows that the stigma of mental illness stops people from getting the support they need. As many as one in four people will suffer from some form of mental illness – including depression, anxiety disorder or other more serious illness – in the course of a year.

Nearly four in ten with mental illness thought friends might not understand, did not want to be seen as a burden, or thought there friends would be frightened because of the stigma associated with their condition.

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Urban Disorder

Dr Svenn Togersen, a psychologist of Oslo University in Norway, and his colleagues have found that personality disorders affect nearly one in seven Norwegians and are more likely to be found in those who live alone and inside a city. The researchers interviewed more than two thousand Norwegians and found that 13.4% of individuals in greater Oslo area of personality disorder such as paranoid, schizoid (unable to relate socially to others), anti social, sadistic, narcissistic, histrionic (exclusively dramatic or emotional), obsessive-compulsive, dependant, passive-aggressive or self-defeating. The most common personality disorder, affecting 5%, was avoidant, characterized by excessive sensitivity to criticism. Men were more likely to suffer from schizoid and passive aggressive personality disorder, while histrionic and dependant personality disorder were more common among women. Those with personality disorder were more likely to be living alone than with a partner to have only a high school education or less, and to be living in the center of a city rather than outskirts.

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Retail Therapy

“Every time I am depressed, I find that I have a quick fix solution. I visit my favourite jeweler down the road, check out what he has in store, literally, and even if I don't come away buying something, I somehow feel the better for the little exercise,” Welcome to retail therapy.

What is retail therapy? Its an euphemism for the urge to splurge, the shop till you drop syndrome that grabs most of us at one point of our lives or the other. It's just that some of us give in gracefully and some of us suppress the feeling only for it to surface again, another time another place.

Retail Therapy, say psychologist is a partial solution for all of the above. Shopping is something we can not get away from. As a consumer, at some point or the other we will want something or the other unless you are an enlightened soul and free of all desires, in which case this piece is not for you. But for those of us who can not resist spending rushing into a shop that screams “SALE”, you'll be happy to know that the same pop psychologists all over the world recommend that its nothing to be ashamed of.

Ofcourse, its another matter, if like a gambler you squander your fortune impulsively on 67 points of shoes at once. In which case you'll need hypno-therapy to cure you. But really, you need not feel apologetic. “It aids and abets your self esteem, because if you have been envisioning yourself in an outfit that you think you look good in and when you actually find that outfit and wear it, it can only enhance your self esteem.

The act of buying serves two purposes – one to rid yourself of the deprivation that you have been living with thus far and two to do away with that nagging feeling that keeps asking you to go out and buy it.

Retail Therapy is not gender specific. It's the great equalizer available to men and women alike. After all, its not just women who enjoy shopping, men do too, but its just years of conditioning that makes them want to look the other way on a shopping expedition.

So the next time, you feel a pang of guilt at having bought a luscious red lipstick or a sexy shirt relax its all in your mind.

LA Times/ Washington Post

TOI June 26th 2001

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Synapses Of Spirituality

In Philadelphia, a researcher discovers areas of the brain that are activated during meditation. At two other universities in San Diego and North Carolina, doctors study how epilepsy and certain hallucinogenic drugs can produce religious epiphanies. And in Canada, a neuroscientist fits people with magnetized helmets that produce “spiritual” experiences for the secular.

The work is part of a broad effort by scientist around the world to better understand religious experiences, measure them, and even reproduce them. Using powerful brain imaging technology, researchers are exploring what mystics call nirvana, and what Christians describe as a state of grace. Scientist are asking whether spirituality can be explained in terms of neural networks, neurotransmitters and brain chemistry.

What creates that transcendental feeling of being one with the universe? It could be the decreased activity in the brain's parietal lobe, which helps regulate the sense of self and physical orientation, research suggests. How does religion prompt divine feelings of love and compassion? Possibly because of changes in the frontal lobe, caused by heightened concentration during meditation. Why do many people have a profound sense that religion has changed their lives? Perhaps because spiritual practices activate the temporal lobe, which weights experiences with personal significance.

The brain is set up in such a way as to have spiritual experiences and religious experiences said Andrew Newberg, a Philadelphia scientist who wrote the book Why God Won't go away. “Unless there is a fundamental change in the brain, religion and spirituality will be here for a very long time. The brain is predisposed to having those experiences and that is why so many people believe in God”.

The research may represent the bravest frontier of brain research. But depending on your religious beliefs, it may also be the last straw. For while Newberg and other scientist say they are trying to bridge the gap between science and religion, many believers are offended by the notion that God is a creation of the human brain, rather than other way around.

“It reinforces atheistic assumption and makes religion useless”, said Nancey Murphy, a professor of Christian philosophy at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. “If you can explain religious experience purely as a brain phenomenon, you don't need the assumption of the existence of God”.

Some scientists readily say the research proves there is no such thing as God. But many others argue that they are religious themselves, and that they are simply trying to understand how our minds produce a sense of spirituality.

Newberg, who was catapulted to center stage of neuroscience – religion debate by his book and some recent experiments he conducted at the university of Pennsylvania with co-researcher Eugene D'Aquilli, says he has a sense of his own spirituality, though he declined to say whether he believes in God, because any answer would prompt people to question his agenda. “I am really not trying to use science to prove that God exist or disprove God exist” he said.

Newberg's experience consisted of taking brain scans of Tibetan Buddhist mediators as they sat immersed in contemplation. After giving them time to sink into a deep meditative trance, he injected them with a radioactive dye. Patterns of the dye's residues in the brain were later converted into images. 

Newberg found that certain areas of the brain were altered during deep meditation. Predictably, these included areas in the front of the brain that are involved in concentration. But Newberg also found decreased activity in the parietal lobe, one of the parts of the brain that helps orient a person in three-dimensional space. 

“When people have spiritual experiences they feel they become one with the universe and lose there sense for self,” he said. “We think that may be because of what is happening in that area – if you block that area you lose that boundary between the self and the rest of the world. In doing so you ultimately wind up in universal state.”

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Seeing a Virtual Shrink

More therapists are hanging out shingles online. But who are they? Who's logging on? And does it work?

When Rita Lowitt, a Berkeley marriage and family therapist, isn't meeting clients in her office, she's treating them from home. Some nights, she might comfort a nervous new mom. Others, a stressed-out CEO or a fortysomething with a disappointing sex life. Her clients share their most private feelings, but Lowitt can't see their tear or hear their sighs. She may not even know what time zone they're in. Confused? Lowitt is counseling people online. "We're all more pressed for time, trying to avoid despair," she says. Internet counseling is "immediate, its focused, it cuts to the chase."

It had to happen someday. Buy online. Date online. Visit the shrink online. Everything, it seems, is a virtual commodity - as long as you have a keyboard and credit card. Five years ago, only a handful of therapists offered e-mail counseling and interactive chats; now there are whole clinics of them, like here2listen.com, where Lowitt practices. An estimated 250 to 300 counseling sites exists, charging anywhere from 41 a minute to $150 and up for a month of e-mail. In the age of the Prozac fix, more will likely emerge as therapists seek new ways to market their trade. As clients begin to tap in, concerns are mounting: Is online therapy ethical? Legal? Dangerous? It's clearly gaining attention. At a recent meeting of the American Psychoanalytic Association, members discussed the Internet in one room, Freud in another. Some groups like the American Counseling Association have issued guidelines for practice. Others are taking note from a distance. "This is an emerging area" with potential pluses ad minuses, says the American Psychological Association's Russ Newman. "We're watching and we're interested".

Anonymity may be the virtual couch's greatest appeal. Martha Ainsworth, who logged on from a hotel room during a stressful business trip, had tried face-to-face therapy but found it inhibiting. E-mail freed her psyche. "I feel less self-conscious if someone isn't looking at me", she says. That doesn't surprise researchers. Back in the 1970s' Dr. John Greist of the University of Wisconsin Medical School found that when it came to patients revealed the same information to a human interviewer as to a computer. But when the topic was sexual function or substance abuse, "they started telling the computer a whole lot more", says Greist. Writing, instead of talking, may also help focus feelings and speed resolution. "You can cry and type at the same time", says Lowitt. "You can't necessarily cry and talk at the same time." For counselors, there's more time to reflect. "I think my responses are more powerful," says Peter Chechele of cybertherapy.com Convenience is also key. Clients can log on for a chat or an e-mail when they're most overwhelmed -in their pajamas on a Saturday night - or from small towns, where finding a therapist can be not just traumatic, but impossible. Tricia Griffin, 26, needed help coping with her grandparent's death, but had little free time. Plus, "it's a big step to admit that your problems are too big to handle alone," she says. Giffin liked the format of online counseling: "It didn't feel formal, like I was going in and sitting on a leather couch." And she loved the cost - $70 for an hour of chat, compared to $100 and up in-office. Therapists like Jef Gazley, "sick to death of managed care", like the financial incentive, too: "It's between me and the client again."


But at what cost? Online counseling may work well as an adjunct or first step to face to face, critics say, but it obliterates the pillars of traditional therapy. "Therapists rely not only on what is said, but what is not said," says Dr. Lisa Mellman of New York's Columbia Pressbyterian Medical Center. Visual cues like wringing hands, tapping feet and tears speak for trapped emotions. Dr. Sandra Walker, a psychoanalyst, says she knew an alcoholic client was relapsing when "the cologne got stronger and stronger". For many patients, in person interaction is crucial. One 30-year-old with bipolar disorder, who goes by the screen name Sibbul, says she'd never visit a virtual counselor. She relies on a therapist to read her state of mind - her hunching when she's depressed, her nervousness when she's manic. Online, she says, "it would be too easy to lie".

Responsible online counselor say that while their services may be therapeutic, they are in no way comparable to face-to-face therapy and should never be used as a substitute. Still, the what-ifs abound. What if a client hooks up with someone who isn't qualified or doesn't have his best interests at heat? Ainsworth had a great experience but she knows the pitfalls, so she started a consumer site, www.metanoia.org, which tracks therapist's credentials. And then there's the nighmare scenario: what if a suicidal patients sends e-mail to a therapist who has logged off? Confidentiality glitches are also worrisome: What if communication crashes while a client is discussing her fear of rejection? Can therapists licensed in Iowa treat patients in Maine? If so, is there a crisis plan in place? Howard Brown, CEO of 4therapy.com says the risks are still too great; for now, his site offers only referrals for face-to-face therapists. Without standards, says M.Gregg Bloche, a Georgetown law professor, online Web sites are "ticking time bombs when it comes to liability."

For now, Carol Chase, 45, may be the most suitable online client. She has ongoing office visits with Jef Gazley, but she's also exchanged e-mail with him and has even done video sessions from home. Once, while writing about an argument with her husband, Chase had a breakthrough. "As I was typing it, I thought, 'I don't know exactly what happened'. That boosted Chase's self-esteem and she logged off.

By Claudia Kalb

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