A Simple Fix For Depression?

Do you get annoyed with headlines that lead you to believe there is a simple solution to some problem with which you are wrestling? I know it irritates me…. And I bet it bothers you as well.

This happens frequently in media reports of “remarkable cures” for medical and psychological problems.  Today we are going to look at an example of a miracle “cure” for depression. Spoiler alert: The take away message is DO YOUR OWN QUICK RESEARCH when reading headlines that seem too good to be true.  

The example I will use is the reporting done on some research that took place last year. The research generated nearly a million page views on the internet. Impressive.

Here is what happened.

Emily Tarleton, a graduate student and researcher at the University of Vermont looked at whether taking magnesium supplements had any impact on depression. She was able to get approximately 120 mildly/moderately depressed adults to be in her study. Half of the group took 248mg of magnesium chloride each day for six weeks. The other half did not. A questionnaire was used to measure levels of depression. The change in depression scores at the end of six weeks was the measure of improvement (the greater the difference, the more depression had lowered). At the end of the six weeks the group that had not received magnesium chloride began to take the supplement on a daily basis. At the end of the next six weeks the improvement of this group was also measured.

The findings were that each group experienced significantly lower depression scores at the end of six weeks of magnesium supplementation.

Does that make sense so far? A nice study that certainly suggests that magnesium may be helpful in reducing depressive symptoms in a fairly short time. Does the study suggest that the depressive symptoms went away altogether? No.

Does the study suggest that magnesium works better than standard medication? No, there was no comparison group of depressed people who were started on an antidepressant.

Does the study suggest that magnesium works better than a placebo (for example, a sugar pill)? No, there was no placebo group to compare.

All of this is understandable. No study is perfect, and this was a graduate student who very likely was trying to do research on a slim budget. It’s a nice little study on an important topic.

Ms. Tarleton did a good job of using the data of 120 people (give or take) to raise interest in the role of magnesium in treating depression. She was, I want to point out, very modest about what the results meant… mainly that this looks promising and more research is needed.

Now, let’s look at what the popular media reported about the study.  From Reader's Digest:

This Mineral Fights Depression—and It’s Cheaper and Safer Than Prescription Drugs

Not a bad headline really. But the writer goes on to misstate what the study found. “Ultimately, Tarleton’s findings suggest that the effects of magnesium are just as beneficial for depression sufferers as prescription antidepressants such as Prozac.” 

Really? We should draw this conclusion even though no comparison Prozac group was in the study? That’s a stretch.

Another outlet breathlessly proclaimed:

Magnesium found to treat DEPRESSION better than antidepressant drugs: New science”

Again, an odd way to sum up a study that did not include an antidepressant comparison group.

Then there is this…

Magnesium in Right Doses Completely Reverses Depression: Breakthrough Study

It is a little baffling. The author did not state that her study showed that “magnesium completely reverses depression.” She did point out that the group taking magnesium showed a meaningful reduction in symptoms of depression. Completely reversed depression? It would have been great had there been such evidence, but that is not case.

Is magnesium helpful to people who struggle with depression? The study we looked at suggests it might be. There are other studies that also would lead me to conclude that magnesium supplementation is a promising method for reducing depression in some people.

Emphasis on “promising” and “some people.”

But the headlines would lead you to a very different conclusion. A conclusion that might lead to you and me to have unrealistic expectations, disappointment, or perhaps even down the path of forgoing more proven effective treatments for depression (such as talk therapy, life style changes, and medication).

Conclusion We need to approach health related articles in the popular media with some caution. Neither disregarding them altogether, nor immediately accepting them at face value. Just taking a few minutes to look at the original source will often help make things much more clear.

I wonder whether there is anything you have read recently where this advice might be helpful?

How to Find The Best Therapist (Part 2)

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Last week we began looking at how to find the best therapist for you. This process can be a bit of a journey. But it is well worth the effort to find the right therapist. Someone with whom you can develop a close working relationship, and who has the knowledge and skills to be of help. A brief recap of last week's post may help:

1.    Interview several therapists

2.    Expect that a therapist will talk with you like a normal human being

3.    Make sure to work with someone who has experience helping people who are struggling                     with the very thing that has caused you to seek therapy

4.    Most importantly, find a therapist that you find to be warm, sincere, and capable (this type               of therapist has the highest level of good outcomes)

Last week I also promised a few more tips to round out the process.  Let’s dive right into these.

ONE: Do not pay too much attention to what degree the therapist has earned (LMFT, LCSW, MD, PhD). Research has shown that there is no meaningful correlation between the quality of therapy and the specific degree a therapist has earned. (I know, sad, because I have a Ph.D.).

TWO: Be certain to ask questions when interviewing a therapist. It’s fine if you want to know how many people they have worked with who struggle with anxiety, depression, trauma, oppositional teens, and so forth.

You are probably also interested in knowing how they go about helping the people with whom they work. That’s a fair question, ask away!

Perhaps you want to know whether they give advice, or do they mainly listen and help clarify issues (leaving it up to you to decide what to do at that point). Does the therapist have books/websites to recommend?

It's reasonable to ask how long it is likely to take before your goals are reached (although an exact answer to that question requires the power of a fortuneteller, a reasonable guess of some type can usually be made).

THREE: Don’t put too much emphasis on how many years a therapist has been in practice. Why? Because research shows that most therapist do not significantly improve their skills after the first five years or so after graduating.

This is not always the case, but it is the norm.

The reason why most therapists stop improving their skills over the years is that they do not engage in the process of systematic and deliberate self-evaluation. This is not a gratuitous criticism of therapists (graduate training doesn’t teach one how to perform meaningful and practical self-evaluation). If you find a therapist that does engage in continuous self-evaluation of his/her performance, and then uses that information to improve his or her skills, that's terrific. Put a star next to their name.

There you go. Honest, it is as simple as that.

Follow these guidelines and you will dramatically increase your chances of finding the best therapist for you. Just to make things easier, I have formatted the tips from today’s post, and last week’s post, into a single checklist.  In case you missed it last week, I will also post again (below) the links to four major therapist directories.  Until next time.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us

https://www.theravive.com/forcounsellors/sign-up/welcome-page.aspx

https://www.goodtherapy.org/

http://www.christiancounselordirectory.com/

 

How To Find The Best Therapist (Part I)

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Best Therapist For You

Finding a good therapist can be challenging. But even more difficult is finding a good therapist that is also the best therapist for you. In this blog post, and the one that follows, I will give tips that make this search much easier. In fact, if you follow the steps I recommend you’ll be just about guaranteed to find a therapist that works well with you.

Before moving on to discuss these steps it is important to know makes for good therapy. That is, therapy that leads to success. It turns out that this topic has been studied for many years, and the conclusion is pretty clear. The thing that best predicts whether therapy will be successful is the quality of the therapeutic relationship.

More precisely, does a client feel understood by his or her therapist? Does the client feel that the therapist genuinely cares about his/her well-being (i.e., you are not just another client to check off the list)? Does the therapist appear competent and skilled? Lastly, does the therapist have a reasonable plan for resolving the problems with which the client is struggling?

There are other factors that influence outcome, but none of them are nearly as important as the four just mentioned. With that in mind let’s look at how you can go about finding the best therapist for you.

ONE: Interview several therapists. 

You can do this on the phone or with a face to face consult. If you interview therapist in person (I recommend you visit three or four therapists) most will charge for their time. This is money well spent. It could save you weeks, or months, of working with the wrong therapist.

Let each therapist with whom you meet know that you are interviewing them to see if they are someone with whom you wish to work. If this offends them, mark that therapist off your list. It should not offend anyone. If you were having a house built you would interview several architects or contractors: none would be offended. Neither should a therapist find this off putting.

After telling the therapist what concerns you are struggling with, and the goals you have, ask how they would go about finding a solution. In other words, how do they work?

Keep in mind that a therapist is really a coach. Just as someone who plays baseball might hire a batting coach to enhance their batting average. That coach would have a certain approach to helping players become better batters, and could describe the strategy to anyone who was interested. So too with therapists. Look for a response that is clear, spoken in English (not psychobabble), and makes sense.

Pay attention both to what the therapist says and how you feel as you discuss these personal matters. If you go away from the meeting thinking the therapist is someone with whom you can relate, and that his or her answers to your questions make sense, put that person on your list of finalists.

TWO: A therapist who has Experience with what matters to you.

Look for a therapist who has a lot of experience working with the issue with which you are struggling. For example, if you are interested in getting help with marital conflict look for someone who spends a great deal of time seeing couples in marriage counseling. Better yet, go to a website that shows you who, in your area, has specialized training in marriage counseling (https://www.gottman.com/couples/private-therapy/).

Avoid therapist who claim to have numerous specializations. Most therapists will have experience with half a dozen or less areas of emotional distress. If a therapist claims to specialize in ten or more areas, be cautious.

THREE: A therapist that really engages with you.

Find a therapist that talks. I know, sounds strange, but some therapists have been taught that they should seldom speak. It’s a throwback to psycho-analysis wherein the patient would do nearly all the talking and the therapist would nod, grunt, and on occasion provide an interpretation (“Ah, I see. You tell me that you were late for work again. I suspect the real meaning of that pattern of behavior is…  you hate your mother…. Or your father…. Perhaps both!”). The mysterious silent types are great for classic movies, but best avoided when searching for a psychotherapist.

On the other hand, you don’t want a therapist who is a chatterbox. The focus of therapy should be on solving your concerns, not listening to stories of how your therapist’s great aunt once had a similar problem. Therapy requires an interaction, with the focus on the client.

The basic idea is your therapist needs to be willing to genuinely engage you. To do this he or she will need to talk with you, respond to your questions, offer advice and insights. The exact balance of how much talk and how much listening is helpful, well that is up to you (which is another reason to interview several therapists, so you get an up close and personal sense of their style of interacting).

So, when you want to answer the question "Who is the best mental health therapist that has an office near me?", the three steps we just covered are where you should begin. I need to mention that there are other steps you can take as well, and we will cover those next week. 

If you don’t want to wait, however, to begin looking for a counselor, here are four links to some very good therapist directories that can help get you started.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us

https://www.theravive.com/forcounsellors/sign-up/welcome-page.aspx

https://www.goodtherapy.org/

http://www.christiancounselordirectory.com/

 

 

Commitment Phobia: What Drives This Fear

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Recently I was asked why it is that some people never enter into a mature, thoroughly committed relationship? Although there are many possible reasons for this fear, most of the time it boils down to one of the following.

ONE: Peter Pan Is Alive and Well

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This is more common in men than women. The person simply does not wish to grow up. Being an adult requires that you place your needs (at least much of the time) second to those of others. Particularly those with whom you have a commitment. Moreover, a committed relationship has obligations attached to it, and this means one must be accountable to someone else. 

TWO: Ghosts From the Past

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Another very common theme seen in both men and women. Those who grew up in homes where the parents had a horrible relationship are more likely to be afraid of commitment than those raised by parents who had a reasonably happy relationship. This is particularly true if there were no alternative role models (e.g., happily married grandparents, or close friends whose parents were happily married).

THREE: Greener Pastures Await

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Although seen in both men and women, it is somewhat more with men. There is always the prospect that another partner will more fully satisfy one's desires and longings. People who perpetually struggle with the Greener Pastures fallacy have failed to accept that no one will be a perfect match. Anyone with whom they develop a relationship will have strengths and weaknesses.

The Greener Pasture aficionado fails to see that it is not a matter of finding a soul mate who is without flaws. It is all about finding a soul mate with the qualities you cannot live without, and the flaws that you can tolerate (and keep in mind, your soul mate will need to live with your flaws as well, so let’s not put on airs).

FOUR: No Dice, Home Slice

These individuals are simply terrified of rejection and failure. They have no problem being in a relationship as long as it does not involve meaningful commitment. When the “we” of a relationship starts to be more important than the “me” of the relationship, these folks head for the hills.  

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Asking for a deeper commitment from a "failure phobic" man or woman is similar to asking Superman to take a bite of a kryptonite appetizer. They shake with fear like the lead singer in a rumba band and quickly make towards the exit.

Men and women who are terrified of rejection/failure in relationships believe that were they to make a commitment and it did not work out, they would be crushed. Devastated beyond repair. Their solution to this fear? Play it safe, don’t risk too much, don’t take that big step into commitment.

Very sad. At the end of life, no one looks back and says “I’m so glad I played it safe. My life has been so rich and full because I always played it safe and never risked my heart.”

So those are the four main obstacles to commitment that I’ve noticed. But people can change, and no one is destined to remain stymied by these obstacles. It’s a matter of having the courage to try something new.

 

 

How To Beat The Blues: Part II

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In last week’s blog I wrote that there are two simple things one can do to fight back against depression. In fact, there are literally dozens of straightforward ways to smack depression in the nose: and this is what you want to do, get angry at depression. Angry enough to see it as an enemy that is stealing your happiness. Robbing you of living life at its best.

But describing dozens of ways to beat depression, all within a single blog post, would make for a boring read. Let’s avoid that trap and focus on two simple approaches (for those of you who would like a more in depth discussion that includes a variety of strategies for overcoming depression consider buying the 10 Step Depression Relief Workbook).

ONE

Get moving! Go for a walk, a run, a trot, even a gallop. Go to the gym and push some weights. Head to the dance studio and tango. You get the idea: exercise.

The beneficial impact of exercise on mood is well-documented. It is one of the simplest ways to begin to overcome the blues, it is available to anyone, and it’s free!

We don’t need to get bogged down by overthinking when deciding on how to exercise. The main thing is to get moving. Push yourself. Not so much that you are about to go into cardiac arrest, or cannot keep your lunch down. No need to go that far in order to derive the mental health benefits of moving your body. But do push yourself to the point that you feel that your body has had to do some work.

How long to exercise? Ideally, 20 to 30 minutes… or longer if you like. If that is too much for you, at least at the start, then make it 10 minutes. The main thing, as Dr. Nike likes to say, is “Just do it!”

You can always add minutes later on. The 10-minute walk will become 15 minutes, and this will later turn to 20 minutes, and so forth. You are building a habit, getting into a routine. The most important thing is to simply get started. The number of minutes you exercise is of less importance than getting some momentum on starting the habit of exercising. You can always experiment with how much time to devote to it later on.

How frequently? Every day would be great. Can’t do that? Not to worry. Begin with three times a week. Less than that and you will not see much impact on your mood. Pro Tip: Mark the time you plan to exercise in your calendar. Make an appointment with yourself. If you do not carve out a dedicated time for exercise, it probably will not happen.  

One last thing to keep in mind. If you decide that walking/running is how you will start to exercise then consider finding a park or other nature area. Studies show that being out in nature decreases depressive symptoms. Of course simply being outdoors will also help you absorb more vitamin D, which in turn may provide a modest boost in fighting depression.

TWO

Set goals, make a plan, execute, achieve.  Depression causes you to feel less competent. A sense of helplessness easily sneaks into one’s life.

Setting and reaching goals is the antidote to such feelings. When depressed people tend to set vague goals, and have equally vague plans for reaching these goals. Consequently, they are much less likely to succeed. This lack of success leads to a deepening sense of frustration and failure, thereby worsening the depression.

How to avoid this trap? Start with small, clear goals. You should be able to write such a goal, and plan, on an index card. For some people with whom I have worked these goals are as simple as getting up by 9:00 AM, showering, and being ready for the day by 10:00AM. For others it has been to grocery shop twice a week, pay the household bills and meet a friend for lunch.

When depression is severe, it is usually best to set goals that take aim at achieving small victories. That might be having a productive weekly routine, or maintaining contact with friends. As the depression begins to retreat, you can take aim at more ambitious goals.

If you are depressed I hope you will give these two easy strategies a try. They might be just the thing that helps you begin to feel better, and build momentum for even bigger changes.

 

How To Beat The Blues: Part I

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“I’m not sure why I am here” Jason said as he leaned forward in his chair. Then laughing slightly, he added, except my better half insisted. His wife, Laura, was sitting on the couch next to him. After waiting a moment she broke the silence “It’s because Jason just isn’t himself any longer. I don’t know what’s happened. The guy I married ten years ago seems to have disappeared.”

In the following hour I learned that prior to the past year Jason had been a vibrant, engaged, and thoughtful husband. Their two young children were frequently the focus of his attention when he was not at work. As a family they were always doing something together. Camping, travel, game nights, visits with friends: they were an active and happy family.

Family life had changed dramatically over the last twelve months. Now Jason’s interactions with his children were brief and lacking in any emotional connection. Bedtime stories had dropped away long ago, and playtime with the kids in the back yard had been replaced by Jason sitting alone in front of his computer.

Most evenings Jason would remain secluded in his study until others were asleep. He often ran late for work – in the past he had always been the first to arrive at the office. Once at work he became easily distracted and fatigued.

At first, Laura had reacted with concern when these changes in Jason’s behavior had begun. But as the months dragged on, and she more and more took on the role of a single parent, she became resentful as well. Feeling like she had reached the limits of her patience Laura gave an ultimatum.

Either Jason would begin to ‘show up’ as a husband and parent, or she would ask that he leave the house. “You want a divorce?” he had responded.  “No” she replied, “But I do want some space… at least if you’re not going to be here for us. We’ve got to do something. I can’t go on like this, I just can’t.”

That “something” that they decided to do was get marriage counseling. They thought if they could just learn to communicate better then they might be able to rebuild the sense of intimacy and support that they had once enjoyed. Neither Jason nor Laura knew why they had drifted apart, but they felt certain that if they could learn to communicate better they had a chance to turn things around.

The problem with this plan is that they had always communicated just fine. Poor communication was not at the heart of this problem. The real issue was that Jason was depressed. Not just mildly depressed either. He was struggling with a major depression.

He simply did not recognize the symptoms of depression. The things he thought of when that term came up included crying throughout the day and having thoughts of suicide. Although these two features are symptoms of depression, there are many others. In fact, someone can be very depressed and only have a small handful of symptoms. But if those symptoms are extreme, the depression can be devastating.

If you wonder whether you might be experiencing depression I suggest you take the following online test (click here). Although it is not a substitute for the sort of thoroughgoing evaluation you would receive by visiting a therapist, the results may provide helpful insights for you to think over more carefully. That point is worth emphasizing. No single test can determine a psychological diagnosis. So if you take the test and end up with a high score, well, that's something to take time thinking about. But don't jump to conclusions that it means you are absolutely, positively, without a doubt suffering with a Major Depression. 

Next week we will look at two simple things you can do to fight back against depression. You won’t want to miss it (really, you won’t). See you then.

Trauma Part III: More Simple Ways to Gain Relief

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

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Last week we looked at the first of three ways that you can push back against the symptoms of PTSD. In today’s post we will look at two more approaches. I should repeat, however, what was stated last week: These suggestions are not a replacement for therapy.

Two Ways to Lesson the impact of PTSD

Stay Focused on the Present

If you struggle with PTSD it is very likely that you have several of the following symptoms:

    Nightmares, often but not always related to the trauma incident

    Sudden emotional upset due to something/someone reminding you of the trauma

    Frequently feeling ‘on guard’ or nervous

    Making extra efforts to avoid those things that remind you of the trauma incident

    Frequently experience a sense of guilt, shame, sadness

(For more information about these and other symptoms, look at the Penn Behavioral Health website).

All of these symptoms can be traced in one way or another to a tendency to be pulled back into the past. Our brains use traumatic events the same way that fire engine sirens are used: to gain attention and signal that an emergency has occurred somewhere. The problem is that unlike firefighters, who use the siren only when an emergency is taking place, the PTSD brain blasts the darn siren even when there is no emergency. The PTSD brain spends way too much time thinking about the past, or looking for signs in the present that the bad things of the past are about to be repeated.

It can be exhausting. You need to get some separation between you and the trauma, between you and your past traumatic experiences. One way to gain this distance is to stay focused on the present. Easier said than done you say? Agreed, but there are some strategies that can help. Let’s look at take a look at some ways you can get some serious distance from your traumatic past.

Begin to focus more on the present. Focusing on the present shifts attention away from the trauma of the past.

What can you do to be more ‘present centered’ Let me give you three things to get started upon (use one or all three… or come up with others on your own).

Find an interest, hobby, whatever you wish to call it, and begin regularly spending time involved in that pursuit. If you had an interest/hobby in the past and stopped engaging in it, now is the time to renew that passion.

Perhaps you don’t really feel interested in pursuing anything. You don’t want to go fishing, or crochet a sweater, etc. Understood. But do it anyway. If you wait for the mood to strike you may be waiting a very long time. Besides, our mood generally follows our behavior. Begin to act as though you wish to pursue a former hobby, and before you know it, a genuine interest will have been rekindled. This, in turn, will help shift your attention away from the troubles of the past. In time, you will find it easier to maintain a present centered focus for longer periods of time.

Become more invested in your close relationships. That might be with your spouse, children, or friends. Take a moment to think carefully about ways in which you would like the relationship to grow, and how to reach that goal.

The main thing is genuinely investing yourself in strengthening the relationship. That will take some thought, and energy, but it will be worth the effort. Close, supportive and rewarding relationships help draw people’s attention into the present and develop a sense of optimism regarding the future.

Start doing volunteer work. This is like taking a super multivitamin for your mental health… and it’s good for your physical health as well. 

It does not have to be done every day, but try and fit in an hour or two of volunteer work every week or two. This could be at your local grammar school, church, food bank, soup kitchen, City Park, etc.

You will end up feeling better for having helped others and your focus of attention will have shifted to the present (as you engaged in doing good works). Moreover, you can use memories of this work to re-focus your attention when you find yourself being drawn into memories of the trauma.

Dogs: Man’s best friend and a proven help with ptsd

There are many research supported health benefits that come with pet ownership. You probably knew that already. But did you know that dogs are used to help reduce symptoms of PTSD? Let me be clear, dogs helped reduce PTSD symptoms…. Not cats, fish, reptiles, or parakeets. Dogs… service dogs to be exact.

So what should you do with that information? Well, if you already have a dog that’s terrific: it may be that you hit the jackpot and your four-legged friend is a natural therapist. This could be a good time to start taking Fido on short daily walks (around the neighborhood is good, but out in nature is even better). Perhaps take your dog with you when running errands, or enroll in an obedience course (if your dog is like my dog, this would be the first thing to do).

If you do not already have a dog this is a good time to consider whether your lifestyle and budget would be a good fit for having a canine companero. Although dogs can provide some relief from PTSD symptoms, the added stress of caring for a dog can also make things worse. It really depends upon your individual circumstances, and your temperament. The type of dog you select will also make a huge difference. So select a dog that does not require more care than you can reasonably provide, and one that has a temperament that would be calming. Finding the right dog requires a little research about different breeds. All of this effort will pay off, however, when you find the dog that is just right for you.

That ends Part III of the Trauma series. You now have some basic information on PTSD, what brings it about, common symptoms, and simple ways to push back and regain control over your life.

Keep in mind, not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will develop symptoms of PTSD. For those that do, however, it is important to begin the process of vanquishing those symptoms as soon as possible. If you find that your efforts do not bring about significant relief, find a therapist who can help. 

 

Trauma Part II: Simple Ways to Gain Relief

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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

“Who would you go to if you had a bad dream in the middle of the night?” I asked. The young girl seated across from me responded by looking away. A moment later she began to cry. Tears streamed down her face. Although the question I had asked would seem, to most observers, innocent enough, for this youngster it triggered a storm of painful emotions.

Because she had grown up in a home where violence was a part of everyday life, and where parents had left her alone at home for days at a time, my question hit a nerve. Vivid memories rushed to the surface and triggered a cascade of painful emotions. She quickly became overwhelmed, and then began to ‘shut down’ as a way to retreat from the past.

The problem this presented at that moment was not simply that this little girl momentarily felt overwhelmed. The deeper difficulty was that I needed to know the details of that painful history if I was going to be of any help to her. When a person who has been traumatized cannot speak of the trauma, being of help becomes more challenging (although not impossible by any means). After sympathizing with how painful her memories must be, I suggested we take a different approach.

“Could you imagine that your memories are showing up on a big flat screen television?” I asked. Looking a little surprised she eventually shrugged her shoulders and nodded ‘yes’ (she probably figured this was just one more therapist making a weird suggestion).

Going further I asked “How far away from us should we put the television?” Her brow wrinkled in thought, and after a few moments she said “Put it just outside the office.” “Sure, we can do that” I responded. “As a matter of fact, let’s put it outside the office door and way down the hallway. And I want you to have the remote so you can control the volume and press pause when you need to.”

She smiled at the thought of having a remote control for her memories. “Should we also build a see through bullet proof, fear proof, nightmare proof glass wall between the television and our office?” I elaborated. Her smile grew bigger.

“OK, fine, we’ll do that. Just tell me how thick it needs to be” was my next question. “Hmmm. Let me think” she said taking a deep breath. “Two feet. Make it two feet thick.” And so it went until we agreed that her memories would be projected on a large flat screen television forty feet away and separated from her by a two thick bullet proof glass wall that went from the floor to the ceiling. In her mind’s eye she held a pink remote control.

Now that we had all of that settled I once more asked who would comfort her at night when she had nightmares. “Don’t forget” I reminded, “The television screen is way down the hall, so you may have to squint some to see those memories.” The little girl smiled again, paused briefly and then answered my question. For the next twenty minutes she spoke haltingly, but with great detail, about the frightening nights she had experienced at home.

Although her feelings of anxiety were still present, they were no longer overwhelming. They could be tolerated, and her memories could be put on ‘pause’ when the need arose. She had begun to feel a small sense of mastery over her past. Together we had found a way for her to feel safe even when remembering horrific events.

When dealing with trauma, establishing a feeling of safety is key. At times safety is found by creating emotional distance (as in the above example), and at other times it can be established by enhancing a sense of competency. In certain instances it is enough to build a strong sense of connection with others in order to engender the essential sense of security. Whatever the means, feelings of safety are critical.

How To Lessen The Impact of PTSD

In today’s post I will briefly describe the first of three ways that someone struggling with PTSD can build a sense of safety, and thereby lessen the impact of trauma on their day to day life. As one becomes better at sustaining this state of mind, the brain begins to rewire neuronal connections. The result is that it becomes easier to maintain a sense of stability and self-control. (Keep in mind that the following is not intended to replace psychotherapy). In my next post I will describe a couple more ways to fight back against PTSD.

Meditation

There has been a great deal of research on meditation and its impact on emotional well-being. Without a doubt, meditation helps most people feel more relaxed, balanced, happy and secure.

The type of meditation required to achieve these goals does not require going to a mountain top, burning incense, or crossing your legs behind your neck and chanting (although the mountain top sounds pretty appealing, so count me in on that trip). Instead, you can meditate while sitting in your favorite chair, or in the office with the door shut and your feet on the desk, or laying by the beach. Heck, if you really want you could meditate at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and the family dog at your feet.

The main thing required for effective meditation is a quiet space – no distractions for 15 to 20 minutes. A reasonably comfortable place to sit or lay down is also needed. After you have the time set aside, and a place to meditate, begin the process by taking a few slow deep breaths.

At the same time begin to clear your thoughts by vividly imagining a calming scene. Paint a picture in your mind’s eye of each sensory element of that scene: the sights, sounds, smell and feel of the location. If, for example, you imagine being on the beach then you will want to imagine the white sand, blue water, clouds, warm breeze, soft sand, the smell of salt in the air and the sound of waves.

For many, just staying in this relaxed state for the duration of your meditation time is enough to bring about the benefits I mentioned earlier. Others, however, will benefit from going over a script that guides them into a relaxed state. If this is more to your liking go to Barbara Fredrickson’s website and listen to recorded meditations.

Fifteen to twenty minutes a day gives good results for most people. There is, however, no magic number. Experiment to see what works best for you. Is it ten minutes twice a day? Fifteen minutes every afternoon? Everyone is different, so find the schedule that works best for you.

Try meditating for at least two weeks and see if it makes a difference. Don’t meditate once and then give up. As with most things in life, this is not a one shot won and done deal. Be consistent, be persistent, and give it a little time. The longer you include meditation in your daily routine the greater the benefit. After you’ve given it a try, I would love to hear how well it worked out for you.

Stayed tuned for next week’s post where I describe two more simple approaches for pushing back against PTSD.

 

Living Your Best Life By Overcoming Challenges

Somewhere between toddlerhood and adulthood most of us learn to dial back our determination or desire to persist when faced with failure. We become complacent and settle for too little in life. We set aside dreams after failing to reach our goals after the first, second or third attempt. Many of us let the fear of failure keep us from experiencing what life holds for us.