An informative Blog presenting a broad array of topics and issues relating to the science of psychology.
Suitable for professionals, students, and anyone who wishes to learn more about this fascinating science.

Monday, July 2, 2012

How to handle a depressing day

For those diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, or for those who are having a depressing day or week, what can be done to lift your mood? The answer is not simple. For many battling depression, the simple act of lifting one's mood may seem impossible. However, there is one thing you may like to try in order to lift your spirits. 


Behavioral activation. 


What is this? This may sound like a technical term, but it actually is quite easily implemented and has been shown in meta-analyses to be effective in the treatment of depression (C

  • uijpers, 
  • van Straten, and 
  • Warmerdam, 2006). 


  • What does behavioral activation mean? Behavioral activation is a process by which you start monitoring pleasant things that occur in your life. Then, you try your hardest to incorporate these activities that make you feel good to increase feelings of happiness.
    It may sound too easy, but here is how you can try it:


    1. Make two lists. Label one Happiness and the other Self-Efficacy. Keep the lists on you at all times. Since we live in a modern age where everyone has cellular phones. Perhaps you can keep the lists in your phone. 


    2. On the happiness list, list all the things that make you happy. Do you have a dog or cat that makes you smile every time you pet it? Write it down. Do you enjoy a particular TV show? Write it down. Maybe it makes you happy to watch inspirational videos or read comics. It could be anything from feeling the sun on your skin to listening to upbeat music. 


    3. On the self-efficacy list, list all the things that make you feel proud that you accomplished something or that make you feel you are capable. For example, if you finished that big project at work, or if you got a good grade on a test; if you fixed something in your house. You can list the simplest things too. It doesn't have to be considered the biggest feat. The point is to list what makes you feel like you are accomplishing something that seems impossible at the time. If you are really having trouble with this one, because sometimes the effects of depression can be disabling, try accomplishing your first task of splashing some water on your face and going outside in the sun for at least 10 minutes. It might be hard to get going, but you can find your first steps to more activities that make you feel capable of doing more and more.


    4. Look at your lists periodically, you will be surprised how many things begin to show up on both lists. Now start doing things on these lists, incorporating them into your daily routine. They don't have to be in a specific order, or you can implement them on a schedule, it is completely up to you. And remember, it may not seem like the activity will make you happy or make you feel accomplished. However, you wrote it down once, so it's worth trying again! 


    Hopefully you can find things that improve your level of happiness and self-efficacy and find ways to incorporate them into your routine. If you think you are suffering from a severe mental illness, you should contact your primary care doctor or mental health professional as soon as possible for consultation. Behavioral activation is not a substitute for treatment of depression, and is merely something you can try to do to lift your mood. 


    References


    • Cuijpers, P.,
    •  van Straten, A., 
    • & Warmerdam, L. (2006). Behavioral activation treatments of depression: A meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review, 27(3), 318-326. doi: 
    • 10.1016/j.cpr.2006.11.001



    Saturday, April 2, 2011

    Powers of Persuasion

    Robert Cialdini, PhD, is known for his book, "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion." Cialdini studied the power of persuasion intensely to understand the "weapons of influence" he outlines in his book.

    Being persuasive can have its perks, but one must remember that one can use these "weapons of influence" for the greater good such as changing laws and policies and promoting environmental activism. Cialdini has even helped reduce household energy consumption through a study that used one of these "weapons of influence" (Price, 2011).

    These "weapons of influence" Cialdini outlines are the following:

    Reciprocity: It is in our nature to desire to return favors (Cialdini, 2008).

    Example: I donate to a charity, the charity reciprocates my donation with address labels.

    Commitment and Consistency: We try to do what we profess (especially publicly) and think (Cialdini, 2008).

    Example: I tell people I am going to redecorate my house, and feel they will expect to see a redecorated house in the future.

    Social Proof: We look to our peers to decide if our behavior and thoughts are acceptable comparable to them (Cialdini, 2008).

    Example: I want to get a large order of fries, but my friends are getting salads, this can persuade my decision.

    Authority: We look to those in charge (in places of authority) to make decisions about our thoughts and actions (Cialdini, 2008).

    Example: I figure since a person is in a position of authority, he or she automatically knows what he or she is talking about or doing, and decide to follow along.

    Liking: We are easily persuaded by those we like, those who give us good feelings (Cialdini, 2008).

    Example: I go shopping and a salesperson compliments my dress, since he or she has gave me positive feelings, I am more apt to buy something from him or her

    Scarcity: We desire what is rare, or what will only be available for a short time (Cialdini, 2008).

    Example: An offer is only available for today and only today, so I feel I must act immediately.

    These weapons of influence can be very powerful, just imagine using them to change the world for the better!

    References

    Cialdini, R. B. (2008). Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (5th ed.). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

    Price, M. (2011). Tapping our Powers of Persuasion. Monitor on Psychology, 42(2), 28-31.

    Friday, December 31, 2010

    Stress Kills

    Stress. It's most likely not a new term for you. You most likely stress when you are in traffic, when lines are too long at the grocery store, or you break a dish. But the real question about stress is...why? Why do we stress so much over the most trivial things? Let's start with what stress was made for:

    Stress was made as a survival mechanism (Stanford University & National Geographic, 2008). We are supposed to stress when our lives are in danger. We are supposed to stress when a lion is about to pounce on us. That is when Glucocorticoids and Epinephrine (Adrenaline) are released (Stanford University & National Geographic, 2008). It is to help our blood pressure rise, our heart beat faster, and for us to Fight or Flight. The point it...stress is supposed to be the reaction to some legitimate fear, fear of something lethally damaging, fear of death.

    So why are we running around stressing out about a dent in our car or stepping on some gum? I'm not a doctor, but I can say with confidence I'm sure those two things won't kill you. Because in today's modern world, we are not hunted, we simply live. So now instead of physiologically stressing ourselves to survive, we are psychologically stressing ourselves (Stanford University & National Geographic, 2008). And it's come to a point where it's literally killing us!

    Just look at this list of what Short term stress is believed to cause:

    • Acne • Alcohol abuse • Allergies • Anger issues • anxiety • Asthma • Back, shoulder or neck pain • Chest pain • Chronic fatigue • Cold hands or feet • Colds • Conflicts with co-workers or employers • Constipation • Depression, moodiness • Diarrhea • Domestic or workplace violence • Drug abuse • Feeling out of control • Flu • Gas • Hair loss • Headaches • Heartburn • High blood pressure • Increased arguments • Infections • Insomnia and sleep disturbances • Irregular heartbeat, palpitations • Irritability, frustration • Irritable bowel • Muscular tension/cramps • Memory problems • Nervousness • Pain exacerbation (increase in existing pain) • Phobias • Poor concentration • Reproductive problems • Road rage • Shortness of breath • Skin problems (hives, eczema, psoriasis. itching) • Sweaty palms • Tics and twitches • Trouble thinking clearly • Thought disorders • Upset or acid stomach • Weight gain or loss

    More serious disorders stress is believed to cause are:

    • Alzheimer's • Arthritis • Cancer • Diabetes • Heart disease • Obesity • Stroke

    Not only this but stress can exacerbate any type of existing injury or illness!

    It is scientific proof that stress literally makes a person accumulate more fat on their body, kills brain cells, and even unravels chromosomes (Stanford University & National Geographic, 2008).

    You can see how stress kills. It really is not just this abstract concept or cliche people use...stress literally is a murderer! So what can we do?

    Nutrition and exercise-Eat better, it will certainly help you feel better which will in turn help you deal with issues better. Aerobic exercise will actually raise your heartbeat, make you breathe faster. It is Eustress, this type of stress is good for you and can combat distress (the stress that's bad).

    Channeling stress-Exercise, journaling, listening to music, singing, writing lyrics/poems, punching a punching bag, deep breathing, making a to-do list, find something that will make you laugh, combating negativity with positive thoughts, talking to a friend about your stress, seeking professional help for your stress, improving your communication skills, etc...

    Try to distance yourself from people who cause you to feel stressed. Also, be sure to acknowledge yourself for combating stress and channeling it every time you succeed in doing so. This way you can condition yourself to avoid stressing, take a time out, and tackle the problem with a clear mind.

    Stress is definitely something that is in the modern world, and it won't be going away anytime soon. The best thing you can do is find a healthy way to channel your stress so that it won't end up being your enemy. Stress can be your ally if you transform it to your needs. On the contrary, it can be deadly if you let it rule your mind, body, and life.

    References

    Stanford University & National Geographic. (2008). Killer Stress. Boston, MA: Public Broadcasting Service.


    Monday, November 8, 2010

    Communication 101

    Psychology is how the human mind thinks, and when we think we usually talk! So it makes sense to compose an article about communicating. After all, a lot of problems are created by ineffective communication and then again a lot of problems are solved with effective communication!

    Have you ever heard of that saying, "lost in translation?" Well this is true for much of the communication that goes on within people from day to day. How many times have you heard someone say something and think, "Are they serious...are they being sarcastic?...what DID they mean by that?" The pure science of communication, syntax, grammar, tone, pitch, body language...it can get so hard to "read" a person's mind. So what is a person to do? A person is to realize that we are not mind readers! Isn't it simple?!

    The problem with many people's expectations is that they expect that what they say will be heard and understood, regardless if they say it in some "roundabout" way. The solution is this: to realize that you are not a mind reader, to not over-analyze situations, and to simply just ask someone to clarify what they want or how they feel if you are unsure. When you speak, you must not expect someone to be able to read your mind. You can't speak in code and expect everyone to know how to decipher it. Isn't that just unfair? It is important to voice your feelings and desires.

    Now here comes the problem. How do you authentically voice your opinions, feelings and desires without sounding so blunt, demanding, or even robotic? How do you tell someone that they are making you angry without sending them to the hills, stomping off in the opposite direction?

    Here are a few tips for simple communication that may help:
    • When you are mad, express you are mad. Do not give the silent treatment, do not slam doors and pout. You are not in your terrible twos, do not act like a toddler! Express your anger in channeling it into a more healthy venting process. I used to know this woman who cleaned her house whenever she was mad, and surprisingly, it helped. Some people find comfort in exercising, writing, singing, or even writing an angry letter to a person (but never ever ever sending it).
    • When you want to tell someone the things they said or did made you upset, do not start with the blame game. Do not start with "YOU MAKE ME SO MAD WHEN YOU _____" or "YOU ARE ALWAYS MAKING ME CRY WHEN YOU _____." This is a sure way to get this person to completely shutdown because they feel threatened. A more suitable approach is to understand that the feelings are coming from you. Saying things like "I feel very sad when I see you doing _____." I feel frustrated when you _____." This puts the responsibility on you for feeling your emotions, and tells the other person that they are being a catalyst, but you are not blaming them. You are just communicating honestly and genuinely.
    • Body language speaks VOLUMES. When talking to someone make eye contact. Don't fold your arms and legs, don't fidget or bite your nails. Don't gaze around constantly looking like you are up to something. Simply give them the same attention you expect when you are talking to them. Be aware of the messages you are sending with your eyes, your body, and even subtle things like your tone and pitch of your voice.
    • Listen well. And when I say listen, I mean really listen! Even if you have to quiz yourself after on how much you learned about this new individual! It is, believe it or not, extremely rude to not remember names. According to CommunicationTips.Org (2007), listening is one of the pertinent pillars in engaging in effective communication!
    • Treat people with dignity and respect. You have no right to condescend anyone for any reason. Treat others how you would like to be treated!
    • Be responsive! Do not daze out in space while someone is talking. Offer feedback. Nod your head, show that you are listening, it will show you are genuinely interested in this conversation! And if you are not, then why are you talking to this person in the first place?!
    These are just a few tiny tips about communication. In a world full of "tweets'' and Facebook status updates, it seems many are lacking more and more face-to-face communication skills. Yet according to Jacobson (2009), the need for effective communication skills will play a pertinent role in the development of every industry. So get out there and don't just talk, communicate!

    References

    Jacobson, S. K. (2009). Communication Skills for Conversation Specialists. Washington DC: Island Press.

    Communicationtips.org (2007, August 4). Effective Communication Skills. Retrieved from http://www.communicationtips.org/

    Thursday, October 7, 2010

    Holocaust Study In Germany and Poland

    So on a completely personal note, but having to do somewhat with psychology...I am studying abroad this semester in Germany and Poland to research the psychological effects of the holocaust. Many have looked to the holocaust to understand such phenomena such as groupthink, anonymity encouraging deviant behavior, the influence of propaganda, psychological projection, the resiliency of the afflicted, and many many more psychological as well as social psychological-related occurrences.

    On another personal note, my grandfather is a veteran of WWII and was a Prisoner of War. He was an American soldier in the United States Army who fought on D-Day of Anzio beach, where he was captured. He then spent the rest of the war in a Prisoner of War camp in Germany (now it is located in Czarne, Poland) called Stalag IIB Hammerstein. It has been recorded as one of the worst P.O.W. camps in Germany. So you can imagine my personal connection with this study since I was also the third generation after my grandfather and father to serve in the military.

    So Auf Wiedersehen and Do Widzenia! Wish me luck!

    Tuesday, August 31, 2010

    Brief History of Mental Health and Illness

    There is a rich history of mental health and illness that spans over centuries of time. In fact, even the visualization of such a concept like mental illness has a long history of being present in historical art and medical images (Eisenhauer, 2008). From this history, many theories have been derived and while some have disappeared, others have evolved into our modern world of mental health diagnosis and treatment. In this essay I will discuss the evolution of ideas throughout time and discuss their contemporary relevance.

    The first record of a concept of mental illness was witnessed through the Ancient Babylonians and the Paleolithic cave dwellers. Theses ancient people viewed mental illness as “magic” and that those who were affected by it were possessed by evil. This idea came to be known as demonology. The mentally ill often suffered at the hands of this assumption, being whipped or starved. Some even underwent trephination, chipping away at one’s skull to “release” the demons. Now it is viewed that those beliefs and practices were barbaric because the concept of mental illness was beyond the comprehension of the ancient people.

    The Greco-Roman period saw a big change from the ancient Babylonians and Paleolithic cave dwellers. From this period came many different theories and concepts of mental illness. Some theorists were so sure that mental illness was biologically caused that it is documented that one individual used an eel as “shock therapy” on a mentally ill person. Though Aristotle believed that the physical heart caused mental illness, he still had the idea that mental illness had a biological cause. Alcamaeon asserted that difficulties with mental illness resulted from illness in the brain. This was very far from believing that demons caused mental illness; since the brain is the focal point of modern day neuropsychiatry. An asylum was even erected for the mentally ill in Greece where methods of diet, remedies, baths, exercise, fasting, prayers, rituals, and hypnotic/hallucinogenic drugs were used. This was one of the first examples of a mental institution where those with mental illnesses could go to get treatment. Asclepiades’s concepts are comparable to many modern theories of mental illness. He stressed the importance of environmental factors and differentiated among delusions, hallucinations, and illusions, as well as acute and chronic onsets. He also grouped illnesses according to patterns of symptoms, the first to ever accomplish such a thing. Still, however, there lingered the superstitious belief that mental illness was a supernatural disorder. Plato argued that mental illness resulted from possession of spirits. Hippocrates developed the theory of imbalance of fluids within the body as cause for mental illness, while Cicero believed “fire within the soul” and imbalances among intellect, appetites, and temper were to blame. Ancient Palestine still believed mental illness was supernatural. Even biblical reference refers to cleansing people of “unclean spirits.”

    Though the Greco-Roman era saw much evolution concerning the idea of mental illness, the middle ages reverted back to the ancient belief that mental illness was caused by evil spirits. Perhaps this is why this period is often called the Dark Age. Many believed that demonic possession and demonic forces caused mental illness. Some went as far as believing that one who was mentally ill had a pact with a witch, a demon, the devil himself, or were themselves a witch. Priests and monks often “exorcised” the mentally ill; praying over them, dousing them with holy water, and making them drink potions. Pope Innocent VIII urged the clergy to start a very powerful crusade to eliminate “witches.” It is estimated that 200,000 people were executed in Germany and France alone. Though the Dark Ages witnessed some absurd views of the mentally ill, a Franciscan monk speculated that madness originated near fluid-filled cavities of the brain called lateral ventricles; this is the current thinking concerning the etiology of schizophrenia. Another individual stood out during this age. Dutchman Johann Weyer attacked demonology and helped counteract the barbaric treatment of the mentally ill with his skillful describing of disorders that are well known today. He also formulated the early version of the diathesis-stress model which is a theory used today!

    The period of reform witnessed a number of changes regarding mental illness and how it was viewed. During this period, many opted for more humane treatment of mentally ill. Still, in some institutions, the mentally ill were treated humiliatingly, put on display for entertainment, and were condemned to live separate from society. Vincenzo Chiarugi of Italy fought for humane treatment by removing patients’ physical restraints, providing them with activities, and spread the word about making mental hospitals more comfortable. Philippe Pinel in France called for reform in treatment of the mentally ill, instructing his staff to treat patients kindly. Jean-Baptise Pussin started the idea of record-keeping. Many started to focus on moral treatment of patients. Dorethea Dix believed mentally ill should be public responsibility. Dix supported the building of state-supported hospitals and increased the number of people treated for mental illness. This period saw a great deal of evolution and reform in the arena of mental illness. Still, archaic ideas still crept through. Benjamin Rush still believed in outrageous ideas such as bloodletting and there was still very backward thinking present such as masturbation being the cause of numerous mental ailments.

    From the 19th century to the present, the world saw a surge of many innovative ideas involving mental illness. Morel proposed that mental illness was hereditary while Griesinger and Mangnon oriented toward biological explanations of mental illness. Krafft-Ebing focused on the link between Syphilis and mental illness. Emil Kraeplin made the first organized attempt at classifying illness into syndromes and believed imbalanced chemical states and abnormal secretions of sex glands were the cause of mental illness. John P. Gray leaned toward the psychogenic view, thinking that mental illness was the result of a disturbed psychological state. Mesmer believed mental illness was caused by imbalance of magnetic fluid in the body and discovered hypnosis. Sigmund Freud recognized the link between psychological processes and mental illness and discovered the unconscious origin of psychological difficulties. He developed the school of thought known as psychoanalysis. His work is still taught in modern psychology courses. C.D. Hayden and G.A. Blumer attributed sociocultural factors as the cause of mental illness. New treatments have also evolved since the 19th century. The medical model was derived from the biological model of the Greeks and places an emphasis on symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment. Psychotropic drugs were introduced to the medical community and provided precious relief for some mentally ill patients. Manfred Sakel developed insulin shock therapy. Ladislas von Meduna used convulsant drugs as a means to treat mental illness. Ugo Cerletti and Lucio Bini developed electroconvulsive therapy. Antonio de Egas Monis developed a form of psychosurgery called a frontal lobotomy which he won a Nobel Prize for. Causal theories are a very common topic ranging from the biochemical school to the genetic school of thought. Many behaviorists such as Watson, Pavlov, and B.F. Skinner contested that mental illness was a learned, conditioned, behavior. Sociologists such as Arnold M. Rose have stressed the importance of social factors regarding mental illness igniting a field called social psychiatry. Even actual medical tests are being used to diagnose mental illnesses such as CAT scans and EEGs.

    Throughout history there has been an obvious evolution of how mental illness is viewed. From the archaic views of demonology to the advanced science of neurological imaging, the world has seen a huge change in the schools of thought pertaining to mental illness. Still, much of mental illness remains a mystery and is continually being studied. Overtime, we will see the evolution of some theories and treatments with the development of new technology and new medical discoveries. Until then, one must keep an open mind about mental illness and incorporate multiple viewpoints when studying mental illness. After all, the mind is a very complicated concept.

    References

    Eisenhauer, J. (2008). A Visual Culture of Stigma: Critically Examining Representations of Mental Illness. Art Education, 61 (5), 13-18.

    Gallagher, B.J. (2002). The Sociology of Mental Illness (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

    Friday, August 13, 2010

    Changing Behavior Through the Power of Influence

    Commitment and Consistency are two things that human beings revere. If you want to change your behavior, publicly announcing the behavior can be a step to help you. This way you would be less likely to give up your goal since we all want to appear committed and consistent to others.

    As humans we need social interaction with others and need to feel accepted by others (Baumeister, 2007). However, everyday people hop on social networking sites: MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Friendster, etc... People are constantly available via their cell phones through multiple methods: voice calls, instant messages, e-mails, text messages, etc... Do you feel obligated to keep up with everything in everybody’s life and to reply to every single message you receive? I have heard many people even note that they use social networking sites during work hours and during class! This is wrong because it costs your employer money and it impairs your ability to really soak up the information being taught, not to mention it is very rude. Being “constantly available” can become a job itself! If you want to stop your constant availability, one method you can try is a powerful influence technique of publicly declaring your decision to not answer texts, calls, e-mails, etc… during work or school hours; or not to carry your phone with you to class; or for people to expect a late response because of your priorities. Your public declaration will obviously be tailored to your style and what behavior you wish to change.

    It can be difficult to not pick up your phone or get on your computer, it almost comes automatic to some people. However, If we realize that we have publicly declared a decision of ours, we are more likely to stay consistent with it (Deutsh & Gerard, 1955).Since you publicly announced you would no longer be immediately available, you will be less apt to change your decision.

    You might feel the pressure of staying consistent with what you publicly declare. According to Cialdini (2001), when we make a commitment and advertise it publicly, we want to appear consistent with our decision and will avoid changing that decision just for the sake of appearing committed to our word. Thus, this principle of influence can be used to change your own behavior that you wish to change.

    Cialdini (2001) is correct about the power of social influence concerning consistency and commitment. We all want to appear consistent and committed to what we promise; especially in the eyes of the people we know. So why not use this principle to change behavior of ours that we want or need to change?

    References

    Baumeister, R. F. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117(3), 497-529.

    Cialdini, R. B. (2001). Influence: Science and Practice (4th ed.). Needham Heights: Allyn & Bacon, Inc.

    Deutsch, M., & Gerard, H. B. (1955). A Study of Normative and Informational Social Influences upon Individual Judgment. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 51, 329-636.