The Radical Thrill of Intimacy

Becoming close to another person is one of the most thrilling experiences in the human repertoire, both the bedrock of emotional security and a passport to self-expansion. If the relationship is a romantic one—and intimacy is as much the essence of deep friendship as of lasting love—it carries the added charge of desire. Although the term intimacy is often used as a euphemism for sex, anyone with a dear friend knows that physical attraction is not essential for any two people to create a true bond. Intimacy is what you share with another human being who truly “gets” you.

With its inherent expectation of responsiveness, intimacy keeps open a channel for sharing the moments that are too saturated to contain—unburdening ourselves when distressed or disappointed, exulting when joys and triumphs swell our hearts. The antithesis of intimacy—social isolation—bodes badly for us. Science has long established that the lack of close relationships is as much a risk factor for mortality as smoking. The wider our social circle, the better our chances of warding off obesity, high blood pressure, and other corrosive conditions. The depth and nature of our ties to one another matter, too: The degree of support people feel they have from family, friends, and significant others counteracts serious health risks.

Small wonder the quest for intimacy is everywhere, from earnest online dating profiles to bursts of social media confessionalism meant to elicit a long line of supportive affirmations and emojis. While such missives may, in the short term, assuage the yearning to connect that most humans harbor, real intimacy can seem elusive in a world where quick text exchanges and apologies for being too busy to get together often supplant real-time, real-space interactions.

Intimacy is our emotional slow food, the lovingly home-cooked meal in a world of drive-thru orders. One of the most basic facts of intimacy is that it takes time to achieve. The process of opening to another, of self-revelation, takes patience as well as bravery, and the unhurried pace is a necessity for the creation of trust.

Friendships hold just as much capacity for intimacy as romantic relationships. It’s why people who often start out as friends wind up as lovers and why lovers seek friends to confide in when romance falters. As one new groom recently told a New York Timeswedding reporter, being friends first with his bride allowed him “to be more vulnerable in conversation than if I had approached her in a romantic way.”

Typically, we expect more intimacy from a romantic partner than from a friend, physically as well as emotionally, but intimacy threads through both types of bonds in shared secrets, caring touch, moments of laughter and tears, knowing silences. It’s not only about how two people act together, it’s how they make each other feel: connected and understood. Intimacy is what we’re after when we’re stressed or sick and need comfort, yet it’s also the reason why we value being with loved ones in easier times.  Intimacy is “what most people want in their social life—it’s what people search for,” says psychologist Harry Reis of the University of Rochester, a key thinker about the nature of intimacy and the processes that underlie it.

What does it take to truly become close to another human being, whether in love or friendship? And what does it take to maintain the vitality of intimacy over the long haul?

Intimacy begins when a person shares something emotionally meaningful with someone else. Risk is at the heart of the matter. The person is taking a chance on a hunch that the listener could be trustworthy—but there’s always the possibility the emotional import will be missed, ignored, unreciprocated. As a result, the first steps of intimacy tend to be cautious ones. Social penetration theory, which defines the processes of relationships, holds that in building intimacy, whether with a friend or a romantic prospect, we engage in exploration. We venture forth with impersonal and superficial information to gauge the reaction of the other. A supportive response encourages an advance in self-disclosure, the proffering of more emotionally significant substance.

Researchers liken the process to peeling an onion, removing the layers of our selves and offering attention and support as the person we’re getting close to does the same. As exchanges become ongoing, the two people alternating between confessor and confidant, they build trust, affection, and, at some point, identity as a pair.

The process feels emotionally edgy because we’re gradually letting down defenses we may have maintained since childhood or adolescence, when we learn to hide those aspects of ourselves that trigger social rejection. You can’t really get serious about a love relationship or call someone a close confidant until you’re ready to tell the person about the darkest moments of your life. Indeed, every step forward in intimacy is a gamble. The information you’re revealing could be used to hurt you.

But you’re betting on the sweetness of the payoff. In addition to the catharsis that self-disclosure carries, “if someone responds positively, there’s a feeling of delighted relief,” says James Cordova, a professor of psychology at Clark University. Listening with an open heart and responding with tenderness proves you worthy of the faith placed in you.

Dating is nothing if not a process of gradual and—here’s the important part—reciprocal self-disclosure, and the risks of self-disclosure can feel particularly acute during dating. While establishing closeness in friendship often happens in fits and starts and hews to no blueprint, dating, perhaps more than any other activity in our culture, is encumbered with expectations and entangled with issues of identity, commitment, and time: What do I want out of this? What are we as a couple? Do we have a future?

If you try sharing something personal and it doesn’t go over well, you may feel the sting of judgment, says Steen Halling, a professor of psychology at Seattle University and the author of Intimacy, Transcendence, and Psychology. It’s easy to make a misstep in the pace of intimacy building: A person probes too soon for your deepest secrets or unloads too many of his or her own. In rushing to get to know you, the person fails to truly see you. “You’re on the receiving end of an agenda and become one of that person’s projects,” Halling explains. “That makes you think, ‘Do I have any say in this?'” There’s a difference between being willing to build intimacy and being willful about it, determined to make a relationship happen.

Not everyone in the dating game is seeking intimacy. The traditional notion of romance emphasizes trust, honesty, connection, and other markers of closeness. But people may date for many reasons: to ease feelings of social isolation, to have fun, or to build their own self-esteem, finds Catherine Sanderson, a psychology professor at Amherst College. They may prioritize other goals, such as career, over a close relationship, which takes an investment of time. Having goals that are self-serving doesn’t mean a person is wrong or has intractable “intimacy issues”—even if those goals clash with your own. Better to seek an intimacy-focused relationship elsewhere.

Too, there are people who seem chronically unable to get close to others, routinely dodging opportunities for intimacy. They may have acquired an avoidant attachment style through early life experiences with caretakers who rebuffed them or ignored their needs. Research led by psychologist Phillip Shaver shows that the risks inherent in building intimacy are particularly threatening to such people; the process stirs their vulnerability to rejection, punishment, and loss of control. Evading closeness “comes from a long history of difficulties and the need to protect oneself,” says Debra Mashek, a psychologist  at Harvey Mudd College who researches close relationships. “It’s an adaptive response.”

Even when two people are open to establishing romantic intimacy, being too purposeful can be counterproductive. That’s when the classic date scenario—eating dinner out together—can get awkward, says Halling. The set-up applies pressure to share information and scrutinize each other’s verbal and nonverbal responses, whereas a less stilted act, like taking a walk or doing something entertaining together, could ease self-consciousness while still allowing the opportunity to connect.

Online dating seems to offer an end run around some of the awkwardness of meeting face-to-face. Online exchange allows—even encourages—prospective partners to make intimate disclosures. But extended messaging can dull the thrill of exchange without hinting at the kind of rapport two people will have, says Paul W. Eastwick of the Attraction and Relationships Research Lab at the University of California, Davis. Let the messaging go on too long and expectations rise unrealistically. “Once a face-to-face meeting occurs, those expectations can be violated, which can be distressing,” he says. Cyberspace simply can’t deliver up the whole person, the “warm complex animal gestalt,” as one online dater puts it.

Does Sex Improve Intimacy?

Short answer as of 2017: Yes.

When two people start dating, the question of when to have sex seems pivotal, in part because there’s a widespread expectation that sex brings partners closer together. Desire for emotional closeness and feelings of connection are among the top reasons both men and women cite for having sex, report psychologists Cindy Meston and David Buss. Women are no more likely than men to be motivated by a need for closeness, and men are no more in it for pure pleasure than women, the University of Texas researchers find.

Getting physical certainly stirs up the neurochemistry of attachment, mobilizing oxytocinand opioids that generate positive feelings and encourage more of the same. Once we link those feelings with a particular person, we want to stay with that person. Clinch and repeat.

The sheer presence of sexual desire, even when triggered by someone completely unknown, in fact pushes people to do the work of intimacy, says Omri Gillath. He and colleagues at the University of Kansas exposed a bevy of participants to erotic photographs, a known sexual stimulus. Some groups knew what they were looking at. Others were exposed to the images subliminally—flashed so briefly before them that the photographs didn’t register consciously. In both cases, exposure to the images made participants—particularly the ones who didn’t “notice” the photographs—more willing to disclose personal information, make sacrifices to benefit their current romantic partner, and work out conflicts effectively. All those effects are markers of intimacy building.

Sex really does send us down the path of emotional closeness, Gillath contends. He even conjectures that pornography, often assumed to interfere with real connection, might actually play a role in fostering it. “The studies suggest that when we’re sexually aroused, or when our sexual system is activated, we’re more open to intimacy.”

Intimacy in Passionate Love

When romantic intimacy is in full bloom, the intoxication of what happens in bed is rivaled by the charge it gives our lives. The pace of self-disclosure quickens. The drive to connect feels all-consuming. New lovers will stay up until 4 a.m. telling each other everything about their parents, their favorite elementary school teacher, the places they’ve lived, their likes and dislikes. The risk of disclosing every detail of their lives is more than offset by hitting the emotional jackpot of a partner’s interest, attention, and affection. The shared information nudges them down the path of seeing the world through each other’s eyes, abetting the merger into a “we,” the formation of a shared identity. A couple.

Two people essentially enter a zone of shared selves, a willing emotional nakedness. From their joint research on relationships, Karen Prager of the University of Texas at Dallas and Linda Roberts of the University of Wisconsin-Madison have identified three components of deeply intimate connection: self-revealing behavior, unwavering supportive attention, and a sense of exceptional knowingness as partners immerse themselves in each other’s lives, feelings, and routines.

Intimacy changes us. Getting close to someone else enhances our sense of our own abilities and possibilities; it enlarges us. The self-expansion model of close relationships, developed by husband-and-wife psychology researchers Arthur Aron and Elaine Aron, maintains that in becoming close to someone else, we fold his or her identity and resources in our own self. We gain from the availability of the other’s point of view and skills as we sort through a problem. We gain experiences—such as shared meals and outings, especially in the early stages of passionate love—and, later, resources, such as a shared home and bank account. Not least among the additional resources is a long-term commitment to the relationship. Closeness with a significant other also increases our belief in our ability to reach goals and helps us feel more in control of our lives.

“We take on the resources, perspective, and identities of another,” says Mashek, who studies self-expansion. “Your partner becomes a part of you, and you become part of your partner. You and me becomes we.” The rapid expansion that marks the initial rush of intimacy building is an unforgettable time. Getting close can seem enchanted, magical—particularly because staying close, for many couples, is anything but.

Men, Women, and the Work of Intimacy

Intimacy can be challenging to maintain over time. The reasons are rooted in the way closeness begins. Two people come together loving each other’s strengths and quirks. Each promises to be the person the other can confide uncertainties and weaknesses to, and each has permission to let his or her guard down in turn. But having stripped off all emotional armor leaves partners particularly vulnerable to perceived slights from each other, as, over time, the supportive focus on each other competes with the demands of daily life. That means that a grouchy comment or a bout of moodiness from a mate, however normal, can really sting. It takes restraint not to reply in kind or emotionally withdraw.

As a result, closeness tends to diminish over time, which Cordova sees as a normal process of decay. Parenting responsibilities or other everyday stresses exhaust a pair’s emotional resources and lead them down a path of least emotional resistance.

Once that process sets in, reversing its course can feel daunting. Couples often believe that they have to fix all their problems in order to feel close again. In fact, Cordova finds, simply paying more attention to each other is the best salve.

Figuring out how to enhance intimacy takes time, effort, and no small dose of what University of California, Berkeley sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild calls “emotion work”: managing or even suppressing your own feelings so that you can provide emotional support to others. In committed heterosexual relationships, emotion work is itself often a source of stress because men and women tend to have different ideas about the optimal level of closeness and amount of “emotional space,” says University of Texas sociologist Debra Umberson. She finds that same-sex couples share more similar ideas about intimacy and personal boundaries, and consequently share emotion work more equitably.

Friendship: Are Men Missing Out?

At first glance, the research on friendship seems to confirm traditional gender stereotypes about intimacy—that women value emotional closeness more than men. Male buddies tend to spend time together doing things—playing sports, listening to music—while female friends place talk, often of personal matters, at the center of their time together. Women say that intimate conversation is the most important facet of friendship, helping them understand who they are, improve their sense of self, and solve problems with other loved ones.

But men are not born to shun deep intimacy. In fact, studies show, both men and women value friendships with women—precisely because those relationships tend to be especially emotionally intimate. Outside the Western world, male-male friendships tend to be highly intimate and expressive.

North American men are well aware that sharing personal information will bring them closer to a friend than will doing an activity together, finds Beverley Fehr, a professor of psychology at the University of Winnipeg and the author of Friendship Processes. What stops them from engaging more often in self-disclosure with other men, she says, is fearof rejection. Sharing makes men feel too vulnerable, perhaps because it conflicts with another value men hold—competitiveness.

What would happen if men were put in a situation where they were expected to share private information with other men? Fehr wondered. Would they benefit the way women do?

She turned to a tool widely used by relationship researchers: “36 Questions,” developed by Arthur and Elaine Aron. The questions, which couples ask each other, are designed to create a temporary feeling of closeness, even between strangers, in an experimental setting. Beginning with “Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?” the questions gradually escalate in emotional intensity. Question 18, at the halfway mark, gets highly personal: “What is your most terrible memory?” The final question puts interlocutors in intimacy central: They’re asked to share a personal problem and get the other’s insights into how to handle it. By the time they finish their questioning, lab partners are not only sharing emotionally fraught information, they’re essentially acting just as people in real relationships do—being responsive to each other’s needs.

Fehr brought into her lab pairs of men who were already friends and launched them on the 36 Questions. As the conversations progressed to a pointedly personal question, she observed a common response. “Typically, the men looked stunned,” she reports. “Then they fell silent. Then they uttered either the ‘f’ word or commented, ‘That’s deep.'” But to her amazement, they all really opened up in their answers.

So far, Fehr has found that the prompted self-disclosures have increased feelings of closeness between friends as well as boosted satisfaction with the friendship. Time will tell whether the men reap the same lasting benefits women do from friendships— heightened self-understanding and self-worth, an added sense of meaning.

Keeping It Going

Maintaining intimacy in a friendship is not a topic that gets a lot of attention, in part because our society tends to value friendship less than romance. Counseling services abound for committed couples on the rocks, and family and friends rally around them to help them stay together. But faltering friendships trigger neither the same mobilization of resources nor efforts to shore them up. And friends themselves seem to have absorbed the message; they tend to be more passive than couples about resolving conflicts. Friendships can end dramatically through betrayals of trust or an act of disloyalty. But most often they wither from neglect.

Yet they are remarkably responsive to resuscitation—by picking up a phone or meeting for coffee. The way friends stay close, says Fehr, is by going back to what drew them together in the first place: sharing information about their lives, offering support, and spending some time together.

Sometimes, though, intimacy between friends is revived in unexpected ways. Halling finds that experiences of reunification can be startlingly significant, often so profound they deliver transcendence. “You feel close to a person because you are truly open to them, and the feeling of being alone in the world is suspended for a time,” he says.

Murray Suid, a 74-year-old screenwriter, met Bryan, a charismatic professor, when the two were in a Bay Area men’s group in the 1970s. They became friends, then they lost touch. Two decades later, Suid was living in Los Angeles, and Bryan began making regular trips there for cancer treatment. Suid volunteered to ferry him from airport to clinic and back again. The prognosis for Bryan was grim, and he often talked about how scared he was. Suid, in turn, confided that his old friend’s ordeal was stirring up his own fears of death.

Suid had always thought of dying as something that created a wall between people. But “I found that instead it was a door, enabling two men to feel close to each other in a way that hadn’t happened before,” he says. Twenty years after Bryan’s death, Suid still treasures the drives back and forth to the clinic for their otherworldliness. “The intimacy wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t had the chance to talk, with me in the role of just being his driver,” he says.

That’s the thing about intimacy. It can offer up otherwordliness without fanfare, although Halling finds that moments of deepest connection tend to spring from a shift in circumstances. Going on a trip, being in nature, even working on a project together can pave the way for unselfconscious union, when time falls away and the present moment shines in sharp focus. “We’re open to the person, and touched and surprised by who we see,” Halling says. “It’s an experience of awakening.”

When Intimacy Is Imbalanced

Sometimes, the slow dance of self-revelation—the core of intimacy—becomes a bit lopsided. One partner may be more forthcoming or attached than the other. That doesn’t mean the relationship has to be scuttled. It is possible to help a skittish partner open up..

PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT. 
Self-disclosure is a process not an all-or-nothing proposition. Intimacy takes time. “The more comfortable partner should positively reinforce any attempts,” says psychologist Catherine Sanderson.

SEEK OTHER CONFIDANTS. 
Don’t expect your partner to fulfill all of your intimacy needs. “Nurture connection in friendships by being genuinely interested in your friends’ worlds,” psychologist Debra Mashek advises.

SHIFT THE FOCUS. The direct gaze can be intimate—but also daunting, especially for people who struggle with opening up. Spend time side-by-side instead. “Some intimate conversations occur when driving and the focus is not directly on each other,”  psychologist Steen Halling says.

NURTURE YOUR SOLO SELF. 
If you’re inclined to want to do everything with your partner, try some adventures on your own, suggests Mashek. Go to the movies or take a fun weekend trip alone.

OPEN UP ABOUT OPENING UP. Don’t hide your interest in how your partner is feeling. If your partner seems to be shutting down, let yourself wonder out loud about the reason, Halling recommends.
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BE COMPASSIONATE. People who are reluctant to self-disclose may have been, early in life, punished for talking about emotions or expressing vulnerability. “We have to be kind, encouraging, and full of care for the genuinely fragile heart that we have invited into an intimate relationship,” psychologist James Córdova says. “We have to use our imagination to empathize with what it must be like to be afraid.”

By Lisa A. Phillips

https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201701/the-radical-thrill-intimacy

Motherhood And Your Mental Health

As soon as her baby was born, Anna felt a change. Something wasn’t right. She feared for her baby’s safety to an extreme degree. She would sit awake, staring at her baby through the night, terrified something would go wrong, and her daughter would die. After feeding, Anna wouldn’t allow herself to leave her baby’s side for even a moment, worrying something would happen in her absence.

As her daughter grew older, Anna felt intense anxiety that she was doing everything wrong: she hadn’t read to her daughter enough, she hadn’t cleaned up enough, she hadn’t completed enough puzzles with her child. Like many mothers, Anna held it together at work and with friends—the people who saw her every day didn’t know anything was wrong. But on the inside, she was bubbling over with anxiety.

One day, she found herself screaming into a pillow for release, and she knew then she needed help. As supervisor of the Northwestern Medical Center (NMC) Birthing Center in Vermont, Anna was in a knowledgeable position—she knew where to reach out for help.

Is What I’m Feeling Normal?

Feelings of depression, compulsion or anxiety do not mean a woman is a bad mother; they also do not mean she doesn’t love her baby. Many expectant mothers imagine motherhood will be fulfilling and uplifting. But when the baby is born, they may not feel that way at all. Mothers may experience depressionanxietyobsessive compulsive disorder or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

A mother may experience PTSD as a result of a real or perceived trauma during delivery or following delivery. This can happen due to a feeling of powerlessness or a lack of support during delivery, an unplanned C-section or a newborn going to intensive care. Postpartum Support International (PSI) estimates around 9% of women experience PTSD following childbirth.

If you are experiencing anxiety, flashbacks or nightmares, you are not alone and it is not your fault.

What Should I Do If I Have These Feelings?

There are screening tools to help find troubling feelings. The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) is a 10-question screening tool that asks mothers to consider their feelings over the week leading up to the test. In the NMC Birthing Center, the EPDS is conducted after delivery, within the two or three days that a new mother stays in the hospital, two weeks after delivery and six weeks postpartum.

“[These feelings] can be easy to brush off,” Anna says. “But it’s okay to say, ‘Something isn’t right. I’m not okay.’” When a mother doessay this, nurses might follow up with questions like: “Can you tell me more about that? What does it feel like?” Nurses can help attach vocabulary and understanding to certain feelings. A mother experiencing these unsettling and frightening feelings should not push them away.

Everything can feel strange following a birth, so be gentle and honest with yourself about your feelings. If you are experiencing troubling or upsetting feelings, ask your nurse or doctor if they can help you find programs and resources. Many mental health agencies offer programs that can help, or there may be counselors in your area that can offer the right kind of support.

It can be helpful to find a solid support system that encourages open, honest communication—this can make all the difference for expectant and postpartum mothers. For Anna, talking to her family and her doctor provided her with the support she needed.

Anna hopes that by sharing her story she can help more mothers feel comfortable about expressing their feelings. Every mother is on her own journey, but she need not travel alone.

By Meredith Vaughn

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/January-2018/Motherhood-and-Your-Mental-Health

Teen Depression and Anxiety: Why the Kids Are Not Alright

teen-depression-lise-sarfati-anxiety-americaThe first time Faith-Ann Bishop cut herself, she was in eighth grade. It was 2 in the morning, and as her parents slept, she sat on the edge of the tub at her home outside Bangor, Maine, with a metal clip from a pen in her hand. Then she sliced into the soft skin near her ribs. There was blood–and a sense of deep relief. “It makes the world very quiet for a few seconds,” says Faith-Ann. “For a while I didn’t want to stop, because it was my only coping mechanism. I hadn’t learned any other way.”

The pain of the superficial wound was a momentary escape from the anxiety she was fighting constantly, about grades, about her future, about relationships, about everything. Many days she felt ill before school. Sometimes she’d throw up, other times she’d stay home. “It was like asking me to climb Mount Everest in high heels,” she says.

It would be three years before Faith-Ann, now 20 and a film student in Los Angeles, told her parents about the depth of her distress. She hid the marks on her torso and arms, and hid the sadness she couldn’t explain and didn’t feel was justified. On paper, she had a good life. She loved her parents and knew they’d be supportive if she asked for help. She just couldn’t bear seeing the worry on their faces.

For Faith-Ann, cutting was a secret, compulsive manifestation of the depression and anxiety that she and millions of teenagers in the U.S. are struggling with. Self-harm, which some experts say is on the rise, is perhaps the most disturbing symptom of a broader psychological problem: a spectrum of angst that plagues 21st century teens.

Adolescents today have a reputation for being more fragile, less resilient and more overwhelmed than their parents were when they were growing up. Sometimes they’re called spoiled or coddled or helicoptered. But a closer look paints a far more heartbreaking portrait of why young people are suffering. Anxiety and depression in high school kids have been on the rise since 2012 after several years of stability. It’s a phenomenon that cuts across all demographics–suburban, urban and rural; those who are college bound and those who aren’t. Family financial stress can exacerbate these issues, and studies show that girls are more at risk than boys.

In 2015, about 3 million teens ages 12 to 17 had had at least one major depressive episode in the past year, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. More than 2 million report experiencing depression that impairs their daily function. About 30% of girls and 20% of boys–totaling 6.3 million teens–have had an anxiety disorder, according to data from the National Institute of Mental Health.

Experts suspect that these statistics are on the low end of what’s really happening, since many people do not seek help for anxiety and depression. A 2015 report from the Child Mind Institute found that only about 20% of young people with a diagnosable anxiety disorder get treatment. It’s also hard to quantify behaviors related to depression and anxiety, like nonsuicidal self-harm, because they are deliberately secretive.

Still, the number of distressed young people is on the rise, experts say, and they are trying to figure out how best to help. Teen minds have always craved stimulation, and their emotional reactions are by nature urgent and sometimes debilitating. The biggest variable, then, is the climate in which teens navigate this stage of development.

They are the post-9/11 generation, raised in an era of economic and national insecurity. They’ve never known a time when terrorism and school shootings weren’t the norm. They grew up watching their parents weather a severe recession, and, perhaps most important, they hit puberty at a time when technology and social media were transforming society.

“If you wanted to create an environment to churn out really angsty people, we’ve done it,” says Janis Whitlock, director of the Cornell Research Program on Self-Injury and Recovery. Sure, parental micromanaging can be a factor, as can school stress, but Whitlock doesn’t think those things are the main drivers of this epidemic. “It’s that they’re in a cauldron of stimulus they can’t get away from, or don’t want to get away from, or don’t know how to get away from,” she says.

In my dozens of conversations with teens, parents, clinicians and school counselors across the country, there was a pervasive sense that being a teenager today is a draining full-time job that includes doing schoolwork, managing a social-media identity and fretting about career, climate change, sexism, racism–you name it. Every fight or slight is documented online for hours or days after the incident. It’s exhausting.

“We’re the first generation that cannot escape our problems at all,” says Faith-Ann. “We’re all like little volcanoes. We’re getting this constant pressure, from our phones, from our relationships, from the way things are today.”

Steve Schneider, a counselor at Sheboygan South High School in southeastern Wisconsin, says the situation is like a scab that’s constantly being picked. “At no point do you get to remove yourself from it and get perspective,” he says.

It’s hard for many adults to understand how much of teenagers’ emotional life is lived within the small screens on their phones, but a CNN special report in 2015 conducted with researchers at the University of California, Davis, and the University of Texas at Dallas examined the social-media use of more than 200 13-year-olds. Their analysis found that “there is no firm line between their real and online worlds,” according to the researchers.

Phoebe Gariepy, a 17-year-old in Arundel, Maine, describes following on Instagram a girl in Los Angeles whom she’d never met because she liked the photos she posted. Then the girl stopped posting. Phoebe later heard she’d been kidnapped and was found on the side of a road, dead. “I started bawling, and I didn’t even know this girl,” says Phoebe. “I felt really extremely connected to that situation even though it was in L.A.”

That hyperconnectedness now extends everywhere, engulfing even rural teens in a national thicket of Internet drama. Daniel Champer, the director of school-based services for Intermountain in Helena, Mont., says the one word he’d use to describe the kids in his state is overexposed. Montana’s kids may be in a big, sparsely populated state, but they are not isolated anymore. A suicide might happen on the other side of the state and the kids often know before the adults, says Champer. This makes it hard for counselors to help. And nearly 30% of the state’s teens said they felt sad and hopeless almost every day for at least two weeks in a row, according to the 2015 Montana Youth Risk Behavior Survey. To address what they consider a cry for help from the state’s teens, officials in Montana are working on expanding access to school-based and tele-based counseling.

Megan Moreno, head of social media and adolescent health research at Seattle Children’s Hospital, notes a big difference between the mobile-social-tech revolution of the past 15 years and things like the introduction of the telephone or TV. In the olden days, your mom told you to get off the family phone or turn off the TV, and you did it. This time, kids are in the driver’s seat.

Parents are also mimicking teen behavior. “Not in all cases, obviously, but in many cases the adults are learning to use their phones in the way that the teens do,” says Moreno. “They’re zoning out. They’re ignoring people. They’re answering calls during dinner rather than saying, ‘O.K., we have this technology. Here are the rules about when we use it.’”

She cautions against demonizing technology entirely. “I often tell parents my simplest analogy is it’s like a hammer. You know, you can build a house that’s never existed before and you can smash someone’s head in, and it’s the same tool.” Sometimes phones rob teens’ developing brains of essential downtime. But other times they’re a way to maintain healthy social connections and get support.

Nora Carden, 17, of Brooklyn, who started college in upstate New York this fall, says she’s relieved when she goes on a trip that requires her to leave her phone for a while. “It’s like the whole school is in your bag, waiting for an answer,” she says.

School pressures also play a role, particularly with stress. Nora got counseling for her anxiety, which became crushing as the college-application process ramped up. She’d fear getting an answer wrong when a teacher called on her, and often felt she was not qualified to be in a particular class. “I don’t have pressure from my parents. I’m the one putting pressure on myself,” she says.

“The competitiveness, the lack of clarity about where things are going [economically] have all created a sense of real stress,” says Victor Schwartz of the Jed Foundation, a nonprofit that works with colleges and universities on mental-health programs and services. “Ten years ago, the most prominent thing kids talked about was feeling depressed. And now anxiety has overtaken that in the last couple of years.”

Tommy La Guardia, a high-achieving 18-year-old senior in Kent, Wash., is the first college-bound kid in his family. He recently became a finalist for prestigious scholarships, all while working 10 to 15 hours a week at a Microsoft internship and helping to care for his younger brothers.

His mom, Catherine Moimoi, says he doesn’t talk about the pressure he’s under. They don’t have a lot of resources, yet he manages everything himself, including college tours and applications. “He’s a good kid. He never complains,” she says. “But there are many nights I go to sleep wondering how he does it.”

Tommy admits that the past year was tough. “It’s hard to describe the stress,” he says. “I’m calm on the outside, but inside it’s like a demon in your stomach trying to consume you.” He deals with those emotions on his own. “I don’t want to make it someone else’s problem.”

Alison Heyland, 18, a recent high school graduate, was part of a group in Maine called Project Aware, whose members seek to help their peers manage anxiety and depression by making films. “We’re such a fragile and emotional generation,” she says. “It’s tempting for parents to tell kids, ‘Just suck it up.’” But, says Alison, “I feel like it really is less realistic for you to go after your dream job today. You’re more apt to go do a job that you don’t really like because it pays better and you’ll be in less debt.”

Meanwhile, evidence suggests the anxiety wrought by school pressures and technology is affecting younger and younger kids. Ellen Chance, co-president of the Palm Beach School Counselor Association, says technology and online bullying are affecting kids as early as fifth grade.

The strain on school counselors has increased since No Child Left Behind standardized testing protocols were implemented in the past decade. Tests can run from January through May, and since counselors in Chance’s county are often the ones who administer the exams, they have less time to deal with students’ mental-health issues.

“I couldn’t tell you how many students are being malicious to each other over Instagram or Snapchat,” she says of the elementary school where she’s the sole counselor for more than 500 kids. “I’ve had cases where girls don’t want to come to school because they feel outcasted and targeted. I deal with it on a weekly basis.”

Conventional wisdom says kids today are oversupervised, prompting some parenting critics to look back fondly to the days of latchkey kids. But now, even though teens may be in the same room with their parents, they might also, thanks to their phones, be immersed in a painful emotional tangle with dozens of their classmates. Or they’re looking at other people’s lives on Instagram and feeling self-loathing (or worse). Or they’re caught up in a discussion about suicide with a bunch of people on the other side of the country they’ve never even met via an app that most adults have never heard of.

Phoebe Gariepy says she remembers being in the backseat of a car with her headphones on, sitting next to her mom while looking at disturbing photos on her phone on social-media feeds about cutting. “I was so distant, I was so separated,” she says. She says it was hard to get out of that online community, as gory as it was, because her online life felt like her real life. “It’s almost like a reality-TV show. That’s the most triggering part of it, knowing that those real people were out there.” It would be hard for most people to know that the girl sitting there scrolling through her phone was engaged in much more than superficial selfies.

Josh, who did not want his real name published, is a high school sophomore in Maine who says he remembers how his parents began checking on him after the Sandy Hook shooting that killed 20 children and six adults. Despite their vigilance, he says, they’re largely unaware of the pain he’s been in. “They’re both heterosexual cis people, so they wouldn’t know that I’m bisexual. They wouldn’t know that I cut, that I use red wine, that I’ve attempted suicide,” he says. “They think I’m a normal kid, but I’m not.”

In the CNN study, researchers found that even when parents try their best to monitor their children’s Instagram, Twitter and Facebook feeds, they are likely unable to recognize the subtle slights and social exclusions that cause kids pain.

Finding disturbing things in a child’s digital identity, or that they’re self-harming, can stun some parents. “Every single week we have a girl who comes to the ER after some social-media rumor or incident has upset her [and then she cut herself],” says Fadi Haddad, a psychiatrist who helped start the child and adolescent psychiatric emergency department at Bellevue hospital in New York City, the first of its kind at a public hospital. Teens who end up there are often sent by administrators at their school. When Haddad calls the parents, they can be unaware of just how distressed their child is. According to Haddad, this includes parents who feel they’re very involved in their children’s lives: they’re at every sports game, they supervise the homework, they’re part of the school community.

Sometimes when he calls, they’re angry. One mother whose child Haddad treated told him that she found out her daughter had 17 Facebook accounts, which the mother shut down. “But what good does that do?” says Haddad. “There will be an 18th.”

For some parents who discover, as Faith-Ann’s parents Bret and Tammy Bishop did a few years ago, that their child has been severely depressed, anxiety-ridden or self-harming for years, it’s a shock laden with guilt.

Bret says Faith-Ann had been making cuts on her legs and ribs for three years before she got the courage to tell her parents. “You wonder, What could I have done better?” he says. Looking back, he realizes that he was distracted too much of the time.

“Even for us as adults, you’re never away from work now. Before, there wasn’t anything to worry about till I got back on Monday. But now it’s always on your phone. Sometimes when you’re home, you’re not home,” Bret says.

When Bret and Tammy joined a group for parents of kids with depression, he discovered that there were many girls and some boys who were also depressed and hurting themselves, and that few parents had any idea of what was going on.

Tammy said she wishes she’d followed her gut and taken Faith-Ann for counseling earlier. “I knew something was wrong, and I couldn’t figure it out,” she says.

Self-harm is certainly not universal among kids with depression and anxiety, but it does appear to be the signature symptom of this generation’s mental-health difficulties. All of the nearly two dozen teens I spoke with for this story knew someone who had engaged in self-harm or had done it themselves. It’s hard to quantify the behavior, but its impact is easier to monitor: a Seattle Children’s Hospital study that tracked hashtags people use on Instagram to talk about self-harm found a dramatic increase in their use in the past two years. Researchers got 1.7 million search results for “#selfharmmm” in 2014; by 2015 the number was more than 2.4 million.

While girls appear more likely to engage in this behavior, boys are not immune: as many as 30% to 40% of those who’ve ever self-injured are male.

The academic study of this behavior is nascent, but researchers are developing a deeper understanding of how physical pain may relieve the psychological pain of some people who practice it. That knowledge may help experts better understand why it can be hard for some people to stop self-harming once they start. Whitlock, the director of the self-injury research program at Cornell, explains that studies are pretty consistent in showing that people who injure themselves do it to cope with anxiety or depression.

It’s hard to know why self-harm has surfaced at this time, and it’s possible we’re just more aware of it now because we live in a world where we’re more aware of everything. Whitlock thinks there’s a cultural element to it. Starting in the late 1990s, the body became a kind of billboard for self-expression–that’s when tattoos and piercings went mainstream. “As that was starting to happen, the idea of etching your emotional pain into your body was not a big step from the body as a canvas as an idea,” she says.

The idea that self-harm is tied to how we see the human body tracks with what many teens told me when I interviewed them. As Faith-Ann describes it, “A lot of value is put on our physical beauty now. All of our friends are Photoshopping their own photos–it’s hard to escape that need to be perfect.” Before the dawn of social media, the disorders that seemed to be the quintessential reflection of those same societal pressures were anorexia or bulimia–which are still serious concerns.

Whitlock says there are two common experiences that people have with self-harm. There are those who feel disconnected or numb. “They don’t feel real, and there’s something about pain and blood that brings them into their body,” she says.

On the other end of the spectrum are people who feel an overwhelming amount of emotion, says Whitlock. “If you asked them to describe those emotions on a scale of 1 to 10, they would say 10, while you or I might rate the same experience as a 6 or 7. They need to discharge those feelings somehow, and injury becomes their way,” she explains.

The research on what happens in the brain and body when someone cuts is still emerging. Scientists want to better understand how self-harm engages the endogenous opioid system–which is involved in the pain response in the brain–and what happens if and when it does.

Some of the treatments for self-harm are similar to those for addiction, particularly in the focus on identifying underlying psychological issues–what’s causing the anxiety and depression in the first place–and then teaching healthy ways to cope. Similarly, those who want to stop need a strong level of internal motivation.

“You’re not going to stop for somebody else,” explains Phoebe, the teenager from Maine. Even thinking about how upset her mother was about the self-harm wasn’t enough. “I tried making pacts with friends. But it doesn’t work. You have to figure it out for yourself. You have to make the choice.”

Eventually, Phoebe steered herself out of the dark, destructive corners of the Internet that reinforced her habit by romanticizing and validating her pain. She’s now into holistic healing and looks at positive sites populated by people she calls “happy hippies.”

Faith-Ann remembers the day her mother Tammy noticed the scars on her arms and realized what they were. By then she was a junior in high school. “I normally cut in places you couldn’t see, but I had messed up and I had a cut on my wrists. I lifted my arm to move my hair, and she saw it. It was scary because the cuts were in a place that people associate with suicide.” That was not what she was attempting, however.

“If she’d asked me before that if I was cutting, I would have said no. I wouldn’t have wanted to put that pain on her,” says Faith-Ann. But that night she said, “Yes, I am cutting, and I want to stop.” Tammy cried for a bit, but they moved on. She didn’t ask why, she didn’t freak out, she just asked what she could do to help. “That was the exact right thing to do,” says Faith-Ann.

The family got counseling after that. Her parents learned that they weren’t alone. And Faith-Ann learned breathing techniques to calm herself physically and how to talk to herself positively. Recovery didn’t happen all at once. There were relapses, sometimes over tiny things. But the Bishops were on the right road.

One of the most powerful things Faith-Ann did to escape the cycle of anxiety, depression and self-harm was to channel her feelings into something creative. As part of the Project Aware teen program in Maine, she wrote and directed a short film about anxiety and depression in teens called The Road Back. More than 30 kids worked on the project, and they became a support system for one another as she continued to heal.

“I had a place where I could be open and talk about my life and the issues I was having, and then I could project them in an artistic way,” she says.

Bellevue’s Fadi Haddad says that for parents who find out their children are depressed or hurting themselves, the best response is first to validate their feelings. Don’t get angry or talk about taking away their computers. “Say, ‘I’m sorry you’re in pain. I’m here for you,’” he says.

This straightforward acknowledgment of their struggles takes away any judgment, which is critical since mental-health issues are still heavily stigmatized. No adolescent wants to be seen as flawed or vulnerable, and for parents, the idea that their child has debilitating depression or anxiety or is self-harming can feel like a failure on their part.

Alison Heyland’s dad Neil says that initially, it was hard to find people to confide in about his daughter’s depression. “I see everyone putting up posts about their family, they look so happy and everyone’s smiling, everything is so perfect and rosy. I kind of feel less than,” he says.

For both generations, admitting that they need help can be daunting. Even once they get past that barrier, the cost and logistics of therapy can be overwhelming.

Faith-Ann still struggles at times with depression and anxiety. “It’s a condition that’s not going to totally disappear from my life,” she says over the phone from Los Angeles, where she’s thriving at film school. “It’s just learning how to deal in a healthy way–not self-harming, not lashing out at people.”

Of course Bret and Tammy Bishop still worry about her. They now live in Hampstead, N.C., and at first Bret didn’t like the idea of Faith-Ann’s going to school in California. If she was having trouble coping, he and Tammy were a long plane ride away. How can you forget that your child, someone you’ve dedicated years to keeping safe from the perils of the world, has deliberately hurt herself? “It’s with you forever,” says Tammy.

These days, she and Bret are proud of their daughter’s independence and the new life she’s created. But like a lot of parents who’ve feared for their child’s health, they don’t take the ordinary for granted anymore.

This appears in the November 07, 2016 issue of TIME

By Susanna Schrobsdorff

http://time.com/magazine/us/4547305/november-7th-2016-vol-188-no-19-u-s/

 

The Comorbidity Of Anxiety And Depression

When a person experiences two or more illnesses at the same time, those illnesses are considered “comorbid.” This concept has become the rule, not the exception, in many areas of medicine, and certainly in psychiatry. Up to 93% of Medicare dollars are spent on patients with four or more comorbid disorders. The concept of comorbidity is widely realized but unfortunately not well-defined or understood.

In mental health, one of the more common comorbidities is that of depression and anxiety. Some estimates show that 60% of those with anxiety will also have symptoms of depression, and the numbers are similar for those with depression also experiencing anxiety.

While we don’t know for certain why depression and anxiety are so often paired together, there are several theories. One theory is that the two conditions have similar biological mechanisms in the brain, so they are therefore more likely to “show up” together. Another theory is that they have many overlapping symptoms, so people frequently meet the criteria for both diagnoses (an example of this might be the problems with sleep seen in both generalized anxiety and major depressive disorder). Additionally, these conditions often present simultaneously when a person is triggered by an external stressor or stressors.

While clinicians can typically recognize one mental illness relatively easily, it’s much more difficult to recognize comorbid disease. They must pay careful attention to symptoms that could suggest other disorders such as bipolar disorder and look for other factors such as substance abuse. This requires time with the patient, possibly their families and other collateral sources of information. The health care system today makes this level of assessment difficult, but not impossible.

Unfortunately, most research today focuses on patients with one illness, and treatments are then guided by this research. In result, there are many well-researched treatments available for mental illnesses, but not for comorbid mental illnesses. There is a lot that we still need to understand about how we recognize and treat conditions when they present at the same time.

There are several things we do know about comorbid anxiety and depression, however, and they underscore this need for accurate assessment. When anxiety and depression present together, these illnesses can often be harder to treat. This is because both the anxiety and depression symptoms tend to be more persistent and intense when “working” together.

This means that those experiencing both anxiety and depression will need better, more specialized treatments. Professionals and caregivers providing treatment may need to get creative, like adding one treatment onto another to make sure that both underlying disorders are responding. For example, if antidepressants are helping improve a person’s mood, but not their anxiety, a next step would be to add cognitive behavioral therapy to the treatment plan.

More research is needed to fully understand why some patients experience comorbid conditions and others do not. Until then, it is vitally important that those experiencing one, two or multiple mental illnesses engage in treatment early, and find a provider they can work with to reach their goals. While treatment may have more challenges when dealing with comorbidity, success is possible.

By Beth Salcedo, MD

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/January-2018/The-Comorbidity-of-Anxiety-and-Depression

The Impact Of Music Therapy On Mental Health

When I worked at a psychiatric hospital, I would wheel my cart full of instruments and musical gadgets down the hallway every morning. Patients lingering in the hall would smile and tap on a drum as I passed by. Some would ask me if I had their favorite band on my iPad. Some would peek their heads out of their rooms, and exclaim, “Molly’s here! It’s time for music therapy group!” Oftentimes, I would hear about patients who were asleep in their rooms when I arrived, but their friends would gently wake them with a reassurance: “You don’t want to miss this.”

Music to My Ears

I’ve been lucky to serve many children and adults in various mental health settings as a music therapist. I’ve heard stories of resilience, strength and adversity. I’ve worked with individuals who have experienced trauma, depression, grief, addiction and more. These individuals have not come to me in their finest hour, but despite feeling lost or broken, music provided them with the opportunity for expression and for experiencing safety, peace and comfort.

Research shows the benefits of music therapy for various mental health conditions, including depressiontrauma, and schizophrenia(to name a few).  Music acts as a medium for processing emotions, trauma, and grief—but music can also be utilized as a regulating or calming agent for anxiety or for dysregulation.

There are four major interventions involved with music therapy:

  1. Lyric Analysis

While talk therapy allows a person to speak about topics that may be difficult to discuss, lyric analysis introduces a novel and less-threatening approach to process emotions, thoughts and experiences. A person receiving music therapy is encouraged to offer insight, alternative lyrics and tangible tools or themes from lyrics that can apply to obstacles in their life and their treatment. We all have a song that we deeply connect to and appreciate—lyric analysis provides an opportunity for an individual to identify song lyrics that may correlate with their experience.

  1. Improvisation Music Playing

Playing instruments can encourage emotional expression, socialization and exploration of various therapeutic themes (i.e. conflict, communication, grief, etc.).  For example, a group can create a “storm” by playing drums, rain sticks, thunder tubes and other percussive instruments. The group can note areas of escalation and de-escalation in the improvisation, and the group can correlate the “highs and lows” of the storm to particular feelings they may have.  This creates an opportunity for the group to discuss their feelings further.

  1. Active Music Listening

Music can be utilized to regulate mood. Because of its rhythmic and repetitive aspects, music engages the neocortex of our brain, which calms us and reduces impulsivity. We often utilize music to match or alter our mood. While there are benefits to matching music to our mood, it can potentially keep us stuck in a depressive, angry or anxious state. To alter mood states, a music therapist can play music to match the current mood of the person and then slowly shift to a more positive or calm state.

  1. Songwriting

Songwriting provides opportunities for expression in a positive and rewarding way. Anyone can create lyrics that reflect their own thoughts and experiences, and select instruments and sounds that best reflect the emotion behind the lyrics. This process can be very validating, and can aid in building self-worth. This intervention can also instill a sense of pride, as someone listens to their own creation.

On Another Note

When I worked at a residential treatment center, I was notified that a child refused to continue meeting with his usual therapist. Even though he was initially hesitant to meet with me, he soon became excited for our music therapy sessions.

In our first session, we decided to look at the lyrics of “Carry On” by FUN. I asked him to explain what it means to be a “shining star,” which is mentioned serval times in the song.  I was expecting this 8-year-old to tell me something simple, like “it means you’re special.” But he surprised me when he stated, matter-of-factly: “It means that you are something others notice. It means you are something to look up to, and you are something that helps others navigate.”

And just like that: This lyric offered the opportunity to discuss self-worth, resilience, and strength. Music provided him with the structure and opportunity to process in an engaging way. Soon, his therapist began attending our sessions to help build a healthier therapeutic relationship. His family and teachers reported improved emotion regulation and social interaction skills. Music therapy had provided countless opportunities for building healthy relationships, just as it has for thousands of others.

By Molly Warren, MM, LPMT, MT-BC

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/December-2016/The-Impact-of-Music-Therapy-on-Mental-Health

5 Sleep Tips That Can Help With Depression

We all feel a little blue from time to time. Sadness is a fundamental part of the human condition. For the majority, feeling down is often a temporary experience connected to specific events. For others, a sense of sadness or hopelessness can be more persistent—this is what we all know as depression.

Depression is a serious condition that affects every aspect of a person’s life, from their appetite to what they think and feel to their ability to sleep. Treatment for depressiondiffers from person to person and can involve therapy and medications, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and antidepressants. While the pros and cons of certain treatments are regularly debated, what isn’t up for debate is the affect a healthy sleep routine can have on a person experiencing depression.

The relationship between sleep and mental illness, specifically depression, is complicated. Some people find they can’t sleep at all, while others find they can’t stop sleeping. It’s not consistent for everyone. But everyone experiencing depression should work to improve and regulate their sleep because there are only benefits to be had. So, here are some tips to help improve your sleep, and with it, your mood.

Turn Your Bedroom Into A Sleep Sanctuary

Your bedroom should be a dedicated Zen palace of sleep. Too much noise, light or distraction can make sleep harder. So, make your room as dark as possible. Blackout curtains or blinds can be a helpful investment. If environmental noises bother you, then experiment with a “white noise” generator to drown them out. Ensure your mattress is up to the job. Laying down each night on an old, saggy or squeaking bed can inhibit your ability to sleep.

If you can’t sleep, don’t just lie there tossing and turning—get up and move to another room. Do something low key like reading a book or listening to some music. Then, when you are ready, return to your bedroom to sleep. This way, your brain will begin to associate your bed (and bedroom) purely with sleep and not sleep problems.

Keep A Regular Bedtime

Getting into a regular sleeping routine is easier said than done when living with depression. But the benefits of heading to bed and waking at the same time every day—weekends included—is enormous. Some of those benefits include being able to wake up more easily in the morning and feeling more energized and focused throughout the day. Research has found that keeping a consistent bedtime is just as important as the length of time a person sleeps. Our brains respond well to routines and keeping the same routine will help combat feelings of lethargy.

Get Into A Bedtime Routine

Avoid starting any difficult or potentially stressful tasks close to bedtime. Allow at least an hour before bed to slow down and unwind before even trying to lay your head on the pillow. This means avoiding any devices with screens. The blue light they emit overstimulates the mind and suppresses melatonin production, a hormone that promotes sleep. Plus, watching movies or scrolling through social media may lead to increased levels of stress. Try reading a book or magazine instead of reading posts and news online.

Start Exercising Regularly

Regular exercise is great for anyone with depression, and it helps when trying to get into a normal sleep routine. Double win! Exercise releases endorphins—the body’s natural antidepressant—which can seriously improve your mood. So, get into an exercise routine. This can be as simple as walking for at least 30 minutes a day, attending a yoga class or just doing some jumping jacks in your garden.

Go Outside Every Day

I know it can be tough to drag yourself out into the world. Somedays, you just want to lock yourself away and see nobody. But fight that feeling and get outside. Sunlight is full of Vitamin D, which is a great mood enhancer. Not only that, seeing the sun frequently helps your circadian rhythms recalibrate and get back into a rhythm. If you truly can’t face the outside world, at least open your curtains and let the day come to you.

Depression is tough, and while the steps above all look simple, we know that when that big black dog is on your back, nothing is simple.

If you’re experiencing depression, remember there are people out there to talk to. Don’t suffer in silence. Speak to a health care professional, a friend, a family member or even a stranger who has been through similar experiences. Getting your worries out in open is the first step on the road to good health.

By Sarah Cummings

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/January-2018/5-Sleep-Tips-that-Can-Help-with-Depression

Mental Health Starts With Listening

When was the last time you considered how sound might impact your health?  Most of us only think about sound pollution when there’s a jackhammer outside our bedroom window, but it turns out what you listen to all day can affect your wellness. And since music is the most complex sound system you encounter in daily life, it may be worth pausing to consider what the next song on your playlist may do to your health.

My research team at Genote discovered just how true this was when we were running some tests with premature infants in a neonatal intensive care unit. The sounds premature babies hear can cause stress or even cause pain because their ears are very sensitive. We wanted to see if we could use music to help them cope with stress, anxiety and development issues that come from living out of the womb too early.

Music is made up of hundreds of different components, such as melody, harmony and rhythm. Songs combine these elements to produce certain styles and emotions. But these musical elements also trigger reactions from the mind and body. After studying these interactions for more than twenty years, our team learned how to produce music that targets specific health goals.

We used a program of our specially prepared music to help the babies sleep better and to relax when they showed signs of discomfort—which worked almost immediately. In some cases, this improvement had significant health improvements for the babies, such as restoring oxygen levels in the blood.

After seeing how music could improve health in premature infants, we wanted to know if we could improve the lives of other groups of people. So, we partnered with a special education school that worked with young, blind students. We were hoping to help them improve focus, sleep, relationships and decrease anxiety through music.

By applying a special music-listening program at home and school, we saw improvement in nearly all the areas we were studying, including the students’ ability to focus, relax and sleep deeply and consistently. One student’s mother told us that the music made her son more playful and she could tell he slept more deeply and woke up in a happy mood, setting the tone for a positive day for learning.

Using Sound To Promote Mental Health

The biggest takeaway from these studies is the impact our sound environment has on our emotional wellbeing. Unfortunately, negative sound pollution can also have a significant detrimental impact on mental health, such as increasing stress, anxiety and even blood pressure. Many studies also link certain types of music to negative emotional conditions like depression.

The sounds around you right now are influencing the state of your mental health. If you’re interested in seeing how your sound environment is affecting you, experiment with the following:

    1. Keep a sound journal. At the end of each day, write down all the sounds you remember hearing. See if you can identify how any given sound affected you and make a note. Make a note describing how you felt that day.

 

    1. Experiment with music. In your sound journal, pay close attention to what music you listen to and the effect of any given song or genre.

 

    1. Make adjustments. Try to add more of the sounds that bring a positive change to your day and avoid the sounds that cause stress or anxiety.

 

  1. Re-evaluate. After a week, evaluate how your experiment went and assess how your mood changed because of the changes you implemented.

My dream is for people everywhere to become more aware of how sound, and especially music, can be a measurable, impactful tool for healthy living. By better harnessing the power of music to improve mental health and stability, we have a powerful tool at our disposal that we can use before considering more invasive means of correction. A careful approach to music can change the game for mental health. It just starts with listening.

By Kenny Baldwin

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/June-2017/Mental-Health-Starts-with-Listening

Postpartum Depression: Ways To Cope And Heal

If you’re a mom or dad, you’ve walked through the otherworldly time surrounding pregnancy and childbirth. The time following the birth of a child is incomparable: It brings the gift of life and the fun of seeing your family grow.

Parenthood also brings upheaval. Daily routines become irrelevant, sleep is sporadic and scarce, and guilt can take over in ways it never did before. Our old, familiar lives vanish. Like our babies, we’re born into new way of life, and it can take a while to adjust and adapt.

This happens even if all goes well. When you add in a postpartum condition, it can be debilitating. Nine years ago, I struggled as a new parent. After the traumatic birth of my first child, I developed postpartum depression (PPD).

I needed a roadmap. And with the help of other moms, a therapist and research, I pieced one together. My roadmap turned into a book about my journey called When Postpartum Packs a Punch: Fighting Back and Finding Joy. The key points on my roadmap back to wellness are these:

Speak Up

Mental health conditions typically don’t go away on their own—they get worse when untreated. Treatment is key, so do not wait to seek help; you are in charge of your treatment plan. A combination of psychotherapy and medication are the standard line of intervention for PPD, but it varies by person. Different forms of therapy are available, such as supportive therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). Talk to your doctor about what would be best for you.

Know You’re Not Alone

Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders affect many women. While the exact prevalence is unknown, some estimates say as many as 1 million moms face it each year in the U.S. alone. Other moms can be your greatest source of strength. If you have persistent symptoms such as intrusive thoughts, sleeplessness or crying spells, reach out to someone you trust. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, contact Postpartum Support International. They have an invaluable network of women who are a phone call away. There’s no shame in seeking support.

Remember That This Isn’t A Character Flaw Or Weakness

Psychiatrist and chair of the U.K.’s Maternal Mental Health Alliance, Dr. Alain Gregoire, says: “The reality is that we are all vulnerable to mental illness. Our brains are the most complex structures in the universe and our minds are the uniquely individual products of that structure. It is not surprising then that occasionally things go wrong.” Just because you aren’t feeling well doesn’t mean you’re not meant to be a mother. It’s not a subconscious sign you don’t want your child. If your symptoms seem to be telling you this, don’t believe them.

Cling To Hope

Perinatal mood disorders can turn something already difficult—transition to motherhood—into a seemingly impossible hurdle. Just know that the symptoms don’t last forever. They’re temporary and treatable. Keep asking for help until you find the care you need. There’s an army of people who want to help you get better.

By Kristina Cowan

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/January-2018/Postpartum-Depression-Ways-to-Cope-and-Heal

The Pathway To Peace Of Mind

To create the roadways of a city, it takes years of planning, developing and building. It’s a never-ending process as new ideas are constantly suggested on how to make everything more efficient and in tune with changing needs.

Peace of mind is developed the same way.

In the 1900’s, scientists believed that our brain was fully developed by age six. We could learn more, sure, but “who we were” was set. Additionally, it was believed that after our teenage years and early years of adulthood, our brain and bodies declined through aging, injury, disease and illness.

“And then,” stated Dr. Lara Boyd, a brain researcher from the University of British Columbia, “studies began to show remarkable amounts of reorganization in the adult brain. And the research has shown us that all of our behaviors change our brain. That these changes are not limited by age…in fact they’re taking place all the time.” Meaning we can reorganize, change and restructure the physical makeup of our brain no matter what age we are.

So, imagine your brain is a city composed of many roadways that have all been under construction since before you were even born. And just like cities, we can create new roadways that enable us to be happier.

I’m sure you’ve heard about the many ways to be happier and healthier, but true change relies on deciding on a new habit or practice and dedicating yourself to it. That’s when your roadways will begin to evolve for good. Here are some important things to keep in mind when you’re working on yourself.

Change

Whatever we decide to think or do, it has to be different than our norm. For example, if we decide to move towards having more peace of mind by going on walks three times a week, and we’re already walking three times a week, we are not going to change. But if we decide to also practice mindfulness while walking, this is different.

Belief

Whether it’s exercise, nutrition, meditation, yoga, tai chi, therapy, medication, religion, spirituality or any other strategies we might use to become happier, we need to believe in what we’re doing and believe we can succeed. Rather than going through the motions, we need to embrace the belief that we are changing our thoughts or behaviors to become happier.

Motivation

“The harder we try, the more we are motivated, the more alert we are, and the better (worse) the outcome, the bigger the brain change,” wrote Dr. Michael Merzenich in Soft WiredTo make a change, it takes commitment and effort. There are times when we just don’t want to get out of bed to do yoga or go for a brisk walk. That’s true for anyone. Occasionally missing an opportunity to practice what we’ve decided to do is okay. But if we allow ourselves to continually take breaks, then we are pausing our progress.

Intention

Our intention should be all-in. I once had a client who listened to guided meditation while he was driving and then later in the day when he was focusing on a project at work. He said he didn’t have time for anything more intensive, and he couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t feeling any better. It takes focus to make change for the better. It helps to set aside specific time so you can focus solely on one thing at that time.

Practice And Repeat

Most of us quit doing what we’re doing once we experience “success.” That’s pretty common. But when we practice beyond “success,” we convert short-term changes into long-term memory and that’s what sticks. It has been found that repetition is effective in helping children learn how to read (imagine if they just stopped after completing their first book?). The same is true when establishing an ever-growing peace of mind.

It’s best to look at creating happiness and peace of mind as an evolving process rather than an end goal. It’s important to keep in mind that we’ll always be moving towards happiness. The roadways to peace are never finished—we’re always under construction.

And we can either let our old pathways determine who we are or keep working on becoming who we want to be. Each step we take enables us to become happier with ourselves, our relationships and with the world. And we can achieve a greater sense of peace and calm as we continue to grow.

By Larry Shushansky, LICSW

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/December-2017/The-Pathway-to-Peace-of-Mind