December 17, 2014

Spice Up Your Memory

As we age, it's natural to experience forgetfulness.  Many will seek professional help, alarmed by the degree of what they eventually will be told is normal, expected memory loss.  Suggestions for improving and preserving your memory include challenging your brain with mentally stimulating activities, getting plenty of sleep, and exercise regularly.

Forget where you put your glasses?  Can't remember why you walked into a room?  Pretty typical experience as we age and not likely a reason to be concerned.  When should you seek a professional opinion?  When your "memory loss affects your ability to complete your usual daily activities," according to the Mayo Clinic.  Read their seven tips for improving your memory, here.  

We maybe can add a quick and rather simple step to enhance our memory.   The Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition has published a study, led by Meei-Shyuan Lee, which suggests that adding the spice tumeric to your food will help. A little less than a quarter teaspoon (one gram) worked for a group of people who experienced memory problems due to pre-diabetes.   

I can't remember if I own any tumeric, but if I do, I will add them to my personalized blend of chai tea spices. Not long ago I read that a variety of spices can provide health benefits. So I made up a little concoction of my own, using what I already had in my spice cabinet:  cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, and ginger.  Sprinkle on my tea and milk. Delicious.  And masks the bitterness of less expensive tea blends.  Not to mention, helps keep my spices fresh.   Because other than cumin in their TexMex and cinnamon on their sopapillas, my family wants no part of the more exotic spices I keep.

Disclaimer:  If you are considering adding any spices, herbs or supplements to your diet, please consult your physician or health care provider to be sure it is safe for you.  For more advice on seeking nutritional supplements as mental health aids, please check out my previous post for suggestions, here.

--Sandy Andrews, PhD
CBT Psychologist
Located in South Austin, Texas

December 10, 2014

Stress and Pain and "No Pain Pathways"

     If you experience pain on a daily basis and especially if you are in chronic pain (where chronic pain is defined as any pain lasting longer than 3 months) it is so important for you to learn as much as you can about how the brain responds to pain.  There is so much new information about pain, so much we are beginning to understand about how we experience pain, the role stress and earlier emotional wounds play in chronic pain and most importantlly, how we can learn to control pain.  I urge all of my pain patients to read and watch videos explaining what the experts now believe helps alleviate pain. But before we can control our pain we must first believe we can.

     Below is one such video that you can watch from your laptop or tablet or whatever device allows you to see videos.  Dr. Howard Schubiner is a board certified physician who works with chronic pain patients.  He is the founder and director of the Mind Body Medicine Program at Providence Hospital in Michigan.

     Dr. Schubiner describes two concepts related to pain:  pain that is a direct result of injury and pain caused by nerve pathways learned over time. These pain pathways are activated by fear, stress and various triggers. We also have what he calls no pain pathways.   Behavioral therapy is all about learning how to de-activate our pain pathways and activate our no pain pathways.
Imagine you are in pain somewhere in your body.  You are lying on your couch watching a really good movie.  There is a part of the movie that is so engrossing that your entire focus is on the story you are watching.  During this period of being highly focused you will probably notice that you are not aware of your pain.  What is happening then?  Dr. Schubiner would say that our no pain pathways are working and helping free us from our pain.

If you or a loved one suffers from chronic pain, watch the video so that you too can begin the process of learning to lessen your pain.

Want more?  More links to videos talking about chronic pain are listed below.  Please educate yourself and watch:

Understanding Pain and What to do about it in less than five minutes

A TED Talk by Elliot Krane The Mystery of Chronic Pain

Lorimer Mosely on The Brain and Chronic Pain   This is long but fascinating and funny.

Sandy Andrews, PhD is a Clinical Psychologist and Psychotherapist who practices CBT in Austin, Texas

November 28, 2014

Sleeping Through the Holidays

From the Brain & Spine Team of the Cleveland Clinic, tips for keeping healthy sleep habits during the holidays.  Read here.  After you wake up, that is.

August 20, 2014

Small Talk Tips from TED

You receive an invitation to a party.  Great, right?  That is, if you're an extrovert.  However, if you're a gregarious introvert, suffer from social anxiety, or are just plain shy, a party invitation does not feel great.  It can feel debilitating.  

As if on cue, you develop a common cognitive error, a case of the dreaded What Ifs:

What if I'm left standing by myself and nobody will talk to me?  
What if someone starts a conversation and I'm tongue-tied? 
What if I try to interject myself into a conversation but they ignore me? 

While there are no guarantees, most socially anxious people catastrophize:  They imagine the worst before attending a gathering of any size, even more so when the only person they expect to know at the party is the person having the party.  And most people find, after attending the party, that it wasn't nearly as bad as they expected.  That, in fact, people did start conversations with them.  That they they did, in fact, come up with decent replies.  And that when they approached a group of people already talking, they were politely welcomed into the conversation.

Still, it helps to review some basic guidelines about small talk.  To boost your confidence.  To improve your end of the conversation.  What is the best way to start a conversation with an unknown person?  How does one reply to a stranger's ice breaker in a way that avoids the awkward silences?  

The good people at Chris Colin and Rob Baedeker, have come to our rescue with three pointers.  

1.  Ask open-ended questions that invite stories, not short replies:
      How do you know Sharon? 
      How did you get into the accounting field?
      What has college been like for you so far? 

2.  Avoid the common pitfall of answering their question by mirroring the question and instead turn their question into an opportunity to get them talking more: 

Isn't this heat awful?  

Instead of:                                                        You can say:  
Yes, this heat is terrible.  I hate it.                        Yes. It's times like these I wish I lived in                                                                                                        Minnesota.  Have you ever lived in a cold                                                                                                    climate?"  

This is a great building, isn't it? 

Instead of:                                                          You can say:  
Yes, it's beautiful.                                                  Yes it is. What do you know about this house? 

Have you known Greg and Julie for very long?

Instead of:                                                           You can say:  
Not really. I met them at work.                               I know them from work.  What about you?                                                                                                   How did you meet them? 

3.  Give an unexpected response.  Something slightly offbeat that will lead the person to become more interested in what you say next.    

Instead of:                                                          You can say:  
Yes it is. We really needed it.                                I was ready for it. My goggles and life jacket                                                                                                are all set to go.
What are you studying at the university? 

Instead of:                                                          You can say:  
I'm a history major.                                               I'm majoring in student loan debt with a                                                                                                          minor in hope I get a decent job. 

You can learn that you are not alone by reading what others have to say about their own social anxiety, here. But by all means, read up on more suggestions for improving small talk here and here and here. Read the  suggestions of others, practice them, and RSVP a confident yes to the next party invite.

-Sandy Andrews, Ph.D.
CBT Cognitive Behavioral Psychologist 
Austin, Texas

July 27, 2014

Fake It Til You Make It: The Power of Body Language

Nervous about an upcoming job interview? Wanting to invite a new friend for coffee but feeling too shy to do so? This video of Harvard researcher and social psychologist, Dr. Amy Cuddy, is a bit long but well worth watching.  Based on research findings, Dr. Cuddy offers a few short and simple exercises designed to help boost confidence in school, work and social settings.  These are examples of behavioral tools recommended frequently in CBT psychologist offices.

-Sandy Andrews, Ph.D.
CBT Cognitive Behavioral Psychologist 
Austin, TX

March 16, 2014

Health Insurance Humor

Because one important cognitive behavioral tool psychologists recommend is to choose to see the more humorous side of a difficult, stressful situation.  The frustration may not go away entirely but your body doesn't get the stress overload that can be harmful to your body.

-Sandy Andrews, Ph.D.
CBT Cognitive Behavioral Psychologist 
Austin, Texas

February 14, 2014

On Love and Brain Chemistry

rational valentines found at

Listen in as Dr. Helen Fisher, Anthropologist and renowned expert on romantic love, talks about why love is so powerful, so sought after, and so dreaded, all at the same time.  Understanding the powerful physiology behind falling in love is a helpful cognitive therapy tool especially when we get down on ourselves for falling for someone who is unhealthy for us.

Click HERE to view a video of Dr. Fisher's 2008 TED Talk.

-Sandy Andrews, Ph.D.
CBT Cognitive Behavioral Psychologist 
Austin, TX

February 1, 2014

February is for Self Love

image by hugh boone, here

We all know February is the month for Valentines.  Some see Valentines Day as a chance to show loved ones just how special they are.  But for many, Valentines Day triggers dread, loneliness, and feelings of low self worth.  

Good news - February is also International Boost Self-Esteem Month.  Instead of waiting for someone else to show they care, why not give yourself  a dose of kinder and gentler.  You can follow some of these suggestions offered by Huffington Post contributor,  Dileen Simms:  

1. Stop comparing yourself to others. Trying to live up to or exceed someone else’s personal best is a losing game. As the saying goes, “How boring would it be if we were all the same?” Focus on being the best you that you can be.
2. Compliment yourself regularly, either by looking in the mirror and saying something you like about yourself or writing it in a journal. Many times, we’re quick to compliment others on their success but hesitate to do the same for ourselves.
3. Exercise consistently, at least 30 minutes of exercise several times a week, to strengthen muscles and to burn calories. Improve your physical strength, and you may feel a sense of empowerment that can dramatically enhance your self-esteem.
4. Simply smile. The mere act of smiling changes blood flow to the brain and can actually makes you feel happier and relieve tension. A smile sets off chemical and physical reactions within your mind and body, releasing endorphins that boost your mood.
5. Focus on your accomplishments. Forgive yourself for mistakes and focus on the positive by celebrating your victories. Consider writing them down so you can review and reflect when you’re feeling down and need to renew your confidence.
6. Get the support you need to succeed. Join a weight-loss support group, like TOPS, which can help you to stay on track to accomplish your wellness goals. Fellow members will help keep you motivated.
7. Make a list of your positive qualities. Are you generous? Kind? Write down at least ten positive qualities about yourself and return to this list as often as needed to boost your morale.
8. Find something special in each day. Even if it’s in a small way, do something pleasant and rewarding, like catching up on your favorite television show, taking a walk to the park, or indulging in a bubble bath. Or treat yourself to something small that isn’t a food or beverage, like a manicure or a new piece of costume jewelry.
9. Eat better. Pay attention to your food choices and nourish your body. Buy healthier foods and prepare well-balanced meals that will help give you energy and feel like your best self – not sluggish and overstuffed.
10. Explore a passion. Whether it’s a side job, hobby, or as a volunteer, pursuing your passion in even a small way can lead to a sense of purpose and significantly improve your overall happiness and quality of life.

January 23, 2014

This Weekend: Clutter Bust or Bust

Need an incentive to de-clutter this weekend?  Look no further than the 8th Annual Clear Your Clutter Day presented by the Austin chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers.   Bring your cherished keepsake items junk and leave with some extra peace of mind.

January 8, 2014

A Happy To Do List for the New Year

A list of twenty-one simple to-dos and to-don'ts for the New Year that I found mostly simple and a lot inspiring.  Some are big steps but more are little.  Because sometimes it's the little things that makes the difference between a life of regrets and a life fully lived.

The very first to-do:  Click here.

-Sandy Andrews, Ph.D.
CBT Cognitive Behavioral Psychologist 
Austin, Texas