February 29, 2016

Mind Your Happys

 Mindfulness is a big buzzword in cognitive behavior therapy - CBT - offices today.  Paying attention and savoring the pleasant, happy moments of any given busy day can help us offset the negativity bias our brains have evolved to become.  Negativity bias is simply the tendency we all have to remember the bad events (scary, sad, hurtful, angry) and ignore or forget the feel-goods and warm-fuzzy moments.  
Think of how you're likely to share that unnerving traffic story where "that guy cut me off and almost caused a wreck!" But how you usually don't remember to also share the story where "that nice guy let me cut in front of him."  Only remembering the unpleasant events is negativity bias in a nutshell.  

We can help our brains become less negative minded by using self-directed neuroplasticity exercises:  actively choosing to pay attention to and stay focused on positive events rather than let our auto-pilot selves skip over and forget them. 

Peeling an orange?  Take a few seconds to smell the fresh orange peel and switch over to how good it feels.  Even better, turn it into a deep breathing exercise.  Take a really deep breath while you enjoy such a fresh, pleasant scent. .  Take a whiff.  Focus on the orange scent.  Enjoy. Exhale. Repeat.  
In her post, psychologist and self-identified mindfulness teacher, Kellie Edwards, suggests a Happy Jar as one example of helping ourselves remember and amplify daily pleasantries.  Hers is an exercise that can help us ward off or treat symptoms of depression and anxiety disorders: 

1.  Find a transparent jar that is large enough to hold at least 7 notes from every person in your family.
2.  Take some colored paper (several different colors) and cut it up into note sized pieces, or use sticky notes like we have.
3.  Pick a time towards the end of each day - during dinner or just before bed, say - and take turns recalling something good that you noticed today.
4.  Write it down and then share it with each other, taking at least 20-30 seconds to bask in the glow of the goodie. If your children are not writing yet, you can write it for them in their own words.
5.  Place the colored pieces of paper in the jar. Leave it in full view to remind everyone to notice the good moments and to complete the ritual each night.
6.  At the end of the week - perhaps when you have 5 minutes or so on the weekend — sit down as a family and pull each piece of paper out of the jar and read them aloud to recall all the warm fuzzies that have happened during the week. 
7.  Celebrate by doing something fun together as a family, even a family hug!
8.  Keep your notes from each week together and anytime anyone needs some sprinkles of happiness to brighten their mood, they are right there at your fingertips.

February 22, 2016

Night Owls Are Not Lazy Birds

Thanks the the work of Russian biologist Arcady Putilov we can now say more definitively that night owls, those who are naturally inclined to stay up late and sleep in, are not lazy birds. That distinction is now a tongue-in-cheek way to classify a third category, or chronotype, of sleep-wake cyclers. Lazy birds tend to feel lethargic morning and night. The fourth category, according to the Russian research group, are perhaps the more enviable of them all:  hummingbirds. Their energy is pretty constant morning, noon, and night. And of course, we're all familiar with those annoying, sometimes enviable, early to bed, early to rise, morning people, also known as larks.

Read more about the four chronotypes, HERE.

This CBT psychologist proposes, however, that we come up with a less disparaging name to label our more laid back, low energy chronotype.  Suggestions for a relaxed bird?

--Sandy Andrews, PhD 
Clinical Psychologist
Austin, TX 

February 15, 2016

Proven: Meditation Can Reduce Anxiety

CBT psychologists recommend relaxation exercises for the treatment of anxiety.  Mindfulness exercises are a form of relaxation.  Recently, a Harvard research team has shown that just under thirty minutes of mindfulness exercises daily for eight weeks is associated with changes in brain structure.  Meditation subjects felt better and had "massive changes" in the brain gray matter associated with compassion and introspection and decreased density in the area of the brain that regulates anxiety and stress (amygdala).  Sara Lazar, instructor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, concluded that meditation helps boost positive and relaxed feelings.
Feelguide November 19, 2014. Harvard Unveils MRI Study Proving Meditation Literally Rebuilds the Brain’s Gray Matter in 8 Weeks. Health, Spirituality, the Human Brain. Retrieved from:
McGreevey, S. January 21, 2011. Eight weeks to a better brain; Meditation study shows changes associated with awareness, stress. Harvard gazette. Retrieved from:

--Sandy Andrews, PhD 
Clinical Psychologist

Austin, TX