January 12, 2015

Ready, Set, Sleep!

I may stand corrected.  Which would make me and a lot of clients happy.  And sleepy.  For stress relief and as a sleep aid, I typically teach a 6-4-8 breathing exercise.  This involves a 6-second inhale, 4-second hold, and 8-second exhale (or 8-4-10, depending on the individual's starting point).

But in this post  by Alina Gonzalez entitled, How I Learned To Fall Asleep In Under 1 Minute, she advocates using Dr. Andrew Weil's breathing technique which she calls the "4-7-8 Trick."  You can go to Dr. Weil's website to see him demonstrate, here.

So I plan to take the 4-7-8 versus 6-4-8 breathing challenge.  And I invite readers to do the same. Leave me a comment and let me know which breathing exercise calmed, relaxed, and helped you get to sleep the most quickly.

Ready, Set, Sleep!

And a big shout out to my baby sister for 
bringing my attention to the article Under 1 Minute blog post. 

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.  

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.

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.  

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.

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