Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Fall Quarter Update

Things are falling into place at an unbelievable rate - enough to make even a skeptic turn into a believer.

Last night I submitted my Doctoral Study Plan and Research Internship Plan (1). The latter was also my Community Project Proposal (2). And it will become my dissertation proposal (3). It is also my current job assignment (4) - a veritable four-fer.

I began working on these plans last summer and struggled with conceptualizing and writing. It all came together in the last week and got turned in at midnight last night - a couple of days before the due date.

I want to feel like a badd ass, but I don't. I just feel loved - by God. It feels like, to borrow Paulo Coelho's words, the universe is conspiring to help me accomplish my dream and thus fulfill my personal legend.

As I write this, I realize there is a potential to be misunderstood. What I mean to convey is, if it is possible for me, then it is possible for anyone. The universe wants to conspire to help you too. Ed Bacon (All Saints in Pasadena) said one Sunday: "God loves you and everyone else."

Monday, November 22, 2010

Relationships & Partnerships - Discussion Questions

We have our own answers, our own solutions, plans that fit our own lives, values, priorities, dreams, past experiences, and culture. Instead of pre-fab relationship tips, the following questions are a trigger for self, partnered or group reflection. Take any relationship or partnership that you currently find yourself in and ask yourself (and each other) these questions. Where do they take you next?

What are the strengths, assets and resources of this partnership?

What are you looking for in a (collaborative or romantic) partner?

What does it take to forge a true partnership?

After reading the research abstracts or excerpts about relationships and successful partnerships, what are possible implications of the research findings for your day-to-day relationships?

Who is missing from the table? What other collaborative partners need to be included? Who can you invite?

Do you feel authentically engaged in this collaborative partnership or merely involved?

Do you feel respected, heard, powerful and trusted in this (collaborative or romantic) partnership?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Naps & Sleeping

"When Nobel laureate Otto Loewi discovered the chemical basis of neurotransmission in 1921, he attributed his experimental design to an insight he made during sleep. In recent years, scientific discoveries have begun to empirically validate the hypothetical role of sleep in cognitive processes such as insight formation and memory consolidation...new and important scientific findings—that sleep benefits cognition..."
Ellenbogen, J.M. (2005). Cognitive benefits of sleep and their loss due to sleep deprivation, NEUROLOGY, 64, E25-E27.

I love it when - even though I am stressed out about an assignment or reading that is due - if I just gotta take a nap, then I do. And I manage to get everything done and things turn out okay anyway.

I can't seem to get turned on to coffee. When I feel sleepy, I don't feel like drinking it - I feel like taking a nap instead. Makes sense to me.

I noticed that both infamous racehorses, Sea Biscuit and Secretariat, were notorious eaters and sleepers.  Makes sense, no?  If you are going to expend that much energy in pursuit of a goal, you gotta seriously recover and re-juice in between.

Sleeping is very important to me. I have always needed 8+ hours of sleep every night. I also hear it is a fountain of youth secret.

Stress, trauma, aging, medical conditions, anxiety and depression can mess with our sleep patterns. This sets up a vicious cycle as we have less capacity to cope with stress, think or problem-solve when we are sleep-deprived.

In college, on the rare occasion when I'd pull an all-nighter to finish writing a paper, I was a total mess the next day. I'd burst into tears if I thought someone looked at me funny.

In a climate of widespread economic stress that touches us all directly or indirectly, much-needed sleep may be the first to go.

Here's a list of what works for me:
  • When I can't sleep, I get up to write because sometimes it helps to download thoughts so my body can rest.
  • Other times, I count my breaths (inhale, exhale - one, inhale, exhale - two...) to focus my mind and stop all those distracting monkey-mind thoughts.
  • Chamomile tea helps. Warm baths/showers and a routine bedtime help my daughter.
  • I ask my husband to stroke my hair just like my mom did when I was little - very relaxing and soothing to my overburdened head and whole body. In fact, just laying on my husbands chest puts me out.
  • I bring my iPod and headphones to bed and listen to George Lopez comedy concerts (the laughter releases natural endorphins that relaxes my body and the clever jokes distract my worry thoughts).
  • I went through a period of listening to the Pixies song, "Where is my Mind?" over and over again to put me to sleep.
  • There is an amazing meditation CD I picked up at Deer Park Monastery. It is of a Vietnamese Buddhist nun singing and talking. It reminds me of the siestas I took during family retreats at the Monastery. At the retreat, sometime after lunch and working or walking meditations everyday, we'd make our way to the Big Hall and lay on a mat while a nun sang to us - like pre-school - I felt taken care of, nurtured and loved.
  • Sometimes I have to fall asleep watching TV (as long as I set the timer to automatically shut off the TV so it doesn't wake me later).
  • When it is really bad, I have to pull out textbooks and read.
  • On a few occasions, nothing seems to work. But nights like these are few and far between so I don't panic. I know that I will find my way to bed earlier the next night or catch up on sleep over the weekend.
  • I have fallen asleep to the point of snoring on the massage table or while getting acupuncture.
  • My best sleep has been in church or Sunday afternoon-after-church. I wonder what the connection is? :)
  • It make sense that exercise would help. Diet too. B-vitamins are my new cure-all.
Aging and self-awareness are about knowing what works for you, right? When in distress, what helps soothe the wailing baby inside you so that the baby can finally fall asleep?

Possibly a good resource if sleep is an issue for you: http://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/sleep-topics

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Smiling in Year 2, 1st Quarter


















Walking through campus on a perfect Fall day makes me smile and sigh to be in the right place, doing the right thing at the right time of my life.

Last year felt like an exam and thankfully, I passed.
How bad did I want it? Because it was going to get rough.
Did I want it bad enough and for the right reasons?

This quarter has been completely different. It took all summer to detox from the storm and stress that was the first year. Now I feel I am enjoying a respite quarter even though I am still doing the work. My class and work assignments are serving double and sometimes triple duty which streamlines my time and energy and makes everything relevant and interconnected.

The reading and assignments last year were overwhelming and dense - had me studying 10-12 hours a day for seven days a week! This year the load and articles feel light and readable. It's been harder to focus but I manage to get assignments done. I am dancing, walking, playing tennis and going to the gym a whole lot more - not sitting nearly as much.

People ask if I am just feeling better adjusted to the work-school-family balance. Maybe. But everything feels transformed. It is a whole new day.

I am glad I hung in there despite nagging thoughts of wanting to quit - to get off the roller coaster. The future seems open and hopeful. I am looking forward to what comes next. I am grateful to be putting my talents to use in this way. I am glad to respond to the call of research. I want to know how things work and how to do things better.

If you are thinking about taking on a challenge - whatever it is - take the leap of faith. What's the worst thing that can happen? Making mistakes at first is guaranteed and need not be feared to the point of paralysis. Nobody gets to be perfect. When we are learning something new we need to be kind and patient with ourselves. It does get better. There is a reason you are dreaming of taking that step. Your heart and imagination are pulling you toward something that will bring you closer to yourself. That is what we are here for. The 80-year old in us will not regret it one bit.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Mirror Neurons

"Mirror neurons are a particular type of neurons that discharge when an individual performs an action, as well as when he/she observes a similar action done by another individual.

In the human brain, evidence for mirror neurons is indirect (m0st studies have been done on monkeys), but, although there is no single-neuron study showing the existence of mirror neurons, functional imaging studies revealed activation of the similar area in monkey's brains during action observation.

What is the functional role of the mirror neurons? Various hypotheses have advanced: action understanding, imitation, intention understanding, and empathy. In addition, it has been suggested that mirror-neuron system is the basic neural mechanism from which language developed."

Rizzolatti, G. (2005). The mirror neuron system and its function in humans. Anat Embryol, 210, 419–421.

Other journal articles about mirror neurons:

1. Mirror neurons and the simulation theory of mind-reading

2. Understanding emotions in others: mirror neuron dysfunction in children with autism spectrum disorders
"It has recently been proposed that dysfunction of the mirror neuron system (MNS) early in development could give rise to the cascade of impairments that are characteristic of autism spectrum disorders (ASD), including deficits in imitation, theory of mind and social communication."

3. Grasping the intentions of others with one's own mirror neuron system

4. The mirror neuron system and the consequences of its dysfunction

"The discovery of premotor and parietal cells known as mirror neurons in the macaque brain that fire not only when the animal is in action, but also when it observes others carrying out the same actions provides a plausible neurophysiological mechanism for a variety of important social behaviours, from imitation to empathy. Recent data also show that dysfunction of the mirror neuron system in humans might be a core deficit in autism, a socially isolating condition. Here, we review the neurophysiology of the mirror neuron system and its role in social cognition and discuss the clinical implications of mirror neuron dysfunction."

Cool titles, no? Mirror neurons remind me of what Reevah, the brilliant clinical supervisor I had for years, used to say during supervision - "How you feel when you are with someone for five minutes tells you a lot about their inner world." So now I pay attention to how I feel when I am with someone. Paying attention without judgment as Dr. Crimmins taught me.

Being able to search, download and read journal articles for free, in any topic, using google scholar is one of the joys of being back in school. It is actually one of the reasons I applied in the first place. There ought to be a way to have access to the research literature no matter what. Otherwise, how do we stay abreast of the latest and greatest developments in our field?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Milestones & Survey

240 blog posts to date.

Over 60 unique individuals visiting the blog in the last seven days.

In the last seven days, 176 page views with an average of 26 page views per day.

1,841 unique individuals logged as visiting since the blog started tracking (August 17, 2009).

With all this activity, I am curious to know...who are you? how'd you find me? what are you getting out of reading?

I notice most of you do not leave a comment (although some of you do - to you I say, "thanks for writing!").

If you are so inclined, please send me an email at aacunalcsw@gmail.com with any of the following info:

Name?
Gender?
Age?
Ethnic/cultural or racial identity?
City, state or country?
How did you find this blog? Friend referral? Facebook post? Google search? Other?
What topics covered interest you most?
What do you get out of reading this blog?
How have you used any of the information on this blog in your personal or professional life?
What do you like about reading blogs?
Any strong reaction to content?

Thanks for your visit and interest. I appreciate and respect your valuable time and attention.

The Books and Article That Made an Impact On Me in the Last Year

I have read a lot of stuff since I started the program almost a year and a half ago. Something I wish for everyone is the time and space to read good stuff. If your time is limited and want to know what is a good read, here are some of my suggestions:

1. Israel, B.A., et al. (Editors). Methods in Community-Based Participatory Research for Health. Josey-Bass: San Francisco, CA. 2005.

What I like about this book is that it lays out Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) in action through case studies (tell me a story about what you did and how it is done). The descriptions are easy to read (compared to most journal articles) and describe CBPR step-by-step.

"From an ethnographic perspective, community-based participatory research offers an approach to conducting culturally competent research that aims for a cultural interpretation of research findings and that uses community members as researchers. CBPR includes community members as researchers in all aspects of the research process, including the development of research concepts, the conduct of the research, and the interpretation of the findings."

"Groups and community members become agents of change by telling their stories, articulating their perspectives on the health and social issues affecting them, and recommending strategies for addressing these issues that are grounded in the realities of their environment and experience."

2. The entire issue of Ethnicity & Disease, Volume 19, Number 4, Autumn 2009.

Seven chapters of clear and concise writing describing, in step-by-step fashion, how to carry out a Community-Partnered Participatory Research (CPPR) project with many examples drawn from the authors own experiences on a Witness for Wellness project addressing depression in South Los Angeles.

It's all good and important stuff about engagement, visioning, organization and structure, and so on. One of my favorite chapters is on evaluation written by Ken Wells. I know Ken and he is brilliant (I have a serious brain crush on him and will work with him someday although he is not aware of either truth just yet). One of the marks of a brilliant person is that they can take the complex and make it simple again. The chapter is elegantly simple and illustratively clear.

"...the long-range goal is to build capacity in the community for evaluating partnered projects...The evaluation is part of the whole process of respectful and equal engagement, which is the goal of Community-Partnered Participatory Research."

3. Public Policy and Program Evaluation by Evert Vedung

Who knew that Swedish folks had it going on? I have come across lots of interesting research coming out of that country. And I am looking forward to celebrating Swedish Christmas with friends this year for the first time ever. But I digress. This book was written after the author conducted a series of lectures on the topic and it shows. That is, it has a great conversational style and covers a lot of ground. I may have been conceptually predisposed to the topic but he managed to make me fall in love with the idea of policy evaluation - who knew there were so many ways to carry it out! It's like the Kama Sutra of policy evaluation.

4. Experimental and Quasi-Experimental Designs for Generalized Causal Inference by William R. Shadish, Thomas D. Cook, Donald T. Campbell

Okay, this is like a dictionary or reference manual for intervention research designs. Hardly the stuff of love, unless you are passionate about intervention research, which I am. Too much to digest or remember but exceedingly thorough and clear. Like any good reference, I will be coming back to it again and again.

5. Statistical Methods for the Social Sciences by Alan Agresti & Barbara Finlay

I used this book for two quarters of Stats with two different professors and one TA - each with their strengths and weaknesses. This book single-handedly taught me stats so I am grateful to the authors. I love a book that I can count on. My mother used to say she never worried about me because I had my mother - the books. So I guess it is not too much of a stretch to say, "I love you Agresti and Finlay!"

6. Empirically Based School Interventions Targeted at Academic and Mental Health Functioning by KIMBERLY E.HOAGWOOD, et al.

Hoagwood is another one of my brain crushes. Nearly every one of her 85 articles in PubMed is something I would like to have worked on with her. I must admit I came across this particular article before I came back to school but it helped lead me to where I am today. I have read, quoted and referred back to this article many times for the last year and a half.

The abstract reads...
This review examines empirically based studies of school-based mental health interventions. The review identified 64 out of more than 2,000 articles published between 1990 and 2006 that met methodologically rigorous criteria for inclusion. Of these 64 articles, only 24 examined both mental health and educational outcomes. The majority of school-based mental health intervention studies failed to include even rudimentary measures of school-related outcomes.

Analysis of the 24 studies yielded several key findings:
  • The types of mental health outcomes most frequently assessed included self-, peer-, teacher-, or parent-reported measures of social competence, aggression, or problem behaviors.
  • Academic scores and school attendance were the types of educational outcomes most frequently assessed.
  • The majority of interventions focused on elementary students, had a preventive focus, and targeted prosocial, aggressive, and antisocial behaviors.

Only 15 of the 24 studies demonstrated a positive impact on both educational and mental health outcomes, 11 of which included intensive interventions targeting both parents and teachers. (This is what it takes to make an impact on both education and mental health outcomes. Sad that only 11 out of 2,000 did so.)

The studies that had an impact only on mental health outcomes tended to be less intensive with more limited family involvement. (Thee money line! If you want to make an impact on academics, then you have to involve families!! Duh, right? So what are we waiting for?)

This review discusses the implications of these findings for school-based mental health services and identifies directions for future research.

So what were the "methodologically rigorous criteria for inclusion"?


"To be included in the review, studies had to use a prospective, longitudinal design, with either random assignment or a quasi-experimental comparison. They also had to be published between 1990 and June 2006. In addition, the intervention being evaluated had to have taken place in a public school. School-based programs included a wide variety of services, and some involved both students and their families. Mental health outcomes were defined broadly to include behavioral issues, emotional problems, impaired functioning, or psychiatric diagnoses. Educational outcomes consisted of students’ academic progress (e.g., grades, special education placement) as well as their functioning (e.g., attendance, suspensions) within the school."

Okay, folks, that is my top six. Now I really have to get back to writing for school. I have a Community Project Plan due for Ken's class and based on what I've told you about him so far, you must realize I really want to do a good job.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

De-Stigmatizing Help-Seeking

It takes confidence and courage to ask for help and when you feel backed into a corner, it is one of the smartest moves you can make.

Relationships

A colleague invited me to present to his collaborative partners yesterday at one of their monthly meetings because he wanted to take their work "to the next level." So I was inspired to talk about relationships and their power to heal, get things done and make a difference. Everything we do happens in the context of relationships - dating, marriage, work, therapy, parenting, teaching, advocacy, and so on.

So what do we know about relationships? The research literature has gobs of information about this and I wanted to glean some good stuff from there to trigger storytelling and discussion. In preparing for this talk, I read a lot of interesting journal articles and posted some of those excerpts and abstracts here on the blog.

I gave everyone at the meeting a copy of the article excerpts and a few minutes to read. One of the service providers in the group said that the following statement really stood out to her, " Several recent research reviews have concurred that 'bad is stronger than good.' " This statement resonated with her experience of tending to remember the bad over the good.

I remember reading that bad experiences tend to get encoded in our memory more strongly because of the strong feelings associated. It's good to know how we are built. Like an instruction manual for our mind.

That article goes on to say, "The implication is that to overcome the toxicity of negative affect and to promote flourishing, experiences of positivity may need to outnumber experiences of negativity, optimal mental health is associated with high ratios of positive to negative affect."

Makes sense! One bad experience is so strong that it takes 3 to 5 good experiences to counteract it! When I think about what Social Workers and other mental health professionals sign up for (dealing with challenges all day long!), I think about the exponential amount of good experiences that we need to build into our work and lives in order to flourish personally and professionally.

Sometimes at self-care presentations or discussions, we ask each other: "what one thing will you do for yourself tonight or this week for self-care?" When the mathematically adequate question would be: "Considering you handled 4 crises situations today, what 20 positive experiences will you engage in today?"

This is an important math problem for all - parents, partners, family members, friends - especially in these stressful times. Even if you still have a job, you may have someone near and dear who has lost or is losing theirs. This makes us all feel vulnerable. When we spend time with stressed out loved ones, our own mirror neurons are affected. That is, we feel what they feel even if it is not happening directly to us. It is how we are built.

No matter what life throws at us, let's bring on the positive experiences, emotions, interactions, baby! Thanks to friends, family and boundaries, I am not running on empty or overdrawn now. I am so grateful for a flourishing ratio.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

What Do We Know about Partnership Success?

"Results indicate that the primary characteristics of partnership success are:

• Partnership attributes of commitment, coordination, and trust;
• Communication quality and participation; and
• The conflict resolution technique of joint problem solving.

The findings offer insight into how to better manage these relationships to ensure success."


Mohr, J. and Spekman, R. (1994), Characteristics of partnership success: Partnership attributes, communication behavior, and conflict resolution techniques. Strategic Management Journal, 15: 135–152.

What Makes Individuals, Relationships and Work Teams Flourish?

"Extending Fredrickson’s broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions and Losada’s model of team performance, the authors predict that a ratio of positive to negative affect at or above 3 to 1 will characterize individuals in flourishing mental health.

Participants completed an initial survey to identify flourishing mental health and then provided daily reports of experienced positive and negative emotions over 28 days. Results showed that the mean ratio of positive to negative affect was above 2.9 for individuals classified as flourishing and below that threshold for those not flourishing.

Past research has shown that for individuals, this ratio predicts subjective well-being. Pushing further, we hypothesize that—for individuals, relationships, and teams—positivity ratios that meet or exceed a certain threshold characterize human flourishing.

Although both negative and positive affect can produce adaptive and maladaptive outcomes, a review of the benefits of positive affect provides a particularly useful backdrop for our theorizing.

Despite the momentary unpredictability of affect and behavior, over time, people who regularly experience positive affect exhibit greater resilience to adversity.

Within married couples, greater marital happiness is associated with less predictability from moment to moment as spouses interact, and yet, over time, these marriages are the ones most likely to last.

Within business teams, higher levels of expressed positivity among group members have been linked to greater behavioral variability within moment-to-moment interactions as well as to long-range indicators of business success.

And within organizations, positive experiences have been linked to broader information processing strategies and greater variability in perspectives across organizational members as well as to organizational resilience in the face of threat.

Several recent research reviews have concurred that “bad is stronger than good.” The implication is that to overcome the toxicity of negative affect and to promote flourishing, experiences of positivity may need to outnumber experiences of negativity, optimal mental health is associated with high ratios of positive to negative affect.

According to this model, normal functioning is characterized by ratios near 3 to 1 whereas optimal functioning is characterized by ratios near 4 to 1.

Summarizing two decades of observational research on marriages, Gottman (1994) concluded that unless a couple is able to maintain a high ratio of positive to negative affect (5 to 1), it is highly likely that their marriage will end."

Barbara Fredrickson, 2004

The Emotional Intelligence of Leaders

"Feelings (moods and emotions) play a central role in the leadership process.

More specifically, it is proposed that emotional intelligence, the ability to understand and manage moods and emotions in the self and others, contributes to effective leadership in organizations.

There are four major aspects of emotional intelligence:
(1) the appraisal and expression of emotion,
(2) the use of emotion to enhance cognitive processes and decision-making,
(3) knowledge about emotions, and
(4) management of emotions.

I propose how emotional intelligence contributes to effective leadership by focusing on five essential elements of leader effectiveness:
• Development of collective goals and objectives;
• Instilling in others an appreciation of the importance of work activities;
• Generating and maintaining enthusiasm, confidence, optimism, cooperation, and trust;
• Encouraging flexibility in decision making and change; and
• Establishing and maintaining a meaningful identity for an organization."

Uggh, I'll get back to you on the reference for this excerpt. I seem to have misplaced it.

Relational Resilience by June Jordan

"Given that life subjects all of us to tensions and suffering and that relationships as well as individuals are buffeted by forces that create pain, disconnection, and the threat of dissolution, the capacity for relational resilience, or transformation is essential.

Movement toward empathic mutuality is at the core of relational resilience. When individuals move from mutually empowering and mutually empathic relationships into disconnection, they are often beset by a damaging sense of immobilization and isolation. They lose the sense of a life-giving empathic bridge.

When people are unable to move from disconnection to connection, the resulting combination of immobilization and isolation may become a prison (“condemned isolation”) and may contribute to psychological anguish, physical deterioration, and sometimes even death.

Thus, we can no longer look only at factors within the individual that facilitate adjustment; we must examine the relational dynamics that encourage the capacity for connection.

Reframing our understanding of resilience in terms of a relational model has implications for both psychotherapy and social change. Therapy, then, can be understood as largely an effort to explore and enhance the capacity for relational resilience.

And in moving beyond personal resilience to personal transformation and social change, the relational context is central.

What makes for relational resilience and mutuality and ultimately encourages the transformation from isolation and pain to relatedness and growth? In exploring this, I suggest we need new models. I believe we must make the following moves:

1. From individual ‘control over’ dynamics to a model of supported vulnerability
2. From a one-directional need for support from others to mutual empathic involvement in the well-being of each person and of the relationship itself
3. From separate self-esteem to relational confidence
4. From the exercise of ‘power over’ dynamics to empowerment, by encouraging mutual growth and constructive conflict
5. From finding meaning in self-centered self-consciousness to creating meaning in a more expansive relational awareness"

Hope

Just because I am struggling doesn't mean that I won't learn.

An Element RTI (Response to Intervention) May Be Missing...

"Both academic and community members can fall into a conceptual trap: focusing exclusively on weaknesses and problems. For both groups, the trap exists because community needs can be very apparent. Academic members may see a problem and view themselves as purveyors of the solution.

A successful community-academic partnership completely rejects and overturns deficit-based thinking and instead relies on its opposite: asset-based thinking and problem solving.

In a mature partnership, while members see community problems realistically, they are equally realistic about seeing community strengths. They recognize that both academic and community members bring assets that, when united, can not only resolve a specific issue, but can lay the groundwork for resolving future issues, and build resiliency and capacity."

From: Begin Your Partnership: The Process of Engagement, Jones et al, 2009, Ethnicity & Disease

Community Partnered-Participatory Research and Community Efficacy

"The ultimate goal of the partnership is to solve not only the problem at hand, but to allow the community itself to solve a wide range of issues."

The community can handle challenges (community efficacy).

From: Begin Your Partnership: The Process of Engagement, Loretta Jones, et al. Ethnicity and Disease, 2009.

Core Beliefs

Underlying our everyday thoughts and subsequent feelings are a set of core beliefs that we have about ourselves, others and the world. Those core beliefs were formed by our earliest interactions with our first caregivers. Did they come to us when we cried? This tells us we are important to another. Did they soothe us when we cried? This tells us we can depend on someone to help us when we are distressed. Were we protected from harm? This tells us what level of safety we can expect in the world beyond home.

If all goes well enough, then we walk around believing...

I am good, worthwhile and important.
I can trust (most) others.
The world is (mostly) a safe place.

If not, then we may have unwittingly adopted core beliefs that are getting in our way...

I am no good.
I can't trust others.
The world is a dangerous place.

Some of these statements may have been true at one time, then and there, but they are certainly not true all the time. The first statement is a lie and self-blame. Yet because they are beliefs, they keep us stuck, regardless of what is going on in the here and now.

Try repeating the first set of core beliefs to yourself throughout the day and see what happens. Post these statements where you can read them - for instance, on the bathroom mirror, car dashboard, computer screen, refrigerator door and so on. Notice if you behave differently. Does it affect your interactions? choices or decisions? what you say and do? how you treat other people? how you expect to be treated? how others treat you? how you perceive the comments of others? how you perceive the interactions, behaviors or mistakes of others? Notice what happens and if anything changes.

If you try this, let me know what happens.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Intellectual Heroes

When I ran into Dr. Bessel van der Kolk at a trauma conference at UCLA, I could not help but go up to him and say, "I admire your pluck." Check out his book, The Body Keeps the Score or listen to his podcast at nctsn.org. He is not afraid to talk about or research the impact of yoga on healing from trauma. He is not afraid to challenge conventional treatment of trauma. He is controversial but making a difference for the people who come to him for treatment and for providers committed to the best quality of care for trauma treatment.

pluck: gutsiness and the trait of showing courage and determination in spite of possible loss or injury

The Power of Positive Emotions

Abstract:

The broaden-and-build theory describes the form and function of a subset of positive emotions, including joy, interest, contentment and love.

A key proposition is that these positive emotions broaden an individual's momentary thought-action repertoire:
  • joy sparks the urge to play,
  • interest sparks the urge to explore,
  • contentment sparks the urge to savour and integrate, and
  • love sparks a recurring cycle of each of these urges within safe, close relationships.
The broadened mindsets arising from these positive emotions are contrasted to the narrowed mindsets sparked by many negative emotions (i.e. specific action tendencies, such as attack or flee).

A second key proposition concerns the consequences of these broadened mindsets: by broadening an individual's momentary thought-action repertoire--whether through play, exploration or similar activities--positive emotions promote discovery of novel and creative actions, ideas and social bonds, which in turn build that individual's personal resources; ranging from physical and intellectual resources, to social and psychological resources.

Importantly, these resources function as reserves that can be drawn on later to improve the odds of successful coping and survival. This chapter reviews the latest empirical evidence supporting the broaden-and-build theory and draws out implications the theory holds for optimizing health and well-being.

The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions, Barbara L Fredrickson

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Focus Groups Capture Vulnerable Voice

"In a community based participatory research context, focus groups are a vehicle to capture the voice of community members, particularly marginalized populations whose cultural norms and realities may not 'fit' with the norms of dominant mainstream society."

Methods in Community-Based Participatory Research for Health
Barbara Israel, editor

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Coping with the Emotional Stresses of our Current Economic Times

I see the toll that our economic crisis is taking on adults, families and children. Some messages bear repeating. I wrote this for schools over a year ago. It seems as important to publish this now as it did then.

In this economic climate, there is a potential to feel overwhelmed, powerless, worried, shocked and a loss of control. It is possible to feel by turns, hopeless and hopeful, anxious and confident, angry and resigned, confused and curious. Families overwhelmed by the economic crisis may experience sleeplessness, nightmares, inability to concentrate and a change in appetite. Here are some ideas about how to cope:

Supporting children. Children can be very resilient if they know their parents love them and will care for them. Although it may be painful for parents to hear children talk about their fears or questions, it is helpful to listen and understand. Children usually can tell when there are difficulties at home so not talking to them about it just increases their anxiety. While our instinct may be to "protect" them, leaving them out may lead them to assume things are worse than they are. Children are also learning how to behave in future crises. Whether it is financial loss or any other kinds of losses, they're learning from the behavior of the adults around them.

Reflecting on what is working and has worked for us in the past. Answer the following questions about the ways of coping that have worked for you in the past. With all you’ve been through, how do you manage to get to sleep? What has been helpful to get you through so far? Have you been in this situation before? What did you do to get through it then? What was most helpful to you? How did you know that would be helpful? What else was helpful?

You are not alone – stay connected. One of the best ways to weather this storm is to reach out, communicate and allow yourself to give and receive support from friends, family and resources in your community. Doing so may have a positive effect on both you and your family.

Using strengths. We all have strengths that help us bounce back from adversity. Research shows that some of these strengths include: relationships, humor, inner direction, perceptiveness, independence, positive view of personal future, flexibility, love of learning, self-motivation, competence, self-worth, spirituality, perseverance, and creativity. How can you draw upon your strengths to deal with the challenges you are facing?

Values and Priorities. It may prove inspiring to focus on what is most important to us. We often hear disaster survivors saying things like, “We’re alive and that’s what counts.” It may be helpful to make a list of your positive characteristics, things that matter and for which you feel grateful.

Self-care and well-being. Staying healthy ensures that we maintain the physical and mental capacity necessary to deal with problems and stress. That's why it is important to eat and sleep well and get regular physical exercise. Going for walks as a family can relieve stress and promote family bonding.

Choose your thoughts. While it’s useful to learn from mistakes so as not to repeat them in the future, it’s also clear that self-blame may not be helpful while in the middle of a crisis. “What if” and “If only” thoughts may not be beneficial when events are beyond our control.

Taking a news break. Some amount of anxiety is healthy because it motivates us to do things, but too much anxiety can interfere with our ability to think straight. Don’t saturate yourself with stressful information from the media. Stay informed and take a news break.

Maintain family routines. Keeping family routines gives a family a sense of stability. Examples of these include: eating meals together, reading bedtime stories and maintaining family rules like expecting children to assist with household chores and to do well in school. When children have routines and stability, it gives them the assurance that their family and parents are in control or in charge. If children don't feel secure, they can become anxious and worried, and their school work can suffer. Children are less likely to engage in risky behaviors, such as drug use, when there is a family structure and parents are interested in and involved in their lives.

Relaxation and meditation. We can learn techniques to help us reduce stress. Remember that stress takes a physical toll. Learn meditation and do muscle relaxation. Pay attention to yourself and body.

Choose your outlook. Optimism, a tendency to expect the best, or at least, a good outcome, is contagious and research shows that it is powerful and can be learned. Optimism can: (1) decrease the likelihood of becoming depressed or aid in recovering more quickly; (2) increase the likelihood that we keep trying instead of giving up; (3) become the primary determinant of health as we get older; and (4) impact the way that we explain the good and bad things that happen – an explanatory style that may last for most of our lives and get passed on to our children by what we say to them.

Take advantage of resources. Sometimes people feel it's embarrassing to ask for help. Seeking assistance means you are proactive and makes you feel less passive and isolated.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Themes for Life Stages

Every year of my life seems to take on a theme or mantra.

A few years back it was, "whenever possible, say no" because I was taking on too many opportunities and experiences for learning and growth. It was nearly killing me.

After I turned 40, the theme became integration. That is, bringing together this and that, yes and no, thoughts and feelings, ideas and people, rules and stories, details and the big picture, being with others and being alone, judging and perceiving. Realizing it all matters. Everyone has a point.

This seems to be the year of balance. Finding a place for both studying and dancing in my life - the light and the dark side. This is a really good year. I have never felt more comfortable in my own skin.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Color Psychology

Abstract:

Word associations or verbal synesthesia between concepts of color and emotions were studied in Germany, Mexico, Poland, Russia and the United States.

With emotion words as the between-subjects variable, 661 undergraduates indicated on 6-point scales to what extent anger, envy, fear, and jealousy reminded them of 12 terms of color.

In all nations, the colors of anger were black and red, fear was black, and jealousy was red.

Cross-cultural differences were:
(a) Poles connected anger, envy, and jealousy also with purple
(b) Germans associated envy and jealousy with yellow; and
(c) Americans associated envy with black, green, and red,
(d) but for the Russians it was black, purple, and yellow.

The findings suggest that cross-modal associations originate in universal human experiences and in culture-specific variables, such as language, mythology, and literature.

The Colors of Anger, Envy, Fear, and Jealousy: A Cross-Cultural Study
Ralph B. Hupka, et al
Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, Vol. 28, No. 2, March 1997