A Field Guide to the Neat Freak

By Amy Rosenberg


In the film As Good as It Gets, as soon as the character Melvin Udall enters his apartment, he pulls a bar of soap from his medicine cabinet (stacked with nothing but soap), rubs his hands under scalding water for a few seconds, drops the bar in the trash and grabs another and then another and another. He fears dirt and mess so much that he brings his own plastic silverware to the one restaurant he patronizes. And he has never allowed another living creature to step into his home.

Udall suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). But he has many kindred spirits—those who are not clinically diagnosable though they still inspire both admiration and scorn in their quest for cleanliness and order. Your roommate might arrange her shirts by color, or your husband might alphabetize all the books on the shelf. Such folks are neat freaks.

John Ratey, professor of psychiatry at Harvard University, says that hyper-concern about order could be a “shadow syndrome” of OCD, a mild and indistinct—perhaps even undetectable—expression of the more severe disorder. “OCD has to be at a level where it interferes with a person’s functioning, and neat freaks can often function well. “The fact is,” he jokes, “we used to just call them anal.”

According to Ellen McGrath, a clinical psychologist and president of the Bridge Coaching Institute in New York City, most neat freaks tend to have “hot spots”—extremely high standards for neatness in very particular areas. These trigger points spark feelings about childhood routines and can touch off relationship battles: The sock left on the floor suddenly holds all of a couple’s buried tensions. If neat freaks find their special terrain in disarray, they start overreacting and get angry. The problem, from their point of view, is that disorder signifies a lack of control—precisely what they fear. “‘Neat freak’ is another term for a control freak,” says McGrath. Neat freaks are often perfectionists in other areas of life, continually setting themselves up for frustration and disappointment.

If you’re a neat freak who wants to shed your fastidiousness, you can—even without a professional’s help, says McGrath. First, make an honest list of the costs and benefits of your ways, and have a family member or roommate also make a list for you, for comparison. Acknowledge how you may be distancing others with your zealous cleaning. Then promise to relinquish one neat demand each week for a month.

Varieties of the Species

The Fussy Groomer

He can’t run to the corner deli without ironing his shirt, polishing his shoes, clipping his nails and trimming his beard. For this fellow, control takes the form of extreme care with personal appearance. While some attention to one’s looks can increase confidence, such fanatical concern often leaves this put-together type painfully self-conscious and paralyzed by something as innocuous as a spot of spaghetti sauce.

The Germophobe

Germophobes lead a personal crusade against the bacteria, viruses, fungi and dirt that exist everywhere. They dread ATMs, computer keyboards, handrails, library books, babies, you name it. The terror can manifest itself in disruptive ways: obsessive hand-washing, for example, or an aversion to others’ touch. (Scientists debate whether there really is any reason to fear germs so much, but marketers of hand sanitizers do a good business nonetheless.)

The Nitpicking Nester

She swipes her shoes vigorously on the doormat even though she’s planning to remove them and still vacuums before doing anything else. A sense of peace washes over her as she aligns the pencils on her desk. This home sanitation expert, who may take her habits to the office, cannot handle clutter, confusion or the slightest surprise in her physical surroundings. She might become incensed with a loved one who fails to return an object to its proper place. She may even decide to live alone.

When Neat Freaks Move In

Peaceful cohabitation is possible, says Ratey, but only if the neat freak in the house is aware of his tendency toward excessive order and eases up on his judgments of those not so inclined. Understand he may be resistant to change, since his immaculate habits may have been reinforced over the years with high praise.

Once all parties concerned are ready to negotiate, says McGrath, write a list of problem areas. “Find out where the places of conflict are and make a plan for coping.” Then decide on a consequence for any violators of the compromises. “Maybe the one who makes the mess pays extra for a housecleaner.”

Full disclosure: My husband is a neat freak, and I am, let’s just say, not. We have reached a settlement on one issue—if I leave dishes in the kitchen sink, I have to clean the bathroom. For his part, he’s agreed to ignore the mess in my half of our home office.

Ratey points out that some people are quite content to shack up with neat freaks. “Partnering up with a neat freak is like having a built-in coach,” he says. “You get someone who helps you establish order or does it themselves.”

Get Neat Freakier

Let Go

Get rid of half of your stuff, says Ariane Benefit, a professional organizer who runs an advice blog, neatliving.org. As for sentimental cards and gifts, she insists: “You’re not disrespecting the giver by throwing it away later.”

Create Havens

Each of your possessions needs a designated place, says Benefit. If you’re not consistently putting things away, it may be that you don’t like its home: If your drawers are overstuffed, roll up your shirts so that you can see each one.

Just Do It

Messy people may have the same perfectionist tendencies as neat freaks, says Judith Kohlberg, author of Conquering Chronic Disorganization. They are paralyzed by the thought of not being able to do it all, and so they do nothing. Don’t wait for the perfect time to be organized, she says. Target a small area that you’re sure you can manage.

Make It Fun

Invite a friend over to keep you company while you de-clutter, Kohlberg suggests. Put on some music; even have a glass of wine

Source Psychology Today

New Technique Stimulates Brain Cells And Reveals How Those Neurons Influence The Brain

By Christopher Fisher, PhD


There are about 100 billion neurons in the human brain, and each one belongs to elaborate networks that control our behavior, thoughts and emotions. A message from a single neuron can have far-reaching consequences in other brain areas, but those connections are difficult to decipher with current technology.

To help map those networks, a team of researchers from MIT, Harvard, Boston University, and Tufts University has now developed a way to selectively activate neurons in the awake mouse brain with light and then track the resulting activity in other brain regions, using a brain-scanning technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

By comparing this data to human fMRI brain scans, researchers could learn a great deal about the underlying brain circuits involved in disorders such as epilepsy, schizophrenia, autism, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“In all of these cases, being able to link the human neuroimaging data to the actual circuit elements that generate those patterns could be very powerful,” says Edward Boyden, an associate professor in MIT’s Media Lab and co-senior author of a paper describing the new approach in the Dec. 15 online edition of the Journal of Neurophysiology.

Light control
The new technique, called opto-fMRI, builds on optogenetics – the genetic engineering of cells to respond to light, which allows scientists to selectively stimulate or silence individual nerve cells. Optogenetics was pioneered by the Boyden lab and colleagues over the past several years, and in 2010, the journal Nature Methods named it “Method of the Year.”

To create cells that can be controlled by light, the target cells are genetically engineered to produce proteins called channelrhodopsins, which sit in the cell membrane. Those channels control the flow of ions (charged molecules) into the cell. Pumping positive ions into a neuron changes its voltage, which then activates it.

Boyden, who is also an associate professor of brain and cognitive sciences and of biological engineering, realized that combining optogenetics with fMRI could allow him to not only control neurons, but also to determine how those neurons influence other targets in the brain. To make that connection, Boyden teamed up with Chris Moore, associate professor of brain and cognitive sciences at MIT and an expert in using fMRI to study sensory perception.

fMRI is a brain-imaging technique that allows scientists to see blood flow in the brain, which indicates activity in those regions. Neuroscientists use it to identify parts of the brain that are active during certain behaviors, or impaired in people with neurological disorders. fMRI enables the measurement of activity throughout the awake brain, providing the unique opportunity to assess a whole working brain at once.

Deciphering networks
The new paper marks the first time anyone has used optogenetics and fMRI to study awake mice (a previous study looked at anesthetized animals). Working with awake animals is more difficult because if the animal’s head is moving, the resulting MRI image will be blurry. To overcome that, the researchers created a new experimental setup in which they can secure the animal’s head in place during scanning.

“That’s a very big step, because otherwise you’re going to get very different answers, if you look at anesthetized animals only,” says Bruce Hope, senior scientist at the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Boyden, Moore and colleagues also developed software that can analyze the fMRI data and calculate the underlying brain networks involved in the response. “That allows us to survey these neural networks in an unbiased way,” says Boyden. “We can drive a neuron and see what networks are downstream of it, which is really powerful.”

To test their system, the researchers inserted channelrhodopsins into neurons in the brain’s primary sensory cortex, which interprets sensations of touch and pain. Using fMRI, they found that after those neurons were activated with light, secondary sensory cortex, where additional sensory processing takes place, and primary motor cortex, which controls body movements, also became active. That result is consistent with a previously known neural circuit.

In future work, this technique could be used to study neurological conditions for which there is a lot of human fMRI data but little is known about the underlying neural circuits that control brain activity. Boyden believes this kind of work could eventually lead to new pharmaceuticals that target a specific circuit, rather than a specific molecule.

Many light sources
In the Journal of Neurophysiology study, Boyden used an implantable light source that directs light to only one target. However, in collaboration with MIT Vitesse Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Clif Fonstad, Boyden has also developed a probe that can deliver light to multiple sites. The new microfabricated device has 12 parallel light guides, each ending at a different spot, so they can be used to control different neurons.

Using this probe, described in a recent issue of the journal Optics Letters, each light source can be controlled separately. That could be important if this technology is ever developed into medical devices for humans. “From a prosthetics standpoint, the ability to enter information into multiple sites, while minimizing brain damage, is very valuable,” says Boyden.

In future studies, he would like to combine the new multiple-fiber probe with the fMRI techniques. This would allow scientists to create more comprehensive 3-D maps of the brain by measuring the roles of multiple regions in a circuit.

“We could perturb one site, observe which downstream sites are activated, and then perturb those downstream sites, iterating through the circuit in order to reveal how they all work together,” he says.

The lead authors on the studies are Mitul Desai and Itamar Kahn for the opto-fMRI paper, and Anthony Zorzos for the microfabricated waveguide paper. Other contributing authors to the studies include Ulf Knoblich, Jake Bernstein, Hisham Atallah, Aimei Yang, Nancy Kopell, Randy Buckner and Ann Graybiel.

Material adapted from MIT.

Source The Behavioral Medicine Report

Silly Uses of Sleeping Pills

by Matthew Edlund, M.D.

Snorting Sleeping Pills to Treat Your Feet


Not everyone snorts prescription sleeping pills to treat their feet. Aerosmith rocker Steve Tyler podiatric self-management included snorting lunesta (eszopiclone.) When he tried it while performing in South Dakota in 2009 he fell off the stage.

Please don’t do this when you’re judging American Idol, okay?

As fans of the Darwin awards know well, people can and do use drugs in surprising, ingenious ways. One of my better remembered patient encounters involved a Houston undergraduate who liked to get high injecting Vicks Vapo-Rub. He would grab his preferred substance, uncap the bottle, pour the liquid into a syringe, then subcutaneously inject. He never got infected and assured me he became “pleasantly whacked” for a while, though later he felt really tired.
Sleeping pills have different uses, but some are silly and others downright dangerous. Here are a few sleeping pill “uses” you may wish to avoid:

1. Getting high. Steve Tyler is not alone in his predilection for sleeping pills as a way to get “up”, though snorting them has hitherto been unfashionable. Many people use the class of benzodiazepine drugs, of which valium (diazepam), Librium (chlordiazepoxide), and ativan (lorazepam) are just some of the more popular members, to get high. Many of these “highs” occur in conjunction with other drugs including alcohol, opiates, and cocaine.
The problem – though very effective for anxiety disorders, benzodiazepines and drugs that mimic them, like lunesta and ambient (zolpidem,) can become physically addictive. Combined they can make you very dead. Many a celebrity, like the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein and Australian actor Heath Ledger, died of overdosing on sleeping pills. Often sleeping pill lethality is increased through adding alcohol. Like many addicting drugs, sleeping pills also produce tolerance – you just need more and more of the stuff. Not recommended.

2. To nap. Sleeping pills, especially short acting ones like lunesta and ambient often let people fall quickly into sleep – so fast people use them to nap.
The problem – beyond the issues of dependence and tolerance, short acting sleeping pills have been implicated in hair-raising sleepwalking episodes where people drive their cars for hours or try to jump off buildings. They also leave their users, after a short two hours of exposure, in terrible shape to walk, move, or do anything requiring intelligence, as shown in a recently published study by Kenneth Wright done at the University of Colorado. Short acting sleeping pills hit some of the same benzodiazepine receptors in the brain that long acting ones, like valium, do. Benzodiazepines are famous for causing many accidents and falls, in part because people think they’re better navigators than they really are. Benzodiazepines produce a kind of global Lake Woebegone effect – taking them convinces people their reactions and driving skills are superior – when they’re really impaired.
Plus using sleeping pills for naps vastly complicates obtaining normal sleep at night. Sleeping pills for naps are Not Recommended, except perhaps in movies, weepie novels and some complicated jet lag strategies.

3. “Topping off” other sleeping pills. When you can’t sleep, you get frantic. Many respond by taking more pills. Occasionally they will sleep better that night, and perhaps a couple of nights or even weeks more.
The problem – you’re usually just adding another drug, like ambien, to what is functionally the same class of drug, for example valium or restoril (temazepam.) You’ve blasted the new drug onto the few remaining receptors that don’t already have pharmaceuticals attached, but the effect won’t last. Tolerance hits quickly, and much of the “effect” leading to sleep is the brain simply recognizing there’s a different sedating drug coming in. The overall results on balance, thought, cognition, and memory are generally highly unfavorable. Definitely not recommended.

4. Shifting different sleeping pills from day to day. Perhaps it’s the nature of my clinical practice, but I usually observe this particular strategy happily engaged in by Europeans and globe trotting Americans who notice they sleep “better” when they vary their dosing in ancient Chinese menu style – one pill tonight from column A, two tomorrow from column B, the next night one from column A and column C…
The problem – people will certainly feel a different buzz, but lots of what goes into sleeping pill use is behavioral. The old team at Henry Ford hospital, especially Tim Roehrs and Leon Rosenthal, years ago did a lovely study where they gave habitual sleeping pill users their choice of different colored pills. One color contained what they had been taking for years; the other was placebo.
They took equal amounts of each.
For long term users, placebo=sleeping pill of choice.
So shifting drugs night by night may give the illusion of an effect that is different and “powerful.” Yet beware. Combining different sleeping pills from day to day not only increases tolerance but leads to unpredictable cognitive and physical results as different drugs are detoxified in very different manners and speeds. There are times in the 24 hour day when you get far more or far less stuff working than users think – which can lead to terrible accidents as well as increasing dependence.

The Larger Problem

A major public health difficulty of sleeping pills is that they don’t produce normal sleep. Recent studies of short acting agents like ambien place them more in the category of inducing mini-coma than anything resembling sleep.
Rest is regeneration. You rebuild body and brain through sleep. The natural kind is still best.
The best uses of sleeping pills remain temporary ones. And they’re definitely not to be used for foot pain.

Web Source: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-power-rest/201101/silly-uses-sleeping-pills

Unlikely Bedfellows: Neuroscience and Family Therapy

by Marilyn Wedge, Ph.D.


  Many parents come into my office already having a diagnosis for their child firmly planted in their heads. “My son has ADHD” is a refrain I hear all too frequently. Equally often, I hear a mother say: “I was reading an article in a magazine on childhood depression, and my daughter has all the signs. I think she’s clinically depressed.”

     In our society, diagnosing mental disorders in children has become an acceptable, even fashionable, way of categorizing sad or angry or inattentive kids. If we pause for a moment and ask ourselves why parents so readily embrace these diagnoses for their youngsters, one answer immediately jumps to mind. A diagnosis of mental illness shifts responsibility for a child’s troubling behavior away from parents. Parents cannot be blamed for their child’s ADHD or clinical depression or oppositional defiant disorder any more than they can be blamed for their child’s diabetes or asthma or any other medical condition. Biological psychiatry has banished all trace of Freudian parent-blaming.

Because we are a pill-taking society, it is socially acceptable to give a child a pill to ease her suffering: a pill for school problems, a pill for sadness or moodiness, even a pill for temper tantrums. In an effort not to blame parents, we see these difficulties as problems inside our children’s biological make-ups, rather than the result of the child’s social environment. It’s nature at fault, not nurture. It’s the wiring of the kid’s brain gone askew or a “chemical imbalance” (although the exact chemicals involved in these maladies still remain a mystery). Even a child as young as three years old can be diagnosed with a serious mental illness.

     This biological point of view, so prominent in the past three decades, now seems to be at odds with the latest advances in neuroscience; for neuroscientists are telling us that we must look to nurture as well as nature to understand a child’s difficulties. The wiring of a child’s brain, neuroscientists argue, is structured in large part by the child’s nurturing environment. If a child’s family environment is disrespectful or stressful, this factor actually impacts the neural wiring of the child’s brain. In a fascinating article in the January 5, 2011 issue of the Huffington Post, neuroscientist Dr. Douglas Fields tells us that environmental stress is actually a “neurotoxin”, especially during the development of the brain of a child. Our brains, argues Fields, are not fully formed at birth, but are actually products of “the environment in which we are nurtured during the first two decades of life.” And research shows that harsh words in the parenting environment are as toxic to the brain of a child as harsh blows. If I understand Fields correctly, this means that the child’s social environment can create a biological condition in the child’s brain. Although the child’s problem did not begin as biological, it can become biological.

     But just as a stressful, toxic environment can etch the eminently plastic and shapeable brain of the child, so a positive change in the parenting environment can create healthy changes in the child. If parents change their behavior to become more respectful, their child’s brain can change accordingly. This does not mean that we need to go back to blaming parents. It only means that we must educate and instruct parents as to how to create the nurturing environment that will produce a healthy brain in their child.

     All of this neuroscience becomes especially relevant to the family therapist, who must strike a delicate balance between changing a stressful family situation without placing blame on parents. In practice, this is not as difficult as it sounds. Every family therapist is aware that in order to help a child, the therapist must have a good relationship with the parents, while at the same time changing parental behaviors that are toxic and cause the child to feel unhappy or misbehave.

     A few weeks ago, I met for the first time with a twelve-year-old boy named Howie (not his real name) and his parents Belinda and Victor. Howie had been refusing to go to school for several months. He was recently diagnosed with ADHD–which has become a catch-all diagnosis for any kind of school problem–and was taking stimulant medication. After two months, the medication still was not helping. Howie still refused to go to school. A half hour conversation with Howie’s parents revealed a significant problem in his family environment: Howie and his father had come to blows one day, after Howie refused to do his homework. In daily power struggles, Victor often yelled at Howie to get him to do his chores around the house or do his homework. The parents also argued about how to discipline Howie. These stressors in Howie’s environment seemed to be a much more significant factor in his refusal to go to school than any purported biological condition. Healing the relationship with his father, I believed, would help Howie more than any bottle of pills.

     Without heaping blame or shame on Victor, who already felt terrible about hitting and yelling at his son, I suggested some strategies to heal the relationship. I earnestly told Victor that every parent “loses it” occasionally, and the important thing was to apologize to Howie. Victor apologized right there in the session. In a session with the parents alone later in the week, I asked Victor to tell Howie two good things about himself every day, and to take Howie out for an enjoyable activity on the weekend. Victor readily agreed to this. I also told Belinda and Victor that together we could figure out an agreement about discipline that would work for both of them. After meeting with the parents for three sessions and having them make changes at home, Howie began going to school.

     If children’s brains are continuously developing in response to the parenting environment, labeling a child with a purportedly biological “mental disorder” and giving him pills doesn’t make any sense. When the child’s social environment changes to become more respectful and thus less toxic to his brain, the child’s mental structure will change accordingly. The recent theories of brain plasticity mean that damage from the nurturing environment–as long as it has not been severe and chronic-can be reversed with the help of the correct family interventions. Family therapists have known this for years. Now neuroscientists are providing us with a scientific underpinning for just how this occurs.

Web Source: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/suffer-the-children/201101/unlikely-bedfellows-neuroscience-and-family-therapy

How Cool Is Your Sleep?

by Rubin Naiman, Ph.D.


When I was a little boy and happened not to be feeling well, my mother would routinely ask me three questions. Having grown up in an old-world village, she clung to simpler, traditional views of health, including her folksy health assessment.

Her first question was always: “What did you eat?”

Today, more than ever, we are aware of the impact our diets have upon our health. Despite this, much of the modern world remains overfed, yet simultaneously undernourished. We simply consume too many empty, high-glycemic calories that provide quick energy, but limited nutrition. Such eating habits have been strongly linked to chronic inflammation — the most overlooked issue in our disturbed sleep epidemic.

Inflammation is hot. Chronic inflammation has emerged as a critical factor underlying most major illnesses from diabetes to cardiovascular disease and autoimmune disorders to depression. It refers to a subtle cellular smoldering caused by a confused and overactive immune system that is actually attacking its own host. This “friendly fire” results in a slight but clinically significant increase in body temperature that can impede sleep.

Chronic inflammation is not just about poor food choices; it’s about a widespread practice of consuming excessive energy. If we broaden our perspective, it becomes evident that in addition to food, we also “consume” light, oxygen, and information — all powerful sources of energy. And in today’s world, all are consumed in excess.

We are unquestionably overexposed to light at night. This not only energizes us, but also results in the suppression of melatonin, a neurohormone that both reduces inflammation and promotes sleep. Some specialists are now raising interesting concerns that we also over-breathe, consuming excessive oxygen that energizes us, but also contributes to inflammation. And who would argue with the fact that we are all inundated with excessive amounts of information? The over-consumption of information results in a unique kind of stress — a form of mental indigestion that can also contribute to inflammation.

The earth is hot. There is a striking parallel between our personal failure to cool at night and global warming. Satellite images of the Earth at night taken over recent decades reveal that the planet is growing measurably brighter with each passing year. Not long ago, Al Gore suggested that our planet has a fever. Global warming clearly results from the same general pattern of excessive energy consumption that contributes to our personal inflammation.

Consuming energy is, of course, a natural and necessary part of healthy life. Problems arise, however, not only when we consume more than we need, but also more than we are able to release or discharge.

My mother’s second question was: “Did you poop?”

If food might serve as a metaphor for all that we consume, then this question is about what we are, in turn, releasing. As a reflection of a broader, common tendency to hold on, it’s not surprising that constipation is also epidemic in our world. Natural, healthy sleep is about letting go. Letting go of the ways of the waking world — letting go of energy.

Sleep is cool. One of the most important yet overlooked features of sleep is that it is strongly linked to a decrease in body temperature. In fact, we are designed to do exactly what the outside world does when the sun goes down. At nightfall, the Earth releases its energy into the atmosphere, continuously drawing temperatures down until the sun returns at dawn. Likewise, our body temperature gradually decreases through the night, reaching its nadir just before we arise, when it returns to its waking levels. 

Dreaming is the coolest part of sleep. When body temperature hovers near its depths, dreaming reaches its heights. Dreaming involves a kind of psychological cleansing and renovation that supports our emotional and spiritual health. And we dissipate a lot of heat in the process. Unfortunately, the same forces that interfere with healthy sleep impede our dreams, leaving us at least as dream deprived as we are sleep deprived.

Not surprisingly, my mother’s third question was: “How did you sleep?”

Sleep is a kind of nightly energy fast that encourages the dissipation of heat. Could it be that sleep itself is a potent anti-inflammatory? I believe so. Research has confirmed that compromised sleep impairs our immune function and triggers inflammation. Healthy sleep and dreams keep us cool. Minimizing inflammation will improve our sleep, and improving our sleep will minimize inflammation. Here are eight basic suggestions for doing so:

(1) Eat an anti-inflammatory diet — the kind advocated by Dr. Andrew Weil. Consider reducing your caloric intake and increasing fruits, vegetables and sources of omega 3 fatty acids like salmon.

(2) Get adequate daily exercise, which has many important benefits including both improved sleep quality and reduced inflammatory markers. 

(3) Learn to slow your breathing by practicing breathing exercises. The Koran teaches that we are each given a specific number of breaths at birth, suggesting the benefit of slowing our breathing.

(4) Consider an information diet, including a news fast. Instead, enjoy time in nature, a walk or meditate instead.

(5) Cool your body and mind before bed. A warm bath can help drop body temperature. Consider an evening ritual including gentle yoga, as well as relaxation practices such as meditation and breathing exercises.

(6) Optimize your bedroom by keeping it cool, dark and quiet–try 68 degrees or lower (20 degrees Celsius).

(7) Befriend your dreams. Think, speak and write about them. Avoid excessive alcohol and sleeping tablets, which can interfere with dreaming. Remember that good dreaming accompanies good sleep.

(8) Practice letting go — a kind of spiritual cooling. If there is a secret to sleep, it is about learning to surrender our waking ways of being. Incorporate this surrender into personal spiritual, religious or meditation practices you have.

In summary, I am suggesting that we become more mindful of the flow of energy into and out of our lives. Consume less. Let go of more. Be cool.

Web Source: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mindful-sleep-mindful-dreams/201101/how-cool-is-your-sleep-0