Should We Be Watching Traumatic Images on TV?

By Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D.

Watching TV TraumaOn the 10th anniversary of 9/11, countless television channels will be airing replays of the traumatic events of that day. It is in your best interest, psychologically, not to watch that coverage.

When you watch disturbing events, such as 9/11, on television, you can experience feelings of anxiety, despair and panic, all while sitting in the comfort of your living room. You feel a sense of helplessness because you are witnessing events that you are not able to control or help resolve. Watching repeated television coverage of the planes hitting the towers, people falling from buildings and seeing endless human suffering can trigger the same feelings of helplessness you experienced 10 years ago. In fact, in some cases, watching replays of the events of 9/11 can make you feel even worse than you did back then. Ten years ago, you most likely experienced shock, which is a way our mind protects us from additional psychological trauma. Ten years later, you will be watching the replays of 9/11 without that psychological buffer. It may feel like time has healed some of those wounds, but as you watch television, you may find that healing being dismantled.

Full story at Huffington Post

Turning Off Stress

By Medical News Today


Post-traumatic stress disorder can affect soldiers after combat or ordinary people who have undergone harrowing experiences. Of course, feelings of anxiety are normal and even desirable – they are part of what helps us survive in a world of real threats. But no less crucial is the return to normal – the slowing of the heartbeat and relaxation of tension – after the threat has passed. People who have a hard time “turning off” their stress response are candidates for post-traumatic stress syndrome, as well as anorexia, anxiety disorders and depression.

How does the body recover from responding to shock or acute stress? This question is at the heart of research conducted by Dr. Alon Chen of the Institute’s Neurobiology Department. The response to stress begins in the brain, and Chen concentrates on a family of proteins that play a prominent role in regulating this mechanism. One protein in the family – CRF – is known to initiate a chain of events that occurs when we cope with pressure, and scientists have hypothesized that other members of the family are involved in shutting down that chain. In research that appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Chen and his team have now, for the first time, provided sound evidence that three family members known as urocortin 1, 2 and 3 – are responsible for turning off the stress response.

Full story at Medical News Today

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How to feel good – or at least stop feeling bad

By Dr. Leslie Becker-Phelps


If only we could wish away bad habits and unwanted traits. We would all be like the population of Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon – “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.” Instead, we are stuck with our imperfect selves. While we enjoy shining moments of accomplishment and virtue, we also struggle with the less stellar aspects of ourselves; such as unhealthy eating, low self-esteem, depression, or untold anxieties.

Part of being human is the experience of always being a work in progress – never that final, perfect person. This can make life an exciting adventure; as long as you continue to move in the direction of growth.

Two important steps in encouraging growth are really being ‘in’ your life experiences – not always thinking about other things – and accepting those experiences. When you acknowledge, experience, and fully accept your feelings, you are essentially accepting all aspects of yourself and gaining a sense of being ‘at home’ in you. Even when you don’t like your emotions or are unhappy, they can still feel right. A perfect example of this is when you grieve the loss of someone important in your life; you don’t like the experience, but you have a sense that it is a genuine expression of your feelings, and so it feels right.

You might be thinking; This all sound great, but how can I find such inner peace? There is one very good way to do this that I am hesitant to mention because so many people misunderstand it… meditation. Although increasingly more people are learning the benefits of it for themselves, there are also many others who immediately ‘know’ it is not for them. They might be right, but they dismiss it before they really even understand it.

People often think of meditation as achieving a state of bliss, or at least a deep calm. Although it’s true that meditation can be relaxing, that’s not its main purpose. It is a practice of being aware of, and directing, your attention to your moment-by-moment experience. And it does this by teaching people to see when they become distracted or carried away with thoughts or feelings; and to return their attention to the moment (often focusing on their breath).

This process can be applied to people’s lives outside of meditation, helping them to change things about themselves. So, for example, the emotional overeater can note her urges to eat; learn to tolerate them – along with any accompanying unpleasant emotions – without reaching for food; and return her attention the tasks at hand in her daily routine. Importantly, she is neither denying her urges, which might send them underground to sabotage her later; nor chastising herself for having them, which would undermine her motivation to treat herself well and make healthier food choices.

Stated succinctly, meditation helps people change by teaching them to be inside their experience and simultaneously outside, watching it with perspective. By being in the moment without feeling overcome by emotion, people can become adept at seeing themselves repeat patterns. Then, while acknowledging and experiencing an old pattern, they can choose to respond differently. It’s in this way that meditation frees people to make the personal changes they so desire.

Source Psychology Today

Tai Chi Aids Seniors in Fighting Depression

By DAVID MCCRACKEN, MA, LP


With more than 2 million people age 65 and older suffering from depression in the U.S., including half of those living in nursing homes, effectively treating the elderly is a growing problem – especially as the numbers of seniors rise.

Researchers at UCLA found that an ancient martial art can help significantly.

When a gentle, Westernized version of tai chi chih was combined with a standard drug treatment for a group of depressed elderly adults, researchers found greater improvement in the level of depression — along with improved quality of life, better memory and cognition, and more overall energy — than among a different group in which the standard treatment was paired with a weekly health education class.

“This is the first study to demonstrate the benefits of tai chi in the management of late-life depression, and we were encouraged by the results,” said first author Dr. Helen Lavretsky, a UCLA professor-in-residence of psychiatry.

“We know that nearly two-thirds of elderly patients who seek treatment for their depression fail to achieve relief with a prescribed medication.”

In the study, 112 adults age 60 or older with major depression were treated with the drug escitalopram (brand name Lexapro), a standard antidepressant, for approximately four weeks. From among those participants, 73 who showed only partial improvement continued to receive the medication daily but were also randomly assigned to 10 weeks of either a tai chi class for two hours per week or a health education class for two hours per week.

All the participants were evaluated for their levels of depression, anxiety, resilience, health-related quality of life, cognition and immune system inflammation at the beginning of the study and again four months later.

The level of depression among each participant was assessed using a common diagnostic tool known as the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression, which involves interviewing the individual. The questions are designed to gauge the severity of depression. A cut-off score of 10/11 is generally regarded as appropriate for the diagnosis of depression.

The researchers found that among the tai chi participants, 94 percent achieved a score of less than 10, with 65 percent achieving remission (a score of 6 or less). By comparison, among participants who received health education, 77 percent achieved scores of 10 or less, with 51 percent achieving remission.

While both groups showed improvement in the severity of depression, greater reductions were seen among those taking escitalopram and participating in tai chi.

“Depression can lead to serious consequences, including greater morbidity, disability, mortality and increased cost of care,” Lavretsky said. “This study shows that adding a mind-body exercise like tai chi that is widely available in the community can improve the outcomes of treating depression in older adults, who may also have other, co-existing medical conditions, or cognitive impairment.

“With tai chi,” she said, “we may be able to treat these conditions without exposing them to additional medications.”

The results of the study appear in the current online edition of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

Source Psych Central

Having a Bad Job Can Be Worse Than None At All

By PSYCH CENTRAL NEWS EDITOR


Although in the current economy being unemployed feels like the worst thing in the world, researchers have found something even worse — being stuck in a bad job.

Australian National University researchers have found that, from a mental health perspective, you may be better off being unemployed rather than being in a bad job.

The work was undertaken by researchers from the Centre for Mental Health Research, led by Liana Leach, Ph.D.

Using data from the 20-year Personality and Total Health (PATH) Through Life Project, the team looked at the mental health effects of being in a “bad job” – a job with low security, high stress and little control. The results, Leach said, were significant.

“Our research had two main findings. First, we found that those in poor quality jobs had poorer mental health than those in good quality work. People who were in a bad job were five times more likely to be categorized as depressed and twice as likely to be categorized as anxious than those in good quality work.

“Second, over time, those who moved from being unemployed into poor quality work actually experienced a greater decline in their mental health than those who remained unemployed,” she said.

The study examined the effect of several adverse work conditions on an individual’s mental health, rather than looking at the effect of specific roles or occupations.

The researchers examined results from a national household survey conducted over seven years of more than 7,000 people living in Australia.

Job quality was graded based on four factors: stress and level of demand, amount of control employees said they had over their work, job security (or potential for a future) and whether or not the pay was fair.

Participants also filled out a mental health questionnaire that assessed symptoms of depression and anxiety as well as positive emotions, such as feelings of happiness and calm.

After taking into account possibly confounding factors that could influence the findings, such as an individual’s age, gender, marital status and level of education, the mental health of unemployed individuals was on par with, or better than, the mental health of those with poor-quality jobs.

Those with the poorest-quality jobs showed a greater drop in mental health over time compared with those who were unemployed.

“In our study, a bad job, or poor quality job, was one where people perceived their job was insecure, perhaps because they were on a short-term contract or casual work, they had high job demands or a heavy workload, and they didn’t have much control over how they managed that workload. They also felt that it would be difficult to gain another similar job, suggesting they felt trapped in their current workplace,” said Leach.

The results indicate that, for employers, one of the keys to happy and mentally healthy employees is to keep an eye on these negative factors and work with staff to find solutions.

Leach said the study suggests it would be best for employers to be open to negotiation with employees about their work conditions – making sure employees have reasonable workloads and some control over how they manage this workload is likely to produce employees with better mental health.

“For their part, employees might like to negotiate with employers to see if they can make their workplace one that benefits their wellbeing and mental health.

“Everybody has moments in their jobs where it’s difficult and you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, but we hope this study helps to improve people’s workplace environments so that we can improve their mental health too,” said Leach.

Source Psych Central