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Stephen Soreff, M.D.
Office 603 895-6120; Cell 603 568-3202
e-mail soreffs15@aol.com









Insights for Better Mental Health

This represents a monthly idea which will lead to you have better mental health. We all can learn and improve.

December 2019: How to Understand the Mystery of Group Behavior

Have you ever been part of a group? Most of us have. It could have been in school, part of athletic team, at work, in theater company, in musical ensemble, at your place of worship, or in volunteer, political or social setting. Furthermore, once you are in one of these group, were you not amazed its initial chaos? And then even more marveled that it actually accomplished something?

In fact, what you have witnessed and been part of was the group life cycle process. In 1965, Bruce Tuckman created a model for group development. Here are its four stages: The forming–storming–norming–performing. https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newLDR_86.htm

Let us walk through these stages. The first step is the actual formation of the group. Regardless of the task, a number of people are now brought together often for the first time.. They have come as individually and not infrequently view themselves as independent agents. Although, each recognizes the ultimate goal of the group, collectively many are uninformed about the number of facets of the issue, problem or task. This is the hello phase. Who are you? What do you do? Where are you from December 2019 Insights?

The storming stage is often uncomfortable. During in many folk wonder why they are there. Here people often steak out their views, positions and opinions. Hopefully, after each has offered one’s perspective and heard the others ideas, they are ready to move on.

Next is the norming stage. In this process participants learn the ‘rules of the road”. Some groups will follow Robert’s Rules of Order. Others adopt codes to follow during the meeting such as ’ “talk just about the subject and avoid personal attacks”. This is when individuals start to see themselves at part of a group. Two movies nicely illustrate the entire process. One is Remember the Titians and the other is Miracle. In the Titians film, a Virginia high school, which has to be a forced integrated , has to form a biracial football team. In Miracle, students from many different collegiate backgrounds come together to form the 1980 United States Men's Olympic hockey team. Both vividly and dramatically highlight the change from “I” to “WE!”

The performing stage is where the group achieves its purpose. Be it a play, winning a game or series, completing a project, writing a paper, developing a product, doing a presentation or reaching a goal. In the films, the team high-fives each other; the leader lights up a cigar; and each other hugs each other. They have won their games and performed well.

This sequence offers one insights to any group one may join or are already part of. It makes the group journey more understandable and perhaps easier to participate in.

November 2019 : Ask a local

We supposedly live in an information age. It is so easy to get ideas and data about places to hike, routes to bike, restaurants to eat at, movies to see, books to read and any other conceivable question. Right? Google has all the answers. Not so fast.

Well, I am here to tell you the Internet and books can only get you so far. Let me give you an example, to make my point. Recently, Peggy and I went on vacation to Southern Vermont. We had taken our bikes with us and really wanted to do a rail trail. Riding on the side of many of the roads was dangerous. We initially had decided on river trail near Albany, NY. But, we had an accidental encounter with a Albany residence, who informed us about a new rail trail that just opened. It was too new to make it to the biking books. So we changed our plans and destination.

We found the new trail via the Internet and used Waze to  get to the supposed start of the trail.    But upon arrival at that site, it was not there.  But, again a chance encounter with a person walking in the neighborhood  saved the trip.  She told us where the trail actually began.  Then we followed here directions and gained the rail head. Yet, again local biker gave us key information about whether to ride first north or south on that rail trail.  He gave us good advice.  Without the information and knowledge of three local people, we would have not known about the trail, found it or knew which direction to ride on it.

Tip O'Neill wrote a famous and often quoted book entitled All Politics Is Local: And Other Rules of the Game. The line most folk cite is All Politics Is Local. Spinning off form that, I would like to advance the idea of all information is local. So, if you want to know something about a place, ask someone who is local. If you want know something about a school, ask someone who attends it. If you want to know something about a company, ask someone who works there or uses its products,

As an Information Volunteer for the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC), the first thing I do when I arrive at a hut or lodge, I ask the croo there. They are the one’s who know the trails and their conditions.

So, when in doubt, ask local!

October 2019: How to Make Friends and Influence People”

My apologies and thanks to Dale Carnegie who wrote the self-help book How to Win Friends and Influence People were in 1936 and which has sold over 15 million copies, but I like the idea and his title. And it does nicely capture what I want to say.

Remember that exciting and awkward moment when you meet someone for the first time? Besides that person’s name (which most of us promptly forget), there is usually the follow-up question. In America, that inquiry takes one of two forms. The first one is “How are you?”. This too often leads to a dead end. That is because the standard answer is “Fine.” Indeed, that reply is ubiquitous and automatic. In fact, next time someone asks you that, offer a review of how you really feel. It is too often not heard nor responded to. The most common question is “What do you do?”. This means one’s vocation. Now, depending on one’s employment situation, the response can be interesting, inviting, painful, or embarrassing.

I propose as an alternative to both. Instead ask, “Where are you from?”. It is easy, neutral, and a conversation starter. It gives you and the other person both a point of reference and something one can relate to. No matter what the location, it offers opportunities. It could have been a place you have been to. You might know someone who lives there. (In the idea of six degrees of separation, it is possible you do know someone for there) Or it could be a location you want to know more about or perhaps visit.

A quick digression to make the point and add a neat twist. I was talking to a woman. When I asked her where she was from, she said, Somerville, Massachusetts. Neat, because I could add that while I attended Tufts College, I too had lived in Somerville. Instantly, we had had a conversation expander. But then, she said the most profound statement. “In everyone;’ s life there is a Somerville.” You’ll be amazed at how many folks have lived in Somerville at some time in their lives. This includes President Obama, when he went to Harvard.

Back to the point, asking Where are you from? Is great way to connect and converse with others. It is a neat way to develop relationships. 

September 2019: Small, Incremental and Successful Steps to Lead to Progress and Triumph

Taking small, incremental and successful steps in the direction you want to travel is the way to make progress.  Let me offer an example to explain this.  I suffered a jogging injury.  I fell and injured both my left knee and my pride.  For a while, I was even reluctant to run even though I love jogging.  Yes, I had moments of a fear of falling.  What to do?  At the urging of a friend, I started running again.  But it was only for a short distance.  Each run became a small victory and success.  So each time I could go a little farther.  My initial success bred confidence and courage. 

First, I want to unpack the three parts:  small, incremental and successful.  Small means little, not huge steps.  If you want to eliminate world hungry, start with helping at a local food bank.  Break a project down into manageable segments.  Another cliché’ is that “Rome was not built in day.”  Incremental indicates a direction of progress and succession.  For example, in exercises designed to muscle strengthen one first masters the sets at one weight level. Then, you increase the load.  Successful hinges on the notion that success breeds success.  After I could jog for a quarter mile without problems, I was ready to try to run a half mile.

But, what if one of the small steps were not successful?  Great question!  Rather than seeing it as a failure, look at it as a lesson and opportunity to learn from it.  Ever attend an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting?  There you will hear people telling their stories to a supportive and encouraging audience. The tale involves times of progress and moments of lapses; e.g. falling off the wagon.  Ultimately, speaker sees the setbacks as just part of the recovery process.  They have benefitted from the mistake and put it into a recovery process resulting in their ultimate triumph.  The one day at a time is great message.  It leads to abstinence for the first day, for the first week, then the first month and the first year.  A model of small, incremental  and successful steps.  Remember to turn your stumbling blocks into stepping stones.

August 2019: Life’s Three Stages

It is time to combine some of my favorite life’s developmental schemes with Henry David Thoreau.  I want to link the life stages Freud, Erikson, Piaget and Kohlberg with the dictum of Thoreau- “Simplify, Simplify, Simplify”.  Freud advanced a developmental sequence of a 5 stage psychosexual model.  Erikson presented it in a lifelong   psychosocial scheme in 8 stages.  Piaget created a 4 stage  cognitive developmental model. And Kohlberg offered a 3 stage moral development model. So simplify things I have created a three stages of life  model: acquiring, maintaining and divesting.

In the early years, one’s life is based on the acquisition.  It means attaining things.  From birth to your highest level of graduation, one is gaining knowledge. Physically, you go from not moving to crawling, to walking and to running, In language one starts with cooing to dada and mama to sentences to vocabulary and to syntax as for some a second language. With writing one begins with scribbling to letter to sentences and paragraphs. In information, you travel from few a facts to a mental encyclopedia.  You do so with a new job.  Meanwhile, you are accumulating  material things: clothing, toys, cars, homes, appliances, and furniture.

The next stage is based on maintaining and preserving all the accomplishments and achievements.  It takes many forms.  Professionally, it means doing the continuing education to keep your license and certification.  In health, it translates into annual examinations and tests not to mention holding steady with your weight and blood pressure.  In the home, ones not only pays the mortgage but also a house insurance policy.  And some folk fence the front and back yards.

The last stage is marked by divesting.  People of giving away things,  In their homes, they are downsizing.  A term, now popular, is a Swedish Death Cleaning.  This means parents and grandparents give away their prized processions to others or non-profits,.  because their children and grandchildren do not want those items. By doing so, upon their death, this relieves others of getting rid them.  And yes, your final will and testament represents the last act of this stage.

So there it is-the three stage model of life: acquiring, maintaining and divesting.  Simple, applicable and where are you in this sequence?


July 2019:  Exercise makes me a better person

After I have jogged, I feel and act as though I am a better parent and partner.  This how that works.  I love jogging.  It is my time both  to exercise and for creative thinking. But it also a very selfish activity.  Unless I am running with another person, it is a very solitary experience.  It is my time for myself.  However, what I have discovered, after jogging , I come home in a more open, caring, sharing and giving mood.  I played more with the kids and listened attentively to my partner.

Here is my explanation.  I love Erik Erikson’s eight stages of life.  In this developmental sequence one goes from I to we or me to us.   Erikson’s  the sixth stage Intimacy versus Isolation covers ages 18 to 40.  There one discovers importance of another person in your life.  Remember, before this stage, if someone asks you for dinner, you might quickly replies, “sure.”  However, once you have an intimate relationship, with the supper request, you now say, “Let check with my partner, first.”   n the seventh stage, Generativity versus Stagnation for ages 40 to 65, one becomes more focused on giving to family, the community and organizations. Ask any non-profit organization or college alumni office what group they have most been successful with.

So metaphorically, in my run I have traveled from I to we.  Because I have done something for myself, I am now prepared to do things for other,

The take home message:  Do something for yourself, be it jogging, mediation, listening to music, reading and knitting.  Then you are in more open, sharing generous to others. 


June 2019:  I hear the birds: I am not depressed.

“I hear the birds; I am not depressed” is a power statement.  Many of us wake up with too much “noise” in our heads.   That noise is a result as long list of  “things”  running through our minds.  These include things I have to do today, things I did not do yesterday, things I want to do  today but I cannot, wondering how can I avoid annoying others, and wondering whether my kids will call me today.  And that is just to name a few.

Admit it.  You all have entertained some of these mental ramblings.  Regardless of our mental noise, the birds sing every day.  Yes, everyday, even in the winter, they sing.  But some days you hear those birds and some days you do not.

The reason you can hear the birds is that your “noise” is silent or really turned down.  Too much noise is because you are stressed, worried and/or perhaps depressed.  So when you  hear the birds, whether around your house, while jogging or on the golf course, you know that you are not depressed!!!

Take home message:  Did you hear the birds today?  If so great.  If not, take a self-inventory.  Pay attention to your noise.