Insights for Better Mental Health
This represents a monthly idea that will lead to you have better mental health. We all can learn and improve.
July 2020 Bittersweet is not just a Taste but also it is life
In the last year I have been watching the Amazon Prime series 'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel'. It is now into its third season with its fourth due out in late 2020. It deals with a New York City mother struggling to become comedian in the 1960’s. I am captivated by the series. What is so enticing about the program is the both comedy and pain of its characters as well as the predicaments they get themselves into. In other words, I laughed and, at the same time, in the words of President Bill Clinton,” I can feel your pain”. I felt sad when some of the characters were hurting. My viewing experience of that program was bittersweet.
The more I live, the more appreciate that life is full of the bittersweet. There is an Israeli song, Al Kol Eleh, written by Naomi Shemer which begins with these lyrics: “Over the honey and the stinger, Over the bitter and the sweet” . These words captures this idea. https://lyricstranslate.com/en/over-all-these-things-lyrics.html. For example, any graduation is bittersweet. On the positive side, one is after completing something moving on and advancing toward another level. Yet, at the same time, one saying good bye to one’s classmates and teachers. So that the graduation ceremony one witnesses both joy and tears.
Bittersweet has two kissing cousins: ambivalence and the Yin and Yang. Ambivalence means having two diametrically opposed emotions at the same time. That seems so impossible. That is amazing and so unreal but also very real. Ambivalence forms the basis of many jokes. There is the classic line when a person is asked about one’s spouse. “Divorce, never; homicide maybe”. Relationships come with elements of bittersweet. People often feel ambivalent about their jobs. There are aspects they love and enjoy. Then there are aspects of their work they abhor. In the principle of Yin and Yang, two diametrically opposed positions are linked together. Examples include good and bad, day and night, and male and female. It basically says you can not have one without the other.
Life is full of the bittersweet-
June 2020 Making Every Encounter Count!
I suspect that idea of making every encounter count sounds a bit either pompous or unreasonable. Yet, it is what I strive for. When I was treating patients, I wanted each one of them to walk away after the session, feeling something had been accompanied. When I taught a class, I wanted students to leave the room feeling that they learned something from it.
But that is in a doctor’s office or in classroom, how does that translate into every day life? To me, it is simple. Let me provide several examples. If I am at a restaurant, I insist to know the server’s name and where that person is from. I want to deal with a person, not a “hey you”. And, I find knowing where an individual provides a neat and quick generally neural way to connect with them. See Insights October 2019: How to Make Friends and Influence People for more about using the geographic connection. And sometimes, if I am ordering coffee, I will pose the following question to the waitperson. What do you call a cow, that just had a calf? The answer is de-caffeinated. That is appreciated by the staff but frowned upon by my dining friends. They, with annoyance, remark, “I’ve heard that a million times”. Humor can often help make the encounter count, too.
One national and international hotel chain uses some of these ideas. All personnel wear a name target. The that badge has two pieces of information on it. It gives the employee’s first name. It also tells where the worker comes from. If they are from the United States, it gives the state each is from. If they are from another country, it tells the nation each is from. That information is a great conversation starter. Conversations enhance the encounter
Another example happens when I am buying something. I ask a lot of questions about the product. But first, I want to relate to the salesperson personally. At a minimum, I want to know that person’s name and shake the hand. The questions not only gain more information about the product but also to treat the sales person as knowledgeable. Or in the supermarket, at least, I will smile at the cashier and make small talk. I am especially curious about their names. I love to give people an opportunity to talk about themselves.
Try it, make very encounter count. That is an idea you can count on.
May 2020 Assume makes an Ass of You and Me!
Remember the old adage, “Open mouth, insert foot.” How many of you have done that by the assumptions you have made? There is the classic situation of meeting an old female classmate whom you have not seen in years. She happens to look physically big. You with glee, and say “hello and when are you due? However, she is not pregnant. As a result, a moment of mutual joy becomes a period of mutual embarrassment. To some degree police profiling is based on assumptions. The assumption that certain groups of people more likely to be criminals. Hence, all too often many African-American encounter D W B, Driving While Black. A student of mine, husband’s was an African-American. And whenever he drove his BMW home late at night through a ‘white’ suburb, he was stopped by the local cops. I recall the this event. A mature woman dressed in a business attire was sitting in a wheel chair at an airport, waiting to board a plane and drinking a cup of coffee, A man came up to her and put a quarter in her coffee cup! He had assumed she was begging for money. I bet you can come up with other examples.
What to do? The answer is easy. First, recognize that you making assumption. Yes, stop and think. Before you speak, engage brain. Figure out that you are making an assumption and then question if it accurate. You can do so by talking with the person and assessing the situation who is the object of your assumption. If one did a quick, hello to the person in the wheel chair, that person might have discovered, she was on a business trip. And you would have saved a quarter. There is a saying, ‘curiosity killed the cat, but information brought him back”. Recognize you are making an assumption. Then question that assumptions. Challenge it. Finally, if indicated say something or not.
April 2020 Try Something New!
Yes, try something new in your life. There are many reasons to do so. It expands your activities. Thus, it gets out of the daily routine, aka rout. That goes along with the old adage variety of is the spice of life. New ventures also represent new learning. It has been long touted that mental challenges offer an avenue to preventing or delays Alzheimer’s. Here are some mental challenges: learn another language, take up playing a new musical instrument, and work on mathematical and word problems.
In physical activity and exercises change or doing something different has long been advocated. In strength training, one is urged to keep adding more weight. Cross-training is recommended for a number of sports. Exercise physiologist frown doing the same exercise all the time.What makes people not try something new? Many will not because they fear they will not be successful. Originally, many administrative personnel resisted the use of a computer to do word processing instead of their familiar typewriter. Personally, I delayed my acquainting a smartphone instead of my flip-top one, for concerns over my ability to master the new devices. By the way, I am still trying out my new iPhone.
For those hesitant to do something different, I recommend “Try Something new.”
Yes, simply try it. The operative word is TRY! If you like it, continue it; if you do not, stop it! I love to listen to books on CDs from my public library when I drive. A friend gave me this following advice. When taking out a new CD for the library instead of just taking one out, get two. Then, start one of the new CDs. If you like it, continue listening to it. If not, try the other.
Returning to the theme- Try Something New!!!!
March 2020 Applying the Medical Biopsychosocial Information Model to Your Own Health
Ready to apply the medical model to yourself? It sounds a bit complex. Let me make sense of it. The traditional medical model has focused on disease. It says that illness can be related to the interplay of your biology, how see the world, psychology, and your social context, sociology, aka the environment. It is easy to visualize the interplay of your genes, how you feel and your support system in terms of let us say Diabetes Type II. If you have a family history of diabetes, if you are stressed so that you eat a lot of ice cream, and if are of low income so you cannot afford to buy fruits and vegetables, then there is a high probability you will have a high blood sugar, aka diabetes. Moreover, I have added information to the interaction equation, The Biopsychosocial Information Model: The New Disease Paradigm. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1924996/.
But what I am saying, apply the Biopsychosocial Information Model to yourself. You are product of your biology. Your genes and your diet are major influencers of your life. If you have a family history of diabetes, then you have to pay attention your sugar intake. Your state of mind contributes to how see your world. Your attitude determines your altitude. If you wake-up in a bad mood or recently have had a family alteration, you might see the day or life negatively. Your nationality, your religion, your neighborhood, your workplace and your country- all make-up your social network and context. If you live a high crime area, you might not take an evening stroll. And finally, information and its sources affect you. Think of how a Facebook posting, a YouTube video, a television show especially a news broadcast, a certain website, a particular radio or a recent movie has influenced you. For example, a PBS program on a plant based diet may change your grocery purchases. Or if your healthcare provider gives you a new prescription, many of us will immediately look its effects and side-effects on the Internet.
What is key here, is to look at yourself and your life as an interplay amongst your biology, your psychology, your sociology and your information.
February 2020 Just do it now!
To make my point, let me call upon Benjamin Franklin who said “Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” This so simple and direct. It can also lead to a companion notion; a stitch in time (saves nine). Either way, the enemy is procrastination.
Let’s look an example. For years I practiced psychiatry in the Emergency Department (ED) of large training hospital. There I had to evaluate patients who were psychotic, depressed, suicidal, anxious or homicidal. In that position, I had to make one major decision for each patient: in or out patient treatment. When in-patient treatment was indicated, IT could be done two ways The patient could accept voluntary hospitalization or through an involuntarily commitment process. . I had to do a complete psychiatric history and mental status examination on each patient as well as to document my findings.. What was key here the need record each patient encounter immediately after I had conducted the interview. If I delayed writing the medical record, it meant I might forget key information and quotations in the documentation. Moreover by not procrastinating, I was then ready to evaluate the next patient.
Another example was a recent series of heavy snow storms which we had in New Hampshire. We must deal with each storm when it happened. Failure to do so resulted in our being trapped in the house, having ice dams, having too much snow on the roof and no having path for the oil delivery.
So, the come back to the point, “Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today.”
January 2020: Your New Year's Resolution: Just do something
Growing up in the 1950's I vividly recall hearing the Reverend Fulton J. Sheen on the television. He had a television series entitled Life is Worth Living. http://fulton-sheen.cua.edu/bio/index.cfm Each program, he ended with this statement: "It is better to light just one little candle than curse the darkness." Clearly, that has made a great impression on me and is one of my guiding lights. All the time, one finds oneself surrounded by folk very willing to complain about things. It could be about the work, their children, their spouse, the cost of things, the government, their house of worship and the weather. As Mark Twain said. “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”
My answer is to do something. Climate change is real and happening. I can talk about it, and I just did. But I do things to reduce my carbon footprint. We compost our kitchen products, and it eventually becomes organic manure. I turn off lights and use LED bulbs. I am concerned about not getting enough exercise. I could complain, but instead, whenever possible, I take the stairs instead of the elevator. I have difficulty reading. I could be annoyed at myself for it. But not, I listen to books on tape or CDs.
The point is simple and straight forward. Instead of the famous Nike slogan “Just Do It!”, I say, Just do something!. Volunteer to be on a committee, say hello to a stranger, pick up a piece of litter, park away from where you work and walk a little to get there, compliment someone and smile more. Yes, choosing a path of action rather than observation and complaining.
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 an athletic team, at work, in a theater company, in a musical ensemble, at your place of worship, or in volunteer, political, or social setting. Furthermore, once you are in one of these groups, were you not amazed by 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 individuals 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 many folk wonders 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 other 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 insight 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 make a rail trail. Riding on the side of many of the roads was dangerous. We initially had decided on a river trail near Albany, NY. But, we had an accidental encounter with an 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 railhead. 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 not have 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 folks cite is All Politics Is Local. Spinning off from that, I would like to advance the idea that all information is local. So, if you want to know something about a place, ask someone who is local. If you want to 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 room there. They are the ones 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? It 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 the world hunger, start with helping at a local food bank. Break a project down into manageable segments. Another cliché’ is that “Rome was not built in a day.” Incremental indicates a direction of progress and succession. For example, in exercises designed to muscle strengthen, one first master 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, the 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. One day at a time is a 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. To simplify things, I have created 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 crawl 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 a few 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 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, one 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 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 from getting rid of them. And yes, your final will 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 us or me to us. Erikson’s sixth stage, Intimacy versus Isolation, covers ages 18 to 40. There, one discovers the importance of another person in your life. Remember, before this stage, if someone asks you for dinner, you might quickly reply, “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 mostly 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 others,
The take-home message: Do something for yourself, be it jogging, meditation, listening to music, reading, and knitting. Then you are in more open, sharing generously 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 of a long list of “things” running through our minds. These include things I have to do today, something 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 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, every day, 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 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.