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Tag: learned helplessness

February 17, 2014

Jay Gottfried a senior researcher for this study on sleep and the memories of fear, is quoted for saying to the extent, that we form memories more strongly during sleep. The study by Gottfried and his associates had to do with getting subjects to unlearn fears during their sleep. First, using by conditioning, they paired two pictures of faces with painful electric shocks to volunteers, (seriously who volunteers for this?). During the experiment, certain odors also accompanied the faces seen, while receiving electric shocks.

 

Then they later introduced the subjects to the faces which they had seen while been shocked. Gottfried and associates noted that the subjects experienced fear upon seeing these faces, which were measured through sweat and other physiological responses. The next stage of the experiment involved getting the subject to unlearn their fear of at least one of the faces. This was done by introducing subjects to the specific odors during deep sleep, they had been introduced to while seeing faces paired with the odors and receiving electric shocks.

 

The result, subjects stopped eliciting physiological fear responses to certain faces, whose paired odor they had smelled in their sleep. They also had no memory of being reintroduced to the odors in their sleep. So if a face of Denzel Washington was paired with a lemon scent while receiving electric shocks, then being introduced to a lemon scent in deep sleep without electric shocks, led to the brain learning to no longer fear Denzel Washington’s face.

 

I have written before about how sleep promotes learning, and I even have some cognitive strategies which  I have  introduced to clients to practice fifteen minutes before bed time so as to increase the likelihood of their learning the strategies in their sleep to get them past specific issues. I will be introducing this strategy to readers in my coming ebook on how to end panic attacks.

 

So the idea that sleep can be used to unlearn fears is a phenomenon that I have believed in for some time. However for sufferers of panic attacks, what type of fear needs to be unlearned? In a previous post in which I debunked two common myths of panic attacks, I spoke about how panic attacks are related to ongoing small traumas,  we have become conditioned to create for ourselves.

An example would be growing up with an abusive parent and finding yourself in an abusive relationship as an adult. While the idea of being with an abusive partner may not be sufficient to provoke a panic attack, the idea of being unloved or unlovable certainly is.

The proposed point is this, perhaps panic attacks are triggered by the perception of never ending suffering?

 

So in the absence of an understanding of what triggers a person’s panic attack, a simple fear to work on are the reoccurring panic attacks themselves. Think about it, how much of a relief would it be to a panic attack sufferer to be able to experience panic attacks without fear?

Out of curiosity, for those who struggle with panic attacks, what type of fears do you relate to your panic episodes?

 

Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.

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January 22, 2014

What do you do when you are stressed and in a crisis? The best stories I have heard  when people are in a crisis, are people who choose to collect themselves emotionally before taking decisive steps, rather than being reactive. So why does less equals more in overcoming stress?

One of the worst things we can do in response to stress is to be reactive, because in a state of constant motion, we are most likely to experience cognitive fatigue which leads to a poor thinking and performance in  whatever we are doing.

For example, be it anger management, anxiety or full blown panic attacks, my confidence in a client’s ability to heal increases when that client buys in to the counter intuitive approach of practicing getting plenty or rest and calm, so as to cease being reactive to his or her experiences with stress. Once the reactive habits have stopped, my prognosis for the client increases ten fold.

This is why rest is important, and also why most people find themselves most productive in the morning after a good night’s sleep. In the video below, I further explain the counterintuitive approach about why less equals more in overcoming stress.

 

Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.

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December 12, 2013

Depression

Imagine if all of your life to present you were promised a prize. Let’s say that in order to gain access to this prize that there are certain things you have to accomplish, certain challenges you have to overcome.

So through great pains and effort, you take on the challenges and overcome them, one by one. Until after years of hard work, it came time for you to receive your prize, only to be told that there was never any prize.

This hypothetical scenario can easily be applied to any number of stories where people have been let down. For some people there is nothing more hurtful than investing into an experience with the expectation of a reward for your efforts only to be disappointed.

One of the chief feelings that gets in the way of getting past grief stemming from disappointment is the idea that you have been deceived, cheated or wasted your time and energy.

What if you came to learn that getting past disappointment is easier that you realize? When we experience disappointment, what keeps us emotionally stuck in the grief of disappointment is the context we use to frame the experience.

If you think back to the last time you struggled in getting past your grief from disappointment, you will probably agree it’s because you invested a lot of time in the experience, with the expectation of an outcome, and because you believed that the route you took to achieve the desired outcome was the “only” route you or any one could have taken to achieve the desired outcome. Furthermore you probably also believed that the desired outcome was the “ultimate” outcome you or anyone could ever archive to accomplish any a sense of happiness and fulfillment to varying degrees.

This linear style of thinking is what keeps us stuck in grieving what we believed could have been. Take for example, two months ago my son’s school threw a Halloween party, one of the highlights of the evening was walking through a haunted house. The school library had been converted into a haunted house and we got the thrill of going through a door, and traveling from one partitioned room to the next, while staff and students took turns in giving us their best fright, from hidden and unsuspecting places. The experience of traveling through the make shift haunted house was a linear experience from start to finish, because we transitioned from room A to room B to room C to room D before we finally existed the haunted house.

With this scenario in mind, imagine how frustrated it would have been if we entered room A, then went to room B only to be told that we could not gain  access to room C? This would mean that without accessing room C we would not be able to access room D. This is why people either get depressed or angry over their feelings of disappointment. They feel there is no other way to get to the next level and beyond, if their travel path has become blocked.

Here is a visual representation of my explanation of  a linear style of thinking;

linear thinking_01

Now imagine  thinking in a multi verse context. To further explain, I will share another story. In my village, my father’s immediate younger brother built a home on the other side of the street from my parent’s home. While my parents built a two story home, my uncle built a one story home, with roughly the same number of rooms as my parents’ two story home. How did he manage this? Rather than stack rooms one on top the other as my father had done, my uncle designed his house in a circular pattern. With a courtyard in the middle of the structure, surrounded by all the rooms of the home. This meant that from the courtyard, you could simply turn and walk towards any room of your choice, versus my parents’ home where you had enter the front door into a greeting room, into a hallway, into the stairway, etc. I would say that my parents’ home was linearish in design, while my uncle’s home was multi verse-ish in design.

Using the ABC model to represent the multi verse style of thinking, it would look something like this diagram.

Multi Verse Thinking_01

With multi verse thinking,  a set back or disappointment becomes an opportunity to embark on another experience. If a desired goal or outcome is not realized it is interpreted as there being another bigger and more fulfilling outcome waiting for you to define and realize. This means that the time spent in pursuing an outcome not realized is seen as experience gained to be used  as leverage for another challenge instead of time squandered.

When  we come to realize that our path to happiness and fulfillment comes from within, only then will we acknowledge that our thoughts do indeed create our realities.

Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.

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December 10, 2013

individuality within the team. be different.

 

 

This is a follow up post to my recent post about the costs of workplace bullying, more specifically the relationship between workplace bullying, depression and heart disease.  Our thoughts influence our realities, change your thoughts and you will find your self engaging in different behaviors which influence different outcomes. However, sometimes our emotions stemming from irrational thoughts regarding our expectations not being met, can be so strong that the process of changing our thoughts can seem a daunting task.

In this post, I will introduce to you the reader to three primary strategies for creating emotional distance and bringing yourself to a place of calm in order to explore other options.

#1 Meditation

Keeping in mind that during times of extreme stress, people have difficulty maintaining calm in order to recognize and respond effectively to difficult situations, the first measure would be how to maintain calm during times of extreme stress.

The first strategy to learn is mediation, studies such as this one have shown meditation to be effective in coping with and overcoming emotional stress and pain. Another study demonstrated through mri scans that people who meditate have higher cortical gyrification ( a folding of the cerebral cortex believed to be associated with faster information processing). The key part of meditation which makes it effective in  dealing with emotional stress is the process of developing mindfulness.

Mindfulness is the process of developing more consciousness towards your interpretations of events and your feelings without overreacting. In short, you train your mind towards being calm during periods of discomfort. Rather than embrace the mindset that you should always be comfortable, you transition into the mindset that episodes of discomfort are a learning experience. You should begin practicing meditation, once every day, beginning with five minutes and the goal to building yourself to sixty plus minutes a day. In this post, I discuss the specifics of this strategy.

#2 Doing Nothing

This strategy is a follow up to the meditation strategy. In this post  I discuss a real life scenario where I have used the “doing nothing” strategy to my benefits, when I found myself on the receiving end of work place bullying.

The “doing nothing” strategy follows the cognitive behavioral principle of A+B =C. This means that an activating event plus a behavioral response equals a natural and logical consequence.  So in response to passive aggressive bullying tactics, doing nothing is your best initial response as bullying tactics depend on  the over reaction of the target in sustaining the bullying long term, until the desired goal is accomplished.

Doing nothing does not mean that you play the role of the passive scapegoat. Doing nothing means that you don’t respond to bullying with retaliating tactics of your own. It only makes the situation more unbearable and difficult for you. All bullying starts off with passive teasers, in which the perpetrator is gauging your triggers for overreaction.  What works for me, is to pick my battles and do nothing until the instigators have crossed a line  which warrants a measured, respectful and assertive response.

Think off it as self defense. If you were on the street, it would not be wise to respond to nasty glares and insults from a stranger, but in  the event that stranger were to place hands on you, you should be prepared to protect yourself. It is also important to note that when I have initiated the “doing nothing” response, it took a lot of work. I documented my observations and when  it came to my work I made certain  that I was as thorough as I could have been, which it difficult for myself to get scapegoat-ed.

#3 Set Firm Boundaries

Not only have I been the recipient of work place bullying, but I have also witnessed other people experience work place bullying in real time. The biggest mistake most people on the receiving end of bullying make is to kiss up to their aggressors. This maladaptive tactic only speeds up the worsening of the process.

You see bullying is irrational behavior most people initiate out of perceived bias against the target.  This means that the person on the receiving end, has done nothing to deserve such harassment. So pandering to the bully only enables the bullying. When I work with kids who are getting bullied, the first assignment I give to them is to stop associating with those who treat them badly. Time after time, children who have followed through with this tactic report that the bullying stopped. Why? Because they stopped placing themselves in  situations where they made it easy for the bullies to harass them. This means that kids who were on a mission to bully the client, had to work a lot harder by going out of their way to seek out their target to bully.

In the workplace environment, you make it harder for your harassers to bully you by setting up and maintaining firm boundaries. If you need any help with them, simply look to your company’s standard of operating procedures. Then make sure you follow everything by the book, and hold anyone who works with you to standard in following the same rules. If a supervisor were to insist that you bend the rules for a favor, you request that they follow company protocol in  getting the rule changed and then you document the interaction between you and the supervisor.

#Bonus: Find Your Tribe.

Business is about relationships, so if you are worried that employing these strategies wouldn’t make you any friends at work, you are probably right. Instead these strategies are designed to create enough emotional breathing room for you to access your working brain and explore other options. Such as a work cultural environment where you can thrive.

In life there are always options.

Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.

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December 9, 2013

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Consider this scenario, you have been written up on the job for a miscellaneous issue. Furthermore you have been given an action plan to complete promising your due diligence in not making whatever error you made that earned you the write up. It sounds cut and dry right?

Well what if at the same this that this is going on, you have come to notice that your co workers are no longer speaking with you.  Perhaps your office or cubicle has been moved to a different location farther from the main group of people you typically work with. Also, what if on more than  one occasion you have been accused of incompetence and negligence and openly berated in front of others?

This scenario can be described as workplace bullying or put more appropriately workplace mobbing. Workplace bullying occurs when standards and procedures are used as a weapon in intimidating and or attempting to end the employment of an employee. Typically workplace bullying occurs on a one on one basis, think supervisor and employee. However on a more sophisticated scale, workplace bullying occurs when an individual is constantly on the receiving end of barrages of criticism from multiple individuals in a workplace environment with one or two people playing lead roles in the bullying.

The idea is to emotionally break down the individual, who is the target of the bullying to accomplish one of two goals. With one goal being to have that employee become more fearful and submissive and the other goal to end the employee’s employment. It is common knowledge that when people are worried about making mistakes, they make more mistakes than usual. So if as a supervisor, I write someone up, over a situation that could have been assertively and compassionately discussed, I am merely documenting my process to justify the person’s removal. Often times with bullying it looks really legitimate on paper, as most people develop maladaptive behaviors to cope with the manufactured stress being projected unto them.

In this report, titled “Offsetting the Pain from Workplace Bullying,” authored by the Workplace Bullying Institute, an online survey revealed that 24.5% of respondents engaged in positive behaviors in response to workplace bullying. An example for positive behaviors would be prayer, meditating, and daily exercising. Compared to 9.9% of respondents who engaged in displaced behaviors, such as going home to fight with loved ones, 32.3% of respondents who engaged in self destructive behaviors, such as overeating and drug use and 33.4% of respondents who responded to workplace bullying via social withdrawal.

The report concludes that the initial response to work place bullying is rarely a rational and conscious one. The reports further states that if it were a rational response, all the responses given would have been of positive behaviors.

 bully chart

This makes sense considering that research studies have shown that people who experience chronic stress become stuck in a pattern of reactivity due to our hard wiring for fight or flight in response to feeling threatened.

In another study, based on a sample of male and female hospital employees, researchers reported that incidences of bullying in the workplace were negatively correlated with mental health. More specifically, researchers reported that one in six people who experienced workplace bullying were likely to develop depression and cardiovascular disease. Although they did note that the likelihood of cardiovascular disease was linked to overweight issues in the participants of the study. However it is important to note that just like the last study, overeating was identified as a self destructive behavior, in which 32.3% of responders reportedly engaged in. It is also important to note that when people engage in self destructive behaviors, they usually do so in an effort to escape difficult issues, such as depression.

This year a psychiatrist,  Dr. Angelos Halaris proposed that a new field be created and further proposed that it be named psychocardiology. His proposal came from a research study he spearheaded where he and his team discovered an inflammatory biomarker labeled interleukin-6, (associated with cardiovascular disease) in higher quantities in the blood stream of most of the depressed people they tested.

I am a big believer that our thoughts and feelings influence our physical health, and it could very well be that depressed people experience more stress which leads to the production of hormones that in the long term have negative side effects on the heart and overall well being of the depressed person.

We are social creatures, and besides the wounding of our egos when dealing with rejection, the situation becomes more alarming when we perceive that our “only” ability to get our basic needs met, is threatened due to perceived threats from reoccurring social conflicts in the workplace. This is the bad news, however the good news is that if you have ever been on the receiving end of workplace conflict, you can learn to bring it to an end.

If fear of not being able to provide for yourself or your family is what keeping you stuck in an employed situation you are not fond of, then you should read this post on fear.

Tomorrow, I will post on three cognitive strategies which people who are currently experiencing any perceived bullying or chronic social conflict in the workplace, can practice. The practicing of these strategies are designed to create emotional space and calm within the person so that through clarity, he or she can consider effective alternatives towards bringing the conflicts to an end.

 

Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.

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December 3, 2013

Managing Risk

I came across a you tube video of a person who was expressing a disagreement with another you tuber. Her message to her fellow you tuber?

“You are going to die.”

It was only after she clarified that it was not a threat that I was able to understand her message of passive intimidation. Pretty much that she considers the other you tuber to be an angry and hostile person and if he didn’t address his issues of anger that he would die soon, presumably from bad health.

Then there was a Facebook comment by a namesake of mine, who was spreading the word of God –  through passive intimidation. This was what his comment read;

“Accept God in your life or perish in a lake of fire! That’s right, God kills”. Now I respect the guy and all, and I usually ignore his religious rants, but this time around I couldn’t resist.

“One would think that Jesus and his Father have issues with dealing with rejection”, I responded. This set of a firestorm of exchanges between us, where he quoted verse after verse from the Bible,  assuring me that death was imminent while I responded in many ways informing him that fearing an all loving and all forgiving God was irrational.

 

Messages of impending doom are irrational, because if death is to impending doom, then all human beings are scheduled for a date with impending doom from the day they are born. So why fear destiny?

Working with clients who struggle with anxiety, I have noticed a pattern, which is that all their fears can be traced back to a fear of impending doom, and it is usually well into therapy that it is revealed that they were raised in an environment where they were motivated by fear. The conditioning to be motivated by fear was so powerful that they began using it on themselves, albeit with detrimental consequences.

In worse case scenarios  of chronic anxiety, I have seen clients develop a case of learned helplessness after habitually ruminating on possible worst case scenarios. When faced with a challenge, their brains  immediately transition into considering and analyzing everything that could go wrong, which leads to inaction due to becoming emotionally stuck.

In this previous blog post, I have discussed one effective strategy for overcoming fear, which pretty much involves using one fear as fuel to get past the other. However, what if you took things to another level? What if you retrained your mind to begin seeking quality and meaning of life over quantity in life?

I mean to survive is inherent in all living creatures, but isn’t it a form of death in disguise if surviving was all we did? At some point we would near the completion of our life cycle and we would slowly transition into the weaker than and powerless state we were when we first came into this world. Looking back, would our lives bear any semblance of meaning and purposefulness?

The woman I discussed about in the first paragraph was right about her rival you tuber, he is going to die and so is she.  Hopefully for their sake not anytime soon, however life for all mankind is temporarily. Which makes this next strategy for getting past fear all the more meaningful, which is to live with purpose.

Think about it,  if you came to accept that your stay on this earth was finite, and stopped fearing the inevitable, how different would your life be? What would you do differently, starting today? What would you stand up for? Would you have more energy or less?

I don’t have a specific road map for how to begin living purposefully, except to write that coming to a place of acceptance and peace with your finite existence lives you little choice but to begin seeking a more meaningful and purposeful existence.

Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.

 

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