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Might transcranial direct current stimulation (aka direct neurofeedback) be an additional tool to reduce symptoms of depression as a result of the impact of the pandemic?

If there is one silver lining to this pandemic it is the blossoming realization and acceptance of the fact that people need people!  It is shining a light on the cultural ideal of independence and reflecting the shadow side of such an ideal.  Human beings were designed to be interdependent, using relationships within their tribes and communities to grow and thrive.  If independence was truly the healthy ideal, why aren’t more people thriving during this pandemic?

Use this time to reflect on the lessons being brought forward to us.  If we embrace the fact that we need each other – and that it makes us feel good to help each other – than perhaps we can learn to be at ease with asking for help and support when we need it, knowing it will deepen our connections with others and make others feel good about themselves.  What brings hope during these unexpected – and let’s just own it – scary times is collaboration and comradery.  Knowing we are not alone – in our experiences, thoughts, and emotions – and that if we just have the courage to reach out, we will find relief.

Action is actually an antidote to fear.  So, although the mind says withdraw, let the body lean in and reach out a hand – to call a friend, to pet an animal, to throw and catch a ball with a child and best of all to give and receive a hug with a loved one.  You might even try your hand at writing, perhaps a letter or poem, to someone you care about and are unable to see in person at this time.  Letting them know you are thinking about them and care about them might forever change their world in that immediate moment.

All of these acts of connection soothe the mind’s sense of disconnection.  As neuroscience is demonstrating, our brains are wired for connection and, when we begin to experience disconnection, symptoms like depression start to develop.  And the current pandemic conditions are only exacerbating any pre-existing sense of disconnection.  Therefore, we need more tools that support the brain’s innate ability to reorganize towards health, beyond medications that bring so many unwanted side-effects.  We need tools that reduce the fear signals in the brain so that action becomes more of an option when depressive symptoms loom.

Well, such a tool exists and a recent systematic review and meta-analysis of the research reflects that this tool is effective in the treatment of depression.  Prior to this review, the results were mixed.  However, now enough randomized clinical trials have been conducted and the cumulative data reflect that direct neurofeedback has achieved superior response and remission rates, warranting further large-scale clinical trials!

This information is vital as we continue to move through this pandemic and beyond.  The lasting effects of the physical distancing required for our immediate physical health are still unknown at this time, yet history informs us that the psychological wounds may be deep.  Acknowledging that symptoms of depression may be arising, whether within our own experience or witnessing it in others, helps to anticipate support might be needed along the healing path.  Knowing about the treatment options facilitates choice throughout the journey.

To read more about this research click on the link below:

5 Intention-setting Ideas to Destigmatize Mental Health Challenges

Psychotherapy Day – September 25th

It might appear as an act of self-promotion, yet my intention is to share research, wherever and whenever possible, so everyone might move forward making more informed decisions when it comes to their own health, mind, body and spirit!

Psychotherapy works, especially when there is a genuine connection and deep understanding of the root causes to health challenges.  And that deep understanding grows from the knowledge that it is not what is wrong with you, but what happened to you!

As I share again in this month’s Blog (see below), the research is unequivocal when showing the link between what happened to us (mental health) and the leading causes of morbidity and mortality (physical health).  So, if we truly want to have a healthier world, we need to start with a focus on the mind and, if we do, the body will follow.  This focus on the mind – and what traumatizes it – is the only way to break the transgenerational transmission of what ails the world.

Below I provide intention-settings idea to start to destigmatize mental health challenges to help shift the collective healthcare mindset from treating the long-term physical effects of trauma to prevention by inviting in more nurturing, compassion, understanding, belonging and acceptance into our lives:

  1. TALK about Mental Health.  Do you remember the last time a conflict was resolved by silence?  Neither do I!  The only way to truly bring about collaboration and community is to talk things out.  The act of talking takes courage and strength as it also requires us to listen deeply and with curiosity.  Our minds want to make sense of the world, even when experiences may not be logical – we are meaning making vibrational beings.  And often what makes the vibrations uncomfortable are the emotions of relationships.  Human beings are wired for connection to others, as the pandemic has so clearly laid bare for us to feel.  It is only when we can hold our relational emotions alongside of the rational thoughts that meaning mine opens wide for us to look into for the gold.  Sometimes this is impossible to do without the support of another, who can welcome and hold the emotions with us, making space for the light.  So it is my hope that all of us can set an intention to talk openly about our mental health, without shame, to remind us that we are not alone in our struggles.
  2. WRITE/BLOG about Mental Health.  For those that are active on social media, I encourage you to set an intention to write or blog (or even vlog) about a small piece of your story, remembering that it is what happened to you, so you may begin to shine the light on any shame that you might be carrying.  I like to compare shame as Toxic Mold that grows and thrives (and slowly kills) in the dark.  If the light can reach it, it dies.  When writing/sharing our stories, we are opening a window to let the light shine in and let the shame out.  Remember the shame is not yours and no longer needs to be carried!
  3. Volunteer for Mental Health. If you always felt a heart tug to volunteer, yet haven’t found the “just right” organization or cause, perhaps consider mental health.  As a starting point, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness or Mental Health America websites for more information.  Support is needed in all walks of life and all stages of life.
  4. Donate for Mental Health.  If you find that you don’t have the time to volunteer right now, perhaps you might consider a financial donation.  You might even look into whether or not your company might match your donation, as many organizations have such programs.  Any energy expended with intention creates ripples in the universe far beyond what the human eye can see or mind can know, so every little bit counts!
  5. Read/Share Research on Mental Health.  And last but certainly not least (and my favorite!) is read the research!  And, after reading it, share it!!  Remember the old Faberge Organics Shampoo commercial with Heather Locklear where she shared her experience with two friends . . . who shared it with two friends . . . etc., perhaps we can replicate that today by sharing something vitally important to the health of the world. It is this intention that might have the greatest impact on cutting short the public mental health crisis we have been challenged by for so many years.  The research is crystal clear – work with the mind first to prevent diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and cancer.

As always, if you try any of these intention-setting ideas for holistic health, I would love to hear about the impact they might have had for you.  Please send me an email at linda@sanctuary4compassion.com to share!

Can meditation support your immune system, especially in light of the effects of COVID-19?

As someone that suffered with anxiety for most of my life, I am personally so grateful for my yoga practice, which includes various contemplative practices such as meditation.  (Click here for a great image that reflects the many different types of contemplative practices.)  What I found through the ongoing use of these tools is a consistent way to navigate stress to maintain my body, mind, and soul health.  Stress is still present – and I no longer have any expectations of living a stress-free life – yet it no longer accumulates into an expression of anxiety.

Meditation is a very personal experience.  It is the personal nature of the practice that can make it difficult to try and especially hard to maintain.  There are also many different forms of meditation, so it definitely is not one-size-fits-all.  Yet the intention behind meditation – to slow down the mind and help us detach from our thoughts – creates space.  It is this space that can be scary.  When we encounter stress, one of the most common tools humans go to in order to deal with the freeze/fight/flight response is distraction.  We might distract ourselves by watching shows, eating, drinking, shopping, or one of the many other forms of impulsive behaviors that bring feelings of guilt and remorse along with them.

And yet more and more research is demonstrating the benefits of meditation, including how it can support our immune system functioning, which is vital right now in light of the pandemic.  Meditation, whatever form of it that works best for you, helps to regulate the normal, natural human stress response, reducing the inevitable inflammation effects of that response.  If we can find a form of meditation that we enjoy, then this tool can become the sharpest one in our toolkit and the one we consistently turn to when we feel anxiety building.

One of the more creative methods of meditations I utilize is journaling.  This expressive writing tool has also been shown to reduce anxiety and depression.  Relax Like A Boss, a website dedicated to wellbeing and stress, put together an ultimate guide to meditation journals.  If you might consider this form of meditation, you can link to the guide here for tips on how to get started.

Contemplative practices do not have to be done for long periods of time, unless that works for you.  Another one of my favorites is conscious deep breathing, and I do this several times a day for just a few minutes.  It acts like a reset button for my nervous system.  You might count how long you inhale and how long you exhale or you can include visualizations, such as colored light.  You might add affirmations, such as inhaling peace and exhaling stress, if that helps give the thoughts in the mind the necessary mini vacation.  Simply keep in mind that you cannot do it wrong!

I think what is most exciting is how research is looking at the body-mind connection more and more and not approaching the body and mind separately when working towards health.  One recent review of the research literature focused on the interconnected physiological processes in the body that supports the continued inclusion – and expansion – of meditation in the treatment of diverse medical conditions.  What they looked at more closely is the impact of stress on the gut microbiota and how meditation supports the health of our gut, leading to a healthier mind through the regulation of neurotransmitters.  The research team recommended the integration of meditation into conventional health care and wellness models.  If you would like to read more about this review, click the button below:

Can direct neurofeedback help individuals with a diagnosis of schizophrenia?

The effects of the unprecedented coronavirus will be felt by all for a currently unknown period of time.  The fear-driven behavioral responses that this pandemic has been producing is a reflection of how deep and strong our survival response goes.  And, yet, at some point, relief will come in the form of a vaccine.  However, there is another health challenge that stirs fear in the hearts of many, the life-long diagnosis of the severe mental disorder of schizophrenia.

One of my very first clients that I saw as a Marriage and Family Therapist Trainee carried a diagnosis of schizophrenia.  My client challenged me to learn more about this disorder in order to provide the best quality of service I could at that point in my training.  I learned that schizophrenia, although not as common as other mental disorders, affects feelings, thinking, and behaviors and the symptoms can be very disabling.  Symptoms of schizophrenia are categorized using the medical terms of either positive, negative, or cognitive.  Positive symptoms add and negative symptoms take away.

For example, positive symptoms might include hallucinations, delusions, or repetitive movements that are hard to control.  Negative symptoms include reduced feelings of pleasure, reduced speech, apathy, reduced social drive and social interest, and loss of motivation.  The underlying cause or causes of this severe mental disorder are still unknown and available treatments focus on eliminating the symptoms of the disease.  The first line of attack as far as treatment is concerned is antipsychotic medications.  Once a medication is found to work, then psychosocial treatments, such as therapy, is offered to help individuals learn and use coping skills.  Research has shown that participating in such psychosocial treatments reduces relapses and/or hospitalizations; however, the most challenging aspect of treatment is nonadherence to medication.  Therefore, a focus on increasing treatment adherence could have a positive effect on all impacted by this severe mental disorder.

Individuals with schizophrenia struggle to live life independently and improving this situation is a significant mental health priority.  It seems as though the negative symptoms of this disorder are associated with poorer functional status and quality of life than are the positive symptoms and this may be because primary negative symptoms generally do not respond well to the antipsychotic medications currently available.  Research has suggested that up to 60% of patients may have prominent clinically relevant negative symptoms that require treatment.  With this information it then becomes more easily understandable why these individuals may not be compliant with their medications – because those medications don’t work for them.  The question now is what is being done to support these individuals and address this unmet medical need?

Well, there is hope on the horizon.  An article recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry looked into the use of transcranial direct current stimulation (AKA direct neurofeedback) as an add-on therapy for negative symptoms of schizophrenia.  In this double-blind randomized clinical trial of 100 individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia with predominant negative symptoms, results showed that this non-medication treatment was effective and safe in ameliorating negative symptoms.

If you would like to read more, click on the button below:

Compassion for Survivors of Trauma – a New View of Substance Use Disorder/Addiction!

I remember being assigned to read the book by Dr. Gabor Maté, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, while in graduate school and simply feeling gratitude, compassion and validation afterwards.  I never believed in the medical model of addiction that describes the symptom of addiction as a chronic disease of the brain, even suggesting a genetic component to the disease, implying that if my parent(s) had addictions, most likely I would too.  Now, don’t get me wrong, the brains of people who struggle with addiction are different, yet those changes are created as a response to the adverse childhood experiences (AKA TRAUMA) these people survived.  And if your parents suffered from addictions when you were growing up, that experience is traumatic to a child!

I’ve written before about the impact of adverse childhood experiences, especially on physical health later in life as well as addiction; however, I felt compelled to revisit it again when I learned of research that found over 96% of the study participants suffering from substance use disorders, including prescription opioids, nicotine, and cocaine, had trauma histories.  When comparing the groups based upon their drug of choice, the prescription opiate group reported more traumatic childhood experiences than the other groups and a younger age of their first adverse childhood event.  So, when you learn about the underlying dynamics associated with substance use, the thought of “Just Say No” to drugs seems crazy!

Trauma comes in many packages and I’m grateful that the new California Surgeon General (Dr. Nadine Burke Harris) is focusing on early childhood, health equity and Adverse Childhood Experiences and toxic stress as her key priorities. (For more information on the ACEs Aware initiative, visit www.ACEsAware.org.)  It is time to stop blaming the victims and participate in bringing this information forward in order to educate.  What we don’t know, we don’t know.  However, once we know better, we can do better.  With this knowledge, we can bring more empathy and compassion in our interactions with people that struggle with substances.  We can take extra steps to explain this new research to them, validating their experiences and bringing them hope that they can heal from these past traumatic experiences and release their attachment to something that is harmful to them.  We can empower them to explore various healing modalities, such as psychotherapy, neurofeedback, meditation, hypnosis, guided imagery, and expressive arts, such as yoga, writing and drawing, all of which have been shown to support post-traumatic growth.

To read more about this research, click on the box below:

Might direct neurofeedback reduce impulsive behaviors?

The symptom of impulsivity can be found listed under several mental/behavioral health diagnoses, including but not limited to intermittent explosive disorder, substance abuse, OCD, PTSD and binge eating disorder.  When the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth edition (DSM-5™) was published in 2013 and included binge eating disorder, I finally felt validated and, at the same time, gratitude for discovering yoga, which helped to reduce my anxiety and my out-of-control eating, especially in light of the fact that I didn’t want to start taking any prescription medications.

My relationship with food has been a long and winding road.  I have memories when I was 4 or 5 of sitting at my kitchen table by myself, long after everyone else finished eating and was allowed to move on, because I was not allowed to leave the table until I finished everything on my plate, including those horrible green vegetables.  I tried every trick in the book, including slipping some to the dog under the table and putting some in my mouth, wiping my mouth with a napkin and spitting what was in my mouth into the napkin.  I also hear my parents in my mind saying “Eat your food!  There are people starving in Africa” and thinking to myself “Great, send them my food!”.

From there, after my parents got divorced, food became scarce for most of my adolescence.  My parents’ divorce and subsequent relationship was very contentious, pushing me into the land of anxiety.  I began to worry about where my next meal would be coming from and if it would be enough.  The pattern that grew from there involved eating large amounts of food (even if I wasn’t hungry) when food was available and eating very quickly (to ensure I got enough before it disappeared).  I also have memories as a young adult where I would eat my meal very quickly and then eat what was left by others on their plates.

As time passed, my relationship with food changed when my weight began to increase.  At this point, I would not allow myself to eat anything until the end of the day, after I had taken care of everyone else’s needs on my list.  Only then, almost like a reward for completing my “To Do” list for others and my sense of self-restraint or control, would I allow myself the indulgence of fulfilling one of the most basic human needs.  What didn’t change at this point though, was the speed in which I ate and the amount of food I would eat!

I then ventured into the many ‘diets’ being promoted.  My weight began to yo-yo.  My life felt so out-of-control as did I!  It wasn’t until I discovered yoga that I found myself in a space to really confront this unhealthy relationship I had with food, facing the fears lying beneath my journey in the land of anxiety.  And even with the support of my yoga practice (and a boost from some hypnotherapy), it took me many more years to see food as simply a source of energy for my body, like gas or electric for a car.

So how excited was I when I read the recent promising research on using direct neurofeedback (i.e., transcranial direct current stimulation or tDCS) to reduce impulsive behaviors!  Although it is not exactly clear how it does so, a positive effect was found in 74 out of 92 research studies.  It warms my heart to learn that there is an alternative to prescription medications, something that specifically supports the brain’s innate ability to reorganize itself towards health, and does so relatively quickly.

If you would like to read a little more on this research, click on the box below:

5 Intention-setting Ideas to Bring More Joy Into Your Life

This time of year can be stressful for most of us to say the least!  For some, including myself, it might also bring up memories of loss, family discord, and unfulfilled dreams.  So I did a little research on tools that have been shown to shift us into a space of joy and, when integrated into a regular practice, can make that joy more sustainable and available to us any time of year (also see my Reflections below on Positive Psychology).

To take a deeper dive, perhaps consider saving this website (https://itsallgoodhere.com/) in your Favorites and set a new year intention to explore these tools more.

In the meantime, consider the following intention-setting ideas to try this month:

  1. Positive Moments.  Consider setting an intention to identify at least one positive moment each day in the month of December.  You may consider it small, even insignificant, such as the first sip of your morning coffee or tea on a cold morning or climbing under the warm blankets at the end of your day.  It doesn’t matter.  What matters is that you take time to reflect on that moment and hold the experience in your awareness, perhaps for 10 to 20 seconds.  Then, consider sharing that positive moment with someone.  If you do this at night and would prefer, you can share it on Social Media.  The act of sharing allows the positive moment’s effects to linger for longer, inviting a deeper level of positivity into the body and mind.
  2. Personal Strengths.  Another option to consider for setting an intention for the month of December is to identify one of your personal strengths and then think about how you used it today or within the last couple of weeks.  You can stay with one of your personal strengths all month and challenge yourself to identify multiple times/ways you used it or challenge yourself to identify a new strength each day, along with an example of how you applied it in your life.  Or it can be a combination of both, it is all good!
  3. Set a Goal!  Perhaps start by simply reflecting on how you felt the last time you accomplished something you set out to do.  Can you remember the feelings that come with accomplishment, such as satisfaction, peace, motivation, joy?  From there, consider setting one small, attainable goal each day this month with a further intention to track your progress.  It can again be something simple like making your bed, finishing that book that you started awhile ago or reaching out to a friend that you haven’t connected with recently.  The key is to track your progress, specifically to reflect on how many times you met your goal that day.
  4. Reframe Negative as Positive.  This intention-setting idea might be a little more tricky – looking for the ‘silver lining’ in what our culture might label as negative.  When we are able to discover some benefit from an experience that brought us some level of aggravation or upset in the moment, we are doing what is called a ‘positive reappraisal’.  How do we do this?  Well, it starts with identifying something, whether an event or a routine activity that we find distasteful, for whatever reason.  Perhaps it is doing the dishes or getting stuck in traffic.  From there, we search for how these things might provide us with some positive outcome that we simply have been ignoring or have refused to consider in the past.  So, for the dishes, we might reframe it as now I have dishes ready for the next meal or the kitchen looks more welcoming.  For getting stuck in traffic, consider that you have more time to listen to your favorite podcast or music.  The more you practice this skill, the easier it gets and you tend to discover multiple positive aspects to every situation!
  5. Random Acts of Kindness.  Honda does not have to have the corner on this market!!  And it doesn’t have to cost you a thing!  During this season of connection, consider doing something kind for someone else each day this month.  It can simply be offering a genuine smile as you pass them walking by, opening a door for someone, or helping someone carry their bags in or out of their car.  Remember to take a moment to reflect on what you feel afterwards, sensing how the joy you feel inside is spreading out and touching others!

Is positive psychology really effective?

When we experience loss, it is normal and natural to feel sad.  It is also normal and natural when we are under stress to use safety seeking strategies such as pulling back from support structures, such as friends and family.  At the same time, it can sometimes be difficult to move through such normal experiences and rediscover the joys in life.  We can get stuck under the weight of loss and stress, feeling alone and on edge, especially when the stress is chronic.

Reminders of loss often arise at this time of year, whether it is the loss of the innocence of our childhood or the loss of someone that we loved.  Mix in the stress of the holiday season, when our “To Do” list grows long, and it is a recipe for pulling us down into the gloom and making us more susceptible to falling ill.  It can be especially challenging when experiencing this sense of spiraling downward when we don’t have any tools to support us in turning it around.

When we feel alone and don’t want to bother anyone with our troubles, where can we turn to support our navigation through such powerful emotions that tend to knock us off balance?  Is it truly possible to use positive psychology to get us unstuck and back in balance?  Can the technology wave of online help deliver such life balancing tools, allowing us to take this journey from the privacy of our homes?

Well, a new randomized controlled trial took a look at a facilitated online positive emotion regulation intervention with caregivers responsible for people with a diagnosis of dementia.  It was a 6-week intervention that focused on testing the effects on positive emotion, depression, anxiety, and physical health.  This study demonstrated that there are tools that can teach us to experience a more positive attitude and when we have a more positive attitude, it reduces the powerful emotions of anxiety and depression!  This study supports the use of online, remotely delivered programs to support the navigation towards psychological well-being through the use of positive psychology tools.

If you would like to read more about this research, click on the link below:

Connect with Your Inner Source of Peace

2020 Monthly Film Viewing and Reviewing Parties

Come join the party on the last Sunday of each month starting in February, 2020!

Doors will open at 6:30 pm so that you can get some popcorn and hot tea before the movie starts.  Doors will close when the movie starts at 7 pm.

After each movie, a discussion will be facilitated so consider bringing a journal to take note of what you took away from the film or what you learned from other film critics.