Saturday, December 24, 2011

Old Holiday Posts

I should have re-posted these earlier, but here are some old posts about the holidays:

Gratitude
Gifts for Someone who is Depressed
Holiday Survival Guide
Is it ok for a therapist to accept/give gifts?

Quote of the Day


Love hinders death. Love is life. All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love. Everything is, everything exists, only because I love. Everything is united by it alone.

- Tolstoy (War and Peace)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Gratitude


The holidays can be a stressful time and it’s easy to find things to complain about. But this is also a wonderful time to practice gratitude. Rather than getting upset when dealing with people who aggravate us, we can use this opportunity to look for the good qualities in people (and tell them). If someone gives us a gift we don’t like, we can remember that giving is about the gesture and be thankful someone took the time to consider us.

Here is a study showing that expressing gratitude increased one’s perception of communal strength in a relationship as compared to just generating positive thoughts.

This series of studies found that demonstrating gratitude was related to fewer depressive symptoms.

This study showed that “positive emotions experienced in the wake of the attacks--gratitude, interest, love, and so forth--fully accounted for the relations between (a) precrisis resilience and later development of depressive symptoms and (b) precrisis resilience and postcrisis growth in psychological resources.”

How to practice gratitude:

Set aside a few minutes each day, maybe first thing in the morning and/or just before bed, to reflect on any positive events that occurred during the day. It doesn’t matter if it’s a small event or a big one, the point is to look for all the good things that happen every day (even on a bad day). Not only does this help us be more gracious, warm people, but it also reminds us that when everything seems to be going wrong, we can still find things that we were grateful for.

Similar to above, keep a gratitude journal. At the end of the day, write down at least three things you were grateful for. (If you're a geek, use the digits of pi as a guideline for how many things to record, e.g. since pi=3.14, on the first day record three positive things, on the second day 1 thing, on the third day four things, and so on).

Say thank you when someone does something nice for you. And mean it. Similarly, you can also write thank you notes or letters to people who have done something you have appreciated in the past.

Find joy in the small things.

Keep a physical object that helps you remember gratitude.

Check out this site to see what other people are grateful for (and maybe post your own thanks).

Challenge yourself to go a week (or two or three) without complaining or criticising yourself or others.

Look for the good in the seemingly bad. Here is a gratitude poem that may help:

Be Thankful

Be thankful that you don’t already have everything you desire,
If you did, what would there be to look forward to?

Be thankful when you don’t know something
For it gives you the opportunity to learn.

Be thankful for the difficult times.
During those times you grow.

Be thankful for your limitations
Because they give you opportunities for improvement.

Be thankful for each new challenge
Because it will build your strength and character.

Be thankful for your mistakes
They will teach you valuable lessons.

Be thankful when you’re tired and weary
Because it means you’ve made a difference.

It is easy to be thankful for the good things.
A life of rich fulfillment comes to those who are
also thankful for the setbacks.

GRATITUDE can turn a negative into a positive.
Find a way to be thankful for your troubles
and they can become your blessings.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

MDMA Therapy

MDMA is illegal and I am not endorsing its use, nor am I qualified to. The following is a review of techniques, etc. in documented literature.

It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything controversial. Given the subject of this post, I feel it is necessary to make a couple of important statements. First of all, I do not condone the use of drugs for recreational purposes and it is not my intention to influence people to do so. Also, a reminder that I am not a doctor; I have no clinical or personal experience with this therapy. The information provided here is based on opinions I have heard from professionals and research studies.

That being said, I think there are some benefits to this therapy. Taking a small dose of a drug once is likely safer than taking multiple doses of antidepressants, etc. for years (provided it is obtained from a reliable source. There are testing kits you can buy, but these appear to have quite a few limits, see here for a detailed description. You can also check PillReports.com to compare what you have with their database). People with treatment resistant depression or PTSD who suffer from severe loneliness may find that the reported effect of MDMA of feeling connected can help them to understand what not-loneliness feels like so that they can cultivate this feeling more efficiently in the future without the aid of medications (or MDMA).


MDMA use in Psychiatry:

MDMA is being tested for PTSD, anxiety, depression (a recent study with rats showed a dose dependent response that peaked at a certain dose. The study also demonstrated no antidepressant effects of methamphetamine), pain management, and cancer (both for helping patients deal with their cancer situation and possible as an anti-cancer drug).

Other potential uses, particularly because of the feelings of connectedness that are induced, include couples therapy, family therapy, and group therapy.

There has been a lot of research into the therapeutic effects of MDMA. Recently a group published a paper examining long-term effects:

“In long-term follow-up, averaging 3.5 years after the initial treatment, most of the people remained free of PTSD — of the 16 patients who participated in the follow-up study, 13 still did not meet the criteria for PTSD. Mithoefer [the author] notes, however, that the people who have not yet elected to participate in the long term follow-up may have done so because they had not fared well.”

"MAPS and Mithoefer's major breakthrough showed that over 80 percent of the subjects in the MDMA group no longer qualified for a diagnosis of PTSD, as compared to 25 percent in the placebo group," he told AlterNet. ‘An even more important breakthrough, which we are currently working to write up in a scientific paper, is from the results of our long-term follow-up evaluations of the subjects, administered at an average of 41 months post-treatment. We found that, on average, the subjects have actually gotten a bit better over time, demonstrating that MDMA-assisted psychotherapy has lasting benefits.’”

http://www.alternet.org/drugs/151263/ecstasy_as_treatment_for_ptsd_from_sexual_trauma_and_war_new_research_shows_very_promising_results/?page=entire


Info about MDMA:

This paper (note the author disclosure) posits three explanations as to why MDMA may be beneficial to therapy:

1) MDMA increases oxytocin levels, which may strengthen the therapeutic alliance; 2) MDMA increases ventromedial prefrontal activity and decreases amygdala activity, which may improve emotional regulation and decrease avoidance and 3) MDMA increases norepinephrine release and circulating cortisol levels, which may facilitate emotional engagement and enhance extinction of learned fear associations.

While the terms MDMA and ecstasy are often used synonymously, these days they are not the same thing. MDMA used to be the principle component in ecstasy, but now ecstasy can contain a bunch of other things including meth, cocaine, speed, caffeine, etc. and may not even contain any MDMA at all.

Remember, MDMA is illegal. But if you have it and want to get more information on its identity go to PillReports.com which is a global database of "Ecstasy" pills based on both subjective user reports and scientific analysis.


Participating in MDMA therapy:

MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) has ongoing clinical trials that you might qualify for if you happen to live near one of their offices.

Talk to your therapist about their opinions. Legally, they can not endorse MDMA use in therapy. However, you may be able to broach the subject as a hypothetical situation as a means of discussing what their response would be if you came to session with MDMA in your system. I do not recommend ever showing up to therapy having taking MDMA without first discussing it with your therapist. It would be very disrespectful to put your therapist in such a compromising situation. Furthermore, one of the points of using MDMA in therapy is to generate a feeling of connectedness in a safe environment; keeping secrets is contradictory to this intention and may have negative impacts on the therapeutic relationship later. If you do decide on MDMA therapy, do let your therapist know at the beginning of the session that you have taken the drug so that they can watch for adverse side effects and properly understand any changes in your behaviour.

All of the above is assuming you have a progressive therapist. It is very unlikely that your therapist will want to be involved in a session with a patient under the influence of an illegal drug. If this is the case, but you still feel strongly that this is the right therapy for you, find a friend whom you feel secure with and are comfortable talking to. Let them know what you are doing and why and ask if they would be okay with supervising and listening during the experience.

Have a plan:

Know yourself. If you think you may be in a vulnerable place where MDMA use could become habitual, take the time to carefully plan out a course of action (if you decide action is even appropriate for you). Make sure you view this as a one time event (do whatever you have to do to make the experience sacred for yourself) and not as an excuse to begin using drugs recreationally.

You may want to find an area near your therapist’s office that feels calm and safe. Since your therapist will probably not give you longer than the usual 1 hour session, arrive at this place well before your session so that you can time when the MDMA begins working with the start of your session. The reason I recommend this is because I think it could be quite distressing being on the bus for a long time with a drug you may have never experienced in your system (and you definitely should not be driving under the influence of any drug).

It is important you feel safe in your setting and that you feel knowledgeable and confident about the experiences you might have.

Do not take an excessive dose. Research studies report experimental doses of 75 - 150mg. Check this site for a dose that might be appropriate for you.

Some research studies have people wear eye masks and listen to relaxing music on headphones. I think this is a good way to relax and prepare yourself for the session ahead. Make yourself a playlist of soothing music that will last the 30 -60 minutes it takes for the drug to take effect.

Have a friend accompany you (maybe not to the session itself, but to be there before and after in case you need emotional support). This should be a person whom you trust, feel safe with, and who is preferably sober.

Bring water and wear comfortable layers. Hyperthermia can be a side effect so you want to ensure you are well hydrated and cool.

Bring comforting objects. Whether during or after your session, you may experience intense emotions. Have some things handy that you can use to soothe yourself (teddy bear, a particular scent, a soft fabric, iced herbal tea, pictures that make you laugh or remind you of good times, art supplies…). If you have a depression emergency kit, you can use that. If you don’t, now is a good time to make one.

Bring a digital recorder. I have never used MDMA and I don’t know how it affects a person’s memory, but for patients with depression (or anyone for that matter), remembering everything that was discussed in therapy can be a challenge. Talk to your therapist/friend about how they feel about recording the session.

Have a place you can go after session while the drug leaves your system. Have ideas of where you can go if you need to feel safe. Also keep in mind places you may like to go if you are feeling well. It may take a few hours for the drug to leave your system so you want to be in an environment that best suits your emotional needs. Since MDMA is supposed to have sensory effects maybe you would like to go for a walk on a sandy beach or have a meal at a restaurant serving foods with interesting flavours and textures.

Potential harmful effects:

Side effects include anxiety and depression when coming off the drug, hyperthermia, visual distortions, nausea, vomiting, jaw-clenching, eye-twitching, and dizziness, as well as depression and fatigue in following days. After frequent or heavy use, some users report bouts of dizziness or vertigo which gradually subside after cessation of use. There have been problems with MDMA users experiencing dehydration, hyperthermia, hyponatremia, exhaustion, blackouts, and a few cases of death generally while using MDMA at clubs or raves.

MDMA has been shown in many studies to be neurotoxic, particularly causing harm to the cells in the brain which produce serotonin. There is evidence that MDMA can cause permanent harm or cell death. These studies have been done using rodents, monkeys, and using laboratory cell cultures. The neurotoxicity seems to be associated with, or magnified by, the increase in body temperature caused by ecstasy ingestion. Here are a few of the many references about this:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1379014
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18991870
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16884865
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12464456
(source)

The following information comes from http://www.erowid.org/chemicals/mdma/mdma_basics.shtml which is a great site full of detailed and thorough information about MDMA (usually I just link to the website, but because this information is important I am reporting in full here).

Contraindications:
• Do not take MDMA if you are currently taking an MAOI. MAOIs are most commonly found in the prescription anti-depressants Nardil (phenelzine), Parnate (tranylcypromine), Marplan (isocarboxazid), Eldepryl (l-deprenyl), and Aurorex or Manerix (moclobemide). Ayahuasca also contains MAOIs (harmine and harmaline). MDMA and MAOIs are a potentially dangerous combination. Check with your doctor if you are not sure whether your prescription medication is an MAOI.
• Avoid taking MDMA if you are currently using the protease inhibitor Ritonavir. This may be a life-threatening combination.
• Individuals with a history of heart ailments, high blood pressure, aneurysm or stroke, glaucoma, hepatic (liver) or renal (kidney) disorders, or hypoglycemia may be at higher risk.
• Avoid strong stimulants in combination with MDMA.
• Avoid high doses and frequent use. Recent studies suggest that the heavier and more frequent the use, the more concerning the long term after-effects may be.
• A small percentage (1-10% depending on race & family history) are "slow metabolizers", who have low levels of a liver enzyme (P450 2D6) which metabolizes many drugs, including MDMA (as well as Prozac, DXM, and many other pharmaceuticals). These people may be more sensitive to MDMA, might require lower doses, and should be cautious.

Onset:

Depending on how much and how recently one has eaten food, MDMA generally takes 30-60 minutes (although sometimes as long as 2 hours) to take effect. Unlike with many other psychoactives, the onset of MDMA is very quick. Often at the point one realizes that perhaps they are starting to notice effects, they are already 'launching' quickly towards the peak. This quick and extremely sharp 'launch' can be unnerving, feeling a bit like it's too quick and hard to know when it's going to end, but the feeling generally only lasts a few minutes until the full effects are reached.

Duration:

The primary effects of MDMA last approximately 3-4 hours when taken orally. For many people there is an additional period of time (2-6 hrs) where it is difficult to go to sleep and there is definitely a noticeable difference from everyday reality, but which is not strong enough to be considered 'tripping'. Many people also experience a noticeable shift in mood for several days after use; for some this is a period of depression while others experience lifted mood.

The Crash:

Some users of MDMA experience a dramatic worsening of mood as the peak effects wear off, often called the "crash". This is often the result of coming down from a wonderful experience, not wanting the feelings to go away, and being sad, scared, or annoyed afterwards. Crashes do not happen after every experience and some users never experience them. One of the primary problems associated with crashing is that some users find themselves redosing in order to stave it off.

Hangover:

Many users report feeling extremely drained the day after MDMA use. This 'day after' effect means for many MDMA users that they need to plan 2 days for the experience: one for the peak experience and one recovery day, with very little planned. Many users also experience some level of post-MDMA depression, often starting on the second day after the experience and lasting for up to 5 days. A small percentage of users report depressive symptoms for weeks afterwards. Alternately, some users report feeling better than normal for a week or so after taking MDMA. The negative after-effects of taking MDMA appear to be worse with higher frequencies of use, higher dosages, and perhaps total lifetime usage.

Further Reading:
http://www.mdma.net/therapy/method.html
http://www.maps.org/research/mdma/
http://www.macalester.edu/academics/psychology/whathap/ubnrp/mdma/table.html
*** http://www.erowid.org/chemicals/mdma/mdma_basics.shtml
http://garthkroeker.blogspot.com/2009/05/mdma-ecstasy-risks-and-benefits.html

Again, MDMA is illegal and I am not endorsing its use, nor am I qualified to. The above is a review of techniques, etc. in documented literature.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Quote of the Day


A rush of bliss
flows suddenly through all my senses!
I feel a glow, a holy joy of life
which sets my veins and flesh afire.

- Goethe (from Faust)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Funny Web Comic


This is one of my favourite comics and the artist just did a strip about depression which I thought I would share. The line that makes me laugh the most? "Did you know some people have pets that are dead?"

http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2011/10/adventures-in-depression.html

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Bipolar Disorder: Effects on Cognitive Functioning

Here is a new study providing more evidence for the benefits of mindfulness based approach to therapy (specifically, MBCT):

"The study described here evaluated changes in cognitive functioning associated with MBCT in individuals with bipolar disorder who had residual mood symptoms. Prior to treatment, our sample of participants with bipolar disorder reported substantial impairment in levels of cognitive functioning. Our results indicate that patients with bipolar disorder who participated in MBCT showed improvement in executive functioning and memory to levels comparable with normative samples. Improvements were seen at post-treatment compared to before treatment, as indicated by large effect sizes on many sub-scales, but the effects of the treatment appeared to be attenuated over time. Nevertheless, improvements in many areas of cognitive functioning, particularly memory and task monitoring, were maintained at the follow-up evaluation 3 months after treatment, as indicated by small to medium effect sizes…Of note, improvements in executive functioning in the current study were maintained at especially high levels several months after completing MBCT…

It is important to note that these improvements were not accounted for by decreases in symptoms of depression, although there was evidence of some improvements in cognitive functioning associated with decreases in manic symptoms…It may be that improving the ability to observe thoughts and feelings while disengaging from interpreting their meaning frees up cognitive resources otherwise tied to focusing on one’s thoughts, resources that are useful in allowing one to plan, organize, and perform other executive functions. Similarly, awareness of one’s bodily sensations may make people cognizant of their mood and their body’s needs, making these needs less likely to go unmet and thus to interfere with their cognitive functioning…

Mindfulness appears to have positive effects on cognition, particularly through increasing the ability to maintain focus over longer periods of time. Indeed, previous research has shown that mindfulness is associated with increases in attentional control. Mindfulness meditation has also been linked to activation and increases in white matter in the anterior cingulate cortex, a region implicated in executive attention and that is impaired in individuals with bipolar disorder…

Several limitations of the present study should be noted. Appropriate caution is warranted when interpreting the results of open trials, which lack a valid comparison group. It is unclear whether MBCT would improve cognitive functioning to a greater extent than would other adjunctive, manualized treatments for bipolar disorder…The frequency of practice of the mindfulness techniques learned in MBCT was also not systematically evaluated in this study…This study was also limited by a small sample size…In addition, findings were reported from participants who completed the cognitive functioning measures, all of whom also completed the treatment trial. Therefore, the findings must be interpreted cautiously… It is also important to note that the cyclical nature of bipolar disorder may have contributed to some extent to the cognitive and mood changes observed in this study…
In addition, this study used only self-report measures of cognitive functioning…The present study also utilized a sample of bipolar patients with residual mood symptoms, rather than a sample of individuals in a current mood episode."

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Quote of the Day


Accept the changes you initiate, try to make peace with the past, and find renewal and real joy in your new apprenticeship. Even if you're left with something of a hurt heart, and even if you struggle with thoughts about the past and about what might have been, you can still find great satisfaction in your new life, as you learn its ropes and as you begin to experience some successes in it.

- Eric Maisel (from Creativity for Life)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Quote of the Day


I believe that love that is true and real creates a respite from death. All cowardice comes from not loving or not loving well, which is the same thing and when the man that is brave and true looks death squarely in the face...it is because they love with sufficient passion to push death out of their minds, until it returns, as it does, to all men and then you must make really good love again.

- Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Quote of the Day


“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

- Steve Jobs

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Quote of the Day


Don't be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done.

- Paul Hawken

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Quote of the Day


“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

Winston Churchill

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Quote of the Day


Never regret something that once made you smile.

- Amber Deckers

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Quote of the Day


“I believe in pink. I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. I believe in kissing, kissing a lot. I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day and I believe in miracles.”

― Audrey Hepburn

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Self Help Apps

These reviews include only free apps. The selection was chosen based on screenshots that looked promishing and a few that were recommended from other sites.

Moody Me: This app is essentially useless. You can choose a mood label from a list of about a dozen different moods and that’s about it.

Best Self-Help Quotes: Has a bunch of quotes you may or may not find inspirational.

Transform Your Life – An Awareness Package: Has daily quotes along with contemplative assignments (which I think gives this app a slight advantage over the quote only ones). It looks interesting enough that I might keep it around for a while.

TracknShare: This is a good mood diary that allows you to track mood, sleep, diet (by food group and includes a category for ‘sweets’), weather, and stress (and quite a few other things). It also lets you record notes and track acts of kindness and gratitude and puts it all into a graph. Unfortunately, the free version becomes limited after about a week, but the app does provide good ideas of what to include should you want to make your own mood tracker.

MoodTracker: Has medication reminders/trackers as well as mood, drugs, menstruation, sleep, and functionality. Graphs results. I prefer TracknShare.

My Instant Coach: This app gives general advice to life’s most common questions. I expected to really dislike this app, but it does a fair job of giving you some ideas and strategies of how to begin tackling your problems. It’s not complete by any means, but it is just an app and might give you some ideas or new perspectives you hadn’t thought of. It has me intrigued enough that I will keep it around for a while.

iZen Lite 2: This is a digital version of a zen sand garden which you can rake and decorate with a few different rocks. You can also share/save your garden. It’s nothing fancy, but I think I will enjoy it more than playing Angry Birds. And maybe it will make being on a crowded bus a little more relaxing.

My Thoughts: This is a collection of affirmations (e.g. “Today is the beginning of my new life”). I think it’s better to generate your own affirmations, but that can be very difficult some days. At the very least, it’s something positive to look at and think about during your day.

ZaZen Lite: I had high hopes for this one, but it’s really just a timer. Though it does have a nice bell sound.

MindfulnessAttitude: Again, a disappointment. It is intended to give descriptions of the different aspects of mindfulness, but the descriptions were very brief ahttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifnd far from explanatory.

There are also a lot of free meditation apps, but I think finding the right guided meditation is a personal thing, so I won’t review any of them here.

Remember, these apps aren’t intended to replace therapy. I wouldn’t even really call them an adjunct to therapy, but they can be useful reminder tools.

If you don’t have an apple product, but like the idea of tracking your moods check out some of my mood diaries (under the label Mood diary). Or create your own personalised version in excel.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Quote of the Day


However, as human beings we are gifted with this wonderful human intelligence. Besides that, all human beings have the capacity to be very determined and to direct that strong sense of determination in whatever direction they like. So long as we remember that we have this marvellous gift of human intelligence and a capacity to develop determination and use it in positive ways, we will preserve our underlying mental health. Realizing we have this great human potential gives us a fundamental strength. This recognition can act as a mechanism that enables us to deal with any difficulty, no matter what situation we are facing, without losing hope or sinking into feelings of low self-esteem.

- Dalai Lama

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Caprica Metaphor


For those of you who don’t know, Caprica is a spin-off of the Battlestar Galactica series which takes place before the Cylon war and concerns, among other things, the development of Cylons. In the series, Cylons are a combination of robotics and avatars based on real people. One of the central characters, Zoe, who developed the avatar program ( with the original version being a copy of herself) dies leaving her avatar to live on in a virtual world (and sometimes in a robot). There is also one other ‘dead’ girl who lives in the virtual world.

The world these girls live in is a violent, immoral game world. They hate it, but of course they can’t leave. So they decide to change it, fighting against the attitudes that prevail there and even building a beautiful sanctuary with playful pink trees.

Those living with depression often feel like they are trapped in a dark, chaotic world with no one to turn to. But this isn’t true. We all have the ability to transform our world, and ourselves. It’s difficult work that requires help, but all we have to do is have a clear intention of what we want and head in that direction. This is not to imply that a person can completely manipulate the outside world or alter their past, but that how we perceive and interact with that world (by choosing optimism, healthy relationships…) is something within our control and we can shape our future.. One can even create an ideal, ‘happy place’ that can be used with meditations and relaxation techniques.

For those of you familiar with the show, this is only meant to be a limited metaphor…

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Quote of the Day


Since patience or tolerance comes from an ability to remain steadfast, to avoid being overwhelmed by adverse situations or conditions, we should not see patience as a sign of weakness or giving in, but rather as a sign of strength. Responding to a trying situation with patience and tolerance rather than reacting with anger and hatred involves active restraint, which arises from a strong, self-disciplined mind.

- Dalai Lama

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Forest Bathing


Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, is a Japanese term for spending time in the forest with the purpose of decreasing stress and other negative feelings. While there are quite a few studies showing walking in the woods is beneficial, it is difficult to find evidence as to what specifically, or holistically, is the acting agent(s). It is hypothesised that phytoncides, volatile substances given off by plants , may be the primary agent working as a sort of aromatherapy. Another hypothesis is that our technological and social evolution has developed faster than our biological evolution and that humans still feel more at home, and therefore more at ease, in the forest.

While I wouldn’t label these studies as particularly rigorous, anyone who has walked in the woods can certainly attest to its positive effects on well-being. Whether forests are good for us or cities are detrimental, taking a walk in nature is an easy way to decrease stress levels. The exercise alone will bring positive results. Additionally, taking time for some mindfulness exercises will also increase well-being. And the thrill of a new adventure is always stimulating.

That being said, there are certain precautions to be taken when embarking on any outdoor trip:
• Let someone know where you will be and when you expect to return
• Know the layout of the trails or have a map
• Check weather conditions
• Pack adequate food, clothing, water…
• Carry a first aid kit
• Travel with a companion or group
• Carry bear spray

Furthermore, those suffering from specific fears of the woods should consider working through an exposure hierarchy and ensure they have an exit strategy if the situation becomes too stressful.

A 2011 study demonstrating decreased cortisol levels and increased parasympathetic activity.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21288543

A 2007 study showing similar results.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17435356

A 2008 study/review that admirably tried to control for forest-like settings. Not surprisingly, the results were inconclusive, but one wouldn’t really expect to get the same physiological response from sitting in a wood room as from walking in a forest. This paper also reviews some other forest bathing studies.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2793347/?tool=pubmed

A 2010 review of 24 studies.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19568835

A 2010 study concluding that time in the forest increases expression of anti-cancer proteins.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18336737

Monday, October 3, 2011

Quote of the Day


"...perhaps the most pure and exalted kind of love, is an utter, absolute, and unqualified wish for the happiness of another individual."

- Dalai Lama

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Disadvantages and Advantages of being on Disability


This paper (Disability and the Duty to Accommodate in the Canadian Workplace) takes a very thorough look at the legalities of Canadian employees with disabilities and the responsibilities of employers in such circumstances with many real-life case examples. It’s quite long, but worth looking through, especially if you have specific concerns. Mental health disabilities are discussed beginning on page 54 and contains some interesting cases. (I didn’t see a publication date, but I expect it is quite a few years out of date).

This site offers a more brief description of legalities.

Advantages (you don't neccesarily have to be on disability to access these resources):
-social programs to help with returning to work which may include some financing of education
-cost of living slightly offset by bus pass ($45/yr) or driving program as well as subsidised medication costs (also talk to your psychiatrist about Plan G which covers some psychiatric drugs)
-check with your city to see if they offer a free pass to community cenres (Vancouver does. It is called the LAC - Leisure Access Card and gives you access to pools, gyms, ice rinks and sometimes discounts on classes).
-time to heal
-fewer daily stresses
-may allow for a career change
-time to get to know and discover new and interesting things about yourself and develop new skills
-develop new social circles
-time to give back to the community by volunteering
-understand and have greater empathy for people in similar situations
-programs such as free cooking classes offered by Community Mental Health Teams

Disadvantages:
-increases social isolation
-loss of purpose/incentive (I’m using the term generally here. Even if you don’t particularly like your job, having an established routine can be beneficial. It’s important to find new, healthy ways to fill your time).
-decreased income which may affect other areas of health such as nutrition and environmental living conditions if you must move somewhere with cheaper rent
-may be some stigma or gossip upon returning to work
-may be negative judgments from others regarding your disability
-stressful dealings with the government regarding the validity of your illness
-difficulty transitioning back into a working lifestyle which may cause symptoms to recur (it’s important to have support for this transition)

It is important to have a good working relationship with your psychiatrist. Without their support, and filling out pages of forms, you will not be eligible for disability benefits. And, of course, a discourse on your current health status and abilities, especially if you think it has affected your ability to work, is very important.

Remember, the application process takes time. If you are concerned about your condition and think you might require disability assistance, start talking to your doctor sooner rather than later so you don’t end up worsening your condition in a job you can’t do or in a financially stressful situation if you have to leave work before the paperwork goes through.

This site has information on eligibility and application requirements. Remember, you can (and should) appeal if your application is denied the first time around.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Quote of the Day


The most profound benefit of yoga and meditation for me has been a natural relaxing into my life. Obstacles are not so scary. I am more fluid, more curious, and at the same time more patient. I have more options for happiness because I don’t require specific conditions. It is a relief to discover that I can be happy even if the world doesn’t revolve around me or my agenda.

- Cyndi Lee

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Vitamin H – Biotin


Vitamin H, more commonly known as biotin (the H represents "Haar und Haut”, German words for “hair and skin”) or vitamin B7, is part of the B complex group of vitamins. Biotin is necessary for cell growth, the production of fatty acids, and the metabolism of fats and amino acids. It also plays a role in the citric acid cycle. Biotin can improve blood sugar control and help lower fasting blood glucose levels in persons with diabetes.

Biotin deficiency is rare because, in general, bacteria in the large intestine produce biotin in excess of the body's daily requirements. Deficiency can be caused by the consumption of raw egg whites (eating two or more uncooked egg whites daily for several months).
Symptoms of overt biotin deficiency include:
• Hair loss
• Pink eye
• Dermatitis in the form of a scaly red rash around the eyes, nose, mouth, and
genital area.
• Neurological symptoms in adults such as depression, lethargy, hallucination, and numbness and tingling of the extremities.

Dietary Sources:
Biotin can be found in brewer's yeast; cooked eggs, especially egg yolk; sardines; nuts (almonds, peanuts, pecans, walnuts) and nut butters; soybeans; other legumes (beans, blackeye peas); whole grains; cauliflower; bananas; and mushrooms.

Raw egg whites contain a protein called Avidin that interferes with the body's absorption of biotin.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Quote of the Day


What the water wants is hurricanes,
and sailboats to ride on its back.
What the water wants is sun kiss,
and land to run into and back.

- Sufjan Stevens

Monday, September 26, 2011

Reconstructing Visual Experiences from Brain Activity Evoked by Natural Movies

This story is all over the news today. Apparently, a group of researchers were able, more or less, to reconstruct images that subjects had viewed by analysing fMRI data. The subject set was very small, 3 people, and as much as I love that we are beginning to live in the future, I don't feel I possess adequate knowledge to really critique this article. This site, however, offers a bit of a critique.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Dance and Dementia

A large (469 subjects) , long term (21yrs) study published in 2003 compared the effects of several leisure activities, cognitive and physical, on the outcome of dementia. Despite what much of the internet says, this study does not conclude that dancing reduces the incidence of dementia. In fact, they make no claims that any physical activity reduces risk and further conclude that cognitive activities need further examination to determine whether their role is causal or consequential in relation to the development of dementia.

‘Among cognitive activities, reading, playing board games, and playing musical instruments were associated with a lower risk of dementia. Dancing was the only physical activity associated with a lower risk of dementia. Fewer than 10 subjects played golf or tennis, so the relation between these activities and dementia was not assessed.’ (Other physical activities examined included doing housework, climbing stairs, bicycling, swimming, playing team games, babysitting, and participating in group exercise).

‘A one-point increment in the cognitive-activity score, which corresponds to participation in an activity for one day per week, was associated with a reduction of 7 percent in the risk of dementia.’

‘Perhaps reduced participation in leisure activities is an early marker of dementia that precedes the declines on cognitive tests. Alternatively, participation in leisure activities may be a marker of behavior that promotes health. But the specificity of our findings for cognitive activities and not physical activities argues against this hypothesis… despite the magnitude and consistency of the associations, our findings do not establish a causal relation between participation in leisure activities and dementia, and controlled trials are therefore needed.’

‘If there is a causal role, participation in leisure activities may increase cognitive reserve, delaying the clinical or pathological onset of dementia. Alternatively, participation in cognitive activities might slow the pathological processes of disease during the preclinical phase of dementia. Our findings do not imply that subjects who were less active cognitively increased their risk of dementia.’

‘There was no association between physical activity and the risk of dementia. Exercise is said to have beneficial effects on the brain by promoting plasticity, increasing the levels of neurotrophic factors in the brain, and enhancing resistance to insults. Cognitive and physical activities overlap, and therefore it is not surprising that previous studies have disagreed on the role of physical activities. Although physical activities are clearly important in promoting overall health, their protective effect against dementia remains uncertain.’

This doesn’t mean that physical activity, and dance, is not beneficial to persons with dementia (or anything else for that matter). A 2009 study showed decreased agitation in participants with dementia who engaged in a four week Wu Tau dance therapy intervention.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Racist Psychology Today Article

This is a bit old, but I'm a bit slow. There are many sites discussing everything that is wrong with this article, but I'm only linking to one here.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Quote of the Day


We need only courageously expand our concept of intimacy to include all the other forms that surround us on a daily basis. By broadening our definition of intimacy, we open ourselves to discovering many new and equally satisfying ways of connecting with others.

- from The Art of Happiness

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Quote of the Day


May I be happy.

May I be peaceful.

May I be safe from harm.

May I enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.

May I experience ease and well-being in body, mind, and spirit.

May I hold myself with softness and care.

May I be free from suffering and 
the root of suffering.

May I be free from the suffering caused by greed (or anger, fear, confusion, and so on)

May I experience ease of body, ;mind, and spirit.

May I respond to suffering with compassion.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Quote of the Day


“The way that we see things today does not have to be the way we saw them yesterday. That is because the situations, our relationships to them, and we ourselves have changed in the interim. This notion of constant change suggests that we do not have to be discouraged.”

-T.K.V. Desikachar

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Quote of the Day


Do not brood over your past mistakes and failures as this will only fill your mind with grief, regret and depression. Do not repeat them in the future.

- Swami Sivananda

Monday, August 15, 2011

Eros the Bittersweet - Review

Eros the Bittersweet (Anne Carson)

This is an interesting book that examines the dichotomy of love (Eros type) primarly through association with Greek literature and language (with a focus on poetry). It is ironically romantic in all the right places as well as informative and insightful. Besides being entertaining, I think this book could provide grounding for those who feel dominated by their love feelings.

“Eros is an issue of boundaries. He exists because certain boundaries do. In the interval between reach and grasp, between glance and counterglance, between ‘I love you’ and ‘I love you too,’ the absent presence of desire comes alive. But the boundaries of time and glance and Ilove you are only aftershocks of the main, inevitable boundary that creates Eros: the boundary of flesh and self between you and me. And it is only, suddenly, at the moment when I would dissolve that boundary, I realize I never can.”

“Our souls once lived on wings among the gods, he [Plato] says, nourished as gods are by the infinite elation of looking at reality all the time. Now we are exiled from that place and quality of life, yet we remember it from time to time, for example, when we look upon beauty and fall in love.”

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Quote of the Day


Love is there if you want it to be. You just have to see that it's wrapped in beauty and hidden away between the seconds of your life.

- from Cashback

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Fear, Stem Cells, and Emotional Memory

This summary is from Science Daily which also has the link to the actual article.

Fear Boosts Activation of Immature Brain Cells: Adult Neural Stem Cells Play Role in Creating Emotional Context of Memory

Scientists have long known that fear and other highly emotional experiences lead to incredibly strong memories. In a study appearing online in advance of publication in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, UC Berkeley's Daniela Kaufer and colleagues report a new way for emotions to affect memory: The brain's emotional center, the amygdala, induces the hippocampus, a relay hub for memory, to generate new neurons.

In a fearful situation, these newborn neurons get activated by the amygdala and may provide a "blank slate" to strongly imprint the new fearful memory, she said. In evolutionary terms, it means new neurons are likely helping you to remember the lion that nearly killed you.

"We remember emotional events much more strongly than daily experiences, and for a long time we have known that connections between the amygdala and hippocampus help to encode this emotional information," said Kaufer, an assistant professor of integrative biology and a member of UC Berkeley's Wills Neuroscience Institute. "Our research shows that amygdala input actually pushes the hippocampus to make new neurons from a unique population of neural stem cells. This provides completely new cells that get activated in response to emotional input."

The finding has implications for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other problems caused by faulty regulation of emotional memory.

"Many affective disorders involve disordered emotional memories like PTSD, depression and anxiety. We think that newborn neurons may play a role in creating these emotional memories," she said.

The finding comes a year after brain researcher Fred Gage at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif., showed that the formation of new memories is associated with increased activation of two-week-old newborn nerve cells in the hippocampus that are derived from adult neural stem cells. Adult stem cells appear to differentiate continually into new nerve cells -- nearly 100 each day -- yet half of those newborn neurons are slated for death within four weeks after their birth. If they are highly activated, however -- such as in learning new complex information -- many more of them will survive and presumably help in establishing new memories in the brain.

Kaufer, who conducts research on the effects of stress on the brain, knew that many types of positive and negative experiences, such as exercise and stress, affect the rate of neurogenesis in the hippocampus. Along with graduate students Elizabeth Kirby, the lead author of the study, and Aaron Friedman, she was intrigued by the idea that emotions might affect neurogenesis in the hippocampus, since the brain's clearinghouse for emotions, the amygdala, is connected to the hippocampus via multiple neural circuits. To test this, Kirby focused on the basolateral amygdala, the region of the almond-shaped structure that handles negative emotions, including stress, anxiety and fear.

Using rats, Kirby surgically destroyed the basolateral amygdala and discovered that the production of new nerve cells in the hippocampus decreased. To make sure that the cell damage created when the amygdala was surgically destroyed was not affecting the experiment, the researchers borrowed a gene therapy technique from Robert Sapolsky's lab at Stanford University to genetically introduce potassium channels into the amygdala, which shut down the activity of the nerve cells without causing injury. This also decreased neurogenesis in the hippocampus.

They next tested Gage's theory that new neurons are especially sensitive to input two weeks after they form. Kirby and Kaufer labeled hippocampal cells created over a three-day period in a group of rats, and then conditioned a fear response in these rats two weeks later. They then confronted the rats with the same fearful situation or a neutral yet novel context the next day. When they examined the brains, they found that the newborn neurons had been specifically activated by the fearful situation. However, when they destroyed the basolateral amygdala, new neurons were no longer activated in response to the fearful memory.

"The research suggests that newborn neurons play a role not only in the formation of memory, but also in helping to create the emotional context of memory," Kirby said. It also suggests that the basolateral amygdala drives the ability of new neurons to be part of an emotional memory.

The team now plans to see whether other negative stimuli, such as stress and anxiety, similarly cooperate with amygdala activity to alter neurogenesis in the hippocampus.

Quote of the Day

They open, you know, as roses do, pine cones,
from being tightly wrapped in themselves
to being how we all might become
this very moment, pointy, sinewy,
and ready for the fire of someone else's presence.

- Coleman Barks (from Lightning Bugs and the Pleiades)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Quote of the Day


Grace means more than gifts. In grace something is transcended, once and for all overcome. Grace happens in spite of something; it happens in spite of separateness and alienation. Grace means that life is once again united with life, self is reconciled with self. Grace means accepting the abandoned one. Grace transforms fate into a meaningful vocation. It transforms guilt to trust and courage. The word grace has something triumphant in it.

- Yrjo Kallinen

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Self Worth


We can all think of many objective ways of measuring worth (income, titles…) and it may be we hear these terms so often associated with the word worth that it can become difficult to define our own meaning of worth. And yet, self worth is a subjective measure. While external validation is important, worth is something a person should feel, not a thing they are told they possess. Every person has their own individual qualities that defines their unique worthiness. I encourage readers to come up with their own ideas of what makes them feel worthy (this may take some time, especially for those with mental illnesses. And remember, worthiness is not something you have to work on, it is something you already are and you only need recognise it. You will likely find that once you begin to feel worthy whatever other self improvement projects you may be working on (self-esteem, kindness…) will come much more easily.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Quote of the Day


"There is no path to Happiness. Happiness is the path. There is no path to Love. Love is the path. There is no path to Peace. Peace is the path."
— Dan Millman

Friday, June 24, 2011

Warmness Improves Feelings of Social Isolation


See also Heat Therapy.

A 2008 study demonstrated that “Experiencing Physical Warmth Promotes Interpersonal Warmth.” The idea is based on the fact that both physical and psychological 'warmth' (friendliness, helpfulness, trustworthiness, empathy, ) can be visualised in the insula. In the first part of the study in which participants were asked to hold a hot or cold beverage and then rate personality traits as either warm or cold. While the findings of this experiment were significant they were not great and the experiment wasn't double-blind. The authors also reported significant findings for the second part of the study (which was double-blind). However, in this experiment participants, after holding a hot or cold pack, were asked to choose between a fruit drink or a gift certificate for coffee. The authors state that this choice was phrased to the participants as a 'gift for yourself' or a 'gift for a friend,' but I don't believe that is an accurate way of measuring altruistic behaviour as the participants could still easily choose the gift certificate for themselves, despite the phrasing of the experimenters (a better way would be to offer them the option of donating a dollar to charity or taking a dollar for themselves).


A 2009 study consisting of three parts confirmed that physical warmth influences psychological warmth. In the first part “participants were handed either a warm or cold beverage and were then asked to rate perceived social proximity to another person.” In the second part participants were placed in a warm or cool room and then asked to describe a short film (the theory being that “If an increase in ambient
temperature would induce social proximity relative to when ambient temperature is low then
we would expect language use to mediate this relationship such that the description of social
events is relatively more concrete in warmer conditions.”) and also to rate perceived social proximity to the experimenter. The third part was the same as Experiment 2 (based on a different language theory) and included a perceptual focus task.

A 2011 study done in four parts also confirms the relationship between physical and psychological warmth. “In Study 1, higher scores on a measure of chronic loneliness (social coldness) were associated with an increased tendency to take warm baths or showers. In Study 2, a physical coldness manipulation significantly increased feelings of loneliness. In Study 3, needs for social affiliation and for emotion regulation, triggered by recall of a past rejection experience, were subsequently eliminated by an interpolated physical warmth experience. Study 4 provided evidence that people are not explicitly aware of the relation between physical and social warmth (coldness), as they do not consider a target person who often bathes to be any lonelier than one who does not, all else being equal.”


These studies indicate that the therapeutic process might benefit from the therapist keeping the office temperature on the warmer side. As well, one may be able to improve their general mood and social relationships by keeping warm or holding warm objects. When I write an article later on how to be nicer to people, I will cite this information.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Quote of the Day


All states of being are determined by mind.
It is mind that leads the way.
As surely as our shadow never leaves us,
So well-being will follow
When we speak or act
With a pure state of mind.

- from 'A Dhammapada for Contemplation"

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Quote of the Day


"It's beautiful. It's beautiful because it's complicated. Because there's not one thing. There's not one thing that makes sense of everything."

- Joe Meno (from The Great Perhaps)

Friday, May 27, 2011

Chocolate is Good For You?


Eating small amounts of dark chocolate can be beneficial to your health.

It may reduce blood pressure and other cardiovascular risks:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18716168
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18827977
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17609490

It may help prevent strokes:
http://www.nature.com/jcbfm/journal/v30/n12/full/jcbfm201053a.html

It may improve visual and cognitive function:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21324330

It may improve mood (did we really need science to tell us that?):
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19942640

This study showed an association between increased depression ratings with chocolate consumption (note the author's study limitations):
http://archinte.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/170/8/699

Here is a recent article examining the how cocoa polyphenols are used by the body and questions the health benefits:

“There is recent epidemiological evidence that chocolate consumption may improve vascular health. .. However, human bioavailability studies suggest that the plasma concentrations of cocoa polyphenols are manifold lower than those concentrations used in cultured cells in vitro. The experimental evidence for beneficial vascular effects of chocolate in human interventions studies is yet not fully convincing. Some human intervention studies on chocolate and its polyphenols lack a stringent study design. They are sometimes underpowered and not always placebo controlled. Dietary chocolate intake in many of these human studies was up to 100 g per day. Since chocolate is a rich source of sugar and saturated fat, it is questionable whether chocolate could be recommended as part of a nutrition strategy to promote vascular health.”
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21437025

A German study showed positive health benefits with 6g of dark chocolate (dark typically implies a chocolate bar with at least 70% cocoa) a day.
http://eurheartj.oxfordjournals.org/content/31/13/1616.long

However:
- beneficial flavanoids (polyphenols) can also be found in healthier foods such as fruits and vegetables (apples, beans, onions, grape juice...).

- you can't know the flavanoid content in chocolate :
“According to scientists from the University of California, Berkeley, the percentage of cocoa listed on a label is not a dependable indicator of flavonoid content. A bar that is, for example, 65 per cent cocoa may not be better than one that is 55 per cent.
This is because a lot depends on the type of cocoa beans used and how they have been processed. The higher the temperature at which the beans are roasted and the longer they are fermented, the fewer heart-healthy flavonoids survive, and this is not mentioned on the pack. Even if flavonoid content is given, scientists claim that results can vary from lab to lab.
That said, the bottom line is that you are likely to get more flavonoids in a dark chocolate that lists cocoa beans, cacao, chocolate liquor or cocoa mass on its ingredient list. Milk chocolate tends to have very few flavonoids and white chocolate none. “
http://women.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/women/diet_and_fitness/article5008739.ece

- choose dark chocolate to avoid excess sugar (the darker the chocolate the less sugar)
- beware of chocolates labelled 'dark' that do not have the cocoa content printed on the label as these are likely to be 'dark flavoured' chocolates that are treated with alkali.
try to find cocoa that has been the least processed (maybe some organic cocoa powders?)

In summary, a small amount of flavanoid-rich dark chocolate should not cause any detrimental health effects and may be beneficial to psychological and physical health.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Quote of the Day


Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt.

- Kurt Vonnegut

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Quote of the Day


The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don't go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don't go back to sleep.

- Rumi

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Quote of the Day

"But you don't become great by trying to be great. You become great by wanting to do something, and then doing it so hard that you become great in the process."

-xkcd

Friday, May 6, 2011

Quote of the Day

"The key was to not lose heart. In all things probably. Even for gorgons. And so I was determined not to."

- Lorrie Moore (from A Gate at the Stairs)

Friday, April 29, 2011

Mental Health Awareness


Some time ago I wrote an article advocating for more public awareness/fund raising for mental health issues.

Today I read an article that discusses the same issue and also advertises for an upcoming mental health awareness event called 'Ride Don't Hide' which is a spinning relay that takes place on May 7. (For details see the RideDontHide site or the CMHA site). From the Ride Don't Hide site: "On August 1, 2010, Michael Schratter left on a one year global journey, cycling 40,000 km, crossing 6 continents and 30 countries, in an effort to bring awareness to mental illness and help shatter the stigmas that surround it. This endeavor is more than cycling trip; it is an international movement for personal rights. Raising awareness, expectations, and funds, Michael Schratter will help shatter the stigma, one pedal at a time. "

The article can be found here. "Then there is local entrepreneurial legend Joe Seagull, who recently donated $12 million to VGH for a new psychiatric facility. He said, “It is not sexy to fund, but mental illness crosses all boundaries.” Well said, Joe!"

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Assisted Suicide

I'm not going to get into a lengthy opinion article on the subject, but it was in local news recently so I thought I would share that. You can read the story at the CTV site (among other places).

Monday, April 25, 2011

Swearing Lessens Pain


Here is an interesting artictle,*$%#@! Cursing Can Soothe Pain, Research Shows, that looks at two studies which show swearing eases pain. The exception is for people who swear frequently, for whom this pain alleviating response does not seem to work.

Also be sure to check out the link to the LA Times article which looks at alternatives to swearing and mentions the research where looking at an affected body part reduces pain (this last method is also discussed nicely on Garth Kroeker's blog).

Friday, April 22, 2011

Quote of the Day


Grace means more than gifts. In grace something is transcended, once and for all overcome. Grace happens in spite of something; it happens in spite of separateness and alienation. Grace means that life is once again united with life, self is reconciled with self. Grace means accepting the abandoned one. Grace transforms fate into a meaningful vocation. It transforms guilt to trust and courage. The word grace has something triumphant in it.

- Yrjo Kallinen

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Gene Therapy for Depression


This recent article looks at a novel way of treating depression through gene therapy. The study was done on mice and the investigators were able to both cause and treat depression like symptoms (motivation).

“Because retroviral vectors are thought to insert themselves at random positions in the host genome, insertional mutagenesis as a potential risk of retroviral gene therapy has been debated for some years…The manipulations needed to create genetic therapy add enormous complexity to considerations of safety and preclinical toxicity testing.”
http://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/NEJMp020184

According to this recent opinion article, there have been recent attempts to find safer viral vectors, but that has yet to be discovered.

Risks associated with gene therapy include negative immune response, viral spread, viral reversion to causing disease instead of treating it, and tumor induction.
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/gene-therapy/MY00105/DSECTION=risks

Here is a very thorough article discussing the risks of and potentially safer ways of using gene therapy.
“The ability of retroviruses to integrate into the host cell chromosome also raises the possibility of insertional mutagenesis and oncogene activation… A considered review of retroviral induced pathogenesis suggests these events were qualitatively, if not quantitatively, predictable. In addition, it is clear that the probability of such events can be greatly reduced by relatively simple vector modifications, such as the use of self-inactivating vectors and vectors derived from non-oncogenic retroviruses. However, these approaches remain to be fully developed and validated.”

Friday, April 15, 2011

Quote of the Day


"...you have more than all of this requires."

http://www.intent.com/node/247088

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Quote of the Day



Such beauty that for a minute
death and ambition, even love,
doesn't enter into this.

- Raymond Carver

How We Decide - Review


How We Decide (Jonah Lehrer)

This was actually a quite decently written book. Like all popular psychology books, it can drone on at times and the citations aren't always thorough, but it certainly had it's fair share of life or death examples of decision making to keep things exciting (I sense a bit of irony here...). The author did seem to portray the stock market as a can't lose situation. I don't think this was his intention, but I don't recall any stories about people losing money. If nothing else, it has made me more conscious (or as conscious as the author alludes to a person being able to be) of my general purchasing habits.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Anger


Anger can be an overwhelming and destructive emotion which can easily grow if not checked.

Regard anger as a warning signal – recognize it, let it go, and search for the root of the anger so as to identify and be able to work on the solution to the trigger event.

Imagine what a reconciliation would look like and how you would feel. If reconciliation is not an option, imagine what it would be like to be ok with letting go of a difficult situation in order to make room for a better one.

When you are no longer feeling intense anger, you can then decide which of the above options would suit you better and begin working towards that goal. This may be as simple as agreeing to disagree or it may be more difficult requiring comprise or ending an abusive relationship.

Get outside perspective by talking to friends or family. They may be able to provide you with an outlook that isn’t confused by such a powerful feeling.

Be willing to admit you overreacted. This is not to say that the reason for your anger should be ignored, but that a violent reaction, emotional or physical, is not helpful in reaching a solution.

Try to understand the other person’s point of view. It may be possible they didn’t intend to hurt you.

Talk to the other person, when you’re less angry. By communicating you can help them understand your perspective as well as learn theirs so that missteps don’t occur in the future.

Understand how being angry can negatively affect your health, such as increased risk of coronary heart disease, and the people around you.

Find things to counteract your anger such as watching a funny movie.

Be willing to apologise and just as important, be willing to accept an apology.

Take a deep breathe and relax your muscles.

Have a few quotes or mantras written down to remind yourself of the negativity of anger and the benefits of letting it go.
“For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
“In a controversy, the instant we feel anger, we have already ceased striving for truth and have begun striving for ourselves” (Abraham J. Heschel )
“To forgive is the highest, most beautiful form of love. In return, you will receive untold peace and happiness.” (Robert Muller)

There is increasing evidence that venting anger does not help alleviate the emotion and may actually increase it. From a cognitive perspective, venting can be viewed as practicing. It can also harm the people around you.

Questions to Help Angry People Think More Logically
• Why am I angry?
• What else contributed to this state of mind?
• What other feelings do I have?
o Am I feeling rejected?
o Hurt?
o Shocked?
o Threatened?
o Am I afraid of change or of losing something?
o Am I feeling vulnerable?
o Bewildered?
o Guilty?
o Insulted?
o Harassed?
o Manipulated?
• What did I expect in the situation?
• Did I check to see if my impressions are correct?
o What is the proof?
o How else could I interpret this?
o And how else?
• Am I overreacting or blowing things out of proportion?
• Who am I angry at?
• Am I venting my anger at someone other than the source of my frustration?
• Am I overlooking the good aspects of my relationship with this person?
• Is the event really less important than I first thought?
• Am I blaming someone for the anger I responded with?
• Did the person I am angry at intentionally hurt me?
• Could a difference in lifestyles, values, opinions, or upbringing play a part in this conflict?
• How do the other people involved in this situation probably feel?
o In what other ways could they possibly feel?
• Am I being selfish and forgetting the needs and desires of other people?
• How can I best bring about the changes I need?
• Do I need to learn to accept a situation that won't change?
• What would I say to a friend in this situation if I were trying to help?
• What would a counselor, teacher, or minister trying to help say?
http://www.sensiblepsychology.com/improving_anger.htm

Additional links:
http://www.apa.org/topics/anger/control.aspx

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Outliers: The Story of Success


(by Malcolm Gladwell)

Outliers examines what it is that determines a person’s success, particularly for those people who excel in their discipline and finds that a combination of talent, skill, determination, hard-work, luck, timing, and politics is more important than any ‘innate’ proclivity.

“Success is the result of what sociologists like to call ‘accumulative advantage.’ The [person] starts out a little bit better than his peers. And that little difference leads to an opportunity that makes that difference a bit bigger, and that edge in turn leads to another opportunity, which makes the initially small difference bigger still – and on and on until the [person] is a genuine outlier.”

The ‘little bit better’ referred to here has to do with when a person was born. As many activities such as school and sports recruit only once per year, that means there could be a year’s age difference between people admitted at the same time, and the older child will have physical and cognitive benefits over his younger peers.

The book also talks about the 10,000 hour rule which is what is estimated as the time needed to become an expert at a skill. It includes other narratives, some interesting and some long-winded, about success (and failure) stories.

“We pretend that success is exclusively a matter of individual merit. But there’s nothing in any of the histories we’ve looked at so far to suggest things are that simple. These are stories, instead, about people who were given a special opportunity to work really hard and seized it, and who happened to come of age at a time when that extraordinary effort was rewarded by the rest of society. Their success was not just of their own making. It was a product of the world in which they grew up.”

One of my favourite stories compared the genius Chris Langan who was denied a scholarship because of incomplete paperwork to Openheimer who tried to kill his tutor and was only put on probation and required to see a psychiatrist.

While not a literary masterpiece, Outliers is certainly interesting and quick read.

Monday, January 31, 2011

You Don’t Know Jack


This is a very thought-provoking and emotional movie about Dr. Jack Kevorkian. I am not familiar with Dr. Kevorkian, other than the obvious, so I can not comment on the accuracy of the representation, but it is nonetheless a well produced, directed and acted film with extraordinary performances by Al Pacino and John Goodman.

The movie tells the story of Dr. Kevorkian from when he first decides to undertake assisted suicides, as well as his friends, supporters, and protesters. It also does a good job of showing Jack Kevorkian’s sometimes quirky personality and creative talents in poetry, art and music. As would be expected, it is a complicated story.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Art of Happiness



(By His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, M.D.)

This is a refreshing book that happily doesn’t read like a self-help book, but is helpful. Because the Dalai Lama talks about feelings rather than diagnoses, there is something for everyone in this book.

Though the Dalai Lama is Buddhist and obviously draws on that experience, the book is non-dogmatic but does devote a chapter to the positive and negative influences of religion, in general.

I had one strong disagreement with the Dalai Lama’s point of view. For a meditation exercise, readers are asked to visualise a ‘…self-centred person…” on one side and a ‘group of people who are in desperate need of help’ on the other. He goes on to say, ‘the well-being of a group…is more important than that of a single individual.” It seemed cruel to me to label the self-centred person as not as needy of help. Certainly we should look for ways to help all of those in need. And while helping a group may mean helping more people directly, it is also important to remember that by helping the individual, we are also helping all the people that individual comes into contact with. The author of the book also had a problem with this, but never brought it up with the Dalai Lama.

I think it is good to read a little bit of this book everyday to encourage regular positive thinking (not unlike doing a daily gratitude list).