Brain and Behavior

A Painful Appreciation

Give thanks for the soul-crushing anxiety. Say amen when the sinking depression floors you. Raise your glass for repetitive negative thoughts.

“What?” you screech. “My mind teases me, toying with my emotions for sheer pleasure. And you -- you of all people -- are saluting my mental brain tricks. Are you happy when my mind twists me into a human pretzel?”

Hardly. I do not take perverse pleasure in another person’s suffering. But as your taunting mind ridicules you, let’s express gratitude. Before spewing invective in a berating email, hear me out.
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Bipolar

Bipolar Disorder: A Patient’s Definition

When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2003, I knew exactly one thing about it: Kurt Cobain, the lead singer of Nirvana, had it. And he died by suicide in 1994. As a Nirvana fan, I paid attention to the news about his life -- and death -- but, with the exception of repeating the diagnosis over and over again, little information about bipolar disorder itself was reported.

Essentially, I knew that a famous millionaire couldn’t beat it. I also knew it was a mental illness, which meant I was broken -- so broken that I could no longer participate in society. Some of my earliest thoughts immediately after being diagnosed revolved around selling my house, quitting my job, and moving into a group home -- things I never needed to do, but simply assumed I would have to.
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Alternative and Nutritional Supplements

A Recipe for Recovery: Ingredients for Good Mental Health


I believe mental health self-care starts with the right medication. The right medications are crucial for recovery. Personally, I have realized finding the right combination of drugs really makes the difference between being well or unwell.

Medications, while imperfect, are the leading treatment for mental illness and could make the difference between being high-functioning or going through a lot of pain. There are a few principles that help when choosing to take medication. Do not go off prescribed medication without consulting your doctor. Psychotropic medications are powerful, with serious side effects. Withdrawal can cause, at the very least, a flare in mental health symptoms.

Secondly, when making medication changes, work with a doctor, do it slowly and pay attention to the warning signs of relapse. Third of all, do research on medications. Know the side effects, in particular how to detect them and how to reduce them. 
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Anxiety and Panic

Calling All Perfectionists

In my obsession with perfection, I forgot a valuable life lesson: pretty good can be perfection too.

Adventurous and fun-loving and driven and studious, I have sought it all. The dreamy vacation, the fulfilling career, the steamy romance. But the mind has always craved more.

Growing up, I would spend hours poring over an essay. I rehearsed clever rejoinders before dates. I would analyze events from 2002. I am laughing and cringing at these memories.

I was comfortable in my skin as long as I met my own exacting standards.
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Creativity

The Joy of No Sex

Full disclosure: I work in advertising. It's an industry where husky-voiced, hair-flicking women smolder in ads selling cat food and sneakers, and where shirtless hunks flex fuzz-free pecs to sell salad dressing and synthetic butter.

The following viewpoint will therefore get me into trouble, which I’m familiar with.

Here are two commonsense truisms:

While great sex is joyful, lousy sex is not
Happiness is possible without a daily grind (I’m not talking coffee)

Yet for reasons such as the availability heuristic -- a cognitive shortcut that encourages us to think of commonplace examples in our everyday environment when making decisions -- we often overestimate the importance to our well-being of having regular sex. When we pause to think of the world around us, we more often remember non-nude pretzel-like scenarios in which we were happy.
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Children and Teens

Why You Should Support Your Child’s Interests

My 11-year-old son Tommy collects stuffed bananas. You know, stuffed banana plush toys. He found his first one (and all of them, in fact) at the thrift store. This initial stuffed fruit was not just an ordinary banana, it was a stuffed Rastafarian banana complete with dreadlocks.

“What is this?” he asked.

“It’s a Rastafarian banana,” I said with glee.

Needless to say, Tommy had to have it. The price was right -- $3. We bought it and took it home.

This purchase brought on an extensive Internet research project on the Rastafarian religion.
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Disorders

Living with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

“He is sooo OCD,” I overhear a 20-something snarkily remark to a friend.

The hair on my skin crawls. As someone with a diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) -- one from a psychiatrist, not Urban Dictionary -- I bristle. Sure, the remark was insensitive, even callous, but here’s why I cringe: the seemingly innocuous remark perpetuates public misperceptions.

OCD, the medical diagnosis, is far more impactful than OCD, the movie diagnosis. Unlike Jack Nicholson’s endearingly misfit character in "As Good as it Gets," OCD signifies more than an uncompromising adherence to routine. The person with OCD faces education and workplace stigma from puzzled colleagues. At its worst, OCD can be incapacitating.
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General

5 Quick Ways to Recognize Your Self-Worth

Self-esteem is not a hot and sexy topic. Not even close. I know people don’t love to talk about their self-esteem in front of others, but I’m passionate about it.

Self-esteem is defined as confidence in one’s own worth or abilities. Have you ever noticed how prevalent low self-esteem is among the general population? I have. I have also grown to understand there is a lot we can do to change that. Once we become comfortable in our skin, our self-esteem can soar.

I used to have low self-esteem and all the accompanying characteristics. Then one day I began to ask myself why. Why do I feel this way? This one question inspired more than 10 years of studying low self-esteem and strategies to increase it. It consistently remained a focus for me for more than a decade.

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Aging

Going Back to School Later in Life

This past September my mother, at age 70-something, returned to graduate school after a 40-year career in interior design.

Going back to school brought great joy to her life. She loved learning and being part of a collegiate community with its accompanying youthful energy and enthusiasm. But she also experienced high anxiety about grades, keeping up with the workload, reading small print with her failing eyesight, and getting to class in bad weather.

When I went back to school at age 39, I also remember feeling both excitement and fear. My mind raced with questions: will I be able to study and do well while maintaining my family responsibilities? Will I be the oldest in my class? Will I still have the focus to study after all these years? Will the classes be interesting? Is it worth the money that school costs? Will it lead to a better life? I had many hopes and dreams but also the fear of failure, dread of embarrassment, and anxiety about all the unknowns.

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Anger

How to Manage Overwhelming Feelings

How many times a day do you mutter the “F" word? During stressful situations, maybe during your commute, or following a heated argument with a loved one, the four-letter word slips out. It strikes an emotional nerve, paralyzing you and antagonizing family and friends.

Feel. What “F” word did you think I was referencing?

Are you a feeler? Do pangs of guilt and bursts of excitement define your day? I know your pain. As a self-admitted sensitive soul, my feelings rise and ebb like a cresting wave.
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Children and Teens

What to Do When You Feel Unmotivated in Your Career (And 3 Ways to Do Your Best Work)

We’ve all faced days at the office where we’re just not feeling motivated. Off days happen to everyone and it’s tough -- if not unrealistic -- to constantly do your best work. There are bound to be times when you procrastinate too much, lack focus, or struggle to start important projects.

You may react by getting down on yourself, wondering where your determination has gone. It can be disappointing to feel like you’re not living up to your aspirations, especially when there’s important work to be done, which there almost always is. Speed, efficiency, and productivity are what drive results, and when our energy doesn’t match our ambition, it can be frustrating.
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Personal

Learn How to Let Go of Shame and Forgive Yourself

"Stop beating yourself up. You are a work in progress; which means you get there a little at a time, not all at once." -- Unknown
I haven’t always been the woman I am today.

I used to be scared. Of everything. And everyone. Painfully shy and insecure, I saw myself as a victim of my circumstances, and was always waiting, on guard, for the next rejection. I masked my insecurity in a blanket of perfectionism, and worked hard to put forth the image that I had everything together and had it all figured out.

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