Brain and Behavior

Jill Bolte Taylor: A Stroke of Insight and Our Brains

Many of you may have seen the Ted video by Jill Bolte Taylor, the neuroanatomist and spokesperson for the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center who survived a stroke in 1996, at age 37, to describe the shifts in her brain that took place as part of her recovery.

Fascinating stuff. And very useful and inspiring to not only those recovering from neurological disorders, but also psychological ones.

I had the privilege...
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Anxiety and Panic

8 Ways to Manage Anxiety on an Anniversary

Most of us circle a few days of the calendar year that we know will be difficult to get through: the anniversary of a death, traumatic event, or even happy occasion. These dates are charged with emotion.

Sometimes we feel trapped by these dates -- like there's nothing we can do to stop them. The approaching date creates a sense of panic and anxiety in many of us, and we can feel out of control. The one benefit from anniversary anxiety is that we can predict it and therefore prepare for it. Here are 8 ways to do just that.

1. Forecast your emotions.

You've circled the day. You know it's coming. Now get honest with yourself about how you might feel on that day. If it's the anniversary of a death of a loved one, get ready to celebrate that person's life with joy and sadness. Pull out some photos. Prepare to feel that hollow part in your heart open up once more to the loss you have felt since the death. Allow yourself some space for mourning, even if it's been 10 years since you've separated and everyone tells you that you should be over it.

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Brain and Behavior

Seeking Happily Ever After: Some Tips for Singles

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 40 percent of adults were single in 2009. Researchers have found that the "single stigma" is worst for women in their mid-20's through mid-30's. Women 35 and older are more content with their single status and don't complain of social pressure as much as younger singles.

Michelle Cove, director and producer of the feature-length documentary, "Seeking Happily Ever After," has just compiled a book by the same title.

In between its covers, Michelle presents simple but smart steps for singles to identify their relationship needs and goals, and learns how to pursue healthier, stronger relationships. I have pulled the following suggestions from chapter four, "The Princess in Waiting."

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Prozac AND Potatoes

In her national bestseller "Potatoes Not Prozac," Kathleen DesMaisons offers a seven-step dietary plan for sugar-sensitive people like me. I've tried to implement her suggestions into my diet because, as a recovering drunk and depressive, sugar can throw me into an emotional mess that gets downright ugly.

A diet rich in fiber and protein is crucial to my mental health -- but for me, it's Prozac AND potatoes.

Here's what DesMaisons proposes:

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How Swimming Reduces Depression

I've always known that I climb out of any pool a lot happier than when I dove in.

Yes, I know any kind of aerobic exercise relieves depression.

For starters, it stimulates brain chemicals that foster the growth of nerve cells; exercise also affects neurotransmitters such as serotonin that influence mood and produces ANP, a stress-reducing hormone, which helps control the brain's response to stress and anxiety. But swimming, for me, seems to zap a bad mood more efficiently than even running. Swimming a good 3000 meters for me can, in the midst of a depressive cycle, hush the dead thoughts for up to two hours. It's like taking a Tylenol for a headache! It was with interest, then, that I read an article in "Swimmer" magazine about why, in fact, that's the case.

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Distraction: A Serious Problem of Modern Life

Here is the irony in writing a piece about distraction. I told myself not to check my email until the column was done, but I did peak at my Facebook because I was awaiting a response. I saw that I had four new friend requests, so in the process of accepting them, I see that another blogger has referenced one of my posts in a recent blog, so I click over to her site.

Oh, and did I mention that I have Mozart blasting away in my ears so that I can drown out the sound of the podcast the woman in front of me at the coffee shop is playing?

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Did Abraham Lincoln Use Faith to Overcome Depression?

Abraham Lincoln is a powerful mental health hero for me. Whenever I doubt that I can do anything meaningful in this life with a defective brain (and entire nervous system, actually, as well as the hormonal one), I simply pull out Joshua Wolf Shenk's classic, "Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness." Or I read the CliffsNotes version: the poignant essay, "Lincoln's Great Depression" that appeared in "The Atlantic" in October of 2005.

Every time I pick up pages from either the article or the book, I come away with new insights. This time I was intrigued by Lincoln's faith -- and how he read the Book of Job when he needed redirection.

Following I have excerpted the paragraphs from The Atlantic article on Lincoln's faith, and how he used it to manage his melancholy.

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Brain and Behavior

The Old Man and His Horse

A few people lately have reminded me of the Chinese parable "The Old Man and His Horse." You've probably heard it. I publish it here not to say that all your problems are actually blessings. But what can often seem like a misfortune can turn into a very good thing. I've seen this happen lately and it gives me hope that there's more lemonade ahead for me.

The Old Man and his Horse (a.k.a. Sai Weng Shi Ma)

Once there was an old man who lived in a tiny village. Although poor, he was envied by all, for he owned a beautiful white horse. Even the king coveted his treasure. A horse like this had never been seen before -- such was its splendor, its majesty, its strength.

People offered fabulous prices for the steed, but the old man always refused. "This horse is not a horse to me," he would tell them. "It is a person. How could you sell a person? He is a friend, not a possession. How could you sell a friend." The man was poor and the temptation was great. But he never sold the horse.

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Why Suicide? An Interview with Eric Marcus

Today I have the pleasure of interviewing New York Times bestselling author Eric Marcus on the important topic of suicide. Eric is the author of several books, including "Is It A Choice?, Making Gay History," and "Together Forever." He is also co-author of "Breaking the Surface," the #1 New York Times bestselling autobiography of Olympic diving champion Greg Louganis. For more information, please visit: and

Question: Why did you write "Why Suicide?"

Eric: When I started work on the original edition of "Why Suicide?" in 1987, I knew that I wanted to write the kind of book that I wish had been available to my mother when my father killed himself in 1970 so she would have known what to say a traumatized twelve-year-old boy. I also wanted to write the kind of book that would have been useful to me when I was 21 and just beginning to talk with a therapist about my dad's suicide.

I had so many questions and didn't have a lot of answers. And I wanted to write the kind of book I could hand to my grandmother, who struggled for the rest of her life after my dad's death with guilt and shame over his suicide. I also assumed that many people searching for answers about suicide have a short attention span like I do and preferred concise answers to their questions, which is why I wrote the book in a question and answer format and kept it short.

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Brain and Behavior

How Your Past Can Help Guide Your Future

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
            -- George Santayana

I believe that we humans spend a lot of time repeating our past -- the mistakes, the patterns of behavior, the way we communicate with others. We're creatures of habit and habits are hard to break. We believe, "Hey, this has worked for me in the past, so why not keep doing it?"

Except that sometimes, we're deluding ourselves. We think something has worked for us in the past, when in fact, it hasn't at all. We believe our style of communication is effective with our partner, when all the while our partner sits there and wonders what the hell it is we're thinking.

History can be a great teacher and source of wisdom. This is true of history in the traditional sense -- wars, a nation's independence, how empires rise and tumble into time. But the kind of history I'm talking about is your own personal history. You know your history better than any other person alive today. You are the world's foremost expert in the subject of You. So while a psychologist or therapist can help guide you to better understand You, at the end of the day, it's still going to fall to one person to make a change -- You.

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Brain and Behavior

Money Impedes Our Ability to Enjoy the Little Pleasures in Life

Researchers remain fascinated by the relationship between money and happiness. Perhaps it's because of the observation that money alone doesn't appear to "buy" happiness, unless you give it away or spend it for experiences more than for material things.

A new study out last week (Quoidbach et al., 2010) suggests that money's effects on our well being and happiness may be even more subtle than previously realized. Simply seeing a picture of money -- which appears to prime our brains, increasing the concept of money at a level below awareness -- seems to impede our ability to enjoy life's little pleasures.

How did the researchers arrive at such a stunning conclusion?

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