Random Brain Bits Articles

Prozac AND Potatoes

Sunday, September 12th, 2010

Prozac AND PotatoesIn 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:

How Swimming Reduces Depression

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

How Swimming Reduces DepressionI’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.

Distraction: A Serious Problem of Modern Life

Sunday, August 1st, 2010

Distraction: A Serious Problem of Modern LifeHere 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?

Did Abraham Lincoln Use Faith to Overcome Depression?

Sunday, July 25th, 2010

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.

The Old Man and His Horse

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

Old Man and his HorseA 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.

4 Steps to Free Yourself from Limiting Beliefs

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

4 Steps to Free Yourself from Limiting BeliefsPsychologist and mental health blogger Elisha Goldstein quotes a favorite author of mine, Don Miguel Ruiz, in his post “4 Steps to Getting Free from Limiting Beliefs”: “You see everything is about belief, whatever we believe rules our existence, rules our life.”

I’ve been using Ruiz’s book, “The Four Agreements,” to help me process the beliefs of others, especially toward me (i.e. “people who struggle from depression are lazy”). But Elisha is right when he explains that the beliefs we hold about ourselves are just as disabling and disempowering as the ones other folks hold about us.

Why Suicide? An Interview with Eric Marcus

Sunday, July 11th, 2010

Eric MarcusToday 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: www.ericmarcus.com and www.whysuicidebook.com.

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.

How Your Past Can Help Guide Your Future

Saturday, July 3rd, 2010

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.

Money Impedes Our Ability to Enjoy the Little Pleasures in Life

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

Money Impedes Our Ability to Enjoy the Small Pleasures in LifeResearchers 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?

12 Ways to Beat Addiction

Saturday, June 5th, 2010

12 Ways to Beat AddictionBy far my most popular post is the gallery, “12 Depression Busters.” But those suggestions were actually a response to Beyond Blue reader Peg’s query on how to stop smoking. They absolutely do help a person fight depression and the ongoing war against negative thoughts; however they were designed as techniques to use when getting pulled into addictive behaviors.

The last month or so I have used every single one of these. And I’m happy to report that I actually feel a lot freer from insidious, destructive behavior than I did several weeks ago. Here they are: 12 Addiction Zappers. They work!

1. Get Some Buddies

It works for Girl Scouts, depressives, and addicts of all kinds. I remember having to wake up my buddy to go pee in the middle of the night at Girl Scout camp. That was right before she rolled off her cot, out of the tent and down the hill, almost into the creek.

Our job as buddies is to help each other not roll out of the tent and into the stream, and to keep each other safe during midnight bathroom runs. My buddies are the six numbers programmed into my cell phone, the voices that remind me sometimes as many as five times a day: “It will get better.”

8 Ways to Overcome Jealousy and Envy

Saturday, May 29th, 2010

jealousy pic.jpgI know that the fastest way to despair is by comparing one’s insides with another’s outsides, and that Max Ehrmann, the author of the classic poem “Desiderata,” was absolutely correct when he said that if you compare yourself with others you become either vain or bitter.

Or, as Helen Keller put it: “Instead of comparing our lot with that of those who are more fortunate than we are, we should compare it with the lot of the great majority of our fellow men. It then appears that we are among the privileged.”

But Helen and Max don’t keep me from going to the land of comparisons and envy. Before long, I’m salivating over someone else’s book contract, or blog traffic numbers, or “Today Show” appearance. Then I have to pull out my set of directions — these 8 techniques — that will lead me out of the continent of jealousy and home, to self-acceptance.

Grateful and Depressed? You Can Be Both

Monday, May 17th, 2010

Love gratitude 3.jpgIn his book “What Happy People Know,” Dan Baker argues that you can’t be in a state of appreciation and fear, or anxiety, at the same time.

“During active appreciation,” Baker writes, “the threatening messages from your amygdala [fear center of the brain] and the anxious instincts of your brainstem are cut off, suddenly and surely, from access to your brain’s neocortex, where they can fester, replicate themselves, and turn your stream of thoughts into a cold river of dread. It is a fact of neurology that the brain cannot be in a state of appreciation and a state of fear at the same time. The two states may alternate, but are mutually exclusive.”

Other studies have also highlighted how gratitude can buffer you from the blues, promote optimism, and, in general, make you feel peachy.

However, I do hereby swear that it is possible to be grateful and depressed.

Simultaneously.

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