December 2016

Dreams: Unraveling (some of) The Mystery

By Olga Zavgorodnya

Mankind has pondered dreams since the beginning of time. For most of history, there was no authoritative position on why we sleep, dream or what our dreams are supposed to mean. We do know that biologically and physically, our bodies need time to rebuild and recover from the day; our bodies repair and produce necessary goodies for the next day’s work. However, what about our minds?

Michelle Carr, Ph.D, a researcher at the Dream and Nightmare Laboratory in the Center for Advanced Research in Sleep Medicine (CARSM), explains that when we sleep, “The information encoded during the day that is replayed and strengthened during the immediate night’s sleep, is a critical part of memory consolidation.”  It turns out that one of the primary benefits of sleep is solidifying memories.

Newly published research study by Mark Blagrove, a sleep researcher at Swansea University in the U.K, welcomed 44 participants to record their recollections of their dreams for a period of ten days. Blagrove discovered that “Important events often go into dreams, and we assume these events are being consolidated during REM sleep.” Essentially, sleep mechanisms trigger our brain to sort through all our memories (obtained from the day); some get stored away for long-term, permanent storage, while others are retired without ceremony. They go “poof” into the atmosphere (or something).

Even more interesting is researchers’ finding that our dreams not only relay experience that we had during the waking day, but that while we sleep, we incorporate past experiences. Elizaveta Solomonova, a doctoral student at the Dream and Nightmare Laboratory at the Center for Advanced Research in Sleep Medicine in Montreal, states that while we dream, our brain “…uses some elements that are recent but finds links with memories from the past.”

In one model, three categories of memories exist: life experiences, information or knowledge, and learned bodily responses (how to do things). This is but one reason the mental health field strongly encouraged getting the appropriate amount and quality of sleep. Ample sleep allows the mind ample opportunity to store one’s experiences.

More and more evidence states that giving your body the time for maintenance can have a profound effect on how one feels in the morning, and all day. Moral of the story: do NOT neglect your sleep; it is essential to success. It is no exaggeration to say that the biggest segment of self-care is securing sufficient sleep—quality and quantity.

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Abusive Parenting is NOT Alpha

On December 22, 36-year-old mother Sascha Collins was arrested for committing a series of felony domestic battery acts on her two sons, aged seven and nine. Collins also has a third child, a teenage daughter; she was apparently the brave soul who contacted police upon arriving home and seeing her two brothers, bruised and petrified in a corner. Reportedly, Collins threw her sons against the wall, struck them with a belt buckle, bit them, all while verbally accosting them. There heinous crime: opening their Christmas gifts early.

This type of rage-filled violent parenting is not what I mean when I refer to discipline, establishing a reasonable dominance, or establishing oneself as a Parent in Charge. Lamentably, this kind of criminal behavior gets confused with appropriate spanking. Parents who learn that I support spanking often get the wrong idea, presuming that I support beatings. But this is like suggesting that because I support cooking my steak, I also support exploding it with dynamite.

To avoid this confusion, let me state unequivocally: in no way is beating your child remotely acceptable. This is not what an Alpha Parent or Parent in Charge does; a parent in charge does not strike a child with hostility and certainly not with ferocity. Reasonable discipline is purposeful and effective; this kind of assault is neither.

What this woman has done to her two sons is not discipline. Her sons have learned nothing from this event, other than the fact that their mother is insane and violent. She has lost her authority. Furthermore, this is not how you teach your child patience. This woman exemplifies authoritarian parent – “Do as I say or I will hurt you.” This style is devoid of leading by good example. The irony is that this woman has no self-control (since she was drunk and on strong pain killers while watching her two young sons), yet expected her children to somehow demonstrate self-restraint.

Your children are always watching you. You are always modeling, always teaching; so, practice what you preach. A parent in charge only uses physical discipline (such as spanking) to demonstrate something urgent that needs to be understood or to establish a reasonable dominance—once the latter is established, physical discipline is rarely necessary. A parent in charge explains to the child why they are getting punished; the intention is not to hurt them but to train them. And most importantly, a parent in charge offers reassurance to their child that they still love them very much, even when they are displeased with the child’s behavior.

More is coming on this subject in Dr. Paterno’s upcoming book, Alpha Parenting.
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Can your partner’s health be a reflection of your own?

By Olga Zavgorodnya

During the aging process, many couples link together emotionally and physically in a unique manner. Decisions made within a long-term relationship often reflects both partners’ behaviors and choices. The health history of one’s partner may be exceptionally relevant to one’s health care provider, as it may offer clues into individual health care needs and/or concerns.

Shannon Mejia, a postdoctoral research fellow conducting relationship research with her colleagues at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, discovered that longtime couples experienced mirrored levels of depression, difficulty with daily tasks (grocery shopping, cooking, medication management), and health status, such as muscle weakening, pancreatic cancer or kidney trouble. Their minds and bodies not only synced internally, but with each other!

A hopeful discovery is that these relationships are bidirectional when it comes to benefits just as much as losses. William Chopik, an assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University, found that “over a four-year period, when one partner’s optimism increased, the other partner experienced fewer illnesses such as diabetes and arthritis compared to people whose partners did not become more optimistic”.

Park Ridge Psychological Services has a number of marriage/couples therapists. Couples who have affected each other negatively can evolve in ways that strengthen their relationship, so that they may live in a fashion where they benefit from each other’s more positive traits. One of couple’s therapy’s guiding principles is that individuals and their problems are best handled within the context of the couple’s relationship. Couples willing to explore how they can borrow from each other’s positive assets and traits tend to have far healthier relationships. This is an exciting avenue to explore!


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Change it up – because you can!

By Olga Zavgorodnya

Our own personal stories are our own accounts of who we are, what we have done, the intentions we had, our limits and successes. Everyone is bound to produce stories to have an understanding of who they really are. And who we are is mainly our personality and outlook on life. Therefore, our story and the way we tell it to others has tremendous ramifications.

If you have lived through a tough life of abuse and violence – these experiences can cause defeating or destructive thoughts and harmful behavior. If the story you tell is of a character who doesn’t believe in themselves and labels themselves as weak because of the way they remember moments from their lives that left them feeling weak; it’s time to go back and take another look at the story – with a different theme where this character is praised for their resilience in being able to survive what they have been through.

Rewriting your life is not an easy task; however, go through your life’s most memorable moments and describe them in the most favorable way—not only describe, but define them in a way that makes you more of the hero than victim or mere bystander.

I understand some will ask “Okay so what now, what will that do; the moments happened either way, right?” Well, this is an excellent question. Certainly, the moment occurred and cannot be undone; however, the way a person remembers an event or re-tells that event defines the way that this person thinks/remembers about themselves in that situation. When you remember yourself as a victim, you internalize that moment, that experience, and that identity – that of a victim. The goal is to your experience and recognize what it taught you – even if it was a demonstration of how you may not want to live your life.

University of Virginia social psychologist Tim Wilson a researcher in rapid, positive reframing, created a method that is part of Narrative Therapy; he calls his particular brand “story editing” or “story prompting”. Dr. Wilson’s techniques show beneficial outcomes in perspective and behavior. What if rewriting your life story changes your perception of yourself? Imagine that it actually helps you move on from something that may be haunting you. It’s not an easy task, which is why many do this with a trained mental health professional well-versed (pun intended) in narrative therapy.

In therapy, rewriting your story with a therapist helps create a safe environment and gives you the guidance you need to get through it. There are ways to move on—you do not have to be stuck feeling trapped by a story someone else wrote for you. What is your story telling you?



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Defeat Negative Feelings With 20 Tips – Take Back Your Control. By Olga Zavgorodnya

Let’s be honest, we have all done things we wish we had not after hearing something negative that pushes our buttons. It’s understandable – the feelings just become too much and we lose control of our rationality. But what if you are someone who loses control often, even at times that appear insignificant to others? Not only are you defeated by negative emotions, you also are left feeling invalidated by those around you.
There are likely many reasons why people struggle to control emotions; just to name a few: suppressing emotions for too long, never learning emotional regulation from parents/guardians, and experiencing a traumatic event. Some “lose it” only on rare occasion; for others, loss of control is unexpected and intrusive; yet others struggle with this as a lifelong battle. In any case, know there is a solution to this cycle and a way to take the control back of your life – and most importantly yourself.
Dr. Leon F. Seltzer, who holds dual PhD’s in English and Psychology, is the author of Evolution of the Self, from which this list of 20 tips was adapted, on how to defeat negative feelings when your emotional state seems overwhelming. I think the best part is that Dr. Seltzer’s tips are simple enough to remember even while in an out of control state:
1. Breathe—and relax yourself: Do your best to prevent yourself from reacting even for a moment. You can close your eyes and take three or more deep breathes to re-center your thoughts.
2. Identify and challenge the thoughts underlying your upset: This one might take a little work. You must place a word to the feeling you are experiencing. The term “upset” is an umbrella term. Dig deeper; what feelings were triggered that made you upset? What was the thought that gave birth to the feeling?
A few thoughts that intensify negative emotions:
a. Not seeing any person who upset you as a whole person but rather as an attacker.
b. Mind-reading: question your perceived beliefs about their motives. Are their motives really what you think or could your thoughts be worse than their intention?
c. Fortune telling and magnifying: here is where thoughts begin to snowball. When someone does something to upset you, you immediately make up your mind that they have Always done so and will Always continue doing that. Going to extremes only fuels intensity.
d. The “Rules and Morals” you believe in and abide by are not subscribed to or followed by everyone. However, that is their choice. Overreacting to someone because they are not doing as you believe takes away from their freedom to choose to do as they believe is right for them.
3. Look for positives. Try as best as you can to see what you could learn from this to better prepare for the future.
4. Suspend your point of view—and take on the perspective of others. Try looking at the situation from their perspective; can you validate why they acted in a way that upset you?
5. Become more mindful. Practice gaining awareness to be able to think with more clarity. With mindfulness you gain the ability to separate the feelings from the incident; and ultimately negating the feelings’ ability to engulf your mind.
6. Don’t judge yourself on the basis of your feelings. People don’t wake up every morning with a completely fresh start. Sure you can start on a fresh sheet of paper in your notebook, but in that notebook remain pages from the past days of your life. Those previous pages created the image you hold of yourself; if it is not a good image, “negative self-talk” may be your culprit.
7. Apply self-compassion as needed. You are not perfect; no one is. Not everything goes your way or exactly as planned. You are not a bad person if you make a mistake. Give yourself a break once in a while.
8. Take pains to heal what you feel. Doubt is very real and can cause you to forget the work and strength that it took to get to where you are now. Everyone has a different story; don’t forget everything that has happened in yours.
9. Take appropriate action. When you identify the emotion that causes you to feel upset, take the appropriate action to resolve the negative feelings. Example: if you feel lonely, reach out to someone in your support system.
10. Reach out to a friend or relative. Being able to work through an issue with someone who you trust might help you gain clarity.
11. Don’t get carried away by the feeling. When a feeling comes up, our mind often travels to a thought that brought out this feeling in the past. This creates an overreaction to the situation at hand. Think for a moment whether you are reacting to the present situation or to the past event. Once you make that separation you can better respond to what’s happening now instead of responding to what happened in the past.
12. Don’t get “locked into” the feeling. Remember that whatever feelings you are experiencing will pass. Negative thinking prolongs the length of time you will be feeling upset.
13. Take full “ownership” of the feeling. No one has power over your feelings. No one is responsible for the way that you feel as long as you reevaluate the meaning you gave to what made you upset in the first place.
14. Journal away the feeling. Writing can help you organize your thoughts and bring you some clarity. By simply getting those thoughts out, you can gain closure.
15. Avoid what routinely provokes you. Sometimes it’s just best to avoid places or people that push your buttons.
16. Show self-compassion—but be careful about feeling sorry for yourself. You are stronger than you realize; don’t give up on yourself.
17. Get out of yourself. Refocusing or redirect your attention for a bit to give yourself a break.
18. Bring humor to the rescue. Sometimes just focusing on aspects of the situation that seem absurd can bring a bit of humor, taking off some of the spotlight how it made you feel.
19. Lower your tension—and raise your feel-good chemicals— through exercise. If you are in a good emotional state, the chances are you may not be triggered as easily.
20. Nurture yourself. Sometimes self-care gets put on the back-burner for too long because there’s always something more “important” that needs to be done. Self-care needs to be a priority to keep us mentally and physically healthy. “Important” things won’t be able to get done if you are not able to function at your optimal level.
As you see, perspective is key. With ongoing practice you will be able to regain control and become victorious over the negative, and often debilitating, feelings. Some emotions might take more work than others; however, never give up on yourself or your ability to grow and prosper. With these skills you have the power to changes; the challenge is the will to make them!
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