Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Cognitive Distortion-Personalization

Personalization is a very common thought disorder.It denotes assuming blame for things not under one's control,holding oneself responsible for others' behavior and interpreting their actions as being directed at oneself even when this is not the case.This kind of thinking produces unwarranted stress and tension. 

When someone holds himself responsible for any blunder,mishap or tragedy which was not his fault,he invokes unnecessary guilt,shame and remorse.Suppose an innocuous remark by someone sets off a heated debate amongst friends and he blames himself for having brought a friendly reunion to a bitter end,he is unjustifiably castigating himself by personalizing the debacle.

Personalization also causes discord and hostility.When a casual remark by an acquaintance is taken personally by someone,it leads to a thaw in the relationship.Taking another example,if a person beset by personal problems passes by a friend without registering his presence,the latter promptly concludes that he is miffed with him.Now he spends hours wondering why that person is annoyed with him and what he had done to deserve such treatment.When they next meet,he gives him the cold shoulder in order to get even,and kaput goes a promising relationship!All this,without any substance.

Many of us fall in this trap some time or the other,but when this becomes a regular pattern it generates rancor,spoils relationships and vitiates the ambience.Of course nobody would choose to do all this knowingly,but our insecurities distort our perception of reality.A person who is unsure of himself and has poor self esteem is more likely to personalize things.

Sustained efforts are needed to get rid of this tendency.Here are some tips:--

Whenever an agonizing thought clouds your mind check its veracity;ascertain if it is fact or fiction.Be more logical and less impetuous while drawing conclusions about everyday happenings.

For longer lasting benefits,strengthen your self esteem and be confident of your value systems and abilities so that you do not hold yourself responsible for everything that goes wrong.You will feel significantly relieved when you have gotten rid of this thought disorder.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Cognitive Distortion--# Magnification and # Minimization

Life would be so much easier if we perceived reality in its' true colors without weighing it down with our insecurities,biases or prejudices.In this way,we even color a normal change with dreadful overtones or magnify the gravity of a problem and invite unnecessary anxiety.

Or we exaggerate our flaws and minimize our capabilities;thus laying a perfect pitch for tension and despondence.That is not all,sometimes we even overestimate others' skills and overlook their weaknesses;placing ourselves many rungs below them.

This is known as Maximization and Minimization.We blow our problems out of all proportions and minimize the positive aspects of our lives.A related distortion is catastrophization,in which we apprehend the worst possible outcome of any situation.A tiny blob on the horizon is taken as a sign of doom.

The ill-effects of these distortions are many.They kill our confidence and we envisage failure even before we have given the task a good try.This not only thwarts success but also further aggravates low self esteem.All this results in a host of negative emotions which are the root cause of depression and anxiety.

We all commit the mistake of magnifying the gravity of a problem sometimes,but it is best to shake off this habit before it takes firm roots.You can do this by being more mindful of your thoughts.Start by being vigilant of the thoughts which make you anxious.Write them down and at the end of the day and evaluate their sagacity.You can also cross-check your judgements with someone whom you hold in high esteem.

Next,try to decipher the hangups which propelled those ideas,why you think the way you do.Perhaps you were belittled by your parent or an older sibling and this has matured into a conviction that you are weak and incompetent.Or a recent setback has made you nervous and apprehensive.

Getting rid of such distortions requires practise and patience.The moment you recognise a thought as being inaccurate,replace it with a more logical one.This will make you more confident and proactive.You will successfully meet challenges and not shirk them.You will realize your full potential and find greater happiness too.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

#Cognitive Distortion-# Filtering

Normally when we filter something we keep the useful portions and throw off the chaff.But in the thinking process known as filtration we do just the opposite.Or we may may concentrate so much upon one aspect of a situation or task that we forget about the rest.

Suppose you go to a party and have a good time with your friends but one acquaintance-B- snubs you.If this spoils your mood so much that you cannot sleep the night,then you are guilty of filtration.You ignore the overall experience and cling to a tiny bad part of it.

We receive adulation from some and rejection from some others.We may succeed in one enterprise but fail in another.Amongst many warm relationships,there might be a failed one too.Those who can put the disconcerting elements behind them,or at least not concentrate solely upon them;are the ones who will be hopeful,sanguine,enthusiastic and happy.

But agonizing over annoying bits and ignoring the positive aspects could depress anybody.Filtration saps self esteem and makes one pessimistic.This is self-goal or self inflicted misery.Those who feel depressed and dissatisfied with life should scrutinize their thoughts to find out if the cause lies in filtration or any other cognitive distortion.

It is easy to get rid of this habit,only you should first recognize that your thinking is erroneous and it is harming your interests.One way of doing this is,to add 'but' after every troublesome thought and continue from there.Going back to the earlier example,when you say to yourself " B does not like me," add "but I have many friends who do."See the difference?Doing this every time will diminish your anxiety.You will be more satisfied with the tenor of your life.

Try to be more rational and balanced about the things which normally pique you.Whenever a troublesome feeling raises its head,recall the agreeable elements associated with it,which you had overlooked.Soon you will realize that along with the annoying bits there are also many pleasing features in your life.

These seemingly minor changes can cut out the negativity in your life and make you happier.

Magnification and Minimization. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Cognitive Distortion--# Fortune Telling or # Jumping to Conclusions

Cognitive distortions are irrational,biased, or exaggerated thoughts about our own personality or simply about what happens around us.They warp our understanding of reality,thereby rendering us ill equipped to lead a fruitful life.Alice Boyes in Psychology Today has listed as many as 50 cognitive distortions.For Black and White cognitive distortion you can see this post.

Fortune Telling or Jumping to Conclusions is another distortion with which   many of us might be familiar.As the very name suggests,those prone to this kind of thinking decide beforehand what the outcome of anything is going to be.They apprehend dangers where none exist,and permit their misgivings to guide their actions.The seed might lie in a painful past,lack of confidence,low self esteem,or innate pessimism.

Jumping to conclusions implies forming opinions and imputing motives to others without any substantive evidence.This kind of thinking is different from sixth sense or instinct.When you jump to conclusions about others' conduct without considering attending circumstances,you put up a wall against them. This can be detrimental to your relationships.

Those who denounce everything without even giving it a fair trial are usually creatures of habit who feel secure in their comfort zones.Whether it is about a new job,interview,or a change of domicile;they will start with the conviction that it is not going to work (positive fortune telling is rare).A lack of resolve and half-hearted efforts will result in fulfilling their predictions,reinforcing their way of thinking.

With the passage of time cognitive distortions mutate into automatic thoughts and influence our behavior significantly.Premonitions prevent us from picking our way forward in life.We could miss a lucky chance or a pleasurable experience.When our mind is repeatedly sending ominous signals, evolving and realizing our potential becomes difficult.Trashing everything new consigns us to a subpar,monotonous,lonely existence.

Naturally,this kind of thinking is deleterious for success and happiness.You can get out of this rut by being more mindful of your thoughts:-

How many times in a day do you presuppose outcomes and intentions?Recall,and write down the number of times this happened.

How often did you change your course because of a premonition?

Now check if these beliefs were supported by evidence.

Would a third,objective person have reached the same conclusions?

Are your assumptions doing you any good,or are they blocking your progress?

Would you be happier if there was less negativity and more accuracy in your thoughts?

Gyalwang Drukpa has put it very nicely-

"You will find life more relaxing and rewarding if you go about your daily life with a little more mindfulness which encourages appreciation,helps us be more generous and kind and so brings us happiness" 

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

#Cognitive Distortion-- #Black and White Thinking

Cognitive distortions are inaccurate,biased thought patterns which mostly spawn negative emotions about ourselves or the world around us.These negative emotions influence our beliefs as well as our behavior,and foment relationship conflicts,anxiety or depression.If we become habituated to distorted thinking,we fail to realize that our views about our own self or those around us are totally misplaced.The resultant agony can be averted by nailing the irrational/exaggerated/faulty thought patterns and getting rid of them.

One such cognitive distortion is Black and White Thinking-the belief that things are either right or wrong, good or bad.Those who fall prey to such thinking totally miss  that there are many more shades in between,which are much more common and reasonable.

How often do you utter polar words like awful-awesome,disgusting-heavenly,scoundrel-saint,imbecile-genius,detestable-lovable?These extreme terms certainly embellish our language with color and intensity,but do they portray the said person or situation accurately?Seldom can any individual or circumstance be pinned at one end of the spectrum.

Many of our problems start when we begin to think of life conditions or our own image in such extremes.Suppose I fail to finish a project in time and then curse myself that this always happens with me,I am good for nothing.Finishing it on the dot was what counted with me and since this did not happen,I felt that I had failed--totally!I did not consider how near completion my work was,and how good its quality.If I always gloss over the finer/better aspects of any situation then my vision of the world,or my life,will always be dark and murky.

Suppose I expect a friend to support me in an ongoing altercation but she chooses to take the other side.Upon going home I rave and rant about her,using epithets like mean,horrible,good for nothing;forgetting her other sterling qualities.I may even break off with her,and then repent all my life.The correct thought should have been that she had disappointed me this time.No one is all good or all bad,and expecting people to conform to your specifications can mar relationships.

It can even become worse.Think of the various instances of young students killing themselves simply because they could not gain admission in an institute of their choice.Why couldn't they have settled for the second best and continued to live?The same thing happens when a lover's advances are spurned by his/her heartthrob.So many people sink into depression or contemplate suicide because of such setbacks,overlooking the positive aspects of their lives.It is all or nothing for them--another name for Black and white thinking.

This kind of thinking wipes out the whites and leaves only dismal,depressing blacks.Therefore,if you catch yourself slipping into this mode,pause.Do a reality check.How close to truth are you?What are the facts which point to the opposite direction?Introspect --what is it in you which prompted you to use that term?Is it a bias,vindictiveness,jealousy,lack of confidence,poor self esteem,past experience,or habitual despondence?

Once you begin to view reality in a rational,objective manner, a lot of your anxiety will dissolve,leaving a more amicable and peaceful you behind.

Next--Fortune Telling

Image,courtesy google.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

When a Relationship Breaks

It is excruciating to go through a  breakup in any relationship,especially when you are at the receiving end.The pain scorches you to the core.A part of you whisks away with the one who broke up with you.It could be anyone-a romantic partner,spouse,parent,offspring or a sibling.

Actually the atmosphere today is not conducive for stability and continuity.Everybody is on the go.We are not satisfied with what we have,and aspire for more in every sphere-whether it be relationships or lifestyle.No harm in striving for a better life,but in our quest for whatever it is we are running after,we sometimes even ditch what is an integral part of our lives; what has depth,true meaning,and is good for us.

The tragedy is,that such instances are becoming more and more common.We are exposed to countless stimuli every day,and those who have little self control are easily swayed.That is why there are rising instances of adultery and divorce today,not to talk of breakups in relationships.Such parting of ways inflicts a grievous injury on the one who is left behind.

What can you possibly do if you are at the receiving end?Very little to bring that person back.Because he is scurrying after that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.While he is pursuing his goal headlong it will be difficult to divert his attention.He may return if he realizes the futility of his chase,or he may keep his distance if he is too shamefaced to confront you again.Time will tell.

What you can do is,find a way to soothe your hurt and put your house in order once again.To start with,have a good cry.Admit to yourself that this was a severe blow.Don't sweep your emotions under the carpet.Grieving is in order.

But for how long?Set your own limit and then tie up the loose ends.Think back-did you give this relationship the best you could,or more importantly,what could morally have been expected of you?If yes,then trash the remorse and the guilt pangs.

If however,you were at fault,then you could maybe attempt a patch-up.If this is not in your cards then treat it as a learning lesson,a springboard from which to leap into a new era.You know now,how to avert a breakup.An honest appraisal will protect you from making the same mistake twice and breaking your heart once again.

As any association or era recedes into the past,it is the pleasant memories which cause maximum grief.But was this bond all good without any jarring episodes?There must have been unpleasant confrontations too.Desist from viewing the past through rose-tinted glasses.Things came to a head because of a lack of compatibility or divergent values,motives or goals.The continuance of this relationship might not have been so hunky-dory after all.

Relationship breakups are rife in those who are on the threshold of adulthood.The prevailing milieu is very challenging for them.They have a tough time picking their way through a jungle of attractions and distractions,and often end up aping their peer group or their role models.In the proccess,they sometimes discard the core for the chaff.

Certain things in life are destined to happen.We cannot control everything.Except how far or how deep we allow anything to affect us.That is very much in our hands.It helps to remember that while relationships make us happy,give support,help us to forget painful instances and relieve the drudgery of monotonous routines;they also impose restraints, bestow responsibilities,and demand explanations.When a relationship breaks the advantages fly out of the window,as do the curbs and restrictions.So now you can be more your own self,do things you enjoy and spend your day as you like without having to listen to grumbling,irritating or disapproving noises in the background.Make the most of it!

Image courtesy google 

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

How We Overcame General Anxiety Disorder,Panic Attacks and Hypochondria

Aug 2015
It all began six months ago when my husband (BH) was declared a diabetic.It was a major downturn in our lives.The medicine he was prescribed did not agree with him.We got it changed and also amended our lifestyle (which was not much bad earlier),but his health continued to deteriorate.

He complained of various physical complaints.It was not long before I realized that he had become a hypochondriac--it is an awful affliction,believe me.There is no enemy to fight,it is all so nebulous.He began writing his various symptoms in a journal and it was crystal clear that his symptoms changed hue every day because there was no biological basis for them.But this did not set his mind at rest.

I had daily counseling sessions with him.He listened attentively and also read material about his condition on the net.I gave him constant company and tried to engage him by yapping about this and that.But there was something troubling him which spiked his anxiety.

Soon he began to have panic attacks and my son was asked to fly down immediately.He was a great help but BH gave up whatever little he had been doing to keep the household running,and began to depend entirely upon him.More spare time meant more rumination and more rumination meant more anxiety.He became worse than ever.

My son stayed with us for 18 days.BH was not ready to let him go but I prevailed upon him so that he could take up the reins again.Soon my daughter came and again the same story.He lost his weight,stamina and confidence at a fast pace.We all tried our best to talk him out of it but understanding that he was being unreasonable with his complaints did not in any way help him to mitigate them even though our GP too,gave him a clean chit.

Soon my daughter too,went and slowly he picked up a few of his duties.He began driving once again.His favorite physician checked him time and again,followed by numerous tests;to rule out any disease,but BH was never convinced.The complaints began to mount.We consulted ten doctors but he still feared that he had a serious disease.

I realized that he was suffering from A feeling of insignificance.He had been very healthy and active all his life but failing health and empty hours were taking their toll even when there was no other problem in our lives.He had no occupation and no hobby.He is a very good singer but not once did he try to play any music.Even when I did so,it failed to engage him.He has a background of agriculture but he even gave up supervising our gardener's work.The only thing he did keep up was,walking,but mostly on our terrace.He did not feel comfortable meeting people.

Now what can you do in such a situation?I tried to involve him in growing vegetables on our terrace but I ended up doing most of the work.Then I asked him to talk to some laborers who were working at a house nearby and ask them to send their children to our home for studying.Three kids started coming over.I went and bought the required stationary for them and we started the classes on our balcony. BH took up the eldest child who was smarter than the other two.He was well occupied for at least one hour in the morning.I think he liked this diversion.There was a goal to be met,and something to look forward to. 

Then a friend of mine suggested we send them to a government school where they will get free books,uniform and mid-day meal too.We did so and now those kids are going to a school and they are very happy.We are both very glad that they are receiving formal education but we do miss their visits --i.e,I hope BH too misses them;because he rarely expresses his feelings.

Feb 2016
It is now one year since all this started.My sessions with him continue,he listens carefully but he is just not prepared to accept the changes which come attached to advancing age.He is very sad at these changes in his personality (if you smell narciccism here,you are not off the mark).He has numerous physical complaints which I suspect,stem from his anxiety.Some days are good,some are not:(.

Oct 2016
He tries very hard to free himself from anxiety and it is showing results.Given below are the various factors which have helped him to recover :--

Our GP was a great help.He prescribed anti-anxiety drugs and also something for insomnia.The medicines were just enough to give him relief,and not make him drowsy all day long;which he would have abhorred.

Our children's support has been very reassuring.

Our counseling sessions have continued alongside.

He goes for daily walks on the road and meets neighbours.

*Does stretching exercises.

Also does 'pranayam' and meditation.

Goes to the market to fetch groceries etc,does not take the help of a driver.

Listening to devotional songs has eased his anxiety to a large extent.

Tearing a rag to shreds when the anxiety was extreme helped to cool his mind.

*Going out and visiting friends has also helped a lot.

We tried to play board games but this did not interest him much.Neither did painting or coloring.

The whole purpose of narrating this story is to share with you how difficult it is to extricate someone from an anxiety disorder and what are the various steps that can be taken.Eventually,sustained efforts do show results,as they have in our case.I hope we will soon be out of the woods.

Dec 2016
Nearly two years have elapsed since BH's health problems started.Today he is completely cured.What a journey it has been!He has quitted the sleeping pills as well as the anti-anxiety medicine.

Jan 2017
I am always alert for any signs of relapse--God forbid.BH has been a model patient,he not only listened to my advice but also put it into practice.Wht's more,he resumed his stretching exercises,pranayam and meditation as soon as he was able to.My being a counselor who was in constant attendance too,was a lucky coincidence.

In the absence of a psychiatrist,or an able family physician or a counselor,it is the family which has to
bear the maximum responsibility for the patient's welfare.Even if the patient is getting proper treatment,there are certain do's and don'ts which the family members should be aware,of when they take care of a mental patient.Later on,when the patient is well enough to join the mainstream,he needs to be coaxed and inspired to take baby steps towards normalcy.Along with the requisite treatment;love,empathy,encouragement and companionship of a family too,are therapeutic.It is a tough journey,but very much worth the toil.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Why Conceal Anxiety,Depression,or Any Other Mental Disorder?

Living with anxiety,depression,O.C.D or any other mental disorder is an excruciating experience.It sets you apart from the rest of mankind.You feel worthless,weak and inferior.No wonder you try to hide this condition from others.In fact you may take time to even acknowledge it to your own self.But this secrecy,the attempt to project that everything is fine,has dire repercussions.So many things can go wrong if you do not open up about what is ailing you.
  1. Firstly,mental turmoil can make you absent minded,forgetful,unreasonable,irritable and easily provoked.These characteristics have the potential to sour relations.Others do not know what you are going through and therefore they may hold it against you.
  2. Secondly,when you keep your feelings bottled up,your tensions mount and this can worsen your condition.
  3. When you disclose your illness you are likely to get more emotional support from those who know.
  4. They can make life easy for you by sharing your burden in everyday chores or helping you with your visits to the doctor and subsequent treatment.
  5. Long term stress is sometimes responsible for the onset of diseases like hypertension,skin eruptions,gastric ulcers,thyroid disease,diabetes and even cancer.It is best to nip this possibility in the bud by seeking treatment.
  6. By admitting that you suffer from a mental disorder you will be piercing the veil of stigma which is responsible for so many like you suffering for long periods without any treatment and going downhill to a state beyond redemption.
  7. Once you have revealed what ails you--you don't have to shout it from the rooftops,but only let it be known on 'need to know basis'--you will be relieved from the stress of having to put up a brave front at all times.
I cannot sign off without saying a few words in defence of those who conceal a mental disorder.When someone realizes that he is losing control over his emotions and reactions he feels very inadequate and unworthy.He fears that if he were to divulge the state of his mental health he would be branded as abnormal or a mental patient--both of which are synonymous in general perception.

It is possible that some,who are not genuinely attached to you may fade away from your life after disclosure,because they do not know how to handle this situation;but it is also likely that you may get more emotional support from the people around you.

A disclosure at the workplace can be dicey,it can cut both ways.You might benefit from reasonable adjustments being made to suit your condition,but an ambience of gossip or stigma too,cannot be ruled out.It is also a fact that the unemployment rate in mental patients is higher than average.

On the whole this is a very personal decision which ought to be preceded by a serious evaluation of the pros and cons of revealing or concealing.

But what cannot be pushed under the table is,the caution that when you realize your efforts to cure yourself are not bearing fruit,when your whole schedule goes haywire,you lose interest in things which earlier engaged you,it is time to seek treatment.Do not prolong your self-imposed isolation.The earlier you come out,the quicker will be your recovery.Choose the professional with whom you are comfortable,but begin to live.Life will be rosy once again.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Simple Ways of Training The Brain

Our brains work best when we work out strategies,meet challenges,learn new things and solve puzzles.With the passage of time such activities diminish and the brain becomes lethargic.We become creatures of habit-afraid to try anything new.We fall into a rut and our days follow a fixed template.This not only makes us forgetful and lack-lustre,it can also set a stage for Alzheimer's Disease.

Like every part of the body the brain too requires exercise to stay supple.Even simple changes in our lifestyle can give excellent results.Here our a few of my favorite methods:--
  1. Meditation-The topper on this list has to be this esoteric science which not only improves the brain's function but can also relieve anxiety and depression.
  2. Learn new things-it could be anything from playing a game or an instrument to learning a new language.
  3. Use your non-dominant hand for more activities.
  4. Do what you find difficult,and you may be pleasantly surprised.This new-found confidence will encourage you to explore new territories.
  5. Try to memorise at least some phone numbers which you frequently use.Check-how many can you reel off at this moment?
  6. Play some brain games like Sudoku,Scrabble,Crossword,Rubik's Cube or Chess.
  7. If you come across a new word while reading,look up it's meaning and test your memory the next day.
  8. Do some mental math for basic calculations instead of reaching for the calculator.
  9. Before going to sleep,recall all that you did after waking up in the morning.
  10. Make slight variations in your morning regime.For example you could take a brisk walk instead of doing aerobics.Or take a new route for your walks.Or just sit down in the lap of nature and do breathing exercises.
  11. Walk backwards for a while,and also on your toes.
  12. Take sufficient sleep-the brain repairs itself while you are sleeping.
  13. Avoid intoxicants and take a healthy diet.
  14. Juggle balls.This seemingly innocuous activity has many health benefits.
These are simple measures but they will produce gratifying results if practiced diligently.Your learning abilities will improve-there will be faster learning,longer retention and quicker recall.You will become more alert and better able to concentrate.Forgetfulnes will be a thing of the past.You will feel more confident and your self-esteem too will rise.

This is by no means an exhaustive list.How about telling me what works for you?