Thursday, March 26, 2009
"The eyes are the window to the soul" and the frontal lobe, too! This picture was so striking to me that I had to include it and find a way to make it work in this set of notes. This boy makes me think of the two boys in 'The Kite Runner'. So thanks for the indulgence.
Many diseases of the body affect the mind. This is true of Hepatitis C,head injury, stroke, lupus, congestive heart failure, postpartum syndrome, pms, inadequately-treated thyroid, low or high adrenal gland output. So when looking for the 4 hits of depression, always make sure that you do not have a chronic, untreated physical problem before ruling out the Medical Condition hit. Although having a medical condition would certainly increase the chances of depression, 85% of people with major depression do not have any of the above causes.
Research done in the 90's and 2000's show that the main characteristics of depression are found in the frontal lobe of the brain. A depressed person shows a definite decrease in frontal lobe blood flow and activity. An easy way to show frontal lobe activity is through a PET Scan, which shows frontal lobe activity. As with different areas of the brain,the Frontal Lobe has specific functions. The seat of spirituality, morality and the will are found in this area. Compared to animals, humans have a comparatively large area for the frontal lobe. For instance, cats frontal lobe area is only 3.5% of the total brain. Dogs are 7%, chimpanzees have a 17% frontal lobe area, while humans have anywhere from 33 - 38% of the brain reserved for the frontal lobe.
When the frontal lobe is compromised by injury or impairment, the effects are myriad. Some of these are that moral principle is lower, there is a lack of foresight in decision-making, societal impairment is evident, abstract reasoning is impaired and there is a loss of empathy for other living things.
The Frontal Lobe is fed by carbohydrates. Fruits, nuts, grains and vegetables are sources that are good for the frontal lobe. Sugar has a hypoglycemic effect on the brain and large amounts of sugar has been shown to impair frontal lobe activity in grade school children. After taking in large amounts of sugar, it takes approximately 4 hours for the frontal lobe and brain to return back to normal, and a common practice is to eat more sugar before that has occurred because of the dip in blood sugar that happens. Therefore, many school-age children have an absence of critical abstract thinking.
It is known that the effects of hypnosis cancel out frontal lobe activity, making people highly suggestible. It is shown that hypnosis is achieved by having the subject stare at a bright flickering light. The constant changes of the light puts the person in a trancelike state. Something that is very hypnotic is entertainment television. It is very quick and scenes change in an instant, changing hundreds of times per minute. There are over 3,000 studies about TV and the mind. Studies show that 17 areas of the frontal lobe decline in the face of watching entertainment TV. Even news programs are doing the quick scene changes that make people glued to the TV.
Other things that adversely affect the Frontal Lobe - extremely hard rock, rap, hip-hop, alcohol, drugs, low carb diets, unmarried sexual activity, actual hypnosis, going against one's conscience, not praying or meditating or reading spiritual materials.
There are many examples in the scriptures where people have gone through depression, showing that good people have sadness. Elijah was depressed, Job was certainly not happy at one point, King David went through terrible depression, the whole book of Daniel talks about depression, and there are many examples of good people who were not spared of sorrow. Some of these people recovered when they changed something in their lives or stesses that were previously there went away. Whatever the case, we can learn from the scriptures.
Afterthought: I was so glad that I was able to attend this seminar. It made me place even more value on many of the teachings I've heard for all of my life. Many of them I took and did haphazardly in different periods of my life, when it was convenient or when I thought about it. I can see that these things (reading the scriptures, praying, meditating, eating good foods, avoiding harmful substances, not watching so much TV, going to bed early, getting up early, working hard, physical exercise, doing good to others, having positive thoughts, listening to good music and laughing!) are not only good teachings, they are essential to maintaining a joyful life. This was an excellent seminar with many truths that I will definitely implement with more intent in my life. It is amazing how much great truth is out there and the science now backs up what was taught to us forever...
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Tomorrow I go to my U.S. census training. I will be one of thousands of government employees attempting to get an accurate count of the people living in the United States. I will be recording data on a hand held computer. I will learn something of what is behind closed doors, and I will put it in a permanent record. There is a story behind every door and I hope to be able to tell some of that story with my statistical data.
Just recently, information from the 1860 US Census helped to pinpoint where my great grandfather, Henry Breisach, lived and died. And this helped us to do important Family History work, piecing together clues that help connect us to centuries past. Someone like me had taken the time to find out who was living in the home and record it to the best of their ability.
I actually worked the 2000 US Census when I was living in American Fork. I had just moved to Utah and was getting used to the grid system, which did help me quite a bit, when I was smart enough to use it. Now I get to work here in the Provo area, which I am quite familiar with. I'm really looking forward to this. I love being outdoors and walking. I like figuring things out and I like meeting people. So, if you see me wandering around the streets of Provo, know that I'm probably on the clock, getting my exercise and getting paid.
I met one of my best friends doing the Census in 2000. Patti Jones was a student, like me, going to BYU for the post bacheloreate program in Special Ed. That didn't start for a few months later, however. I noticed her in the Census training session. A pretty, vivacious, blond woman who was always tallking on her cell. She would get and take at least 3-5 calls every session. She usually left to take care of the call. I thought, wow, how popular she must be. I didn't even think that she might have kids who needed her attention, which she did. (And, she is indeed extremely popular and fun!) At the time I was living in much different circumstances than I am now. Truthfully, I was very lonely, homesick and missing my own children terribly. Doing the Census was something to help me ease the pain I was feeling. We didn't speak at that time--I just took mental note.
A few months later, when the BYU Special Education Certification program was underway, I encountered her again. It was crazy and busy. This time we spoke and I found her to be so friendly and approachable. She wasn't so busy to not be interested in me and be my friend. I found out that she, like me, had been recently divorced and devastated by the whole thing. She was bravely going on with her life, taking care of her children and trying to certify in Special Ed so that she could keep her job at Timp View High, teaching the Emotional Support Unit, a class made of boys and occasionally girls who are in youth custody and working to be mainstreamed back into the regular classroom. These kids cannot be successful in regular classrooms or life until their behavior is under control. Patti is fabulous at what she does. She has a heart of gold and gives these kids so much empowerment to do what they need to do and be successful. I've been able to help her in her classroom now and again and I absolutely love it. She makes big deals out of birthdays, good behavior, special events and even ordinary events. Out-of-pocket is how it usually ends up. Budgets are not big by any means.
Here, again, we're talking about closed doors. These kids have seen some pretty rough times in their lives and doors have closed for them. Patti's class is pretty much the last stop before prison or institutionalization. I've seen the behavior---not good. I've seen unprovoked attacks, bad language, hostile attitudes, delinquent records, failed academics, removal from school, and so on.
The good news is that I've seen some miracles, too. I've seen some boys/girls take hold of themselves and realize that they need to act now, and turn their lives around. I've seen them take an active interest in learning because in reality, at this late stage in their schooling, no one else will take responsibility for their education. I've seen them make moral decisions that foster trust and their privileges increase from there.
When the day comes that someone actually graduates or is actually mainstreamed into regular classrooms, it is indeed a celebration. It means that there is an achievement or gold star by their name. Notes are taken, attention is paid and somewhere a door will open. And maybe, because of that one success, another and another door will open. And somewhere because of the actions of one caring person, the light is allowed through. Thanks Patti!
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Broken Heart?" -The Bee Gee's
It's hard to ever think that a broken heart will be mended. The pain is so intense, the memories don't seem to fade quickly enough. But in this session we learned some really great things about grief, what to expect and how to move on and be healthy afterwards. Warning: No one said it would be easy.
Take a look at what critical loss looks like--it doesn't just mean the death of a loved one. It could also be loss of a home, loss of a job, loss of a loved one by estrangement, divorce, loss of a body part (as in amputation) or even loss of social status.
With any one of these situations and any number of others, a grieving process is appropriate and expected. Some events may be more traumatic than others but all must be acknowledged in order to heal properly. Just as with physical wounds, the mind needs time to heal. If someone were to receive a physical wound, appropriate treatment is essential. If the treatment is inadequate or belated, complications arise and the risk of the wound not healing properly or even fatality occurring is greatly magnified. Some wounds are so severe that one never regains full physical function. I'm sad to say that just today, in the headlines, actress Natasha Richardson has died because of a brain injury that occurred from a seemingly minor skiing accident. I'm sure her family is wishing that they had taken every precaution and had not turned away paramedics. It's just one of those hard calls, but experts say that if she had gotten appropriate and timely care, her death could have been avoided. And so it is with mental or spiritual wounds. We need to seek and obtain the healing balm so that these can be healed once and for all and not leave painful residue.
There are ways we talk to ourselves and during the experience of loss we need to make sure we self-speak in healing ways and not like these distorted views--"I will never again be happy." "This kind of unfair thing always happens to me." "My world has ended because I lost him." Acknowledge the loss in ways like this--"I will miss the companionship that she has given me and I feel extreme loss." "I have lost a very important part of my life." "This is painful and it sucks." There are some subtle but important differences in the two groups of expressions of grief. Can you pick up on them? Good!
There are 3 Stages of Grief
1) Shock and Disbelief - This lasts for a few minutes up to a few days.
2) Developing Awareness - This lasts for 3 - 12 months. Symptoms are inability to concentrate, preoccupation - always going back to thinking about the event, anxiety, restlessness, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, digestive problems, fatigue, anger, guilt and depression is common. Although this stage can be longer in duration, the grieving individual should feel increasingly better month by month.
3) Resolution - Anywhere from 3 - 12 months after loss. This is when you gradually take charge of your loss and resolve to live your life despite of the loss.
We were referred to a study of a group of 40 men who had experienced a death of a spouse and whose immune systems were already compromised before the loss. They were asked to reflect on the meaning of the loss. The groups divided naturally into 3 categories. Group 1 only emphasized the negative aspects of the loss. Group 2 accepted the fact of the loss and just moved on with their lives. Group 3 found a new respect for life and made new commitments to improve their own lives. It was found, upon examination, that both Groups 1 and 2 experienced a decline in their immune systems and overall health while Group 3 showed both an improved immune system and long-term survival rate. So from this we can infer that there are healthier and worse ways to go through loss.
Healthy grieving does not come naturally to most people. So one can almost view it as a series of tasks to go through when progressing through the stages of grieving. What experts have found is that indeed, time does not always heal wounds. But working through them over time can.
The Tasks of Mourning
1. Accept the reality of the loss - We do this by having funerals, memorials and talking about the person and reminiscing about them.
2. Work through the Pain - Don't avoid the pain. Acknowledge the hurt and loss and then make sure that you take care of yourself. For 15 minutes a day for about 4 or 5 days, write about the loss and what you are experiencing, feeling and remembering. Get rest, sunlight, proper nutrition, and plenty of social support. It has been shown that poor social support is more closely related to depression than torture during wartime. Maintain spiritual ties to develop patience in suffering. Cling to hopeful beliefs and faith and know that loss was never meant to be.
3. Identify the functions that the loss provided and try to replace them or adjust to them.
4. Emotionally Relocate the Loss - Put the loss to rest in your mind. Put it away and know that it will never that same space again but it can be relocated. For example, Grandma's not here anymore, but she now is in heaven and is happy and I'm happy for her.
5. Reflect and Grow from the loss. Think about what may have been learned from that hard
experience and how it has changed you for the better. Romans 8:28. Discuss with someone ways to grow from the loss. Remember that sharing with someone is good. "Don't go into your mind alone, it is a dangerous place," especially during the grieving process.
Grief is always complicated by severe Depression. In addition to the above symptoms the severely depressed person feels worthlessness, has greatly impaired functioning, and goes beyond 18 months bereavement.
If you are not now experiencing a loss, why not help someone through who is experiencing a loss? Share your love with them and help them to find their way. It will come back to you when you need it!
Coping With Stress
"Stress is the trash of modern life - we all generate it but if you don't dispose of it properly, it will pile up and overtake your life."
Stress in life is inevitable--it's what 21st Century people live with. It is so ironic that we, with all the conveniences and the technology so readily available, and the wealth flowing, that stress has never been higher in any other century. It is in epidemic proportion. It contributes and speeds up most all of the major illnesses, including depression. So to be able to cope with stress is tantamount to our survival in society.
One-half of depression patients are unable to cope with stress, thus making it one of the four hits qualifying for the development of major depression. (Congratulations, you have the necessary number of hits, making you a qualifier for major misery!) So how does one cope with stress? It helps to understand a little bit more about the brain.
The Pineal gland is in the brain. It is only the size of a kernel of corn, yet it controls so much. It produces a chemical called epithalamin, which catalyzes a process that slows down the aging process, and even increases lifespan. It works with other chemicals in our bodies to create this effect. The end product produced is melatonin, a hormone that peaks during nighttime hours. It is sometimes called "the hormone of darkness". Melatonin protects against free-radical damage, enhances the immune system, assists in coping with stress, increases the ability to experience pleasure, regulates cholesterol, blood pressure, heart rhythm, and decreases risk for osteoporosis, among many other things. Melatonin levels fall as a person ages but one can maintain melatonin levels by enhancing pineal gland health.
Some things that cut melatonin production significantly are going to bed late, and exposure to blue light and/or regular light after 10 pm. We were referred to a study done at BYU, where students' GPA's were evaluated on individual sleep habits. It was shown that those students who were able to get to bed at around 10 pm had better GPA's than those who did not. Also Dr. Nedley cited his own experience during medical school where classes alone were from 6 am - 6 pm, not including homework, etc. His solution was to be in bed by 9 pm and up at 4 am. The only time he studied were the hours in the morning before class. He did this throughout his medical college years and he ended up with a 4.0 GPA. He attributes his success to his sleep habits.
One can supplement with melatonin and results have been good with short-term use and lower dosage (.3 mgs vs 3 mgs)but studies have not been conclusive about the long-term effects of melatonin supplementation. There are foods that are sources of melatonin among which are: corn, rice, barley, tomatoes, banana, ginger and the highest source - oats.
Lifestyle can also reduce melatonin levels:
- Not coping with stress
- caffeine (cuts melatonin production by 1/2)
- alcohol (cuts melatonin production by up to 41%)
- aspirin-like drugs
- beta and calcium channel blockers
- anti-anxiety drugs and sleep aids
- vitamin B-12 (3 mg and above/day)
Ways to Increase Melatonin Production:
- Increase natural light and decrease artificial light where possible
- sleep in complete darkness
- eat foods rich in melatonin
- avoid calcium deficiency - calcium plays a role in the production of melatonin
- fast once a month for 24 hours. Fasting increases the production of melatonin, especially during the evening hours.
As always, it is so important to implement a healthy lifestyle. Have an exercise program, get plenty of hydration, sun, fresh air, rest, moderation in all things, and trust in God. Do the things that are so often recommended for us to do, as Christians and LDS people. Do good deeds - it helps us forget ourselves and our pain. Put planning and organization into your life, then don't get hung up on it and let things work themselves out, putting faith in God. Dwell on the good and positive. Practice some form of restorative meditation, prayer being the very best. Finally know that you can cope, that God has given you ability and tools to cope. Trust in God.
"The only time to be anxious is when we are anxiously engaged in good works"
And finally, when the World Trade Center bombings took place, there was a tremendous amount of stress experienced by the survivors. Public figures such as David Letterman, movie stars and sports figures stated that in the grand scheme of things, what they do for a living to influence the public is so trivial and many sports and entertainment events were cancelled during this time. If the very people who facilitate these things are saying this, should we not believe it and limit our time on trivial things?
The more time we spend on helping ourselves and others by implementing wholesome lifestyles and contributing to the good of society, the more prepared we will be when life throws a curve ball at us and we're down for the count. We will have our reserves built up and so if we can't do everything, we know that the preparation we have done in advance has been our salvation.
Friday, March 6, 2009
Positive Lifestyle Choices - Overcoming Addictions and Other Harmful Habits
As I was contemplating and dreading writing these notes about addiction, I was struck with how many addictions I really have. And I'm not talking alcohol, tobacco, drugs or porn. I'm talking about other things--the stereotypes I cling to, how I use my spare time, my old, worn, and oh-so-comfortable excuses, sugar(!), and so many others, I'm sure. The thing is, I haven't been that desirous about changing some of these. They and I have just gotten too comfortable over time. I've learned to live with them and nothing extremely terrible has happened because of them (at least not that I'm willing to admit)!
And that's the thing--why change if the changing is harder to face than the potential bad result of the thing I'm addicted to? I mean, hey, change is HARD! I'm always going through change anyway, whether I like it or not! So why not keep a few things the same (even if they aren't the greatest for me?) Do you see the problem in this thinking? I do, but it's still hard.
So Here are the 5 stages of Change:
1. Pre-contemplation - This is the stage that you are in if you haven't even begun to think about something in terms of wanting or needing to change it.
2. Contemplation - When you start to think about a bad habit or addiction and maybe weighing the pros and cons of changing it, you are in the contemplation stage. Try thinking about something that you would be better off if you changed it. Now rate this thing in seriousness on a scale of 1 - 10. If it's only a 5, chances are you are not adequately motivated to actually make a change. What would it take for this thing to become a 10? Maybe you need to do more contemplating and actually figure out some motivating reasons to change or maybe drop the idea of changing this specific thing and move on to something else and not think about it so much. When you have moved the seriousness of the thing up to a 9 or 10, you are sufficiently motivated to start the change.
3. Preparation - After you are sufficiently motivated, you need to make a plan and prepare for the change. Plan for setbacks, opposition, criticism, and disappointment along the way. Make plans for all possible scenarios but also plan to ultimately succeed and visualize yourself succeeding in your goal.
4. Action - After you have done the preparation, it's time to implement the preparation and take action.
5. Maintenance - Part of change is the long-term maintenance of that change. Plan to keep up the implemented change by taking inventory as needed and put in the work to keep the change permanent.
In terms of Depression, the Addiction Hit includes addictive use of alchohol, marijuana, narcotics, cigarettes, caffeine and yes, pornography. Incidentally KSL just ran a major story that Utah is the #1 state for use of online pornograhy. Also, there was a particular emphasis on marijuana as being particularly bad for depression because it significantly slows down frontal lobe activity, which is the major brain center for feelings and moods.
What constitutes something being labeled an addiction? Here are some common characteristics of a true addiction (labeled here as "the thing"):
1. There is a high rate of dependance on the thing.
2. There is a compulsion to use/do the thing continuously.
3. There is an need for an increased amount of the thing over time.
4. When making an attempt to stop the thing, there is a high relapse rate.
5. The thing is harmful to yourself, immediate and work relationships and even to people you may not know, thus making it harmful to society.
In dealing with addiction, it is better to make a clean break and go for total abstinance. If you say, I'll just do it, say, once a month, chances are that you will have an increased sense of deprivation and will relapse. (Hey, I'm just the messenger here, OK?) Also, if you give up things simultaneously, it will actually be easier. For instance if you give up caffeine and tobacco together, the relapse rate is lower if you quit the 2 things at the same time.
10 ways to Quit Addiction:
1. Choose not to do the thing
2. No hidden cheats (No pepsi in the vegetable crisper, no cigs hiding in the drawer, no cookies in the laundry hamper, etc.)
3. Practice deep-breathing (See Depression Seminar Session 2). It will help you calm yourself and focus your thoughts.
4. Get daily exercise.
5. Get more sleep. The work of quitting something that is an addiction is hard work. You need the extra sleep so that you have the energy to do the thing that you've set out to accomplish.
6. Get plenty of hydration. 8 - 10 glasses of water is optimal.
7. Bathe often. This is especially true when you are shedding toxins from your body. It comes out through your skin.
8. Avoid risky situations--For example, if you know that you will be at a party that is serving something that you are tempted with, avoid going.
9. Acknowledge that the thing is destructive and choose to overcome it.
10. Rely on Spiritual resources. No one has overcome addiction without the Spirit of God.
There was actually a lot more material about addiction and help in this area and I'm so glad I was present. I think I will actually find the capacity within myself to abandon some of the things that have been chaining me down! Hooray! Yay! Onward and upward!
Oh, I almost forgot. My contemplation about the need to cut out sugar includes these compelling reasons I found in another essay about sugar addiction. Does this motivate me enough to put my need to quit at a 10 yet? I'm still contemplating!
Sugar can suppress the immune system. Sugar can upset the body's mineral balance.
Sugar can contribute to hyperactivity, anxiety, depression, concentration difficulties, and crankiness in children.
Sugar can produce a significant rise in triglycerides.
Sugar can cause drowsiness and decreased activity in children.
Sugar can reduce helpful high density cholesterol (HDLs).
Sugar can promote an elevation of harmful cholesterol (LDLs).
Sugar can cause hypoglycemia.
Sugar contributes to a weakened defense against bacterial infection.
Sugar can cause kidney damage.
Sugar can increase the risk of coronary heart disease.
Sugar may lead to chromium deficiency.
Sugar can cause copper deficiency.
Sugar interferes with absorption of calcium and magnesium.
Sugar can increase fasting levels of blood glucose.
Sugar can promote tooth decay.
Sugar can produce an acidic stomach.
Sugar can raise adrenaline levels in children.
Sugar can lead to periodontal disease.
Sugar can speed the aging process, causing wrinkles and grey hair.
Sugar can increase total cholesterol.
Sugar can contribute to weight gain and obesity.
High intake of sugar increases the risk of Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.
Sugar can contribute to diabetes.
Sugar can contribute to osteoporosis.
Sugar can cause a decrease in insulin sensitivity.
Sugar leads to decreased glucose tolerance.
Sugar can cause cardiovascular disease.
Sugar can increase systolic blood pressure.
Sugar causes food allergies.
Sugar can cause free radical formation in the bloodstream.
Sugar can cause toxemia during pregnancy.
Sugar can contribute to eczema in children.
Sugar can overstress the pancreas, causing damage.
Sugar can cause atherosclerosis.
Sugar can compromise the lining of the capillaries.
Sugar can cause liver cells to divide, increasing the size of the liver.
Sugar can increase the amount of fat in the liver.
Sugar can increase kidney size and produce pathological changes in the kidney.
Sugar can cause depression.
Sugar can increase the body's fluid retention.