Thursday, February 27, 2014

Reefer Madness

Has marijuana gone mainstream? With the states of Colorado and Washington legalizing the use and sale of marijuana, and 20 other states allowing the use of "medical marijuana" to treat certain illnesses, it may appear that marijuana use is losing its image as a health risk and morphing into an accepted social habit, similar to drinking alcohol. But regardless of your position in the "pro" or "con" camp of legalizing this substance, a recent study about marijuana use among young people contains sobering facts to consider.

Marijuana: The "Safe" Drug?

A report from the National Institutes of Health indicates that marijuana use has increased among middle schoolers. One reason for this upward shift is that, historically, when the perceived risks associated with a drug go down, use of the drug goes up. With the national debate over legalizing marijuana and the arguments for use of medical marijuana to treat and combat certain illnesses and symptoms, young people may be inferring that marijuana is a "safe" drug. And while alcohol remains the most-used drug among the teen population, the study reports that more youth smoke marijuana than cigarettes. Studies suggest that neurological effects on adults may be far less pervasive than on young people. Marijuana use has been proven to affect brain development. We know that human brains continue to develop well into one's mid- to late-twenties. Negative effects on thinking and memory that young people experience from marijuana use may be long-lasting, even permanent. And the impact on coordination, judgment, and decision making--crucial skills for operating a motor vehicle--may make teenagers even more vulnerable to car accidents and DUI arrests. Research does support the value of marijuana in easing symptoms from chemotherapy and chronic pain, to mention but a few areas of its application as a medicine. But marijuana's move into our culture's mainstream might create health and safety consequneces for our youth that are anything but "normal."

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Shrinking Violets -- Is It Shyness or Social Anxiety Disorder?

Most of us experience butterflies in our stomachs before giving an important speech. We may feel jittery and anxious prior to a job interview. But for individuals suffering from social anxiety disorder, social situations of almost any kind can invoke terror, intense physical symptoms and a constriction of their daily activities. Specifically, social anxiety is "an excessive and persistent fear of social or performance situations." People with social anxiety dread situations that include other people, like dating, being called on in class, meeting new people, or having to talk in public. Some folks avoid using public bathrooms, ordering food from a restaurant, even talking to a customer service representative on the phone. Sufferers of social anxiety may experience physical symptoms like blushing, sweating, shaking or trembling, muscle tension, pounding heart, and dry mouth. Because of their fears, people with social anxiety may isolate or avoid situations that may require them to interact with others. They may experience a decrease in their self esteem due to judging their reactions or feeling "flawed" for not being able to accomplish life tasks that others seem to do easily.

Treatment Options for Social Anxiety Disorder

The third most common psychiatric condition in the United States, social anxiety disorder occurs in 1 out of 8 adults. Both children and adults can struggle with social anxiety, and sufferers are equally distributed between men and women. The good news is that treatment is available and clinically proven to be successful. Data supports that a combination of medications and talk therapy provide the best treatment outcome for people with social anxiety disorder. Counseling that includes cognitive-behavioral therapy and social skills training have been proven especially helpful. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) helps individuals understand and change thoughts and behaviors that contribute to their anxiety. Social skills training gives people the opportunity to learn and practice responses and skills they will need in social situations within the safety of the therapy room. If your anxiety or worry about social interactions is limiting your life or negatively impacting your daily activities or self-perception, talk with your doctor or get a referral to a counselor. Everyone deserves to fully engage in life and to reap the benefits of relationships, work and social interactions without the burden of anxiety and worry. Treatment can pull back the curtain of social anxiety and allow individuals to step onto the stage of life with more confidence.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Psychology in Action

Albert Camus believed that psychology is ACTION, that we cannot know ourselves simply by thinking about who we are, we must ACT. And yet owning our power and behaving from its seat within us is a daunting task for many people.

Assert Yourself
Assertiveness can be (falsely) portrayed as selfishness, power-mongering, or dictating. In reality, assertiveness claims our power, our needs, our feelings to be of EQUAL IMPORTANCE to those of others. Not more, not less. Assertivness asks us to consider the gift of ourselves to the world to be as precious as that of all other souls. Assertivness requires us to operate from a space of self-respect and -responsibility. Assertivness does not trample on the rights of others, it acknowledges those rights with the same gravity as it recognizes our own. Aggressivenss dominates; assertiveness respects. Every individual deserves the validity of their own feelings, thoughts, needs and actions. By asserting ourselves, we put our value on par with others -- we ACT from a belief of equality and fairness. Respecting our own needs models the innate charge each human has to respect others. Another famous writer touted "Treat others as you would like to be treated." Assertivness suggests that we treat OURSELVES with the regard we so easily show to others. Acting from a place of personal power and worth doesn't damage relationships, it creates balance and equity, a true respect and valuing of our similarities AND our differences.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Learning to Lean

Human beings are wired to avoid pain. Touch a hot stove once, and we steer clear next time the burner is lit. Get rebuffed by a loved one when we make a request, and we may hesitate to ask the next time. Similarly, we humans pursue pleasure. Remember the advertising catch phrase for potato chips -- "Nobody can eat just one"? Some foods, like chocolate and salty snacks, entice us to have bite after bite. And biologists maintain that sexual pleasure is an evolutionary response to ensure the propagation of our species. But we may have the logic all wrong, or at the very least, we are looking at pleasure and pain through a black and white lens.

The Lessons in Our Experiences 
Most of us can agree that the world resides largely in the "gray area" -- very little in our experience is absolutely wrong or always right. Yet, we continue to avoid pain at any cost, assuming that it's presence signals imminent harm to our physical or psychic selves and we are best served giving all painful stimuli a wide berth. If we truly embrace the "gray", however, we see that pain, discomfort and distress have something to teach us. For example, if conflict with my son's dad makes me nervous, I am likely to avoid bringing up contentious topics. But if I adopt the view that my anxiety is a lesson of some sort, if I slow down and LEAN INTO the fear rather than away from it, I may discover key insights about myself. Sitting with my discomfort, I may remember events from childhood that taught me not to upset others. I may understand that it isn't conflict that I fear, but the possibility of losing the fight. Perhaps my anxiety is a reminder that I need to build up my "muscles" of assertiveness and self-value. Avoiding what pains me might rob me of a deeper understanding of the spectrum of human behavior and feelings. I'm not suggesting we look for opportunities to shame, hurt or harm ourselves. But perhaps the next time we feel depressed, lonely, angry or hurt, we can pause before fleeing away from those emotions. We can ask ourselves to be open to the guidance and revelations those feelings have to share. Learning to lean into our distress helps us grow in compassion and understanding of the joys and sorrows of our fellow beings. From our vantage point within the "gray", we can see the rainbow prism of real life, it's darks and brights, it's ethereal and it's mundane. Let's lean forward, together.