Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Most of us spend much of our lives at work. If our lives are to be enjoyable, we should be able to connect and communicate in a positive way with the people that we spend so much of our time with. They should be part of a network of people that we can count on when things are difficult. They should be a source of support, not of adversity. Unfortunately, for many of us the face of adversity may be that of our supervisor or a co-worker. A recent survey by the American Psychological Association Center for Organizational Excellence found that one-third of American workers experience chronic work stress, with low salaries, lack of opportunity for advancement, and heavy workloads topping the list. The good news is, as Dr. David Ballard, head of the APA Center for Organizational Excellence, points out, “When employers acknowledge that employees have responsibilities and lives outside of work, the employer can take steps to promote a good work-life fit and help individuals better manage these multiple demands. Forward-thinking organizations are reevaluating work practices, providing employees with resources that support well-being and performance and applying new technology that helps shift work from somewhere we go from 9 to 5 to something we do that is meaningful and creates value.” The skills and attitudes of resilience can help employers and employees make this shift. Psychologically healthy organizations encourage employees to be involved and to grow and develop. Some of the growth that needs to be encouraged is the ability of employees to adapt to changes in the organization. Change is a reality for most organizations. Adapting to the reality requires that both employees and organizations be flexible and make a joint effort to problem solve. Effective communication is critical. Individuals and organizations need to learn to try in a different way to solve problems, not just try harder in the same way. Such rigidity creates, at best, frustration and at worst, failure. Adapting to the work environments of the 21st Century requires that we accept change as a given. Permanence is not to be expected. Most things are temporary. But the changes that do occur often will not have a pervasive impact on our lives or our organization. Good or bad, they will not change everything. The impact will usually be specific. Blaming ourselves or others for the problems that we or the organization is confronting is not going to help. The individual employee needs to be accountable for his actions, as do the supervisors and administrators of the organization. Engaging in the blame game is a waste of time. Back-biting or gossiping certainly does not make for a better work environment. When we can connect with our co-workers in a positive way, we can be more effective communicators, and the work environment can often be less stressful. Again, this requires flexibility on our part and an optimistic attitude. Again, this involves accepting that most things are temporary, events in our lives, either positive or negative, are seldom pervasive in their impact and engaging in the blame game is not going to help. In the next post, I will discuss how some of the other skills and attitudes of resilience can be applied at work. Ron Breazeale
Thursday, October 17, 2013
Those of you who have read my first novel, Reaching Home, remember that I often introduce the chapters in the novel with a quote. Some are humorous. Some are quite serious. Hopefully, they add to the reader’s appreciation of the story. One of my favorites from Reaching Home was a quote from Mark Twain: “A discriminating irreverence is the creator and protector of human liberty.” My second effort, First Night, which should be published in the late fall / early winter of this year will follow some of the original characters from Reaching Home through their struggles with the conflict within our society and within each one of us between hope and cynicism. Cynicism can certainly drown hope if we do not make an active effort to nurture hope. Here are the quotes that I am using to introduce some of the chapters in First Night: Will Herberg, Cynicism: “Idealism gone sour.” Harry Ruby (one which I really don’t agree with): Cynicism: “A euphemism for realism.” H.L. Mencken (this is one I really love): Cynic: “A man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for the coffin.” George Herbert: Hope: “The poor man’s bread.” And one from Shakespeare, “Hope: Eating the air on promise of supply.” The conflict between hope and cynicism is one each of us must face every day. I’ll keep you posted as I work with the editor putting the final manuscript together. Hopefully, First Night it will be out by the first night of the New Year. by Ron Breazeale
In the last blog, I talked about the writing process as being a way of dealing with adversity, although I must confess that I have not always thought about it in this way. I cringe when I think about my first year in college and English Composition. The focus wasn’t on creativity, but upon spelling the word correctly and using correct punctuation. I’m sure I have used much of what was drilled in me, but I believe it would have been more helpful if there had been an equal focus on what I was writing, not just how I was writing it. Graduate school allowed me to heal my old wounds from English Composition and to begin to understand that perhaps I had some talent when it came to being able to translate psychological concepts and theories into language that most people could understand. This type of writing came easy for me and I have done a considerable amount of it over the years. Writing fiction did come easy for me. My first attempt in this area was Reaching Home, which was published in 2006. What went into the story were themes of resilience and, as the title implies, finding or, more correctly, creating a home for ourselves that is not a location or a geographical place, but is a place that we create within ourselves. Over the past three years, I have been working on a follow-up to Reaching Home. I anticipate it will be published by the end of this year. First Night focuses on the conflict between cynicism and hope. Both Reaching Home and First Night reflect the times in which they were written. I began writing Reaching Home just after 911. A major focus of the novel was our struggle as a society to conquer fear and our obsession with terrorism. First Night, which I began writing during the early years of the Great Recession focuses on realities that we continue to deal with daily, a Congress that remains deadlocked, an economy supposedly “recovering” — although some days it would be hard to know that — a nation whose trust in government is at a new all-time low and a political process that is increasingly controlled by big money and large corporations. But there are glimmers of hope, as there always are. Cynicism does not have to drown hope. The dark does not have to swallow the light. More about cynicism and hope in the next blog. by Ron Breazeale
Today, I generally don’t find writing adverse. Although there are times when the face of adversity may be your editor’s. On the contrary, writing can be a way of dealing with adversity. Journaling is one of the best examples of this. There is something about putting things down in black and white that can help us to change our world and the way we feel about it. Thinking about the things that we’re concerned about, especially trying to think about them in a different way from a different perspective can be helpful. And certainly talking about them can help. But there’s something about putting them down in black and white that makes them more real. It forces us to accept what has happened and to look more clearly at what we are dealing with. Over my many years in this profession, I have had an opportunity frequently to write about what I do, whether it was summarizing a research study or debating the pros and cons of a particular program, or a way of approaching a particular problem. This kind of writing I have, in general, found easy to do. This is not to say that preparing an article for publication in a professional journal is easy. It isn’t. I certainly admire my colleagues who make it look easy. What I have found more difficult is writing fiction. I never appreciated the difficulties in writing a novel until I tried to write one. My first effort, Reaching Home, was published in 2006. The theme of the novel was, as my colleagues told me, resilience. Since that time, I have conducted over 50 workshops using storytelling and the novel as primary tools in teaching the skills and the attitudes of resilience. The program and the novel were put together in a workbook entitled Duct Tape Isn’t Enough, that was published in 2009. This workbook gives participants an opportunity to write about themselves and about the characters in the novel, Reaching Home. It gives readers an opportunity to tell their own story, if they choose to. Just like with Pennebaker’s research on journaling, readers can write about the difficult things that they had dealt with in their life and learn from their experiences, as well as discharge some of the feelings that they have been holding on to. During the past three years, I’ve been working on a second novel. It will contain a number of the characters from Reaching Home, and I’m sure some of my colleagues will say that one of its main themes is resilience. I’ll be talking more about it in my next blog. Have a comment? Start the discuss by Ron Breazeale
Guest Blogger: Richard C. Lumb, Ph.D. “The past four decades reveal a substantial effort to changing how police provide services to the community. The quest to discovering a magic bullet effectively reducing and preventing crime, while improving the quality of community life and well-being, is ongoing” Society has grown more complex and confounding in its very nature. Diversity, increased population growth, a widening gap in income and useable resources, substance abuse issues that in some places push the envelope to near collapse, unlimited demands for service, a storm of technology that allows access from a hundred points of cyber space has become, for many service providers, both a boon and boondoggle. Boon, as people can get to those individuals deemed necessary for a solution and boondoggle as the demands exceed the capacity to deliver at times, of a trivial purpose in many instances, and unnecessary only because “calling” and “handing off” to someone else, has become a way of life. Police, represented by municipal, county, state and federal agencies, along with a growing private security force, have numerous and varied duties, responsibilities, and clientele. Guided by law and policy, driven by demand and managed with varying oversight, all are engaged in responding to calls for service, self-initiated activities, and for some, a response modality bordering on personal preference and agenda. The complexity of today’s environment is exacerbated by details that range from total fabrication to fact. Keeping one’s finger on the pulse of a police department and taking into consideration the myriad of events and detail becomes overwhelming, if allowed to operate without parameters. But, what are those parameters and do they matter? The role and function of police must be clearly defined and every employee must understand how they apply to what they do in the organization. We work for the organization and as such must put forth our best effort to assist in achievement of its goals. Drift, or addressing personal agendas and interests within duty time, simply must be managed. I do not adhere to crushing innovation and robotic employees, rather I refer to meeting the organizations mission, vision, values and goals and performing ones duties within these parameters. There is room for innovation in method and process, but it must be part of the ongoing plan and with the input and support of supervisory staff. Guiding Foundational Components A Mission statement tells you the fundamental purpose of the organization. It defines the customer and the critical processes. It informs you of the desired level of performance. A Vision statement outlines what the organization wants to be, or how it wants the world in which it operates to be. It concentrates on the future and is a long-term view. It is a source of inspiration, provides clear decision-making criteria and gives direction to the organization’s future. Values are the qualities that are considered worthwhile and they represent what every employee should aspire to for priorities and which guide their actions and behaviors. They define how employees want to behave in their relationships with each other, customers, and the greater community they provide service to. They are the fundamental beliefs of people working in that organization. Goal statements say where you want to be at some future time. Goals should be few in number, concise and not too specific. Goals indicate where the organization wants to go. A timeline is important showing milestones for accomplishment and the beginning and ending dates. Objectives are specific, measurable targets for each goal. They are short-term in nature and allow you to gauge the project’s success. Objectives indicate what the organization expects to accomplish. Action steps are a step-by-step process by which an organization reaches the objectives developed to fulfill the goal. They typically are programs, events, operations, and projects for the organization to accomplish its objectives. Also known as strategies! Substantial opportunity exists for innovation and use of personal expertise and interest, but it must be managed and first represent the organization’s core function and service model. We (the collective employees) are not independent contractors hired by an organization to “Go forth and do what you do,” as that model is not sustainable. The decades old failure to effectively and sustainably address repeat calls for service, to solve “hot spot” places of persistent problems or to follow-up on earlier calls (e.g., a take the report and move on mentality), is not effective or efficient. So, what is being suggested? Base Steps: 1. Insure that all employees are familiar with the organization’s mission, vision, values and goals. Familiarity means the individual understands his or her job functions and is able to measure compliance and outcomes. Ongoing case review helps strengthen understanding and application of performance to organization mission et al. 2. Supervisors must have the authority and requisite responsibility to manage employee engagements and to determine how they utilize their time. To do this well, means the organization must strip the extraneous tasks and assignments often dumped on supervisors, many/most not germane to their core duties. This added layer of work is distracting and takes away from performing intended supervisory functions. 3. Eliminate a daily routine of waiting for the call for service response to a more proactive, problem-solving model. Between call time is generally left to the individual officer and he or she will do traffic work, ride around the patrol area to be seen, and other “free to choose” time fillers. There is a great diversity of how this time is used and it is not the best we can do. Control of the agencies resources to achieve effectiveness and efficiency and measure outcomes, is responsible. We can do more with existing resources, if we manage them well. Saved money is used to address those things that are in need for attention. 4. Let the drivers of the organization, the utilization of people and resources, emerge from a concept of “SMART” or information driven policing, not some haphazard response model that allows too much “less than focused and sustainable results” outcomes. We must begin to measure time and costs and determine how we are utilizing resources. Are we effective and efficient, and if not why and what must be done to fix the issues? 5. Initiate a technological system where individuals have access to information needed for their job execution, utilize existing and innovative programs to maximize data applicability and engage in routine and sustained maximization of people, systems, policy and technology. To set a lower bar is not responsible as the cost of services in today’s environment is not sustainable, unless efficiency and effectiveness measures are implemented. 6. Operating in isolation and not developing multiple public/private collaborations is totally outdated and must be changed. Harnessing the power of multiple partnerships stands to help address the totality of needs by all. 7. Educate administrators, managers and supervisors in more up-to-date model of organizational functioning. Batts, Smoot and Scrivner (2012, 2-3) state, “Thus, despite substantial gains by police in crime fighting, there is still a widespread tendency to adhere to outdated and ineffective management practices. For example, even the way a department’s overall effectiveness is traditionally measured and tracked — typically some aspect of response time or fulfillment of calls for service — lacks relevance to current expectations of and for police.” 8. And, of great importance, involve all employees in establishing operational guidelines and planning and keep them informed honoring their experience, knowledge, motivations and support for it helps the organization many times over. The collective value of employees, when harnessed and utilized appropriately, is a powerful force for innovation and quality of services deployment. Dr. Richard Lumb is a former Associate Professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Northern Michigan University and he is Emeritus from the State University of New York at Brockport where he was chair of the Criminal Justice Department. He has served in several community organizations including two-term Board Chairman of the York County Counseling Services and Chairman of the Governor's Mental Health Advisory Council for the State of Maine. He served on the Board of Directors for Tri-County Mental Health Services in Maine and is engaged with Maine Resilience, a program that focuses on managing stress, adversity and trauma. Maine Resilience is working the FEMA, Region I to bring resilience train-the-trainer programs to individuals and communities. Richard's web site: Maine Woods Organizational Developmental Services. Reference: Batts, A., Smoot, S., & Scrivner, E. (2012) Police Leadership Challenges in a Changing World. In, New Perspectives in Policing. Harvard Kennedy School/NIH, July 2012.
Serious games are quite the rage today. While I’m not talking about the games you will find on Xbox or gaming sites on the Internet, I am talking about a card game, but a serious one. Serious games are training games. They are being used today to teach everything from cooking skills for restaurant employees to consumer service skills. They are set up as a game. Participants often compete with each other. There are specific rules and timeframes in which things have to be completed. We have developed a game called “Bounce Back.” It is a card game we initially developed in a hard-copy form and have used it on a number of our trainings. Participants are dealt a card which has a challenge, a difficult situation that they must respond to. Participants have a set amount of time to respond to the challenge, and their responses are scored based on the number of skills and attitudes of resilience that they can apply to managing the challenge presented. Participants can play by themselves or with others. When participants play each other, the game encourages cooperation and compromise between players. (What a novel idea! Maybe we should send copies of this game to Congress and require that Democrats play Republicans.) In the next few months, we hope to develop an electronic version of the game that can be played off our website and can be downloaded. Here are some examples of challenge questions that are part of a subdeck of questions related to the challenges that employees and employers face. 1. You are repeatedly missing activities that your children are involved in, such as Little League games and dance recitals, because you are working long hours. You spend much of your time apologizing and trying to explain why you’re not able to leave the office earlier. What will you do? 2. You’ve never gotten along with one of your co-workers. Your job has changed recently and now you must work with this person each day. What will you do? And here’s a question from the not-so-likely, just-for-fun subdeck: You are barricaded in your house. There is total chaos outside. You had the good fortune of having prepared for such an emergency by stocking up on food and water. A supporter of the Second Amendment, you are armed to the hilt. A marauding band is approaching your home. You recognize some of them. They were liberal Democrats before they became flesh-eating zombies. What do you do? Hey, I said it was a game, didn’t I? We’ll be talking more about development of the Bounce Back serious game in future posts. by Ron Breazeale
In the last two blogs I have talked about the importance of self-awareness as a prerequisite for being able to practice and apply the skills and the attitudes of resilience. If you don’t know where you’re starting from, it’s difficult to know where you’re going. And the skills and the attitudes that we have been talking about in this blog require practice in order for you to be able to apply them when you need them. Just like using the techniques of self-regulation, such as deep breathing or visualization, you need to have these well practiced before you need to apply them. In the middle of a crisis, it’s a little late to decide that you really need to work on being able to calm yourself down. Storytelling is one of the techniques that we use in teaching the attitudes and skills of resilience. Reading and listening to the stories that others tell as well as telling your own story could increase your understanding of these skills and attitudes and your ability to apply them. Storytelling has been around since the first human beings sat down around a campfire and talked about their lives. These first training sessions on resilience occurred thousands of years ago. From campfires to fireplaces to pot-bellied stoves to water coolers, we continue to tell stories about resilience. In most recent times, we have written these down in the form of novels and biographies and even more recently recorded them on tape and even more recently on the Internet. We have used a novel that I wrote a number of years ago, Reaching Home, as one of our primary tools in teaching the skills and the attitudes of resilience. A novel, I would argue, for the following reasons is one of the best ways to teach these attitudes and skills, since the average person requires 12 to 14 hours of time to read a novel. This time is often spent over weeks or months and is done frequently in the late evening before falling asleep. The activity is usually seen as enjoyable with the reader often identifying with one or more of the characters in the story. If you’re interested in learning more about how we have used the Reaching Home novel and other novels in our trainings, go to: www.reachinghome.com. Writing about difficult things that have occurred in our lives may often be helpful. Research by a psychologist named James Pennebaker and by others has found that writing about difficult things may actually improve our health. In a series of studies, one group of individuals was asked to write down their deepest thoughts and feelings about a traumatic event they had experienced. The other group wrote about ordinary matters, such as their plans for the day or for a vacation. Both groups wrote for 15 to 20 minutes a day for 3 to 5 consecutive days. Participants were told that no one would be collecting the stories that they wrote and that they could share or not share these stories with others. The results were surprising. When compared with the people who wrote about ordinary events, the ones who wrote about their traumatic experiences reported fewer physical symptoms, fewer visits to the doctor, fewer days off from work, improved mood and a more positive outlook. Their immune function seemed to be enhanced for at least 6 weeks after the writing exercise. These studies support the concept that writing about difficult situations that we have experienced may help us to understand and deal with the traumatic event. It may give us a sense of relief and control. Confiding our feelings in others and talking about what we have written may have a similar benefit. We use the novel, Reaching Home, in our trainings. We ask participations to read through the sections of the story and then to take time to answer specific questions about how characters in the novel have been applying or not applying the skills and the attitudes of resilience. We also ask participants to look at how they might or might not deal with the situations that the characters are encountering For more information about the training that we provide and how we make use of storytelling and the novel, Reaching Home, go to www.reachinghome.com. You can buy a copy of “Duct Tape Isn’t Enough,” which is our training program, through our website (www.reachinghome.com) or through Amazon. In the next blog post, we will be talking about a “serious” game that we have developed to help people practice applying the skills and the attitudes of resilience. by Ron Breazeale
As we discussed in the last blog post, it is easy to review the skills and the attitudes of resilience and to agree with their importance. And because we may understand at least on an intellectual level what these skills and attitudes are, we may believe that we will be able to apply them to the challenges that we face in our lives each day. But like any skill, they require practice and self-awareness. In the last blog post, I posed a number of questions related to what you may have learned in managing stressful events in your past. I asked you not to just think about them, but to actually write in black and white your answers to the questions. Writing things down often helps us to organize and think about things in a different way. It is different than simply talking about or thinking about them. Here are a few more questions. 1. Who have been the role models in your life for dealing with adversity? What did you learn from them? We all have both good and bad role models. Sometimes we learn patterns and ways of dealing with things which aren’t extremely helpful or effective. If you grew up in a family where no one talked about anything, especially feelings, you have probably learned to do the same. Unfortunately, in terms of resilience, this is often not very helpful. 2. How have I helped others through hard times? Did helping them help me? How? 3. Have I thrown myself into work or other activities as a way of coping with hard times? Was this helpful? What was the upside and what was the downside? 4. What have I learned about myself and about others from managing difficult situations? 5. During hard times, was I able to use my head? Was I able to think clearly and problem solve in a crisis? Did the ability to think help me to manage my feelings, specifically the fear and the anger that may come up in a time of crisis? 6. How did adverse events in my life change my way of thinking about myself and about the world I live in? Am I a stronger person for having gone through a life crisis? How? Hopefully we learn from hard times. Over the last few years, the concept of post-traumatic growth has gained increasing acceptance. Researchers are finding that there is some truth to the old adage, “If it doesn’t kill you, it may make you stronger.” For more information about post-traumatic growth, go to: www.apahelpcenter.org. So review your answers to these questions. This exercise has been for you. No one needs see what you have written unless you wish to share it with them. Having a friend or a family member read and discuss with you what you have written my be helpful. You decide. by Ron Breazeale
Those of you who have been following this blog over the last few years understand the concept of resilience and may be able to list off a number of the skills and attitudes. My question to you would be: Have you been practicing and applying these skills? It’s easy to say, “Oh, yes. I understand that flexibility is important” and “I’m sure I’m a good communicator.” Or, “Sure, I understand that dealing with my feelings is important, and I try to.” But how do you know? But how do you manage your feelings? I would encourage you to spend some time looking at yourself and learning from your past. Awareness of what you have learned from past experiences in your life and from the role models in your life is critical to being able to practice and apply the skills and attitudes of resilience. You may want to take some time to review and answer the questions that follow. This is one of the exercises that we use in the workshops that we conduct on resilience. In exploring your past, ask yourself the following questions and write down the answers. Seeing things in black and white is different from simply thinking about them or even talking about them. No one will need to see what you have written down, unless you wish to share it with them. Having a friend or a family member read and discuss with you what you have written may be helpful. You decide. 1. What events have I experienced in my life that have been extremely stressful for me? A natural disaster, like a tornado or a hurricane; a personal disaster, such as the death of a spouse or a child; a house fire, divorce, bankruptcy, job loss, illness, disability? 2. How have I managed these events in my life? How did I deal with my feelings? Did I avoid talking about what was happening? Did I allow myself to discharge the feelings about the event? Did I think about significant others in my life and how they had or would deal with a similar crisis? 3. Did I ask others for help or did I go it alone? How did going it alone work out? If you asked for help, who helped you through these hard times? Take some time and review your answers. What have you learned about yourself by doing this that would help you to be more resilient and better able to manage adversity in your life? In the next blog post, I will give you some more questions to work on and think about. by Ron Breazeale
Freaks is an MGM film released in 1932 and directed by Todd Browning. Browning is better known for having directed Dracula. Freaks is not a horror film, but a sensitive and insightful portrayal of the lives of the human beings that were the main attractions at the circus freak shows of the 19th and 20th centuries. What is wonderful about this movie is that it portrays these people as people. They were a community. They fell in and out of love. They got married. They had families. They had friends and they had enemies. They were different in many ways, but they were human beings. The film was released over 80 years ago. At first, it was a box office failure. MGM, for a period of time, disowned it. But in more recent years, it has been recognized for the extraordinary film that it was. Much has changed in 80 years, and much has not. As I have said in previous blogs, persons with a disability or a physical or emotional difference know more about resilience than most people, since they must, in order to survive in our society. The characters in Freaks demonstrate many of these skills and attitudes of resilience. They connect with others, they communicate well with others sometimes verbally and sometimes not. They are amazingly good at problem solving, e.g., the man with no legs walks on his hands and wears gloves, the woman with no arms eats with her feet. They portray self-confidence and a sense of purpose. They take care of each other and help each other deal with the strong feelings that come up when they are not treated well or are bullied by “big people.” Unfortunately, the skills and attitudes that they portray so well in the film are still the ones that are required of persons who are different in order to survive in our society, a society that, in general, still favors homogeneity over diversity. by Ron Breazeale
The events that unfolded in the City of Boston in the week of April 14, 2013, beginning with the Patriots Day bombings are one of the best and most recent illustration of the skills and attitudes of resilience. In the face of adversity, the citizens of Boston pulled together. They supported each other. While the city was shut down by the authorities as they searched for the perpetrators of the bombings, most people demonstrated flexibility and problem solving. They found other ways to get home, to care for themselves and their families, to manage their work, etc. And they communicated with each other about what was happening. Social media was a major part of this. Yes, social media may have been misused by some to spread rumors or make false accusations against innocent people, but overall the citizens of Boston assisted public safety personnel through social media in taking care of their fellow citizens, both physically and emotionally. Law enforcement and public safety personnel demonstrated all of the above and more. They came together and worked closely together, which is a difficult task, when an event occurs like this, where close cooperation between federal, state and local law enforcement is required. Oh, yes, there were problems at times in terms of knowing who was in charge, and there were problems with communication at times. But overall, the departments and agencies involved seemed to work well with each other. Now comes the hard part. The aftermath of what has happened. This is the time when we need to be able to deal with all of those feelings that we may have set aside in order to get through the week of April 14. This is especially true for first responders and public safety. And all of us have to begin to figure out what meaning all of this has to us and how it relates to our lives as we go forward. Hopefully, we will not allow these events to dampen our confidence in ourselves and our society’s ability to deal with adversity. We can choose how we look at the events in Boston. We can take a pessimistic view or an optimistic one. The latter would say that the week has passed. It has affected many in a deeply negative way. But the impact of these events for most of us can be temporary and specific, not permanent and pervasive, and those responsible can be held accountable for their actions without being demonized or written off as insane. And perhaps most important, we now need to get back to the business of taking care of ourselves. First responders and healthcare professionals are often major offenders in this area. We often assume that the rules do not apply to us, but they do. by Ron Breazeale
All relationships, if they are to be sustained and if we are to keep the connection, require resilience. In the previous blog we talked about the importance of communicating effectively, being willing to be flexible and to compromise, being an effective problem solver and not allowing our feelings to cloud our thinking. Some of the other skills and attitudes of resilience that are critical to maintaining a positive connection with those closest to us is our ability to take care of ourselves as well as to support or help our partner. This requires balance. Relationships are an exchange. They need to work for both partners. In general, relationships that are out of balance do not work that well for either partner. One of the things that helps relationships to stay in balance is a shared sense of purpose and direction. This usually means that the partners share similar values. There needs to be a match on such things as children, material possessions, etc. It also helps if two people share a similar outlook on life. It doesn’t have to be identical. Both partners don’t have to be optimists. Indeed, opposites do attract. But how you manage these differences will be critical to whether the relationship survives and flourishes or whether it ends in divorce court. And last of all, relationships with those closest to us are certainly easier if we have a sense of humor and if we can laugh at ourselves. Relationships with those closest to us can be a major source of fulfillment and satisfaction in our lives or they can become exceedingly stressful and aversive. Whether the relationship is resilient and survives the challenges that we will face or whether it will end will be determined in large part by our ability to apply the skills and the attitudes of resilience. by Ron Breazeale
Monday, May 6, 2013
Sometimes the face of adversity can be the face of your partner or spouse. For many, after a long day at work, coming home can be aversive. Not just because of the chores that we must do before the day is over or other problems we must confront, but because the relationship we have with those closest to us is aversive. Relationships with those closest to us require the skills and the attitudes of resilience. Most of us learn this very quickly after we choose a life partner. Communication and acceptance are the keys. We’re not going to be able to work out the problems that we may have with our partner unless we talk with them. And we’re not going to be able to change them. Relationships with those closest to us require flexibility. Having to have it our way in the long run is usually not going to work. Compromise is required. Relationships with those closest to us also demand that we develop our problem-solving skills. All relationships have problems. Most of those problems can be solved, if you’re willing to manage the strong feelings that come up in the process. If we’re able to do this, we can think more clearly about the problems that we are confronting and make better decisions and create better solutions. Unfortunately, those closest to us can create the strongest feelings, both positive and negative. Instead of finding ways to express and discharge the feelings that we have, very often we will sit on them or act them out in ways that are destructive to the relationship. Feelings of anger and jealousy can blind us to being able to see clearly and can motivate us to say and do things that we will later regret. Our connection to others is what makes our lives rich and rewarding. But keeping that connection a positive one, rather than allowing it to become an aversive one, requires that we communicate well with our partner, that we are flexible and willing to compromise, and that we develop our problem-solving skills and manage the strong feelings that come up in the relationship. If our relationships with those closest to us are to be resilient, we must be resilient. We will talk more about this in the next blog. Ron Breazeale
Guest blogger: Rita Schiano Fear is a distressing negative emotion brought on by a perceived threat. It is a basic survival mechanism that triggers the 'fight or flight' response, that jewel of a primordial response mechanism that helps safeguard our survival. Our fears, however, can often take on a life of their own and stop us dead in our tracks. While there is a distinction between fear and anxiety, for many people it is merely a matter of semantics. For example, I will say I have a fear of water when, in fact, what I experience is anxiety about being in the water. If I truly feared water, I would not shower, drink it, cook with it, or enjoy a refreshing walk when it sprinkles on a hot summer day. Standing on a dock or in water that is more than roughly six inches deep is a whole other matter. Fear is a natural reaction of the fight-or-flight response that is triggered by danger. Once the danger passes, so does the fear response. The body calms down and returns to normal state of balance. However, as we have evolved and the dangers to our survival have morphed, bypassing our rational mind, the fight-or-flight response is more accurately a biological and psychological change that occurs in the body when a danger is perceived. Standing on a dock is not a threat to my physical survival. The thought of falling off the dock and into the water creates anxiety, trapping panicky thoughts. The voice of fear paints scenarios of disaster that seem believable. And panicky thoughts can quickly become obsessive. As anxiety takes hold, it becomes more difficult to make rational decisions and the voice of fear becomes more believable. Rationality is bypassed; what you believe is what matters. And most of the time, what we fear, what we worry about, never materializes. Jerilyn Ross, president of the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA) remarked that anxiety disorders “ . . . all involve irrational, seemingly uncontrollable and frightening thoughts, which often results in avoidance behavior. And in all cases, the person with the disorder is fully aware that their behavior is irrational. . . . What’s more, in most cases the disorder impairs the person’s normal functioning.” Be mindful of your anxious thoughts. When anxiety or the act of worrying becomes excessive and all consuming, it may be time to talk with your primary care physician. Bio: Rita Schiano is an author, keynote speaker, and founder of Live A Flourishing Life™, offering programs help people develop and tap into the skills and attitudes necessary for them to overcome personal and professional barriers, build resilience, and live a better life. An adjunct professor, Ms. Schiano teaches philosophy, leadership, and stress management courses. Her books include Live A Flourishing Life, a stress management and resilience-building process book, the critically-acclaimed novel Painting The Invisible Man, and the soon to be released, The Path To Flourishing. Visit her online at www.ritaschiano.com.
A recent survey by the American Psychological Association found that one-third of American workers experience chronic work stress with low salaries, lack of opportunity for advancement and heavy workloads topping the list of contributing factors. Making things even worse, less than half of working Americans reported that they receive adequate monetary compensation or recognition for their contributions on the job. Only 43% said that recognition is based on fair and useful performance evaluations. Less than half said that their employers on a regular basis sought input from them on how to improve the work environment or do the job more effectively. Even fewer, 37%, felt that their organizations make changes based on their feedback. In APA’s most recent Stress in America survey, 65% of adults cited work as a significant source of stress. The survey pointed out that women still face disparities at work. Despite many advances in the workplace, the office still doesn’t feel like a level playing field for many women who reported feeling less valued than men. Less than half of employed women said they receive adequate monetary compensation for their work. Finding a bright side in this survey data is difficult. One of the authors of the survey, Dr. David Ballard, Psy.D., MBA, head of APA’s Center for Organizational Excellence, pointed out that “When employers acknowledge that employees have responsibilities and lives outside of work, they can take steps to promote a good work-life fit and help individuals better manage these multiple demands... Forward thinking organizations are reevaluating work practices, providing employees with resources that support wellbeing and performance and applying new technologies that help shift work from somewhere we go from 9 to 5, to something we do that is meaningful and creates value.” The American Psychological Association recently presented its eighth Psychological Healthy Workplace Awards in Washington, DC. For full details about the awards and the survey go to: APA Center for Organizational Excellence which can be found on the American Psychological Association website. The Center offers other resources for employers, such as the Good Company Newsletter and webcast and online courses for Human Resource professionals. To contact the Center online, http://www.apaexcellence.org/media. Ron Breazeale
Guest Blogger: Dr. Bill Conklin The fragile woman stood trembling before her classmates. Coaxed by her small group leader, Denny needed encouragement to stand up front. Having attended four sessions of the A.P.T. – Automatic Positive Thinking™ program she might have been expected to be more comfortable - but she wasn’t. The assignment was to create a self-portrait with finger-paints. Her voice trembling, Denny spoke. “This is me,” she said holding up a blank sheet of paper. “I’m invisible,” she choked out through her tears. The facilitators, small group leaders, and most of her classmates were stunned. What could be said now? While the rest remained frozen, her classmate, Sandy, made her way through the tables and approached Denny who was now weeping silently. Sandy took a finger-full of red paint and drew a heart on Denny’s paper. When she finished, Sandy looked Denny in the eye and said, “I see you.” Denny began to sob. Thawed by Sandy’s wisdom and compassion, her classmates proceeded to the front and filled Denny’s page with all manner of vibrant colors and positive images. Denny smiled through her tears, repeating “Thank you, thank you” to those who helped in this endeavor. A few months later, Denny became a small group leader. She was a new person - joking and providing input without hesitation. Her transition was remarkable. She began to advocate for others within her community. She even helped open and run a thrift store for the homeless. The impetus for Denny’s transformation was the A.P.T. program. So what is A.P.T.? A.P.T. was created and developed by Valerie Tucker. A pastor’s wife and mental health worker, Valerie gained hard-won knowledge through her own experiences. With the help of mentors along the way, Valerie built this positive psychological group intervention. For the past 15 years, A.P.T. has helped impoverished people from the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains overcome self-limiting thinking and behavior. The focus is on improving the participant’s mindset and changing outcomes for the better. The program has undergone the scrutiny of academic research. In three separate studies, Dr. Debora Baldwin (University of Tennessee) found that A.P.T. participants showed clinically significant improvement in satisfaction with life, optimism, hope, perceived self-efficacy, and self-esteem. Dr. Baldwin also discovered that the intervention decreased perceived stress and lowered resting heart rate (a physiological variable associated with reduced stress). The resolution of cognitive fallacies and the provision of robust interpersonal support seem to be the strengths of the program. It’s been two years now since Denny stood before classmates. In that time, she left an abusive husband and moved to another town. Denny lives alone now, but she is far from lonely. She is rebuilding her life with new friends and a new ambition. She is pursuing a Master’s Degree in Special Education. She hopes to embolden others to pursue their dreams regardless of their limitations. Denny is visible – and seeing her will make a huge difference for years to come. Dr. Bill Conklin is a psychologist practicing in East Tennessee. Bill has applied the principles of positive psychology since the late 1990s. He has coordinated the development of A.P.T. - Automatic Positive Thinking™ a group positive psychological intervention. For information: www.automaticpositivethinking.com
Guest Blogger: Talya Steinberg, Psy.D For children in particular, traumatic events can be very hard to understand. Memories related to frightening, unfamiliar experiences are often confusing not only because a child’s cognitive and language development is limited, but also because intense emotions and fear affect how experiences are processed and stored into memory. Therefore, reactions to trauma are often different for children than for adults, and children tend to show their distress through repetitive play, vague nightmares, or reenactment of the specific event (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). Reminders of the event can be positive or negative, triggering the grieving response unexpectedly. Evidenced-based treatments, which are based on supportive research, are often helpful for addressing trauma symptoms in children. Robin Goodman, PhD, who runs the bereavement program at and is executive director of A Caring Hand, The Billy Esposito Foundation, in New York City, uses a method called trauma-focused cognitive behavior therapy, which was originally developed by Judith A. Cohen, MD, Esther Deblinger, PhD, and Anthony P. Mannarino, PhD. With this method children create a trauma narrative, or story, which helps the child process and make sense of the incident, alter cognitive distortions such as excessive guilt, and address life transitions and new meaning. The concept of gaining in new meaning, or benefiting in some way from personal experiences with trauma, is called post-traumatic growth.” Helping children to develop “post-traumatic growth,” in addition to coping with the aftermath of traumatic events and loss, can make a huge difference in their future lives. University of North Carolina at Charlotte psychologists Richard G. Tedeschi, PhD, and Lawrence G. Calhoun, PhD, who coined the term “post-traumatic growth” believe that trauma can help individuals discover new possibilities, better ways of relating to others, new personal strengths, positive spiritual changes and a stronger appreciation of life. Adults can be instrumental for helping children develop “post-traumatic growth” by teaching resiliency skills, such as telling stories, using positive coping skills, seeking support, and helping others who may be hurting. First and foremost, it is important that parents take care of themselves and manage their own distress, as they are not only modeling for their children how to respond to trauma but also because their own distress can add to their child’s. Research shows that modeling a sense of psychological security, assuring love and protection, offering praise when their children make positive coping statements, and educating children may help reduce distress and foster “post-traumatic growth.” Of course, parents and caregivers must be able to use resiliency skills and seek their own support in order to be effective in this manner. More and more, we are learning the importance of communicating with their children about traumatic events. Furthermore, we are seeking to better understand the ways in which traumatic experiences can fuel positive growth and increase resilience. Bio: Dr. Talya Steinberg received her doctorate in Clinical Psychology in 2011 and is completing her postdoctoral training in Portland, Maine. She endorses positive psychology principles and teaches resiliency skills with Dr. Breazeale. References: American Psychiatric Association (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (Revised 4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author. DeAngelis, T. (2011). Helping kids cope in an uncertain world, American Psychiatric Association Vol 42, 8. http://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/09/kids-cope.aspx
Guest Blogger: Dr. Bill Conklin The heart has long been considered the seat of emotion. Several familiar expressions prove it. When faced with an interpersonal loss, it is said that someone is “broken hearted.” When a person is overly-emotional we say that he “wears his heart on his sleeve.” When someone is overjoyed, she might say that her “heart is about to burst.” Yet, over the past century, science has taught us that the brain is the true home of our feelings. Advances in the field neuroscience have revealed fascinating details about the workings of the brain. Over the centuries, the 100 billion neuron mass of tissue in our skull has evolved. For descriptive purposes the brain can be divided into different areas based on function. Two basic divisions are the lower brain (also known as the reptilian brain) and the upper brain (known as the mammalian brain). The mammalian brain – as the name suggests – is present in mammals but to a proportionally greater degree in humans. As the human species has developed, so too has the mammalian brain. Another name for this area of the brain is the neo cortex. The neo cortex is itself divided into sections. These areas have come to be called the “lobes” of the brain. There are four large lobes: the frontal, the parietal, the temporal, and occipital lobes. The frontal lobes are used most in higher level thinking. The parietal lobes are used mostly in movement. The temporal lobes are involved in hearing and speech. And the occipital lobes are involved in sight. The reptilian brain contains several structures comprising the limbic system. Thirty years ago brain scientists believed that this area of the brain was exclusively dedicated to the processing of emotions. Yet now we know that the limbic system has intricate connections with the frontal lobes. The work of Dr. Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin has been particularly valuable not only in the traditional field of neuropsychology but also in the new field of positive psychology. In his book The Emotional Life of Your Brain (2012), Davidson describes the biochemical interaction between the limbic system and the frontal lobes. To simplify his findings, the frontal lobes are involved in both higher level thought and emotion. This fact suggests that our thinking affects the way we feel and vice versa. The implication is that we can use our thoughts to change our feelings in a very important way – that is toward happiness. For me, this is the essence of positive psychology. The power of positive psychology lies within the process of intentionally using thought to change emotion. Through functional MRI (fMRI) technology, Davidson demonstrated that the left side of the frontal lobe – known as the left prefrontal cortex – is more active when people feel happy. In contrast the right side of the frontal lobe –the right prefrontal cortex - is more active when people feel sad. Thus, by learning what stimulates the left prefrontal cortex we can encourage or even train people to be happier. Similarly, by learning what calms the activity in the right prefrontal cortex we can discourage or train people to reduce sadness. Does this sound far-fetched? I’m guessing that it might. But consider the state of the art treatment for anxiety and depression. Research has proven time and again that cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective intervention for treating anxiety and depression. Simply put, what CBT tells us is that we can change the way we think through repeated exposures to thinking healthy thoughts, avoidance of unhealthy thoughts, and engagement in healthy behaviors. Doing these things strengthens the left prefrontal cortex – the feel good center of the brain. Davidson tells us that other things can facilitate the activity of this positive neural network. Meditation (especially mindfulness meditation) can both strengthen the activity of the left prefrontal cortex and reduce the activity in the right prefrontal cortex. Both fun and social interaction impact the function of the brain. Enjoying pleasurable activities, doing something that seems to make time stand still, spending time with loved ones, pursuing meaning in its many forms, and celebrating accomplishments stimulate the activity in your left prefrontal cortex. Finally, physical exercise can strengthen the feel good centers of the brain including those in both the mammalian and reptilian brain. In particular, exercising in new and different ways has been found to stimulate the release of natural feel-good chemicals (neurotransmitters). By doing any or all of these activities, you are literally changing the way your brain works – and by doing that you can change your life for the better - not just for today, but for years to come. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Dr. Bill Conklin is a psychologist practicing in East Tennessee. Bill has applied the principles of positive psychology since the late 1990s. He has coordinated the development of A.P.T. - Automatic Positive Thinking™ a group positive psychological intervention. For information: www.automaticpositivethinking.com
In the last couple of weeks, the temperature has seldom gotten above freezing. The other morning, when I struggled out to my car to head for work, the temperature was at a balmy -2°. Northern Maine was having even a colder time. Temperatures at night had dropped to 25 degrees below zero. Add to that the wind and the wind chill, the temperature could be as low as 45 below. It was the usual advice about dressing in layers and limiting the amount of time outside and being sure to cover all skin. The basic advice was to stay inside, that hibernation on such a day seemed like not a bad idea. But even if you must stay inside on these cold, gray days, it would be a good idea to stay in touch with others. Social media and the phone give us an opportunity to do just that. To stay connected. It is tempting to isolate, but not a good idea. If you have a cold or the flu, you will find that the advice is often the same. Stay home and avoid contact with others. A good idea for not spreading the flu or infecting others, but a bad idea if you’re not feeling well. Again, social media and the phone may come to the rescue. But it may take more effort to do that text or to make that phone call, especially if you’re coughing your head off. And, of course, you do need rest and fluids, but make the effort to be in touch with other people. Feeling lousy and (not?) being with others can start us down the road to feeling pretty depressed. Again, use the tools that you have to stay in touch, to communicate, to stay connected. And in addition to chicken soup, there are other things that may help you feel better. You might just want to close those weary eyes for a few minutes and visualize yourself being in a nice, warm, comfortable environment a long way away from the cold and the snow. Such fantasy can be helpful on a gray, wintery day. And be optimistic. This, too, will pass. Spring will come, and you will recover from your flu or the cold most likely, although I am sure there are days when you’re not certain of this. Keep things in perspective. Having the flu doesn’t have to ruin everything. It’s only a cold. Using positive self-talk to keep things in perspective is a good idea. Last of all, don’t blame yourself or anyone else. Sure, maybe next year you need to get the flu shot and maybe you need to be more careful about washing your hands, etc., etc. And don’t blame the weatherman. He or she has absolutely nothing to do with it. They’re just the bearers of bad news. So stay connected, complain about how bad you feel, be optimistic, get some rest and fantasize about a warmer place, and keep drinking those fluids. Ron Breazeale
An old friend of mine, Dr. Glen Robinson, recently (2012) published a small book, How to Stay Depressed or Kiss It Good-bye Through New Discoveries. The book includes what he refers to as “Seven secrets you absolutely must know to beat depression.” Dr. Robinson and I both began our careers in psychology in the 1970s. He, like myself, has been doing psychotherapy for over 30 years. As Dr. Robinson points out in the Introduction, over 16 million new cases of depression are diagnosed in the United States each year. Eight to 10% of all women and 4-5% of all men will experience at least one major depressive episode in their lives. The incident of depression increases with age. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 27 million Americans took medications for depression in 2010. Millions of others sought relief through psychotherapy, counseling and alternative approaches. All treatments, including medication, take time and rarely produce quick results. Glen’s book is well written and to the point. As he points out, depression can wear many masks, and the symptoms vary widely. Dr. Robinson spends considerable time focusing on what is now considered to be the most effective approach in treating depression, Cognitive Behavioral Psychotherapy. This treatment requires time, energy and commitment. Unfortunately, many never seek treatment for depression, a very treatable condition, because of the social stigma and fear that still surrounds admitting that you are depressed and seeking professional help. Dr. Robinson’s book is available from Amazon or the publisher, Dog Ear Publishing, www.dogearpublishing.net. As Glen points out, the book is filled witha doctor’s bag of tricks and treatments for depression as well as the latest scientific breakthroughs.
Pleasant thoughts of food, family and holiday decorations can be a source of joy for many people. They can also be a source of stress. Holidays are a time when we look back and remember. Memories of past holidays can bring up a mix of feelings. These memories may bring up a longing for the way things were, feeling that things are just not as good this year as they have been in past years. We may miss those who have died and are no longer with you during the holiday season. We may miss our children who are now living on the other coast, or we may find ourselves missing a brother or a sister or a friend that we seldom see or talk with, or even a spouse that we divorced many years before. The holidays can be an opportunity to reconnect with people that we miss, that we haven’t seen in a while, as well as make new connections. It can be an opportunity to reconnect with those we have been estranged from and in conflict with. It is a time to put old hurts in the past. To let bygones be bygones. Take the opportunities that the holidays present to be with others. To talk with others about how things were and are. About the people in your life that you miss and are no longer with. Call, write, use social media to reconnect. To make amends. Take time for yourself to heal. Churches often have Blue Christmas services during the holiday season for those who are grieving a loss. A parent. A spouse. A child. One’s health. One’s job. But if you continue to feel overwhelmed by sadness or grief, consider talking with a professional, such as a psychologist, to help you find ways of coping with and managing your stress. The holidays offer many opportunities to celebrate life, to heal old wounds, and to act on your values and beliefs. Take advantage of these opportunities. Ron Breazeale
Guest blogger: Rita Schiano A few days ago, I received an e-mail from Rena Hannaford, CEO of KidsTerrain, Inc., asking me to write a blog for their web site pertaining to the senseless killing of 20 innocent children and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday, December 14. It took me a few days to begin that assignment for I was simply too numb. But when I awoke this morning, the numbness had turned to a churning within my soul. I’ve written far too many blogs precipitated by horrific acts similar to this tragedy. And while I find myself asking once again, when will this madness cease, I know there is no end date . . . and, sadly, there will continue to be more incomprehensible violence and more senseless deaths. During the vigil on Sunday, President Barack Obama said, “We’ve endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years. . . . And we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.” While I am heartened by President Obama’s words, the reality is that we are steeped in a culture of violence, with far too many guns in the hands of those who pervert our Second Amendment right to bear arms. So, let’s do a reality check. When our Constitution was written, “arms” meant muskets. Our Founding Fathers had no way of foreseeing that arms would one day mean a high-powered, semiautomatic Bushmaster rifle, the weapon used in Sandy Hook and also used by the D.C. snipers John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, who in 2002, killed 10 people and critically wounded three. Our Founding Fathers had no way of foreseeing that arms would mean a semiautomatic Glock 9mm handgun, the weapon found in Sandy Hook, and the type of weapon used in the 2011 shooting at a shopping center in Arizona that killed six people and wounded then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 12 others, and in the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech where 32 people were killed and 17 wounded, or a .40-caliber Glock used by the gunman in the Colorado movie theater in July, where 12 people were killed and dozens more were wounded. Our Founding Fathers had no way of foreseeing that arms would mean a 9mm SIG Sauer pistol, the weapon found in Sandy Hook, and the type of weapon used in the Standard Gravure shooting that left eight people dead and 12 wounded; or the 9 mm semiautomatic handgun with multiple ammunition magazines used to kill six people and wound three at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin, and in the execution-style massacre at the Amish school in Pennsylvania. The list of disturbing examples is far too long and far too sickening to my stomach to continue. So what can be done? What “meaningful action” does the President have in mind? As Pierre Thomas said, “The genie is out of the bottle.” “Meaningful action” must be multi-fold. We, as citizens, must raise our voices and demand by our votes a federal a ban on assault weapons. We, as citizens, must raise our voices demand by our votes that legislators turn their backs on gun lobbyists and turn and face instead those they represent with a commitment to safety; we, as a society, need to address the gaps in the treatment of mental health in this country; and we, as human beings, need to question our ethics when it comes to accepting as normal the brazen violence in our movies, in our videos games, and in our music. Meaningful action . . . . Let us as a nation resolve in the New Year to define what the meaningful action will be, devise an actionable plan, and commit to not giving up on this goal until a safer America is a reality. Endnote: I want to thank Dr. Ron Breazeale and Rena Hannaford of KidsTerrain, Inc. for the opportunity to share these thoughts with you. Bio: Rita Schiano is an author, keynote speaker, and founder of Live A Flourishing Life™, offering programs help people develop and tap into the skills and attitudes necessary for them to overcome personal and professional barriers, build resilience, and live a better life. Ms Schiano is also an adjunct professor and teaches philosophy, leadership, and stress management courses. Her books include Live A Flourishing Life, a stress management and resilience-building process book, the critically-acclaimed novel Painting The Invisible Man, and the soon to be released, The Path To Flourishing. Visit her online at www.ritaschiano.com.
Guest blooger: Dr. Bill Conklin Another holiday season is upon us and in the spirit of starting anew, I’d like to make a confession. I hate Christmas lights! To be clear, I think the numerous colorful, creative displays are beautiful. Seeing the light reflected in the joyous faces of my children warms my heart. But, hanging the colorful baubles is something I dread. The mere thought of dragging out the gnarled mess of breakable beauties, disentangling them, checking to see if they’re still working, climbing the rickety ladder and draping the electronic decorations across the front of the abode induces stress from around Halloween until after New Years. Invariably, a strand that worked perfectly well on the ground refuses to work on the side of the house. So, there’s another trip up the ladder, extended detective work to disclose the culprit and replace that bulb from a previously uncooperative replacement strand. Last year, I made the mistake of mixing new strands with old and repeatedly burned out a fuse on the newest strand. That was excruciatingly frustrating, but somehow I mustered the wherewithal to avoid a verbal outburst (and further embarrassment) in front of my amused neighbors. By the way, my deepest gratitude for the local big box store for your generous exchange policy. You saved me more than money. In 2010, a windy December storm took down a portion of the lights on the west end of the house. Risking life and limb by climbing the heights to the second story once was taxing enough. Given the anticipation of another climb in January, I resigned to Mother Nature and her cascade of lights. Perhaps they were no longer symmetrical, but they were lovely just the same. In some ways, we were lucky in 2011. Temperatures were mild helping prevent frozen hands from sticking to the chilly metal gutters. Admittedly, the homes in many neighborhoods are beautifully adorned. Even displays on the gaudy side bring smiles and reminders of family, friends, and the spirit of the season. But is this really worth the hassle and the risk? Okay, don’t tell my spouse, but the answer is “yes.” I hang these things with shaky legs from a rickety ladder because she loves them. Undeniably better natured than I, she shines brighter than the house when she sees those silly, temperamental lights dangling from their hooks. It’s as if I built the house, discovered electricity, and invented the light bulb when she looks me directly in the face says “Thank you, Honey.” I’m not particularly bright when it comes to romance, but I think this wins some pretty big points. In fact, doing something I dread to please my spouse makes the task not quite so dreadful at all. This small sacrifice is really an opportunity to show her that I value her. Think about it, is there a better way to show someone how important they are than to do something for them that they know you hate? Does a gift mean more when it forces you to extend yourself? I think so. Consider it for a moment. Are you willing to stretch to let your partner know you love them? Doing so this season may be a gift that reaps serious dividends. Dr. Bill Conklin is a psychologist practicing in East Tennessee. Bill has applied the priniciples of positive psychology since the late 1990s. He has coordinated the development of A.P.T. - Automatic Positive Thinking™ a group positive psychological intervention. For information: www.automaticpositivethinking.com
Belle Harbor, like many of the communities on the East Coast, was devastated by Hurricane Sandy. In addition to the wind and the flooding, Belle Harbor also experienced one of the worst fires in its history. A gas leak during the storm ignited and fueled an explosion that destroyed a large segment of the community. But Belle Harbor will bounce back. It has bounced back before. It is not new to facing adversity. It lost ten of its residents on 911. Five of them were firefighters. In fact, a large percentage of the residents of Belle Harbor are current or retired firefighters or police. And two months after 911, a passenger plane crashed into Belle Harbor killing all of the passengers on the plane and destroying a number of homes as well as killing a number of the residents of Belle Harbor. Many of Belle Harbor’s residents consider themselves to be lucky that they are alive and that their homes may still be standing, even though damaged by flood waters and wind. The community is described by a number of residents as a 3-F community: family, friends and faith. Residents of Belle Harbor are connected. They see themselves as being responsible for one another and have demonstrated that repeatedly during the recent storm and its aftermath. They have faith, many in a benevolent God that will help them through this crisis, and they have faith in each other and themselves. Many are optimists. They believe that better days are ahead. Many in the midst of this disaster are practicing gratitude and being thankful for what they have and not focusing completely on what they have lost. Belle Harbor is just one example of resilience in the face of adversity. Stories of individual heroism and resilience abound in Belle Harbor, but they also abound in other communities that faced down Hurricane Sandy and are bouncing back. Dr. Ron Breazeale
(Guest Blogger Talya Steinberg, Psy.D) Acts of kindness are basic to every moral code and are probably so for a good reason. Recent research suggests that kindness may improve resiliency by promoting feelings of happiness and peace and supporting immunity. Cultivating happiness and peace is a key to resiliency because it bolsters one’s ability to stay grounded during difficult times. It also keeps the body healthy and helps ward off disease. Additionally, by improving interpersonal relationships, kindness can help build support systems so crucial during crises. Over the past several years the subject of kindness has been receiving increased attention in the scientific community. Numerous studies have shown that receiving, giving, or even witnessing acts of kindness increases immunity and the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood in the brain. A recent study at the University of British Columbia showed that even toddlers may show psychological benefits from giving. Researchers compared toddlers’ displays of happiness after giving their own Goldfish cracker or a Goldfish cracker handed to them by a researcher to a puppet and found that toddlers displayed greater happiness when they shared their own crackers than when they gave away a cracker provided by the researcher. These findings suggest that humans, as innately social beings, may even be biologically predisposed toward acts of kindness. Kindness may foster community and sharing of resources, which ensures resiliency and survival. Additionally, kindness may nourish one’s sense of purpose and meaning, and reduce tension accumulated through interpersonal conflict. To quote the Dalai Lama, “When we feel love and kindness toward others, it not only makes others feel loved and cared for, but it helps us also to develop inner happiness and peace.” Even just thinking and talking about kindness can improve happiness and peace. A number of years ago I attended a conference at the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies led by Martin Seligman, a central figure in Positive Psychology. One of the central tenants of his discussion was indeed kindness. I recall the surprisingly strong reaction of the audience when we shared our responses to a kindness exercise called “The perfect surprise.” The instructions were to write about what we would do to give the perfect surprise to someone important in our lives. What beautiful, healing scenarios were created that day! People shed tears, smiled, and glowed. It really showed how nourishing kindness for others can be for the human soul. And it also helped to create a sense of cohesion in the audience as people shared in that sense of warmth and peace. Here is a thoroughly noncomprehensive list of random kindness acts: Write about “The Perfects Surprise” you would do for someone special. Hold the door for a stranger. Send a random hello email or text to a family member or friend you hardly ever see. Give a compliment to someone at work or school. Make a handmade card. Bring donuts or bagels to work. Smile to everyone. Help an elder with his or her groceries. Wave to children at the park. Say “I love you” to everyone you love. Do a chore for someone who needs help. Donate Volunteer Listen to a friend. Keep in mind that kindness has an additive effect and it’s really the little things that add up. So no matter how big or how small, each act of kindness makes an impact for us all. Dr. Talya Steinberg received her doctorate in Clinical Psychology in 2011 and is completing her postdoctoral training in Portland, Maine. She endorses positive psychology principles and teaches resiliency skills with Dr. Breazeale.