Monday, May 6, 2013

Relationships With Those Closest To Us

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

Fear's Connection to Anxiety

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

Your Job

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, Ron Breazeale

The Power of "Automatic" Positive Thinking

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:

Post-Traumatic Growth in Children

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.

The Role of the Brain in Happiness

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:

Winter Cold

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

Stay Depressed or Kiss It Good-bye Through New Discoveries

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, 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.

Blue Christmas

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

The Time for Action is Upon Us

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

I Hate Christmas Lights

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:

Belle Harbor

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

Practicing Acts of Kindness

(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.