Archive for May, 2010


Have you ever looked back over the evolution of computers and thought, “Wow…. It’s crazy how far we’ve come!”  The first computers were these gigantic, gargantuan monsters and now we have the ipad touch, this tiny little notepad-like thing that sits in our lap as we manipulate the screen with the tips of our fingers.  The technology is pretty cool but I wonder, why don’t many of us have similar moments of awe when it comes to the most sophisticated “machine” ever – the human body.  (“Machine” is totally the wrong word, by the way, because the human body is so far beyond any machine as far as sophistication, intelligence, and infinite potential that the word doesn’t do it justice.)

I find that we are so often criticizing our bodies, or trying to fix our bodies, that we forget the magnificence of them.   Recently, I got this eye-opener of a book, Human Body: A Visual Guide by Beverly McMillan.   I highly recommend it because it offers a wonderful glimpse into the miracle of our bodies; the behind-the-scenes inner workings and intelligent systems that we take for granted because we do not consciously control them.  Systems such as our immune system, comprised partly of white blood cells that somehow have the intelligence to attack unwanted bacteria in our body with an arsenal of toxic chemicals as soon as they are alerted to it’s presence by the signal our body gives, namely inflammation.  I love this book because almost every page shows me a different miracle in my body.

I also find myself recently drawn to stories of amazing human feats such as the Buddhist monks who are able to regulate their body temperature so that they are warm in freezing cold weather, even though they are wearing next to nothing.  Or the Buddhist monks who can suspend their bodies in mid-air, with only the sharp points of four swords held by other Buddhist monks beneath them to rest their bodies on.  (That is an insane video to watch.)  Or Phillippe Pettit, the 24 year old Frenchman  who walked a high wire cable between the Twin Towers and lived to talk about it.  I think these stories of the seemingly impossible actually being possible remind me of the infinite potential of the human body; remind me that it can do so much more than we give it credit for.

All these reminders of the miracle of my body have helped me to take care of it in a different way.  It’s like thinking you’ve been driving a used, beat-up Ford Pinto only to realize it’s actually a Ferrari, or an Aston Martin, or a Lotus Esprit, or a Mercedes Benz, or whatever car you would most like to own.  Once you realized the truth about your car, you would start treating it differently right away.  You would never over-drive it, or under-drive it.  You would keep it clean, and shiny, you would want it presented well.  You would give it the best gas you could find.  You would give thanks for it every time you got into it, or looked at it, or parked it in your driveway for the night.

Once you wake up to the miracle of your body, it is much easier to take care of it.  Once  you realize it is actually a Jaguar, it’s an easier decision to make sure it gets enough sleep and rest.  It is an easier decision to make sure it gets enough physical activity – you will want to work it out, take it to a gym, run it, bike it, swim it, climb it, yoga it, weight lift it, stretch it.  You will want to present it well because you will take pride in it.  You will want to feed it the best food with the most nutritional value for optimal performance.  You will not talk bad about it, crash it, or be careless with it.  You will be grateful for it always.

Listening is an integral part of communication.  So often we tend to focus solely on trying to say what we feel we need to communicate that we forget about the other half of communication – listening.  There is within communication an inherent give and take.  Even when we are communicating with ourselves, we must also listen.

We are all aware of how important communication is to the health of a relationship, whether it is a marriage, a friendship, a parent/child, or a sibling relationship.  Good communication is as essential as trust and respect.   You must listen to your partner in the relationship in order for there to be successful communication between the two of you.  Here are 10 tips for effective listening:

1.    Focus
It is important to focus attentively on what the other person is saying.  Don’t start planning what you are going to say next as the other person speaks.  Don’t let yourself get distracted by your external environment or let your thoughts wander to what you are going to make for dinner that night.  Actively listen with intent to what is being said.
2.    Listen with an Open Mind
Try not to judge what is being said.  Keep your heart and mind open.  If you jump to conclusions or search for the right or wrong in what the other is saying, it will prevent you from really listening to what that person is saying to you.
3.    Be Respectful
Even if you disagree with another’s point of view, it is important to show respect for their opinion, as you would want respect shown for yours.
4.    Don’t Interrupt
Constant interruption is very frustrating to the speaker and can lead to a breakdown in communication.  Let the other person completely finish their thought before you respond.
5.    Don’t Rehearse
Don’t allow yourself to rehearse your response as the other is still talking.  Listen attentively and respond in the moment, naturally.  It’s ok to pause and gather your own thoughts once your partner has finished speaking.
6.    Use the Paraphrase Technique
Try to paraphrase / restate what your partner just said to you.  You could say something like, “So what I hear you saying is…”  This technique will help you focus and listen actively, as well as reassure your partner you are truly listening to him/her and help avoid miscommunication.  Sometimes the person speaking may be having a hard time getting across what they really want to say.  Paraphrasing or restating back to them will help them to know how effective their communication has been.
7.    Validate and Empathize
It is important to not only hear and understand what your partner is trying to communicate, but to also empathize with them and to validate them.  This takes the communication beyond the cognitive process of understanding to the emotional level of understanding, which is very important in relationships.  If, for instance, the shoe was on the other foot and you were the one trying to communicate your thoughts and feelings, I know you, too, would want empathy and validation.
8.    Pay Attention to the Non-Verbal Too
Try to be aware of the non-verbal communication happening in the interaction as well, both yours and the other person’s.  Non-verbal communication includes tone of voice, making eye contact or looking away, gestures such as nodding, shrugging the shoulders, crossing the arms, and facial expressions, and mannerisms such as tapping one’s fingers, or fiddling with one’s hair or clothing.  The non-verbal communication will give clues to the emotional state of the person behind the words spoken or listened to.  Your own non-verbal clues will give your partner an idea of whether or not you are listening to them and your reaction to what is being said.
9.    Avoid These Common Blocks To Effective Listening
Mind-reading, judging, day-dreaming, advising, rehearsing, mind-wandering, distraction by the environment (turn off the TV, for example), trying to be right or find wrong, filtering.
10.    Seek Help
If you and your partner are having a difficult time communicating in a healthy way, couples counseling can be very helpful in facilitating that communication.  A licensed, trained therapist with an outside perspective can offer great insight into where your communication breakdowns stem from, as well as teach you more effective communication techniques.  Alternatively, if you are experiencing difficulty communicating in general – if it pervades all areas of your life – then it would be helpful to seek psychotherapy, also called talk therapy.   Your therapist will offer the same to you individually as he/she would in a couples counseling setting.

Talk Therapy For Depression

An estimated 17.5 million Americans suffer from depression every year. This is no small number.  Depression is a serious disease.  It severely lessens the quality of one’s life – it takes the joy out of otherwise pleasurable activities, it lowers one’s energy, it lowers one’s immune system, making one prone to illness, and it can profoundly inhibit one’s ability to function in daily life.  Sometimes, depression can lead to suicide.  If you, or a loved one, are depressed, it is important that you seek help.

Talk therapy (AKA psychotherapy) is a key component in treating depression.  Many studies have shown that talk therapy can be as effective as medicine in treating moderate to severe depression.  While not all depressive cases can be treated effectively with psychotherapy alone (some may require the use of medication), it is important to seek talk therapy along with medication. After all, your medication won’t be able to help you develop good coping strategies for daily life, nor will it help  you discover the root of your depression.  Sometimes, a depressive case that requires medication at the onset of treatment may be able to cease the medication after time because of the effects of the talk therapy.

There are many different approaches to therapy.  There are therapy approaches that focus on your thoughts and your behavior such as cognitive therapy, behavioral therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy.  These tend to be short-term practical approaches.  Another practical approach is interpersonal therapy, the focus being on your relationships with other people, how they affect your depression and how you can change those relationships in a positive way.  There is also the more traditional psychodynamic therapy, based on psychoanalysis (think Freud) with additional social and interpersonal focus.  One might also opt for group therapy, which should not be confused with a support group. Group therapy will be led by a professional.

No matter what type of therapy approach used, the most important element in therapy is to find a qualified therapist you trust.  Most therapists will more than likely use a combination of approaches.  A qualified therapist will be a licensed professional: a psychologist, a master’s level social worker, a professional counselor, or a psychiatrist.  As to whether it is someone you trust, that can only be determined by meeting them.  Of course, it is helpful  to seek recommendations from your friends and family, from your physician, or from a trusted source such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).  Ultimately, however, the deciding factor will be how you feel about the therapist after your initial consult.

Untreated depression can be life threatening.  At the very least, it greatly handicaps your ability to experience happiness.  If you suffer from depression, please seek help.

While nutrition alone cannot cure depression, a healthy diet will definitely impact your recovery in a positive manner.  An unhealthy diet, alternately, will slow your recovery and thus impact it negatively.  It may help to think of it like this:

In a given week, if a non-depressed person were to eat foods high in refined sugar and saturated fats, with little or none of the nutrients his/her body needs to function properly, he/she would most likely have a less than stellar week.  It would be a week full of mood swings, low energy, poor sleep, and easily feeling overwhelmed by the daily trials of life.  Now imagine what that kind of week would do to a person recovering from depression.

On the other hand, if that same non-depressed person were to, in a given week, eat foods that gave him/her long, sustained energy and the nutrients the body craves such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes and lean proteins, then he/she would more than likely have a great week, barring any major life crises.  Again, imagine what that kind of week would do to a person recovering from depression. In a nutshell, eating foods that are healthy puts one at an advantage.  Eating foods that are not healthy puts one at a disadvantage.

There is no special “depression diet”, but there are some tips:

  • Eat a healthy, sensible diet full of nutritious, whole foods – the less processed the better.  But, it’s important to allow yourself the occasional treat.
  • Don’t attempt to follow a diet that severely limits your intake of any certain type of food.  Often, these extreme diets set you up for failure – not a good thing when in recovery from depression.
  • Eat regularly and often to maintain energy throughout each day.  3 meals a day, with 2 snacks in between, is what is most often recommended.
  • Eat your omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, walnuts, soybeans, flaxseed and other foods as well as in supplement form.  There are studies that show it may help with mood.  Also, it helps your heart.
  • Cut back on caffeine, especially at nighttime.  It is a stimulant and it may make you anxious or nervous, as well as disrupt your sleep.
  • If you have a health condition, speak to your doctor before making any dietary changes.
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