Friday, April 24, 2009

Walking in Memphis, or Downtown?

The current issue of Psychology Today mentions research by Stephen Kaplan at the University of Michigan. He and his colleagues study urban forests. They conclude that a walk in the park improves cognitive abilities more than a walk downtown.
It’s not surprising. Getting around downtown requires a lot of attention and concentration. Witness the experience of the once inveterate New Yorker; now a country-bumpkin, she realizes during a visit that considerable attention must be paid to avoid stepping in front of oncoming cabs and figuring out what that smell really is. It’s work. On the other hand, in country-bumpkinland, noticing deer, rabbits, ducks and leaves is interesting, yet not cognitively demanding. It’s relaxing and renewing.

We know that being in nature improves stress management and decreases negative emotions like anger and anxiety. Apparently, it also improves cognition.
So even though all the noise and the hurry seems to help, I’d skip both Downtown and Walking in Memphis. Instead, consider listening to the tunes on your iPod while having a stroll in a more natural environment. Can't get to the country? Central Park will do just fine.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Treatment for Depression: Psychotherapy or Exorcism?

I’m a fan of psychotherapy, being a 25 year veteran in its practice. In addition to positive psychology approaches, the usual subject of this blog, I’m drawn to solution focused therapies. In my mind, these include those so named as well as cognitive behavioral and allied approaches that clearly ask clients to make behavioral changes and work toward solving the problems of life. Not just talk.

But I still have lots of questions about the practice and the process. I have questions about how it’s conducted, the role of medication, where mindfulness and values fit in, if we sometimes do more harm than good, what works for whom, what doesn’t work, and so forth.

I like my clients to think about the process too and take some responsibility for the work we do together. I think it’s healthy to question my work and for clients to question it, and their role in the work.

I believe that most people can live without disabling depression. There is a lot of evidence that the relationship with the therapist is itself a helpful and healing relationship. Repairing important relationships in one’s life and beginning new ones is equally important.

Additionally, I encourage people to do a variety of things, including:

· getting out and doing things in nature and in the world
· listening to music, experiencing art, going to church, or doing whatever pulls them up
· getting support from friends and family
· talking about good things going on in life, and good things desired (not just talking about problems)

I was delighted to hear a story about African approaches to healing depression by exorcism. On the surface it seems quite unlike what I find useful, but when you dig down deep, there are many shared beliefs. It’s definitely thought-provoking. Have a listen to Andrew Solomon’s experience.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Best Friends for Life

What’s the first thing you let go of when you’re busy and stressed out? Be honest. Many of us would say “me time,” which includes things like hobbies, exercise, taking time to eat right and sleep enough, and spending time with friends.

While all of these things and more contribute to good stress management, for women, girlfriend time is huge. Perhaps because of that interesting hormone oxytocin, not to mention estrogen, relationships with friends have been shown to lower blood pressure, heartrate and cholesterol. Friends helped one group of subjects manage the loss of a spouse, increased joy in another study and even reduced the risk of death in yet another study.

The benefit of social support is a highly robust finding in positive psychology. So it’s not just for women that friends are important. Unfortunately, as we juggle responsibilities, friends are quick to take a backseat in our lives.

So in an effort to increase friend time, consider:
· if you don’t have time for lunch or dinner, can you meet for a quick coffee
· combining a shopping trip with friend-time
· engaging in the dreaded multitasking by calling a friend while performing some mundane household task (like folding laundry, but not while driving please)
· working out with a friend (with the added benefit of boosting your compliance by buddying-up)
· using those frequent flyer miles to visit a friend

There are lots of other ideas you might come up with if you take a few minutes to think about it. And it's important, because best friends really are for life, for a long, happy and healthy life.

Winter, spring, summer or fall, all you have to do is call. Carole King