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Friday, December 14, 2012

Holiday Stress and Depression

For some, the holidays bring unwelcome guests – stress and depression.
Due to unrealistic efforts to pull off a perfect Hallmark holiday, it is easy to become overwhelmed with the competing demands of work, parties, baking, cleaning, kids on school break, and out-of-town trips or visitors.

Holiday stress typically has three main trigger points: Relationships, Finances, and Physical Demands. While relationships can cause turmoil at any time; with heightened tensions during the holiday season, family misunderstandings and conflicts can intensify. If you have an expectation that difficult relationships will improve just because it’s the holidays, you are likely to be disappointed. Nothing magical “just happens” during the holiday season. Try to accept family members and friends as they are and practice forgiveness.

Additionally, if you have had a recent loss, the holidays may increase feelings of loneliness or sadness. You may want to avoid some of the festivities because they are so out of sync with how you’re feeling. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holidays. Try to tell those around you what you really need, since they may not know how to help. Consider volunteering at a community or religious function. Getting involved and helping others can lift your spirits.

Like relationships, finances can be a stress at any time and given the current financial uncertainties and fears, this year may be particularly difficult. Overspending during the holidays is a national habit. The sticker shock after the gifts, travel and entertainment expenses can create a financial spiral that can result in depression symptoms such as hopelessness, sadness and helplessness. Not exceeding your budget is important. When shopping, look for how you can show love and caring with something meaningful and personal that doesn’t cost a lot. Other alternatives are to donate to a charity in someone’s name, give homemade gifts or start a family gift exchange.

The strain of shopping, preparing meals, entertaining, and social commitments is physically exhausting. Over commitments, lack of exercise, and overindulgence in unhealthy food and drink choices contribute to the physical stress of the holidays. Learn to say no and forget about perfection. Ask for help. Plan ahead and do as much as you can in advance. Take time out. Eat well, get enough rest, and make time for yourself. Be realistic about what you can and cannot do. Pace yourself and prioritize the important activities.

Children love the holidays but they too can feel stress, especially if parents are stressed. Reducing kids’ holiday stress is similar to minimizing your own. Stick with routine as much as possible and make sure your children eat nutritious foods and get enough rest and exercise. Families can work together to relieve holiday stress by making time for family fun and sharing the holiday chores so that the whole family is involved. Children have to learn that their wish is not someone’s command and to curb their desires for instant gratification. Make a family vow that this year you’ll get back to the real essence of the holidays.

Practicing good self care during any time of stress is essential. Pay attention to your own needs and feelings and find activities that are enjoyable. Examine your expectations and make sure they’re realistic. Don’t worry too much about details – live in the moment as much as possible and look for meaningful experiences throughout the season. Many people dread the holidays because their inner experience is so different from what is being hyped. While maybe not “the most wonderful time of the year” the holidays can be a time for reflection, joy and to reconnect with friends and family.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

How Important is Willpower?

In recent months the American Psychological Association (APA) has released several papers examining the role of willpower on life choices and making life changes. There is important ongoing research which is increasing the understanding of the role of willpower in everyday life.

Willpower is best defined as the ability to delay gratification, resist short-term temptations so that long-term goals are more effectively and consistently met. Roy F. Baumeister, Ph.D., a social psychologist at Florida State University, is one of the field’s leading researchers and has recently released his newest book, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength which examines much of the current understanding on the importance of willpower in successful living.

Research suggests that willpower is correlated with positive life outcomes such as higher self-esteem, greater financial security and improved physical and mental health. Students who rank high on self-discipline have better grades, better school attendance, and higher standardized-test scores.

Psychology has identified two primary qualities that strongly impact success: intelligence and willpower. Perhaps surprising to some, level of self-discipline has been shown to be more important than intelligence in predicting academic success. This is important because while there is little that can be done to improve the level of intellectual functioning; research suggests that there are tools to improve willpower and self-control.

Improving the level of self-control and discipline in everyday life has the potential to make a significant and beneficial difference in the quality of life. Willpower touches nearly all aspects of making healthy decisions. Whether it is healthy eating, regular exercise, avoiding drugs and alcohol, studying more, working harder, or financial discipline, the importance of maintaining focus on the bigger picture and the long range goal is undeniable.

Many studies have found that people perform less successfully on tests of self-control when there have been a significant succession of demands for self-control. It is very often advised to “change one thing at a time” rather than setting too many goals at once. This research confirms the importance of this approach as demanding too much control and discipline when focusing on a long term goal is counterproductive.

Studies show that self-control may be strengthened by the foods we eat and when we eat. Glucose is the chemical in the bloodstream that carries energy to the brain, muscles and other organs. Low levels of glucose predict poor performance on self-control tasks. If your goal is to lose weight, letting your blood sugar drop too low will very likely sabotage your ability to stick with your food plan because your will power will be lower. Even if your goal is not food related, maintaining a good brain chemistry balance is important.

It was found that the same energy used for self-control is also used for making decisions. The research suggests that making too many decisions seems to deplete willpower. After experiencing a time where many decisions are required, people perform worse at tasks requiring self-control. Therefore, it is important to not overwhelm yourself with continuous unrelated demands when attempting to exercise self-control.

Some research suggests self-control can be improved through practice by focusing on small tasks in order to strengthen willpower for the bigger challenges. Dr. Baumeister asserts that “as with a muscle, willpower gets stronger from regular exercise”. Engaging in less difficult self-control activities such as a vow to stop swearing, to make the bed every day or to give up just one food for a couple weeks produces improvement in self-control when the focus is on bigger challenges. Start small and move forward from there.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Healing Power of Forgiveness

For centuries nearly all religious traditions have taught the importance of forgiveness. Now social science research identifies the many emotional and health benefits to practicing forgiveness. Fred Luskin, Ph.D. has studied forgiveness as the cofounder and director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Project. This ongoing research confirms that being a forgiving person is beneficial to both emotional and physical health. Acts of forgiveness can lower blood pressure and heart rate; and reduce levels of depression, anxiety, and anger. People who forgive generally have better relationships with others, feel happier and score higher on measures of psychological well-being. Those who forgive are more hopeful and have higher self-esteem than those who hold onto the anger and hurt when emotionally betrayed or injured.

Dr. Luskin describes the act of forgiveness as involving two steps: grieving and letting go. The grieving includes feeling the anger, hurt and trauma and then allowing the feelings to be in placed into the past. Not moving on – hanging on to resentment and rage – is harmful to the person stuck in the pain – not the person who committed the offense. Forgiving requires us to let go – of our anger, of our desire to punish or get even, of the need for an apology, and of the need for our harmer to change.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean excusing or condoning abuse. And forgiveness doesn’t mean a sudden case of amnesia. It’s about feeling the full spectrum of emotions – grief and anger and hurt, but also kindness and compassion. A core element of forgiveness is an acknowledgement that a person who harmed still has the capacity for good. It’s feeling the grief and anger and hurt, but also kindness and compassion. It’s about responding out of gentleness rather than rage.

Dr. Luskin explains that when you think about a wrong someone did to you, your fight-or-flight system is aroused. “Your heart beats faster, your blood pressure goes up, you feel hurt and mad.” True forgiveness is the only remedy for these painful experiences. Luskin goes on: “This is very simple stuff. Simple but not easy.”

There can be many reasons why forgiveness is so hard. There may be a reluctance to let go of anger and it is very difficult, if not impossible, to forgive someone when there is still anger. The very human desire to get revenge is powerful and setting that aside can be a struggle. Forgiveness is also hard if there has not been an apology asking for forgiveness. Finally, when there is a wrong is can be hard to see or believe there is any good in the person who caused a deep hurt. However, if we are honest in our consideration and assessment, it is possible to see good in everyone.

Psychologist Robert Enright, states: “The decision to forgive touches you to your very core, to who you are as a human being. It involves your sense of self-esteem, our personal worth of the person who’s hurt you and your relationship with that person and the larger world.” Simply put: forgiveness is complex and it is the healthy choice!

Forgiveness is really the kindest thing you can do you for yourself when you have been hurt by another. The Aramaic word for “forgive” means literally to “untie.” The fastest way to be free of the pain and all the negativity is to forgive. Forgiveness permits the ability to move away from the pain. When deeply hurt, the act of forgiveness is hard, but living with resentment is even harder.

“Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for it to kill your enemy.”
~Nelson Mandela~

Friday, May 11, 2012

Can Mothers Love Their Sons Too Much????

Unlike any other family relationship, the bond between mothers and sons is often criticized. There is a view that a close mother can damage her son, making him weak and dependent. Almost one hundred years ago, the developer of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud warned that sons who are raised by a doting mother are doomed to be “sexually confused”. In the 50’s and 60’s much revered pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock warned that mama’s boys might grow up “precocious, with feminine interests.” Within some cultures, this is accepted belief.

However, a recent book by Kate Stone Lombardi, The Mama’s Boy Myth - Why Keeping Our Sons Close Makes Them Stronger, argues that having a close mother-son relationship makes boys stronger and ultimately helps them be better men and spouses. Lombardi believes that mothers and sons face a stigmatization that other parent-child relationships don’t. It is acceptable when mothers and daughters are close, father-son relationships are viewed as very important, and father-daughter relationships are valued, “but mothers and sons – that relationship is always looks at with a little skepticism and a little fear”. Lombardi states: “The myth is that any boy close to his mom will be a sissy, a wimp, forever dependent and never a man who can have a relationship – and it is everywhere we look, in the movies, on TV.”

Lombardi’s book argues that for this generation of mothers and sons, the stereotypes are simply not true. While it is important to appreciate the positive impacts of boys having close relationships with their mothers; this does not imply that fathers are unimportant or without valuable contributions. Lombardi states, “Parenting is not a zero-sum game. You don’t have to be close to one parent and not the other. They both bring something.”

Lombardi is not alone in rejecting the references to the dangers of a close mother-son relationship. There are numerous psychological research projects that confirm boys who have a warm and supportive relationship with their mothers have better tools for communication and lower rates of depression and delinquency. One 2010 study conducted by Carlos Santos, Ph.D., a professor at Arizona State University, found that boys with closer relationships with their mothers “had a broader definition of masculinity and didn’t buy into the idea that men had to be stoic and not fight back at every moment. Being close to mom was good for their mental health.”

Research also shows that “mamma’s boys” are less vulnerable to peer pressure to do drugs and alcohol, and they tend to delay their first sexual experience and have less unprotected sex. A close maternal connection strengthens and confirms a son’s identity and helps him grow toward independence. Sons who are close to their moms have higher emotional intelligence, understand how to care for others, and how to relate and communicate with future wives. Mothers teach sons how to recognize and talk about feelings. The consensus of research confirms that to raise a son who is both strong and sensitive, it is important for moms to stay close to sons throughout their lives.

A strong mother-son relationship starts with consistency, patience, and emotional closeness, which are important for all babies; boys and girls. It is important to reject the cultural or family messages that pressure moms to distance from their sons as they move into adolescence and young adult life. The deep emotional connection between mothers and sons has been demonized for too long.

“There is an enduring tenderness in the love of a mother to a son that transcends all other affections of the heart.”
~Washington Irving~

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Difference Between Confidence and Arrogance

Having self-confidence is wonderful and a positive quality to successfully navigate life. Self-confidence is a wonderful asset. It allows us to get past fears and doubts and take control of life and decisions. Those with confidence have a positive and optimistic attitude that is easy to be around. Others typically view a confident person as dependable and admirable. However, as often true, too much of a good thing can become a bad thing. Overconfidence is a weakness and most would agree that arrogance is undesirable. There are significant differences between confidence and arrogance.

Confidence is not a belief that one is always right or a sense of being unable to fail. True confidence welcomes alternative perspectives and opinions. A confident person rarely will be found lecturing or preaching to others on how they are wrong. Believing you are always right and unable to accept influence from others can make one obnoxious to be around. Confidence is being willing to be wrong and knowing you’ll be ok if you are. A truly self-confident person is able to show vulnerability and admit to past mistakes.

Both the confident and arrogant person is aware of personal areas of strength and ability. However, a confident person has little difficulty seeing others gifts and strengths while the arrogant cannot. Additionally a confident person does not insist on the adoration of others for their skills or abilities. People who are self-confident show it with their actions, not by their words. Self -confidence is knowledge of ability while arrogance insists on sharing successes with others. There is a quiet calm in the truly confident that the arrogant do not posess. If you find yourself constantly trying to impress friends, family or others with your skills and abilities, you have crossed the line into arrogance.

Confidence and arrogance come from different sources. Arrogance is rooted in insecurity – a defense from feelings of weakness that are unacceptable and unclaimed. An arrogant person generally has a skewed view of the world and a warped understanding of themselves. However, a confident person can accept their weaknesses or faults with grace – even though they may not like them.

Arrogant people build themselves up by putting others down - to “win”. Buddhism asserts that arrogance is to judge one’s self-worth by comparison with others. Arrogant people feel good about themselves only through affirming their superiority to others. Genuinely confident people feel great about themselves without comparing themselves with others. Arrogant people tend to bluff their way to success and often have difficulty listening to others. This person will avoid risks or blame others or circumstances if things do not work out as expected.

Arrogant people can and often do have successes but there are significant costs. Relationships are often shallow and superficial or strained. Additionally, professional successes can be fragile due to difficulties in accepting guidance and feedback and impaired abilities to accept and learn from mistakes.

While, not always arrogant, some are plague with an overconfidence that can be problematic. This is most typically seen with inexperience and immaturity. By definition, an overconfident person tends to overestimate the chances of success of an endeavor and underestimate the risks. Because of the self-deception involved, overconfidence tends to make people unable to make effective and successful decisions.

Strive for honest self-acceptance and nurture self-confidence. Beware the pitfalls of crossing the line into overconfidence or arrogance. As with most things in life, the healthy place is always with balance in the middle.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Many Believe Marriage is Obsolete

The month of February is often associated with love and of course Valentine’s Day. It is natural to focus on marriage and relationships at this time. The romance and sentiment of this time is special and it is helpful to have fun and enjoy the special significance of this holiday to celebrate love. However, in November of 2010 a rather startling survey by the Pew Research Center suggested a sobering poll about Americans view of marriage where nearly 40% of Americans stated that marriage is becoming obsolete (up from 28% in 1978). The poll caused a flurry of articles and more than a little concern and sadness among couples and marriage therapists.

The TIME/Pew poll was also interesting in its contradictions. While 40% believed marriage is becoming obsolete; only 25% of the unmarried stated they do not want to get married; and among currently married, 80% said their marriage is as close as or closer than their parents’ marriage.

The poll suggests that marriage is respected and desired, but is no longer the social and economic necessity it once was. It is possible and many would argue completely acceptable to develop a full and successful life outside of marriage.

In the 1950s, when half of all American women were already married in their teens, marriage was an almost mandatory first step toward adulthood. During this time, marriage was the path to parenthood, and unmarried men were routinely judged less qualified for bank loans or job promotions. The view of marriage has shifted to less on sacrifice and obligation than to romance, and happiness. Getting married for life, having children and raising them with your spouse is still the ideal for most Americans but acceptance of the alternative paths has grown.

Today, however, there are other paths to grow up, seek financial independence, parent children, and have intimate companionship. Johns Hopkins University sociologist Andrew Cherlin states: “Marriage is still very important in this country, but it doesn’t dominate family life like it used to. Now there are several ways to have a successful family life, and more people accept them.”“The college-educated wait until they’re finished with their education and the careers are launched. The less educated wait until they feel comfortable financially.” With the recession and the challenging economy job opportunities are disappearing so some wait to get married. But they don’t wait to set up house. There was a 13% increase in couples living together from 2009 to 2010. People are living together because they don’t have enough money to live alone, but they aren’t going to get married until they have enough money. For most college-educated couples, living together is a prelude to marriage. Those without a college degree tend to move in together, have children, and then look at marriage.

It is unclear whether the burdens of poverty are making people’s relationships less permanent or people’s impermanent relationships are worsening their poverty.

Moving directly into marriage from childhood is no long expected and the expectations of marriage have changed. Couples are more focused on having a higher quality marriage and in fact the divorce rates have been falling for the past 25 years.

Americans value family. 76% say family is the most important, meaningful part of their life. 75% say they are “very satisfied” with their family life. And 85% say that the family they live in today is as close or closer than the family in which they grew up.

Economic instability is now more closely associated with marital distress than it used to be. Today two-thirds of people with a college degree are married, compared with less than half of those with a high school degree or less.

Marriage, whatever its social, spiritual or symbolic appeal, is in purely practical terms just not as necessary as it used to be. Neither men nor women need to be married to have sex or companionship or professional success or respect or even children – yet marriage remains revered and desired.

About 70% of us have been married at least once, according to the 2010 Census. 44% of Americans under 30 believe marriage is heading for extinction; only 5 % of those in that age group do not want to get married.

People want to finish college first, In 2010 the median age of men getting married for the first time is 28.2, and for women it’s 26.1. It’s gone up about a year every decade since the 1960’s.

National Census study showed that only 54% of Americans are married. This is down by 72% than it was 50 years ago.

Nearly one in three American children is living with a parent who is divorced, separated or never-married (five times more than 1960). More people are accepting the view that wedding bells aren’t needed to have a family.

In spite of it all, 67% of people are upbeat about the future of marriage- a much higher number than those who are optimistic about education or the economy. Especially during this month, traditionally set aside for love, reflect on the potentially beautiful wonders of a good marriage.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Healing After Betrayal in Business

Trust is the foundation in effective relationships and because any business has an assortment of relationships, there is a need for trust in the workplace. Yet, trust means different things to different people. There is a truth about integrity, ethics and honesty in business – one size does not fit all - and some excuse bad behavior as playing the business game (“it was not personal - just a business decision”). Given that reality, any of us likely have experienced betrayal in our work settings.

Betrayal, the loss of trust, occurs on a continuum from major to minor incidents. Sometimes betrayal is not about what happened, but rather how it happened and comes in three types: 1) unintentional, 2) premeditated, and 3) opportunistic. Most betrayals in the workplace are opportunistic where specific circumstances develop and are paired with a condition where more gain can be obtained through dishonesty and manipulation than by acting with integrity. This “opportunity” creates a temptation that can drive people to not keep their agreements or mislead coworkers to further their own agenda.

When confronted with dishonest or unethical behavior, a favorite tool of the opportunistic betrayer is the claim of “it’s just a misunderstanding” where they claim their actions are somehow being misinterpreted. This “cover” prevents any level of direct or honest communication to develop and erodes the professional relationship - at times beyond repair. It is very difficult to have a relationship with such an insincere person as there is a perpetuation of the fa├žade of “I’m really a good, amiable person – you just misunderstood me.” This personality is actually more difficult to work with than the directly unpleasant and self-absorbed coworker who straightforwardly communicates a goal of self-interest above all else.

Persistent dishonesty in a work environment is toxic to the individuals involved and to the whole system. Betrayal undermines trust, communication, creativity and innovation. When these feelings are chronic and intense, the result is a negative, unpleasant or even openly hostile environment. The detrimental impact of spending hours daily in such a place is enormous.

After a dishonesty or manipulation, trusting again is very difficult. The first tricky question is “Do they deserve my trust?’ Some betrayals are isolated events within the context of an otherwise positive relationship. These work relationships can be repaired following betrayal. It is important to talk to your coworker about your feelings and allow them an opportunity to restore the feeling of goodwill so that the relationship can move forward.

However, not all deserve trust. A famous definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. If you have repeated experiences of deceit with a person and/or you observe this behavior in their interactions with other people, it is unlikely realistic to expect anything different from them. In business, it is not always possible to end these toxic relationships completely but it is important to be cautious in your interactions and limit vulnerability.

Even if trust cannot be repaired, it is important to forgive and to move on from the betrayal. A desire for vengeance, vindication, or retribution can lead to obsession and often does more damage than the original betrayal. Forgiveness is important as part of the process necessary for healing. The most powerful result of forgiveness is to allow the forgiver to reclaim the peace of mind that comes from letting go of past hurts. You need not condone the action, nor deny the painful feelings – in fact, you must acknowledge the facts and emotions, in order to know what you are ready to release. As you free yourself from the pain caused by others, you regain personal power and self-respect. Acceptance is not condoning what was done, but experiencing the reality of what happened without denying or resenting it.