May 2012



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Archive for May 25th, 2012

By Rick Nauert PhD Senior News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on May 23, 2012

For all except the very fortunate few, life is full of ups and downs. In a new study, Spanish researchers found that learning to cope with the down times is integral to life satisfaction.

Individuals respond to adverse situations in a variety of ways. Some never recover from a traumatic event, such as the loss of a spouse or child, while a majority slog through the dark hours of intense negative emotions (anxiety, depression) and eventually move on with their life, gradually adapting to a new status quo.

However, a third group is made up of individuals whose adversities have made them grow personally and whose life takes on new meaning, making them feel stronger than before.

Researchers at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona surveyed 254 students to determine their level of satisfaction with life.

The investigators also looked to find connections between an individual’s resilience and their capacity of emotional recovery – the ability to control one’s emotions – and a component of emotional intelligence.

Investigators discovered that the 20 percent of students who were more resilient were also more satisfied with their lives. This group also believed they have control over their emotions and their state of mind.

As such, researchers posit that an individual’s capability to bounce back from stress and adversity, their resilience, has a positive prediction effect on the level of satisfaction with one’s life.

The good news is that resiliency is not an innate characteristic, rather a skill that can be developed and improved.

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This guest article from YourTango was written by Kim Olver. 

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. We will go to the doctor for a physical checkup, but how many of us engage in a mental health checkup? The goals of my process, InsideOut Empowerment, provide us with ten things we can do to improve our well-being and increase our happiness.

1. Assess the strength of your needs while learning to obtain the proper amounts for happiness. We all have five basic human needs — connection, freedom, significance, survival and enjoyment. While we share that in common, the strength of our needs vary. So for example, one person may be high in connection and enjoyment, while another person might be high in significance and freedom. The key to happiness is to engage in behavior that brings you the precise amount of each need you want. Having too little leaves you feeling deprived and having too much can leave you feeling over-saturated.


2. Understand and take responsibility for your choices. You have choices in every situation. You may not have any “good” choices or choices you like, but there are choices nonetheless. You are doing whatever you’re doing because you chose it, not because someone forced you. You may be doing it to keep your job, please a loved one or to save your life … but you are choosing it. When you let go of the victim mentality and embrace the choice aspect of all you do, you will feel empowered.

3. Make the connection between your behavior and your progress or lack thereof. We often look to outside “causes” for our success — or lack thereof — and forget to look at what we, ourselves, are doing or not doing to move us toward our goals. When you begin to take charge of your own outcomes instead of giving that power to others, you will feel much happier.

4. Understand the power of your perception and how to change it. We often make up stories about people and events in our lives that have nothing to do with the facts of the situation. They are simply our interpretation. Your interpretation can cause you great unnecessary turmoil. If your perception isn’t serving you, change it! Make up a better, happier, more generous story.

5. Find the balance in all things. Everything that happens to you has equal positive and negative qualities; a ying and a yang, pros and cons. The problem is our perception again. We tend to label things as good or bad, positive or negative, painful or pleasurable. The truth is, both sides are always present. It just depends on where you place your focus. Seeing both sides equally will improve your mental health.

6. Distinguish and choose between what feels good right now and what will feel even better later. We often engage in a battle of what we want right now versus what we really want. As a general rule, those who can delay gratification achieve greater satisfaction than those who always indulge themselves in the moment. But there is another option. See #7.

7. Expanding either/or thinking to a both/and approach. In our Western culture, we often tell ourselves that we must choose between two options. But I say, “Why not have both?” Now, I do realize sometimes there really is a dilemma and a person must choose, but those times occur less frequently than you think if you begin to ask yourself, “How can I have/do/be both?”

8. Uncover your self-sabotage, while learning to minimize its hold on you. We all have some negative thoughts about ourselves that were installed in our psyche before we were old enough to distinguish fact from fiction. The fact that these negative thoughts most often came from those you trusted made it even harder to dispute. However, if you want to succeed at your goals, then you must bring your self-sabotage out from the dark of the subconscious to the light of day where you can examine its veracity. If you determine it simply isn’t true (and it usually isn’t), then you can let it go. Don’t attempt to “do battle” with the ideas, as this gives them more importance than they deserve.

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For most of us, it’s tricky enough to remember what we were doing this time last week, let alone on some random day years ago. But for a blind 20-year-old man referred to by researchers as HK, every day of his life since the age of about eleven is recorded in his memory in detail. HK has a rare condition known as hyperthymesia and his is only the second case ever documented in the scientific literature (the first, a woman known as AJ, was reported in 2006; pdf).

Brandon Ally and his team have completed comprehensive tests with HK and they’ve scanned his brain and compared its structure with 30 age-matched controls. They found that HK has normal intelligence, that he performs normally on standard desktop tests of short and long-term recall, and that he has normal verbal learning skills. It’s specifically his autobiographical memory that’s phenomenal.

The researchers assessed HK’s autobiographical memory by choosing four dates from each year of his life since his first memory (that was from 1993 when he was aged three and half), making 80 dates in total. For each of these dates, they gathered at least three facts from HK’s family, medical records and the historical records for his neighbourhood in Nashville. HK was then interviewed about each of these 80 dates – for example, he was asked “Can you tell me what happened during your day on January 2nd, 2001”. His answers, often detailed, were transcribed and fact-checked.

HK’s recollection of days from his life between the ages of 9 and 12 grew dramatically more accurate and detailed, reaching nearly 90 per cent accuracy for memories at age 11, rising to near perfect accuracy thereafter. For some dates, HK was quizzed again at a second session – the consistency of his answers was 100 per cent.

What’s it like to have hyperthymesia? HK told the researchers that his autobiographical memories are rich in sensory and emotional details and feel just as vivid regardless of whether they’re from years ago or from yesterday. Ninety per cent of the time he experiences these memories in the first-person, compared with rates of approximately 66 per cent in the general population. HK said autobiographical memories frequently enter his consciousness, triggered by sights, sounds and emotions. Most days he wakes up thinking about what he’s done on that day in previous years. Bad memories come to mind just as often as positive ones, but he is able to choose to focus more on the positive.

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Earlier this year, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network and the Autism Society of America issued a joint statement discussing the proposed changes. Concerns arose from suggestions that not all those currently diagnosed would retain a diagnosis once the fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual was released.

Now that the final public comment period has opened, you can comment on the proposed changes that will combine several diagnoses into one unified autism spectrum category. We view community involvement and representation as a vital part of developing meaningful criteria that reflect our needs. The deadline for submissions is June 15 leaving little time to delay.

To comment, you must register then navigate to the ASD draft criteria page to submit. Here are our suggestions when you consider what to include in your public comment:

  • *APA should revise the requirement in the ASD draft criteria’s social communication domain (A) that an individual meet 3 of 3 listed criteria. This sets an overly restrictive standard and will likely lead to greater challenges in accessing diagnosis for adults, racial and ethnic minorities, women and girls and other under-represented groups. Independent analysis of the draft criteria have confirmed the overly restrictive nature of this requirement. APA should revise this requirement to require only 2 of 3 criteria to be met, either shifting this requirement across the lifespan or introducing the greater flexibility specifically for adults in recognition of the greater difficulties in identification which exist for the Autistic adult community.

  • * APA should clearly communicate that individuals should be assessed for diagnosis without regards to any mitigating measures, such as learned behavior or other adaptive coping mechanisms, they may have developed to help navigate the world. This is consistent with the way in which the Americans with Disabilities Act is interpreted according to the recent ADA Amendments Act of 2008, which worked to ensure that people with less visible disabilities could retain coverage under the ADA. APA should consider revising part (C) of the draft criteria to reflect this. Currently, (C) acknowledges that characteristics of ASD may not be noticeable until later in life due to greater social demands in adolescence, but does not yet take note of the fact that many Autistic adults utilize adaptive coping mechanisms which may make it more difficult for them to access diagnosis, even as we are still substantially impacted by being on the autism spectrum and would benefit from the services, self-understanding and accommodations diagnosis provides.

  • * APA should consider linking the diagnosis of Social Communication Disorder under ASD, helping to address both concerns that individuals on the autism spectrum may be inappropriately placed within the SCD diagnosis and the benefits of greater linkages of diagnoses in research and practice. There are multiple structures which could accomplish this goal, ranging from classifying SCD as a type of ASD-Not Otherwise Specified to describing SCD as a sub-type of ASD utilizing a similar structure to that which has been applied within the ADHD diagnosis.

  • * APA should proceed with the development of a unified, single ASD diagnosis, reflecting the reality that the application of the various ASD diagnosis (Autistic Disorder, PDD-NOS and Asperger’s) is inconsistent and often utilized as a means of denying access to appropriate services. However, in doing so, APA should act with caution to ensure that all individuals covered under the DSM-IV diagnoses will retain coverage in the revised unified diagnosis.

  • * APA should consider incorporating motor and movement issues within domain (B) in recognition of the growing body of research which finds these issues as common across ASD.

  • * APA should clarify and expand upon its use of examples, while making clear that such lists of examples are non-exhaustive and that an individual not possessing the examples APA utilizes should not disqualify them from access to diagnosis. APA should consider providing examples specific to adults and adolescents, to better acknowledge that the characteristics of ASD differ across the lifespan. APA should also consider providing more specific examples on varying presentations for women and girls and racial and ethnic minorities.