Index to PsychNotes
by Monica A. Frank, Ph.D.
Clinical and Sport Psychologist
June 27, 2017
Snap Judgments of People as “Creepy” May Harm You
Have you ever avoided someone because “he's creepy”? People believe they are protecting themselves when they avoid those they judge as “creepy” but such quick assessments of others may cause you to be more vulnerable to those who are more likely to hurt you.
How can snap judgments cause you harm?
More than 70% of people make judgments about “creepiness” in less than a minute and most believe their assessment is accurate. Those who quickly judge others as “creepy” are also more likely to make snap judgments about other characteristics such as trustworthiness based on superficial physical features.
June 23, 2017
Uncertainty, Decision-making, and Stress
Even simple decisions like “What do you want for dinner?” are difficult for me when I'm under stress: “I don't know! I don't want to make a decision!” “All I asked is what you want for dinner.” So I have to make sure I use stress management skills so I don't get irritable over ridiculously silly things.
Why would such a simple decision cause irritability? Because a decision means a potential mistake is nearby. When stressed, the brain doesn't evaluate the risk-level of the mistake, it just recognizes that a mistake could occur. When not stressed, the brain can assess the situation and say “This decision doesn't matter that much—the consequences are not significant.” Even simple decisions require the effort of evaluating the reward/risk ratio and when we are under stress we often don't want to make the effort.
How does stress affect decision-making?
A review of over 30 studies on decision-making (Starcke and Brand, 2016) shows that as uncertainty about the outcome increases stress negatively affects decision-making in several ways:
June 15, 2017
New Article: How You Can Be More Resistant to Workplace Bullying
Bullying at work can often be so subtle that it is difficult to report without appearing to be overly sensitive or petty. Most people are not overtly bullied with physical attacks or threats of violence because these behaviors can be easily identified and reported. Instead, most bullying at work is a passive-aggressive type that is usually a combination of subtle behaviors that the perpetrator can easily deny as being misunderstood.
. A co-worker doesn't provide you with necessary information for a task and your performance is affected. The co-worker can claim they didn't realize you didn't have the information.
2) Excessive oversight
. Your boss monitors your work constantly, questioning everything that you do. Your boss can claim that is his/her management style or that s/he was concerned about the project and your performance.
June 13, 2017
Motivating Health Behaviors by Anticipating Regret
Although most people know what is healthy behavior and what is not, one of the enigmas of health psychology is how to motivate people to engage in more healthy behavior. Unfortunately, unhealthy behaviors are too attractive: overeating, drinking, smoking, avoiding routine health care, speeding while driving, or sitting around the pool rather than exercising, to name a few.
A recent examination of the research shows that having people imagine how much regret they might feel can help motivate them to engage in more healthy behaviors (Brewer, 2016). Unfortunately, this method has a limit in that it is more likely to help with increasing protective behaviors than with decreasing unhealthy behaviors. For example, it may be easier for a person to use the anticipation of regret to increase physical activity than to decrease alcohol consumption.
One reason for this difference may be that most unhealthy behaviors are known to go against medical advice so a person is more likely to engage in self-blame. You would think that when a person feels bad about something it is likely to decrease the behavior, but frequently the opposite is true. Feeling self-blame triggers defense mechanisms such as minimizing or denial to protect the self-concept. In such circumstances, imagining regret for a behavior is less powerful.
June 5, 2017
Your Body Reacts Even When You Don't Think It Should
Many people are surprised that positive events can be stressful. Or, they don't understand why they are reacting even though they have successfully reappraised the event in the past. For instance, a man trying to control anger when his spouse points out a mistake has been able to tell himself (and believe) “She's not trying to criticize me but is trying to help me” still reacts with a flush of anger when the event occurs.
Research shows that as people age they are able to reduce the effects of stress more quickly most likely due to experience and the use of strategies. However, their initial reaction to a stressful event is not different from someone who is younger (Scott et al., 2017). This supports the idea that the body has a mind of its own even when the brain believes everything is okay.
Why does this occur?
. The body is programmed to respond to change. The brain is able to assess change and determine whether it is a threat or not. But before that occurs, the body has already responded by kicking in the autonomic nervous system and releasing adrenalin and cortisol to help cope with the change. This is an automatic response and is not based upon whether the person considers the change bad or good.
June 2, 2017
Excel At Life's Depression CBT Self-Help Guide in Healthline's Best Apps for Depression
Five years in a row Depression CBT Self-Help Guide
has been selected by Healthline as one of the Best Apps for Depression
Depression CBT Self-Help Guide was designed by Dr. Monica Frank based upon 30 years of experience as a cognitive-behavioral therapist treating depression and anxiety. The app provides many of the cognitive-behavioral methods that she used with clients -- in an easier to use format than paper-and-pencil!
One of the central features of the app is the Cognitive Diary in which a person can record events that caused distress, evaluate their emotions and self-talk, and choose statements to help challenge the self-talk. This is a core feature of CBT and can be most helpful when shared with a therapist.
June 1, 2017
Passive-Aggressive Example: Getting in the Middle of Passive-Aggression
Sister-in-law makes comment to brother's wife that she should be more receptive to his dreams after working hard all his life and as money is not a problem.
Wife responds by telling husband that his sister is telling everyone she is controlling and "your sister hates me." She also tells him that his sister makes sure he's not around when
she goes off on her with hurtful non-specific insults. The brother believes all the lies told to him and blocks his sister from his life.
The sister truly loves her brother and was trying to help with his dreams.
She wishes to resolve the matter with her brother and his wife together but doesn't know how to do that with the PA wife without calling her a liar.
This occurred during a period when the sister had lost a child and the brother continued to call her a liar during her depression and block her from contact.
The sister is worried to call the PA wife out because it may end the relationship forever.
She is hurting and needs help to expose the PA lies without totally ruining the relationship or even knowing if it's worth saving.
TAP HERE FOR RESPONSE
May 31, 2017
There's a Time for Mind“less”ness, Too
I act mindlessly much more than I am mindful.
One thing that gets lost in the mindfulness movement is that mindlessness has a purpose, too. Just think—how could you operate a car effectively if you had to be mindful of every action you make (ex. “step on the brake when I see a red light”)?
Frequently, when people first learn about mindfulness they believe more is better. But as with just about anything psychological, it is about balance. Of course, the concept of “balance” is uncomfortable for most people because it is not black and white. Plus, balance can differ for each person so it is not easy to define. Therefore, it is simple to err with too much or too little. (For more, read Balance Life With Balance
which discusses the myths of balance.)
May 30, 2017
Why Relabeling Anxiety as Excitement Doesn't Work
Recently, in a national news outlet I read advice for parents when their children were anxious about an upcoming important event such as a major sport competition or taking the SAT. One suggestion was to use the cognitive therapy technique of “reappraisal” and to help their child relabel their feelings as “excitement” rather than “anxiety” or “nervousness.”
One of my pet peeves as a cognitive therapist is how people misinterpret the concept of reappraisal to mean the same thing as deluding themselves into believing “Everything will be okay” or “I'm perfect just as I am.”
No, these beliefs aren't necessarily true and making yourself or someone else believe them creates an irrational, albeit positive, belief which can be just as harmful as believing “Nothing will ever work out” or “I'm just a miserable nobody.”
May 23, 2017
When You Love Someone With Depression
Unfortunately, clinical depression causes the deterioration of many relationships. The spouse or partner either doesn't understand the depression or tries to compensate but gets overwhelmed by their partner's hopelessness. This can lead to conflict or withdrawal which can exacerbate the depression because of the additional layer of grief.
If you love someone who has depression, there are a number of ways you can be helpful:
1) Recognize depression as an illness
. Too often others see depression as a weakness. They think of it as the person with depression is unable to cope with everyday problems that everyone else seems to manage. However, depression is NOT an emotional problem due to the inability to face life stresses. On the contrary, the person with depression has to manage a very serious illness while trying to manage life's problems as well. Although many people give lip service to the idea of depression as a physical illness, it is important to thoroughly understand what this means. To further understand, read: Depression is Not Sadness
May 18, 2017
New Android app! Know Yourself Personality Plus
Know Yourself Personality Plus is a new and improved version of Know Yourself Personality Test.
To celebrate over a million downloads of Know Yourself, Excel At Life released Know Yourself Personality Plus with a completely new look, improved usability, and additional tests.
Cognitive Styles Test
-- great for evaluating patterns of thinking that can lead to problems
Your Happiness Assessment
-- identifies issues that can interfere with happiness
Although these tests are available in separate apps and at Excel At Life, Know Yourself Personality Plus includes new features:
create a free account to store results which allows access from different devices
easily share test results with a friend or your therapist
easily compare test results for compatibility issues with a friend
May 16, 2017
Can't Think When You're Hungry?
One of the worst times to make decisions is when you are hungry. People are less likely to be thoughtful about their decisions when hungry and more likely to be impulsive.
A review of research regarding hunger and decision-making shows how hunger affects thinking and behavior (Orquin and Kurzban, 2016):
1) More willing to spend money on food
. Most people know not to go to the grocery store when hungry as they are more likely to purchase items that they don't need or less healthy foods.
2) Less likely to spend money on things that are not food related
. When a person is hungry they have more difficulty making purchase decisions about non-food items.
3) More willing to work on tasks focused on food
. Being hungry makes a person more willing to work on tasks to obtain food such as preparing a meal.
May 15, 2017
Anxiety and Poor Memory: It's Really About Attention
Many of those with anxiety report problems with their memory. And yes, a review of the research shows that your memory is worse when you're anxious. However, specifically, it is what is called “working memory” that is amiss (Moran, 2016).
First, let's examine how memory works and then we'll look at what happens with anxiety. To do so, it is necessary to define memory types and memory storage.
. Memories of events that are unique to the individual are episodic memories. An example might be the day you were married or an argument you had with a friend yesterday.
. Language and knowledge are considered semantic memories. Reading or knowing the difference between a cat and a dog are examples of this type of memory.
. Remembering how to do things is procedural memory. Examples of this type of memory include driving a car, swimming, or even walking up steps. Read more...
May 3, 2017
Passive-Aggressive Example: Passive Control as a Form of Passive-Aggression
I have a 20-year-old daughter. She is an amazing young woman, going to college, working, and doing mission work twice a year in third world countries. I pay for her college, her housing, car and insurance. Her job affords her to buy food, fuel, and spending money. For the most part, we have a good relationship, but I see it declining. Much like described in this article, I will have a discussion with her trying to be upbeat but always feeling like I'm walking on eggshells. Just tonight, I called her and in the middle of the discussion, she yells the F-word. She knows I don't like cussing, so I respond by saying maybe I should call her back later. She complains and acts very callous towards me. I no longer say anything about her behavior. When I have responded with anything similar to the recommended "Maybe I am but I don't like it when you treat me this way", her normal response is that I'm being over-sensitive. I have started creating a distance between us, but also want to continue to provide love and support to her.
TAP HERE FOR RESPONSE
April 28, 2017
Compassion, Not Pity
I never pity anyone because I believe everyone is capable of great strength.
As a psychologist it is my job to help people find that strength. It is not my job to protect them from life's adversities. If I feel sorry for my clients it implies that I don't believe they are capable which only affirms their fear.
As a parent it is my duty to help my child find that strength. If I overprotect my child and don't allow him to navigate the rough waters of life, I essentially don't allow him to find the strength and capability within himself.
April 26, 2017
It's Not What You Think But Also How You Think That Affects Chronic Pain
Many studies have shown that thinking influences the experience of pain. It's not that the pain is “all in the head” but that certain kinds of thoughts will make the existing pain worse. In fact, two primary styles of thinking tend to increase the level of pain for those with chronic pain:
. Thinking that focuses on how awful the pain is or how much it has ruined your life is shown to make pain worse.
. Feelings of helplessness and thoughts how not being able to control the pain or to be able to escape it worsens pain.
Research in recent years shows, however, that it is not just what you are thinking but how you process the thoughts that can affect the level of pain you experience.
April 24, 2017
Developing Tolerance of Anxiety
For many people anxiety feels intolerable. The unpleasant symptoms of agitation seem like they will never go away. It feels out-of-control and scary. One of the common statements they make is
"I can't stand this!"
People without an anxiety disorder often don't understand the level of intensity and how awful it can feel. They equate panic with being the same as a high level of normal anxiety. As a result,
their attempts to comfort fall short and may even seem patronizing: "It'll be okay. You can get through this. You just need to calm down."
However, they aren't entirely wrong because the inability to tolerate the anxiety makes the anxiety worse. What they are wrong about, though, is believing the anxiety is under the individual's
control and due to an inability to handle normal anxiety. Read more...
April 20, 2017
Something Good About Depression?
One common problem for those with depression is the inability to think clearly. However, the research shows that understanding this problem is complex. In fact, with certain types of tasks people with clinical depression exceed the abilities of those without depression.
How is that possible? It may be that people with depression are more greatly impacted by problems with motivation than with an inability to reason. In particular, it is possible that the depressive's pessimism and desire for control actually improves analytical reasoning and decision-making under certain conditions.
April 5, 2017
The Essence of a Good Marriage: Friendship
The sweetest thing my husband ever said to me is that I am his best friend. It seems that the best, and most enduring, marriages have friendship as a foundation. Although passion is also an important part of the relationship, passion without friendship doesn't seem to last.
If you think about the nature of best friendship, it makes sense that a marriage based on these qualities is one that withstands hardships and delights in the good times.
Qualities of best friendship
1) Mutual respect
. Good friends have a strong desire to maintain the relationship which is based upon respect for one another. Friends admire the other without jealousy or pettiness.
. Best friends make decisions together about the direction of the friendship--one person is not in charge of the relationship. Friends don't try to control one another. Sure, they may not have to make the kind of life decisions required of a married couple, but good marriages have this same quality.
April 3, 2017
Index to PsychNotes
Index to Articles
New article! Understanding the Act “As If” Concept for Anxiety Treatment
Question: I've been reading your articles for some time and while I've made some progress in becoming less anxious, I still have trouble behaving the way I want to when I feel anxious. I think this is referred to as “Act as if” in CBT.
I think the main reason or issue behind it is that I see emotions as a true reflection of myself, at least in that particular moment. My question is, would you mind making a comment on “Act as if”' without relating it to “Fake it til you make it”? Since being real towards myself is quite important to me, I personally can't stand “Fake it til you make it” approach.*
Excellent question because it reflects how Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is commonly misunderstood when simplified versions of CBT become maxims such as “Fake it til you make it.”
What is the difference between “act 'as if'” and “fake it til you make it”?
First, let's review what acting “as if” means for learning to manage anxiety. This reader is referring to the “50 Tools for Panic and Anxiety”: Read more...