Category Archives: Psychology

hormones

How Stress Hormones Can Change Your Brain

When we are angry, we don’t feel very good, and that tends to make us do or say things that we later regret. We also might get so flustered that we lose track of what made us angry in the first place. We feel out-of-control. There is a reason for that. It has to do with the stress hormones our bodies release when we are angry—cortisol. 

Our post yesterday talked about the process in which our bodies and brains react when we get angry. Today we are talking about the impact these hormones have on our bodies once they are released. 

Elevated Cortisol

When our cortisol levels are elevated, our brain neurons take in too much calcium through their membranes. The calcium causes the cells to go haywire and fire too quickly, resulting in their death. 

Too much cortisol leads to a loss of neuron activity in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus, ultimately impairing your judgment. So rather than saying, “let’s talk about this,” you are saying “I hate you.” It’s not productive and you will probably regret it later. 

This is a great time to walk away from the situation, take a breath and calm down. Easier said than done, I know. 

Too much cortisol can also kill neurons and keep your brain from producing new ones. This is why it can be hard to remember what you should be saying, or what you wanted to say, in the heat of an argument. It also makes it harder to form short-term memories. So, later when you talk about the argument you had with your husband when he got home from work, you might not remember it exactly the way it happened. 

Decreased Serotonin

High cortisol levels lead to a decrease in serotonin (the happy hormone) levels. A decrease in serotonin adds fuel to the fire. It makes it easier to feel angry and more physically hurt. It also can explain why you might act aggressive or depressed when angry. They go together. 

Recognizing how these hormones can affect you, can make it easier to bounce back from an angry situation. If you know your serotonin levels are decreasing you can take steps to try to get them back again. A licensed counselor can help if you need some healthy coping mechanisms.

For a visual explanation of this process, visit https://www.nicabm.com/brain-how-anger-affects-your-brain-and-body-infographic-part-2/ 

anger

How Does Anger Affect Your Body?

Anger can be a tricky emotion to process. It tends to come on quickly and move throughout your body igniting a response. Just as quick as it comes on it can lead to some unfortunate events—poor choices, misdirected responses, damaged relationships, violence. 

We have all felt angry, but few of us really know how it works and how it impacts our overall bodies. By understanding how the process works, maybe we can better help to train our brains to think first, then react. 

First Things, First 

Before you are even aware that you might become angry, a spark (disappointment, frustration, judgment, rejection, fear, etc.) activates the amygdala—located in the brain’s medial temporal lobe, this part of the brain is known to play a key role in the processing of emotions. 

Once the amygdala is triggered it immediately becomes ready to turn on the body’s stress response system, often referred to by scientists at the “HPA axis” (Hypothalamus, Pituitary, and Adrenal). This starts the chain reaction of hormones—or the spread of fire throughout.

The Chain

The amygdala signals the hypothalamus, which then signals the pituitary gland by discharging the corticotropin-releasing hormone. The pituitary glad signals the adrenal glands by releasing the adrenocorticotropic hormone. The adrenal glad then secretes stress hormones like cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline.

These hormones quickly get to your neurons and cells causing you to feel a whole lot of unpleasantness, usually making you feel like you must react in some way. 

The Explanation 

Anger might sometimes feel unexplained — but why? But the truth is it did come from somewhere, that first spark. Identifying the exact reason for your anger can help you to work on your internal self, and why you might feel the way you do, and help you to react in a calmer, un-impulsive fashion.

For example, you are mad at your husband for coming home late after being out with his friends. Why are you really mad? Probably not because your husband was having a good time, but rather — he didn’t call and you were worried (fear) about his safety? Or, you are angry with your kids because they didn’t listen when you asked them to put their shoes on five minutes ago — you aren’t mad because they don’t have shoes on, you are frustrated because they didn’t listen. And now you are going to be late (judgment).

Tomorrow’s post will explain how stress hormones can change your brain.

For more information and a visual on this reaction, visit https://www.nicabm.com/brain-how-anger-affects-your-brain-and-body-part-1/ 

chasing happiness

You Can Create Your Happiness

As a society, we are always looking for that one thing that is going to make us happy. We think “if I lose those 10 pounds, I will be so much happier”; “if I buy the house”; “if I get the job”; etc. While achieving a goal or finally getting that thing we have wanted sooo bad will make us happy for a bit, that kind of happiness doesn’t last. 

Real, long-lasting, true-to-yourself happiness is something we create. You have heard it before, and frankly it’s true—you can choose happiness. But how? 

The happiest of people have honed in on particular habits, here are a few to get you started on the road to a happier you:

1.) Slow down — Happy people slow down to appreciate the little moments in life. They take the moment to soak up the way their child laughs or talks, the smile on a significant others face, the laughter of a friend, the beauty of a clean home, a full fridge, or a beautiful sunrise. 

2.) Exercise — Happy people are active. They get out there and get moving. Exercise leads to the release of the neurotransmitter GABA which helps to soothe the brain. It also leads to the release of feel-good hormones. It is a natural mood booster.

3.) Surround Yourself In Good Company — Getting rid of the toxic people in your life, letting go of the ones who are always being negative, can do wonders for your mood. Surround yourself with positive people and your mood and outlook will follow. 

4.) Spend Money On Others — Yes, it can be fun to buy yourself a new pair of shoes or splurge on a fancy vacation but it can feel even better to spend money on others. Treating a friend to dinner, surprising your sister with a coat she has had her eye on, donating meals to the homeless, buying an outfit for a child in need, lifting others up feels good. 

5.) Get Sleep — Sleep is so important for your mood. If you feel rundown and exhausted everything is harder, it all takes more effort and you just don’t feel well. Get sleep and you will feel better and be healthier. 

6.) Have a Growth Mindset — If you don’t believe you can change or grow as a person then you are stuck, you are stagnant in your life. If you have the mindset that you are a fluid human being, you can grow and change with time, then you believe change is possible. It is a much more positive outlook. 

7.) Work At It— Being happy is not something that just comes to a person. It takes effort. A supremely happy person is checking in with themselves often. They make decisions based on their happiness levels. For example, they are exhausted from working hard at the office so they decide to take the night off and go to bed early. Or, they need a mood boost so they decide to hit the gym on the way home, or stop and watch the sunset.

Happiness is possible for everyone, no matter their life circumstances. It just takes some healthy habits and a healthy mindset. A licensed counselor can help you get there if you need some assistance. 

toxic relationship

Are You In A Toxic Relationship?

Toxic relationships happen. You fall in love with someone and things take a turn. It can be hard to recognize that you are in a toxic relationship simply because you don’t want to be. Your vision is clouded. You think “my relationship if just fine.” But, toxic relationships need your attention. They can harm you emotionally and physically. They can deeply impact you on every level. 

What makes a relationship toxic? How do you know if you are in a toxic relationship? Here are some signs to look out for:

1.) Your partner is stripping away your self-esteem: They are always finding something wrong with you—the way you dress, your haircut, your teeth, your weight, the things you do, your personal preferences, etc. Whatever it is, it feels like nothing is good enough. 

2.) There is a power imbalance: Relationships are supposed to be unions. There is give and take from both partners. While not always equal, they ebb and flow. Sometimes you might give more and sometimes your partner might. But, if it always seems like you are not in control of your life and you are always the one giving, then there is a clear power imbalance and that is not healthy. 

3.)Your partner is jealous and controlling: All healthy relationships need trust. Without trust, your relationship needs some work. If your partner is always jealous or wants to control who you spend your time with, where you go, etc. that is a warning sign. 

4.) You aren’t taking care of yourself: This is not necessarily related to your partner but you can’t possibly take care of your relationship without first taking care of yourself. If you can’t find time to get away from your partner to do things for yourself, then make time. If he/she/they won’t let you get away for self-care or engage in self-care at home, then see number 3.

5.) You don’t feel like you can be yourself: When you are in a relationship you should be free to be you. A partner is someone that you can feel comfortable with. They know you, all of you, and they love you for it. If you can’t be yourself then you might want to consider finding someone you can be yourself with. 

6.) They don’t bring out the best in you: Constant put-downs or arguing, negativity is a drain on your emotional health. Laughing, feeling loved and safe, those things are part of a relationship. If you don’t feel like your relationship is bringing out the best in you, then it might be toxic. 

7.) You are always making excuses for their behavior: Yes, we all have bad weeks. We all have bad months. But, your partner should at least be making an effort. If you come to he/she/they with a concern they should listen and try to make it right. If you find yourself constantly saying to yourself “well he had a bad day at work,” or “she has a lot going on right now” then it might be time to reevaluate. 

These are just a few of the many signs of an unhealthy relationship pattern. Toxic relationships and abusive relationships borderline on each other, so if for any reason you fear for your safety get out. A licensed therapist can help you evaluate your relationship, regain confidence, and break free. You deserve to be with someone who wants to be with you, who appreciates you for all you are.

moms

Stay-At-Home Moms Are Working Too

There was another post that caught my eye on social media the other day. It was a hand-written comparison list titled “Should Mothers Have Careers?” I have posted the image below so you can see it for yourself. 

mom image

This list is vastly unfair and unrealistic. It is media like this that gives the stay-at-home mom so little respect. This kind of subtle messaging can do so much harm. It plants these stereotypes that just because you are home with the kids you have so much free time during the day. Oh yes, you are home so you have time to cook a gourmet meal, play all day, and nap. It is this stuff that causes husbands to come home and ask their wives that much-despised question — “what have you been doing all day?”

It is not right. These moms aren’t napping all day. They are juggling the laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning, and meal preparation with the constant demands (and guilt) to play (or get a snack) from their children. They are the managers of households. Their to-do lists are overflowing. They are exhausted both physically and emotionally. They are working hard as hell. 

Not to mention they can be faced with ongoing feelings of loneliness, the struggle to find a place where they belong and a purpose within themselves. It is hard when you go through 90 percent of your day with only a two-year-old to talk to. 

Whether working outside or inside the home, each has its challenges and benefits. Being a mother (period) is hard work and it deserves all the respect we can give. We need to stop glorifying the stay-at-home mom as someone who is always on vacation and instead give her a helping hand, a hug, a high-five. We also need to stop putting down the working mom, the one who is doing what she needs to do for her family, the one who may be following her dreams. We all have different paths—one is not better than the other.

work identity

Why Being Yourself At Work Can Help You Get Ahead

It has long been thought that to succeed professionally, you need to blend into the culture of your workplace, you need to mute your differences and not “shake the pot,” especially as a woman or member of a minority group. But a recent article in the Harvard Business Review has revealed that there can also be many benefits to sharing your cultural differences and being your whole, unique self. 

When we don’t hold back or hide our true identities, we can offer a unique perspective. As a minority or a member of a different gender group than others in similar roles, often you have different life experiences that provide a different view on a particular subject area. For example, a woman is going to know a lot more about designing a training bra than a man. Someone who grew up in a poor family is going to understand public aid better than someone who never needed it. Someone who struggled to fit in as a child because of racial differences is going to understand minority issues better than someone who didn’t face those circumstances. 

Unique Perspective

Your unique perspective can also help to identify any racially insensitive marketing or features that might have been overlooked. By being open with your thoughts and observations you can help to prevent serious issues from taking place. If you are willing to share details about your life or culture with others, you also have the potential to help bridge differences and create a more conducive work environment. People are naive to differences and often rely on incorrect stereotypes to classify those around them, you have the potential to open their minds and change that perspective by sharing a bit about you. 

Being true to yourself and sharing your identity with others can help to build rapport among colleagues or clients. When similarities are discovered in people of different nationalities you have created a bridge from one culture to another. As humans, we tend to connect over a common interest or life experience, like being a mom, enjoying a particular hobby, or experiencing a similar life event. 

Benefits vs. Risks

As with all benefits, there are also risks. When you stand out or relate to a specific cultural or gender group you might find yourself getting stuck with the same projects over and over again. You may also be faced with resistance from management or colleagues who don’t agree with your degree of difference. They might be uncomfortable with you getting noticed or pointing out a different path they had yet to consider. 

In the end, it is your self-confidence, creativity, and work ethic that are going to get you noticed. Being yourself and having the ability to feel like you can truly be you are going to contribute to your overall happiness and self-confidence and likely your success.

kids meaning life

Should our kids really be the ‘meaning of life?’

The other day I ran across a post on Facebook that made me stop and think. The post was a picture of a mother and son holding hands and walking on the beach. The son asked his mom “what is the meaning of life,” and the mom replied, “you are.” It was shared more than 25,000 times.

meaning life image

Now, I get it, we love our kids in a way that only a parent can only understand. It is that “heart outside your body” feeling. They do mean the world to us, and yes we want them to be happy. We want our kids to be successful, make good choices, and live a fulfilled life. But, is it really fair to make them the “meaning” of our lives?

A Lot of Pressure

Think about it. That is a lot of pressure to put on our children. They might feel responsible for our happiness, which isn’t their job to take on. You did have a life path before you had children and you will continue to have one after your children are out of the house starting their own families.

It’s ok to have other meanings for living. Your children are, of course, a big part of your existence. Maybe all you ever wanted was to be a parent. Maybe you gave up a career or another life path to be a full-time mom. And, that stuff is ok. But, should you really be putting all your eggs in one basket. Should you be counting on your kids for all your happiness? Should your life-success be measured by the happiness or success of your children?

Parenting is Beautiful

It is a beautiful thing to love a child, to parent, to care for and raise another human being, but they (by themselves) don’t have to be the meaning of your life. You can do other things for yourself, and others. Maybe the meaning of your life is caring for others, exploring the world, teaching younger generations, etc. Maybe it is following a dream.

Whatever it is. One thing is for sure—you alone control your happiness.

narcissist-codependent relationship

When Addiction is About More Than Substances

The Narcissist-Codependent Relationship

When we think of abusing drugs and alcohol and the nature of an addict, we generally think mostly about the substances they are using and the individuals themselves. But, that is not all. Sometimes it is the relationships they are in and the people in their lives contributing to their underlying problems. 

One such problemsome relationship is the narcissist and the codependent. Narcissist personality types tend to put themselves above all else. They use other people to benefit themselves, exploit relationships without feelings of guilt, blame others for their missteps, and look down on others to make themselves feel better. Codependent personality types lack self-esteem, rarely make decisions for themselves, always put others first, feel they must always be in a relationship and are overly dependent on the other people in their lives. A relationship between the two personality types often leads each person to reinforce each other’s negative behaviors. 

A codependent won’t stand up to a narcissist about unhealthy behaviors and a narcissist won’t listen to a codependent. One is too fearful to lose the other, and the other wants to stay in control of their partner and doesn’t care how he/she/they feels. Codependents often become the enablers in these relationships. They don’t stand up to their partners and they often financially support their partner’s negative behaviors, after all, they don’t want to make them mad. The codependent might also help the narcissist to hide his/her/their addictions.

It is obvious this kind of relationship is unhealthy and can’t last. If we want the addiction under control the narcissist needs to get away from the enabler, the codependent. The codependent also needs to work on being their own person, and stop being the doormat for the narcissist and increase his/her/their self-worth and self-esteem. 

It is possible to end these types of relationships, it just takes some work. The codependent needs to take a serious look at themselves to realize how dependent they are and to end the cycle, and let go of the narcissist. Seeking the help of a licensed mental health professional can help end these behaviors and turn things around. Sometimes it takes an intervention from people outside the relationship, who see things others do not, to get the ball rolling. 

These behaviors may stem from something much deeper—a childhood experience, past relationship, or trauma. Getting help can help each person to heal. 

human connection

Our Need for Connection and What We Can Do About it

Human connection is about sharing experiences, ideas, and feelings with others. It is a sense of belonging to something greater than ourselves. And, it is crucial to our happiness, our health, and our overall survival as a species.

Yet, why are we so bad at connecting?

In our ever-connected world, where we can catch up with our high school math teacher or college roommate with a click of a button, scroll through images of our coworkers’ weekend adventures, or send a text in a matter of seconds, we are becoming increasingly unconnected. It is damaging to our happiness, our health, and our overall wellbeing. How can a world that is so focused on this idea of always being reachable be drawing us further apart? 

We are spending so much time with our heads in our devices we are missing that authentic face-to-face connection that is so important. We are losing sight of authenticity. It is so easy to leave a comment on a friend’s Facebook wall pretending to care when the reality is we haven’t thought about them in years. We don’t know what is real anymore. We choose what photos we are posting, what information we are sharing with the world and we create our facade, whether it is a true picture of our lives or not. We edit and re-edit ourselves. We tend to share the best in our lives, making things look picture-perfect, but leave out the struggles, the challenges, the stuff that makes us who we are.

There is a reason we used to function as tribes, all the woman working together to care for the families. All the men hunting and gathering. It is the same reason that often people who live alone die earlier and get sicker before they pass. Human connection, the need to connect with others, is at our core as people. 

To fulfill that need, we need to get out into the world and talk to people. We need to have face-to-face conversations. We need to do things together — have family dinners, watch a sporting event, go on a walk, have a picnic, connect outside of our electronic devices. And, we need to be authentic. We need to be our true selves. We need to share, ask the tough questions, open up about our lives and who we are. We need to focus less on finding a connection for ourselves and more on connecting with others. I know it sounds like the same thing but I mean to say that rather than waiting for people to come to you, go to them. 

Your mental health, your happiness, your sense of self-worth, all of it, will thank you for putting yourself out there and connecting. 

healthy relationships after chaos

Having healthy relationships after growing up in chaos

When you are a child raised in an emotionally chaotic environment you learn how to survive in that situation. I am talking about children who are raised in untrustworthy situations where they have become accustomed to the fact that even when things don’t feel right nothing they say or do is going to make things better. 

In many cases, these children have learned that expressing discourse of any kind is a bad thing. They learn to shut their feelings down and ignore the bad they might be feeling inside. This is because as children we know that we need our parents or other caregivers to survive. They give us what we need, so we have to keep things as livable as possible. 

Stuck in Old Patterns

Now, this sort of behavior might work for a child but as an adult keeping your feelings buried and not listening to them, leaves us stuck. As an adult you can’t keep silent, it doesn’t allow us to grow or develop any real intimacy with others. It also doesn’t keep us safe as it did as children. 

By not acting on our own self-protective instincts we end up in harm’s way, consumed by fear, obsessively thinking about what we dislike about our world, and carrying overwhelming feelings of resentment. We become mad at ourselves for not being able to change our situation. 

Rediscover Healthy Relationships

When you have spent your whole life ignoring your nervous system, how do you then recover and allow yourself to develop healthy relationships? 

The first step to any change is to recognize what is happening inside of you. How are you feeling when? What causes you to react in a certain way? Then confront those feelings. Instead of pushing them down, react. Stand up for yourself. Speak your thoughts. Remind yourself that this behavior no longer takes care of you, and allow yourself compassion and gratitude for the fact that you once did exactly what you needed to survive. 

Let Go of Toxic People

Then, ask yourself what you need to know and hear from others in your life. If those people can’t provide what you need, then understand it is ok to let them go. You don’t need to hold on to another out of fear. Find the courage inside of you to speak your truth and to acknowledge what you need. You may not have gotten what you needed as a child, but you don’t have to live like that anymore. The time is NOW to take care of you. 

You can make changes for the better. The power is within you. Seeking help from a licensed professional can help you to identify these feelings within and confront them head-on. A mental health professional can guide you and help to give you the tools to make positive changes.