Sunday, 12 August 2018

Anxiety: T2 (The Telegraph) Article dated 12th Aug '2018

Anxiety is universal and commonplace. We have all experienced anxiety at some point of time in our lives, and most of us don’t even think it is something to be taken seriously. Perhaps we assume that it’s natural to be worrying, anxious and high-strung in today’s world and so, we don’t see how anxiety wreaks havoc on our lives. 
Sometimes we confuse an anxious mind with an active mind or as being concerned, which gives us the justification and incentive to remain anxious. A mother who’s constantly thinking about her child’s future may find not worrying as a sign of being a bad mother. If a student is not crumbling under pressure before an exam, we might be quick to judge them as ‘not serious’ about studies. A person who usually takes things in their stride calmly may not be perceived as driven or productive enough. It will not be an exaggeration to say that through many of our apparently normal thoughts, ideas and lifestyle choices, we are constantly priming ourselves to be anxious in many ways. And many of us are paying a price for it. 
Anxiety falls under the umbrella term ‘neurosis’, which is defined as maladaptive psychological symptoms usually precipitated by stress. Basically, we are said to have neurosis when our mind cannot cope with the perceived or real challenges, threats or stressful situations, and we start worrying excessively, feeling apprehensive about the small things. This causes a lot of distress and dysfunctionality. 
Anxiety can manifest as a sudden episode of acute panic attack (Panic Disorder), worry of being embarrassed in public (Social Phobia), worry of being contaminated and developing a repetitive compulsive behaviour (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), of being away from close ones (Separation Anxiety Disorder), fear of having a serious illness (Hypochondriasis) and being overweight (Anorexia Nervosa) to a more defused but constant lurking of fear and tension (Generalised Anxiety Disorder).

Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)


It’s when there is more or less constant worrying even when things look okay. One feels an uncontrollable, persistent, free-floating anxiety most of the time of the day, and one is also always apprehensive about everyday events or problems. 
It gets accompanied by other symptoms like restlessness, tiredness, difficulty in concentration, irritability, muscle tightness and sleep disturbance. According to the DSM V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for mental disorder) criteria for diagnosis, if one has at least three of the above symptoms along with pervasive and persistent worry for most days for at least six months, one can be diagnosed of having GAD. 
According to ICD-10 (International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems), GAD is recognised by:
1. ‘Autonomic arousal’ including palpitation, increased heart rate, increased respiratory rate, trembling or shaking and dry mouth.

2.Physical symptoms like breathing difficulty, choking sensation, chest pain or discomfort, nausea, abdominal discomfort or pain.

3. Psychological symptoms like feeling unsteady, dizzy, light-headedness, ‘derealisation’ (which is an acute sense or suspicion of being in an unreal, unfamiliar world or/and a sense of detachment from one’s own thoughts and feelings or sense of self), fear of losing control, fear of going crazy or dying or passing out, difficulty in concentration or ‘mind going blank’ from stress, persistent irritability, sleep disturbance.

4.General symptoms like hot flushes, cold chills, numbness, tingling.

5. Symptoms of tension including muscle tension/aches and pains, restlessness or inability to relax, feeling on the edge or tense, feeling a lump in the throat or having difficulty in swallowing.

 Panic attack

A more dramatic and acute presentation of anxiety is a panic attack — a short period of intense fear accompanied by some of the symptoms mentioned above, including a few others. Sometimes the fear or anxiety can be so distressing and painful that suicidal thoughts can arise. In panic attack, symptoms develop rapidly, peaking in about 10 minutes and usually don’t last for more than 30 minutes. It may happen out of the blue or when there’s a specific recognisable trigger. Having to perform in front of others, meeting unknown people, facing a crowd, being in public places or in emotionally charged moments can be some of them.
Ironically, the fear of having a panic attack itself can trigger one; and so can the fear of getting sick or lost. Sometimes attacks may happen in sleep and in rare cases, physiological symptoms of anxiety may occur without the recognisable psychological component, which is known as non-fearful panic attack.
A chronic and recurring panic disorder may present itself with only physical symptoms like chest pain, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and certain types of headaches, that is, without an actual panic attack. Another common form of anxiety is ‘Specific Phobia’ where there is an irrational fear of a particular trigger, like phobia of closed spaces, public speaking or injections.

Five psychological potholes to avoid: 

‘Should be’ fixation: 

When one is too fixated on how things should be rather than being aligned with how things are, it creates a psychological environment of anxiety. It is great to try to better things but we also need to understand that not everything can be how we think it should be. We are imperfect creatures who live in an imperfect world and ‘should be’ can be aspirations and preferences but not compulsions and demands.  

‘Comfort zone’ adherence: 

If we only stick to things and environments that we are comfortable in, our tolerance threshold for things that we don’t know how to deal with is bound to be low. This does not help one to grow. The more we are exposed and forced to negotiate things that are outside our comfort zone, the more skilful we become to handle ourselves during stressful times. Slowly trying to get out of our comfort zone might make us less anxious.
Need to be in control: 

If one constantly nurtures a need to be in control and micro-manage one’s surrounding, then there will be anxiousness. There are things that we can be in control of — these are related to us, our behaviour, and our ideas. There will always be things that will be out of our control. Unless we are okay with that, we will always be stressed.

Resistance to ‘unpredictables’: 

Life surprises us. If we have a strong need to have a predictable outcome, we will often find ourselves distressed. Be ready and willing to negotiate surprises, both positive and negative, and you’ll find it easy to deal with ups and downs. 
Fixer syndrome: It is good to be a problem solver, but if you think you need to fix everyone ’s problems around you, you are in for trouble. There is a difference between the problems you can solve, problems which you want to solve any problems which need to be solved, so choose and prioritise carefully; you cannot fight every battle without getting torn apart within.


Learning to disengage

Whatever be the symptoms, there are psychological patterns behind most cases of anxiety. We love and value a person who is constantly anticipating, recognising, getting engaged with a problem and thinking of ways to handle them or at least trying to prevent them in advance. We also love a perfectionist who is in charge and delivers perfectly every time. These same traits can also give rise to dysfunctional anxiety or panic attacks because they programme us to constantly think of the worst-case scenarios and create an urgency to micro-manage our environment according to our ideals.
Learning to disengage from anxiety-creating thoughts, beliefs and ideas is an important skill to develop. We need to be self-vigilant so that we can recognise these troublemakers and challenge them when they are causing more distress than benefit. It requires long-term commitment to change and to keep disputing the beliefs and thoughts that may be triggers. 

Daily practice of breath control and meditation techniques like the ones taught in the Vipassana meditation courses, mindfulness-based stress reduction programmes, Zazen or Zen meditation are quite useful in dealing with anxiety. 
 Nowadays excellent medications are available for anxiety. Don’t shy away from consulting a psychiatrist and getting a proper evaluation and prescription. It is important to remember that many medical conditions like hyperthyroidism can mimic symptoms of anxiety or panic attack, so please get a doctor’s opinion. A therapist might also be able to help recognise early symptoms and teach effective tools.

In an acute condition, one needs to affirm to oneself that, “it’s a passing phase, it will go away in half-an-hour”. Practise focusing on your breath, and try breathing slowly and deeply during an acute attack. You can listen to calming music or nature sounds, or do a quick guided anxiety-relieving meditation on one of the various apps available. Carry your medicines if you are prone to panic attacks. Educate yourself and know what works for you.


Dr Sangbarta Chattopadhyay and Dr Namita Bhuta are medical practitioners and practising psychotherapists. They conduct individual and group therapy sessions




Sunday, 22 July 2018

QnA Parenting: T2 article Dated 22nd July, 2018


Q. My 10-year-old cannot go to sleep unless he is in physical contact with someone. Even if it’s for just 10 minutes before sleeping. How do I change this? He will be going to boarding school next year and I need to get him out of this habit.

A: The best way to deal with it is to have a talk with him; explain the situation and tell him why you need to help him get over this habit. 
There are a few things you should be aware of. Has he always been this way, or is it a recent habit? If it has always been like this, then probably you or one of the family members has created this habit. In that case, you need to talk to him first and deal with the situation based on his reaction. You may need to gradually wean him off this habit. Offer to sit in the room initially as he tries to sleep. After a few days, let him try and sleep alone. 
If this is a recent development, you need to determine its cause. Many times, a child may be fearful of something or they may feel they are not getting the attention they need. Chat with them without criticising them and then act accordingly. Children at age 10 are capable of sleeping alone, so knowing the root of the problem will help you solve it easily. Ensure that the solution is something that he is comfortable with. 

Q. Is fidgeting a psychological disorder? Do I need to be worried if my child is constantly fidgeting?

A: Fidgeting by itself is not a psychological disorder. It can be a symptom of behavioural issues, depending on the age of the child, the frequency and duration of fidgeting and whether it is disrupting normal activities and studies. 
Children under five years are generally fidgety and curious about their environment. They are restless and want to move about. This pattern decreases as they grow older. Try to engage your child in physical activity and encourage them to play games which require focus and concentration. If the fidgeting is affecting their studies or activities, consult a child counsellor. 

Q. My 18-year-old son has made friends with a gang of boys who are into doping. How do I keep a check on him without antagonising him?

A: This depends on your dynamics with your son. If you have a friendly relationship and he trusts you, then having a few heart-to-heart conversations and explaining your reservations should be enough. Make sure that you have authentic information before you have these conversations. Do not discard the importance of his friendship; rather talk about what your concerns are. 
If he has been staying away from doping despite his friends being into it, please make sure to compliment him. And let him know that you trust him. If you are open and can be non-judgemental, children are quite eager to share their stories; for that, though, you have to first gain their trust. If you already have a difficult relationship, then take the help of a professional counsellor to improve your relationship. 

Q. My 10-year-old daughter is quite sharp, but her attention span is very poor. She is hyperactive too. How do I help her?

A: Kids are more active than adults and often appear to be hyperactive. They also have shorter attention spans. At 10 years, they cannot sit for long periods to study. 
There are different styles of studying. Some kids, especially those with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), study better while moving around, others memorise better if they hear things and while some others are visual learners. Support your daughter by allowing her to learn in the style that suits her best. Try and make studies interesting for her. The sharper your child is, the more curious she will be and is more likely than others to be bored of things.
When studying, it is all right to give her a break after 30-40 minutes and resume. Encourage daily outdoor activities as children generally have lots of energy which needs to be spent. 
Various research shows that cutting out artificial sugars from a child’s diet helps those who are hyperactive. 
Reduce the time a child spends in front of the screen to a minimum, ideally not more than half an hour a day. If she still finds it difficult to concentrate, you can seek professional help. 

Q. How do I teach my nine-year-old son to handle rejection? From not being selected for the school football team to losing in a cricket tournament… of course, there are small rejections at every step.

A: There is no particular way to teach a child how to handle rejection. Children learn from their parents’ actions and responses — how you react to situations and respond to them. It is normal for your child to feel disheartened, let down, rejected when things don’t go their way. When you talk to your child, do not ignore these feelings. If they are very sad, tell them: “I know you are feeling sad, and it is okay. You can try next time.” 
Avoid trying to bribe your child with gifts or food to compensate for the rejection. Spend time with them, have a fun chat and play games when they feel disappointed and low. You can also assess your parenting strategies. Do you always say yes to your child or give in to their demands at some point? Then you need to start saying a firm no to their unreasonable demands. The skill to deal with rejection also comes from the ability to accept a no. 

Q. Bullying and physical violence is a major problem in boys’ schools. How do we advise our children to tackle that? Advising them to hit back always means encouraging them to be violent, while suffering quietly is seen as a mark of weakness.

A: Teaching your child about how to handle a bully is important irrespective of their gender. If there is physical violence involved where your son can be harmed, encourage him to report to an authority person immediately after the incident. Urge him to take precautions by making friends and staying with his group of friends. Teach him to shout out for help if he is alone and being harassed. Encourage your son when he helps his friends out in similar situations. Tell him: “Harassing someone is not acceptable behaviour, but that doesn’t mean that we retaliate by being the same way or taking law in our hands.”
Bullying is not just physical, there is verbal bullying, emotional bullying and cyber bullying. The key to tackling bullying is to have good communication with your child so that they can tell you without worrying about what is happening to them. The idea is to teach them to stand up for themselves, help them retain their self-esteem without encouraging to be violent or aggressive.

Q. To what extent do I allow my 10-year-old daughter to be on social media? Giving free access is proving to be addictive, while barring it is keeping her out of the loop while her peers are indulging in it. 

A: This is a very difficult and highly debated topic and it’s hardly possible to give a one-fits-all solution. The problem is not the fact that there is social media, it is how one uses it and for what one uses it. However, peer pressure should not be one of the reasons why you allow your child to use social media. Applications of social media is vast today; it includes various apps such as Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Instagram and Tinder.
Homework assignment via WhatsApp is not harmful, but sharing private pictures or whereabouts to strangers on Facebook or Snapchat can be. 
Study and project material can be found online, so a blanket ban on social media is not a solution for the children of this generation. But as access to electronics increases, the electronic addiction also increases. You as parents have to be informed and discern which is the app that you will allow access to and which you won’t. Then fix a duration for which the child is allowed access to social media. Limit the duration of the overall screen usage as well. Do not allow online gaming every day. 
We believe, and these rules are arbitrary, that in the current Indian context, children should not have personal accounts on any social media before they are 15. For a 10-year-old, it is advisable to have limited and supervised access to an online medium.

Dr Sangbarta Chattopadhyay and Dr Namita Bhuta are medical practitioners and practising psychotherapists. They conduct individual and group therapy sessions in Kolkata.




Sunday, 8 July 2018

Work Stress/ "Load Shedding" : T2 article dated 8th July 2018



In a recent study of the American workforce, 77 per cent of the working individuals surveyed reported being unhappy because of work-related stress. Many of us could say the same about ourselves — the enormous stress that we feel because of our jobs. When we get stressed at work, it spills on to other aspects of our lives. Understanding how we behave, perform, respond and cope in our workplace is the key to dealing with stress in the long run. 

What is stress?

Stress is our physiological and psychological preparation for a real or presumed challenging situation. 
When we sense there’s a crisis coming up, we mentally switch to a crisis management state, we become alert, our blood pressure rises, the heart pounds, breathing becomes heavy, muscle tightens. Our body gets ready to fight or take flight. This priming response, which we recognise as the stress response of our body, is very important for our survival. When the crisis is over, our body is geared to go back to its normal state.
These physiological changes are not harmful to the body as long as the body returns to it’s resting or baseline equilibrium reasonably quickly, and what is causing the stress is there only for a limited time period. 
We also experience these biological changes when we get excited, say, when watching the World Cup match between Argentina and France, or doing physical training, or even when we have a fanboy/fangirl moment with a celebrity. Many might actually enjoy the adrenaline rush and crave it, as it lets us experience a sense of excitement, thrill and aliveness. It is only when our body’s functions do not return to their baseline — either due to long-standing exposure to the stressor, or because we don’t know how to disengage from the crisis situation and give ourselves a break — that stress actually gets to us and becomes harmful. 

Stress at the workplace

We may not realise it, but an insecure work environment, even when it works in our favour, actually can build up constant anticipatory stress and hurt our productivity. A workplace that is friendly and cooperative will naturally make one secure, relaxed and at ease. So nurturing a supportive work environment goes a long way toward reducing stress. Here are a few things we can do reduce work stress for ourselves and for our colleagues. 

Support your team

Listen to everyone in your team and respect them for their uniqueness. Avoid being a bully; instead, be there for the other person. Motivate, mentor and groom your juniors and help out your colleagues. They are likely to help you when you need their support! Avoid powerplay and favouritism. Sometimes in the guise of being playful or pulling someone’s leg for fun, we end up ridiculing, isolating, hurting or breaking our co-worker’s morale. Watch out against that. 

Avoid setting unrealistic targets and deadlines

Perhaps nothing stresses us out more than a feeling of helplessness when we deal with a situation that’s beyond our capacity. There is rarely anything more uncomfortable than the constant reminder of our inability to do something which can alter the outcome. What can one do in such a situation? 

1) Do not overcommit:

 If you are in a position to make decisions, try not to commit more than you can realistically deliver. Have a discussion with other team members to estimate the time needed to finish the work. Many a time, in our zeal, to push ourselves or please others or because of our inability to say ‘no’, we bite off more than we can chew. It may sound dynamic, but in the long run, it only takes away from the productivity of the team.

2) Communicate:

 If you don’t have a say in setting the deadline and it is imposed on you, try and communicate your concern and reservation to the team leader and the members objectively and gently. Make sure that you put your best foot forward but also prepare yourself that you may not have any control over the outcome. Support other team members and work towards the goal, keeping in mind that your estimation might be wrong and you may actually be able to meet the deadline. 

3) Plan and strategise:

 Break up your larger goal into bite-sized goals and spread them over a week, so that you have smaller daily targets. Prioritise the bigger picture, which is important, and focus and work towards it. A planned approach will put you at ease; it is the direct antidote to fight feelings of helplessness.

Fear of underperforming

It is important for us to be noticed, acknowledged and appreciated for our contribution. It is important for us to do well and live up to our own expectations. And in a situation where we are lagging behind, we may find ourselves unhappy and stressed. To deal with it, the following steps can be helpful.

1) Avoid comparisons with colleagues: 

Comparisons polarise us. Either we feel flawless and hence superior, or we feel deeply inadequate and hence inferior. Disengage when your colleagues play one-upmanship driven by their insecurities. To be on top of your game, you need to choose your battles carefully. 

2) Set goals for self-improvement and learning:

 Rather than trying to be better than your colleagues, try bettering your performance! Assess your skillset and aim at improving it. A self-focused growth plan can greatly help in reducing the fear of underperforming. 

3) Take unfair appraisal in your stride: 

Don’t be too harsh on yourself or hold onto grudges when you are given a poor appraisal. Sometimes you may not be given a justified appraisal even with your genuine effort and contributions, at other times, office politics or unconscious biases may affect you negatively. Try to not be bogged down and focus on what you can change. Communicate with your HR or manager. Discuss calmly why you have been scored so and what you can do to improve your performance. 

Burnout

Work can be hectic and because we spend more time at work (including travel time) than ever before, it is vital that we are in fine form, physically and mentally. These small steps go a long way in preventing burnout.

1) Devise a switch-off switch-on office ritual: 

Try to switch off from work worries when you step out of the office. You can create a visual ritual to remind you of this. Imagine putting all the worries and issues in a backpack, zipping it and placing it under your office desk before leaving work. 

2) Participate in activities: 

Spend time outside your work; pursue a hobby or some extra-curricular activity. This will help to disengage from the stress and allow your mind to unwind. You can use meditation apps daily or try some residential meditational courses once in a while. Prioritise family and social connection time when you are out of your office. 

3) Get enough sleep: 

Having a good sleep cycle is important to rejuvenate your body and mind. To have sound sleep, avoid caffeine, watching television and using social media before going to bed.

4) Eat right: 

Are you going hungry for long hours and then end up binge eating? Eating right is not just about what you eat and how much you eat. It also matters when you eat. Eat at regular intervals and keep healthy snacks or fruits handy. 

5) Exercise: 

If you can’t manage 30 minutes of exercise during the day, break it down into 10-minute chunks thrice a day. At work, take regular breaks to stretch, especially if you have to sit for long hours.

6) Vacationing: 

It is needless to highlight the importance of a little time off once in a while. Plan and prioritise your vacations carefully. The idea is to give your body and mind an opportunity to recuperate and rest from the perceived crisis. 

https://epaper.telegraphindia.com





Saturday, 23 June 2018

Parental Guidance : T2 article published on 24th June 2018

Most parents will agree that their parenting goals are largely to ensure that their children know how to navigate through life -- how to be happy in whatever they do, and how to deal with the ups and downs of life. Yet, as parents, we often get short-sighted by our own insecurities and fears. We get enchanted and distracted by our child's small achievements -- which we think are the indicators of their future success -- and tend to forget the actual goals of parenting.

Here's a list of parenting paradoxes that we often fall victim to...


-We want our children to have strong self-esteem, yet we get frustrated by the most trivial setback they may have had, like coming last in the swimming competition. We judge them and scold them when they achieve less than what we had expected of them, which makes sure their self-worth takes a beating and they always associate self-worth with an external proof of success. We then get shocked when they break down at the smallest sign of failure or when they are unable to take a `no', either from us or others or life itself. When they show no skill to deal with any adverse situation that life throws at them, we fail to recognise and acknowledge our own contribution in what they have become.

-We want to make them strong, resilient and self-sufficient, but in reality, we try to fight our children's battles for them so that they can live life without struggle or pain. We fight with their school teachers for the extra half a mark and highlight to them how that half mark is a matter of life and death, yet we are shocked when a student takes their life because they got a few marks less than expected. 
-We want our kid to be smart, creative and problem solvers, but we force them to follow convention and discourage any out-of-the-box thinking. We try to control our children, put them in safety boxes and then wonder why they are not learning any interpersonal skills, or why they are alone, disconnected, lonely and depressed. 
If you've ticked right for one or more of the above boxes, you may want to broaden your understanding of what is happening here and how you may impart the values that will stand your children in good stead. These seven steps will go a long way in helping your children build joyful, meaningful lives. And because parents are the living role models for their children, it all starts with you.

Resilience 


Resilience, or the ability to bounce back after setbacks, is a vital skill. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, "We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope".If you've ticked right for one or more of the above boxes, you may want to broaden your understanding of what is happening here and how you may impart the values that will stand your children in good stead. These seven steps will go a long way in helping your children build joyful, meaningful lives. And because parents are the living role models for their children, it all starts with you.
In life, sometimes one has to forgive and forget. Brooding over what happened in the past or about things which we have no control over is mostly counterproductive. We need to teach our children this by being an example.When children fail, as it is inevitable sometimes, teach them to take failure in their stride and let them know that their effort and sincerity matters a lot more than the result, in the long run.

Kindness 

A kind heart is usually a happy heart. Encourage kindness not just for people but for all living beings. When your children bring home a sick puppy home, don't shout at them. Instead, help them to nurse it or find an appropriate shelter. Don't discourage their tender hearts or ridicule and trivialise their emotions. Avoid saying no just because it causes inconvenience to you. Learning to give without gaining anything (tangible) goes a long way in boosting a child's emotional well-being. Add little acts of compassion in your daily life as well because children learn by example and our actions speak louder than words.

Nurturing connections 

When children make friends, encourage them to invest in and care for these relationships. Let them meet their friends under your supervision if need be, but don't turn them down. The ability to make new friends is a great skill to have. Teach them to connect to people from different backgrounds, regardless of caste, creed or social status. If you have a concern about a particular friend or group of friends, talk to your child, explain your concerns and point out which actions of their friends you disapprove of, rather than mocking or judging their friend. Help your children to learn from the best qualities of their friends and overlook and filter out the negative ones. When your child has a non-serious fight with their friend, motivate them to resolve it themselves rather than you intervening and calling the parent of the other child. This will build their communication and conflict resolution skills. In today's globalised world, one needs to be open, flexible and inclusive to be successful.


Sincerity, discipline and diligence 


Instead of focusing on their intelligence or talent, pay attention to the role of sincerity, discipline and diligence in their lives. These values are the cornerstones of being successful in all aspects of life. So when your kid is struggling with a math problem and sincerely trying to solve it for hours, encourage and reward them for their effort instead of lecturing on wasting time over one sum. When we focus only on a specific or perfect outcome for every act, we prime our children to be anxious and stressful later in life. Appreciate the effort even if it hasn't yielded a tangible result.


Creativity



Encourage and support your child to have a hobby and help them explore and express their creativity. Having a hobby is not to make them the next famous artist or musician; it's meant to let them ideate and imagine and remain engaged in a creative process and have fun. Urge them to focus on enjoying the process.

Acceptance 

Acceptance is an important value. Whether it is about accepting oneself, others or situations in life, as role models for our children it is important to impart this value. Are you critical of your child's physical appearance? Are you quick to pass judgement on others? When faced with challenges, do you react by getting hyper, stressed, or making a scene? Do you respond in a temperamental way each time your child does something undesirable? How you behave with your children as well as others can influence how your child behaves. You build your child's selfesteem when you encourage them to accept themselves. Accepting other people as they are, along with their shortcomings, helps to make your child build healthier relationships. And how they deal with challenges will determine how they cope with stress. 

Gratefulness 

A sense of entitlement can creep in our children when we are trying to do our best for them. Discourage this firmly but calmly. Teach them to remain grateful for all that they have. Teach them by walking the talk yourself. Show that you focus more on what you have rather than what you don't have. If they can start being thankful for everything they have, it will help them have a healthy mind and happy life.
Dr Sangbarta Chattopadhyay and Dr Namita Bhuta
Medical practitioner,  Psychotherapist, Trained Family and Structural Constellation leader

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Seize the Day!!!: T2 Article dated 18th March, 2018

There are two ways in which we can be trapped in the past. First is when we are so enamoured of our past achievements or so traumatised by our tragedies that we stay frozen in that time, rather than attending to the present.
The other is when we start living in a fantasy world created by us. This world is all about what could have been if things had happened differently. Like how easy life would have been if we had the perfect job, or how nice things might have been if we had approached the girl/ guy we fancied back in college. This kind of living ' in the past ' also robs us of our skills, mental availability, efficiency and peace of mind in the present.
Then there are others among us whose minds can be constantly flitting from the present to the future. We think faraway, have grand goals and get so absorbed in visualising the outcome of our choice that we don ' t even stop to think what the road to that goal might look like! That in order to achieve our target, there are smaller steps to be taken in the here and now. If we are too focused on something that might happen in the future, we miss all the opportunities that are there in the present moment.
The other flip side of this is that we keep obsessively worrying about the future. So many of us use up so much of our time and energy imagining the worst possible things that could happen to us or our loved ones. Not only that, we put in a lot of effort inventing ways to avoid or solve those situations too.
The result? We are least productive in taking action in the present situation.

MAXING THE MOMENT 

Can ' carpe diem ' — or the idea ' seize the day ' — be a remedy for our troubles? That seems to be the philosophy that popular culture is obsessed with of late, and the self- help industry is making the most of it too, but let 's try and understand what it means.
The Oxford English Dictionaries describes carpe diem as "to urge someone to make the most of the present time and give little thought to the future". The popular Latin aphorism is also often equated with the arguably misinterpreted and debatable Charvaka couplet in Sanskrit: " Enjoy every moment of life as long as you live. Even if you need to borrow money, always ensure that you are well- fed. " But " just enjoying the moment " while ignoring everything else and " being present in the moment " are two very different things.
Conceptually and in practice, they are diametrically opposite.
The modern- day idea of carpe diem is a stance where we are constantly looking for pleasure; we want excitement and ecstasy all the time. When we try hard to make every single moment pleasurable, it disconnects us from the totality of that moment. So we tend to pick the ' truths ' that are comfortable for us and ignore those that are not. Which actually amounts to turning a blind eye to reality.
The Roman poet Horace first used the phrase ' carpe diem ' to urge people to take action in the present moment in order to build a better future.
Even Charvaka, for whatever little could be retrieved and decoded, taught people to take action based on objectivity, rather than lofty metaphysical ideas about afterlife and karma.
In their teachings, both advocated an action- oriented, awareness- based living, so that one could be more available in the moment.

IN THE NOW 

Then, what is living in the moment? Well, it is an approach of inclusion, where you take in both the good and the bad — whatever it is that the moment offers. In the real sense, living in the moment is an invitation to be completely aware, awake, and available in the current moment.
When we are present, we are aware of our surroundings, the people around us, and we are aware of ourselves. We are also aware of the situation we are in and what we are feeling at that moment — pleasant, unpleasant or nothing in particular. We try to remain as non- judgemental as possible and assess all of it with a sense of calm.
Here, we look at everything with a certain degree of objectivity. We look at ourselves and others as a whole, and take a measure of our limitations as well as our potential, objectively. We try to see our weaknesses and vulnerabilities, with kindness, and work on them without being self- critical or ashamed.
Such a perspective also lets us look at our strengths and use them appropriately, without feeling proud or arrogant. We also remain connected to others and ourselves. This stance needs us to be acutely mindful of ' what is ' and it helps us to face life situations even if they are uncomfortable. So, we make rational decisions, instead of rushing into something, swept by a tide of emotions. And we can look at the present moment as part of a continuum, not as an isolated dot in time. Here, we are centred and collected in the present, while remaining connected to our past and aware of the possibilities that lie in the future.
It allows us to learn from our past mistakes and experiences, and assimilate the learnings in the present. So we can prepare to put our best foot forward.

Dr Sangbarta Chattopadhyay and Dr Namita Bhuta 
are medical practitioners and practising psychotherapists. They are trained Family and Structural Constellation leaders



Monday, 11 December 2017

Acceptance: Fact of Life :T2 Article dated 10th Dec'2017

There are three musts that hold us back: 
I must do well. 
You must treat me well. 
And the world must be easy 

— American psychologist Albert Ellis

What we do not realise is that often what's coming in the way of our happiness is our list of 'musts'. How do we overcome these? 
One of the ways is by being mindful of our own 'musts'. 
This can be done by- 
  • Observing our emotions, such as "I am irritated at myself for not being happy as I must always be happy". 
  • Being aware of the talk that goes on in our head, like " I must be perfect at all times "...
  • Watching our reactions to situations, such as " If things don ' t go the way I want them to, I feel pissed off". As we become conscious of these, we also need to develop flexibility, kindness and acceptance towards ourselves and others.

WHAT IS ACCEPTANCE? 

Acceptance can mean different things, depending on the context.
Psychologically speaking, one can say it's the ability to experience or acknowledge life as it is. Being in denial of certain facts of reality or running away from a particular situation is the opposite of acceptance.
To be mentally healthy and functional, one needs to practise some degree of acceptance. Studies on acceptance at the workplace by Prof Frank Bond and his colleagues at the University of London have shown that individuals with higher acceptance levels have better mental agility, better mental health and better job performance.

WHAT ARE WE ' ACCEPTING' ACTUALLY? 

We experience life in two ways. One is our external experience — of life situations and events that include our interactions with people, our health and our work. These are things that we can only partially control or sometimes have no control over at all.
And then there is the internal experience — our reactions and responses to these events and situations, and the emotions we feel as a result. These are the things that we can change or control.
Many of us tend to think that acceptance means we have to accept the external experience only and can overlook our internal experience. Well, the internal experience, in fact, is more important in the long run and also easier to regulate.

In life, some things just happen out of the blue. You're waiting at the signal and a car rams into your car from behind. While you can do little about the fact that it has happened, brooding over it might be counterproductive. You ' re not able to undo the damage done to your car, but by accepting it you can at least reduce your own suffering and may be calm enough to take necessary action, like lodging a police complaint and claiming insurance.

Then there are life situations that are difficult to come to terms with easily or quickly, like failing an important exam, losing a job, or a loved one passing away. It is important to identify and acknowledge our feelings and accept them the way they are. We can allow ourselves to feel the loss, and mourn or grieve it. If we are sad, angry or hurt, we can learn to acknowledge and accept these feelings too. It is absolutely all right to feel hurt, angry or sad in such contexts. And being okay with our own emotions sometimes helps us to be at peace quickly. 
This kind of acceptance means that neither are we justifying and brooding over our feelings, nor are we judging, rejecting or suppressing them.

WHAT ACCEPTANCE IS NOT 

Many tend to confuse psychological acceptance as giving up, or not being proactive, or as if it ' s the end of life. That is not what acceptance is.
Let ' s say, you have shared something in confidence with a friend and they have gone ahead and disclosed it to others. Then it is possible that you may feel angry, hurt, betrayed or let down.
Acceptance, in this case, would mean first accepting your own emotions and that it is okay to feel this way.
Next would be to accept the flaw in your friend — that contrary to your expectation, he/ she is not a person who can keep a secret. First, acceptance can help you reconcile with the situation and second, it can help you take a proactive stand of either communicating calmly to your friend about how you felt, or making sure that you do not share your secrets with this friend in the future.

ACCEPT, IN ORDER TO CHANGE 

Accepting one's life as it is is an important first step to actually changing the things you want to change. If a student wants to score 95 percent in the board exams, the first thing she has to do is identify her skill set and accept her shortcomings. If she ' s someone who can ' t sit down to study for more than 30 minutes at a stretch, she needs to acknowledge that drawback and make a plan factoring in this aspect.
Maybe she can take a short break every half an hour, with a reminder to herself that she needs to get back to study after that. And once she is able to do that, she can also try some concentration exercises to train her mind to sit in one place and focus on what she ' s studying for a longer period.
One of the most important things to factor in when setting a goal is knowing one's skill set — the strengths as well as the weaknesses and accepting them as parts of you.

THE WAY TO BE MORE ACCEPTING 

Acceptance of things needs us to be more mindful, which in turn can help us be more focused and goal- oriented.
Acceptance- based treatments have shown to help people with chronic pain, anxiety, inability to quit smoking, high- stress jobs and burnout. This may be due to the fact that as we become more accepting, we might not feel the need to avoid situations that cause us distress; we become open to seeking out new opportunities. This may lead to fewer negative thoughts and higher productivity.
For example, X may not apply for a new job because he's scared of being rejected.But Y, because he ' s okay being rejected and can take it in his stride, might apply for the job and land it too! 
Again, a businessman who's suffered a financial loss might feel very disheartened and dejected initially. But if he cannot accept this situation and his emotions at some point, he might end up feeling like a victim and lose out on other opportunities to turn his business around.

People often fear that by accepting, one is compromising. That is not true. However, at times, we tend to use acceptance to disguise our laziness, fears or our desire to not do a particular thing.
Sometimes our mind feigns acceptance and makes us remain averse to a situation. That is passivity, rather than acceptance.
That is why we need to be honest with ourselves about our true emotions; we need to be aware and mindful of what we are feeling.
When one is more accepting, it ' s possible that our priorities and drives change. Things that didn't matter may become important, while those that meant a lot may not seem so anymore. When this happens, our ' musts ' don ' t hold us back anymore and we are free.

Dr Sangbarta Chattopadhyay and Dr Namita Bhuta 
Medical practitioners and practising psychotherapists.
They are trained Family and Structural Constellation leaders