Saturday, 2 May 2015

To Be Happy: T2 article dated 3rd May, 2015

It is not at all necessary that we always stay happy.
Just as a car can go off track if the driver is not attentive and wouldn't be able to bring itself back on track even on a straight road, our mind too can go off track and create complicated, depressing thought patterns. The trick to happiness is to be constantly aware of our thought process and to keep realigning ourselves to the road of happiness.
As a saying goes — happiness is not a destination or something to achieve, it is a path to be . Happiness doesn't mean there is no sadness, disappointment, hurt or pain; rather it is a more wholesome state where despite our negative experiences we are more centred and at peace.
Afreen was emotionally disturbed due to conflicts with her partner Yogesh. Here is an excerpt from one of our sessions... 

Afreen: I feel very neglected ever since Yogesh has been promoted. He is always working and even when he is not, I have become less of a priority for him.
Therapist: I see... you feel neglected after he took on new responsibility.
Afreen: Yes, I know it's unfair on him as he has to put in more hours now, but I am feeling so unimportant that it's breaking me. And I am feeling horrible that I am unable to enjoy his success.
Therapist: So you feel unimportant and insignificant as Yogesh is more involved with his work and new responsibility.
Afreen: Yes. It's not that I am not happy for him or that I am jealous…. It's just that it feels like I am not his priority anymore.... I've known him for long. He was jobless and very unsure when I started dating him. I had a good job, I still do. Yogesh started settling down and became focused staying with me. He openly acknowledges it too. But now that he is focused and is becoming an achiever, I feel I have lost my value in his life. I feel my job is done and he doesn't need me anymore.
Therapist: Yes, I can see that.
Afreen: Yogesh doesn't say anything but he is also hurt; maybe he thinks I am jealous of him and I don't want him to do well. I feel horrible.
Therapist: You also judge yourself as you are not exactly ecstatic about Yogesh's success. Have you spoken to him and tried telling him how you feel? Afreen: No, I feel ashamed to do so.
Instead I've been taking it out on Yogesh and then I feel terribly guilty.
Therapist: But there is nothing to feel guilty about. You perhaps played the role of an anchor in Yogesh's life, nurturing his talents, helping him to focus and find his drive. Now when you perceive that this role is over, you feel unimportant. It's not that you are envious or you don't want Yogesh to succeed.
This is a lot like how people usually feel when they retire. But this role doesn't define your value or your relationship. You just need to embrace your new role. Selfjudgement is not going to solve this problem. You need to discover your new role and redefine your dynamics with Yogesh. And talking about it might help. But more importantly, you need to value yourself irrespective of your role in Yogesh's life. Does that make sense? 
Afreen: Yes, it does.
To feel complete within and to be centred, one needs to have a selfassured and healthy relationship with oneself, with others and with life in general. Let's break it down... 

Relationship with the self — self- worth, life script and self- image 
Self- worth: 
How we value ourselves largely determines how we value life in general. We tend to depend on external situations, events and others to define us, or to give us value. Like, Afreen's criterion for valuing herself was based on how much she was needed by Yogesh. If a new situation or an event makes one believe that one has no significance or is not needed anymore, it can trigger personal insecurities and emotional stress. Learning to value ourselves irrespective of the situation is a very important skill to stay happy.
Life script: 
We often have a oneline script running in our head, based on the conclusions we have drawn from our experiences. These scripts are grossly generalised and often they have a prophetic undertone — ' nobody loves me and nobody will ever love me again', ' everybody who I am close to will leave me and go away', ' people use me and always discard me when they are done', ' whenever I try hard to achieve something, it always slips away'. These scripts, if not changed, become self- fulfilling prophecies.
Unconsciously, we end up following these one- liners even when we are trying to prove them wrong. For example, a script like ' nobody loves me' can make one overzealous to prove it wrong. So, the person becomes possessive and clingy, eventually leading to the script being reinforced. 
These scripts can be changed by coming to terms with the incidents which we generalised and drawn conclusion from.
Self- image: 
If we have a positive image of ourselves which says we are lovable and okay as we are, we can be happy and joyful on our own. We become less dependent on situations or others to validate us. Need for external validation comes from our If we have a positive image of ourselves which says we are lovable and okay as we are, we can be happy and joyful on our own. A healthy relationship with the self is a key factor in staying happy
inability to validate ourselves. A healthy relationship with the self is a key factor in staying happy.

Relationship with the greater self — meaning of life 

Sometimes it is not obvious to us what will give our existence meaning. Often we delude ourselves into believing that personal achievements will give us ' meaning' only to discover that even a huge amount of success, money and fame fail to give us what we are looking for.
' Meaning' can be found when we do something for the greater good.
Some find it in giving back to society, for others it can be being there for their family, friends, community or country. It gives us a sense of belonging, a sense of connection. When we know we are contributing to something bigger, and if we are in awe of it, then the mundane problems become less important and we can deal with personal disappointments much better.

Relationship with life and others 

Our happiness not only depends on the nicer aspects of life but also on our ability to make peace with disappointments. People often disappoint us, so does life. Making peace with disappointments does not mean we submit to whatever is wrong or unfair; it simply means that we take responsibility and give our best to improve the situation, knowing that the outcome is not in our hands.
In the face of these disappointments, if we learn how to look at whatever we feel is wrong as wrong and yet don't judge the people or life in general, if we can also appreciate the goodness, we can be fairly happy.

Dr Sangbarta Chattopadhyay and Dr Namita Bhuta are medical practitioners, psychotherapists and life coaches

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Depression: T2 article dated 12th April,2015

Do you often feel deeply sad but don't know why? Or, brood over something so intensely that you can't move on in life? All these could be symptoms of depression, a common illness which if untreated for long can drive one to extreme despair. Recently, Bollywood actress Deepika Padukone spoke out about battling depression. And some t2 readers echoed similar concerns to us.

Reader 1: I am unable to understand the exact thing that always keeps my mind occupied and keeps me upset all the time. For the past few months, I have become silent but I was a very talkative person. Many nights I have fallen asleep crying and when I tried to talk about it to my near ones, the only thing I heard is "get over it and stop sulking all the time". There are times when I just crave to sleep as long as I can. Could you explain depression and also ways to overcome it.

Reader 2: I am a student of Class XII, I just sat for my board exams. I often have depression attacks, so my focus gets shifted from my studies. In Class XII, it ruined enough of my time and I failed to give my best in the exams. I feel very lonely too at times. I just can't find a proper reason for this depression.

Reader 3: I lost my father two years back and my whole world came crashing down. I keep thinking about my past... places, memories, and a sense of loss always fills my mind, my soul. Every now and then there is only one feeling — a sense of loss. I didn't qualify for the entrance examinations because I could not focus on my studies. This broke my self- confidence, my self- esteem. I have always had the feeling that I am useless, my self confidence level was always low and now I have lost faith in myself. I feel pain and I feel helpless. I feel so stressed, so depressed that I just feel like sleeping. I feel that as long as I am asleep I am free from all my negative
thoughts, my memories which remind me of ' what I used to have'. I feel I belong to a different planet.

Depression is something that most people encounter at some point in their lives, at least in its mild form.
Yet — and maybe because it is commonly experienced in one form or the other — we have many misconceptions about depression.
It is natural to feel depressed, hopeless, tearful and perceive a bleak, gloomy future after some major upsetting events like the death of a loved one, failing an exam or losing a job. But if the feeling of despair continues and you are unable to move on ( Exogenous depression) like Reader 3, or if the feeling of depression is taking you away from reality though there's no apparent reason ( Endogenous depression) like Reader 1 and 2, then it is a matter of concern.
In such cases, you may not be able to deal with these emotions on your own and it is necessary to consult a mental health clinician. Family members and friends may not be enough. " Getting over it" is a solution, but the way to get over it is a process and you may need professional psychological support and pharmacological ( medicinal) intervention by a psychiatrist.
Like any physical illness, mental illness including depression can happen to anybody and it is okay to try and fight it on our own, but like any physical illness it is also important to consult a clinician, if need be to take a second opinion.

"The Beck depression inventory" identifies eight symptoms of depression. These are divided into four categories... 

A) Mood 
1. Feeling sad or unhappy 
2. Feeling unsociable 

B) Thoughts 
3. Future is gloomy 
4. The feeling that one has accomplished nothing in life, failing as a person 

C) Motivation 
5. Finding it hard to push oneself to do anything 
6. Feeling one would be better off dead 

D) Physical 
7. Losing interest in food 
8. Being unable to sleep

The essential feature of Major Depressive Episode is a period of at least two weeks during which one is either in a depressed mood for most of the day or there's a loss of interest or pleasure in nearly all activities.
In children or adolescents, the mood can be irritable rather than sad. The individual also experiences at least four of the following additional symptoms: change in appetite or weight; change in sleep; decreased energy; feeling of worthlessness; guilt; difficulty in thinking, concentrating and making decisions; recurrent thoughts of suicide or death attempts.
It is important to deal with depression psychologically at all four levels — physical, motivational, thought and mood. Here's what you could do... 

Follow a regimen: A regimental approach where you follow a disciplined lifestyle — for example getting up in the morning, going for a walk or exercise, going for work, joining a hobby class — is important. As the motivation level is low, a regimen helps one follow a healthy lifestyle. Without the regimen and without the motivation, it becomes very difficult to make a healthier and better choice each time. A healthy timetable helps take care of the physical as well as the motivational symptoms of the depression. Make a daily timetable to keep yourself busy and try to follow it. You might not be able to follow it initially. Be patient with yourself and keep trying.

Take responsibility: Engage in everyday responsibilities to feel happy and connected. In your regimen, set aside some time to go and meet people even if you don't ' feel like it'. Pick up a hobby or join a language class just to be in a group.
Every morning draw up a plan of action to make yourself happy.
Actively try to make plans to change the mood. Changing the mood will need sustained effort and again you need to be patient with yourself.

Break the pattern of ruminating: Try to fill your day with a lot of activities. Whenever you catch yourself thinking about the past or just worrying about the future, gently bring yourself to the present.
Focus on the job at hand. Keep yourself busy. Focus on the ' now'. Focus on enjoying the process rather than worrying about the outcome.
For example if you are cooking, instead of focusing on making a dish which ' everybody must appreciate', focus on the process of cooking, mixing the spices, experimenting with the flavours.

Ditch the conditions you impose on yourself: Do away with conditions that you place to appreciate yourself, such as ' I can only feel worthy if I succeed in an exam/ earn money', ' I can only feel connected when people recognise me / appreciate me / love me the way I want them to'. These are unnecessary, self- defeating conditions which make us feel disconnected and worthless.

Dr Sangbarta Chattopadhyay and Dr Namita Bhuta are medical practitioners, psychotherapists and life coaches Share your problems with them at 
dr. sangbarta@ gmail. com

Defining Self: T2 article dated 22nd March 2015

Who am I? This question has probably been around from the time humankind existed. The idea of the ' self ' has undergone several transitions. With each passing generation, we redefine who we are. In modern psychology, the self is no longer considered as just an individual, separate from social contexts and relationships. Rather, the idea of self is seen as embedded in its cultural social and family contexts.

As individuals, we try to gain our worth by being of value to a bigger identity, which may be our family, tribe, community, society or nation. How ' valued' we feel depends on two major factors: 

A) Social comparison: 
We compare ourselves to others or to an idealised version of how we ' should be'. From this we develop our idea of who we are and form an estimation of our worth. This self- judgement serves as a double- edged sword, as it can help bring out the best in us and also pull us down.

B) Feedback from others: We constantly try to define ourselves based on the judgement of others.
The feedback can be actual, such as from parents, teachers, friends and peers, or it may be our presumptions about how others will judge us. This is a problem area as our opinion about ourselves depends upon external validation.

Yogesh, a man in his early 30s, was referred to us by his friends. He came because he had a feeling of " emptiness and purposelessness". Though he ran a fairly successful company, his friends and he had noticed that he was becoming socially withdrawn and morose of late. On inquiry he told us that his elder brother had a manufacturing company which had suffered a massive loss, and so immediately on completing his MBA, he joined his brother to help out.
Yogesh started a safer and lowinvestment assembly unit, which gave lower profits but was more sustainable and gradually they made up for the losses. But of late the manufacturing unit run by his brother had picked up and was once again the main business in terms of financial returns. Here's how our session went... 

Yogesh: I feel that somehow I am not required for anything now. My family is secure and I am not adding anything significant and there is no purpose to my life.
Therapist: Okay, so you are feeling less significant these days? Yogesh: Yes. I know it's very stupid.
Sometimes I question myself if I am jealous of my brother. He's doing very well and naturally we are always talking about his plans, his problems, his achievements.... But I honestly don't feel so. I am extremely proud of him.
Therapist: So, is it possible that though you are not jealous, because your brother's contribution has taken centre stage and when you compare yourself to that, you feel less significant? 
Yogesh: Yes. But that's shallow, isn't it? I also feel that when my family was in a crisis I was ' valued' and now that the crisis is over, I am no longer needed. Sometimes I secretly wish for a crisis… and this makes me feel horrible about myself.

Yogesh's problem was a multilayered one. First, he was feeling a lack of self- worth due to the change of his role in his family. In comparison to his brother, he was feeling ' less needed'. Second, he was judging himself and feeling guilty about being competitive with his brother and finding his sense of self-worth in the family crisis, which was clashing with his moral ideas of how he ' should be'. Though we are naturally inclined to social comparison, we can train our mind to change the criteria by which these comparisons are made.

In the early stages of life, our comparison is naturally goal- centric but as the life situations change we need to redefine ourselves through self- actualisation, i. e through developing and exploring our own ability and potential.

Adapting to new roles: Like Yogesh, a lot of people find themselves at a loss when their role in the social context changes. It can be for a professional post- retirement, or it can be for a mother when her children grow up and become increasingly independent. Situations will always change and it demands that we realign ourselves to the new roles and new responsibilities.

Changing the criteria for comparison: When our role changes, we need to redefine the criteria for evaluating ourselves. If we can focus on doing our best instead of simply focusing on the end result of our efforts, it will become easier to find value. We can train ourselves to focus on our own self- improvement rather than comparing ourselves with others to feel good about ourselves. Yogesh slowly opened up to the idea of finding value by contributing in different ways. He started spending more time with his family and also started focusing on volunteer work.

Self- feedback: That and self assurance can play a major part in redefining our self- worth. As we mature and go through life, we come to be our own person. Ideas of success and failure, being worthy and unworthy — as defined by society — may not be enough to define who we are. 
We gradually need to become comfortable with our own uniqueness and depend less on conventional norms to make us feel valued. We need to find ways to appreciate and reassure ourselves every now and then, and not wait for it to come from others

( Name and details have been changed)

 Dr Sangbarta Chattopadhyay and Dr Namita Bhuta are medical practitioners, psychotherapists and life coaches Share your problems with them 
dr. sangbarta@ gmail. com

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Q & A for the parents of exam going students: T2 Article dated 22nd Feb'2015

In the past few weeks, there has been a surge of anxious parents in our clinic. The board exams are near, parents are worried and the kids are edgy. Many of them are taking a board exam for the first time. For many parents, too, it's their first experience. We have tried to answer a few questions that we have received in this context.

Q: I have a daughter who is appearing for her Class X exams.
She studies with the help of a couple of tuitions and gets decent marks. However, she cries a lot during exam time and everytime she says she's going to flunk.
She's our only daughter, and both my husband and I feel helpless during her exams. Sometimes we feel she is having a nervous breakdown and we really don't know what to do.

We understand that your daughter shows this kind of behaviour during all her exams, yet she gets decent marks. Assuming that this has been her standard behaviour and despite this has ended up with decent marks, both you and your husband can calm down.
Understand that though her crying and anxiety may be stemming from a genuine concern about her performance, she is not yet able to gauge the degree of her preparation.
This is something that many children go through.
As a parent, you need to give them space to vent, yet at the same time, gently bring their focus back to the job at hand. Later, after the exams, take this up with your daughter and let her know that she doesn't have to panic as much as she does. You may also consider taking professional help from a counsellor to help your daughter break this behavioural pattern.
But at this eleventh hour, any effort to try and change her can backfire.
So for the time being, stay calm and be there for your daughter with words of positive encouragement. Be gentle, and not forceful, to help her stay on track. Try not to sound as if you are trivialising the matter and be available for her when she rants, like when she says she's going to fail. Tell her calmly that she just needs to focus on her exam, not the marks. In your mind tell yourself this is just a phase and she will take the exam and perform just as she has done before.

Q: My son is appearing for his board exams. We feel he is not studying enough. He's always been very sharp but lazy. During this last leg of preparation, when his classmates are studying 12- 16 hours, he studies a maximum of 8- 10 hours. He sleeps during the day for a couple of hours and takes frequent breaks while studying. His five- minute breaks invariably turn into 15 minutes and if we try to push him, he gets angry, sulks and does not study for the next few hours. The atmosphere in the house becomes tense.
How do we encourage him to study more so that he can perform according to his potential? 

In this last leg of preparation, it is important that your son stays mentally and emotionally healthy. Anger, bitterness and a feeling of being pressured can be counter- productive.
We all learn, store and recall information differently. Our ability to focus and how we make an effort varies from person to person, much like our intelligence.
The ability to focus for more than an hour at a time is a learnt behaviour; it requires practice and time.
Given that your son is just about to take his board exams, this may not be the best time to ask him to change his study pattern. You can remind him gently, and with positive words, to reduce the duration of his breaks.
As far as the sleeping goes, a child needs seven to eight hours of sleep for him/ her to perform optimally, to remember and recall better. It is during our sleep time that our memories are formed. So let him get his rest.
It is difficult to stay calm when you see your child is not performing as best as he can. But be patient and calm. Having conflicts at this time is not going to help either him or you.
In the rush to push your child to be the best, do not harm your relationship with him.
We wish all the best to our young readers for their upcoming exams.

Dr Sangbarta Chattopadhyay and Dr Namita Bhuta are medical practitioners, psychotherapists and life coaches Share your problems with them at 
dr. sangbarta@ gmail. com

Appraisal, Cognition,Impulse, Action: Understanding our emotions : T2 Article dated 8th March, 2015

When we feel something strongly, most of the time our awareness stays in the causality of the external factors. We tend to believe that the genesis of an emotion is automatic, uncontrollable and due to external situations, like other people's behaviour or the loss of a loved one or a job. But psychologists like Paul Ekman, who study human emotions extensively, believe that there are many steps before the genesis of an emotion and there are a few crucial steps where, if we are aware, can actually intervene and change the way we feel.
Rubina, in her 30s, came heartbroken.
She was feeling betrayed and cheated by her husband. Here is an excerpt from the first session... 

Rubina: I am feeling very angry and hurt by my husband.
Therapist: Yes, I can see that you are very hurt. Would you like to share what happened? 
Rubina: Doctor, one thing I can't stand is when people lie to me. And yesterday I found out that my husband was lying to me.
Therapist: I see. You found out he was lying? 
Rubina: Yes, I found that he was hiding the truth.
Therapist: Would you like to elaborate? 
Rubina: At an office party, there was this girl in his office who, I felt, was hitting on my husband. When I asked him about it around three months back, he just brushed it aside and behaved as if it was the most improbable thing he had ever heard.
But yesterday I came to know that the girl had confessed her feelings for my husband to a friend of hers. It has become office gossip and my husband also knows about it.
Therapist: So you are hurt that your husband did not acknowledge his knowledge about this girl's feelings, to you.
Rubina: Yes. I am very sure that my husband has no feelings for her. He is incapable of having an affair. But I am hurt that he hid that information from me.
Therapist: How are you sure that your husband knew about it? 
Rubina: Yesterday there was another get- together of his office colleagues and they were joking about how my husband was avoiding meeting the girl in the office for the past six- seven months.
Therapist: Could it be that your husband was embarrassed, or maybe he just did not want to make you feel insecure? 
Rubina: Maybe.... But the bottomline is that he pretended as if I was being ridiculous by suggesting that this girl was eyeing him. I feel I have lost my trust in him.
Therapist: So, is it the trust in your husband which is broken, or is it the belief that he would never hide anything from you which is broken? 
Rubina: I think it's my belief that he would never hide anything from me that is broken. I am angry at myself that I thought he would always be truthful to me. I know it's silly but it's important to me. With anybody else, it wouldn't have mattered but I can't take lies from people who are close to me.

Let's understand what really happened to Rubina. Rubina attends her husband's office party and notices a girl, let's say Riti, who was paying a lot of attention to her husband. Her mind evaluates the situation and it creates the... 
First appraisal: "Riti is attracted to my husband". She goes and talks to her husband about it but he just plays it down.
Rubina's mind generates the... 
Second appraisal: " My husband does not know about it." After a few months, she comes to know that her husband knew this for quite some time, and her mind generates the... 
Third appraisal: " My husband deceived me and my second appraisal was wrong." Which is in direct conflict with her 
Rule: " I should not be wronged or deceived, especially by people who are close to me." This conflict gives rise to an emotion, which is the feeling of anger and betrayal, and these emotions give rise to an impulse, say in this case, the impulse to confront the husband. This impulse may lead to an action, such as the act of screaming at the husband and storming out of the house. Ekman says if one is really watchful of his/ her mind, there are three levels of awareness which are possible to observe: Appraisal awareness, impulse awareness and action awareness.

If we are aware, we can intervene and change the course of emotion generation by challenging and changing the appraisal or controlling the impulse and therefore choosing to feel differently and act differently.
It is possible to deconstruct an emotion and eliminate its effect if we can change the appraisal, and mend the conflicting rules through our awareness.
Sometimes there are agendas we aren't aware of to hold on to the pain and hurt as well. Consider the case of If we are aware, we can intervene and change the course of emotion generation

Rosaline, who was going through a separation.
Rosaline: Doctor, the exercise you gave me was very helpful. I understand that my husband cheated on me and it makes sense to move on as that person does not deserve me. However, I am noticing that I am not ready to let go of the pain and hurt. If I let go of my pain, I would trivialise my five years of time and effort with this man.
Somehow I'm afraid of devaluing a chunk of my life.
Therapist: So, you feel that you are giving value, worth and meaning to the time you have spent together by holding on to the pain.
Rosaline: Yes! Otherwise it is so meaningless. I know I can let go of this pain but I am holding on to it.
Funny, isn't it? 

Before Rosaline can work on her pain and hurt she needs to understand the hidden cognition and reason behind her holding on to her pain. " I need to suffer to give value and meaning to my experience" is her unaware cognition behind the pain. If Rosaline wants to be happy, she needs to first let go this cognition and accept that may be the last five years were not of as much value as she thought it was, and that it is okay. Here also, the self- awareness is the first step for her to reach that acceptance.

(All names and details have been changed) 

Dr Sangbarta Chattopadhyay and Dr Namita Bhuta are medical practitioners, psychotherapists and life coaches Share your problems with them at 
 dr. sangbarta@ gmail. com

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Being captive by "what we want": T2 Article dated 8 Feb' 2015

In certain parts of India, people have an indigenous way of catching monkeys. They put a banana in a very narrow- necked container, which is firmly tied to a pillar or a tree. The monkey puts its hand in, grabs the banana and tries to pull out. But his hand, clutching the banana, gets stuck. Only a few of them escape by dropping the banana. Many of our problems arise from the fact that we don't want to drop the banana and choose to stay unhappy.
Anuradha, a middle- aged lady, came for therapy with anger and self- destructive patterns. The following is an excerpt from our conversation after a couple of sessions... 

Well, you have a lot to do and practise. I also need to tell you that after the appointment next week, I am going away for a 15- day vacation, so we won't meet for two weeks.

Client:  (Looks shocked) 
How can you do that? Doctors are not supposed to go on a vacation! That's irresponsible! Therapist: You seem to be very upset and finding it difficult to come to terms with a doctor taking a break or a holiday... Client: You bet I am! How dare you do that? If I have money one day I will file a public interest litigation to make doctors available 24x7, with not a single holiday allowed in their career.

I see…. Okay, can we explore this a little? I understand that you don't want me to take a vacation and this upcoming break is upsetting you. But we have already discussed what you need to practise and then when we meet next time, we can again create a detailed plan of action for what you need to do for next two weeks. After my vacation, we'll again go through the difficulties you faced.

Client: ( Angrily) 
No! You are behaving irresponsibly. I am not going to listen to a single thing you've said. In fact I am going to do the exact opposite of what you have said. If you don't care about me, then I don't care either. I will just ruin myself and you will be responsible for it! 

So, you don't agree to your therapist taking a vacation. This is not what you want, and as you don't agree and you are not getting what you want, you are not willing to work for your own betterment and health.
Let's say even if your therapist's decision is not right, his counselling did help you before and perhaps will help you now too, if you follow it. But now you are unwilling to follow his advice just because his decision to take a vacation is not right according to you.
Client: (After a pause) 
But I am angry! We all have our reasons to want what we want and they can range from " everybody has it" or " that is how it should be", and sometimes they are justified rational reasons like " I've put in effort and now I want the result to reflect my effort" or " I have been loving and faithful in my marriage and I want my husband to be loyal too". The problem arises when we don't get what we want and as a result we get disturbed. In this state of anger, frustration and bitterness, we reject things that we can receive if we just let that " want" go. We are so focused on what " I want" that we are not open to seeing other options available to us.
The desire for " I want" can be so strong that it has the ability to delude us into believing that what we want is an absolute functional necessity for our survival. So when we are faced with the refusal of what " I want", we end up feeling sad, depressed and bitter. And if, like Anuradha, we face an impending refusal of what we want, we get angry, we fight tooth and claw to get what we want, in turn throwing away our own functionality and peace of mind.
Research by Alison Ledgerwood, an associate professor of psychology at the University of California, and her colleagues has shown that we have a surprising ability to get stuck in what she calls a " loss frame". Or simply put, theglass- is- half- empty perspective.
A simple behavioural experiment designed by Ledgerwood showed that our mind has a natural inclination to get stuck in things like failure, rejection and not getting what we want. However, we can always make a conscious choice to let go of the " loss frame" with a constant conscious reminder to ourselves that there are more doors to knock on if the door we wanted to go through does not open.
Fulfilment of our wants, in a way, is an assurance that things are in our control, an assurance that we all seek. But at the same time, we need to be pragmatic and be open to challenging our conceptions of our wants and therefore be open to exploring new avenues and opportunities that we were earlier closed off to.
There is nothing wrong in wanting and pursuing what we want, but it is we who have to decide on the value we give to the fulfilment of our wants. We need to explore if we too, like Anuradha, are throwing away what is good for us just because life has not given us what we wanted.

Dr Sangbarta Chattopadhyay and Dr Namita Bhuta are medical practitioners, psychotherapists and life coaches Share your problems with them at
 dr. sangbarta@ gmail. com

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Acknowledging that we need help: T2 article dated 25 Jan'2015

When Mr Sengupta came in, he appeared perfectly healthy. A gentleman of average built in his mid- 40s, he was polite and pleasant. Mr Sengupta was embarrassed to talk about his problem and occasionally burst out laughing during our interaction. He had a fear of elevators and could never get into one. Because of this peculiar problem, he said that he occasionally missed appointments, got late and lost out on opportunities as he needed to climb staircases which would delay him or tire him out before important meetings when they were held in multi- storeyed office buildings. Part of our first- day conversation went like this... 

Therapist: So you cannot get into an elevator.

Client: No, never. I clearly remember visiting a relative's apartment in Delhi, when I was in Class IV. It had a small, dingy old elevator. I refused to get in and my father had to climb up the stairs. ( Bursts out in an awkward laugh) 

Therapist: You seem to be embarrassed about this? 

Client: I am! Isn't it funny? How weird and irrational is this? I am a grown man and I have a team of people who depend on me and my decisions, and yet I am scared of this thing which is a part of everyday urban life. I am laughing right now but at times I feel angry at myself.

Therapist: You feel angry at yourself that you have this irrational fear… 

Client: Yes! I am so embarrassed that in spite of suffering so much I avoided talking about it for so many years and seeking professional help, but finally I made up my mind and though it is difficult for me to talk about it I am willing to work on it.

Luckily for Mr Sengupta, his frustration nudged him to finally address his problem and he came out of his avoidance strategies. Many of us however are not so lucky. We keep denying a problem for as long as we can. We are embarrassed to admit it, even to ourselves, that there is something within us which perhaps needs attention and a little fixing.
The admission of our problem entails facing our own ' imperfect' self, of which we are so critical about. The sense of shame that nudged Mr Sengupta to finally seek help was also the reason why he avoided the issue for so long. He was aware of his problem all his life but it took him years before he was ready to acknowledge it.

We gave him one experimental assignment. In the coming week he had to try and stand in front of an elevator and pretend to get in, and then observe his emotions, feelings, body sensations and what actually happens to him when he tries doing that. Mr Sengupta diligently went through the motions, twice as instructed, and came back next week. 
Excerpts from the session... 

Client: I did your exercise twice, once it was during office time. I called the elevator telling myself that I would get in to go to the 10th floor. The very idea was freaking me out though I knew very well that I was not actually going to get in. As soon as I pressed the button, I could hear screaming noises inside my head telling me that I was a fool to try this. That I was going to make a fool of myself. I could visualise myself inside the elevator. I was panicking and throwing a fit like a six- year- old, I was going crazy and everyone around was looking helplessly at me. I also felt palpitation.
The second time it was in an empty elevator in my apartment at night.
This time the feelings of discomfort were there but the intensity was much less.

Therapist: That's great. Well done! So now would you agree that may be your fear is actually coming from a preconceived notion that getting into an elevator would make you very uncomfortable and you might not tolerate that experience? And that this fear is more about ' making a fool of yourself'? 

Client: Yes, I realise that. I somehow believe that the moment the elevator door is shut, I will start panicking even though it has never actually happened as I never got into an elevator. And my fear is actually an extreme anxiety of how I will be perceived. During the second round of exercise, a small part of me was very tempted to actually get into that elevator and see if I could go through with the experience.

Therapist: Very good! Then shall we put this belief to test? Do you have a trusted friend or family member with whom you can test this belief? Maybe you can try the apartment elevator at night with a friend and start with just one floor movement. And if you hear the voice again which tells you that you are going to make a fool of yourself, humour it by saying that that is exactly what you are trying to do! 

Mr Sengupta could take the leap of faith with his wife. He found that the first few attempts in the elevator did make him uncomfortable and anxious but was much more bearable than what he had anticipated. He was so relieved that on the first day itself he practiced a few times and found the uncomfortable feeling easing away. Eventually he was able to increase his tolerance level and use the elevator even with people in it.

As in the case of Mr Sengupta, many times our own demand for a ' perfect' self becomes a hindrance to learning and growth. Perhaps his initial childhood fear got reinforced and became more complex as a result of his self- judgement and selfcriticism.
To change something within, we often need to let go of our inner judgements and address the issue with compassion for ourselves.

Dr Sangbarta Chattopadhyay and Dr Namita Bhuta are medical practitioners, psychotherapists and life coaches Share your problems with them at 
dr. sangbarta@ gmail. com 

Friday, 23 January 2015

How do you stick to new year, and everyday resolutions: T2 article dated 11th January 2015

New Year brings with it new beginnings. For many of us, this means making a new set of resolutions. Most of us are aware of the changes we can bring into our lives to be healthier and happier. The problem is that year after year the resolution list just stays on paper, seldom executed.

Have you ever wondered why despite knowing what is good for us, we keep failing to do those things? Aren't we all at times torn between that part of us which wants to lose weight, cut down on drinking or smoking, stay off Facebook or fried food, call our parents more often or start writing that book which is in our head, and the other part which wants to sleep five minutes more, puts off starting the exercise schedule, loves to procrastinate and finds any excuse to not initiate a change? Joseph Shrand, MD of Harvard Medical School, says that our desire to self- discipline and self- restrain is a rational decision where we logically weigh the options, understand the long- term consequences and then perhaps choose something bigger over instant pleasure. This ability comes from the frontal and prefrontal area of our brain, which is the newest part of evolutionary development. Unfortunately this part is easily overruled by our more primitive instincts of pleasure, which resides in the older regions of our brain.
So how do we assist our rational side which wants to be healthy, happy and productive and outsmart our pleasure- seeking, change- resisting urges? Here are a few science- backed strategies to help you stick to your New Year resolutions.

Train your willpower rigorously: 

Willpower is not something people just have. Like muscle, we can train our willpower to make it stronger. In an experiment at the State University of New York, researchers asked 122 smokers who were trying to quit to exert extra self- control for two weeks, either by avoiding sweets or by squeezing on a grip strengthener for as long as they could twice a day. In the following month, 27 per cent of those who were diligent about practising their self-control exercise successfully kicked their smoking habit, compared with just 12 per cent of volunteers who'd been given a task that didn't call for self- control. Exercise your willpower more often and more regularly to strengthen it throughout the year.
Don't get disheartened by the initial inability to exercise your willpower whenever you choose to exert it. Try practising self- control twice a week, like pushing yourself extra in the gym or staying off sugar.

Aim for one change at a time: 

It's great to know what all you want to change but it's not possible to change everything at once. Prioritise what you would like to change and choose one thing at a time. Trying to incorporate changes according to the priority list one by one is more likely We can train our willpower to make it stronger. If you get frustrated, it becomes easier to give in to temptation. Appreciate your own efforts and encourage yourself
to bring you success rather than an abrupt shift in your entire lifestyle.

Outwit your inner rebel:

 " I am never going to use a credit card again" or " I am off all forms of sweets" sounds very grand and noble as a resolution but is more likely to fail as " never" implies that even one failure would mean the resolution has failed. Instead try more realistic resolutions, like " I will consciously choose to avoid unhealthy food" which has more scope to be effective.
Avoid the all- or- none law and make room for flexibility.

Turn your resolution into a doable plan of action: 

"This year I am going to lose 10kg" may sound like a specific resolution but losing weight itself is a pretty broad goal. To lose weight we need to exercise, change our dietary habits.
We can then make a resolution like " I will start running from this week and my target is to cover 10km each day by the end of the year" or " In the first week itself I will consult a dietician and follow the diet plan". You can further break these down into a to- do for every month, week and day.
For example, 
Week One of my fitness plan:
.. Wake up an hour early 
.. Go for a walk/ run or gym 
.. Consult a dietician 
.. Follow the diet plan.

Write them down on paper and put it up at a place where you can see it often. When making the next week's plan of action, incorporate the backlog of the previous week.

Be gentle Don't be too harsh on yourself. To stick to a resolution plan and be able to focus on your greater good over your primitive pleasure sense, you need to prioritise your well- being. If you get frustrated, it becomes easier to give in to temptation. You need to be soft but firm towards yourself, not indulgent. Appreciate your own efforts and encourage yourself. Don't get bogged down by small failures, just try again the next day.

Wish you all a very happy and fulfilling year ahead.

Dr Sangbarta Chattopadhyay and Dr Namita Bhuta are medical practitioners, psychotherapists and life coaches Share your problems with them at 
dr. sangbarta@ gmail. com