Therapy That Works...

The Wisdom of Intuition - By Chris Gearing

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Wisdom of Intuition

September 17, 2009 

Dr. Sylvia Gearing, TXA 21 News 

Everyday we are forced to make split second decisions, often with minimal information. Intuition has always played an important part in our decisions at work and in our relationships. Now psychologists report that intuition can literally save your life.

So, what is intuition and why should you care?

Perimeter Protection System: Intuition is our perimeter protection system. It is a “knowing” that is often instant, without logic and beyond words. As one author said, “you are what you know.” Intuition originates in the “intuitive” circuitry that operates beneath our awareness, automatically and effortlessly, with immense speed. Our conclusions are often global and illogical but they make intuitive sense. We process in nano-seconds as we feel the raw power of our gut reaction warning us of danger.

Feeling Versus Analyzing: Raw, intense, and unexplainable, intuition is increasingly valuable in a world that is more complex and connected, we have to make decisions quickly based on minimal information in real time. Deliberating over a decision is often a luxury we cannot afford.

Analysis Can Lead to Denial: We now know that the brain operates analytically and intuitively. Our analytical brain weighs in later, draws on logic and deduction and selects the most reasonable decision. Unfortunately, it is easy to talk ourselves out of what we are seeing. Our intuitive brain is “way out in front” screaming warnings and protecting us against manipulators, narcissists and sociopaths. In these cases, denial can be our enemy.

Pay attention to the degree of what you are feeling, because not all intuitions are the same:

Intensity and Frequency Vary: Intuitions vary in intensity and frequency. They often occur randomly when we are mindlessly going through our daily business. Suddenly, our mind is issuing a warning to back up and protect ourselves.

Ordered Hierarchy That Builds: Intuition is comprised of an ordered hierarchy: nagging feeling, persistent thought, anxiety, apprehension, suspicion, hesitation, doubt, surge of anxiety and then outright fear.

We Don’t Pay Attention: People emit 1,000 different communications in a given day and our biggest problem is that we fail to track obvious behavior. We minimize the odd or even bizarre and amplify the normal aspects of other people’s behavior. People show us who they are and it is up to us to pay attention and put it all together. Believe your eyes.

A lot of my patients ignore their intuitions, sometimes with disastrous consequences. Here’s why:

We want things to be normal. We evaluate people constantly and are usually reassured that others are normal and trustworthy and have legitimate agendas. We do not want to believe that serious danger can exist right in front of us, especially in the business world. In the workplace, sociopaths abound and good people are especially vulnerable to disbelieving what is directly in front of us.

Another interesting facet of intuition is the gender differences in processing and purpose:

Draw Upon the Past to Assess the Present: Absolutely there are differences between the genders. Women have twice the emotional memory capacity in their brains as men so they are able to augment their intuition with memories of other similar situations.

Whole Brain Thinking: They have access to both sides of their brains so their intuition is influenced by both the raw, gut reactions of the intuitive brain leavened by the analytical capacities of the analytical brain. We are often willing to go with our gut feeling, which is not a fleeting emotional reaction. Intuition is a complex cognitive reaction that is brilliantly engineered by your watchful female brain.

The key is not to always “tune out” your intuition. Pay attention to the signals your mind is sending you:

There are several important survival signs that someone is potentially trying to manipulate you. You can use them in both business and in your personal life to protect yourself.

1.) Forced Teaming: When someone tries to project a shared purpose or experience when none exists, they are trying to manipulate you. Good cons want you to participate and drop your guard.

2.) Charm and Niceness: Charm is often a direct attempt to compel, control and direct. Ask yourself how sincere the “charm” seems. Is he trying to charm you or is he simply charming? There is a big difference.

3.) Too Many Details: People who lie talk too much. When people tell the truth, they do not feel doubted so they don’t oversupply you with details.

4.) Typecasting: Those little labels and criticism provide a slight insult and are usually easy to refute. However, the manipulator says it to keep you off balance.

5.) Loan Sharking: They love to set up situations in which you owe them. They offer assistance but he is always calculating what you owe him.

6.) The Unsolicited Promise: One of the most reliable signs of danger, the unsolicited promise is used to convince of a benign intention. They are used to lull you into complacency and to convince you that the outcome will be rewarding. Nothing could be farther from the truth.


"The Gift of Fear" by Gavin de Becker

The Monitor, The American Psychological Association, 2005

Don't Worry, Be Happy - By Chris Gearing

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Don't Worry, Be Happy: How Workplace Happiness Leads to Success

August 6th, 2009

Dr. Sylvia Gearing, TXA 21 News

Downsizing, job layoffs and a 9.7% unemployment rate have all lowered the morale of millions of working Americans. But what happens when the workplace blues affects your performance?

So why do we get so negative at work?

There are several reasons:

  • Brains Cued for Blues: Negative thinking has a life of it is own and is generated by a neurological circuitry that is reinforced each time you become negative. Even though you may have the best of intentions, your brain kicks into negativity with the first challenge. You experience a sudden startup of the blues without even thinking about it.
  • Emotional Contagion: Emotions are contagious and we are all vulnerable to the “infectious negativity” that dominates millions of offices, especially in a beleaguered economy. Negativity is catching and according to the Wharton School of Business, we see decreased cooperation, an increase of interpersonal conflict and a decreased sense of accomplishment.
  • Bullies, Divas and “Emotional Vampires”: Bullies, divas and emotional vampires dominate the workplace and are often in positions of power and influence. They love to ruin your day. They magnify the downside and minimize the upside. Cutting comments, worst-case scenarios and reviewing past injuries drag everyone down. We marinate in this pessimism and then wonder why we get so negative.
  • Cubicle Downers: The physical cues of the workplace can trigger you for stress. Just entering your office space makes your mood down a few points. Studies show that environment influence mindset in a profound way. Boring walls, industrial carpet and uncomfortable furniture trigger us to “go negative” the minute we walk in the door.

You may be wondering if there is a gender difference in this phenomenon and here it is:

Women are more susceptible to workplace negativity due to three factors.

  • Emotional Brain Overload: Our emotional memory capacity is twice that of a man’s so we are able to remember everything that others say and do, good and bad. Grudge holding is especially tempting for women.
  • Women Love Emotional Garbage: Women are especially vulnerable to picking up the emotional “garbage” of others and then wondering why they feel bummed out. In addition, we engage in too much gossiping which spreads negativity like wildfire.
  • Need for Consensus: Our overriding need for consensus is an asset and a liability. Too many of us grieve when there is dissension and worry about why things are negative at work. We blame ourselves and blame each other.

Here are some tips to shift your mood when you feel your negativity rising:

Quickly switching your mood is a discipline, not an event. It requires psychological “muscle” that you build over time by actively fighting against the downward spiral each time it occurs. Negativity reinforces negativity but the reverse is also true of positive thinking.

Here are some quick tips that work every time:

  • Don’t Deny the Negative: Do not deny the existence of negative events, just deal. You won’t solve your problem by ruminating. Worrying just makes you overestimate the problem. Remind yourself that this situation is not permanent, and that you will survive.
  • Disciplined Attention: Next apply a disciplined attention to the positives and to the possible. Redirect away from panic and focus on the small steps you need to take today to remedy the situation now. Then outline the remaining steps to resolving the problem. Break it down and keep it simple. Remind yourself that you can make a difference in improving the outcome.
  • Directed Mental Force: List your blessings, your advantages, and your strengths while expressing gratitude for all you have been given. Train your brain to appreciate the good things about work and the fact that you still have your job in a harsh economy.
  • Mood Stabilization: Sustainable happiness requires a constant shifting away from the negative and a disciplined embracing of the positives. You may have setbacks, but by remaining stable in your mood, your accuracy about reality will increase along with your job success.

Right-Brain Advantages In The New Economy - By Chris Gearing

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Right-Brain Advantages In New Economy

Jul 16, 2009

Dr. Sylvia Gearing, TXA 21 News

As the American economy continues to struggle, many of us are focused on performing at our maximum capacity in the workplace. The secret to your job security in the new economy may involve a new kind of thinking using your right brain.

What are the differences and advantages of each side of the brain?

What versus How: We know that the brain is divided into two hemispheres, left and right. People with dominant left sides are better at analytical analysis and processing and language skills. Right “brainers” are global holistic processors, which means that they are great at inventiveness, empathy and emotional intelligence. To oversimplify, the left hemisphere handles “what” is said while the right hemisphere focuses on “how” it is said. The non-verbal emotional cues delivered through intonation, facial expression and silences are the province of the right brain. They have never been more important.

Whole Brain is Better: The work place will no longer exclusively reward the analytical, numbers crunching individuals and will now recognize right brain problem solvers who use their innovation and emotional intelligence to achieve the best outcome. We are basically looking at a new worker who marries their right brain innovative thinking with their left-brain skill sets. The keys to the future belong to a person who can be creative and empathic, can recognize patterns in business and see the big picture quickly while analyzing and critically thinking.

You may be wondering how this applies to you.

The complexity of business problems we all face now calls for a new type of intelligence that is not based just on academic abilities and information processing. Our advances in technology are eradicating the need for rote performance and recitation and many of these jobs have been outsourced. People who use their right brain thinking to solve complex problems are more difficult to outsource since you cannot have the creative, innovative and emotionally intelligent workers on the other side of the world.

Here’s how right brain thinking looks in the work place:

  • Emotionally Engaging: They are exceptional at creating emotionally engaging products. They understand motivations and emotions well and use them to solve business problems.
  • Persuasive Narratives: Our workplace is rife with information and too many facts. Right brainers are brilliant at communicating persuasively and are compelling presenters.
  • Analysis Versus Synthesis: No longer are we chiefly charged with the analysis of a problem but we are also charged with creating a big picture out of disparate parts.
  • Empathy Matters: Emotional Intelligence helps you to not only understand and accurately perceive your own emotions in “real time,” it also gives you the empathy to understand co-workers and clients.
  • Playfulness: The mind requires rest to re-boot and restore it’s creative processes. Right “brainers” are clever, humorous people who know how to “downshift” into a lower gear. They go slower to go further.
  • Purpose and Spiritual Fulfillment: Creativity originates in a mind free to explore, wonder and admire. Right brainers make their greatest discoveries when they are given the freedom to “play” with solutions and immerse themselves in novelty. Brilliant insights come at such moments.

Whenever this comes up in my practice, people always ask me, “Can I learn to use my ‘right brain’ skills?”

Without a doubt, people can learn to use both sides of their brains to achieve the most success. Neuroscience now tells us that emotions, moods and states such as compassion can be trainable skills. With mental training in visualization, meditation and accurate, rational thinking, an individual can literally create positive, performance enhancing changes in the brain. With increased emotional control, we can restrict the negative, inaccurate thoughts that cloud our mind facilitating a lot more effective “brain power.” You become an “attentional athlete” which allows you to focus on solution rather than on confusion. Suddenly, precise resolution appears within complexity and a mindset of well-being becomes pervasive.

Sources for this story include the following:

Dr. Richard Davidson’s work in Neuroscience

"Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain," Sharon Begley

"A Whole New Brain" by Daniel H. Pink

Why Women Judge Other Women - By Chris Gearing

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Why Women Judge Other Women

June 4, 2009

Dr. Sylvia Gearing, TXA 21 News

Women have turned to one another throughout the ages for support, advice and information. But what happens when women turn on one another?

Women judge one another for the following reasons:

  • Love to Complain: Women love to complain and gossip to each other. In fact, most of us are in constant touch with our closest confidantes, and we love to lament about our latest frustration or irritation. At some point the conversation can turn ugly. We stop talking “about” someone and begin talking “against” them.
  • Confused and Threatened: We move to judgment when we are confused, offended or threatened. Many women do not like the “grays” of life, preferring to “niche” others in negative categories.
  • Self-Absorbed Women: Some women are so self-centered that any woman of achievement is a potential adversary. They do not want another woman to steal their thunder. They are naturally competitive and stab other women in the back routinely just to “stay even.”
  • Grudge Holders: We are chronic grudge-holders due to the fact that we have twice the brain space for emotional memory compared to men. As a result, if you slight a woman once, you may make an enemy for life.

Unfortunately, the presence of men can make women more critical of other women. In male-dominated situations in the workplace or social setting, women show an innate tendency to turn on one another. When guys hold the power and there are few women with authority, women can get much more nasty. We are as competitive as men but mainly compete with one another when our power is limited.

When women achieve power, many of us tend to hoard it and fail to mentor the very women behind us who will inherit our influence and skills. As a result, the entire gender is undermined. We must pull together rather than apart.

Friendships are often challenged when a woman succeeds. Jealousy and dissension may thrive when one woman excels beyond the other.

Similarity is the common denominator of female relationships. Girls at young ages don’t give orders but emphasize connection, sameness and interdependence. When women ascend in power, they differentiate themselves from the female community by holding that power. Similarity is decreased. With some women, such accomplishments are threatening, and they label the achieving female as overly confident, conniving or even conceited. Gossiping in female social communities is a primary way to undercut a woman who has achieved. Friendships often wither quickly.

There are specific types of female conversations that evoke this type of female against female criticism.

There are four broad categories:

  • Tracking the Competition: Women use gossip to keep track of other women, especially when they are competing with them. Sharing information about “when, where and whys” assures them that they can triumph over the other woman.
  • Criticize Her Love Life: Women love to complain endlessly about the men in their lives, but they delight even more in complaining about other women and their love lives.
  • Female Scapegoats: Women turn to others during times of stress, but sometimes the conversation turns nasty. Many times women begin to scapegoat another female as a solution to a problem. We “throw her under the bus” to alleviate our own frustration. Sharing a common view even if it is negative is soothing and bonds women to one another.

Women can do a great deal to support one another and to strengthen the “girl team.”

There are infinite ways that women can support each other, but here are some important tips:

  • Be a Mentor: If you see another woman who needs some guidance, coach her on how to navigate to better solutions.
  • Discover and Share Information: Use what we do best—share important information. Knowledge is power, so share the wealth with other sisters.
  • Hold Your Tongue: Don’t “take another woman out” over trivial annoyances. Especially in the workplace, you must present a united front. Thousands of flourishing female careers can be sabotaged by gossip. “Loose Lips sink careers!”
  • Weave a Female Web: Female groups are enhancing of our best attributes, including empathy, understanding and integrity. Connecting with other women is not only good for your mind but is great for your heart.

Sources include:

Deborah Tannen’s "You Just Don’t Understand"

Gail Evans’ "She Wins, You Win"

Beauty, Brains and Money - By Chris Gearing

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Beauty, Brains and Money

May 21, 2009

Dr. Sylvia Gearing, TXA 21 News

Today’s competitive job market has led millions of people to rewrite their resumes, update their skills and redefine their expectations. Now a new study argues that while beauty and brains are still powerful combinations for the workplace, getting that education may be the most important factor after all.

Beauty counts in the workplace because of the following reasons:

  • Early in Life Bias: The relationship between attractiveness and influence on others has been validated by thousands of studies and begins in early life. From babies to adults, we all orient to an attractive face more than to a less attractive one. Evolutionary psychologists argue that such detection is a survival strategy since attractiveness is correlated with physical health.
  • Academic Advantages: Teachers even react more positively to pretty kids in the classroom.
  • Lasting Perceptions: Throughout our lifetime, we endow attractive people with attributes of more intelligence and capability even when it is not warranted. WE tend to assume that strangers with baby faces—wide eyes, full lips, and soft brow—are more trustworthy. By contrast, those with heavy brows, small eyes and thin lips are seen as powerful and cunning. None of these physical attributes predict personality. As a result, we can make serious mistakes in judgment.

Attractiveness influences employers and unfortunately, most supervisors are making basic, uninformed guesses about people who are attractive. These theories about them are often unwarranted since pretty people are not smarter or harder working then the rest of us. But our universal bias can mislead us. As a result, attractive people are hired more often, promoted more often and earn up to 15% more than other workers who have more average looks.

New studies reveal that the beauty premium affects employee-employer relations in the following three ways:

  • More Confident: attractive people are more confident to begin with and they use their attractiveness to advance themselves politically. As a result, they garner higher wages.
  • More Capable: employers view attractive people as more intelligent and more capable.
  • Smooth Talkers: Pretty people are often verbally skilled due to their self-confidence and seek verbal interactions with others. Such interactions create an aura of success.

Education and hard work also count in the workplace.

While beauty is an advantage, good looks don’t tell the whole story. A just released study shows that intelligence and education still has a greater payoff than good looks. In this economy, especially, it is vital that we build important job skills and education before seeking out physical self-improvement strategies. In addition, nothing trumps perseverance. Hard work is more important than any other attribute including talent, beauty, family connections, and dumb luck.

Here are specific steps you can take to increase your chances of success at work in this tough economy:

  • Focus on Your Strengths: Few of us are supermodels and those who are have their own challenges! Focus on your unique strengths at work including self-discipline, moral values and loyalty. Do not dwell on past failures and setbacks but maintain a steadfast focus on where you want to go and what you have to do to get there.
  • Set Clear and Attainable Goals: Many of us just float through the workplace rather than having a defined agenda all our own. Make your goals realistic, clearly defined and reachable. Do not “overshoot” since such grandiosity can be self-sabotaging.
  • Go Slower to Go Further: Too often, we stay in high gear rather than taking measured, conservative steps. Extraordinary accomplishments at work take years to build and hard work, education and patience are keys to becoming truly successful. This new study is offering assurance that basic virtues such as perseverance count more than looking pretty!

Women Marching To Work During Recession - By Chris Gearing

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Women Marching To Work During Recession

March 27, 2009

Dr. Sylvia Gearing, TXA 21 News

As the recession lengthens into the longest financial drought since World War II, the number of women in the workplace is now bypassing the number of employed men. During the current recession, 82% of job losses have affected men leaving the breadwinning to millions of American women.

As women bear more of the responsibility in breadwinning, dramatic shifts in gender roles and power may occur in your relationship.

Money is Power: Women are going to have more of a say in the marriage. As the saying goes, “he who makes the gold holds the power.” Now it may be “she who makes the gold.” Males have traditionally been trained to lead and to provide while many women focused on the home fires. Decision-making may change as women also hold the reins of power.

Enhanced Independence: Leadership can be intoxicating and earning a paycheck outside of the home is inevitably empowering. This recession may redefine how women think about themselves. Such independence, self-confidence and a sense of effectiveness influence the marital dialogue.

This sociological trend has a tremendous effect on marriages. As the woman heads to work and the man heads back home, the balance of power will be disrupted.

At this point, many couples either pull together or pull apart. Successful couples “put their heads down” and work tirelessly as a team to solve the financial problem. She pulls a paycheck while he runs the carpool. However, in other couples, male distractibility may increase as he hunts for new employment. Some men, discouraged and negative, may retreat to the couch to distract themselves with the latest video game. Male inattentiveness can cause tremendous discord at home, especially if the financial stress is increasing and the wife is working non-stop to help the family financially.

There are substantial differences between how men and women react to job loss and the resulting financial hardship.

Individual personality differences play a huge part in how either gender deals with sustained adversity. However, the trauma of financial stress plays out differently with both genders. Men turn to action and distraction while women generally ruminate and obsess. Their opposing coping skills trigger negativity and the couple can quickly be at cross-purposes.

As the financial strain continues, the chronic stress takes a toll on the physical and psychological immunity of both genders because of the perpetual uncertainty of the economy. Over time, we are increasingly mentally and emotionally exhausted. We do know now that the very nerve cells of the brain and the brain circuitry can be damaged by chronic stress.

Marital discord may occur when a woman is forced by economic circumstances to work outside of the home. Enormous resentment and even trauma can result. Many women prefer the traditional role of being a wife and mother and are not interested in generating an independent income. Returning to full time work can be a traumatic event, especially when there are young children at home.

However, in today’s economy, millions of women simply do not have the choices they once did. Seventy percent of women with kids work for pay and that number is growing as the male job layoffs continue. This is a time to “buck up” and take a hit for the family team. Women over the millennia have made the difference between surviving and perishing. Modern times now offer the same opportunity to prove our mettle as a gender.

There are key coping skills couples should use to deal with negative financial issues:

Write down the problem that you are facing. Define the triggers that cause you the most worry and conflict. Once you have defined your conflict triggers, work as a couple to do the following:

  • Assess the Threat: Assess how much danger you face and be realistic about each level of threat. Again, make sure you remain realistic.
  • Match Your Emotions to the Situation: Make your emotional responses ‘fit’ the real degree of threat. Do not overreact and pull each other into a downward, negative spiral.
  • Break It Down: Break down the steps to remedying the problem. Make them simple and specific.
  • Likely Outcomes: Prepare effectively for the most likely consequences of the problem.
  • Remain Positive: Lower your anxiety by focusing on positive solutions and outcomes. Keep your focus and remain accurate.

Emotional Intelligence - By Chris Gearing

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Emotional Intelligence

February 26, 2009

Dr. Sylvia Gearing, TXA 21 News

The nation’s jobless claims jumped more than expected last week and over five million Americans continue to receive unemployment benefits. The number of new unemployment claims is the highest in more twenty-six years. Psychologists are now saying that surviving the ongoing challenges is directly linked to using your emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is like having good emotional software that allows you to be smart in a different way. Managing your emotions when the “chips are down” builds self-confidence and the confidence of those around you. Emotional intelligence refers to those essential qualities of emotional self-management coupled with the effective management of others. When adversity hits, you are armed and ready to handle anything.

Success at work depends directly on your ability to handle yourself emotionally. You cannot perform if you cannot think and emote effectively. You cannot allow your emotions to run away with your mind. All too often, we act in emotionally unintelligent ways that can be both unproductive and even devastating. Increasing your emotional intelligence can make the difference between surviving and thriving in the current economy. Emotional intelligence trumps book smarts every time.

Emotional intelligence is a specific set of skills that can be built and cultivated over time. They allow you to combine your best thinking skills with your best emotional skills.

1.) Knowing One’s Emotions: Self-awareness and the ability to recognize a feeling as it happens is a key characteristic of emotional intelligence. The ability to monitor your emotions in real time is vital. Other wise, your emotions end up running you.

2.) Managing Emotions: Handling feelings so they are appropriate is an ability that comes from self-awareness. Being able to dispute the discouragement of setbacks and failures is vital to your ability to move forward.

3.) Motivating Oneself: Channeling your emotional energy to meet a goal is central if you are going to be effective. At the same time, emotional self-control enables you to bend all efforts in the service of a worthwhile goal such as finding a job or keeping a job.

4.) Recognizing Emotions in Others: Empathy is the ability to identify compassionately with the challenges of others and it is an essential skill for dealing with adversity.

5.) Handling Relationships: The art of effective relating is managing the emotions of other people. Leadership and interpersonal effectiveness are driven by an ability to understand and manage the people around you.

According to studies, emotional intelligence is on the decline especially in the younger generations who seemed to feel entitled to achievement without earning it.

A recent survey of American employers by the Hay Group found the following:

  • More than 50% of the people who work for them lack motivation.
  • Forty percent seem to have difficulty working cooperatively with others.

Seventy percent of all change initiatives are not netting the desired results due to people issues such as poor levels in leadership, working together in teams, taking initiative, dealing with change, etc.

Assess Your Stress: If you have a history of trauma, depression and anxiety, you may have more intense reactions to economic stress. People who have a history of depression have twice the intensity rates to economic adversity. We are just more apt to descend into a negative spiral and lose the capacity to extricate ourselves from negativity.

Use Your Mind and Your Emotions: Disregarding your good common sense when you are in the clutch of negative emotions is damaging, especially in the business world. Do not allow your emotions to engulf your reasoning ability.

Measure for Accuracy: Perception is not reality especially if you are inaccurate in your interpretation of the events around you. Learn to curb your overreactions to people and events and to take a measured approach to difficult situations. Job acquisition and sustainability may have more to do with your people skills than with your intellectual abilities.

Overcoming Economic Anxiety - By Chris Gearing

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Overcoming Economic Anxiety in 2009

February 19, 2009

Dr. Sylvia Gearing, TXA 21 News

A new Associated Press-GfK poll reveals that the American public is becoming increasingly concerned about the tanking economy. Nearly half of those surveyed fear losing their jobs -- almost double the percentage at this time last year.

In addition, the latest Gallup Poll indicates that anxious Americans are spending forty percent less than they did a year ago. With daily reports of auto bailouts, layoffs and downsizing, Americans have reached a new level of anxiety and financial stress.

Here are a few tips on getting through these tough times:

The Unexpected Economic Downturn: The current economic crisis was upon us before most of us realized that things were this serious. We fell from relative prosperity to economic peril. This change was jarring. The public fell into a dreadful cycle of panic, restricted spending and pessimism.

Inescapable Headlines: Everywhere we turn, there is negative financial news. We are “marinating” in worry and negativity.

No Control Over the Economy: Our lack of control in correcting this problem is profound. None of the suggested solutions are immediate or perfect. The prolonged crisis is exacting its toll due to unrelenting uncertainty, no quick fix and no clear idea about what would help make it better.

No Predictability: Predictable adversity is less stressful than unpredictable adversity. We can’t predict when the recovery will occur. If you knew the current economic stress would end in 93 days, you would feel far less anxiety. With no end in sight, the resulting uncertainty increases our anxiety.

We keep getting news that things are getting worse.

One week, Congress passes a stimulus bill and the next week, the auto giants are laying off thousands of people. Such dire news creates images of catastrophe and suffering. If you don’t know when the economy will improve or even if it will improve, your anxiety spirals upward. If you clearly saw that things were getting better, your anxiety would decrease substantially. Unfortunately, we overlook any positive signs in the economy.

Emotional contagion is a real phenomenon.

It refers to our tendency to pick up the emotions of those around us, both positive and negative. Our brains are wired to detect fearful expressions from others, and some studies even argue that we can smell fear. People who are anxious are more susceptible to becoming “infected” with the intense reactions of others. The anxiety ripples through the group, leading to ‘wild-fire’ panic and irrational thinking. This economy is a real life example of this phenomenon.

Tips on Dealing with Economic Adversity:

This economic recession may be with us for a while, and the public needs to implement long-term stress remedies that really do work. If you cloud your mind with constant worry, your ability to problem-solve when it counts is compromised.

Stop Catastrophizing: Intrusive ‘doom and gloom’ thoughts are incredibly draining. Monitor your thought patterns, stop the negative thoughts with distraction and/or recreation, and get more rest. Anxiety flourishes in a tired mind and body.

Fight Against Your Own Negativity: Learn to argue against negative, unrealistic beliefs. How realistic are you being when you descend into gloom? Aren’t there options you are overlooking that could lead to a better outcome?

Put Your Situation in Perspective: You live in the most affluent country in the world with the most democratic philosophies. Even if you are struggling with financial stress and career uncertainties, you are still better off than 95% of the rest of the world. This country has survived far worse times, and we will definitely overcome this stressful economic period as well.

Laugh Long and Loudly: “Just twenty seconds of laughter is the cardiovascular equivalent of three minutes of strenuous rowing.” Laughter is good for your breathing, for your cardiovascular system and for your soul. Surround yourself with friends who enjoy life and the blessings at hand.


"Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers" by Robert Sapolsky, Ph.D.

"Cognitive Therapy" by Judith Beck, Ph.D.

"Lighten Up" by Metcalf and Felible

Parenting In Tough Economic Times - By Chris Gearing

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Parenting Tools In Tough Economic Times

February 12, 2009

Dr. Sylvia Gearing

As Congress approves yet another stimulus package, North Texans continue to experience more layoffs, downsizing and financial shortfalls. And as we all know, as families struggle to stay afloat financially, tempers can flare and kids can suffer.

What are the top challenges for parents during these difficult economic times?

Your Own Fear: Parents are facing their own sense of powerlessness and loss of control in this economy. Even if your job is not in jeopardy, you are bound to know some one who faces a potential financial hurdle. As the recession continues, people are going to have increasing difficulty calming down and retaining perspective.

Avoid Becoming the Super-Parent: Parents often try to overcompensate for their fear by becoming super-parents and hiding all negativity from the kids. As a result, they tend to dismiss their child’s pain. This avoidance prevents the child from learning how to handle adversity effectively. This dismissive style is disingenuous especially with kids since they generally sense what you feel anyway.

Remind yourself that your child most likely knows that something is wrong especially if one of the parents has lost a job or money has become especially tight. The older the child, the greater the awareness but even very young children can sense tension in their parents. A child’s worry flourishes in an atmosphere of uncertainty and he begins to feel helpless. His uncertainty combined with a difficult outcome imposes definite health risks including infections, agitation, and aggression toward others.

Anger and frustration are a part of life but remember that is okay to express displeasure with your child if he misbehaves. Avoid sarcasm, ridicule, and contempt and maintain an evenhanded approach even if you are angry.

By appropriately expressing your anger, you are teaching your child two things:

1.) Angry Emotions are a part of a close relationship and these emotions such as anger and frustration can be handled appropriately.

2.) Kids need limits and they need to know that you care enough to be involved. The child is reassured that you are in control of the family and they will feel safer as a result.

Emotional neglect is the biggest risk factor.

Worried parents may be present in body, but not in mind -- unintentional emotional neglect can occur without parents realizing it. According to research, people who are prone to depression are at least twice as likely to have mental problems in the face of economic stressors. Emotional neglect is difficult to measure since there are no bruises or cuts. How can you definitively prove that a child is not being loved enough? But in certain extreme cases, neglect can be more harmful than outright acts of cruelty such as child physical and sexual abuse. We do know that the trauma of neglect can predispose a child to a host of emotional problems as he grows up.

As families go through tough times, these behaviors may occur:

Tensions Flare: Families often enter a complex, downward spiral as finances tighten and spirits fall. Increased irritability, anxiety and outright rage become more frequent as the parents become more helpless.

Parents Become Emotionally Absent: Mothers become less patient and fathers become more withdrawn. Marital spats and bickering over money and daily living become commonplace and a tense silence often invades a once happy home.

Lost Children: Kids begin to react negatively outside of the home. Socially, academically and psychologically, they begin to struggle and are marginalized to a lower social and academic achievement level. The lack of parental support leads to chronic academic underachievement. They are ill prepared to enter a competitive job market.

Financial adversity offers a mother lode of teachable moments.

In fact, the baby boomers have been remiss in not allowing their kids to experience enough negative events and consequences. We have spent too much effort sheltering our kids from the inevitable adversities of life. Now we have a twentysomething generation that is struggling with a sense of entitlement and confusion and lacking the necessary skills to deal with failure successfully. Adversity teaches coping skills as parents model effective reactions and then teach their kids how to deal directly with challenge. Such strategies literally inoculate your children against severe depression, which strikes a full decade earlier than it did a generation ago.

The secrets to keeping families strong during these tough economic times?

Family Team: When parents put family first and continue to communicate with the kids, everyone does better. Do not let the adversity define your parenting strategy. By fortifying your kids with activities, games and long talks, you are preventing a feeling of isolation and helplessness to grow. There is no substitute for the time you invest in a child.

Avoid Dismissive Parenting: Many parents are concerned that negative emotions are unhealthy for their child. Some parents see their child’s distress as an impossible demand and they insist that the child “not feel unhappy.” Instead, they react with humor and reassurance without really hearing what the child is saying. Listen to your child and then help him deal with the anxiety.

Loss of Parent’s Focus: Children are much less affected by the loss of possessions than they are by the loss of a parent’s focus. Don’t worry that your child lacks the latest fashions or toys. He needs your emotional presence more than a video game.

Community Counts: Increase your attendance in religious, school and civic activities when times are tough. Being with other people reassures your child that the community is stable, predictable and supportive. Familiar faces of loving, concerned adults are the antidote to a family’s tough times.

Resources for Readers:

"Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child" by Dr. John Gottman

"The Optimistic Child" by Martin Seligman, Ph.D.

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