I'm losing my mind over the state of today's world! What can I do?

Many people around me tell me that they’ve reached a point where they can no longer cope with events in today’s world: political strife, global warming, mass shootings, in addition to our own personal daily challenges. This is a huge amount to hold in our nervous systems and begs the question, ‘How can we make sure we’re not overwhelmed?’

1. Limit your access to the news and social media. We are not designed to be able to hold the volume of information that modern media gives us, especially in the way that it is delivered, which is constant, overwhelming and sensationalized. Watching the news or keeping up on social media can loop us into an addictive cycle that hijacks our nervous system. I’m not suggesting you don’t keep abreast of current events, but I’d like to invite you to experiment with seriously reducing how much of this you allow into your nervous system. 

2. Look at what is IN your control and what is NOT in your control. We can burn a huge amount of anxiety worrying over and over about issues we can’t control. When we bring the focus back to what we can control, it enables us to have more efficacy in our lives. Which leads us to…

3. Put your focus on in something action-oriented or calming. One of the many things I teach in my practice is where you put your focus is what will expand. Typically when we feel anxious, we zoom in on it, making it larger. So by moving attention away from anxiety, and putting it somewhere else is a great step towards cultivating a different internal environment. 

4. Come back into the present moment. Anxiety is future-focused. So tools that bring us back into the moment will help. Basic mindfulness exercises can support this goal. 

5. Connect with a person or pet you love. Unconditional acceptance and love through connection with others helps to soothe us and de-escalate our sympathetic (fight, flight) response.

6. Use anxiety tools to reduce stress, and go to therapy to resolve any ‘old’ anxiety that is stuck in your nervous system. There are ways of working with our thoughts, feelings and nervous system to reduce suffering (check out the Anxiety Toolkit coming to my shop in 2019.) Situations change and crises pass, so it’s important to learn ways to tolerate intensity, knowing it ebbs and flows. Meditation helps us clear the slate of the mind and reset.

Some anxiety is normal and healthy, but when it begins to get out of hand, it’s time to take action to bring into check. 

What is Developmental Trauma?

Many people who arrive in my practice tell me that they do not have a trauma history, yet consistently experience issues such as fear of intimacy, multiple failed relationships, self-esteem struggles or repeated challenges in the workplace. Although an increasingly bright spotlight has been shining on the topic of trauma in the last several years, there persists a misunderstanding of the spectrum of trauma and its effects. Trauma can mean the classically-billed single incident type, such as an assault, a car accident or a mass shooting, But it can also refer to repeated events over time, that may seem less impactful, yet can have an equally devastating effect on our functioning. Growing up in poverty, unsure if basic needs will be met, or growing up as any kind of minority in which ongoing microagressions are present, would both be examples of this. In the psychology world we refer to single incident trauma as Big T, and repeated trauma as little t. Beyond this, there exists another kind of trauma, that can be insidious and covert: developmental trauma. 

In our earliest years, we require caregivers who are consistently loving, safe and accessible to us. In this kind of environment, our brain is able to develop in a healthy way, and we can reach developmental milestones that reinforce that the world and its people are generally predictable, and safe. If we are fortunate enough to have caregivers that attune to us and effectively meet our needs, we are able to navigate developmental stages that build a sense of trust, autonomy, adequacy, ability to maintain intimacy and healthy self-belief.

Often, caregivers are not able to provide young children with the kind of environment that fosters this, due to the shortcomings in their own environment growing up or their own adverse life events. Emotional invalidation occurs when caregivers minimize a child’s needs, ‘It’s no big deal, you don’t need to cry!’, shut down a child’s needs, ‘Stop crying!’ or withdraw affection in an effort to manipulate or control (conditional love.) Children can be led to believe that they only have value if they perform or look a certain way, ‘It’s straight As or the highway, buddy!’ Intrusive parenting, in which the child is not allowed their own opinion, or indulgent parenting, in which limits are not upheld, can both cause problems in self-concept. The birth of a sibling with a high level of need, inconsistency of caregivers, childhood hospitalizations and other early losses can also impact development. 

In graduate school, we were posed the question, ‘How does a fish know it’s wet?’ The answer, of course, is that it doesn’t - it is swimming around in the pond unaware, unless it leaves the water and gets a different perspective. So it is with developmental trauma: emotional neglect or abuse is not always intentional on the part of the caregiver, leading us to believe that the environment we grew up in is ‘normal’. But current symptoms often tell a different story. When we are not able to feel successful in relationships, work and life, it can frequently be a sign of an environment in which something was ‘off’, despite the best intentions of our family. 

In my practice, I specialize in repairing just this kind of challenge. Through relational consistency, neurobiological repair and insight, I support clients in overcoming developmental trauma, so that life is not just about surviving…but thriving.

Botox: Does Looking Younger Come with a Psychological Price Tag?

A cursory look around Los Angeles would suggest that Botox is as routine as its less invasive counterparts the blowout and the manicure. Perhaps not a surprise in a city that eulogizes youth and beauty. But while there's no doubt of the popularity of flocking to the needle, the jury is still out on the psychological effects of this injectable medicine. 

In a recent study out of the University of Southern California, it was found that due to frozen facial muscles, botoxed participants were unable to mimic the facial expressions of those they interacted with. Unconsciously imitating another's expressions sends a signal from the listeners’ face to their brain, enabling them to interpret the other's intended meaning. When this ability is impaired, the capacity to perceive others' emotions is impacted. In the study, women with Botox had increased difficulty interpreting both positive and negative emotional expressions, compared to their non-Botoxed peers. Although extended relational studies have yet to be done, with a little imagination we can foresee the potential downfalls of being in a relationship with someone who is not able to consistently decode our emotional expression. 

Perhaps the greatest implication of an inexpressive face is its impact on child development. The dual trend of increased Botox and higher child-bearing age could also affect babies' social and emotional development. Mimicking the facial expressions of the primary caregiver is crucial for two reasons: firstly, baby learns about emotions and social interactions through imitating the primary caregiver; secondly, baby develops his sense of self from feedback from the caregiver. We know from clinical experiments that when a baby can't get a positive emotional response from his caregiver, he quickly moves to a place of distress and nervous system dysregulation. Over time, repeated experiences of this kind negatively impact brain chemistry. And what of tone of voice and content as part of communication? Yes, these can somewhat compensate for lack of facial expression, but up to 80% of our communication is non-verbal. It is too early to say what the long term effect of Botox in the infant-caregiver relationship is, but we do know what happens when people lack communication skills and have a poorly developed sense of self. To view a short video of the Dr Edward Tronik’s Still Face Experiments, which show the impact of lack of facial expression and interaction on baby.  

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apzXGEbZht0

With mounting evidence on how Botox impacts relational quality, we are left to wonder if it has any redeeming psychological features. Enter Dr Eric Finzi who for almost two decades has been studying Botox's effects on mood. In his recent book, The Face of Emotion, he shares his research on the use of Botox, particularly his findings that Botox’s inhibiting of depressed patients' frowns improves mood. These are dramatic findings that suggest that facial expressions, rather neurotransmitters in the brain could be the driving force behind our emotions. The idea of inhibiting negative facial expressions as an antidepressant is radically different to any other intervention currently available.

The observed effects of Botox seem to make a case for and against. How about you? Does Botox affect your mood and relationships?