Tag Archives: anxiety

The Science of Stress


Psychologist Kelly McGonigal has some things she wants to tell you about stress – things that you, like me, have probably misunderstood up until now. Per the introduction for the TED Talk by Dr. McGonigal:

Stress. It makes your heart pound, your breathing quicken and your forehead sweat. But while stress has been made into a public health enemy, new research suggests that stress may only be bad for you if you believe that to be the case. Psychologist Kelly McGonigal urges us to see stress as a positive, and introduces us to an unsung mechanism for stress reduction: reaching out to others.

There were two things she said in this talk which resonated with me:

“When you choose to view your stress response as helpful, you create the biology of courage.”

“Chasing meaning is better for your health than trying to avoid discomfort.”

Take 10 minutes out of your day and watch this TED Talk when you have a chance. She will help reshape the way you view stress from a scientific point of view. You will thank me later for linking to this video. Your future self will thank you when you don’t drop dead from a cardiovascular-related condition a year from now. And I have already thanked Dr. Andrea Dinardo for introducing me to this video.


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The Nerdy Lion

Although I am constantly told I am the funniest person people have ever met, there’s a new cat in town – and he’s funny. A distant second, to be sure, but funny.

I stumbled on The Nerdy Lion: Lions can wear glasses too through a post titled “Why no one is reading your blog – Part 1.” It was pretty damn funny. I laughed and laughed. Why? Because it was funny in the same way that tricking kids is funny:

One thing kids like is to be tricked. For instance, I was going to take my nephew to Disneyland, but instead I drove him to an old burned-out warehouse. ‘Oh no,’ I said, ‘Disneyland burned down.’ He cried and cried, but I think that deep down he thought it was a pretty good joke. I started to drive over to the real Disneyland, but it was getting pretty late.

Anyway, of the many and varied things Nerdy Lion writes about volubly, one subject he has a particularly good grasp on is anxiety & depression. As someone who has “conquered” anxiety, he’s got some useful tips and insight. And even if that’s not what you’re interested in reading about, still check out his site and explore. There are lots of great posts there for your reading enjoyment.


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Quote of the Day

Image result for The Dalai Lama on What Matters Most: Conversations on Anger, Compassion, and Action

“Fear, anxiety, and stress weaken the immune system. Some scientists have described anger as eating our immune functions. On the other hand, a relaxed state of compassion and kindness brings us inner peace and supports and augments the function of the immune system.”

The Dalai Lama on What Matters Most: Conversations on Anger, Compassion, and Action, Noriyuki Ueda (in conversation with His Holiness the Dalai Lama)

From my years spent living in Korea and traveling around Asia, I can now look back and say that one of the most striking differences between the West and the East is how we approach health/wellness and sickness.

This Quote of the Day embodies a simple truth. If you want to remain healthy, listen to simple yet sage thoughts like the above. Be proactive in the maintenance of your physical and mental health, and be reactive and benefit from the wonders of modern medicine when you are sick or weak.

Here are some other simple truisms I learned along the way: Eat until your 80 percent full; don’t eat alone; concentrate on the meal; acupuncture is real; singing can make your body stronger; meditation improves cognitive processes.

With respect to the book itself, here’s a brief intro from the publisher:

A few years ago, prominent cultural anthropologist Noriyuki Ueda sat down with the Dalai Lama for a lively two-day conversation. This little book is the result. In it are some surprising truths and commonsense wisdom.

Click here to visit the Dalai Lama’s official website. And, yes, His Holiness is also on Twitter (@DalaiLama) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/DalaiLama/).

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Be Aware: Journaling Helps You


I wrote a piece last week titled “Beware: Artistry Kills.” Well, now I’m here to turn things around. Of what do I speak?

“There is research out of U.C Davis showing that just writing for a few minutes each day about things that you’re grateful for can dramatically boost your happiness and wellbeing.”

There was a piece in the Daily Informator recently called “A psychologist explains the best way to rewire your brain to let go of negative thoughts” in which social psychologist Alison Ledgerwood discusses the empirical proof that we as humans have a natural inclination to veer towards the negative, even when presented with positive information that overwhelms the negative.

You can watch the TEDx talk by clicking on the above link, but essentially Ms. Ledgerwood conducted an experiment and showed that we suck. Okay, I may be oversimplifying the results. But the point, I think, is that negative thoughts beget more negative thoughts, while positive thoughts can easily be turned to negative thoughts; unfortunately for us, it’s much harder to go from negative thoughts to positive ones.

Although that doesn’t seem like rocket science, her point is that it’s an instinctual trait (so don’t blame yourself for doing it), meaning the only way to make things better is to work at it. And the key? Writing, of course!

She suggests that everyone, but especially people who struggle with negative thoughts on a regular basis, start a gratitude journal. The formula is quite simple: Jot down a thing or two about what you feel grateful for, and try to remember those things as you navigate your way through/around your day.

So, I’ll get the ball rolling on this one and hopefully inspire at least one other person to do the same thing.

I’m very grateful for all of my friends, but I am especially proud of my friend Maria A., who begins a new chapter of her life journey today. She is returning to her new-old home of Mexico to start the exodus process. After four long years of endless hurricanes (literally), she’s found the strength to be grateful for her own experience and know that it’s time to move on. Where that will take her is still up in the air, though I know she’ll conquer whatever mountains she faces along the way and vanquish any unforeseen demons she encounters. As she likes to say, no matter how challenging the circumstances, “Follow your bliss, yo!”


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iFear: Cell Phones & Social Media in a Brave New Era

Image result for social media danger

Becky Mansfield over at Your Modern Family wrote a somewhat chilling piece on the extent to which cell phones and social media have altered a generation – in the not-so-good ways every parent fears – called “The scary truth about what’s hurting our kids.”

Reporting on empirical data presented through a number of mediums, notably Dr. Jean Twenge’s research and the findings she presented in her recent book, iGen:Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy–and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood–and What That Means for the Rest of Us., Ms. Mansfield helps break down some alarming information in an easily digestible, if uncomfortable, way.

Without mincing words, Dr. Twenge has found that spikes began occurring in teen/tween angst, depression, anxiety, ADHD, sleeplessness and, in some cases, thoughts of suicide in 2012, the same year the first iPhone was released. Since then, the numbers are getting worse, not better. Here’s a summary per the above article of a few related stats:

1 in 5 children has mental health problems

The article does offer coping strategies to parents, but if we as adults have a somewhat unhealthy relationship with all these new gadgets, one can only imagine how hard it is for younger people to navigate these waters without a considerable amount of difficulty. This is doubly true when it comes to bullying. Imagine having your least desirable enemies armed with the ability to follow you remotely to your bedroom through social media on a daily basis. Where does someone’s “safe place” become in an age when we are always connected?

As if anyone needs more proof of how serious this problem is, the article from the NYT I wrote about from October 11, 2017 (@simonwilliam: “Why Are More American Teenagers Than Ever Suffering From Severe Anxiety“) is still on the website’s most popular emailed stories – 11 days after it went up, a longevity I’ve not seen before on that site’s page.

Ultimately, the onus lies on us, as parents and adults and mentors and teachers, to lead by example. But that’s easier said than done. High-tech gizmos aren’t going anywhere, and the world is only becoming more interdependent. Suddenly those fears our grandparents had that our parents’ minds were being poisoned by the gyrations of Elvis Presley and the absolute lack of decorum that the Beatles displayed (with shaggy hair!)seem like such Leave It to Beaver-like problems now.

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Design in the Age of Anxiety

“Nothing distorts intent like anxiety. Anxiety pulls focus from the goal and lets energy flow towards distractions and perceived threats. Anxiety flourishes in the absence of information.”

Erika Hall, co-founder of Mule Design, has written an interesting piece on design, our anxieties, and the future titled “Design in the Age of Anxiety: To create a better future, understand the now.

I should point out that it’s interesting to me because I work in the field of design almost every day, specifically from the linguistic end, but the truth is that design is all around us in so many different forms (the font you’re currently reading this in, the shape of the device you’re reading it from, the colour palette of the walls/street/buildings surrounding you, and on it and on it goes).

“Design is exciting because it is the practice of shaping the future. Research requires the discipline of taking an honest look at the past and present. The present is a mess. It always is. But the present is the soil in which we grow our potential futures. Those who strive for innovation without inquiry will have trouble getting their ideas to thrive in the real world.”

Among Ms. Hall’s many other witty quips and observations, some of them included but were not limited to:

“The future spreads like cold butter.”

“Innovation takes hold when a new idea fits into existing habits like a key into a lock.”

“With the right information, delivered with care, anxiety dissipates.”

“Innovation without inquiry leads to trouble in the real world.”

And from her website:

“We don’t trust people who want to like us. They tell you what you want to hear. They choose friendship over criticism. And they don’t make your work better. To us, a compliment doesn’t count unless it’s given begrudgingly by someone who’d rather kick our asses.”

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Anxiety, Not Depression


“Anxiety is the most common mental-health disorder in the United States, affecting nearly one-third of both adolescents and adults, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. But unlike depression, with which it routinely occurs, anxiety is often seen as a less serious problem.”

On the heels of World Mental Healthy Day, The New York Times has followed up with an informative article about the disorder which doesn’t get as much “play time” in the headlines as its more infamous sibling, depression, but is deadly nonetheless.

Benoit Denizet-Lewis has published a well-researched article titled “Why Are More American Teenagers Than Ever Suffering From Anxiety?” and the answer, though never easy to pinpoint for any one specific person, is sometimes more obvious when looking at entire groups of people. As Mr. Denizet-Lewis writes:

“For many young people, particularly those raised in abusive families or who live in neighborhoods besieged by poverty or violence, anxiety is a rational reaction to unstable, dangerous circumstances.”

And for those who think that those raised in affluent families have it any easier, he adds this:

“Suniya Luthar, a professor of psychology at Arizona State University who has studied distress and resilience in both well-off and disadvantaged teenagers, has found that privileged youths are among the most emotionally distressed young people in America.”

Not surprisingly, one thing that ties all young people together – rich and poor – is the anxiety brought on by social media. As one college student put it, “I don’t think we realize how much it’s affecting our moods and personalities. Social media is a tool, but it’s become this thing that we can’t live without but that’s making us crazy.”

It’s disconcerting to learn how so many men and women, boys and girls, suffer from anxiety to the point that they shut down. When I was living in Korea, a lot of the people I knew from other countries would dismiss the heightened state of anxiety there as “Koreanness,” what was euphemistically called a “bballi, bbaali (quickly, quickly)” culture. But it’s not unique to Korea, nor does it only affect teenagers fighting to get into university.

It would seem that many of us are having a tough go of it in modern society. However, according to the article, there are certain things we can do to alleviate the pressure. While these activities are sometimes easier said than done, they include mindfulness techniques, art and equine therapy, and exposure therapy (facing your fears).

I can’t speak for everyone, but I know that when stress/anxiety starts building in my life, the best thing I can do is unplug from social media and, even more importantly, sit down and read a book. That one single act, I think, is the cheapest, quickest and most effective way to mollify the Demons of Angst and Anxiousness.


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