psychology

Setpoints: Why Being Negative Will Make You Stable

You’re surrounded by setpoints every day.  They literally keep you alive.  One of them is your set body temperature.  If your body drops or rises a mere 15% beyond your core temperature, death occurs.  Think of a setpoint like a reference point, a sort of boundary.  Medically, it’s called homeostasis.  The body regulates internal functioning (temperature, blood flow, oxygen) despite external circumstances.  The body is always seeking homeostasis.  So is the brain.  And you can intentionally take charge for your mental, emotional, and relational health.

Examples.

In our bodies, we break out in a fever when something is wrong- which is one way the body makes conditions unfavorable to viruses and bacteria- because they are temperature sensitive.  In addicts, their brains have faced an onslaught of dopamine rushes- and the brain counters it by producing less dopamine to balance out- even sometimes ELIMINATING dopamine receptors.  This is the brain naturally seeking to turn down a party that’s gotten too loud.

The system.

Balanced functioning (homeostasis), whether biological, technological, or psychological, will involve three interdependent elements that help reach homeostasis- all centered on a setpoint:

  1. Receptor– A sensing component that observes changes in the environment. The receptor then sends information to the Control Center.
  2. Control Center– determines an appropriate response, having a set range in place (setpoint).  Then the control center sends this information to an effector.
  3. Effector– Structures that receive signals from the control center and correct deviation by negative feedback, thus putting a system back into its normal range.

Remember from above how dopamine in the brain works with substance abuse?  But we can actually gain the upper hand by being active in our decisions- including making setpoints for ourselves.

Get negative.  

In order to bring a system back to normal, negative feedback is used to regulate it.  So when I say, “get negative,” or course I’m not telling you to have a negative outlook on life.  What I AM saying is that a system that is out of control will only be put back in control/order by it being regulated by setpoints, carried out by either an internal or external force- and this is negative feedback.

Okay, have I been sufficiently nerdy?  Let’s get practical!!

 

Samples.  Check out how William uses all three processes of homeostasis as a married entrepreneur with children, who is also dealing with some alcohol abuse (#2 in each is the setpoint).

Entrepreneur.

1) Financial accounts are reconciled daily by William (outside help oversees them weekly).  2) The business plan was developed with a setpoint of no greater than $100,000 debt.  Crossing $50,000 debt signals a problem and requires meeting with the board.  3) If the setpoints are not honored, the board has full power and autonomy to enact established strategies.

Temperature.

1) William’s two year old, Thomas, is running a fever- revealed by his behavior, and then it was gauged with a thermometer.  2)  If 24 hours pass with a fever over 100 F- or at any point it goes beyond 103 F- the setpoint has been crossed.  3) Visit the doctor immediately.

Remodeling.

1) Extra money was left over- discovered in the budget by William’s wife, Katie.  2)  They determine no more than $10,000 will be spent on a kitchen remodel.  The goal is $8,500; beyond the goal is a warning flag.  3) At the $8,500 mark, a conversation will be held with the contractor to hold to the budget.

Alcohol Use.

1) After running into various troubles with alcohol, William considered his personal/family values and health recommendations.  2) A setpoint was made: only 2 drinks or less daily.  3) If this line is crossed, the commitment is to have an entire month sober.  If this cannot be done, it is agreed on with his support team to increase treatment (e.g., go to a group, go to counseling).

 

Got the hang of it?  These steps can be applied to about anything, though I mostly use the Setpoints Exercise (click on the link below to access!) to help increase ownership and boundaries with addictions.  It’s a straightforward way to get honest with anything you are facing, the amount of help you need, and what supports can get you there.  This concept has helped assist many of my clients to face problems squarely, and in turn, to be more successful and realistic in addressing life challenges.  Give it a try!
Get your free SetPoint Worksheet, created for clients in my practice, by clicking here.

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Myth Busters: Psych Meds Edition

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It is sad to see the person looking for a chemical fix to all their problems.  Equally discouraging is seeing marriages torn apart, lost dreams, and lives ended early- when psychiatric medication might have made a difference in the big picture.  Not “pro-meds” or “anti-meds,” as a mental health clinician I am “what is your situation, and could psychiatric medications possibly be a better option to what you are facing?”

Is it better if you don’t have to take medications?  Of course!  Why add anything to your body that’s not needed?!  But the question really is, do the possible benefits outweigh the likely risks I run in not taking medications?  Does the likely negative impact on myself and/or others suggest I would want to consider medications? Suicidal thoughts can lead to suicide, manic episodes can lead to marital unfaithfulness, addiction can lead to prison, anxiety can lead to ruined relationships, and ADHD can lead to job loss.

My paradigm on taking psychiatric medications comes from a framework that sees it as more of a philosophical and psychological decision in nature than it is about finding the “right scientific argument.”  There’s no perfection in science, and even the medical treatments we know and love involve a lot of guesswork and uncertainty.  We can’t know all possible interactions, side effects, and possibilities for every person.  What it often comes down to is risk and trust.  Taking Advil for a headache is a fairly low risk, with fairly certain outcomes- for some people.  Taking Abilify for Bipolar is less certain.  But if it works, is it worth the risks?

I submit to you that deciding to take medications really comes down to two questions: 1) Is what you are facing worth considering the cost/benefit of medication? 2) Are you willing to try something different? 

 

Top Myths On Taking Psychiatric Medications

If I take medication, it means I am crazy.

First of all, what is meant by crazy?  Most folks I talk with say ‘crazy’ is something along the lines of becoming “controlled” and losing their choice.   With psychiatric medications, this is a phenomenon mostly relegated to the movies.  Seeking a trained professional to affect biological changes in order to help a person with outcomes they desire isn’t crazy; it might be wise.

Also, the opposite of this myth may actually mean a person is in WORSE shape.  It is usually those who seek help who are healthiest; those who leave their problems to chance are most likely to be overcome by them.

I will become a drooling vegetable.

This is a movie concept, not a real world reality of Psychiatry (unless if there are illegal, wholesale abuses/uses occurring).

Psychotropic meds need to be taken if you are depressed.

This is the opposite, yet equally erroneous view that medications are always beneficial.  Sometimes they are not.

We really don’t know exactly how psychiatric medications work.

True.  This is absolutely true.  However, if we are to get honest about the process of research (and for that matter, science), we don’t know a lot about a lot of things.  Even in cardiovascular science and treatment, there are many unknowns.  Even in the treatment of heart disease, that formidable foe of American health, there are many treatments that have uncertainties as to how/if they will work on the individual.  But remember, the business we are talking about is saving lives.  And so it is with Psychiatric medication.  Saving and/or improving lives is the question.  If you know with certainty that taking medications will do neither, then there is no reason to take them!

When I am in session with clients, I don’t seek to win this (or really any) arguments by sheer data.  Most often, it comes down to our a) belief in what makes change possible and b) our willingness to change.  These choices we make are based on values, goals, perceived risk, and the beliefs we hold.  And each of us must decide for ourselves.

If I go to a Psychiatrist, they are just going to give me a pill.

To be fair, this does happen a fair amount.  But also to be fair, Psychiatrists have to gather a reasonable clinical rationale to prescribe, and there are many who do not recommend medications in every situation.  You have choice whether or not to follow the suggestions given and/or to get a second and third opinion.  To increase confidence in the process, bring up your concerns and ask around for the best Psychiatrists.

Medications will change who I am.

At their best, medications help address what is dysfunctional, not the enduring qualities of a person.  The prescribing doctor can track your symptom profile to determine- with you- whether or not a prescription leads to positive or negative changes.    Please remember that ANY medication used in medicine can cause unwanted effects- this is why it must be tracked and monitored, especially initially.

I will go crazy if I take medication.

Psychotropic medications are meant to help correct problems.  The higher risk of problems is when a person doesn’t take medications when they could help prevent or intervene with major issues.  If you are concerned about having a very negative reaction to a medication (whether due to Drug Allergies, past experience, or fear), consider setting up some supports such as regular follow-up with your psychiatrist, blood tests, and having friends/family monitor how you are doing when first starting on a medication.

There will be nasty side-effects.

Due to regulations, drugs used by Psychiatrists in the U.S. are highly researched to ensure that they do not create public health concerns.  That being said, there are certainly bad experiences and side effects that can occur.  In the end, it’s not a perfect science, and it comes back to those two questions of whether 1) what you are facing is worth considering the cost/benefit of medication, and 2) having willingness to try something different

I will become addicted.

If this is a concern, please raise it with your doctor, especially if you have a history of addiction.  There are MANY meds prescribed that are non-addictive.  However, it is true that benzodiazepines, sedatives, etc., have addiction risks.  Many patients can use these medications without becoming addicted, with a substantial improvement in their quality of life even short-term (e.g., through better sleep or less anxiety).

Psychiatrists force medication on their patients.

A respectable doctor will not force medication on you.  Unique, individual focus is made by seasoned professionals, including your involvement with the process.  The concept of against-your-will medication is mostly made up for entertainment/story purposes and rarely exists in the realm of actuality (even in the EXTREME situations where medication is forced, it is to guard a person from being a threat to human life, but this is not the usual we are discussing here).

Medications are a quick fix.

Some medications are only indicated for short-term use and all but do away with presenting symptoms when they are taken (e.g., panic).  However, medications do not change the environmental and personal factors that interact with your overall well-being, so those areas must be addressed for holistic improvement.  However, sometimes meds can help to get a person to a better spot as a co-treatment so other areas of life can also be improved.  Therefore, involving medications, personal work and change, spiritual growth, environmental adaptations, and so forth, a person will usually secure a greater likelihood of improvement.

I’ll have to take medication forever. 

Many medications are meant to be taken only for a time.  However, just like with other medical treatments, some clients will find that maintenance on medication really is the best approach.  This is usually only recommended when the cost of not taking the medication consistently is too high or risky because of the condition or problem being faced.

If certain prescriptions work for my friend, they’ll work for me. 

CONVERSELY: If prescriptions didn’t work for my friend, they won’t work for me. 

Each person is incredibly unique.  Whether through diet or exercise or blood pressure, people have to have different approaches and combinations to make their health the best.  Patience in the process is called for.

Caveats and Disclaimer:

Some of my readers are inevitably asking, “What about the wholesale problems with Big Pharma?”  “What about all the abuses with medications?”  That is another topic for another day; I do not deny there are some MAJOR issues and concerns to be addressed related to greed, regulations, and abuses.  But consider this article as a thought-provoker and encourager in the realm of appropriately administered and utilized psychiatric medications.

I am not an MD, nor do I give medical advice.  I offer feedback based on counseling experience and research.  Medical questions are to be handled by a medical provider.

Thanks for reading!

Yours truly,

Justin K. Hughes

Money Psychology

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The holiday season is coming to a close.  2014 is upon us.  If you are like most Americans, you have spent a fair amount of money in the past month.  Whether consciously or not, you have made a substantial number of financial decisions.

How much did you drive?  What did you spend on food?  What led to the purchasing decisions you made?  What brought about changes or continuity in how you spent money?  How are you planning to spend or save in the next week?  What are your goals for next year?

These are all money questions.  Whether we like it or not, it is integral to daily life.  Even right now, as I type, I am using electricity, wearing down the life of my computer, using time, and re-educating myself on decision-making.  This all affects money.  And money affects it all.

Money is neutral.  Good or evil can come from it.  It is a great tool to reveal what is important to us, and it will quickly reveal the true investments of our hearts- what matters to us.  So when I work with couples and individuals dealing with relationship problems, it’s no wonder that this is a regular dispute zone.

In The 5 Money Personalities, authors Scott and Bethany Palmer present 5 personal styles to handling money.  We each have styles, just like we have personalities- equal, yet different.   There are strengths and weaknesses in each style.  How a person comes to the table- their beliefs and attitudes- considerably impacts their actions and emotions.

First of all, the Spender gets a genuine rush from spending- big or small.  This type of person lives and breathes in the moment- seeking to make life enjoyable now and create memories.  Spenders love to buy for others and get much happiness from helping others and giving gifts.  However, impulsive decisions, a tendency not to communicate about money, regret, and sticking to a budget are some unhelpful results that can ensue.

For the Risk Taker, risk brings a thrill, a challenge, a joy.  They will think about the big picture.  Entrepreneurial possibilities are their life-blood.  The hunt invigorates- and this person moves quick.  Instead of looking at the data and following a standard path of conventional wisdom, their gut is often consulted.  Conversely, vulnerability to loss, ignoring reality, impatience, and a lack of empathy are some of the risks that can follow.

The Security Seeker is a researcher.  Just like the motto of the Scouts, they live by Be Prepared.  Future focus allows them to be willing to give up on immediate gratification for long-term gain.  Faithfulness with resources is an almost inevitable outcome.  The down side is the tendency to be negative along with having anxiety, possibly becoming a killjoy, getting stuck in analysis, and lacking in creativity.

The Flyer may seem out of place in a discussion on money- they hardly think about it.  This person is not consumed or obsessed with money.  They are content, centered on relationships, and usually not motivated by dollars and change.  The flyer may not pay enough attention to money, make decisions based on emotion, lack money skills, or lack in responsibility and initiative.

Finally, the last money personality the Palmer’s introduce is the Saver.  They love to, well, save.  Getting something for less is exhilarating to them.  Organization and stability are this person’s namesake, avoiding debt and calculating buying decisions.  On the contrary, financial goals can lead this personality to lose sight of the present, form anxieties around plans, goals, and saving (which can be not-so-fun), and they may also be just plain cheap.

Exciting, huh?!  This knowledge can certainly help understand the motivations and drive behind money decisions.  Many people, though, are like John and Kate, who approach money in very different ways.  When everyday decisions arise, they quickly get into conflict because they assume the other person is ignoring their needs and not being helpful.  The more a person is “vilified” for their style, the more they will shut down.  You (and those around you) will benefit if you learn to appreciate the person and personality without treating them like a villain.

Here is the thing: changing behavior- not just observing it- is the challenging task.  You will be successful in your relationships if you can really listen, show understanding and respect, and give generously.  Let money be your servant, not your master.  And when you handle money this way, will you ever look back and regret it?

Yours truly,

Justin K. Hughes

The Psychology of Family Holidays

As the U.S. heads into the heaviest holiday season of the year, an interesting blend of emotions often come up.  Even for those who find great joy in time with family, it can also be a stressful time.  Join me on a little journey of psychology through some of these dynamics.

Expectations.  We all have them, and most are unspoken.  This is one of those big surprise areas for couples when they first get married.  Do you: Like to relax by being at home or going out?  Sit down at the table for all meals or sit in front of the TV?  Spend your time talking or doing activities?  Spend money or save it?  Navigating differences takes patience and effort with one couple alone.  Now consider the impact of bringing family together with as many routines, styles, and personalities as a house can hold.

Boundaries.  Can you draw clear, respectful boundaries?  In families, boundaries often get mixed up.  Boundaries are really no more than understanding what’s mine, what’s yours, and what’s ours.  Being around the same people day in and day out, it is easy to expect that situations will just work themselves out- and rest on the comfort of familiarity.  However, being healthy in relationship requires speaking the truth and showing grace.  Do you tell others your needs and wants, or do you guilt them into doing what you want?  Do you really listen to understand?  Do you fear ‘rocking the boat’ and don’t speak up?  The error arises in being overly passive or overly aggressive (passive-aggressive is just a form of aggression).  These extremes involve not taking enough responsibility OR taking too much responsibility to change that which is not in our care.  This is a basic definition of drama, and what ends up happening is hurt feelings, resentment, and helplessness.  This can be countered by love- speaking up when necessary and being quiet equally as well.  Love is not guilt and obligation, though you won’t always enjoy loving, because its highest form involves sacrifice and patience.

Family rules and roles.  Ever feel a sense of freeness and independence away from all of your family only to revert to a frustrating old pattern when you are with loved ones?  Such as how the youngest sibling “performer” gets all the attention?  How your normal patience goes down the toilet when you hear incessant complaining about your life choices?  The realization that you sound like your dad though you always swore you would be different?   Family dynamics are deeply rooted.  See the next point to understand why.  It is easy to slide back into the old patterns.  Don’t put unrealistic pressure on yourself or others to change deeply rooted dynamics quickly.  Also, points of growth must be happening at other times during the year- consistently.

Old habits and brain pathways.  Think of it.  When dressing, which leg goes first into your pants?  What side of the face (or which leg) do you shave first?  Habits and routines are ingrained into our brain chemistry.  They can change, because the brain is “plastic,” but it takes work and time.  Now bring together good and bad habits with people you may or may not enjoy spending time with, and there are bound to be some sparks of tension.

Differentiation.  Healthy family functioning requires interdependence.  This is being mutually dependent on each other for the good of everyone involved.  Additionally, healthy families will encourage what’s known as differentiation- being connected, yet being a unique, independent human being.  Raising a child means transitioning this little marvel from total dependence to total independence- in a few short years.  Being over-connected (enmeshed) or disconnected (diffuse) will create problems real fast.

Truly, time with family needs patience.  And it often takes work.  It can be wonderful, too.  You may want to have a plan going into the holidays to make it successful.  Don’t forget to remember what you are grateful for and the incredible blessings you have.  It’s easy to lose vision when it seems like your family is driving you crazy.  This is where I reflect on a great example of love: Jesus had a bunch of guys that abandoned him- every one- when support was most needed.  But he loved.  I need this love.  It’s a love that speaks truth.  It’s a love that shows kindness.  It’s a love that has courage.  And I pray I can show it well during the holidays.
Yours truly,
~Justin

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Stages of Change

Why won’t they change??!!

True, long-lasting change is based on a re-orientation of a person’s heart attitude and approach. This can’t be forced. Few people like to change under compulsion.  I actually haven’t met one.  People that are so passive that they let others force transformation usually hold onto their beliefs internally, ending up with resentments, bitterness, depression, or hopelessness. However, understanding how people change can offer assistance personally and with inspiring others.

Let me introduce you to the concept of “Stages of Change.”  It is one of the prevailing theories/applications in psychology, based on the work of Prochaska and DiClemente.

In their research, they have looked at everything from changing behaviors concerning medical problems to addictions. Timing is important; when someone is not ready, they are not going to change.  A person “buys in” to change when they are at one of several points: a) interested or concerned, b) convinced the benefit is greater than the cost, c) have a plan, d) are committed, and e) finally take action and uphold change.

The basic concept of Stages of Change is that a person will fall into one of five categories with regard to making a change:

Precontemplation (Not Ready): No intent or totally unaware.

Contemplation (Considering): Considering change.

Preparation (Ready): Moving towards change and possibly taking small steps.

Action (Work):  Working on change, taking steps.

Maintenance (Growth/Maturity): Applying long-term consistency.

Conceptualizing this, you and I can save a lot of energy and gain some wisdom in approach- that relationship where you have cried or yelled or shut down; your teenager you want to respect you; the boss with the thick skull.  You can know where to spend your time and energy (with yourself AND others) when you look through this lens. For example, if you want your spouse to “get you” and show better understanding, are you wasting time telling them again and again what you want? Someone at the contemplation stage will respond MUCH differently than someone at the action stage.

It wouldn’t be a blog of mine if I didn’t ask about personal responsibility: How is the pursuit of changing others wasting time and energy and possibly harming your relationship?  Where do YOU need to place your focus?

– JustinChameleons change