Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Soothing The Anxious Lover: Calming Your Inner Chicken Little

If you ever feel like your brain itself is housing Chicken Little who is frantically running around chirping, "The sky is falling!" -- your brain's basal ganglia may be set too high. People who startle easily or who work harder calm anxiety may have been born with a basal ganglia that fires a little "hotter" than most. Under stress, or in a crisis, people with imbalanced basal ganglias are more susceptable to post-traumatic-stress, tics, panic attacks or other anxiety disorders. Headaches and upset stomach may occur. They may feel shy or feel nervous in social situations, have a tendency to go to Worst Case Scenarios at the first sign of a problem, and avoid conflict like the plague.

In writing This is Your Brain in Love with Dr. Earl Henslin, I recognized myself in both the Scattered Lover and also this one, The Anxious Lover. Thankfully, I seldom feel overwhelmed by anxious thoughts anymore. I still have them but I don't take them as seriously, and I have tools to help when I get "triggered" and keep myself from spiraling down into a full blown anxiety meltdown,

Here are a few tips gleaned from This is Your Brain in Love that have helped me calm the frightened chickadee within and may also help you!

1. Calm with Carbs.
A banana cut in half lengthwise and smeared with peanut butter, a bowl of cereal with blueberries, yogurt with fruit, a bowl of oatmeal or Malt-0-Meal, pasta or macaroni and cheese, or a bowl of mashed potatoes with a sprinkle of cheese or meat are all soothing and calming to wound-up minds. One couple has a nightly bag of “bedtime” popcorn (light on the butter) and swears it works better than a sleeping pill to make them chill out and get drowsy.

2. Supplements Can Soothe.
High quality products formulated to help relax the brain are sold at many health food stores. Dr. Amen sells two excellent products, NeuroCalm and NueroGaba at http://www.amenclinics.com/
I personally take a product called True Calm by NOW, along with melatonin and magnesium for a restful sleep and peaceful dreams.

3. Try Aroma and Water Therapy.

Take a hot bath with essential oils of lavender, orange, marjoram, and/or chamomile dispersed in the water. Epsom salts allow magnesium to be absorbed through your skin and will relax your muscles and mind. Better yet, light candles and put on soothing music. This is one of my favorite ways to bring calm to an anxious mind.

4. Challenge Your Thoughts.

Because I know I have an automatic tendency to catastrophize, I will now stop the roll of fearful thoughts by asking, "Is that true?" And then, "Is there a less stressful, more positive thought that could be just as true that you can replace that fearful one with?" Memorizing quotes or Bible verses on peace has been helpful in retraining my fearful brain.

How Can You Help Your Anxious Spouse?

1. Distract Them.

Doing anything physical—taking a walk or digging in a garden together—can stop the loop of fearful thoughts. Offer to take your mate to a movie or window shop. Maybe get out a jigsaw puzzle or a Scrabble game. Note what absorbs their mind and gets them away from the worry-loop, and help him redirect his thoughts with a little bit of action.

2. Hug Them Tight.
When your mate is feeling especially anxious, just pulling him or her into your arms for a good long hug can be very comforting. Or lie down on the bed or couch for a full-bodied hug—head to toe. Women, especially, will often calm considerably if you just let her lie in your arms, her head on your chest, and stroke her hair or back.

3. Reassure and Reassure.

You can probably never say enough reassuring words, compliments, or loving phrases to your mate. Most anxious lovers are afraid, at a deep level, that they are not meeting up to expectations or desires. Reassure your spouse of your love, notice and compliment him daily, give him plenty of affection, and let him know he is safe to “exhale” with you. Many anxious lovers have the “love language” of verbal affirmation and touch. Make sure you are giving your spouse love in the way he most feels and needs it

This short post barely skims the surface of what causes, and what calms, an anxious brain. For more information on this, along with specific medications that may be of help, you may want to order one of the two books on the right by clicking the cover. It will take you to the Amazon link.

Monday, February 15, 2010

"The Blue Mood Lover" or Warning! Depression is Toxic & Contagious!

(Fourth in a series of excerpts from This is Your Brain in Love. To order the book from Amazon, you can click on the cover to the right.)

Depression is toxic to marriage. As it turns out, when either mama or papa ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy in their marriage. Being married to someone who struggles with blue moods takes its toll on both partners.

“There is a growing body of research indicating that mental health and unhappy marriages are closely entwined,” writes lead researcher Mark A. Whisman, PhD, with the University of Colorado at Boulder. In this particular study, Whisman and his colleagues recruited 774 married couples from seven states. Each partner was tested for depression, anxiety, and whether they felt they had a happy or unhappy marriage. They found, not surprisingly in my opinion, that when one partner tended toward depression, the other spouse began to struggle with being happy as well. Especially with being happy with the state of their marriage.

The researchers also tested for anxiety, but it was in marriages where depression was the third silent “partner” that couples felt the most unhappy in their marriages. Having an anxious or fearful spouse tended not to be as dampening to a relationship as having a depressed partner. Of course, this makes sense. When your mate is fearful (we’ll talk about that in the next chapter), you may be able to offer soothing comfort. Perhaps you may even feel needed and appreciated.

When someone is feeling depressed, however, everything in his world is colored in shades of gray with outlines of sorrow or heaviness or disappointment. Including the way he or she views you. Needless to say, when your partner is always looking at you through gray-colored glasses, you aren’t going to feel terribly positive about him either. There’s an old saying that “We fall in love, not so much because of the way we feel about them, but how they make us feel about ourselves when we are with them.” When you are living with a spouse stuck in a blue funk, he doesn’t tend to make you feel very good about yourself in his presence. In fact, many partners of depressed spouses long to escape the dark cloud that engulfs them when they are with their low mood mate.

In our book, This is Your Brain in Love, we discuss in detail six different types of depression found in various combinations in the brain. In addition we talk about the difference between grief (situational or circumstantial related depression that lasts for a season) and clinical depression (that does not lift on its own, with time and comfort).Then there is also hormonal related depression that many women experience just before their periods or during menopausal changes.

But whatever the cause or exact kind of depression you are suffering, here are a few ways to help yourself (if you are stuck in a blue mood and can't get out) or to help encourage your mate who is suffering from unrelently sadness. (Note: I'm not including supplements or medication tips in this post because they are long, complicated and varied according to severity and type of depression. However, these can be life-saving and are discussed in depth in the book.)

Lifting Your Own Blue Mood

1.Chop wood, carry water, knit a sweater.
Interestingly, depression is much lower in countries where people use their hands and do physical labor that yields meaningful rewards—such as food to eat, clothes to wear, and wood for the fire to keep warm. It is astounding how, even in third-world countries where the economy is terrible and freedom is often limited, people who get out in their gardens, produce their own food and generally create the things that help them survive, have a small fraction of the depression that we have in our country. The Amish and others who live an agrarian lifestyle have much lower depression rates, as did, apparently, our grandmothers and grandfathers.
Scientists are finding that our brains are literally wired for meaningful work that involves at least some physical labor, preferably out of doors. But even crafting and homemaking activities such as knitting or cooking seem to calm anxiety and elevate moods. In her book Lifting Depression, Dr. Kelly Lambert talks about the discovery of an effort-driven reward loop (EDR) that, when activated, increases our happiness. When the effort involves your hands in the task, it seems to work even better. (“Give your brain a hand!”)

2. Let there be light!
Light is sweet, and it pleases the eyes to see the sun (Eccles. 11:7 NIV).
More than 25 percent of Americans suffer from a special sensitivity to the natural decrease in sunlight during the fall and winter in a condition called SAD (or seasonal affective disorder). For many lower-serotonin people, late afternoon brings on the sad hours. If you are able to get to a window, open up your curtains first thing in the morning and let the sunshine in. It will help your emotional outlook on the day and also help you sleep better at night. Research is showing that we may have overcompensated in our fear of skin cancer by keeping people from getting the sun they need for vitamin D production. Ten to fifteen minutes a day out in the sun is good for our moods and our health.
Getting some natural sunlight will be a big boost. Even on a cloudy day you’ll get 10,000 times more lux (the standard unit of illumination) outdoors than you’ll get indoors. There are special therapeutic lamps that you can sit under for several minutes a day if needed.
Note: Bright lights can also trigger irritable or manic moods. If major mood swings or bipolar moods are a condition for you, avoid these lamps.
You can buy full-spectrum lamps in a variety or models, or just purchase the bulbs from a health or hardware store.

3. Remember, your glasses are foggy and dark right now.
Try to remember that when you are depressed or in a low mood, your mind will automatically go on a “mental garbage hunt,” dredging up the saddest and worst memories of your loved ones from your past. You are not seeing people in their best light, and not even in shades of black-and-white, but in real depression you are experiencing others through the darkest colored glasses, from the worst possible eye-view.
What you feel versus what is true can be very skewed in a low-mood state. Many marriages do not survive a depression sleeping between them because of this very reason. From your viewpoint, your mate may seem to be unable to do much of anything right, to say anything helpful, to do or be who you need him or her to be. Even the way he chews may irritate you. True, he probably doesn’t understand how you feel, because he may never have survived a dark night of the soul such as you may experience in a deep depression. Just recognizing that your mate is probably doing his best and allowing him to help you to get to the help you need is the most important thing you can do.

Tips for Encouraging Your Blue Mood Mate

1. Learn the art of “being present.”

While a depressed person is recovering, ask how you can help. Some people need you to hold them while they cry and find a good deal of relief after letting out the tears. Do not be afraid of just being with your mate in this time of sorrow and silently holding her, stroking her hair, or whispering words of love. Counselors have to learn how to detach from their clients’ pain while still being compassionate witnesses to their suffering. You can learn this skill too. You can hold people and comfort those who are sad without going to the depths with them. Henri Nouwen wrote, “The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing . . . not healing, not curing . . . that is a friend who cares.”

2. Listen deeply.
I saw a book the other day with the title, Listening is an Act of Love. As a therapist who listens to people all day long for a living, I had to agree with that premise. Many troubled souls have received comfort and cheer simply from being with a friend, counselor, or pastor who lets them unburden their thoughts. You don’t have to fix or have all the answers. Just listen without judging or fixing, with compassion. Say things like, “I am so sorry you are in so much pain. I know you have lots of inner strength and that you’ll move through this and find a way to feel better. And I’ll be here with you. It’s going to be okay. I love you.”

3. Don’t try too hard to cheer her up.
Subtlety is key when people are down. The last thing they want is a bouncy, cheerful, happy clown to try to make them smile. They need your gentle understanding first of all. Then think about how you might upsize the joy in their physical environment without making it obvious or being loud and obnoxious about it.
Rather than saying, “Get up, Grumpy! Let’s go for a run in the fresh air! Or how about we go see a funny movie? I’ve got to get you out of the dumps!”—go for subtler approaches.
Perhaps, just open the curtains and let in some light. Or say, “I’ve made us some smoothies, would you like to sip them outside in the sun with me for a few minutes?” Maybe turn on some music that you know she enjoys or light a candle with a scent she loves. As you are sipping smoothies, smile softly and, naturally and calmly, tell them an interesting or funny thing that happened to you or something light that you read. Maybe ask, “What was the funniest thing that ever happened to you?” or “What part of a movie made you laugh the hardest?” Take a bowl of peas or pecans outside with you to shell together. (Remember that simply moving your hands helps perk up your brain.) As you see her mood lifting and her energy rising, you might say, “Would you like to just take a short stroll around the block? Maybe five or ten minutes?”
Inch by inch, gently lead those who are in darkness to light. But do not whack them over the head with a joy stick.

4. Be a noticer

Notice the times when your mate seems to find the energy to accomplish tasks or go out in the world.
One husband noticed that when his wife had nothing planned to do during the day, she would stay in bed and sink into a funk. The house would be a mess, and she could not muster the energy to begin to clean it. Oddly enough, when she had a lunch planned with a friend, or took her child to a playgroup, or took a class at the local YMCA, she seemed to get more done on the house. Once she started moving, the energy to clean the house, do laundry, and cook dinner seemed to come.
So, together, they came up with a daily schedule and made sure she had something to do, outside of the house—some appointment, some friend to meet, some art or exercise class to take—every single day. Never underestimate the power of “something to look forward to” to get the happy juices flowing.
Little by little, more energy to do life came back to his wife.
Happiness is usually not terribly complicated. It generally comes to us when we have someone to love who loves us back, something worthwhile for the hands to do, something special to look forward to, and a deep knowing that God loves us. There is much to be said for old-fashioned ways to beat the blues. However, when the simple things like sunshine, good food, honest work, and love aren’t doing the trick—I’m thankful that we have brain science to help ourselves and our marriages back to the sunny side of life’s street.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Over-Focused Lover: "Help I'm Stuck on a Thought & I Can't Let Go!"

Continuing in the Six Part Valentine's Series based on excerpts from our book, This is Your Brain in Love, we're taking a look at the second type of out-of-brain-balanced lover today, the Over-Focused Lover.

There's an area at the front of the brain called the cingulate gyrus, that --when over-firing, literally looks like a red hot flame going down the middle of your head on a Spect Scan. We nicknamed this area "the circular gerbil wheel" because when it is firing too high, people get stuck on a thought and simply can't let go. It goes round and round in their heads like a gerbil on a wheel. And goodness knows, it is not wise to put a gerbil in charge of your brain!

Generally, the brain chemicals in an Overfocused Lover type get triggered by something in their environment that makes them feel oddly anxious. They quickly form a perception about that experience, and even if it is dead wrong, it is the cingulate's story and it is sticking to it. Under stress a person with an overactive cingulate latches on to the first anxious thought and cannot release it: they're on one-way thought train that cannot be derailed.

If you’ve ever offended or disappointed an Over-Focused Lover, even if it was just a perceived offense, you’ve discovered that they can hold on to their grudges like a dog with a bone. Forgiving and letting go of real or perceived slights are among the most difficult things for a cingulate-minded person to do.

Yet, it is amazing to watch what happens as people get this area of the brain calmed down. They retain all their formerly wonderful qualities but are simply calmer, more peaceful, and laid-back; they roll with the punches and go with the flow.

Until that oh-so-happy day, though, they will lean toward controlling behaviors as their only tool to self-medicate and calm inner anxiety. This could show itself in a number of ways. They could start micromanaging everyone around them, shouting orders or making random demands.
They also may revert to super-organizing behaviors under stress: cleaning, doing laundry or organizing the garage compulsively. There is a huge sense of satisfaction and relief when a controlling lover can find something—anything—to order, organize, or control. To the extreme this can lead to obsessive compulsive-like disorders—hand-washing, counting things, or over-checking locks on doors. Dr. Amen has found that one of the most common brain scans involved with people who have addictions of any kind is ADD and a hot cingulate. Why? The cingulate gets triggered easily and if the person has ADD, the thinking/logical/impulse control center of the brain is off-line... giving the gerbil free reign. This is a painful and vulnerable condition and so, this person seeks anything to calm their anxious anger and often makes impuslive choices to self-medicate the stressful mood state. A perfect formula for addiction.

Here's a small sampling of ways to help calm your Inner Gerbil.

1. Increase Seratonin.

Most people know that seratonin helps elevate low moods. But many don't realize it is also has "antiobsessive" qualities, meaning it helps "unstick" negative thoughts and allow you to transition to better ones. Simple eating a wholesome high carb snack or meal can raise seratonin. (Like cereal with milk and bananas or popcorn, for example.)

St. John’s Wort, L-tryptophan, and 5-HTP are helpful for cingulate gyrus. (Only try one a time, not all 3!) Inositol, from the B vitamin family, in doses of 12–20 milligrams a day it has been shown to decrease moodiness, depression, and overfocus issues. Finally, many people with stuck thoughts find that using GABA or a combination of GABA with other relaxing ingredients may help them relax, especially when thoughts are going around and around in the evening before bed. Be sure to check with your physician or naturopath about supplements and do NOT use them if you are taking anti-depressants of any kind without medical advice. If supplements alone don't do the trick, medications like Prozac and Zoloft can work miracles in many people -- as long as the person doesn't have "temporal lobe issues" which can actually worsen with these medications. This is why it is vital to get your advice from a professional trained in brain science.

2. Try soothing self-talk.
When you catch yourself starting to tense up and get overfocused, use a couple of phrases to remind yourself to relax and let go. Take a few seconds to breathe slowly and say calming phrases to yourself, such as . . .
“Chill, Buddy.”
“It’s not worth the upset. Let it go.”
“He may be having a bad day. Cut him some slack here. You aren’t perfect, either.”
“No big deal. No worries”
“Re-la-ax. Breathe. Let it go.”
"Practice gratitude instead of holding grudges."

3.Walk before you talk, preferably with music.

Physical exercise of any kind will also help you disengage from a compulsive thought or agitated frame of mind. Before you start the blame game or unload your frustration on your mate, say, “Honey, I need to walk for a few minutes before we talk. It’s for the good of our marriage!” Then take off. Better yet, combine walking with an iPod loaded with music to calm the stuck gerbil within. What kind of music? Whatever soothes your soul and puts you in a happy, relaxed frame of mind. For you it may be Bach, for me it may be rock n’ roll oldies, for someone else it could be praise music or jazz. There are multiple reasons why each of our brains relax with certain sounds. Purchasing or creating a “Serenity” CD or downloads for your iPod can transport you from Stuckville to Chillville.

Tips for Spouses of "Over-Focused Lovers"

1. Open the cage door.
When overfocused lovers gets stuck on a “my way or the highway” train of thought, step aside and say something like, “Whatever you think. You’ve got a good mind, and I know you’ll do the right thing and figure out the best plan.” Don’t get caught in a never-ending debate. It’s an alligator roll you most often can’t win. Just open the cage door, and let them fly in any direction they choose. Often they’ll fly right back into your court and be willing to listen to your reasoning.

2. Use reverse psychology.
Often cingulate people automatically say no without really thinking. One way to shake them off of their prescribed answer is to ask questions differently. Rather than say, “I want to go the movies tonight,” you may have better luck saying, “I was thinking about going to see that action thriller tonight. You don’t want to go, do you?” Or, “I am sure you don’t want to go on a walk with me, right?” Often a controlling person will answer, “Why wouldn’t I want to go on a walk with you? Of course I’d love to go on a walk with you.” They do it for the sheer joy of contradicting you.

3. Be aware of hormonal issues.

Women with severe PMS will often show overactive cingulates just before and during their menstrual cycle. But a few days later in their cycle, their scan may look perfectly normal. Hormones create the neurotransmitters that affect our moods. If you notice a cyclical pattern to controlling or agitated behaviors, consider suggesting she have her hormones checked. Some women need a little medication or supplementation for just part of the month.

These are just a small sample of helps for lovers and their mates dealing with a "stuck cingulate." For more in depth discussion and specific helps, you may want to order This is Your Brain in Love by clicking on the cover to the right.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Scattered Lover Type: Tips for Helping "ADD" Spouses

(My grandson Titus who has creatively decorated his high chair and styled his hair with oatmeal-based hair gel. ADD types rarely lose their childlike spirit; but oh, the messes we can make!)

Today, we're covering the first lover type, The Scattered Spouse. True confession: Both Dr. Henslin and I struggled with a subtype of ADD called Inattentive ADD. Yes it is a miracle that we can focus long enough to write a book together, but the secret is that when an ADD person is highly interested in a project, there's no trouble focusing. In fact, we can get completely lost in the project, unaware of anything else happening around us. Here's a small sampling of the chapter on The Scattered Lover from our book, This is Your Brain in Love.

Everything is just so interesting..remarkably at the same time.” — Frank Coppola

If you’ve often been told to slow down, be still, focus, or be practical . . . you might be a Scattered Lover.

If you’ve bought a dozen organizers and proceeded to almost immediately lose them or leave them in a dozen different places . . . you might be a Scattered Lover.

If your mate has ever pulled his hair when you announced that, once again, you forgot to pick up the dry cleaning, or the milk, or the toddler from the babysitter . . . you might be a Scattered Lover.

If your beloved has ever banged her head against the wall or yelled, “You never listen! You never pay attention! Your eyes keep wandering around the room! You don’t even see or hear me!” . . . Well, you might be a Scattered Lover.

Dr. Daniel Amen has identified six types of ADD which Dr. Henslin and I adress in detail in This is Your Brain in Love. But no matter what your ADD type, if you are Scattered Lover here's a few suggestions on how you can help yourself and how your spouse can support you.

4 Ways a Scattered Lover Can Increase Focus

1. Get intense aerobic exercise for thirty to forty-five minutes daily.
Long, fast walks will help burn off excess energy. If sitting still is difficult for you, pass up invitations to long dinners and opt to go for a walk or play tennis with friends instead. Become aware of your own need for preventive self-care. If you anticipate that being stuck in a long social situation is going to leave you irritable or antsy, let your spouse know that you’ll need a walk midway through the evening to discharge some energy

2. Avoid distractions.
Set up a corner in your house that is totally free from noise and windows to get your paper work completed. One friend of mine goes to the local corner bakery during the nonbusy hours to write and work without distractions that come with being at home. Many caf├ęs and coffee shops have free Wi-Fi (wireless local network) and can be nice alternative “offices” if there are too many distractions at home for you to get computer or writing work done.

3.Get creative with self-help.
Keep a stack of legal pads and pens at your bedside and make a to-do list each morning to keep yourself on track for the day.
Give yourself a lot of margin—extra time to get ready and go where you must be.
If you find yourself avoiding chores and neglecting duties, stop and think about them. Ask yourself if there is a more creative or fun way to tackle boring, routine responsibilities. You can do this by attaching a little reward to the mundane: Take out the trash and stop to shoot some basketballs on the way back into the house. Turn on your favorite music to wash dishes by. Make a game out of work; set the timer and see how fast you can make the bed or clean the bathroom. Save laundry and fold it while watching a favorite TV show. Put some fun in your function!

4. Notice when your best “focused time” is . . .

. . . and use these times for significant conversations with your mate or your boss. If you know that you are easily distracted and get overloaded, keep the discussion short and focused but promise to follow up with another discussion time when you are able to be clear and tune in. Best focus times vary for ADD types, but most find they are most fully awake and aware after they’ve had their supplements, medication or eaten a healthy meal and had a good night’s sleep.

4 Ways to Help Focus Your Scattered Mate

1. Dr. Amen emphasizes that in dealing with kids, employees, and spouses who have ADD —NO YELLING.On his website he writes, Many people with ADD seek conflict or excitement as a means of stimulation. They can be masters at making other people mad or angry (and often enjoy playing the mental/relational game called “Let’s Have a Problem”). Do not lose your temper with them. If they get you to explode, their unconscious, low-energy prefrontal cortex lights up and likes it. Never let your anger be their medication. They can get addicted to it.

2. Accept what cannot be changed and work around it.

A very patient friend of mine is married to a scattered wife. She’s not hyper in body, but her mind is always flitting about from one thing to another. When after much trial and error, he could not keep her from absentmindedly throwing away the lids to the milk carton, and he didn’t want his dairy tasting like yesterday’s tuna fish, he came up with a solution. He began collecting milk lids and putting them in a drawer. When she lost a lid, absently tossing it away, he simply and quietly replaced it from his “lid stash.”

3. Remember: they aren’t doing this on purpose.

Perhaps the most common complaint from spouses is that their Tigger mate rarely finishes chores or completes projects. It helps to remember that your spouse is not being lazy or insensitive. Most adults with ADD or ADHD have to expend an enormous amount of energy to maintain focus at work and stifle their tendencies to wander. Many tend to come home and collapse, in dire need of recharging their brain. They really do need time to recuperate between requirements for focusing. Here’s some advice from those who’ve loved and lived with a Tigger:
• Don’t take it personally.
• Get them started or work alongside them to get chores done.
• Help them create systems that become no-brainers. Have a box by the door to catch muddy shoes, a coat tree for coats and hats. A central message board in the kitchen with pushpins and cork can be handy.
• Post a to-do schedule and try to keep it consistent. For example:
Do laundry on Sunday evening.
Buy groceries on Tuesdays.
Pay bills on the 1st and 15th.
(Better yet, get a big, easy-to-read calendar just for them and write in their weekly or monthly reminders.)

4. Don't blame yourself for being unable to micro-manage your spouse.

You can be helpful and supportive, but ultimately they must take 100 percent responsibility to balance their own brains. You can take 100 percent responsibility for your response to them and how to become a bit wiser and more ADD savvy. But you’ll need a lot of support and encouragement.

*For more detailed specifics on supplements, medicines, stories about ADD coping strategies, pictures of brain scans and ADD subtypes, along with more practical ideas you may want to order the book, This is Your Brain in Love by clicking on the book cover to the right.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Five Lover Types: Which One are You?

(Me & My Hubby's Happy Sandy Feet, Relaxing on Waikiki Beach)

Continuing with Valentine's week sneak peeks into This is Your Brain on Joy: What type of lover are you when your brain feels out of balance? Below is a summary of the 5 most common brain-related "lover types" that challenge couples. One or both of you may be a combination of types, as is often the case. A big part of Dr. Henslin's marriage therapy is making sure each individual is bringing their best, healthiest, most balanced brain to the marriage. After that, counseling couples through problems is oh so much easier.

The Scattered Lover

The Scattered Lover tends to come in two different forms. One is the hyperactive, bouncy, all-over-the-place version. They are high in energy and low on attention—unless they are very, very fascinated by something in their environment. Then they can become extremely focused. Many spouses of mates with attention deficit disorder are frustrated by their husband or wife’s ability to focus on a video game or hobby they love, but can’t maintain or engage in a focused give-and-take conversation or hear and act upon simple requests. They seem to have endless energy, until they crash.
The second type of Scattered Lover is the classic absent-minded professor. They’re often smart, but just as often lost in their own world. For example, Einstein, who discovered the theory of relativity, but never seemed to find a decent comb. Or if he did, forgot to use it on his wild white mane. These people are typically pleasant, but so easily caught up in watching the flowers bloom, they are often late for things like doctor’s appointments and planes taking off. Sweet-tempered but maddening for mates who prefer punctuality to last-minute panic, and order to creative chaos. (Or “comfy cluttered nests,” as they often prefer to call their messy offices and bedrooms.)

The Overfocused Lover

These are the classic people who are like a dog with a bone once they get stuck on a thought. They have a very hard time shifting their set-in-stone perspectives because their viewpoint feels unalterably right and comforting. They can range from a mate who cannot forgive an offense from years ago, to one who gets fixated on an activity (good or bad) and can’t stop, to one who has compulsive tendencies (to check locks or count cracks in the sidewalk or over-parent). The far end of this spectrum would include people with obsessive compulsive disorder, with the mid-range being seen as control freaks, with the less severe end of this continuum including people who just have a very hard time letting go of being right or shifting from one project to another or one idea to another.

The Blue Mood Lover

Blue moods happen to all of us at some time or another, particularly after any kind of loss. PMS or adrenal burnout can plummet the sunniest of dispositions into a blue mood. However, many people seem to have been born with a gloomy outlook. You try to point out that the glass is half-full, and they’ll not only declare it half-empty, they’ll point out that the glass is smeared and has a small chip in it, and the water tastes a little funky, as well. They look for the worst in everything and seem to take a certain pride in discovering What Could Go Wrong first and sharing it with anyone who might listen. If you’ve ever had a unrelenting pessimist -type on your team, you may have experienced a slow, sure drain in your own energy.
Negativity can become habitual and to some people is as addicting as alcohol. Someone with a true, deep, chemical depression is different from one who has learned negative behavior by osmosis, usually from growing up in a negative family environment. You know the commercials on TV that say, “depression hurts everywhere”? (These commercials are so depressing!) Well, depression also hurts everyone who loves you. If you are suffering from a chronic low mood, your first priority, before working on your marriage, would be to become radically proactive about uncovering the source of your sadness and getting the right help for it. We’ll spend an entire chapter talking about the variety of issues that can cause you to feel sad and how to get you or your mate back on the sunny side of the street.

The Agitated Lover

The spouse of an easily agitated or angered mate will nearly always say, “I have to walk on eggshells in my own home.” When a person is easily irritated or angered— unusually so—I’ve found there is nearly always a biochemical component to this issue. In fact, as I pointed out in my earlier book, This is Your Brain on Joy, I treated thirty couples where one of them had an anger issue so severe that I suspected an underlying brain issue. I sent all to have a SPECT scan, and they were given various treatments according to their specific biological needs. Ten years later, twenty-nine out of the thirty couples are still happily married. One man refused to follow the treatment plan and his marriage, sadly, ended in divorce. So the bad news is that an anger problem is one of the most destructive of marital issues. The good news? It’s now one of the most easily corrected problems.

The Anxious Lover

Many of us come to the table of marriage with a long string of old wounds. Without meaning to, we may accidentally trigger an old trauma in our spouse, who has suffered from some kind of abuse, neglect, or sudden tragic loss. People who have had trauma in their past often become hyper-vigilant—on the lookout for anything that might hurt them again. It’s a bit like living with Chicken Little—trying to reassure them over and over that the sky is not falling; it’s just a cloud passing by. People become anxious lovers in one of two ways: they were hurt or traumatized in the past, or they were simply born with a brain that is prone to anxiety. Anxiety, fear, and panic often run in families. We’ll explore ways to calm the hyper-vigilant anxiety center in a future chapter.
Now that you’ve been briefly introduced to the Five Imbalanced Lover Types, over the next 5 days, we'll explore each type in a more depth and suggest a few solutions for each one. For more information on how to order your own copy of This is Your Brain in Love, just click the book cover on the right.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Our Valentine Gift to You: 6 Days of Sneak Peeks at Your Brain on Love

Whether you are falling in love, settled in love, recovering from lost love or simply dazed and confused about love, our book, This is Your Brain in Love could be the perfect Valentine gift for you to give yourself to help you get smart with your heart. Starting today and every day until Valentine's Day, I want to share an excerpt from This is Your Brain in Love, a book on which I was privileged to collaborate with brain expert, therapist and warmhearted friend, Dr. Earl Henslin. (Forward by Dr. Daniel Amen.) Here's an excerpt from the first chapter, "Is Your Brain in Love, or On Drugs?"

What does a brain in the throes of initial romantic passion look like, feel like, behave like?

The briefest explanation is that it looks eerily similar to a brain on cocaine. Brain scans of a person newly in love and of someone on cocaine, show that both have areas of the brain that light up like a tipsy Christmas tree. Humans are literally “high on love” when we first get hit with the drugs of love.

Two researchers, British brain mapper Semir Zeki and American anthropologist-psychologist Helen Fisher, used brain imaging to explore what happens to brains in the first months of romantic passion. The area that lit up was the deep limbic system, where Helen Fisher concluded that “the chemical storms, leading to infatuation, almost certainly have their physical origin.” In romantic love, the emotional center of the brain is firing so strongly it completely over powers the logic center. Dopamine is among the strongest neurochemicals associated with a feeling of extra energy and heightened awareness singularly focused on the object of desire.

As these powerful chemicals (the “love potion”) run amok in our brains, they do something very interesting—something that explains why love can make even PhDs seem dopey and wise people do remarkably crazy things. These love chemicals not only produce a natural high, but they also dilute and cancel out the nerve chemical called serotonin. Serotonin, besides having well-known antidepressant effects, also has antiobsessive, calming influences on our brain. Healthy doses of serotonin in the brain tends to help us control impulses, unruly passions, and obsessive behavior. It aids the sense of power and logic over our irrational impulses and gives us the feeling of being in control. A severe depletion of serotonin, along with a sharp rise in dopamine, can induce all those classical symptoms that go with the first waves of romantic attraction: panic, anxiety, queasiness, manic behavior, depression, and obsession. This is why people say, "I can't get her or him out of my mind. I'm thinking about this person all the time. I’m obsessed!”

There have even been semi-serious suggestions among scientists that the unhealthily love-obsessed should be given a good dose of an SSRI (antiobsessive antidepressant) to clear up the brain fog and open their eyes to reality.

Once a couple experiences romantic touching, kissing, and ultimately lovemaking, there is a second chemical storm that takes place deep inside both of their brains. A blast of oxytocin explodes and showers the brain with natural opiates that we know as endorphins, so that new love mimics a “cocaine-on-the-brain” state of mind. A man's oxytocin levels are five times as strong during lovemaking. In women, the oxytocin levels can soar even higher.

Oxytocin, moreover, combines with the hormone vasopressin, which helps create vivid emotional, sensory memories, which in turn deepens feelings for the love object. This little bonding hormone instantly works like superglue to the heart and makes you feel happy, even euphoric, when you hear a piece of music you both love, smell his aftershave, or hear the soft sound of her voice. It makes you prefer the shape, sound, smell, and look of your mate above all others. In several animal studies, scientists have successfully made faithful spouse-snuggling monogamists out of former playboy rodents by giving them doses of vasopressin. And even more interesting, new studies have shown that men who have more vasopressin in their systems tend to make more contented husbands. Maybe someday there will be a test for single girls to give to their potential suitors—to make sure they’ve got plenty of this “monogamy hormone” in their systems.

These oxytocin highs, with their consequent endorphin hits, do much to explain why it feels like a withdrawal from drugs when the object of our affection goes cold, or worse, is imagined in the arms of another. It is no small wonder that a heartbroken lover’s brain is similar to a brain in acute depression. Just as there are serotonin receptors in the brain, there are serotonin receptors in the heart. The pain you feel in your heart when you lose someone close to you is the result of these changes in serotonin.

But what happens as time marches on and the nuero-storms that we once expected to light passion’s fire begin to diminish? Again, it is similar to the way a body adjusts to a drug that at first produces a euphoric high, but eventually wears off and is less and less effective. Typically, as previously noted, we get the love-chemical cocktail for about six to eighteen months delivered free of charge, service of the Creator. (I’ve always thought that premarital counseling during this time of intoxication is wasted money and time. When engaged couples come in, I sometimes jokingly suggest they come back to see me in six months, when their brains are detoxed from the love high.) Then the cocktail begins to wear off as the part of our brain that is logical and reasonable comes back into the forefront of our emotional lives.

This is where two lovers meet the crossroads of their life together and face three choices:

1.Let go of this relationship and start a new one so you can re-experience the endorphin highs. Then do the same thing again and again and again.

2.Settle for less. Learn to be satisfied with a less than regularly passionate marriage and put your heart into other things, such as your children, work, hobby, friends, or a new dream.

3.Become Master-Level Lovers, lovers who know the secret of proactive passion and practice it daily for the rest of their married lives. Become the blessed few.
We’ve all known people—and perhaps you are one—who have chosen the options behind Door #1 and Door #2.

Hopefully those of you reading this blog would like a peek behind Door #3 and the secrets it holds for a lifetime of passion and love PhD in true, lasting love. Stay tuned for the next five days when I'll post excerpts on the 5 Types of Lovers. Or if you'd like to order the book for yourself, you'd click on the icon of the book to the right and it will take you to Amazon!