Owen Ashton blogs that rather try to eliminate our weaknesses, we should focus in on our strengths to weaken depression and anxiety. Read the Blog
Gratefulness is a powerful antidote to unhappiness. Read the Blog
When we experience emotional deprivation in childhood, this feeling of not being important or lovable enough can persist into adulthood as a “deprivation mindset.” We may never feel as if we have enough of the things we need. This sense of insecurity can harm our close relationships. We may expect our loved ones to let us down, never express our needs directly or choose romantic partners who are avoidant of intimacy. Feeling deprived of important resources like love, food, money, or time can lead to anxiety or anger. We may obsess about the thing we are deprived of. Or we may feel like we need to operate in emergency mode—penny-pinching or scheduling every second of our days. New theories and research about the psychology of scarcity provide some insights into how perceiving scarcity negatively impacts our brains and behavior.
The topic of scarcity is fascinating to me because I never feel as if I have time. Perhaps it is because I was born premature, as one therapist friend suggested. She reminded me of Macduff in the play Macbeth, who was also “”from his mother’s womb untimely ripped.” More likely it’s because I’m a busy working mom trying to run a therapy practice and write a book proposal. When I wake up in the morning, I never feel as if I have had enough sleep and I have to pull myself away from all the interesting things I want to do to go to bed at night. I am bad at time management and have to rely on good traffic flow to arrive on time. This is not a good strategy in Marin country, with its plethora of slow drivers! I also don’t know where the years went since I still feel 25 inside, despite the sagging and wrinkling. I double schedule appointments and then have to waste time changing them, and I am notorious for paying my credit cards a day late and then wasting time calling to ask them to drop the $35.00 late fee.
I thought I was just losing it because of age, but it turns out I’m not the only Ph.D. who is incompetent at managing time. I was delighted to read that the first author of the recent bestselling book, Scarcity, a famous Harvard economist and winner of a $500,000 McArthur Genius Grant had the same issues with time that I did. Not only did he double book his time and overcommit like I did, he also regularly allowed his car registration to expire, then had to waste time avoiding traffic cops. Rather than just feel sheepish about the whole thing, as I do, this productive individual turned the whole experience into a new theory of scarcity, which he developed with a Princeton psychologist colleague. It turns out that people living in poverty make similarly poor decisions about money and that this is not their fault, but rather a result of how our brains naturally react to scarcity.
How Scarcity Affects Our Thinking
A scarcity mindset narrows our time frame, causing us to make impulsive, short-term decisions that increase our difficulties in the long-term, like putting off paying credit card bills or not opening the envelopes, hoping they will magically disappear. Poor farmers in India do better on cognitive tests at the end of the harvest when they are flush than at the beginning of harvest when they are running out of money. The size of this effect was equivalent to a 13-point drop in IQ! Dealing with extremely limited resources increases the problems and barriers we have to deal with, resulting in mental fatigue and cognitive overload. Other studies show that being lonely or deprived of food results in an unhealthy obsession, hyper focus, and overvaluing of the thing we don’t have. Ironically, the nature of scarcity itself impedes our coping efforts.
Scarcity and Motivation
Stress and anxiety associated with scarcity interfere with motivation, causing us to be more vulnerable to temptation. Do you notice how people buy stuff they don’t need at after-holiday sales when they’ve already spent most of their money? Perceiving scarcity, we’re unable to resist the time-limited super-bargain. Similarly, crash diets make us more likely to binge eat—not to mention the physiological effects of hunger on thinking and performance. Lonely people see themselves and others more negatively and may counterproductively avoid joining group gatherings and activities for fear of rejection.
What to Do
So, how do we overcome this scarcity mindset without becoming too complacent and living in ‘la-la-land’? While different people may be comfortable with different levels of scarcity versus abundance mindset, the following suggestions can help you feel less deprived.
Practice Gratitude – Deliberately focus your mind on what is good about your life, including the people who support you, the sense of community in your neighborhood, your achievements, or your exercise and healthy lifestyle. This can stop you from magnifying the importance of any one scarce resource like time or money.
Don’t Compare Yourself With Others – You will always be exposed to people who have more time, money, or possessions and may experience a touch of envy. But in reality, you don’t know what it’s like to walk in that person’s shoes. As the saying goes, “Don’t compare your inside to everybody else’s outside.” Your struggles may have created inner strengths that you don’t fully appreciate.
Stop Obsessing – It is easy to get caught up in mental scripts about all the wrong decisions you made or worries about “what if.” To break these cycles requires a lot of effort and preparation. Make a plan for what you will do if you catch yourself ruminating. Getting up and getting active can activate the left side of your brain, which breaks the depressive emotional focus. So, take a walk, call a friend, tidy your closet or read a book.
Take Preemptive Measures – Make a list when you go to the supermarket or program automatic appointment reminders and deposits into savings accounts. Don’t take your credit card to the mall—take a frugal friend with you instead. Put the cookies on the top shelf or give them away before starting your healthy living plan.
Don’t Be Greedy – When resources are scarce, people get competitive because they think that more for somebody else means less for you. In fact, when you help somebody else grow their business, they may be more likely to refer extra business to you. Being helpful to others can lead to deeper friendships, gaining respect and reputation, creative bartering, or making allies.
Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D.is a Clinical Psychologist, and expert on Mindfulness, Managing Anxiety, and Depression, Succeeding at Work, and Mind-Body Health. Dr. Greenberg provides workshops and speaking engagements for your organization and coaching and psychotherapy for individuals and couples.
On my printer I have pasted a quote from Odysseus who, two and a half millennia ago, said, “I will stay with it and endure through suffering hardship / and once the heaving sea has shaken my raft to pieces, then I will swim.”
Why is this quote there, of the many possible? Odysseus was fully aware of his perilous position on the high seas. At various isles, he and his comrades had to fight monsters on the one hand and resist the sundry seductions of sensual slumber on the other. Whether battling Polyphemus, or leaving the Isle of the Lotus Eaters, or traversing the clashing rocks, he knew that he had to press forward, or drown in fear or lethargy in the wine dark sea.
Every morning we awake and we face the same perils as that ancient mariner. At the foot of our beds two grinning gremlins wait to greet us. One is called Fear and the other is called Lethargy. Fear snarls in familiar form: “Don’t go out there. It is too big for you. You are not up to it!” Some days he wins and we stay safe, close to the harbor of habit and shores of familiar contour. Lethargy says: “Chill out. Have a chocolate. Turn on the telly or the Internet. Tomorrow’s another day.” His voice is equally dangerous for we secretly long for such sibilant seduction. One of the four rivers of classical Hell was Lethe. Drinking of its waters made one forget all. Frequently, Homer tells us, Odysseus’s comrades succumbed to fear, and fled, or lethargy, and “forgot” their journey.
It is troubling to me that so many of us, so many of our days, succumb to fear and lethargy. Some days we spend mindlessly distracted by the diversions of popular culture. Some days we are numbed by the press of duties, legitimate claims of work and relationship, and little is left over. Some days we simply forget to show up. But how are we to “show up,” and in service to what, remain compelling questions, and worthy of periodic reflection.
Jung once observed that our neuroses were in fact our private religions, that is, where the bulk of our spirit is actually invested. H. L. Mencken once observed that one could hardly go broke under-estimating the taste of the American public. I would change that to suggesting that one cannot go broke under-estimating the role anxiety management systems play in governing our lives. This is natural given the fact that we are both launched on a perilous journey, which ends sooner or later in death, and are conscious of this prospect all the while.
No wonder we spend so much time hiding, or seeking distraction. Such diversion is understandable even as it is lethal. Nearly four centuries ago the French mathematician and mystic Blaise Pascal observed that the court had to invent the jester because even the King might grow troubled if he were obliged to reflect upon himself. Pascal concluded that divertissement, or diversion, had become the chief role of popular culture. How much greater are the jester-like distractions of our time.
The majority of persons I see in analytic therapy are in their 50s and 60s. All have achieved productive lives and possess considerable capacity for insight and self-direction. This is what has brought them to therapy for, as Jung observed in the 1920s, more people came to him because of “the general aimlessness of life” than overt psychopathology. When I mentioned this fact in a recent radio interview, the interviewer, herself educated, said, “But we were told in graduate school that old people didn’t really change.” I don’t know who those instructors were, or how old they were, but they were wrong.
Of course as people age they can grow ever more cautious, timid, fearful, rigid, and resistant to change. We see that in the divisions which beset our country now. But is it’s clear to me, and anyone who works with a psychodynamic perspective, that our psyche wishes to grow, to develop, to bring new things into the world. As I have put it elsewhere, we need to periodically ask, “What wants to come into the world through me?” This is not an ego-driven, narcissistic question. It is a query which summons us to show up, to serve something larger than the familiar, the comfortable. Surely one of the most telling tests of our lives is whether we are living in a way which is driven more by challenge than by comfort, one which asks more of us than we had planned to offer.
The Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard once wrote that merchant vessels hug the coast line, but men-o-war open their orders on the high seas. Every day we are cast upon the high seas of the soul. Whether we wish to be or not, we are already there, and have orders to show up. We begin showing up when we ask ourselves where are we blocked by fear, by lack of permission to live our own life, by self-doubt? What do we gain from staying stuck? Where is life served by our staying stuck? Who, or what are we waiting for before beginning our real life? How does staying stuck help anyone around us?
If we think our life dull, routinized and repetitive, we may profitably think more on our predecessor, our brother, Odysseus, and why someone 2,700 years ago thought it so important to write about the twin perils of fear and lethargy. It seems as if they have been our companions for a very long time now; yet every day we are summoned anew to high adventure on the tenebrous seas of the soul. Living our lives, and not someone else’s, calls us to voyage, and if our familiar structures falter, then we swim.
James Hollis, Ph.D., Jungian analyst in Houston, TX, author of the recently released book, Hauntings: Dispelling the Ghosts Who Run Our Lives and the best-selling book, What Matters Most: Living a More Considered Life.
Ever wonder how exercising boosts our mood? Read this Blog
Jennifer Alvey writes, “Lawyers, for lots of reasons, tend to overlook, dismiss, or minimize the little joys in life.” Read her Blog
Law is often about advocating for imbalance. When you win, somebody usually loses. How can lawyers find balanced happiness in the profession? Read the Blog
From psychologist and blogger Dr. Deb Serani, her picks on books that help us laugh and heal. Read the Blog
Over the years, I’ve read too many books to count about stress, anxiety, and depression. Like most people, I’m always looking for tips and clues about how to handle things better.
Some of these books have turned out to be real stinkers. Others, retreads of books and articles that have said the same things over and over again.
I have found some gems, though. Books that have something original to say, or are well-written.
I’ve found that the most useful ones make me want to read them further after the first 25-pages, or so. Good rule of thumb.
I hope you find help, hope, and insight between their pages.
The title of this book grabbed my attention because it seemed to capture so much more than just stress management. Stress management is truly about managing being overworked, overscheduled, and overwhelmed.
According to the author, the key is not time management but “stuff management — taking control of all those tasks to do, people to see, commitments and obligations to fulfill. Mismanagement of all that “to-do” stuff is what leads to stress. Emmett combines quick, easy-to-digest tips and infectious good humor to give readers positive ways to handle stress and their overly busy lives.
You can also check out her website for other helpful tips and ideas.
Monkey Mind: A Memoir on Anxiety — Daniel Smith
I first read about Smith’s book in a New York Times article called “Panic Buttons“. This memoir on stress and anxiety is not only informative and insightful, it’s well-written and funny.
The long list of things that, over the years, have made Daniel Smith nervous includes sex, death, work, water, food, air travel, disease, amateur theater, people he’s related to and people he’s not related to, so the prospect of a book review probably wouldn’t seem like a very big deal to him. Or would it?
This fleet, exhausting memoir, is an attempt to grapple with a lifetime of anxiety: to locate its causes, describe its effects and possibly identify a cure. Or, if not a cure, at least a temporary cessation of the worry that’s been plaguing him since his youth.
Check out his website, The Monkey Mind Chronicles, for more interesting stuff.
Rick Hanson, Ph.D. is a neuropsychologist and best-selling New York Times author.
Hardwiring Happiness lays out a simple method that uses the hidden power of everyday experiences to build new neural structures full of happiness, love, confidence, and peace.
In an interview discussing the book, he states:
“So, how do you get good things—such as resilience, self-worth, or love—into your brain? These inner strengths are grown mainly from positive experiences. Unfortunately, to help our ancestors survive, the brain evolved a negativity bias that makes it less adept at learning from positive experiences but efficient at learning from negative ones. In effect, it’s like Velcro for the bad but Teflon for the good.
This built-in negativity bias makes us extra stressed, worried, irritated, and blue. Plus it creates a kind of bottleneck in the brain that makes it hard to gain any lasting value from our experiences, which is disheartening and the central weakness in personal development, mindfulness training, and psychotherapy”.
Check out his website for more information about the book and his suggestions.
Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: An Updated Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases and Coping – Robert Sapolsky, Ph.D.
Why don’t zebras get ulcers–or heart disease, clinical anxiety, diabetes and other chronic diseases–when people do?
In a fascinating that looks at the science of stress, Stanford biologist Robert Sapolsky presents an intriguing case, that people develop such diseases partly because our bodies aren’t designed for the constant stresses of a modern-day life – – like sitting in daily traffic jams or racing through e-mails, texting and running to pick up our kids after a tough day at work. Rather, humans seem more built for the kind of short-term stress faced by a zebra–like outrunning a lion.
This book is a primer about stress, stress-related disease, and the mechanisms of coping with stress. How is it that our bodies can adapt to some stressful emergencies, while other ones make us sick? Why are some of us especially vulnerable to stress-related diseases and what does that have to do with our personalities?”
Sapolsky, a neuroscientist, concludes with a hopeful chapter, titled “Managing Stress.” Although he doesn’t subscribe to the school of thought that hope cures all disease, Sapolsky highlights the studies that suggest we do have some control over stress-related ailments, based on how we perceive the stress and the kinds of social support we have.
As a busy lawyer, I was immediately attracted to the title Full Catastrophe Living. It literally leapt of the bookshelf and cracked me on the head. Who doesn’t live a life so jammed with stuff to do that it feels like a catastrophe?
Chronic stress saps our energy, undermining our health, and making us more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, and disease. The heart of the book is based on Kabat-Zinn’s renowned mindfulness-based stress reduction program at the University at Massachusetts Medical Center.
The author takes the phrase “full catastrophe living” from book and movie “Zorba the Greek”. If you’ve never seen it, an Englishman Basil – – who is half-Greek – – inherits a run down mine in a small Greek town. To help him restore it, he hires a local character named Zorba to be the foreman of the local laborers. Zorba, full of the zest of a life truly lived, is asked by Basil, “Do you have a family?” Zorba responds “Wife, children, house – – the full catastrophe!!!”
Undoing Perpetual Stress: The Missing Connection Between Depression, Anxiety and 21st Century Illness – Richard O’Connor, Ph.D.
Author of my favorite book on depression, “Undoing Depression”, Richard O’Connor, Ph.D., has written another simply brilliant book on the consequences of “perpetual” stress in our lives – the alarming and escalating rates of clinical anxiety and depression. This was the first book I read that made clear to me the connection between stress, anxiety, and depression. It formed the basis for my blog on the topic How Stress and Anxiety Become Depression. The human nervous system was never meant to handle this many stressors. It’s as if the circuit breakers in our brains are blown by too much stress running through our brain’s circuitry. This book is a perfect fit if you want to learn a lot about the brain and physiology of stress – I found it fascinating. If you’re looking for a quick read and pick-me-up, this isn’t it. Check out his website.
A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook — Bob Stahl
The author writes that the key to maintaining balance is responding to stress not with frustration and self-criticism, but with mindful, nonjudgemental awareness of our bodies and minds.
This book employs some of the same mindfulness strategies discussed in Full Catastrophe Living but does it in the format of a workbook. I find this format very helpful because it’s practical and gives me exercises to do to put into practice mindfulness to reduce my daily stress load.
The 10 Best-Ever Anxiety Management Techniques – Margaret Wehrenberg, Ph.D.
Medication, once considered the treatment of choice, is losing favor as more and more sufferers complain of unpleasant side effects and its temporary, quick-fix nature. Now, thanks to a flood of fresh neurobiology research and insights into the anatomy of the anxious brain, effective, practical strategies have emerged allowing us to manage day-to-day anxiety on our own without medication. Addressing physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms, Margaret Wehrenberg, Ph.D., a leading mental health clinician, draws on basic brain science to highlight the top ten anxiety-defeating tips. Everything from breathing techniques to cognitive control and self-talk are included. I really like that the 10 chapters are highly readable and short. Dr. Wehrenberg is also a frequent blogger at the Psychology Today website. Here’s one of her blogs, The One-Two Punch of Negativity and Fear.
This book approaches the problem of anxiety a little differently than most. Instead of trying to help you overcome or reduce feelings of anxiety, it will help you climb inside these feelings, sit in that place, and see what it would be like to have anxiety and still make room in your life to breathe and rest and live, really and truly live, in a way that matters to you. This approach is based upon a research-supported form of psychotherapy called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, also known as ACT which starts with the assumption that the normal condition of human existence is suffering and struggle, ACT works by first encouraging individuals to accept their lives as they are in the here and now. This acceptance is an antidote to the problem of avoidance, which ACT views as among the greatest risk factors for unnecessary suffering and poor mental health
The Worry Cure – Robert L. Leahy
For “highly worried people,” or those who suffer from the “what-if disease,” this book presents a systematic, accessible self-help guide to gaining control over debilitating anxiety. Leahy is an expert in changing thought processes, and he walks worriers step-by-step through problems in the way they think, with pointers on how to change these biases. The author then outlines a seven-step worry-reduction plan (remember, I love plans!) beginning with identifying productive and unproductive worry, progressing to improving skills for accepting reality, challenging worried thinking and learning to harness unpleasant emotions such as fear or anger.
Self-Coaching: The Powerful Guide to Beat Anxiety – Joseph J. Luciani, Ph.D.
This is a good book for those who don’t want to see a therapist or, if they do, need extra doses of encouragement and practice to overcome their stress and anxiety. The author advises readers to identify themselves as specific personality types (e.g., “Worrywarts,” “Hedgehogs,” “Perfectionists”) and then gives specific instructions on how to change the particular thought patterns associated with this type of personality. So many people who struggle with anxiety never got what they needed while growing up – – enough love, encouragement, and affirmation. Lacking these core experiences, we develop can develop particular maladaptive strategies to cope with people and situations that push our buttons. This is the only book that I’ve read that pairs specific coping recommendations with particular personality types.
What books would you recommend? Hit the comment button and submit your favorites.
If you are interested in talking to Dan about CLE eligible trainings he offers law firms, call him at (716) 913-6309 or via our contact form. One-on-one coaching is also available for lawyers who need individualized attention. Go to Dan’s website Yourdepressioncoach.com to download his free book and schedule a consultation.
A list of observations about the truths of happiness from former lawyer turned best-selling author of “The Happiness Project”, Grethen Rubin. Read the Blog