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What I wish I knew as a teen about my brain
   Sun Mar 12, 2017 9:29 pm

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What I wish I knew as a teen about my brain

Permanent Linkby sunshineNrainbows on Sun Mar 12, 2017 9:29 pm

My struggle has been with the days where I feel like I’m a balloon that’s had all its air let out. As helpful as it’s been to view my problems as challenges inspiring me to learn more about how my mind works, it’s had a dark side as well. I’ve felt like an idiot with no capacity to learn. I’ve felt like I’ve got a problem, and I’m not capable of the solutions. I’ve felt taunted by this perception of my own incapability. And yet, I’ve still be able to turn new corner after new corner as I’ve grown older. One of the big reasons why I’ve been able to succeed more and more as time goes on is one the same reasons many other troubled young people can as well. Here, I’m going to open your mind to a simple but profound reality of how our minds work. I’m going to tell you about the pre-frontal cortex and how its development is key to our ability to overcome our problems.

The pre-frontal cortex is the large section of our brain sitting just behind the piece of skull in our foreheads. It’s responsible for several key functions, like regulating thoughts, regulating feelings, and making decisions. Our pre-frontal cortex is the single biggest difference between our brains and the brains of animals. It allows us to be self-aware. It allows us to think about thoughts and the thoughts of others. Most importantly for those of us seeking changes in our lives, it’s what allows us to override feelings of fear and hopelessness. With our pre-frontal cortex, we’re able to pursue those improvements we feel we so desperately need. It’s what we use when we’re able to say, “I don’t feel like doing this, but I should do it so I’m going to anyway.” Ultimately, it’s our will-power and what we use most to break through our own mental roadblocks.

If you’re like me and you’ve regularly read posts on this forum made by those asking for help, you may have noticed many people who come here are under the age of 25. You yourself might be below the age of 25. This is important to note because our pre-frontal cortexes are continually growing until we reach our mid-twenties. Part of why it’s so common for young people to come here and ask for help is simple. It’s because our pre-frontal cortexes haven’t fully developed. When we’re young, we’re attempting to carry many of the same burdens as adults do. However, when we’re young, we’re carrying those same burdens without the fully developed pre-frontal cortex that makes them much easier to haul. Before our mind fully develops, we’re attempting to carry burdens with a weaker mental muscle.

Although you may have very different psychological problems than myself, you may be inspired by the same realizations I am. What I like most is genuinely feeling most of the coming days will be better than the days before. Today, as a 29-year-old, that’s usually how I feel. For those of you under the age of 25, I hope you’ll take away one major idea from learning about your pre-frontal cortex. As hard as life can be now, it’s going to get easier if for no other reason than your pre-frontal cortex will be continuing to grow. Your future will be brighter than the past because the part of your brain you use to address these challenges is only going to get stronger. As hard as it can be to say, “I don’t feel like doing this, but I should so I’m going to do it anyway,” it’s going to get easier. On the days where we don’t experience obvious improvements, we can remind ourselves of a simple truth. When we’re young, we’re making progress even when we simply survive another day.

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Locus of Control: What it is and How it Affects Us

Permanent Linkby sunshineNrainbows on Mon Feb 06, 2017 6:21 pm

Sometimes our lives can change even when we're in our pajamas. I was sitting at my computer after a long day at work, browsing through my facebook feed and seeing a variety of examples of the happenings and successes of the people I’ve known from grade school. Sometimes it’s easy to get lost in the details, like when thinking, “Wow, those two got married?!” or watching funny videos of peoples' pets. But not this night… This night was about having a broad realization - a moment of clarity. It was realizing many of the people who had been afforded the same life opportunities as me had done more of what I wanted with those opportunities than I had. Thinking that hurts and it hurts even more when it’s true. It also raised an important question. Why did I struggle more greatly where they had not?

There might be no bigger factor than my locus of control. Locus of control is the psych term for how we describe how much control we believe we have over the events in our lives. If we believe we have a great deal of control over our lives, then our “locus” is internal because we believe what influences events comes from within us. If we generally believe this, we have an internal locus of control. If we believe we have very little control over our lives, then our “locus” is external because it’s believed what influences events comes from other sources outside of us. If we generally believe this, we have an external locus of control.

Contrary to a lot of topics in psychology with muddled, complicated, and ambiguous findings, research on locus of control heavily supports having an internal locus of control. People with an internal locus tend to make more money, experience fewer disorders (especially less depression!) have higher self-esteem, and many more wonderful benefits. An external locus of control, however, is the opposite. Those who generally focus on what is outside of our control experience greater stress, more illness, more psychological disorders, etc. The differences presented by research findings are alarming for those with an external locus and heavily in favor of an internal locus of control.

We can probably think of people in our lives who have an external locus of control. There’s the employee who seems to think their bosses and supervisors are always out to get them. There’s the man or woman, or boy or girl, who usually blames their girlfriends and/or boyfriends for all of their relationship problems. I’m a student again and I’m most immediately reminded of students who blame teachers, hard questions, and things like that for our poor grades. However, I’m reminded of one student in particular from my previous attempts at school.

Me.

I made a lot of excuses. I've said I’ve done poorly because a lecture was boring, questions didn’t make sense, expectations were too high, a teacher didn’t seem to care about me, a lesson wasn’t important, and so much more. When circumstances demanded I change, I didn’t. When I struggled and failed from being unadaptable, I had blamed what demanded I adapt rather than the person who struggled most to adapt: myself. As a result, I got sick more often than others, slept worse, experienced more stressed on a daily basis, and became stuck in repeatedly thinking about how woe was me. I made a lot of excuses and experienced a variety of ways a person can learn to be helpless. I blamed primarily what was occurring outside myself because I had an external locus of control.

When it came to my question of why I struggled more greatly where others had not, locus of control offered an answer but also an answer I found hard to accept. Although I might not be have been appreciating how much control I had over some events in my life, aren’t most parts of life still outside of our control? We didn’t choose our skin color, where we’re born into the world, our gender, hair-color, and much, much more. Aren’t the beliefs of someone with more of an external locus of control more honest overall because of all the...

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A Simple Trick for Higher Self-Esteem

Permanent Linkby sunshineNrainbows on Wed Dec 21, 2016 4:25 pm

It’s not the moments where our lives are going well which shape our self-esteem; it’s how we respond to setbacks. Psychologists break down self-esteem as how we generally feel about ourselves as a whole. If we go and see a movie and someone asks us about how the movie was, we’ll answer this question the same way we determine our self-esteem. We’ll say it was good, bad, scary, funny, inspiring, etc. When people ask us questions about something as a whole, we address it as a whole. When we think of ourselves as a whole, we’re determining our self-esteem. However, just like how most people don’t judge movies the same way, we don’t all create our self-esteem the same ways either. What I’m going to demonstrate is how we determine our self-esteem has a huge impact on whether it will be higher or lower. After that, I’m going to tell you exactly how this understanding can be put to use for living a happier life.

When it comes to movies, people have different preferences. Some people prefer more action and others more dialogue. Some people want to laugh during a movie and others want to cry. Some want our movies to take us to a magical, far-away place while others want gritty realism. Although we offer similar answers about movies, such as thinking the movies we like are good and those we dislike are bad, we come to these conclusions very differently. Similarly, we don’t assess ourselves the same way either and we determine our self-esteem in very different ways. The simple trick for higher self-esteem starts with something simple and incredible based on the differences in the ways we determine self-esteem.

What are some ways we determine our self-esteem? Just as our preferences for movies can vary, we can like and think well of ourselves for a large number of reasons too. For example, we can think well of ourselves for being seen as attractive, winning competitions against others, having learned variety of skills, being supported by friends and family, being loved by God, and/or believing we’re good people. How do you determine your self-esteem right now? Well, when you experience something good in your life which makes other problems seem less serious, what happened to cause this? Did you make someone laugh? Did someone you find attractive smile at you and make you feel desirable and attractive? Whatever it was, it was one of the many parts of life contributing to our self-esteem.

Although there are so many ways for us to feel good and bad, they all fall into two categories. The first category is the ways we can feel good about ourselves which depend on other people to help us feel that way. If we need to be seen as attractive, amusing, intelligent, etc. in order to feel good, we need other people to confirm and remind us we have these qualities. We need them to tell us we’re attractive. We need them to laugh. We need people to react to what we say as though it’s really smart. If we’re competing against others and we need to win, we need them to be less capable and prepared than we are. These ways of determining our self-esteem are dependent on other people.

There are other ways, however, which do not depend on other people to help us feel good about ourselves. If we’re religious and we believe God loves us, this doesn’t depend on any other person than ourselves and our own belief. If we have other ethical standards for believing we’re a good person, such as by being generally honest, helping those in need, being kind for the sake of being kind, or being charitable when we can, this doesn’t depend on anyone other than ourselves acting on those beliefs. What’s incredible about self-esteem is those who determine their self-esteem based on following ethical standards and depend on other people generally have higher self-esteems than those who don’t.

People with higher self-esteems also respond to setbacks in a similar way. When we experience set-backs and failure, we remind ourselves of what we’re good at. If someone doesn’t laugh at our ...

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We can't heal... but we can grow.

Permanent Linkby sunshineNrainbows on Thu Dec 15, 2016 6:50 pm

When we’re responding to lasting psychological pain, improvements aren’t achieved through healing. They’re achieved through personal growth. Within this blog post, I’ll attempt to debunk the healing process in favor of personal growth. Personal growth is a term used in psychology covering improvements such as seeking friendships, healthier diets, safer environments, pursuing knowledge, and much more.

First, what is the healing process? Definitions will very but to me a healing process is getting back to where we were before we got hurt. To have an injury, recover from that injury, and pick up where we left off. When this is possible, there’s a potential for little or no lasting effects from the injury. A bruise heals. A cut heals. Even a broken bone heals. As they heal, these types of damages generally cease to cause pain. It’s a temporary loss we regain mostly with waiting for our body to do what it naturally does. It’s like our body hitting rewind.

Psychological pain, however, is not like a regular wound. Psychological pain can persist with effects which may be anything but temporary. A break-up can leave lasting self-doubt and negative impacts on our esteem. A disorder can do much, much worse - particularly when professional therapists swing and miss with the limited attempts we allow them for assisting us. Sometimes we speak of these parts of life by calling them wounds metaphorically. When addressing something as complex as the workings of our minds, it certainly helps to describe them as something we already understand. For example, the cuts we’ve watched our bodies heal from since as long as we can remember. There’s definitely some comfort in comparing them to something which can simply heal with time (“Time heals all wounds!”). Nonetheless, these psychological cuts are not literal wounds.

These cuts are new cognitions. They’re new electrical signals formed in some of our brain tissue. They’re new thoughts, beliefs, memories, and expectations about our futures. They’re a new part of our mental understanding of ourselves and the world at large. We are not wounded in the same way as the wounds benefiting from an actual healing process. We are wounded in a way which sticks with us – a way that’s been programmed into us, like being able to ride a bike. Truthfully, when it comes to psychological pains, the phrase “healing process” is used as a metaphor – one not fully capturing what’s occurring with us when we do improve with psychological pain. We can’t just simply heal because we’ve changed – we’ve changed psychologically. We don’t get to hit rewind. Our minds can’t recover like that.

Unlike the healing of a literal cut, the big goal for psychological pain - the light at the end of the tunnel - is obtaining a certain amount of peace with what’s now in our minds. When it comes to psychological pain where our damages are now a part of us, the way to achieve a better, more peaceful tomorrow is accomplished through improvements with how we perceive the meaning of the pain. Those who have been successful in achieving a sense of peace have done so through improving our relationship with the pain. We’ve changed the interpretation of the pain into something that’s more acceptable and sometimes even desirable.

For instance, a break-up can initially be seen as the worst event of one’s life. It can be seen as meaning an expected lifetime of loneliness to come. A disorder can be seen as a perpetual menace to our happiness. It can be seen as an evil thing keeping us from living the oh-so-sweet looking “normal” life. Over time, however, a person can develop a different perspective. We can view a break-up as a painful but, more importantly, eye-opening experience for improvement. A disorder can be seen as a stressful part of our lives which is also helping us live an exceptional life rather than a “normal” one. This type of transformation occurs in response from growing personally. How and where can this growth be obtained?

We can grow...

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Taking Control with the Little Things

Permanent Linkby sunshineNrainbows on Fri Dec 09, 2016 9:51 pm

Whether it's a disorder or a perfectly natural response to one of life’s stressful events, like losing a job or someone important, one of the hardest parts about experiencing these troubling parts of life is we can’t turn them off. Many of those aches and pains we have when we go to bed will be there waiting for us when we awake (if we’re even allowed to sleep at all). It’s as though these problems have become a part of us, like the color of our eyes and skin. If you’re like me and you want some control over your thoughts and feelings, my experiences may show you some ways of achieving more of just that.

What other people seem to commonly misunderstand is it’s exhausting just to have the thought-processes we do, such as when we wonder “What the hell is wrong with me?” and “Why do I feel this way?” We have a full-time job of attempting to understand, explain, and work on our respective problems. Even when psychologically healthy people take on too much work, their lives can temporarily suffer. For us that can be far less temporary - that can be daily life for years and years. When people get tired, we usually do less. When the mentally ill wake up, we tend to wake up tired.

For me, those problems with doing less in daily life could be seen everywhere. The evidence was with growing collections of objects in my apartment, like a perpetually large pile of dirty dishes in my sink, scattered laundry I neglected to do, and mail I rarely felt like bothering to open. The evidence was in my behavior. I perpetually put off exercise until tomorrow. I regularly showed up late or in called in sick for the jobs I worked. It was evident in my spending countless hours on television programs and video games simply trying to avoid feeling what I tended to feel. I would skip meals because I didn’t feel like going to the store to buy what I needed to prepare a meal. If I had gone to the store, sometimes I wouldn’t eat because I didn’t feel like cooking or doing something as simple as preparing a sandwich.

When we suspect there’s something very different about the way our mind works and we seek solutions, we can often look for the big solutions. We’ll look at what disorder we might have, what kind of medication there is, or who there is to blame from our childhood. Sometimes, we guess right. Some of our problems are generally best addressed through medication, psychotherapy, and all those other big solutions. Other times, however, we miss the little reasons for why we feel the way we do. The little reasons that add to becoming a big reason of their own when we’re experiencing psychological problems.

We miss how we may think more with the right hemisphere of our brain. This part of our brain is responsible for negative moods. When we go for walks, exercise, and participate in other activities that require full body movements, we force our brain to use both right and left hemispheres to coordinating all that movement. When we make greater use of our left hemisphere, the part of our brain responsible for positive moods, we tend to feel better. This happens because we’re turning on the part of our brain best at helping us feel good.

We miss how profoundly we can be affected by simple vitamin and nutrient deficiencies. A huge culprit for feelings of sadness is vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D is the vitamin our bodies produce when we’re exposed to sunlight. Receiving too little causes feelings of emptiness and meaninglessness. When we don’t get enough vitamin D, our bodies make us feel worse to signal that somethings wrong. All too many people think the cause of this bad feeling is we think is what’s wrong with us, such as our mental illness. In actuality, it’s not a part of our crisis. It’s just our body trying to tell us to go outside for 20-30 minutes.

Another culprit is lacking the vitamins and nutrients from vegetables. Mental illness is a perpetual strain. It’s like exercising a muscle, overworking it, and then being forced to continue working...

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