Category Archives: General

Tales of Trust

A frequent question in therapy is how can I tell if I have trust issues? One sign is that trust issues can cause you to have chronic relationship anxiety. Building trust in any relationship is key to counting on each other and maintaining longevity. Trust issues can cause you to feel suspicious, to doubt others, to second-guess, and even to leave relationships. You might have volatile, unstable relationships, pick fights or accuse others of dishonesty or betrayal. You also might spend a lot of time worrying, wondering or even obsessing about what others are up to.

Trust issues make people doubt that they are lovable or that others will actually be there for them.

Signs of trust issues include:
1. You Focus on the Negative
People in trusting relationships are more likely to see the positives in each other, whereas people with trust issues are more likely to focus on the negatives. If you often find yourself assuming the worst and noticing people’s weaknesses rather than strengths, withholding praise, or constantly criticizing or nitpicking, these could be signs of trust issues.

2. You Feel Like You Have to Do Everything
You have a hard time relying on others to follow through, so you do it all yourself. This leads to perfectionism, stress, and overwork. In the workplace, it can make it difficult for you to work as part of a team, because you don’t feel comfortable delegating or counting on others to do their part.

3. Being Suspicious of Friends & Family
You are always preparing yourself for the next betrayal, letdown or ulterior motive. You don’t believe what people tell you.

4. Avoiding Intimacy
Intimacy requires vulnerability, and people with trust issues try to avoid feeling vulnerable at all costs. If you have trust issues or a fear of intimacy, you would rather be on your own than risk being hurt.

5. Holding Grudges
Once someone has broken your trust or let you down, you never forget it. You are not likely to ever forgive or trust that person again. This may generalize to other relationshipsas well.

6. You Pick Fights
When you have trust issues, you are hyper-aware of any little thing that could go wrong in a relationship. You don’t trust your friend/partner, so you bring up issues from their past or find things that bother you and start a fight.

7. You Keep to Yourself
Sharing your inner world with others requires trust. When you have trust issues, you would rather keep inner thoughts and feelings to yourself than risk trusting someone else.

8. You Avoid Commitment
You have trouble committing, because committed relationships require trust and vulnerability from everyone involved. When you don’t trust others, you avoid getting into situations that cause you to feel vulnerable, and you have commitment issues.

9. You Spy on People or Check Their Phones
When you have trust issues, you are always looking for evidence to prove whether someone is being honest with you or not. Since you don’t believe them, you seek out evidence to either set your mind at ease or prove you right.

10. You Find Yourself in Relationships With Untrustworthy People
Frustratingly, having your trust broken can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you expect a certain thing to happen, in the case of having trust issues, being betrayed, it may actually occur.

11. You Smother People You Care About
When people are in your inner circle, you protect them fiercely because you fear that they will leave you or that something bad will happen to you. This can result in smothering or hovering behavior in your relationships.

12. You Constantly Seek Reassurance
When you have difficulty trusting others, you may always be asking them if they really care about you, is anything wrong, what are they thinking.
It becomes a feedback loop where the reassurance doesn’t ‘stick’ and has to be repeated.

13. Fear of Abandonment
You live in constant fear of being abandoned, criticized, scorned, or rejected in all of your relationships. When you get a “please stop by my office” email from your boss, you are sure you are being fired. When you see photos of friends having fun, your first thought is that they left you out on purpose. In romantic relationships, you have constant fear of abandonment lurking under the surface that they are getting ready to break things off.

The Role of the Inner Critic:
Mistrust, doubts and suspicions are strongly influenced by the critical inner voice. This destructive thought process is part of the defense system we built as children; it consists of an internal dialogue that is antagonistic to our best interests and cynical toward other people. The critical inner voice is the culprit that triggers trust issues in people’s closest relationships.

Here’s how the voice often operates in the early phases of a relationship:
If we doubt ourselves, see ourselves as inadequate, or feel cynical toward other people, we are less likely to seek love and satisfaction in a relationship. When we do find someone who genuinely acknowledges and loves us, we may begin to feel anxious because their positive view of us conflicts with our negative self-image. At this point, mistrust and self-doubt can take over our rational thinking. The critical inner voice becomes stronger, telling us we don’t deserve love. Or, it may focus on and exaggerate any flaws in the person who loves us, and we start being picky and critical.

Gender stereotypes and sexist attitudes represent an extension of the critical inner voice into a cultural framework:
They focus on certain negative traits thought to be “characteristic” of men or women and promote a great deal of mistrust and cynicism between the sexes. Distorted views such as “Men are so insensitive. They don’t care about feelings”, or “Women are so childish and over-emotional, they always act jealous and possessive” are examples of this type of thinking.

Many people experience the critical inner voice as a kind of dysfunctional internal “coach” that offers bad advice about how to handle a relationship.
-Remember, you have to put your best foot forward. One wrong step and you’ll end up alone.
-Don’t get too excited; don’t get too involved, you’ll just be hurt.
-Don’t mess this up or you won’t ever be able to meet anyone else.
-They are out of your league, you better try harder to look great and sound smart.

Coming soon: How to Build Trust; Skills and Strategies.

Trust story: rescued swan remembers the man who saved her life, six years later.
Also see how relationships can be healed using strategies of mindful vulnerability.

The PainShare: On helping friends and family with chronic pain conditions

Having a loved one who lives with chronic pain can be challenging. Often we yearn to somehow lessen the burden and on the bad days when they are in excruciating distress, the helplessness can overwhelm us.  At times, this can lead to avoidance, we don’t know what to do so we don’t. Sometimes we can create more anxiety for ourselves and them by expressing excessive worry.

Timing and Dosage
When a friend or family member develops or is living with a chronic pain condition, we all struggle with how to be and how not to be. We all want to be compassionate and supportive; to be helpful without being intrusive; to not minimize and not smother; to try to understand; to cheer them up whenever we can.

While dealing with a friend’s illness is never easy, chronic pain conditions are especially difficult because the pain can vary in intensity from day to day, symptoms wax and wane and sufferers often don’t reveal the pain. Sometimes, chronic pain isn’t visible. The variability can be one of the most difficult factors. One day, your loved one might be optimistic and energetic. A few days later, they may not be able to move out of bed to shower. Often there may be a host of physical symptoms that your loved one might find difficult to even describe because they can range from embarrassing to wordless.

People are not their illness.
When a friend is suffering, whatever the cause, they don’t suddenly turn into another person. Friendship is friendship. Now and then, one or both of you many offend, anger, or disappoint the other. Mistakes will be made on both sides. That happens between close friends even when illness isn’t a factor. When these missteps and misunderstandings happen, acknowledge the situation and have a calm conversation with your friend about what happened and why and how to avoid the quarrel in the future. Then apologize to each other and move on.

Don’t assume. Ask.
Chronic pain isolates sufferers both physically and psychologically making it difficult for those with pain to interact with the world and their friends. Ask in a straightforward way what somebody needs and how they are.  Let them tell it without having to fix it. If they tell you they had a crap day, that’s what happened.

Don’t play Mother Teresa.
All humans need to feel useful. You’re not there for charity or pity, you’re spending time with somebody you love. They want to have a reciprocal relationship. A close friend who has bouts of unrelenting pain regularly checks on me, makes me gifts, helps me with my work and writing, and spends quality time with me whenever she can.

Become comfortable with uncertainty
One client wrote me: “It was great to have a session in your office today;I can’t predict what my body will dictate on September 1.” A friend told me she no longer makes any plans that require a reservation because she’s not sure if she’s going to be well enough to go. As a friend, be comfortable with changing circumstances. So when you invite someone with CP to join you for a movie, book club, walk, or dinner, assure them that the invitation is non-binding and that if they have to cancel—even at the last minute—you will understand. An invitation without obligation is one that a person with CP may feel more comfortable accepting. At the same time, invite them. Excluding people without asking because you think they’re too fragile is not helpful.

Let them set the schedule.
People with chronic pain have learned how their body works through trial and error. For the most part, they know when they have peaks of energy. They know when they need to do their work, their chores, work on the computer, or go for a walk. They also know when they need to rest and when they want to spend time with you. If you are lucky enough to have a body that doesn’t periodically betray you, go with what they need physically.

Don’t idealize (their) pain.
Sure, you might think they are a superhero or warrior. And they probably are. Admiring people for suffering well, which we do as a society, does not allow them the space for the vulnerability they need to feel self compassionate or ask for help.

Don’t take it personally.
When a person is ill, as a social being, we want to visit, to cheer them up, amuse them, chat, feed them, or just keep them company. But for people with CP, the unpredictability of their pain makes it difficult to plan and engage with visitors. They may decline your offer to visit. They may cancel. They may say they are not available after a certain time of day.  And while it may seem that your friend doesn’t want to see you, the reality is different. They are not rejecting you, they are caring for you and their needs simultaneously.

Don’t be the armchair expert.
It’s likely that your loved one with chronic pain has done extensive research on their own on medication, treatments, and alternatives. If they need specific help with a research area, they will ask you.

Enjoy the beauty of the ordinary
Sharing books, shows and movies, good conversation or chats, laughter, recipes, daily routines, can be very comforting and uplifting. This is especially true when somebody is going through a period of multiple medical appointments, medication changes, frustration with insurance companies, and a new flareup or bout of symptoms.

What to do : be practical, consistent, and warm. 
– I’m making soup/curry/roast chicken tomorrow. Can I bring you some?
– If you drop off items for someone, ask them if you should leave them outside their door, they may not want to see you but they will still appreciate your care.
– I’m going food shopping tomorrow. How about I pick you up some salad fixings, fresh fruit, milk, coffee, tea, cereal, and any other staples you need?
– I’m taking my kids to the park tomorrow. I’d love to take your kids along to keep mine company.
– I’m running a bunch of errands this afternoon. I can easily check some items off your to do list while I’m at it. Do you need anything mailed, picked up or dropped off at the cleaners?
– I’m in the mood for some canine company. Can I walk your dog?
– I’ll be happy to take the trash out for you (or put away groceries, change cat litter, clean out the refrigerator).
– If they are self-employed and have been unable to work, the financial hardship can provide another layer of trauma and difficulty. Offer to pay a bill or buy groceries.

What not to do/say:
– Make comparisons. (‘I remember the time when I had the flu for two weeks. It was awful having to be in bed’).
– Say: you look great. It’s hard to believe you’re even in pain.
– Say: (Higher Being) only gives us as much as we can handle.
– Suggest that they need to exercise, eat better, take vitamins, sleep more, do yoga, and they will get better.
– Say: it’s in your head, think positive.
– Avoid them because you don’t know what to do.

How to turn your child into a liar: 13 easy steps

  • Criticize or do not allow for speaking feelings/opinions/observations
  • Don’t give the benefit of the doubt, always believe or defend the other person over your child
  • Encourage triangulation: don’t tell (other parent/family member/sibling/teacher/therapist/neighbor); keep secrets in the family
  • Invalidate vulnerable feelings (you were just being lazy, it wasn’t that hard)
  • Treat all transgressions as something equally awful (you didn’t brush your teeth, lied about your homework, stayed out past curfew, shoplifted; you ALWAYS lie)
  • No space to discuss, negotiate, or problem-solve (because I said so)
  • Give harsh punishments not commensurate with the situation
  • Implied or looming threat (if you do that again, you are going to lose your phone for the rest of the school year)
  • Encourage subservience over truth (your elders are always right)
  • Be inconsistent; sometimes something is bad/sometimes it’s ignored. Intermittent reinforcement (response) schedules maintain undesired behaviors.
  • Emphasize or exaggerate a show of social status; bragging (new car, elaborate vacation, technology, job titles, possessions, house, money)
  • Don’t admit to errors, accidents, or mistakes; never apologize
  • Ignore the specifics of the situation (I don’t care what happened, you lied). School, friend group, family interactions, social media, academics, sports, peer pressure, risky behavior, emotional symptoms including anxiety or depression; the context is ignored.

Children learn to lie as early as age 3. Initially, it can be a way of learning how to distinguish between fantasy and reality. While experimentation and creativity may originally be the impetus, as they grow older, children who fear punishment may lie to get out of trouble.

Punishment may actually promote more and more lying until it becomes a habit. This can carry into adulthood.

Also see On Over Apology.

The neuropsychology of comfort zones

Photo: Charlotte, Vermont, 2016

Psychologically, the window of tolerance is the zone where we feel safe, at ease, socially engaged, and comfortable. This is the ideal place to be, but if you struggle with faulty neuroception, your window of tolerance may be narrow. We often hear the word ‘triggered,’ which has become so over-used that the neuroscience behind it is often lost or misinterpreted.

NEUROCEPTION refers to our bodies constantly scanning the environment for cues of safety or danger. It is how neural circuits distinguish whether situations, activities, or people are safe, risky, dangerous, or life-threatening.

The two extreme zones of neuroception responses are hyperarousal and hypoarousal. The window of tolerance is the zone where you feel safest and most comfortable. The window of tolerance or comfort zone becomes restricted for people who suffer from disorders that include trauma, anxiety, mood problems, and dysregulation.

HYPERAROUSAL
In hyperarousal, a person may feel feel super activated and overwhelmed.
You may be easily distracted or have difficulty with concentration, racing or intrusive thoughts, and intense rumination or obsessive thoughts. You may feel easily overwhelmed, distressed, anxious, panicked, or nervous. You might also feel anger, irritation, or rage, and a sense of uneasiness, discomfort, or lack of safety. In your body, you may notice that you feel restless or fidgety, wound up or tense, easily startled or jumpy, and have a hard time relaxing or sleeping. You may experience an urge to fight or flee, as these are survival responses associated with hyperarousal.

Other actions associated with hyperarousal are calling for help, freezing up, and trying to appease/please/meet the expectations of others.

If you’re hyperaroused on a regular basis, you may frequently feel impulsive, restless, impatient, easily frustrated, angry, anxious, physically distressed (headache, stomach ache, body aches and pains), or tense.

HYPOAROUSAL
In hypoarousal, a person may feel distant and disconnected. You may feel hopeless, discouraged, disinterested, bored, disconnected, unmotivated, indifferent, numb, empty, or emotionally flat. In your body, you may notice that you feel sluggish, lethargic, weak, heavy, or have frequent drowsiness. You may experience the urge to be motionless, still, and passive. It can be hard to get yourself moving or involved in activities around you. In a state of hypoarousal, we ‘shut down’ and become immobilized and still. If you’re hypoaroused on a regular basis, you may feel chronically flat, depressed, empty, or lethargic.

How to (Safely) Expand Your Comfort Zone

  • Do everyday things differently.
    In everyday life, there are ample opportunities to challenge yourself. Turn off your smartphone and television; see if you can sit in silence. Try new food or cuisines. Go for a walk. Take the scenic route.
  • Expand your professional skills.
    Growing your skillset can foster creativity and refresh self-confidence. Skills like public speaking, negotiation, DEI,  and leadership can represent a new challenge for many people.
  • Take exercise/workouts to the next level.
    If you’ve always been a cardio versus strength work person, add components. Integrate mind-body practices such as yoga.
  • Be creative
    Creativity, anything from writing a poem, drawing to building a small business, usually involves an element of risk. Creative endeavors are about stepping into the unknown, with failing and subsequent learning.
  • Let go
    A need for perfection or fear of being judged or mocked can hold people back from stepping out of the comfort zone. dance, try a different look and take a selfie, sing, participate in a podcast, make that new dish that you never tried cooking before.
  • Challenge your knowledge base
    While exploring alternative perspectives can be uncomfortable, it enables growth and insight by challenging entrenched beliefs. It also helps create new neural pathways. This might take several forms, such as reading varied book genres, diversifying who you talk to, and visiting new places. It’s easy to get stuck in our ways, but this can lead to complacency and repetition, hallmarks of being in the comfort zone.
  • Practice transparency
    When employed sensitively, honesty can be a tremendous catalyst for personal growth. Start by being straight with yourself writing in a private journal or telling someone close how you feel. Practicing honesty forces people out of their comfort zone. Genuineness in communication builds deeper bonds with others. This can be difficult for people who are used to “saying the right thing“.

Two caveats: I have written elsewhere about maintaining personal safety.  With certain people or situations, it is not possible to speak your mind or offer your opinion or feelings without punitive consequences. This is not the time/place to practice transparency.  Secondly, honesty must be balanced with compassion. Brutal honesty is, well, brutal.

Learn about neuroplasticity
Neural plasticity is the idea, supported by research findings, that the brain is a highly active and malleable learning machine. Neuroscience used to believe that brain development stops in adolescence or young adulthood. That meant that if somebody suffered an injury such as a stroke, brain trauma, or illness, the damage was permanent. However, over the last decade, research on brain development, injury, and recovery have suggested the opposite. The more the brain is exercised, the stronger it becomes.

Science is not useful unless it has pragmatic applications. Here are some recent research results:

  • Stroke survivors who engage in repetitive, increasingly challenging physical therapy exercises can regain motor function.
  • London cab drivers had greater gray matter volume in the hippocampus (area of the brain related to consolidated memory and learning), compared to everyday drivers who followed the same routes during their daily routine.
  • Thought alone is associated with neuroplastic gains. Some piano performers prepare for concerts primarily through visualization instead of physical practice. Master chefs and sommeliers can think through the preparation of a complex meal or describing a rare vintage. MRI studies show the same motor mapping as if they had actually engaged in the activity.
  • Learning another language increases density and strength in both white and gray brain matter.
  • Mindfulness practice or meditation improves attention, memory, and emotional regulation, and actually increases gray matter in parts of the brain that are responsible for these functions.

Reframe stress
Physiologically, there’s little difference between anxiety and excitement. A panic attack and an orgasm actually have very similar neuroceptive components.  Both entail a ‘stress response,’ but whether they’re perceived as positive or negative is a matter of labeling. The idea of ‘eustress’ or ‘positive stress’ challenges this. Eustress provides the energy to get through a public speech, go on a romantic date, try a new sport, and so on.

Neuroplastic development requires the following five:

  • Novelty
  • Intention/meaningfulness
  • Attention/Focus
  • Repetition/Practice
  • Time
  • These open the windows of comfort zones.

Panic attacks are not cool.

Panic attacks are not cool. Feelings can range from not being able to leave the house to believing you might die. From electric tingles, sweating, shortness of breath, flushing, heavy limbs, feeling like you might pass out, nausea, to a heartbeat that just will not settle down. The hardest part is the ‘no predictability factor’. It can sneak up on you.  People sometimes tell me, “there was nothing bad happening in the moment, it just hit me.”
No matter what, it feels absolutely terrible.

Wanting to know why is part of our nature as frontal lobe driven creatures. We don’t like unpredictability. What the heck is going on and what can we do to control it? What I always suggest is that Therapy has three parts: the crisis mode, the strategy building, and the fine tuning (editing and revising).

Being the pragmatic beings that we are, we often only respond to the urgency of the first part. The second one is really important. We build our skills and toolkits for WHEN bad stuff happens. Learning cannot happen as easily in crisis mode. Pack your tool kit to the brim.

Also see How to Help Someone Having a Panic Attack. 

When You Are Always Tired

Sleepiness, fatigue, and depression interact and overlap a lot. We often use interchangeable terms to describe how tired we are. Far from exhaustive, there are some major differences.

Sleepiness
Sleepiness is an overwhelming desire to fall asleep. Sleepiness can look like:

  • struggling to keep eyes open
  • microbursts of sleep (the head bob)
  • low energy
  • heaviness in limbs
  • lapses in alertness
  • slower reaction time
  • difficulty making decisions
  • eyes tearing
  • ability to easily sleep when given the chance
  • feeling like you can fall asleep anywhere, on the sofa/ sitting on the toilet/at your desk 

Sleepiness can be caused by:

  • being awake for a long enough period of time
  • an underlying sleep disorder (narcolepsy, circadian rhythm disorders, etc)
  • lack of quality sleep
  • a medication side effect
  • drinking alcohol

Fatigue
Fatigue is a lack of both physical and emotional energy and motivation (tiredness, exhaustion, and low energy).

Fatigue can look like:

  • sluggishness
  • weakness
  • difficulty with concentration or memory
  • struggling to start or complete tasks
  • inability to complete regular chores
  • variable ability to fall asleep even when given the opportunity

Fatigue can be caused by:

  • physical and mental exertion
  • stress
  • depression
  • experiencing micro-aggressions
  • sleep disturbances
  • physical illness
  • medications
  • dehydration
  • poor nutrition
  • lack of physical activity
  • boredom

Fatigue is relieved by:

  • rest
  • activity reduction
  • mind-body activities (i.e. yoga, meditation, pranayama, mindfulness)
  • hydration
  • eating nutritious food
  • regular exercise

Fatigue after mental or physical exertion is normal. Ongoing fatigue for 6+ months with no known cause, that’s not improved with sleep or rest, and that worsens with physical or mental activity may indicate an underlying medical or mental health condition, such as chronic fatigue syndrome.

Depression
Depression involves persistent feelings of sadness, disappointment and hopelessness, along with other emotional, mental, and physical changes that interfere with daily activities.

Depression can look like:

  • a lack of interest and pleasure in most activities
  • restricted schedule; doing the bare minimum
  • easily irritable or frustrated (especially in children and teens)
  • feelings of worthlessness, excessive guilt, or hopelessness
  • constant low self-esteem
  • significant weight loss or gain
  • insomnia or excessive sleeping
  • lack of energy
  • inability to concentrate
  • physical problems like headache, stomachache, body aches and pains, or sexual dysfunction
  • recurrent thoughts (ideation) of death or suicide
  • diminished ADLs (not changing clothing, showering, or keeping up with daily chores)

Depression can be caused by:

  • a personal or family history of depression
  • major stressors or traumas
  • certain medications
  • specific illnesses

Depression is relieved by:

  • psychotherapy
  • medication
  • lifestyle management (regular exercise, quality sleep, a healthy diet, social support, avoiding alcohol)

We all experience sadness every now and then. When feelings of sadness continue for 2+ weeks and are felt nearly all day, nearly every day, they may indicate clinical depression. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, it’s important to seek help from your doctor or mental health professional.

Also see my post on high functioning depression.

Trauma is not a Life Lesson

Please stop describing trauma as a life lesson or badge of honor that people survived or it made them stronger.

-What doesn’t kill you can dysregulate your nervous system, That includes your mood, sleep, eating habits, and daily functioning.

-What you survived can impair your ability to have attachments or trust people. Your relationships.

-What you endured can make you sick. Trauma can contribute to chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and rheumatoid arthritis.

-What you “tough out” changes your brain. Trauma changes brain chemistry and structure from the hippocampus (which is your memory functioning), to your amygdala (your ability to manage stress and emotional responses) and your prefrontal cortex (problem-solving and reasoning).
Trauma sucks. Don’t glorify it.

Also see Racial Trauma and Mental Health

On over-apology

Courtesy of Thejustgirlproject

Saying “I’m sorry” can become such a habit that it dilutes the actual intended message. It’s an everyday reflexive utterance that’s unnecessary if you haven’t actually done anything egregious. Chronic over-apologizing is not respectful to yourself or the situation. It is the opposite of self-compassion. In my practice I often tell clients I’m going to charge them an extra dollar every time they say ‘I’m sorry,’ a mindfulness exercise.

Some alternatives that say what you really mean:
*Express gratitude.
“Thank you for waiting for me” instead of saying “I’m sorry I’m late.”

*Ask for clarification.
“I am confused. I don’t understand what you just said.”

*Make a request.
Don’t apologize or say you’re bothering people. You can ask, “is now a good time to ask you… “ Or, “When is a good time to talk?”

*Express your desire.
Say: “I would like to see us work together on this project”, rather than “I’m sorry we don’t work together on many projects”.

*Acknowledge an invite or offer.
“That is such a generous invitation,” rather than “I’m so sorry I’m not going to be able to make it to the dinner party.”

*Practice empathy rather than offering apology.
Say: “That sounds like a really difficult situation.”

*Disagree without apologizing.
“Let me give you a different perspective” or “in my opinion…”

*Ask for feedback or advice.
“What could I have done differently or improved?”

*Take a pause.
Take a deep breath before the apology automatically emerges.

Interestingly, NOT being able to apologize appropriately also comes from a place of lack of self-compassion. Two sides of the same coin.

Also see Why Some People Cannot Apologize.

Feel the burn: The neuropsychology of spiciness

Humans have long combatted the heat by eating spicy food. And while it may seem counterproductive to chow down on something searingly hot while baking in the sun, there’s sound evidence to suggest it will help you cool down.

The secret is sweat. Chilis like cayenne, jalapeño, ghost peppers, and habaneros get their heat from the chemical capsaicin. When you ingest capsaicin, it triggers a neural response from your body. Spicy foods excite (activate) the receptors in the skin that normally respond to heat. The central nervous system reacts to whatever the sensory nervous system tells it is going on. Therefore, the pattern of activity from pain and warm nerve fibers triggers both the sensations and the physical reactions of heat, including vasodilation, sweating, tearing up, and flushing.

You know the friend who can eat incredibly spicy food? They very likely enjoy hotter foods on a regular basis. Our reaction to hot peppers is governed by a neurotransmitter called substance P (P is for pain; my personal shorthand). In one of nature’s many tricky ways, substance P can be depleted slowly and takes time, many days, possibly weeks, to replenish, meaning that if you eat hot foods often, you literally build up a tolerance for hotter and hotter foods as your ability to consume them comfortably goes up.

The “burn” you feel in your mouth from eating spicy food can be followed by a similar warming sensation across the rest of your body, causing you to sweat as you eat. Sweating is one of the primary methods the human body has evolved to regulate temperature; specifically, it’s the evaporation of sweat that removes heat from your body. The longstanding idea of taking a hot shower before going to bed comes from the effect of heating and then cooling down your body temperature, which emulates REM sleep. It is relaxing. So as long as you stay hydrated while eating spicy food, the perspiration that comes from enjoying a delicious bowl of hot chili or curry forces your body to cool itself quickly and more efficiently. Interestingly, the burn from Capsaicin does not diminish by drinking water. Instead, consuming dairy, rice, and alcohol reduces the flames.

Eating very spicy food also triggers endorphins, our natural pain relievers. Eat spicy food regularly enough, and you start to associate the pain of hot peppers with the endorphins’ pleasant rush, akin to the runners’ “high.” Here’s to salsa, sriracha, and serranos. They literally make us feel better.

Also see The Psychology of Scotch Bonnets.

Hot in Here: heat waves and mental health

The extreme heat that much of the country is experiencing this summer has significant impacts on mental health alongside serious physical health impacts. Some groups, including people with pre-existing mental health conditions, are especially vulnerable.

Extreme heat has been associated with a range of mental health impacts in extensive research over many years, including increases in irritability, anxiety, impulsivity, frustration, symptoms of depression, uptick in psychotic symptoms, and an increase in suicide. It can also affect behavior, contributing to increased aggression, incidence of domestic violence, and increased use of alcohol or other substances to cope with stress. Rates of homicide, physical conflict, and sexual assault go up during heat waves. Learn more: Packing the Heat

Research has also linked high temperatures to problems with memory, attention and reaction time. Sleep difficulties associated with extreme heat can contribute to and exacerbate mental health symptoms. Heat makes us sluggish. Not surprisingly, high heat countries along the equator often have a business model where everything shuts down during the hottest part of the day, and subsequently stay open later into the evening.

It is also easy to miss emotional and psychological turmoil that does not necessarily rise to the clinical level. Even when these experiences don’t lead to an official mental health or diagnosis, they influence people’s well-being. Writ large, temperature spikes can send a shockwave of angst through multiple households. For example, the stressed parent trying to stay patient with a screaming and bored toddler in an overheated house during a summer of heat waves. People with older or vulnerable companion animals who must be monitored because heat can be lethal. Or a senior who feels trapped and scared in the midst of record-high temperatures. As Earth gets hotter and human populations skew older, medical and cognitive problems and heat-related fatalities among older adults are expected to grow. Learn more: The Effects on Heat on Older Adults.

Heat: It’s knocking at the door, it’s ringing the bell. Ignoring it is not a great choice.

Embolden Psychology
Embolden

Embolden offers the ADOS-2, the gold standard assessment for kids on the spectrum.

Combined with psychoeducational testing, it helps provide comprehensive information and recommendations to help children and teens six and up.

Thank you for contacting us.