Category Archives: General

A good memory (my first stint as an EMT)

Picture, courtesy Roanoke Times, age 19. Teaching a CPR seminar, Blacksburg, VA.

If you know me IRL, you probably know that I went to college at Duke, put myself though college and grad school working full time in the restaurant industry, but still ran out of tuition money as an undergrad. I transferred to Virginia Tech, where I certified as an EMT, and started working for emergency services for the campus, the university rescue squad (VTRS). I was double majoring in biology and psychology, with a desire to join the health professions.

While I was there, I revamped a few of their practices because I kind of do that thing. There was only a 9 to 5 emergency/crisis availability for students, including grad students and faculty. I said to them that there are no students who have emergencies between 9 AM and 5 PM. I set up a 24 hour hotline for the VT campus, which continues to this day. Small actions matter when we notice what is missing.

Note: The Virginia Tech rescue squad is completely student run. It does the same work as any township, and serves tens of thousands of students, faculty, and staff.

Fun fact: We had to do 24 hour shifts at the rescue squad headquarters, which were quite comfortable. To stay awake, I drank coffee and watched MTV, which was still new and exciting in the 80s. Michael Jackson, Def Leppard, Dire Straits. I loved them. Watch:

How to feel grateful when you don’t

Photo: Cape May, with Sage and Asia

Got Gratitude?

Happy Thanksgiving.
Some days it’s tough to feel true gratitude, or hard to find anything to be grateful for at all. Some days you might wonder why you should feel grateful because nothing seems okay. Like life, gratitude practice is not an eternal upward slope. Anyone can feel challenged as struggles diminish our energy to appreciate.
It’s okay if you spend some days without feeling grateful. Attempting to force yourself to feel what you can’t truly isn’t going to improve your head space. Acceptance of our reality is the most crucial step towards healing from wounds. You don’t have to keep a gratitude journal. You already have one in your head.

1. Think small
When you’re at a loss of things to feel grateful for, think about what you actually do on a given day. For example, your strong hands help you interact with everything around you. You pat your dog or cat, scratch an itch, pour your coffee, swat away a mosquito. Without them, it would be quite a struggle. But, how many times a day do you appreciate how fundamental they are to your day-to-day life?
Similarly, things like clean water, healthy food, access to transportation, paved roads, music, the MCU, cool wind, flowers, technology, education, books, sleep, friendship, intimacy, warmth, light, are some of the things that we engage with regularly in one way or another but somehow forget to mention as enthusiastically as we do other great achievements. These are the small parts of our lives that have mostly been with us through thick and thin, like that friend who stays with you through successes and failures. See also Stones Across the River, Mindfulness Practice.

2. Reflect on negative experiences you have overcome
During the hard times, it’s hard to remember that you’ve already been through hard times. You survived. Every single thing that ever happened brought you to this space and time.

3. Start gratitude conversations
Ask people what they are thankful for. Better yet, ask, “Who are you grateful to?” Learning about others and their struggles, touchstones, goals, and experiences can be moving, inspiring, and downright connecting.  More at The Psychology of Nostalgia.

4. Practice mindful verbal expression
Say, “I appreciate you.”
Say, “I notice xyz. Thank you for doing that.”
Say, “You look absolutely amazing in that sari.”
Also see The Power of Words Through Text, The Power of Texting.

5. Be generous
Another way is to take the focus away from ourselves and express gratitude to all the people that care and have made our lives easier or more beautiful with their presence. Gifting is not fancy. It’s an acknowledgment through deed, word, action, or a significant object that someone matters to you.  See also The Mental Health Benefits of Random Acts of Kindness.


Nothing like opening and expanding a business shortly before a global pandemic, a universal mental health crisis (Summer of 2020 was the highest level of clinical depression ever recorded in the United States since they kept records), and the loneliness of limited travel and social life for the sake of work safety…

In the past three years, Embolden Psychology has provided low fee services to the hospitality industry, pro bono services to frontline healthcare providers, and accessible mental health services for all, from neuropsychology and psychotherapy to consulting and community mental health. We kept open our offices in Washington DC, Virginia, and Maryland. We have maintained our community mental health clinic for over 18 consecutive years with the exception of having to close for three months during the worst of the pandemic. We continue to offer comprehensive support services to our mental health partners in education, advocacy, DEI, family and parent support, and of course, our clients and patients.

From teaching mindfulness meditation to bartenders, restaurant owners/managers and middle schoolers; podcasts, writing, and mental health seminars; to putting together a team of volunteers to provide support for less advantaged families for school virtual learning and community outreach/depression screening, we have been blessed with incredible experiences.

I cannot tell you how many people I have had the opportunity to speak with, learn from, and listen to over the past three years.

Thank you to my team/army.
Mental Health Is For All.

The neuropsychology of heartbreak

Using a series of elegant studies with fMRI scans, psychological assessment, and self-report questionnaires, Dr. Helen Fisher was the first to show that there are actual structural and functional changes in the brain in the midst of romantic love. When we are in love, parts of the brain experience a tidal surge of dopamine, the neurotransmitter that plays a key role in pleasure and feelings of relaxation. Interestingly, parts of the brain that are implicated in judgment, negative thoughts, and fear  experience a reduction in neural activity at the same time.  Love IS blind, at the brain level.

However, after a break up, there is a decline in dopamine and slowed caudate brain functioning that is akin to that experienced after a severe injury. Parts of the brain that light up during physical pain are equally activated when study participants were asked to relive and describe a bad breakup. Having a more brain-centered understanding of romantic grief may be crucial for mental health, psychotherapy, and healing.

Five factors that may help, based on the neuropsychological research:

  1. Avoiding visual reminders of the former partner.  These may include pictures, places, and social media that remind us of the heartbreak.
  2. Re-building dopamine, through working out, going for walks, being with a companion animal, and community service/volunteering.
  3. Using social support. Talking to friends, close family members, and even friendly strangers has been associated with increased dopamine activation.
  4. When needed, seeking professional support through counseling or psychiatric consultation, to help manage anxiety, depression, and dopamine depletion.
  5. Creating new routines and schedules separate from the past loss.  Creating novel experiences and laying down patterns of unassociated activities starts the creation of neural pathways separate from past memories.

Final note:  There’s no way around a broken heart. It’s a working through thing. Using information from neuropsychology as a tool helps.

Also see The Neuropsychology of Ghosting.

The Power of Texting

Beautiful artwork, P. Cochrane

Sending a supportive text has been shown to be of significant benefit for someone struggling to cope.
What to say to a loved one:

8 Texts For Mental Health Support

  • The specific offer of help text
    Hey, I’m going to the store shortly, what are some things I can pick up for you? I’m taking the dog to the park later, can I come by and pick up yours to take with us?
  • The you are not alone text
    Why don’t we go for a walk this afternoon? Would you like to watch a movie together tonight from our own homes? Let’s FaceTime later today.
  • The checking-in text
    Just wanted to check on you, no rush to reply. I’m here.
  • The gratitude text
    I really appreciate you and having you in my life.
  • The thoughtful gift text
    I wanted to let you know I swung by and left some beer/wine/coffee and snacks at your front door.
  • The timing and dosage text
    I’m here to talk when you feel like it and as little or as much as you want to say. Or, I can come by and we can both sit quietly together.
  • The photo text
    Here’s a picture of this beautiful beach… It’s so soothing to imagine being there with you.
  • The solidarity text
    You are not alone.  I can come with you to…

The Neuropsychology of Ghosting

Ghosting hurts deeply. It activates a systemic experience of loss that stems from our amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex. It’s actually a full brain experience.

Prefrontal cortex (frontal lobes)
* We are left wondering what went wrong, without the benefit of an explanation, the opportunity to ask questions, or clarify the sequence of events. This makes our frontal lobe, the part of our brain that craves meaning and context, ache. Our brains may then do recurrent mental searches trying to make sense of events.

* Ghosting triggers memories of past losses and reinforces the idea that everyone leaves us. Unwanted thoughts and intrusive memories can subsequently be triggered by being ghosted. These memories come from the Hippocampus, the part of the brain that consolidates memory and constantly adds to it. Recent research shows that a reduction of the neurotransmitter GABA in the Hippocampus is also implicated in loss and trauma, and is associated with intrusive thoughts and visual images.

* Ghosting activates our abandonment and rejection wounds. Being ‘left behind’ can set in motion acascade of anxiety symptoms. Anxiety comes from an ancient response to danger and need for ‘survival in the world’. The amygdala is the part of the brain that produces a sense of unsafety and insecurity when we are ghosted.

Depletion of neurotransmitters
* For individuals with a history of loss or trauma, ghosting strengthens the neural pathways that underly beliefs that we are not good enough, worthy enough, or even lovable. These beliefs can lead to a depletion in the ‘happiness’ neurotransmitters, such as dopamine. In other words, ghosting can trigger major depression.

See also Mental Distress and Social Exclusion. 

What is resentment?

Resentment, in clinical psychology, is a painful combination of anger, sense of unfairness, regret, sadness, and disappointment. It is complex.

Causes of resentment:

    • feeling that your life was unfair in comparison to others within your peer or family group.
    • pretending like everything‘s OK when it’s not.
    • not being assertive about your needs.
    • being there for others and finding that they are not there for you.
    • saying yes to something when you wanted to say no.
    • being treated as the strong one all the time.
    • finding that the situation has not changed even though you expressed yourself honestly.
    • feeling used.
    • repetitively being told that you should be grateful. 
    • continuing in relationships where you feel less than important.
    • being the person that people call primarily when they need something.
    • feeling temporary; receiving attention during a crisis, only to be ignored when things are at baseline.
    • finding your ideas and work credited to others.
    • not resting or giving yourself downtime
    • constantly being the initiator, planner, organizer in your relationships.
    • not receiving positive feedback: ‘no news is good news’.
    • not feeling heard.

Ignoring resentment does not make it go away. It impacts the way that you interact with others, from avoidance to passive aggressive behaviors. The surge of resentment you feel is a signal of something that needs to be acknowledged. With self-compassion, it’s worth a look.

Also see Doors Behind Door: Secondary Emotions.

Seven Natural Anxiolytics We Love

What do psychologists personally use to manage stress and anxiety?
Like any other strategy or tool, individual preference matters.

Weighted Blanket
I use one that is 20-25 lbs. It’s for grounding through weight and pressure. Pressure preferences are highly variable. Start low.

Vibrating Foam Roller
I use one that’s blue tooth enabled. Releases muscle tension with a variety of massage routines included in an accompanying app.

Leather-bound Writing Journals.
Moleskine is a brand that holds up well over time, no matter how many times you stuff your notebooks in your tote or suitcase.

Soothing Playlists
I like piano and trip hop. Find what clears your head. Important: only use the specific anxiety coping playlist you put together when you are in self-soothing mode. This creates neural associations.

Acupressure/Acupuncture Mat
Lying on a spiky mat may sound more like torture than treat, but once you get past the initial discomfort, the ancient relaxation of acupressure creates deep well-being. I like the Shakti mats.

Brown Noise Machine
We are all familiar with white noise machines. Brown Noise is a deeper version of sound, one that has a much lower pitch. Think of a heavy waterfall or distant thunder.

Golden Milk
Golden milk, also known as ‘haldi doodh’ in Hindi/Urdu or as turmeric milk in western cultures, is a drink with a lot of history. The basic recipe involves combining warm animal or plant milk (coconut, almond, cashew), turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, and some kind of sweetener. It has soothing properties that range from the gastrointestinal to the soporific.

(*Embolden Psychology has no third party interest or financial stake in any of these products).
Coming next week: top meditation and relaxation apps, based on the research from neuropsychology.

Also see:
Making Sleep Your Best Friend.
Anxiety toolkit

On Couples and Mental Illness: A Tribute to the Powells

One of the greatest contributions of General Colin Powell was to show how couples can deal with clinical depression together.  It was the way he said it — straightforward, unsecretive, unapologetic. “My wife has depression. She’s had it for many, many years and we have told many people about it. It is not a family secret. It can be managed, and understanding, knowledge, and treatment are essential.”

With these words, he became a kind of unintentional medical ambassador for the mental health community, which has been trying to take the mystery and stigma out of psychiatric disorders and change public attitudes toward getting help for decades. His stance was trailblazing in its day. In contrast, as Nancy Reagan told the popular magazine “Family Circle” in a 1981 interview: “I feel that getting psychiatric treatment means that you yourself are not really trying to get hold of yourself. It’s sloughing off your own responsibilities.”

There is no doubt that mental illness of a partner or child is very difficult for a family. Without being overly sentimental, minimization, or exaggeration, Colin and Alma Powell showed unabashed solidarity in their personal day to day, living with mental illness.

Emotional intelligence and agility in the workplace

Recently, I was asked by my colleague, fellow mental health professional and hospitality industry consultant, Laura Louise Green, to be the guest speaker on her seminar about Emotional Intelligence at the annual Tales of the Cocktail, the renowned international hospitality industry conference (9/22/2021).

We discussed the importance of emotional intelligence in the hospitality industry, the workplace, and in everyday interactions. What if bringing our emotional life into our work was exactly what we needed to protect our well-being and that of others?

A traditional work model has postulated leaving your emotions at the door. However, a growing body of research on the topic of emotional intelligence (EQ), the ability to understand and manage your own emotions and the emotions of those around you, shows that emotional understanding of self and others is highly related to competency, psychological well-being, and success across a variety of work and interpersonal situations.

Five characteristics of emotionally intelligent people:
* Change Agents
Individuals with high EQ are not afraid of change or taking risks.
* Self-Awareness
They know their own strengths and weaknesses.
* Empathy
They can relate to others without judgment.
* Balance
They strive for balance in their lives and encourage others to do the same.
* Kindness/Grace
They practice self-compassion, andencourage others to bring out the best in themselves.

The Neuropsychology of EQ:
Emotions are contagious; we catch feelings, and we spread them. This means that when we are with other people, physical measures such as heart rate, respiration and blood pressure can actually change to correspond to those of the other person, particularly when looking into their eyes. In neural science, this is called Limbic Resonance.

The practical implication of this information is that by learning to monitor our own emotions and sense emotional changes in other people, it becomes possible to recognize what people are feeling; and, by learning to navigate and manage our own emotions, we influence the emotions of others. EQ can be learned and strengthened.

Practice highlights:
* Monitor emotions- Learn to monitor your own emotions when with others. What are you experiencing? Is it coming from you or from someone else?
* Be present- Be mentally present and emotionally available so that others feel emotionally connected to you.
* Conduct emotional scans- Do an emotional scan before, during and after events that can trigger emotional reactions. Emotions consist of both bodily reactions and thoughts.
* Listen with and for emotion- To be a better listener, recognize the emotions and body language of others. Paying attention is a huge component of EQ.
* Create a healthy emotional climate- Develop a specific plan to foster an emotionally healthy, safe, and productive culture in your workplace and in your relationships. People have different levels of comfort with emotion and being sensitive to that is extremely important.
* Practice lightness- Become aware of the importance of lightness in interaction. People enjoy being around lightness because it, like other emotions, is contagious.

Dr. Daniel Goleman, an early researcher on emotional intelligence and psychology said, “Laughter may be the shortest distance between two brains, an unstoppable infectious spread that builds an instant social bond.”

Ultimately, emotional intelligence fosters connection; the essence of teamwork and relationship.
Also see Mental Health and Empathy. 

Embolden Psychology

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.