The recent tragedy in Dallas, Texas, leaves many people asking not only “How did this happen?” but “How can I help?”
Dallas Police Chief David Brown has asked the community for support:
“We don’t feel much support most days. Let’s not make today most days. Please, we need your support.”
When tragedy strikes, it affects not only those intimately impacted, but also the broader community and beyond.
How do we balance our own emotions and reactions to a tragedy, while acknowledging the greater burden carried by those immediately involved?
The Circle of Grief, or Ring Theory, provides a template.
Draw a small circle and put the name of the person closest to the tragedy in the middle of that circle. Then, draw a larger (concentric) circle and put the name of the person closest to the center person–for adults, this is usually a spouse or partner, but may be children, parents, a colleague, or closest friend. Keep drawing larger circles around the other circles and add the layers of people–close friends, more distant friends, members of the community, etc. Here are the rules:
The person in the center circle can cope any way he/she wants. The job of those in the larger circles is to listen and support.
When talking to a person in a circle smaller than yours, remember that you are talking to someone closer to the tragedy. Your job is to help. You are not allowed to dump your anger, fear, or grief to people in circles smaller than yours. Express these emotions to those in your circle or larger circles.
The concept is simple–“comfort in, dump out.”
And remember, everyone copes in his or her own way. Some people cope best by sharing, others prefer to grieve privately. Both are valid coping mechanisms–private does not mean denial! It’s perfectly healthy to look for comfort in the normalcy of day-to-day life. So don’t be surprised if someone going through a crisis or tragedy chooses to brush the topic aside–and please don’t press!
If you want to help, listen and/or offer practical help (specific offers of help with kids, errands, food–not advice on how to handle the situation, though!). Don’t insert your own grief, anger, or preferred coping mechanisms into someone else’s crisis. Seek support for yourself from those in your same situation (same circle), or those further from the tragedy (larger circles).
Sending thoughts of comfort and support to the Dallas Police Department and Dallas Area Rapid Transit Officers.
I spent a lot of time in 2015 studying neuroplasticity, positive psychology, and systems to enhance productivity.
Science clearly shows that, via your thoughts and actions, you can prime your brain to enhance positive experiences and mood, as well as engage emotional resilience during negative experiences.
Another important consideration as you enter 2016:
Daily planning and review will help you define goals and guide behavior in a manner more harmonious with your long term aspirations.
It’s important to develop a clear picture of your overarching goals and desired life balance. Then, use a daily accountability system to become more mindful of how you choose to dedicate your time. Evaluate the consistency of your behaviors with your stated goals.
Tools to start the New Year with a focus on emotional well being:
1. Consider taking this Positive Psychology online course via Coursera.org.
The instructor, Dr. Barbara L. Fredrickson, is a psychology professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and is President-Elect of the International Positive Psychology Association. This course is free if you opt out of receiving a course certificate; $49 if you would like to receive a certificate of completion.
2. Learn more about Positive Neuroplasticity here.
3. If you’re looking for a comprehensive Calendar, Goals Planner, and Emotional Wellness Tool:
Happy New Year and all the best in 2016!
The SMART Goals process is based on defining the following for your goal or project:
- Specific Goal
- Time Specific
This technique is great for defining goals and setting objectives. If you are not familiar with SMART Goals, there’s a quick tutorial at the end of this post.
However, I keep running into a problem with SMART Goals–I find they are great for building habits and lifestyle changes, but incomplete when applied to projects.
The best way to start a project is to list out all the steps in the project you can think of. This accomplishes two things:
- The list allows you to capture all the parts of the whole in one place–creating this Gestalt will help your brain organize the project and get a sense of the time and energy involved in the project.
- Breaking the project down to each step makes it easier to begin–crossing just one thing off the list creates momentum.
So, I needed an easy project-based To-Do list. I created this list (you can download here), which I call Project ACT because it has three columns:
- Accountability: How will you hold yourself accountable to complete this step? Do you need to report to someone? Or, if you have delegated, who is accountable? Maybe you’re using the reward system; if so, list the reward you get when you complete this step.
- Concrete Task: This is where you list all the steps. There’s plenty of room for notes and specifics.
- Timing: After listing all the steps, you might rank them in terms of importance or order for completion. Alternatively, you can list a date for when you want to complete the step, or simply check it off with the date when completed.
Hope this helps! If you want to read more about SMART Goals, keep reading.
SMART Goals are used to create habits or lifestyle changes. The process is based on defining:
The first step is to take an overarching goal and identify any discrete components of this overarching goal. As an example, take the goal, “I want to live a healthy life.” My list of components for this goal include:
Eat a healthy diet
Maintain a healthy body weight
Engage in physical activity on a daily basis
Practice mindfulness meditation
Get enough sleep
If you’re just beginning to create a lifesyle change or new habit, it might be overwhelming to address each component simultaneously. If that’s the case, choose just one or two components for SMART Goals, and once those lifestyle changes become habitual, you can tackle more.
For this example, let’s choose “Eat a healthy diet.” Even this subcomponent of “I want to live a healthy life” can have dozens of applications! Do you want to eat more vegetables, prepare more food at home, avoid transfats, cut out soft drinks? This is why it’s important to break things down into specific, manageable components. Doing any one of these is great, but trying to do all of them at once may not be sustainable. So choose one or two and identify a Specific Goal. In this example, let’s say you choose “Eat more vegetables.”
As you’re deciding on your Specific Goal for your SMART Goal, you should be incorporating the other SMART Goal concepts:
Metric: How will you measure progress toward your goal? Identify specific behaviors and put a number on them. In this example, you could say, “I will eat fresh vegetables twice a day.”
Attainable: Your SMART Goal has to be attainable within a reasonable amount of time. It’s usually best to set SMART Goals that are attainable within a week or a month. For our example, eating more fresh vegetables is certainly attainable within a week or month.
Relevance: Your SMART Goal must harmonize with your values, overarching goals, and stage of life. If the goal is not currently relevant, you can designate the goal for reconsideration in the future. Also, if the goal is relevant but would be a particular challenge this month, consider postponing the goal. For our example–eating more fresh vegetables is always something to work toward, but if you will be travelling away from home a great deal over the next month, it may be hard to establish this as a new habit. It’s fine to wait a month until your routine settles down–but consider working toward another goal instead that is more relevant and harmonious.
Time Specific: One of the basic tenets of goal setting is that goals should be time-specific, i.e., there should be a point at which you want to accomplish the goal. How does this work for habits and lifestyle changes? Identify the timeframe you are working with, i.e., this week or this month. Then, identify the behaviors you expect from yourself, incorporating the specific goal and metric. For our example, the Specific Goal is to “Eat fresh vegetables,” the Metric is “twice per day” and the Time could be “twenty out of thirty days this month.”
And that’s how to create a SMART Goal for a lifestyle change or new habit!
Depression can be debilitating and researchers continue to explore more effective methods for treating this disease.
A recently published study (Rethorst, et al.) examined the biological links between sleep and depression, and identified a treatment that is effective for “resetting” the negative feedback loop of depression and sleep disturbance.
Examining the role of sleep disturbance in depression is complicated because some people with depression over sleep, while others can’t fall asleep or stay asleep. These opposite manifestations of sleep disturbance are associated with the subtype of depression a person is struggling with.
All depression is defined by sad mood or lack of enjoyment; beyond that:
- Melancholic Depression is characterized by difficulty falling or staying asleep (insomnia) and decreased appetite, along with an inability to feel happy even when something good happens.
- Atypical Depression is characterized by excessive sleep (hypersomnia) and increased appetite, but an ability to temporarily experience an improvement in mood in response to something good.
Disrupted sleep is a symptom of depression and sleep is involved in a negative feedback loop with depression–as either sleep or depression worsens, the other symptom (depressed mood or sleep) worsens.
On the other hand, improving sleep improves depression.
To summarize the complex results of the Rethorst, et al. study:
There was an association between changes in certain biomarkers (inflammatory cytokines and brain-derived neurotrophic factor) and improvement in sleep for those with hypersomnia (atypical depression), but not for those with insomnia (melancholic depression). Nonetheless, those with insomnia showed an improvement in sleep and depression as a result of the treatment.
This supports the hypothesis that the biological underpinnings are different for those with atypical vs melancholic depression.
Why is this important?
This research furthers the understanding of the relationship between sleep, inflammation, and depression, and the negative feedback loop that worsens a depressive episode.
Even more important is the treatment used in this study. This treatment was effective in resetting the negative feedback loop for both those with hypersomnia (atypical depression), and insomnia (melancholic depression), even though the biological underpinnings of these subtypes of depression are different.
What is the magic pill?
The subjects in the treatment group participated in two “doses” of aerobic exercise per week for 12 weeks. The two “doses” equalled 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week.
In addition to the changes in biomarkers found in this study, exercise is known to improve functioning of the hypothalamic-pituitary axis, which improves sleep.
Dr. Trivedi, a world-renowned researcher in the field of depression, discusses the results of this study here, and talks about the use of exercise as an effective treatment for depression.
For more information about Dr. Ware’s psychological practice, click here.