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Kathy Marshack News

Do You Talk to Yourself Out Loud? Science Shows Why It’s a Good Idea

Monday, August 07, 2017


Do You Talk to Yourself Out Loud? Science Says That’s GoodHave you always thought that talking to yourself out loud means you’re going crazy? Well, science is showing that it’s actually a good way to see a situation more objectively.

Psychologists call talking to yourself out loud “external self-talk”. And it can take two basic forms: instructional self-talk (walking yourself through a process) or motivational self-talk (“I’ve got this. I can do this.”)

Interestingly, studies have shown that motivational self-talk works best if you refer to yourself in the second or third person (“You can do this. Insert-your-name, you’ve got this.”) It distances you further from the experience, enhances your self-control and lowers your anxiety more. As a result, it helps you to be more objective and less emotional. (Ethan Kross, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan has published a pdf of his findings. Click here to read it.)

A recent New York Times article gives further insight on how instructional self-talk benefits you. For one thing, it blocks out distractions so you can focus better. It also employs the feedback hypothesis, namely by hearing it out loud you can visualize the object, which makes your brain connect to its “file of information” on that object.

For example, in their experiments, they asked people to locate a specific item out of series of random items. Those that spoke the name of the object out loud located the object more accurately and quickly, because their brains retrieved the visual image of the object.

So, no, you’re not going crazy if you talk to yourself out loud. It’s a smart thing to do – with one caveat – make sure your self-talk is always positive and encouraging. Negative self-talk is very damaging. It can even change your brain chemistry.

When you’re controlled by habitually negative patterns of thinking, it’s time to seek professional help. If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my Jantzen Beach office and schedule an appointment. I also offer online therapy if that works best for your busy schedule.

Does neuroscience fascinate you? Why not review some of my past articles. Simply type “Brain Science” into the Search Box on this page and enjoy!

How the Brain Encodes and Stores Facial Memories

Monday, July 31, 2017


Learn how your brain stores and encodes facial recognition so you’re able to recognize someone even if you haven’t seen each other for decades.You’ve been asked to identify a woman in a series of photographs. You haven’t seen her in years, but as a picture of a crowd flashes before your face, you exclaim, “Stop! Go back! I think I saw her!” Yes, you recognized her instantly. How is that possible?

There’s a fascinating article in the New York Times that sheds light on how the brain encodes and stores facial memories. Here are some of the highlights...

Two Caltech biologists, Le Chang and Doris Y. Tsao, experimented on macaque monkeys to see how the brain responds to facial images. (Their recognition system seems to be very similar to ours.) They found that:

● “The face recognition system consists of face cells grouped into patches of at least 10,000 each.

● There are six of these patches on each side of the brain, situated on the cortex, or surface, just behind the ear.

● When the image of a face hits the eye’s retina, it’s converted into electric signals.

● These signals pass through five or six sets of neurons and are processed at each stage before they reach the face cells.

● The face cells receive information about the shape, dimensions and features of a face.

● 50 such dimensions are required to identify a face.”

When a monkey looked at a face, the biologists were able to reconstruct the facial features, just by monitoring the pattern in which the monkey's face cells were firing. Take a look at the images in the New York Times article. It’s amazing how similar these reconstructed images are to the real ones.


The finding are, at this time unconfirmed in other labs. But this could be a monumental breakthrough. I’m excited to see if this will lead to new ways we can help those with ASD perceive facial expressions. That would be a fantastic discovery indeed!

If you’d like to learn more about how the autistic brain works, I provide online education specifically for families with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). My focus is on applying neuroscience and psychology to improve your relationships. And if you have specific issues you need help with, you might qualify for online therapy as well. Contact my office and schedule a session.

What Scientists Are Learning About Exercise and Your Brain

Monday, July 17, 2017


Older couple riding bikesDo you exercise regularly? No doubt you’ve heard of all the benefits. Exercise is good for all kinds of things like lowering your risk of heart disease, helping you lose weight, and maintaining your overall health. It also helps you emotionally by releasing endorphins that help regulate your mood.
 
Exercise also helps protect your memory and thinking ability. How? By literally changing your brain!
 
Researchers have found that exercise can change the size of your brain. Regular exercise has been found to boost the size of the hippocampus, the area of the brain that plays an important role in memory and learning. It does this via a process called neurogenesis, or the birth of new brain cells. Exercise can double or triple the number of new cells in the hippocampus. These new cells translate to a significantly better ability to learn new things and remember experiences.
 
A better memory and learning ability is beneficial for your life now, but it is also helpful over the long-term. In Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, the hippocampus is one of the first parts of the brain to suffer damage. A larger hippocampus can help delay the symptoms of these diseases as you get older.
 
It is of note that research finds aerobic exercise to be the most beneficial form of exercise to boost the size of the hippocampus. This is exercise that gets your heart pumping, your blood flowing, and the sweat running. Resistance training and balance exercises did not produce the same results.
 
Exercise also helps you sleep better. A number of chronic physical and mental health problems are caused by insufficient sleep, one of which is poor memory. Your brain cleans up while you sleep. There are studies that show that during sleep, the space between brain cells enlarge, allowing toxins to flush out. This research suggests that not sleeping allows toxins to build up, possibly ultimately triggering brain diseases like Alzheimer’s.
 
Have you noticed that your thinking ability is negatively affected when you are feeling stressed or anxious? Exercise is a huge help in improving your mood, and reducing stress and anxiety. When your stress levels are under control, your cognitive abilities greatly improve.
 
Hopefully you already have a healthy routine that incorporates regular exercise. The recommendation for exercise is 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. That is just 30 minutes, 5 days a week. Moderate exercise includes walking, swimming, biking, or a sport like tennis.
 
If you are having trouble motivating yourself to keep up an exercise routine, or even start one, then try getting your spouse or a friend involved. Ask them to go with you. It will hold you accountable and make the experience fun! Also, start small. Try a 20-minute walk around the neighborhood at first. Then add more time and distance.
 
Schedule exercise like you would a business meeting. You don’t cancel on your colleagues or clients, so don’t cancel on yourself. Make it a priority, and your brain will benefit!
 
Exercise is only one part of staying healthy and balanced. Make sure to sign-up for my newsletter, Enriching Your Life, to stay up-to-date on new findings that impact your health and wellness. Simply enter your information in the box on the left to start receiving your copy.

Read more on my website: Holistic Health.

Three Surprising Scientific Findings about Autism You Might Not Know…

Wednesday, July 12, 2017


Every study on autism spectrum disorder is bringing us closer to understanding it, so here are some recent findings that you may not have heard of yet…There is a lot we don’t know about autism, but every study is bringing us closer to understanding its cause and the why it affects people so differently. In an effort to keep you up-to-date, here are some recent findings that you may not have heard of yet:

1. Scientific American reports that “autism and schizophrenia may be independent outcomes of the same genetic syndrome.”

Both conditions are associated with the deletion of a stretch of DNA on chromosome 22. Carrie Bearden, professor of psychiatry, biobehavioral sciences and psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles found, “Up to 30 percent of individuals missing this region, called 22q11.2, develop a psychotic disorder (schizophrenia). Up to 50 percent are diagnosed with autism.” (Does that mean someone with autism will develop schizophrenia later in life? Not at all.) What researches are now concentrating on is finding the biological causes of the features of these two conditions and discovering why they trigger the behaviors they do.

2. Generally, the earliest parents notice the first signs of autism is age 1, however MRI scans can see it in the brain much earlier than that.

According to Heather Hazlett, a psychologist at the University of North Carolina’s Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities (CIDD), enlargement of the brain seems to correlate with the arrival of autistic symptoms.

3. 50% of those with autism also have alexithymia, a condition defined by a difficulty understanding and identifying one’s own emotions.

Recognizing emotion depends in part on reading peoples’ faces. Those with autism often avoid looking into other people’s eyes, which contributes to their difficulty detecting emotions. Interestingly, if they don’t have alexithymia, they scan the eyes and mouth in a pattern similar to those without autism.
By contrast, people with alexithymia (with our without autism) look at faces for a typical amount of time, but scan the eyes and mouth in altered patterns.

Ongoing research is vital. The more we understand autism, the better our treatments will be. If you’d like to learn more, I provide online education specifically for how families with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can apply neuroscience and psychology to improve their relationships. And if you have specific issues you need help with, you might qualify for online therapy as well. Contact my office and schedule a session.

Take a Deep Breath – You’ll Feel Better

Monday, July 10, 2017


Woman sitting on park bench relaxingWhen you were a kid, did your parents tell you to take long, deep breaths to help calm you down when you were upset?  As an adult, you may have noticed that popular practices like meditation, yoga and mindfulness, incorporate deep breathing. Even if you’ve never consciously thought about it, do you find yourself controlling your breathing when trying to combat anger or anxiety?

Why is concentrated deep breathing such a big deal? Our breathing patterns do much more than simply keep us alive. Here are just a few of the things deep breathing can do for you:

  • Strengthen the immune system and detoxify the body

  • Relieve pain

  • Reduce stress and blood pressure

  • Strengthen abdominal and intestinal muscles

  • Aid in healthy sleep patterns

  • Increase energy levels

It is fascinating to see how the different systems in our minds and bodies are so intertwined. Deep breathing releases endorphins, those feel-good, natural painkillers created by your own body. When practicing deep breathing, the movement of the diaphragm helps remove toxins from the organs, promoting better blood flow. Better blood flow and deeper breaths mean more oxygen coursing through the body. Oxygen provides energy, so that increase in oxygen in your body equates to a higher energy level for you!

Why is it that taking a deep breath is so effective in relieving stress and anxiety? Researchers recently conducted a study on mice (check out the New York Times write-up on the research study) that showed taking deep breaths is calming because it doesn’t activate the neurons that communicate with the brain’s arousal center. In contrast, shorter, shallower breaths activate neurons that throw the brain into a state of anxiety.

Breathing slowly and mindfully, activates the hypothalamus, connected to the pituitary gland in the brain, to send out chemicals that inhibit stress-producing hormones and trigger a relaxation response in the body. Hormones are also secreted that decrease blood pressure and heart rate.

Are you ready to start breathing deeply now? As simple as it sounds, breathing mindfully takes practice. When under stress, we often take shallow breaths, not using our full lung capacity.

You want to breathe from your diaphragm. Try this exercise:

Sit up straight and place your hands on your belly, just above your belly button. Let your fingertips touch lightly. Exhale fully through your mouth. Breath in deeply through your nose and into your belly, so your fingertips start to spread apart. Hold your breath for two to five seconds. Exhale slowly through your mouth. Match the length of the inhale with the length of the exhale. Continue breathing in this manner for five to ten minutes.


Try to practice your breathing technique daily. The secret is simply to breathe, deeply and often. In addition, focusing on your breathing during physical activities, such as exercise, can help you become more mindful of your body.

Sometimes you need more than deep breathing to combat your anxiety. I can work with you to reduce your anxiety and get the most out of your life! Please contact my office to set up an appointment.  I have an office in Jantzen Beach where we can meet in person or I offer online therapy for those residing in Oregon or Washington states if that is more convenient for you.

Neuroscience in the Court System - Are 18 Year Olds Really Adults?

Wednesday, June 28, 2017


Neuroscience in the Court System Do you think an 18 year old is an adult? It’s commonly accepted that by the age of 18, a young man or a woman is an adult with adult privileges and adult consequences. For example, if you commit a crime at the age of 18 you’ll be tried as an adult in the court of law.

Yet, neuroscience shows that the brain is not fully developed by then. The process for making new connections and pruning unnecessary neurons continues well into the early twenties. Surprisingly, there’s an explosion of connectivity occurring after the age of 18. No wonder these young adults often make unwise decisions!

Earlier I wrote about Laurence Steinberg, a psychologist at Temple University, who found that “cognitive skills usually form by age 16 while psychosocial maturity — measured by impulsivity, risk perception, thrill-seeking, resistance to peer influence — doesn’t begin until age 18, steadily increasing through the early 20s.”

A recent New York Times article considers the impact this is having on the criminal court system and what alternatives we might have. According to the article, “Young adults 18 to 24 make up 10 percent of the population, but they account for 28 percent of all arrests (2.1 million in 2015), a rate higher than that of any other age group.”

The article also reports on a new experiment based on neuroscience. A number of cities are now hosting Young Adult Courts – a hybrid of adult/juvenile justice systems. (San Francisco was the first. Now there are more across the U.S. as well as in England and Wales.)

The court staff is trained in neuroscience by a clinical psychologist, so they can apply this science to offenders between the ages of 18-24. They follow up by providing these immature “adults” with supervision, education, and support as they weekly check in and report their progress.

Rather than having a permanent black mark on their record, which can adversely change their entire future prospects, these young adults are getting help to mature and develop better decision-making skills. This a definite WIN!

Understanding how the brain works is fundamental to solving many of the issues young ones face today. I’m fascinated especially by how empathy is formed in some individuals while it isn’t formed in others. I’ll let you in on a secret…I’m in the process of writing my next book on the topic of empathy. I’m anxious to share with you what I’ve learned.

Did you know I provide online education specifically for how entrepreneurial couples and families with ASD can apply neuroscience and psychology to improve their relationships? And if you have personal issues you need help with, you might qualify for online therapy as well. In our busy, hectic lives, the Internet can make counseling easier and more accessible. Why not see if it’s right for you?

Look on the Bright Side - You Can Do It Even If You're a Natural Pessimist

Monday, June 19, 2017


Arrow and sign saying positive thinkingDoesn’t it seem like most people fall into one of two groups? There are the upbeat optimists who see the good in situations and then there are negative pessimists who tend to expect the worst. Which group are you in? If you tend toward the negative, then this article is for you!
 
There are certainly times and situations that bring negative emotions. Processing those negative feelings is a necessary part of the healing process. What I’m talking about here, doesn’t apply to a fairly short-lived sad, angry, or negative period in your life. I’m referring to overall perspective on life – the way you view your life, your future, even the people in your life.
 
Chronic pessimism inhibits your ability to bounce back from disappointments and life’s inevitable stresses. It can also strain relationships at home and at the workplace. But your perspective on life affects more than just how other people relate to you – it actually influences your health.
 
Recent studies are finding that optimistic people have better heart health than their pessimistic counterparts. (Read more about these studies in this NY Times article.) Optimists are more likely to eat a healthy diet, avoid smoking and overdrinking, and prioritize regular exercise than pessimists. As a result, they maintain healthier blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels. Optimism helps patients heal faster from illness or injury and boosts the immune system to prevent colds and flu.
 
The good news is that, with a little practice, you can become more positive. This isn’t a fake optimism. “Putting on a show” to look like you are feeling upbeat about life isn’t going to help. But you really can train yourself to feel optimistic from the inside out.
 
This is done by re-training your brain to think positively. There are neural pathways in your brain that control emotion. If you tend toward negative thinking, the neural pathways for negativity become stronger, kind of like a beaten down path through the forest. A lifetime of pessimistic thinking can produce some beaten down negative pathways! Negativity becomes your brain’s go-to emotion.
 
On the up side, your brain is capable of generating new pathways, and it’s possible to train the circuitry in your brain to promote positive responses. When you look for the good, you activate different neural circuits in your brain. Dopamine and serotonin production is increased, soothing and calming you. The more you stimulate these circuits in your brain, the stronger they become. Positivity will become a more automatic response.
 
It’s not a matter of making one, huge change. There are small things you can do every day to progressively strengthen your positive neural pathways. Here are four suggestions:
 
  1. Begin each day with a positive thought. It will help you set the tone for how you will choose to think for the day.
  2. Live one moment at a time. Stop worrying about the past and the future. Focus on the present and making that day the best it can be. The practice of mindfulness helps many of my clients to focus and see the good in their day.
  3. Practice gratitude. Having a grateful attitude is linked to everything from better mental and physical health to greater satisfaction in life and relationships. Look for the moments, big and small, that you are thankful for.
  4. Do good for others. If you focus on thinking about other people and working to make their life better, you think about your own problems and worries less. This, in turn, keeps you from dwelling on the negative and moves you to focus on the positive.

If your negative feelings run too deep, there may be something else in your life that needs attention. Stress comes when the different aspects of your life fall out alignment. I can help you identify where you are out of balance and guide you back into a healthy, productive alignment. Please contact my office to set up an appointment.  I have an office in Jantzen Beach where we can meet in person or I offer online therapy if that’s a better fit for you.

Your Gut Bacteria is Changing Your Brain More Than You Think

Wednesday, June 07, 2017


Our gut bacteria affect our digestion, allergies and metabolism, now scientist are finding more links between gut bacteria, our moods and thinking ability.It’s become common knowledge that our gut bacteria affect our digestion, allergies, metabolism and mental health. Now scientist are finding more links between gut bacteria and our moods and thinking ability.

A recent article in The Atlantic lists a number of studies conducted on mice and humans that tested gut bacteria and it’s affect on anxiety, depression, and autism. Their results are fascinating.

“A growing group of researchers around the world are investigating how the microbiome, as this bacterial ecosystem is known, regulates how people think and feel. Scientists have found evidence that this assemblage—about a thousand different species of bacteria, trillions of cells that together weigh between one and three pounds—could play a crucial role in autism, anxiety, depression, and other disorders.”

Did you know that about three-quarters of people with autism also have some gastrointestinal abnormality, like food allergies or gluten sensitivity? Because of this, scientists are examining the potential connections between gut microbes and autism. Here are the highlights from just one of the studies this article mentions:

Microbiologist Sarkis Mazmanian of The California Institute of Technology saw that some autistic children had less Bacteroides fragilis. He and his colleagues fed Bacteroides fragilis from humans to mice with symptoms similar to autism. The treatment changed the animals’ microbiome, and improved their behavior. “They became less anxious, communicated more with other mice, and showed less repetitive behavior.”

They also discovered that when a chemical called 4-ethylphenylsulphate (4EPS) which seems to be produced by gut bacteria was injected into mice, they developed autism-like symptoms. Mazmanian says, “We may be able to reverse these ailments. If you turn off the faucet that produces this compound, then the symptoms disappear.”

Another study showed that eating yogurt containing live bacteria (bifidobacterium,streptococcus, lactococcus, and lactobacillus) twice a day created a significant increase in calmness. He speculates that, “the bacteria in the yogurt changed the makeup of the subjects’ gut microbes, and that this led to the production of compounds that modified brain chemistry.”

For years, I’ve advocated a holistic approach toward health and well-being. Our physical, mental and spiritual health is so interconnected that we must obtain a balance. Healthful nutrition is obviously one of the key components to wellness.

Make sure to sign-up for my newsletter, Enriching Your Life, to stay up-to-date on new findings that impact your health and wellness. Simply enter your information in the box on the left to start receiving your copy.

Read more on my website: Holistic Health.

Read The Atlantic article in its entirety.

How Much Are Those Sleepless Nights Costing You?

Wednesday, April 05, 2017


Sleep deprivation or interrupted sleepless nights break down your physical and mental health, making you susceptible to obesity, diabetes, disease and more.Sleep is essential for wellness. Without it, we aren’t happy, healthy or safe. Not everyone needs the same amount of sleep, but if you’re not getting at least 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night, it’s time to re-evaluate your sleep habits.

Recently the New York Times carried a comprehensive article on sleep. Much of it may be a review for you, but the information is important. Here are some highlights:

A number of chronic physical and mental health problems are caused by insufficient sleep:
  • Obesity
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Compromised immune system
  • Depression
  • Poor memory and decision making skills
  • Irritable moods

People who are sleep deprived make more mistakes. One sleep survey estimated that in 2012, 274,000 workplace accidents were directly related to sleep problems, costing $31.1 billion annually.

The article writer, Tara Parker-Pope had an interesting analogy for how the brain works while you sleep…

Think of your brain like a computer that uses the nighttime to back up all your data. It consolidates memories, links with old memories and creates paths for you to retrieve memories, and forms connections between disparate thoughts or ideas. That’s why, when you don’t sleep, your thinking and memory are fuzzy. Some research suggests that when you don’t sleep your ability to learn new information is reduced by almost half.”

Sleep deprivation also make you more susceptible to mental health problems. Why? Your brain does its housekeeping while you sleep. In mouse studies, researchers found that during sleep, the space between brain cells enlarge, allowing toxins to flush out. This research suggests that not sleeping allows toxins to build up, triggering brain diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. We’ll need further research to know for sure.

Many sleep problems can be corrected by better nutrition, exercise, relaxation techniques and better sleep habits. However, if you’re experiencing chronic sleep deprivation, you might want to consult with your doctor to see if there’s a physiological reason, like sleep apnea, that can be treated.

Another option is to try Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (C.B.T.-I.) to learn how to shut your mind off. I’ve personally discovered that Neuro Emotional Technique (N.E.T.) is very effective for removing blocks to your well-being. If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office and schedule an appointment.

Are You Managing Your Anxiety or Is Your Anxiety Managing You?

Monday, March 27, 2017


Woman feeling anxiousAnxiety, despite being an unwelcome feeling, is a part of life. It is a feeling of nervousness, fear, or apprehension. Typical situations that cause anxiety are new experiences where you can’t for-see the outcome, high-pressure situations, or stressful events. Anxious feelings are often manifested physically through an upset stomach, headaches, or a racing heart.

For many people, anxiety goes as quickly as it comes. Once the anxiety-inducing event is over, their feelings normalize. They are able to handle the discomfort and uncertainty of anxiety without outside intervention.

This isn’t the situation for everyone though. There are many people who on a daily basis deal with nagging feelings of anxiety. Sometimes they can push these feelings down and go about their day without being too affected. Other times the feelings are so severe that they begin to affect a person’s work, relationships, and health. Anxiety becomes controlling, debilitating, and inescapable. In this case, help is needed to manage the mental and physical discomfort and learn how to cope.

Whichever group you fall into, it is necessary to manage your anxiety more effectively. Pushing your feelings to the back of your mind is not “managing” your anxiety; it is just procrastinating dealing with it.

What can you do if it feels like anxiety is gaining the upper hand in your life? Take a look at these suggestions:

Accept your feelings. Don’t dismiss how you are feeling. Accept your thoughts and feelings, and spend time examining them. By taking ownership of your feelings, you take back your power and control, making the problem feel much smaller. Practice mindfulness. This form of meditation helps you regain control of your thoughts. Consider your thoughts and feelings without judgement.

Challenge anxious thoughts. A lot of anxious thinking is not only negative; it is irrational. Ask yourself: Is there real evidence for your frightening thoughts and predictions? What are the pros and cons of worrying about it? You may think the worst will happen, when in reality there is no basis to think that. Challenge what you believe to be true about what you fear. Retrain your mind to process things in a way that does not feed your anxiety.

Replace anxious thoughts with realistic thoughts. Once you’ve identified the irrational distortions behind your anxious thoughts, replace them with realistic and positive thoughts. Give attention to things that are good and beneficial. Make a choice to be optimistic. Actively look on the bright side. It takes time and practice, but it can be done!

Practice gratitude every day. Looking for reasons to be grateful has a powerful effect on your mental health and emotional wellbeing. What you choose to remember and focus on become the pathway the brain will automatically take. If you constantly dwell on negative things that cause anxiety, your thoughts and feelings become dark and worrisome automatically. You’ve worn that pathway in your brain. But the good news it that those pathways can be shifted. Choosing to practice gratitude shifts your brain to see constructive, positive themes in your life instead of destructive ones.

Do you feel like your anxiety is too severe for these suggestions to help? Do you experience excessive anxiety and worry about daily activities? Does it interfere with your normal routine, job performance, or relationships? Are your everyday worries accompanied by physical symptoms like fatigue, headaches, trembling, and stomachaches?

If so, you may one of the millions of American adults suffering from an anxiety disorder. These chronic conditions fill people’s lives with exaggerated worry and tension. Simply the thought of getting through the day can provoke anxiety. Anxiety disorders are relentless and can grow progressively worse if not treated.

The good news is that you can treat your anxiety disorder. Research is yielding new, improved therapies to help those with anxiety disorders to lead productive, fulfilling lives. If you think you may suffer from an anxiety disorder, and you live in the Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA area, please contact my office for information and treatment.


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