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Kathy Marshack News

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.

ASD Emotional Sensitivity is Not the Same as Empathy

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

ASD sensitivity isn’t the same as Radiant Empathy, which is the highest level of empathy where you care for others’ feelings without needing reciprocity.John Elder Robison, whose Asperger’s Syndrome was undiagnosed until he was 40 years old, gets a lot of play for his books on his life with autism. His latest book about undergoing transcranial stimulation, "Switched On" leads readers to believe that for a short period of time he experienced empathy. This is simply not true.

Empathy is so much more than being sensitive. In fact many NTs are stumped by their Aspies because they appear to be very sensitive and they might be. Parents make this mistake often with their ASD children. Because your ASD child loves you or bursts into tears when they see a pet hurting doesn’t mean they have empathy.

Empathy is a complex, multi-faceted skillset that I sum up as Namaste – "the Soul in me recognizes and honors the Soul in you." It’s the ability to clearly recognize the other person, while holding constant your own feelings and thoughts. It’s respecting the boundaries of the other person even if you sympathize. You don't confuse their pain or thoughts with your own. Furthermore, the highest level of empathy is what I call "Radiant Empathy," or the ability to care for the feelings and thoughts of others without any need for reciprocity.

John Robison never experienced the state of empathy, but with transcranial stimulation, he was more aware of his own feelings and he was even more unable to regulate them (typical of an Aspie). If you have Radiant Empathy you can regulate your feelings and not run amok.

It takes a lifetime to develop Radiant Empathy because it’s the combination of a healthy brain and life experience. But science will keep trying to discover the components of life as if the sum total of a human is nothing more than the sum of its parts.

We’ll discuss this very important subject at our next TELECONFERENCE: “Sensitivity is not Empathy” on Thursday, March 16, 2017 at 2:30 PM. Our approach won’t be so much from an intellectual point of view but for two reasons…

1) When you better understand that your Aspie is operating in the relationship without empathy, you can more easily find ways to communicate.

2) You may find that you can be freer to strive for Radiant Empathy, which actually makes your life more joyful.

If you’d like to learn more about the science of Asperger’s Syndrome, click on the image below and download a free chapter of my book. And don’t forget to invite the ASD professionals you know to join the special Meetup I’ve created for them…Asperger Syndrome: Continuing Education for Psychotherapists.


When Does the Brain Reach Maturity?

Monday, February 06, 2017

When does the brain reach maturity?When is a person mature? When is he or she old enough to vote? To date? To get married? To give informed consent? To drink responsibly? Many legal questions depend on a cut and dried answer, but the answer isn’t so easy. Why? Because scientists have found that the brain reshapes itself for years after adolescence, which raises questions about when an adult really is mature in the legal sense.

A recent NY Times article reports one study conducted by Harvard neuroscientist, Leah H. Somerville and another study by Laurence Steinberg, a psychologist at Temple University. Here are some highlights:

“The human brain reaches its adult volume by age 10, but the neurons continue to change for years after that.

In a child’s brain, neighboring regions tend to work together.

As adolescents age, the connections between neighboring neurons get pruned back, as new links emerge between more widely separated areas of the brain.

By adulthood, distant regions start acting in concert. Neuroscientists speculate that this long-distance harmony lets the adult brain work more efficiently and process more information.

Eventually this reshaping slows, a sign that the brain is maturing.

The reshaping happens at different rates in different parts of the brain.

The pruning in the occipital lobe, at the back of the brain, tapers off by age 20.

In the frontal lobe of the brain, new links are still forming at age 30, and beyond.

Adolescents do about as well as adults on cognition tests, but strong emotions cause their cognitive scores to plummet.”

The maturing of the brain is a complex process. The better we understand it, the better our legislative policies, psychotherapy treatments and even our inter-personal and family relationships will be. Ongoing education is the key to this greater understanding.

I’m committed to providing the highest quality education for professionals who serve families with ASD. Does that describe you? If so, please join my new meetup - Asperger Syndrome: Continuing Education for Psychotherapists. It will prove to be an invaluable resource for you!

Theory of Mind - A Necessary Component of Empathy

Monday, December 26, 2016

Theory of Mind, the ability to recognize that a person has beliefs, intentions, desires, and perspective differing from your own, is a component of empathy.In order to have empathy for another person, you must have a Theory Of Mind. That is, you must be able to recognize that another person exists and has beliefs, intentions, desires, imaginations, emotions, etc., to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires, intentions, and perspectives that differ from your own. The Theory of Mind perspective kicks in the other aspects of empathy, such as understanding and nurturing.

Recently a New York Times article reported on new research that shows that pregnancy changes the brain in the regions associated with Theory of Mind. They report:

“Only the pregnant women showed gray matter reduction, thinning and changes in the surface area of the cortex in areas related to social cognition. Changes were so clear that imaging results alone could indicate which women had been pregnant. The researchers said they did not yet know what was being reduced in size: neurons, other brain cells, synapses or parts of the circulatory system.”

Researches are hypothesizing that the brain is pruning away portions of gray matter as a process of specialization, thereby increasing the mother's ability to resonate with her baby.

Understanding this may also help us to understand Theory Of Mind when it comes to autism. If development of theory of mind is biologically important for the survival of a newborn, the lack of this vital element surely affect relationships in general.

What feels so natural to us NTs and especially to mothers is not learned, but biological. This means that we have to build "workarounds" with our Aspies if we are to communicate effectively.

If you’re a member of the Asperger Syndrome: Partners and Family of Adults with ASD, please join our low cost Video Conference on Thursday, January 12, 2017, at 9:00 AM. We’ll discuss “Theory of Mind is vital for survival”. This video call is an opportunity to learn more about the mind of your Aspie and how to reach them...but also to take better care of your need to connect with others who have a "theory of mind."

Tap into the Science and Power of Gratitude to Become Happier and More Resilient

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Tap into the Science and Power of Gratitude to Become Happier and More ResilientAs we enter this season of thankfulness, it’s good to reflect on how often we ask ourselves, “What am I grateful for today?” Not only does a daily gratitude practice like gratitude journaling make us more pleasant to be around, gratitude also improves our health.

Asking yourself this simple question every day is powerful enough to change your brain’s chemistry! As a result, people who look for reasons to be grateful experience better mental health, emotional wellbeing and resiliency in the face of difficulties. Why does gratitude have such power?

When you experience gratitude, neural circuits are activated in your brain. Dopamine and serotonin production increases, and these neurotransmitters produce calming results. The more you stimulate these neural pathways, the stronger and more automatic they become, which is an example of Hebb’s Law that states, “neurons that fire together wire together.” The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

This means that if you’re looking for the negative, the neural pathways for negative thinking become stronger. But if you begin a daily gratitude practice, you will start noticing what’s going right in your life instead. This is great news! You can remake yourself into a positive person, even if you’ve tended toward being negative your whole life.

One interesting study on gratitude was conducted by the Department of Psychology, at the Brain and Creativity Institute at USC. They partnered with Steven Spielberg’s USC Shoah Foundation to see how “gratitude ratings would correlate with activity in brain regions associated with moral cognition, value judgment and theory of mind.” Dr. Glenn Fox describes their research and finding:

“The stimuli used to elicit gratitude were drawn from stories of survivors of the Holocaust, as many survivors report being sheltered by strangers or receiving lifesaving food and clothing, and having strong feelings of gratitude for such gifts. The participants were asked to place themselves in the context of the Holocaust and imagine what their own experience would feel like if they received such gifts. For each gift, they rated how grateful they felt.
When the brain feels gratitude, it activates areas responsible for feelings of reward, moral cognition, subjective value judgments, fairness, economic decision-making and self-reference. These areas include the ventral- and dorsal- medial pre-frontal cortex, as well as the anterior cingulate cortex."
A lot of people conflate gratitude with the simple emotion of receiving a nice thing. What we found was something a little more interesting. The pattern of [brain] activity we see shows that gratitude is a complex social emotion that is really built around how others seek to benefit us.”

In other words, gratitude doesn’t just show up in the brain’s reward center. It involves being a morally and socially aware individual who is able to display empathy. (This may help explain why you feel unappreciated and unloved by your partner who has Aspergers. Their brain functions differently so they are socially awkward and lack the ability to deeply empathize with you.)

Why not begin a gratitude journal today? Write down five things you’re grateful for. As your list grows, you’ll look at life differently, plus you’ll have something encouraging to read when you’re feeling down. High on my gratitude list is that you’re part of my community.

Exciting New Discoveries – How the Immune System Controls Social Behavior

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Exciting New Discoveries – How the Immune System Controls Social BehaviorThe immune system does an amazing job in protecting us from threats to our health such as viruses, germs, bacteria or parasites. The white blood cells (leukocytes) and lymph system play key roles in fighting against these invaders. Interestingly, scientists have known for some time that immune dysfunction is associated with several neurological and mental disorders.

Now, researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have found that “the immune system directly affects – and even controls – social behavior, such as the desire to interact with others.” This is a textbook shattering discovery! It has significant implications for neurological diseases like autism spectrum disorders.

Jonathan Kipnis, chair of UVA’s Department of Neuroscience explains, “The brain and the adaptive immune system were thought to be isolated from each other, and any immune activity in the brain was perceived as sign of a pathology. And now, not only are we showing that they are closely interacting, but some of our behavior traits might have evolved because of our immune response to pathogens… Part of our personality may actually be dictated by the immune system.”

What lead up to this new understanding? His team discovered:

1: Within the meninges (the membrane that covers the brain) are lymphatic vessels that directly link the brain to the lymphatic system. Up until this discovery, no one knew they existed. This new discovery alone changes what has been taught about the brain!

2: The immune molecule, interferon gamma plays a “profound role in maintaining proper social function.” Normally, this molecule is produced by the immune system responding to the threats mentioned above. During their study, the scientists blocked this molecule in mice and “it made regions of the brain hyperactive, causing the mice to become less social.” When they restored the molecule, “the brain connectivity and behavior was normal.” This molecule certainly seems to be vital for social behavior.

“Using this approach we predicted a role for interferon gamma, an important cytokine secreted by T lymphocytes, in promoting social brain functions. Our findings contribute to a deeper understanding of social dysfunction in neurological disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia, and may open new avenues for therapeutic approaches,” said Vladimir Litvak leader of a research group at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

I am hopeful that this discovery – that the immune system affects our social interactions – will further unlock the mysteries of ASD and how to treat it. Until then, let’s do all we can to support the neurotypical (NT) partners and family members in a relationship with someone with Asperger’s.

Keeping up-to-date on Asperger’s Syndrome is vital. Please, sign up for my Enriching Your Life Newsletter to learn about my next scheduled live webinar. Some recorded webinars are also available for download to the member of my Meetup group. If you’re a NT and you’re not yet a member of Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD, then please take the time to join today.

TMS Treatment Helps Woman with Asperger's Experience the World in a New Way

Monday, August 08, 2016

Expand your frame of reference and see the world in a new wayRecently, Alix Speigel hosted a fascinating story on NPR's podcast, Invisibilia. It revealed the story of Kim who, “until she was 54 years old, was totally unaware that there were things in the world she couldn't see.”

Throughout her life, nothing happened in the way she expected and she hadn’t a clue as to why that was. It seemed to her that people said and did things that were completely unrelated. It didn’t make sense to her. You see she has Asperger’s Syndrome, which makes a person unable to pick up on social cues or the nuanced emotional meanings that most people can easily see.

Then Kim was given an opportunity to see what others see. Researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston were investigating how a procedure called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) affected the brains of people with Asperger’s. An electromagnetic coil is placed next to the scalp and rhythmically sends 30-minutes magnetic pulses through the skull in order to stimulate brain cells.

After undergoing this treatment, Kim felt deeper emotions for the first time in her life. As she read different statements, she was able to see the larger context of situations alluded to and was able to see the true meanings attached to them. She explained it was like going from “black and white to color”.

While the effects didn’t last long, it made her aware of a different way of experiencing the world. Where she once thought she was better than others, she now saw that she was simply different, and not necessarily in a good way. She felt hopelessly depressed, so she begged for another session of TMS.

During the next session, instead of reading, she watched short videos as the magnet did its work. Once again her perception was drastically different before and after the treatment. Where once she saw nothing out of the ordinary, she now saw the nuances of the body language, the subtly of conversation and she actually understood sarcasm. It amazed her! Once again her results were short lived, but this time it left her with a greater understanding of herself and the world around her – without the depression and self-doubt that happened the first time.

Researchers don’t understand why a few like Kim respond so well to TMS and others don’t. At this time, the FDA approves TMS as a treatment for treatment-resistant depression, but not for autism. They’ve found that it slightly increases the risk of seizures in those who have epilepsy. Since the research into TMS is still in its infancy, I’m anxious to see what they eventually discover.

Kim’s story reminds us of an important truth. Whether we have Asperger’s or not, we all function within a confined frame of reference based on our biology and experiences in life. The good news is that this frame of reference can be shifted and expanded. Although I don't offer TMS, I can help in expanding your frame of reference so you can achieve better relationships and greater self-understanding, and if you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA, please contact my office and schedule an appointment.

Be sure to
click on this link and read the NPR show notes or listen to the podcast.

Emotional Granularity - Putting a Name to Your Emotions Leads to Greater Health

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Emotional Granularity - Putting a Name to Your Emotions Leads to Greater HealthPeople who have more nuanced views of their emotions are healthier. When you can put a name to an emotion like feeling righteously indignant versus just generally feeling bad, you are more in tune with your feelings.

The psychological term we use for this ability to pinpoint your exact emotion is “emotional granularity.” It means you experience the world and yourself more precisely. And there are a lot of benefits to increasing this skill.

People who have emotional granularity are less likely to engage in self-destructive behavior. They have better relationships, make better decisions, live longer and are healthier.

The New York Times recently reported on a study conducted by Lisa Feldman Barrett, professor of psychology at Northeastern University. They asked hundreds of volunteers to track their emotional experiences for weeks or months. They discovered something very interesting.

They assumed that people with higher emotional granularity were just better at recognizing their emotional states. Instead they learned that the brain proactively constructs your emotional states before you’re aware of it. The brain doesn’t respond to the world in some predetermined way. It anticipates what might come next, based on a past experience. This means you get to program your emotional responses as you choose.

If you can translate your feelings into a specific emotional term that you can act on, then you don’t deplete your store of energy needlessly. Dr. Feldman Barrett likened our energy supply to a bank account. When there’s a real threat, then the withdrawal of energy translates into a meaningful action. Afterward, you can resupply your energy reserves through rest and nutrition.

On the other hand, when there’s a constant feeling of badness, it drains your account. There are no reserves of energy left for when it’s needed. You’re overdrawn. This leads to feeling trapped and overwhelmed, increasing the likelihood of mental and physical illness.

You can increase your emotional granularity by becoming more skilled in identifying the nuances of your emotions. How many emotional concepts do you have in your vocabulary? I encourage you to write down a list of new words to describe the emotional states you experience. You’ll give your brain a larger toolkit to work from, which will give you more emotional flexibility in coping with what life throws at you.

Neuroscience Proves Gratitude Is Good for You!

Monday, May 09, 2016

It’s good manners to say “Thank You”, plus gratitude actually changes your brain chemistry, acts as an antidepressant, and helps you think positive thoughtsWhen you learned polite manners as a child, you probably first learned to say, “please” and “thank you”, didn’t you? It turns out that not only do these pleasantries make people like you better; it’s actually good for your brain health.

A 2014 article in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience identified a variation in a gene (CD38) associated with gratitude. While people with this gene have a heightened tendency toward experiencing gratitude, we can all work at increasing gratitude’s calming effects that lead to feelings of contentment and satisfaction.

Another scientific study found that even if you can’t think of anything to be grateful for, simply saying the words, “What am I grateful for?” changes your brain chemistry. Neural circuits are activated, stimulating the production of dopamine and serotonin. These neurotransmitters travel to the “feel good” part of the brain. Gratitude is a natural antidepressant!

And the more you stimulate these neural pathways through practicing gratitude, the stronger and more automatic they become. It’s like walking in deep snow. At first, it’s difficult. But each time you walk on the path, it becomes easier. Your brain works the same way. The more you make your gratitude neurons fire, the easier it is for your brain to think positively, so you feel content and grateful.

This means that what you choose to remember and focus on become the pathway the brain will automatically take. If you’re constantly looking at the negative, your thoughts and feelings become dark and worrisome automatically. You’ve worn that pathway in your brain. But pathways can be shifted. Just as a fresh layer of snow covers older trails, choosing to practice gratitude, shifts your attention to seeing constructive, positive themes in your life instead of destructive ones.

It’s easy to make a practice of gratitude by keeping a gratitude journal or consciously looking for ways to say “thank you” every day, even if it’s as simple as saying it when you wake up every morning.

If you suffer from severe anxiety or depression, practicing gratitude may not be enough. Consult with a mental health professional who can get you back on the path to mental health. If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office and schedule an appointment.

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