Discussions Regarding the World of Psychology (www.lapsych.com)

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As I was driving home last night, I noticed several houses that had already been decorated for the holidays with the festive twinkling lights outside and the beautiful Christmas trees showing through the windows. Given that I am a sucker for the holiday season, these sights filled me with a sense of happiness and warmth. Soon after these positive feelings, a sense of urgency set in. Was I late in getting started with holiday prep? Should I have spent the weekend getting decorations down and moving furniture around to accommodate the Christmas tree? As I started going through my mental calendar of things that need to get done, I realized that it’s not even Thanksgiving yet! My family’s usual tradition is to set up Christmas decorations on the Friday of Thanksgiving weekend. This has always been the case for us, but until just recently, I have never felt the pressure to start decorating before that point. This got me thinking about why our society is in such a hurry to start celebrating the holidays.

 

Of course, there is the business related argument that it’s all retail based and that companies have started cultivating the holiday spirit earlier to increase sales. I have no doubt that this is true because, after all, who doesn’t want to drink a Chestnut Praline Latte in the red Starbucks cup as soon as possible??? But I can’t accept the fact that this is the only reason the holidays keep getting pushed earlier and earlier every single year. Yes, companies are pushing the holiday season upon us as early as possible, but the interesting part of it, in my perspective, is that we, as a society, are eager and ready to receive it! About 5 years ago, I remember that several department stores began decorating before Thanksgiving and many people thought this was ridiculous. Today, many retailers set up their holiday decorations after Halloween! The premature celebration of the holidays has become pushed upon us in such an inadvertent manner that not only are retailers setting up early for the purpose of increasing sales, but we have gotten into the habit of decorating our homes and businesses for the holidays before Thanksgiving has even arrived! Back to my real question though… WHY? Why are we so eager to celebrate the holidays that we have decided to start doing so a month or two earlier than they are meant to be celebrated?

 

Here is where it gets interesting for me! The psychology behind our readiness to welcome the holiday season…  First off, I began thinking about what it is that the holidays represent. A few terms automatically entered my mind… love, acceptance, unity, tolerance, family, support, and warmth. Even in terms of gift giving, the holidays are one of the few times of the year when we actively think about who we appreciate and what we can give to those individuals to make them feel special. We are encouraged to think about the well-being and happiness of others as opposed to the rest of the year when we are primarily focused on thinking about our own needs.  The holidays give us the opportunity to let go of the individualistic nature of our daily lives and to embrace the collectivist nature that many of us seek deep down inside. The holidays make it okay for us to look one another in the eyes at the store and to smile, they make it okay for us to let the person with one item ahead of us in line, they make it appropriate for us to give money to the homeless man by the exit on the freeway off-ramp without questioning what he will do with that money… The holidays make it okay for us to connect with one another without second guessing ourselves and feeling taken advantage of.  They make it okay for us to be good human beings, the kind of human being that we were before we were jaded by the negative experiences that have rewired our internal programming to be cautious, not trust others, and put our own needs before those of others. I believe that this is the main reason we are so ready to welcome the holidays into our lives, even if it is in early November!

 

As we enter the new year and make our resolutions, it may be beneficial to make a few resolutions that will help us carry the warmth of the holidays into the rest of the upcoming year. Consider spending more time with family, or holding the door for a stranger, or giving some grace to those around us with the realization that they might be going through struggles of their own. After all, we are in this together… We share this point in time with one another and what we do/how we treat each other today effects the norms of our society for generations to come.

 

-Dr. Sheyda Melkonian

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ImageAlthough many women have certain plans regarding when and after which achievements they would like to establish a family, some are unfortunately faced with the realization that just because they are now ready to conceive, that doesn’t mean that their body will follow suit. Difficulty conceiving and/or having a viable pregnancy can be an extremely stressful experience for many women and couples. A new study published in the journal of Human Reproduction focuses on this issue by studying the various stress points that challenge women as they struggle to become pregnant.

The study examined 445 women, between ages 18 and 44 years, who were experiencing difficulties in conceiving. One third of these women stated that they felt some level of worry from the moment that they started trying to become pregnant. In addition, nearly half on this group reported that they felt ashamed and that they were a failure as a woman. Infertility often has many psychological side-effects on women including depression, anxiety, anger, and low self-esteem. These feelings are extremely difficult for a woman to process, especially if she tries to keep them to herself and does not have a strong support system. In these circumstances, it is imperative that she work with a psychologist on a regular basis to process the feelings associated to infertility and to better her coping mechanism to get through this difficult time in the best possible way.

In addition, it is important to note that dealing with infertility can be extremely taxing on the relationship between husband and wife. Many times, the individual who is the primary source of the difficulties feels that they are at fault and the other individual may not know the best way to show support. In addition, they may have different perspectives regarding the lengths that they are willing to go through to become pregnant and may not know how to address this issue with one another. It is very important for a couple going through this difficult time to communicate honestly and sensitively with one another. For many, couples therapy is an ideal way of doing this because they feel safe and comfortable knowing that they are in the presence of an unbiased individual who can facilitate the conversation. The decision of whether to begin fertility treatment can be very difficult one, but this study found that when women began fertility treatment, the majority (63%) reported feeling that they got closer to their partner and that their partner was supportive throughout the process.

As with any stressful time in one’s life, it is extremely important to acknowledge and express the feelings that the experience has caused for the woman and for the couple. Stresses such as infertility can be difficult and detrimental to an individual and a marriage if they are not addressed correctly; however, if one chooses to get help from a psychologist regarding their emotional struggles, they can use this difficult time in their life to become a stronger individual and a healthier couple.

-Dr. Sheyda Melkonian


I read about a study today that peaked my interest.  Professor Brashears from Cornell University recently conducted a study in which he discovered that Americans today have 1/3 fewer true friends or confidants as was the norm 25 years ago.  Studies done about 25 years ago noted that Americans, on average, had 3 friends that they would trust to turn to in times of emotional difficulty.  The study that he conducted recently has found that number has currently dropped to 2 friends.  In a world of social media and the ease of staying connected, one would think that we would all be closer to one another, but this does not appear to be the case.

Let’s look at reasons that this finding may be true.  First off, although it is nice to stay in touch with people on Facebook, the truth of the matter is that the majority of our Facebook friends would have been completely disconnected from us had social media not been an option.  Therefore, I wouldn’t really call them friends… they’re acquaintances if anything.  Therefore, the fact that someone may have 100+ Facebook friends does not have any connection to their true friendships.  On the other hand, I believe that the option of using social media such as Facebook makes us lazier in out true friendships.  Truth be told, it’s just so much easier to FB message someone or text them with what you actuallywant to say as opposed to picking up the phone to call them and having a drawn out conversation before getting to the point of why you were calling in the first place.

I’m conflicted about whether I like to have the ease of social media at my fingertips.  As much as we feel too tired to call a friend and talk about how we are doing and how they are doing, that conversation serves a strong purpose in maintaining and growing that relationship.  First off, it allows you to catch up regarding the details of one another’s lives.  Second, it helps preserve your sense of empathy because you can actually talk about how the other person is doing and not just focus on getting your needs met at that given moment.  Finally, it creates new opportunities to connect over topics that would have not come up over text messaging. 

However, another reason  we may have less real friends as a society may be due to the fact that we are more stressed out as a society.  Financial stress, longer work hours, more responsibilities at an early age, etc are all contributing factors to our need to focus on ourselves and slowly drift away from our friends.   These factors cause the majority of us to isolate and try to figure it out on our own, but as a result, we end up drifting away from the very people who may have been able to help us through those difficult times.  The lonelier we feel, the higher our rates of depression.  Therefore, it is important to share not only our good and happy moments with our friends, but to trust them in also sharing our difficult times with them.  Once this can be done, that is when that person can truly be call a ‘friend’.

If you know anyone who appears to be isolating and shutting down in sharing their emotions and experiences with you, try to have that conversation with them and be there for them.  If you feel that it is becoming a real problem, it may be helpful to encourage them to talk to a psychologist about the possibility and treatment of depression.

In conclusion, social media serves a great purpose in giving us the opportunity to stay connected with the extended people in our social circle.  However, it becomes dangerous when it is used as the primary means of communication with those that we actually love and trust.  In the end, if you genuinely care about someone, pick up the phone and call them.  Otherwise, in the long run, you may not have as much to talk about as you do now…

Dr. Sheyda Melkonian


I often see/hear discussions in the community regarding how children/adolescents are posting too much personal information on social media sites such as Facebook and I feel that this is legitimately a source of concern for parents.  Therefore, I found a new study from the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science which addresses the issue to be very relevant.  The study found that the amount of personal information that teens share on FB is actually similar to the amount of personal information that their parents share.  The only difference is that teens spend more time on these kinds of sites.  This, in turn, gives them more time to post content that is personal.  On average, it was determined that teens spend 55 minutes per day on Facebook, whereas adults spend 38 minutes/day.  However, the personal nature of the posts (i.e. pictures, locations, etc) between parents and children is similar in content.

One thing that this study brought to mind for me is that although the personal nature of the posts between the parents and children may be similar, that does not account for the content of the posts.  In other words, although a parent may feel it appropriate to post a picture of him/herself with their spouse, the content of that picture may be more conservative than a picture that their teen may post of him/herself with their boy/girlfriend.  I would appreciate a study that would further look into this issue regarding if the personal posts uploaded by teens place them in a more compromising position than the personal posts uploaded by their parents. 

That said, I believe that social media is a territory that parents need to address and discuss with their teens.  It is not something that is going away anytime soon and generally speaking, can actually be a great way for teens to express themselves.  However, like any other aspect of raising teenagers, limits and boundaries need to be set around its use and occasional monitoring is needed.   Most importantly, it is critical to talk to your teens about the consequences of the information they choose to post on social media sites and the permanent nature of the content they place on the internet.  Open communication and trust are vital aspects in a parent and teen relationship.  This does not mean that you should treat your teenager like they are your friend but that you are there to be a sounding board for them if/when they are having issues.  If your teen then chooses to follow a path that you disapprove of as a parent, that it when it is necessary to give them a consequence.  If you are struggling in communicating effectively with your teen, it is important to address the issue by seeing a psychologist before it gets out of control.  However, just try to keep in mind that they are going through a difficult time in their lives in which they are trying to determine how their personal values/beliefs align with the social environment in which they exist and how to go about being accepted in light of who they are.  For some, this struggle does not end in adolescence, but is a lifelong journey…

-Dr. Sheyda Melkonian


 Have you ever wondered if your infant realizes it when you’re upset or arguing with your spouse?  New research shows that although infants may not be able to tell us how they are feeling, a conflictual relationship between their parents stresses them out, as demonstrated by the effect that it has on their sleep  patterns.  Research recently published in the journal  Child Development explains that marital instability when the infant was nine months old was related to child sleep problems at 18 months, including difficulties falling asleep and staying asleep.  Although all infants and children go through periods of sleep difficulty, it is important to consider whether exposure to a conflictual relationship may be further worsening the problem.  In other words, not all sleep difficulties in children are due to parental conflict, but if parental conflict is present and your baby is experiencing sleep difficulties, it is likely that the exposure to conflict is having a negative impact on the baby’s sleep pattern.

Sleep in crucial to the healthy development of infants as discussed in a research study from Emory University, which was recently published in the journal SLEEP.  The study shows that longer bouts of sleep in infants end with an increase in weight and body-fat composition tied to an increase in length.  In other words, sleep affects a baby’s physical development by helping them get taller and it also increases the baby’s weight and abdominal fat.  Therefore, preventing a baby from achieving optimal levels of sleep due to environmental stressors such as marital conflict can impact not only their emotional, but also their physical development. 

Although parents do not intend to hurt their infants when arguing with their spouse in front of the infant, it is important to know that it does have an impact on them.  Most parents assume that during infancy, babies have no idea what is going on in the world, so they do not need to filter their behavior or language as they would if they were upset at their partner in the presence of an older child.  More and more, however, we are seeing that this assumption is not true.  Although babies do not have a clear sense of what is being said or why, they sense the emotions that are involved in the relationships surrounding them.  In other words, if you are yelling at your partner, the baby does not understand what you are saying, but they understand that you become angry when interacting with your spouse.  This, in turn, affects your baby’s emotional state and (as this study shows us) their physical development.  Therefore, it is important to stay composed and contain the expression of negative emotions in the presence of infants as one would in the presence of an 8-year-old child.  Otherwise, it can affect their ability to emotionally and physically thrive ( as well as your ability to get a good night’s sleep).   It is important to seek the services of a psychologist if you feel like your baby’s sleep difficulties are caused by emotional difficulties in the home.  Family and/or couples therapy is very helpful in providing healthy outlets for the communication of negative emotions in relationships. 

Dr. Melkonian


It’s general knowledge that most people like to have the perception that they have choices.  Nobody wants to be told that they have to do something.  A new study recently published in the journal, Psychological Science, confirmed the general notion that either having power or being given choices (or both) helps us feel that we are in control.  And who doesn’t want to feel like they are in control of their life, right?  However, most people do not act upon this knowledge when it comes to their daily life.  It’s likely that we would all have better relationships with one another if we gave each other more choices.  This is true for the workplace, for our romantic relationships, and especially for parenting our children.  

Let’s first use the workplace example.  Would you rather have your boss tell you that you have to work 5,  8 hour days, or would you rather be given the option of working 5, 8 hour days or 4, 10 hour days?  Research has shown that when people are given this option, their performance and productivity increases, regardless of the option they chose.  They work better simply because they feel they were given a choice in regard to their working conditions.   As a result, they tend to attain a greater level of respect toward superiors in the workplace for giving them a choice to begin with.

In terms of romantic or social relationships, the same phenomenon takes place.  Would you rather have your partner or friend constantly delegating their wishes upon you, or would you prefer to be given options?  It’s not about giving up what you want, but it’s about giving the other person options and making them feel like they are a part of the process.  For example, if you want to have Italian food for dinner, you can give your spouse the choice between 2 Italian restaurants.  That way, they feel that they participated in the decision and you were still able to eat Italian food. 

This concept of giving people choices as a means of helping them gain a sense of control works the best when it comes to parenting children.  Giving children choices is a great way of disciplining them, teaching them good behavior, and preventing negative behaviors.  For example, a child is significantly more likely to refuse eating something that you tell them they have to eat.  However, if you give them the choice between 2 healthy options and let them choose, they feel that they played a part in that decision and are more likely to eat the meal that they chose.  In the end though, you had the ultimate control because you were the one who selected which meals would be options.    

In conclusion, giving people choices gives them a sense of control, it makes them feel that you respect and value their opinion, and ultimately, it creates happier relationships between people.

Dr. Sheyda Melkonian


I recently read an article that will probably make most women say, ‘I KNEW IT!!!”.  In a recent study at USC, it was found that during times of acute stress, men’s brains demonstrate less activity in the region which is designated for the understanding and interpretation of other people’s feelings.   To read more about this article in detail, you can click on the following link:   http://psychcentral.com/news/2010/09/29/men-respond-to-stress-by-shutting-down/18890.html.

I am experiencing mixed feelings about this study.  A part of me is excited that this study actually validates the experience of most women when they report that their significant other does not seem to pick up on their facial cues.  It proves the fact that the female notion that sometimes, men just don’t get it, is actually true and not just in our heads.  It might also help women to be more sensitive to men’s lack of empathy toward the emotions displayed by our facial gestures.  This way, women may not take it personally that he didn’t notice that you were on the verge of crying.  Instead, we may be apt to tell them how we feel as opposed to hoping that they will notice it based on our non-verbal cues. 

On the other hand, I feel like the validation of this type of study may backfire and give men an excuse to be ‘unaware’ of certain things that they are actually capable of noticing.  This can easily turn into many scenarios of “But babe, it’s not that I don’t care to notice, but it’s just that my brain works differently than yours…”.  For this reason, it is important to keep in  mind that this study was done in situations where men were experiencing acute stress.  This does not necessarily justify every scenario in which a man may not notice that his girlfriend/wife is upset.  However, it is important to keep in the back of your mind that he might not intentionally be oblivious to your feelings…  he may have actually not noticed. 

The last part of this study that was interesting is that when women are in a state of acute stress, the area of the brain that is devoted to the recognition and interpretation of other people’s feelings was overactive.  This means that when women are overly stressed out, we are more sensitive to others’ facial and non-verbal cues than in times of normal stress.  This also explains why we are more irritable during times of extreme stress.   We may actually be over-interpreting and over-analysing what people’s actions and gestures indicate. 

It seems that men and women would communicate better if we tell one another how we are feeling as opposed to assuming that the other person should know based on how we are acting.  Lack of healthy communication can lead to an array of psychological disabilities, some of which are depression and anxiety ( http://www.lapsych.com/families-dev-disabilities.asp).  That way, there is no lack of interpretation on the part of men and no over-interpretation on the part of women.  The take away message of this post…. Let’s all cut each other some slack and tell each other when we are feeling upset.  The less you bottle up, the less the damage when you explode…

–  Dr. Sheyda Melkonian



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