Anxiety Reduction

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Note: This post is basically stream of consciousness. It’s not my usual discussion type post. Just working through something.

The beginning of the semester grace period is over. The warm up is done and it is time to start pushing my mind. However you want to say it, the ^*!# hits the fan this week. The first test in physiology is today, I meet my faculty client tomorrow, initial programming is due Thursday. Am I ready to run? I better be.

Okay. Panic over. I’m not 100% ready for the test in physiology, but I think I have a good grasp of what’s going on. This first one is over homeostasis mechanisms, membrane functioning, and neuronal functioning. It’s only three topics, what’s the big deal? (Excuse me as I pause to silence the evil cackling in the back of my mind.)

Thanks to my departmental chair’s sense of humor, my faculty client and I have a few things in common, so that should be less stressful than I was anticipating. Likewise, analysis and programming for the client is just a matter of crunching numbers and taking things one at a time.

Why am I stressing out? Because I’m a perfectionist. If things aren’t done “right” they’re not done well. At least that’s the default mindset I’m fighting against. Rationally, I know that this mindset is wrong. At the very least, it ignores the whole concept of school and learning curves. I think the real issue is not merely “passing”, it’s pride. In all my classes so far, I’ve excelled. So much so that in a couple of classes, when I was wrong, the instructor began to doubt herself. As I said, the fear is not whether or not I will pass my courses this semester. The fear is that I will become less in other people’s eyes. Pride.

I’ve set myself a high standard. I don’t know if I can meet it. Even if I can’t, I doubt others in the program will think less of me. Yet there is that desire not to put it to the test. I hate disappointing myself and others.

When I started this post, I was so anxious, I could barely keep my fingers on the keys of the keyboard. Now, my heart rate is down, I’m thinking more clearly, and I can feel myself focusing on the tasks at hand. Identifying the source of anxiety as mere pride rather than passing seems to be helping.

Effects of Depression on Exercise

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*I got tired of hearing about how exercise reduces symptoms of depression and that the incidence of depression among regular exercisers, so when an opportunity to look at the reverse appeared, I took it. Here is a summary of my research (“lit review”/”background review” for you nit pickers).*

Exercise normalizes the body’s functions. For example, if a person with high blood pressure were to continue on a long-term exercise plan, blood pressure would be reduced. Exercise works the other way, too; a person with very low blood pressure who follows a long-term exercise plan will find their blood pressure rising into the body’s optimum range. Likewise it reduces the effects of insulin resistance (in other words, it increases the body’s sensitivity to existing insulin levels), which is why exercise is often part of the management plan for diabetics.

Exercise has a similar effect on the brain, and therefore, mood. In a normal person, exercise releases endorphins, increases serotonin and norepinephrine levels, and reduce cortisol levels, all of which result in an increase in perceived mood. Unfortunately, such is not always the case with those who suffer from depression. There is a high correlation between patients with major depressive disorder and those with smaller than average hippocampal regions with less neurogenic activity in the region affecting both memory and mood. (Lorenzetti, Allen, Fornito, & Yucel, 2009)

What exercise will do for the depressed client is: reduce cortisol levels and increase endorphins. There are conflicting studies as to whether or not levels of neurotransmitters are changed via exercise; however a recent study involving mice demonstrates that exercise decreases observable depression-type behavior even when tryptophan levels (a precursor and limiting factor for serotonin) were kept low. This indicates that, as with diabetics, exercise may increase the brain’s sensitivity to existing levels of neurotransmitters rather than affecting the concentration of neurotransmitters. (Lee, Ohno, Ohta, & Mikami, 2013) Other studies have shown that there is a lower rate of incidence of depression in regular exercisers. (Strawbridge, Deleger, Roberts, & Kaplan, 2002)

There is a vast pool of literature that tests and retests these conclusions. Few doubt the benefits of exercise on depression. Unfortunately this picture is incomplete. Those who are chronically depressed tend to find it irritating when these and other studies are quoted and we are expected to be motivated. Among other things, we’ve been assured that everything from St. John’s Wort to Prozak will make things better. When treatment after treatment fails, it’s hard to have faith in yet another lifestyle change. The Missing Piece

Get SMART

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Few doubt the efficacy of goal setting as a means of accomplishing what you need or want. Yet for most people, goal setting is limited to “Lose weight” or “Get fit” or even “Get better at _____.” Those who leave their goals at this point are either doomed to failure, or damned with faint success. I’ve recently encountered two acronyms for goal setting: SPIRO and SMART.

SPIRO
Specific
Practical
Inspirational
Realistic
Obtainable

A SPIRO goal contains all of these elements. But what do they mean? In brief: Specific means something concrete, something you can point to and say “I achieved that.” Practical means the goal has to be applicable in a meaningful way, a specific goal of lifting 150 lbs. is not really germane if your overall objective is to write 2000 words a day. Inspirational means the goal has to be something that you not only want to achieve, but will provide something on which you can base further developments. In other words, the goal itself is something you want to achieve as opposed to being merely a means to an end. Realistic means it has to be achievable without having to take drastic, and potentially harmful, measures. For instance, losing 30 pounds in two weeks can be done, but only at severe hazard to both short term and long term health. Obtainable means it must be achievable within a person’s limitations. For instance, someone with advanced cerebral palsy is probably not going to be able to type 100 words a minute, though typing as an activity is not necessarily out of their range of ability.

SMART
Specific
Measureable
Attainable
Relevant
Time-bound

SMART goals have a lot in common with SPIRO goals. “Specific” is obviously the same, “attainable” and “obtainable” are close enough in meaning that most people use them interchangeably, “practical” and “relevant” in all the discussions I’ve seen on these two processes are essentially the same. The main differences, then, are that SMART goals tend to be more numbers drive (or at least have an emphasis on concrete results) and SMART goals have a time limit. It should be noted that “attainable” includes not only “obtainable” but also “realistic”.

Despite their similarities, SMART and SPIRO goals have different emphases. SPIRO goals appear to be more applicable to therapeutic milieux. In that setting, “realistic” and “obtainable” are separate. While an inspirational goal is generally to be desired in any setting, it plays a special role in therapy that is not generally required in other settings. SMART goals lend themselves to benchmarking. The acronym actually contains the word “measurable”. SMART goals are more likely to be used where productivity is a factor since time is a component both of the goal and of productivity.

So why does it matter that there are multiple acronyms to guide goal setting? Who cares about the differences? For many people, it doesn’t really matter. Those will read this post and say, “Meh. Kind of a dry subject.” Others, though, may have encountered multiple goal setting methods and been confused. To those readers, I’d like to point out that goal setting methods are not really interchangeable…a particular method may or may not be appropriate to a specific setting. All these methods guide you to setting good and appropriate goals, but in order for the goal to be truly good and appropriate to your purpose, the guide must also be appropriate. For instance, if there’s no reason for a goal to be time-bound, as in some therapies, adding an artificial deadline adds yet one more thing for the client to deal with, which may act as a barrier to the client’s ability to achieve the goal. On the other hand, if you’re training for a race, time will definitely be a factor in setting goals since the deadline is not only concrete, but very public.

Having a goal is often necessary to progress. It provides something to strive for, something to make it worth overcoming obstacles. It’s the first step in motivating yourself. For a goal to accomplish these things, though, it must be meaningful. Both SPIRO and SMART are guides to creating a meaningful goal. They are not the only ones, but they’re a couple of the easiest to remember.  Which one gets used will depend on the activity or activities in question.

Searching for Topics

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Excepting the previous two posts, I haven’t blogged for more than a year. I’m out of practice at seeing topics in everyday life. I reread my post on finding topics and I wonder, who is this guy? I remember thinking those thought. I remember writing that post. I remember posting it. Yet in some way, that person is so different from where I am now that I don’t remember being that person at all. This isn’t a complaint. Nor is it a celebration. It goes back to the title of by blog: Maunderings of a Baffled Man. I’m very baffled right now…at least concerning getting back into blogging.

I enjoy writing. I enjoy sharing my ideas with people…at least those who are willing to listen. I even think about lots of things. And yet, I’m finding it difficult coming up with blog topics. I have confidence that this will pass as long as I keep working at it. For now blogs are likely to be short and fairly simple until I get back into the swing of things. I hope to start off with one blog a week…beginning next week. I’m counting these first three posts as a single post since they could probably have been combined into a single post.

Who Needs Stimulants?

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Making a decision and committing to it often brings about a burst of energy. Whether it’s losing a few pounds (or a lot of pounds), or embarking on a career change. There is a sense of energizing finality available from few other mechanisms. I’m not talking about decisions made under duress, though there’s usually a different kind of energy associated with that. Nor am I talking about a decision that doesn’t really matter. Deciding to eat salad instead of soup as an appetizer doesn’t have the life-changing possibilities that fuel that burst of energy. The decisions I’m talking about are the ones that have the potential to alter your life forever. There is trepidation in such a decision, a willingness to look into the possibilities beyond rather than slog through what’s here.  When such a decision is reached and a commitment is made, a sense of “let’s do this, and let’s do it NOW” pervades.

Feast or famine

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Getting back into writing is an interesting process. And by “interesting” I mean “near paralytic”. During my down period, I couldn’t write. Not that I was physically incapable, but that I had neither the desire nor the mental energy. Now that I’m coming out of the abyss, I have too many ideas overwhelming me. I seem to have trouble finishing a story. Maybe I should work out a rotating system. On Mondays I could work on the vampire mythologies. On Tuesdays I could work on the Ellendahl short stories. On Wednesdays I could work on the romantica stories. Thursdays would have to be for mainstream works. Fridays could then be dedicated to works not yet categorized.

Actually, this sounds like a workable solution. Hmmm.

Post Awesomeness Letdown

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Yesterday was awesome. Lots of activity, lots of fun, even met a few new people. In yesterday’s post, I’d worried I’d over-extended my capabilities. Today I was sore, but not too sore to move and lift and do errands. That tells me my activity level was about where it should be. Kind of scary, now that I think of how much energy I expended. Next test is…can I recover in time to do it all again next Monday? I hope so, cause it’s been a long time since I’ve had that kind of fun. I missed it.

So where’s the letdown? It’s in the fact that I have to wait until next week to do it again.

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