Therapy That Works...

Cowardice and Self Control - By Chris Gearing

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Watch Dr Sylvia Gearing on CBS 11 discuss how cowardice and survival may be related to self control - click here.

Why would someone in a position of responsibility abandon the people that he was supposed to protect?

There is a big difference between what people say they will do and what they actually do, especially when high emotion are in play. None of us want to think that we would act like this ship’s captain. We all want to think that our duty would keep us on track irrespective of our own welfare.

However, science tells us something different. In real life, when there is a potential life threatening situation and when strangers surround us, many of us would run. Our moral compass fails completely. We may surrender the responsibility for rescue to others—what psychologists call diffusion of responsibility. As in this case, we might choose to escape and call it something else (I was going for help!), but really we consider nothing but our own survival.

Do you have any idea of what went on in the captains’ mind when he jumped ship?

He was probably in the moment and totally overwhelmed by events he could barely decipher. The bottom line is that there was a total lack of self-control. In fact, it is a well-known axiom in psychology that most major problems that we create for ourselves boil down to a simple failure of self-control. We say something we shouldn’t say, we spend money we shouldn’t spend, or we take that drink we shouldn’t have. No consequences are important when emotion overrides reason.

Self Control Lapses Share These Characteristics:

Impulsive Behavior—We act before we think

Emotionally Driven Decision Making--When the events are happening quickly and unexpectedly, the emotional brain can hijack our analytical brain.

Consequences are Irrelevant

The Only Goal Is To Escape the Immediate Problem

What does a courageous person look like?

Courage Under Fire: Courageous people may look ordinary but their actions are extraordinary. Under fire, they choose to perform the extraordinary, heroic act even if their personal welfare is jeopardized. For instance, Captain Sullenberger was an unknown pilot until that fateful day on the Hudson when he heroically landed his plane.

Cognitive Self Control: Heroic people remain focused and block out distractions while they solve the problem in front of them. They remain proactive, not reactive.

Emotional Self Control: Every person has the ability to do extraordinary things, but true heroes are able to show tremendous emotional self-control in bad situations. Most of us would be overwhelmed but their emotional control allows them to move through adversity and solve the problem.

What can we do to make sure that we are stronger when adversity strikes?

Conserve Your Energy: Depleted people make poor decisions under fire. Live a deliberate life and don’t procrastinate. The mind tends to grow more negative when we chronically fail to follow through on goals.

Build Self Control Before the Crisis: People who rank high in self-control report the least amounts of stress. They practice leading orderly, disciplined lives. When adversity strikes, they are ready to make the tough decisions and to solve the issue.

Play Offense with Your Stress: Very stressed people make the worst decisions when bad things happen. Use your self-control today to not just get through a crisis but to avoid them as much as you can.

Think Yourself To Sleep! - By Chris Gearing

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Thinking Yourself To Sleep

September 10, 2009

Dr. Sylvia Gearing, TXA 21 News

Insomnia strikes 30% of Americans according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and this trend has only worsened during these challenging economic times. Millions of us have turned to prescription sleep aides but a new study from the Mayo Clinic now reports that improving your attitudes about sleep may be the real key to getting that elusive good night’s sleep.

Most of my sleepless patients begin by asking me why it is so difficult to get a good night’s sleep. Here are the facts:

  • A Lot on Our Minds: Stress is the number one cause of short term sleeping difficulties and the number of people struggling with sleep has doubled since 2001. Forty million Americans struggle with over seventy different types of sleep problems with insomnia being the most common. You cannot sleep if you have adrenaline coursing through your body while you worry about your job, your school, your kids or your money. Such chronic stress can even erode your immune system.
  • Sleepless Youth: Insomnia is not confined to the middle aged or the elderly anymore. The use of prescription sleep medications by the 18 to 24 year old crowd has nearly tripled since 1999. Access to Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and texting keep us plugged in and sleepless.
  • Insomnia is Progressive: Sleep problems are progressive disorders. Unaddressed, short-term insomnia becomes long term, chronic insomnia. We begin to think that we cannot sleep and adopt attitudes that make it more difficult to sleep. We create an entire personal “culture” around why we cannot sleep.

Now that all sounds pretty bad, but it gets worse when we look at how sleeplessness actually affects its victims.

  • Thinking Less Effective: A weary mind cannot process the emotions of today and sleep deprived people overreact, snap at others and fail to concentrate and follow through. We end up with muddled minds and compromised careers.
  • Psychomotor Reactions are Compromised: We are simply clumsier when we are tired. Chronic insomniacs have four times the incident of car accidents. This phenomenon costs the U.S. up to $100 million a year in indirect costs. Falling asleep at the wheel causes half of all fatal accidents.
  • Increased Substance Abuse: People with sleep problems have 2.4 times more alcoholism than average. If they can’t sleep, many people turn to substances like alcohol and drugs to relax. This is dangerous especially since tolerance develops and we use more alcohol to get the same effect.
  • Sleepless and Blue: Insomnia does precede depression in most cases, and studies have shown that if you deprive a normal person of just two hours a night for five nights that they will begin to show symptoms of depression. Up to 90% of depressed patients have insomnia, and insomniacs have 35 times the rate of depression when compared to good sleepers.

The good news is that you can improve your sleeping habits by simply changing how you think!

When insomnia develops, it is often because of temporary circumstances that cause transient sleeplessness. We begin to believe we cannot sleep on our own and with $300 million spent on marketing last year by the top makers of sleep medications, we are often persuaded to take a pill. Unfortunately, experts are now reporting that medication may be more like a band-aid. The crisis may pass but our underlying attitudes and habits have shifted and are never addressed.

Are you ready to take the first step? Here’s what you should do:

Filling our minds with catastrophic outcomes keeps us up at night. The antidote, other than sleeping pills, is to focus on shifting your thinking from stressed to more logical, realistic thinking that is calming. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) helps you to control or eliminate worrisome thoughts about current stresses and about sleep issues. Remember that 70 to 80% of people with chronic insomnia seem to benefit significantly from CBT. It is natural, reasonably priced and lasting.

Here is an example of CBT steps:

  • Step One: Catastrophic Beliefs. Think of a current stressor that is troubling you. List the future-threat catastrophic thoughts that were produced by this adverse situation, and then record all the thoughts and emotions that you experienced. These catastrophic beliefs often “chain together”, meaning that one catastrophic belief will provoke and flow into another catastrophic belief. The downward spiral is difficult to escape.
  • Step Two: How Likely Are Your Fears? Most of us worry about what bad outcomes could occur without any concern about likelihood. The key to ending your catastrophizing is to break free of the future-threat beliefs. The best way to do that is to emphasize what you do know as fact. Usually, the only solid fact in the catastrophizing chain is the original adverse event that started it. The rest is guesswork and supposition. Use that fact to estimate the probabilities of your worst-case fears. Just how likely is it that all of the awful events in your negative chain actually will happen? Try to estimate a numerical probability of the likelihood that each event in the chain will occur. Is it 75%? Is it 50%? Is it one in a million?
  • Step Three: Best-Case Beliefs. Generate a best-case alternative for each of your worst-case outcomes. This forces you to escape your worst-case scenario thinking, at least temporarily. You are now beginning to think logically and to solve the problem. Suddenly, when you take a break from catastrophic thinking, you will be better able to create the positive outcomes because you’re not dwelling exclusively on the catastrophic outcomes.
  • Step Four: Focus on Realistic Outcomes. Often, your identification of the most likely outcomes will be negative, since your mind is already thinking negatively. When you focus on the more realistic probabilities of bad things happening (1 in 10 million), and then compare those probabilities to the odds of good outcomes occurring (such as 50% to 70%), your thinking and mood will automatically shift to the positive. Avoid catastrophic thinking by filling your mind with realistic, positive outcomes with a high probability of occurring. You will then be ready to tackle the problem creatively and forcefully.
  • Step Five: Pro-Active Solutions. Now it is time to generate the realistic action steps you can take to remediate the problem. Relax, breath deeply and begin to focus on concrete actions that are reasonably implemented to solve the problem. Implement as soon as possible. Remain calm. Again, stay away from catastrophic thinking since it is just a distraction from solving the problem and is a complete waste of your mental energy. The positive solution is at hand. You just need to problem solve to generate it.


“Cost Effective Ways to Fight Insomnia” in the June 6th, 2009 New York Times

“Get A Great Night’s Sleep Every Night” from Good Housekeeping

American Academy of Sleep Medicine

“Insomnia Treatment: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy instead of Sleeping Pills” from

“Suffer From Insomnia? Try Cognitive Behavioral Therapy” from U.S. News and World Report

“The Resilience Factor” by Karen Reivich, Ph.D. and Andrew Shattle, Ph.D.

Teen Sleep Crisis - By Chris Gearing

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Teen Sleep Crisis: How Sleep Loss Causes Depression

June 11, 2009

Dr. Sylvia Gearing, TXA 21 News

Most of us as parents struggle with getting our teenagers to bed on time. Sports, school and socializing all postpone bedtime in a busy teen’s life but a major new study now reports that sleep loss can be dangerous. A new study of 15,000 teens sends some serious warnings to American parents.

This “just released” study from Columbia University is the first to examine the direct effect of sleep loss on the emotional health of an adolescent.

  • More Depression: Teens whose parents allow them to stay up past midnight on school nights are 42% more likely to be depressed than teens in bed by 10 P.M.
  • Suicidal Thinking: Less sleep can contribute to suicidal thinking. Kids who stay up late are 30% more likely to have suicidal thoughts in the past year.
  • Underestimates of Current Teen Distress: These statistics may underrate the severity of teen distress. With social networking sites and smart phones, kids are more active into the night and often refuse to comply with parental commands. It is easy to play on your iPhone into the next morning!

You may be wondering why lack of sleep is such a big deal for kids. There are a variety of problems when kids don’t get enough sleep:

  • Psychological Weakness: Kids who get less sleep are more impulsive, process their environment less accurately, become more helpless and descend into ineffectiveness.
  • Slippage of Grades: Academics are a huge problem for sleep-deprived kids — the less focus you have, the more distracted you are, and the less effectively you integrate new knowledge.
  • Loss of Emotional Stability: Even if they can tolerate sleep loss and still make grades, there is a psychological price that is paid in interpersonal diplomacy, regulation of emotions, and a general build up of frustration.
  • Obesity: Obesity is highly correlated with sleep loss. Teens are less likely to work out and eat moderately when they’re exhausted.
  • Driving Safety: Most fatal teen driving accidents involve sleep loss. Since kids need more sleep than adults, they are particularly vulnerable to carelessness on the road and falling asleep at the wheel.

There are a number of ways to get kids to go to sleep earlier. Here are a few ideas:

  • Eliminate Stimulants: Cut out the stimulants in kids’ lives, things like coffee, sodas and in some rare cases, amphetamines. They will go to bed earlier if they aren’t on a caffeine high!
  • Avoid Yo Yo Scheduling: Also, don’t allow your kids to do what is called “yo-yo scheduling” where they go to sleep late during the week and then go to sleep even later on the weekend! The lack of sleep on weekends has long standing effects on sleep patterns and melatonin levels, and kids often go back in to the work week more tired than they were on Friday!
  • Keep It Pleasant: Don’t engage in emotional conversations close to bedtime. Conflict interferes with regular sleep patterns and kids have a hard time settling down for the night.
  • If you want to know how to get your kids to sleep beyond these tips, the bad news is that there is no magic solution. There really is only one way to get your kids to bed:

    • Set Strong Limits: High school and college age kids average around 6.1 hours of sleep a night when they need 9.25 hours a night, on average. There is no way around it – parents must set stronger limits so their kids will sleep more! Your kids will have to experience that disappointment, but in the end you will also see improved performance both in the classroom and on the field.
    • Quick Emotional Benefits: Beyond the obvious benefits in school, adequate sleep can have a tremendous effect on your child’s mental health. Everything from mood to concentration to safety in the car can be improved. Even behavioral and academic problems can disappear with adequate amounts of sleep.

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