The Pursuit of Mindfulness

“It is not the man who has little, but the man who craves more, that is poor” – Seneca

6a00e554eecbdf88330120a7ad5e67970b-500wi

Integrated into our everyday lives are ideas of how we can achieve happiness – buy the next best car, gain a promotion, find your ideal partner… We are rarely made to feel content in our own skin and current state. Sadly, we have become accustomed to this; we see it everywhere and many of us recognise how such messages buy into our feelings of dissatisfaction and insecurity. Living in such an environment, how can we ever believe enough is enough? 

Psychologists Brickman and Campbell first coined the term ‘hedonic adaptation’ in 1971. They suggest each person has a ‘set point’ of happinesswhich remains constant until we experience sudden highs or downfalls. For instance, when receiving an exam grade, one might initially feel intense happiness or disappointment that will eventually return to that set point. The same goes in the context of a romantic relationship: we fall in love ecstatically, and over time reach a state of equilibrium that makes us think, “is this it?” – a thought which characterises many break-ups.18nat_married

Positive Psychology research has looked into the idea of a ‘hedonic treadmill’ – a permanent cycle of desire fuelled by dissatisfaction. Particularly in an environment where things like money and success are highly valued, once you’re on that treadmill, you don’t want to simply feel content. You want all your hard work to pay off with feelings of ecstasy and triumph; you sacrifice the present moment in the hope that it will bring you greater satisfaction in the future. In this way, many people obtain motivation as it serves a path for ambitions. However, it can lead to anxious or depressive states in cases where people devote themselves to unattainable goals or feel a lack of appreciation for what is already within their reach.

To help combat this negative cycle, a great body of recent research points to the value of mindfulness – focusing awareness on the present moment and all its encompassing sensations. In doing so, we can free ourselves from our attachment to the past and the future and find satisfaction in the present. Mindfulness has been found to significantly improve symptoms of mental disorders like anxiety, depression and ADHD. There are some great blog articles that write more in depth on mindfulness techniques, such as herehere and here.

demandeuphoria_6642

On the other hand, research has shown that our happiness levels are not always determined by the environment we are in; they are 50% heritable in our genes. In addition to this, it is found that not everyone is hedonically neutral – we all have differing set points meaning we feel pleasure differently. For example, people with depression can experience anhedonia – a total inability to feel pleasure. Some research suggests that hedonic set points can be raised using new antidepressant compounds that are currently being investigated.

Psychological research has thrown light on how our desires can lead to dissatisfaction, and provides interventions that can be used to reframe negative mind-sets. If you have any experience with subjects I have mentioned or have any ideas or questions, please comment or send me a message.

 

Works Cited

Brickman, P., & Campbell, D. T. (1971). Hedonic relativism and planning the good society. Adaptation-level theory, 287-305.

Eysenck, H. J., & Eysenck, M. W. (1994). Happiness: Facts and myths. Psychology Press.

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Theories of Schizophrenia: Can They Work in Harmony?

In this article, I use illustrations taken from the website of Bryan Charnley, an artist who suffered with schizophrenia and very tragically took his own life soon after these self-portraits were completed. Each painting was created as an experiment to come “face-to-face” with his illness. I felt it would be appropriate to use them here as they demonstrate, far better than can be done with words, what schizophrenic symptoms can feel like.

Psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler first coined the term ‘schizophrenia’, originating from the Greek “schizo” meaning to tear or split, and “phren” meaning intellect. This could explain the common contemporary myth about the illness involving a split personality. In reality, schizophrenia comprises a range of distressing symptoms including delusions, hallucinations, incoherent thoughts and speech, catatonic behaviour, affective flattening, alogia and avolition. The varied nature of the illness makes it challenging to diagnose using a single modality. However, it is one of the most debilitating of mental illnesses, with more than 24 million sufferers worldwide, which compels scientists in a variety of fields to continue in their search. Psychological and biological accounts present quite distinct determinist perspectives, unless combined within the ‘diathesis-stress’ model – a more holistic explanation that is now the leading approach in providing aetiology for the illness.

Bryan Charnley: Self-Portrait (1991) “My mind seemed to be thought broadcasting very severely and it was beyond my will to do anything about it. I summed this up by painting my brain as an enormous mouth, acting independently of me… I feel I am always divided against my self by myself… the nail in the mouth expresses my social ineptitude and an inability to socialise which makes me a target…”

A genetic susceptibility for psychotic symptoms is problematic to trace back to a particular genetic locus or even a small amount of genes. Therefore, a range of methods provide evidence for the involvement of numerous specific genes and rare mutations within them. Findings strongly indicate a heritable aspect to the disease, such as the fact that those with a first-degree relative with schizophrenia are ten times more likely to develop symptoms than those without. Moreover, twin studies reveal an overall heritability estimate of 80%. These discoveries highlight schizophrenia to be one of the most heritable of mental disorders. However, it can be difficult for researchers to discriminate between findings that are due to one’s environment as opposed to genetic makeup. To overcome this issue, adoption studies have been conducted using adoptees with and without schizophrenic family members. One early study found that 16.6% of adopted children with schizophrenic mothers developed the illness while none did within the control group. These findings were supported by a more recent study, where adopted children with psychotic symptoms had a 21.4% chance of having biological relatives with schizophrenia, compared to 5.4% in those who did not.

The leading biochemical theory of schizophrenia is the dopamine hypothesis, which maintains that symptoms like hallucinations, thought disorder and behavioural problems are significantly correlated to excess activity of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Antipsychotic drugs such as phenothiazines act on symptoms of psychosis by blocking the brain’s dopamine receptor sites, lowering dopamine activity. While these drugs attenuate many symptoms of schizophrenia, they have side effects such as tremors similar to those shown in Parkinson’s Disease, which is known to be caused in part by low dopamine levels. This effect is interestingly reversed when Parkinson’s patients are administered L-dopa – a drug that raises dopamine levels – resulting in the display of psychotic symptoms. Post-mortem studies have also revealed increased levels of dopamine and a considerably greater number of dopamine receptors in the brains of deceased schizophrenia patients.

Cognitive theories of schizophrenia centre on attributional and interpretational biases regarding anomalous experiences. For instance, auditory hallucinations are typically experienced by around 10 to 15% of healthy individuals, but may be interpreted in a way that makes them believe they are becoming insane, or that they ought to listen to and adhere to what the voices say in order to avoid negative consequences. Such biases are associated with deficits in cognitive functioning, again linked to excess dopamine activity, resulting in a slow decline in abilities such as early stages of sensory information processing. As a result, some sufferers experience affective flattening – a symptom rendering them socially isolated with a lack of emotions – meaning schizophrenic patients who have developed paranoid beliefs are not in the presence of others who can disconfirm their ideas, leading to a spiralling self-fulfilling prophecy.

charnley_self_portrait_series_10

The double-bind hypothesis suggests that schizophrenic symptoms result from a pattern of contradictory, hostile and blameful treatment from family members. For instance, families with high expressed emotion (EE) tend to place blame on the sufferer for their circumstances, and express this through shouting rather than talking through. Prior to these findings, it was advised that schizophrenic patients should go home to their families from their institution, however it has now been established that the median relapse rate in a high-EE environment is 48% compared to 21% in a low-EE environment, and that interventions to control EE in families is a more effective approach to improving symptoms. This assumption is associated with the diathesis-stress hypothesis, which intends to merge biological and psychological approaches. For instance, an individual who is genetically liable to schizophrenia may not develop symptoms of psychosis until they encounter certain life stressors that can transpire during early development, in dysfunctional family relationships or in adolescence.

The above approaches are similar in their use of empirical methods, problems with defining cause and effect and investigation into family influences. They also coincide in their discussion of the influence of dopamine, which in turn affects cognitions and the attribution of symptoms to external factors. However, they differ in that the biological approach looks at inherent traits such as genetics and biochemical composition and uses pharmacological treatments, whereas the psychological approach focuses on upbringing and cognitive processes, and family therapeutic or cognitive behavioural treatments. Overall, they work in harmony within the diathesis-stress approach, which claims a genetic predisposition to schizophrenia will only result in symptoms when activated by life stressors.

If you would like to know more about schizophrenia and learn about treatments available, there are many websites to refer to and helplines and services to contact. I have listed some below:

http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/schizophrenia/

http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Schizophrenia/Pages/Treatment.aspx

http://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help-you

http://www.healthtalk.org/files/upload/Mental%20Wellbeing%20Resources.pdf

https://www.rethink.org/diagnosis-treatment/conditions/schizophrenia

http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/category/blog/schizophrenia

http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/

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The Pursuit of Mindfulness

“It is not the man who has little, but the man who craves more, that is poor” – Seneca

Integrated into our everyday lives are ideas of how we can6a00e554eecbdf88330120a7ad5e67970b-500wiachieve happiness – buy the next best car, gain a huge promotion, find your ideal partner… We are rarely made to feel content in our own skin and current state. Sadly, we have become accustomed to this; we see it everywhere and many of us recognise how such messages, particularly those in the media, buy into our feelings of dissatisfaction and insecurity. Living in such an environment, how can we ever believe enough is enough? 

Psychologists Brickman and Campbell first coined the term ‘hedonic adaptation’ in 1971. They suggest each person has a ‘set point’ of happiness18nat_married which remains constant until we experience sudden highs or downfalls. For instance, when receiving an exam grade, one might initially feel intense happiness or disappointment that will eventually return to that set point. The same goes in the context of a romantic relationship: we fall in love ecstatically, and over time reach a state of equilibrium that makes us think, “is this it?” – a thought which characterises many break-ups.

demandeuphoria_6642Positive Psychology research has looked into the idea of a ‘hedonic treadmill’ – a permanent cycle of desire fuelled by dissatisfaction. Particularly in an environment where things like money and success are highly valued, once you’re on that treadmill, you don’t want to simply feel content. You want all your hard work to pay off with feelings of ecstasy and triumph; you sacrifice the present moment in the hope that it will bring you greater satisfaction in the future. In this way, many people obtain motivation as it serves a path for ambitions. However, it can lead to anxious or depressive states in cases where people devote themselves to unattainable goals or feel a lack of appreciation for what is already within their reach.

To help combat this negative cycle, a great body of recent research points to the value of mindfulness – focusing awareness on the present moment and all its encompassing sensations. In doing so, we can free ourselves from our attachment to the past and the future and find satisfaction in the present. Mindfulness has been found to significantly improve symptoms of mental disorders like anxiety, depression and ADHD. There are some excellent blog articles that write more in depth on mindfulness techniques, such as here, here and here.

On the other hand, research has shown that our happiness levels are not always determined by the environment we are in; they are 50% heritable in our genes. In addition to this, it is found that not everyone is hedonically neutral – we all have differing set points meaning we feel pleasure differently. For example, people with depression can experience anhedonia – a total inability to feel pleasure. Some research suggests that hedonic set points can be raised using new antidepressant compounds that are currently being investigated.

Psychological research has thrown light on how our desires can lead to dissatisfaction, and provides interventions that can be used to reframe negative mind-sets. If you have any experience with subjects I have mentioned or have any ideas or questions, please comment or send me a message.

 

Works Cited

Brickman, P., & Campbell, D. T. (1971). Hedonic relativism and planning the good society. Adaptation-level theory, 287-305.

Eysenck, H. J., & Eysenck, M. W. (1994). Happiness: Facts and myths. Psychology Press.