Cognitive Behavioral Strategies

Lynne S. Gots, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist

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Washington, DC 20037

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How to Stick with Meditation

By Lynne Gots, posted on August 7th, 2016.

Eating your vegetables, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, drinking in moderation…all habits we know are good for our health but aren’t always easy to cultivate.

Meditation is another good-for-you practice whose benefits have been touted by neuroscientists and spiritual practitioners alike. But it’s hard to do and even harder to incorporate into a busy life.

Here are some suggestions for making meditation a habit.

1. Start slow.

Many of the mindfulness-based therapy protocols, such as MBSR, call for 45 minutes of daily practice. Transcendental Meditation (TM) requires its adherents to commit to 20 minutes twice a day. Those daunting time demands discourage many people from even getting started.

The good news is that practicing mindfulness meditation for as little as 8 hours can be beneficial, as Dr. Amishi Jha of the University of Miami found in a series of studies with a group of very time-crunched subjects: active-duty military personnel.

I recommend beginning with 5 minutes a day of a formal meditation exercise. If you can manage twice a day, better yet. Add in some informal mindfulness practice each day—such as brushing your teeth, showering, or washing the dishes with your full, focused attention—and you’ll be off to a good start.

2. Be consistent.

Try to practice every day. Knowing you only have to put in five minutes makes it more manageable. You don’t have to meditate at the same time every day but, as with any other habit, you might find it easier to remember to do if it’s part of your daily routine.

3. Let go of expectations.

Mindfulness means observing without judging. Forget about trying to “empty your mind” or achieve a state of calm. Many people give up on meditating because they find it hard not to think. In fact, “not thinking” is an impossible state of mind to achieve. With practice, however, you can learn not to let your thoughts intrude—to have them playing in the background like a TV with the volume turned low and not get caught up in the show.

Because the benefits of meditation—such as increased focus and decreased emotional reactivity—aren’t immediately apparent and take time to build, it’s especially hard to stick with it. But the research provides ample incentive to give it a try. And if you follow my advice, it may, with time, become an important part of your day.

 

 

 

 

 




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Posted in Acceptance and Mindfulness |

Social Media Use Linked to Depression

By Lynne Gots, posted on May 22nd, 2016.

Stuck inside the last couple of days due to the relentless rain and an enforced period of recovery from extensive oral surgery, I’ve whiled away the time on my iPad. I’m finally tired of solving on-line crossword puzzles, researching recipes for soup, binge-watching entire Netflix series, and looking on Facebook at the amazing trips my friends have been taking. Lying around  isn’t my strong suit, and it’s got me feeling a little down (plus, the dreary weather doesn’t help—how can anyone live cheerfully in Seattle?).

So I searched online for ideas I could use in a blog post, and I came upon a recently published study—certainly not the first, but perhaps the largest and most comprehensive—linking social-media use to depression in young adults. The University of Pittsburgh researchers found a correlation between the amount of time spent on a broad range of social media outlets and depression. Among the 1,787 US subjects ages 19 through 32 sampled, participants who checked social media most frequently throughout the week and those who spent the most total time on social media throughout the day had 2.7 times and 1.7 times the rate of depression, respectively.

My first thought, as any well-trained student of research methodology would wonder, was “Is the depression a cause or consequence of social media use?”

The researchers addressed this question. They speculated that “people who already are depressed” may be “turning to social media to fill a void.” But they also pointed out that exposure to social media might cause depression by contributing to envy towards others who appear to be happier and more successful. It also could increase the risk of so-called “Internet addiction” and cypher-bullying, both of which have been linked to depression. And there could be an interactive effect, with people prone to depression withdrawing and spending more time on social media and then feeling more depressed as a result.

One more possibility particularly hit home for me. Engaging in essentially meaningless activities on social media (and on the Internet, in general) can negatively affect mood by creating a sense of “time wasted.”

Four days of doing nothing have made me feel like a sloth. I’d hoped–unrealistically, l now realize–to clean out closets, plant my garden, and read two professional books I haven’t had time to crack open. Alas, the weather and my physical condition haven’t cooperated.

So I’m writing a blog post. Makes me feel less sluggish and a tad more productive. And tomorrow, if it ever stops raining, I think I’ll feel up to making a trip to the garden center. Anything to get me away from my electronic devices.

 

 

 

 

 




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Posted in Depression |

Why You Shouldn’t Look to the Internet to Answer Your Questions about Distressing Thoughts

By Lynne Gots, posted on April 17th, 2016.

 

If you struggle with OCD, you’ve probably searched online for answers to the questions that consume you. Finding virtual communities of like-minded sufferers can make you feel less isolated, especially if your worries involve the very common but shameful-to-admit obsessions such as doubts about sexuality and thoughts about violence. But extensive researching and comparing yourself to others with similar symptoms—even if your efforts seem to give you some relief—can make your OCD much worse in the long run.

Here’s why the Internet can be problematic for someone with OCD:

1) Much of the information you’ll find is wrong.

This is hardly groundbreaking news, but I can’t emphasize it too much. One of my patients recently told me about a blog (which I won’t name) written by someone with OCD. Even under my careful professional scrutiny, it looked pretty helpful at first glance. There were some informative discussions about the symptoms of OCD and the importance of seeking treatment from an experienced cognitive-behavioral therapist.

But then I scrolled to a post the author had clearly meant to be reassuring (if you’ve been under my tutelage for any time at all, you’ll know where I’m going with this) but was completely off base in its message.

She had done an “informal survey” of 4 of her friends, two identified as gay and two as straight but with the type of OCD causing them to wonder if they really might be gay. She proceeded to list the differences she found between them: how certain they were about their attraction to individuals of the same/opposite sex, when they first “knew” (in the case of the two gay respondents), whether they sometimes found individuals of the same/opposite sex attractive in the absence of sexual feelings towards them, and so on. And then she went on to draw some conclusions clearly designed to be comforting to people with OCD doubting their sexual identity.

2) Advice, however well intended, can reinforce compulsions.

Aside from the obviously unscientific nature of her “study” (a comically small and biased sample, for starters), her attempt to ease the suffering of OCD doubters was misguided. It provided some with relief and had exactly the opposite effect for others, as evidenced by the varied responses to the post. Many even questioned whether they actually had OCD because they weren’t exactly like the people she described.

That’s what OCD does! It makes you wonder and doubt, dragging you down the rabbit hole of uncertainty. And the well-meaning blogger (who claims to be “cured” of her own OCD) unwittingly served as its accomplice by encouraging others to seek reassurance with “facts” and comparisons—thereby perpetuating the “checking compulsions” her followers had certainly already been relying on to make themselves feel less anxious.

So if you’re struggling with distressing thoughts and find yourself tempted to Google for answers, I recommend you consult one site and one site only (or none at all, if you won’t be able to keep yourself from looking further): the International OCD Foundation (iocdf.org). You’ll find credible information and a referral database of reputable professionals skilled in treating OCD.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




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Posted in Anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder |

This blog is intended solely for the purpose of entertainment and education. All remarks are meant as general information and should not be taken as personal diagnostic or therapeutic advice. If you choose to comment on a post, please do not include any information that could identify you as a patient or potential patient. Also, please refrain from making any testimonials about me or my practice, as my professional code of ethics does not permit me to publish such statements. Comments that I deem inappropriate for this forum will not be published.

Contact Dr. Gots

202-331-1566

2440 M Street, NW
Suite 710
Washington, DC 20037

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If you don't receive a response to an email from Dr. Gots in 48 hours, please call the office and leave a voicemail message.

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