Tag Archives: PBS

Some thoughts on “This Emotional Life”

Caught part II of a 3 part, 6 hour, series on PBS last night. This Emotional Life, moderated by Dr. Dan Gilbert. I recommend you check out, at minimum their website but if you get a chance, tonight your local pbs station may air the 3rd part. The website includes lots of info about the various topics, individuals interviewed, and the whole first episode (which I have yet to watch). The series focuses on love and family relationships and attachment (#1), negative emotions such as anger, fear, and depression (#2), and happiness (#3).

Now, there are a number of irritations I have about the program but the good outweighs the bad. What don’t I like?  I don’t like the way they say, “Science says…” and then do not discriminate between data and interpretation of said data. I don’t like the repetitive evolutionary comments. For example, “the newer part of your brain can’t communicate with the older part” assumes that because we have a cerebral cortex and animals don’t have as well-developed cortexes, that part of our brain is “newer.” Further, the view of humanity in episode 2 seems to be that of the human physical robot. There is no space for the spiritual. One quote from the episode, “Mental illness is nothing less than a physical illness that has psychological consequences.” It is as if emotions are only chemical.

But these small problems can be easily forgiven. Here’s what I like from episode 2:

  • The honest admissions of struggles of celebrities (e.g., Katie Couric’s admission she has intrusive thoughts of jumping off high balconies, Chevy Chase’s admission of depression, etc.)
  • The gripping stories of struggler’s with anger, anxiety, and depression (especially two vet’s struggle with PTSD) and the significant impact of the struggles on the other family members
  • You really get a window into their interactions with their therapists. Lots of good video that is rare to see!
  • The scientific discoveries relating to the brain and the experiences of these negative emotions. For example:
    • Stress hormones seem to strengthen memory formation. Thus traumatic experiences likely etch bad memories much deeper than other memories.
    • Re-appraisal (neutral re-evaluation) of events where you experience negative emotions supports more control of these emotions whereas rumination causes us to be more reactive
    • Prolonged exposure therapy (telling, retelling and retelling again) for PTSD patients seems to have significant positive benefits (though it defies logic–most people want to get away from their bad memories)
    • Depressed individuals tend to have reduced hippocampus volume. Antidepressants and ECT seem not merely to change brain chemistry but actually increase cell growth. Depression actually seems to change the brain and antidepressant use stops hippocampus shrinkage

A couple of other interesting tidbits:

  • Emotion regulation: not trying to turn off emotion but tools to change the course of emotion
  • “Don’t believe everything you think.” But, we tend to nonetheless
  • Struggling with overwhelming anxiety? Accept that you have these feelings (crying, tension, fear), accept that they are physiological experiences, avoid labeling them as awful. You will have scary thoughts and you can live with them
  • “What is the worst thing that could happen right now?” I might cry. “And what if you do?” That would be bad. By accepting these emotions you can distance from the meaning you are applying to them.
  • There are biological indicators in those who are highly reactive to stress. These folks can’t help their reaction but they can recognize their tendencies and respond differently to them.
  • Untreated mental illness is harder to treat if left untreated for long periods of time.
  • Richard Lewis on the benefits of therapy and getting to talk about things he never talked about with anyone: “Maybe for the time I left her (his therapist) office til I got in my car I was floating on air”. Hmm, is that worth the 150 dollars he probably paid?

Finally, I leave you with this. Perceptions of progress, or lack thereof, have a huge impact on your perceptions of happiness. One young girl thought her ECT would help sooner than it did. When it did not, she crashed even worse. Even more than our physiology of emotions, our perceptions of our well-being and our progress often dictate our beliefs about ourselves and our futures.

If you saw it, what did you think?


Filed under anger, Anxiety, counseling, Psychiatric Medications, Psychology

WWII and your perspective on the world

Have watched only bits and pieces of Ken Burns’ documentary but what I’ve seen is moving and makes me want to watch it all at some point. Just a couple things I noticed:

1. The issue of racism. John Hope Franklin’s bit on how he had everything to run a military office, including an Ivy League PhD but couldn’t because he lacked the right color–very interesting character!

2. How much the whole of the US was involved in the war. The ads telling people at home to ration gas so “the boys” will have gas for their airplanes.

3. PTSD. One man tells of a strafing run where his fellow gunner had a jammed gun. So, he could see the damage, destruction, and death he himself was doing to the Germans. His hand “froze” and he had to fly the plane back with his left hand. For years afterward, he would have nightmares of that day and wake up without the use of his hand. Somehow his wife could sense it and offer him his morning coffee to his left hand. I’m sure he never got to talk much about that in public settings. Though he is now in his late 70s, you can see it still is with him. This truly was the greatest generation!

4. Impact on my family. My parents were in their formative years (pre-teen to teen) during the war. I’ve heard stories about rationing, blackouts, and plane spotting against the threat of a German invasion. My mother still makes “hot milk cake.” This was described as an invention of the war to have a good tasting cake without the usual amounts of sugar and butter. Also, my wife pointed out that my mother still cuts both ends out of soup cans and then flattens the can with her foot, just like they did during the war.

5. Heritage and perspective matter. Listen to Miaken Scott’s reflections of being brought up German after the war: http://temple.whyy.org/tv12/thewar_fm_growingup.html

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Filed under Cultural Anthropology