Thursday, 28 April 2016

Psychological Themes From Harry Potter

Having resisted for many years (or rather just never having got around to it) this month I finally finished reading J.K Rowling's Harry Potter series. I was hugely impressed not just by her writing style, the depth of characters and the fantastic storylines which made for a hugely enjoyable read. But what surprised me most for what is essentially a children's book series, and what probably kept me most interested, was the number of psychological elements to the story, many of which were quite 'dark' in nature.

In no particular order then are a brief list of the key psychological themes I picked up upon:

1. Depression. The 'dementor' creatures personifying depression and sucking all joy from those they possess. Chocolate helps after a brush with the dementors!

2. Loss, coping with death. Harry lost his parents aged one following a magical double murder. He spends the books coming to terms with this loss but also suffers the loss of various loved ones throughout the series. There are hard times for Harry but one of the best things about the character is his ability to carry on and not be sucked down by it all, compared to other book characters who react in different ways.

3. Bullying. Another core theme. Draco Malfoy and his cronies are the school bullies, while in the adult wizarding world Lord Voldemort rules by being a hideous bully to those around him, actually bullying Draco's own father into supporting him. Professor Snape was a teacher who tormented Harry for years, although he did have another agenda.

4. The importance of friends. No matter what happens to Harry he always has his two best friends, Ron and Hermione, to fall back on who share in his troubles and help him any way they can. Without family as such, where would Harry have been without his support network of friends?

5. The Power of Love. Dumbledore said it was Harry's main advantage over Lord Voldemort, that he could experience and understand it while Voldemort could not. Professor Snape's entire life was altered by his love for Lily Potter, while Lily's love for her infant son protect him from the killing curse. I think the books were as much about love as they were death and loss in the end.    

6. Psychopath. Lord Voldemort is a powerful dark wizard who is essentially a psychopath. He does not care for the emotions of others and does not bat an eyelid before casting his killing curse. He craves power and control and will stop at nothing to get it. But as Dumbledore said, his inability to experience what others feel ended up being his weakness, as he was unable to kill Harry via the protection of his mother.


Saturday, 23 April 2016

How to Get That Annoying Song Out of Your Head!

We've all been there. Through no fault of our own a song has somehow etched its way inside our heads, repeating itself over and over again as if to torment and it seems it will not go away no matter what we do. Psychology Today offers the following 5 step help to recovery (click the link for the full article). What other methods are there?

  1. Identify the song playing in your head.
  2. Search the Internet and find a complete version of the song.
  3. Play it and listen to it. Spend that three minutes focused on it. Don’t do something else while it plays and limit yourself to half your attention; you might doom yourself to making it your permanent lifetime mental soundtrack.
  4. After the song is finished, immediately engage in a cognitively-engrossing activity. The researchers used Sudoko on their participants, but you could also try crossword puzzles, word games, or some other activity that absorbs your attention and forces your brain to sweat a little bit. Avoid doing something that lets your mind wander! (If you are driving, assuming you stopped the car to search the Internet and self-administer the whole song, find something to do mentally while you drive. Doing mileage calculations in your head is useful—figure out how long it will take you to reach your destination, going at different speeds. This will fill up some of that cognitive capacity that could otherwise wander back to the song.)
  5. Finally, try my strategy of then replacing that earworm with other, favorite, well-known songs (although this might be an individualistic strategy).

Thursday, 7 April 2016

How to Avoid Bad Dreams

Nightmares can be stressful in themselves not to mention a severe disruption upon much needed quality sleep time. This article by the Huffington Post reveals some methods to help minimise their impact. Click the link for the whole article. 

Minimizing Nightmares and Brushing Off Bad Dreams

Controlling nightmares remains largely uncharted territory, though there are few different schools of thought when it comes to managing bad dreams. For many people nightmares aren’t really a major nuisance, but if they do wake you up more than you’d like or you have trouble settling down afterwards, here are couple of potential ways to go about preventing them or reducing their severity.

Practice Good Sleep Hygiene
It’s not always possible to completely prevent bad dreams, but setting the stage for good sleep can help ensure you snooze more soundly and feel better-rested. Sleep hygiene involves ensuring both your habits and sleep environment are ideal for quality rest.

Your sleep space can have some bearing on your resting state. Ideally, bedrooms should be cool, dark and quiet. Temperatures in the 60s to low 70s are considered best. Remove or turn off light sources like TVs, VCRs, and alarm clocks, and consider light blocking shades if you live in an urban area or sleep past sunrise. White noise machines or earplugs can be helpful for drowning out bothersome noise.

In terms of habits, keeping a regular bedtime and waketime throughout the week is a key part of supporting your internal clock, as is daily moderate exercise, daily sunlight exposure and a regular evening relaxation routine.

Caffeine, alcohol and nicotine can all affect sleep in different ways, and are best avoided the hours before bedtime. Keeping bedtime snacks light and avoiding spicy foods or those that cause indigestion is also recommended.

Talk or Write It Out

Some psychologists believe talking about dreams and getting social support to put them in perspective is key to reducing anxiety following nightmares. This might take the form of talking out dreams with a therapist, discussing them with a partner or in a group setting, or via independent journaling.

If you wake up shaken from a nightmare and can’t get back to sleep right away, it could be helpful to get out of bed and write the dream down, and even change its course.

Image Rehearsal Therapy is a type of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy that involves recalling the nightmare and then writing out a new, more positive version and rehearsing this new scenario daily to displace the original nightmare theme. IRT is a well-researched type of therapy, and is a treatment recommended by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine for chronic idiopathic nightmares and PTSD-related nightmares.

Deal with Daytime Stressors
Other approaches can focus on routines or working on areas of your life that could be contributing to stress or fear. The American Psychological Association’s 2013 Stress in America poll found that stress was associated with poorer sleep, and that poorer sleep was also associated with higher stress

When you’ve had a tough day, take a few minutes to de-stress before bed. Try a warm bath, relaxing music, yoga or other techniques to see what helps you most.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation is another method recommended by AASM for nightmares. It involves gradually tensing and relaxing different groups of muscles all over the body to reduce stress and tension. It can be done in a clinical setting, or at home via a guided audio track.

Avoid watching or reading things comprised of common nightmare fodder close to bed. That scary movie, suspenseful book or unsettling news broadcast could wind up in your midnight playlist.

Better choices for winding down if you are looking for more peaceful sleep are lighthearted shows, calming music, coloring/sketching, or neutral reading on subjects like self-improvement or hobbies. Remember, electronics like TVs and tablets steal sleep, so it’s best to turn them off at least 30 minutes before bed.

Play Some Video Games
One study of former American and Canadian male soldiers without PTSD found that those who played video games often had less threatening dreams and were less passive in their dreams. Researchers speculate that process of desensitization, fighting and winning associated with video gaming may carry over to the dream world.

However, a follow up study found that these protections may not extend to women. Researchers looked at a group of college students that previously experienced trauma and related dreams.

While male high-level gamers who had experienced trauma were less affected by nightmares, female high-level gamers actually had the most difficulty with nightmares. They speculate that the genres of games, whether they are played socially, and whether the player experiences sex-role conflict also factor into gaming’s ability to provide nightmare protection.

Get Help If Needed

Sometimes, nightmares can become more than just occasional disruptions, becoming a significant source of sleep anxiety. Nightmare disorder is a clinically recognized sleep disorder, classified by frequent and persistent nightmares that regularly disrupt sleep, cause bedtime anxiety and affect daytime behavior. They can also be a symptom of PTSD, which can have a dramatic effect on quality of life.

If you feel like nightmares are making it difficult to get a good night’s sleep often or feel anxiety around falling asleep due to bad dreams, it is worthwhile to discuss it with your doctor and/or a psychologist. They can assess if there are underlying conditions to resolve and prescribe the right treatments and medications when applicable.

Most importantly, don’t feel embarrassed to bring the issue up — nightmares aren’t childish. They can have a significant impact on your waking life, and social support along with healthy lifestyle habits can play an important role in minimizing their impact.

This article originally appeared on the Amerisleep blog.