Monday, November 23, 2015

Cleaning Out Our Closets Cleans Out Our Souls

What is it with cleaning out our closets?

At the beginning of every season, I do it. But I dread it. At first I feel so great, weeding out all the size 14s – and size 8s – so that I can finally see into the very back of my very tiny closet. I pack them in shopping bags and take them to a charitable donation spot but carrying them in, something else sweeps over me.

I leave, feeling hollow.

Granted, getting rid of baby clothes is very hard. Who doesn't remember when that little head fit inside that bunny hood, instead of headphones now?

But it's not just that. I see slices of my life peeling away, ones that will never come back. His favorite striped shirt I had to cut a hole in so he could fit his head through it in preschool. (My husband's family is known for their big heads.) The shoes he wore when he first started walking (thankfully, I knew enough to grab them back from the garbage when we bought him new sneakers.) And his ghost Halloween costumes. I'll never forget those soulful little eyes peeking out of the white sheets!

I did keep the baptism gown, the fuzzy yellow chick pajamas and the blanket I carried him home from the hospital in (they somehow forgot to take it; I wouldn't part with it now for a million bucks.) It does help that he's 5'7” and just barely 100 pounds so he doesn't grow out of his clothes that often. But taking them to the drop-off is still a little hard.

As for me, I'm a shopaholic, ashamed to say I give away clothes with the price tags still on them. I figure someone else can use them, so I don't feel too bad. But my clothes, too, I have feelings for, like the (size 8) slip dress I didn't have to squeeze into, years ago when doctors thought I had kidney cancer (I didn't, but what a way to drop 20 pounds in a week). I did however give away the pant suit I was wearing when I met my husband (ok, so it was the '80s!).

I guess it makes sense to feel sad about the lives we lived, in the clothes we give away. I'm feeling a lot of loss these days as my son is now in high school (how did this happen?!) and liking it. And I have to admit I like this a whole lot better than the days I had to get to Newfield a half-hour early to get a good parking space to pick him up.

A lot has changed since Phillip was a baby and giving away his clothes reminds me. But I also know that a child somewhere needs them. I just hope that mom doesn't feel as sad as me if she goes to give them away, too.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Want to Kill a Friendship? It Just Takes One Word

So what's the one four-letter word nobody likes to hear?  No, it's not that one.

A new study says it's "busy." 

Probably because that implies that the person who is doesn't really have any time for you.  You're just not that important. 

The study claims this word is a friendship killer.  I'm not so sure.  Telling your best friend not to tell anyone that your husband's having an affair and her repeating it anyway.  That's a friendship killer.  The friend the one having the affair with your husband?  Now that's a friendship killer.  Decorating your family room with neckties and your friend copying you?  Maybe not so much.

These days, says, being busy is being alive.  I suppose so.  But as a Type A personality myself, if I have a free minute, I go running.   Or vacuum.  Or play soccer with my son (hate that).  I can't stand to sit still.  (I suppose I'll live longer.  Other studies say if you sit too much, you die earlier.)

Anyway, another reason not to say you're busy is that it leaves things up in the air.  Is she busy because she has to take her mother to the airport?  Or is she busy because she's really sick of seeing you?

Finally, sometimes buy simply means, "not right now."  No reason to get out of whack. 

But I guess the point is that saying you're busy is just too nebulous.  People may not know what you mean, and if they're insecure, like, yes, I admit it, me, they may think you just don't want to have anything to do with them.

It's nicer to be specific, the web site says, and say you're just dusting your dishes right now.  Or your kid's hanging upside down from a tree and maybe you better go have a look.  Set a time frame for when you can get back to her.  And if it truly is because you're avoiding her, well, maybe it's time for a talk.

"As we all know, being busy can be a method by which we disengage from a relationship we no longer want to have," writes Kira Asatryan, a relationship coach. "Kids call it 'ghosting' — distancing yourself from a relationship without ever explaining why. If you’re using 'busy' in this way, it’s worth determining if you need to have that difficult conversation with the person you’re ghosting. While it’s always uncomfortable to 'break up' with a friend, some friendships deserve this attention."

So, if I tell you I'm busy, assume I am -- unless we need that talk.  But knowing me (big mouth), we probably already have.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Can a Raisin Predict Your Child's Academic Future? Experts Say Yes

Raisins.  They're sweet, have a lot of vitamins,  and make breads and cookies taste good.  But did you know they can predict how smart your toddler will perform academically at age eight, according to research conducted at the University of Warwick.

It's not quite as ground-breaking as it sounds.  It's simply a test to see how long a 20-month old child can wait to pick up a raisin in front of them.

 In the study toddlers were given a raisin that was placed under an opaque cup within easy reach. After three training runs toddlers were asked to wait until they were told (60 seconds) they could touch and eat the raisin. During the study it was found that those who were born very prematurely were more likely to take the raisin before the allotted time, according to

In a follow on-study the academics found that those who couldn’t inhibit their behavior as toddlers weren’t performing as well in school as their full-term peers seven years later.

 Around age eight, the same children were evaluated by a team of psychologists and pediatricians using three different behavior ratings of attention from mothers, psychologists and the whole research team. Academic achievement—including mathematics, reading and spelling/writing—was assessed using standardized tests.

The findings concluded that the lower the gestational age, the lower a toddler's inhibitory control—and the more likely those children would have poor attention skills and low academic achievement at eight years old.

So are you going to run out and get raisins for your toddlers?  Probably not.  It's all about delayed gratification and they didn't do any tests with teens.  But we all know how well that works with them!   

Do Self-Help Books Make You Helpless?

Pretty funny.  Did you know that reading self-help books can stress you out?

Really.  Turns out that consumers of self-help books are more sensitive to stress and show higher depressive symptomatology, according to a new study in Montreal.

I think I might know why.  Probably those of us who are drawn to these kinds of publications are already under stress and looking for solutions.  I know when I was an aficionado of these kinds of books, it was only because I was totally stuck in some situation that I couldn't figure how to get out of.

“Initially, we thought we had observed a difference in participants in terms of personality, sense of control, and self-esteem based on their self-help reading habits,” explains Catherine Raymond, first author of the study and a doctoral student at the CSHS of the Institut universitaire en santé mentale de Montréal, at “In reality, there seems to be no difference between those who read and those who do not read these types of books. However, our results show that while consumers of certain types of self-help books secrete higher levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) when confronted with stressful situations, consumers of another type of self-help books show higher depressive symptoms compared to non-consumers,” said the student in neuroscience at the University of Montreal's Faculty of Medicine.

The group of self-help book consumers was itself divided into two types of readers: those who preferred problem-focused books (Why Is It Always About You? or How Can I Forgive You?: The Courage to Forgive, the Freedom Not To) and those who preferred growth-oriented books (You’re Stronger Than You Think or How to Stop Worrying and Start Living). The results showed that consumers of problem-focused self-help books presented greater depressive symptoms and that growth oriented self-help books consumers read increased stress reactivity compared to non-consumers.

 Researchers wondered the same thing I did.  The chicken or the egg?  Stay tuned.  That's another study.

“Nevertheless, it seems that these books do not produce the desired effects. When we observe that the best predictor of purchasing a self-help book is having bought one in the past year, it raises doubts about their effectiveness. Logically, if such books were truly effective, reading just one would be enough to solve our problems," researchers say. For this reason, they encourage people to rather consult books that report scientifically proven facts and are written by researchers or clinicians affiliated with recognized universities, health care facilities, or research centres. “Check your sources to avoid being disappointed. A good popular science book doesn’t replace a mental health professional but it can help readers better understand stress and anxiety and encourage them to seek help."

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Have 300 Likes on Facebook? Watch Out, Could Mean Depression Down the Line

Admit it.  Seeing 50 likes on our Facebook post thrills us(I'm lucky to see five!).

But a new study has found that, for kids, liking something is a lot less stressful than being liked.  Huh?

According to, liking on Facebook is good for teens' stress levels, but not so much being liked.

In fact, teens who have more than 300 Facebook friends have higher levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, researchers say.

As we all know, Facebook can have positive and negative effects on us, and teens' levels of the stress hormone, say researchers at the University of Montreal and the Institut universitaire de santé mentale de Montréal.  Too many likes hikes the levels of cortisol.  But teens who act in ways that support their Facebook friends – for example, by liking what they posted or sending them words of encouragement – decreased their levels of cortisol.

 Makes sense.  I've always found that it makes me feel good to help others feel the same way.  This is a gentle way of helping, it would seem.

"While other important external factors are also responsible, we estimated that the isolated effect of Facebook on cortisol was around eight percent,” Lupien says. "We were able to show that beyond 300 Facebook friends, adolescents showed higher cortisol levels; we can therefore imagine that those who have 1,000 or 2,000 friends on Facebook may be subjected to even greater stress.”

I'll never have to worry about that!  (Keep in mind that having "friends" pretty much simply means clicking on someone's name, or they, on yours, not exactly being willing to rescue you from a burning house).

 But there is a reason to be concerned.  Other studies have shown that high morning cortisol levels at 13 years increases the risk of suffering from depression at 16 years by 37%. While none of the adolescents suffered from depression at the time of the study, Lupien could not conclude that they were free from an increased risk of developing it.

"We did not observe depression in our participants. However, adolescents who present high stress hormone levels do not become depressed immediately; it can occur later on,” Lupien says. “Some studies have shown that it may take 11 years before the onset of severe depression in children who consistently had high cortisol levels.”

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Push Your Kids Academically -- But Not Too Much

We all know them.

The parents who explode if the kid gets a "B."  Maybe we're even them, sometimes.

But a new study has found -- unsurprisingly -- that parents who push their kids too hard inhibit their ability to learn, according to

When parents have high hopes for their children’s academic achievement, the children tend to do better in school, unless those hopes are unrealistic, in which case the children may not perform well in school, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

“Our research revealed both positive and negative aspects of parents’ aspiration for their children’s academic performance. Although parental aspiration can help improve children’s academic performance, excessive parental aspiration can be poisonous,” says lead author Kou Murayama, PhD, of the University of Reading.

When aspirations exceeded expectations, the achievement of the children in the study decreased proportionately, the study found.

Now, I'm guilty of this.  A mediocre student myself, I get mad if my straight-A son gets a "B."  But now I'm listening to this.  (Even though my husband still remembers all the SAT scores of the kids who did better than he, and we're talking a man who will collect Medicare next year.)

“Much of the previous literature conveyed a simple, straightforward message to parents – aim high for your children and they will achieve more,” says Murayama.

In fact, getting parents to have higher hopes for their children has often been a goal of programs designed to improve academic performance in schools. This study suggests that the focus of such educational programs should not be on blindly increasing parental aspiration but on giving parents the information they need to develop realistic expectations.

“Unrealistically high aspiration may hinder academic performance. Simply raising aspiration cannot be an effective solution to improve success in education,” he notes.

So should we stop pushing our kids?  I suppose the answer is yes.  Push, with certain limits, seems the best bet.  But relax about those "B's." Are you listening, Debbie?

Monday, November 16, 2015

Can You Tell Who I Really Am From My Tweets? Experts Say Yes

Do you think you can tell anything about someone by their tweets?

I believe I can.  I have friends who tweet every single thing they do -- what they're eating for dinner, what music they're listening to, even their new running shoes.  (WHO CARES? I often want to tweet back.)  But I know these people are just self-obsessed and desperate for attention.

Then there are those who like to bloviate about what's going on in the world.  Sometimes the opinions are learned (that's when they agree with me), but most of the time it's just people blowing off steam (or hot air).

But now a new study that looked at more than 20 million tweets has uncovered that we tend to tweet more negatively during the week, and more positively on the weekend and that people in urban and rural areas experience situations that are, for the most part, psychologically similar, according to

People frequently tweet about their locations, what they are doing, how they are feeling, or things they find interesting in the present moment. In other words, people tend to Tweet about the situations they experience.  Or, in the case of my obsessed friends, every (boring) detail of their lives.

“Twitter is a digital stream of consciousness of its users," say researchers.  “There are few compilations of data on human thought, behavior, and emotions this vast, making Twitter an excellent medium for understanding human experience.”

You can observe personalities and behaviors that range from embarrassing and narcissistic to generous and sublime, says writer Molly Greene." It’s like eavesdropping on a thousand conversations at once. And it’s easy to pick out personalities from a few simple tweets, because true character shines through."

One expert says we're tweeting out of a lack of identity (of course, he called it "twittering" so I guess that speaks for him!).  But who doesn't enjoy it, most of the time?  I stick to tweeting pieces that I write for my blog, mostly informational, but I have to confess that I do post photos and brags about my teenager on Facebook.

But that's for another time. Now I'll tweet this.