Wednesday, November 30, 2011

SECRETS OF MEMORY: Part V Implanted false memories and narcoanalysis

Memory implantation refers to an individual creating a false memory in the mind of another person by means of suggestions or questions containing suggestions about the imagined event.  Repeated suggestions make the individual believe that what is suggested is true.

Suggestion and hypnosis
Suggestion is the psychological process by which one person guides the thoughts, feelings, or behaviour of another. Nineteenth century psychologists such as William James used the words "suggest" and "suggestion" in senses close to those they have in common speech. Early scientific studies of hypnosis by Clark Leonard Hull and others extended the meaning of these words in a special and technical sense.
Modern scientific study of hypnosis separates two essential factors: trance and suggestion. The state of mind induced by the process of hypnotic induction—essentially instructing and suggesting to the subject that they will enter a state of sleep—is called hypnosis. Once a subject enters hypnosis, the hypnotist gives suggestions that can produce the effects sought for 
Waking suggestion
Suggestions, however, can also have an effect in the absence of hypnosis. These so-called "waking suggestions" are given in precisely the same way as suggestions given within hypnosis and can produce strong changes in perceptual experience. Experiments on suggestion, in the absence of hypnosis, were conducted by researchers such as Nicholas Spanos and Irving Kirsch. They found that waking suggestions are as effective as hypnotic suggestion in some individuals. Without knowing the psychological basis of the effect of suggestion Adolf Hitler's Propaganda Minister in Nazi Germany Dr. Paul Joseph Goebbels used the technique of “waking suggestion”. The infamous words if you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth” is attributed to him.
Memory implantation in criminal investigation
Memory implantations in eyewitnesses to a crime are a possibility, particularly for young eyewitnesses. Because of their suggestibility, children are the most vulnerable to memory implantation when they are eyewitnesses to a crime. Laboratory researches have established that pre-school aged  children are more vulnerable to suggestion as compared with older children.
Is it also possible to implant false memories in the mind of a suspect in a crime? If suspect is confused, tired, and fearful he/she is vulnerable for implantation of false memories. Once the person is identified as a suspect, the next step of interrogation is undertaken with the purpose of obtaining a confession. The methods used can be highly confrontational and accusatory. Repeated suggestions that the suspect committed the crime are a routine part of the interrogation procedure. It is not uncommon for the interrogator to claim he or she has evidence of the suspect’s involvement in the crirme and knowledge of the suspect’s past. It is theoretically possible that an innocent suspect may not only make a false confession, but also come to believe or internalize his or her guilt in committing the crime. Psychologists Saul M. Kassin and Gisli H. Gudjonsson have brought out examples of such internalized false confessions. 

Memory implantation before narcoanalysis test
Narcoanalysis Test refers to the practice of administering barbiturates or certain other chemical substances, most often Pentothal Sodium, to lower a subject's inhibitions, in the hope that the subject will more freely share information and feelings. A person is able to lie by using his imagination. In the narcoanalysis test, the subject's inhibitions are lowered by interfering with his nervous system at the molecular level. In this state, it becomes difficult though not impossible for him to tell lies. In such sleep-like state efforts are made to obtain "probative truth" about the crime. Experts inject a subject with hypnotics like Sodium Pentothal or Sodium Amytal under the controlled circumstances of the laboratory. The dose is dependent on the person's sex, age, health and physical condition. The subject who is put in a state of Hypnotism is not in a position to speak up on his own but can answer specific but simple questions after giving some suggestions. The subject is not in a position to speak up on his own but can answer specific but simple questions. The answers are believed to be spontaneous as a semi-conscious person is unable to manipulate the answers. The implantation of false memory actually occurs during the interrogation before the actual procedure of the narcoanalysis test.

No narcoanalysis without consent
The Supreme Court of India in May 2010 declared the use of narcoanalysis test without the consent of the individual illegal.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

SECRETS OF MEMORY: Part IV The myth of recovered memory

Story of an innocent victim of “recovered memory” 
Eileen Franklin’s “recovered memory” sent her innocent father to prison wherein he languished for five long years before getting acquittal.
Eileen Franklin, a twenty-nine-year-old woman was cuddling her two-year-old son in her arms. Her daughter and two playmates sat on the carpeted floor at her feet, and as Eileen looked into her daughter's eyes a vivid scene that flashed into her mind. Eileen saw her best friend, eight-year-old Susan Nason, sitting on a rock in a wooded setting. Behind her there was a man holding a heavy rock above his head. Susan lifted her hands to protect herself as the man moved toward her. The rock crushed Susan's skull, and Eileen covered her ears against the sound of bones shattering.
In that burning flash of memory, Eileen believed she had made contact with the forgotten past. A memory she had buried for two decades, almost two thirds of her life, had returned without warning or premonition to reveal the shocking truth: She had witnessed her best friend's murder. But the flashback disclosed another shocking fact: The man who murdered Susan Nason was George Franklin, her own father!
For months, Eileen tried to avoid the memory, but it kept returning and gaining detail and precision. In November 1989, ten months after her memory first returned, Eileen decided to tell her husband, who insisted that they call the police.
On November 25, 1989, Eileen Franklin sat down in her living room with detectives Morse and Cassandro to relate the astonishing details of a playful outing that ended in rape and murder. After she finished telling her story, the detectives questioned her closely, and she answered with more astonishing details. The detectives left Eileen Franklin's house convinced that she was telling the truth. On November 28, 1989, George Franklin was placed under arrest for the murder of Susan Nason. The only evidence against him was his daughter's memory.
A psychiatrist testified that Eileen had recovered a repressed memory of the murder. The trauma of the murder had caused Eileen to repress the memory throughout her childhood, according to the testimony in the trial.
Elizabeth F. Loftus, a psychologist and expert on human memory was the witness for defense. She pointed out that there were many additions and subtractions in Eileen's account of the murder which confirmed the falsification of memory. Over time, memory changes, and the more time that passes, the more changes and distortions one can expect. As new events intervene, the mind incorporates the additional facts and details, and the original memory gradually changes.

Role of hypnotherapist
What actually triggered the flashbacks? In August 1989, Eileen confided in her brother that she was in therapy and had been hypnotized. The next day, she told her brother that while she was under hypnosis she had visualized her father killing Susan Nason. In September 1989, Eileen told her mother about the memory that it had come back to her during a hypnotherapy session.
The prosecutors argued that this elaborate "memory" was an accurate version of the past, and they invoked the mechanism of “repression” to explain why Eileen forgot about her part in the murder and then twenty years later recalled exactly what happened. Changes and inconsistencies in Eileen's story should not be construed as evidence that the memory itself was flawed, they reasoned, but taken as simple proof that this was an old but reliable memory which needed a few corrections.
On November 30, 1990, the jury reached a verdict: George Franklin was guilty of the crime of first-degree murder!
In her book, Sins of the Father, Eileen describes her childhood as extremely violent. "My father's beatings and the mean way in which he spoke to us were terrifying," Eileen wrote. She remembered that her younger brother George, Jr., told her that he feared their father so much; he kept a baseball bat under his bed for protection. Her mother endured both physical and emotional abuse, and her sister Janice claimed that she was repeatedly sexually abused by their father. 
As Eileen discussed her emerging memories with her therapist, he explained that the human mind is, indeed, capable of burying a painful or traumatic event in the unconscious. When the time is right, the memory will surface; as the memory emerges into consciousness, it will gradually lose its power to hurt. The ability to bring back to consciousness long-buried memories, Eileen learned in therapy, is a crucial step in healing and recovery.
Eileen “recovered” a memory of an event that occurred when she was eight or nine years old. She was in a strange house with her father and another man. "I was on something like a table. My father was holding down my left shoulder with one hand, his other hand over my mouth. I saw the face of a black man. I heard laughing. I felt a horrible, searing pain in my lower body, I tried to scream but couldn't because of my father's hand."
For six months, Eileen believed she had been raped by an unknown black man. Only when her mother suggested to her that the rapist might have been a family friend did Eileen's mind begin to reconstruct the scene, changing the assailant from a black man she did not know to a white man she knew very well.
Her therapist's oft-repeated words echoed in her mind: Only when she accepted her emotions as real and valid would she be free, finally, to express herself, to let go of her childhood hurts, to become her true self.
Therapists working with individuals who experience recovered memories typically have attributed these individuals’ forgetting to repression. Repression generally refers to an inhibitory process of excluding events from retrieval. According to classical Freudian theory, repression is a defense mechanism that protects the ego from anxiety by preventing unpleasant memories from entering consciousness. One can readily see why a person would be motivated to repress traumatic experiences and exclude them from consciousness t avoid the anxiety that traumatic memories provoke.

Recovered memories are false memories
Another possibility suggested by memory researchers—and by Freud himself—is that supposedly lost and then recovered memories of sexual and other abuse are false memories.  
The theory of unconsciously repressing the memory of traumatic experiences is controversial. There is little scientific evidence to support either the notion that traumatic experiences are typically unconsciously repressed or that unconscious memories of traumatic events are significant causal factors in physical or mental illness. Most people do not forget traumatic experiences unless they are rendered unconscious at the time of the experience. No one has identified a single case where a specific traumatic experience in childhood was repressed and the repressed memory of the event, rather than the event itself, caused a specific psychiatric or physical disorder in adulthood. 
George Franklin acquitted
He served five years behind the bars before his conviction was reviewed by an appeals court and overturned on the grounds that Eileen’s recollections were probably false memories.

Monday, November 28, 2011

SECRETS OF MEMORY: Part III Loss of memory

Loss of memory is due to brain insult, injury, or disease. Loss of memory is called amnesia. Whenever one hears about memory loss the first thing comes to one’s mind is Alzheimer’s disease. It is a kind of dementia, not amnesia. Let us deal with dementia first.

Difference between amnesia and dementia
Dementia refers to a disease process marked by progressive impairment of all the mental domains like language, behaviour, learning, reasoning, memory and executive functioning differentiating it from simple amnesic disorder, which only involves impairment in memory. The word dementia derives from the Latin word dementatus meaning out of one’s mind. Dementia points to a decline from a previous level of functioning. It starts from forgetfulness and inability to remember names of common objects. For example if you show a pen to a person with onset of dementia he would grasp the object from you, examine it and describe that the object as a writing instrument. He may not remember the name of the object. The condition gradually progress and the individual forgets everything including his own past. The individual comes to a vegetating state of life. Dementia does not refer to low intellectual functioning or mental retardation, which are developmental and static conditions.

Anterograde and retrograde amnesia
Amnesia is of two types, viz. anterograde and retrograde. Anterograde amnesia refers to difficulty in remembering events that occur after the onset of amnesia. It appears to reflect a disruption in the transfer of events to long-term memory during leaning. Retrograde amnesia, on the other hand, is forgetting events that preceded the trauma and reflects forgetting from the long-term memory storage. In dementia retrograde amnesia gradually progresses along with the anterograde amnesia. In cases of brain injuries and strokes the memory loss is anterograde. In such cases there would be no retrograde amnesia.

The case of H.M.
In a famous case, a patient known by his initials “H.M.”, suffered from untreatable epilepsy.  He finally found relief from violent seizures following the bilateral surgical removal of the front portions of the inner aspect of the temporal lobes of his brain. Although the operation was a success in treating the epilepsy, H.M suffered severe anterograde amnesia as a consequence. He could no longer recognize the hospital staff, apart from Dr. Scoville himself, whom he had known for many years. He did not remember and could not relearn the way to the bathroom, and he seemed to retain nothing of the day-to-day happenings in the hospital. A year later, H.M. had not yet learned the new address, nor could he be trusted to find his home. He is unable learn where objects are usually kept. But he retained all of his past memories prior to the operation. From the H.M.’s case the researchers arrived at a conclusion the part of the brain known as hippocampus plays an important role in consolidating memory and transferring them to the long-term memory storage. The word hippocampus means sea horse. (See the pictures)
To read more about HM
Lost memories of infancy
What can you remember about your life when you were a baby? Although long-term memory storage can retain information for decades, our earliest experiences in life are virtually always forgotten. The inability to recall events from the first two or three years of life is called infantile amnesia. The reasons for such amnesia are till unclear. One view is that the events of infancy are permanently stored but irretrievable. An alternative view is that these events were never encoded and stored adequately in the firs place because brain has not developed to that extent. Sigmund Freud who originated psychoanalysis championed the first view. 

Trauma-induced amnesia
According to the psychological consultant John Yuille the impact of trauma on memory may well be complex, affecting different individuals in different ways. In some extreme cases, there may be a dissociation of consciousness, producing “trauma-induced amnesia”. This could cause the individual to experience the trauma as if it were happening to someone else or to travel mentally to different place and time to psychologically avoid the trauma altogether. Dissociation may also affect the storage and retrieval phase by causing amnesia for events that were at one time remembered. Trauma-induced amnesia is rare.

Post-hypnotic Amnesia
Upon termination of hypnosis, some subjects find themselves unable to remember the events and experiences which transpired while they hypnotized. This post-hypnotic amnesia does not occur unless it has been specially suggested to the subject while in hypnosis. Upon administration of a prearranged cue the subject remembers everything happened during hypnosis. Reversibility marks post-hypnotic amnesia as a disruption of memory retrieval, as opposed to encoding or storage which occurs in cases of brain insult, injury or disease. 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

SECRETS OF MEMORY: Part II Seven Sins of Memory

Memory fails us in multiple ways. Daniel Schacter, former chair of Harvard University's Psychology Department and a leading memory researcher described seven common malfunctions of the mental faculty of memory. He called these malfunctions “Seven Sins of Memory”. He wrote a book: The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers. The book tries to establish that "the seven sins of memory" are similar to the biblical concept of Seven Deadly Sins. 

Schacter asserts: "Memory's malfunctions can be divided into seven fundamental transgressions. These are transience, absent-mindedness, blocking, misattribution, suggestibility, bias, and persistence. The first three are described as sins of omission. These omissions result is a failure to recall an idea, fact, or event. The other four sins (misattribution, suggestibility, bias, and persistence) are sins of commission. After committing these mistakes while encoding and storing an information, event or a fact there is a form of memory present. But it is not of the desired fidelity or the desired fact, event, or ideas. It is a falsified memory. Let us look at each one of these omissions and commissions.

Transience refers to the general deterioration of a specific memory over time. As time passes memory of an event or information fades and ultimately it would be lost irretrievably. In this case the information fails to be transferred into long-term memory store. Repetition or rehearsal is the way to avoid loss of memory by transience.  

Absent-mindedness is a mental condition in which the subject experiences low levels of attention and frequent distraction. The breakdowns in attention prevent encoding the event in short-term memory in the first place. It may occur in normal persons due to inattention or distraction while hearing or doing something. But there is an abnormal condition called Attention Deficit Disorder [ADD]. Usually this condition is associated with incessant hyperactivity or hyper kinesis. Then the condition is called Attention Deficit Hyperkinetic Disorder [ADHD]. Until recently the notion among psychiatrists was ADHD occurs in children only. But there are adult cases also. Persons under stress cannot pay attention to a particular information or event.

Blocking is when the brain tries to retrieve or encode information, but another memory interferes with it. Blocking is a primary cause of “on the tip of the tongue” phenomenon (a temporary inaccessibility of information stored in long-term memory).

Transience, absent-mindedness and blocking are all sins of omission, malfunctions that result in a loss of memory for information that we would like to remember. There are also sins of commission, in which we remember incorrect information or correct information that we would very much like to forget.   

Misattribution of the source of a memory can cause a person to confuse an event that he or she saw in a movie or even dreamed with an event actually experienced. For example, a person who witnesses a murder after watching a television program may incorrectly blame the murder on someone she saw on the television program. This kind of error has profound consequences in legal systems because of its unacknowledged prevalence and the confidence which is often placed in the person's ability to know the source of information important to suspect identification.

Suggestibility refers to our tendency to become confused in our recollections because of comments made by others or reports in the media about what really happened. For example, a person sees a crime being committed by a redheaded man. After reading in the newspaper that the crime was committed by a brown-haired man, the witness "remembers" a brown-haired man instead of a redheaded man. Eyewitness testimony about a crime can be incorrect because of misattribution and suggestibility, causing miscarriages of justice in our legal system.

Bias refers to the way in which our current beliefs affect our reconstruction of the past. Retrieval from the long term is biased by the way we think and feel now about the event being remembered. Thus, a contented adult might look back with fondness on their childhood, induced to do so by positive memories from that time which might not actually be representative of their average mood during their childhood.

Persistence is not a distortion of memory, but rather an unwelcome imposition of the past in full detail. Repeated retrieval of painful memories that we would much prefer to forget is another sin of commission that we are all familiar with. The remembrance can range from a blunder on the job to a truly traumatic experience, and the persistent recall can lead to formation of phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder, and even suicide in especially disturbing and intrusive instances.

SECRETS OF MEMORY: Part I Three-store model of memory

Some people often complain that they have memory lapses. Some think even of memory loss! When tested their immediate, recent and remote memories prove normal. The best way to avoid anxiety about memory loss is learning the secrets of the cognitive processes involved in the mental faculty of memory.

Our immediate and distant past defines who we are, what we believe, what we can do, and what we feel. Just imagine what the life would be like if one loses all memory. Try to imagine what would be your situation if you have no recollection of where you were born, where you grew up, what you did in school, where you work, whom you live with, what you look like and even what you thought or did just moments ago. The loss of hearing, vision and other sensory modalities would be tragic indeed, but one would still possess a sense of identity so long as memory remained intact. The loss of memory would steal one’s very life and individuality.

How is it possible to remember what you were thinking five seconds ago, where you lived five years back or what you were doing five days ago? Intense interest in memory is not at all mysterious. The lives of individuals have meaning only because of memory.

The researches have revealed the complexities and secrets of our commonplace mental faculty known as memory. There has been evolved a three-store model of memory. (See the figure)

The first level of a hierarchical system of memory comprises three storage systems viz. sensory memory, short-term memory, and long-term memory. Each of these memory stores includes subcomponents which would be dealt with later.

Sensory memory refers to the brief persistence of the stimuli following sensation. When you see a flower its visual sensation will remain as such for a brief time. This is sensory memory. Its function is to permit stimulus to be perceived, recognized and entered into short-term memory. Without sensory memory, events in the environment would be forgotten as soon as they are registered in the nervous system. Thousands of sensations are experienced every  moment by the individual, but all sensory memories are not permitted to be perceived, recognized  and entered into short-term memory store.

All of us have experienced looking up a new telephone number in the directory and then repeating it silently until we reach for the telephone and dial the number successfully. Without silent repetition the new telephone number is easily lost if we wait too long to dial or are interrupted before dialing the number. The new phone number is available only temporarily in the short-term memory store. This experience with new telephone number is entirely different from that of the recall of our own telephone number. Unlike the fragile short-term memory of the new number our own number seems locked permanently in a long-term store of memory from which it can be retrieved with ease at any time.

Memory involves three basic processes viz. encoding, storage and retrieval. Encoding of memory concerns perceiving, recognizing and further processing of an object or event so that it can be remembered later. It is entirely possible that an event is forgotten because it was not well-encoded in the first place. Encoding must be followed by the successful storage of the event in long-term memory. An event may be encoded and held for a brief period of time in short-term memory. For it to be remembered over a long period of time it must be stored in long-term memory. The failure to transfer information from short-term memory to permanent storage in long term memory is another way memory can fail. In order to transfer new information to the long-term memory storage it has to be rehearsed or repeated many times. That is why in order to improve the leaning skill the student has to repeat new lessons many times as pointed out in the earlier post titled “How to improve your learning skill.”

Finally, retrieval concerns searching long-term memory and finding the event that has been encoded and stored. An event may be available if it is encoded properly and stored successfully in long-term memory. Yet if this event cannot be retrieved successfully, then it is inaccessible to consciousness.  

Friday, November 25, 2011

Manage Stress and Avoid Anxiety - Part III Psychological methods of stress management

The principles of cognitive therapy suggest that negative thoughts popping up in the mind on various occasions are significant in the development or exacerbation of depression, anxiety, anger, low self-esteem, self-defeating behaviours and difficulties in stressful situations. Therefore one has to identify and challenge these negative thoughts which are automatically generated into the consciousness in order to enable a person to reduce distress and enhance the ability to cope with stressful situations. The psychological techniques of stress management can be summarized as follows:
         Learn specific strategies to think more realistically and positively about life.
         Avoid negative thinking and cognitive distortions.
These techniques are collectively referred to as cognitive restructuring procedures.
Some people see everything in terms of ‘all good’ or ‘all bad’ with no middle ground. One may self suggest that being in a relationship with somebody or in an association with some movement must be all good, otherwise it is a terrible and unfulfilled relationship or association.
Some people exaggerate their mistakes or problems by blowing them up out of proportion. For example, suppose your boss asked you to do something again. If you think that it is ‘the worst thing that could have happened’ it is emotional thinking. Catastrophising or emotional thinking always causes tension and anxiety.  
3. MIND READING                 
This is reading more into the behaviours and expressions of others than is really there. For example, if your boss calls you into his office to speak to you. While coming out from the room you think: ‘He looked at me strangely. He is angry with me.’ Not even experienced psychiatrists and psychologists have the power of mind reading. Mind reading is a negative automatic thinking.
Some people are in the habit of imagining the worst will occur in events and assuming all life events will turn out badly. Example: Not wanting to attend a party one thinks:”I know I’ll have a bad time and no one will speak to me.” Using this cognitive distortion can lead you to actually making a negative scenario a reality (At the party he feels uncomfortable and avoids contact with people). This is often referred to as ‘self fulfilling prophecy’.
5. LABELING                             
You attach a negative label to yourself or others instead of describing the actual behaviours or actions. Example: calling one a hopeless loser rather than just acknowledging that one had made a mistake.
6. OVER GENERALISATION                  
This is drawing a general conclusion on the basis of only one incident. One bus conductor misbehaved to a passenger. The passenger draws a general conclusion that all bus conductors are bad and misbehaving.  
7. MENTAL FILTER                              
Some are in the habit of taking into consideration negative things and incidents only. A clerk in a bank was working very well and was happy. At the fag end of the working hours a customer expressed some anger for the delay. The clerk forgets all good tidings of the day and broods over the angry response of a customer.
A girl’s friend said: “You look good in the photograph.” The girl’s response was: “Oh! It is only because photographer touched the negative.”
9. JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS                   
The person has not arrived in the exact appointed time. One jumps to conclusion: “He will not come today.”
10. MAGNIFICATION AND MINIMISATION                             
Overestimation and underestimation of one’s own potentialities are self defeating negative thinking.
11. PERSONALISATION                    
Owns others lapses and faults. The student failed in the examination owing to lack of preparation. The father of the student tells himself: “My son failed because of my lack of attention and proper parenting.”
One should be able to understand others’ weakness and difficulties. Otherwise the individual will suffer from anxiety and tension due to lapses of others.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Manage Stress and Avoid Anxiety - Part II Physical methods of stress management

In previous post the physical and psychological symptoms of the unmanaged stress have been pointed out.
Now let us discuss how we can manage stress effectively. There are some physical as well as psychological steps of stress management.
Physical Methods
         DEEP BREATHING - To start with take deep breath in sitting or lying position for 5 minutes. Gradually increase to 15 minutes.
         POSITIVE IMAGERY – Sitting in a relaxed position visualise silent landscapes.
         AEROBIC EXERCISE – Brisk walking, jogging, cycling. Avoid gymnastics which are anaerobic exercises.
         RELAXATION AND LEISURE – For a brief period each day at a particular time sit or lay idle without doing or thinking anything.
         REDUCE /AVOID STIMULANTS - Coffee, tea, smoking


Developed by Jacobson in 1939, Progressive Muscular Relaxation (PMR) is a widely used procedure today. It causes deep muscular relaxation in muscle groups, tensed under stressful conditions. Muscular tension produces aches and pains, particularly in the neck and back. For many individuals, the shoulder muscles provide a kind of internal thermometer for the tension level. If you tell yourself regularly to "drop your shoulders," you will be surprised to find how often there is something to drop!
PMR uses the pendulum method - if you want the pendulum to swing in a particular direction, then you first have to pull it back in the opposite direction and then let go. Similarly in Progressive Muscular Relaxation, first you deliberately apply tension to certain muscle groups, and then you let go, and turn your attention to noticing how the muscles relax as the tension flows away. The aim is to work systematically through the body, and it is usual to start with the hands, work up to the shoulders, then back to the feet and up to the shoulders again, leaving the face and neck to last. There is no reason to suppose that you have to rigidly stick to a particular order, but it might be difficult to start with areas in which physical and emotional tension seem to concentrate, such as the shoulders, neck and face.
Note: Before practicing PMR, you should consult with your physician if you have a history of serious injuries, muscle spasms, or back problems. 
Procedure Proper
There are two steps in the self-administered Progressive Muscle Relaxation procedure: 
·         Deliberately tensing muscle groups.
·         Releasing the induced tension.
Tension–Relaxation Procedure
Step One: Tension - The process of applying tension to a muscle is essentially the same regardless of which muscle group you are using. First, focus your mind on the muscle group; for example, your right hand. Then inhale and simply squeeze the muscles as hard as you can and hold to the count of 5; in the example, this would involve making a tight fist with your hand.
Note. Beginners usually make the mistake of allowing muscles other than the intended group to tense as well; in the example, this would mean that there will be a tendency to tense muscles in your right arm and shoulder along with those of the right hand. With practice you will learn to make very fine discriminations among muscles; for the moment just do the best you can.
It’s important to really feel the tension. Done properly, the tension procedure will cause the muscles to start to shake, and you might feel some pain but don't over do it.
Note. Be careful not to hurt yourself, as compared to feeling mild pain. Contracting the muscles in your feet and your back, especially, can cause serious problems if not done carefully; i.e., gently but deliberately.
Step Two: Releasing the Tension- This is the best part because it is actually pleasurable. After the count to 5, just suddenly but gently let go. Let all the tightness and pain flow out of the muscles as you simultaneously exhale. In the example, this would be imagining tightness and pain flowing out of your hand through your fingertips as you exhale. Feel the muscles relax and become loose and limp, tension flowing away like water out of a faucet. Focus on and notice the difference between tension and relaxation.
Note. The point here is to really focus on the change that occurs as the tension is let go. Do this very deliberately, because you are trying to learn to make some very subtle distinctions between muscular tension and muscular relaxation.
Stay relaxed for about 15 seconds, and then repeat the tension-relaxation cycle. You’ll probably notice more sensations the second time.
Note: It is of utmost important to coordinate your breathing with the tension relaxation cycle. Every time you let go, exhale and feel the tension go out from the concerned muscle group along with the outgoing breath. The breathing must be relaxed and preferably abdominal.
Muscle Groups
Here is an order that we find easy to remember which will help you not to forget any muscle group. 
·         Hands: Clench the fists.
·         Arms: Tighten biceps and lower arms together, without the hands.
·         Shoulders: Raise your shoulders as if they could touch your ears.
·         Feet: Screw up your toes.
·         Front of legs: Point your foot away from you so that it is almost parallel with your leg.
·         Back of Legs: Flex your feet upwards, stretching your heels down.
·         Thighs: Tighten them while pressing your knees down into the floor.
·         Bottom: Clench your buttocks together.
·         Stomach: Hold your stomach muscles in tight.
·         Lower Back: Press the small of your back into the floor.
·         Chest: Breath in, hold your breath, and tighten all your chest muscles.
·         Shoulders: Breath in, hold your breath and raise your shoulders as if to touch your ears.
·         Neck: 
o        Stretch your head up, as if your chin could touch the ceiling.
o        Bend your head forward until your chin reaches your chest.
Mouth and Jaw: Press your lips together and clench your teeth. There are two steps in the self-administered Progressive Muscle Relaxation procedure: 
·         Deliberately tensing muscle groups.
·         Releasing the induced tension.
·         Eyes: Close them up tight.
·         Forehead and scalp: Raise your eyebrows as if they could disappear.
·         Face: Screw all the muscles up together.
After learning the full PMR procedure, you will spend about 10 minutes a day maintaining your proficiency by practicing a shortened form of the procedure. But in the beginning it might take longer and it would be a good idea to tense and relax one limb at a time instead of both together. With time and practice, approximately 3 to 6 weeks, you may shorten the exercise gradually. For example, you could try collapsing some of the muscle groups until you only work on your arms, legs, abdomen, chest and face. Ultimately, you will acquire something that will probably become an indispensable part of your daily life, and the initial drudgery of practice will be long-forgotten.
Dos and don'ts:
It is recommended that you practice full PMR twice a day for about a week before moving on to the shortened form. Of course, the time needed to master the full PMR procedure varies from person to person.
Here are some suggestions for practice:
·         Always practice full PMR in a quiet place, alone, with no electronic distractions, not even background music.
·         Remove your shoes and wear loose clothing.
·         Avoid eating, smoking, or drinking. It’s best to practice before meals rather than after, for the sake of your digestive processes. Never practice after using any intoxicants.
·         Sit in a comfortable chair if possible. You may practice lying down, but this increases the likelihood of falling asleep.
·         If you fall asleep, give yourself credit for the work you did up to the point of sleep.
·         If you practice in bed at night, plan on falling asleep before you complete your cycle. Therefore, consider a practice session at night, in bed, to be in addition to your basic practice.
·         When you finish a session, relax with your eyes closed for a few seconds, and then get up slowly. (Orthostatic hypotension—a sudden drop in blood pressure due to standing up quickly—can cause you to faint.) Some people like to count backwards from 5 to 1, timed to slow, deep breathing, and then say, “Eyes open. Supremely calm. Fully alert.”
See next post: Psychological methods of stress management

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Manage Stress and Avoid Anxiety - Part I

What is stress?

Dictionary meaning is ‘constraining force’. In psychology stress means a condition in which the state of stability or equilibrium is disturbed. There is eustress and distress. Distress is the most commonly referred to type of stress, having negative implications, whereas eustress is a positive, desirable form of stress. The individual’s experience of stress is called strain. There will be a feeling of tension, mental as well as physical.  Stress is a protective mechanism of animals provided by nature. Stress prepares the animal for fight or flight in the presence of a danger.  

Stress may be Psychological or Physical
When the task appears to be formidable the individual feels tension. This is psychological stress. There is individual variation in the perception of psychological stress. A task which appears to be formidable to one individual may not appear so to another. Physical stress is caused by pain, diseases and injuries.

Physiology of stress

Adrenal glands, situated on the top of both kidneys, produce three stress hormones, namely adrenaline, noradrenalin and cortisol. Adrenaline and noradrenalin prepare the body for fight or flight. Muscles become tense. Heart pumps more blood to periphery by increasing heart rate. Brain becomes alert. On the whole the body goes into a state of emergency by the action of these hormones. As soon as the emergency situation is over the adrenal glands produce cortisol to cool down the systems. If stress is continuous there will be sustained presence of cortisol. This reduces the general resistance of the body. It may trigger autoimmune processes resulting in autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis.

General Adaptation Syndrome

Body and mind get adapted to new situation of continuous stress. Stress hormones are produced incessantly and this causes a condition called general adaptation syndrome. There are three stages of the general adaptation syndrome.

1. Stage of alarm

At first the individual becomes aware of the stress situation with a startle. The body gets ready for fight or flight by producing stress hormones. Individual feels continuous tension and suffers sleeplessness or disturbed sleep with nightmares.

2. Stage of resistance 

At this stage actual fight or flight occurs.

3. Stage of exhaustion

Individual gets exhausted out of fight or flight. At this state the third stress hormone cortisol is produced to cool down the systems.

What Are The Stressors?

Sensory Inputs: Bright light and high pitched sound are stressors. The modern man experiences stress due to sound and air pollutions.
Life Events: Life events are the most common stressors. Birth and death, marriage and divorce, menarche and menopause and the corresponding climacterics in males are all stressors. Climacteric is a major turning point or critical biological stage.
Responsibilities: Responsibilities become stressors when there are obstacles such as shortage of funds.
Education: Examinations, academic backwardness and learning disabilities. Career: Promotion, increased workload etc.
Interpersonal Relations:
Family – lack of adjustment. Male chauvinism and hegemony lead to conflicts in family which cause stress in all members of the family.
Workplace and Society at Large – cheating and insincerity, discrimination and marginalization, intolerance, hostility and aggression cause stress.
Life Style: Extravagance, Alcohol abuse and smoking, late home coming and sleep deprivation.
Early Life Experiences: Child abuses. 1. Physical abuse 2. Sexual abuse 3. Emotional abuse  4.Neglect
Ecological Changes: Frequent climate changes cause stress.
Social Problems: Social unrest and communal clashes

Can We Avoid Stressors?

Yes, we can avoid some stressors like extravagance.  Do not accept suggestions from the advertisements. One cannot avoid life events. The stress generated by life events has to be managed.

Stress Management

In daily life an individual moves ahead by overcoming the stressors. This process is called stress management. For example at the time of examination all students feel tension because of the stress of examination. The student tries to overcome stress of examination by allotting more time to revise the lessons. If the preparation is not satisfactory he rationalizes failure or decides no to appear this time. A promoted employee learns new job and prepares for it. If the individual feels that she/he cannot manage the stress, she/he succumbs to mental and physical ailments. If it seems formidable and one feels that she/he cannot move further…. One may think of ending life….

Unmanaged Stress

Unmanaged stress affects individual physically and mentally.
1. Feelings:  Feels anxious, irritable and moody (depressed).
2. Thoughts: Thoughts of low esteem, failure, bleak future haunts the individual.
3. Faculties: Inability to concentrate. Preoccupation with tasks. Forgetfulness.
4. Behaviours: Acts impulsively, startled easily, clenches fist and teeth, laughs abnormally loud, smokes heavily, abuse of alcohol and drugs. There may be loss of appetite or gluttony.
5. Physical symptoms: Fine tremor, palpitation, dryness of mouth, stuttering and stammering, sweating of palms, frequent micturition, irritable bowels, premenstrual tension and back ache are the physical symptoms associated with unmanaged stress.

Are You Under Stress?

Ask the following questions to yourself.
Do you feel always anxious?
Is decision making delayed?
Can you not take decisions?
Do you feel tense?
Do you feel that you should go away?
Are you always tired throughout the day?
Do you experience sleeplessness?
Are you restless whenever you think of any change?
If answers for at least 4 questions are ‘yes’ you are under stress. What is to be done? See the next post.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


One day a young man studying in Higher Secondary class came to me and said that he desired to be a computer engineer but he scored only pass marks in the examinations. He wanted to improve his learning skills so that he could score high marks in the final examination. I gave him the following advice:
Human learning depends upon three important psychological factors.
1. Interest
2. Comprehension
3. Repetition
I. ONE should have interest in the subject. Then only he/she can learn that subject. The young man wanted to become a computer engineer. So he must be interested in basic subjects like Maths and Physics. But why should he be interested in subjects like Chemistry and English Language? He might not find interesting those subjects but he should create interest by self suggesting. He should suggest to himself that even though  the subjects like chemistry and English language are not very interesting for him he should learn these subjects along with Maths and Physics to score high marks in the exams as well as to improve the linguistic ability and general knowledge which may be indirectly related to the profession which he aspires for.
II. Human mind retains in memory only those matters which have meaning and which are comprehended well. Compare the following two sets of combination of three English letters or trigrams:


PIG     LIP    CUP    BAT   MAP   CAP  TAG    RIB     CAT   LOG

One can easily remember the trigrams in the lower line. In order to retain the trigrams of the upper line in mind one should have to repeat it several times  and spend much energy for it. Psychologists say the mind lives and breathes through meaning. So, the comprehension of the subject is essential for its retention in mind. Uncomprehending subjects are just like the trigrams in the upper line.

III. In order to retain the comprehended matter in the mind one should repeat it. There is individual variation in retention or memory power. Some individuals have to repeat the comprehended subjects ten times to retain them in long term memory. Others may have to repeat them only four or five times. There are people with extraordinary memory power. These individuals may have to repeat the subject only two or three times. Ordinarily one may have to repeat the subject five or six times. I suggest the following schedule of repetition of the lessons at home:
Day 1 - Read three times the subjects learned on that day.
Day 2 - Read three times the subjects learned on that day. + Read twice the subjects learned on Day 1
Day 3 - Read three times the subjects learned on that day. + Read twice the subjects learned on Day 1 + Read once the subjects learned on Day 1.
In order to score high marks in the examination one should find out enough time to repeat the lessons each day as scheduled above.