Happiness is Human Chemistry

One of the greatest motivating forces for nearly every human being is thehappiness1 desire to feel happy.  The pursuit of happiness leads people to work long hours to earn the money to buy pleasurable things, to study hard to qualify for a great job, to endure an emotional rollercoaster to land the perfect partner, and on it goes.  Even on a daily basis with small things in life we seek food that tastes great, coffee that gives us a buzz, and alcohol that relaxes us.  We want to hang out with people who have fun, be part of an exciting event, and experience that special moment. Advertisers capitalise on our fervent desire to be happy and assure us of instant gratification if we would only buy their products.

The good thing is we don’t actually need these products.  We were born to be happy.  Our bodies have been created with built-in chemistry sets to make sure we wake up happy every day.  A marvellous substance happiness2called serotonin is secreted by our adrenal glands into our system every morning before we wake up, ensuring that when we first open our eyes in the morning our immediate thoughts are “What a great day! I’ve got places to go, people to see, things to do. Life is so good!” and we bounce out of bed with enthusiasm and happiness.

Does that sound like you? Or are you one who hits the snooze button, pulls the blankets over your head and tries to put off the inevitable. When ‘one more minute’ is no longer an option you get up and make a strong coffee and pray for the caffeine to kick in. It’s a very common scenario for many people – but it is not the way we were meant to be. We were designed to feel happiness every day. So what goes wrong? Why are so many people so unfortunate that they miss out on this rush of serotonin on a daily basis? There are many answers to this question, but they nearly all come under the umbrella of ‘our busy modern lifestyle.’  It could be a stint of night shift, it can be too much stress for too long, or most commonly, in the presence of certain circumstances our own brain emits a chemical that actually interferes with this serotonin release.

Basically, the wrong thoughts in combination over even a brief time can shut off our fix of serotonin. The thoughts themselves can be many and varied, but they come under two themes – one is “I am in a hopeless situation” (I don’t like this part of my life, I didn’t want to break up, if only I could get my job back, why did I ever start this, my life is like a rat-wheel, stop the world I want to get off, etc.).  The second theme is “I am helpless to change this” (I can’t do anything about it, I can’t make her change her mind, if only I had done that differently, I can’t get out of this, why doesn’t somebody help me, if only I could make him be nice to me, they will never listen to me, I’ve completely blown it forever).  This combination of hopeless-helpless thoughts, entertained repeatedly, triggers the shutdown of serotonin release – and the feeling of happiness. So when we have no serotonin rush any more – and for some people this has gone on for so long they might be wondering if they ever had one – we try to create other ways to experience happiness.  Substances – coffee, alcohol, medications, street drugs, chocolate, fatty foods, sweets – all play a part in trying to replicate a feel-good experience.  Unfortunately, in either the short- or long-term these self-fix happiness3remedies all have negative consequences, ranging from obesity to poverty. Showing people how to restore a healthy serotonin production (and their happiness) is one of the joys of working as a psychologist.  If you’d like help with yours, give us a call.  07 5564 2202

Headaches and Migranes

A large portion of the Australian population suffer from severe headaches and migraines.  For many, the frequently recurring headaches and migraines can be a big problem.  A lot of headache sufferers feel that their partners, employers or friends do not fully understand how difficult it can be to live with severe headache and migraine attacks.  For some, the constant arguments, the feeling of being understood, the missed social events, work days, career and study opportunities and more, may eventually result in an overwhelming number of social, work or relationship problems.  For some sufferers, when two or more of these sorts of problems occur together, they can start to feel depressed and anxious.

Fortunately, aside from medication, there are psychological treatments available for headaches and migraines that have proven effective.  These treatments have been shown to reduce the frequency of headaches, and also improve life difficulties, such as relationship problems, anxiety, depression and more.  Professor Paul Martin at Griffith University is recognised worldwide as one of the biggest names when it comes to treatment of headaches and migraines.  He has provided an intensive training course in headache and migraine treatment to a few selected psychologists on the Gold Coast, one being Dr Siavash Bandarian-Balooch from Goldwyn Lane. Dr Sia is now qualified to provide this specialised therapy to clients of Goldwyn Lane.

Headache and migraine sufferers are free to ring in and make an appointment with Dr Sia to have their particular form of pain assessed.  Most private health funds offer rebates for this service.  However, for many, the journey to improvement will begin with their GP.  It is an excellent idea to ask your doctor more about available psychological treatments for headaches.  As previously mentioned, headaches may be accompanied by anxiety, depression, and other psychological difficulties.  If this is the case for you, you may qualify for a Mental Health Care Plan which includes 6-10 sessions of psychological treatment rebated by Medicare.  If you think that psychological treatment is right for you, ask your GP for more information.Dr Siavash Bandarian-Balooch from Goldwyn Lane

Coping with Christmas – Keys for Separated Mums and Dads

For most of us, Christmas is a happy time when families and friends get together to exchange presents, catch up on stories, share wonderful meals and hospitality and generally enjoy each other’s company.  But for many families where parents are separated or divorced Christmas can be a time of sadness, stress and disagreement – and caught in the middle of it are the children.  So what can separated and divorced parents do to make Christmas a little easier on themselves and their children?

Children Come First

One of the most important things is to realise that Christmas is a time for your children.  Activities need to be arranged with your children’s best interests at heart, not just what suits you. Ask your children what they want to do.  Listen closely to what they say.  Consider putting their desires ahead of yours. Discuss the ideas you have with your children.  Children should have a chance to contribute, but in the end it is the adults who make the final decision as to what is best.  If your children’s wishes can’t be met, take the time to sit down with them and explain why.

Avoid Conflict

Avoid situations where your children become the “meat in the sandwich” of Mum and Dad’s conflict.  Regardless of what has happened between you it is important not to criticise the other parent when talking to your children.  It can create tension for your children, because they may want to please you and agree with you, but at the same still love their other parent.  Try to avoid communicating to them the subtle message that they are responsible for making you happy.  You need to accept their love of the other parent as normal, and encourage that relationship.

Plan Ahead

Many disagreements start because of parents’ expectations of what will happen.  You expect that children will spend Christmas with you.  The other parent may expect the same.  Parents need to communicate with each other and plan for these times before they arrive.  By planning ahead of time, Christmas has a chance to be happier and far less stressful for everyone involved.  Agree on what you will do so that there is no tension, and if you make your children’s happiness your priority when making any plans, you will be well on the way to a happier time.

Notice Feelings.

Sometimes children are expected to move from one home to another to spend time with each parent.  While this may be okay for short periods during the year, at Christmas the time spent with each parent can be longer, or there can be extra people involved.  This can change the dynamics of the home and can cause problems, particularly with “blended” families.  Children will sometimes conform to keep others happy and often don’t even know how to express their feelings about all that is going on.  This can mean that on the surface everything seems to be okay but in reality, children may be experiencing a storm of unexpressed emotion.  In addition, they don’t have the understanding of life experiences that adults do.  It is more difficult for them to make meaning of the situations they are in.  Young children especially are unable to think things through in a rational way.  They can only react to situations.

In the end, you can do everything in your power, but others involved may not cooperate and do their part.  If you find yourself in a difficult situation, always remember that help is available.  A family relationship Psychologist can offer helpful advice on how to cope with difficult people and situations.

Remember, communication is the key.  Start communicating well ahead of time and keep your children’s happiness as your priority and you will have made a good start to a happier Christmas.

The Anxious Child

One of the most common reasons that parents contact a child psychologist is for help in dealing with an anxious child.  When a child is anxious his or her clearly visible distress is felt by parents, but not always understood.  The child is often fearful about situations that had never even crossed this parent’s mind as a problem when he or she was a child.  Good advice that parents may give on how to deal with anxiety-provoking situations is often not taken up by the child and the pain seems to grow year by year. [Read more…]

Pandora’s Box

We all enjoy experiencing positive emotions and actively seek them out.  We go out for a good time, plan activities to have fun, gather with family for closeness, and many people when asked their goal in life will say, “I just want to be happy.” But other emotions are felt as bad experiences and we often go to great lengths to avoid them – feelings of anger, disappointment or fear. Sometimes we are taught that certain emotions are somehow “bad” and we shouldn’t experience them.  We believe that “big boys don’t cry” or “nice girls don’t get angry”.  Nonsense!  Big boys and nice girls are normal people too, and to experience the whole range of emotions is perfectly normal.  When we seek to suppress certain emotions we only run into trouble. [Read more…]

Trauma and its Effects on Mental Health

The recent disastrous cylone and floods in Queensland have had a huge impact, not only on those in their pathway, but also on those who have been looking on in disbelief.  There’s an enormous amount of work to be done to bring the state back into normal operation and we are being told it could take years.  But what about the people?  They will have various reactions to their ordeal, but when will they return to normal every day life?  We know that people who live through wars, cyclones, bushfires and the like are prone to becoming mentally ill with posttraumatic stress disorder.  Will flood-affected people suffer mental health issues? 

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Working Through Grief

We spend much of our lives working towards having great relationships, a good job, a comfortable home, nice possessions, and all those things that make life rich and meaningful.  But what happens when we suddenly lose one of them?  Grief is as natural to every person as breathing.  It is inevitable.

Loss comes in many forms.  It might be the death of someone you love, a best friend moving away, losing your job, having your car written off, your marriage breaking down, losing your house, or even realising that something you were looking forward to just isn’t going to happen.  Everyone feels their loss in a different way, and if you don’t react in the same way as someone else it does not mean that there is something wrong with you (or with them).  Some losses are experienced as deep despair, others as a tragedy, and some strike us with feelings of panic.  However, many people tend to follow a general pattern after a loss and work through a range of emotions. [Read more….]

Build Your Child’s Self-Esteem

Self-Esteem Psychology in Gold Coast

A person who is comfortable with who they are and believes in their own abilities has much fewer problems in life.  Every parent would like to bring their child up with self-confidence, to avoid being the target of bullies, to have good friends, to be able to resist peer pressure, to have a go at a variety of activities, and to achieve what they are capable of doing.  Some children are naturally shy, hesitant to try things, a bit anxious and limited in some abilities.  So how can you encourage your child to become self-confident? [Read more…]

Emotional Reactions

Just who is responsible for our emotional reactions?   “He made me upset.”  “She made me cry.”  “They all make me so very angry.”  We often directly attribute our distress to the actions of someone else, or to external circumstances, such as the decisions of politicians, society in general, or even the weather. In our minds it is a direct cause and effect – their actions or these events caused my emotions. However, in reality there is actually another step in between. Let’s look at the following scenario (which by the way is totally hypothetical and definitely not recommended). [Read more…]