Jan 08

3 Lists for Your Mental Health and Health

Below are three recent articles that list ways to help and/or understand aspects of your mental health and health. Topics include how to deal with anxiety, research findings about single people, and unhelpful health-related myths. As is usually the case with my posts, refer to the links for further explanation and detail.

I. “How to Combat Your Anxiety, One Step at a Time.” Jen Doll, New York Times.

  1. Consider what makes you feel in control
  2. Medication can have its place
  3. Meditation
  4. Your phone is not your B.F.F.
  5. Getting sweaty is great
  6. It feels really good to say no…
  7. …but say yes to the right things
  8. Spend quality time with friends, both furry and human
  9. Ask for help

II. “6 New Things Researchers Learned About Single People in 2017.” Bella DePaulo, PhD, The Cut.

1. Demographically, single people are more powerful than ever before. In 2017, the Census Bureau reported that a record number of adults in the U.S. were not married.”

2. Marriage is no longer considered a key part of adulthood. “…(M)ore than half of the participants in a nationally representative sample (55 percent) said that getting married was not an important criterion for becoming an adult.”

3. High-schoolers aren’t as into dating — or sex. “…(P)sychologists Jean M. Twenge and Heejung Park analyzed four decades’ worth of data (1976–2016) on the sex and dating experiences of more than 8 million students in the ninth through twelfth grades. The percentage of teens who had ever been on a date was lowest in the most recent years of the study. And along the same lines, the percentage who had had sex was at an all-time low in recent years.”

4. Single people are having more sex than married people. “…Adults are having less sex than they used to…(T)he drop was especially pronounced for the people who were married or divorced, compared to people who had always been single.”

5. A relationship doesn’t mean higher self-esteem. “…(R)esearchers Eva C. Luciano and Ulrich Orth studied more than 9,000 adults in Germany as they entered or ended romantic relationships or stayed single. Their conclusion: ‘Beginning a relationship improves self-esteem if and only if the relationship is well-functioning, stable, and holds at least for a certain period (in the present research…one year or longer)’.”

6. … and marriage doesn’t mean better health. (Several newish studies are cited.)

III. “8 bad science and health ideas that should die with 2017.” 

Below are eight myths along with either a simple excerpted quote or an aside from me:

1. Voters make decisions based on facts. “Instead of facts, we are often guided by our emotions and deeply held biases.”

2. Addiction is a moral failure. “If you talk to doctors and experts about addiction, they’ll tell you that addiction is a medical condition, not unlike cancer, that needs medical help.”

3. Opioids are effective for treating chronic back pain. “…(I)n February 2017, the American College of Physicians advised doctors and patients try ‘non-drug therapies’ such as exercise, acupuncture, tai chi, yoga, and even chiropractics, and avoid prescription drugs or surgical options wherever possible.”

4. “Statistically significant” means “strong scientific evidence.” (Read the article for the over-my-head explanation.)

5. Placebos are useless. (They can be helpful in various ways listed in the article, including for mental health.)

6. Exercise is the best solution for obesity. “…(T)he evidence has been accumulating for years that exercise, while great for health, isn’t actually all that important for weight loss.”

7. Homeopathy works. “There have been many studiesbooks, and investigations demonstrating that this type of therapy is bogus.”

8. We need a “debate” about climate change. “Challenging, scrutinizing, and dissecting new findings is the foundation of research, and while no human endeavor is perfect, there’s also no evidence that the peer review process has failed climate science.”

Feb 12

Single People Have a Strong Voice in Bella DePaulo

I defend single people because we are relentlessly demeaned by myths and pseudoscientific claims that say our lives are second-rate. But I’m not advocating singlehood for all. Some people live their best lives married, and others find more meaning and fulfillment in single life. This is the 21st century. We don’t all have to choose the same life path. Bella DePaulo, PhD, “Everything You Think You Know About Single People Is Wrong” (Washington Post)

The recent article cited above following its concluding statement is from expert-on-singlehood Bella DePaulo and is well worth the read.

DePaulo is such a prolific writer that’s she’s published several more books since I last posted about her, which wasn’t so long ago. Just to name a few, last August there was How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century, last July Single Parents and Their Children: The Good News No One Ever Tells Youand last February both The Science of Marriage: What We Know That Just Isn’t So and  Marriage vs. Single Life: How Science and the Media Got It So Wrong, a collection of many of her previous articles and posts on this topic.

One of the first points she makes in the latter book is “Why no study has ever shown that getting married makes people happier or healthier – and no study ever will“—and this is the one she thinks is the most important. Her The Science of Marriage is actually just that one chapter in book form.

A GoodReads review explains DePaulo’s view regarding the flawed research and offers this interesting related tidbit:

…DePaulo also touches on ‘matrimania’ – the extreme valuing and celebration of marriage, couples, and weddings rampant in pop culture, the media, the workplace, the marketplace, politics, religion, and everyday life. She follows with this clever quote – ‘When people who marry get an initial boost in well-being that then dissipates, perhaps that honeymoon is attributable not (just) to the ‘support, intimacy, caring, [and] companionship’ that they are supposedly getting because of being married, but to the fact that their life choice was just validated by other people, perhaps in a big, expensive celebration of themselves.’

Last December DePaulo posted about 2015’s high and low points for those who are single. The “highs” include new resources such as “Solo-Ish,” which is a regular column in The Washington Post, and a sizable Facebook Community of Single People. The popularity of Kate Bolick‘s book Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own has also been notable, she reports.

The “lows” seem worth quoting verbatim:

  1. The landmark Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage was supremely and egregiously stigmatizing of single people and single life. (Remember Justice Kennedy describing single people as “condemned to live in loneliness”?)
  2. At the Aspen Ideas Festival, supposedly a place for cutting-edge thinkers, a panel of “experts” was asked to answer the dopey, regressive, and insulting question, “Can single people be happy?” In 2015. They all responded, without even a glimmer of recognition of how embarrassing it was for them to do so.
  3. As if being a refugee or homeless were not already difficult enough, some categories of single people are being singled out for special discrimination.
  4. Despite the fact that nearly half of all adults in the US are single, and Americans now spend more years of their adult life not married than married, there are still no academic journals, no conferences, no degree programs, no textbooks, and no sources of funding dedicated exclusively to single life.

At least DePaulo is a staunch advocate. If you’re interested in more from her, check out her Psychology Today blog called “Living Single.” Her readers’ top five favorite articles from last year were:

1. Why so many partners want to be both single and together

2. Who is divorce toughest on?

3. The top 10 ways couples have changed

4. Sex drive? There’s no such thing

5. National Singles Week: 19 reasons why we need it

Nov 25

Single at Heart: Bella DePaulo Helps You Cope at the Holidays

To be single at heart, I think, means that you see yourself as single. Your life may or may not include the occasional romantic relationship, and you may or may not live alone or want to live alone, but you don’t aspire to live as part of a couple (married or otherwise) for the long term.

You can be single at heart regardless of your actual status as single or coupled. Similarly, you can be a coupled at heart regardless of whether you really are coupled at the moment. Bella DePaulo, PhD, Psychology Today

Bella DePaulo, PhD, is the author of several books about being single, including Singlism and Single with Attitude as well as related blogs on Psychology Today (“Living Single”), Psych Central (“Single at Heart”), and on her website (“All Things Single (and More)”).

Her own admission (Psychology Today): “I love living single (except for the singlism) and never did have those reveries about some lavish wedding with the bridesmaids and the big white dress.” “Singlism” is her own word to describe stereotyping, stigmatizing, marginalizing, and/or discrimination against singles.

(For a previous post covering some of her myths about being single see “Valentine’s Day and Singlehood.”)

Who else are single at heart? DePaulo’s survey (still available to take at this link) on this topic has revealed some possible answers, and she’s shared them on Psych Central. The traits listed below come from her analysis of the first 1200 responses to her survey:

  • They love their solitude.
  • When they are tempted to allow themselves their favorite indulgence (such as junk food or trashy TV), they prefer to do exactly as they wish rather than having a partner to join them or dissuade them.
  • They see themselves as self-sufficient; that is, they like handling problems and challenges mostly on their own.
  • When they are thinking of making a big change in their lives, they don’t want to make that decision with a romantic partner; instead, they prefer to make the decision that feels right to them, without worrying about whether a partner would approve or whether the decision would interfere with a partner’s goals.
  • They do not want to have a partner as a plus-one for just about every occasion; they would prefer more options, such as attending events on their own or with friends or just staying home.
  • When they set out to pursue noble goals such as reading inspiring books or eating right or getting lots of exercise, they prefer to pursue those plans alone or with friends rather than with a romantic partner.
  • They have a sense of personal mastery – a can-do attitude and a sense that they can do just about anything they set their mind to.
  • They are not all that interested in searching for a long-term romantic partner.
  • If they have a minor mishap such as a fender-bender, they are relieved not to have to explain to a romantic partner why they messed up.
  • If they had to choose between meaningful work with lousy pay and uninspiring work with great pay, they would choose the meaningful work.
  • If they were in a romantic relationship and it ended, their predominant emotional reaction was more often relief rather than sadness or pain.

DePaulo’s advice for the holidays? From a piece she originally wrote several years ago and re-posted on Psych Central last year:

If there is not someone you really want to be with over the holidays, then go to all those parties on your own. (Of course, I think party invitations should include friends, but that’s a different topic.) Even if you do wish you were coupled and it is hard to walk in uncoupled, do it and feel proud. Embrace and enjoy your inner smug singlehood.

Don’t do it just for yourself. Every time you show up as your own complete person, rather than appearing in your couple costume, you make it easier for everyone else who is also single for the holidays or for good (and I do mean good). And though they probably won’t admit it, you are probably also helping the people who just can’t wait for the holiday season to end, so they can return their rental partner. Maybe next year they’ll show up on their own.

Jun 28

Asexuality and Pride: Even the Queer Movement Doesn’t Always Get It

As we approach the end of Pride month, it feels fitting to write about an often neglected topic—though not by The Huffington Posts Dominique Mosbergen, who recently presented an excellent and informative series of articles on asexuality. My post will use info from her articles as well as from social psychologist Bella DePaulo‘s work and the website of AVEN, the largest asexual support network.

Although asexual activists are making themselves known at some Pride events (“Who’s asexy?”), the asexual community is still not widely enough recognized as a legitimate part of the “queer” movement. Maybe it’s partly because of their numbers: “aces,” as asexuals sometimes refer to themselves, reportedly make up only about one percent of the population. Many non-aces don’t even know anyone who openly declares his or her asexuality.

And many of us, including therapists and those in the medical community, don’t even know what being asexual means. Speaking for therapists, while we’re likely at times to see clients with asexual behavior—due to such factors as a history of trauma or a fear of intimacy—this is not the same as having an asexual identity.

So, what does it mean to identify as asexual? One of the best places to find out is the website of The Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN), founded by David Jay. Right next to their name on the home page is a brief statement: An asexual person is a person who does not experience sexual attraction.

How does one know he or she is asexual? Says AVEN: “There is no litmus test to determine if someone is asexual. Asexuality is like any other identity–at its core, it’s just a word that people use to help figure themselves out. If at any point someone finds the word asexual useful to describe themselves, we encourage them to use it for as long as it makes sense to do so.”

Some other main points:

  • As with being gay, straight, and bi, asexuality is not considered by most to be a choice, but an orientation.
  • There’s as much diversity regarding relationship needs within the asexual community as there is within any other community.
  • Attraction for others on other levels does often exist, thus some aces also identify as lesbian, gay, bi, or straight.
  • Lack of interest in sexual activity doesn’t have to mean lack of sexual arousal. Mosberger quotes one ace as saying that “everything works, we just don’t want to get somebody else involved.”

Sexologist and professor Anthony Bogaert released his book Understanding Asexuality last year. One of his concerns is that asexuals often get slapped with inappropriate diagnoses, e.g., Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD).

Sexual Aversion Disorder is another mislabel given to asexuals, states psychologist Bella DePaulo. In a Psychology Today post she clearly differentiates asexuality from sexual dysfunction. To those who jump to such conclusions, she states: “You need to stop along the way to ask how asexuality is experienced in an individual’s life. If you are okay with it, then everyone else should back off and keep their pathological labels locked in their file cabinets.”

Below is the trailer to a documentary called Asexual (2011), directed by Angela Tucker, that provides more important info:

And the next clip is specifically about asexuals attending Pride events:

Feb 14

Valentine’s Day: Myths and Misconceptions About Singlehood

Contrary to popular opinion, many people who are single and/or living alone like it, even choose it. Valentine’s Day be damned.

Social scientist Bella DePaulo has authored several books about being single, including Singled Out (2007) and Singlism (2011). “Singlism” is her own word to describe stereotyping, stigmatizing, marginalizing, and/or discrimination against singles.

Per her website, the following are some prevalent myths about being single:

  1. The Wonder of Couples: Marrieds know best.
  2. Single-Minded: You are interested in just one thing – getting coupled.
  3. The Dark Aura of Singlehood: You are miserable and lonely and your life is tragic.
  4. It Is All About You: Like a child, you are self-centered and immature and your time isn’t worth anything since you have nothing to do but play.
  5. Attention Single Women: Your work won’t love you back and your eggs will dry up. Also, you don’t get any and you’re promiscuous.
  6. Attention Single Men: You are horny, slovenly, and irresponsible, and you are the scary criminals. Or, you are sexy, fastidious, frivolous, and gay.
  7. Attention Single Parents: Your kids are doomed.
  8. Too Bad You’re Incomplete: You don’t have anyone and you don’t have a life.
  9. Poor Soul: You will grow old alone and you will die in a room by yourself where no one will find you for weeks.
  10. Family Values: Let’s give all of the perks, benefits, gifts, and cash to couples and call it family values.

How many people are potentially subjected to the above wrong-headed beliefs? According to sociologist Eric Klinenberg‘s 2012 Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone (just out in paperback), almost half of American adults are single— compared to only 22% in 1950.

Like DePaulo, one of Klinenberg’s main points is that a growing number of adults of all ages—including seniors—actually choose to live alone. And living alone is often not about feeling alone and/or isolated.

DePaulo, in fact, titled her recent post about interviewing Klinenberg “Myth-Buster: How Going Solo Takes Lonely Out of Alone.” He relates the following about singles’ social networks:

Conservative cultural critics condemn ‘selfish singles’ for their purported narcissism, but I discovered that singles and singletons are actually more likely to spend time with friends and neighbors than people who are married, and – surprisingly – that they are more likely to volunteer in civic organizations. This is especially true for women, whose time and energy for public engagement diminishes when they get married and have children, but it’s true for men as well. Then there is the vast new world of middle-aged and older singles who are forming communities, networks, and in some cases alternative family structures to provide mutual support. They are participating in a genuine social revolution. After 200,000 years of group living, contemporary singletons are redefining the terms of collective life…

Consider this, then, those of you out there pushing your crazy Valentine’s Day expectations onto the world: Other than having to fend off your unfair pressures, many singles are probably happier and more socially fulfilled on this day than you are.