Representation of Neurodivergence in Media

“If you’ve met one person with Autism, you’ve met one person with Autism” 

This is a common saying when talking about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), precisely the reason why it’s known to be a spectrum; different people experience the symptoms in different ways. But when it comes to the media, movies and tv shows, is it represented the way it should be? 

Imagine the last time you saw a character with Autism in a movie or tv show, it could be the character of Shaun Murphy on ‘The Good Doctor’, Sam Gardner on ‘Atypical’, or even Sheldon Cooper on ‘The Big Bang Theory’ (although the writers have never confirmed it). Now, most people would think that this is amazing, that having positive representations of Autism would be a good thing, but is it really?

The answer is neither in black nor white.

When we first think about Autism, we think of characters who are socially awkward, avoid eye contact, maybe are hypersensitive to stimuli, but at the same time are all geniuses in their field. However, only around 10% of people with autism have Savant abilities. Every person on the spectrum experiences it differently, some might be verbal, some non-verbal; some might be able to mask their symptoms well, while some might not. It doesn’t reduce the impact that Autism has on their lives. And the problem is, while one side of it is represented, calling for stories and dramatization, a whole other side of it isn’t. 

Even though Sheldon is never confirmed to be Autistic, why does everyone categorize him as being on the spectrum? Why do we think so, when it is not really accurate? Well, for most people, exposure to Autism comes only from the media and we associate the stereotypes portrayed in the media with our belief systems about Autism. The more number of times a character is portrayed with the above-mentioned attributes, the more these beliefs are strengthened and voila! People now have a fixed perception about Autism.

While media representation can help end stigma and can lead to a positive attitude about Autism, it can also have negative effects, such as propagating stereotypes and inaccuracies.

Yes, this might not be a deliberate move, but in the whole process, it can make people who, “Don’t look like they have Autism”, difficult to access services and care, when in reality, they might just be better at masking the difficulties that they have. This causes them a lot of stress and anxiety. Even parents may ignore symptoms that their child has, just because they don’t display these stereotypical behaviours. This becomes a classic case of, ‘good intention, bad execution’ and, ‘negative effect’.

So what can be done? Do we stop portraying neurodivergent characters altogether?

Well, no. First things first, film makers and scriptwriters must talk to the people that they want to represent; those on the spectrum. The neurodivergent community has been asking for accurate representation for a very long time, and according to them, neurotypical (individuals who do not have a diagnosis of Autism or any other developmental disorder) actors portraying neurodivergent traits reduces something so complex, nuanced, and beautiful, into a trait that anyone can imitate on screen, which isn’t the right thing to do. Also, if we look closely, there are close to no female characters with Autism being represented. This is a result of a deeper phenomenon (Our article coming out next week, explores this in greater detail.)

The argument that might rise is, ‘Hey, isn’t it only acting?’ 

Yes, but it must be kept in mind that while the community is having positive representation in the media, they are still being portrayed through a neurotypical lens. They are also constantly being left out of opportunities and underrepresented in real life. Disability has a 2% representation rate in the popular media, and out of that tiny figure, only 5% of disabled characters are played by disabled actors.  So in the long run, isn’t this doing more harm than good?

Filmmakers and scriptwriters must understand the responsibility that they have and the impact that their films can make, and realize that having large audiences that watch them having a neurodivergent character just for the sake of token diversity and comic relief, won’t work.  Stories need not be dramatic but that doesn’t mean that everything must be an educational booklet about Autism. Creativity in human beings is limitless and beyond boundaries, and the right stories can definitely be told in the way that they deserve to be.                                                       

Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder

What is ASD?

Autism Spectrum Disorder, or just ‘Autism’ as it is referred to commonly, is a neurological disorder that is known to cause social, communication, and behavioral challenges in the development of an individual. It is known as a ‘spectrum’ disorder because the people affected experience a wide range of symptoms, each of them unique in severity. 

People with Autism often need a lot of help navigating day-to-day life, but the degree of help required varies depending upon how well the individual is able to balance their disorder and life. 

They usually do not look any different from those who are unaffected; the only tell-tales are in the way they behave and interact with others. However, it is important to remember that they are full human beings with valid feelings, too, which should be acknowledged and respected.

What are the signs and symptoms to look out for?

Children and adults with Autism face difficulty in social situations, especially when it comes to communicating what they want to say. They also have trouble conveying their emotions, and tend to avoid human interaction altogether due to this. 

Some common signs that individuals with Autism display include:

  • In children: Delay in learning to speak
  • Inability to create or hold eye contact
  • Hypersensitivity or Hyposensitivity to sensory stimuli
  • Have difficulty in reading others’ gestures and intentions
  • Often want to be alone
  • Have trouble relating to others or forming connections
  • Repeat their motor movements
  • Have very rigid thinking patterns
  • Shy away from human touch
  • Avoid talking about their feelings
  • Have trouble adjusting to changes in routine
  • Repeat certain words and/or phrases: Echolalia

However, people with Autism are also more often than not, extremely talented in other non-routine activities. This is called the Savant Syndrome. 

For example, there might be someone who can’t concentrate in Mathematics class, but can do 1359357 x 1359357 in his mind at the drop of a pin. There might be someone who could replicate the Mona Lisa, but would not be able to smile at societally-dictated occasions. Darold Traffert, famous psychiatrist, has extensively studied this syndrome, and suggests that, ‘savant skills may result from the formation of exceptional neural structures during prenatal brain development.’ While there is controversial evidence mounting against the study of this syndrome, evidence suggests that there is a strong genetic link between family members displaying similar talents. 

It is extremely vital that we treat them just as we would treat anyone else, and not differentiate based on ability. 

What are the causes of ASD?

We do not know all the causes of ASD, but we do know that there are predominantly genetic and biological factors involved, such as:

  • Taking certain medicines meant for epilepsy and cancer during pregnancy, such as valproic acid and thalidomide
  • Children born to older parents are at higher risk
  • Children with a sibling with ASD are also likely to inherit ASD
  • Individuals with certain genetic or chromosomal conditions, such as tuberous sclerosis, can have a greater chance of having it
  • Children with very low birth weight are also at risk

ASD occurs among all racial, ethnic, and blood groups, but it has been found that it is 4 times more common among boys than in girls. 

How can we diagnose and treat ASD?

Since there is no blood or other medical test that can diagnose ASD, doctors have to look at a child’s early behaviour and development to make a diagnosis. 

Another problem with ASD is that it takes a longer time to diagnose, which means that children don’t get the early help that they require. There is also no known cure as such for ASD. However, research shows that early intervention in the form of helping children learn essential skills such as walking, talking, basic speech therapy, etc. 

While learning these skills can make a child feel extremely self-conscious and unsure, it is crucial to a child’s development, and it is important to ensure that the child receives it at the right stage. 

How can we be more empathetic towards people with Autism?

It is human nature to fear and discriminate against that which we don’t understand. The same is the case with respect to people with Autism. It is sad because they are often subjected to derogatory and hurtful name-calling such as ‘retard’ and ‘dork’, when in reality they’re just as human as everyone else. It would be very upsetting for any ‘normal’ person to listen to such things, so imagine how it would feel for those extremely talented people who have been misunderstood all their lives. 

So how can we be more empathetic towards such individuals?

As a parent, encourage the talents of your child. 

As a teacher, be vigilant and identify the signs and symptoms as early as possible. 

As a friend, make sure the person isn’t left out in whatever you do together.

As a decent human being, be more accepting.

Remember, Autism is just an illness that a person has. The person is not the illness, themself. 

Mindfulness Techniques to Fight Self Harm

Trigger Warning: Mentions of self-harm, depression, suicide

Self-harm is a taboo topic, even in today’s world of acceptance of Pride and no prejudices. When we hear that someone self-harms, 70% of the time, the first reaction we’d have is one of horror. Not even disbelief, pity or anything else, just plain horror, followed by a poor attempt to empathize. Very few of us try to help the person out, mainly because we don’t understand what they’re going through. But that’s just our conditioning. We’ve been taught to avoid that which makes us uncomfortable and go with the crowd. It’s time to have a breakthrough. 

What is self-harm?

Self-harm or self-injury means hurting oneself intentionally. Self-harm is not a mental health illness in itself. Rather, it displays an inability of the person affected to cope with a certain illness, most often something like bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder

To the people who self-harm: know this. You are not going through this alone. Self-harm is not something you have to live with all your life, and there are loads of people to narrate their experiences and support you. You need only reach out to seek help.

Why do people self-harm?

There is no scientific answer to this. Some people say they do it to relieve stress. Some others say they do it because the physical pain is better than the mental pain. It is a sign of great emotional distress, and the person is often engulfed by feelings of shame, frustration, guilt, and pain. Some common reasons that people reported include:

  • Relapse from alcohol or drug use
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Low self-esteem
  • Peer pressure
  • Bullying
  • Family issues

But there is no weakness in asking for help. In fact, it takes great courage to open up and talk about your feelings. If you do feel overwhelmed by these negative feelings, please, reach out to someone. 

Who are the people most prone to self-harm?

Though self harm is something that can affect anyone, this practice is most commonly found in young adults and adolescents, starting especially from one’s teenage years. People from unstable homes or those who have experienced trauma, neglect, and/or abuse in their early lives are also prone to self-harm. 

If you are a loved one of a person who self-harms, it is important to note that self-harm is not a cry of help or a demand for attention. But this does not mean that people who self-harm don’t need care and compassion. When someone opens up about their pain, chances are that it’s not your opinion they seek; it’s your acceptance. A simple smile goes a long way!

How can we fight the urge to self-harm?

While there are no tablets or tonics for it, psychologists and therapists all over the world do commonly recommend some grounding techniques and on-the-spot hacks that can help a person relieve their urge to self-harm.

Some of the most popular grounding techniques prescribed by therapists are:

  1. Progressive Muscle Relaxation:  This is a very simple deep-relaxation technique prescribed to reduce anxiety, stress, insomnia, and many other illnesses. Here is how it works:

While inhaling, clench/contract one type of muscle in your body. For example, your biceps, for 5-10 seconds, and then when you exhale, unclench it. After relaxing for 10 seconds, move on to another group of muscles, and repeat the same. 

TIP: Try to visualize the contraction and releasing of tension of the muscles in your body, so that it adds more focus to the activity. Also try visualizing all the stress and pain leaving your body with each release of tension. That helps a lot!

  1. 5-4-3-2-1 Technique: This is an interesting alternative focus technique. Look around your surroundings and answer the following questions:
  • What are 5 things you see (in a particular colour)?
  • What are 4 things you feel?
  • What are 3 things you hear?
  • What are 2 things you smell?
  • What is 1 thing you taste?

Other informal mindfulness/grounding techniques you can try include:

  1. Mental Grounding exercises: 

i) Describe an everyday activity, like brushing your teeth, in detail, to yourself
ii) Try to think of as many things in one category, like dogs or plants or musicians, as you can! Tests your knowledge, too.
iii) Count 1 to 100, but spell out the alphabets. O…N…E, T…W…O, etc.

  1. Physical Grounding exercises:

i) Run warm or cool water down the place where you usually self-harm
ii) Alternatively, try to hold an ice cube in your hand for as long as you can
iii) Jump up and down

You can also carry a grounding object with you, a small pen, a rock, a ring, a marble…anything you can touch and take comfort from when you feel frustrated or anxious or stressed. As with the Progressive Muscle Relaxation technique, you can also visualize your object drawing the negative energy away from you, in order for it to be more effective!


Do you feel like you have no one who listens to you? Do you want someone to vent to? Talk to a LonePack Buddy today!

What makes you, you?

Identify your values to lead a meaningful life

As we grow up, Life can seem to become more complicated. We’re faced with difficult decisions where the “right” choice might not always be easy or apparent. Choosing to pursue your relationship when your family is against it. Ending an abusive and toxic relationship. Being open about your gender or sexual identity. We might end up feeling stuck, with no way out of the situation. In those cases, a strong sense of who you are and your core values, can empower you and give back control of your life.

Lessons from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a form of psychotherapy that uses acceptance and mindfulness strategies mixed in different ways with commitment and behavior change strategies to increase psychological flexibility. In ACT, identifying your values is central to enforcing commitment and, the more personal the values, the better you are able to enforce them. This awareness allows you to be mindful of your actions and damaging behavioral patterns and correct them. Following are a few examples by which this therapeutic approach may be applied for common disorders.

One of the symptoms of anxiety is overthinking. We don’t have control over other people’s decisions, past or future circumstances or even our own emotional reactions to situations but we do have control over our own decisions. In order to break the fatalistic overthinking pattern, it would be helpful to identify your values and if your actions in these make-believe scenarios conform to them.

People who suffer from Depression might feel unenthusiastic about their life because they’re stuck. While it is true that there are a lot of factors that lock us into these situations which feel inescapable, having the mental fortitude can lend an inner strength. Starting small, with just one value and how to improve your life around this value can be the breakthrough strategy to realizing the infinite possibilities to change your life.

Note: The above examples are simplified for easier understanding, however, they are in no way a representation of the entire scope of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy as practiced in a professional setting.

Identifying Your Values

The following is a list of common values. This is in no way an exhaustive list and it is encouraged to add or edit these values to suit your personal experience. You may mark a ‘V’ for very important, ‘Q’ for Quite important and ‘N’ for Not that important across each of the goals.

  • Acceptance/self-acceptance: to be accepting of myself, others, life, etc.
  • Adventure: to be adventurous; to actively explore novel or stimulating experiences
  • Assertiveness: to respectfully stand up for my rights and request what I want
  • Authenticity: to be authentic, genuine, and real; to be true to myself
  • Caring/self-care: to be caring toward myself, others, the environment, etc.
  • Compassion/self-compassion: to act kindly toward myself and others in pain
  • Connection: to engage fully in whatever I’m doing and be fully present with others
  • Contribution and generosity: to contribute, give, help, assist, or share
  • Cooperation: to be cooperative and collaborative with others
  • Courage: to be courageous or brave; to persist in the face of fear, threat, or difficult
  • Creativity: to be creative or innovative
  • Curiosity: to be curious, open-minded, and interested; to explore and discover
  • Encouragement: to encourage and reward behavior that I value in myself or others
  • Engagement: to engage fully in what I am doing
  • Fairness and justice: to be fair and just to myself and others
  • Fitness: to maintain or improve or look after my physical and mental health
  • Flexibility: to adjust and adapt readily to changing circumstances
  • Freedom and independence: to choose how I live and help others do likewise
  • Friendliness: to be friendly, companionable, or agreeable toward others
  • Forgiveness/self-forgiveness: to be forgiving toward myself or others
  • Fun and humor: to be fun loving; to seek, create, and engage in fun-filled activities
  • Gratitude: to be grateful for and appreciative of myself, others, and life
  • Honesty: to be honest, truthful, and sincere with myself and others
  • Industry: to be industrious, hardworking, and dedicated
  • Intimacy: to open up, reveal, and share myself, emotionally or physically
  • Kindness: to be kind, considerate, nurturing, or caring toward myself or others
  • Love: to act lovingly or affectionately toward myself or others
  • Mindfulness: to be open to, engaged in and curious about the present moment
  • Order: to be orderly and organized
  • Persistence and commitment: to continue resolutely, despite problems or difficulties.
  • Respect/self-respect: to treat myself and others with care and consideration
  • Responsibility: to be responsible and accountable for my actions
  • Safety and protection: to secure, protect, or ensure my own safety or that of others
  • Sensuality and pleasure: to create or enjoy pleasurable and sensual experiences
  • Sexuality: to explore or express my sexuality
  • Skillfulness: to continually practice and improve my skills and apply myself fully
  • Supportiveness: to be supportive, helpful and available to myself or others
  • Trust: to be trustworthy; to be loyal, faithful, sincere, and reliable
  • Other:
  • Other:
    Russ Harris, 2013 Adapted from The Confidence Gap: From Fear to Freedom, by Russ Harris, Penguin Group (Australia), 2010.

The activity of identifying values can seem daunting at first glance. It might be made easier through the following activity.

Imagine you are 85 years old and all your friends are gathered to celebrate your birthday. One of your friends gets up to give a speech about your life.

If you had lived your life as you currently do, what are the most memorable qualities in the speech?

Now, take a moment to reflect upon the list of values. 

Imagine that you have made changes to how you live your life that revolves around your values. Now, if your friend made a speech, what are the most memorable qualities in it?

myStrength

How to Live your Values

While becoming aware of your values is a big first step, choosing your everyday actions to reflect them takes dedication and explicit intention. To make it easier, it might be useful to come up with 5 goals that aim at improving your lifestyle around your core values. Then, think back on how these values have been disregarded in the past, the more specific the experience the better. Now, with these memories in mind, come up with enforceable daily, weekly and monthly goals. It is key to start small and be specific when creating this list.

With commitment to your values, you can start to live your life with intention. However, it is unavoidable that we may sometimes slip back into unhealthy behavioral patterns. In those situations, you can reset your internal compass by becoming aware of your values and the reasons why they’re important to you. If the values are truly what make you, this exercise can jolt you back into control of your life.

Finally, Your values might be different in different aspects of your life such as family, relationships, work, community, religion, spirituality, etc. It is essential to make the distinction between beliefs and values. Beliefs might be imposed or imparted and are subject to change relatively frequently. However, values are central to your life’s purpose and generally become stronger when you overcome your mental health struggles. In conclusion, an awareness of your values helps in decision making and allows you to take control of your life and enforcing these values in your day to day life can impart a sense of meaning and direction to your life.

Sensory Processing Sensitivity: An Overview

We are exposed to internal and external stimuli at almost every moment in our lives, its forms being physical, emotional and biological; it is either foisted upon us or we willingly welcome it. Each individual’s management of and reactions to these impulses vary in intensity—while in some people, the cognitive processes unfolding behind the scenes might be cursory, in some others these processes involve and are driven by a heightened sensitivity of the central nervous system. The topography and depth of these processes, referred to as sensory processing sensitivity, is measured in order to discern the strength of one’s responsiveness to stimuli. 

What is Sensory Processing Sensitivity?


Sensory processing sensitivity (SPS) is a personality trait that is represented by an increased sensitivity[2] to sensory stimuli, however subtle or miniscule. It is measured and calculated using a questionnaire that inquires the respondent’s sensitivity to stimuli. A high measure of SPS in a person is indicative of a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). An important consideration to note and remember about SPS is that it is not a disorder, and that the similarly named sensory processing disorder is different. SPS is simply a personality temperament that characterizes a class of people referred to as Highly Sensitive Persons (HSPs). These terms were coined by Dr. Elaine Aron in the mid-1990s, a pioneer in the study and the proliferation of SPS and HSPs in academia and society.

Who can be categorised as a highly sensitive person?

Since an HSP is someone who is simply more receptive and responsive to subtleties around them, this trait can be found in people of all ages, from babies, children, teenagers and adults, affecting about 15-20% of the population. It is an innate quality, and has also been found in non-human species[1].

What are the traits of a HSP?

HSP have been observed[1] to be more prone to having a “pause to check” reaction when presented with a novel situation. They are also found weaving strong, deep and complex cognitive maps, mostly based on emotional processes and reactions, whether positive or negative. A highly sensitive person can be identified through the following tangible characteristics[3]:

  • Prone to sensory overload. Chaotic environments such as those containing loud noises, strong smells and graphic images deeply overwhelm HSPs.
  • Low pain tolerance. The threshold for pain of any kind, physical or emotional, of HSPs is lower than that of non-HSPs.
  • Easily moved. An HSP is often vehemently moved by evocative forms of art such as imagery, music and dance. They are also more nature-inclined than most. HSPs are also often deep thinkers, due to their complex cognitive processing pathways. As a result, they might also be seekers to life’s big questions, diving deep into the WHY of things that happen in and around their lives, and might become upset when they don’t encounter satisfactory answers.
  • Deeply perceptive. They recognize and pick up on other people’s discomfort, unease or any other negative emotion, and might even absorb the moods of others.
  • Rich inner world. HSPs are people who can get lost in the landscape of their inner world, and are often found in a state of trance and daydreaming.
  • Avoiding of violence. HSPs often cannot handle violent depictions of any kind, whether in media or in real life. Cruel and brutal situations affect HSPs, making them upset and sometimes even prone to physical symptoms such as nausea, or at the very least leave them feeling deeply unsettled.
  • Conflict avoidant. Since disputes have the potential to rake up unpleasant emotions, HSPs tend to avoid them as a protective measure to their sensitivity.
  • Prone to withdrawing. When the world around HSPs keeps shifting and changing, and when things become overwhelming as a result of being bombarded by stimuli, HSPs have the tendency to retreat in order to allow their mind to catch up with their external surroundings.

Reminders to HSP

  • Allow yourself to retreat. You are allowed to withdraw from environments, people, situations and things that make you uncomfortable, even if you were conditioned to believe that it is the norm, or that you should stick it up. You are not a quitter for engaging in unapologetic self-preservation.
  • Make time to rest. It is easy, especially in the edifice of capitalism, to feel “lazy” for needing more rest than what others, or even you, deem the norm. This results in a tendency to work more than you can handle and edge into burnout. Remember, Rest is an indispensable requisite, not a luxury you can opt out of.
  • Feel however you deem necessary. The way you feel is justified, even if the people around you do not understand the intensity, potency and ferocity of it. You are allowed to carve out the space you need to express yourself to the fullest, without suppressing your feelings.
  • Set boundaries. Not everyone will appreciate your sensitivity, and that’s their choice. It is also your choice to walk away from people who do not hold space for you.
  • Remember, you are strong. Being highly sensitive to and having a low threshold for pain, whether emotional or physical, does not make you weak.
  • Think, process and act for yourself only. You don’t need to burn-out trying to deduce what others might need or think. Trust the people in your life to seek your help if they need to, do not push it on them. This process not only tires you out, but might also breach others’ boundaries.

How can you help HSP?

  • Research and learn. Round up resources to educate yourself on sensory processing sensitivity, and invest time and energy towards realizing their reality. They will thank you for it abundantly.
  • Openly talk about SPS and HSP. About 15-20% of the population have high sensory processing sensitivity, the number reflecting a minority. Learning and openly conversing about these things helps remove the stigma behind sensitivity and its usage as a yardstick for “strength”, and helps push the HSP in your life toward self-acceptance.
  • Do not infantilize them. The intensity of their emotions is not an excuse to treat them as a child and belittle them, nor is it an excuse to tell them that what and how they’re feeling is wrong. Do not treat their emotions as if it were a tantrum.
  • Hold space for the extent of their feelings. Remember that their tendency to viscerally feel does not discount their humanity. Motivate them towards an acknowledgement of the magnificence that they are.
  • Accept their need to withdraw and encourage it. HSPs saunter through life embodying a myriad of emotions, thoughts and questions. Allow them a non-judgemental room to process it all.
  • Communicate clearly. While HSP are susceptible to non-verbal cues, it does not necessarily mean they are always cognizant of their intricacies and origins. Talking to them with clarity allows them peace and strips away any room for anxiety.
  • Support them. HSP often needs reminding that the way they feel is justified, that they deserve rest, and that they are not weak. Remind them that there is nothing repugnant with their sensitivity.
  • Be gentle with them. Since HSP have heightened responsiveness, adopting tender words and actions towards them helps in not overwhelming them.

Reference used and Sources to learn more

  1. Aron EN, Aron A, Jagiellowicz J. Sensory Processing Sensitivity: A Review in the Light of the Evolution of Biological Responsivity. Personality and Social Psychology Review. 2012;16(3):262-282. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1088868311434213
  2. Wikipedia contributors. (2020, December 8). Sensory processing sensitivity. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 07:24, February 7, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Sensory_processing_sensitivity&oldid=993026828
  3. Sarah Corsby, @themindgeek on Instagram | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4
  4. Dr. Elaine Aron’s website: The Highly Sensitive Person
  5. Self tests on Dr. Elaine Aron’s website: Self-Tests – The Highly Sensitive Person (not to be treated as a professional diagnosis)

How to reset your elusive sleep schedule

Sleep is a biological necessity. Contrary to what many people say, sleep  deprivation is not a symbol of hard work , and sleep is not a luxury that can be traded for more work or sadly, even for parties. Name any bodily system- digestive, endocrine, immune- chances are, it is going to be affected by problems in sleep.  Apart from the quality and quantity of sleep which are more frequently discussed, the regularity of our sleep-wake cycle is important too. It is ideal to have the required hours of sleep around the same time everyday, rather than sleeping at 10 p.m one day and at 2 a.m the next. 

Circadian Misalignment

To maintain the rhythmicity of our sleep, body temperature, blood pressure and other biological activities, our body has an internal clock called the “circadian clock” that is primarily handled by the Suprachiasmatic nucleus of the brain (It is a mouthful, so let’s call it SCN). In a way, it is the internal representation of the 24-hours cycle that is calibrated by a lot of factors around and within us. It is ideal to have this biological clock synchronized with your social clock, because major incompatibilities between the two clocks can be distressing and can have negative effects on functioning. These incompatibilities which include “delays, advances and/or complete dysregulations of someone’s sleep-wake cycle”, if clinically significant, can be diagnosed as a disorder under the umbrella of “Circadian rhythm sleep disorders”. Find more information on the disorders here.

But why fix it?

Even if many of our cycles are not disrupted enough to warrant a clinical diagnosis, there is no reason to not fix it nonetheless, given there are evidence-based ways to do so.

The importance of a good night’s sleep has been outlined in a previous lonepack post. An irregular sleep-wake cycle takes a toll on our mental health too and we will be left to navigate through the day feeling irritated and unable to concentrate. There will be difficulty in fulfilling social obligations and a lot of time will go wasted in failed attempts to fall asleep. We will also feel a loss of control and predictability which would lead to frustration. To top it all off, motivation and productivity also will plummet. Research studies link this circadian rhythm disruption to Depression-like symptoms, anxiety, Bipolar disorder, and Schizophrenia. Note that this does NOT necessarily mean that irregular sleep cycles lead to these disorders, or are consequences of having such disorders; it just means they have a tendency to co-occur. 

Now, the “HOW”

It is pertinent and fair that we clarify a few things at this point:

  •  The following steps will probably be more helpful for those who wish to realign their sleep-wake pattern than for those who wish to sleep more. 
  • There is also a real chance that some people might require professional help based on their personalized needs and history. 

1. Light

Light is the most important cue by which our internal body clock estimates the time of the day, which in turn translates to the time of our sleep or wakefulness. Recent research by Dr.Andrew Huberman and his team suggests that there are specialized cells in our eyes that can detect the yellow and blue wavelengths of the sky and communicate it to the SCN (the timekeeper that we talked about). In other words, our subconscious processing of the sky colour has the potential to adjust our internal clock. Leveraging it, approximately 8 minutes of watching the evening sky that transforms from light to dark can be a strong cue for our SCN. So take a look outside for a bit everyday to help with the cues for your SCN. 

However, unlike our ancestors, the technology that we have has provided us with many sources of light other than the sun, which can confuse our brain clock. Although any light during night can be off-putting to our sleep, blue light has the highest capacity to suppress melatonin secretion (Melatonin is a hormone which is involved in making us sleepy). Now, apart from the obvious but difficult option of avoiding devices close to bedtime, there are other alternatives to iron this out. There are several applications out there that filter out the blue light from the devices and some phones have a built-in “Night mode” option that can help with this. So, use blue light filter applications or better yet, minimise screen time at night to help reset your sleep cycle.

2. Exercise

Exercise and Sleep have a mutual, give-and-take relationship between them. Enough quality sleep is necessary to undergo exercise and appropriate exercise can help with sleep. It was found in a study that every hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity above an individual’s average can advance the onset of sleep by 18 minutes. So, make sure to get some optimal exercise in but also be aware that it is advised that people with disrupted sleep-wake cycles do not perform exercise close to bed time  (5-6 hours before sleep) , as it may stimulate our nervous system and increase body temperature which is not conducive to a good night’s sleep.  

3. Caffeine

Caffeine is ingested by most of us on a daily-basis in the form of tea, coffee or chocolates. But there are at least three ways by which caffeine interrupts sleep. It increases dopamine making you more alert, it suppresses melatonin and blocks adenosine, both of which play a role in making you sleepy. So, make sure to take caffeine only in the initial part of the day, as it has a long half-life period of around 6 hours, meaning it takes 6 hours for half of caffeine to get metabolized in your body.

4. Diet

We all have heard at some point that eating heavy before sleeping is bad, but how? Our digestive system does not actually turn off when we are asleep, but it does tend to slow down. So a heavy meal during the later part of the day may cause indigestion and/or the regurgitation of food and stomach acid which we call “acid reflux”. We might not realize that our sleep is affected by this but it does prevent us to enter deeper stages of sleep. So begin the day with larger meals  and proceed to lighter ones as we near our desired sleep time. 

5. Calming the nervous system 

Apart from these, anything that has the tendency to calm our nervous system might work because a hyperactive brain and body are the villains of sleep initiation. Keeping the temperature a bit lower, meditation practices, or anything from music to weighted blankets can help in this regard. Using the bed only for sleeping and not for anything else allows us to form an association between the bed and a relaxed, sleepy state.   

However, if certain factors like anxiety and stress have been playing a role, then you probably need more intervention to address the issues. Always remember, you gotta get the ZZZs, the right amount at the right time, to feel the YAYYs as you spring out of bed.

REFERENCES:

https://www.sleepfoundation.org/

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-44059-9

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41398-020-0694-0

http://www.hubermanlab.com/publications.html

https://www.circadiansleepdisorders.org/index.php

Therapy 101

How does therapy work?

Have you ever wondered, what happens in therapy?

Would it just be a person sitting on a couch and pouring their heart out to a stranger? Or is the therapist going to swing a shiny crystal, making the client  spill all of their past memories and unconscious thoughts ( suddenly, you recall reading about a peculiar theory by Sigmund Freud) . Well, the possibilities are endless and now you’re just really confused and nervous.

The society’s notion of therapy varies greatly, resulting in a lot of myths and confusion about what it really is.

What really is therapy? 

 Most psychological therapies are talk therapies, where the therapist tries to get an understanding of what is troubling the client and then uses different ways to approach and help with the issue. 

Who should go to therapy?

Therapy isn’t only for those who have mental illnesses, but also for those coping with new environments, major life transitions, stress or even for those finding difficulty in maintaining relationships or not finding joy in things as they did before. The goal is not only to treat illness, but also to promote wellbeing in everyday life.

Now one might ask, how is therapy different from taking advice from a friend  or a family member?

1. Therapy provides a safe space and is confidential. One does not need to worry about any judgement or the feeling of burdening someone. The  therapist is there only to help us.

2. Therapists go through a lot of training to identify maladaptive thought patterns and help in the process of healing, helping the client in the process of self-reflection and recovery. The therapeutic relationship is very different from friendship.

3. Therapy is more scientific than being a product of opinions and biases. It  provides long term value on how to deal with future situations, analysing various perspectives in making long term decisions. Also,there is a lot of research proving how important and helpful therapy is.

It’s also important to understand that therapy is of different types. While there might be different schools of thought when it comes to psychological therapies, they are all well-researched and are proven to aid in the process of well being.

Some of the different types of therapies are:

1. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

This therapy revolves around the belief that one’s negative thoughts affect behaviour, causing trouble. The therapist works along with the client to help rewire these negative thoughts and beliefs, focusing on solutions to overcome them.

2.Psychodynamic therapy

The therapist will try to explore how past experiences might influence one’s current troubles. The focus in this therapy is to identify hidden patterns or meanings in what the client says/ does, that might be contributing to the problem. The client and the therapist, together, work through these, focusing on emotional understanding and re-education.

3.Humanistic Therapy

Here, the therapist provides a supportive, empathetic environment in which the client can look at themselves in a non judgemental way, with honesty and acceptance, helping them maximize their potential.

This isn’t an exhaustive list ;there are  so many other types of  therapies as well, a few being dance and movement therapy, art therapy (spoiler alert: you don’t have to be good at dance or art for this) which stem from the belief that creative expression can help in the healing process and also help develop self- awareness. There are also family therapies and group therapies.

Therapy just aims to create a safe space, free of judgement and opinions.  Ultimately, it is a tool which really helps individuals  in trying to navigate difficult emotional and mental situations in the long run. Going to therapy is perfectly normal and it is for anyone and everyone.

The Kingdom of Dreams

When I was younger,
I dreamed of being Cinderella,
The beautiful, distressed, princess
Who would be saved by her Prince Charming
From the big, ugly, ogre.
If only I had understood then 
That beauty is in the eye of the beholder
And the ogres and demons existed inside my head.

When I was a little older,
I dreamed of being Jackie Chan
(From the cartoon, duh!)
And tour the world with Uncle and Jade
And Toru and El Toro and all the others. 
If only I had known then
That no number of magic stones
Could help me to fight the battles of the real world.

When I was older still,
I dreamed of being Hermione Granger,
(Because a brilliant witch is way cooler than a brave wizard, IMO)
Wise, loyal, but fierce if need be,
I wanted to fight evil with Harry and Ron by my side.
If only I had known then
That true evil exists in the heart and head
And it takes more than a cloak, a wand and a stone to vanquish it.

Fast forward a decade,
I’m too old for my own good.
And all I want to do now,
Is to go back to the Kingdom of Dreams,
A time when 9.00 AM was Popeye and 9.00 PM was shuteye.
A time when bingeing on Cheetos was the norm.
A time when having imaginary friends was considered cool.
A time when anything was possible…

The Lessons that the Men’s Mental Health Movement can Learn from Feminism

In recent years, many women and men have increasingly rallied behind the feminist movement, which fights for equality in opportunities and rights between men and women. The idea is to eradicate gender stereotypes, the age-old argument that ‘men and women are not the same’, at its rotten core. Being ‘same’ is not the same as being ‘equal’. Proponents of the women’s rights movement have made progress in finding the words to convey this stance and drive the wider public to their cause. This is apparent from the growing attendance at marches and protests across the world that mark important milestones in the movement.

Destigmatisation through dialogue and demonstrations

An intentional yet subtle outcome of the movement has been the growing change in perspective and the consequent destigmatisation of conventionally taboo topics of rape, sexual harassment and domestic violence. The normalization of discussion of these issues in the widespread media through the sharing of stories by influencers and stars (the ‘Me Too’ movement is a prime example) has given strength to the common public to come forth with their own life stories. As the dialogue surrounding these topics grows louder, awareness increases, allowing development of sensitization to these issues.

This outcome is exactly what is expected when it comes to men’s mental health. We need to shatter the stigma surrounding the issue and engage the media, thus reinforcing the fact that it is okay to discuss these issues which are also considered taboo. The measures that were effective in the Feminist movement can help the men’s mental health movement too. November is men’s health month, also called Movember, as men grow mustaches to raise awareness for issues such as prostate and testicular cancer and also mental health of men. While on one hand, men dominate professionally and politically, they’re also more susceptible to suffering from a wide range of mental health issues such as suicide. This article by the American Psychological Association outlines the guidelines for psychological practice with men and boys. Organizing events surrounding this month’s theme and engagement by widespread media can grow the movement by leaps and bounds. 

Enemy Number One

The women’s movement has a clear Enemy Number One – The Patriarchy. So protests and marches were led targeting this common foe. There is no single person who represents this enemy – it is rather the idea that there is something to fight against, which inspires people to rally and come together. It lifts the haze of incoherence and provides a focal point around which the entire ideal can be constructed. In terms of men’s mental health, such an adversary is absent, which is because clarity can be scarcely afforded on a deeper investigation of the subject. This should be a primary goal of the movement as it is stories which instill passion in the public rather than just a bulletin of goals. We need to ask the question, ‘What is stopping men from discussing their mental health?’ and we might find our rallying cry in its answer.

Equity not Equality

Finally, the solution to women’s rights being equity rather than equality to the whole cacophony of ‘men are not the same as women’ has a profound lesson for the men’s mental health sphere. We are all different and unique in our own way. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to destigmatizing men’s mental health issues. We need to approach the problem in a different way, by creating additional opportunity for the severely-disadvantaged in a disproportionate fashion so as to bring them on equal footing. This might mean that we need to research heavily on what bolsters chances of men seeking therapy and what undermines these efforts. We may also come up with innovative and unique therapeutic methodologies to sensitively address the issues so as to build trust in male patients. 

We need innovative solutions to tackling the difficult challenge of destigmatizing men’s mental health and inspiration is abundant for those who look for it. We may need to look no further than to women in their fight and learn from their struggles and victories to build a better tomorrow for men, too.

Mental Health in the Workplace

With the quarantine in full effect, Some of us have been working from our beds – the line between home and work completely blurred. Some others have a little too much family time and work has been their escape. And, for yet many more the pandemic has cost them their jobs and uncertainty looms like a guillotine over their lives. The undeniable fact remains that this lock-down is a little crazy and completely chaotic, and working from home has only added fuel to the fire.

The conversation surrounding mental health has never been more important, and while more and more people are talking about it, one space that it is rarely discussed is work. The internal separation between our ‘professional’ work-selves and our home-selves makes the topic of mental health issues taboo at the workplace. The need for this dialogue is also scarcely driven by employees. Changing this corporate culture must be driven by every worker. Spreading awareness and building support for demanding these benefits is a vital starting point. Encouraging more open conversations about mental health between colleagues and peers can lead to a more robust employee-driven implementation of policies. Finally, focusing on continuous improvement and adapting to change is key to support a workforce that deals with rapidly changing ways of working. Regardless of the myriad occupations that each of us hold, we can focus on these common spokes to turn the wheel of change. 

While some companies have started recognizing this and provide benefits catering towards employee mental-health such as free therapy and paid time-off, this is far from being the norm. Corporations exploit this diffidence to enhance their profit margins. However, businesses may actually profit from providing mental health services as part of their benefits. The World Health Organisation estimates that the cost in lost productivity due to depression and anxiety disorders is nearly US$ 1 Trillion. 

The pandemic and resulting work-from-home paradigm has brought forth a new challenge to the mental well-being of the digital workforce. While traditionally, most companies viewed working from home with suspicion, the current state of the world has brought enlightening new facts to dispel this doubt. Microsoft was among the first companies to enforce work-from-home for its employees. It has also been proactive in studying the results of this ‘experiment’. Some of the highlights (or sobering facts, to be accurate) from this study are, 

  • Employees were spending 10% more time in meetings when working remotely.
  • Instant Messaging usually slows down by 25% during lunchtime. However, when working from home, it dipped by a mere 10%.
  • Instant Messaging usage soared by 52% during 6pm and midnight.

The World Economic Forum recommends these 10 tips to boost your mental health when working from home. Here are some of the key points.

  • Set up a dedicated workspace, which should be as free from distractions as possible.
  • Develop a schedule, which includes phases of focused work as well as breaks.
  • Try to establish simple routines which don’t require any self-control, such as a coffee break or starting your working day with an easy routine task.
  • Set up dedicated times for work and leisure – and stick to these times.
  • If possible, work in a different room than the one you spend your leisure time in. Particularly avoid working in your bedroom as it may remind you of work related issues, preventing detachment when you go to sleep.
  • Engage in absorbing activities, which capture your full attention after work. Good examples include exercise, cooking, mindfulness meditation, or focused playing with your children or pets.

Due to the advances of technology and to the delight of managers, the feeling that an employee is available at any time when working from home has become the norm. Mental health has taken a back seat. Zoom burnout and loneliness (especially in the case of the younger workforce) are frequent complaints. In a 2010 experiment conducted by Nick Bloom, a British Economics professor at Stanford University, for a Chinese travel agency Ctrip, one half of a 250 employee-group, were told to work from home while the other half worked in the office. To the surprise of the agency, the productivity of the Home group went up by 13% and the company could save nearly $2000 annually per employee from this arrangement. But the experiment also measured happiness and ‘feelings of loneliness’ were the main reason for employee dissatisfaction. 

A majority of people spend one third of their adult life at work. Even if the social value of dispelling stigma surrounding mental health at the workplace isn’t enough, there is also a clear economic motive. The same study that estimated the cost of lost productivity due to employee mental health issues also provides hope. As a positive incentive for companies to take up the cause of mental health in the workplace, the research estimates that for every US$ 1 put into scaled up treatment for common mental disorders, there is a return of US$ 4 in improved health and productivity. Here are the key takeaways from the steps recommended by the World Economic Forum to build a mentally healthy workplace,

  1. Be aware of the specific needs and circumstances of the work environment of your employees and tailor policies best suited for your company.
  2. Seek inspiration from motivational leaders and employees who have taken action.
  3. Be aware of other companies who have taken action to put mental health policies in place.
  4. Successful implementation of mental health policies and delivery of benefits relies on collaboration. Take practical steps to put this into place.
  5. Figure out where to go if you or your employees need professional help for their mental health concerns.

Most of these measures can be implemented whether the employees are at office or working from home. The most important step is to ‘Start taking action NOW.’ Employees have found innovative ways to stay connected with colleagues, who for many, double as best friends and form an important part of their social network. It is time for businesses to open a more humane side of operations and recognize that whether their employees are working from home or at the office, their mental health is as much of a tangible factor in their success as any profit margin.