Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Holiday Blues

Holiday Blues
Helpful tips and tasty remedies

For a lot of people, the holidays are a time of fun and excitement. For others, however, the Jingle bells are a prelude to the Holiday Blues. Frenetic shopping, family reunions and fights over “who’s house is it going to be this year”, unrealistic expectations, tense family relations, missing friends and family, and sad memories associated with the holidays are some of the factors related to the holiday blues.

Stress symptoms include: sadness and mood swings, headaches, excessive drinking, overeating, problems sleeping. These symptoms can at time continue even after the holidays have passed. Here are some helpful tips:
• Most families are not the Brady bunch. Be realistic about your expectations from family members. Fights and jealousies happen in all families and they will happen during the holidays too. Other families may not be happier or more loving than yours.
• Expensive gifts do not bring good time, people do. Keep in mind that the joy of giving does not have to become the nightmare of dept.
• Organize your time. Be realistic about what you can and what you can not do
• Do not drink too much. Alcohol is a depressant and excessive drinking will cause depression.
• A dry turkey is definitely not the end of the world. And talking about turkey:

Turkey along with pumpkin seeds, bananas, figs, dates, and tuna, are natural antidepressants. These foods contain an amino acid called tryptophan. Tryptophan is the precursor of seretonin and seretonin modulates moods and sleep patterns.

So, enjoy good food, good friends and have a

Happy and healthy holiday season

Friday, August 24, 2007


Let’s talk about “coping”

Do you feel the stress barometer rising, or is it just me?
The kids are going back to school and so are the parents: Homework, PTA meetings, practices, dance lessons, and what seems to be endless driving from one place to another. And the holidays are coming!!
For most of us juggling 5 balls at the time is the norm rather than the exception. Finding ways to cope is the proverbial “life boat”

Here are some suggestions for life’s small and big problems:
• Make connections. Support groups or friends may have a fresh perspective or simply a clearer mind.
• Avoid making mountains out of molehills. “Stuff” happens; just don’t step on it.
• Life is full of changes. Keep in mind that it is the tree that does not bend with the wind that breaks in the storm.
• Make clear and attainable goals and move toward them. Size does not matter small accomplishments do count.
• Make up your mind. Indecision is anxiety’s best friend.
• Never stop learning about yourself. A crisis can make you stronger if you can learn something valuable out of it.
• Maintain a hopeful outlook. Think of what you want not of what you are afraid of. Visualizing success is the first step toward it.
• Take care of yourself. Exercise, eat healthy, feed your spirit and maintain a positive image of yourself.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Second chances

I have a brother older than me, smarter than me more accomplished than me(I think I may have won in the looks department but this is debatable). So, this brother of mine is a professor of economics at Erasmus University in the Netherlands and for the past few years he has been invited to teach a series of courses in Singapore. Yes, you remember Singapore the avid enemy of chewing gum? Where throwing chewing gum on the streets gets you whipped publicly? Well being arrested for possession of drugs gets your neck in a noose and your soul to its maker.

In this land of wonders a couple of years back a 26 year old guy was put to death for possession of 400grms of heroin. The news caused a loud roar from our European neighbors across the pond. Curiously American news papers
were conspicuously silent. So, my brother the professor, maybe because I am a psychologist maybe because I consider myself an American formally requested my thoughts and feelings on this particular subject and on the death penalty in general. What follows is my response.

Personally I am pro death penalty for rapists, murderers (other than self-defense), pedophiles and child abusers, women batterers and some other psychopathic manifestations such as animal torture and sadism. I consider sociopaths beyond the scope and hope of rehabilitation and I can muster no empathy for them

But what about this patient of mine who at the age of 20 and during one of his college extravaganzas decides to buy some coke for himself and his friends and gets arrested. He is put on PTI (pre-trial intervention, a form of probation but with no permanent record) and mandated to seek therapy (enters Dr. Charalambidis-Urban). It is now 10 years later and he is a pediatrician, religious NA (Narcotics Anonymous) participant and contributor. Do I tell Dr. K. that he should had been hanged at the age of 20?

Or what about the 21 year old girl who after being raped by her father for what she decides to be the last time she drives to Asbury Park ( a shady city at the shore) to buy anything that she can get her hands on to do herself in. Fortunately she approaches an undercover narco-cop. After it is ascertained that she is suicidal she is sent to the hospital. Act II, enters yours truly. Act III takes place about 11 years later and she is now the head nurse in the ER at the hospital. Through the years she has recounted many stories of lives she has saved including that of a cop who was shot by a drug dealer. Do I tell her that it would have cost the society a lot less if she was executed? Or do I tell the cop she saved that the world would have been a safer place without her?
No, I am not making it up. But, if you have a few more hours I can tell you a dozen more stories. These people were not sociopaths. They were lost souls caught in the grinds of an outrageous life and needing someone to pluck them out and give them a second chance.

I wonder if Singapore’s peremptory morality is about justice or about what we psychologists call Splitting: we split, disown and dissociate the most shaming, tenebrous aspects of our psych and we project them on someone else, preferably someone weak, whom we then proceed to punish mercilessly and sadistically. Incidentally the Bush administration has been doing this exact thing for the past 6 years. It was Hitler’s dream too.

I too want to sleep with my door open, or walk to my car without thoughts of being raped, but not at the price of moral tunnel vision. It is a lot easier to use the same moral yard stick for everything, to adopt a moral indignation that shields us from disturbing dilemmas, but then I do wonder what happens to our humanity, critical thinking, and imagination. Would this be the path to evolution or devolution?

I too get scared when Euc goes to Amsterdam, I am scared because I know that young people experiment, and thumb their noses at danger and death all the time. That they make mistakes and give into temptation. I get scared because I know that the path of individuation is through rebellion, challenging of the status quo and breaking rules, even if they are re-adopted later on or new ones are made. And where would the rest of us be without the Galileos of this world (They too broke some very sacred laws). But can you imagine if I had to worry that he will be hanged if he was caught with a gram of coke? I could not live with that, could you my brother?

This over-sanitized over-civilized hyper-“cerebralized” society that Singapore aspires to be reminds me of an old star trek episode, the Festival. Do you remember?

My years in the therapist’s chair have shown me over and over that EVERY one’s psych is a simmering and babbling primordial soup which once in a while (to our shock and dismay) spits out some very insalubrious ingredients, whether there are laws against it or not. I would sleep better if I believed that at that time I would be judged with a little more leniency than the chronic and stone- hearted sociopath. Maybe that’s my own utopia.
Furthermore, if we attempt to allay our fears about safety with draconian and hegemonic rules aren’t we creating the Orwellian negative utopia that a lot of us confirmed “democrats” vehemently object to?

Ok, as the song says, I said too much


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Broken heart

Is a “broken heart” more than an old saying?

Researchers in the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm found that marital stress can triple the risk of having a recurrent coronary event for women who have coronary heart disease.

Researchers followed 292 women for about 5 years after they had been hospitalized for acute myocardial infraction or unstable angina pectoris. They found that those with high marital stress were 2,9 times more likely to have further coronary heart problems. Marital problems were an even bigger factor than work stress.

The study suggests that emotional strain and lack of social support may add to women’s poor health by discouraging them from following a healthy life style or medical regimens and also by inducing damaging effects on neuroendocrine and physiological regulatory mechanisms.

So, here is the question: Is any mariage, any relationship worth a broken heart?

Friday, March 23, 2007

can it be that it was all so simple then or has time re-written every line?

I was reading in the New York Times magazine section a couple of weeks back that Neuroimaging technology is breaking new and exciting grounds. Daniel Langleben at the Uninversity of Pennsylvania has developed the Guilty Knowledge test. He is using f.M.R.I machines to compare the brain activity of liars and truth tellers. Langeleben found that certain areas of the brain lighted up when people lied. But this is just the beginning. Michael Gazzaniga, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara proposes that within 10 years, neuroscientists will be able to show that there are neurological differences(again in f.M.R.I imaging) when people testify about their own previous acts and when they testify to something they just witnessed or heard. And no, this is not the end, there is more mind-blowing news (pan intended): A little further down the road neuroimaging technology would be able to read neuronal firings and translate them into voice, text or movies. Yes, you got it; science is catching up with science fiction.

The article focused on the legal ramifications of this technology. But, I am a psychologist who through the years treated many survivors of childhood abuse. I empathized with their pain, joined them in their anger and rage and questioned along with them the validity of memories too painful to accept without feeling that your soul has been stained and your trust in humanity shattered for ever. Not to mention worrying about the possibility of attorneys and families suing me for “implanting” memories (as if trauma memories were bean of tomato seeds).

So, the questions that have “haunted” me ever since I read this article were: If we had the chance to “see” our childhood would we take it? If we could watch our lives moment by vivid moment and had uncontroversial proof of the mistakes or atrocities perpetrated on us or by us how many of us will be brave enough or foolish enough to do so? How do we love, forgive and live with ourselves and our families without the merciful help of repression, denial and editing of the past? Could it be that as the song says:
Memories, may be beautiful and yet
what’s too painful to remember
we simply choose to forget

Would the truth set us free or deliver us deeper into the pit of depression and madness?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

As a way of an introduction

One of the giants in the field of psychology once said that “our patients teach and heal us.” So, after twelve years of sitting across from the therapy couch and patiently listening to people, I believe I have learned enough to begin to share it with whoever wants to learn and heal too.

I’d like to use this space to share information that has changed my life, life stories that have touched my heart, jokes and anecdotes that have lit up not only my days but also the darkest corners of my being. I’d also like to extend an invitation to new voices, fresh opinions, more life stories.

Like a new parent, I have all sort of dreams about my “creation” but I am trying to put any preconceived notions away and allow this “newborn” to manifest its hidden potentials freely, to surprise and challenge me with every new step .

Come and join me in what I hope it will be an interesting journey.

Dr. Urban

Women and depression

Women and Depression
Sometimes it seems that the World is laying on our shoulders

Today’s woman often finds herself having to wear different hats all at the same time: A wife, a homemaker, a mother, an employee, a professional, a businesswoman. Superman has retired only to pass the baton to the SUPERMOM! No wonder drug companies are making billions selling antidepressants.

One out of five Americans are suffering from depression with the majority of them being women.

Research has shown that some forms of depression are due to a chemical imbalance. It has also shown that all forms of depression are triggered by life stressors such as separation, divorce, death, going to college, work, etc.

Many women experience intense depression after the birth of a child. Postpartum depression is often caused by hormonal changes after birth. However, if there are other stressful factors in the woman’s life such as marital/family problems or history of depression or anxiety, post partum depression can become a serious and long lasting problem with serious repercussions for the whole family.

Depression is not anyone’s fault and it is not weakness. It is an illness that needs professional help by a qualified mental health professional often in corporation with your physician.