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Overcoming and Managing Depression with Exercise
Broadly speaking, depression alters one’s ability to maintain and balance a normal range of thoughts, emotions, and level of energy. To maintain these, the brain must have balanced levels of the neurotransmitter, serotonin. While antidepressants help improve these levels, they can have side effects, little or even no effects. And, for any number of reasons, you may not want to take them. A healthy, as well as beneficial alternative to medication, and posing very few side effects is Exercise, which not only raises serotonin levels, and improves synaptic transmission of serotonin, it raises dopamine, the brain’s natural feel-good chemical. Here are some tips to get the most of your work out while improving your depression.
One approach for depression is to simply do the opposite of what the depression is urging you to do. For example, if depression encourages isolation; make efforts to socialize. Having a bleak outlook, isn’t exactly a self-concept booster in terms of reaching out, but these negative feelings are unrealistic and simply a bi-product of depression. Just being around people is beneficial, practical, way of counteracting these feelings. Humans naturally respond to other humans. We take other’s cues as reflections of ourselves, such as one smiles, or laughs at our jokes. Social interactions provide us with responses with which we can counter the negative feelings about ourselves that depression incurs. While socialization can be difficult when depressed, just going to the gym and interacting with others around common exchanges—working in, talking with the person at the front desk, provides small, but necessary social interactions. Plus, it gets you out of the house, is a place to be, and can offer a sense of belonging. If nothing else, it forces you to not isolate. Just taking a book and quietly reading on the Life Cycle provides the benefit of being some place other than home alone, as well as the good feelings generated by exercise.
Another characteristic of depression is anxiety, a free-floating nervousness, or feeling of dread which manifests in a distractibility. It’s like having multiple legs all vying to go in different directions. You may have the energy and drive to do something, but that something has the accuracy of buckshot. Making time to go to the gym can be a way of taking hold of the anxiety, and channeling it’s energy in a productive manner. Exercise provides a diversion from the negative, obsessive thoughts, and the feelings symptomatic of depression. We store experiences and their connected emotions in our body. Muscle activity helps discharge old feelings associated with negative events. As well, 80% of depression sufferers cannot sleep well, and exercise helps to regulate sleep patterns.
There’s no evidence that one particular type exercise is better than another. Aerobic activity, weight lifting or flexibility training, like yoga, all prove effective in treating depression. Yoga tough focuses more on relaxation and mindfulness techniques invaluable to well-being, but especially depression. Simply learning a new skill such as weight training provides a feeling of accomplishment and mastery, which in turn raises one’s confidence, and self esteem. Whatever form of exercise you choose, choose one that is appealing but isn’t too difficult for you. Positive outcomes do not have to depend on achieving physical fitness, but simply better moods. This of weight loss or physical fitness as an extra benefit. However, if your body starts looking better as a result of exercise, this will only boost to your esteem and motivation to continue your routine. If you tend to eat more, or more emotionally as a result of depression, exercise allows you to eat more freely, and worry less about gaining weight. Exercise also increases pleasure, satisfaction, and sense of self-control—and can help counter the effects of emotional eating.
In some yoga and Buddhist traditions the practice of meditation incorporates Mantras—words or phrases that hold significant meaning or purpose for the individual. We don’t often associate this with curls and shamelessly cranking classic rock, yet we might be at our peak of concentration and receptiveness while doing this. For example, Inhale on the rest (saying: let in strength, vitality), exhale while engaged in the curl (saying: let out bad feelings), bolstered by the yin or yang of power chords. Of course you’ll need to come up with your own mantra, but the brain responds very well to language and can associate messages with feeling good. Also, focusing on breathing oxygenates the muscles while it naturally calms the body and the individual. Not quite having fully evolved from the days when we were chased by saber tooth tigers, breathing deeply lets the body know were safe and out of harm’s way.
Another trick is–when you can, simply smile as you exercise. The action between the brain’s recognizing pleasurable stimulation and telling the face muscles to smile isn’t necessarily one-way, but rather a two directional-loop; so that by smiling, the muscles then inform, or “trick” the brain into feeling pleasure. So rather than making those painful faces of exertion, which mimic anger, try smiling. If nothing else, you might appear more approachable to others.
Some gyms have a sauna or steam room. Taking a sauna after a work out is not only a good way to keep muscles loose, but it is also a way in which to pamper ourselves, something that depression doesn’t encourage us to do. The sauna also provides an opportunity to sit quietly with our eyes closed, feeling the contentment of an exercised and relaxed body, perhaps even trying a simple meditation that focuses on the breathing, or in conjunction uses the mantras one used during their work out. It may be a way of checking in with oneself or to prepare for the rest of their day or week.
Whether you experience occasional, or clinical depression, exercise is a positive and productive means to both manage and treat it’s most basic symptoms and feel better about yourself, mentally and physically. Notice the difference you feel about yourself prior and post workout. Obviously though, if symptoms persist, or are a result of unresolved personal or relationship issues, psychotherapy or counseling can help to understand and resolve many of these issues.
Marijuana Addiction and Adolescents
Marijuana is an integral phenomenon in adolescent life today. In the last five years, working with adolescents in my private practice, I have seen a definite increase in the use of Marijuana, most notably, addiction to it. What I’ve most noticed is that individuals are engaging in basic life activities, such as social interactions, school work, sports, recreational pleasures, and even examining their lives—which adolescents constantly do—including making significant life choices, while using Marijuana. As a result, they cannot access the same quality or engagement with these activities unless using Marijuana. Adolescents are especially vulnerable to addiction in light of these activities, because adolescence is the developmental period in which their cognitive abilities are rapidly becoming more complex, and the pairing of Marijuana use with the necessary outcomes of this development stage intensifies the risk of dependency and addiction.
Marijuana addiction has many of the same characteristics as many other addictive drugs, including alcohol, tobacco and caffeine. The thing about marijuana addiction is that it is very subtle. Some people can use it occasionally and then leave it alone for extended periods of time, while others wind up using it daily, so that their lives begin to revolve around marijuana.
Addictive drugs directly or indirectly target the brain’s reward system by flooding it with dopamine, a neurotransmitter present in regions of the brain that regulates emotion, cognition, motivation, and, more specifically, feelings of pleasure. THC, Tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient specifically in Marijuana, acts upon sites in the brain, called cannaboid receptors that give users the “high” when they smoke marijuana. The highest density of cannaboid receptors are found in parts of the brain that also influence memory, thoughts, concentration, sensory and time perception, coordinated movement, as well as pleasure. When drugs of this kind are taken, they can release 2 to 10 times the amount of dopamine, and their effects can last much longer than those produced by natural rewarding behaviors, such as eating, exercise and other pleasurable activities. Our brains are designed to ensure that we will repeat pleasurable activities. Whenever this reward circuit is activated, the brain notes that something important is happening that needs to be remembered, and teaches us to do it again and again, without consciously thinking about it.
Some believe the brain adjusts to these surges in dopamine by producing less dopamine or by reducing the number of pleasure receptors. As a result, the natural effect of dopamine on the reward circuits of a drug abuser’s brain can become abnormally low, and the ability to experience pleasure without drugs is reduced. This is why the abuser eventually feels flat, lifeless, and depressed, unable to enjoy what previously brought them pleasure. This results in the compulsive, often uncontrollable, drug craving, seeking, and use that defines addictive behavior.
Signs of Marijuana use: Sleepy appearance,
Dilated (large) pupils
Bloodshot eyes, Dry mouth, Sluggishness, Euphoria,
Impaired short-term memory,
Social withdrawal and isolation,
Smell on clothing, in room, or in car, Smoking devices/ rolling papers, Discolored fingers.
Addictive behaviors associated with Marijuana: Using more marijuana than intended, Unable to cut down or stop marijuana use, Lots of time spent getting high, Reduced activities, Continuing to get high despite the problems it causes, Using marijuana to escape from problems, Depending on marijuana to be creative, relax or enjoy one’s self, Choosing relationships and activities based on whether or not one will be able to get high.
No single factor can predict whether or not a person will become addicted to drugs. Scientists estimate that genetic factors account for between 40 and 60 percent of a person’s vulnerability to addiction. Individuals with mental disorders, such as social anxiety, stress-related disorders, and depression, often begin abusing drugs in an attempt to lessen feelings of distress (also called self-medicating), and are at greater risk for abuse and addiction. Adolescents experience a particular vulnerability to addiction, because their brains are still developing in the areas that govern decision-making, judgment, and self-control, and are especially prone to risk-taking behaviors. Parents or older family members who abuse alcohol or drugs can increase children’s risks of developing their own drug problems. Friends and acquaintances have the greatest influence during adolescence. Drug-abusing peers can sway even those without risk factors to try drugs for the first time. Academic failure or poor social skills can also put a child further at risk for drug abuse.
Along with professionals, the internet provides unlimited information about drug use, signs and typical symptoms. Parents would do well to talk to their adolescent children openly and non-judgmentally about drugs and their effects, possibly sharing their own experiences, if any. Like any difficult topic, the first order of business is demystifying the stigma that goes along with drug use. Often times Marijuana use is a means of self-treating emotional distress, such as depression and anxiety which can better be addressed through counseling. Unfortunately or otherwise, drugs are a part of our culture, and adolescents most likely will experiment with them. But if you suspect your adolescent is abusing drugs, consider having your child see a therapist, or set up a joint counseling session to facilitate a frank discussion with the adolescent. Most therapists trained to work with adolescents, also work in conjunction with families, and can ensure a productive conversation. If the adolescent’s use has crossed over into addiction, treatment may be necessary to regain control over drug craving, seeking, and use. Research studies indicate that most addicted individuals can participate actively in treatment and achieve good outcomes. Understanding that addiction has significant biological component may help explain an individual’s difficulty in achieving and maintaining abstinence without treatment.
Taking Control of Stress
If I told you I found this new energy drink that makes your heart pound faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rise, breath quickens, and your senses become sharper, you might be interested. If I went on to say, that these physical changes increase your strength and stamina, speed your reaction time, and enhance your focus – preparing you to either fight or flee from any danger at hand, you might actually be a taker if you were feeling even the slightest bit sluggish.
But what if I told you these same effects were the symptoms of none other than stress? You’d probably prepare for me to sound sanctimonious or just click on to something else.
Yet stress like many energy drinks helps you rise to meet challenges. Stress is what keeps you on your toes during a presentation at work, sharpens your concentration when you’re attempting the game-winning free throw, or drives you to study for an exam when you’d rather be watching TV.
Beyond a certain point, stress stops being helpful and starts causing major damage to your health, your mood, your productivity, your relationships, and your quality of life.
So why the energy drink analogy?
Because the body doesn’t distinguish between physical and psychological threats. When you’re stressed over a busy schedule, an argument with a friend, a traffic jam, or a mountain of bills, your body reacts just as strongly as if you were facing a life-or-death situation. But the mind can distinguish, at least it can trick itself into believing so. If you have a lot of responsibilities and worries, your emergency stress response may be “on” most of the time—but in the most uncomfortable way: Generalized, free-floating, Anxiety. The more your body’s stress system is activated, the easier it is to turn on and the harder it is to shut off. What I think is one of the draws to energy drinks is the false assumption that one is harnessing and directing the force of the stress response for their own purposes. When we think of the most common internal causes of stress: Inability to accept uncertainty, Pessimism, Unrealistic expectations, Perfectionism, Lack of assertiveness, Negative self-talk, coupled with a false assumption we can alter these, we have a phenomenon that resembles self medication—in the case of energy drinks.
Also, one of the traits of being human is agency, having something greater outside our selves in which to place responsibility, and so those lingering effects of stress, once the caffeine and God-knows-what-ever-else they put in those drinks wears off, can easily be placed on the energy drink rather than the stresses that we felt required us to drink them. Most of these beverages rely heavily on concentrated doses of artificial caffeine, which tends to over saturate one’s nervous system. If overexposure is repeated, nervous system goes haywire, leading to shaky hands, nervous tics, racing mind the same as it would under sustained stress and anxiety. So not only our we jacking up our stress, we are habituating ourselves to it.
But the brain is now believed to have a lot of plasticity and is highly adaptable to any environment we subject it to over a period of time. Every time we learn something new, dendrite connections are changed and new connections are made that didn’t exist before. The purpose of this adaptation is to achieve and maintain a biological balance known as homeostasis or “Steady-State”. An “environment” can be external to the body as well as internal. This adaptation creates a familiar balance or “Steady-State” in the brain. Since the brain likes predictability and consistency, when we acquire a certain steady-state our brain will act to maintain that state–even a state of chronic stress or depression.
By “chronic” I mean the response of the brain to unpleasant events for a prolonged period over which an individual perceives he has no control. It involves the endocrine system, a system of glands which secretes corticosteroid, a type of hormone secreted directly into the bloodstream to regulate the body. The endocrine system is an information system like the nervous system, yet its effects are slower to initiate, and more prolonged, lasting for hours and up to weeks. Symptoms of chronic stress can vary from anxiety, depression, social isolation, lack of sleep to difficulty concentrating, as well as, aggression, intense mood swings, heightened confusion in mildly stressful situations, hypertension, and suicidal thoughts.
When the brain is constantly exposed to worry and negativity, homeostasis becomes the priority and all other neural functioning suffers. In this situation, existing neurons are preoccupied with survival and the brain does not exert effort on creating new neurons. Stress becomes the steady-state, something we are used to. We may never have known anything else. In cases like this, stress can become familiar and accepted as a way of life. In other words, if you live with a steady-state of chronic stress then all kinds of imbalances occur due to the neuro-toxicity, causing neurological, physical and emotional, degeneration, which leads to more stress.
Unfortunately, any attempts to recover from chronic conditions like stress are usually met with strong resistance in the form of self-sabotage as the subconscious mind tries to regain and maintain homoestasis. When someone says, “That’s just the way I am” it’s true. However, the unspoken implication is “I can’t change” which is not true. If it were true there would be no recovery from stress.
Plain and simple, chronic stress disrupts nearly every system in your body. It can raise blood pressure, suppress the immune system, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, contribute to infertility, speed up the aging process, and even rewire the brain, leaving you more vulnerable to anxiety and depression.
The good news? With discipline and repetition we can change our steady-state to a “new steady-state” or neo-homeostasis.
So how do we manage stress? Like everything, we learn. You may feel like the stress in your life is out of your control, but you can always control the way you respond. Managing stress is all about taking charge: taking charge of your thoughts, your emotions, your schedule, your environment, and the way you deal with problems. Stress management involves changing the stressful situation when you can, and changing your reaction when you can’t.
So some tips:
Strengthen your relationships: A strong support network is your greatest protection against stress. When you have trusted friends and family members you know you can count on, life’s pressures don’t seem as overwhelming. So spend time with the people you love and don’t let your responsibilities keep you from having a social life.
Learn how to relax: Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing activate the body’s relaxation response, a state of restfulness is the opposite of the stress response. When practiced regularly, these activities lead to a reduction in your everyday stress levels and increase your ability to stay calm under pressure.
Invest in your emotional health: Most people ignore their emotional health until there’s a problem. People with good emotional health have an ability to bounce back from stress and adversity. This ability is called resilience. They remain focused, flexible, and positive in bad times as well as good.
And consider avoiding energy drinks.
The good news is that there are professionals out there like therapists who can help you develop these skills along with a better attitude towards your life and the inevitable things in it which may cause stress.
Sexual Performance Anxiety
Possibly every man will suffer from sexual performance anxiety at one time or another during the course of his sexual life. Sexual performance anxiety occurs when a man anticipates having some form of difficulty, such as difficulties with, or maintaining erections, premature or delayed ejaculation, or lack of arousal, causing him to be anxious or even panicked approaching or during sex. This can lead to a lack of desire, or an avoidance of sex all together. The problems this causes in relationships isn’t limited to simply the lack of physical sex, but the lack of mutually intimate expression, feelings about themselves, their partner, and at times, sex itself.
Many therapists believe that a man’s anxiety about sex is related to normal underlying fears and insecurities but have never been openly expressed. Some men have fears about being rejected, disappointing a partner, their masculinity, their ability to perform, or anxieties related to their sexual orientation. Feeling inadequate in any of these areas can be especially painful. Performance anxiety hits a man when he is most vulnerable and insecure.
If one is able to have normal erections at other times apart from sex, e.g. when waking in the morning, or when masturbating, one is capable of having erections firm enough for intercourse, and thus the cause is unlikely to be physiological.
Interestingly, a general observation about relationships and sex (at least heterosexual ones) is that while women need to be close to have sex, men need to have sex in order to be close. At an initial glance this is a no-brainer. It is assumed men always want or can have sex, while women take a little convincing. Another no-brainer. But, on the surface, this sells both sexes short. While it’s true that on average men tend to want physical sex, this may be as much a biological condition as a social, or cultural one; it isn’t simply that women arbitrarily take convincing. Rather, as a generalization, women need to access their partner’s depth of feeling, care, or simply their intentions; possibly in the same way a man might access for his partner’s openness or availability for sex, as a means towards closeness. For as sexual as men are in a physical sense, sex is also a powerful physical means towards an expressive emotional ends. For some men, even though they get a physical response, when things get “serious” and they’re inside their partner, that actually may mean more to them than they previously anticipated. It’s no longer “just sex” in the physical sense. It’s an emotional closeness, one that may be effecting or threatening them; and as a result, things stop working without their permission. Perhaps their body is saying “I’m not ready to be this close to this person”. Many times, it’s not sex or their partner that they are afraid of – he may really love his partner and want to be with her, but it’s the closeness he is afraid of. It may stem from an underlying issue from one’s past they weren’t aware was there. Perhaps he’s never been so close to someone else–so there was no reason for it to come up before. Or, perhaps he is not entirely comfortable with some of the behaviors that he is trying out or practicing. While that doesn’t necessarily spell failure, it certainly contributes to his confidence level.
Without sex men lose access to a very important way to express their feelings towards their partner. If this occurs due to his partner–from a lack of interest in sex, or mistrust, he might experience this as a rejection, and close himself off from her, or from continuing the relationship. But if it occurs due to himself, he is really at a loss. His emotional means is compromised, and he is left with only approximations of expression. Or worse, a feeling of failure. In the myth of men, they are supposed to always be arousable, willing, and able to partake in sex. But this is only a baseline, the bare essentials, from which a man is expected to perform, and perform mightily. A man’s sexual performance is often times synonymous with his identity, if not his perceived ability to even be a man.
Imagine a scene in some early adult romance. The young man is surrounded by his male peers, and across the way there is a group of girls. While the young man and peers are acting in a ribald manner, one of the girls is looking over at the young man flirtatiously. Suddenly the young man’s peers become aware of this and cajole the young man to go over and talk to her. He assures them he will get somewhere with her, yet when he finally approaches her he is quite shy, insecure. The former assurance he had from his male peers has fallen away. He struggles to say something to cover this up, but it comes out foolishly. The prior assurance doesn’t hold up against his own experience of attempting to interact with this girl and, in a manner of speaking, he is small, alone. It’s similar in terms of sex. By adhering to the sexual expectations put on him as a man, he suddenly finds himself small, and alone, facing his humanness apart from being male, a man. And while it is this expectation that has failed him, he instead feels and fears, he has failed it and, by this, failed as a man. Not so much as a lover, as one individual to another, but as a man who is supposed to successfully embody this expectation, and finds that he can’t for one who is the expectant object of this expectation. Like the young man in the above scene, he is suddenly without the assurance promised, or expected of him, facing a very weighted interaction alone, and he stumbles to cover this up.
Sexual performance anxiety is a difficult situation to reverse, and can start from a single time in which the man loses or fails to maintain an erection. This can happen in even in a very stable, emotionally healthy man. The difficulty comes when one first notices that he may be a little soft, and then noticing that, it distracts him more, and the focus on his performance or state of arousal distracts him from his goal which is mutually enjoying sex with his partner. Yet it can be enough to raise doubts and cause anxiety for the future, and begin a downward spiral, causing problems of confidence in and out of the bedroom. Like quick sand, the more frantic one becomes the worse the problem will become. Once having experienced this, and given the importance of sex—biologically, emotionally, and socially for men, the fear of not being able to perform at it is always present if even to varying degrees. Meaning, even if a man overcomes even a single event in which he cannot perform, the possibility that he might not be able to perform again lurks up there in his head, and in a sense gets initially placed over his sexual experiences like a template. If it’s a common occurrence for him, the template becomes less transparent. An actual part of his sexual experiences become pre-perceived as disappointing and emotional painful. As a result, he may then tend to approach sex with uncertainty, ambivalence, or avoid it altogether.
Many men but especially those who are experiencing performance anxiety perceive sex as an obligation or a job that needs to be accomplished. They don’t want to disappoint their partner or the perceived reactions of other men, including themselves. For these men, sex is no longer fun and enjoyable because they have lost sight of the pleasures involved in sexual contact. Performance anxiety causes the man to focus on the mechanics of sex rather than the pleasure, sensations and excitement. They are “spectating,” attempting to objectively observe themselves while simultaneously experiencing themselves in the midst of it: they become an observer rather than a participant. They are thinking about how they are doing to the exclusion of how they are feeling. Sex is best when one can shut the mind off, stop thinking and them self be lead by a passionately heightened sensual or sexual intuitiveness.
Physiologically, anxiety is a reaction, meant to be a warning system of a threat or danger; an evolutionary remnant from when our species was potential prey to predators. For the most part when a saber tooth tiger comes at you on the Savannah, the symptoms resulting from anxiety—heart palpitations (heart beating hard, fast, or pounding), sweating, trembling or shaking, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, difficulty swallowing, nausea and vomiting, dizziness and fainting, and fears of losing control, come in handy. But even in this situation the resulting symptoms are not ideal—one wouldn’t necessarily want “difficulty breathing,” when running from the saber tooth tiger. Yet when the situation is the prospect of having sex with a partner one is attracted to, they are not wanted at all. In fact they go counter to the immediate experience. Further, they cause excessive worry which gives one an exaggerated view of their problems, leaving them irritable, easily scared, and even depressed because of one’s constant state of stress concerning the issue. We were not made to be anxious and have sex at the same time. An erection involves the brain, nerves, hormones, and blood vessels. Anything that interferes with these functions can lead to problems getting an erection. In the sexual situation, if a man fears that there may be a problem during sex, his warning system doesn’t differentiate between real and perceived danger, but simply does it job, releasing chemicals that interfere with his sexual performance. More often than not, the real danger around sex is emotional, or psychological, and the resulting anxiety a rather unfortunate manifestation of these. But because the warning system acts on a perceived problem, without the man’s buy-in—he certainly doesn’t want this particular response–he not only has this unwanted, or unwarranted anxiety, but a physiological response that feels out of his control. This creates a self fulfilling fear.
When a man’s performance is less important he’s not going to be thinking so much about it. He’ll be experiencing other things like erotic sensations, sexual pleasure, or the emotional connectedness with his partner. Without the worries, most men will begin to actually enjoy the experience of sex which, in turn, will more readily invite arousal. The less you are concerned about your arousal the better it will be.
Learning to forget about the quality of sex is certainly easier said than done. The key to overcoming this problem however is not in simply being completely honest with yourself, but with your partner, about how you experience yourself experiencing sex, how you feel about sex and yourself generally. It may mean establishing that it is ok if your erection and performance are not perfect.
It is unclear whether males have a sexual cycle per se, despite a variance in testosterone and sperm levels. There is much data that suggests that males have both daily hormone cycles and perhaps yearly hormone cycles. Numerous studies have identified a daily rhythm in testosterone, the “male” hormone, production. In one Danish study, endocrinologists kept daily records of hormones excreted in men. When analyzed, those records showed that his hormones rose and fell in roughly a thirty-day rhythm. Testosterone is what fuels sexual function and libido in males. Low levels of testosterone can lead to erection problems, as well as reduce a man’s sex drive. Erection problems become more common with age. However, they can affect men at any age. While physical causes are more common in older men, emotional causes are more common in younger men.
What appears most likely is that the male sex cycle is weekly and not so much based on biology but stress levels. Men seem to be their most sexual Saturday and Sunday, and begin diminishing again Monday through Friday, rising again for the weekend. It is much more plausible to suggest that the male sexual cycle is different to varying degrees with each individual. Some men are just more often aroused than others. Understanding and accepting this and communicating it with one’s partner may be one step in relieving the pressure to perform according to unrealistic expectations.
Another consideration is one’s frequency of masturbating and/or the use of porn. Either or both may be too much. Today’s use of porn has sky rocketed to the degree that it is a norm. But perhaps too much of a good thing has it’s consequences. Aside from diminishing one’s libido through satiation, pornography creates unrealistic expectations about self, partner, and the sequence or acts of sex. But it also has a thrill that tapers, if not wares off—especially with repeated exposure. One may begin to find it difficult to be aroused with any alternative or seemingly less immediate stimulation. Not to mention the large chunk of psychic-sexual space it draws from and depletes. If this is the case, one might cut down on both masturbation and the use of porn or use fantasy to arouse and pleasure yourself.
Anything that affects your circulatory system can contribute to difficulties maintaining an erection, like smoking, heart problems, or diabetes. Medications such as Viagra, Cialis or LaVitra increase blood flow to the penis which enhances sexual performance and are very effective for many men. Although these drugs can have some adverse side effects which include headache, upset stomach, flushing and vision problems and even cardiovascular problems, often they are extremely helpful in restoring a man’s confidence. They allow him to worry less about his erections and to focus on other areas of the sexual act. While these medications don’t completely remove the anxiety or a man’s fears regarding his performance, they at least let him build from a positive, successful experience; perhaps they get to be the lover they would be if they could.
There are also a number of natural and holistic treatments such as nutritional supplements. Herbal remedies and acupuncture may be effective in treating impotence—yet probably less so if one is more of a Western thinker. A variety of herbs have been identified as having the ability to improve sexual functioning and overall systemic health. Herbs such as Epimedium grandiflorum, also known as Horny Goats Weed are considered natural sexual stimulators that encourage performance and testosterone production. Tribulus terristis is thought to contain aphrodisiac properties and also promotes muscle strength and prowess. One of the most well known herbs, Eleutherococcus senticosis, Siberian ginseng, promotes male or ‘yang’ energy, aids circulation, supports natural vitality and also acts as an overall systemic supporter. There are also calming herbs like lavender, lemon balm and passionflower, that can support the health of the nervous system and help maintain balanced emotions during everyday pressure, stress and common nervous tension, which can effect the ability to get and maintain an erection.
When experiencing performance anxiety one solution might be to either mutually masturbate, or to masturbate as you please your partner in other ways. The familiarity of one’s own touch, the awareness and immediate stimulation, can help produce the wanted erection or orgasm. It also relieves one of the lack of immediacy or necessary stimulation, if they are touching you to no avail due to anxiety, spectating, or being up in your head. It can also be freeing, expressive and erotic, sharing something that might otherwise be private and, because of this, sensual in its own right. If this doesn’t immediately work, simply communicate this to your partner, and allow yourself to continue pleasuring her. The reason for this is threefold, it might relieve getting hung up on not being able to please her, develop a further intimacy with her and her body, and provides the possibility that in the process you may become naturally aroused.
Sex therapists use a technique called sensate focus to help men with performance anxiety. This technique encourages a couple to remove all stress from the sexual act, and get the man to focus on the feelings and sensations of sexual arousal, rather than thinking about performance. The couple is instructed not to have intercourse or be concerned about the erection. Without the expectation and pressure of performing, hopefully the man can begin to relax and not think of sex as a job that needs to be done, but rather a positive and pleasurable experience.
For many men, lifestyle changes can help:
Cut down on smoking, alcohol, and illegal drug use.
Get plenty of rest and take time to relax.
Exercise and eat a healthy diet to keep good blood circulation.
Use safe sex practices to prevent HIV and STDs.
Men who have trouble talking about their feelings may find it hard to share their anxiety about sexual performance. Talk openly to your partner about sex and your relationship. Again, couples who cannot talk to each other about sex are likely to have problems with sex and sexual intimacy.
In Comparing Our Selves To Others
A.A. is often credited for the statement, “Comparing our insides to others’ outsides,” which I take to mean comparing our feelings about ourselves against what we project onto others. In other words, gauging ourselves against the way in which we perceive others. For example, if I make 50k a year, I might gauge myself unfavorably against someone I presume is making more, or favorably against someone I presume is making less, by the way that they appear. It’s a game of sorts I play in order to try to establish a sense of myself in relation to others in the world around me, a way of determining where I stand. But it isn’t a challenging game when you think about it. I play both sides while trying to enact a challenge using inaccurate information. I assume the other person makes over 50k, when he or she may make less, yet I try and make my play with accuracy—which isn’t–towards an outcome of determining my value as a person, and thus either winning or losing. In a way it’s futile, but I continue doing it to get a reference point as to where I am in the world as compared with others, or at least my perception of them. Yet this perception is faulty both because it’s not based on any real data—I’m not viewing their tax return for example, and it is tainted by my point of view, which factors more into consideration than is rationally considerable given the circumstances. And while this appears insane to me as I write about it now, I am still compulsively pulled to do it despite this.
I’m assuming though that comparing one self to another is normal behavior and comes from insecurity, or an unstable sense of self, trying to perhaps stabilize itself. Even the successful looking men in the financial district downtown have insecurities—obviously there are others more successful than they, or maybe they are unstable in other areas of their life like relationship or creativity. So maybe this parsing up of another’s facets, is only another way isolating one’s own facets for comparison, which only gives a partial reading of one self and is, ultimately, unfulfilling, or still, incomplete. One is still left with traits they cannot or are not willing to compare. For example, while the successful looking man in the financial district has me feeling badly about my income, perhaps I value myself for relationship ability or creativity, traits which I cannot determine in order to compare to my own to gain a sense of where I stand in relation to him. Thus, I am left to gaining this sense piecemeal, borrowing from this other individual, diluting the desired gestalt, and leaving me with no truer means by which to gauge myself.
According to Social Comparison Theory (Festinger, 1954) individuals are internally driven to gain accurate self-evaluations concerning their own opinions, sensibilities, abilities, and experiences by comparing themselves to others in order to reduce uncertainty in these areas, and ultimately define the self. Such comparisons attempt to provide objective benchmarks against which an individual can compare themselves in relevant value areas, providing a sense of validity and cognitive clarity. People who are similar to an individual are especially good in generating accurate evaluations of abilities and opinions, yet the tendency to compare oneself with another decreases as the difference between their opinions and abilities become more divergent.
Perhaps ironically, comparing one self with others leads one to strive towards uniformity, conformity. If discrepancies arise between an individual and the valued-one, or others, he or she is comparing themselves to there is a tendency towards reducing the divergence, either by attempting to appear as if divergences didn’t exist, or changing their own views, to attain uniformity.
Critics of Social Comparison Theory argue that people actually seek out these divergences, or dissimilarities, when comparing themselves to others, and that these dissimilarities are what’s most important for providing valuable self-knowledge and definition. Also, people prefer to compare those who are similar on related or valued attributes such as opinions, characteristics, abilities or social class, to increase self confidence, while those dissimilar in related attributes are preferred when validating one’s beliefs.
There are different motivations for social comparison: Self-evaluation as described by Social Comparison Theory and Self-Enhancement, which is defined through upward and downward social comparisons. Individuals make upward comparisons with other individuals they perceive to be better than themselves in order to improve their views of self, or to create more positive perceptions of their personal reality. Here the individual wants to believe he or she is a part of the elite or superior, and make comparisons showing the similarities in themselves and the comparison group. Although upward comparisons provide inspiration to improve one’s self and standing, many times upward comparisons are made when the individual is feeling lesser, and therefore evoke negative feelings. For example, my pal who I perceive to be making over 50k a year, when comparing myself, if I make under 50k, I’m going to feel awfully bad.
Downward social comparison is a defensive tendency that people use as a means of self-evaluation. A little like the Jungian idea of the shadow, these individuals will look to another individual or comparison group who are considered to be worse off in order to dissociate themselves from these or perceived similarities, and to make themselves feel better about their self or personal situation. Social comparison research has shown that comparisons with others who are better off or superior, in an upward comparison can lower self regard whereas the positive effects of downward comparisons can elevate self regard, increasing one’s subjective well-being. If, for example, after I see the individual who I perceive makes over 50k, I encounter a bike messenger, though we may both be making similar amounts (at least in regards to our lifestyles), I might assume he makes far less than I do, or does he doesn’t have my professional standing, and thus feel better about myself.
But despite all this theory, we still come up against the objective-subjective dilemma. In other words, while I’m seeking a particular objectivity by comparing myself to an other, I am still doing so through a highly subjective means. The data I am basing this on is determined and, in turn, filtered, through Projection. Projection is a defense mechanism where a person subconsciously denies his or her own attributes, thoughts, and emotions, which are then put upon, or projected, onto the outside world, usually other people. Projection involves imagining or projecting the belief that others originate, or initiate, those feelings, thoughts, or attributes. Projection reduces anxiety by allowing the expression, or riddance, of unwanted unconscious impulses or desires without letting the conscious mind recognize or take ownership of them. An example of this behavior might be accusing one’s partner of arrogance. The mind may avoid the discomfort of consciously admitting being arrogant themselves by keeping those feelings unconscious, and by redirecting these feelings by projecting them onto their partner. Reinterpreting this a bit for our purposes, it’s as if the individual will either subconsciously deny or desire particular traits in themselves and project these onto others for their own idiosyncratic purposes. For example, if I make under 50k a year and compare myself unfavorably to someone I perceive (or project) makes well over this, it may not serve the purpose of denying what I make, but to isolate this dynamic in order to create an attitude of opposition or even competition towards it, as if to say, I am in motion, still able to achieve upward financial mobility. Although this is a similar means of denial, it instead engages with the thoughts and feelings behind the original projection, and offers a means of resolving this particular inter-dynamic. Perhaps the attitude of opposition is also a defense mechanism, because the nature of opposition suggests force, it lends a feeling of power where one currently feels powerless. Further, one may forget, or deny, the actual discrepancies in salary and identify with the perceived, or projected, power of the other; in a sense, leveling the playing field.
The problem with theory, especially psychological or social theory, is that it is often generalized, while the subject matter it seeks to understand is highly specialized, again, idiosyncratic. Social Comparison Theory attempts to explain a process, but how the individual interacts or engages with that process isn’t. The process of social comparison may actually be piecemeal. After I encounter the individual I perceived as making over 50k and went through my idiosyncratic dance, I may then encounter another individual I perceive to be very creative—something I value and identify with. Maybe this individual has particular facial hair—an imperial, or is dressed in a particular way I perceive to denote creativity. I then have to go through teasing out my strengths or proofs of my creativity and comparing these to my obviously subjective perceptions of his—all to arrive at an objective sense of myself: as a creative person. Never mind he may just be a hip lawyer, or a web designer, some creative career that isn’t related to my particular creative expression. The point is that I’m trying to gain a macro sense of self through various and separate micro interactions—yet, each of these cumulatively (though still inaccurately) add to my sense of self. I may succeed at categorizing myself (though this is still questionable), but what I am really seeking is specificity, a mirror I can narcissistically stare into and see myself accurately in. Instead I am left unresolved but nevertheless remain compulsively engaged in this process of comparing myself to others. Thus, back to square one.
Perhaps. I have come up with a way of looking at this and there is potentially good news and/or bad. If in this process, we only get subjective approximations of ourselves, and are simply left with an internal struggle with projections which results in an even more subjective resolution; perhaps it isn’t merely gaining a sense of ourselves along side others that we end up achieving. If we unhook the ends from the means, what is believed we get from the process, what we’re left with is essentially an interaction of sorts. Although this interaction is subjective, experientially and otherwise, it does though provide us with a sense of connectedness—I belong to humanity enough to compare myself to other humans—despite the internal psychological struggle or outcome. Because the process isn’t strictly one way. Even though I am projecting a whole heap of my issues onto another in the form of projection, I still need to reach into him through or despite my subjective perceptions, and bring something real or imagined from that other individual. I have to intuitively, or creatively join with that individual with a particular empathy—again, despite, my intentions or conclusions in regards to them. Another example: when I walk into the gym, a woman is talking on her cell phone on the Life Cycle, and continues talking on and off though out most of my work out. I assume she is talking to friends, making plans for her night, and is being rude, inconsiderate, and therefore must think she’s better than the people around her. The projection component for me is that I feel less than others because I don’t have plans that night, and worse because I don’t even know what plans I’d want to make. But then a thought comes to mind: maybe her sister or a close friend is having a baby and she was answering her cell phone to get the good news, or relaying the news to family or other friends. It reminds me of when family or friends of mine were expecting a baby, and they were calling me from the hospital with good news. Remembering these experiences makes me feel good, and like I’ve participated in important life events and was an important person within these. Suddenly this women talking on her cell phone in the gym is ok, and I’d found another explanation for and experience of her behavior. For that moment I was linking myself and my experience through my perception of another. Not only did it expand my subjective intimacy with her, it expanded my subjective intimacy with my life. Even though I can never really get an objective sense of myself by comparing myself with others, and at best merely derive an opportunity to engage in my own subjective process of continuing to define myself, with the added possibility of realizing it is both piecemeal and ultimately idiosyncratic; I can though also engage in a particular connectedness, or intimacy through this subjective process between myself and others. Perhaps it is like an individual once sagely, put to me: “The only normal people in this world are the ones you don’t know very well.”