Treatment of Cyberaddictions
Regina Petterson, Psy.D.
According to a study conducted at Stanford University (Aboujaoude et al., 2006), one in eight Americans showed a possible sign indicating problematic internet use. In fact, the American Psychiatric Association is considering adding Internet Addiction Disorder to the DSM-V. Central to cyberaddictions is the pathological, mood altering dependency on internet sites and chat rooms for emotional sustenance in place of healthy relationships with family, friends, and work. It is through fantasy and anonymity that the cyberaddict fosters a sense of adequacy. This secret world becomes more important than reality despite the painful feelings of shame and isolation involved. The most common cyberaddictions are internet pornography and sex chat rooms, but with the popularity of Facebook, eBay, online gambling, stock trading, gaming, and other websites to surf, more and more people feel tempted by the instant gratification of the cyber fix. They find themselves compulsively spending hours seeking out attention, specialness, and grandeur whether through getting others to read their postings or finding the perfect object to temporary soothe their emptiness.
At the root of cyberaddictions are impaired thought processes that play into an individual's already developed core belief system of assumptions, judgments, and organizing principles about the world. Such beliefs often remain unconscious and are the basis of how one views oneself in relation to others and how one makes meaning of life experiences. A person's core belief system affects how he (she) makes decisions, interpreting others' motivations, solves problems, and enacts relational patterns. Generally addicts hold fundamental core beliefs developed in childhood that are based on distortions and inaccuracies. Common core beliefs of a cyberaddict include believing they are unworthy, that no other person could possibly love them, that their needs are too much and will go unmet if they depend on others, and that the addiction is the all encompassing need (Carnes, 2001). Essentially the addiction becomes the arousal soothing and calming "go to" in place of real relationships. The neurochemical rush generated by the overwhelming intensity of simply fantasizing about the addiction further imprisons the addict in a never ending cycle (Weiss, 2007).
Impaired thinking and distortions reinforce the limiting, faulty beliefs of the cyberaddict. Serious consequences, including the threat of divorce, job loss, and the detriment to other important responsibilities and life goals, are usually defended against. Defense mechanisms, such as denial, dissociation, rationalization, circular reasoning, minimizing, and blame, allow the cyberaddict to avoid admitting that there is problem (Carnes, 2001). There is no acceptance of responsibility for their behavior and actions. For instance, the internet sex addict may tell himself that he really didn't cheat on his spouse, because cybersex is not really "real."
For some cyberaddicts, the Internet may offer a playground of material that allows them to safely and anonymously play out fantasies replicating their already distorted arousal template. For example, someone that received punishment as a child by being forced to strip down in front of others may pair arousal with humiliation. He may compulsively seek out masochistic pornography sites to explore unresolved parts of his sexuality. Other cyber sex addicts may even mistake romantic and sexual intensity for emotional intimacy and get caught up in the pathological pursuit of a relational connection (Weiss, 2007).
The cyberaddict's belief system and impaired thinking fuel the vicious, addictive cycle. This cycle includes four phases: (1) preoccupation with the addiction, (2) ritual development around the addiction, (3) compulsive acting out, and (4) despair and hopelessness (Carnes, 2001). The cyberaddict becomes engrossed in the irresistible urge of his addiction because it is the most reliable source of his nurturance that he can count on. Nothing can quite alleviate anxiety and regulate tension as well as the altered state the addiction generates. Yet, it leaves him feeling out of control, alienated and demoralized. He finds himself living an unmanageable secret life that he is deeply ashamed that others will find out about and harshly judge him. Unable to stop, the cyberaddiction becomes the primary relationship for the addict and ultimately, his reasoning for being.
The approach to treatment involves helping the addict to alter and replace faulty core beliefs about himself with new and healthier ways of seeing himself and his reality. The developing bond between the therapist and client will assist this process by giving the client a corrective emotional experience that he can internalize and safely trust, allowing him to depend on a real relationship for self-cohesion in place of the estrangement of his addiction. In time, defense mechanisms will be made aware, challenged, and broken down. The client will learn how to self-regulate and self-soothe within the calming, arousal reducing therapeutic relationship. The addict’s transformation will take place as he increases authentic self-expression out of his longing to connect, belong, and be known within this new and meaningful emotional context. In this way, he works to repair what was traumatically broken or ruptured in childhood and allow for the emergence of healthy self-states that seek out satisfying attachments and affiliations, ultimately fulfilling a deeper craving for intimacy he had once been so terrified of.
Aboujaoude E, Koran LM, Gamel N, Large MD, Serpe RT. (2006). Potential markers for problematic internet use: A telephone survey of 2,513 adults. CNS Spectrums: The International Journal of Neuropsychiatric Medicine, 11(10), 750-5.
Carnes, P. (2001). In the shadows of the net: Breaking free of compulsive online sexual behavior. Center City, MN: Hazelden.
Weiss, R. (2007). When sex is the drug ... Understanding sex and pornography addiction. The Therapist, January/February, 73-80.
The Healthiest Ways To Battle Anxiety And Depression
Photo via Pixabay by Geralt
Battling anxiety and depression is never easy, and there are many different treatments for each depending on the person and their needs. Medication and therapy are two of the most common, but they are not the only ways a person suffering with these mood disorders can find relief.
There are many small things you can do every day to help ease your feelings and, in turn, keep stress levels to a minimum. Here are some of the best.
Focus on the moment
With anxiety, you’ll likely feel it coming on in times of stress or uncomfortable situations, such as being in a large crowd of people. During times like these, it’s sometimes necessary to tell yourself that what you’re feeling is temporary. Live in the moment and take a deep breath, then question what you’re feeling and why. Are you nervous about a particular outcome? Are your thoughts running out of control on a track of “what ifs”? If so, keep in mind that you are only in control of your own actions, and worrying about factors outside your control are counter-productive. You might picture a calming scene--your “happy place”--for a few moments while you take a breather, or, if necessary, remove yourself from the situation briefly until you can get your anxiety under control.
Exercise really helps
Daily exercise is extremely helpful for those suffering from anxiety and depression. Not only does it create a particular routine--which is comforting for many people--being active also releases chemicals in the brain that make us feel happier.
It’s also a chance to practice mindfulness and focus on yourself for a bit. Mindfulness is present in many activities, but it’s most commonly found in yoga and meditation, where you can focus on your breathing and emotions as well as your physical self.
Animals are here to help
Animals--especially dogs--are wonderful companions for people with anxiety and depression. Studies have shown that being around non-violent animals like dogs, cats, and horses can significantly help those living with emotional and learning disabilities, and many health professionals believe that petting a dog can actually soothe a person to the point of lowering their blood pressure.
If you don’t own a pet already, consider becoming a dog walker. You can meet pet owners online through sites like Rover.com, and if you both feel you are right for the job, you could be earning extra cash while benefiting from the animal’s companionship.
For many, it’s the little things that push us over the edge; losing car keys, dealing with an overloaded email inbox, juggling several things at the same time because there aren’t enough hours in the day. The best way to combat that is to get organized in a way that benefits you and your lifestyle. Set a schedule for each part of the day and stick to it; for instance, if you want to limit emails to a half hour in the morning, do just that. You might be tempted to check them before bed, but doing so will only increase your anxiety and lead to sleep troubles. Once you get into a routine, you’ll feel better about your choices and can relax knowing you’ve done everything you were supposed to. Chloe Pearson is a research specialist and freelance writer. She enjoys volunteering for ConsumerHealthLabs.com because she understands that in order for consumers to make the best decisions about their health they need reliable, well-researched information on which to base those decisions. And that’s precisely what everyone at Consumer Health Labs aims to do as they explore and interpret new health-related data and research.
How to Beat the Winter Blues and Have a Happy New Year
The New Year’s holiday has gotten quite the negative reputation over the years, especially among those who are living with anxiety. Between loud parties, temptations to drink, empty wallets from holiday bills, lack of motivation from the “winter blues,” and the social pressure to adhere to a New Year’s Resolution, New Year’s Eve has recently been called “the worst holiday for people with anxiety.” But is this time of year really as bad as we make it out to be? It certainly doesn’t have to be.
There are many ways to start the New Year off on the right foot, and keep stress and anxiety levels to an absolute minimum.
Do you hate New Year’s resolutions or do you enjoy setting them but struggle to stick to them? If resolutions are a trigger for your stress, anxiety, or shame, forget trying to set (and keep!) a resolution all year long. This year, put resolutions to the side and try choosing a daily affirmation or mantra instead. Besides, most people don’t keep their New Year’s resolutions past January. If you’ve historically been one of those people, that’s okay. There’s no need for stress or shame. Let yourself off the hook, yet still stay focused on ushering in all things positive.
Eat Anxiety-Reducing Foods
Believe it or not, your mood is tied to your food. Chocolate lovers can rejoice in knowing that scientific studies have specifically linked our favorite sweet treat to elevating your mood and reducing anxiety. Be careful not to eat too much candy, carbohydrates or other sugary foods, however; while these foods do provide a temporary mood boost, they also cause your mood to come crashing down afterwards - ultimately causing a potential increase in anxiety and depression.
Beat the Winter Blues
Does your mood typically take a nosedive this time of year? If so, you’re not alone. An estimated 20% of people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also known as “the winter blues.” Up to 6% of those people might have true depression or a mood disorder. Luckily, there are some actions you can take to make it through the remaining winter months. First, try increasing your intake of Vitamin D. Our main source of this crucial vitamin is from direct sunlight, so many people become depleted (and feel lethargic) during the colder winter months. Second, try brightening your environment through artificial light. There’s even a new light bulb that’s been specially created to mimic the natural patterns of the sun in order to help with circadian rhythms, improve sleeping habits, and boost your mood and energy levels.
Know the Facts
Another important thing to note: although this might feel like a difficult time of year, statistics have shown that January is typically one of the more uplifting months for people who have depression and anxiety. Even Google sees a significant decline in the number of people searching for “depression,” “anxiety,” “pain” and “fatigue” during this time of year, when compared to other months. Perhaps January isn’t so bad after all?
In addition to the tips listed above, there are countless ideas for reducing anxiety and bringing more joy into your new year. Try gaining perspective and giving back to your community through volunteer work. Try taking a yoga or meditation class. If you’re religious, make a point of getting to church each week. With a little creativity, clarity, and some positive affirmations, you can shift your perspective on the New Year from merely surviving the month of January to thriving this month and every month. Good luck!