Sleep

Either I’m getting old, or I’m just getting better and spotting oddities in how my brain works. I’ve never been able to nap. I lack the talent for it. So if I don’t sleep, I used to sleep in to compensate. Sleeping in, it appears, isn’t happening anymore. So while trying to figure out where this disconnected sense of anxiety was coming from, it took a long time to suspect sleep debt.

The symptoms of sleep debt are either obvious– falling asleep during the day and yawning– or not so obvious– free floating anxiety. And it appears causation goes in both directions– anxiety discourages sleeping and the body pumps itself full of anxiety causing neurochemicals to keep you awake when you’re overtired, creating a vicious cycle.

Ref. Sleep debt causes anxiety:
Reasons
Sleep Deprivation and Anxiety
Original research using brain imaging & experimental subjects that skipped sleeping for 35 hours.

Sleep Debt is real.
Sleeping for 6 hours a day for a 10 days will cause people to behave as if they had skipped an entire night of sleep. However at least one researcher is skeptical of the existence of sleep debt.

Curing a Sleep Debt
It takes months to fix a chronic sleep debt. Other articles on the next are less pessimistic, see below.

Measuring Sleep Debt
According to this article– sleep debt goes up to about 20 hours, can be paid off by only 2 hours a day– max. Also, if you have 0 sleep debt, you can’t sleep in today to earn the ability to stay up late tomorrow, i.e. you can’t bank excess sleep. According to this, if you sleep an extra hour a day, i.e. about 9 hours, a maximal sleep debt can be paid off in 20 days, ten if you can manage to sleep 10 hours a day.

Typically these provide for recording an entry a day, a start/stop timer, graphs and sleep debt calculations
Android Apps for Sleep Debt
Sleep Bot– I’ve got one data point in this app. Whoo!

Happiness suffers from diminishing returns

According to the Washington Post, good things happening makes us happy. As more & more good things happen, additional good things happen don’t push us up the happiness slope as much as they used to. And worse, after reaching the peaks of happiness, smaller and smaller setbacks are capable of pushing us further down the happiness slope than they used to.

While I don’t think we can change the diminishing returns, we probably can change how we react to setbacks.

There must be too much stuff going on

I missed a movie today.

It doesn’t seem like this should be a big problem, but it is. It is time for some dramatic changes. Exactly what, I’m not sure.

Lemme see if I can list my projects and see if I’m overburdened:

Work. 9 hours a day, 5 days a week, plus 5 hours commute. Subtracting 8 hours of sleep, that leaves 6 hours for breakfast and the evening, in which to accomplish:

Money. A re-organization of my bank account. So far, I’m kind of ahead. But I have one missed bill, one failed bank transfer, two monthly fees on bank accounts that shouldn’t have a fees. In the end, I’m hoping the hassle will be worth the exercise. When it is all done, my finances should be much simpler and much more profitable.

Family. I’m supposed to be a part time father, which takes some preparation. Being a parent is more than letting a kid live in the house for free and providing baby sitting. Parents have a responsibility to make sure their kids have the resources to grow up and succeed, so that means I’m responsible for creating a program that teaches physical education, math, programming and socialization. All of those are things that the school either don’t deal with explicitly or I don’t think they do good enough a job of it. I’m not at all happy with the amount of structure I’ve been able to add to being a part time Dad.

Survival. Shopping. Cooking. Trying to keep the appartment clean enough to discourage cockroaches from moving in.

Staying Employable. The specific skills I learned in my first five years of working as a computer guy are specifically obsolete. I’m still competent at programming in general, but only as long as I continue to invest time into continuing education. It isn’t cheap time wise. It’s about like being in college continuously, with maybe a 10 credit load. Fortunately, there are not real tests–I’d probably be scraping by. Which isn’t to say the effort is for naught. Real tests rewards knowledge in your head right now and available without research. Real work rewards being able to rapidly find a solution and use it once. Real work is more like a great big open book test.

Stay employable requires finding podcasts, listening to podcasts, finding webcasts, watching them, reading blogs, finding books, reading books and then selling those books so you can afford to buy the next round of books.

Avoiding Mood Disorders aka Socializing. Socializing is fairly expensive timewise. An successful event will use up an evening or one third of a weekend. I tend to do socializing in bursts, where I go to events every other day. Socializing takes time to find events, go to the events and prepare for them. Hosting an event takes a week because that how long it takes to pick up the apartment. Recently, socializing has been severely neglected. I’m semi-active (meaning I show up for some events) at the Unitarian Church, Meetups, a book club. There are some additional one off events, but a single time show doesn’t make one a member.

Fun. Gosh darn it, I’m an American. I demand a substantial amount of leisure activities. Red Dwarf. Stargate. Cooking. Electronic toys. Science Fiction. Learning useless skills–(I want to learn Hindi and maybe Icelandic, too). Writing–sometimes fun, but depending on the topic, it might should be in the mental health column. Travel.

Extended Family. I’ve got my niece’s computer and two nephew’s laptops that I’m working on. The former need repair, the later need configuration. Getting a computer set up so it already has all the useful software you might need is a chore and a half.

Not dieing young. With current trends today, I suspect that I will have to invest some time doing grandpa and maybe great grandpa work. And I doubt anyone will have time to take care of me when I’m a dottering fool. The plan is to not get old, which means lots of trips to the gym, spending time cooking and a certain amount of time keeping up on health research.

Sleep. I don’t know what it is, but getting up in the morning is just a killer. I think I need to use a more obnoxious alarm clock.

Something has to go.

SAD

SAD as in Social Anxiety Disorder is one of the explanations for why people are shy. It’s an appropriately named disorder because it co-exists with depression a lot. SAD probably has some neurochemical basis because if you give antidepressents–which are drugs that cause global and somewhat random modifications to your brains neurochemistry–people with SAD sometimes get better. Everyone’s brain is neurochemically unique and one drug won’t work as well as other. Some people with SAD use alcohol successfully or doctor perscribed antiaxiety drugs to the same effect. Personally, drinking has no impact at all on my social inhibitions. After a few beers I still really don’t want to talk to people I don’t know very well, but I now have to concentrate on walking. I read somewhere (but was too lazy to keep the reference) that this phenomenon is commen enough for researchers to notice that alcohol doesn’t alway help people with SAD relax their ‘inhibitions.’

SAD means being normal & sociable with people you already know, but very slow and cautious around people you don’t know. It probably is a behavioral characteristic common to all mammals, just like bossiness–being an alpah male, territoriality, and a host of other common behaviors. The tuning of this part of our brain determines if we are asocial (sometimes gets grouped under avoidant personality disorder) or at the opposite end of the spectrum where everyone we meet we classify as a friend, including strangers who really don’t have your best interests at heart, like insurance salemen and lawyers.

There are lots of other reasons why someone might be shy or have few friends. Someone with a autism spectrum disorder might just have a poor model of what other people are thinking–for example, someone with aspergers or autism might not realize that no one else is as passionate about industrial frying equipment as they are. I have a relatively good model of what people are thinking, but tend to make good use of it when I’m around people I already know. Social success relies on a lot of skills and preconditions, anywhich could be missing for a variety of reasons, so like any mental state that gets in the way of your goals, be cautious of misdiagnosis.

There is also some overlap with our biological mechanisms for fear and fear of punishment. Our limbic system is one of the more ancient parts of our brain that allows us to skip thinking about the danger at hand and go directly to fighting or running away. In a SAD person, this translates to avoidant behavior, leaving a party early, and unfriendly conversation. To further aggrivate matters, there is a pretty clear correlation between social situations and having the limbic system going haywire, so a SAD person can expect to see negative reinforcement for attempting to deal with strangers.

Experiments in Neurosociology

If you hang out with people day after day–and then stop cold turkey, then you notice that you disappear, because you stop imaging what others are thinking of you. After all, without others to think about you–poof.

The flip side is not hanging out with anyone and eventually, everyone else disappears.

If everyone is a half formed ghostly image, then either they or you might be dead. A suitable though for the days before halloween.

Dilbert Comic

Dilbert: Sometimes I feel as if my life is nothing but moving things from one place to another. I’ve decided to seek a deeper connection with others to cure my emptiness.

Dogbert: Blah, blah, blah.

Dilbert: Maybe I’m doing it wrong.

(Scott Adams, Oct 17, 2006)

Social Anxiety

There are a couple of words that describe a lot of similar behaviors. I’m going to try to define them and likely will fail, but I wanted to have a post to refer to each I use those words.

Social Anxiety. This is a feeling that something isn’t right– not the same as the terror of watching a frightening movie, or the fear you feel at great heights, but that wrenching tighening of you will to speak, interact and god forbid sing when people are around, especially around strangers.

Social Phobia. Gregarious extroverts might have a social phobia, which can often be super specific, like being afraid of using public restrooms, giving a speech, fear that people will see your shaking hands. Agoraphobia is somewhat related. I’m not afraid of crowds, I’m

Avoidant Personality. Someone who has a bias in all they do to avoid other people.

Introvert. Best defined by what it isn’t. Everyone who isn’t gregarious.

Anxiety. Something bad might happen and you are suffering.

Fear. Something really bad is going to happen, you know it and it makes you want to run.

And as I read in Coping with Social Anxiety, there are a lot of reasons why people might not socialize and there are a lot of instances of fearful, anxious, introverted, avoidant, phobic behaviors that happen in the lives of perfectly average people.

My brain really isn’t very helpful

So I go to the wrong IHOP and my brain helpfully brings up this song– I calmed down the lyrics some lest I be sent to the school psychologist. And this was just hours after I wrong a darn funny song about waffles. Never did find that @#$@% IHOP. [Update: I looked it up on the internet & found it, about 45 minutes late. Couldn't hear anyone talk, but that was OK.]

Cut my life into pieces
This is my last resort

Cut my life into pieces
I’ve reached my last resort
Do you even care

Would it be wrong
Would it be right

Cause I’m losing my sight,
Losing my mind,
Wish somebody would tell me I’m fine
Losing my sight ,
Losing my mind,
Wish somebody would tell me I’m fine

I never realized
I was spread too thin
Downward spiral, where do I begin
No love for myself
And no love for another
Searching to find a love upon a higher level
Finding nothing but questions and devils

Cause I’m losing my sight
Losing my mind,
Wish somebody would tell me I’m fine
Losing my sight,
Losing my mind,
Wish somebody would tell me I’m fine

Nothing’s alright
Nothing is fine

I can’t go on living this wayCut my life into pieces
This is my last resort

News

My mood for some reason has hit a six month low. Doncha hate volatile moods? Well what goes rapidly down might go rapidly back up–I hope.

Yesterday, no event. I went to the gym.

Today, I thought I had an event scheduled (I was thinking about going to a blogger meetup) but it looks like it was rescheduled or was next week all along.

Tomorrow, I’ve got a social event, albeit with coworkers.

Friday is FellowshipX and Saturday is RennFaire.

Products of my aching brain

Dad duty is over. Today’s events include bicycling and trivia night at Rhodeside Grill and some work, just to keep things moving forward at the office.

And lunch. Must eat lots to deal with the upcoming staving times when there isn’t enough time to cook.

Just about finished reading Painfully Shy. This book, much more than another book I’ve read on social anxiety really reminded me of myself–painfully so.

So now I have a couple more labels for myself: occasional depressive, social anxiety sufferer, avoidant. The depression part sometimes gets triggered by the social anxiety part–when I’m down to just myself, the world is gut wrenchingly depressing. On the other hand, talking to strangers is as joyful as pounding nails into my hands. To the extent I’m better than I ever was, it is because I’ve increased my tolerance for the pain of pounding nails into my hands.

Now, lest I be too hard on myself, I should point out that I do manage to get out and socialize at least once a week, and about twice year I manage to go into a socializing frenzy and get out to place where I can meet people nearly every other day. (Believe me, not as fun as it sounds. Not as scary as a trip to the movie “Saw”, but as gruesomely painful as pounding a lot of nails into my hands.)

I’m just so ineffective at it. To use a life insurance salesman analogy, I’m a bit like a life insurance salesman who, much disliking his job still knocks on lots of doors, yet gets only token sales each month.

Well anyhow, I guess I should review the book.

Painfully Shy suggests that people who are shy should use a variety of methods to do what needs to be done, including powder milk biscuits.

Change & Goal Theory. Doing anything about being shy is a project of personal self transformation. It’s a goal and goals are more likely to be followed through if they are publicized, have suitable motivation, etc.

Cognitive Therapy. Watch your thoughts, make sure they aren’t sabotaging your mood and your efforts to reach out to others. Tools include thought diaries, expectation-actual results worksheets, internal debates with unuseful automatic thoughts, and so on.

Habituation to the Fear. A big part of being shy is the physiological reaction that happens when reaching out to others– progressively habituation either by planning more and more aggressive social stunts or by imagining them (when scheduling a progressively more involved social event isn’t possible, like habituating oneself to how to connect to others at a funeral.)

Drugs. Personally, I only use SSRI’s in the most extreme cases, I can’t stand the side effects.

Tension treatment. Being in good health, especially with respect to being able to stay calm can have good side effects. Social anxiety gets worse when there are valid causes for other real life anxiety going on.

Religion. Religion is a bunch of ideas that everyone has opinions on, but aren’t answerable, like the idea that everything will work out in the end. Its very applicable in socializing, because before heading out the door, picking up the phone, there isn’t any particular evidence that it will end well, or that even the next twenty parties will end well. All there is a faith that the universe is not cruel and capricious.

What would the Buddha have to say about social anxiety? He’d probably advise compassion for the people you are reaching out to, detachment from the final results, equanimity towards oneself and he’d probably advise a bit of irrational faith in the possibility of happiness.