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Stressed in the U.S. by Meg Van Deusen - Book Tour

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Book Description

Seventy-five percent of Americans are moderately stressed and seventy-five percent  of Americans are lonely. More than 33 percent of us sleep less than six hours a night. In addition, 77 percent of us use social media daily and 81 percent of us own a smartphone. Why are these statistics important? Because loneliness, sleep-deprivation, social media use, tech use, and even gut-imbalance—which the Huffington Post refers to as “the modern plague”—are all causes and results of stress. Stress is the reason for at least 75 percent of today’s doctor’s visits, costing the US billions per year in employee absenteeism, accidents, and illnesses. 
9/11, climate change, a historic economic crisis, numerous mass shootings, an inordinate amount of school lockdowns, a foreign attack on our election, a politically divided country, tech-induced anxiety and addiction, and information overload: since 2000, these unique-to-our-time phenomena have created a petri dish of stress in the US, causing a host of emotional and physical ailments.
Here’s the problem: while the well-researched, psychological theory on attachment tells us that secure attachments to each other and to our nation create resilience to stress, our current American culture is creating barriers, not pathways, to human trust and closeness. Stressed in the US: Twelve Tools to Tackle Anxiety, Loneliness, Tech-Addiction and More investigates current, cultural phenomena that are causing a convergence of increased stress with decreased interpersonal connection from an attachment theory perspective.
Dr. Van Deusen explains why and how our relationships are breaking down at a time when we need them the most. The good news? As a clinical psychologist, psychotherapist, and mindfulness practitioner, she offers insights and solutions to a complex, pervasive problem.

• Restorative practices protect us
• Nature calms us
• Mindfulness connects us

Buy Link
Stressed in the US is available now from Amazon

Guest Post

Wrestling with Stress (and what to do about those relentless negative thoughts)?
Someone asked me recently, “How can I get rid of my stress if it’s caused by my own thoughts? I can’t change my thoughts!”
“Why do you assume you can’t change your thoughts?” I asked.
“Because if you tell me not to think of a pink elephant, I’m going to think of a pink elephant. I can’t control that. We don’t control our thoughts.”
In some way, he is right. The more we get lost in thinking, the more worried we can become. But, despite the fact that we have an entire school of thought in psychology that focuses on recognizing and changing thoughts, there is more you can do to intervene on your negative, stressful thoughts than simply trying to change them.
Understanding the Default Mode Network
The “the default mode network”  is a network in the brain that is active when we’re not focused on a task. It is the region of the brain that is responsible for the phenomenon of mind-wandering and when our minds wander, they typically center on the “story of me”. Research finds that the “story of me” is often a negative story, “I’m so fat, I wish I had more money, I’ll never find a partner.” In other words, if we’re not playing a sport or writing a document or teaching a child how to do math (examples of focused activities), and, instead, we sit on the couch pondering our stressful situations with the hope of becoming less stressed, the chances of the latter happening are small. The default mode network tends to ruminate on what’s not right. So, it really isn’t the go-to place for decreasing stress.
Here’s the thing: if we engage the prefrontal cortex by focusing on a task (such as the ones I mentioned above), the activity in the default mode network quiets. If I’m helping my son with his math homework, I’m less likely to be worrying about work or financial issues because I’m focused on him and the math. This is true for meditation too. In meditation, we focus our minds on the breath or a mantra, engaging the pre-frontal cortex and quieting the default mode network. This is one reason meditation has been proven to decrease stress. But if we don’t intentionally focus our minds, the default mode network becomes more active, and this activity can trigger negative, worried thinking, especially if we are already stressed.
Using Nature to Change Thoughts
In my book Stressed in the U.S.: 12 Tools to Tackle Anxiety, Loneliness, Tech-Addiction and More, I offer concrete strategies to intervene on stressful thoughts without having to change thoughts. One, well-researched and simple way to decrease stress is to focus your attention on a beautiful nature scene. While it’s particularly beneficial to be in nature itself, say looking up at a star-filled sky or watching a flock of birds fly in formation, even looking at scenes of nature on television or your computer screen can help. In fact, watching something (whether live or digital) that brings about a sense of awe has been proven to increase a feeling of connectedness to others, increase a sense of well-being and decrease the stress hormone cortisol.
Because nature is also the archetypal mother (meaning the universal symbol of mother), it may decrease stress because it helps us feel comforted and emotionally held. In other words, sitting under a tree, listening to its leaves rustle in the breeze, is like being in the lap of Mother Earth. Being properly mothered means feeling cared about, nurtured, held and connected. Nature is like a holding environment that unconsciously helps us feel less alone in the world while simultaneously feeling soothed. And when we feel connected and soothed, we’re less likely to have stressful thoughts.
How Secure Connections Change our Thoughts
Being raised by a comforting and responsive parent (otherwise known as an attachment figure), helps us form what are called “secure attachments.” I talk a lot about secure attachments in Stressed in the U.S. because they are key in helping us handle the stress we can’t control in our lives. The more we feel connected to, cared about and understood by others, the more resilient we are to stress.
Even if you grew up with an unavailable or abusive attachment figure, you can still strengthen your attachment style in your adult life. Being honest, releasing judgment and widening the lens are strategies I discuss in my book for increasing the security of your connections despite a rocky upbringing. When your relationships feel secure, particularly the one with yourself, you will be more likely to meet the challenges in your life instead of fear them. And when you see a potential threat as a challenge to take on, you suffer less from stress. In other words, forming secure attachments can change how you perceive things. Secure attachment can inform your thoughts for the better. The thought, “I’ll never be able to afford a house,” changes to “I’m going to save to buy a house one day.”
Some people say, “but I don’t have any people in my life who understand me or care about me so I don’t have any secure attachments.” Indeed, loneliness is epidemic in our nation. But loneliness doesn’t have to stop you from forming secure attachments. Start with how you treat yourself. Taking care of your body by exercising or putting healthy food in it is a type of attuned “mothering” that can increase your confidence and wellbeing. Making sure you get enough sleep, taking time to write down your goals and getting yourself out of unhealthy environments are all steps toward increasing internal secure attachment. When you do the above, you are sending the message to yourself that you value yourself and the more you value yourself, the more likely you are to see others as sources of connection instead of harm.
So, if you are wrestling with a negative mind, trying to steer it toward positive thinking, but like a magnet, it keeps returning to pessimism, drop that approach and take up one of the above strategies. Focusing the mind on a task, being in nature, and practicing secure attachment behavior are ways that can change your thinking, automatically. The “I’m fat,”
“no, you’re not,” “Yes, I am” dialogue will begin to dissipate, and moments of calm and connection will start to appear.


Meg Van Deusen received her BA in English from Santa Clara University in 1985 and her PhD in Clinical Psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology in Los Angeles in 1992. She has worked with children, adolescents, and adults both in inpatient and outpatient settings throughout the Los Angeles and Seattle areas. Her knowledge of and passion for attachment theory, mindfulness, interpersonal neurobiology, sleep and dreams informs her belief that meaningful connection with ourselves and others helps us handle stress. In her review of the literature and interviews with researchers, everyday Americans, and clients, she has cultivated a first-hand understanding of how our current American culture is creating barriers to human attachments and, therefore, weakening our ability to handle the stressors we face today. She believes that the ancient art of mindfulness, the recent research on happiness, and the simplicity of nature can, among other things, help us build resilience and calm during a time when disconnection has us lost in a worried world.

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