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5 winning strategies to improve your likability at work and why it matters

“Likability” has become the X factor that distinguishes people’s success at work as the American workforce grows increasingly competitive and diversified.  Demonstrating a high level of likability goes beyond popularity, and is often cited as one of the most influential reasons behind promotion selection and leadership  advancement within a company.  The ability to come across as likable can lead to why co-workers and managers align with some people but not others. Likable people are more apt to be hired, earn a high level of trust and support from colleagues, and have their mistakes forgiven without injuring their credibility and reputation.  A study of 133 managers at the University of Massachusetts found that if an employee is likable and gives a well-organized argument, managers tend to comply with their suggestions, even if they disagree and the employee lacks supporting evidence.

On the other hand, unlikable people are often unaware of how toxic they feel to others, seem to provoke a combative response in others, and over time, develop a reputation of  being ‘hard to work with, or hard to work for’ even if they consistently demonstrate a high level of technical skill in their work role.

The ability to manage your emotions and remain steadfast and positive in stressful situations has a direct impact not only on your performance, but how likable you are to others.  As tempting as it can be to find fault in others, taking on a non-confrontational problem-solving approach encourages people to work in tandem and collaborate with you rather than react in defensiveness and go into attack mode.  A wise, highly successful manager once said to me “it’s never effective to make people feel wrong, even if they ARE wrong.  Shaming people wastes time and energy and reduces morale- causing people to withdraw or retaliate rather than work to improve themselves.”

TalentSmart has conducted research with more than a million people, and found that 90% of high ranked performers are skilled at managing their emotions in times of conflict in order to remain calm and in control. One of the greatest talents of likable people is their ability to neutralize difficult, unlikable people. They use their well-honed interpersonal skills to help disgruntled people feel supported, valued and useful to a team’s success, motivating them to cooperate with others.  If left unchecked, poorly managed conflict and employee grid-lock will sink a company’s success rate fast.

There are various strategies that likable people use to win their co-worker’s trust, appreciation, and support at work.  “Likability isn’t something you are born with, like charisma. It’s something you can learn,” says Ben Decker, chief executive officer of Decker Communications, San Francisco, a training and consulting firm.  To establish lasting, positive connections with people (whether you like them or not), you’ll need an approach that feels authentic to your interpersonal style. Many clients in my executive coaching practice come in to elevate their emotional intelligence skills to complement their highly developed STEM technical skills.  In the beginning, taking a different approach to interacting with others can feel difficult or artificial, but over time becomes easier to employ once you see the positive impact it has on your work relationships.  Engaging in stable, positive interactions at work will always be easier to maintain than constantly navigating awkward or tense work relationships.

Actionable strategies to increase your likability at work:

  1. Aim to communicate empathically with others.  Negative, unlikable people can be draining when they exhibit hostile emotions without regard for how they’re affecting others.  They aren’t focused on solutions because they feel unheard, and want someone to pay attention to their complaints.  You can avoid coming across as insensitive or unconcerned by offering a few short, empathic statements to demonstrate you’ve listened.  Help them see they’ve made an impact on your understanding of the issues they’ve raised, and you value their opinion.  This form of active listening increases your likability because you’ve demonstrated an ability to tolerate other people’s emotional expressions without negating their experience.  Even if you do not agree with them in the slightest, you’ve helped them move away from seeing you as personally contrary or combative.  Their complaints are not being made to generate solutions at this moment in time, but rather to be heard by anyone who will listen.  Refrain from sharing differences in opinion, which will only trigger a combative response style.  Use phrases to help that person feel understood before ending the exchange amicably.
  • “This does sound like a big problem.  I imagine it won’t be easily solved without some planning.  I appreciate you sharing your thoughts on the situation, it’s helped me get some new perspectives.  I’ll spend some time thinking about how to get the ball rolling in the right direction.”
  • “I think this is a really important issue too.  I want to give it the time and attention it deserves.  Now that I’ve heard your take on it, I feel like I can see how it’s affecting people differently.”
  • “This problem has been hard for a lot of people, but especially you, based on what you’re saying.  It seems like you’re doing the best you can, given the circumstances.”

If ultimately it’s your job to generate actionable solutions to the problems they’ve shared with you, it’s better to give yourself time to strategize, gather information, resources and support to optimize your plan of action rather than to engage in a reactive dialogue that won’t generate lasting solutions, and likely only provoke negative responses.

2.  Make time for small talk.  Positive relationships are born from sharing benign personal details.  Showing genuine interest in others makes you likable.  As someone who’s naturally chatty (with a personality style well suited to being a highly interactive coach versus a traditionally unobtrusive psychotherapist) I always enjoy helping people learn and practice the art of small talk.  Likable people make time to exchange simple personal reflections on topics that most people can relate to- favorite past times or culinary tastes, seasonal or local happenings.  Small talk is a time to compare mutual commonalities with the intent of learning something new about a person.  Sharing parts of yourself through small talk helps people feel familiar and comfortable with you and develop a sense of who you are outside of your work role.  I believe there are a few basic rules of thumb to successfully initiate and respond to others during small talk conversations.  These mini exchanges (think 5 -1o minutes) build upon each other over time, and eventually can segue into more in-depth conversations that are mutually interesting and enjoyable.

  •  Be willing to initiate a circumstantially relevant conversation (for example seeing someone enjoy a cup of coffee/tea is a good time to ask what they prefer, then share some small personal details about your own caffeine habits, add some novel experiences if you can to keep it from being too mundane).  Pay attention to the amount that they share and aim to match it, then expand a bit more.  Find out if there’s anything you can learn from them based on what they share.
  • Be responsive to people when they make an effort to begin a small talk conversation with you, and be inclusive of others whenever possible.   Even if you’re having a hectic day, take time to convey you appreciate their conversational gesture and try to refrain from saying how busy/rushed you feel.  If you really are counting on every spare minute that day, let them know you want to come back to chat with them a bit later, and make a point to follow up in some small way the next time you see them.
  • Ask a few people who know you well (family members, room mates, close friends) how they’ve seen you engage in small talk and ask for candid feedback.  What have they observed in your conversational style that works well?  What might be misinterpreted?  Consider any reoccurring themes with the intention of ongoing improvement so that others have easy, enjoyable exchanges with you.

 

3.  Pay attention to what tends to lighten people’s mood, what puts a smile on people’s faces or brings people out of their shell.  A few seconds of generosity with your energy can instantly warm people and makes you endearing to others.  I’ve had clients tell me they struggle to connect with people they have very little in common with, especially across genders.  If  you’ve ever paid close attention to someone who’s incredibly likable, you’ll see their charm often comes from a willingness to admit to not knowing much about something that someone else has a talent for- they’ll make light of this difference and find a way to joke about being less fashion savvy, less gadget knowledgable or less organized than a fellow co-worker.  Complimentary teasing, when done subtly and with genuine appreciation for someone else’s strengths is a fun, positive way to connect to others and increase your likability.

4.  Keep close tabs on your mood, and get in the habit of making micro-adjustments to sustain your comfort, stamina, peace of mind, and sense of humor.  Top performers understand how even the smallest differences in our mood can shape our response style and influence our ability to be creative, proactive and solution focused, and patient with unlikable people and complex problems.  You’ll want to aspire beyond healthy eating and good sleep hygiene and understand what additional influences can tip your mood in the right or wrong direction.  I recently sat next to Silicon Vally venture capitalist Tim Draper during a fundraiser luncheon for non-profit organization BizWorld.org.  He shared with me a few secrets to his success, including the importance of understanding and managing what influences your mood and energy level, taking extra precaution before going into high stakes meetings, public performances, or making paramount decisions with long term consequences.  By learning what helps you sustain your best mood, you’ll not only increase your likability and performance level, but serve as an inspiration to others who see you gliding through life with more ease and less stress.

  • create a varied and personalized list of self-care strategies and implement them routinely into your daily schedule.  (The list should range by category, e.g. time required, ease of access, supplies needed)
  • learn when to pass on extra curricular activities, social events and spending time with people that drain your energy and mood during times you’ll need to rely on your best performance ability
  • invest in resources that help you streamline domestic tasks that take up precious time and energy- whenever possible and affordable outsource tedious household chores so you can invest your time and energy on making career gains and positive social developments.

5.  Keep your eyes on the big picture and don’t sweat the small stuff.  The most likable people find a way to not let minor annoyances become obstacles to their success, and train their brain to notice positivity, hope, generosity, kindness, improvement and teamwork.  They are comfortable using trial and error, steer clear of perfectionistic or overly-idealistic expectations, keep their goals realistic, recognize growth and gains in themselves and others, and manage to find the silver lining in the most challenging circumstances.  Practice.  Then practice some more.  These are all tactics that take time to develop and can become staples in helping you become more likable and effective in your life and work goals.

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Is Lightweight Stalking on Social Media a Relationship Killer? Stop in 3 Easy Steps.

How often do you keep tabs on the person you're dating online?
How often do you keep tabs on the person you’re dating online?

Have you ever wondered how much checking someone’s status updates/tweets/photo uploads is normal/harmless, and when does re-checking their online activity become problematic?  Most of us have caught ourselves clicking through someone’s social media activity because we have reason to be naturally curious  about them- maybe the person is someone we want to meet, or just started dating and want to know more about them.  Other times we might scroll through our partner’s online activity as a way to check their daily mood, as counterintuitive as that may sound (since you likely see them or at least communicate with them regularly in person).  Today’s prolific use of social media gives us an alternative glimpse into our partner’s emotional status and social exchanges that we may not otherwise pick up on.  Even if someone’s online persona is carefully constructed for public consumption, having access to their online activity gives us an opportunity to interpret the meaning of their coming and goings, even their level of intimacy with others.  If this person is an ex-romantic partner this may be all we have to go on- even if all we see is their profile picture and friend list, this information can still provide a rough approximation of their current situation. This dilemma recently became a topic of conversation in my coaching practice, where helping people improve their emotional intelligence is a common goal throughout the work that I do.  Victoria, a bright and accomplished 24 year-old woman shared with me that constantly checking her boyfriend’s social media activity and online communication with his ex is taking a hard toll on her mood and relationship functioning. Me: “Have you ever talked to your boyfriend about what you see on his social media sites?  That you’re concerned about who he’s interacting with online?” Her: “HELL NO! The last thing I want to do is come across as the person that I actually am- the type of person who stalks people online to see what they’re up to, and compare their successes to mine.” Checking people’s online activity, or ‘lightweight stalking‘ if you will, can run deep.  We start out taking a quick glimpse at our partner’s tweet/Instagram pic of the day, only to find their ex decided to comment suggestively.  It’s too easy to then check out our partner’s ex-boyfriend/girlfriend’s Twitter/Instagram/Facebook, etc (because dammit they have a public profile just begging to be explored).  So begins the comparisons.  Do they seem happier/sadder now? Does their taste in fashion/music/politics demonstrate that I’m a more tasteful/intelligent person?  Is he/she in better shape than me?  Our self-esteem may start to wane the more we compare ourselves to them.  We end up heading into an emotional tailspin trying to interpret their ‘Vaguebooking‘ habit on Facebook.  We’re left wondering if they’re pining for their old relationship.  Do they want to rekindle things?  Will they/have they tried?  If trust hasn’t been well established in our relationship, we might become irrationally suspicious by mistrusting and/or questioning our partner for no substantial reason.  Suddenly we’re starting arguments that undermine the health of our relationship.

FML.

Dr. Tara C. Marshall, Ph.D., explores online post-breakup fixations in her research article Facebook Surveillance of Former Romantic Partners: Associations with PostBreakup Recovery and Personal Growth.  Results based on the responses of 464 participants revealed that one-half to two-thirds of people have made contact with an ex-romantic partner through Facebook, and that over half admit to having looked through an ex’s photos to find pictures of them with a new romantic partner.  Findings from this study suggest that keeping tabs on an ex through social media is associated with poorer emotional recovery and personal growth following a breakup. Therefore, avoiding exposure to ex-partners, both offline and online, may be the best remedy for healing a broken heart.

Solution:  Put Yourself on a Stalking Diet

  1. Do not allow yourself to stalk during the time of day when you know you are the most emotionally vulnerable and/or have unlimited time to comb through the internet for new postings.  For many people this is late at night.  Give yourself an 8 pm stalking curfew!!!  Most likely after 8 pm, you’ll engage in other things that will bring your mood back to a normal, and you’ll be in a less anxious place before you sleep.
  2. If you know you’re not ready to quit cold turkey, put some “stalking hours” in place, like office hours, if you will.  You’re only allowed to check on those you stalk between 2-4 pm, for example.  That way if you find yourself curious about your ex at midnight (especially likely if you’ve been out drinking), you can rest assured you’ll have a chance to stalk to your heart’s content, just postponed a little.  Chances are, you won’t have that same aching (likely misguided) curiosity during the logical hours of the next afternoon.
  3. Delete the social media app(s) that you use the most during your sleuthing for one week.  This will allow you to see how much you actually miss compulsively scrolling through that particular social media site.  You might discover that the cost of missing out (FOMO) is not creating as much emotional damage as stalking does.
  • And if all else fails…
If all else fails…

Digital mental health tools: how do they work?

Teaching cognitive behavioral tools for mood management has been a large part of my psychotherapy practice since I began over 10 years ago.  Some of the most effective tools are relaxation techniques that work to help people manage a wide range of common mental and physical health symptoms, including anxiety/worry, self destructive thinking habits, panic attacks, insomnia, depression and chronic pain.  During psychotherapy, patients learn how and why these tools work, followed by demonstrations and practice in session, followed by homework for review in between appointments.  Innovative developments in technology have given people helpful tools to support what they are learning in psychotherapy, including the ability to measure and track their body’s physiological functioning with wearable devices. A variety of mental health focused mobile apps can work as supportive guides for relaxation, cognitive restructuring, and mood management. Some apps are built as digital games, based on research findings that suggest “gamifying” a scientifically-supported mental health intervention offers measurable mental and behavioral benefits for people with relatively high levels of anxiety.  Mental health professionals now have a wide range of supplemental digital tools to choose from to support their patient care, as well as individuals aiming for increased mental wellness.  Discuss with your mental health provider which digital tools best match the work you are doing together; if she/he is not familiar with any, aim for those utilizing evidence-based practices developed by health professionals, and steer clear of those making dubious health claims.  While the latest ‘best mental health apps’ lists are a great place to start, ultimately the ‘best app’ is one that is a scientifically supported one that you feel you can use with ease and consistency.

What makes these tools so effective and how do they work?

Relaxation techniques improve the mind and body’s physiological functioning and health.  Panic and other physical symptoms of stress are caused by the body’s  automatic reaction to perceived fear.  “The Stress Response” occurs when chemicals flood your body that prepare you for “fight or flight.” While the stress response is helpful in true emergency situations where you must be alert and ready to act, overall exhaustion can occur when constantly activated.  Relaxation strategies work to elicit “The Relaxation Response”, which rebalances your body’s physiological system by: deepening your breathing, reducing stress hormones, slowing down your heart rate and blood pressure, and relaxing your muscles. In addition to its calming physical effects, research shows that the relaxation response also increases energy/ability to focus, fight diseases, relieves aches and pains, heightens problem-solving abilities, and boosts motivation and productivity.

Cognitive techniques such as thought records and mood trackers reduce anxious, depressive or self-destructive thinking habits.  Worry, panic and fear are all normal and automatic human responses to real or imagined threats to safety. Self-evaluative thoughts play an important role in motivating us to identify errors and take action for improvement.  All of these types of thoughts work as a natural alert system, compelling us to make necessary changes that can remove us from harm’s way, decrease harmful behaviors or increase healthy behaviors. While sometimes these thoughts work in our best interest, they can also be hazardous to our mental and physical state of health if left poorly managed.  Automatic thoughts of worry or self-criticism can become distorted and irrational when left unchecked, and actually prevent us from being able to function optimally in our daily lives. Learning to refute and manage irrational thoughts is an important step in healthy coping when faced with uncontrollable circumstances.

Professional mental health treatment by trained experts remain an essential part of diagnosing and treating mental illness.  There is no substitute for understanding the myriad composition, history and progress of an individual’s mental health symptoms.  A person’s mental health can erode suddenly and sometimes without warning; dangerous progression of symptoms can be avoided with timely and appropriate professional care. 

 

 

Gen-Y’s tech twist on engagement, weddings and parenthood

While Gen-Y is still getting married at much lower rates than previous generations, some millennials are finally beginning to grow up, entering the world of marital engagements, wedding planning, and parenthood. True to form, their choices reflect advancements that set them apart from Gen-Xers, who were the first to utilize technology to chronicle their love stories on websites like theknot.com, build wedding registries online, gift personalized CDs with digitally remastered music as wedding favors, show spliced video montages of the bride and groom’s childhood at wedding receptions, and research honeymoons on websites like tripadvisor.com. As a card carrying member of generation X, I can proudly say we thought we were so cutting edge! Our kids were the first to be born with smartphones and tablets in their hands, and we posted their baby pictures on our social media pages and texted them to their grandparents. But time nor technology stands still, and Gen-Y has begun to put their own tech twist on engagements, weddings and baby plans. As a mental health treatment provider and consultant who works almost entirely with millennials in the San Francisco Bay Area, I have taken note of the following trends:

Their romantic relationships have an online life of their own. As the saying goes, no one really knows what happens behind closed doors, but in the personal lives of millennials, we can certainly take a look at their online activity to see what they’d like us to believe about their relationship status and history. The internet has become their forum of choice for chronicling romantic highs and lows, functioning as a means to gain public support, air grievances, compete for attention, and display markers of success (not to mention deleting away failures.) From public playlists on Spotify, hashtags on Twitter and Instagram, Pinterest boards and Facebook’s ‘Relationship Status’ updates, Gen-Y leaves little to the imagination when it comes to sharing their stories of romance.

They crowd source their decisions when it comes to navigating relationships. Millennials are used to solving problems fast, arriving at optimal solutions with the least resistance possible. Millennials have been groomed to work in competency-based teams, and this concept is frequently used for managing their personal lives too. They prefer to avoid conflict, and are more comfortable than previous generations relying on others to help them make decisions. Jeff Snipes, CEO of Ninth House, a provider of online education, including optimizing team effectiveness, says a hierarchical, leader-oriented team was more appropriate for earlier generations: “Traditionally if you worked up the ranks for twenty years and all the employees were local then you could know all the functions of the workplace. Then you could lead by barking orders. But today everything moves too fast and the breadth of competency necessary to do something is too vast.” When faced with life-changing decisions about relationship commitment or endings, Gen-Y seeks the opinions of their team of friends, family and experts to help them navigate and solve problems. When problems are deemed too private to share, websites like popular sites like Whisper and Secret are put to use by millennials as a way to air their private thoughts, share their hidden behaviors and ask for advice completely anonymously, so there is no threat to their carefully constructed online image.

Their engagement stories, weddings and honeymoons reflect their brilliance and investment in personal branding. While previous generations aimed to establish their worth and reputation through self-improvement, author Dan Schawbel of Me 2.0: Build a Powerful Brand to Achieve Career Success points out that Gen-Y has discovered that in the dawn of the internet, admiration and success comes from self-packaging through a carefully concocted personal brand. From the days of Myspace to Tumblr, millennials have grown up managing their self image like celebrity publicists. Gen-Y has turned self-portraits into a way of life- ‘selfies’ have become one of the internet’s top forms of self-expression. Their overall online presence has been a way to uniquely distinguish themselves from everyone else, and they are highly invested in making their relationship milestones ideally memorable as part of their personal brand. Whether they capture and share these milestones via Snapchat’s Our Story, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or personal blogs, millennials are sure to control how the world sees their love stories unfold through brand management. One San Francisco Bay area millennial shared with me she got engaged via FaceTime, since her long-distance boyfriend was living in abroad and couldn’t wait to pop the question. To his credit, her (now fiance) also created an iMovie that he shared with her, depicting him staged in funny scenarios accompanied by a personalized musical score that specially captured their romantic history.

They’re comfortable resisting tradition, understanding that ‘following the rules’ doesn’t necessarily bring ‘happily ever after.’ Author Paul Hudson of Elite Daily, The Voice of Generation Y observes that millennials are far less likely than past generations to buy into the notion that marriage is the gateway to a future of stability and happiness. Harry Benson, research director at the Marriage Foundation, describes the strong link between parental divorce and a reluctance to get married. “If your parents split up then most people are more likely to be quite skeptical about the value of marriage,” he explains. “So as there’s rising divorce rates, you can imagine how when the next generation appears, people will be more dubious about marriage.” Bobby Duffy, leading market researcher on generational analysis, says there are also far more financial pressures on millennials than previous generations. They have more educational debt in a less stable economic climate, and face an incredibly buoyant housing market. According to CNNMoney, twenty-somethings are transitioning into adult life at a more gradual pace, opting to cohabitate and co-parent without traditional marriage at a much higher rate than previous generations.

They anticipate their babies’ future in a world where technological identity matters. One website says it all:awesomebabyname.com, a new online tool that allows parents to choose a name for their child based on website domain availability. Yes people, this is happening. I heard it first a few months ago when a pregnant patient of mine found out she was having a girl, the first thing she and her cohabiting boyfriend/expecting father-to-be did was buy website domains and establish email accounts in her name. Of course, now there’s an app for that! “It’s important to give your children a fighting chance of having good SEO (Search Engine Optimization) in the 21st century,” says Finnbar Taylor, who created this website together with Karen X. Cheng. “We use search engines all day long to answer our questions and find things, including people. Imagine being called John Smith and trying to get a ranking on Google search. It’s important to give your child a unique name so that people, like potential employers, will be able to find them easily in the future.”

Granted, millennials are still in their 20’s, a time when it’s still developmentally common to be preoccupied with self-image, and an idealized future that looks different than previous generations. The question is, as Gen-Y ages, which of these trends, if any, will change?

Dr. Christina Villarreal is a clinical psychologist in the San Francisco Bay Area, CA. She produces web articles, televised and print/web interviews on current issues in mental health and tech culture. She offers consultation and strategy to start up founders and employees.

DJs and Mental Health: Electronic Music’s Last Taboo

DJs and Mental Health: Electronic Music’s Last Taboo

This article was featured in djbroadcast.net, an international platform for music, art & lifestyle.  Thank you author Dan ColeEditor In Chief at Blueprint Media BV for this well-written and timely article, and for bringing this topic into the light for the music community. I appreciate the mention and inclusion in your writing.

“The challenges of being an on-the-road performer are often popularized in modern culture; more so than they are discussed by real life musicians. One only has to refer to the likes of DJ Ickarus (aka. Paul Kalkbrenner) in Berlin Calling, who succumbs to a mental illness as a consequence of the rock & roll lifestyle he adopts.  Or there’s Frankie Wilde in ‘It’s All Gone Pete Tong’, who struggles with addiction, loss of hearing and arguably, loss of self-identity. Yet, as we happily grimace at these fabricated, big screen purveyors of dance music, mental health issues in real life are no laughing matter. One in four of us will struggle with mental health issues at some point in our life. It’s something however that a very small segment of the DJ community has spoken openly about. So how prevalent is it among the touring DJ scene, and why does it appear to be the last taboo to be broken? We spoke DJ veterans Joost van Bellen and Jeremy P. Caulfield to shed some insight on this sensitive subject.”

Aim For the Stars
Towards the end of Dom Phillips’ 2009 book, Superstar DJs Here We Go! (The Rise and Fall of the Superstar DJ), is the story of Sasha, and how, during the peak of his career, he struggled to deal with the pressure the industry was putting him under to release music. Following the success of several singles and countless mixes, he was still yet to release an album – a record he consistently confirmed was coming out. ‘Muzik magazine went over to New York to interview him. Sasha proved elusive,’ Philips wrote. ‘The eventual feature was entitled The Lost Weekend. Last time Muzik sees him in New York, he’s half underneath his bed at the Soho Grand Hotel, waving a two-litre bottle of vodka in one hand and a bin in the other.’

While we might otherwise laugh at the rock & roll clichéd actions of Sasha at this point in his career, it is clear that these were not the actions of a healthy person. Massively overwhelmed due to an exhaustive schedule and pressure from a baying audience, Sasha’s actions became irrational, and his actions, unsound. These idiosyncratic, patterns on behaviour are characteristic of many artists within the musical sphere. When the pressure is on, and fatigue sets in from over-work then one’s own mental health can begin to suffer. This is especially prevalent when there is an ease of access to excess alcohol and drugs.

“…At one point, after a pretty exhausting tour,
I came back and it just wouldn’t stop –
the anxiety stayed…”

Confiding in the Press
DJs are bearing more than ever in progressively candid interviews with press and media. Quite often an artist will talk about their childhood, liaisons and drug use. Yet very rarely will they talk about some of the mental challenges that have had to tackle. Topics of which can be perceived to be extremely personal. There are a rare few who have gone against the tide. Dutch DJ Laidback Luke is one of them.

“I’ve had burnout twice in my life; I had a burnout when I was 20 and I had a burnout when I was 30,” Laidback Luke confides to online publication, OnlyTheBeat. For a mini-documentary entitled, My Son The DJ, the Dutch DJ elaborates further regarding the latter incident. In 2010 Laidback Luke had the most international bookings out of all Dutch artists (150 in one year) – this inordinate touring schedule, combined with the breakup of his marriage lead to this second period of burnout. “I was in the bus enjoying my time off and I all I wanted to do was fucking scream inside of the bus because I was just getting crazy,” he explains. This is the response of someone who is not just suffering from physical fatigue, but from something more complex, and sometimes misunderstood; nervous exhaustion.

When we’re ill we can see the doctor, or simply take some medication, but matters of the mind are much more difficult to fix. German house DJ, Motor City Drum Ensemble, was honest enough to talk extensively about his anxiety problems in a recent Resident Advisor documentary. “At one point, after a pretty exhausting tour, I came back and it just wouldn’t stop – the anxiety stayed,” he candidly admits. The realisation of such, actively lead to the DJ cutting down on his touring commitments, in order to improve his health.

For every story of someone who’s managed to acknowledge their health problems, there are countless examples of those who haven’t. Just take the tragic story of US house producer Gemini, aka. Spencer Kincy. Luke Solomon talks about Kincy’s problem in a Resident Advisor Exchange podcast, during which he describes how Kincy has ‘decided to opt out of society, to not have a fixed abode, not be a part of the music industry anymore and he doesn’t want to be a part of this world anymore – that’s his choice and mental illness and that, are a factor.’ Although, this is a very drastic example, it only goes to highlight the extent to which mental illness can impact an individual’s life. Something, which were it not to have been brought to our attention, could have easily slipped under the radar.

Expander
Dr. Christina Villarreal, a Mental Health Examiner in Oakland, talks about the psychological issues celebrities can struggle with at various points in their career, in an article for The Examiner. Villarrea
l lists the following points:

No Privacy – a suffocating environment can lead to individuals acting out in an uncharacteristic manner, such as ‘unsavoury sexual appetites, volatile outbursts or uncontrolled substance abuse.’
Loss of Self-Sense – this can cause individuals ‘to make choices that no longer reflect their true self.
Loss of challengesa problem that can cause those who’ve become successful, to consistently seek new challenges and ways of becoming even more successful.
Imposter syndromea problem that can lead to inadequacy, when an individual feels that they might not be up for the job.
Quest for media spotlight immortalitya prevalent problem leading to artists going to the utmost limits to ensure that they remain as famous forever.

You can apply any one of these issues to a certain number of DJs. It’s clear that when Sasha was pushing himself around the time of Xpander, as stated at the start of the article, that that lack of privacy and loss of self-sense, was putting a huge strain on the Welsh DJ.

Leading dance music journalist Marcus Barnes, writing on the health issues that touring DJs need to be wary of, consulted senior NHS nurse, Jacqui Jedrzejewski, when writing a similar article for the online outlet, Meoko. As well as various physical ailments, such as back issues and tinnitus, Barnes states that consistent touring, alongside effects of jetlag, can lead to  wide-ranging effects on an individual’s physical and mental wellbeing.’Barnes also refers to the problems of depression, upon which Jedrzejewski states that:

‘Becoming isolated from friends, or the world in general and feeling alone or misunderstood can quickly lead to depression.’

I spoke with Gordon Shippey, a US based psychotherapist and counselor about the perils posed to those exposed to excess fame. “Having an adoring fanbase near at hand can cause problems. One credible explanation for why we see stars acting badly, is that in their fans’ eyes, they can do no wrong. A big part of narcissism is the inflated sense of self-importance. But for people who are legitimately famous, that sense is reinforced by their fanbase.”

“I know DJs who get anxiety attacks and depressions; who get paranoid even when playing at a club or festival”

Pandaogen
Joost van Bellen is a revered and legendary DJ from the early days of dance music in The Netherlands. Known throughout the country as one of the instigators of the Dutch electronic music movement, the 54-year old DJ helped established the RoXY club in Amsterdam, which laid the groundwork for the current wave of
underground Dutch and techno.  He recently wrote a book – a work of fiction – about the perils of fame, entitled Pandaogen, from the perspective of a fashion model. “Success and fame would bring happiness, but she loses her friends and herself along the way to the Holy Grail,” explains van Bellen. “It can happen to DJs too, there is actually a DJ in my book who is my nightmare reflection in a mirror.”

Haven spoken previously about his concerns regarding the health implications brought on my excessive DJing, DJBroadcast caught up with the influential Dutch DJ to take his perspective on the whole situation.

 

“I know DJs who get anxiety attacks and depressions; who get paranoid even when playing at a club or festival,” he explains. “But most of them will be waving they’re hands in the air when they are back in that DJ-booth like nothing is wrong.” Is this a sign of denial, or do DJs not want to let on that this perceived notion them of having a good time is actually a fallacy?

As well as hosting the regular Rauw nights at Amsterdam’s Trouw, van Bellon is still doing two to three shows every week. He used to do a lot more; something which took its toll on his own mental heath.

“I’ve been there: saw things which were not there because of exhaustion and light effects in clubs. I had trouble breathing properly, got hyperventilation attacks and saw the world around me spinning like a merry-go-round.”

So if it is happening, then why does it come across as being so taboo? “You might feel like shit but you always have to be happy and pretend it’s a great party,” he states. DJs, are in a sense, becoming actors, and pretending that everything is fine. Until, that is, when it all goes terribly wrong.

Faking It
Jeremy Caulfield went into semi-retirement recently. The Canadian DJ, producer and label owner moved from Toronto to Berlin a few years ago, after establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with among his fellow tech-house and techno DJ peers. His label, Dumb-Unit, was established at the turn of the century, giving rise to the likes of Butane and Mike Shannon.

Caulfield however called time on his DJing, after recently becoming a father, in addition to taking on the management of a new Berlin-based café and bar, Aunt Benny, which he runs with his wife and brother-in-law. He could see that, if he carried on with the way things were, it wouldn’t work out too well for him. He’s now opted to focus on being a dad and looking after his business – he’ll still take the occasional booking though, but only if it’s for the right reasons; the reasons why he started DJing in the first place.

Fans of Caulfield might have seen this coming. In a 2009 Resident Advisor article, Caulfield expressed his growing weariness of international touring.

‘Years before—on my first tours—I was excited to be in Europe, to visit the sites and to take in the culture. But lately I had not been feeling very inquisitive. My TV intake began to rise, I was getting into the salted peanuts a lot earlier and seeing a town consisted of a pre-gig excursion to the hotel bar. The original sheen had faded.’

Now out of the rat race Caulfield looks back with an objective eye. “I wouldn’t say that I was going nuts yet, but I could see that it was wearing me out,” Caulfield explains. “While I have regrets of not fulfilling my duties, I’m quite happy that I ended it – even though I’ve moved into something even more stressful.”

“…You become a sociopath to some
degree because you have to
maintain this persona…”

 

As we discuss his experiences, the conversation inevitably came to the subject of ‘loss of self sense,’ as Villarreal described it. “I think after a while you become a sociopath to some degree because you have to maintain this persona,” he says, about the constant need to put the ‘DJ act’ on when meeting people.

“I pulled all my [social] accounts when I retired,” Caulfield continues. “On a narcissistic level, it’s an epidemic, so pulling my Facebook account was a real personal vindication and was one of the most beneficial things for my health.”

“Narcissism is entwined within the fabric of the scene. As a DJ you are projecting yourself to a younger crowd and when you start getting out of touch with that and you can no longer trust your own instincts about what is good and what is cool, that its time to relinquish a bit.”

At what point, after you’ve been promoting yourself and talking-up your own work, do you actually begin to believe the hype you’ve created about yourself? Social media only inflates the DJ-super-ego. Even though, as I discuss with Caulfield, DJs rarely have anything interesting to say.

The Wild Card
Bill Hicks famously said, “I want my rock stars dead,” and in a weird way, we do actually want to see our idols suffer, due to our sycophantic relationship with celebrity and media. There’s a collective ‘sigh’ when our favourite drug-addled musician cleans up, because we worry that the music quality might suffer. Or we drop our shoulders when we read that a DJ we adore doesn’t drink. How can we relate to someone who isn’t as decadent as us?

We are naturally drawn to the eccentrics; the Sven Väths, Squarepushers, deadmau5s – in this world. Some of these wild cards might not have the best grip on reality, but then again, that’s what makes their art so great. “You don’t have to be mentally healthy to be an artist,” Caulfield explains. “Just make sure its not killing you or hurting anyone else around you.” Caulfield makes reference to Danny Tenaglia’s ‘breakdown’ in 2012, in which he took to social media to resign from DJing. During his online rant the US jock complained about how poor he was (‘many people think I am wealthy but I assure I am not’) and that he was intending to move out of his NY loft. Of course this didn’t happen and his resignation was short-lived, but there it was; a breakdown made public through the internet – for all to see.

In all areas of art, we are drawn to those whose eccentricities are exuburated by their individual neuroses: Vincent van Gogh, Daniel Day Lewis, Kurt Cobain. As Joost van Bellen said, “you have to be a little twisted to be a good DJ.”

The Last Taboo
It’s clear that more than likely, some of our favourite DJs have exhibited some of the pior listed traits about irrationality, dependency and depression. Yet, the topic at hand seems to have been ignored in conversation.

While researching the article I reached out to many artists for their opinion and almost all of them declined to comment. This as much didn’t come as a great surprise. While reading Barnes’ Meoko article I saw that Elite Force, aka. Simon Shackleton, had commented on the piece heavily, so I decided to reach out to get his opinion on the situation. “Generally people are very guarded about this side of things,” he told me. “There’s so much smoke and mirrors when it comes to this profession, and honest responses would probably be seen as a sign of weakness by many people.”

“…There’s so much smoke and mirrors
when it comes to this profession…”

Again, there was that reference to avoiding public displays of weakness. Caulfield also touched upon this during our conversation. “No one wants to be a downer,” Caulfield explains. “In these days people who are downers get scuttled under the carpet, this relates to drug usage too.”

Caulfield thinks that the image of the troubled DJ might also have a detrimental impact on their career, which is why people stray away from the topic. “The legitimate side of dance music, where it has moved to now, i.e. big money and business, has grown and any sign of weakness is deemed to be bad. People often will look for a way to take advantage of that.”

All of this, he explains, is tied together through the intricate web of social media. Once someone becomes more open through social media, then their message spreads like wildfire through the music community. Just look at Tenaglia.

Breaking The Habit
The DJ community has become very open when discussing their nefarious habits, such as drug abuse, sexual promiscuity and other on-the-road mishaps. Yet the only way to break the taboo surrounding mental health issues, is to discuss them freely, in an environment free from judgement. Is the electronic music scene ready for that? We can hope that our scene that was born out of open tolerance and liberty, can also embrace the needs of its more challenged participators.

The elements of conceitedness and for all practical purposes, machoism, need to also be addressed. We can’t carry on expecting that DJs live this party-hard, facile style-of-living. By allowing them to be more open and honest, we might even help ourselves approach reality with a fresh perspective. One individual in particular we can point to is Seth Troxler. From his extremely candid interview with Resident Advisor about the problems of holding down relationships, to his RBMA lecture which touched up upon the issues of holding it together, Troxler has been a luminary among the DJ community about discussing real-life problems.

We also need to address our own expectations and understand what effect they have on those we look up to. At some point we should have said, “hey Sasha, Xpander was really cool. I don’t care if you do another album or not, just be who you are.”

Going out, partying and dancing, are forms of escapism; an attempt to temporarily detach ourselves from reality. But how do DJs indulge in escapism and what happens when they need a break? No wonder there’s this perpetual relationship with DJs and drugs. This should be a warning sign, that we need take this issues more seriously.”  – author  Dan Cole, editor-in-chief, djbroadcast.net

 

Hypochondria or not: Do you use the internet to self-diagnose your physical symptoms?

Most of us have had that “OH NO! I think I have that!” moment, after poking around online, trying to figure out the cause of our vague physical symptoms. A 2004 study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 79 percent of Internet users — roughly 95 million Americans — have researched health information online. People now have access to incredibly complex medical information, with little ability to sift through it or interpret it accurately. The abundance of health information available online, valid or not, has contributed to what the media have coined ‘cyberchondria’ (researching diseases on the internet, and then worrying that you have the symptoms of that disease.) These people are often frustrated when their self-diagnosis does not prompt their doctor to order the tests and/or medications they feel necessary.

Yet after getting checked out by a doctor and getting a clean bill of health, most of us feel reassured, and are then ready to move on. For hypochondriacs however, relief does not come, and the fear of serious illness continues to fester. Hypochondria falls under the umbrella category of Somatoform Disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) and is defined as a preoccupation with the belief that one has an illness, based on a misinterpretation of bodily symptoms. To qualify as hypochondria, this preoccupation must cause distress in the person’s daily life and persist for at least six months — despite medical evidence discounting the perceived illness. About 1 to 5 percent of the population suffers from hypochondria, and the disorder is believed to strike men and women equally.
In the professional world of mental health, “Somatization” is a term that describes the expression of psychological or mental difficulties through physical symptoms. Somatization can range from preoccupation with potential or genuine but mild physical problems (as previously described in Hypochondria), to the development of perceived or actual physical pain, or dysfunction. This article will briefly explain some of the other major diagnoses that the DSM-IV-TR defines within the Somatoform Disorders category.
Somatization disorder is characterized by a history of multiple unexplained medical problems or physical complaints beginning prior to age 30. People with somatization disorder report symptoms affecting multiple organ systems or physical functions, including pain, gastrointestinal distress, sexual problems, and symptoms that mimic neurological disorders. Although medical explanations for their symptoms cannot be identified, individuals with somatization disorder experience genuine physical discomfort and distress. Review of their medical histories will usually reveal numerous visits to medical specialists, second and third opinions, and numerous medications prescribed by different doctors, often putting them at risk for drug interactions.
Conversion disorder is marked by unexplained sensory or motor symptoms that resemble those of a neurological or medical illness or injury. Common symptoms include paralysis, loss of sensation, double vision, seizures, inability to speak or swallow and problems with coordination and balance. Symptoms often reflect a naive understanding of the nervous system, and physicians often detect conversion disorder when symptoms do not make sense anatomically. The name conversion disorder reflects a theoretical understanding of the disorder as a symbolic ‘conversion’ of a psychological conflict into a concrete physical representation. Ironically, patients with conversion disorder may not always express the level of concern one would expect from someone with their described condition.
Pain Disorder is physical pain that causes significant distress or disability or leads an individual to seek medical attention. Pain may be medically unexplained, or it may be associated with an identifiable medical condition, but it is experienced as far more severe than the actual physical condition would warrant. Common symptoms include headache, backache and generalized pain in muscles and joints. Pain disorder can be severely disabling, causing immobility that prevents patients from working, fulfilling family responsibilities or engaging in social activities. Like patients with somatization disorder, people with pain disorder often have a long history of consultations with numerous physicians.
Body dysmorphic disorder is characterized by preoccupation with a defect in physical appearance. Often the defect of concern is not apparent to other observers, or if there is a genuine defect it is far less disfiguring than the patient imagines. Common preoccupations include concerns about the size or shape of the nose, skin blemishes or color, body or facial hair, hair loss, or “ugly” hands or feet. Individuals with body dysmorphic disorder may be extremely self-conscious, avoiding social situations because they fear others will notice their physical defects or even make fun of them. They may spend hours examining the imagined defect or avoid mirrors altogether. Time-consuming efforts to hide the defect, such as application of cosmetics or adjustments of clothing or hair, are common. Many people with body dysmorphic disorder undergo permanent procedures like plastic surgery or cosmetic dentistry, but are seldom satisfied with the results.
Note that Somatoform disorders should be distinguished from Factitious disorder, in which patients intentionally act physically or mentally ill without obvious benefits such as monetary gain. What motivates people with Factitious disorder is being able to play the role of a sick person. Further, the DSM-IV-TR distinguishes Factitious disorder from Malingering, a disorder which is defined as feigning illness when there is a clear motive—usually to economic gain, or to avoid legal trouble.
Causes. One longstanding theory about the cause of Somatoform disorders suggests that it is a way of avoiding psychological distress. Rather than experiencing depression or anxiety, some individuals will develop physical symptoms. According to this model, their preoccupation with the body allows them avoid the stigma of a mental health/psychiatric disorder. They end up getting the care and nurturing they need from doctors and other people in their lives who are responsive to their physical illnesses.

Treatment. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is considered an effective treatment for Somatoform disorders, focusing on changing negative patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behavior that contribute to somatic symptoms. The cognitive component of the treatment focuses on helping patients identify dysfunctional thinking about physical sensations. With practice, patients learn to recognize catastrophic thinking and develop more rational explanations for their feelings. The behavioral component aims to increase activity and self-care. Many of these patients have reduced their activity levels as a result of discomfort or out of fear that activity will worsen their symptoms. Patients are instructed to increase activity gradually while avoiding overexertion that could reinforce fears. Other important types of treatment include relaxation training, sleep hygiene, and communication skills training. Preliminary findings suggest that CBT may help reduce distress and discomfort associated with somatic symptoms; however, it has not yet been systematically compared with other forms of therapy.

Resources
American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 4th edition, text revised. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association,2000.

Phillips, Katherine A. The Broken Mirror: Understanding and Treating Body Dysmorphic Disorder. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
Pilowsky, Issy. Abnormal Illness Behavior. Chichester, UK: John Wiley and Sons, 1997.

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Facebook: how our patterns of social networking can reflect one’s psychological functioning

If you’ve ever felt annoyed, amused, baffled, or disturbed by the various ways people use social networking sites such as Facebook, this article is for you.

“Can you believe she posted that status update/picture?” “Why would he write that on my wall, where everyone can see it?” “Why do people do that on Facebook, with no concern for how awkward or irritating it is for other people to see?” “I can’t take it anymore. I’m unfriending this person!”

These are actual statements I’ve heard from people, in frustration towards others’ differences in personal boundaries on social networking sites such as Facebook. Quite often we see stark contrasts in the social judgment of our friends, family members, co-workers and acquaintances as they reveal themselves in various ways on Facebook. If we look closely, we can begin to understand these differences in social judgment (as well as our responses to them) as a reflection of our psychological functioning. The following list serves to capture a just few of the ways people behave and react to differences in social networking patterns.

How much do we share?

Actual example from a Facebook user*:

Status update: “I’m sorry FB…but I’m the luckiest woman in the world to be having multiple orgasms instead of having to fake it like my girlfriends…” (boyfriend chimes in with a response post, stating “I bring my A-game for you baby”) (*source is confidential)

How much do we share? Facebook is essentially a place to share- what we do, how we look, what we like/dislike, etc. If you’re not comfortable with learning personal details about someone else’s life online, then Facebook is likely not for you. Yet the degree to which an average Facebook user observes private matters via posts and pictures can vary from an enjoyable opportunity to catch up with others, to unsettling, or even offensive. Facebook users that push the boundaries of social etiquette are particularly controversial. When people share highly intimate or sensationalized information on Facebook, they may revel in shocking their audience and crave attention from others, whether good or bad. This may come from an underlying need to ‘stand out’ as special and different. Or perhaps it is an unwillingness to recognize that others might be offended by their display of private details in a widely public arena.

How much do we observe? Most of us have probably spent more time than we’d like to admit looking at others’ pictures, or perusing through someone’s wall on Facebook. In some instances, we may not know all of our Facebook friends in such a way that would afford this much access to their personal information. Yet our curiosity compels us to peek, perhaps as a means to increase feeling connected, or closer to people. Or in some cases, we feel compelled to pry in order to compare ourselves to others (regardless of how well we know someone) as a way to judge our own success or happiness. This addictive quality keeps Facebook’s typical user on the site for an average of 169 minutes a month according to ComScore. Compare that with Google News, where the average reader spends 13 minutes a month checking up on the world, or the New York Times website, which holds on to readers for a mere ten minutes a month.

How much space do we take up? We’ve all had the experience of opening up our Facebook News Feed, and found that certain people take up an exorbitant amount of space through higher frequencies of sharing. Some of us perceive this as social entitlement, which can drive us to feel annoyed, resentful and even superior to those who openly ‘ask for our attention.’ This can feel especially irritating when other people share strong opinions or make lifestyle choices that are different from our own. How much space we take (or don’t take) on Facebook may reflect our expectation of the attention we feel we deserve from others.

Does Facebook allow us to be someone different than in our everyday life? Online interactions, as opposed to face-to-face interactions may allow or encourage some people to be more confrontational, racier, sexier, more militant, or melodramatic than might be acceptable in their daily life. Adopting new behaviors or personas via Facebook can feel liberating, without the discomfort of facing people’s immediate reactions to a stronger display of personality. We may gain the sympathy and/or support that we may not have (but want) in our everyday lives.

At it’s best, Facebook is a social opportunity that allows us to share our lives with others, support our friends, family and acquaintances with the happenings of their daily experiences, and actively expand our social connections. Yet, to others it can feel like a chaotic free-for-all that invites people to bend social rules of etiquette.

When it comes to Facebook, everyone seems to have an opinion. What’s yours? Leave comments on this page with anecdotes that capture your experience of Facebook. I, for one, would love to read them!