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Sharing Our Sorrows Might Make Us a Bit Happier
By Susan Young,
Stanford University News Service

New research shows that people think their peers are happier than they really are, and this distortion of reality makes people lonely and dissatisfied with their own lives.

Scrolling through Facebook or mingling at a party, you might get the impression that other people’s lives are full of job promotions, exotic travel, and successful relationships. We don’t often hear about the sad times they’re going through, and that can make our own emotional struggles seem worse.

Before their work, “no one had shown that people systematically underestimate how often others feel sad or upset,” said Benoît Monin, PhD, an associate professor of organizational behavior and of psychology and a co-author of the study published Dec. 22 in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

This misconception is linked to loneliness and unhappiness, according to the researchers.

Part of the problem is that negative emotions—like feeling sad, stressed, or lonely—aren’t usually displayed in public settings. The result is that “people look at their friends’ smiles in social situations and think they’re always happy,” said Alex Jordan, PhD, the study’s first author who is now a postdoctoral fellow at Dartmouth College.

To confirm the difficulty of knowing when your friends are feeling down, the researchers surveyed college students about their emotional experiences and how often they put feelings like laughing or crying on public display. They also asked how often emotional feelings were shared with friends. Negative emotions were nearly twice as likely to occur in private compared to positive emotions, and three times more likely to be intentionally hidden from others.

In another study, participants were asked how often they had negative and positive emotional experiences, like arguing with a friend or having fun at a party. They were also asked to estimate how often their peers experienced the same types of emotions.

Most participants underestimated the prevalence of their peers’ negative emotional experiences and overestimated the prevalence of the positive ones. These misperceptions occurred even among close friends. 

In another study, the researchers looked for a correlation between participants’ perceptions of how often their peers experienced certain emotions and the participants’ own emotional well-being.

Participants who sensed less sadness in their peers said they were lonelier and spent more time brooding over their own problems. And those who thought their peers had lots of positive experiences reported being less satisfied with their own lives.

“Paradoxically,” Monin said, “if we told others how unhappy we are, we would probably all be happier in the long run.”

Click here for more information about this research.

New Biological Pathway Identified for PTSD

By Quinn Eastman

High blood levels of a hormone produced in response to stress are linked to PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) in women but not men, a new study finds.

The hormone, called PACAP (pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating polypeptide), is known to act throughout the body and the brain, modulating central nervous system activity, metabolism, blood pressure, pain sensitivity, and immune function. The identification of PACAP as an indicator of PTSD may lead to new diagnostic tools and eventually, to new treatments for anxiety disorders.

Women, but not men, with high blood levels of PACAP display more of the symptoms of PTSD, such as difficulty discriminating between fear and safety signals and being easier to startle. In a group of 64 people, most of whom had experienced significant trauma, women with above-average PACAP levels had PTSD symptom scores five times those of women with less-than-average PACAP levels.

In addition, a variation in the gene for PACAP’s receptor, which may change how that gene responds to estrogen, was also linked to PTSD risk in women only.

The findings emerged from a study of more than 1,200 low-income Atlanta residents with high levels of exposure to violence and physical and sexual abuse, resulting in high rates of civilian PTSD. 
Researchers say that it will be important to replicate the finding in separate population groups, including in veterans with PTSD. In addition, identifying when PACAP levels rise in the brain and blood during the development of PTSD will help determine whether drugs that act against PACAP could aid in treatment.

The research results were published in the Feb. 24 issue of Nature magazine. Click here for more information about this research.

It’s Not the Economy: Why Americans Are More Anxious Than Ever

The reaction to recent research that shows American college students are more anxious than ever before, missed the mark, says Taylor Clark in a Slate magazine article posted at the end of January. The issue is not that college students are stressed, or that the bad economy and tight job market are to blame, he writes.
Instead, “students are becoming more anxious because, for many years now, we’ve all been growing more anxious. This isn’t just a campus issue. It’s an American issue.”

Clark quotes psychologist Robert Leahy’s observation that, “The average high school kid today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950s.”

The reason for the elevated levels of national stress is “baffling” Clark writes, because in so many ways, U.S. citizens are free from so many dangers that our ancestors were prey to. “We’re actually safer from true danger than we’ve ever been. … So what’s behind our ballooning issues with anxiety and stress?”

Clark interviewed many psychologists and neuroscientists about their perception of the source of the nation’s high-level anxiety and identified three culprits: loss of community, information overload, and discomfort with negative emotions. 

From SLATE, “It’s Not the Job Market: The three real reasons why Americans are more anxious than ever before,” by Taylor Clark, posted Monday, Jan. 31, 2011. Click here to see the full article.

Promoting Your Practice: Why Having a Website Is Crucial

By Sara K. Sims, Director of Business Development

A website is essential for marketing your practice and attracting new clients. In fact, having a website for your practice is no longer a luxury; it is the business card of the 21st century. Not only is it far more effective than a business card in bringing you new business, it can also make managing your practice easier and more efficient. And fortunately, getting a professional website is more affordable and easier than ever.

Approximately 352 million people live in North America today, and about 266 million of them use the Internet. That gives you a very large audience to market to in North America alone. The best part is, the Internet enables you to reach your market for a small fraction of a traditional advertising budget. Therapists with a well-organized and optimized website find that approximately 75 percent of their new clients come to them from their website.

If you do not have a website, or the one you have is not generating new customers, then you are missing an opportunity. An effective and optimized website drives new customers right to your front door. A website gives your potential customers a crucial first impression of you and your practice, so it has to be professional, inviting, and content-rich. Your website should convey how you can help your potential clients, the services you provide, and your rates, as well as give clients an easy way to schedule an appointment. 

Having a website enables you to handle administrative needs easily and independently from the therapy appointment itself. I recommend posting your intake forms on your website so that your clients can then fill them out and bring the completed forms to their first appointment. Provide links and resources they can look into, so that your clients will be prepared before arriving in your office. You can even accept credit card payments for your services right from your website. 

If you don’t have a website, or one you’re happy with, get one! Visit for an easy, affordable, and effective website in less than an hour. AMHCA has partnered with to provide members with high-quality websites and online marketing services made just for therapists. 

We are so sure you will like what you find at TherapySites that we are offering AMHCA members a special deal—your first month is free!