Greetings everyone!

As many of you already know, I have started offering Zoom therapy sessions. Over the past few months, I’ve transitioned from in-person sessions to Zoom sessions for many of my clients and it has proven to be very effective. Please note that I do still offer in-person therapy sessions.

While more businesses in the the San Francisco Bay Area have begun to open up in recent weeks, the number of COVID-19 cases has once again begun to rise. As such, I plan to continue to offer Zoom therapy sessions for the foreseeable future.

Please contact me to get in touch with me with any questions or to schedule a Zoom therapy appointment.

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While it may sound counter intuitive, if you’re having a bad day, the best way to feel better may be show gratitude for what you already have. That’s according to some of the research done over the past few years at UC Berkeley, UC Davis, and Stanford.

In in a study conducted at UC Berkeley, one of the more interesting findings is that you can begin to feel better right in the moment when you express gratitude. Even more interesting, if you show gratitude on a daily basis for just a few weeks, the positive impact can last for months after you stop the daily gratitude practice.

In the Berkeley study, researchers studied 300 adults, mostly comprised of college students, who were seeking mental health services. Most of the study participants reported that they were in fairly poor emotional health and many were experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression. The participants were separated into three groups, with each of the groups receiving the same counseling services.

However, in addition to counseling, group #1 also wrote 1 letter of gratitude to a different person each week for 3 weeks, while group #2 wrote about their negative thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Group #3 did no writing at all. Can you guess which group reported the greatest improvement in mental health?

If you guessed group #1 – the gratitude letter writing group – you’d be correct. Compared to the other groups, the letters writers reported a significant improvement in mental health relative to the other participants. The improved feelings of wellness were experienced both 4 weeks into the study, as well after 12 weeks after the writing exercises ended.

As with most health related topics, there are usually multiple, interconnected factors that explain the results. According to work done by Robert Emmons of UC Davis, an expert on the topic, by expressing gratitude, we are affirming goodness in our environment and developing a sense of connectedness and indebtedness. These sensations can result in improved sleep, lower cortisol levels, and lower feelings of depression.

Unlike feelings of happiness that are believed to affect the brain’s immediate reward system, researchers believe that gratitude affects the cortical structures of the brain, which are associated with social reasoning and higher order cognition.

So, if you’re in search of a way to stay positive and keep things moving forward, consider adding some gratitude into your daily routine!


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It’s official. Carmen Chow Psychotherapy has moved to our new office location in the Mission area of San Francisco! The new office location is 2517 Mission St. Suite 5, San Francisco CA 94110.

I moved to the new location this past July so that I could have a more central location for most of my clients, who live both in San Francisco and throughout the Bay Area.

Click here to view the map.

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Most of us already know that exercise plays an important part in improving our physical health. But what may surprise you is just how much exercise can improve your mental health, including your mood and even more serious ailments such as depression and anxiety.

According the research performed by the National Institute of Health, “aerobic exercises, including jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, gardening, and dancing, have been proven to reduce anxiety and depression”. While the exact science behind how the metabolic aspects of exercise are still being studied, its impact is related to our increased blood circulation to the brain and body and its “physiologic reactivity to stress.”

In fact, according to Michele Olsen, Ph.D. and senior clinical professor of exercise physiology at Huntington University in Montgomery, Alabama, the positive effect of exercise on body and mind are immediate. As blood begins moving quickly to our muscles, we start burning calories and give a nearly instantaneous boost to our mood. Whether it’s walking, running, yoga, or cycling, the flooding of endorphins triggers the “runners high” or all around good feeling.

When it comes to children and school performance, exercise is an absolute must. Exercise has repeatedly shown a research studies to improve kids’ cognitive performance. This occurs in 3 core areas of improved performance during the school day:

  • Cognitive Skills and Attitudes  (such as ability to focus and concentrate in class, memory).
  • Academic Behaviors (such as conduct in the classroom, on time assignments, and completing homework).
  • Academic Achievement (standardized test scores, such as the beloved SAT).

In one study from the University of Illinois, school kids in the 6,7, and 8th grades who were part of the exercise control group improved 2-fold relative to the non-exercise group in “a range of cognitive tasks.” Specifically, two types of cognitive enhancements were found. First, the exercise control group showed a large increase in “attentional inhibition,” which measures one’s ability to block out distractions while focusing on the current task.

Second, the control group improved in “cognitive flexibility,” which means those kids were able to switch back and forth between different higher level tasks – those that require intellectual focus – while maintaining speed and accuracy.

If you’re interested in learning more about exercise and children’s health, visit the CDC’s Healthy Schools website for detailed suggestions and information.

With exercise such an important part of adult and child health, make sure that you or your children are incorporating exercise into your daily or weekly routines. Even if you’re busy, make the extra effort to go running or visit your Yoga class. If the research is right, you’ll not only feel better, but perform better too.


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Are you biased?  It turns out, most of us are.

The fact is, bias is a part of the human experience and occurs because of the way our brains operate. However, it’s important to recognize the presence of our biases because they can impact the decisions we make and have real world consequences. When our bias affects how we view and interpret information – and we don’t recognize that bias exists – then our opinions and decision making process is skewed without us knowing it.

While psychologists and social scientist have known for some time that cognitive biases exist, the topic has become popularized over the past decade thanks to the work of psychologists, researchers, and social economists. The work of 2 economists in particular – Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky (who won the Nobel Price in Economics in 2002) – have helped shape our understanding about how cognitive biases play a role in our daily lives.

In fact, over 180 different cognitive biases have been identified up to date.  Below, I’ve identified some of the more common biases that many of us experience. As you read through them, take a moment to think about whether any of these biases may have impacted any of the decisions you’ve made in the past.

Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias occurs when we use out existing beliefs to help justify an idea while dismissing information that conflicts with current beliefs. When we have confirmation bias, we make an internal decision to choose which information is the most relevant, but that decision is not necessarily based on fact.

Anchoring Bias

One of the most common cognitive biases, anchoring occurs when information that you receive first directly influences information you receive later, even if it shouldn’t. Anchoring is commonly used in sales and negotiation processes, where the initial offer is made by one side in order to set the stage for future discussions and influences the perception of the other party.


Have you ever reimagined your past experiences and, to some extent, left out all the bad stuff? Or have you even worried that nothing was going to go right in the future, but when the time comes, it does go right?

If so, you’re not alone. Declinism occurs when you remember the past even better than it actually was while assuming the future will be worse than it most likely will be. While it is certainly understandable why we may not want to relive all the bad stuff from the past – or fear the future – when we distort the most likely outcome, the decisions we make may not be optimal.

Negativity Bias

If you allow negative events, including loss, pain or missed opportunities, to guide your perception of a current situation, you are experiencing a negativity bias. As humans, we are built for survival and try to avoid pain and suffering. However, avoidance of pain and suffering can impact the quality of our decision making process and thinking.

One way to minimize negativity bias is to use analytical, point based systems for decisions. By using numbers and values to calculate the exact expected benefits and drawbacks of a decision, we can minimize our negativity and make decisions that are more aligned with the most likely outcomes.

Spotlight Effect

We all know what it means to be in the spotlight, but we don’t always realize how we put ourselves in the spotlight each day. The spotlight effect occurs when you overestimate the degree to which others notice what you do, wear, how you look, or how you act.

The principle behind the spotlight effect is that, in general, people take notice of us less then we think. The way we believe others think or feel about us can affect how we interact with them or how we feel about ourselves, even though our initial assumptions may be wrong or overstated.

The Takeaway: How to avoid cognitive biases

The first step is minimizing our cognitive biases and viewing the facts as they are is simple: learn more about cognitive biases. The more we understand what the biases are and how they work, the easier spot them and rethink our understanding of the information at hand. While we can never be 100% impartial, the more we understand how we shape our perceptions and process information, the more the impartiality we can be.

Here’s a trick to help get you started. The next time you are analyzing a situation or using information to make a decision, think of yourself as a computer that uses intelligent software to make decisions. Your computer is very analytical, has no emotions, and only relies on factual data. How would your intelligent computer analyze the situation and what would it’s likely opinion be?

By comparing that decision to the decision you would have made otherwise, you may gain insight into some of the cognitive biases you’re experiencing.   Give it a try and let me know how it it goes!

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If you’re a parent, the odds are that you take a deep interest in the health and wellness of your children. As a parent, you want to know how you can make a positive impact and help improve the emotional well being of your kids.

While every child’s situation is unique, there are a number of effective strategies that parents can employ so that they play a more active role in their child’s personal growth. In this post, I’ll share some of ways that I believe are helpful for most parents.

First, it’s worth taking a moment to understand how a child’s emotional health is directly connected to their overall health and performance. As shown in this study and many others, there is a strong correlation between a child’s psychological health and his or her educational development and learning capacity. A preponderance of data shows that as a child’s emotional health improves, so to do their levels of participation in the classroom and their motivated to learn. That means that the emotional health of your children can play a a big role in their academic performance!

The important takeaway here is that a lot more goes into getting good grades then just doing homework. The reality is that kids today can feel pressured, anxious, or completely overwhelmed at school and in social settings. While pressure certainly is a part of school and academic performance, it’s important for parents to understand that when kids become over stressed and are experiencing symptoms of low self-esteem or high anxiety over an extended period of time. If they do, those feelings can have a significant impact on how they feel and how the perform in the classroom.

Here are 3 ideas and strategies that can help parents improve their communication with their kids and be better positioned to help recognize unhealthy levels of stress. 

1) Practice Mindful Listening

Always try to actively listen to your children and be mindful of what they say and how they say it. This is what I like to call mindful listening.

When you actively listen to your children without distractions, you validate your children’s ideas and show a real interest in what they have to say. Sometimes, if a child is talking about feelings or a sensitive topic, a parents first inclination is to become a fixer and jump right into problem solving mode. But often, kids want and need you to just listen and show empathy. When you do, you may get a more complete understanding of what they are trying to say. That, in turns, can help you know how to respond and ask the right questions.

When you practice mindful listening, it can help to take a slow, take a deep breath after your child speaks and really focus on what they’ve said. Then, ask a follow-up question to continue the conversation – or simply offer some positive feedback to them. Done correctly, mindful listening will improve give a boost to your child’s confidence and often leads to lead to better conversations.

2)  Spend high quality, one on one time with each of your children.

Most of us are very busy and may look for the most efficient way to get things done. However, when it comes to  children, there is no substitute for spending high quality, one on one time with all of your children.

Here are 3 creative ways that parents can spend quality time with their children:

Cooking Night: At weekly cooking night, 1 parent has a designated night with 1 child to help cook. From coming up with the menu to cooking the food, cooking night is a sure way to spend fun, quality, and meaningful time with your kids.

Home Projects: If you (or your kids) are not big on cooking, a second idea is to work on more home projects together. Kids may already be used to doing chores or other tasks independently, but when they work with you as a team on your home or garden, your children can experience an entirely new way of getting work done.

Designated Day of the Month – One day each month, 1 parent and the designated child spend a day or afternoon together. Let your child help choose their dream activity (within limits of course) for what you do together. As part of the decision making process, children usually feel more empowered and may become more apt to communicate with you in a more authentic way.

3) Stay Consistent

Always try to be stay consistent when it comes to dealing with your children. Whether it’s enforcing ground rules, participating one-on-one events, or how you listen to your children, consistency let’s your kids know what to expect and helps parents expect accountability. Most importantly, when you are there for them on a consistent basis, they’ll look forward to spending quality time with you and be more open to sharing their ideas and feelings.

Final Thoughts

All children experience stress and anxiety. As a parent, one of your goals should be learn to differentiate between healthy stress and unhealthy stress related ailments. By practicing mindful listening, spending quality one on one time with your kids, and staying consistent, you’re be well positioned  to help your children deal with everything they have going on.


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