MANAGING STRESS IN OUR LIVES

Friday
Mar032017

REVISITING HOW TO CHANGE OUR AUTOMATIC BEHAVIOR AND THINKING PATTERNS

Over and over I witness people who come to me for help, struggling with stress that they can't stop or even limit.  They feel controlled by the stress that is usually in the form of worries and fears that they think about over and over.  They have frequently been diagnosed as having an obsessive compulsive disorder [OCD]. In reviewing their symptoms, it appears that they have some OCD type symptoms, but they are mostly focused on repetitive worries and some compulsive behaviors. However, these symptoms do not interfere significantly with their lives. For example, they are not stuck doing things over and over for hours.  So, it seems that their OCD symptoms are coping mechanisms helping them deal with the anxiety that they experience related to past traumatic events. If they can learn to not worry about past events then their OCD symptoms will stop.

Well, what about changing patterns of worry that can control our lives? I mention the worries and OCD type symptoms to emphasize that just as the symptoms are temporary [meant to temporarily help us manage anxiety related to past events] the worries are also temporary as a way of coping with past traumatic events. What is significant is that even though in the past we might have had to cope by worrying, as this helped us to feel more in control as by taking on responsibility when those who were supposed to be responsible weren't and we felt that we were preventing something worse from happening, we do not need to do that now. So how do we convince ourselves and our brains that we do not need to worry anymore.  

We humans modify patterns of behavior and memory patterns frequently without much apparent effort. We calmly tell our brains to change the pattern and why it is ok to do so. When we have experienced stressful events we are reluctant to recall these events as we fear a return of anxiety as if we were still at risk for something bad happening. This is one reason that the patterns remain even though we want relief from the anxiety. We also tend to react to new stresses as if they are the same kind of threat as in the past.  This tells our brain to keep worrying and being stressed and anxious. We seem to have difficulty recognizing that we now have better coping skills and self-awareness, and are not dependent on others as we were in the past. Therefore, new stresses are not threats to us as they were in the past and we can manage them, so we need to calmly tell ourselves that.  


Monday
Feb272017

NO NEWS IS GOOD NEWS?

I thought about this old saying recently in light of recent events that have caused a lot of people to feel anxious when watching or listening to the news.  I try to help people who come to me to let go of their worries about things that they hear on the news and often will suggest that they not watch or listen to news, especially news on TV.  I have previously blogged about this and freely confess that I am biased when it comes to this as I have not watched TV news since three-forths of the way through the Vietnam War [about 1970].  I stopped watching because I had friends who had been drafted and were fighting in the war and I did not want to see news about their being wounded or killed.  I had a deferment because of medical school and yet I felt guilty that my friends had to fight in the war or leave the country [I had a friend make this choice].

After the war, I decided to continue not watching the TV news as it was frequently focused on violence and negative things that were stressful to watch and listen to and I did not think I gained anything from watching and listening to it.  It did not seem to directly motivate me to do something about what I was witnessing on the news and would instead lead me to feel stressed and then be less able to do something to counteract what appeared to be happening.  It was not as if the negative news was balanced with positive news.  Even if it were, I believe that the negative news would have more influence over me than the positive. I have joked with people that I don't know what country I live in or which state, etc. Of course that is not true. I get my news from radio [unless it is a negative focus or is describing violence] and print sources that includes reading news on the internet.  However, I avoid looking at photos depicting violence, etc.

Avoiding TV news and references to violence would be difficult for a lot of people. Since watching the TV news makes a lot of people anxious and feel stressed and pessimistic about the future, why do they watch it?  I had several people who watched the air planes flying into the Twin Towers in New York City thousands of times. They couldn 't stop themselves.  It seemed to represent a hope that the next time they watched it they would find out it wasn't real after all.  Maybe the same desire keeps many people watching TV news in hopes that it will also turn out to not be real. Well, that puts control over stress in our lives directly in the hands of those who control the news that is shown.  

I encourage people to take back control of their lives and the stressful events that they expose themselves to. To me this means no TV news and no violent shows and no overwhelmingly painful commercials about dogs and cats being mistreated or children suffering from cancer.  It is vey hard to erase those sad faces from our brains and yet having them there does not help those animals or those children.  It can keep us from being more active helping those in need as we are preoccupied coping with the stress of remembering these events and the hopelessness that often comes with it.

So, no news is good news!

Saturday
Feb252017

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU ASK [PRAY] FOR

Regarding our relationship to God, I have often wondered about what we ask for and why we seem to ask for what we already have, or at least are freely given.  I first thought about this when I became aware of how often Christian religions encourage their congregations to say prayers that ask for things that are already freely given.  So, why is this?  Is it a way of reminding people of what is being offered to them already?  Is it a way to strengthen someone's knowledge of doctrine so they will be more obedient? Or, is it a way of avoiding facing the responsibility that each person has [according to my understanding of the belief systems that represent Christianity today] to choose to accept what is offered freely to them. It appears that each person's choosing is critical to their opening thenselves up to receive what is freely offered.

In my work with people who come to me for help, they frequently avoid making choices that would help themselves and instead they take on responsibility for others. This taking on responsibility for others seems motivated by fears that things will get worse if they don't do this.  Their lives are then occupied with worries about what others will do that could end up making things worse.  This worry will then close them off from being able to choose to accept something for themselves, especially something that is freely given. If we live our lives feeling at the mercy of what others do, then we will not trust that anything can be freely given and we will believe that we are at the mercy of others [God?], and have to hope that what we need will be given to us, undeserving as we feel we are. Of course, since we only give to others as they are our responsibility, we can not have any needs ourselves.  So, forget having your needs recognized and responded to.

You might be able to tell now why I am concerned about how we pray as it seems that often we pray not that we will make the right choice and choose to accept and embrace what is offered to us, but instead pray to be given what we already have as if our choosing will do nothing.

It did occur to me that it might be hard to come up with ways to pray that focuses on our choosing and accepting what is freely given to us.  Of course, one prayer could be simply "please help me to choose what is offered to me." Another could be "open my heart to choose and accept what is offered to me and share this with others."  Another could be "help me to set aside my worries and fears that I might choose to accept what you offer to me and become stronger in my faith and hope and love."

In my work with people who come to me for help, I encourage them to choose to accept themselves and their strengths and then share these with others. You could say that their abilities are freely given to them and that choosing to see those abilties and then use them is similar to the prayers I have written above.  To be able to care about and love others, it seems that you have to be accepting and loving towards yourself first.

Therefore, how someone prays can make a big difference in how they feel about themselves and their fellow homo sapien sapiens, [and really all living things]. What do you think?

 

Friday
Feb242017

DID YOU DO [SAY] THAT OUT OF LOVE?

Is it fair or reasonable to judge what we do or say by the standard of whether or not it was based on love for the other?  How would that work?  Would we be able to say anything? Maybe the problem is the definition of love.  Love is..."an intense feeling of affection, fondness, tenderness, attachment, endearment, worship, adoration, passion."  There must be other definitions of love...such as from "A Literate Passion: Letters from Anis Nin and Henry Miller, 1932-1953:  "what is love but the acceptance of the other, whatever he is." Or what we can learn from music such as "What I Did For Love" from the musical "A Chorus Line."  This song seems to honor love as the reason that we have meaning in our lives. Or what about the bible such as "1 Corinthians 13: 4-8. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; were there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away."  

So, a lot of good things connected to loving. St. Augustine is reported to have summarized his faith by saying that all you need is to "love and do what you will." The bible repeatedly refers to "what is in your heart" as what is important in our relationship to God. This might also be referring to love. But what does it mean to say and do things out of love? Does it refer to our intention in what we say or do? Does it refer to our feeling and being empathic towards others? If we are all connected and as some believe all God's children. Then should we act in a loving way towards everyone? Does that really mean everyone? Does that mean not judging others? Does it mean not isolating others? 

I know that I have experienced over and over again in my work with people who come to me for help, that we are meant to be with each other and that our happiness seems directly related to how we treat other people.  What do you think?

Tuesday
Jan172017

HOW MANY PSYCHIATRISTS DOES IT TAKE TO CHANGE A LIGHTBULB?

I think that the joke ends with "just one, but the lightbulb really has to want to change."  Get it?  I actually do not recall what the joke was supposed to be.  I recall it now because I believe that it contains an important truth.  When we are offering our medical skills to help another human being, the outcome does depend significantly on how much the person wants to change.  Wanting to change can mean: a desire to feel differently; to cope in a different way; to be more hopeful; to understand what is influencing their lives; etc.  Changing seems to require that someone chooses to seek help and chooses to try to make a significant change in their life.  Clearly choosing to start this process of changing one's life seems to be necessary.  This choosing helps our brains recognize that we are serious about a significant [big? major?] change and our brain will be more likely to help us.  If we are not clearly choosing to make a significant change then our brain will very efficiently maintain the old pattern of functioning and ignore our meek attempts to make a change. So, it helps to have big goals like zero stress as our brains recognize that as a different pattern and will work with us to achieve this goal. I have blogged about "baby steps," pointing out that when a baby starts to walk [starts taking baby steps] they are thrilled and it is a big change with everything seeming to be different. That is what we need to do to make changes in our lives, take those huge baby steps. What do you think?