Tag Archives: anxiety

Combat Stress, Meet New Friends, and Reduce Isolation by Giving Back This Holiday Season

By Jennifer Scott, www.spiritfinder.org

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Do you often choose feel stressed and anxious over the holidays? Purchasing and wrapping gifts, worrying about money, planning and attending parties, preparing meals, decorating, and more leave many people choosing to overwhelm, exhaust, stress, and even depress in an attempt to cope. If stressing, depressing, or anxietying are getting you down this year, why not a take a different approach and volunteer. Here are just a few compelling reasons to consider volunteering as a way to beat the holiday stress while giving back and improving your Mental Health & Happiness.

Volunteering Cultivates Social Skills Development

If spending time alone over the holidays leaves you feeling down and out, volunteering is the perfect fix. Offering plenty of opportunities for socialization, volunteering with a charity that has meaning to you will help you meet new people with similar interests.

Donating your time and energy to people or animals in need can help you overcome the challenges of meeting new people by connecting you with others who are working toward the same goal. Volunteering can even help people who are shy or otherwise struggle with social situations become more comfortable around new people by providing a common ground for initiating conversations.

Gain Professional Experience through Volunteerism

In addition to social skills development, volunteering can also provide networking opportunities that could benefit you professionally. If you’re volunteering for an organization in the same field as your ideal career, you might connect with leaders in the field who can help you land a coveted role in your chosen field.

At the very least, it serves as a valuable resume-booster that can help you advance in your current company or explore new opportunities. So, if finances are a source of stress for you around the holidays, volunteering your time won’t cost you a thing, but it might help you land a better-paying job.

You Can Choose a Cause Close to Your Heart

There are ample ways to donate your time and energy to the greater good this holiday season, meaning that you can choose a cause that’s close to your heart, making the experience all the more meaningful. If a friend or loved one has been given the gift of life thanks to blood donations, consider finding a local blood drive and donating blood in honor of them.

Maybe you’ve benefited from the love and companionship of a service dog, and have a desire to help the animal community. There are thousands of animal shelters all over the country always in need of volunteers to help raise funds and help care for the animals, as well as supplies such as food, treats, and cat litter. If you enjoy spending time with older adults, volunteer to take therapy animals for visits to your local senior living communities.

Volunteering Keeps You Busy

With so many volunteer needs during the holiday season, you can easily fill up your holiday calendar and take your mind off of your stress with plans to help people in need. If you’re not typically a social butterfly who has dozens of invitations to every holiday gathering in a 50-mile radius, there’s no reason to spend a single evening home alone when there are so many ways to get out and about in your community while helping others in need.

Anyone can keep their social calendar filled with meaningful activities by volunteering to help prepare meals for the homeless, offering companionship to homebound seniors, or spending time with older adults at a local senior center or senior living community. Socialization is crucial for the wellbeing of older adults, so these activities are mutually beneficial.

Volunteering helps to put meaning back into the season for those who feel stressed and exhausted, lonely, or depressed over the holidays. From meeting new people and staying busy, offering opportunities for socialization and networking, volunteering provides many benefits, but nothing beats the feel-good vibes you get from doing something selfless for someone in need.

Reflection: Take the First Step – Turn on your Bright Lights

By Debbie Crinzi

Reflection is a critical part of making life better and happier. I compare the process of reflection to using your bright lights when driving. When you have good habits that keep you on track and the world around you is clear and understandable, you don’t feel the need to use your bright lights. However, when problems arise and unhappiness ensues that is the time to turn them on.

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The first step towards reflection involves turning on your bright lights. I often look for a quiet place to be alone where whether sitting, standing, or lying down I can deliberately relax every part of the body – starting with facial muscles, moving to neck, shoulder, neck, arms and hands.  Then I focus on calm, even breathing. Sometimes I have to start counting my breaths before I can just focus on the breath entering and leaving my body.  I have to control the thoughts flooding my mind before I can listen. Emptying my mind of thought, just focusing on breath, is the trigger to turning on bright lights. It is the first step towards self reflection. Try it! Whether indoors, outdoors or just sitting in the car, take a moment to first relax your body and then to clear your mind of its busy thoughts.

What you do a lot you get good at doing. It is easier for me to practice relaxing my body’s muscles and taking calm, even breaths when standing at the kitchen sink or looking out the window. I don’t have to wait until my emotions are choking me to use this skill. Actually, I want to become good at doing it before problems occur. By practicing the relaxing of my body and clearing my mind of anything except for my breathing, I discovered that it becomes easier to use this skill during times of stress and anxiety. After all, what you do a lot, you do become good at doing! Practice this skill at any time of the day for any amount of time. Putting the practice in strengthens your personal mind control and allows you to retrieve the skill when unhappiness pervades your life.

 

Fear: Part 3

I Think I Can Get Away With It

by Barnes Boffey, Ed.D

Director of Training, Aloha Foundation… www.alohafoundation.org

I know a relatively large number of people who are having trouble with anxiety as they move into their elder years. They are anxious about the future, anxious about money, kids, weather and just about everything else, and they spend a great deal of time acting as if it were not their fault that they are feeling this way. Like a compulsive overeater who continues to eat bread and sugar but seems continually dumbfounded that they are gaining weight, denial and “hoping we can get away with it” go hand in hand.

As the anxiety becomes more pronounced in their lives, they generally  don’t want to hear that the state of anxiety they are dealing with now is a direct result of their not facing their fearing and anxiety in earlier years. Essentially they hoped they could avoid facing their destructive patterns; they hoped they could outrun it, evade it or deny it long enough so that the full force of the pattern wouldn’t catch them. They would then have gotten away with allowing themselves years of unchecked fear and anxiety without having to pay any price. Every emotion has a cost; some are very expensive (anger, resentment, jealousy) some have very little cost (generosity, gratitude and kindness), but there is “no free lunch.” Just as we can’t continue to spend well beyond our income, the cost of certain emotions can bankrupt us if we continue to create them over time.

We can get addicted to emotions just as we can to substances, and the root of much of this is the false belief that “I can get away with it.” We think we can stay angry at a spouse and not have it eventually cost us our relationship; we think we can stay resentful at our sister and not have it affect the family strength;  we think we can continue to be fearful and anxious without eventually weakening the entire framework of our mental health and happiness. With discipline, courage, thoughtful planning and good tools (see Fear #2) we can change directions. Without all three, our future may have more unpleasant surprises for us than we would hope for.

 

 

 

Gratitude, the gift you give yourself

Contributed by Denise Daub

How Gratitude Can Benefit Your Physical Health All Year Long

by Lindsay Holmes Healthy Living Editor, The Huffington Post

canstockphoto2744335Now that we’re officially in the holiday season, generosity and gratitude reign supreme. We’re altruistic because we’re motivated at this time of year to support others who are less fortunate, and we express thanks for those who have extended similar kindness to us.

And honestly, why wouldn’t we want to tap into this sort of holiday spirit? Both generosity and gratitude have an incredible influence on our emotional health. When we practice them, we’re happier, more optimistic and have a lower risk for depression and anxiety. New research also shows that gift giving reflects how we feel about others and could give more insight into how we maintain relationships.

Yet, somehow, we really only concentrate on the benefits when the year winds down. Bah-humbug.

Read more: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/gratitude-benefits-physical-health_56538058e4b0879a5b0c1464?ir=Healthy%2BLiving%253Fncid%253Dnewsltushpmg00000003

I can choose to see clearly…

by Dr. Ken Larsen

focus1I can choose to see clearly.  I do this by how I focus my attention.  To focus is to see clearly.  When you look at these pictures you can see that the only thing that changes is how the picture is focused. 

All the pieces are there in each picture.  The pieces might represent our experience of life and our memories and perceptions.  They are all there.  It is important to recognize that we can choose which of those perceptions or memories we bring into the focus of our attention.

This shift in focus is a very important component of maintaining our mental health and happiness.

focus2We carry fearful images of what has happened or what we fear might happen.  Those images become part of our present perceived world which tells us how to interpret what is presently happening.  Here again it is a matter of focus.  We can focus on the fear driven images and produce more fear.  Or we can focus on what is actually going on and choose to respond to what is real rather than what is feared.

In my dental practice I would use this insight to help patients deal with their anticipated fears.  If I could get the patient to focus on what was really happening and report to me what they were experiencing, this shift in focus could override the anxiety producing anticipation of an experience that didn’t happen.

The first time I saw this shift in focus at work was when my young wife was in labor with our firstborn.   She gripped my hand and looked at me.  “What’s going to happen is going to happen.  The only choice I have is how I deal with it.”  That lovingly courageous insight deeply impressed me.

One bad habit that I continually am working to change is how I “pre-interpret” a present experience or an upcoming event.  It is easy for me to “awfulize” and anticipate a not so good outcome.  What I’ve learned to do is to shift my focus, realizing that there are no future facts, and “be here now” with curiosity and attention to my present experience of life, which in reality is all I have.  I can’t live in the past or the future.  All any of us have is the present fleeting moment. 

 

Total behavior and Atrial Fibrillation

by Dr. Ken Larsen

Dr. Wm. Glasser taught us about “total behavior”.  His insight that our actions, our thinking, our emotions and our physiology are all interconnected helps us understand ourselves and one another.  Each of the components of this total behavior have an impact on the other parts.  My actions affect my emotions and my physiology, my thinking affects my actions and emotions.  This helps us see that we are one integrated whole and not a separated collection of parts and pieces.  They all work together as we move more closely to deeper mental health and happiness.

Emotions often get our attention, especially when they cause some discomfort.  Depression and anxiety are epidemic in our culture and have victimized far too many of us for far too long.  Our mental health is overshadowed by these emotional states.  Our tendency is to look outside ourselves for the cause of our depression or anxiety.  Sometimes we may need to look inside ourselves for the cause.  Let me tell you what happened to me that brought this message home.

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A couple years back I started to experience a very uncomfortable level of anxiety.  It was what is described as “free floating anxiety” without any apparent cause.  I was not facing divorce or foreclosure, my dog hadn’t died—any of these would foster some real anxiety.  What I was feeling didn’t seem to have a focus, but it was very real.  I was tempted to have one of my physician friends Rx some Xanax, but I decided to look elsewhere before asking for the Rx.

I had heard about “HeartMath” and was reading one of the books published by that organization.  I turned to the section on “Anxiety” and I read that sometimes a physiological condition could cause anxiety.  They specifically mentioned cardiac arrhythmia as a possible cause.

I made an app’t with my primary care physician and described the situation, especially the part about an arrhythmia.  He scooted me into the room where they do EKGs and sure enough, the EKG readout clearly pointed to atrial fibrillation.  This is a condition where the upper chambers of the heart are not working as they should.

Once this diagnosis was made, I was given the appropriate treatment and the anxiety slipped away.

I’m not saying I am totally free of anxiety.  If I got a letter from the IRS, I suspect I would get a little uptight.

In our quest to enjoy more mental health and happiness, it is good to be aware that we are whole beings “fearfully and wonderfully made” with an amazing complexity to the way our parts and systems work together.  It’s good to have this in mind if mental health and happiness become a bit elusive.

Feel what you’re feeling

by Dr. Ken Larsen

There is a phrase that I’ve heard from people who practice mindfulness.  “What we resist, persists.”

insides_kenFears that persist in our lives can have a devastating impact on our mental health and happiness.

While practicing dentistry I would see patients who were nearly paralyzed with fear.  This fear was connected to anticipation of the dreaded Novocain injection.  The images dancing through the minds of these people were associated with all the signs of stress and anxiety.  They were not without courage, however.  To show up for a dental appointment carrying that kind of fear was very courageous.

As I talked with these patients, I would hear them describe their struggle with fear.  “No matter how I try to fight it and overcome it, it is still there.”

If I could gain a bit of trust from the patient, I would get their permission to try something.  Usually there was a wary nod of the head.  I’d smile and say something like, “what I’d like you to do is feel what you are feeling.”  This usually elicited a puzzled look. I would then do something like touch the patient’s cheek with my finger and ask them what they felt. They would reply that they felt my finger touching their cheek.  Then I would ask them to stay focused in that mental state of feeling what was actually happening.  I would tell them that I was going to administer the anesthetic and I wanted them to feel precisely what they were feeling and then report to me after the injection just what they felt.

The results were amazing.  Most people got kind of a goofy look, remarking something like, “I hardly felt a thing.”  Or “I felt a little stick and then some pressure.”  We would then briefly discuss what they had learned about the difference between “feel what you are feeling” compared with reacting to an imagined fear.

I would further encourage them by remarking that it was OK not to like getting a shot.  I would smile and say, “I think I’d worry about you if you enjoyed it, but you have discovered that it is a manageable experience and doesn’t have to paralyze you.”  At that point there was usually one of those moments that we sometimes experience when two people understand one another in a new way and a good way.

I’ve come to see that his principle can apply to other fearful thoughts and memories and expectations that assail our imaginations.  Do you struggle with an unwanted, unwarranted fear that is interfering with your mental health and happiness?  I think if we understand the dynamics of “feel what you are feeling” we can make progress in getting free from those fears.

Try it sometime.  Notice your fear or anxiety, then notice what is going on around you.  Slow down, focus on your breathing and notice what you are feeling and where you feel it in your body.  Just feel it and breathe.  You might ask yourself how long you want to feel it and when you are done feeling it let it go.  This sounds too simple doesn’t it.  I used to think that, too, just as I thought that touching a person’s cheek could free a person from a paralyzing fear.  If you sit with it, breathing comfortably, you will notice the phenomenon of what has been called “urge surfing.”  The urge to fear will fade, just as a wave in the surf comes along, builds up, and then fades away.

Part of this process is to examine the reality that surrounds you.  Usually you will not see an actual threat.  Then you can realize that the fear is coming from your imagination.  That does not mean it is not real simply because it comes from our imagination.  It is very real.  The wonder is that you can develop the skill to make the choice to diminish and perhaps even eliminate the power that the fear has over you.

I am obviously summarizing the practice of mindfulness which is being used all over our country to manage stress and the resulting anxiety and fear.   If you want to go deeper with these principles, there is much material available.  I would recommend Tara Brach to start.  She has a wealth of material freely available on YouTube.

Comparing your insides with others’ outsides

by Dr. Ken Larsen

insides_kenI’ve been with Toastmasters for a couple of years.  One of the most frequently reported reasons for joining Toastmasters is to overcome the fear of speaking in public.

After hearing person after person report the same fear, I began to see this as a “normal” response.

Then when I see the frequently reported hierarchy of fears, with public speaking ranked above death, I am once again convinced this is a normal reaction.

Don’t misunderstand me.  Just because I see it as “normal”, (which is actually a statistical term not a psychological description,)   I wonder just what causes this nearly universal terror that seriously afflicts the mental health and happiness of many.  Especially five minutes before giving a talk in front of others.

I have a suspicion, however, that one cause of this terror is the conviction that to be afraid of public speaking is NOT normal, and it is a sign of weakness or some character flaw.  This is often triggered by seeing an apparently confident speaker seem immune to stage fright, giving a relaxed talk with no evidence of nervousness.

This is what I call comparing your insides with someone else’s outsides.

The fact of the matter is we don’t know what is going on inside the seemingly confident person.  I remember Johnny Carson talking about his anxiety before giving his nightly monologue.  And this was after decades in broadcasting.

Bruce Springsteen talks about using the energy of the pre-performance jitters to push his performance to a higher level.

I believe that once we accept the fact that just about everyone else has the same butterflies before a performance, we can settle down, accept our jitters, and move on.

Buddhists have an interesting insight into suffering from an affliction.  There is the affliction itself, such as fear of speaking, and then there is what is called “the second arrow”.  This second arrow is when we add to our affliction by thinking of ourselves as weak, or inferior, or in some way different than the rest of our species.

If we will choose to avoid this “second arrow” of self-blame, we can focus on doing what others have done before us.  Feel what you’re feeling, understand it for what it is, and then move beyond it.

This is an important part of our ongoing quest for mental health and happiness.

I have Anxiety

By Dr. Nancy Buck

Isn’t that a funny thought? How can you have anxiety? Is that anything like having brown eyes or red hair? Or is it closer to having a one-car garage or a cell phone?

canstockphoto0527001If you have anxiety where do you get it? When you’ve had enough of it, could you return it?

Have you ever read a scary book or been to a horror movie? Did you leave with anxiety? Did the story give you anxiety? I remember reading a very frightening book in the light of day and needing to stop reading because I was so frightened. I didn’t finish reading the book until I was no longer at home alone. Somehow reading the book with another person in the house was going to keep me from the perils of the villain on the page!

Here’s the miracle I want to share with you. You don’t have to have anxiety anymore. It is not an immutable part of your brain or DNA. You have the ability to change anxiety into some other more pleasant, productive and effective feeling. (But if you enjoy your anxiety and believe it serves you well you don’t have to change anything.)

How? By changing your actions or your thoughts you will change your feelings.

Just like I put the book down and stopped reading the frightening story, I changed my actions and changed my feelings.

Here are some ideas:

• If you’re anxious about money, you could balance your check book even it that means you are in the red. Now start dreaming of the life you want when you have all the money in the world. This won’t permanently change your money worries, but you will fell less anxious while you’re dreaming.

• If you’re worried about turbulence during a plane flight you can start singing calming or distracting songs. You can actually sing quite loudly because the increased turbulence often means greater “white” noise in the plane so no one will hear you.

• If you enter a room filled with tension and discontent you can start smiling and introducing yourself to people you don’t know and saying hello to the people you do know.

Right now you can make a plan to help yourself. What is the next event where you expect to feel anxious? How could you change your actions or your thoughts? Maybe you’re feeling anxious even as you read this blog. Stand up and read, or hum your favorite song under your breath as you read, or spin your chair – now spin it again.

I understand that these strategies will probably not take your anxiety completely away. But I promise you will feel less anxious because of what you do and think. And the more you practice the better your skills and more effective you will be at diminishing and eventually vanishing your anxiety.

Where do you think the above three suggestions came from? They are my own strategies from the anxiety moments in my life. And the more I practice the less I have anxiety and the more I become calm.

Why not give this a try? What do you have to lose but your anxiety?

Go Outside and Play

By Nancy S Buck, PhD, RN

When I was a child my mother use to say, nag, plead and shout Go outside and play. Now, all these many years later I spend time with my grandchildren who say, nag, plead and shout at me to go outside and play. Hmmm. Maybe somebody knows something I don’t.

In fact there is emerging research (our newest barometer for what is true or not) that being outside in nature improves our mood, lessens our anxiety and enhances our thinking and problem solving abilities.There is even more research touting the benefits than what is mentioned here. Do a Google search to find more if you want.

Whether it’s sitting on a beach, watching and breathing to the rhythm of the waves or sitting in a meadow, watching the breeze dance across the wheat field while blowing clouds along the sky, or dipping your bare feet into a bubbling brook, going outside and connecting with nature will  change you.

If you’re looking for solutions to help with feelings of anxiety, depression, unhappiness, anger or stress, go outside and play. This won’t take away your negative feelings all together. It will improve your physical and mental health. This shift in body, mind and spirit will help you handle these negative feelings more effective.

Turns out my mother and my grandchildren all know what they are talking about. I’m making a resolution to start a new habit. I will Go outside and play every day.