General Articles

Fish and Fear

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

About two years ago, we put in a fish pond in our backyard. Before that we had a soothing water feature that regularly sprung leaks, ruined our adobe wall, and made a mud bath for the dogs. That soothing water feature became an endless series of frustrating repairs. So, when two new guys came out for the umpteenth time to dig around the back yard to find the leak, we were pretty stressed out.

One guy with long hair in a ponytail drew us pictures of a tranquil spot that would never leak (he was planning on replacing the rocks with concrete). It sounded good.

About 100 days later after delays, disturbances and more and more money, the guys left. And there was a small pond with some plants and fish in it. We were so happy to get rid of the workers (for those of you who spend lots of time working at home you know what I mean), that we celebrated with a barbeque.


Uncontrollable Impulses: Hard to Treat; Hard Stop

Friday, May 25th, 2012

Many people have problems that occur repetitively, disrupt their lives and seem completely out of control.  Sometimes we’re asked if these problems are examples of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). And indeed, there are some similarities to OCD. Nevertheless, these problems are not considered to be in the same category. So what are we talking about here?

Specifically, we’re referring to the category of emotional disorders known as Impulse Control Disorders. The similarity to OCD is seen in the fact that impulse control disorders, like OCD, are repetitive and very difficult for the person to bring under control. Furthermore, like OCD, they greatly disrupt and impair the sufferers’ lives.


Just Because You Feel Something, Doesn’t Make it So!

Friday, May 18th, 2012

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog about believing what you think. The point of the blog was that people have thoughts all of the time that aren’t really true. For example, people who fear public speaking might think that if they speak in front of a group of people their voices might shake and people will think they are fools.

Today, I want to discuss feelings. This subject is a bit more complex because you’ve probably been told that all feelings are okay. And that people feel what they feel. Sometimes, that’s true. But feelings can also get in the way of people’s happiness.

Let’s start with the feeling of anger. Anger is an emotion that helps people stay safe. Parents’ get angry when someone threatens their children. Anger increases attention to threats. However, when people get angry too often or over small things, anger can become quite destructive.


Obsessing About Your Body

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

Most people can find one thing or another that they don’t like about their bodies. For example, maybe you feel you have a few unwanted pounds, perhaps you don’t like the size or the shape of your nose, or maybe you struggle to deal with your complexion. If so, your concerns fall within a normal range.

There’s no reason to think you have a serious problem. In fact, if you saw your face and body as totally, wonderfully, gorgeous and without flaws, many people would think you were narcissistic.

But there’s a problem called Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) that takes normal, minor dissatisfactions to a level that lies far outside the range of normal. People with BDD have heart-rending distortions of their own bodies. They obsess and feel anguish about one or more perceived bodily flaws.


Through the Looking Glass: Social Anxiety and Self-Absorption

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

Mirror mirror on the wall, why is everyone always looking at me? Some people believe that others are always looking at them and judging them quite harshly. It’s like there are mirrors everywhere and they all reflect imperfections.

People have social anxiety when this feeling becomes overwhelming and interferes with daily life. Symptoms of social anxiety include fears of:

  • public speaking
  • going to parties
  • meeting new people
  • speaking up to authority figures
  • eating in public

Are Anxiety and OCD the Same Thing?

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) involves feelings, thoughts and behaviors. For the vast majority of people with OCD, the feeling of anxiety stands out as prominent.

For example, a man with OCD might have an obsessive thought that a doorknob is contaminated and the thought of touching the doorknob causes him great anxiety. He takes a spray bottle of disinfectant and sprays the doorknob, which decreases his decreases. Then he reaches for a Kleenex to give him a barrier from any possible remaining germs. He feels relieved. And that momentary relief feels pretty good; well, that is until the next doorknob appears.

The pattern repeats: an obsessive thought, an overestimation of danger or risk, increased anxiety, a compulsive action, and then feelings of relief provided by the compulsive action.


The ABC’S of Behavior

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

Most days I think about how dog training has influenced my therapeutic style. If you are a client, you have probably heard some of my favorite dog stories.

I often talk about how I forgot my training and turned my dog Sadie into a frightened mess of fur whenever a thunderstorm rolled through. It was pretty cute when she was a puppy and would cuddle up next to me for protection. I’d pet her and say whatever silly dog stuff you say to your dog when she’s scared. Now, she weighs well over 60 pounds and when she gets too close between her fur, dog breath, and weight—it’s not quite as cute.

Let’s take a look at what I did wrong with Sadie and see what lessons I can learn.


Health Anxiety

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

About ten days ago, Laura and I came down with the plague. Well, OK, not the plague. More like the flu actually. We experienced energy draining fatigue, headaches, fever, chills, a constant cough and even back pain. We spent close to two days in bed and have just now overcome our symptoms with the sole exception of a lingering, but dissipating cough.

Of course we wondered if we could have done something to prevent this malady from occurring. When we saw our doctor, he suggested that we might have gotten our flu shots too early this year (apparently, they reformulate the shots as the year goes on). Of course, he said we had no way of knowing that and, no, he wasn’t recommending that we start getting two flu shots a year.

Maybe we didn’t wash our hands often enough. Or maybe we weren’t sufficiently attentive to getting enough sleep every night. Or maybe we spent too much time around crowds at the mall. Maybe…YIKES! Stop it!


Crawler Helmets?

Saturday, April 14th, 2012

Parents often go to great lengths to protect their children from harm. And so they should. Kids need adults to protect them from danger. And in today’s world, parents protect their kids far more than they did in the past.

For example, if you’re in the Boomer generation, you may remember walking or bicycling to school as early as the first or second grade. You don’t see much of that today. And if you took a bus to school, no adults stood around watching out for you.

Today, parents are much more cautious. That’s probably good—at least to a point. I guess I knew things had gone a bit too far when I saw an ad from the Internet the other day which proclaimed:


Exaggerating Risk

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

People with anxiety disorders worry. They worry about getting sick, running out of money, losing control, becoming embarrassed, making mistakes, getting hurt, hurting someone else, forgetting to do something, and on and on. Anxious worries rarely happen, but sometimes they do.

People do get sick, run out of money, embarrass themselves, make mistakes, get hurt, hurt others, forget stuff, and so on.

The worries of those with anxiety are reality based. However, anxious people usually inflate the actual level of risk. For example, it is true that cold viruses often linger on surfaces after an infected person coughs, sneezes onto something. If you touch an infected surface and then rub your eyes or scratch your nose, it’s quite possible that you can get sick. However, you probably have touched zillions of things in your life without getting sick. The overall risk is pretty low.


Anxiety & OCD Exposed



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Laura L. Smith, Ph.D. and Charles H. Elliott, Ph.D. are authors of many books, including Overcoming Anxiety for Dummies and Child Psychology & Development for Dummies.

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