Archives for Mindfulness
Like zillions of people around me who have shared a similar fate, a spring virus, unexpected and unplanned for, has fouled up my week. I spent a couple of days dazed—sleeping on and off—then a slow recovery. No single second was terrible, I’ve had much worse, just aches and pains, chills, and a deep cough. But the fatigue, the slogging through molasses deep tiredness of this bug, has gotten my attention. Now I’m in the state of wellness that gives my brain permission to mull over all of the tasks that illness made seem impossible. And still tired enough that the simple tasks take on monstrous proportions. Two blogs to write, bills to pay, balances to figure. And of course, shopping and cooking. Cleaning, catching up on email, scheduling appointments. Too much for today. But, now on top of these lists, I pile stress and anxiety.
People with difficult feelings like anxiety or depression often believe what they think. This is a common and dangerous trap that most people fall into from time to time. Here’s a phrase that I find myself using over and over with my clients and with myself: JUST BECAUSE YOU THINK SOMETHING DOESN’T MAKE IT TRUE! Simple right? Well, not that simple. We all get into thinking habits like “I’m not good enough,” or “I’ll never find anyone that will understand me,” or “If I touch that doorknob I’ll probably get sick,” or, “If only I could save more money I’d be happy.” If you have thoughts like those you might feel depressed or anxious. Learning to not believe what you think takes practice (and often therapy). But for now, let’s play a game.
Did you remember to pay your bills on time? How about making that appointment with the dentist? Do you need more gas in the car this week or will it wait until the weekend? Is that parent teacher appointment next week or the next? Did you make up that list of questions for the teacher? How will you ever find time to look up a new recipe and get to the store before your friends are coming over for dinner? If you have a life full of responsibilities, like many people you feel stressed out at times. There are many details that adults have to juggle. Chronic stress can lead to disorders such as anxiety or depression. But stress can also interfere with optimal brain function, especially memory. These lapses of memory caused by stress actually increase stress by making people forget to do some daily responsibilities. For example, most people misplace objects from time to time. They put something down (such as keys) thoughtlessly and a few hours later have no recollection on where they put them. Then their minds start spinning unhelpful thoughts such as, “I must be really stupid,” or “I wonder if I am becoming demented?,” or “What’s wrong with my brain?”
I’m sure you know what selfish means and it’s not considered a particularly lovely trait by most people. But what do I mean when I suggest that you become self-less? Typically, the term selfless refers to people who put other people’s needs before their own. Selfless people typically have very little concern for making money, becoming famous, or obtaining a prestigious position. But that definition doesn’t quite fit what I mean by self-less (note I put in a hyphen to distinguish the term from selfless). I think people can and probably should have at least some concern for their own needs in terms of finances, relationships, security, and so on. And sometimes your own needs may even have to take precedence over the needs of others. But people all too often seriously mess themselves up when they become overly concerned about themselves and their egos. They experience exquisite concerns with how they look, what they say, mistakes they make, who likes them and who doesn’t, et cetera. People who worry a lot about their egos judge just about everything that they do. Their internal dialogues consist of an endless loop of self-hate and vitriol with thoughts such as “How could I be so stupid?,” “I hate myself,” “No one could be this dumb,” “I’ll never amount to anything,” “Nobody could ever like me,” and on and on. It’s pretty difficult to feel alright with thoughts like those.
Have you ever awakened at 3:00 am and found your mind racing? You might dwell on making sure you don’t forget some important work issue or start organizing your day to be sure you have time to finish everything you need to. Or then again, your mind might start focusing on thoughts about how horrible it would be to have a lousy night’s sleep. Such thoughts include:
Most people, who have more anxiety than they want, work hard to rid themselves of their anxiety. They try relaxation training, meditation, medication, and more, all in a desperate attempt to conquer uncomfortable, distressing feelings. And who can blame them? After all, isn’t that the goal of therapy—to rid yourself of anxiety, uncertainty, doubts, and discomfort once and for all? Well, yes and no. Of course most therapists would love for you to be able to feel calm, relaxed, and peaceful all of the time. However, that goal isn’t possible for anybody. Life is full of unpredictable, often random, dangers, hassles, and perils. Therefore, if you have the goal of eliminating these things, you will almost certainly fail.
So, Laura responded to my blog on Six Reasons for Not Treating Your Anxiety or OCD with one of her own blogs that may have helped you rethink your “treatment interfering beliefs” in a more productive way. If so, you’re ready to move ahead, right? Well, not quite. I think it’s also wise to take one more important step. Specifically, I’d like you first to consider accepting where you’re at, problems and all. That’s right; evaluate yourself as acceptable and OK as you are. Realize that you didn’t ask to have problems with anxiety and OCD. Rather, you have these problems for lots of good reasons. You may have had genes that tilted you in this direction. Or perhaps you experienced one or more traumas. Maybe your parents were overly critical and overbearing. On the other hand, maybe they couldn’t provide the structure you needed as a child. Perhaps you grew up in an unsafe neighborhood. People acquire anxiety and OCD for these reasons and many more. They pretty much never become anxious because they “wanted” to have these problems. Yet, many clients judge and evaluate themselves very harshly just because they have some problems that they didn’t ask for in the first place. They see themselves as weak, incompetent, and horribly flawed. Thus, they tell themselves that they absolutely MUST overcome their problems. In addition, they should do so quickly and completely.
Now is the time that most people start thinking about what resolutions they want to make for the New Year. But before you undertake that task, you’d be well advised to reflect back on this past year first. You can start by looking at last year’s list of resolutions and reflecting on how things went. Even if you don’t have such a list, you can still ask yourself some questions such as:
No one really knows why there seems to be an incredible rise in the rates of people with autism. Conservative estimates point to a 300% increase. Some of the increase is likely due to better diagnosis. And we know that autism runs in families and appears to have a genetic component. Others point to environmental stressors such as increased exposure to pesticides and hormones. But there is little certainty in the scientific community about what is happening. Children and people with mild autism sometimes appear to others as self-contained and aloof. Others may assume that those with autism are pretty calm, cool, and collected. However, they are likely very wrong. Those with autism may suffer increased levels of anxiety and stress because of interpersonal isolation. They feel different from other people and worry that they may be disliked or misunderstood. This may lead the child or adult with autism to withdraw or avoid. This lack of contact with others can lead to more awkwardness and lack of opportunities to practice social interactions.
Last week Chuck wrote a blog about what questions you should consider asking your therapist. He was talking about the importance of feeling mutual trust within the therapeutic relationship. Today, I want to continue a discussion of the therapeutic relationship. The other day, I was sitting on a curb in Santa Fe waiting for a parade. Beside me were a bunch of little kids. There was a long wait and finally a few firemen marched by. That was the parade. When the firemen reached the bandstand, there were several speeches, and then they started to put flowers down in front of the bandstand in honor of 9-11 firefighters who died.