Archives for Stress
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.
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.
One of the best things about writing a blog is that you get an occasional opportunity to complain. Today I am going to complain about insurance company “help” lines. Help is definitely the wrong word. More like unhelpful lines, or anxiety attack lines. First, it seems like many of these companies really don’t want you to call them. They make sure that the wait is long. Like, really long. My favorite trick is calling multiple phone numbers, being put on hold for 15 minutes for each number, and then finally being told that I have not reached the right department. That's in spite of the fact that I was using the phone numbers provided on the back of people’s insurance card or a number given to me by one of the multiple people who agreed to speak to me after 500 loops of “we value your call.”
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.
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!
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.
What kind of title is that for a blog? Why would you want to make more mistakes and even if you did, why on Monday? Let’s deal with the making more mistakes part first. Many of the clients I see express the need to be perfect. They fear making mistakes and feel horrible when they mess up. Some of these folks even berate themselves for making trivial, largely inconsequential mistakes like parking a few inches over the line of a parking space or making a few typoss on a blog (NOTE TO EDITOR: please don’t correct my typos in today’s blog!). Some clients with sever obsessive compulsive disorder rachet this concern up to the point that they spend hours reviewing everything they right to insure a complete absence of errors. Others re-read passages from books over and over again to be sure that they remember every single detail. Still others consume large blocks of time arranging everything in their closets in perfect alignment with identical spacing between each item. If you’re a perfectionist, I strongly recommend that you get a grip! Stop viewing all mistakes as terrible. I can guarantee you that I’ve learned more from making mistakes than I ever would have if I didn’t make them.
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: