MEDITATION CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE

The other night I was watching Catalyst, a popular tv program.  They featured the topic of meditation and the presenter volunteered to be a guinea pig to see if the benefits of meditation that are espoused, such as structural changes in the brain, increased reaction time and the slowing of the ageing process, could be observed in his brain, after meditating for a period of eight weeks.  He had never meditated before but after setting a baseline for the targeted areas of his brain and performance on various tasks, he set about to learn how to meditate and diligently practiced for 20 minutes a day for eight week.  The program link is here:   http://iview.abc.net.au/programs/catalyst/SC1502H017S00

I have been a regular meditator since 1974.  I learned Transcendental Meditation over a three day period and was initiated on the third day and was given my sanskrit mantra which acts like a “tone”, thereby settling the brain and enabling the meditator to reach very deep levels of profound rest, similar to deep sleep.

After the initial period of some days of practicing my mantra and struggling with intrusive thoughts, I began to experience subtler and finer levels of consciousness, with a delicious quieting of my thought processes.  I began to lose awareness of my limbs and I floated lightly in a blackness of deep rest.  The twenty minutes passed quickly and often I did not want to come out of that ineffable state of being.

I looked forward to practicing twice daily and although I did not know what the mediation was supposed to do to me, I realised I was changing for the better.  The most noticeable  was that I had a new found energy and happiness.  I was only 22 years old and was studying full time at university, running a home and had a busy social life.  I regarded myself as energetic and happy, however this new state of being was ebullient!  I slept better and felt more confident and perhaps the most remarkable change was that I became more creative and my grades at university increased dramatically.  I loved life and enjoyed being part of the meditation culture, attending retreats and joining a meditation group.

Whenever I become interested in a new topic, I research it as thoroughly as I can and so I read many books on the subject of meditation.  The first book, The Seven States of Consciousness, written by Transcendental Meditation founder, or rather the man who brought the technique to the West, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi from India.  I developed an interest in Eastern philosophy and read The Bhagavad Gita, The Tibetan Book of the Dead and my meditation practice helped in translating the texts into personal experience.  Later I read how western medicine, psychology, the American Army and other organisations were using Transcendental Meditation with very positive findings.  Dr. Herbert Benson in his book The Relaxation Response, discussed research into comparing TM with other forms of meditation and the benefits on people who meditated as opposed to those who did not.  Of course, meditation got a bad rap from religious groups and it was maligned with the “hippie” movement of the late 60’s and 70’s to which I belonged, if only on the fringe.

Nowadays, meditation is accepted as a viable form of stress management and is practiced in many forms, including Mindfulness Meditation, breath meditation and so on, as well as the availability of innovative machines which use flashing lights and pulses and tones to induce a state of deep rest in the brain, similar to those of a meditating monk.  I sometimes use one such machine which is a cheat’s way of reaching the same transcendence of consciousness.  I also use a bio-feedback machine to lower the tone of a high pitched sound, using my mind.  Once the tone has reduced to a clicking noise, my body and mind are in a deep state of relaxation.

Meditation has been found to be a natural anti-depressant, flooding the brain with happy hormones called endorphins which can have a profound effect on depression and anxiety conditions.  Learning to be mindful on a daily basis, allows the conscious mind to let go of ruminating negative thoughts and worries, thereby helping the nervous system to recover quickly and return to baseline.  Over time, the brain changes its structure to automatically bring the mind from fretting about the past or the future, to the present moment.

Many years ago, I found that the regular use of meditation had helped me to be able to concentrate easily, to remain focused despite distractions.  My base arousal level was much lower and it took a lot longer for me to feel frustrated or disappointed.  Recovery from an upset state to one of calm was quicker and I became more optimistic and positive in general.

With the burgeoning discipline of Neuroscience and the discovery of “neuroplasticity” we were introduced to the brain’s way of changing its structure by unlearning old habits and learning new ones, thereby changing neural pathways within the brain.  We also know that meditation is a foundation for developing better ways to use our brain by changing the way we think and behave.  Mindfulness meditation is about staying focused, on a conscious level, of what is happening to us and around us, in a passive, non-judgmental way.  Noticing “what is” and staying conscious of our thoughts and emotions.  Mindfulness allows us to stay present in the face of adversity, to be mindful of a desired outcome, for example to be compassionate when someone is being rude to us.  Instead of automatically reacting from unconscious beliefs which don’t work for us, (such as: people must always be polite to us) we can develop new ways of responding to what the world throws out at us, (there will be times when people are rude, but I can choose how I respond),  which allow us to behave more calmly, positively, compassionately and authentically.

I remember working with young offenders many years ago and one youth swore at me, to get a reaction, no doubt.  I responded gently, “thank you for sharing that with me – I hope you feel better now that you have got that off your chest.”  My response actually made him smile and he saw that I was in control of how I felt and what I thought.  He was keen to learn mindfulness after that experience, because he was able to realise that he was sent to prison because he was often operating from past hurts and negative anticipation of future events.

More recently, I have used the power of my conscious mind to eliminate the menopausal symptoms of “hot flushes”.  I had decided after the first three or four flushes that I was not going to suffer them at all.  So every time I felt one coming on, I immediately imagined myself to be submerged in a bath of freezing cold water, with ice cubes floating around me.  Gradually, within a few minutes, I could feel the flushes abate.  Within five weeks, I had completely eliminated the hot flushes and have not had one in eight years.  I believe I changed my brain’s structure to short circuit the flushes.

By cultivating a calm mind, a steady focus and skills to return from an upset mind to one of calm we find that we are naturally drawn to thoughts and behaviours which are harmonious to ourselves and others.  As well as these, using a daily practice of self compassion, compassion towards others and gratitude helps us to savour as many experiences as possible: eating a crisp apple, walking on silky soft beach sand, watching a line of ants finding food, noticing one’s breath, a child’s innocent face and mindfully chatting to a friend or partner.  We can turn our minds from unconscious reactions such as anger and resentment, jealousy and fear just by focusing our mind on what is present to us as well as what is going well and finding solutions to our problems rather than ruminating unproductively on the roads less travelled.

I believe practicing meditation is the first step to harnessing the mind and thereby influencing the unconscious mind to respond rather than to react to what the world throws out at us.  It is the basis of profound joy, happiness and harmony and it may just, indeed, be the panacea of a long and healthy life.

 

 

 

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Make the change

What areas in your life do you want to change and what areas in your life do you need to exit your comfort zones in order to make lasting change in?

A common theme I introduce to clients is about our comfort zones.  We all have comfort zones about things we do habitually, with comfort.  I recall when I first arrived back from Colorado, with the 16 week self help treatment program neatly tucked in my suitcase and my brand new cognitive behavioural skills ready to help those with acute stress and anxiety.

Within two weeks of arriving back in Perth I was introduced to a man who suffered from Agoraphobia.  He was keen to do my group program – except I did not have a group for him to join.  I was suddenly hit with anxiety about putting myself out there, offering expertise to stressed and anxious people when I had very little experience or confidence in my ability.  So I saw this man on a private basis.  Together we went through the program and I was so delighted to see him recover completely from anxiety and mild depression.  Working with him, one to one, was my comfort zone.

A few weeks later, I was contacted by a lady asking if I would be running a group program in the near future.  She and three of her friends suffered from Agoraphobia and they had been meeting for some years, supporting each other, but getting nowhere.  I was suddenly aware that my comfort zone was being pressured to expand, like blowing more air into a balloon and it felt very uncomfortable.  I began the “what ifs?”.  What if I was not good enough?  What if one of them did not get better?  What if it was just a fluke my first client got better?

The ladies begged me to start a group and so tentatively I started one.  Along the way, in the first three weeks, word had got around and another three people joined the group. I was nervous at first but after each session, I felt buoyed by the participants’ enthusiasm and their stories of progress.  I began to realise that if I just hung in there and believed in the skills and my knowledge, then I could expand my comfort zone

Fear sits just on the edge of one’s comfort zone and when we feel the need to get outside of our comfort zone, we feel the fear like a brick wall.  For some, it stops us short and prevents us from making the changes necessary for a healthy happy life.  We retreat back into what feels comfortable.  What I learned over the years, is that fear is not a brick wall, but rather, one of those plastic strip curtains which hang outside a deli – you simply part the strips and walk through……..to a bigger comfort zone.

So after a while, I began running the 16-week group program with approximately fifteen participants and their support people.  As I was willing to step outside of my comfort zone, the group numbers increased, my confidence also and I began to tailor the program a lot more to my participants to make it more personal for them.

One evening, a support person, who was high up in the banking world, asked me if I would give a talk on stress to some seventy bank managers from all over the State who were attending an AGM in a month’s time.  Immediately I felt myself cringe and retreat back into my comfort zone.  I heard myself say, “Oh, I don’t do public speaking.”  He smiled and said, “Oh but you run the group and you are a good public speaker.”  He also offered me a very attractive amount of money to present a talk on stress.

I reminded myself, later at home, that fear was just a plastic strip curtain……..and I agreed to present at the AGM.  Although I felt nervous, I was very prepared and a few minutes into my talk, I was calmly explaining the mechanics of stress, how it manifests physically and mentally and before long, I was finished speaking and gratefully accepting applause and thank yous.  I remember getting several private clients from that talk.

Over the years, I have developed such a wide comfort zone,  conducting all-day workshops for corporate managers, running groups with young offenders in rehabilitation on anger management and stress management, speaking to hundreds of teachers at five Building Resiliency Conferences on stress and other topics and giving community talks on stress to the general public.  As the saying goes:  “feel the fear and do it anyway.”

Making changes to our thinking and behaviour is not easy but knowing that we must take one small step outside of our comfort zone, knowing our fear does not have to stop us, but that it is a portal to a larger comfort zone can help us manage our fear and increase our confidence and skills in the areas we want to.

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HOW TO HAVE A MINDFUL CHRISTMAS

HOW TO HAVE A MINDFUL CHRISTMAS

 

 

With all the build up and rush over the  Christmas and holiday season it is easy to run on auto-pilot, stressing about what to buy, who to buy for, what to have to eat for Christmas Day and Boxing Day as well as preparing for New Year’s Eve and keeping the kids occupied for more than a day.

Anxiety and stress levels rise around this time of the year.  Family issues, separation and depression can be the fallout in the lead up to Christmas.  It is no wonder people are more often talking about trying to keep things simple instead of being caught up in the hype of consumerism and worry.

Here are some tips for how to have a mindful Christmas:

  1. Aim to enjoy Christmas. Rather than making the big day all important or a measure of your success or failure, see it as one day where you can be with friends, family or others in a friendly fun way.  Look forward to the festivities rather than dread the preparation for them.
  2. Mindfully put aside any bad feelings towards those you don’t normally like or get along with. It is only one day and you can be big enough to be polite, civil and calm.
  3. Practice gratitude for the gift of family, friends, good food and time spent together. Everyone has made an effort to contribute in some way and now is not the time to judge others for what they have given or not given.
  4. Aim to make Christmas memorable. Take photos, write cards or loving notes, give small meaningful gifts.  Home made jams, chutneys, floral arrangements, cards and other gifts  are all gratefully received and the thoughts behind them last a lot longer than the big day.
  5. Be helpful. Don’t leave things to one or two people.  Help with setting the table, contributing to the food, organizing the kids with games and activities.  Be aware of what needs to be done to help out.
  6. Prepare a list of people to thank for their support, guidance, help and love during the year. Include neighbours you have had a warm relationship with or even just a regular friendly wave to each day.  Visit a neighbor who may be alone or invite them along to your celebrations.
  7. Stay sober enough to enjoy the conversations and to help out with activities. Christmas Day is not an excuse to imbibe to excess and become unruly, argumentative or over emotional.  You all decided to get together to be with each other in a meaningful way so keep that in mind.
  8. If you are on your own, put on the radio or tv and watch the carols, concerts from around the world, church services and hymns or whatever your interests are. Get a DVD of your favourite Christmas movie or music and have that playing throughout the day.  Phone relatives or friends to wish them a Merry Christmas and catch up on news.
  9. When you sit down to your Christmas meal, take time to mindfully eat, savouring the textures, flavours and smells. Mindfully put food on your plate, being aware of how much you can eat to avoid waste and a distended stomach.  You can always have more later.  Thank your host for their care and effort in making the food for your enjoyment.

 

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WHAT IS RECOVERY?

WHAT IS RECOVERY?
During my thirty seven years as a stress therapist I have treated thousands of clients (both privately and in groups) suffering with acute stress symptoms (physical such as headaches, migraines, gastro-intestinal problems, chronic pain and muscle contraction problems), anxiety disorders including agoraphobia, OCD, depression as well as working with people with bi-polar disorder and post traumatic stress disorder.

I see children as young as 6 years old and my oldest client was 84 years old and had had agoraphobia for 70 years and he made a total recovery. I have worked in counselling couples, teaching anger management to prisoners and have consulted to the Ministry of education working with teachers, psychologists and students.

As you can see my experience is long and wide and, I believe, qualifies me to talk about the recovery process, which I might add can be just as wide and varied as my experience. I have been able to observe first hand the individual differences of clients in recovery and the myriad of factors involved in recovery and relapse.

I hope that my experience and observations, indeed the valuable lessons my clients taught me over the years, will be helpful in some unique way for each of you. There is no one way to recover from anxiety but there are many helpful ways and if I can give you all a little more insight into your own recovery process and a tip or two which may help – then I will be happy for that.

The information which I give you here is my own opinion and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of anyone else – except where I may have borrowed from professional excerpts.

Some time ago, I was speaking with a gentleman who ran a support group for people suffering with anxiety and he was lamenting his frustration that some newcomers to the group only came once, because they were expecting results quickly. I wrote to him to empathise – that as a therapist, I too have been frustrated that some people want a quick fix and, even worse, want me to do all the work and often times to throw in a little magic. I explained to him that the topic of client responsibility in the recovery process is rarely talked about and is often a sensitive one, so we thought it might be a good idea that I speak to his group participants on the subject of recovery. Here is an excerpt of that talk.

So let’s look first at WHAT IS RECOVERY ?

According to the Dictionary of Psychology, “recovery is the period of time between severe symptoms like panic attacks and the cessation of those symptoms for a period of 12 months or more. It is also identified as a period of time that a person is actively pursuing a treatment or support group for their anxiety.”
WHAT IS RELAPSE?

A person is said to have relapsed when symptoms return after a period of time either 12 months after or during recovery. Symptoms of anxiety attacks, avoidance etc. reoccur. Setbacks during the recovery period are a normal part of recovery which is always 2 steps forward and 1 step back with symptoms diminishing over time.

WHAT IS HELPFUL IN THE RECOVERY PROCESS?

Initially when a person experiences prolonged anxiety or panic attacks, the person should see not only a G.P. as soon as possible, but a therapist trained in anxiety treatment. A GP can reassure a person that they aren’t dying and wont go mad, but will usually prescribe a medication which in my opinion often only masks the problem, doesn’t get to the core reasons for the panic, and can cause nasty side effects, often with more anxiety. Once symptoms subside, the person goes back to their frenetic lifestyle only to relapse and then develop a dependency on the medication.

Ideally a therapist trained in anxiety conditions and in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is preferable to a psychiatrist or other form of counselling. A therapy mode which teaches skills and encourages daily practice appears to work best, as you live your way out of anxiety one day at a time, taking full responsibility for your recovery.

SUPPORT NETWORKS

Being around others who have experienced anxiety can be helpful to know you’re not alone and that other normal, intelligent people experience this too and that there is no shame in it. If supports groups are run well, people can be encouraged to explore many different treatment modes but they don’t suit everyone and can often make some people feel worse listening to other people’s symptoms and horror stories. Panic attacks are often so vicious and overwhelming, one usually wants to be rid of them, so treatment is the best option for most people.

It is helpful to have a support person (spouse, friend) to learn the skills to have them encourage and reinforce the skills as well as independence in using them.

PRACTICE – HOMEWORK

Daily practice is vital in the recovery process. One must have total commitment to doing everything suggested by the therapist. Written homework is a crucial factor in recovery as it allows the brain to slow down and expose one’s fears to the cold light of reason. The conscious brain operates at approx. 1200 words per minute – thoughts become too slippery to work things through in your head. We speak approximately 120 words per minute and this is often why therapy feels good – to be able to talk it out, but writing down one’s thoughts slows them down to about 20-30 words per minute which allows the rational, logical and analytical mind to function better and process information more efficiently.
POSITIVE ATTITUDE AND EXPECTATIONS

A positive attitude and an expectation that you will recover are essential ingredients for recovery. Despite agoraphobia’s lengthy history of misnomers, misdiagnoses, mistreatment, lack of understanding in the community and so on, it is possible to recover from the symptoms of acute anxiety. After all, like most cases of depression, the condition only exists as a set of symptoms, which, once the majority have been eliminated, the condition ceases to exist. So it is important to understand this and be willing to work at the problems contributing to anxiety disorders knowing that great progress can be made and indeed being able to live life free of the symptoms again is possible.

A willingness to do everything asked of you in the treatment is vital. When we start a university degree, we give up a big proportion of our social life, t.v., etc. knowing the sacrifice will be worth it in the long run. It is even more important to be willing to give up a few things as well as push ourselves to practice skills knowing that anxiety cannot thrive unless there is a fertile ground for it to grow in and that means dedication to doing it right the first time. We’ll talk more about this shortly.

Dr. Claire Weekes talks a lot about acceptance in her wonderful books on anxiety and agoraphobia. She says that “true acceptance is the keystone to your recovery.” Firstly accepting that you have an anxiety disorder is vital to your recovery. Believing that this is just a short term condition and will go away tomorrow is fooling yourself. Anxiety took a long time to develop and it will take some time in leaving.

Secondly, acceptance that your body will behave in certain ways is important. If you have a virus, you accept a fever, sore throat, aching limbs without too much alarm. I often have to reassure a client who says, “I haven’t had any friends over for dinner for ages.” And I say, “That is normal when you are anxious because your body is trying to heal and it wont feel like entertaining.” You must accept that you have a temporary disability and go with it. Let your body heal rather than trying to put in an extra effort and put more stress on yourself.

When they say, I am so frightened of my heart beating fast – I say, “It’s normal, you have an anxiety condition.” When they say I can’t sleep, I say, “That is normal for anyone feeling anxious. Your brain thinks there is danger out there and is trying to protect you by keeping you on a shallower level of sleep in a state of readiness for flight or fight.” Accept the stomach churning and the phobic thoughts and the tight throat and the crazy thoughts. They are all part of the condition. Relax and focus on what you are doing so that you don’t give in to the fear.

FOLLOW UP

Follow up sessions are essential ingredients for recovery. Follow up sessions once recovery occurs is a good idea to reinforce self-management. Old habits die hard and behaviour modification programs often say that it takes a year as to when one can consider themselves successful in their treatment and recovery. Weight Watchers don’t consider you a success until you have maintained your weight and eating habits for a year. We are the same in my program – that is why regular 3 monthly follow ups are an important part of the program.

GOAL SETTING

Towards the end of my 16 week program, clients are taught goal setting and self management because it is important not to go back to where they were before they began the program. Setting realistic goals, which are able to be accomplished in small manageable steps, gives the client a focus to return to when having a setback or when they are becoming negative. They need to set positive goals for short term medium and long term. Keeping the focus on what is possible and on what is going right. A short term goal might be to remain mindful as often as possible during the day. A medium term goal might include practicing meditation, exercising and going off caffeine. Developing positive scanning techniques to view your progress positively and at the same time learn from mistakes without regret or guilt. Moving toward a different lifestyle takes time and focus and it is also a way of celebrating one’s efforts during recovery, taking on a new identity with improved life skills and beliefs.

WHAT IS COUNTERPRODUCTIVE IN THE RECOVERY PROCESS?

ATTITUDE

A negative attitude will make you reluctant to try. Self defeating statements such as “I don’t really believe I’ll ever get over this”, or “My friend tried and she relapsed.” are bound to thwart your efforts if you repeat them enough times. Engaging in self sabotaging behaviour will result from doing this, so watch out for the “chattering monkey on your shoulder!

UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS

Remember, progress is never linear. It is always 2 steps forward and 1 step back. No quantum leaps are advisable. If someone tells me after two or three weeks that they feel normal again, I am very suspicious and advise them to keep working at it as it is still possible to have a setback. Progress never happens that quickly. Also, one must not compare themselves to others in the recovery process. You all had your different journeys to where you are and so too different ways to cope, different support and so on. Just like school children take different amounts of time to read, so too, you will recover in your own time.

SABOTEURS

Unfortunately, they do exist. They can come in the form of a spouse, family member or friend. Happily it is not common, but over my many years’ experience, I have witnessed some pretty persistent saboteurs – so much so that we have two sessions dedicated to the support people helping them as well so that this does not happen.
Often people with anxiety disorders have relationships which are delicately balanced with the other person dependent on you being dependent on them. They’ve got used to a role and as you become more independent they can feel usurped, unneeded, and taken for granted and can be unsure of their role.
Sometimes the support person will take out their fears on the therapist. I recall the first time this happened. The husband of a client angrily accused the program of being about destabilizing his marriage. When I asked me why he thought that, he said that now his wife talked back to him and was going to the shops without asking him to take her. Obviously he was afraid she wouldn’t need him any more. Sadly, as she progressed, his efforts to thwart her increased. He would hide the car keys, keep her busy with errands and work around their home and by about the 10th session she pulled out of the program, saying it was easier to be agoraphobic than to have his constant undermining One day she called out of the blue to tell me she was well and no longer having panic attacks. I asked her what had happened and she said her husband had had an accident and was laid up for some time. This meant she had to do all the running around as well as a lot of the work and decision making. Her belief in herself became important as well as her facing her anxiety and moving through it.

Often friends will distance themselves when the agoraphobic becomes well. Accusations that they don’t need them anymore or that they don’t like this new self assured person are common. As a therapist, dealing with saboteurs is frustrating as these same people very often refuse to come along to the program or therapy sessions in order to be reassured that their position is not being undermined.

NON-COMPLIANCE

This is probably the most common reason people do not recover adequately. It never ceases to amaze me that despite my giving very clear guidelines and following up on homework and practice of skills, many clients just will not comply. I must have heard just about every conceivable excuse for not listening to the CD’s, writing homework and practicing the skills. The fact is that some people are not ready to commit and find it easier to avoid practice of the skills or write their homework by visiting a friend or going to their G.P. than to do the work themselves.

Some of the more interesting excuses include: “I didn’t practice my breathing this week because I was too busy.” I assume they were breathing all week, They just had to move their focus to their diaphragm for two minutes a few times a day.”

When informing people they would have to go off caffeine during the program, I am often met with, “I can’t give that up ‘cos I need the kick start in the morning.” Or “I will die without it!” Exercise is not done because, “ It was too cold or I had friends over.” Or the popular one – “I forgot.” Changing behavior is hard for most of us at some time in our life – like losing weight or giving up smoking or becoming more organized in the home. However, it is important to know that what is hard, is to live with chronic anxiety. If an agoraphobic is willing to cook dinner for their family, pay the bills, run the kids to school, entertain friends, turn up for work each day – then that proves they are quite able to meet the demands of others. So why not themselves?

On the bell curve approximately 84% are the majority who will do the homework and achieve good success. A smaller amount of people are very to extremely conscientious and on the other end of the curve, there are those who are not willing to put in the effort, lacking belief in themselves, hoping a miracle will get them well and so they give up. That brings me to the next part of non-compliance which is about pay offs.

PAY OFFS

Although many clients obtain some secondary gain from their anxiety, such gain is hardly the primary motivation for the anxiety. However, the client does need to be aware of his secondary gains so that he can expect and deal with their loss. The secondary gains for a client vary and a therapist and the client need to work together to see precisely what they are.

When I first started to work with people suffering with anxiety conditions, I could not imagine in my wildest dreams that someone would want to hold on to their anxiety condition for any reason. I refuted such claims by support people, adamantly defending my clients. Then one day a client told me that she believed that part of her problem was that there were certain payoffs which prevented her from seeking help for her condition. She spoke of the relief of not having to take responsibility in the family, not having to make decisions and feeling safe because the family had learned to be protective of her. I was astounded. However, knowing this and seeing it occur more often over the years, has allowed me to structure my program to educate clients about recognising the payoffs and to help them identify which are theirs and to let go of them without fear. Here are just some of the payoffs.

Special treatment. The highly anxious person often has fewer demands made on him. They are excused from public speaking, taking exams, entertaining and so on.
Help. Most people have empathy for a person experiencing anxiety. The help can become an obstacle to getting better. Like my lady who’s husband did everything for her – we can sometimes use a middleman to do things for us such as shopping.
Lack of risk. The payoff may be that with his anxiety as an excuse, he does not have to take a risk and endure the possibility of failure. A client told me he couldn’t teach a new course because of his anxiety. I replied that everyone experiences anxiety around performance, but the difference between those who are successful and those who aren’t’ is that the successful ones keep trying even though they are anxious.
“If only”. An anxious client is able to retain the idea that he is a competent person, and that the anxiety is the only thing holding him back. One client told me he used to fly his small plane down south for work and could go anywhere, any time. He said, “I can’t believe I have this, I am usually a very confident person and I keep thinking it will probably be gone tomorrow.” He justified this as a reason for non-compliance.
Justification. The client may say, “I have to smoke, drink or overeat or cannot do exercise because I am anxious.” The anxiety becomes a rationale for some behaviours he does not want to give up.
Special privileges. The person may use the anxiety to get freedom from those around him. One client who wanted privacy would tell his wife and children that he had to be left alone because he was having an anxiety attack. The client may use anxiety to avoid social duties, (I’m too uptight to be around those people”). Others can often give the anxious person special consideration and let them off their obligations.
Role of victim. An extreme form of secondary gain is found in the clients who take the victim role. This person uses his anxiety to manipulate and control others. The person takes little accountability for his own plight in the world, and instead, blames others and circumstances to an extreme degree. I had a client in the US who wanted to keep me on the phone every day for free therapy. When I used boundaries, she threatened suicide and told me that it would be my fault. The person had well developed skills in getting others to help her. Previous helpers are seen to be persecutors. (Like many other colleagues, I have been accused of being too soft, too hard, not wanting friendship with a client, pushing them on to the next stage too soon, being a home wrecker, not guaranteeing 100% success…). Some people are so invested in their anxiety and see so few other options that they are reluctant to give it up.

My job as a therapist is to point out to a client what payoffs cost in terms of lost effectiveness and human relationships.

ACCOUNTABILITY

Accepting accountability and responsibility is a major part of recovery. Knowing recovery is a self-help process, one must learn to recognise one’s part they play in setbacks and relapse. Believing that the therapist is God and will get them better is counterproductive, though some therapists love to set themselves up as such. Ask questions, challenge ideas that your therapist puts forward. Get fully involved. Some of the best advice I received from my mentors in America in the program was “Don’t expect to cure every person. If you cure one, the program works. Secondly, do not accept bad behaviour and disrespect from someone who uses their condition to do so. There is no reason why good manners and respect cannot prevail.”

AVOIDANCE

Avoidance is probably the most counterproductive behaviour because it is associated with feeling good (relief) and is self reinforcing. Avoidance is an instinctual reflex in times of danger (flight or fight) and helps us to survive when we are physically threatened. However, it is totally inappropriate as a mechanism where perceived threats are concerned. Avoidance brings a feeling of relief, which, when paired over time, becomes habitual. Remember, you only have to think fear to feel fear. The brain does not know the difference between reality and imagination and so the body will react to scary thoughts as though it is happening right here and now. Learning to face the fear using calming techniques is vital so that the association is broken. Systematic desensitisation as well as other techniques like positive visualisation, NLP, EFT, and EMDR can be very helpful to staying in a situation that was once paired with anxiety.

WRONG TREATMENT

Unbelievably I have had clients who have told me stories of misdiagnosis, cruel treatment, sexual harassment, wrong medications, and over medicating with dreadful side-effects. If you think your doctor is handing out too many drugs, tell him or her or try another doctor. Same with your therapist. You should know if she/he knows much about your condition in your first visit. No wonder people go through the psychological gauntlet with therapists advertising their treatment areas for stress and anxiety with limited training and experience. I would never solely counsel someone for incest or grief or alcoholism as I am not specifically trained in those areas.

There are many different reasons for the onset of anxiety attacks. Some that I have come across over the last 32 years include, a hypoglycaemic condition, lack of vitamin B, poor diet (high in refined carbohydrates), too much caffeine, trauma, (rape, incest, armed holdup), schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, personality disorders, chronic pain, long term unemployment, medications (pain killers, anti-inflammatories), and drug taking (excessive use of alcohol, nicotine, marijuana and speed.) Treating the symptoms of anxiety should not be taken lightly. A full history of the person’s family history, lifestyle, diet etc. is necessary to know whether to medicate or not and if so, which are more likely to help. There are now many alternatives to medication like St. John’s Wort for mild depression and anxiety as well as natural calmatives which are available over the counter or from naturopaths for anxiety which have been shown to be as effective.

THE IMPORTANCE OF PRACTICE AND HOMEWORK

I am repeating this because there are no short cuts to overcoming anxiety disorders. Anxiety sufferers often have inherited a pre-disposition for having a sensitive nervous system so for you, there are certain things you will react to more readily and strongly than other people will. The same goes for one’s constitution – some can eat anything or never get a cold where others succumb. People who have a sensitive nervous system should not be in stressful jobs, should not take central nervous system stimulants like caffeine or drugs, get plenty of sleep, practice thinking more positively and rationally, exercise regularly, practice time management and learn assertiveness skills. Ideally they should be daily meditators. They should regularly review their goals and learn how to stay in the moment.

They especially need to become more acutely aware of what their stressors are and how to recognise their own stress symptoms. We accept that a person with allergies should modify their house so that they are not exposed to allergens? Diabetics take responsibility for their condition by staying off sugar and sticking to their medications. A lot of previously anxious people believe they should be able to just go back to their frenetic lifestyles, taking responsibility for everyone, not be assertive, drink untold cups of coffee and stay up late and overwork and not have any repercussions.

We all come into this world with individual differences, but surely we must be responsible for our own well-being and that requires that we accept ourselves as we are and at the same time be prepared to put in effort to living as best as we can within our limits – and reaping the rewards of a strong, healthy and happy life.

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Club Sandwich

 

This is a blog I wrote two years ago and did not post because I felt strange writing so personally about my parents, however despite the passing of my dear father exactly a year ago, nothing much has changed in regard to our lives, where we are at and where my mother is at, so I decided to post it as an offering to those of you who are experiencing a similar situation with elderly parents and other members of the family who require assistance and care.

I was reading over an old posting of an article in Positive Psychology News Daily by Kathryn BrittonThe Sandwich Generation: Looking Both Ways last year, and I realised this article was very relevant to me back then, but even more now.  I invite you to read her thoughtful article and my musings on this very current topic.

As with most of the articles I read from Positive Psychology News Daily, this article on The Sandwich Generation as well as the interview about Loss and Grief was particularly interesting and helpful. It was for me personally, as I have two elderly parents whom I adore and I am now finding myself having to think more about how to help them cope with their ageing bodies, Dad’s mental decline and Mum’s new role as his carer. Over the last couple of years, I have watched my previously astute, highly intelligent, self assured, independent and opinionated father become frail, forgetful and unsure of himself and gradually he has needed to defer to my mother for his daily needs. Mum has hardly ever had to make a financial decision in her entire married life and most of her wants and needs were taken care of by Dad, once he had considered their necessity and given his stamp of approval. She is now having to cope with the incoming bills, learning how to write a cheque, dealing with bank tellers and keeping her eye on the bank balance. Mum’s confidence in dealing with tradespeople, having repairs to the appliances, the car and the house, has increased and after a rather tenuous beginning, she is starting to have some of her own ideas as to how they will live their remaining years.

My Mum has always been my best friend and confidante and I never hesitated to call her for advice when I really needed it. She was non-judgemental, unbiased and she could always see the other side of things, like other people’s perspectives, or possible outcomes. Thankfully, this very sensible side of Mum has helped her remain resilient despite the heavy responsibility of looking after Dad.

I have, however, noticed that the tables are turning somewhat and when Mum now calls, for our still daily chats it is about her painful bursitis, her frustration with Dad, how she lost one of her good earrings in the shower only to find it in the towel hours later, how she wishes she never left their old house in the hills and how she wishes she could move house closer to me and enjoy the lifestyle of living in a port city.

She regularly asks me to review some official papers, take her to medical appointments and to help her with the garden or to lift a heavy object. I only have one day off work during the week and I ask her to try to make her appointments on that day, however it can’t always be so and I find I am experiencing some frustration with the disruption to my working life. I do my best and encourage her to be independent and to make a practice run to the new specialist’s rooms or to the new places she has to visit.

The grim reality of Mum and Dad ageing and their increasing dependence on me has caused me to think more about my own ageing and decline in the years to come. I turn sixty this year and in 22 years I will be Mum’s age. That is not so far away, especially when I think back to my forties which seems just like yesterday. It all happens in the blink of an eye. At the same time, I am aware that time for Mum and Dad is running out fast as well and I will one day have the dreaded phone call that one of them has passed away.

As I become more mindful of the inevitable, I find myself looking at them both in a different way. I am more mindful for the time we spend together. I take mini snapshots of things about them, hoping these will become indelible in my brain for when they are no longer here. Things like Dad’s hands – the strongest hands I have ever known. We hold hands often and he caresses my hands like he does Mum’s, full of meaning and love; Mum’s voice – still young and lyrical, full of expression and laughter; both of them walking ahead of me, holding hands, Dad bent at the knees and leaning forward, Mum supporting his weight on her slight frame.

It is now so important for me to make sure that Mum and Dad have a good quality of life, that they can cope with the day to day chores, their meals, their emotional well-being.  They have arranged for a weekly cleaner, meals on wheels, trips to the library, fortnightly bus outings with other elderly people, occasional gardener and podiatry and physio appointments.  I cut Dad’s hair, clip his toe nails and take them for drives to their old haunts.  They are invited to all of our major celebrations and parties as they have been good friends with our friends all these years.

My husband and I are now talking about what we will do in our retirement years, (which keep getting put back several years as we age) and we are aware that in order to fulfil our retirement dreams, we will need to consider Mum and Dad and how they are and where they are at that time, if they are still alive.  Feelings of guilt and sadness come up when I think about us living overseas for few months, as we plan to do, and wondering how they will cope without us.

So these are the sandwich years that our generation is experiencing and yes, we have been a halfway house for our children on more than one occasion.  We still have a shed full of their belongings and we are quite happy to advance them some money to help them with studies, or a car, or a debt with the promise that we will be paid back of course!  Thankfully, our children are all quite independently living away from home and working and I am now more than ever aware that one day, my husband and I will be elderly and probably requiring help and support, if only emotionally, from our children.

Although our parents vowed they would never be a burden on us, and that they would know when the time had come to go into more advanced care, their awareness of their frailty has become clouded with their advancing fear of losing their independence, so they hang on to their belief that they are managing very well and are a long way off from needing to leave their home to go into a retirement facility.  Meanwhile, we have filled out the application for Enduring Power of Attorney and Advanced Health Directive and so on just in case anything happens.

As mentioned earlier, Dad passed away a year ago and Mum  has managed to pass through her grieving and is living independently, managing quite well and even asserting that she does not need anyone’s help and she is certainly not ready for low care accommodation.  Quite the reversal.  On the other hand our children are all still making great strides toward independence but there are the occasions where they need a bit of help financially.

We are relishing the thought of retirement in the near future and living for a few months overseas and making the most of our able bodied years through travel and home renovations.  We don’t like talking about when we are really old and what will become of us, for now.  We are just happy to belong to the Sandwich Club and know that our friends are all members and we are in good company.

 

 

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Stress, Positivity and Gratitude

I recently wrote this article for a new publication called Yang Sheng (Nurturing Life).  It is an E-magazine and a network for all practitioners of mind-body exercises (such as Qigong, taiji, yoga, reiki, mindfulness, TM, and meditation), health seekers, and spiritual cultivators.  It promotes philosophy and methods of self-healing, positive mind and health preservation, and shares knowledge and experiences in these subjects and their applications in everyday life.

Click on this link:   http://yang-sheng.com/?p=3533

I highly recommend this exciting new publication and it welcomes new articles to inform and educate people about the many facets of the mind-body connection.

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Make a change

What areas in your life do you want to change and what areas in your life do you need to exit your comfort zones, in order to make lasting change in?

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