Overcome Anxiety By Doing What You Hate

Marlene had to admit that a lot of her anxiety was born of a sense of childish entitlement which went something like this: “I’ve had an awful life, so I’m entitled to cut corners here and there to make it easier on myself.” The result was that she had bounced a check. And this wasn’t, unfortunately, the first time. “If I’m going to turn my life around and ditch this foolish anxiety problem, then I simply have to force myself to do my checkbook regularly. There is no excuse for this,” she said to herself. As she stood on line at the bank, Marlene had an “Ah-ha!” experience. It came to her, with an unheard-of forcefulness that if she could get control of her anxiety so well—and she was, indeed, feeling a lot better—she could get control of some of the things that had triggered her anxiety in the first place. She had absolutely hated balancing her checkbook. It was the most boring, annoying act on earth. It took up so much time, and invariably she made countless arithmetical errors. That’s why her way of coping had been to always keep enough money in the account to protect herself from situations like this one. Obviously, it was not a good enough system because something had gone wrong. She finished with the banking and as she headed toward the door, she noticed a brochure for getting online banking. Sure enough, with this free program, she could keep up to date on her account daily. She retraced her steps and headed over to a desk to sign up for it. From...

Overcome Anxiety With Positive Thinking

When Marlene started the steps to anxiety reduction, she didn’t realize that her anxious behavior was accompanied by negative thoughts. What she learned was that these thoughts actually propel the anxious feelings and behavior. She had to do some quiet reflection to recognize those underlying thoughts, and eventually she was able to pin them down. Then, she had to challenge them. Here are the arguments she came up with for each one: “There is always an end to misery,” “I need to get calm so I can think of a solution; there is always a solution,” “Being human means you have problems.” Meanwhile, she was practicing deep breathing along with visualizations. She thought of a lovely mountain cabin she had once stayed at on vacation. She carefully filled in the picture with the plants, the furniture, the trees, everything about that cabin. When she got into it, she could smell the mountain air and hear the birds cawing. She was amazed to notice how nice and relaxed she would become when she did this. Then, one day, a check bounced and, out of habit, she retreated into her usual pattern. “Now I have an extra charge,” she moaned, “and there isn’t enough money to cover it! What will I do? What will I do? Oh, God, why does this always have to happen to me? I hate this!” She started breathing rapidly; she started to sweat. Marlene began to feel faint. She collapsed on a chair, weak at the knees, her head swimming. This is a common reaction to stress. Neurons in the brain fire in the old patterns...

How Anxiety Starts In Your Family and Why You Need to Overcome it

Marlene is a perfect example of a person who thought she had an anxious personality. She understood why she had it, but that didn’t change anything. (It usually doesn’t.) Her father abandoned the family when she was young and then her mother had to work, leaving her in charge of younger siblings. She was responsible, but that was an awfully heavy burden to place on a child. It was scary. Little kids do not have the emotional resources to tell themselves “This too shall pass” the way adults do when something bad happens for the first time in adulthood. Hers was a normal reaction to a bad situation given that she was only a child when all this started. So the world became a scary place and Marlene became anxious at many things. Any time the stability of her life was threatened, she would overeat; she would feel her blood pressure go up; she often got queasy or lightheaded. She frequently thought she was headed for a panic attack and had so many of them that she started to label herself as having a Panic Disorder. Along with this, she would think: “Oh, no, I see no end in sight,” or “I don’t have a clue how to get out of this!” or “Why did this have to happen to me?” Marlene tried the approach described in last week’s post, with a great deal of irritation. That’s common. “Why,” she complained, “Do I have to be the one to work on myself when it was not my fault that I was treated badly and became an anxious person?” She...

Overcome Anxiety With Mindfulness Meditation

Anxiety is a learned behavior. Can you imagine! The brain actually learns how to become anxious. Research shows that brain development in traumatized infants is significantly different than that of normally-raised babies. It predisposes them to adult struggles with stress and emotional illness. Anxiety Research [See Allan Shore, the Effects of Early Relational Trauma on Right Brain Development, Affect Regulation, and Infant Mental Health, Infant Mental Health Journal, Vol.  22(1–2), 201–269 (2001)] The good news is that the anxious brain can also heal. Research on what happens to the brain during meditation shows that even newbies at it can start to reach for changes that Tibetan lamas have mastered in a lifetime of training. [See Daniel Goleman, Finding Happiness: Cajole Your Brain to Lean to the Left, New York Times, February 4, 2003] So if you say, “I’m an anxious person,” it sounds like, well, that’s that. But if we stand in awe of our brains and marvel at the fact that they can re-learn how to respond to similar situations that triggered the old responses, hey, we have a fighting chance of overcoming history. Anxiety Hurts Relationships What does your attitude do to your relationship? It gives you the permission to spout your anxiety all over the place and your husband (or wife) can’t do anything about it (or so he thinks, but that’s another post). Do you see where we’re going here? Your thinking is plum wrong. You do not have permission or any excuse to act up and make him scared or unhappy or nervous himself just because you are used to feeling and acting anxious....

Is It Escapism or Self Care?

Patricia was so sad. “I just sit in the chair and cry,” she told me. “I don’t get my work done and I can’t get past it.” “It” could be anything. For some people, it’s a bad fight; for others, a blunder they made that they regret so much it gets in the way of moving on. For still other people, what keeps them stuck are the harsh words their spouse threw at them or the secret they found on his computer. For others, “it” is a fight or the lack of words at all; stony silence where there once was laughter. The logical next step is to tell a person to start some self-nurturing activities: go to the gym, read a book, take a walk in the park. “Oh, I do that,” Patricia assured me. “I’m just wondering whether I haven’t turned it into escapism,” she said, adding that she could end up taking an all-afternoon walk in the park or getting so engrossed in a book that she doesn’t do the dishes. It’s Escapism If You Answer These Questions the Wrong Way What an excellent question she posed: Just where does self care end and escapism begin? And how do you tell which one you’re engaged in? The answer can be found by asking the following three questions: 1. What proportion of your time do you spend in goal-oriented activities versus the self-nurturing (or escapist) activity? 2. Do you often feel a compulsion (or a strong pull) toward the escapist activity? 3. How do you feel when you have completed the escapist or self care activity? We...

3 Reasons Marriage Counseling Fails

I believe in Marriage Counseling. Well, of course: That’s why I do it! But the cynics among you might think, “Yeah, well, she gets paid after all.” Now that’s a good point. I do get paid, as you do for your work. But honestly, if you did your work, whether it was building buildings or neurosurgery or closing real estate deals, how would you feel about it if it hardly ever worked? How would you feel if your job was a lot of work that went nowhere? You’d come to hate it. That’s what I thought you’d say. I’ve been doing this a lot of years and I love it. I don’t expect to ever get tired of it and I don’t plan on retiring. And the reason is that I get a lot of satisfaction seeing that light bulb go on over people’s heads. (Yes, I can just about see it!) I get intense pleasure when a formerly insensitive person turns with tenderness to his or her spouse and says something kind and validating. That’s my best payment. On the other hand, there is room for cynicism because the stories I’ve heard make me sad. I’d like to see everyone who needs it benefit from marriage counseling, and unfortunately, that is not the case. So I’d like to present you with three possible sorts of situations in which it fails. If You Were An Abused Child, Now Is The Time To Heal The first one is that it can’t get off the ground because a person simply is not ready to confront his pain. Here’s the scoop: Let’s...
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