17 posts categorized "Stress/Anxiety" Feed

Do Anti-Depressant Meds work?

One of the most common questions I get is "How do you feel about drugs?" My answer is almost always that I have complicated feelings about them. What I often tell clients is that they should do their own research. What I have below is an excerpt from a book that I think everyone who is remotely interested in this topic should read. It is controversial and will probably upset some of those who read it for one reason or another. But we have to engage this conversation deeply. We need to talk about the risks associated with this medicine and the benefits. Mostly, we need to look at our assumptions on a societal level about how we deal with problems.

What the published studies really indicate is that most of the improvement shown by depressed people when they take antidepressants is due to the placebo effect. Our finding that most of the effects of antidepressants could be explained as a placebo effect was only the first of a number of surprises that changed my views about antidepressants. Following up on this research, I learned that the published clinical trials we had analysed were not the only studies assessing the effectiveness of antidepressants. I discovered that approximately 40 per cent of the clinical trials conducted had been withheld from publication by the drug companies that had sponsored them. By and large, these were studies that had failed to show a significant benefit from taking the actual drug. When we analysed all of the data - those that had been published and those that had been suppressed - my colleagues and I were led to the inescapable conclusion that antidepressants are little more than active placebos, drugs with very little specific therapeutic benefit, but with serious side effects.

Kirsch, Irving (2010-01-26). The Emperor's New Drugs: Exploding the Antidepressant Myth (pp. 3-4). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.


Dealing with the winter blues

Did you know that yesterday is supposed to be the most depressing day of the year?

At least that is what I read on Facebook.

I was thinking about the lack of sunshine as I was driving to an appointment today. It's bitter cold, there is little sunshine, the wind is blowing almost non-stop. It's little wonder so many people struggle with feeling depressed this time of year.

But what can we do about it?

Here's three ideas that I have found helpful.

1. Write out a list of things for which you are thankful.

This one seems so simple, but making a list of those that we are thankful for forces our brain to look away from the negatives. No one likes being constantly cold. When bad things happen around us, we can be tempted to focus on them and ignore the positive things in our life. Our thinking is a key component in our feelings. Focusing on the positives in our life can increase our happiness by physically increasing our "happy" chemicals in our body.

2. Do an intentional act of kindness for someone else and keep it a secret.

Focusing on other people can help us not think about ourselves. Once again, we're releasing the happy chemicals in our brain when we do things for others. If our life is going to have true meaning, it must be about something bigger than just us. This is true in every day life as well. Sometimes, the best way to beat the winter doldrums is to simply look around and find someone who has a need and meet it.

3. Brew a hot cup of coffee and read a book

Ok, this is my comfort idea but there is some really good recent research to suggest that reading stories or watching them unfold does positive things for our brains. Take some time to unplug and unwind. Get lost in a good story for a moments or hours.

These are my ideas, what are yours?

 


Dealing with Holiday Stress

I was talking to someone* the other day who confided to me that they “hate” Christmas.
Hate is such a strong emotional word that I always want to ask for clarification. Why do you hate it? What does that mean?  What could cause someone to hate a holiday?
“I hate all the pressure!”
“What pressure?”
At this point, they looked at me like I had a lego set growing out of my head.
“The pressure to buy gifts, cook elaborate meals, hang out with family I don’t really like, and not gain a pound. It sucks.”
I looked at them and asked one of my favorite questions. “What if you didn’t have to do any of that?”
Back to the legos out of the head.
But the truth is that no one has to give in to any of that pressure. We don’t have to buy gifts, let alone big gifts. It’s OK if we gain a few pounds, Jillian Michaels aside.
You can choose to not hang out with family that you don’t like. We can choose to not let the things that bug us, bug us.
I know this is counter-intuitive to what we are told by almost everyone and it goes against what we believe about our own level of control.
That doesn’t change the truth of it.
One of the best ways to deal with holiday stress is to look at how we are responding to the stress.
A favorite saying is “the problem is not the problem, the problem is how I am responding to the problem.”

If buying gifts is stressing you out, I’m curious about why. Almost everyone I know says that they don’t believe things matter and yet, they stress over gifts as though those things do matter.

If gaining a few pounds is stressing you, tell me why it’s stressing you out. What happens if you gain a few pounds?

Let’s end one myth right now while we’re at it. No one makes you feel guilty. No one makes me feel guilty. My need for their approval and wanting everyone to like me might make me feel guilty but that’s a me problem, not a them problem.

Mommy guilt, Daddy guilt, Family guilt, Daughter guilt, son guilt; that’s all on the person choosing to live that way.
The key to dealing with holiday stress is to deal with what I can deal with and make tough decisions about what I can’t control.
Living a congruent life is the best way to avoid being stressed. Living a congruent life means that I live in such a way that my actions line up with my values.

What’s causing you stress about the upcoming holidays? What can you do about those situations? Let me know in the comments.





*This person is not and never has been a client*


Everyone Wins? Just for showing up? Part 3 of 5

I have a lot of things that I am excited to share with you over this upcoming year. But I'm kicking off the school year with a series that I did last year regarding what I think is a dangerous mentality of “everyone wins.” This series is designed to create some conversation on what it means to allow our children to lose and struggle and win. If you read it last year, maybe you’ll want to skip it…and then again you might enjoy it again. If you’re new to these parts maybe you’ll love it…or maybe you’ll hate it. We’ll see. Either way. Here is part three of five.

 

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Part one can be found here and part two can be found here.

There is a great scene in the animated movie, The Incredibles. The son Dash is being "encouraged" by his parents. One of his parents tells him that everyone is special. Under his breath he replies, "Then no one is."

We are stuck on this idea that everyone is exceptional, special and a winner.

Of course, if these things are true than no one is actually any of them. Some people are good at math, while others are good at stringing words together. Some people can sing, some can play sports, some can cook and clean. Some people can do amazing things with a pencil, others do amazing things with fire and sand.

Yes, we are all unique. Yes, we are all have skills, talents, and abilities that make us unique. But have we gone to far. Are we creating a generation of people that expect to win just for showing up? Personally, I think the answer to that question is yes.

I have a problem with this mentality. I think it is hurting our society. When I was a teacher, I would hear all the time about the unfairness of life. Student X was upset because she wasn't getting the playing time she deserved. Parent after parent would ask me how their child would get better if he or she did not play in the game. I would get the it's not fair that she or he practices as much as the other person and doesn't get to play. 

My daughter played soccer a number of years ago. She loved it. She wasn't very good. It's not a value judgement on her, it is simply a statement of fact as someone who has coached for a number of years. She might be god some day, but the truth is at this point I doubt it. She did not enjoy running, which is a rather critical component of soccer. She has moved onto dance. She loves it. I have no idea if she is good or not from a critical point of view but I love watching her. I love the ways her eyes shimmer when she talks about dance.

What is interesting to me is that she knew she wasn't very good. She still got the same ribbon as everyone else on her team. Just for showing up.

A friend of mine has a son that played on a baseball team. He batted a thousand for the season and scored every time he came to bat. I have no idea what that would make his slugging percentage but I would think it would be really high. You see, he played in a league where every time a batter hit the ball he or she ran all of the bases. Every time, no matter what. At the end of the season he got an award, just for showing up.

He was ill prepared for the next season when three strikes meant you were out.

When I worked as an athletic director, I instituted rules and guidelines for people to earn a letter in a sport. To that point in the schools history, simply showing up meant you made the team and earned a letter. One of my favorite student athletes failed to earn his letter while his older and younger brother did make it. Two girls on the women's basketball team also failed.

"But they really tried." "It's not fair." "He's really disappointed." "I don't like to see him hurt."

Essentially they could have just said, "Look, trying is enough."

Of course, this isn't really true. What about the people who applied for the same job opening that you did and didn't get it because you got it. What about the people who put a bid on the same house that you are now living in. Do you want them moving in because they really wanted the house?

What do you think? Do you think people are being taught that you win just for showing up? If not, why are you still reading this? :) If so, do you think that is a good or bad thing?

In the next post, I'll begin to explain the problems inherent in the idea of winning just for showing up.


Whitney Houston and our own Narrative thinking

Unless, you've been secluded from society this weekend, you learned that Whitney Houston died this weekend. I don't know why and to be honest, I'm ok not knowing. This post really isn't about Whitney.

Have you ever had someone force a plot on you that you didn't feel was fair? They assigned motives to your actions that weren't what was really going through your brain?

Have you ever done that to someone else? We use Narrative thinking to make sense of the world around us. This is necessary and good but sometimes we apply narratives to others that aren't actual, even if they work. This stems from the complexity that is the human experience. People are complicated.

On top of that we tend to apply a narrative to life that doesn't really work. We think that happiness is "out there." Wherever out there is at, we believe if we get there we'll find happiness. So when someone who made it to the "out there" in our mind we can't believe that they would waste it with drugs, and alcohol. We can't believe that they wouldn't be happy when they have what we are convinced would make us happy.

If we were rich and famous and had thousands of fans, we'd be happy. If we were an athlete, or a music star we'd be happy. The reason we're not happy is because we're stuck in a bad job or bad marriage, or we're not rich enough. If we just had what they had.

Never mind the fact that we have example after example that tells us this narrative is incorrect. Never mind that almost all of the stories (narratives) that we can see tell us the exact opposite. We need to make peace with the fact that by and large we choose our own happiness. We often cannot choose our circumstances but we can and must choose our reactions.

I don't know what inner demons Ms Houston fought. I am sorry for her family, and loved ones who lost someone too soon.

I hope that everyone who ponders her life and death will consider what they believe about their own narrative. I hope that we will all realize that we choose how we react in every situation and that we can choose happiness. We can make peace with our past and our present.


It's the plot that matters most

A constant theme in mental health that I have written about is that what happens to you is less important than how you make sense of what happens to you. This is a very important concept. So important, I want to write it again.

What happens to you is not as important as how you make sense of what happens to you. 

This is true about our entire life.  One way to understand this is through the idea of narrative. Think about a movie or a favorite book. It has a plot. Most of the times, we want the plot to make sense to us. The same is true of our lives. We want the narrative to make sense to us. We use our narratives to make sense of things that do happen to us. 

We need life to make sense. That is why we will always have labels, no matter how often people want to push back against them. We need them. We need the plot of life to make sense to us. 

Many times the people that we help in the mental health field have lost the plot of the narrative. They have lost the pieces that help it make sense. 

It’s not just true of our life, but also the things that happen in the world around us. We need to be able to understand the motives of that athlete, or this movie star. We need bad guys and good guys. The idea that most of the people we see as bad guys or good guys are probably more like us is disturbingly uncomfortable.  It brings fear into our mind.

And fear brings anger. Almost every time.

When we feel that our narrative is being questioned, we will become angry and defensive. What makes this interesting to me is that we often don’t realize this is what is happening. Sometimes, people argue and disagree over known and incontrovertible facts but that is rare.  Most of the time, our arguments are at a plot line level. 

I had two separate conversations this past weekend where this was true. One was with a bunch of people where I felt the plot that made the most sense was one of an organization over-reaching for control. Most of the others thought it was an organization operating as it was designed. As I realized that our disagreement stemmed from that, I began to change the way I approached the conversation. We didn’t come to much common ground but we did figure out where we disagreed and by and large we agreed to disagree. It was a fun conversation that involved passion, and high emotions. It also involved laughter because very few people were threatened by their narrative being questioned. 

I had another conversation that didn’t go so well. Isn’t that the way it almost always is, we have one good conversation followed by one bad one? He thought the plot was a bad guy getting what he deserved. A guy who was arrogant, and conniving and...just a bad guy. The man was assigning motives and understanding that he couldn’t have known for certain, because he doesn’t know that person he was talking about. But for his narrative to make sense, these things have to be true.  My narrative of the same situation is something different.  It is one of a hero being attacked by people with less than pure motives. But still I’m assigning motives to people I don’t know as well. Not surprisingly, we didn’t find much common ground. In fact, it is safe to say that the man is angry with me. 

Our plot lines simply did not match up. We could have as many conversations about whatever, but until we could figure out where our plot lines diverged, we simply were not going to agree. We couldn't find common ground because we believed we were both living different stories.

In the same way, you will find this principle to be true when you find people who you would not normally be friends with or be involved with much at all but you find a common goal to work toward. This creates a plot that supersedes the disagreeing plots. Maybe a democrat works alongside a republican to help feed a family that was burnt out of their house last week. The plot line of their political parties is overrode by the plotline of helping someone in a bad situation out. They have found common ground.

Of course, this brings up a host of serious questions. For everyone all of us. 

  1. What happens when we lose the plot to our own life?
  2. What happens when the plot we are operating out of is wrong? 
  3. What happens when the plot we claim to believe is not the plot that we are living out of?  (this is called not living an integrated life)
  4. What happens when the plot we are forced to live in seems hopeless?
  5. What happens when the plot we believe is questioned?
  6. What does it mean for our plot when we get angry? What does it mean for us?
  7. What happens when the plot seems upside down (good is losing and evil is winning?)
  8. What happens when someone we love is living in a bad plot? (Someone we love making bad choices, destroying their life, etc. 
  9. What happens when our spouse (of children) wish to live a plot that is different than ours? 

These types of questions do not have quick or easy answers. I believe that they do have answers though. I believe that those answers can be found. The problem is that these questions are not exhaustive. I imagine someone out there is already thinking about a question that I don't have up there.  I'm going to take the time over the next few days to answer most of the above questions and then I want to change the perspective a little to look at the broader issues that may give us a tool to answer future questions. 

 


Child, Do what's right or...

Someone once wrote that feelings cannot be disputed because they are experiences. Whereas beliefs can be disputed because they are how we interpret our experiences.

I completely agree with this sentiment. I believe its very important to understand the distinction before we try to understand life, we must first seek to understand how we make sense of life. Before we can understand that, we must our own thought processes. We must understand how our own thinking works.

Dr. Robert Lehman, a man who has been very influential in how I view these issues, once delineated three ways of thinking that I'd like to share with you here. I believe understanding these views will help us to better understand our thoughts and feelings.

  1. Reactive or emotional reasoning. Reflective or emotional reasoning is just pure reactions. I feel it so it must be true, whatever true is. So the wife caught in a marriage she doesn't like will convince herself that "it will always be this way." This person makes decisions based simply on how they feel about a situation. If a person is caught in this mode of thinking they are usually all over the place emotionally. Almost everything is about how they feel. They have very little impulse control and rarely think about the consequences of their actions beyond the short term.
  2. Reflective thinking. This person considers the consequences of their actions. They will consider what will happen from what they do. This person will even consider how their actions affect other people. They consider the consequences in the short term and the long term. Sometimes, this person will weigh the risk of the negative consequence against the potential positive of doing whatever they are considering. I knew a nine year old girl who would do this. When threatened with a vague "punishment" for not doing her room, she ask for specifics on the punishment. She was deciding if she was willing to pay the price or not. This is reflective thinking but it is incomplete.
  3. Moral Reasoning. Moral reasoning is when someone decides what they are doing based purely on what is right. Their moral compass is put into play with decisions. These people do the right thing because it is the right thing to do not necessarily because it will get them anything. It goes beyond reflective reasoning because it asks the question of "what is the right thing to do?" It is not only concerned with the outcome, it is actually concerned with the morality of a decision.

This is important because a person who is stuck in the first category of reasoning will not be able to debate their beliefs about their feelings. They will be ruled by their feelings. Relationships will be short or tumultuous or both. So many things happen that impact our feelings. Those feelings are real. Debating them is pointless. It's an experience that the person has lived. The person's beliefs about those feelings can be debated.

Think about marriage. Successful couples don't always feel like being faithful or kind or gentle but they can be all of those things all the time. They can chose to do something about their feelings.

Think about individuals. They don't have to be ruled by their feelings. They don't have to give up hope that life will always be the way it is today. They don't have to live the same bad story line over and over again. They can see change in their life.

Think about parenting. Think about how these three different levels of thinking affect parenting children. The techniques used to shape the child. Think about how often parenting is about instilling fear. Fear of the parent, fear of the consequences and about how rarely, in my opinion, it is about instilling the desire to do the right thing because it is the right thing to do.

Tomorrow I'm going to write about the woman who made her son wear a sandwich sign about being a drug dealer and making bad choices. If you haven't read that article yet, be sure to find me on Facebook and like my page. You can click to it on the right sidebar on my webpage.



Dealing with Holiday Stress

In my last post, I talked about the pressures and stress of the holidays. I would like to talk about how to handle the stress of the holiday expectations.

  1. It is what it is. Often our stress comes from unspoken and usually unmet expectations. Try just accepting that your holiday is what it is this year. If you have an expectation, express it and see if it can be met. If it can not be met, just try to let it be. Not everything has to be judged. Just allowing your holiday to happen can be liberating and freeing.
  2. Set Boundaries. Everyone has people in their life that is draining. Set boundaries for the times where you will be involved with these people. Boundaries keep everyone safe. They also allow you to enjoy your holiday.
  3. Don't push a rope. No one can make you angry. If someone is attacking you, remove yourself from their presence if you can. If you cannot, let them know that attacking you is not acceptable and ask them to change the subject. We cannot control how others react to us, only how we react to them. We don't have to get angry or "push a rope."
  4. Find meaningful time for you. Find a way to recharge your batteries. Read a book. Visit with someone who inspires you. Write  a journal entry. Express yourself.
  5. Give it away. Volunteer at a local charity. Give your time away. Helping others can be a very therapeutic endeavor. It can help us achieve calm.
  6. Relax. One of the hardest things to do over the holidays is to relax. The holidays will come and go every year. That is a constant. What is not constant is how we approach them.

Home for the holidays? Stress with those we love most

Christmas is six days away! My wife's birthday is tomorrow! My kids are on break. Life is good. Last Christmas, I worked at the hospital. This year, I have it off and even my school requirements are minimal.

But what about you? Chances are good that if there is more than a few people reading this post, they are actually more stressed right now, then they will be at any point in their life. The truth is that Christmas is a very stressful time for many people.

We say it's not about the gifts, but for too many that is exactly what it is about. They feel the pressure of having to buy gifts for extended family members, co-workers or others. Some people are feeling the pressure of being able to spend money on their immediate family. A few years ago my wife and I hit today (the 19th of December) with no real idea how we were going to pay for our kids gifts.

Then there's church. This past week I was told that I serve the devil (seriously) by a man who has never met me. We were on that wonderful communication medium known as Facebook. He was appalled that I have no intention of attending a church service on Christmas day (the fact that my church has a Christmas Eve but no Christmas day service didn't factor into the discussion much). Essentially, that person (who I am no longer connected to on Facebook) is exerting pressure on those around him that if they don't go to church on Christmas day, they are not good people and will most certainly face eternity in Hell.

Then there is the pressure of balancing work and the holidays. For instance, I do not work at the hospital this year but I would normally work the weekend of New Years. That means I will miss a day. That can cause pressure because now I have lost money I need to make up. 

There is no question that during the holiday season, pressures abound aplenty. Then there's family.

I recently had someone confide in me that she "just didn't really like her family." Another person told me that his wife's family "drove him crazy." I imagine that more family fights break out over the next three weeks than any other time of the year.

Why? Why is there stress with those we love most? Why do people seem so angry at a time of the year when it seems that we should be so happy. Well, of course, I have ideas about this but I want to know what you think. Tell me your ideas below. What is your story? How do you manage the stress of the holidays?