Archive for May, 2011

What is Normal Anxiety? Abnormal?

Monday, May 30th, 2011

     “Have you suffered from any of these symptoms in the last six months:

Difficulty is getting breath or over breathing?

Skipping or racing of the heart?

Sensation of rubbery or ‘jelly legs’?

Bouts of excessive sweating?

Smothering of choking sensation or lump in throat?

Tingling or numbness in parts of body?

Feelings that surroundings are strange, unreal, foggy, or detached?

Difficultly in falling asleep?

Avoiding situations because they frighten you?

If you have answered ‘yes’ to one or more of the preceding questions, it is possible that you have a biologically based anxiety disorder that is fundamentally different from the common anxiety that results from specific conditions of stress” according to David M. Sheehan, M.D. Dr. Sheehan writes in his book, The Anxiety Disease, that “panic attacks are clusterings of several spells of different symptoms at once… usually there is strong mental terror that accompanies the physical sensation of the body running out of control.”

     If panic attacks persist, phobias often develop.  These types of phobias usually relate to where the person was when panic attacks were experienced. Example:  If a panic attack occurred in church, the person will fear churches.  The anxiety in effect becomes attached to places or situations by association.  People avoid that which triggers anxiety. This is basic classical or Pavlovian conditioning. 

     Anxiety, or fear, is an emotion that ranges across the continuum from a healthy alert to a real danger to a disabling of one’s ability to function. Dr. Bessel A. van der Kolk writes that “the critical difference between a stressful but normal event and trauma is a feeling of helplessness to change the outcome.”  He continues: “Brain function is shaped by experience that is automatically processed on a subcortical level (unconscious) that takes place outside of awareness. Certain early attachment disorders, overwhelming childhood experiences and horrific adult experiences ‘set’ psychological expectations and biological selectivity.” Biological responses to this anxiety and fear would include numbness, withdrawal, confusion, shock or speechless terror.

     Dr. van der Kolk says that if these people are not able to “reset their equilibrium” after a traumatic experience, they are more “prone to develop the cluster of symptoms that are called PTSD….The imprint of the traumatic event comes to dominate how victims organize their lives. …At the core of  PTSD is that certain sensors or emotions related to traumatic experiences are dissociated, keep returning in unbidden ways, and do not fade with time.  Because recalling the trauma can be so painful, many people with PTSD choose not to expose themselves to situations, including psychotherapy, in which they are asked to do so.  The challenge in treating PTSD is to help people process and integrate their traumatic experiences without feeling retraumatized – to process trauma so that it is quenched, not kindled.”

     There are three critical steps in treating severe anxiety disorders:

1. Safety – physical and psychological

2. Psychological intervention and, perhaps, medication

3. Learning to find a language for understanding and communicating their experiences without being retraumatized.

     In summary it is important to understand how the combination of emotional, cognitive, social, and biological forces interact in human development and experience. The brain takes all of these factors into consideration as it reacts and directs one’s feelings, thoughts, and behavior.

     It is valuable for people to be attuned to the level of anxiety present.  Many people block this awareness.  Periodic check ups by a physician for the body and a psychotherapist for the mind can assist in this assessment, along with the appropriate therapeutic interventions so indicated.  Maintaining anxiety in the normal range is extremely important for optimal health and productive behavior.

Men Be Careful With What You Say To Your Spouse: Guidelines and Suggestions for Sensitive Topics

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

     In the course of my practice and personal observation, I see and hear of mistakes being made by men as they try to communicate with their spouse.  Most men are not famous for good communication as a rule, except when conversing with other men.

     Men understand each other pretty well – and rarely get their feelings hurt regarding their banter.  The usual topics include money, women and sex, cars, and sports.  Booze usually helps men have “deeper” conversations about such profound topics.  Certainly there are some men that broaden the scope of their interests, but they are in the minority.

     A man talking to his spouse is a whole different ball game (note the sports metaphor).  I am listing a few of the “caution zone” topics below that men should try to be more aware of, and sensitive to, in any discussion with his beloved.

1. Looks:  This category would include, but not be limited to, height, weight, hair, breast and derriere size, complexion, etc…

2. Meals prepared by spouse, especially that new recipe that she’s excited about.

3. Apparel chosen to wear.

4. Cleanliness of the house.

5. Her driving, tennis, or golf style and form.

6. Her breath or body odor.

7. Money spent on things you think are frivolous.

8. Comments you may make about women you find attractive.

9. How her time is spent.

10. Her temperament at a given time.

     If you are not careful in your communication in these areas you may find yourself sleeping on the couch, or in the guest room, taking matters into your own hands. It is important to be empathic and tactful when speaking with your wife about the above topics.  You need to be on even more sensitive when your spouse is in the PMS zone!  In order to give you some guidelines for effective communication during this vulnerable time, I am sharing the examples below.  The author is unknown (or won’t admit it).

DANGEROUS: What’s for dinner?

SAFER: Can I help you with dinner?

SAFEST:  Where would you like to go for dinner?

ULTRA SAFE: Here, have some chocolate.

DANGEROUS: Are you wearing that?

SAFER: Gee, you look good in brown.

SAFEST: Wow! Look at you!

ULTRA SAFE: Here, have some chocolate.

DANGEROUS: What are you so worked up about?

SAFER: What did I do wrong?

SAFEST: Here’s fifty dollars.

ULTRA SAFE: Here, have some chocolate.

DANGEROUS: Should you be eating that?

SAFER: You know, there are a lot of apples left.

SAFEST: Can I get you a glass of wine with that?

ULTRA SAFE: Here, have some chocolate.

DANGEROUS: What did you do all day?

SAFER: I hope you didn’t overdo it today.

SAFEST: I’ve always loved you in that robe!

ULTRA SAFE: Here, have some chocolate.

     Needless to say, not all men are poor communicators, or women that sensitive, but “if the shoes fits”… and please,

“don’t shoot the messenger”!

Your Life Exam: What Might Be Your “Do-overs”? Different Choices Perhaps?

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

     Want to take a walk down memory lane – with the power to change some of your experiences along the way?  This “walk” entails a look at significant people, events, and choices made by you or on your behalf.  The “do-over” power gives you the opportunity to change or correct past events. Given your current insight, or lack of it, what would be different using your “do-over” power?

1. Let’s start at the beginning: your parents. Would you choose the same ones?  What would you have them do differently regarding the manner in which they got along with each other and raised you? How has this family experience affected you?                                                                         

2. Would you change where you lived or how often you moved?  If so, where would you move to?                                       

3. What about your siblings and the interaction that you had with them? Pleasant memories?

4. Would you choose the same friends?  What would you have them, or you, do differently?

5. Go to the same elementary and high school?

6. After high school would you make the same choice in regard to further education and/or experience?

7. Would you make different choices in regard to sex, alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, eating, stealing, fighting, etc…?

8. Would you choose the same career path?  Modify any of it?  Worked more? Less?

9. Would you live in the same locations as an adult?  If not, where?

10. Would you live with the same people that you did along the line?  

11. Would you choose again to marry the same person(s)? (Hint: say “yes, dear” to the spouse reading this with you!)

12. Would you parent your children the same way?  What might you have done differently?

13. How have you chosen to continue a relationship with your parents, kids, exes, siblings, relatives, friends, etc…? Change any facet?

14. Would you do anything differently in regard to your religious participation?

15. Would you do anything differently in regard to your health? (Are you one of those that is saying, “If I knew I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself!”)

16. Would you have added more “fun” to your life?  Traveled more?

17. Financially, would you have made different choices in regard to income production and investments?

18. Do you wish you had not said or done something to someone? Perhaps, should have said?

19. Are there other important areas of your life that you would like to have done something differently?

     The purpose of this article is not to rue over choices made or even celebrate the wise choices, but rather to examine your life and see it in perspective.  Perhaps such awareness arrived at may generate different choices in the future.  You may be inclined to share your thoughts with some of the significant people of your past.  There may be reunions to be shared, amends to be made.

Are You Bored? Are You Boring? Gut Check Time

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

     The first question is pretty easy to answer, isn’t it?  You pretty much know whether you are bored or not.  The answer comes from within.  The second question is tougher to answer because it comes from outside – others. 

     Let’s address the first question.  Do you ever ask yourself, “Self, are you bored?”  Probably not very often – even if, in fact, that you are. Boredom, or ennui, that sense of weariness or dissatisfaction is the beginning of a slow death of your spirit.  There is limited excitement, passion, or overriding interests.  Prepare the headstone, you are on your way there!

     The second question is obviously related to the first. If you are bored, you are boring. Ugh.  It could be no other way. Perhaps your self awareness is not very high so that, in your own mind, you are not boring. In fact you think you are quite fascinating. That does not mean that others see you that way. Perhaps you are boring to others.   Dare you ask?

     In couples therapy I often hear this comment from one of them, “My wife/husband is boring.” Recently, one man said, “All you can talk about is the kids. I want you to be more interesting; know what is going on in the world. Challenge me.”   Not too long ago a woman said this about her husband, “You are a boring couch potato. I want some fun. When we go out to eat, we sit there in silence, you add nothing.”

     The emphasis of this article is to challenge you to be all that we can be and to bring that oomph to the people that are important in our lives. Slackers need not apply!  I was thinking of starting a group for boring people.  I’ll supply the No Doze!

Are you a candidate!?

     The opposite of boredom is ALIVENESS – within yourself and activated with others.  I would venture to say that it is incumbent on each of us to maximize our aliveness – enthusiasm for life – and bring it forth. If you feel that you have run out of gas, are unmotivated, or feel incapable of becoming alive – do something about it.  No matter what your situation in life is, there is a spark of fire that can enflame a bright light. (“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…”)

     In summary: If you are bored, get excited about something (healthy) and get into it.

If you might be boring, find and share your enthusiasm .Inquire about another’s interest. Do your part to make conversation, initiate activities, be current with news, play a game/sport.  Appreciate being alive and share your life and adventures with others.

How “Alive” Are You? Willing To Take This Inventory?

Sunday, May 15th, 2011

     Springtime is here.  Nature proclaims that this is a time for new beginnings.  Colorful blossoms burst forth into the environment saying “look and me – and smile”.  It is a time of new energy ending winter’s dormant period.  Aliveness beckons.

     What about you?  You are a part of nature.  To what extent does the energy force of life thrust you forward?  Have you been dormant for a short or long time?  How “alive” are you?

      Dr. Harville Hendrix has developed an “Aliveness Quotient” – an instrument to help you assess your feelings of aliveness.  Are you willing to give it a try?  If not, perhaps you ought to go back to reading the Obituaries since you may be heading there yourself faster than what may be desirable.

     Rate each of the following areas from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest:

1. I wake up feeling rested.  2. I feel alert and awake. 3. I am content.  4. Life excites me. 5. I enjoy a good meal. 6. I laugh a lot. 7. I am aware of pulsating energy in my body. 8. I feel joyful. 9. I am happy most of the time. 10.Sometimes I sing spontaneously. 11.I experience intense orgasms. 12.I see colors vividly. 13.I taste what I put into my mouth. 14.I am relaxed.  15.I enjoy dancing. 16.I enjoy moving my body. 17.I feel all my feelings intensely. 18.I feel vitally alive. 19.I have creative ideas.   20.My memory is good. 21.I live in the present. 22.Music turns me on. 23.Sometimes I feel ecstatic.  24.My sex life is satisfying. 25.Many things interest me.

     When you are finished, add up all your points.  If you scored between 75-100, you have a high aliveness quotient, according to Dr. Hendrix.  If you score is 40-75, you are at the medium level.  A score below 40 is low and indicates your life energy is constricted.

     My guess is that Dr. Hendrix has not put this instrument through rigorous scientific inquiry to determine its validity.  Your capacity needs to be considered. The point here is to raise questions for you to ask yourself in order to raise your awareness as to how “alive” you are.  If you are real brave you may want to ask a significant other person in your life to “rate” you.  You can return the favor, especially if you get a low score!

     Oprah has a great perspective expressed in these words: “I believe that when you stop renewing yourself, and no longer open to change and the possibilities that continually unfold, you stop being alive and are just getting through the years.”

     No matter what your chronological age is, you still have the choice to keep a “spring” in your life by being alive and bringing life’s pleasure to yourself and those that are important to you. Over time try to ignore the “Fall back” and Winter’s dormancy.