Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Anxiety Anyone?

So I don't mind sharing that over the past few weeks things have been tough on the personal front.  A combination of work, family, and health related things have all gone down at the same time making dealing with cumulative stress an issue for me. So I ask you - do you suffer from anxiety? The kind that gnaws at your gut somewhat relentlessly? The kind that sometimes wakes you up during the night and there you find yourself mind racing, worrying, having a tough time getting back to sleep? We can then spiral into this place where the incessant feeling in our body is non-stop. We have some how passed a tipping point where in we can no longer calm down. That's my experience of it anyway. And you don't have to "look" like you're losing it, and it doesn't mean you are so put out that you can't work or do what you have to do ... you just don't feel "good", calm, rested, your best.

What kind of solutions do you have for this? I have friends and colleagues who say have a glass of wine. My response is no thanks. First of all it's depressive - to me anyway. Second of all I'm not a big fan of using alcohol as a coping strategy. Some suggest Ativan. Again, for me, I have to say no thanks. I guess I have strong beliefs about my personal resilience and a wish and desire to overcome difficult passages on my own. Add to that I'm in the middle of reading Anatomy of an Epidemic by Robert Whitaker and it is making me rethink the whole medicating mental and emotional health issues. The changes the brain undergoes in the name of getting help just makes no sense to me.

And so I'm left with figuring out how to calm down, how to take a bite out of this relentless anxiety. Well you're not going to like my answer.... I just took an hour and a half vigorous walk -  that's right I exercised - and the anxiety and experience of stress I was having is no longer there. Now I know it is not going to last - which just means I will need to do this again tomorrow, and then the day after and the day after that - but it works. I feel better. I feel "in control" of this. I feel I can manage my stress .. and I need to because the things going on in my life at the moment that are challenging are not changing any time soon. So I NEED to exercise.

This is available to all of us. I'll keep you posted on my progress because I think an alternative to medication is an absolute necessity. I am also going to be taking an eight week Stress Reduction "course" and plan to share what I learn there.

If you have any suggestions to add to the stress and anxiety reduction tool kit, please, post!

Happy calm day to you all.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Making a Choice

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing; the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” - Dr. Viktor Frankl

I love this quote by Dr. Frankl. It speaks to me of the great power we all inherit to determine how we deal with the world. When we feel helpless in the face of someone's behavior, we can remember Dr. Frankl's words and take solace. We are not victims to our reactions. We are not powerless in determining the outcome of an exchange. We can in fact choose, specifically, and deliberately how we will engage with someone - regardless of their behavior.

I was told a story by a young person of how their parent, seemingly mentally ill, was sometimes so persistent in demanding a response that it bordered on abuse. This young person, we can call him Sam, reports that he gets so angry at the persistence (bullying?) of his parent that the "conversation" often ends up in screaming, yelling and more often than not, violent outbursts. Sam doesn't want to hurt his parent's feelings, he wants to be a helpful son, wants to have a healthy sense of family, but feels thwarted in that because nothing he does changes his parent's behavior. 

A husband and wife seem to argue all the time. At the root of most disagreements is a threatened sense of connectedness. When the connection between them is disrupted the individuals become distressed. When individuals become distressed they act out in ways that rarely speak DIRECTLY to the rupture in the connection. Rather, hurtful words come out and the more attacked a partner feels the more hurtful the words tend to become.  People find themselves spiraling into a terrible dance where one reaction begets another reaction begets another and on it goes. 

I find these two stories very linked. Both speak to a certain re-activeness. Both speak to a loss of power in deciding and determining how one might respond. We rarely put ourselves in our partner's, parent's, friend's, sibling's, child's shoes when we are in the throws of a conversation/argument. We automatically become defensive and in that moment give up our our power to choose. Alternatively, some of us make the mistake of making ourselves responsible for our loved one's feelings. If I stand up for myself I will hurt them; if I'm assertive, they will become angry, sad, depressed; if I "win" they will lose; I can't be truthful it will be too painful. Without even realizing it we give up our power.

So what might it take to hold on to that moment Dr. Frankl talks about? What might it take to make that moment of choosing how to respond available to us? And even if in the first moments of an "engagement" we lose our footing and become defensive - is it impossible to pull back from that place? Is it impossible to be compassionate with our selves and say "Ok, Hold on.. I can do this? How can I choose to respond in a way that is assertive, respectful and preserves my dignity?"

We all have the strength to do this - step back, consider what we might say, consider what our loved one is feeling (really), decide whether to engage or not, decide to be authentic, decide how to engage. By demonstrating that strength, by exercising that power, we show others how to avail themselves of that same strength.