Monday, December 7, 2009

The mysteries of change and pain

It seems to me that one roadblock that stands in the way of change is the tendency for people, myself included, to deny or numb the pain we feel about our situation. I’m sure, of course, there are certain types of pain where this strategy is perfectly justified. But what happens when we deny the pain related to something such as our life, history, vocation? Here are a few things that seem to be common to the experience:
  • We forget how to dream
  • We forget our true capabilities and skills
  • We become unhappy (both consciously and unconsciously)
  • We turn to forms of escapism

So how should a person deal with this pain? One suggestion is to recognize and feel the pain. It will be uncomfortable and it could hurt a great deal, but you will at least know you are alive instead of being a zombie or on autopilot. And in fact, I have learned to acknowledge that in some ways, pain is my friend. Not in a sadomasochistic way, but in the sense that pain can provide me with information. Information that may be useful on my journey toward change and growth.

It was been discovered that it is often in these moments of pain that we can begin to be willing to open the door to change. When we are honest with ourselves about the problem, we give ourselves the opportunity to fix it. And not only that, we can tap into an incredible source of motivation.

More at this link...

"We change when the pain to change is less than the pain to remain as we are." (Ed Foreman)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Loved ones with Depression

It is widely reported that mental illness may strike one in four individuals. However, the reality is that it affects us all! We all have contact with individuals who struggle with mental health challenges.
How can you help a loved one who may suffer from depression? Empathy, love, support--even humor.
I will share a link here with some food for thought on this important topic.

Mental health problems do not affect three or four out of every five persons but one out of one.
(Dr. William Menninger)


Alumni page on Facebook for LaSalle University in Mandeville, LA.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Adding Insult to Injury?

Most of us have heard that expression. No one wants to be in the position of having insult added to injury they are already coping with. I have found that often we are the ones who more often than not are adding the insult to our own injuries. How do we do that? One of the ways I know I do that is by adding suffering on top of the pain I experience. How do I do that? One way is by not living in the present moment--let alone the present day. If I am feeling pain or infirmity on a given day, many times my mind starts wandering away from the present moment. I start thinking “if my (knee or back, etc.) is hurting like this today, how am going to maintain complete strength and independence at 80?” Seems pretty silly to be thinking that when I finally get to a place of re-centering myself. But in a moment like that--then is when I add suffering to my pain--when I add insult to my injuries. It is often not so much what is happening to us, but more the meaning we ascribe to it.
So many truths come to mind when I am being present enough in the now to regain my focus. Simple lines from songs, like: “One day at a time” or “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow... morning by morning new mercies I see” or even “I dig my toes into the sand, the ocean looks like a thousand diamonds strewn, across a blue blanket, I lean against the wind, pretend that I am weightless--and in this moment I am happy.” Music has always been able to reach me when about nothing else could.
I also gain life enhancing wisdom from books I read. Here is a quote: “All God’s beautiful creatures do (stay in the now) in every moment of their existence. They’re not concerned with their demise; they bask in the exhilaration of the now. Every moment is fully experienced. They don’t make life an enemy and use up their precious moments in a state of anxiety or depression.” (Wayne Dyer)
The above quote brought to mind:
“If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers--most of which are never even seen--don't you think He'll attend to you, take pride in you, do His best for you? What I'm trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God's giving. People who don't know God and the way He works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how He works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”
(Matthew 6:30-34)
OK. So, I have got here a fair amount of excellent meditation material to help me focus on the now. Simple daily meditations to remind myself: “His grace is sufficient” I have “strength for today and hope for tomorrow” help me stay focused on the goal: “maintaining a friendly relationship with the now rather than treating it as an obstacle to endure on the way to somewhere else.” (Dyer)
What will I choose right now? What will you choose?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

LOL your way to better health!

That's right my friends! Whether you LOL, ROFL, LYAO or just plain old chuckle... let it out! The heartier and more frequent the better! Most of us have heard the old adage "laughter is the best medicine." But, how can humor and laughter heal? Well, let's find out more!

9 Ways That Humor Heals

By Therese J. Borchard

Of all my tools to combat depression and negativity, humor is by far the most fun. And just like mastering the craft of writing, I’m finding that the longer I practice laughing at life—and especially its frustrations–the better I become at it, and the more situations and conversations and complications I can place into that category named “silly.”

G. K. Chesterton once wrote: “Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.” And Proverbs 17:22 says that “a happy heart is good medicine.” I’d add that human beings can heal (at least partially!) from a host of different illnesses if they learn how to laugh. Here are just a few ways our bodies, minds, and spirits begin to mend with a dose of humor.

1. Humor combats fear.

I know this first hand, having sat in a community room of a psych ward watching a video of a comedian poke fun at depression. Like everyone else occupying a chair in that room, I was scared to death. Of many things … That I would never smile again. Or love again. Or even WANT to love again. I was fearful of life, and everything it involved.

That panic didn’t instantly transform into a hearty chuckle once the psych nurse popped in the funny video. But the climate of the room was noticeably different. Patients began to open up more, to share some of the details they had left out in the prior group therapy session.

Humor disengages fear because it changes your perspective: of the past and of the present. The traumatic childhood episode loses its tight grip on your heart if you can place it into the “ridiculous” category of other stories from the past. With a playful perspective, you can remove yourself from the marital problem that has you debilitated with anxiety. Laughter forces a few steps–some much-needed distance– between a situation and our reaction. We all would do well to follow the advice of Leo Buscaglia: “When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on. And swing!”

2. Humor comforts.

Charlie Chaplin once said, “To truly laugh, you must be able to take your pain and play with it.” I suppose that’s why some of the funniest people out there—Stephen Colbert, Robin Williams, Ben Stiller, Art Buchwald—have journeyed through periods of torment.

There is an unspoken message hidden within a chuckle–even the slightest cackle– that says this: “I promise, you’ll get through this.” Just like the comforting hug of your mom when you were three. In fact, New York City’s Big Apple Circus has used humor to console sick children since 1986, when they started sending teams of clowns into hospital rooms with “rubber chicken soup” and other fun surprises. “It’s for the children, yes,” explains Jane Englebardt, deputy director of the circus, in an “American Fitness” article. “But it’s also for the parents who, when they hear their children laugh for the first time in days or weeks, know everything’s going to be O.K.”

3. Humor relaxes.

Like any exercise, laughing relaxes you, and works against chronic stress that most Americans wear on the shoulder. Mehmet C. Oz, M.D., a heart surgeon at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, explains why this is so in a 2005 “Reader’s Digest” article:

When you push any engine, including your body, to its maximum, every once in a while it slips a gear. The ways the body manifests that are: irregular heartbeats, high blood pressure, and increased sensitivity to pain. When people use humor, the autonomic nervous system just tones down a bit to take it off high gear, and that allows the heart to relax.

4. Humor reduces pain.

Apparently the psych nurses at Laurel Regional Hospital weren’t the only ones gathering patients around the TV to watch funny flicks or videos. Dr. Elias Shaya, chief of psychiatry at Good Samaritan Hospital in Baltimore also tries to instill the importance of laughter in his patients. Says Dr. Shaya: “I advocate finding ways to laugh by watching comedy or engaging in looking up jokes and sharing them.”

“Humor rooms,” which encourage people to use humor in their recovery from any kind of illness, are now available in some hospitals. And science backs these efforts. In a study published in the Journal of Holistic Nursing, humor very definitely seemed to diminish pain. Says Dave Traynor, M.Ed, director of health education at Natchaug Hospital in Mansfield Center, Connecticut in “American Fitness”: “After surgery, patients were told one-liners prior to administration of potentially painful medication. The patients exposed to humor perceived less pain as compared to patients who didn’t receive humor stimuli.”

5. Humor boosts the immune system.

Whenever I prick myself accidentally, I tell a joke, and my finger doesn’t bleed! Well, not exactly. But if you are laid up in bed with a terrible strain of the flu that your four-year-old brought home from her play date yesterday, try to find an itsy-bitsy thread of humor in your situation, and you’ll be back to work in no time. Or, better yet, dwell in the misery and stay away from the cubicle longer.

In 2006 researchers led by Lee Berk and Stanley A. Tan at Loma Linda University in Loma Linda, Califormia, found that two hormones—beta-endorphins (which alleviate depression) and human growth hormone (HGH, which helps with immunity) increased by 27 and 87 percent respectively when volunteers anticipated watching a humorous video. Simply anticipating laughter boosted health-protecting hormones and chemicals.

In his “American Fitness” article, Dave Traynor explains a separate study at Arkansas Tech University, in which concentrations of immunoglobulin A were increased after 21 fifth graders participated in a humor program. (I’m nervous to hear about the details of that fifth-grade humor program, because my kids roar whenever you throw out a bathroom term.) Laughter was once again found to increase the ability to fight viruses and foreign cells.

6. Humor reduces stress.

The same research team at Loma Linda, California, conducted a similar study recently to see if the anticipation of laughter that was shown to boost immune systems could also reduce the levels of three stress hormones: cortisol (”the stress hormone”), epinephrine (adrenaline), and dopac, a dopamine catabolite (brain chemical which helps produce epinephrine).

They studied 16 fasting males, who were assigned to either the control group or the experiment group (those anticipating a humorous event). Blood levels showed that the stress hormones were reduced 39, 70, and 38 percent respectively. Therefore, researchers suggest that anticipating a positive event can reduce detrimental stress hormones.

7. Humor spreads happiness.

I remember playing the game of “Ha” as a young girl at my third-grade slumber party. I would lay my head on my friend’s tummy, and she would lay her head on another friend’s tummy, and so on. The first person would start the chain of laughs with a simple, “Ha!” The second person, “Ha Ha!” The third, “Ha Ha Ha,” at which point everyone would break into hysterics. About absolutely nothing. The way a person’s abdomen tightens and moves when she says “ha” makes you want to giggle.

My point: laughter is contagious. That’s why there are 5,000 laughter clubs around the world—where people laugh for no reason at all. Say what? According to Dr. Shaya of Good Samaritan Hospital, “These clubs have exercises that teach how to move your face, how to laugh more intensely to involve the shoulders, then the belly.” Laughing yoga classes are also popular today.

8. Humor cultivates optimism.

Humor is like gratitude in that it nurtures optimism, and Dan Baker writes this in “What Happy People Know”:

[Appreciation] is the first and most fundamental happiness tool. … Research now shows it is physiologically impossible to be in a state of appreciation and a state of fear at the same time. Thus, appreciation is the antidote to fear.

So if humor can change a perspective on a painful memory of the past or a gnawing issue of the present into opportunities to laugh at the inherent craziness of life at times, then a person can better facilitate his own healing.

9. Humor helps communication.

This is good marriage advice for anyone. But especially for the person prone to anxiety and depression. Most of Eric’s and my fights end with one of us making a sarcastic remark that is met with a snicker, and then a yuk, and then a roar. Voila! The quarrel is magically resolved! Sort of.

Humor is a way to articulate those truths that are so difficult to express otherwise. It’s handy language for someone like myself that doesn’t like to use big words, who is still fretting about her low verbal SAT scores because the college administrators didn’t think they were funny. If only they had read this article!

Therese J. Borchard writes the daily blog Beyond Blue (voted by Psych Central as one of the Top 10 Depression Blogs)

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Calculating your worth

In this world of crumbling financial markets, rising unemployment and uncertainty how does one calculate their worth? Well, the "calculations" start pretty young in our lives. Conditions of worth are placed upon us by family, friends, school, church, etc.
What are conditions of worth? They are pretty much like what they sound like--conditions that must be met in order for us to be loved or accepted ("worthy") by a certain person or group of people.
What about expectations? Don't we all need to be able to live up to certain basic standards in this world? Yes. That is something very different.
Expectations of being are not the same as conditions of worth. An expectation of being could be a dress code, honoring traffic laws, fulfilling job requirements, etc. Expectations of being are more about behavior and things we all need to do in order to be good citizens, good students (Setting expectations for a student to do their personal best is much different than being disappointed in your student if they do not maintain "straight 'A's'."), good family members, good employees.
Conditions of worth go deeper than that and take things to an unrealistic level. What do conditions of worth look like? I imagine that anyone out there reading this could offer a list of some conditions of worth that were placed on them growing up, as a teen, even continuing on into adult life. How about only being loved or accepted if you maintain a certain weight, hair length, wear certain type clothes or shoes, make a certain amount of money, drive a certain type of car, maintain a certain standing in the company? Does any of that sound familiar in your life? If it does then you have been experiencing being accepted or loved or judged by conditions of worth. These are damaging to our sense of self-worth and identity... often leaving individuals feeling "less than."
How do you calculate your worth? Or the worth of those in your life? Here are some thoughts
on a deeper source of worth... the experience of being loved unconditionally either by another person or by your Higher Power really is like no other in this life!

This song below touches quite effectively on this theme of conditions of worth:

"Is it any wonder
That she would feel less than real
When she reveals what is clearer
In her mirror

Take a look around her
Magazines, glamor queens
Waist-line dreams in her diary
So inspiring

Nobody told her that little girls
Don't have to have the softest curls for love

So whatever's left inside her
Is gonna smile wider, shine brighter
Until she gets pulled under
Is it any wonder?

Is it any wonder
That he's obsessed with what is best
And nothing less... he's a hero
With six zeros

Take a look around him
His wallet size and what he drives
Will symbolize how he's made it
How they'll grade it

Nobody told him that little boys
Don't have to have the fastest toys to win

So whatever's left inside him
Is gonna keep on tryin' to keep on buyin'
Until he gets pulled under
Is it any wonder?

Will somebody tell her there's a
love that can't be glamorized
Tell him there's a hope that won't be downsized
Someone tell them that the billboards lie
All the time

'Cause whatever's left inside her
Is gonna smile wider
And whatever's left inside him
Is gonna keep on tryin'
Until they get pulled under
Is it any wonder?"

Nichole Nordeman - Is It Any Wonder

Friday, March 20, 2009

Must... Resist... CONTROL...

I heard a quote once that really resonated with me. I heard it in the context of material I was teaching in a B.I.P. I regularly facilitate. The quote was:
"Any attempt to impose your will on another is an act of violence..." (Ghandi)

Think about that one for a minute. What do you think of that?

One of the main premises we come from when attempting to instruct men how to change their mind about their abusive behaviors and become men of integrity is that at the root of their abusive behaviors is power and control. Trying to obtain power, and maintain control. Control is really an illusory thing anyway, but that may be another topic for another day. The only thing that anyone has any measure of control over is their OWN thoughts, feelings, behaviors, actions and inactions. PERIOD.

Here is a good article on this topic.

Resisting Control
Imposing Your Will On Others

The right to make your own choices is a precious one. We grow when we have the freedom to decide our own paths and determine what makes us happy. Yet there are those who are inclined to try and control others. They may be driven by insecurity, envy, fear, or the need for power. These people are deeply critical of themselves in their own minds, and underlying that critical nature is unhappiness. Their need to feel sure-footed and secure is quenched by controlling those around them, whether they are friends, colleagues, or even pets. However, nearly everyone has found themselves imposing their will upon others at one time or another.

Trying to impose your will on others can be tempting for many reasons. You may feel that your way is the best way or that you have a keener insight into the direction their life should be taking. But, in imposing your will, you are indirectly saying, "I want to control you." Even when you have the best of intentions, others may end up resenting you for your actions. It is always helpful to remember that it is possible to influence people and change their behavior through education or example without imposing your will on them.

If you've caught yourself being a bit bossy on a regular basis, make a note of it. Write down what the situation was and why you acted the way you did. You may have pushed a friend to try something new, because deep inside you wanted to try it yourself but were feeling hesitant. Or you may be unjustly interfering with work teammates, because you aren't sure of their abilities. Next, make an effort to understand and accept their preferences and ways of doing things. It can feel natural to impose your will when you feel that you "know best." But there is a freedom to trusting others to find their own methods and joys, even when they might differ from yours. Sometimes the best course of action is to step back and relinquish control. You may, in doing so, see everything from a different point of view.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Breathing and Noticing

Breathing and Noticing... this is something I heard an instructor recommend at a training I attended once. It was actually a mindfulness technique that I believed I could utilize in my own life.
Below I am posting a very useful article from PsychCentral with some further calming techniques for a distressed mind. And who couldn't use a little more calming in this crazy world?

Calming Your Distressed Mind

by Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Sometimes in life it’s helpful to have signposts that we can see to help bring us back to the present moment and reinforce a certain way of being that we aspire to. Just like signs on the road may help remind us to slow down or children crossing, we can use short verses in our day to day to remind us to be how we want to be.

Check for auto-pilot reaction before moving on: Take a moment to check in with any judgments that might be arising right now. For example, “short verses? Is he nuts? How could that ever help me?” or “What is this, an affirmation, those never work.” Or “why am I even continuing to read this?” If anything like this arises, this is normal, just take a moment to notice the automatic judgment, let it be, take a breath to help ground to the here and now and then gently continue on with the next paragraph.

Acclaimed author, teacher, and Monk, Thich Nhat Hanh uses short phrases all the time to support himself in being more present, grounded, and aware in daily life. He has taught this practice to medical professionals, Psychologists, and students for many years now. He teaches the practices of walking and/or breathing and using these phrases to support us in calming our distressed minds and being more present to every day life.

For example,

  • You may take three steps while breathing in and say “Breathing in, I calm my body” and then with the following three steps “Breathing out, I relax.” You can then shorten this to saying “calm” as you breathe in, and “relax” as you breathe out.
  • “Breathing in, I notice the colors all around me, breathing out, I smile.” Then shorten to “Breathing in, colors, breathing out, smile.” Even if we don’t feel like smiling, the simple act of doing a half-smile sometimes can change the tension in our faces, which in turn affects our mood.
  • “Breathing in, I have arrived, breathing out, I am home.” Then shorten too “Breathing in, arrived, breathing out, home.” Have you ever had the experience where you were rushing home to relax. It doesn’t make sense and isn’t effective is calming the nervous system. Sometimes reminding ourselves that we have arrived to the present moment already and that we are home can help calm an anxious mind. We can then slow down and get home a few minutes later in a more collected and relaxed state.
  • “Breathing in, I wash my hands, breathing out, may I use them wisely throughout the day.” Shorten to, “Breathing in, washing, breathing out, wise hands.” This practice can not only bring appreciation to one of the unsung heroes of our bodies, our hands, but also reinforce the idea of being aware of all they do during the day and being more mindful with them. This cultivation of appreciation can support us in feeling well.

These are just some examples; you can make up your own that fit for you. You can do this while walking or just sitting and breathing. And of course, most important of all, don’t take my word for it, try it for yourself. If it’s not for you, cast it aside, but give it a shot. Pay attention to how you are feeling physically, emotionally, and mentally before doing it and then again after you do it for a few breaths.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

broken AND used!

I was reading a friend's blog today, and her post reminded me of my thoughts on the subject of being a cracked pot.

I used to believe that I had to be perfect. I somehow internalized the idea that it was my responsibility to keep myself polished and pristine--free of flaws. I don't know if I was taught this at home or at church or if it was the "first born" in me. However, much to my dismay that goal was just not possible to achieve--let alone maintain!

Once reality had hit me square between the eyes, I found myself cracked and scratched up with the paint chipped. I had believed that if I was no longer "perfect" (what a myth that anyone could even be perfect) I was relegated to the shelf in the back room... basically discarded. And there I stayed--for a while. Have you ever been there?
But thankfully, after a time of healing (the healing is ever an ongoing journey not a destination)--including gracious and wise interventions, I discovered that I could still be valuable in spite of the fact I am broken and cracked. And in fact, it seems as if it is because I am cracked that The Light shines out from inside of me to those around me all the more effectively.
Broken AND used... imagine that!

Plus, it is my brokenness that has given me wheelbarrow loads full of compassion and empathy for individuals from all walks of life as well as from many and varied backgrounds.
I'll end this post with a thought provoking quote (which could very well spark another post topic at some point).

"If we're all cracked pots,
then why are most of us walking around
instead of glue?"

Friday, March 6, 2009

Coming Clean...

We have all been in situations when we have done something we know we shouldn't have been doing. What is generally our natural reaction?
Cover, deflect, blame, minimize, justify.
I regularly facilitate a group. During group one night this week, while the participants were having their check-in time, one individual gave a report that "all was well and things were going better." Sounded encouraging. However, as facilitator of this group I was privy to information about this person's week that he was not coming clean with. So I probed and prompted, and still he stuck to his story.
The rest of the participants took their turn, and now it was time for break. Right before everyone left the room, this above man said "before we go I have to come clean with everyone..." and he did!
What happened next? Did we call him down? Did the group ridicule him? Did we make a mark on his record? Did we shame him? No! To the contrary, many people--myself included--cheered for him and gave him "high 5's, patted him on the back, etc.
Is that how it works in your world? In your family of origin? In your church?
Why is it that in many churches during the "invitation" a dozen verses of "Just as I am" are sung while everyone's heads are bowed. The pastor almost begs repeatedly for the parishioners to come forward and come clean. Why the hesitation? Why the delay? Could it be because churches, families, communities are sending the
wrong message about "coming clean"?
"Just as I am, and waiting not to rid my soul of one dark blot, to thee whose blood can cleanse each spot ...
Just as I am, thou wilt receive,
wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
because thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come."

It occurs to me that coming clean ought to look and feel a little more like it did in that group that night. Where a person can't hold inside what they need to be rid of any longer, and before another minute passes they blurt out what it is that they need to confess. And when they do... what is the response? Shame, alienation, recrimination? How about encouragement, rejoicing, welcoming... invitation to restoration!
Which experience leaves you wanting to stand tall, go forth and come clean and stay clean?

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Are Mental and Spiritual Health Linked?

Does this seem like a ludicrous question to you? It has taken the health care community long enough to begin to reintegrate the mind and body connection. How challenging would it be to see individuals incorporate spirit along with the mind and the body? We tend to be better served when we think of ourselves as whole individuals comprised of mind, body and spirit. I recently read an article online regarding the role spiritual coping plays in recovery from depression.

Quote: Depressed seniors who believe their life is guided by a larger spiritual force have significantly fewer symptoms of depression than those who do not use religious coping strategies. Moreover, this relationship is independent of the amount of social support those individuals receive, according to results of a prospective study presented at the 2002 annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association.

"This is a pretty remarkable study–and when you see these kind of data coming out from both medical and psychiatric populations, it’s hard to continue ignoring religion as a variable in the recovery from depression," said Harold G. Koenig, MD, associate professor of psychiatry and of medicine at Duke University Medical Center, Durham, N.C.

According to study author Hayden Bosworth, PhD, attempts in the literature to distinguish the effects of religion from the effects of social support on depression have led to mixed success (Husaini BA et al. Int J Aging Hum Dev 1999;48:63-72). Dr. Bosworth, associate director, health services research and development, Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and his colleagues attempted to address the issue by examining the effects of religious practices, coping mechanisms and social support on recovery among individuals diagnosed with major depression.

"These results indicate that clinicians should encourage reconnection with religion as a way of coping in patients whose spirituality has been important to them," concluded Dr. Bosworth.

"Physicians need to pay attention to their patients’ religious beliefs and practices," added Dr. Koenig. "Rather than continuing to see it as a liability or unhealthy crutch, they should see it as a potential strength in overcoming depression."

–Daniel Ko

Table. Questions Asked About Religious Practices and Positive and Negative Religious Coping

Religious Practices

Frequency and nature of:

  • attendance at religious services and other religious activities at places of worship
  • prayer outside of a church or synagogue
  • watching or listening to religious programming
  • reading the Bible or other religious or inspirational literature

Positive Religious Coping

Agreement with the following statements:

  • "I think about how my life is part of a larger spiritual force."
  • "God and I work together as partners."
  • "I look to God for strength, support and guidance."

Negative Religious Coping

Agreement with the following statements:

  • "I feel God is punishing me for my sins or lack of spirituality."
  • "I wonder whether God has abandoned me."
  • "I try to make sense of the situation and decide what to do without relying on God."
Article found at Mental Health Today.