Mind Monkeys, Sleepless Nights, Hyperventilation, Oh My!

If you don’t think your anxiety, depression, sadness and stress impact your physical health, think again. All of these emotions trigger chemical reactions in your body, which can lead to inflammation and a weakened immune system. Learn how to cope, sweet friend. There will always be dark days. –Kris Carr Crises—personal, medical, financial, or spiritual—can be breeding grounds for anxious and scary thoughts. We are flooded with new information and potentially devastating scenarios, challenged to operate way out of our comfort zone, and generally put into a rough spot. No surprise, then, that our systems can react with anxiety. After all, our old brain is primed to respond to any potential threats—real or imagined. For the normally calm among us, anxiety feels like strange, new territory. Awakening at night, full of swirling thoughts, being unable to eat or stop eating, nervousness, or a rapidly beating heart–it can almost seem like you’ve become someone very different from your usual self. For those of us for whom anxiety is something that we have lived with for awhile, a crisis can take those symptoms to a whole new level that can feel almost impossible to manage. What are some of the classic symptoms of anxiety? The Mayo Clinic (http://mayocl.in/1zKzVKA) lists the following: Feeling nervous Feeling powerless Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom Having an increased heart rate Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation) Sweating Trembling Feeling weak or tired Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry What can you do? In order to slow down or stop the spiral into anxiety when those fears and negative thoughts threaten...

Resilience: A Pollyanna Ploy or Perseverance?

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue is what counts.” Resilience has, I think, a bit of a Pollyanna rap. For those of you who didn’t grow up with either the book or Disney movie version, Pollyanna was a young girl who was irrepressibly optimistic. Yet in a crisis or traumatic situation, always looking on the bright side-as Pollyanna found out-can feel unbearably hard. Sometimes, before you move on or bounce back, you might just need to throw a pity party first. I don’t believe that resilience means you never have a bad day or that you accept everything that comes your way with a blithe smile and a song on your lips. During the three year stretch that my family went through one life threatening illness after another, I hosted a few pity parties – some of them fairly spectacular. At the time, the extra glasses of wine or spirals into dark thoughts seemed a logical outcome, given the fact that two of the men I loved most in life both had cancer. The real question is, after you’ve had your pity party, then what? Do you stay stuck in victim thinking? It can be pretty cozy, snuggled up in the cold comfort of feeling mistreated by the world. But for me, staying in that gloomy spot didn’t seem to get me anywhere. And, frankly, I didn’t like my own company that much when I was dining on negative thoughts and crooning over my hurts. That’s when I would find just enough energy to rummage around in my heart and remembered...

Resilience: Building The Ability to Bounce Back

Where did this come from? I pointed to a note someone had left in my husband Vito’s ICU unit where he was lying paralyzed. A serious case of Guillain-Barré, a neurological disease that attacks the myelin sheath around nerves, had rendered his body’s nerves useless. I had gone out to grab a quick lunch only to come back to find a yellow post-it note with some words scrawled on it. Who left this? I asked as I re-read the quote, beginning to tear up. The words landed squarely in a well of vulnerability and need that I hadn’t yet named. Despite my outward facade of having it all handled, I really needed to hear those words. That quote meant someone believed in our family’s ability to handle this latest gut punch, even if I was feeling kind of shaky. The ICU nurse smiled and said that Dr. Jason Litten-our son Nick’s oncologist-had dropped by. He only had a short break from his own duties, but wanted to see Vito and spend some time with him. Jason was especially important to our family. He had been the lead on Nick’s oncology team from the moment that Nick was diagnosed at age sixteen and had seen us through some really hard times. It was precisely that knowledge of who we were as a family and what we had gone through that made his words so powerful. He believed in us and in our ability to get through this. But even more than that – Jason held up a mirror so that we could see it ourselves – our own resilience. He...

Going From Bad to Better: The Gratitude Strategy

Focus on the positive. It’s hard to believe that a serious life crisis and the word “blessing” would come in the same sentence. When my son and husband had cancer, idea of looking for something positive in our family’s experiences probably seemed hyper-religious or Pollyanaish in the extreme to some people. Spiritually, I viewed it as a form of radical surrender to an organizing framework of my life; practically, it kept me sane. Tune down the victim thinking. Leaving behind the “poor me” mentality meant walking away from the norm. After all, my family was going through hell. Didn’t I deserve to throw myself a pity party and invite a few friends? Yet, as comforting as it seemed initially to wrap myself up in the cold comfort of victim thinking or anxiety, or as easy as it was to allow the fears take over my day, I always came away from those internal, negative conversations wearier than before. And I couldn’t afford to add to my exhaustion. So, logically, anything I could do to grow the positive in my life made more sense to me than focusing on the negative. I needed all the infusions of energy I could get and I found that looking for and counting my blessings filled me up. Gratitude turned out to be the best antidote I could find for fatigue, anxiety, self-doubt and dread. Cultivate gratitude. Research bears the importance of gratitude. The Greater Good Science Center, citing the research of more than 30 scientists and graduate students, has found that gratitude impacts not only our emotions with increased happiness, joy, optimism, compassion,...

Going From Bad To Better, Part 1

In my last blog, “How to Avoid Going From Bad To Worse in a Crisis” I called out four actions that can make your current crisis even more dire than it already is. Now here are some ideas to that can make your situation more manageable: Get grounded before you make any decisions. Spend some time getting back in your body. Then solicit input and take some time thinking about all of the implications of the decisions that you are about to make. Unless an immediate, life threatening situation exists, there is usually time to sleep on a choice or get the perspective that a bit of distance or a second opinion can bring. For more ideas on how to get grounded, check out Six Ways To Find Firm Ground in a Crisis. Reach out and let others in. Find a way to connect with those people who will support you in the ways that you need during these tough times. And while you may have your own “first responders”–those people who are tuned into you and your life, ready and willing to help—spend some time thinking about what other skills, expertise, or counsel will be most helpful to you given the circumstances you are facing. For example, a client going through a divorce found that she needed more than just a lawyer and her usual circle of friends. Adelle found that a community of women who had survived and even thrived post divorce was also critical to her recovery. Once you’ve strategized about who you need, find a way to bring that into your life. How To Build...

Avoid Going From Bad to Worse in a Crisis

“No matter how bad things are, you can always make things worse.” Randy Pausch But, as Randy, author of the book“The Last Lecture,” also pointed out, “at the same time, it is often within your power to make them better.” When things are going badly, what do people do that makes things worse? They move too quickly—Quick resolution of an issue can be a wonderful thing. Our cinema action heroes are known for their lightning fast responses to terrible situations. And while they rarely make situations worse in the movies, in real life making a decision when tired, overwhelmed, or scared often does. They isolate—Research on coping behaviors in a severe crisis points out the danger in retreating from support. In isolation, fears often grow as does depression and loneliness. While it is normal to pull in to process or deal with the flood of emotions and information that can come our way during a crisis, staying in that bunker of withdrawal can ultimately make the tough times even more difficult to navigate. They let the negative overwhelm everything else. When a disaster occurs in our lives, we can be engulfed by the emotions, logistics, and disruption—none of which is likely to feel positive. Yet spending our time thinking or talking about how unfair the situation is yields only more negative feelings. For several months, I had the improbable opportunity to take both my husband and son to their respective weekly chemotherapy treatments. As I sat in the waiting room with my husband, I noticed how rarely the adult cancer patients made contact with one another other than the barest of...
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