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Because I’ve dealt with Panic and Anxiety for a long time I sometimes think I’ve got a handle on it. That somehow I’ve learned the tricks and can dodge the bullets. And so sometimes a panic attack will come out of the blue, knock me on my butt and remind me that THAT is not how it works.

Dealing with the reality of Panic and Anxiety is not about cobbling together a protective shield of magical thinking. In fact, that can sometimes be very detrimental to the full, rich life I want to live.

No, dealing with Panic and Anxiety has become for me a daily practice. It is spiritual in nature. And it has more to do with acceptance and surrender, which is not the same as weak and helpless. It is an active process of trusting whatever is happening, and knowing that I am part of a bigger power. That I can, and will, survive the slings and arrows of life not because I have tricked myself into believing everything is okay. But I will survive and thrive because everything IS okay. Even the stuff that feels very un-okay, like a panic attack.

So my practice is about staying present to what is. Not getting caught up in what I want it to be or what it should be or what it will be next year. But if I can take my mind down to this minute and truly be IN that minute, then I’m not only okay, I’m at peace.

And ultimately, that’s where I live my best life. At peace. And in the moment.

The holidays are looming, and many shy people are dreading the season’s numerous social events. But you don’t have to let shyness spoil your holidays. WebMD spoke with experts about what you can do now to prepare.

Read the rest at WebMD.

Raw numbers don’t lie: more people are reporting problems with anxiety than ever before. I wrote a post a while back that casually explores this phenomenon and proposes a few simple explanations as to why this is the case. Regardless of its cause, with increasing numbers of anxiety sufferers comes a very strong financial niche for those who choose to exploit this suffering.

I do not (and will not) attempt to hide my disgust with such people; so I offer this as a disclaimer: I am adamantly opposed to any individual or organization that sells any program that claims to treat your anxiety for a fee that exceeds the cost of the production of the materials. In other words, if the individual/organization makes any sort of profit of such programs, I’m against it.

Read the rest of this entry »

Western medicine is still in its honeymoon period with the mind-body connection. Many cultures have understood this connection for hundreds — if not thousands — of years, but here in the West, we’ve been slow to come around.

Check this out:

People with generally positive outlooks show greater resistance to developing colds than do individuals who rarely revel in upbeat feelings, a new investigation finds.

Frequently basking in positive emotions defends against colds regardless of how often one experiences negative emotions, say psychologist Sheldon Cohen of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and his colleagues. They suspect that positive emotions stimulate symptom-fighting substances.

“We need to take more seriously the possibility that a positive emotional style is a major player in disease risk,” Cohen says.

The exact mechanism(s) of how this works have yet to be fully understood, but I can guarantee you one thing: as soon as it is understood, pharmaceutical companies will patent, bottle, and sell artificial “positive moods” as immuno-boosters.

The good news is that you already have direct access to your emotions even though you may believe that your mood is pre-ordained by genetics. Despite popular belief, this isn’t true. Thankfully, there’s a host of scientific studies that have shown this to be the case.

The truth is that your attitude is not determined by how healthy, how wealthy, or how attractive you are. Your mood is determined solely by your attitude. If you can adjust your attitude in spite of your hardships then you can adjust your mood. It’s easier said than done, but it can be done.

Or you can just wait for the happy pill.

In a follow-up to a previous post, I found a great article for dealing with holiday stress and anxiety. This HealthNewsDigest article has a lot of great tips on how to manage your stress during the holidays.

And here’s another article (from the El Paso Times) about stress and anxiety during the holidays. It’s a good read. Here’s an excerpt:

Dr. Luisa CastellaƱos, a psychologist also in Las Cruces, said some of the holiday letdowns stem from comparing one’s experience to a Hallmark card family-type portrayal that all families should be happy at this time.

“It is an illusion,” she said. “A lot of people don’t have that and feel lonely or left out because it’s not real for them. A lot of family issues and family losses come up during this time. The material aspects we see on television misconstrues the holidays for some, and stress develops when they can’t meet the high expectations they set for themselves. Parents feel guilty, and I hear them say they feel bad because they don’t have enough money to buy presents.”

Check this out.

Despite those who romanticize depression as the wellspring of artistic genius, studies find that people are most creative when they are in a good mood, and now researchers may have explained why: For better or worse, happy people have a harder time focusing.

[…]

As for the myth of the depressed but brilliant artist, Anderson speculates that creativity may be a form of self-medication, giving a gloomy artist the chance to adopt a cheerful disposition.

I’m often surprised at how these studies miss the point entirely. Sometimes I get the impression that people who study happiness have no idea what they’re looking for, so they waste their time answering redundant questions and then trying to make a case for causality.

I do not believe that the depression-creativity link is a “myth.” Here’s why: there are two major stages in any creative enterprise. The first is raw creativity, which we can describe as the ability to generate ideas and concepts that will, eventually, translate into some form of unique art or solution. The second stage in this process is actually following through.

So, given this study’s findings, I think it’s contradicted itself. If depressed people have “laserlike” attention, then it follows that they’re more likely to follow through with their creative enterprises, while happy people — who are full of ideas — will not spend much time on any one idea, thus producing nothing.

I’m not trying to make an argument for depression, just that some scientists seem to be unable to fully understand their own results, and this type of nonsense is what generates massive income for the snake-oil salesmen.

This from the AP via CBSNews.com:

Nearly half of all women in the United States suffer from increased stress during the holidays, a condition that contributes to rising levels of comfort eating, drinking and other coping mechanisms that can lead to weight gain, according to a survey conducted in October by the American Psychological Association.

A national stress survey the association conducted in January showed one in four people in the United States agrees that “when I am feeling down or facing a problem, I turn to food to help me feel better.” The October survey showed that the proportion increases to one in three people during the holidays.

[…]

The holiday season is the most emotional time of the year for many Americans, particularly for women who often feel pressured to make it special to those they care about, said Sharon Gordetsky, a psychologist who specializes in children, families and issues of female development.

Even in families where fathers play a bigger role in parenting, child caring and household work, “women tend to often still do more of the planning, do more of the nurturing, do more of the social and family organization” for the holidays, said Gordetsky, an assistant professor at the Tufts-New England Medical Center’s Comprehensive Family Evaluation Center.

This article really covers multiple topics. The first is the title topic: stress eating. A second is holiday stress. A third is women’s role during the holidays.

I’d like to address the first topic by saying that stress eating is not much different than any other coping mechanism for stress and anxiety. Therefore, I think the findings of this study are rather obvious.

But I find the second and third topics more interesting. When my grandmother was alive, she was the central hub around which our family planned all holiday activities. She was the point-of-contact, the organizer, the procurement specialist, and an endless source of joy for all of us. When she died in 1995 of cancer, our lives changed permanently: the family stopped gathering at Thanksgiving and Christmas for our annual dinners. The phone ceased to ring as often. Our Christmas tree was virtually void of gifts. Eventually, the family nearly stopped talking altogether. In short, when my grandmother died, much of our family died with her.

In addition, I find the pattern somewhat repeating in my immediate family. To me, the holidays are a time when I want to relax. I feel as though I deserve to relax. My wife, on the other hand, sees it as a limited time offer to get everybody together at various points in various places to eat various meals and to, hopefully, have a cheery time. For me — and for many men — cheeriness is most often accompanied by silence. Yet women seem to be more social in their holiday goals which, in my opinion, creates loads of unnecessary stress.

So here I’m presenting two different pictures of the same phenomenon. In the first, my grandmother was the matriach who virtually created Christmas from her cheeky smile; in the second, my wife seems to run herself thin trying to make Christmas perfect when, in my opinion, a perfect Christmas is the one where I don’t have to leave my home.

What do you think?

I can’t speak for anyone else, but much of my own anxiety is centered around a feeling of groundlessness. In a sense, it’s almost as if I’ve spent much of my life feeling out of touch with the things that truly matter. In this way, it’s easy to get lost in the bustle of modern life and forget about the big picture.

For me, overcoming anxiety is about seeing the big picture and understanding my place as a husband, a brother, a son, and even a human. Buddhism taught me that the best way to conquer the feeling of groundlessness is to accept that life is, essentially, groundless and that the search for stable ground is a waste of time. Instead, we should spend our time living in the present moment, even if that means standing on uncertain ground. You can think of this is metaphorical terms by examining your own life. Do you search for stable ground? Certainty? Do you want to know what will become of you, your family, your belongings?

Here’s the bad news: You can’t know. Yes, you may get sick. It may happen tomorrow, ten years from now, or seventy years from now. Yes, you will die eventually. Yes, everything you know and love is impermanent. Nothing lasts forever; not the Earth, not the Sun, not the Milky Way, and presumably, not even the Universe itself. We’re all destined for birth, life, and death, in the cycle of existence. This is the only thing you can know with any degree of certainty.

Even the Earth itself is alive. It’s still cooling from its formation billions of years ago. Imagine our planet: a massive lump of iron, rock, and gas. It is on this that we humans were born, whether you believe it to be the hand of God or a natural process. Here we are. The Earth is, literally, our Mother. She breathes still.

Listen to this. This is the sound of the Earth. This is the heartbeat of the planet that allows you, me, and everything else to live. Without the Earth’s rumblings, none of us could be here. The Earth’s molten iron core (which sloshes around sort of like milk in a coconut) generates a magnetic field which protects us from deadly cosmic rays. When the When the Earth’s iron core cools — which it ultimately will — we will all die. Nothing will protect us from cosmic radiation and our DNA will become bombarded with deadly radiation that will kill every living thing on this planet.

When I listen to this, I hear the sound of the Mother. And it helps me to understand a little bit more about where I come from and where I belong. I am a part of the Earth. The Earth is a part of us. We’re bound together in our fate. There is nothing to fear.

I don’t watch a lot of primetime television because I typically find it to be mind-numingly stupid and boring. My wife, on the other hand, prefers to watch mindless television for the same reason I avoid it: because it’s mindless. I’m always picky about what I watch as I believe that consuming bad television makes for a bad attitude; or, at the very least, a dull mind.

So I’m always tickled when I find a television show that is both smart and funny. The last show that I really enjoyed was Northern Exposure. Although there have been a few gems since then, I think NBC’s Scrubs is, by far, the best show on television right now. Believe it or not, this comedy is absolutely packed with clever little nuggets of worldly life advice. I’d like to share one with you.

In the episode entitled “My Balancing Act,” J.D is trying to find a diagnosis for a patient, Mr. Yaeger, with odd symptoms. His mentor, Dr. Cox, is overseeing J.D.’s progress:

J.D.: So, judging from the ataxia dysarthia and the mental status change, I’ve concluded that Mr. Yeager is suffering from… Kuru.

Dr. Cox: Kuru?

J.D.: Kuru.

Dr. Cox: Kuru.

J.D.: Yes, Kuru.

Dr. Cox: Wow. I’d actually never thought of that.

J.D.: Hell yeah!

Dr. Cox: Were you aware that the only documented cases of Kuru were members of a cannibalistic tribe in eastern Papua New Guinea?

J.D.: I was not.

Mr. Yeager: Actually, Doc, I was in New Guinea just last week.

J.D.: Really?

Mr. Yeager: No.

Dr. Cox: Newbie, do you happen to know what a zebra is?

J.D.: That patient just mocked me!

Dr. Cox: It’s a diagnosis of a ridiculously obscure disease when it’s much more likely that the patient has a common illness presenting with uncommon symptoms. In other words, if you hear hoof-beats, you just go ahead and think horsies — not zebras. Mm’kay, Mr. Silly Bear?

The moral of the story is this: many of us deal with anxiety surrounding health issues, be it physical or mental health. Much of this anxiety is usually rooted around a few “strange” symptoms which seem particularly bothersome.

Regardless, even when you have strange or uncommon symptoms, it makes much more sense to “think horsies” rather than to presume “zebras.” In other words, your self-diagnosis of horrible diseases is most likely bullshit. It’s much more likely that your symptoms are indicative of a common illness or even of the anxiety itself, even if the symptoms themselves are uncommon.

If you hear hoof-beats, think horsies. And watch Scrubs. It’s probably the only show on television I can happily endorse as being worth your time.

I’ve decided to keep my eyes on something I want: peace. And how do I get it?

Well, what I’ve noticed is that it is in the details. In the nearly private, and certainly mundane encounters that I have with individuals every day – I can choose peace. Or I can choose to get huffy, be offended, get cranky and spout off at someone.

But I’ve made this decision about peace, right?

So when I’m standing in line at the Post Office and they are moving at a snail’s pace with only one window open at noon during Christmas I can either get pissed off, make sarcastic (but very clever) comments to those around me, or I can choose peace. I can close my eyes and breathe. I can focus on a child, dressed in holiday clothes with a look of wonder as she plays with a stuffed toy. I can imagine all the happy faces of people recieving the packages. I can say a silent prayer for the folks who work at the Post Office, and be grateful that it isn’t me.

When I’m stuck in traffic by the mall entrances I can holler at the idiots who pull out without looking and nearly sideswipe my car. Or I can focus on “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” playing on the radio and remember watching “Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown” as a kid, and how this was my favorite carol. I can be grateful that I’m in a comfortable car, with heat, and not scurrying around at the mall on my lunch hour or worse yet having to go work there till all hours getting harrangued by shoppers.

And if the pharmacist can’t understand my request I can get huffy and offended, raising my voice in anger and indignation, repeating it as if this imbecile should be working in a rock quarry instead of filling my prescriptions. Or, I can put a smile on my face, and say it again, and again and again, with patience, with compassion. And with peace. That is my choice.

I’m finding that if I choose peace, in these encounters and in my own thoughts about my life and my fears, that I can actually live in this place. For periods of time I can actually have peace on earth – at least in my little corner of the world.

"Drag your thoughts away from your troubles... by the ears, by the heels, or any other way you can manage it." -- Mark Twain

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