MANAGING STRESS IN OUR LIVES

Sunday
Jun102018

SUICIDE AND THE IMPACT ON THOSE LEFT BEHIND

Suicide continues to increase in the United States. I have no doubt that this is directly related to increased stress in the lives of those who committ suicide. I also believe that a major factor in their decision to kill themselves was feeling alone and isolated. So, they felt disconnected from others and yet often after they kill themseslves a lot of people are distraught and grieve for them. So, how come they didn't feel this? 

Well, sadly, people often withhold their caring and affection for a variety of reasons: it is too painful to care for someone who is tyalking about hurting themselves; not wanting to enable or unwittingly encourage negative behaviors [make the person more suicidal]; cope with their sadness about the person's hopelessness by giving advice over and over which only serves to make the person feel more isolated and lonely.

What can we do to help those who we love and who are suicidal or at risk to become suicidal so they are more likely to feel our caring about them? 

  • We can listen! Listening is an effective way to demonstrate caring for someone...especially if we are able to listen without having our own reactions.  When we listen without reacting we are being present with that person and they can feel that. Their own feelings and thoughts will be clearer and if we need to say anything to them our brains will provide this for us [really!].
  • We can tell them that we are worried about their safety and remove any lethal means of suicide that are available to the person.
  • We can encourage them to talk with someone about how they are feeling and even suggest specific people that the person can call, as this is one way to help a person who is feeling depressed and it is estimated that 90% of people who attempt suicide are depressed.
  • We can call 911 if we feel that the person is still at risk to attempt suicide and tell the 911 dispatcher that we have a mental health emergency and give details of what is happening. 
  • We could also offer to take them to the emergency department of a hospital so that they can be evaluated and have a chance to talk about how they are feeling. 

Taking the steps oulined above can help us to maintain a feeling of connection to the person who we are worried about. This can help us to feel that we are with them, as we are encouraging and supporting them. This way of supporting others can help the person we are worried about to feel connected to us and cared for even if we have to call 911.  

If the person that we are worried about [and likely love] does end up killing themselves, we are less likely to feel as overwhelmed and less likely to have a prolonged recovery period. I did not call this a prolonged period of grief because I believe that grief gets blamed for stressful emotional states that are not part of grief. These emotional states can actually delay the opportunity to grieve for the lost loved one and for us to realize that we they are part of us and we can then give ourselves permission to participate in our own lives again. 

 

Tuesday
Apr102018

OVERTHINKING: CHANGING A RIGHT ANSWER TO A WRONG ANSWER?

I wonder if most of us have had the experience of changing an answer on a test and finding out that we changed a right answer to a wrong anwer.  It is actually hard for some people to stop doing this as they feel that they have the correct answer after thinking about the question for a period of time.  So, why would anyone reject their first answer [first impression?] and instead change it?

Maybe this is influenced by our brain's being organized so that it will provide us with a response to something when we need it. It appears that information is stored in a way that what we need to know is there but not how we got to that place. There is no paper trail of the process of our learning something. Presumably this is because it is efficient to store just the answers and not all the steps it took to get there. Also, when we need an answer [or information] our brain will give it to us if we actually need it.  So, if we are quizing our brain [ourselves obviously] to recall something to reassure ourselves that we actually know it, our brain will not provide it [because we actually don't need it?].

So what does all this have to do with changing right answers to wrong answers? Well, what so many of my patients have made clear is that if they are feeling stressed, their brains will automatically focus on trying to figure out what is causing our stress and if we cope with stress by over thinking then that will take over and we will doubt that our initial answer is correct. When we have had traumatic experiences in the past, second guessing ourseslves and overthinking are very common ways that we learn to cope as these help us to believe that by doing this we are being careful, not making sudden decisions, and we are considering other's opinions. All of this reasurres us that we are keeping things from getting out of control, and thus we believe that we are changing wrong to right answers. Since overthinking and second guessing are ways that we cope with past stresses, it really is not actually about changing wrong to right answers, but it is about continuing to use coping mechansms that we no longer need as they are left over from past stresses. What do you think?

Sunday
Feb182018

IT IS TIME TO ACT  

It is time for us [Americans] to take action to keep our children safe [and thus reduce the rate that our children die]. An opinion piece in the February 18, 2028 New York Times by David Leonhardt reports that the United States is now "the most dangerous of affluent nations for a child to be born into."  This reflects that in the United States we mourn the death of our children from guns but then do nothing to protect our children from future gunfire. The United States now has the highest number of children [up to age 19] dying per one million children [6,500] compared to other affluent countries with Canada having 5,200 children dying and Britain has 4,600 dying. The average of the 20 high income [affluent] countries is 3,800 children dying. So, why are we the worst?  Well, besides the number of children dying from guns, the other two areas that kill our children are vehicle crashes and infant mortality.  If we compare the deaths of our children to the average number for high income countries, this represents 21,000 excessive deaths per year. 

What are some things that we can do to save more of our children's lives?  We can make background checks universal, make waiting periods longer and tighten access to semiautomatic weapons. It would also help if we had far fewer guns , recognized that we don't require guns to support our self-esteem and believe that our precious children have the right to not die from guns.  In addition, to save more of our children's lives we can also enforce speed limits, seat belt use and no texting while driving [or talking on cell phones ]and ensure access to health care for everyone, especially our children.

So, are the lives of 21,000 children each year worth the hassle of background checks, a waiting period before you get a gun, it being more difficult to buy an assault rifle, having to follow safe driving behaviors and having to pay for everyone to have access to health care?

If you believe that our children's lives are worth this, then insist that your congressperson and senator take action now and don't let up on them until they do or until you have replaced them.

Sunday
Jan072018

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE ENCOURAGING AND SUPPORTIVE OF SOMEONE?

When I was looking at the acknowledgments at the beginning of a book by Kate DiCamillo called The Tiger Rising, I noticed that the acknowledgments ended with thanking a specific person for "believing that I could and that I can. And that I will." I rarely look at this section of a book but I did this time and really only at the end that I have quoted above.  Who knows why?  However, I believe that this is one way of talking about or describing what being supportive and encouraging is.

This is important to me because when I am helping my patients to stop feeling and acting responsible for others, they need to have something that they can replace that with. I believe that being encouraging and supportive is a good way to interact with others. However, defining it has been difficult for me. That is why I was encouraged when I saw what Kate DiCamillo had written in her acknowledgments. So, is believing in someone part of being encouraging and supportive?  I think it is and I have focused on people seeing the strengths in others and communicating this to them as a way of being supportive and encouraging. This does not involve giving advice, making suggestions or taking on responsibility for the other person. Often people that we want to help are not feeling confident, nor recognizing their strengths and abilities.  That is why it is important to recognize the strengths of people we care about and also why it is so very important to not undermine their confidence by giving advice or taking over for them.

I have repeatedly seen that it is critical to not take over for others as this undermines their confidence and is not kind or caring or loving. Now, if someone is used to being dependent on others to do for them and people start expecting them to manage for themselves, they may react negatively at first.  Their reaction indicates that they have a beginning awareness of their need to take responsibility for themselves. So, if you are encouraging and supporting others, they may get mad at you.  This is a good thing as it means that they are more likely to change and start taking responsibility for themselves.  What do you think?

Monday
Jan012018

IN 9/10 OF DEADLIEST MASS SHOOTINGS IN AMERICA THE GUNMAN HAD A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE TOWARD FAMILY MEMBERS

People who threaten others should not have access to weapons. As long as we continue to be obsessed with owning guns, even with the evidence that easy access to guns leads to deaths of many innocent people, it is critical that we put safeguards in place to protect innocent people from potentially dangerous people. The information in the title comes from an editorial entitled "The Terrors of Hearth and Home" in the December 32, 2017 New York Times. The editorial talks about the need for laws that allow police or concerned family members to petition the courts to issue orders that prevent potentially dangerous people from purchasing guns. A few states have the option of the police or concerned family members petitioning the courts to issue an extreme risk prevention order keeping individuals from purchasing guns. This can be critical as very often people who are being bullied and emotionally abused are afraid that obtaining a restraining order will lead to the abuser becoming more violent.  Domestic violence accounts for more than 50% of mass [4 or more people] shootings. To be able to prevent access to guns for people involved in domestic disputes who have threatened family members, could save the lives of family members including many children. 

So, if you feel that being able to temporarily keep violent people from buying guns is something we need in our country to save lives then let others know, including local, state and national government officials.