MANAGING STRESS IN OUR LIVES

Monday
Aug062018

IS GIVING ADVICE OVERRATED?

A better question might be if giving advice is ever helpful. Now that might sound radical and yet in my experience with a few thousand people I have never noted that advice was helpful to anyone nor actually accepted by anyone. If it seems to be that people seek advice and then reject it. What is that about? Also, if the above is true then what about my attempts to help people? Am I not at least fairly frequently giving advice and then are my patients also frequently rejecting my advice?  

I have seen repeatedly in my treatment of people that it is critical that they decide what to do and then take responsibility for themselves and their actions. Can advice help that? Since advice is so frequently rejected it seems that advice does not help. There seems to be a wish for advice and for answers to problems and for solutions to problems with others and yet this does not seem to be helpful. When we give advice what message is that sending? It seems to be received as a lack of faith in the person's ability to problem solve for themselves and manage their lives. This may not be an intended message and yet giving advice does not seem to reinforce their being able to problem solve for themselves and to take reponsibility for themselves. Of course, the intention of the advice giver might be to have their advice help the person to start being more responsible for themselves and to take responsibility for their lives. Yet, I have never seen advice giving be helpful for either party as it risks separating the advice giver and receiver. This separation may be related to the stress for the advice giver who feels responsible for the advice receiver [which is the reason that advice was given] and need that the receiver has to be responsible for themselves. This appears to be a basic need and the receiver will likely feel that the advice giver does not have faith in the receiver's ability to manage for themselves. 

So what is the alternative? It is to encourage and support the person you are tempted to give advice to. What is encouragement and support? It requires listening without our own reactions and thus allowing ourselves to see the strength in the other and then share this with them. Listening by itself is supportive as we are with others and therefore are supporting them when we are listening. The support is emotional support and often does not require any words. This encouragement and support is what I try to do with my patients as I listen and have an opportunity to reflect back what I have heard and to encourage them to trust themselves and see what happens.

Does any of this make any sense?


Monday
Jul162018

ST. AUGUSTINE: LOVE AND DO WHAT YOU WILL

Well, what does that mean? Does it mean that if you love then you can do anything that you choose to do? Is love really that powerful? Don't we humans need more checks and balances to keep us in line? Don't we need protection from ourselves vs having the license to do anything that we want? St. Augustine in a sermon about God's love for us said "love and do what you will." The meaning seems to be connected to St. Augustine's belief that God's love would transform those who opened their heart's to it and then they would follow God's will and do good things. So then they could do what they wanted as they would want good things for themselves and others. This might be an answer for the critique of "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" pointing out that if you do bad things to yourself then you could justify doing bad things to others...if that were actually what you wanted to do to yourself or others. 

So. what does this have to do with us? Over the last 30 plus years helping people with a variety of problems but virtually all were feeling stressed and were self-critical and hard on themselves. I tried to help them to be kinder to themselves and to be more self-aware. I have found that when we are more self-aware, we are more likely to see the good parts of ourselves and are then more able to let go of some of the self-criticism. So maybe part of the "love" in "love and do what you will" is our choosing to be kinder and more loving towards ourselves and then we would be kinder and more loving towards others. If we do this, we will then feel less stressed. What do you think?

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 have died by suicide. I also believe that a major factor in their decision to harm themselves was feeling alone and isolated. So, they felt disconnected from others and yet afterwards a lot of people are left distraught as they grieve for the who is tragically gone. 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 talking 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 outlined 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] dies by suicide, 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.