Anxiety

One of several versions of the painting "...

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Anxiety is basically another word for fear and is something that we all live with in our daily lives. Fear is another word for the thoughts and feeling we have that something we value is being threatened.

 

Anxiety is a normal part of everyday life. Humans never would have survived without it. Anxiety makes us listen more keenly when we hear a strange noise and tells us to check the traffic before we cross the road. The problem with modern day anxiety is that it can become overly sensitive and people can worry excessively about things at home, at work, relationships, money, how we look, whether we will ever be loved, how to loose weight, that promotion and so on ………

 

The mind looks for problems and solves them and will always find a problem that needs attention. That is what the mind does.

 

Problems with anxiety occur when the fear grows out of proportion and starts dictating behaviour. Major life events (like natural disasters, experiencing violence) can trigger anxiety. An Acute Stress reaction to extreme levels of anxiety or Post Traumatic Stress may develop in response to major life events.

 

More commonly, Anxiety disorders come about slowly and develop over time. The slow development makes anxiety difficult to gauge and people often present for treatment further down the track when they realise that their anxiety is creating problems for them in their everyday lives. Many people seeing a Psychologist for anxiety issues present with Generalised Anxiety Disorder which is, as the name implies, an anxiety that is generalised to many areas of life and is or has been causing problems. People suffering from Generalised Anxiety have trouble shaking their concerns and tend to worry all the time about every day stuff.

 

Fears can become irrational over time and the things people do to avoid anxiety can actually make matters worse. For example, an aspect of Social Phobia is the fear of being humiliated in public so people suffering from this disorder will avoid social events and can often end up being isolated. When someone suffering Social Phobia goes out they can be so crippled by anxiety they may panic and draw attention to them selves through their overly anxious behaviour.

 

There are also many specific phobias that develop about certain things like the fear of public speaking and fear of spiders for example. These fears may or may not be problematic. Most people are scared of snakes because many are poisonous and fear of public speaking is not a problem for most. However, fear of public speaking would be an issue if work success depended on presentations you regularly needed to make to your colleagues.   

 

Panic occurs when someone becomes scared of their anxiety and experiences intense symptoms that feel like they are having a heart attack. Tight chest, racing pulse and sweating all signal that there is something to be feared so the body prepares to fight or run away. The increase in physical arousal increases worry about the anxiety and feedback loop increases with intensity. Some people develop elaborate rituals to contain their anxiety and these people can sometimes be diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

 

A skilled Psychologist can help teach skills and strategies to deal with the symptoms of anxiety and reduce the impact that it has on everyday life. Dealing more effectively with anxiety is empowering and having greater control boosts confidence to deal with whatever challenges life presents.   

Vipassana meditation continues …….

The main Dhamma hall in the Prachenburi Vipass...

To my amazement, I continue to practice Vipassana meditation every day for 2 hours. I am finding that I feel so much better within myself and I’m handling a big life transition so much better than I would have normally. My mind is very busy and there is some stress in my life now yet I feel that I can cope more effectively. It is lovely to feel that everything is going to be OK.

I love how the teacher said “the mind is like a wild animal” which needs to be trained with patience and persistence. No point in getting angry and annoyed with a wild animal because it will not respond favourably. The art of sharpening the mind is to remain calm and peaceful and accept that the mind will wonder, that is its nature, that is what it will do. So why get angry and frustrated with a mind for doing what it does. It is easier to relax and say “the mind will wonder, that is its nature”.  I found this phrase simply bought the mind back to the moment without fuss so I could continue meditating. Beautiful in its simplicity.

Back in the moment I am able to feel the sensation being experienced in the body and it passes, dissolves with all the worry leaving me able to see what is happening and make a rational informed decision. My style so far has been to respond to emotions with such urgency that I never gave myself time to stop and think what was really happening. Half the time I was wrong and created the very scenario that I had imagined. I imagined what was going to happen and then made that my reality because I believed that was reality.

Approaching problems with a calm mind and compassion is so refreshing. I am not an expert by any means but have had some amazing results. Compassion for others frees me from my resentments which actually hurts me. It is ironic how resentment and anger are so damaging to me when others have done the wrong thing. Forgiveness is difficult but is very liberating because you have to let go of your anger to forgive. Once again, beautiful in its simplicity. Hanging onto anger  usually involves an attachment to “they shouldn’t have or I didn’t deserve that” or the worse case scenario is when anger towards another can be used as an excuse to behave poorly. I’ve done that too!

Letting go of old attachments clears the way for others to follow. Creating new attachments keeps the old ones alive. Equanimity opened the door for me. I was hanging onto my attachments to old memories because I could, for example stay angry at that person and then I could justify why I felt so unwell and did not want to do this or that.

Letting go is the go.

Take Care

Therapy Monkey

Vipassana meditation

Entrance to the Prachenburi Vipassana Meditati...

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I just spent 10 days on a Vipassana meditation course. It was, without a doubt one of the best experiences of my life. Beautiful in its simplicity, the technique was easy to learn. Clear instructions and helpful teachers took the confusion away. The clarity I experienced was most welcome.

I had no idea how easily my mind wandered off and how much I have struggled to stay focused. An early school report said that I was “easily distracted”. Sharpening the mind showed me how dull and distracted it had become. I realised how much time has been spend thinking about future scenarios that have never come to pass and agonising over past mistakes. Vipassana has shown me how to retain a sense of equanimity and not get caught up in the minds escapades.

The really beautiful part of the practice was how it opened me up to release a plethora of miseries. I was shown my suffering and how it was related to various beliefs I had become attached to. Letting go of these attachments came with a lovely sense of liberation.

According to Vipassana, misery comes about through cravings for pleasant sensations and aversions to unpleasant ones. People become miserable wanting a feeling if it feels good and wanting it gone it makes them uncomfortable. Addiction falls into both categories. People use whatever they need to use to feel good or to stop feeling uncomfortable. Drugs, gambling, sex, food, grog and work can all be used as distractions from uncomfortable feelings like anxiety. The power of feelings are lost once they are seen for what they are, sensations.

Take Care

It matters where you invest your time and energy.

Tragic mask on the façade of the Royal Dramati...

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Why is it that we spend so much time looking for what is wrong when there are so many things that are right and good in life?

Our attention is often fixed so hard on trying to fix things that are upsetting us while our good fortune is left overshadowed.

It may be because it is so easy to be happy, feel the feelings that we like and remember the good times while difficult memories and unpleasant feelings are unwanted so we spend heaps of energy trying to rid ourselves of them. The theory is to focus on the ‘bad’ stuff, get rid of it and then we can all be happy again.  

It is so ironic that the more time we spend trying to avoid and rid ourselves of difficult thoughts and emotions the bigger they grow. The more effort we put into trying to rid ourselves of unpleasant memories and emotions the more powerful they become. How annoying is that?

Think about everything you do to avoid emotional discomfort. Maybe you smoke, do drugs, drink alcohol, do lots of coffee, sleep a little more than you really need to, snack when your not hungry, watch TV rather than do something fun, say no to that invitation when deep down you know you haven’t been out and had fun for ages.  

The answer is to accept that life is full of emotions and memories. Some memories and emotions are awful and others are fantastic and wonderful. Fixating on one difficult memory or emotion can close you off to experiencing others. The remedy is to say “you know, this is how I feel right now, I don’t like it but it will pass and in the mean time I will get on with living”.

If you feel stuck, do something positive. Think about something you are grateful for. Acknowledge a strength that you have.  Do something that you like doing or that you think is fun. Maybe it wont feel so great at first but persevere. It is better than spending all that energy on avoiding unpleasantness. One day you’ll look back with pride and say “I got through that hard bit, cool”.

Take care

Therapy Monkey

What do you want?

Edith, a chimpanzee born in the Saint Louis Zo...

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To truly live you have to know what you want. Whether you want to do this or that. Less of one thing and more of another. You may want to try something completely different but are too scared of failure.

Having the idea is the most difficult thing to come up with but once the idea is there it can be a difficult thing to ignore. It has to be a realistic idea of course. Then, once you know what you want it’s a matter of going about getting it or working towards getting whatever it is. Sounds so simple but it really is.

The things that are important to you in life are your guide to finding a fulfilling existence, the path with a heart. There are lots of lists of values on the internet and web sites about this type of thing but we as people tend to look outside of ourselves for things that will make us happier. New job, career, new partner, shoes, car, watch, clothes, furniture, drugs and whatever else we can think of to make us happier. This is a band aid type approach.

Real happiness is not just a feeling, it is what you get for living life, being connected to others, doing the things that are important or meaningful to you. Please don’t be one of those people who sit there complaining that they just want to be happy and not do anything about it. Not everyone enjoys mowing the lawn or cleaning the house or exercising but everyone loves the feeling you get after you clean the house, or mow the lawn, or work out. So, if you believe in animal welfare, help animals. If you love music, go see someone play. If family is important, give a relative a call. If your health is important, exercise.

Use your negative emotions as a guide and ask your self what these emotions are telling you. If you are discontent, ask your self why you are unhappy and what you could do to become a happier person. Your negative emotions will tell you where to start. If you are angry you may just be angry at yourself for not doing stuff. You may be sad because you’ve let some opportunities pass you buy. Don’t dwell on this stuff, use it as information. Emotions tell us something important is happening.

Of course you will give your self lots of reasons why you can’t do this and can’t do that. If you can’t then that is how it is and don’t worry about it. Move to the next thing. Don’t spend your life being bitter that you haven’t done X, W or Z. You can get stuck believing that you will only been truly happy today if you’d done X, Y or Z yesterday. Check mate! If you haven’t done it you haven’t and if you can’t you can’t. Acceptance is key here. You don’t have to like it, just accept it. Done. Get angry, punch a pillow, talk to a friend about it and do something that you can do now. 

So don’t live in the past and worry about the future. Live today and do something that is meaningful. The trick is to know what is meaningful and what is important to you. 

Take Care

Therapy Monkey 

Something to fix or something to face?

Memories

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Hello

People often come to therapy with the view that they want to fix something that they feel is wrong. Like they want to fix a bad memory of something. They’d like the remove an unwanted, uncomfortable feeling. Therapy doesn’t work like that. It is hard work.

Take depression. Depression often presents as a heavy feeling characterised by an overwhelming sense that there is nothing that can be done about the situation. It may very well be true. Sometimes nothing can be done to change a particular situation. Life can really dish up some rubbish when it wants to but we have to get on with living. There really is no other healthy choice.

Death can sometimes feel like an option but is simply a long-term solution to what may be a short term problem. So, the only way out of a depression is out and you have to work at it. The work is often painful with very intense emotions. Avoiding these thoughts and feelings can create other problems. Avoidance can take many forms. A common way is to indulge in a substance. This is OK for a little while but people can get stuck for years trying to erase bad memories. 

Avoiding negative thoughts and uncomfortable feelings has the opposite effect. The memories can grow in potency while whole lives are geared around trying to forget something terrible. The result is often a sense of inertia and hopelessness while erasing memories can become the focus of life. It is ironic how avoidance of painful emotions reinforces a sense of inability to cope and sets up a negative feedback loop that grows in intensity.

The alternative is to face the memories and the associated pain while making the conscious decision to get on with life. Confronting the memories is like standing up to a ten foot tall monster that scares the hell out of you but can not actually touch you. The memories can not hurt you anymore. They are past. Avoidance actually keeps the memories fresh. Professional counsellors can help you pass through this difficult terrain.

Moving from a life of avoidance and back into a life full of action changes one’s head space from being a victim of things that have happened and moves them to take up the stance of a survivor.

Take Care

Therapy Monkey

So who are the Angry People? Shame on you T.V!

Patada

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There was a show on the TV tonight about the increase in youth violence. It showed footage of young people  fighting and then the focus turned to the problem with alcohol. More footage of young people being wrestled to the ground by police. There was talk about limiting hotel and club trading hours and interviews with police about the increase in people carrying knives. The story then went into the lives of homeless people and how some are angry and have mental health issues. They even interviewed a young man about how he wanted to harm his self.   

So the logic of this show pointed the finger at homeless youth with mental health issues being the problem. Shame on this show for creating such a stigma. Sensationalist rubbish. It was like they had to blame a particular demographic so that we at home could watch and say “Oh, look at the bad people dear” and “I don’t know what the world is coming to with the young people of today”.   

Young people get into fights sure. However, I believe that they are not the only people doing the fighting.  The people getting into fights include regular people of all ages and all socioeconomic statuses. People that get into fights when they go out are usually just people who are having a bad time because they are upset about something and have had too much to drink.     

 There is no excuse for the fear mongering and stereotyping of young people and mental illness created by such rubbish.      

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