Feelings Are in the File Cabinet

When you woke up this morning and prepared for your day, do you remember everything you did? You may remember that you showered, dressed, had breakfast, and went to your car. Do you know how many seconds you washed your hair or if you washed your ears first or your elbows? Do you remember what contributed to the decision of which cereal to eat (or whatever)? My guess is probably not. Most day-to-day, trivial, or familiar thoughts, actions, and feelings fly under the radar in the “non-conscious” zone.

Just as we can be unaware of our routines, we can also let negative feelings or self-defeating thinking slip by unnoticed. You may occasionally notice them, but you will likely also have a list of reasons they belong there. Most of the time, you go back to your daily routine, feeling low, but at some point, you stop questioning these thoughts and feelings. Over time, your self-esteem erodes. You may even struggle with anxiety or depression, but it all feels true and right.

Let me encourage you to question such things. Ask yourself why you feel so bad.

To understand a common reason for our negative self-image, picture your brain is a file cabinet. These files are tagged either with words or emotions. In the frontal lobe of your brain, in the place right between (and behind) your eyes sits someone called the, “Executive Assistant” – the EA. The EA runs the office and works with millions of little couriers. Some of them go on their own and the EA has no control (such as the ones who run the heart). Others can be told what to do to a point (such as the ones who can make you hold your breath). Others are fairly easy to manage (the ones who want the same thing the EA wants). Finally, there are some couriers you have to pretty much kick into shape (the “but I don’t want to clean and organize my garage this weekend” couriers, for example).

You may have read about “Brain Babble” – the thing that happens when automatic, but inappropriate or inaccurate thoughts run the show. Did you know a similar phenomenon can happen with emotions? Emotions can also be filed incorrectly.

Imagine you observe a classroom of six-year-olds. Ten minutes before class is to end for the day, the teacher announces that everyone can spend the time coloring. At the end of the time, little Jay-jay comes to show the teacher his picture. Jay-jay is smiling ear-to-ear and the teacher beams as she congratulates him on his good work. How do you think Jay-jay feels in that moment? What do you think will happen the next time he is given time to color?

Now imagine the same scenario, except this time when Jay-jay proudly displays his masterpiece, the teacher replies with, “What is wrong with you? Don’t you know by now that frogs are green and not purple? Goodness! Go try again!”

How do you think the little guy would feel then? Pretty terrible. What do you suppose he will do next time he is faced with a pack of crayons and blank paper? Can you hear what his little brain would say to him? “Give it up, Jay-jay – you can’t color right!”

Is that true? Did Jay-jay do anything wrong? NO! Where was the problem? With the teacher who put down his work. But, what did Jay-jay end up feeling? Deflated and inept.

Emotions experienced in such situations are intense and are tagged into the brain with “danger signs” attached to them. They feel real and unless you are aware and can access your wise mind, the temptation to believe these types of false messages may seem too great.

If you find yourself struggling with overwhelming emotions, a poor self-image, or even numbed-out feelings, or if you fear that you may be believing lies about yourself, extend compassion to yourself the same way you would to someone else who believed untrue things about themselves and go on a quest to find the truth. If you cannot seem to do this on your own, then consider taking time away in the supportive environment of The Center • A Place of HOPE. The staff knows how the file cabinet works and have helped many people in their pursuit of truth as they take the journey to build a healthier life.

Written by Hannah Smith, MA LMHC CGP, Group Therapy Program Coordinator, she is a Neuroscience-informed, Licensed Therapist and International Board-certified Group Psychotherapist. Hannah’s passion is to see people reach their potential and find lasting, positive change. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety, and more.

Known Contributors to Depression

Feeling depressed is not just a mental state. Depression is a debilitating whole-body condition that must be addressed physically as well as mentally. The whole- person approach accepts the body as a complex organism and looks for systemic reasons for depression. As Dr. Robert A. Anderson, founding president of the American Holistic Medical Association, says: “A definitive diagnosis of depression should not be made until physical conditions have been surveyed.”[1]

The Importance of Physical Health for Depression Treatment and Recovery

The body is not merely along for the ride into depression. The body is an active participant, with the capacity to aggravate or improve symptoms of depression. The first stop on the road to recovery from depression for many people is a physician’s office. After all, they feel bad. Whatever the factors leading to their depression, many will attempt to obtain a medical diagnosis for physical symptoms.

There are studies showing that addressing physical conditions can have a dramatic effect in overcoming depression. Psychiatrist Richard Hall has found “evidence [of] dramatic and complete clearing of psychiatric symptoms when medical treatment for underlying physical disorders was instituted.”[2]

The body holds its own special key to overcoming depression. Physical illnesses as well as physical conditions that may not be diagnosed or readily apparent can contribute to depression. Yet even when blood work and medical examinations are done, the physical culprits involved in depression can be overlooked. Like a detective, you need to be informed and persistent to discover the truth. To begin, let’s examine several known contributors to depression.

Medical and Health Conditions

HYPOGLYCEMIA – Hypoglycemia can cause weakness, mental dullness, confusion, and fatigue. All of these symptoms, when taken together, can exacerbate depression.

HEART DISEASE – Research shows that one out of every five people who suffer a heart attack will become depressed.

ANEMIA – Symptoms of anemia, similar to depression, include fatigue, weakness, and lethargy. It is difficult to experience mental alertness, optimism, or energy when your body is physically run down.

SLEEP APNEA – Those who suffer from sleep apnea fluctuate between gasping and suffocating. This pattern severely strains the body and makes getting a good night’s sleep impossible. The resulting symptoms are fatigue, mental confusion, and lethargy—all associated with a state of depression.

DIABETES – The constant up-and-down stress of elevated versus low blood-sugar levels can compromise the body’s ability to regulate important nutrient absorption and hormonal levels, which provide protection from depressive mood swings.

SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER (SAD) – SAD sufferers experience periods of moderate to intense depression during the winter.

HEREDITY – Depression appears to run in families. Educate yourself on the health background of your family, especially of parents or siblings who have experienced depression, whether clinically diagnosed or not.

DEHYDRATION – Dehydration impairs the body’s ability to perform vital functions, causing fatigue, weakness, dizziness, and mental dullness.

ENDOCRINE DISORDERS – When the endocrine system (comprised of the thyroid and adrenal glands) is not working properly, depression can result.

PUBERTY – The onset of puberty in both girls and boys can result in depression.

POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION – Also known as “the baby blues.” Many new mothers experience mild depression after the birth of a child. This is due to the drop of estrogen and progesterone levels after delivery, with symptoms usually fading within a week.

PREMENSTRUAL SYNDROME – This syndrome is linked to certain depressive symptoms: despondent mood, irritability, exhaustion, and bouts of crying.

MENOPAUSAL PHASES – Progesterone and testosterone production can decrease at a faster rate than estrogen, upsetting the proper balance, causing estrogen dominance. With this imbalance, mood changes can occur and depression may result.

LOW TESTOSTERONE – During the natural aging process in men, testosterone production decreases. Higher testosterone levels are known to produce vitality, lean muscle mass, lower body fat, and enhanced sexual performance. The lowering or loss of these functions produce depression in men as they age.

ALLERGIES AND SENSITIVITIES – Research reveals a link between depression and allergies. In one study, 70 percent of patients with a diagnosis of depression reported having a history of allergy.[3]

Professional Depression Treatment Can Help

If you are struggling with stress, anxiety, or depression, The Center • A Place of HOPE is here to help. Our team is skilled at navigating these sensitive issues. For more information, fill out this form or call 1-888-747-5592 to speak confidentially with a specialist today.

[1] Robert A. Anderson, Clinician’s Guide to Holistic Medicine (NY: MacGraw-Hill Publishing, 2001), 243.

[2] R. C. W. Hall, E. R. Gardner, M. K. Popkin, and S. K. Stickney, “Unrecognized Physical Illness Prompting Psychiatric Admission: A Prospective Study,” American Journal of Psychiatry 138, no. 5 (May 1981): 629–35.

[3] I. R. Bell, M. L. Jasnoski, J. Kagan, and D. S. King, “Depression and Allergies: Survey of a Nonclinical Population.” Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics 55, no.1 (1991): 24–31.

 

Renew Your Attitude Daily

Former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz would tell his players, “Ability is what you’re capable of doing.  Motivation determines what you do.  Attitude determines how well you do it.”

Victor Frankl, survivor of a Nazi prison camp and beacon of light for hundreds of other prisoners suffering under Hitler’s Third Reich wrote, “The last of the human freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”

Isn’t it amazing that a football coach and prisoner of war are saying the same thing — that it’s not our circumstances that hold us back, but rather that attitudes we display in our circumstances?  We all know people who delight in laughing at the cockeyed optimist — the one who always seems to be happy and on top of things, the person who has a bumper sticker on her car that declares, “Business is great, the sky is blue, and people are wonderful.”  But what’s wrong with this?

A life of cynical pessimism is a poor second choice and does nothing but drive us deeper into sadness and depression, making us weaker, not stronger, and ultimately setting us up for emotional exhaustion.  Oscar Wilde said a pessimist is one who, when confronted with the choice of two evils, chooses both.  Bad way to live.

On the other hand, a spirit of optimism is life-giving.  People who are upbeat regardless of their physical or emotional circumstances look for the good, just as bees gravitate to the center of a flower for their honey-making resource.  But it’s not a onetime flyby.  The bees in your garden need to fly back to gather the pollen from the flower again and again, through daily action.  It’s the only way we can keep them positive, vibrant, and alive.

Without a regular renewal of our attitudes, we will remain stagnant and uninteresting, and we will be able to offer little to those who need us most.  It’s just not possible to win at life and relationships with a self-defeating, unrenewed, boring, business-as-usual attitude.  That’s why the real attitude winners are the ones who:

  • Provide valuable service to others before thinking of their own needs
  • When discouraged, dig deep to the source of their faith and confidence
  • When trapped in a tunnel of misfortune, believe there will be light at the end of the tunnel
  • When roadblocked by poor decisions, remember that God is still in control and that no failure is ever final
  • Know that the greatest degrees one can earn are not academic but degrees of growth, persistence, and compassion for others

Be disciplined to review your attitudes and look to renew them on a daily basis.

Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 37 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.

Traits and States

We have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in this country.  We hear it everywhere we go. “Happiness” is often portrayed as the epitome of life, the ultimate, and often only, goal for which we are encouraged to strive.  If one is not happy, one begins to feel something is amiss. Ever been there? Is there a difference between a “trait” and a “state”?

The truth is, to make this one’s soul focus is generally self-defeating and often, the surest way not to find it. Why this irony?

Happiness is an emotion.  Emotions are a biological “signal system” that connects brain and body. By their very nature, they are transient and circumstance-dependent.  One way to think of emotions is as a state (or state-of-being). States can change in an instant.  Remember that time you were excited and wanted to tell someone only to meet a person you care for who was “down in the dumps”? What happened to your excitement?  At least momentarily, it slipped away, instantly replaced with concern, sadness, anger, or any number of other “emotional states”.

A trait, on the other hand, is more enduring.  When describing a state, one might say, “She is sad.”  However, if it was a trait, we would hear, “She is a sad person.”  Those seeking professional depression treatment often feel as though their trait is living in a continual state of sadness or numbness.

One way to think of it is to call the temporary state, “happiness” and the enduring trait, “joy” – just for ease of communication.

A lasting outlook that would empower joy in your life might require

  • Perspective – How does the current situation fit into the big picture? Even if this moment is difficult – if you can see it serves a purpose and will lead to health and wholeness, an underlying feeling of contentment, peace, and enthusiasm can remain.
  • Perseverance – Remember that childhood adage, “When at first you don’t succeed, try and try again”?  This is a fundamental and profound truth that is all too often overlooked. In fact, in our present world, giving up quickly can even be discouraged. Most people expect that step one of the road to their dreams should be success…but that is rare. Many of the greatest accomplishments of life – medical and technical advances, for example – “failed” many times before they finally worked.  Knowing this can keep depression and disappointment away.
  • People – No one reaches their full potential all alone. We need others to provide insight, guidance, resources, and support along the way. But, what if you don’t have anyone you feel you can count on for these things? You may feel alone, but the truth is you aren’t. Think about your favorite Barista, the one who smiles at you every time you come in – maybe even knows your drink before you order it. What about people who do TED talks or other helpful podcasts? Authors, teachers, pastors, neighbors, grocery store clerks, these are all examples of people we might not originally think of as “part of our tribe” – but they are.  We all desire close, intimate relationships – and we need them…but until we have them, there are others out there who can add to our lives. You are not alone.

We at The Center know the frustrations that come from struggling with the transient nature of emotions and we have tried and true ways to help you find the lasting traits of peace, joy, and optimism. If you tend to describe yourself with enduring traits that are troublesome – angry, depressed, or lonely, for example – and if you do not feel you have the life worth living that comes from having the trait of joy, consider coming to The Center.  Here, you will find a group of caring professionals who exhibit these traits on a daily basis. We want to walk with you on the road to find joy for yourself.

Are you struggling with anxiety or feeling depressed?  Do you feel that you have lost your energy, focus and joy? The Center • A Place of HOPE can help. Call us today at 1-888-771-5166 to speak with a n admissions specialist.  There is hope. You can regain your life.

Written by Hannah Smith, MA LMHC CGP, Group Therapy Program Coordinator, she is a Neuroscience-informed, Licensed Therapist and International Board Certified Group Psychotherapist at The Center • A Place of HOPE. The Center, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety, co-occurring disorders and more.

When Breakdowns Become Breakthroughs

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that addiction blinds people to the truth of consequences. Addiction causes people to misinterpret these negative impacts across a wide spectrum, including emotional consequences, intellectual consequences, physical consequences, and spiritual consequences. Because we treat the whole person at The Center, we see and work with these multiple impacts daily.

Brandon came to us professing to feel nothing. When Brandon was asked in group sessions how he felt about a story or concept, his stock response was to shrug and say, “I don’t know.” If asked to describe how he felt about a memory he shared, he would seem puzzled by the question. As we worked with Brandon, we soon suspected that when he said, “I don’t know,” he desperately was trying to achieve “I don’t care.” Brandon did care; he cared deeply. But caring, he’d learned, made you vulnerable and susceptible to pain.

I’ve found, for some people, addictions can act as emotional dams, holding back pain. The addictive behaviors create a structure behind which disturbing emotions are kept contained. The illusion is these emotions are being kept under control, but that is not the case. The floodwaters of pain continue to build and apply tremendous pressure to the structure of the addiction, requiring continual fortification.

Because of the perceived danger of any sort of release, these emotional dams hold back pleasure as well as pain. Happiness, gratitude, interest, empathy, desire, and delight are walled off too. In my line of work, a person who is emotionally damming is said to have a flat affect. The blank face of their emotional dam is, quite literally, their own face, which displays little or no emotion. That was certainly true in Brandon’s case.

Emotional content being held back will continue its destructive pressure unless that pressure is released. In an odd way, one of our jobs at The Center is to burst emotional dams. We act as professional spillways, allowing that pent-up emotional pressure to be expressed within a supportive environment.

Tears, therefore, in my business, can be incredibly cleansing. When Brandon finally broke, he did so with a torrent of tears. He kept apologizing, choking out that he couldn’t stop crying, as if that was somehow unacceptable. He seemed genuinely shocked at the intensity of what he called his “breakdown.” I suggested he jettison the word breakdown and consider his experience a breakthrough. Weathering that flood of emotion was difficult, but it allowed him to begin the slow process of learning how to “feel” again—apart from the emotional suffocation of his addiction.

Some people come to us suppressing all emotions, and they are a challenge to open. Others are just the opposite. They are a challenge to contain because they scatter their emotional states, which are almost always negative, indiscriminately in every conceivable direction.

Are you struggling with addictive behaviors and feeling depressed?  Do you feel that your life is not in your control? The Center • A Place of HOPE is here to help. Contact us today at 1-888-771-5166 and speak with a confidential specialist.  Begin the healing process and have confidence that there is hope, and that joy is attainable.

Allowing Food to Nourish You

Sally was overweight, unhappy, and on the brink of emotional exhaustion.  She had an unhealthy relationship with food, After numerous counseling sessions, this is what she decided to do:

One, I started eating a simple, healthy breakfast each morning.  This was my only guideline; that it had to be healthy.  No list of special foods, no restrictive diet, no calories to count, lie about or eat.  Nothing.  What surprised me was that I was being asked to make my own decisions, and not rely on someone else’s idea of what I should consume.  I was given complete freedom to eat when I wanted, and how much I wanted.  It just had to be healthy.  Actually, this frightened me, because I wanted to be told what to do.” [1]

Sally was really frightened when I asked her to make her own decisions about food and about making food the right kind of friend.  Here’s the rest of Sally’s story:

So I chose to eat a large breakfast of whole grain cereal and lowfat milk and some fruit each morning.  It was bulky so it made me feel full.  It wasn’t sugary, so my insulin level did not increase.  I knew all about this theoretically, but it wasn’t easy to put into practice.  A big part of me (which was most of me) hated it.  I missed my usual two jelly donuts and three cups of coffee with lots of cream, followed in a few minutes by grazing in the fridge for a few leftovers from the night before.  But I’d made an agreement with Dr. Jantz to do this, and besides I was desperate.

The second thing was even more amazing to me.  I was asked not to weigh myself at all in between sessions.  I’d already sent my scale “on vacation,” so there was no way to weigh myself at home.  But I was not to weigh myself anywhere.  This was difficult.  How would I know if I was making any progress if I couldn’t weigh myself two or three times a day as I’d done most of my life?  I didn’t understand it, but I said I’d stick with the program and obey the rules. [2]

I’m happy to report that Sally is doing quite well, self-correcting along the way as she’s still tempted to return to her old way of thinking about food.  She’s rediscovering what food is all about — it’s there to nourish her body and is not a substance for abuse.

When recovering from emotional exhaustion, you quickly learn the benefits of decreasing the amount of fat and refined carbohydrates in your diet.  Additionally, when you start to take seriously the reports of increased risk of heart disease and cancer associated with these high levels of fat, I hope you will quickly choose to self-correct.

You will read food labels more carefully and seek to interpret the wealth of information they contain.  This is a far cry from the ineffective calorie counting and roller-coaster dieting you may have engaged in before.  You will also stop frying your foods and breading your meats.  You will learn that broiling and baking are better alternatives to cooking foods in fats and oil.  You will also begin to investigate food supplements that are specifically designed to help rebalance the body chemistry of those who are emotionally and physically exhausted.

Sally had to learn that dieting and bingeing were terrible obstacles to her stressed physical health and mental stability.  Each round of dieting caused increased hypertension and a rise in her blood pressure.  When she finally understood that dieting and bingeing were making her more prone to stress-related illnesses, heart and kidney disease, and stroke, she knew she had to make a change.  To do this, Sally had to start listening to her body.  She had actually forgotten what it was like to eat normally.

This all began with a commitment to a proven, effective program of permanent weight loss and a deep desire to join the 2 percent who succeed in losing weight permanently.

Can you relate to Sally?  Perhaps now is the time that you, too, need to learn to see food as healing you, making you strong, and filling you with vitality.

Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 37 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.

[1] Jantz, Losing Weight, 110.

[2] Ibid.

 

What Hobbies Make You Happy?

What are the loves of your life?  I’m not talking about people here but rather about the things you truly love to do – your hobbies and interests.  It may be your personality, your ability to keep them laughing for hours with your gift of humor, your skill at conversation.  Perhaps it’s your compassion for those in need.  It may be how your relate to children, to the elderly, to the homeless.  These are all part of your emotional DNA – the unique twists and turns that make you the special person you are.

Perhaps you’ve been emotionally exhausted for so long that you’ve put your loves on a shelf.  Depression may have kept you isolated and afraid.  You may have actually forgotten what once got you excited about life.  Perhaps the model train you used to have on display for the neighborhood kids to enjoy is gathering dust in your attic.  At one time you loved photography but now you don’t even know where your camera is located.

You may once had a smile as broad as all outdoors, but your life’s circumstances have taken your smile away.  It’s not that you don’t want to smile, but rather you feel you no longer have much about which to smile.

My grandfather, a miner who owned silver and gold mines in Idaho, loved to pan for gold and to use the nuggets he found to make necklaces for the women in our family.  These were handmade, pure gold nugget-laden necklaces – beautiful, personal works of art.  But more than that, they were labors of love and gifts straight from my grandfather’s heart.  From the day he gave one to my wife as a present, I have never seen her without it.  The day he died of Lou Gehrig’s disease, my mother sat singing to him at his bedside, the gold nugget necklace around her neck reflecting the light from an open window.  Today that heartfelt gift keeps on giving, bringing joy to the water and to all who see and appreciate this love-made piece of jewelry.

I tell you this story to encourage you to look deep within and beneath the mountain of hurt that may have buried some of your great loves.  You certainly don’t have to be a wood carver or a gold miner.  That’s not the point.  It’s not the cleverness of the gift but the attitude of the heart that gives the gift that matters.  I’m confident there is something you may have put aside – a real love of your life – that you may not be ready to revisit, bring to the surface, and share with others.

Expressing the loves of your life again will help steady your course, because it will take your eyes away from yourself and focus them on others.  This is something you must decide to do because it’s the right thing for you to do – not as an ego trip or to impress someone else.  When you give the gift of yourself freely, without thought of the cost – anything from your great smile, to baking a cake for someone, to making a gold nugget necklace — you will be edging closer to finding the inner healing.

Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 37 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.

 

Ten Questions to Ask About Your Virtual Relationships

Ironically, the very thing we turn to for increased connectivity with others is proving to be the biggest disconnection point in our lives.  Not only are we distracting ourselves from face-to-face interactions, but the virtual relationships we’re prioritizing are often lacking in the most important connection point of all–the intimacy of in-person warmth and sincerity.

To detect the presence or extent of your virtual void, ask yourself the following ten questions:

  1. How am I connecting with others online?
  2. What is the content of that connection?
  3. Would I be willing for my spouse or members of my family to view all of my online activities and content?
  4. What emotional needs are being met through these online relationships?
  5. How would I feel if I were unable to connect online for a day, a week, or even a month?
  6. How many non-family relationships do I maintain?
  7. Of those relationships, how many do I keep strictly online, meaning I don’t talk or visit but only connect online?
  8. Are there any online relationships or activities that pose a threat or provide competition to my in-person relationships?
  9. Am I willing, within the next week, to modify, limit, or sever any online relationship or activity that poses such a threat?
  10. If I’m not willing, what is holding me back?  Be specific.

As difficult as it may be to face your answers to these questions, do not underestimate the power of these truths to naturally lend themselves to your transformation.  Simply observing and accepting your behavior as it exists now will naturally inspire you to make more informed, and healthier, decisions in the future.

Do not be afraid to examine your virtual relationships and reevaluate the role they’re playing in your life.  Through an honest assessment, you can come to better understand why you are seeking online connection.  And if there are barriers you need help overcoming, do not hesitate to seek professional help.

If someone you know is suffering from technology addiction, depression, or anxiety, remember that there is HOPE.  There are professionals ready to help.  For more information about treatment call 1-888-747-5592 to speak confidentially with a specialist today. The Center • A Place of HOPE.  The Center was recently ranked as a Top 10 facility in the country for the treatment of depression, and our team is standing by to help you and your loved ones.

 

 

 

Containing Your Runaway Thoughts that Cause Anxiety

Jill suffered a devastating anxiety attack. She had been depressed for months over her upcoming fiftieth birthday. Instead of being a celebration of a half-century of life, Jill dreaded the date. She forbade her family from making a fuss.

Jill refused to go out with friends as the date approached. She was emotionally distant and began to complain of a variety of physical ailments. Instead of engaging in social events and her normal routine of volunteering, Jill spent months going from doctor to doctor, unable to find out why she was feeling so bad. The weekend after she would up in the emergency room, Jill called to see a counselor.

Together they worked on the reasons for her depression and subsequent anxiety attack. During their time together, the counselor noticed that Jill talked a great deal, almost nonstop. Once she got started on a topic, Jill would keep right on going. One thought led to another, and another, and another. Often, the thought three or four steps down the line had only a marginal connection to the first. The runaway thought pattern helped contribute to Jill’s depression and anxiety attack.

Jill was concerned about turning fifty. She thought about all of the conditions and health problems she had heard about in those over fifty, from cancer, osteoporosis, and menopause to Alzheimer’s. As she dreaded her approaching birthday, she convinced herself that being fifty automatically meant a loss of health and vitality. On the night of her panic attack, the spiral of her thoughts led her to believe that common indigestion was actually a heart attack. The more she worried, the more adrenaline surged through her system and the faster her heart raced.

The faster her heart beat, the more she was aware of it. It seemed abnormally fast and beating erratically. Jill remembered hearing a radio commercial about the signs of a heart attack, and sure enough, she suddenly found herself experiencing each one—rapid, erratic heart rate; shortness of breath; lightheadedness; tingling in her extremities. These symptoms, of course, are also present during anxiety or panic attacks.

The humiliation of creating such a crisis in her family caused her to worry she was losing control over her mental process. This fear of losing mental control prompted her to come in for counseling, something she had never considered in the past. Her counselor coached Jill to “slow down” and practice thought containment.

Many times, emotional depression and its companion, anxiety, can be brought under control when the depressed person learns to contain his or her thoughts without letting them escalate into predetermined catastrophes. Jill had convinced herself that her fiftieth birthday would bring nothing but problems, so it did.

It is part of the human condition that negative thoughts seem to flow easier than logical and more positive ones. An overactive brain can take a small incident and inflate it into a major crisis. If this pattern is repeated often enough, the person becomes swept away in the mental torrent, unable to find the footholds needed to return to the solid ground of common sense and reality. When the flow of thoughts slows down, the person is able to better realize the truth and maintain a grip on the probabilities.

If a person is naturally pessimistic, inclined toward runaway thoughts, depression is often the result. The person who feels powerless to control his thoughts assumes that the worst can happen soon will. This focus on disaster does not allow the person to keep optimistic, hope, or joy in his sights for very long. Negative self-talk and the grim atmosphere of a foul mood fuel this fatalistic mental spirit.

If you are struggling with depression, The Center • A Place of HOPE can help.  Call us at 1-888-771-5166 to speak confidentially with a specialist.

 

Examining Your Anxiety

It may seem that our current, crazy, stressful lives produce a bumper crop of anxieties, concerns, and worries.  Because we think our present circumstances are unique, we use them as an explanation and, frankly, as an excuse.  We use them as an excuse to justify hopelessness, for staying stuck.  Life today is just so hard.  This is just who I am.  I’ve tried everything and nothing seems to work.  No one can really help.  What I go through is just too weird; no one can really understand. 

Anxieties speak a language of absolutes.  A possibility is a certainty.  What could, will.  What might, will.  But if anxieties speak a language of absolutes, it is not a universal language.  Some words are not translatable.  Anxiety does not have a word for peace.  It does not have a word for relief.  It does not have a word for rest.  It is a language of negativity, of hopelessness, of despair.  It is a language of defeat.  Anxieties force us to surrender before the true battle is even engaged.

There is an axiom: know your enemy.  I’d like you to anthropomorphize your anxiety, your phobia, your panic attack and think about it as something other than yourself.  This is a way for you to examine your anxieties and their consequences through an imaginary buffer.  Put them outside of yourself and give yourself permission to examine them without triggering them.

Anxiety disorders have an anatomy.  They have shared traits and unique features.  What I’d like you to do now is get to know yours.  As much as you’re able, think of it in the third person.  Use “it” instead of “I.”

  • What are the physical characteristics of anxiety?  What does it do to you?
  • How often does it happen?
  • What do you do to help yourself feel better?  Does anything help?
  • Does anything make it worse?
  • How long does it usually last?
  • Have you ever talked with someone about it?  If so, who and why?  If not, why not?
  • How long have you been hoping it would just go away?
  • Do you really believe you’ll ever be able to get over it?

Hebrews 11:1 says that “faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see” (NLT). Anxiety is a perversion of faith.  Anxiety is the confidence that what we hope against will actually happen; it gives us assurance that what we can’t yet see will be bad.  Hebrews 11 is a chapter replete with the victories of faith.  Anxiety doesn’t produce any victories; it only accomplishes defeat.  This is not the life God has planned for you.  The life you’re living now is not the one he wants you to live.

The faith life God intends for you is not the perverse life of anxiety.  He does not want you to take your capacity for faith and distort it into a belief in the least possible or the worst imaginable.  He does not want you to sacrifice your life on the altar of anxiety, giving up more and more year after year, hoping to appease anxiety’s appetite.

Instead of trusting in the catastrophe of today and the terror of tomorrow, God asks you to trust in him.  As you continue to to examine your anxiety and what effect it’s had on your life, I ask you to transfer as much trust as you can from anxiety to God.  You’ve trusted in your anxiety’s capacity to cause you grief, fear, and stress.  Take a part of that trust and turn it over to God.  Trust him to be with you through this journey, to know the face of your fear, to be strong enough to help you overcome it and loving enough to deeply desire to help you.

If you are struggling with anxiety, depression, or fear in your life, The Center • A Place of HOPE is here to help.  For more information, call 1-888-747-5592 to speak confidentially with a specialist today.