We Are Anxious People
by: Lianne Johnson, LPC
Sometimes when I am spending time with friends (or even in a work meeting!) I want to stand on a chair and shout (sheepishly), “Hi guys… it’s me…Lianne, and I’m an anxious person. In fact right now I’m an anxious mess on the inside while on the outside I look normal!”
If I actually did this, my friends would probably laugh. Not because I struggle with anxiety (in fact if I did do this they would care greatly for me!), but I would imagine them laughing because it’s something they would expect me to do. I don’t hide my anxiety-ridden self from others. As a matter of fact, something I had to learn to do when I realized I struggled with anxiety was to begin accepting it as part of who I am. I am an anxious person. There, I said it. And I’m okay with it. The truth is if I did announce my anxiety to a group of people I know I would not be alone. I know there would be others in that room that would be feeling the same way. In fact, I know that no matter where I am or what I am doing, I am not alone in my anxiety.
I like to view anxiety as my body’s way of saying, “hey you, something isn’t right, here!” I’ve learned over the years what my body’s signs are and how to continue to live and thrive within my anxiety, and I know you can too.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S. They say that it affects nearly 40 million adults in the U.S. age 18 and older – that’s roughly 18% of our population! These findings are exactly why I know I am not alone in my anxiety no matter where I go and no matter what I am doing.
The good news for the nearly 40 million Americans’ is that anxiety is highly treatable.
Margaret Wehrenberg wrote a book called, The 10 Best-Ever Anxiety Management Techniques. Personally I tend to stay away from any book that claims to be “The Best-Ever ______.” I guess it’s due to my own cynicism where anyone claims to provide the “best-ever” anything, but this book actually IS helpful. If you *think* you struggle with anxiety or know that you do, I would highly recommend this book. Her writing has shaped many of the thoughts I am sharing with you.
So what is anxiety? Simply put, it is our body’s response to unresolved distress.
If we look at anxiety from the micro level it typically starts with something called Stress. We all know what it means to be stressed, don’t we? It is important to note that not all stress is bad. Sometimes our stress is the very “thing” that propels us to solve big problems or create something new. Stress can take what we have already started and expand our ability to make it better. Stress becomes problematic for us when it leads to being distressed. Wehrenberg defines distress as “when we are faced with something too challenging or even overwhelming, causing us physical tension and mental anguish.” Over time this unresolved distress turns into anxiety.
Anxiety is what happens when ambiguity (uncertainty) exists. Anxiety is what’s happening when we start asking ourselves a lot of “what if” and “if only” questions. “What if I can’t pay my bills this month?” “What if I get divorced?” “What if I am alone forever?” Or the “if only” questions – “If only I had ___.” “If only I were ___.” Both of these anxiety responses, which serve as our human way of trying to resolve the unresolved distress we are experiencing, keep us from actually resolving anything, and further, keep us out of the present time and place we are in.
So now what? Now what do you do with your anxiety? I’d suggest, first and foremost, that you don’t pretend you’re not an anxious person, if you are one. Trying to deny its existence to yourself or trying to hide it from others will only make it worse and perpetuate that idea that something is intrinsically wrong with you. Also, don’t embark on this journey alone. Surround yourself with people who can help you and support you as you begin leaning how to manage your anxiety.
Here are some suggestions for you to consider as you begin your journey…
- Learn about YOU. It’s important to learn about the situations, people, places, and topics that tend to make you anxious. Learning these things will also help you to learn what your bodies (your physiological) response cues are when you are becoming anxious.
- Learn to Deal with Ambiguity. Sadly much of our culture does not allow for ambiguity to exist. Here’s an example – our culture would say you are either brave or you are a coward – people would like us to believe that there is no fear in being brave. Well this simply isn’t true. An essential part of being brave is acknowledging your fear while you are acting bravely. In my opinion, bravery without fear is stupidity. To be alive is to have ambiguity. The key to living with it is allowing the ambiguity to exist while trying to find the resolution you so desperately desire.
- Strategies and Exercises. There are many strategies and exercises out there to help you. Identifying the right ones for you and practicing them regularly are important. This can often take some time to figure out so don’t loose hope if some of them aren’t working right away! To accompany her book mentioned above, Margaret Wehrenberg also wrote The 10 Best-Ever Anxiety Management Techniques Workbook. This workbook contains many great strategies/exercises, which will help manage your anxiety. But remember, it’s important to not do this alone so let’s move to #4 of my suggestions!
- Find a Great Therapist. Finding a great therapist is essential to not trying to do this journey alone. A therapist who understands and knows anxiety will be able to help you assess your anxiety, identify your triggers, bring some resolution, and help you find strategies/exercises that will be helpful to you long-term. Your therapist will be an objective person in your life as you learn about your anxiety, grow and become free from it, and offer you support along the journey.
- Learn to Not Fear your Anxiety. Struggling with anxiety does not mean you have failed as a human or that something is wrong with you. It simply means you are a human being and this is a struggle you have. Remember, it is a treatable, and manageable struggle. Learning to embrace it is essential to your growth.
- Explore Taking Medication. Not everyone who struggles with anxiety has to take anti-anxiety medication, but to be honest with you, most do. Choosing to begin anti-anxiety medication while going to therapy will better enable you to implement the strategies/exercises you are learning. Beginning to take medication does not mean you will be on it for the rest of your life! It also doesn’t mean that taking it will alter your entire personality. It will simply help you to be able to manage your anxiety while you learn the strategies/exercises that work best for you. I take anxiety med’s and I am SO THANKFUL for them!
- Have Hope. You are going to be okay and you are not alone!
- Begin Your Journey. Choose NOW to make a change in your life. Choose NOW as the moment you began to take control over your anxiety and no longer allow it to control you.
By: Lianne Johnson, LPC
While looking through my ever exciting and thrilling Facebook page a few months ago, I saw a blog post a friend of mine shared. The title caught my eye. It read, “Let’s be gentle with each other. Let’s read each other’s signs.” After reading the title I thought it sounded interesting so I clicked it. Little did I know how powerful the story I was about to read would be. Have you ever asked yourself the question, “How different would my friends and family be with me if my pain (this includes all types of pain) didn’t scare them?” I have often wondered this in my life. I have wondered how much more care I might receive if the people trying to care for me weren’t so wrapped up in how my pain/problem(s)/fear(s) were impacting them.
This post I am about to share with you is written by Melody Ross. She shares with us her story. It’s a story about personal pain, being cared for by others, being judged, and most of all surviving. If you take the time to read it I would enjoy hearing your thoughts about it and how it impacted you.
Here it is…
After a dear friend telling me about a hurtful experience she’d had this week. I began thinking again about a story I have told a few times…. a story that my children will tell to their children, and maybe even beyond that… because it was such a learning experience in our family, maybe even a turning point.
It’s a story that I think about often because we were the main characters in it 3 or 4 years ago, and even though it was something that lasted less than 15 minutes it changed all of us and now I see others differently, especially when it seems that they might be main characters in the same story…or one a lot like it. I used to be too embarrassed to tell this story… but I am not anymore. This is a human story that everyone needs to hear, I truly believe this. I hope you will stay with it, it’s kinda long.
As we move along… I want you to think about some of the big signs with big messages that I bet you wish you could wear around your neck sometimes so that people would be more gentle, or even that you could put around the neck of someone you love — so that you didn’t have to go into a big long story to defend yourself or someone else– so that people would just stop judging and and just be kind.
I need to start this story by giving you a little bit of background. You see, my husband had an accident in 2004 that injured the frontal lobe of his brain. It has taken 6 years to get him back, but in the middle there, between 2004 and now, lots and lots of stuff happened. He was essentially out of it, but not just that, he changed to someone else, we lost him.
His personality changed completely, he could not work, he was angry and depressed and could not cope with human beings. He did not feel love or affection, really he only felt anger, rage, and he was suicidal most of the time. He did not remember a lot of things. He could not take care of our family or even himself, really (and I want to mention again that through lots of miracles, he is 100% recovered now…we are so thankful….he is even BETTER than he was before his accident).
But during that time he would have these confusing and amazing glitches of time when he would be totally normal. It was bittersweet. They would last for an hour sometimes, and sometimes for days or even weeks then he would sink back down into that horrible place. When he was sick, I protected him fiercely. I didn’t want anyone to see him like that. I had faith that someday he would recover but man oh man it was lonely. I wished every single day that I could just walk around with a sign like this…
because on the outside I looked like I had EVERYTHING GOING FOR ME I looked like I might just have a perfect life but I was hiding a very painful secret…
Well, a lot of other things happened too. You can imagine what might happen over the years while we have a 7 acre farm, a pretty big international business that we own with lots of employees, a life that HE managed before his accident, while he just let me do the fun and creative stuff. Now we had lots of medical bills, lots of sorrow and lots of distractions, we also had LOTS of kids — and no one competent managing the business.
Well, after a few years, I couldn’t hold it all together. Our business was suffering for all of the reasons listed above and a few more reasons on top of that and we discovered that we were really SINKING. Well, one day when he was partly lucid…he was THERE…he was coherent — I told him the condition of our life.
He kind of panicked and he went straight to work figuring out what he could do. It was insanely heartbreaking when he would “wake up” after weeks or months and I had to tell him how much things were deteriorating financially, etc. It was very hard. But when he could, he did what he could before his mental illness sucked him back into the prison it kept him in most of the time.
He called a sign place and had a huge sign brought out to our house…the kind that you can put letters on, and it was electric and lit up. He put it by the road in one of our horse fields. Then he drove our Suburban, both of our trucks, my classic Thunderbird that he got me for my birthday a few years earlier, our tractor, all of our tractor implements, the boat that I worked 10 years to get for him (and that caused his brain injury, incidentally), and he lined everything up along the fence and he put a price tag on every single thing. Then, he put the letters on that big huge sign and plugged it in.
You have to understand that we had worked for MANY years for those things. We started a business in our twenties and we sacrificed everything we had for all of those years to make it work. We owned almost all of it outright, but, when I told him that the business was struggling, this is what he did.
Sooooo…there it was. All in a row. All of our stuff –out in our field.
All of the neighbors driving by, our friends, the community, people who knew us most of our lives and people who knew nothing about us…we were just the young family who lived in that beautiful little farm house on Beacon Light road with the perfect lawn….or what USED to be.
You see, in addition, for months, our once beautifully manicured yard started to be filled with weeds that were now several feet high. I just couldn’t keep it up. The lawn was a nightmare. Everything was just falling apart all around me and my heart was broken over my husband, too. It was humiliating and exhausting and horrible, really.
Well, the sign was not up in the field for more than a few hours, when my husband’s phone rang. It was someone who saw all the stuff and my husband’s phone number on the big huge sign. We were sitting out in the yard while he was still coherent and he was feeling devastated about the condition of our lawn. I was apologizing that I just couldn’t do all of it. He was so heartbroken at his limitations and that he had left me to try to handle our life alone. We were trying to make a plan.
He answered his phone. I saw that he was just listening. I could hear that the person’s voice was getting louder and louder and louder. My husband just listened. He turned his back to me a little so I wouldn’t hear. But I could hear it. It seemed to go on and on and on.
These were the things I could hear on the other end of the phonecall:
“You are bringing down the value of my property with that ugly sign!”
“What are you doing?”
“That is the most obnoxious sign, do you have a permit to have that out there?”
“Are you starting a used car lot?”
“You have got to get all of that moved and out of here or I am calling the authorities”
I sat there, mortified, embarrassed, humiliated, mad, sad, devastated. I was certain that this would snap my husband back into his dark hellish place.
But, when the man was done ranting, my husband waited a second and then very calmly said something that I will never, ever forget.
“Sir,” he said, “There was a time in this country, in this community…when if you drove past your neighbor’s house and saw every single thing they own was for sale in front of their house…and that their lawn had not been mowed for weeks….that you would stop and say….WHAT IS GOING ON, SOMETHING MUST BE TERRIBLY WRONG, WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP YOU?”
The man was silent, and then my husband went on to tell him a few details about what was going on with our family.
The man waited a moment and then his tone changed. He apologized. I mean, really apologized and then said:
“I am going to call all of my friends and see if any of them need any of this stuff….”
I wish with everything in me that we could have put a sign up on that big stupid lit up billboard in our field that said OUR LIFE IS FALLING APART, but all that we really could put up is a sign with the price of everything that we owned that was worth any money.
WHAT IF we could all wear a sign that said what WE REALLY MEANT? What if we could go straight past the small talk or the masks, and we could actually go straight to the heart of the matter. What if our friends and family wore signs like this?
…we would treat each other differently.
I think we should just try to imagine it. That when a friend is quiet…or not showing up to stuff she usually shows up to, or acting a little “off”, or a family member is wearing pajamas to the grocery store for weeks on end, or not answering the phone, or the lawn is not mowed…
whatever it is…
IT IS A SIGN. It is not a sign that can be read in words and letters, but it is a sign that someone needs to be treated gently. That they need help. Most of all, that they need love, understanding, and that they DEFINITELY DO NOT need to be judged.
Every time I think of this story I want to be better. I want to do better, I don’t want any silent signs to go unread before my eyes or my heart. I don’t want to make up my own answers to what must be going on. I don’t want to assume…
Let’s be gentle with each other. Let’s read each other’s signs.
—– The original post can be found at: http://www.mamamia.com.au/news/her-husband-had-an-accident/
Oh, the holidays. Christmas lights are appearing on houses, Christmas music is playing everywhere, and Christmas trees are beginning to glow in windows. Stores are highlighting great gift ideas and sales. Stores are filled with crowds and calendars begin filling up with parties, gatherings, and holiday traditions.
by Jonathan Hart, LPC
I have a Dieffenbachia. It’s a tropical houseplant I’ve been growing for a few years now. When I got it, it only had 4 leaves and stood maybe a foot high. I stopped counting the leaves a long time ago. It now stands three to four feet high. Maybe I should say “stood”. I have recently learned a great deal about the plant’s nature and needs, which resulted in my cutting it almost in half. Let me explain.
The Dieffenbachia is also known as “Dumb Cane”, apparently because of it’s poisonous sap, which will cause throat constriction and even death if ingested. “You’re dumb if you eat this cane”, I think is what the name means. I, personally, call it “dumb” because it will grow itself into oblivion. If you let it go, it becomes too tall for the root system to hold upright and it falls over, uprooting itself. In order to properly care for the plant, one must cut off a fairly significant amount of growth. New, healthier, growth sprouts from below the cut, and the plant is sturdier and more balanced.
I must confess, pruning seems counter-intuitive. It feels destructive to me to chop off parts of the plant that are doing well, from which new growth is continually sprouting. It seems wasteful to simply drop those leaves and stems into the trash. (I actually planted the severed portion to see if it will take root and propagate. I’ll let you know what happens, maybe.) Yet the overall health and continued success of the plant depends on this process of cutting back.
Why the horticulture lesson? Because this seems to be a beautiful, if unsettling, analogy for the human condition. We are all about growth. We love to get stronger, taller, to spread more leaves and challenge new heights. Growth is good.
We don’t seem to like the idea of pruning much, though. First, it means experiencing pain, and nobody likes pain. I’m sure my plant was terrified as I approached with my knife. Second, it means understanding that not all growth is necessarily good. There is a kind of growth inherent in humanity that turns into pride, an appearance of strength that leads to catastrophe. I love to see new sprouts on my plant, but I was utterly dismayed when I returned home one day to find that the plant had toppled over onto its neighbor, damaging both plants in the process.
There is a kind of pain that originates in our own actions and attitudes. I am not speaking of the pain that comes from death, natural disaster, or the predation of others upon us. I am speaking of the kind of pain that we experience as a natural overflow or consequence of our own actions and words. These actions and words grow from attitudes and a sense of entitlement that feels like strength; in other words, from pride.
The moment we believe we have overcome a temptation, that we have succeeded in surpassing the weakness that used to trip us up, we have entered a kind of denial that we often label as growth. “I’m better now. I wouldn’t do that! It’s no longer a problem for me.” Pride is the language of “I’m better than that”.
I celebrate when I see anyone overcome a temptation or weakness, but I also cringe just a little, because I fear that in the certainty of having surpassed the actual behavior or attitude, they may come to deny that the core weakness to it still exists. It is the core weakness that will topple us, for in the moment we believe we are proof against it because we have “come so far”, we let down our guard and open ourselves up to it all over again. None of us is as strong as we think we are.
Wise is the one who will open him- or herself to pruning when it comes, who will humbly acknowledge the truth that their heart whispers to them and reveal it to a trustworthy helper. It hurts, it’s scary, it changes things irrevocably… and it spurs new, real, balanced growth. Those who resist pruning head for a far more painful tumble when the overwhelming weight of “growth” tumbles them from their pot. The damage is greater, the recovery longer, the hurt done to self and others deeper. The very hurt we fear from the pruning is intensified and broadened.
Not all growth is real or healthy. Often it becomes an illusion of strength or competence, while on the inside we deny the toppling sensation we feel deep down. Better to bring it out voluntarily and deal with it sooner -to submit to the pruning knife – than to let it continue until we fall.
The other day in staff meeting we discussed what each counselor’s top book pick is these days, and here is the list:
1. Book: Why Does He Do That?
Author: Lundy Bancroft.
Courtney says, “This book gives insight into the way angry and controlling men operate in relationships.”
2. Book: Gifts of Imperfections: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are.
Author: Brene Brown
Anna says, “This book is about taking risks, being vulnerable, and learning to live wholeheartedly.”
3. Book: When Being Good Isn’t Good Enough
Author: Steve Brown
Jonathan says, “This book is for the Spiritual over-achiever in all of us.”
4. Book: Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction
Author: Mark Laaser
Andy says, “This book is about finding freedom for your sexual addiction.”
5. Book: The 10 Best-Ever Anxiety Management Techniques
Author: Margaret Wehrenberg
Lianne says, “This book is all about anxiety – learning to manage it – learning to help others who struggle with it – learning about why we are anxious people.”
Hope you enjoyed our list!
by: Courtney Hollingsworth, PLPC
The ‘Busy’ Trap
Ringing with truth and clarity, when I came across this article in the New York Times about busyness I knew I wanted to share author Tim Kreider’s ideas here with you. I agreed, resonated, and felt convicted by his look at how busyness is a trap we have created and accepted in our mainstream culture, that we then in turn create and accept in our lives. While I didn’t necessarily nod along to every point he made in the article, his overall thesis that we perpetuate busy lives to create importance to our days and therefore significance to our lives, is one I see and feel all around me as well as in me.
“Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.“
Rather than view idleness as the enemy, or evidence of emptiness, he posits idleness as an important factor to fullness in life. “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”
By Jonathan Hart, LPC
I have just returned from a very nice, relaxing vacation. We were quite thoroughly “off the grid”: away from cities, away from crowds, away from cell phone signal, internet, and even electricity. It was refreshing … after about a day and a half of electronics withdrawal.
When I’m not on vacation, I depend a great deal on my phone. All my appointments are stored there in my schedule, along with contact information and a glut of other data that is fairly important. I take a great many phone calls, texts, and e-mails about business and clients. It has become a (bad) habit to give my attention to the thing whenever it blings, dings, beeps, or whistles. When it does not do so for more than an hour or two, I find myself compulsively looking at it to see if I missed something.
Out in the woods, I found myself repeatedly grasping my pocket where my phone usually resides and, finding nothing there, experiencing a brief moment of panic: “Where did I leave it? Did I lose it?” Then I remembered that it was turned off and stowed in the glove box alongside the other useless stuff: the owner’s guide for my truck, 27 maps for places we weren’t, and a stick and a half of year-old gum.
Even on the third day, my wife and I found ourselves in information withdrawal: what was the weather going to be today, and how would that influence our decisions on activities and preparations? We needed to know!! We never did find out, and –gasp– we survived unharmed.
A mentor of mine told me once: “Always, Always, Always take a vacation every year. Make the time.” Especially in the helping professions, but in all walks of life, rest and self-care is critically important. In the military they call it “P.M.”: Preventive Maintenance. It means stopping before things break in order to keep them from breaking. It means taking the truck, gun, or equipment out of use and circulation for a period of time, doing without it, in order to keep it functioning optimally.
Many of us are bad at PM for our hearts and souls. We usually wait until we feel bad or until something in our world “breaks” before we stop to rest. This is a mistake. We run ourselves into the ground and we cease to function well, serving poorly, working poorly, and living poorly.
How long has it been since you went off the grid (whatever that looks like in your world)? How long since you stopped and took care of your heart and mind and soul? Do something that relaxes, refreshes, recharges you. Get out of your routine for a while. You’ll know you are starting to do it when you have those moments where you wonder what has fallen apart that you could have taken care of or prevented. When you get to that point, don’t stop. Take another day.
Or two. It will keep.
Let it go. Go on.