May 25, 2019

Removing Truth from Error.


Imagine you just spend 2 hours in an alpine meadow on your knees picking wild strawberries. You finally have 4 cups of tiny power packed morsels of goodness. If you’ve never eaten a wild strawberry, image five of the very best strawberries you’ve ever eaten packed into the size of a very small grape.  Amazing, right? So, you can’t wait to mix them up with a little whip cream and top a freshly baked shortcake. You hike down the mountain and drive home. 

Finally after that day’s journey you arrive at home. Joy and a feeling of accomplishment washing over you. As you walk toward the house you are so happy, you are almost ready to bite into these gems.  Your mouth is already watering as you smell the sweet red jewels. But as you almost read the house you trip, wobbling you try to regain your balance but alas, you drop the basket spilling it's delicate cargo all over the gravel driveway. Your heart sinks and joy fades as you watch the precious fruit roll in all directions. You scoop up as many as you can find, but now, stuck to the tiny fruit are bits of gravel. So, now what do you do? Do you take the fruit in and wash it or do you just throw it out frustrated and disgusted it's been tainted? I don’t know about you, but I would wash it! I'm not going to give up on those little beauties I worked so hard for. Really, I reason, it’s only a little more work to clean them with the gravel than without. True, the strainer doesn’t get rid of the larger pieces of rocks, those you have to individually pull out. But it’s worth it right? Why would you give up on something you’ve worked so hard to obtain?

Yet, in spiritual, philosophical, emotional, or other matters we can be in danger of throwing out the fruit when we find a bit of gravel in it.  We see error and fear grips us. Most of us have been programmed, hard wired, to desire truth over error. Disclaimer, just because we believe we are right or know something to be true doesn't make it so. But we rarely think we are wrong and are ok with that. There is something about being right that drives us. So when falsehood raises its ugly head we are quick, especially Bible believing Christians, to see it and stomp on it. 

But what would happen to our little berries if we stomped on them? Would that get rid of the gravel? Well, you certainly wouldn’t have to worry about the gravel that's for sure. It's one way to deal with it. But you won't be able to eat the fruit after that. It just becomes a mess once they are mixed through and through. But you miss the blessing when that happens. The fruit is ruined. But if instead you wash the fruit, you get rid of the gravel, or error, while keeping the fruit, or in our analogy truth.  Our desire to crush lies can actually hurt the truth!  Wow, not something we think about very often is it?

Wait! Am I saying we should be ok with a little error when it comes attached to some precious fruit? No, not at all. Remember in the analogy, we need to wash the fruit for it to be safe to eat, otherwise we can chip a tooth if we were to eat the berries with even one piece of gravel on it.  Just one tiny rock can ruin the experience.  That's symbolic! 

So what does this mean practically? When you listen to a sermon or read a self help book will it always be 100% true? Do you then cloister yourself from all human influences? God is working to save all humanity would you agree? Does that include Christians? Other religions? Atheists? Of course.  One of my career mentors uses little proverbs from the Bible, and sometimes Buddha, and all of them fit in line with my understanding of scripture. Do I throw out a truth which can be support by the Bible because Buddha said it? What if Mohammad said it?  Just because I come from one belief system doesn't mean there is ONLY truth in that ONE system and that EVERYTHING else is false.  I’ve seen people so fearful of error they throw out important truths, like throwing out the strawberries with gravel stuck to them.  

The good news is it’s very easy to separate truth from error, just like washing dirty fruit. We simply look for, and embrace the truth. It’s not that hard or complicated. There maybe some deep and more profound truths in symbols and metaphors hidden in scripture but that’s part of washing preconceived ideas from our own minds. None of us know everything perfectly.  We all make mistakes, have biases and hidden assumptions buried in our minds.  The more we embrace truth the quicker we will see errors, but it's all contingent on us being willing to accept that truth when we see it.  

So, be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  (An old German proverb dating back to Medieval times with truth relevant for all cultures today.)

May 6, 2019

Stress is the NEW Smoking: 7 Secrets to Manage Stress


In my last article I talked about stress, anxiety, and hidden emotions. This week I'd like to explore the body/mind connection of stress and how to combat it in our lives. But before we do that, just a reminder, not all stress is bad.  Not everyone is stressed by the same stressors.  It is a complicated process which means we can't give definitive answers to many of the general questions like: why do we get stressed or how can we stop it.  What we can do is be aware of what is going on in our own minds and work toward mediating how that affects us.

Just in time for mental health awareness month, I've found there is more and more evidence linking stress to all manner of diseases. While there is a new catch phrase, "Sitting is the new smoking", I'd say stress is too.  Since smoking has been on the decline for almost a decade now, and people are hearing all about eating right and exercise, we've gotten complacent in dealing with harmful influences to our health that are more insidious than one might first think.  Not too mention harder to define and eliminate which makes them less researched.  One of the best books on the subject of how bad stress is for you, is by Dr. Gabor Mate, "When Your Body Says No."

Here is some of what we do know. (Salleh M. R. 2008) "Studies have shown that short-term stress boosted the immune system, but chronic stress has a significant effect on the immune system that ultimately manifest an illness...The morbidity and mortality due to stress-related illness is alarming. Emotional stress is a major contributing factor to the six leading causes of death in the United States: cancer, coronary heart disease, accidental injuries, respiratory disorders, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide. If you like facts and detailed descriptions of how this actually happens in your body, read the whole article here.

Since I could write pages on how stress affects our health but that would not give you any practical help, I'm going to skip all that and assume you believe me that stress is harming your health and instead jump to how to treat stress. Here are the 7 secrets to managing stress:
  1. Prayer combined with trusting in God and awareness of oneself (or mindfulness meditation)
  2. Exercise
  3. Healthy diet (plant based or Mediterranean is best)
  4. CBT Therapy (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy)
  5. Rest (sleep, recreation, etc.)
  6. Social activity (both social support & doing something for someone else)
  7. Identify and limit/reduce stressors
So these are not in any kind of order of importance, in fact, I recommend you start with the ones easiest for you so you can reap the benefits as quickly as possible. Each of these has many benefits beyond stress management and there is much that can be said of them. Years ago, like a couple decades, LOL, I helped with a stop smoking program and these 7 were used successfully in helping people to quit smoking too! Of course number 7 was identify and limit/reduce temptations/triggers but all in all very similar. I do have a free course that covers most of these called Optimal Health, you can take it here.

The first one on the list is often reported as mindfulness mediation in most articles on stress but Dr. Nedley and others have reworded this for Christians. And the research backs up prayer as the alternative to mindfulness meditation. Keep in mind this is not the same as the hypnotic meditation one sees in new age religions.  It is an active form, where one is aware of what is going on around them.  There is plenty of help out there and it's not my forte so I'll leave that to other experts. I'm more familiar with the Christian version. This is more than just prayer. It is a three fold combination: faith/trust in God, self-examination, and prayer.

Exercise is pretty self-explanatory, but I'd add that getting outside is even better. Any amount will help, but there is a thing as too much which can add stress to the body. If you are unsure, do some research or talk to a fitness expert. In general, the recommendations are 30 to 60 minutes 3 to 5 times per week. More for those with sitting jobs and obviously far less if you are a general laborer. We often know what we need once we are willing to honestly look at it.
Healthy diet includes lots of fruit, veggies, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and limiting free fats, added sugars, and processed foods.

CBT is well researched and documented to help with stress even that caused by circumstances. It also helps deal with painful emotions. Learn more about CBT here.
Rest is another important key in reducing the effects of stress as well as helping you cope better with stressors.  Getting a good nights sleep, healthy recreation, and taking time to slow down even for just a few minutes a day are all great starting places.

Social activity not only helps you work through stressors like grief and loss, or life changing events, good or bad, but helping others is a proven way to improve your health. Volunteering has been shown to add up to 7 years to ones life and improve the overall quality of aging.

Lastly we have the most obvious of the 7 secrets, identify and reduce stressors.  This one will take some introspection and you can combine it with the first one, prayer.  Taking a few minutes each day to think about what caused you the most anxiety, worry, frustration, anger, fear, annoyance, feeling overwhelmed, etc.  You might even find some things bother you more on certain days.  Sometimes we can cope with circumstances better than other times.  Keep track.  Then are there some you can reduce? Are you spending more than you earn?  What is contributing to your time management issues?

If you want more help with CBT or working out identifying and reducing stressors, join me for a free 15 minute consultation
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Sources:
  • Salleh M. R. (2008). Life event, stress and illness. The Malaysian journal of medical sciences : MJMS15(4), 9–18.
  • Griffin, R. M. (n.d.). 10 Stress-Related Health Problems That You Can Fix. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/features/10-fixable-stress-related-health-problems#1
  • Agnvall, E. (2014, November 01). Stress and Disease - Conditions that May Be Caused by Chronic Stress. Retrieved from https://www.aarp.org/health/healthy-living/info-2014/stress-and-disease.html
  • Kandola, A. (n.d.). Chronic stress: Symptoms, health effects, and how to manage it. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323324.php
  • Nordqvist, C. (2017, November 28). Stress: Why does it happen and how can we manage it? Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/145855.php
  • Kandola, A. (n.d.). Why do I keep getting sick? Causes and what to do. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324842.php

April 12, 2019

Stress, Anxiety, and Hidden Emotions



There’s been some evidence that hidden emotions are linked to some to anxiety issues.  That when we bury, or repress, negative emotions that can lead to anxiety. And since none of us are immune I thought I’d share my own story which of course, is still a work in progress.

I tend to be able to cope with major life or stressful events fairly easily. I go into a task oriented mode and deal with the situation clinically. My faith feels strong and connected with God when it’s a major crisis event. However, when small things upset me in big ways I feel disconnected, alone, even incompetent. As I did some soul searching this past year, I discovered some of the reason I have this problem is a hidden “should statement” in my brain. “I shouldn’t feel this way.” There are different “reasons” for my believing this statement but usually something like: “I should be a bigger person”, “I know better”, “Jesus would just forgive them”, “I should forgive them, I forgiven far worse”, “It’s just a little thing, this is ridiculous it's upsetting me”, “A nice person wouldn’t be bothered by this”, “I should just let this go, it’s no big deal”, and so on. I don’t know if any of these kind of thoughts ring true for you, but they’re pretty common for those of us with anxiety.  The wording may vary from person to person but the theme is similar.

One little text from a friend or family member can set me into a major tailspin, while a car crash I’m able to work through without going through any major anxiety or panic attacks. Then I begin to question my own sanity. “I’m so stupid. Why is this one little thing bugging me? It’s not the end of the world.” But still I find myself stressed over that one little sentence. Other thoughts seep in. In the past family members have been upset with me over what I believe to be very little things. So upset, in once case I never heard from again even after writing a few letters. Like things creating big conflict. Things like forgetting to call before showing up at their home, not keeping in touch often enough (not that they ever kept in touch), posting a picture on social media, or even making a pie (long story). So because it’s happened before I’m thinking FOR sure this is going to happen again. In fact it will likely happen anytime there’s any conflict. 

This is my hidden emotion, or hidden thought if you will. Fear of abandonment because I might have said or done something wrong.  In my mind I wonder what’s wrong with me? I do my best but I still screw up. I put energy into being the best I can be but it doesn’t ever seem to be enough. 

Now I don’t know about you. but I can see a lot of distortion’s, exaggerations, or untruthful thinking, just in those few sentences/questions. But even though I know there’s distortions, and they’re not true, when I’m feeling anxious I believe them 100%.

Most of the time we can crush a thought without figuring out why it’s there in the first place. BUT with hidden emotions we do have to do some digging. While knowing why we have a particular thought doesn’t usually crush it, we end up in a loop of thoughts until we draw it out.  We work on surface negative thoughts but they repeat the next time a stressor comes our way. This is deeper work. Digging down into our hearts.  

One of the ways to search out a hidden emotion is to recognize patterns between certain kinds of stressors/events and certain thoughts.  Another way is to use the “downward arrow” a cognitive technique. And lastly an easy place to start is 'niceness' since, for about 75% of those with anxiety, the most common hidden emotion is niceness.  Now, I know ‘niceness’ isn’t really an emotion. It’s a self-defeating belief.  I’m supposed to be nice (because X) and therefore I can’t be upset, angry, hurt, etc. That’s the emotion part of it. The anger, hurt, etc.  I encourage you to listen to this podcast by Dr. Burns about anxiety and hidden emotions: https://feelinggood.com/2017/03/13/027-scared-stiff-the-hidden-emotion-model-part-5/

But in any case, whatever your hidden emotion/self-defeating belief, to crush the negative thought we may need to use several tools. We need to come up with a positive belief we can believe 100%. One of those techniques is acceptance. The crazy thing about accepting a negative belief is you can actually crush it by seeing the value and truth in it. That may sound really strange, but it actually helps you to positively reframe it. Let me give you an example. So one of my thoughts regarding my anxiety when a mistake is pointed out to me is: “It’s not fair. I try really hard to honour my friends/family’s wishes and when I screw up they shouldn’t be angry with me. I’m only human.” So let’s break that down. First of all, it hinges on the fact that nobody should get angry or upset with me, ever. Is that realistic? What am I asking of those around me if they should never get angry, or hurt, or upset ever? Is that fair of me to expect that of them? Note this line of thinking is doesn’t put more blame on me or them. It’s just to see the reality of the situation as it is. If I screw up and hurt someone they have a right to get upset, hurt, angry, or even just let me know (they might not be feeling any of those things, just pointing out something I did). There’s nothing wrong with that. It doesn’t make them a bad person or me a bad person, we are all human. We all make mistakes. We all have feelings.  Getting angry isn’t the end of the world, nor does it necessarily mean the end of a friendship. I don’t need to withdraw just because I’m afraid of anger. I might not like it, I might feel uncomfortable about it, I might wish it never happened. Those are acceptable thoughts.

Now there are some truths in my negative thoughts listed above, for example I do try hard. Here’s one way to refrain this thought. I care a lot about my friendships in my family and so I try hard to be the best person I can be but sometimes I screw up and that hurts them. It’s OK for them to express this hurt however it affects them, whether that is anger or pain, and in it which ever way they want to communicate that to me. I don’t have to fix the problem in fact many times I can’t it’s something that can’t be undone.

Positive reframing is only one way to deal with a negative emotion and it works even better if you can dig deep and find the hidden emotions and self-defeating believes underlying this anxiety. Unfortunately positive reframing doesn’t work all the time and sometimes you need other tools where you can talk with someone else through them. I went through this with a negative thought about being a failure as a mother.  I did some of the CBT tools by myself which helped quite a bit. But I still had anxiety on and off until I did a short role-play technique with a peer. That 10 minutes cured months of anxiety and it’s been gone for a year now. Now we do get relapses, that’s guaranteed. But we know the tools to use to help squash those painful anxiety feelings by crushing the negative thoughts. We use the same ones that gave us the first victory. So if your dealing with anxiety, try the self-help books they are very powerful (especially “When Panic Attacks” by Dr. David Burns) and if you still need some support look for someone you can talk to who is willing to work with you using these tools. You can even find a friend who read the book as well, and practice together or look for a therapist near you. Let’s face it we are all defective human beings and it times we need a helping hand. How critical are you someone else who says they need help? I bet you’re more critical of yourself. So if it’s OK for some people to get help why not you?

If you’d like to work with me on an anxiety issue, book free 15 minute consultation session here.


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Removing Truth from Error.

Imagine you just spend 2 hours in an alpine meadow on your knees picking wild strawberries. You finally have 4 cups of tiny power packed...