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Conquering Worry

Without anxiety the human race would be in big trouble. Since time immemorial we have had, as a survival mechanism, the ability to respond quickly and effectively to danger. Today few of us are being chased by wild animals or weapon-bearing cavemen.  For many of us, however, our “fight or flight” response has gone haywire when we react to even the smallest concerns as if they are true emergencies.

If you are a closet worrier you aren’t alone.  Worriers are often quite successful, highly organized, dependable, and great in a crisis.  They have the ability to appear cool, calm and collected; the model of stability and courage under fire. However it’s often day-to-day life that trips them up.

Chronic worriers tend to give up and give in, concluding that their constant ruminations are an inevitable part of who they are.  Fortunately much worrying is a bad habit that can be controlled with hard work, and here’s how:

  • Keep a running list of things you need to accomplish and cross items off as you complete them.  Worriers do better when their “to do” lists are on paper and not crashing around in their heads.
  • Take one task at a time and focus solely on it.  Looking ahead, by even one step, makes worriers overly anxious and paralyzes them in their efforts to execute the task at hand.
  • When you catch yourself worrying about something ask yourself this question:  What is the worst thing that can happen if my fears come true?  Usually tackling a problem head-on isn’t as frightening as the often-unidentified horror your subconscious has been conjuring up.
  • Whenever a new worry looms, ask yourself the following question:  “Is there a step I can take to deal with the issue about which I’m worried”?
  • If the answer to this question is “yes” then take the necessary action. Having done so recognize that you’ve done what you can and that further worrying will be of no value.
  • If the answer to this question is “no” then recognize the fact that worrying about it will not have any impact on the outcome. Next turn your attention immediately to another activity.
  • Put your worry in perspective by remembering the many times you’ve worried in the past, only to learn that your concerns were unfounded.
  • Forget your own concerns by thinking of someone else in need and getting in touch with them.  Too much time alone to obsess about your fears only feeds the fire.
  • Connect with a higher power.  Worrying becomes more crippling if we believe that we are handling concerns all by ourselves.  On the other hand if we believe that there is a power greater than ourselves guiding our way our concerns become easier to bear.

Sometimes worry gets so out of hand that even with our best efforts it can’t be contained.  When this happens we often find ourselves feeling, hopeless, depressed and defeated.  If this happens to you the good news is that there is plenty of help and hope.  Please see your physician to rule out any medical causes for your persistent worry and ask him or her to refer you to an experienced mental health professional.

 

 

 

 

May 10, 2012   No Comments

Older, Working, and Happy

Are you bummed that due to economic woes you’ll have to work past your planned retirement age?  Whether you realize it or not this could be one of the biggest “gifts” you’ve ever been handed.

The concept of retirement apparently originated with German Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck in 1883 at a time when Marxism was running rampant in Europe.  To help Germans resist aligning themselves with what sounded like an elixir for their financial woes, Bismarck offered to pay a stipend to citizens living to the ripe old age of 65 (and few did).  Unwittingly he had established a “line of demarcation” for the onset of old age.  He also created the notion that leaving work and collecting a stipend is a positive; something for which we should strive.

I meet with folks on a weekly basis who are dejected that retirement may no longer be an option for them because:

  • They are tired of working and view it as drudgery.
  • They have always looked forward to the “dream” of retirement and are sad that it’s been taken from them.
  • They see retirement as the only way to have certain peak life experiences which seem undoable as long as they’re “tied to a desk” five days a week.

It’s human nature to reflexively feel upset when we perceive that something is being taken from us, in this case the opportunity to retire. So it’s no surprise that even folks who love what they do are upset if they feel forced, for financial reasons, to continue to work.

What no one tells us is that giving up our jobs for that imagined Promised Land of retirement can kill us, mentally, physically and spiritually.  Although we may need some sort of change, retirement can be akin to “jumping from the frying pan into the fire”.

All-too-many post-retirement folks tell me that they didn’t realize what they had until they gave it up. These people report missing the built-in structure work afforded them. They also begin to pine for the sense of daily purpose their jobs provided them.  What is most surprising to many is the loss of the “family” they left behind at the work place, even if a large part of that family was comprised of on-line relationships.

Instead of bemoaning your extended employment, here are some ways to approach the situation more constructively:

  • Start a list of what you’d miss if you retired tomorrow and keep adding to it. Begin to focus on how valuable the things on your list truly are and focus less on what you dislike about your job.
  • Consider the following questions:  Does retirement have to be an all-or-nothing proposition?  Do you really want to retire or is it simply time for a change in your current work situation?  If so is there a way you can shorten your work day or week, or telecommute a day or two each week?
  • Recognize that you don’t need to wait for retirement to have some of the leisure experiences for which you long.  In fact maybe you can enjoy that trip to Yosemite all the more, knowing you’ll still be bringing in a pay-check to pay for it!
  • Decide to choose toremain employed.  Once you make this shift in your thinking you may even find yourself more at peace about having acknowledged the sense of connectedness and life purpose your job actually affords you.

Keep engaging in those past-times you love.  But realize that reporting regularly to a job is more likely to keep you mentally and emotionally fit, and engaged in your life, than a steady diet of golf or bridge ever will.

 

June 3, 2011   No Comments

Finding Inner Peace

Finding Inner Peace

Frequently my patients ask:  “How do I find inner peace”?  Truth be told most of us feel at peace only in those rare moments when all of the “stars align”, i.e. when things are working out according to plan – our plan.

There appear to be universal root-causes of inner distress. Art and literature depict these themes time and time again:  Fear, impatience, envy, the belief that happiness can only be achieved at some future time and under certain conditions, and our seeming inability to notice the blessings that already exist.

Philosophers and religious leaders devote lifetimes to finding the secrets to inner peace and I certainly don’t claim to have the answers.  My experience tells me, however, that these are some things to consider while on the quest for greater internal calm:

  • Acceptance:  Much unhappiness comes from fighting who and where we are; our perceived short-comings, those of others, and of our circumstances.  “Why can’t I be better-educated, more attractive, wealthier or more gifted”?  These questions destroy peace-of-mind and make us afraid to be exactly whom and where we are. When we begin to accept that we’re exactly as we are supposed to be, with the specific attributes, circumstances (and even perceived shortcomings) we are supposed to have, we begin to feel more at peace.  Paradoxically this self-acceptance releases energy that can then be used to achieve positive growth and change.
  • Appreciation:  Its human nature to focus on what isn’t working in our lives rather than on what already is.  The survival of the human race has probably relied on our tendency to be “on guard”; to be attentive to what may go wrong so that we can fix it before disaster strikes.  Unfortunately this “hyper-vigilance” also leads to a kind of negative tunnel-vision causing us to miss what’s already good.  Starting each day with gratitude; with the acknowledgement of our relative health, shelter, food, family, friends, a job, etc., is a huge step toward finding inner peace.
  • Perspective:  Fear, frustration and self-pity reign when we can’t see past difficult life circumstances.  An antidote to painful states of mind is the realization that we’ve already survived other difficult circumstances.  Age and experience teach us that most problems can be solved and the turmoil that accompanies them eased.
  • Faith:  Inner peace is the most difficult to find when our experience hasn’t prepared us for the life challenges we face or when the outcome is potentially devastating.  How do we find a center of inner-calm when we have little or no hope? Faith in the form of religion or any other spiritual practice can get us through these tumultuous times.
  • Patience:  Even with acceptance, appreciation, perspective and faith we may find it hard to swallow that we often don’t control the speed with which life’s problems resolve themselves.  Once we’ve taken the steps we can to address these problems, however, our impatience leads only to further distress.  Acknowledging and accepting that the time frame in which positive change occurs may not be up to us restores a certain kind of inner calm.

Take a few minutes to start and end your day as follows:  Express gratitude for your many blessings.  Remind yourself that no matter how things appear you are exactly and uniquely who and what you are supposed to be.  Finally ask for the perspective, faith and patience to get through whatever challenges you may face in the next 24 hours.  Practicing these steps won’t bring you the unachievable, i.e. continual inner peace.  With practice, however, you’ll experience increasing stretches of time where prevails, despite the circumstances.

May 31, 2011   No Comments

Innovative Collaboration Provides Better Care for People in the Darien Area

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Maud Purcell: Executive Director, The Life Solution Center of Darien / 203.636.0080 / mpurcell@thelifesolutioncenter.net

 

Innovative Collaboration Provides Better Care for People in the Darien Area

May 11, 2011 – Darien, CT – The Life Solution Center of Darien and Contemporary Care of Greenwich are delighted to announce that on Thursday May 19, 2011 they will be co-hosting a cocktail party with the Darien Chamber of Commerce to celebrate their one-of-a-kind collaboration. The gathering will take place from 5:30 to 7:30 pm at The Life Solution Center of Darien, 36 Old King’s Highway South, Suite 210. The festivities, open to the public, will provide the opportunity to meet the professionals from these unique practices and to learn more about their ground-breaking treatment options.

Working together, these organizations will provide more comprehensive, cutting-edge care to people in the Darien area, as they both apply forward-thinking treatment solutions to very common problems.

The Life Solution Center of Darien was founded in 2009 by Executive Director Maud Purcell. She created the center to address clients’ needs holistically, not just psychologically. By bringing together over 20 partners with businesses ranging from legal and medical practices to home management and image consultation, Purcell has created a space where clients can meet all their needs under one roof.

Contemporary Care provides broad-based, cutting-edge treatments for an array of psychiatric disorders under the direction of Tarique Perera, MD, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University, a brain-researcher, and a graduate of Harvard Medical School. Contemporary Care’s team of highly-skilled health professionals delivers comprehensive treatment plans customized to clients’ individual needs. The practice employs psychotherapy and psychopharmacology as well as a number of contemporary treatment options including Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), which uses short pulses of magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in one of the areas of the brain thought to control mood.

TMS is a ground-breaking, non-medication approach to the treatment of depression and research has repeatedly confirmed its durability and effectiveness. It is being used by major hospitals including The Mayo Clinic and Walter Reed Hospital. Although it is FDA-approved for depression, ongoing studies support its efficacy in the treatment of a wide range of other brain related disorders including but not limited to chronic pain, migraine headache, Parkinson’s Disease and autistic-spectrum disorders. Additionally, Contemporary Care and The Life Solution Center of Darien will be the only practices using MRI-Guided TMS, which allows for far greater precision in the treatment of these illnesses.

“Though it is the most obvious aspect of his work, Dr. Perera’s practice is impressive entirely beyond his innovative, contemporary, approach,” says Maud. “His caring clinical manner and medical acumen enable him to build the relationships necessary to provide the best care for his patients. Our collaboration is indicative of this.”

Dr. Perera’s and Purcell’s collaboration benefits clientele of both The Life Solution Center and Contemporary Care – as well as the community at large – by providing yet another space in which to administer TMS, right in downtown Darien. The joint-venture speaks to Contemporary Care’s belief that optimizing general health – physically, mentally, and emotionally – is crucial for successful and durable treatment. The availability and array of professionals at the Life Solution Center gives patients receiving TMS treatment there access to all these professional services, with the convenience of going to one location and the reassurance that they are working with a team of well-vetted professionals.

May 13, 2011   No Comments

Hope and Help for Mood Disorders

Have you channel-surfed lately?  If so, you’ve likely seen the plethora of advertisements for anti-depressant medication.  The good news is that these ads increase our awareness of anxiety disorders and depressive illness.

The bad news, however, is that according to the National Institutes of Mental Health, 14.8 million American adults or 6.7% of the population age 18 and older suffers from depression in a given year.  Additionally, 40 million Americans 18 and older or about 18.1% of our population suffers from anxiety disorders.

Given these statistics chances are good that you or someone you care about is currently suffering from anxiety or depression.  Since it’s normal to have down days and to worry about unresolved situations, how do we know if mood changes warrant professional help?  Asking the following questions can aid you or a loved one in sorting out whether professional is warranted:

  • Could your mood changes be due to an underlying medical issue?  If you’re overdue for a physical exam you might want to get on your doctor’s calendar.  Depression or anxiety can be symptoms of other underlying medical conditions such as Lyme Disease or Thyroid Disease.  They can also be caused by the hormonal changes that accompany menopause. So before pursuing psychotherapy or psychotropic medication you might want to rule out other possible causes for your emotional upset.

 

  • Is there a situation that may have triggered your anxiety or depression?  If so, does your emotional roller coaster begin to even out as the situation in question rights itself?  If the answer to this question is yes, you were merely having a normal reaction to circumstances, and no professional intervention is required.

 

  • Are you grieving the loss of a loved one, or the fact that your last child is about to leave the nest?  Maybe you are experiencing a more subtle kind of loss. What no one teaches us is that any change can trigger a grieving process, even changes we choose, e.g. accepting a better job, or choosing to move.

 

If there is no apparent cause for your anxiety or depression, and your symptoms last for more than two weeks, it’s time to seek professional help.  The good news is that there are many new approaches to the diagnosis and treatment of depression and anxiety, and here are some of them:

  • We now have access to new and better anti-depressant medications; ones with fewer side-effects, and which better address one or more of the brain chemicals involved in mood regulation.

 

  • One of the difficulties with prescribing anti-depressant medication is that there hasn’t been a way to determine which medication might be most effective for a given patient, at what dosage, and with the least likelihood of side effects.  Fortunately, a company called Genomas has developed a DNA-guided blood test that takes some of the guess work out of prescribing anti-depressants.

 

  • There is a new, non-medication approach to treating depression called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation or TMS.  It is an FDA-approved, non-invasive procedure which uses highly-focused magnetic pulses to stimulate nerve cells in the brain. It’s administered on an outpatient basis, and research conducted into the efficacy of TMS is highly promising.

 

  • There are always new psychotherapeutic approaches to treating anxiety and depression.  One of the most interesting is called “Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy”.  It blends features of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy with ancient mindfulness techniques, such as using one’s own breathing to help regulate and calm emotions by staying focused in the present.

 

If anxiety or depression are “knocking at your door”, there’s no need to despair.  Surely one of the many innovations in the treatment of mood disorders can provide you with hope and help.

June 24, 2010   1 Comment

Facing Life’s Problems

I recently had the pleasure of lunch with my favorite New Yorker, our 28-year-old daughter.  She shared with me that she was “off kilter”; that she was feeling irritable, overwhelmed and down.  Because she generally rolls pretty well with the ups and downs of life, I was caught off guard.  Aware that I’m her Mother and can’t be her Shrink, I tried my best just to listen. Of course I considered the worst possible scenarios, including imagining her as a hoarder with ten cats!

I finally got a grip on my disastrous thinking, and reminded myself that emotional “symptoms” usually don’t mean anything serious or unfixable. In fact, these symptoms are there to get our attention, and let us know that there’s an issue or problem to which we should attend. This phenomenon is true of physical symptoms as well.  An obvious example is a skin irregularity:  If we attend to it in a timely way, there’s generally a simple solution with a good prognosis.  If we ignore the “symptom”, in this case, it could turn out to be something serious or even fatal.

Far too many of us were taught to avoid dealing with emotional symptoms by ignoring or denying them.  According to M. Scott Peck, author of the best-seller The Road Less Traveled, most of life’s big problems are the result of a series of unresolved smaller issues that we fail to acknowledge and address.

Next time you feel blue, down-in-the dumps, unusually anxious, a loss of confidence, the desire to isolate or seek comfort in food, shopping, alcohol or any other substance, here are steps you can take to identity what’s “eating at you” emotionally:

  • Ask yourself the following questions:
  • What has recently occurred that might be upsetting me, e.g., problems in any of my key relationships, financial difficulties, the illness or death of a loved one or a pet, or work issues?
  • Is this the anniversary of the loss of someone or something important to me?
  • Am I unusually disorganized at home or at the office?
  • Have I changed my exercise, sleep or eating habits?
  • Is there something I’m actually angry about but haven’t yet addressed?
  • Often the root of the problem falls into one of the categories mentioned in the questions above.  Once you’ve identified the cause of your upset, ask yourself if there’s any step you can take to minimize or alleviate the problem.  If there is something you can do, take care of it now, schedule a time when you will take care of it, or delegate it to someone else.  You’ll feel measurably better for having taken a step toward resolution.
  • If you determine that your upset is due to a loss, allow yourself time to acknowledge and grieve the loss, knowing that grieving is a normal healing process.
  • Decide to do something proactive:  Instead of waiting for the next time you feel “symptoms”, begin taking your daily “emotional temperature”:  At about the same time each day, ask yourself how you feel on a scale of 1-10, 1 being lousy and 10 being terrific.  Then think about what has occurred in the last 24 hours to bring you to where you are now.  If you do this daily it will be easier to determine what is triggering your moods, for better or worse.

Back to my daughter:  After talking it through, she realized that she had stopped writing on a regular basis. She is an aspiring writer, and she had given up her passion for some weeks because she thought she couldn’t fit it into her schedule!  Immediately she vowed to set aside ½ an hour each day for this purpose.  Her realization and subsequent decision immediately brightened her mood.  Although not all problems have such straight-forward solutions, if caught early, most dilemmas do!

April 13, 2010   No Comments