Archive for the ‘Stress & Anxiety’ Category

Sometimes There is No Silver Lining

Saturday, July 28th, 2007

Clouds With a Silver LiningI once asked a pessimist friend of mine why he persisted in expecting the worst of every situation. He responded with a variation of an old proverb: “They told me to cheer up; things could get worse! So I cheered up. And they were right, things got worse!”

I have to admit he touched upon the roots of despair: the repetition of disaster. Oh sure, we can all deal with the occasional crisis, the one-time emergency. Even an out and out disaster can bring out the hero or heroine in us, the chance to show we have the right stuff. But give any of us a series of even minor failures, and the staunchest optimist begins to have trouble finding the silver lining.

People cope with these times in various ways. Some talk about “a run of bad luck.” Others blame it on “bad karma” and try to figure out what they did to deserve such trials. But eventually, faced with a long enough series of unexpected blows, most of us end up like Job wailing out a despairing “Why Me?”

There isn’t any good answer, of course. Well-meaning friends who spout off lines like “Into every life a little rain must fall,” are asking for a black eye! Let’s face it: everybody has times of despair when nothing will cheer them up. Climbing out of this kind of hopelessness doesn’t happen overnight. But there are steps you can take to nurture the seeds of hope, and to slow down the sense of impending doom.

The best kind of hope is based on reality. Trying to cheer up by pretending that a miracle will occur will only make things worse in the long run. Building your hopes on illusion will only set you up for a bigger fall. If you’re $20,000 in debt and your spouse has filed for divorce, don’t count on winning the Lottery this week, or on your spouse’s having a change of heart.

Above all, don’t fall prey to the Scarlett O’Hara Syndrome of “I won’t think about it now. I’ll think about it tomorrow.” If you’re sliding downhill into despair, complete denial of your problems will only rob you of a chance to minimize their destructive effects. Imagine what a different ending “Gone With The Wind” would have had if Scarlett had only thought about the effects of her actions!

Start by getting your problems into some manageable framework. Write down a list of the crises facing you. Such a list has limits: you’ll find it is not endless, and that itself can bring a sense of relief. Now list the worst possible effects or outcome of each problem. Find out exactly what it is you are dreading. Vague fears are often more unsettling than knowing exactly what it is you fear.

Now go over your list to see what you might do to deal with each situation, or at least to avoid its worst consequences Write down each idea that occurs to you. Remember that chances are that you could handle each situation on its own. It’s only their combined effect that has you feeling overwhelmed. Break them into small manageable pieces, and promise yourself to do at least one thing daily to improve the situation.

You don’t have to believe that things will get better overnight to build hope. Be realistic about accepting how bad they are, and start improving the situation one step at a time. You don’t have to pretend a cheeriness you don’t feel. Cry if you need to. Then start taking steps to make sure you have a little less to cry about tomorrow.

Who knows? One day soon, you may wake up and find that things are no longer getting worse. You may even realize that they seem to be getting better. And that day is worth working for!

Humor Is a Funny Thing

Saturday, July 14th, 2007

Picture of a Stilted ClownWriting regularly gives me a chance to explore many different thoughts and feelings. Sometimes I’m very serious, but other times I can’t help laughing as I write. Erma Bombeck I’m not, but I enjoy sharing my light-hearted moods with you, the reader.

Without humor, life would be unbearably flat, and our conversations exceedingly dull. Our lack or perspective and balance would make our world seem too grim to bear.

I’m always amazed when people complain about my humor. I accept that my jokes aren’t always terrific. But I’m really shocked when the reason turns out to be because some people don’t feel it’s ever appropriate for a professional to ever be funny. Some people think that adults, especially doctors, should take life seriously. No laughter, no frivolity, just the facts, ma’am. (By the way, if you’re too young to recognize the reference, check out any version of Dragnet. Those detectives are so serious they’re funny.)

While there are some topics I never make light of, I have to admit that generally I find life pretty funny. Laughter is one way of admitting we don’t know all the answers, and that we often get our priorities mixed up. The ability to laugh at ourselves is very special. Without it, we take ourselves much too seriously.

If you can laugh at yourself, you can admit there’s room for improvement. When you laugh at life’s ups and downs, you are acknowledging that it isn’t perfect. I like the older satirists like Tom Lehrer and Mark Russell who made us realize how funny politics can be. Or Erma Bombeck and Peg Bracken who made us smile at home life. (I found them especially useful in those years when I was raising three sons!) While world politics and family life are serious areas, laughing at them can keep us from despair.

Despair makes us apathetic, but laughter doesn’t. Hopefulness keeps us moving towards change. Laughter is hope. It makes us realize that we are smart enough to see through the problem, and strong enough to do something about it. Even in situations that seem overwhelming, laughing at something silly can do more to create energy for a change than crying over the inevitable. And nothing defuses a fight faster than when both parties suddenly start laughing over the silliness of it all. Laughter can help reduce pain, improve your immune system, and increase your overall health.

People who are anxious and depressed have often lost the ability to laugh, especially at themselves. Everything seems serious and dreary. You don’t have to be a Pollyanna, always looking for the good side of bad things. Nor should you plaster on a fake smile and pretend things aren’t as bad as they seem. We’re not talking about that old advice to count your blessings, although that can certainly be helpful. No, we’re talking about the fact that we can all look pretty funny when we’re climbing out of the pits.

The best kind of humor can help us feel closer to other people, not farther away. It can give us hope by refreshing our perspective. It can keep us from being pompous or self-righteous. Laughter makes us part of the human race, and that’s a pretty funny race to be running!

Need Help?

Monday, July 2nd, 2007

A photo of someone reaching for helpOne of the ironies of life is that when we most need help, it’s often hard to know where to go to get it! As a psychologist, I am often faced with clients who are afraid to tell anyone that they are getting professional help. It’s a variation of the belief that ‘anyone who goes to a shrink is nuts.’

I personally feel that the opposite is usually the case. Someone who enters therapy is often healthier than average because they recognize their problems and are trying to work on them. Furthermore, they are smart enough to seek the help of an objective and experienced professional. But the old stigma attached to ‘emotional problems’ continues to haunt all of us.

Many people feel that they ought to be able to solve their problems all by themselves. They bottle up their anxieties until they are like a pressure cooker without a safety valve. They develop signs of stress, such as irritability, depression, or even physical complaints like headaches or ulcers. They may turn to alcohol or drug abuse to further mask the pain of their unshared problems. No one is an island, and none of us is so perfect that we can solve all out problems alone. It just doesn’t work!

Other people believe that it is a sign of weakness to consult an ‘outsider’ about their problems. They unburden themselves to family or friends. Unfortunately, those close to us are usually too close to be of much help. Our friends may not have the objectivity to help us choose between alternatives. They may not have the knowledge to know how to help us, even when their intentions are good.

No one can ‘tell’ you the answer to your problem. A good therapist will help you explore and understand your difficulties. He or she may even suggest things to try, and help you experiment with new behaviors and evaluate the results. But competent professionals know that you cannot wave a magic wand and solve problems instantly.

All too often our friends, precisely because they don’t like to see us in pain, offer advice or suggest simple solutions without really encouraging us to figure out exactly what is happening. This can be very dangerous. We may become more frustrated trying out ‘answers’ that don’t fit our specific situations. We may begin to resent friends who try to simplify problems we have been suffering with for weeks or months.

The next time you find yourself struggling with pent-up feelings and continuing unhappiness, ask yourself the following questions:

If your car had engine trouble, would you take it to an experienced mechanic or ask all your friends to offer their opinions on what is wrong?

If you broke your leg, would you insist on handling it by yourself?

The way to save time, money, and hassles is to invest in the services of a professional who has worked with these kinds of problems before. Are your health and happiness worth less than your body or your car? Think about it!

Fitting Into Nature's Scheme of Things

Thursday, June 14th, 2007

Red CloudsYou know what they say: ‘Everybody always talks about the weather, but nobody ever does anything about it.’ Baloney! We do lots of things about it! Watching Californians in the summertime is a study in a glorious variety of summer strategies to cope with the weather.

When exposed to the particular vagaries in this state (i.e. a million microclimates), you learn fast where your escape hatches are. Temperatures and humidity levels vary widely from town to town. Add summer heat and water shortages and you have a simmering cauldron of discomfort if you’re not careful.

Temporary breakdowns are so common that they’re not even considered creative around here. The number of people going home from work because they just can’t cope reaches epidemic proportions this time of year. While sunshine is a positive characteristic, it can be a bit too much of a good thing, especially when accompanied by triple-digit temperatures.

Some people recommend technological coping strategies, but these tend to be impractical. Air conditioning, as we all know, was designed to test your adaptability by plunging you from tropic heat to sub-arctic temperatures instantaneously. Besides, apart from putting you into shock and making it necessary to wear a winter coat over your summer suits, who can afford the electricity? Who can afford the gasoline, if you happen to spend hours in the local traffic jam?

Scientific studies have shown that the low pressure areas preceding a storm result in increased depression in the general population. Scientists are not clear whether this is a result of being trapped in a temperature inversion along with all that air pollution, or a result of being trapped in your office with 20 or 30 other hot and steamy people who’d rather be at the beach. Lethargy and apathy combine with staring out windows for a scene right out of a zombie horror movie.

And it doesn’t take a scientist to see the increased anxiety in those living in areas prone to fires. Crankiness and terminal irritability can accompany any of these patterns. Calling in sick by pleading a summer cold is the best coping strategy for not spreading the epidemic of poor mental health, unless, of course, you really have a summer cold. In that case I’d advise going in to the office. After all, you can be miserable there as well as anywhere else.

The list of creative pathologies, however, is both long and fascinating. For example, the sudden compulsion to take one’s clothes off and lie motionless until one is the color of a fresh-cooked lobster. Or the less anachronistic alternative of wearing paper goggles while being sprayed from all sides with sunless tanner, so you can turn terra-cotta instead of orange. Then there is the obsession to find out exactly what causes heat prostration by jogging on the side of the road until the sweat leaves a tangible trail behind you.

More creative (and lazier) souls may develop the hobby of driving down well-jogged paths while rating participants on a scale of one to ten. The muscular hunk in skin-tight shorts? 10 of course! The stout gentleman puffing along with a red face? You guessed it! Or grab a board with wheels or wax and get hit in the face with water or wind (or both) to lower your body temperature.

Some creative responses boggle the mind. Many of us put on woolen suits or corsets and petticoats to recreate the Civil War. Then we battle for hours in the hot sun while inhaling clouds of black powder smoke. Why we do this in the heat of summer is a good question. Although having to dry a rain-soaked canvas tent does put a damper of recreating in cooler seasons. Ren Faire addicts are in a similar dilemma, with heat stroke coming in only barely ahead of damp and muddy.

Affordability is the only obstacle to backyard swimming pools, month-long vacations in other climates, and similar escapist strategies. But those are so average. Let’s all hear it for the creative and somewhat crazy ways to survive the summer!

Have You Been Less Than Perfect Today?

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007

Rock GardenHave You Been Less Than Perfect Today?

A lot of readers found a chord touched by the book excerpt on Self-Fulfilling Prophecies (SFP). But I wrote that book from the perspective of a manager working with other people. Being a business manual, it was focused on the Other rather than the Self. It’s important to look at what we expect of ourselves, and how we fulfill that prophecy. In this article, we’ll explore the effect of high expectations; next time, we’ll explore the effect of ones that are too low.

But what about the expectations we have of ourselves, the SFP’s that affect every day of our own lives? Let’s talk today about tending your own garden. (With apologies to Voltaire.) I don’t mean literally, of course, but figuratively. Nor am I referring to those people who should be told to ‘Mind your own onions,’ as the French would say. (Of course, they say it en francais, naturalement.) No, I’m talking about setting limits to what you can expect from yourself.

Sometimes people forget the value of their own gardens. Instead of focusing on the joys and achievements of just getting through an ordinary day, they feel guilty because they haven’t been awarded the Nobel Prize or made the front cover of Time Magazine. They measure their self-worth by a mythical ideal of fame and fortune. (No, 10 seconds on YouTube doesn’t count!) The unreality of this boggles the mind. (I can say it this harshly because I often fall into this trap, and I’m the pot calling the kettle black.)

You can’t judge yourself by how many people are cheering for you. Hitler got millions to cheer for him, which doesn’t say much for the value of public opinion.

You can’t judge yourself by how much you’ve accumulated. Do I even have to mention Howard Hughes or Ferdinand Marcos?

You can’t judge yourself by age comparisons either. As the musical satirist Tom Lehrer once exclaimed in mock dismay, ‘When Mozart was my age, he’d been dead for ten years!’

Do you have to be perfect to matter in this world? If so, then no one matters, because famous people are not more perfect than the rest of us! (As recent news stories confirm!)

Making a positive impact on your small corner of the world may do more for world peace and happiness than a thousand famous efforts. Why make yourself a martyr to unrealistic expectations? If you compare your achievements to impossibly high standards, you are setting yourself up for low self-esteem and chronic disappointment.

I have found that reading honest accounts of famous people’s lives to be a good corrective for this kind of self-abuse. Measure for yourself decades of struggle against a few moments in the limelight. Can you really say that isolating a specific chemical is more valuable than raising a couple of happy, healthy children? What about heroes who neglected their families while they pursued a single goal? And then there are heroes who pursued lofty goals because they had lost someone special.

It can be an easy way out to ignore mundane responsibilities while pursuing lofty goals. If you do both, then you’re a rare person. As a veteran of the sixties, I have to admit that I feel I’ve accomplished more in raising three sons and helping my clients understand themselves than I ever did at marching and protesting. In the long run, my actions in my sphere of influence, my garden, have had more impact on the world than all my protesting over other people’s actions

Protest what’s wrong with public actions if you don’t approve of them. But don’t neglect your own impact while you do. Be fair to yourself. Give yourself credit for tending your own garden. You don’t need blue ribbons to prove it’s a beautiful place to be.

Climbing Out of That Barrel

Friday, June 1st, 2007

Unless you’re exceptionally lucky, you know what it’s like when the proverbial bottom falls out of things. It’s such an epidemic that we have lots of words to describe it: the pits, the dumps, so far down it feels like up, on our knees, flat on our back. Okay, okay, you get the picture, and it isn’t pretty. Some days it seems like we have more expressions for being down than being up. (Hmm, maybe we should take a count.)

This article isn’t about ‘Why Bad Things Happen to Good People,’ that’s already been done. Nope. I’m thinking more about why overwhelming things happen to ordinary people. And when you get to the bottom of that barrel, the worst thing may be finding those ugly clawed crabs — the kind that keep grabbing at your legs and dragging you back down again every time you try to pull yourself up.

Suddenly we want an ‘Easy Button’ — a minister, a therapist, a book — any magic potion that will take away the pain and make all the bad things less overwhelming. But nothing is easy at that point! And don’t let your friends fool you. Someone says ‘ But it will end,’ as though that makes the current pain go away. But it doesn’t!

One of the phrases I personally hate most is ‘God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.’ I find that highly debatable, especially since I can’t read Creator’s mind and right this minute may be totally unable to figure out what He/She was thinking when She/He decided to dump all this stuff on me at once!

It’s always fun to find like-minded people, and recently I read some great thoughts on the subject, so I’ll quote from Ellen Degeneres’ book ‘The Funny Thing Is.’ On page 126 she says:
‘1) What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. (Translation: what doesn’t kill you puts you in a whole lot of pain and makes you cry a lot and want to crawl into a hole forever and live with rodents.)
2) Adversity builds character. (Translation: you become bitter and angry and people hate you even more.)
3) God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle. (unless God’s in on it and doesn’t like you either.)’

Besides, most of your friends are going to get tired and cranky themselves because you don’t just cheer up at the sound of platitudes. Nobody likes to feel powerless to help. Well, sometimes we just have to grieve! Like it or not, we will have to cry it out, and nobody can say how long that will take.

And part of what makes the grieving so tangled and agonizing is that your feelings aren’t simple. They are all mixed up with sadness and grief, and even actual physical pain. You know, like ‘kick in the stomach’ or ’stabbed in the back’? Then add in the anger, the fury, the rage over how unfair this all is. Why me?! Multiply by the agony of wondering whether it’s happened to you because you did something wrong, you didn’t see the danger signals, or worst of all, the nagging fear that you are just so bad and worthless that you deserve all the rotten torture the universe can throw at you! Did I mention the feeling of powerlessness that compounds the problem?

These complicated feelings are what makes it so difficult to somehow swim past the hurricane around you. Your fear itself may add to the pain, agony, and guilt to make your feelings overwhelming. And let’s face it, it’s really your feelings that are overwhelming, not the outside events.

While there is no ‘Easy Button, ‘ there are things that can help. The most important to remember is that if you can make a 10% improvement in several areas, the cumulative effect may get closer to a 100% improvement!

Summoning every resource available to you is the beginning step, as long as you don’t assume that any one of them is the only solution. Talking to a psychologist or counselor helps. Choose a professional with a great deal of experience. Since they are not emotionally involved in your situation, they can use that objective view of options to help you plan your strategy for climbing out of the barrel. Their compassion and understanding of the ranges of human behavior can also be a comfort to you. You are neither alone nor unique. Human beings get upset when they are overwhelmed.

If you have a spiritual advisor or group that you respect and trust, you may also find some comfort in speaking to them about finding a broader meaning to the catastrophe that is happening to you. Talking to someone or reading books may help you remember that there is a greater meaning in all our lives. You may not figure out what lesson you are supposed to learn, but just considering the possibility that there is a greater lesson may bring about a small measure of reassurance and stability.

When I’m knocked on my butt by some terrible events, I personally find comfort in remembering the Chinese proverb: ‘Those whom the gods love, they teach with a heavy stick.’ I may wish the blows to get my attention weren’t so heavy, but it comforts me to believe that someday I will understand the lessons that seem so invisible right now!

As we’ve discussed before, this is a good time to make a plan. Break the overwhelming into small pieces and pick one small thing that will improve just that one piece. Setting priorities is important, but don’t be afraid to start with the lesser problems first. Getting back some sense of control will help you get your footing again.

And don’t listen to the ‘crabs’ who try to pull you down with discouraging words. Or to well-meaning friends who say ‘you’ve cried enough. Get over it.’ If you hide your pain and anger, and force yourself to move on before you’re ready, you may lose the chance to learn the lessons and find the meaning inherent in your current catastrophes.

It’s your life and your pain, and little by little, you’ll find yourself reducing some of your suffering to a manageable level while you learn just how powerful you can be in the case of disaster. Take it one step at a time, cry when you need to, and take the time to look at the things that have happened. Just don’t listen too much to those who tell you what you should do. Consider your options and choose for yourself.

Zen and The Art of Money Management

Wednesday, March 7th, 2007

Books on approaching sports, motorcycle repair, and job hunting with a Zen attitude were very popular for a while. I think it’s time I provided some guidelines for approaching money the same way!

You see, Zen is really an attitude towards life. It encourages people to be natural and spontaneous, yet controlled. It is a creed of doing yet not doing, of relaxing to create energy rather than trying too hard and wasting energy.

A lot of people seem to waste a lot of energy being tense about money. Yes, I know that jobs and resources are scarce. But nowhere in nature does any animal have access to unlimited resources without effort. Why should we expect things to be any different for humans? And is that sufficient reason to be so tense that you cease to enjoy the resources you do have?

I also know that the unexpected expense or catastrophe can come along at any time and wipe out savings. (Do I ever known that! Remind me to tell you about my catastrophes sometime!) But that only means it’s even more essential to develop a healthy attitude towards money that will carry you through the hard times as well as the high times!

Let’s face it. There’s been plenty of research that shows that while having a little more money may help you be happier if you have been struggling below the poverty level, if you’re already middle-class or higher, more money does not automatically result in more happiness.

How do you allow yourself to feel rich when your bank account says you’re not?
By relaxing and accepting your limitations with a certain Zen tolerance, and then letting yourself enjoy what you do have. Build in things that are fun. Don’t let your thoughts about money dominate you just because it’s scarce. If that seems too esoteric and mystical for you, try these tips:

1) Plan ahead and take stock of your assets. Many people find this the most difficult step. List all income, and don’t forget possible income and hidden assets, like things you can sell or services you can barter. Don’t be afraid to know where you stand financially. You might be better off than you think.

2) Set your priorities. Make note of all necessary outlays. And I do mean necessary! Check to see what’s really essential to your survival. Rent or mortgage may be fixed, but many other things are flexible. Look for creative ways to reduce expenses. There are many articles and websites that offer tips on how to cut food, utility, and other bills.

3) Keep a positive attitude. Make it a game to live well on less money, and be cheerful about it. This is a chance to show how much you can learn, and a chance to prove how adaptable you can really be. Make it a challenge to economize, not a choice. It’s really an adventure to see how much you can create from what you have already.

You may not have a choice about how much money you can make, but you do have a choice about the attitude you’re going to have towards money. Planning ahead, setting priorities, and keeping a positive attitude are things you can do. When it comes to money, a little Zen goes a long way. Don’t work so hard you forget to enjoy the adventure!

Weeding Out Guilt

Friday, March 2nd, 2007

In my otherwise bright day, there is one flaw. I look out my office window to a battlefield and the weeds are winning again! I got the garden ready for planting early enough. I just didn’t get around to putting the seeds in. One too many emergencies; one too many deadlines.

I’m trying to decide whether it’s something I should feel guilty about. Oh yes, being guilty is a choice we make. Deciding to make a judgment that we are wrong is a choice, and feeling rotten enough to punish ourselves takes energy. Before I start feeling like a failure, I think I’ll follow my own guidelines.

Am I angry or resentful? Who’s telling me I have to grow dinner’s vegetables anyway? Is anybody else pressuring me to take over this job, or insisting that it be done? No, I guess not. It’s me that telling myself I ’should’ have done it.

Can I develop a sense of perspective about it? Why do I think I should have done it? I’ve been working hard every week. It would take several hours to plant the garden, then several more to weed and tend it daily. Do I really have the time? Is it really worth it?

Why do I feel responsible?

I guess I’m feeling like I’m supposed to do everything. I remember when I was younger and that tape would play ‘A good wife never lets her family down.’ A real woman could work a 60 hour week, clean the house, pamper her husband, spend time with the kids, entertain her friends, milk the goats and still be able to tend the garden. Hey! Wait a minute! Nobody could do all that!

Let’s be reasonable. Even Superman takes a break just to read a book sometimes. I admit that these days, there’s a few less chores and less people to take care of. Still, I do hate admitting that I’m human. Maybe I’m really telling myself that somebody else could do all these things. But that’s just not being realistic.

What would happen if I didn’t feel guilty?

I don’t think my family or friends would stop loving me. After all, they’ve put up with me this long. Besides, they’re not perfect either. And I love them anyway. I wonder if anybody even notice. My friends will take fresh lettuce that’s store-bought, and nobody else likes weeding the garden either. I bet they’d rather I had the time to bake fresh bread and share that and my time with them instead of weeding the silly garden.

One more thing before I let myself feel bad about myself. I can count my good qualities! Let’s see. I do earn enough to buy fresh vegetables. I do enjoy most of the work I do, and I smile a lot. Maybe the garden isn’t neat, but the house is livable and we all had a great time camping last weekend. I guess I’m not such a bad person after all.

Hey! It works! I don’t have to choose to feel guilty at all! I think I’ll go take a break and bake some homemade bread. I can even read a book while it bakes!

[Addition by Webmaster, NOT Dr. Daniels]:

Here are some related articles:

Dr. Daniels’ Break The Procrastination Pattern

This one from Web Worker Daily discusses taking a break without feeling guilty about it: Be Productively Unproductive Online. Without Guilt.

This article from requiem.net.au discusses the source of guilt in Is Guilt Innate?.

An article from WomenOf.com (a site targeted to women, but with useful information for all) has Get Rid of the Guilt, which discusses steps to overcoming procrastination and guilt.

Headaches

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

A headache can be a nightmare for the sufferer. Those prone to headaches may find them occurring frequently, disrupting their life and making both work and play difficult if not impossible.

Medication may be of little use in some cases. Just lying down and doing nothing is often the only treatment that brings any relief. Some people have resigned themselves to just suffering through the attacks, waiting until the agony has passed before they can resume their activities.

It has been estimated that one person in five suffers from chronic and disabling headaches. Some of these headaches are symptoms of other problems, and may indicate brain, eye, or sinus disease. A medical doctor should always be consulted to rule out these serious conditions. But the causes of most headaches are often unclear, and treatment may progress in a trial-and-error fashion.

Almost half of chronic headaches are called migraine, or vascular headaches. Migraine headaches can last for several hours or several days. They may be preceded by dizziness or sensitivity to light. They can be accompanied by nausea, excruciating pain, and vomiting. This type of headache is three times more likely to occur in women than men.

Some headaches are thought to be caused by muscle contractions in the face, neck, or head. These are often called tension headaches. They may be accompanied by pain in the back of the neck, or by muscle spasms. Bruxism, or grinding your teeth, may also cause headaches and tension in surrounding muscles.

The exact causes of many headaches are disputed by many doctors. Heredity, stress, and hormones are among the factors that have been linked to migraines. But hereditary predisposition, hormonal swings accompanying menstruation, and stress are probably factors in all headaches. Nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol can also trigger severe headaches.

Because there are so many possible causes of headaches, it is essential to have a medical checkup to determine if there is a severe underlying cause that will respond quickly to medical techniques such as medication or surgery. But if you are not suffering from an organic illness, and your headaches are frequent and severe, there are a number of things you can consider.

Try to keep track of when your headaches occur, and your emotional state at the time. If stress seems to be a factor, there are relaxation techniques that you can learn that can prevent or minimize future attacks. Learning to relax as soon as you notice physical tension, coupled with a real effort to reduce the level of tension in your life, can give you some control over your problem.

Biofeedback, which uses visual and audial cues to help you recognize tension you’re your body, is another effective treatment. Biofeedback training has been helpful for many people suffering from either migraine or tension headaches. With practice, sufferers can often learn to change patterns of circulation, or relax contracting muscles to forestall an oncoming headache.

The important thing to remember is that your body has the ability to forestall a headache, as well as to create one. In addition to lifestyle changes in diet and exercise, reducing stress and emotional turmoil can minimize the occurrence of headaches. Becoming aware of your headache patterns, and learning some simple techniques form an experienced professional can make a major difference in improving the quality of your day. You don’t have to just sit and suffer!

Dealing With Daily Chaos

Sunday, February 25th, 2007

I hear a lot from people who feel overwhelmed by the chaos they have to deal with each day. And I do understand. All of us can relate to feeling like there are too many things on our plate.

People tend to daydream about a better life. But with a busy schedule, they keep their dreams simple. They dream of winning the lottery, or encountering as rush hour without traffic. They want a better job, or a bigger house. When those things don’t materialize, they might feel tense and harried. But when they get home angry and frustrated, the mess there may have them screaming (at their family, or just screaming!)

One of the difficulties in not falling prey to this disastrous cycle is that it’s so easy to lose sight of our objectives. Like hamsters on a treadmill, we can forget where we’re running to. We feel out of control in our own lives.

Struggling to keep your head above water, and anxiously glancing around for the next tidal wave, you can feel powerless to swim towards a goal. Any goal!

There is a big difference between living and making a living. And sometimes we forget that the second thing has no purpose if we’re not doing the first!

Stop and take stock for a moment. What are the reasons for the thing you do? Remember the joy of your wedding day? Remember why you took that job: the pay was needed or the opportunity good? Think of the first time you saw your child, the swelling joy and pride.

Stay in touch with those memories for a while. Get in touch with those feelings again.

Now write a list of the goals in your most precious memories. List all the objectives: providing for yourself and your family, enjoying your family’s company, keeping your body healthy, keeping your mind active. Be specific. Is buying a house on your list? Or planning a vacation with the family? Often we think of a material thing that we think is our goal, when really it is something more special than the thing itself.

List even the very small things. Do you wish for more time with your hobbies? Do plants or pets give you a good feeling?

Go have a cup of coffee (or whatever your beverage is) and leave the list for a while. Relax and think of other things.

After a short break, come back to the list and evaluate the items. Put a checkmark next to the six most important items on your list. Keep the list. Think about what you can do to have these goals. Understand that some of the things you are doing now are bringing you closer to your heart’s desire.

Live with the assumption that you are in control of your own life. Every activity you are involved in represents a decision or choice on your part. Compare your daily actions with your list of desired goals. Consider the possibility of not wasting time on the things you are doing that don’t bring you any closer to your goals.

If you don’t enjoy an activity and it doesn’t bring you any closer to what you do want out of life, ask yourself why you are doing it? Make the choices that give your life meaning. Don’t waste it. Keep sight of things you value most and let them be a guiding star that keeps you from feeling lost in the chaos around you.