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Fear

Don’t hang onto fear – replace with action.

Do you recognize your fear

You are home alone and are prepared to get a good night’s sleep. Just as you shut off the lights and are drifting off to sleep you hear a crash. In an instant, you bolt upright, wide awake. Your heart is pounding as you strain to hear any other sounds.

All is quiet. Questions flood your mind: Did I lock the doors? Did someone break in? Should I get up and check? Should I call 911? Did I imagine this? Was it the wind?

You decide to get up and check the house. As you grab your cell phone and cautiously make your way out of the bedroom, your hands are clammy and shaking. You feel chilled and your stomach is doing flip-flops. As you flick on the lights and move cautiously into the living room you yell out “Who’s there?” in hopes of scaring off any intruders. 

Entering the living room, you notice the lamp has been knocked over. But before you can punch in 911 on your cell phone, you hear a “Meow” and see two repentant cats looking at you. Your two pets had been playing a game of nighttime tag in the living room. 

As you put the cats outside, and check to see that nothing else has been disturbed and all the doors and windows are locked, you go back to bed and soon drift off to sleep.

Fear! In an instant you go from very relaxed to active survival mode. The body is flooded with hormones and chemicals that enable you to meet the danger. Every nerve in your body is on edge in a heightened sense of awareness.

Fear! It helps us survive by alerting us to danger. It prepares us to act. Fear can be a powerful motivator to put in place precautions and make preparations. Without fear we would not learn to be careful or prepare for the worst. We would not survive.

But when we remain in fear states for long periods of time, our bodies begin to wear down and become more susceptible to disease and health problems.

It is more and more difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep, we remain in a heightened state of alert, and are unable to relax and enjoy moments of pleasure and joy. We may notice that we are experiencing stomach upsets and intestinal problems and heart palpitations. And you find yourself reaching more and more for pain pills, antacids, and anti-depressants.

When we are living in fear our minds go over and over all the concerns related to our jobs, our marriages, our children, our finances, etc. Our energy is expended in worry and anxiety and we remain focused on our fears instead of looking for solutions.

So while fear can save our lives, if we continue to live in fear, it begins to do the opposite. When we allow ourselves to remain in a fearful mode, we no longer feel empowered or in control of our live.

But while there are many things we cannot change or have control over, we always have the ability to choose how we will respond to what is happening. With that we are empowered. With that we know we can reach out for assistance. With that we know we can put our hand in God’s and trust.

We can choose to remain in fear or we can choose to use fear to propel us toward different answers, different approaches, and creative solutions.

Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

Fear – the greatest stressor of all

Perhaps the greatest stressor in a lot of lives right now is fear.

When we are fearful, we can usually find attached to those fears the following thoughts that begin with what if. . . . .

 

 

What if . . . . .

• I lose my job because the company downsizes again

• My unemployment runs out

• My rent goes up

• My utilities go up

• The gas prices keep rising and I can’t get to work

• I have to go into foreclosure

• I can’t send my kids to college

• My car breaks down and I don’t have the money to fix it

• They reject my job application – again

• I can’t get this part time job because I have too many college credits

• I lose everything and I end up on the streets

• I get sick and I don’t have health insurance

• I can’t get that raise

• My parents get sick and I will need to take care of them

I’m sure you could extend this list to fill a notebook. So go ahead, list all your fears. Spend some time listing all the fears that constantly keep you uptight. Read them out loud.

As you read your list, are you aware of the emotional and body response that these thoughts are creating? Have you avoided focusing on any of these fears because you think by ignoring, denying or keeping them out of your awareness, they will go away? 

We don’t want to identify our fears, because then we feel out of control. We also don’t want to let go of our fears because if we let go, what will we have to replace them?

If I admit that my fear borders on terror at times, wouldn’t I be telling myself  that there is nothing I can do nothing about my situation. Therefore I am done for. 

When we feel there is nothing we can do about our situations, we end up discouraged, hopeless and utterly depressed.  So we pretend we are not afraid so maybe we can somehow survive our fears.

Fear has a purpose.  When we discover and use that purpose we can resolve problems.  When we don’t confront our fears, they immbolize us. 

Between now and my next blog, identify as many fears as you can.

Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

Developing Partnerships that Work

Starting a New Series!

Starting next week I will be starting a new series of blogs that represent  a new workshop a friend and I are developing for working women, entitled Developing Partnerships. 

As we look at the partnerships we have developed throughout our lifetime and how they impact who we are today, what we do and how we think and react to life, we hope the information will be helpful for anyone who is struggling with life’s challenges today. 

So be sure to catch Monday’s blog which will touch on a subject that is constantly becoming more prevalent in our lives as working women who are trying to keep and maintain their homes while caring for and raising children.  That subject is FEAR!

The fears in our life are real and at times can seem as though we will be flooded by them.  So follow as together we learn ways to combat the fears that only keep us stuck.  

Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

 

Who’s In Control

It isn’t events that cause us distress – it is how we respond to them. It is the meaning we attach to life.  It’s what we think about and the core beliefs that define who we are in relation to our world. Its what we say to ourselves about our worth and our abilities. 

Stress levels are affected by our personality traits as well as life experiences that shape and mold our responses to life. We make assumptions and interpret the present based on our past. But we can learn new ways to respond.  

Who’s in Control?

When you believe you have power and influence over your life, you will be empowered to problem solve, look for options and make better choices. You will become pro-active. 

If you are trying to control every aspect of your life, you will have difficulty relaxing and letting go. Holding a superhuman image of yourself will only keep you on a treadmill of striving and repeating the same things over and over again even when they don’t work.

When we are empowered, we can be flexible, let go of things that aren’t working, reframe our situations and refocus on those things we can do. We don’t beat ourselves up for perceived failures. We can ask for and accept help from God and others.  

When we are pro-active, we don’t have to prove ourself to ourself or anyone else.  We accept ourselves just as we are – with all our faults, failures, insecurities, fears, anxieties and inabilities. 

We can identify and celebrate our strengths, successes and achievements.  We humbly acknowlege our accomplishments and work on improving ourselves and our world. We realize we are not the center of the universe, all-knowing or perfect.

We acknowledge the gifts God has given us and thank Him for them.  We acknowledge that we need God and Jesus Christ both for salvation and for the strength to develop character and live our values and principles.  

If you do not feel you have any control over your life, you will become re-active to everything that happens.  This usually leads to  resentment, blaming, passive aggressive behaviors, anger, worry, and a victim mentality. 

Perhaps you feel everything just happens to you and you are powerless to make a difference. Other people, your childhood, your boss, the economy, the stock market, the banks, the whatever all leave you with no options or choices. There is nothing you can do to change or influence what is happening to you.

If we continue in this realm of thinking, we not only will think we are victims, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and we become victims. But we have become victims to our own way of thinking.

There is a healthy balance between the two: internal locus of control and external locus of control. It is important to understand that you have the ability to choose how you respond to whatever happens to you.

You do not have control over all things.  Your choices may be limited. But too often we limit ourselves and we inadvertingly choose to become a victim. When we do, we choose not to choose!

Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

Behaviors that Create Stress

Have you ever taken a different route to work?  Have you tried something new you have never done before?  Have you turned off the TV or computer and simply read a book?  Have you tried given up your favorite latte and muffin for a week? 

Habits are comfortable and resistant to change.  We keep them in place because we get a payoff of some kind.  We don’t have to think, we aren’t challenged by learning something new, we can zone out and we get an immediate emotional relief and instant pleasure or gratification. 

We seldom think about the cost in keeping some habits in place. The pleasure of the moment keeps us from thinking about long term consequences: the cigarette we smoke, that glass of wine that becomes two or three, the pounds we put on become increasingly difficult to take off, the hours spent on internet social media that shrinks time spent together. We get comfortable and stuck.

Cost-Benefit of Current Habits 

Habits are resistant to change.  Which ones are okay to keep and which ones need to be replaced?  What is the immediate payoff?  What are the long term consequences?

Take a sheet of paper and write down some of your lifestyle habits that you might want to change or replace. Mark beside each one the cost and benefit. What is the cost and benefit of eating on the run, having that routine latte and doughnut, staying up late to play video games or interact every moment on Facebook, etc.  

Evaluate each habit in terms of short term and long term benefits and consequences. How are my old habits keeping me from reaching my lifetime goals? What new habits can I put in place? 

For example, I want to be healthier, have more energy and less stress.  The habits currently in place do not provide dependable routines, structure, regular meals, new ways to rest and relax. 

Replacing Habits

Once you know the payoffs and consequences, make a note of the environmental cues that trigger certain behaviors. Remove tempations from your environment or remove yourself from the environment.  Don’t purchase those sugar laden muffins.  Go for a walk instead of going to the malls to shop. Try something new. Replace a usual behavior with something totally opposite. 

Will power alone doesn’t work.  Habits need to be replaced.  New habits require a new mindset, a new way to think about our lives and what we want, and replacing with more positive habits.  

To put a new habit in place define exactly what you want to do, repeat your goal daily, post visual reminders, find ways to reward yourself for your efforts.    

Any new habits or new self-regulating choices will be uncomfortable at first.  Putting in place a new healthy habit will require some concentrated effort.  But the payoff is usually huge.  

Slow Down, observe, evaluate

The world seems to be moving faster and faster and at times I feel  like the hampsters that get in their exercise wheels and run and run in place but never go anywhere.

To evaluate habits and behaviors that may keep us running in place without ever getting anywhere, we need to STOP, observe and evaluate.  

Go back over your list of lifestyle habits.  Which ones do you want to replace? What is involved in replacing this habit? Maybe it is challenging old beliefs and ways of thinking that keep you from believing in yourself and your capabilities. Maybe it is time management. Maybe it is removal of temptation from  environments that lead to impulsive behavior and rationalization (I will only do it this once time, or I deserve it). It may be the need to take charge, learn to say No, and learn more constructive outdated beliefs that keep you from saying No and taking charge of your life. 

Begin with one habit

Choose one habit you want to replace and make a goal plan. Your goal statement should say specifically what you want to accomplish. List the obstacles that might keep you from achieving your goal.  Then put together a plan of action that will work for you, that fits with your personality, your strengths and weaknesses.   

You are in charge of your life. You can change habits that have destructive long term consequences. You can replace them with ones that will reduce your stress levels while you achieve your long term goals.

A Picture of your Personal Stress

Look over the symptoms list you put together. Which symptoms are causing you the most concern? Which ones are you worried about? Which could affect your life in the future if you didn’t do something now? 

Review and put a star by any of  your symptoms that require your immediate attention. 

Ask yourself the following:

• Is there a pattern to my stress symptoms?

• Are more of  my symptoms in one area (more physical, emotional, mental, spiritual or relational?)

• Which physical symptoms are you most concerned about? (stomach upsets, digestive problems, constant tight muscles, always getting sick, sleep issues, etc.) Do the same for each of the other areas.

• Are there any areas in your life symptom-free? (When you are relaxing with friends, exercise times, by yourself, etc.)

When do you experience more of your symptoms? 

You may notice that you experience most of your symptoms while at work, or in your relationships, or concerns about your family or the future.  Begin to identify when you experience higher levels of stress. Stress is cumulative and will affect you overall.  We are looking for those times that increase your stress.

Enlarging the picture 

Take a piece of paper and draw a picture of what you look like experiencing your stress symptoms. Have fun with it. Use words, symbols, stick figures, diagrams, or whatever you want to convey an overall perspective of what your life looks like with your stress.

Now draw spokes from your picture and pencil in all the things that are creating these stress symptoms in your life.  Get a picture of what is happening. 

Then complete the following:

• Right now, I am most concerned about. . . .

• During this exercise I am learning this about myself. . . .

• Because of this evaluation, I want to work on . . . .

Share your pictures and concerns with a good friend who will be honest with you. Ask her to help you identify negative habit patterns that you might not be aware of.

Don’t take offense. This is for your benefit so you can eliminate the things that are adding to your overall stress level.  These might include learning how to reframe situations, challenge negative thinking and rigid beliefs, learn constructive communication, time management, anger management, etc.  We will learn more about each of these in future blogs.

Remember, Chronic stress

• Keeps your immune system depressed so you are more susceptible to diseases and colds, etc.

• Can keep you constantly exhausted, unable to get sleep, cranky, irritable with symptoms of chest pains, headaches and depression

• Will suppress T-cell responses and lower antibody levels in the  body which are necessary to develop a strong immunity to disease

The next step

Once we get a picture of the symptoms of our stress, what it is doing to us physically, mentally, emotionally and relationally, we can then begin to design a personal plan of action to eliminate or reduce these in our lives.

Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

Stress Symptom Check List

Make a list of all the symptoms you are experiencing mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, and relational.

Nancy Loving Tubesing and Donald A. Tubesing have put together a Stress Exhaustion Symptoms Cehck list.  Get a copy and take the test.

Here are some of the symptoms we experience when stressed:  

Physical symptoms:

Weight gain/loss, appetite or digestion problems, headaches, constant tension in muscles, teeth grinding, restlessness, racing heart, cold hands and feet, always sick.

Mental symptoms:

Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, bad dreams, lack of worth, negative attitude, poor concentration, forgetfulness and confusion, worry, underlying fear and anxiety.

Spiritual symptoms:

A loss of meaning and purpose, lack of joy, laughter or happiness in your life. Loss of faith, hope and peace. Cynical. Resentment and long standing grievances have replaced forgiveness. No church affililation or connection to people in a faith community. Little to no bible reading or prayers. God has been excluded from your life.

Relational symptoms:

Lack of friends, lack of intimacy, distrust, irritability with those around us, communication breakdowns, moody, anger, blaming and fault finding, misunderstandings, judgments, aggressiveness and ongoing tension.

We can probably find ourselves somewhere on each of those lists. But the stress may be mild or temporary.  It is the things that continue and become chronic stress symptoms that we need to pay attention to.  Is there a pattern?  Is our stress connected in some way to how we think or believe ought to be happening?  Is the stress that is causing you symptoms out of your control?  Do I need to change my attitude and way I respond?

What on your list is the most troubling? Which ones affect you day in and day out? Which ones do you want to work on first?

In my next blog, I will give suggestions on ways to problem solve some of these trouble spots in your life and find ways you can reduce or eliminate them.

Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

Your Personal Stress Signals

What stresses you out? 

The things that stress me out may not stress you out at all. 

I get stressed when I am under time pressure, when I haven’t had time to prepare, or when I have to deal with technical or computer issues.  I do not get stressed when speaking to large groups of people, teaching or giving workshops.  Yet for some people the thought of public speaking sets their hearts racing and their palms sweaty.

Recognizing what creates stress for you is important so you can find ways to reduce, manage or eliminate the stress before it becomes chronic over time.  

Anything that forces us to adjust or adapt in some way is considered stress.  Stress is not bad unless it becomes distressful to our thinking, our behaviors, and our every day living. 

We do not have control over many things. But we do have the ability to choose a different way to respond to events. 

The things that create distress in our lives are often attached to our beliefs and perceptions about what we can and cannot do, our expectations, our assumptions, our rules of should, ought and must. I have to get this done by this time, I should be able to do this, I ought to have a promotioni by now. 

Recognizing Your levels of Stress:

Listen to your body. Our bodies are constantly adjusting. Do periodic body checks.  Is your neck or shoulders or lower back hurting? Take a break and do some gentle stretches and quick stress releases. 

Listen to your feelings. If you are having fewer moments of enjoyment and peace and your moods are becoming unpredictable and more irritable you may be suffering from distress.

Listen to your spirit. Apathy, cynicism, loss of meaning and purpose  are all symptoms of stress overload. Cynicism is one of the highest risks for stress related health problems.

Listen to your relationships. When your irritability level rises, it is probably time to look at your attitude, expectations, assumptions, rigid rules, etc that is driving your moods and attitudes.

Do a quick stress symptom check 

Make a list of all the symptoms you are experiencing physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally and relational. Nancy Loving Tubesing and Donald A. Tubesing have put together a Stress Exhaustion Symptoms check list. Get a copy and take the test. Here are some of the symptoms they list plus others: 

Physical symptoms:

Weight gain/loss, appetite or digestion problems, headaches, constant tension in muscles, teeth grinding, restlessness, racing heart, cold hands and feet, always sick.

Mental symptoms:

Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, bad dreams, lack of worth, negative attitude, poor concentration, forgetfulness and confusion, worry, underlying fear and anxiety.

Spiritual symptoms:

A loss of meaning and purpose, lack of joy, laughter or happiness in your life. Loss of faith, hope and peace. Cynical. Resentment and long standing grievances have replaced forgiveness. No church affililation or connection to people in a faith community.  Little to no bible reading or prayers. God has been excluded from your life.

Relational symptoms:

Lack of friends, lack of intimacy, distrust, irritability with those around us, communication breakdowns, moody, anger, blaming and fault finding,  misunderstandings, judgments, aggressiveness and ongoing tension.

What on your list is the most troubling?  Which ones affect you day in and day out?  Which ones do you want to work on first? 

Next week’s blog will give you suggestions to problem solve some of these trouble spots in your life and find ways you can reduce or eliminate them. 

Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

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