AnxietyTheory

A few months back, Dr. Dave told me about an article he read about anxiety. It was a very interesting theory of how we’ve evolved into the over-anxious society that we are today.

The theory goes like this: Back in the caveman days, we had to build our own shelter, hunt and forage for our food, and run from wild animals. I liken it to the Zombie Apocalypse. Under such circumstances, you would be in a constant state of survival. Your brain is constantly looking out for threats and danger. Often, your brain would find said danger and have to assess accordingly with a strategy plan.

Just last night, we were watching Walking Dead (don’t worry, no spoiler alerts) and discovered that the main characters had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and had trouble functioning in society because of it. PTSD causes the brain to be hyper-aware of surroundings and imagine threats that are not really there. There’s a lot more to PTSD but that aspect of it is like anxiety. It’s your brain being hyper-aware of its surroundings and exaggerating the potential threats.

So now that we no longer have to build our own shelter, hunt and forage for our food, and run from wild animals, what dangers actually exist for us? Instead of your arrow missing the deer that was going to feed your family through a good part of the winter, you’re now afraid of grocery stores. Instead of running from a wild bear, you’re now afraid of public speaking.

That being said, when your brain is constantly assessing the situation and looking for danger, when it finds nothing but being afraid of crowds or feeling really uncomfortable in social settings, you’re actually safer than you’ve ever been. The brain is looking, but it’s got nothing. It creates a heightened sense of danger. So the anxiety itself is actually a really good indication that there are no real threats to you whatsoever.

Knowing that has substantially curbed my own anxiety because, when I remind myself of this theory, I feel better about the situation that’s making me anxious. When it starts to come on, I can feel relieved that the “threat” or the “danger” I’m feeling is totally created by my brain out of sheer boredom.

For more tips on what helps with anxiety, read my other blogs at drdavidbakerhargrove.com. You can learn all about anchoring, sitting with anxiety, and using 54321 as coping mechanisms.

Hope that helps!

90-Day Self Love Challenge – Developing Awareness

Last summer, I met life coach and radio show host Lillian McDermott.  We were brought together because she wanted to do a show about raising awareness of the LGBT community.  We got along well and I’m now a permanent guest on the  2nd and 4th Tuesday show at 9 am.  During the September show, we were discussing depression and anxiety and I mentioned quite often, the root cause of depression and anxiety is a lack of selflove.  Lillian was very interested in how we can work to love ourselves more fully and together we embarked on developing the 90-Day Self Love Challenge.

I’ve often said the three most important relationships in your life are time, money and yourself (not in order of importance).  I say this because they are the only things that endure throughout the lifespan.  Everything else, everyone else has the potential to come and go.  However, you will always have to deal with time and unless you somehow manage to live on a deserted island and sustain yourself by living off the land there, you will always have to deal with money too.  Equally, you have to live with yourself everyday so it is very important neither time, money, nor you become your enemy.

Selflove is our most important task in this life and it will (and should) take a lifetime of work.  It’s like exercising.  You are never done.  It constantly needs attention and improvement.

So, Lillian and I set out to develop an action plan of how a person can get more selflove in his/her life.  We started off for the first 30 days with the focus on becoming more aware.  We spent days 1-25 identifying the 25 people in our lives that have made significant impacts. We focused on the positive and the growth opportunities we learned from people, while being aware of the positive growth from negative relationships. I had a past relationship in which the quality of that relationship was poor and very negative, I came out of it with a lot clarity about who I wanted to be and want I want my life to look like.  We can learn a lot from the negative experiences and people who have passed through our lives.  Each day is spent in reflection of that relationship and acknowledging the growth that came out of it.  It was very important to Lillian she contact everyone possible on her list to tell them about the impact they have made on her.  I preferred my reflection to be mostly with myself.  Everyone has a different path and recognizing what works for you is best.

Days 26-30 are about becoming more aware of your how you go about your day. The focus is on being aware of your thoughts and where they take you.  What does your body language say about how you are around others and in different situations?  Spend the time focusing getting to know you.

I will address days 31-90 in upcoming posts.  In the meantime, I invite you to work on this 90-Day selflove challenge.  Go to www.whenyouneedafriend.com to learn more. At the website, you can listen live to me on the radio show on the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of every month from 9a – 10a Eastern Time.

Let’s Talk About Oxytocin

           Oxytocin, often referred to as “the cuddle hormone” or “the bonding hormone,” seems to be appearing quite frequently in the news these days. I see articles about oxytocin everywhere I go, and as a couples counselor, I’m a big advocate for anything that increases cuddling or bonding; especially when it is something easy, natural, and doable without spending any money or even a whole lot of extra time.

            So what is it? Oxytocin is a hormone produced in the brain. Its primary function is intimacy: when released, it increases feelings of trust, love, connection and bonding. It is released in a variety of ways and situations, one of the most important of which is during childbirth. It helps move the labor process along, and also literally creates the mother-child bond. It is also released during physical contact with another person, whether that person is a friend or a partner or a relative.

            But oxytocin is so much more than that. The benefits of oxytocin are innumerable: in addition to facilitating bonding between people, it also lowers blood pressure, lowers cortisol (a stress hormone) levels, relieves pain and increases pain thresholds, decreases anxiety and aids in recovering from PTSD, helps develop better social skills, better self-esteem, better sleep, lowers the risk of heart disease, increases the functioning of the immune system and helps it to recover from illnesses more quickly, etc. It has even been found to reduce drug cravings in addicts.

            All of this, without having to spend money or put medicines or drugs into your body. So how do you increase your oxytocin levels? Very easily, actually. Touch. The simple act of human touch, whether it is platonic or romantic, releases oxytocin. When touch is given with intention and care, it releases even more oxytocin. When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable with another human being, that touch is even more effective in releasing higher levels of oxytocin. Higher levels of oxytocin lead to increased levels of trust, so it’s a cycle- the more you do it, the more you get, and the more easily and quickly it is produced in the future.

            If we look at oxytocin from a relationship perspective, its easily one of the most effective ways to increase your feeling of connection and bonding with your partner. It really is as simple as cuddling more, touching each other more, kissing more, focusing more on intentional loving physical touch. The immediate benefits of oxytocin are great, but the long-term benefits to a person’s mental and physical health really demonstrate why oxytocin is so important. Lack of physical touch is a major cause of depression, so it follows that increased physical touch can serve as an effective way to combat depression, but also serve as method for improving relationship connections and trust.

The Victim/Martyr Complex

One trend I have been noticing lately is the Victim/Martyr Complex. I had known of each of these separately but was surprised to see that folks can have both. Many years ago, I had a session with a mom of a 5 year old boy with autism. I had not been trained in this realm and knew nothing of it. When he broke out in a rage, the mother began to fluctuate between wanting me to feel sorry for her and being indignant at the fact that I didn’t know what to do. “See?” She asked. “See what I have to deal with? No one seems to want to help me or know how.”

When someone suffers from a Victim Complex, it’s all about shifting the blame. They feel as though they are never in control and the world happens TO them. If this person is late to work, it’s because of traffic. If s/he gets into arguments frequently, it’s because the other people in her/his life are mean and unmanageable. Nothing is ever the victim’s fault and the world tends to mercilessly beat them up.

A Martyr is someone who chooses to be in situations of extreme suffering and/or persecution. S/he tends to take on these situations and then want attention, acknowledgement, and sympathy from others for doing so. Having this type of recognition provides feelings of worth and meaning.

How do you know if you are dealing with someone with a Victim/Martyr mentality? Ask yourself the following questions: Is the suffering something that could be avoided? Is the person in an abusive relationship (or several abusive relationships)? Does the person typically complain about others not noticing or appreciating the sacrifices he/she makes? Do they have an exaggerated idea of their importance and how nothing and no one can function without them? Is their goal co-dependency?

If you are dealing with someone who suffers from this (a mother-in-law, a boss, a partner, etc…), what do you do? Manage expectations, don’t take it personally, and understand that the person most likely does not see what’s going on and, therefore, doesn’t want “help”. Depending on how well you know the person, you might gently suggest therapy. If you do not know her/him well, you will want to disengage helps in potential arguments and manage your feelings and thoughts about the situation.

Hope this helps!

 

What Is Love? (or How Do I Put My Ego Aside To Get What I Really Want?)

Recently a client asked me, “What is love?”  I sat there in silence for many moments, because I really wanted to give him a simple answer.  A concise sentence he could take with him and use. There is no easy answer.  I think if I could come up with a simple answer, I would be very rich.  I also know if a simple answer could be easy to attain, someone way before my time would have thought it up prior to now.

We all can agree love is complex, but we also often confuse things for love that are definitely not love, making things all the more baffling.  We think it is love, when it is really ego. In the past, I was a guest columnist on a website that provides information about dealing with affairs. Readers on the site repeatedly asked questions, “How do I make my partner talk about the affair? How do I make my partner go to counseling?  How do I make my partner realize how much he/she has hurt me?” When I responded “You can’t make anyone do anything,” the plea I often get back is “But I love him/her!” That is actually not love at all, but ego and control.

So, I’m sitting in my office chair and all of this is running through my mind. I’m pretty sure I know what love is not.  The question still remains, “What is love?  I came up with this:  I think love is the willingness to do the hard work necessary every day to affect the best possible outcome, with care and concern for all present.

Love is about what you are willing to give, not about what you think you should get. To be willing to operate under that principle is indeed hard work.  Moreover, having care and concern for the best possible outcome, doesn’t always mean happiness and roses.  Sometimes doing the best thing is not only difficult, but sometimes hard to talk about and even worse, hard to hear.

A major mistake we make in our attempt to build meaningful lasting relationships is operating from the guiding principle; “The success of this relationship depends on how well you meet all my expectations of you.”  It invariably leads to difficulty and resentment at some point, because other people are not us and they never will be.  We can’t even live up to our own expectations of ourselves, so how can we expect more from others?  It’s a waste of time. Focus your energy instead on this simple question: “Am I being the person today I would want to be in a relationship with?”  Ask it often and see what happens.

Mental Health Boot Camp

We don’t pay attention.  Not really.  You probably tend to think you are very aware of your surroundings and what everyone is doing and why, but research and statistics tell a different story.  We really don’t pay attention to a lot going on around us.  There is so much to do and so many people, places and things vying for our attention, we tend to be focused on what we discern is the most important and discard the rest.  More importantly, we really don’t pay attention to ourselves.  There is a lot going on up in our brains, but we ignore most of it.  True a lot of it can be unimportant chatter, like the angry rant of a squirrel, but some of it describes who we are, how we see our reality and most importantly how we confirm and develop that reality around us.

I find most of our problems lie in we don’t listen to ourselves and what the continuous narrative up there is telling us about our lives. I created Mental Health Boot Camp out of a need to connect to a client who wasn’t doing well in therapy.  He said to me one day, “I think I would just rather drive my car into a pole.” His depression was so severe and he was having extreme difficulty in connecting to himself and motivating himself to work on treatment.

 Mental Health Boot Camp is a kind of journaling program used in a new way to help clients.  There is an enormous amount of research to support how the simple act of writing down our thoughts can help us gain a new understanding of ourselves, develop clarity of thought and help us use the thought process we have to overcome life’s obstacles and problems.

Through Mental Health Boot Camp, clients have become able to see themselves in a stronger, more positive light and recognize they have all the skills they need to obtain more peace, happiness and fulfillment in life.  Mental Health Boot Camp just helps provide the direction. The client I mentioned above eventually went on to college, became self sufficient, got into a relationship and…well…became happy.

Mental Health Boot Camp is really a matter of knowing how to direct your energies to their best use.

I’ll Write This Blog Later

I used to be a procrastinator.  More specifically, I used to be an avoider.  I would avoid doing things either I was afraid of facing, unsure of my ability to do the ‘thing’, or worried doing the ‘thing’ would cause more grief than just simply worrying about it not being done. I kicked my procrastination/avoidance problem years ago by realizing I buy more trouble putting things off and thinking they will go away than just doing them and dealing with whatever happens next.

In thinking about writing this blog, I came across this entry written by psychologists who study procrastination for a living: http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200507/why-we-procrastinate. The article gives good tips about why procrastination occurs, why it is such a struggle for some people, and what to do to help ourselves.

Ultimately, it seems procrastination is a matter of unconscious avoidance or even rebellion against authority.  It might have started in the family of origin, but as an adult “authority” can unconsciously take all manner of forms.  Even time can become a representation of authority to be avoided or rebelled against.

I think it is interesting the researchers state procrastination is not a matter of time management. It is an issue of unconscious behavior in reaction to a perceived threat to psychological stability.  Moreover, we can put off different responsibilities for different reasons.  It is important to carefully examine what you are putting off and take a hard internal look for the reasons behind the avoidance.

I know for me, one of the behaviors I still struggle with is my writing, even writing this blog.  I know I consciously want to have the blog and my book ideas written, but I struggle with making time to actually do them.  On the surface, it is mysterious to me how I have an urgent need to check Facebook, when I really should spend the time writing.  Upon close internal inspection, I found I wanted to write my ideas, but more importantly, want my words to be acclaimed and sought after by the general public.  That coupled with an underlying fear of no one really caring.

I had to ask myself, “What if I wrote a blog no one ever reads?  What if I write a book no one ever buys? Would I still want to write it?”  When I could get to a “Yes, I would still want to write a blog/book, even if I’m the only person who ever reads it”, I found it easier to keep up with my writing.

There is probably something you routinely put off you wish you didn’t.  It can be fearful to look for the underlying reason you avoid it, but once you’ve faced the internal reason, you may find your ability to deal with the activity increases and your anxiety level in general will go down.

Highly Sensitive People

A while back I reached out to see what mental health topics people would like to read and got an overwhelming response for “highly sensitive people” (or HSP). I have to admit, I didn’t know much about this topic so I had to do some research. I learned that I meet many of the determining factors to consider myself to be highly sensitive. So what does it mean?

Well, for starters, HSP make great friends because they’re compassionate, empathetic, and hyper-vigilant in regards to others’ feelings. They demonstrate superb manners, going out of their way to make sure they’re not inconveniencing anyone. They feel things more deeply than others and have a true appreciation for music and art. They are also really good at being able to comfort others and notice when and where this is needed.

However, HSP are sometimes misunderstood and feel uncomfortable in social situations. It is common to be overwhelmed by intense stimuli such as loud music, lots of people, bright lights, and high activity. This could be a concert, bar, farmer’s market, or sporting event. They often get told not to take things so seriously or personally. HSP are often perfectionists and, therefore, take a long time to make a decision and then beat themselves up over having made the wrong decision. They might be seen as “overly emotional” because they cry more and can have intense reactions to criticism.

Here are some tips on how to cope with some of these aspects:

1. Know your triggers and plan accordingly. If crowds bother you, consider going to events at the beginning or end when there aren’t as many people around. For loud noises, try some earplugs or listening to some soothing music. Smartphones now have apps that provide sleep-friendly noises such as rain, white noise, or storm.

2. Manage emotions. Rate your fear on a scale of 1-10 to see how realistic it is. (1 is “I got nothing” and 10 is “I can take it into court and win the trial with it”.) This trains our brains to think more rationally so we can put things into perspective. Walk yourself through the worst case scenario (knowing that 9 out of 10 times that never plays out) and develop a plan on what you would do if that transpired.

3. Become very familiar with calming techniques. Try a meditation in which you envision yourself in a canoe on a beautiful river. When a worrying thought comes, place it on a leaf coming toward you in the river. Pick it up, read the worry, then put it back in the water and watch it float away. Try a 54321 (written about in a previous blog) or “alphabets on the leg”, in which you write out the alphabet on your knee with your finger. The key is distraction. You want to get your mind off what’s worrying you and put it on something more constructive.

Hope this helps!

Contempt: Every Couples’ Worst Enemy

Of all of the things that couples do that are the most harmful to their relationships, showing contempt towards one another is by far the worst. Contempt can be shown in a lot of ways: rolling your eyes, making an inappropriate noise, belligerence, condescension, saying hurtful or spiteful things or attacking your partner’s character, etc. The most common theme of contempt is disrespect. There is absolutely no room for disrespect in a relationship.

Disrespect and contempt are expressed through conveying a sense of superiority over your partner. Dr. John Gottman of the Gottman Institute says that contempt is the greatest predictor of divorce in a relationship. It is so toxic that it can actually impact a person’s health. The number of contemptuous statements a speaker makes to their partner in a 15-minute period is directly correlated to the number of infectious illnesses the listener will suffer through the following year.

The difficult thing about contempt is that it comes from long-standing negative thought patterns about your partner. It stems from unresolved conflicts: fights and disagreements that you don’t let go once they are finished or that you never fully resolved in the first place. It can sneak up on you, to the point where you hear yourself saying things that you weren’t aware you felt. It can start with something as simple as sarcasm, which many people say is just part of their personality. This is an excuse; a shield. While some people do have a sarcastic sense of humor, there is a difference between sarcastic humor and condescendingly sarcastic remarks to your partner.

So if that’s what contempt looks like, how do you counteract it? It isn’t easy; however, it is necessary in order to have a healthy relationship. The path begins by creating what Gottman calls a culture of fondness and appreciation within your relationship. Start by acknowledging contempt and disrespect when you see them, either from yourself or from your partner. When you find yourself feeling contemptuous, remember what it is that you love about your partner. See your contempt as a failure on your part to recognize and remember the good, admirable and likable qualities they have. Conflict by nature is not unhealthy; what makes it unhealthy is when it comes from a place of disrespect. If you approach your partner from a place of respect and love, they are much more likely to receive what you are saying and be able to respond appropriately. Use “I feel…” and “I want…” rather than “You are…” and “You never…” and similar statements. Every human being is deserving of respect. By expressing contempt within your relationship, you devalue your partner as a human being. Your partner is deserving of the same respect you would give to others and that you would expect to receive yourself.

Basic Tips for Couples

There are an unlimited number of ways that you can be a better partner and have a better relationship. Learning is a lifetime process. Especially in your relationship, learning should be constant. There are, however, some very specific things that you and your partner can do that will increase your relationship satisfaction, as well as help you communicate with one another in a healthier way.

  1. Establish and maintain a 5 to 1 positive to negative interaction ratio. According to Dr. John Gottman, this is essential to having a healthy relationship. Negative interactions are powerful, and inevitable in normal relationships. The best way to counteract the effects of negative interactions is to have as many positive interactions as possible, with a ratio of at least 5 to 1.
  2. Avoid the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and know their antidotes. The toxicity of these “Four Horsemen” as Dr. Gottman calls them cannot be underestimated. Criticism, to which the antidote is complaining without blaming. Contempt, to which the antidote is showing respect and trust. Defensiveness, to which the antidote is taking responsibility for your part in the conflict. Stonewalling, to which the antidote is physiological self-soothing (deep breathing, slowing down your pulse, counting to ten slowly). These four habits are poison in relationships.
  3. Ask. If your feelings are being hurt, if you partner is giving you attitude, if something they’ve said has come across badly, ask them about it. Take it as an opportunity to check in with them, let them know how they are coming across and give them an opportunity to correct it. So many couples let little things evolve into big things because they misinterpreted, assumed or mind-read. Do not do that. Instead, ask your partner, in a kind way, “What’s going on?” Maybe they’re having a bad day. Maybe it has nothing to do with you or the situation you’re in. People don’t always realize how they come across to those they love, because when we love, we let our guard down and we say things without thinking about their impact. Give your partner an opportunity to explain their thought process, what they are going through, and what you can do to help them. Relationships are give and take; use this as an opportunity to ask your partner what they need from you.
  4. Never stop dating each other. When we first meet our partners, we present the best version of ourselves. Not that we are not authentic, but we tend to only show the things that make us attractive to others. Over time, we discover things about our partners that are less flattering. They do not necessarily make us love them any less; however, as the newness of a relationship wears off, the spark can, too. One way to keep the spark alive is to keep dating each other throughout your relationship. Dinner dates, movies, concerts or anything where the two of you can spend quality time together, without the interference of everyday worries and stress. Time together includes time without the interruptions of children, social media and work which is all helpful in keeping that spark alive.