Frigid Days and Destiny
These frigid days are welcome for the novelties they are in San Antonio, and for the opportunity to create a contemplative fire in front of a cozy seat. I ponder the belief in Destiny, expressed to me yesterday in conversation. My fire- and tea-fueled thoughts today are about how that belief benefits its adherents personally.
The Power of Imagination
What do paper clips, poetry, pickled okra and anxiety have in common?
They all used imagination to solve a problem.
Imagination allows us to analyze, solve problems, and create. Imagination is a powerhouse that can improve or destroy material and internal worlds.
One function of imagination is to roll a problem over again and again in an attempt to solve it. We imagine the problem, the desired outcomes, the possible ways to achieve them. We daydream. And then, as if by magic, we come up with a solution. When it isn't solved, though, imagination can become a ruminative process that unproductively occupies our thoughts day and night. Imagination becomes worry.
Runaway imagination is a major source of stress. It's not what is actually happening that creates the shallow breathing, rapid heart rate and feeling tongue-tied, but what you think might happen that creates symptoms of dread or terror.
The same ability to imagine the worst and create anxiety and panic can also calm the brain. Skillful imagination is a powerful tool for reducing stress. Imagination brings the emotional/intuitive aspect of our brain to the problem. In a calm, meditative state, imagination can create pleasing smells, feelings, sights, sounds.
Those imagined sensations send messages from the brain's limbic system that all is clear and safe. From a calmer state we are better able to attend to the problem in a productive way.
Instead of letting imagination scare you, let me show you how you can learn to use it to your advantage.
The Therapist Yawned
I heard this recently from someone who had been trying to find help for a distressing problem. But I have heard worse.
...tried to get me to buy into his 12 week program before he even knew why I was there.
...talked non-stop about himself.
...told me I needed to turn to Jesus.
...fell asleep while I was talking.
There are some great therapists, but finding them can seem like buying the proverbial pig in a poke.
Your commitment to change from adversary to problem-solving partner can diffuse the long maintained tension. It's all in the attitude and intention.
Declare your intention to discuss the problem in a new way and your commitment to listen to what the other thinks and feels.
Make sure the time and place you will be listening is conducive to communicating. That means not at when others are with you, not while one of you is working (repairing the leaky faucet, cooking dinner), and turning off your phones.
Decide that this will be a time to learn how the other sees the problem and feels about it. It means putting aside your own perspective for just this time, and listening as if you were a friendly stranger.
Allow the other to speak without interrupting. If you are committed to hearing and learning, your focus will not be on arguing or planning your rebuttal.
Paraphrase what you've heard to clarify any misconceptions you may have and to show that you are genuinely listening. Ask meaningful, helpful questions that do not probe or make the speaker feel defensive.
Expect that initially you will hear a lot of emotion and hesitation. This has been an emotionally difficult problem for awhile and you will have to show you can be trusted to discuss it calmly. Listening with your attention, encouragement and occasional paraphrasing, the speaker may be able to move past the emotions and deeper into the substance of the problem.
If you've set aside your own perspective of the conflict in order to really listen to the other, you may even feel confident enough to wait until another time to present it. This can build trust that you will not attack and reassure the other that it will be safe to listen to you.
The Power of ANTs
Ants had been documented carrying a delectable bit 10-50 times their own weight and haul it back it home. This stunning photo proves that at least one ant has the strength to lift more than 100 times its own weight! That's a lot of power. That strength might be useful to us if we needed to carry home, say, an elephant and didn't have our even more stunning brains to devise a more energy efficient way.
The power of an ant to lift and carry is miniscule compared to the power of your ANTs. They can't lift even ten times your weight, but they have absolute power over your behavior, your ambitions and your happiness.
What are ANTS?
Ouch! That Hurts!
Great relationships – marriages, friendships, children and parents - hit a rough patch now and then. They are healthy ones based on respect and caring in which ground rules are occasionally readjusted naturally, though perhaps uncomfortably, through disagreement and conciliation. They're the kind relationships that nurture, that last, the kind you want.
But if you refrain from saying or doing something because you're afraid of your partner's or friend's emotional reaction, it's time to take a closer look at that relationship.
People who manipulate others emotionally (with or without physical threat) have as their goal dominance in the relationship. But it takes a willing subject to be manipulated.
Keeping the Blues at Bay
You've battled depression and won. You know your symptoms are likely to return. A life with depression requires the same focus on a healthy, balanced life as any other medical illness does. To function as it was intended, you have to give your brain everything it needs. Here are two “don't” and five “do” reminders for how to maximize your brain-health to stay on top of your depression.
You've likely heard that you can “act as if....” to overcome some negative belief or feeling. Act as if you are not shy at the party, or afraid at your first skiing lessons, and you'll be pleasantly surprised. You will have fooled yourself into not being socially awkward or terrified and gained the confidence you need to step up your game.
Acting depressed can reinforce your belief that you have no control over depression. Acting depressed can add to your guilt, make you feel even more worthless. It can make it impossible to notice any natural improvement in your mood.
Acting "as if" will not cure your depression, but it will allow you to notice the occasional feelings of almost-good. It can prevent you from adding to the bad feelings.
Make Sleep a Priority
Over the last half a century, we have shaved off an average of two (precious) hours of sleep a night. According to a National Sleep Foundation poll, 60 percent of adults say they get less than seven hours of sleep on a weeknight, compared with the seven to nine hours that are recommended.
We burn the midnight oil, we get up way before the kids just to get things done. Our days are go, go, go! And it’s often hard to stay asleep once we get there. Why make sleep a priority when there's so much else to do?
For everyone who swears they get by on five or six hours a night, here are some annoying facts:
A major depressive disorder affects one out of ten of people, yet garners less respect, empathy, and funding than cancer or AIDS or coronary disease which affect many fewer. I'd love for you to be able to empathize with the gravity of the illness, to understand that neither self-pity nor lack of character drives it any more than they do cancer.
Marilyn Miller, MS, LPC ~ Psychotherapist
...Delighting every day in helping people find peace in their lives, relieving anxiety, depression, and promoting self-care.