My George

When I was first in therapy for anxiety and panic attacks, my therapist gave me an exercise: draw the anxiety. It ended up looking a little like E.T. but with a sour disposition. I named it, “George.”

The purpose of naming the anxiety wasn’t to adopt it permanently into my psyche; it was to have something that was NOT me to “blame” for anxious thoughts, feelings, etc. Though I don’t have panic attacks or much anxiety anymore, I still call George out when negative or illogical thoughts come to mind, causing me distress. This is a technique that I have shared with clients, most with success.

Here’s an example:

Jan works in an office with several other people. Because of her upbringing and low self-esteem, Jan believes that people don’t like her very much. In her quest to feel better about herself, Jan started therapy and named those ugly thoughts, “The Hulk,” because they feel angry and green.

On her way out to lunch, Jan passed her co-worker in the hall. Jan smiled, but the co-worker’s face did not change from one that looked a bit angry. “Oh no!” Jan thought. “Sheila is mad at me! What did I do?” Recognizing the angry, green feeling of her “Hulk,” Jan started questioning her thought.

“Have I had any interactions with Sheila that would cause anger on her part? No. I haven’t even spoken to her in a few days. Could there be another explanation for Sheila’s mood? Of course! She could be irritated or frustrated with a number of things that have nothing to do with me.”

As Jan focused on these questions, her “Hulk” turned back into mild-mannered Bruce Banner, who is way more manageable than his alter ego.

If you deal with anxiety, depression or just negative thinking, what does your “George” look like? What color, shape and texture is it? What is its name? By having a third party to “blame” for these thoughts, you are living healthier – for you are NOT your thoughts. And your thoughts do not have to direct your behavior. I have taken away George’s power to control me, and I’m much healthier for it!



Summer: A Time of Wonder

By Diane Sanford, PhD

Summer is a wonderful time to reflect on the magnificence of being alive. Enjoy reading Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day” below. This week, see what you can discover in the magic of a summer day and savor each moment. If you need a little help, the hummingbird picture above can be the focus of your contemplation.

Hummingbird photo from Maggie.

“The Summer Day”

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

~~Mary Oliver



Get Out of Your Head and Into Your Body

By Kim Wolterman
By Kim Wolterman

If you’re anything like I am, you spend a lot of time in your head-thinking, imagining, obsessing, over-analyzing, etc. What I continue to learn, lately, is that to have greater peace of mind, I need to get back in my body and feel what’s going on there.

As I’m sitting on my porch responding to friends via e-mail, I can smell the hickory chips of our smoker burning in the backyard. I breathe deeply and savor the aroma. I look up from my keyboard and soak in the plush greenery across the road. I hear the birds chirping-so many different sounds and melodies. I feel the wind brushing my cheek. It’s a sensory buffet.

I’m back in my body and out of my mind. Living, breathing, sensing, feeling. It doesn’t last long until thoughts return. I “note” them and let them go lovingly, returning my attention to my senses and my body. Inhaling the moment one breath at a time, again and again.

To help you practice staying in your body and getting out of your head, click on this link to my mindfulness video, the body scan relaxation- Try it and let me know what you think.

Until next time remember, “Life is a journey. Stress less. Live better.”

Redefining Happiness

The other night I dreamt I went to camp again. The dream was a hodgepodge of camp activities which I will refrain from describing, but, suffice it to say, I was genuinely happy. For a moment, when I woke up, I thought I was really in my cabin at camp, but as my eyes adjusted to the dark and my mind cleared, I realized I wasn’t anywhere close to camp. Instead I was alone in my apartment, and all too quickly I remembered that instead of having a day of kayaking and sun-bathing ahead, all I had to look forward to was doing practice questions to prepare for my upcoming exam. That’s when I started to cry.

After the tears subsided, I grabbed my computer to search for quotes online, something I like to do when I’m feeling blue, and stumbled across a quote by Leonardo da Vinci that said, “Once you have flown, you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward; for there you have been, there you long to return.”

And, while I didn’t literally long to fly, I did long for the happy, carefree life I once had. For the time when I was able to spend four hours a day at dance practice. Or six hours making dinner and dessert for my friends. Or a morning doing absolutely nothing.

As I lay in bed, reminiscing about my pre-medical school life, I slowly began to acknowledge my current life really isn’t so terrible—it’s just different. So, I decided it’s time for me to redefine happiness. Instead of happiness being doing whatever I want whenever I want, I need to start looking for happiness in what I already have. I have a great group of friends and a loving family. I’m healthy. I’m physically and mentally capable of doing anything I set my mind to. And I’m well on my way to a highly rewarding career as a doctor.

Just as I am trying to do, I encourage you to consider if perhaps it’s time for you to redefine what happiness is and to look for all the wonderful things you already possess instead of longing for what once was and will not be again.

Today’s guest author is Jessica Sanford, med student extraordinaire and Diane’s wonderful daughter.

What can you do to redefine happiness in your life? Let us know.

Kids Need Self-Care, Too

One of my daughter’s best friends is Chinese. Her parents came to the U.S. before she was born, so she is an American citizen. Her mother, on the other hand, is holding on tight to the Chinese culture. This causes heavy distress for Jane* as she tries to make Mom happy while fitting in with her friends. I call this phenomenon, which happens more than you would think, Cultural Gap. Jane is falling right into it.

As I watch how things go in Jane’s household, I realize just how high her mother’s expectations are for her. If she makes an 89 on a paper or test, she gets sent to a tutor. She is expected to excel in all areas, and is taking an art class taught by a famous Chinese artist. As you can imagine, Jane is quite miserable sometimes, and she and her mom butt heads constantly.

In this case, the main player is culture. Jane and her mom are having a tough time navigating between Chinese and American cultures. Yet, I see plenty of American children going through similar experiences, being held to impossible expectations and being punished for a “B”. Just look around on the Internet and you’ll find all kinds of studies about how kids these days are more stressed than ever.

Our readers with kids in school, have you noticed if your child or children are extra stressed? Have you evaluated your expectations? Have you spoken to your child about how he/she is feeling? As parents, we sometimes get so focused on external achievements, like grades and extracurriculars, that we overlook the consequences they can have on our offspring.

One thing that my family does to lower stress is limit our 13 year-old daughter’s extracurriculars to 2 activities. We also went from the “you must take all Pre-AP [advanced placement] classes” to “take whatever classes you can handle.” Our daughter has a special situation. As the child of 2 anxious parents, she has developed OCD. So it is especially important to us to help her manage her stress, and knowing that our expectations are meetable definitely helps.

If you have dealt with, or are currently dealing with, a stressed-out child, what advice would you give to other parents as to how to help manage the stress?

*Name changed to protect privacy

If I Were A Guy???

This is the question I’ve been asking myself lately. Why? Because I’m in the “middle” of negotiating a lease for my new Midwest Mind Body Health Center which opens Oct. 1, and I’ve been in the “middle” for the past 8 weeks.

When I first saw the building, I asked the owner to deal with me directly but he said he’d hired a real estate broker and it’d be better to speak with him. Would a man have agreed to this? I don’t know, but I did to “be nice.” What’s happened since then? Not much. The broker has been on vacation twice, doesn’t answer morning calls, isn’t much better later in the day, and took 10 days to get me the draft of my lease even after I decided to take a bigger space in a building that’s only half-full.

Not a great way to run a business especially in a real estate market that’s glutted. Then yesterday I decided I’d had enough and called the owner who seemed “clueless” that his broker was handling our deal like this. I told him I’d tried to respect his request that I work with the broker but I’d had enough. How soon would a man have done this? Probably much sooner. Certainly a man wouldn’t have been “nice” about it when the broker wasn’t doing his job.

Although I was raised to be a “nice girl,” I was also brought up to respect myself. While I know the broker is not intentionally disrespecting my time and need to wrap things up, I’m done waiting for him. Einstein said “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different solution.”  So, Monday I’ll be phoning and e-mailing the owner again to get my lease settled. If the broker ends up with mud on his face, he’s earned it.

What are your thoughts about this? What would you do? How long would you “be nice.” Let us know.

A Not-So-Secret Anxiety Remedy

I was in session yesterday with a young lady who has been dealing with anxiety and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) for most of her life. I’ve been working with her for quite a while, and we’ve tried all kinds of coping mechanisms. In her session, she told me that she thinks she has found THE coping tool that has significantly reduced her symptoms. She had been discouraged after trying progressive muscle relaxation, breathing techniques, thought monitoring/stopping, visualization and a few others. So when she said this, I got excited! What was her favored remedy? Present moment awareness!

Diane and I have written about mindfulness and present moment awareness in the past, and we both agree that this technique is one of the basics of self-care. While it’s true that not all coping tools will work for everyone, this particular exercise, when made habitual, can change lives.

My client is dealing with financial problems, and found herself worked into a panic regularly, wondering how she was going to get enough money to pay her bills. Using present moment awareness, she has been able to tell herself, “The bills are not due today. Right now, all is well. I’ll deal with it when the time comes.” This usually brings her anxiety down and sometimes wipes it completely out!

Of course, some things do require planning ahead, and paying bills can be one of them. My client told me yesterday that she had 2 “out of the blue” opportunities to make extra money, and that would take care of her August bills! She’s now working on maintaining mindfulness, but also having faith that God/The Universe will provide for her, as long as she expects Him/it to.

She said she felt strange when practicing these new thoughts, because her old thought patterns were so negative. It made sense to her that we tend to get what we expect to get out of life. So, if she expects obstacles and depression, that’s what she gets. After getting some “proof” that positive and mindful thoughts DO have a real effect in her life, she’s finding renewed enthusiasm to keep it up!