Friday, December 26, 2008

Financial-Anxiety-Proof Your Relationship

I thought this article from the New York Times captures the ways in which our financial anxiety can rear its head in our relationships. I never cease to wonder at the many ways people find to limit anxiety's presence in their lives and relationships (e.g. doing yoga, sure, but watching campy sitcoms? Why not!) I think the important lesson from the article is that while we may each have very different reactions to economic difficulties, it's essential that we understand our partner's and our own ways of coping, and to be supportive of each other's process. Your relationship will be the better for it--in good financial times or bad.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Tell President Obama Your Health Care Ideas

President Obama is asking for our ideas about improving health care in this country. I have too many to mention here (though universal screening for post-partum mood disorders and decriminalizing drug offenses in exchange for treatment immediately spring to my mind), and I suspect you, dear reader, have some pet issues of your own. Here's your chance to let your voice be heard. Click on this link to be taken to the Obama health care page.

Can we change health care delivery in this country? Yes we can, indeed!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Change We Can All Believe In

No matter where one falls on the political spectrum, all can agree that Barack Obama's election to the Presidency is a historical moment. Now, this blog is not political in nature, but I have been thinking about the relationship between anxiety and racism. I've heard from clients about their wondering if they were treated more harshly by police because of their race, or their unease over sitting through American History class, only to hear of nothing of their people's contributions. It's these incidents--sometimes subtle in their racism, sometimes overt--that feed the anxieties of people of color about their place and the value of their personhood in this society.

I am not so naive as to believe that Barack Obama's presidency will end racism in this country, but I am hopeful that it will bring the subject to the attention of people who think racism is no longer an issue in this country. I'm also hopeful that it affirms that there is a place at the table for people of all backgrounds in this society. We still have a long way to go, but today's children stand to inherit a future in which anyone can ascend to the government's highest offices, and that's a great place to start.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

How to Be a Supportive Partner to a Person with a Mood Disorder

Jon (whose wife Heather writes the very popular "Dooce" blog) wrote an insightful post about how he's learned to care for himself and his family when depression tries to get the best of Heather (and in turn, the rest of their family). His story is a must-read for partners who want to be supportive but aren't sure how best to go about it.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Mantras for Financial Anxiety

Here it is, months after I first wrote about financial anxiety, and yet the topic is still much at the fore. The U.S. presidential debates covered the subject at length last night. The lead story of every major newspaper tells of more terrible financial news. Personally, I can name several people who have lost jobs amidst this crisis.

Now, financial anxiety, like all other forms of anxiety, can have its benefits, too. Financial anxiety can get us to plan for the future, start a "rainy day" fund, update the resume, or work on increasing our education and skills in our chosen fields. Financial anxiety can goad us into finishing today what we might prefer to put off for later. That's anxiety at its most helpful.

What's unhelpful about anxiety is the constant worry, dread, that heaviness in your stomach or chest that says, "All is not right with the world." This type of financial anxiety is paralyzing because it is not actionable. As individuals, we cannot fix the world's financial crisis. When this type of anxiety rears its head, it's often helpful to have a mantra to remind ourselves to put it in its proper place. My friend Marla likes to say, "Sometimes, it's just money," meaning, money can't make us happier, or healthier, more loved, or less stressed. Sometimes, money is just money. I also like my mother-in-law's mantra: "A problem that can be fixed with money is not really a problem." In the hierarchy of problems, financial ones fall far below other issues, like losing loved ones or living with declining health.

It's important to remember that anxiety often wants us to lose sight of what we can be grateful for, and leave us to dwell on our concerns. By using a mantra, hopefully we can keep sight of the light in the corners, and put the bleak economic news in its proper place.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Alternative Treatments for Mood Disorders

With the days growing shorter here in Seattle, it's hard not to notice the way the changing seasons can affect one's mood. Coupled with the recent terrible financial crisis news, there's lots of grist out there for anxiety's and depression's mill.

I've also been thinking about the growing numbers of people who have been laid off (or are due to be laid off) from their jobs, and will be going without health insurance. Without such insurance, the cost of psychopharmacological interventions can be prohibitive. With that in mind, here are a few ideas for (potentially) lower cost alternatives:

Light Therapy: Long recommended as a treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), there is growing evidence (as in this meta-analysis by Gjerdingen) that it can be effective for treating antenatal and postpartum mood disorders. And while phototherapy equipment isn't cheap (I think they go for $250, or thereabouts), it's still less expensive than a month-long trip to Hawaii (which, in my opinion, the government should subsidize for us in the far northern reaches of the U.S., don't you agree?)

Massage Therapy: Gjerdingen also points out that massage therapy has been effective in reducing stress and anxiety symptoms in teenage mothers (a notoriously stressed-out group). Yes, massage therapy can become pricey quickly. It's worth asking at your local massage school or community college about their rates for student massages. (Many charge little or nothing at all in exchange for helping out a massage student.)

Yoga: I've written lots about yoga's beneficial effects on anxiety and depression in this blog. Please see my previous posts for evidence of its efficacy, and particular poses to try for various mood problems.

I'm sure lots of you have ideas about inexpensive ways of coping when mood problems set in. You are welcome to post them in the comments section, so we may all learn from each other's experience and wisdom.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Talking Back to Anxiety

Anxiety can come upon us at both expected and unexpected times. In my consultation with others who are particularly susceptible to visits from anxiety, I have found it useful to formulate a "script" to cut short anxiety's "lecture".

Someone much more adept in social graces than I once shared some great advice for what to say at a party, networking event, or other mingling opportunity when you find yourself talked into a corner by someone who can't read your more subtle cues that it's time to change conversation partners. She suggests you look across the room, tell the other person there's someone here with whom you've been looking forward to connecting, and then politely excusing yourself. That's it! Problem solved: conversation ended.

Her advice is effective because you use the exact same script no matter who you're talking to. Having a script before you go avoids the problem of having to think on your feet.

Anxiety is a lot like a dominating conversation partner. It does not read your more subtle cues that you do not want to engage in this conversation further. It doesn't understand that you aren't always interested in what it has to say. It thinks it's always right and isn't good at hearing from others why it's wrong.

I've had the pleasure of working with some very creative anti-anxiety script writers. Each tailored his/her script to counter particularly salient points in anxiety's message. Some particularly tactful scripts I've heard, include: "I am not in charge of how others see me"; "I am okay with the way my life is right now"; "I am taking a break from listening to you"; and "Thanks for your input, anxiety, but I am the expert on what's best for me." Perhaps one of these scripts might help to extricate yourself the next time anxiety starts to talk you into a corner.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Children, Anxiety, and The Monkey Mind

In my former work as a teacher, and in my current work as a therapist, I've noticed a growing trend toward children with paralyzing anxiety. These children are incredibly concerned with "getting it right": saying the right thing, dressing the correct way, getting the right kinds of recognition (e.g. grades, etc.). I have some theories about the dominant culture influencing this need for correctness (standardized testing comes to mind), but I've also been wondering about the more subtle ways we adults feed this anxiety for rightness.

I posted earlier about the "monkey mind": that part of your brain when let loose can be limitlessly creative and non-judgmental--a mind freed of its "editor". I'm seeing children as young as 7 or 8 completely cut off from their "monkey mind". They cannot access their ability to create or make-believe because their anxiety over rightness has closed the door to their monkey mind. When taken to the extreme end, these children are cut off from the lifeblood of resiliency: hope. It makes sense. Hope asks us to imagine a different future, one that does not exist in our present. When social anxiety teaches us that imagination and creativity are bad, those "monkey mind" muscles atrophy. Eventually, we forget how to use them at all.

I'm wondering how we as adults model to children both our creative "monkey" sides and our analytical "editors". How do we show both are of value? What are the subtle (and not so subtle) ways we demonstrate that one is preferable over the other? How can we stop ourselves from denigrating our "monkeys" and cultivate a more active "monkey" practice? What in our culture discourages our "monkeys"? And what feeds our "editors"? If our "monkeys" and our "editors" were brought into balance, what would that look like? How would others (children, included) perceive us? How would we know our "monkey" and "editor" muscles were exercised equally?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Why Parenthood Counts on a (Political) Resume

Putting political beliefs aside for a moment, I want to address this notion that Sarah Palin is not qualified for the vice presidency because she is raising five kids while serving as Alaska's governor. For once, I would like to hear anyone acknowledge that working parenthood paired with public service is EXCELLENT preparation for higher office. A working parent of five knows something about diplomacy. (e.g. "Those are my Legos!" "No, they're mine!") She must also be able to conduct research on a variety of subjects (e.g. which schools and teachers are best for her kids). She must be able to follow detailed itineraries (knowing when and where to pick up and drop off kids at sports practice, music lessons, playdates, and child care.) And it goes without saying that she is well-practiced in areas of patience, empathy, and discipline. While I may not agree with the substance of her beliefs (uh, Sarah, that abstinence stance really doesn't seem to be working out for ya...), I cannot argue that she lacks the organizational wherewithal to pull off the job. It's time to put aside the notion that parenthood only prepares one for the duties of home and family life. Indeed, the lessons learned are applicable to other esteemed offices.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Yoga for Fertility

We are very lucky here in Seattle to have Lynn Jensen among us. Her Yoga for Fertility classes and workshops have helped many women during fertility challenges and other female health problems. Lynn has a kind and reassuring presence and is a genuine teacher of healing the mind and body together through calm and ease. She offers Yoga for Fertility at various Seattle area locations, including West Seattle, University District, and the Eastside.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Back to School Time Again

Since kids will be returning to school shortly, I thought I'd post this recent article I read on about how Sandra Tsing Loh learned to love her local urban public school, and her ideas for how we can all contribute to public schools.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Monkey Mind

Sometimes we get stuck in seeing things exactly as they appear that it's hard to imagine how life could be different. Somewhere in my life travels I learned the concept of "monkey mind" (from Allan Ginsberg, maybe?). Anyway, all due credit aside, the concept of monkey mind entails letting go of our practical, rational thoughts, and just allowing the mind to go wherever goes. When your mind is freed of seeing things how they are, or how they "should" be, where does it go?

I like using the monkey mind whenever I can't see the answer to a problem, but I just know my current "solutions" aren't working for me. I ask myself, if this problem weren't a problem anymore, what would I see myself doing? Who else would be involved? What would I be thinking or feeling? What kind of values would I be living out? How would those values be reflected in my actions? in the people around me?

In practicing monkey mind, one's practical, rational mind may try to quash your monkey mind. Practicality has its place, but when practicing monkey mind, it's best to put it aside for later. Make "defer judgment" your mantra when your "rational" mind tries to shout over your "monkey".

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The latest on PPMD research

The July 31 issue of Neuron reported some promising news for PPMD treatment. I'll do my best to put the researcher's findings in lay terms.

The researchers found (in mice) that when the brain has dysregulated levels of GABA receptors, mice showed more signs of anxiety and depression after birth and had a higher pup mortality rate. When the mice were treated with Gaboxadol, a drug originally designed to treat sleep disorders, the GABA-recptor-affected mice had fewer PPMD-like symptoms, as with those mice with well-regulated GABA receptors.

The researchers, thus, believe that (in humans) post-partum mood disorders and potentially premenstrual syndrome and premenstrual dysphoric disorder may be caused by impaired trafficking of GABA receptors, and not by fluctuations in hormonal levels, as previously believed.

Let's hope this latest research brings us one step closer to finding a successful treatment for PPMDs and other health concerns.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Pain Behind the Smile

The "living artist" (as she says she prefers to be called) Patti Smith was interviewed recently in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. I just loved what she had to say about living through pain and loss in her life: "(W)e can access a lot of things that cause pain. This might seem really funny, but when I feel like that, I make myself smile...I just sit and physically make myself smile. Because sometimes it makes you laugh, and then you just go, "All right."

I remember growing up seeing these aspirin ads on TV. A woman would be vigorously playing the piano (a Chopin Mazurka, if I remember correctly), look up from the keyboard, and say into the camera: "I have arthritis, but it doesn't have me." To paraphrase that ad and Patti Smith, I think every one of us has pain, but pain doesn't have us. Our pain can be useful; we can recognize it's comings and goings, acknowledge it when it's there, and smile when it's time for it to be set aside--until the next time it visits again.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Area Parent Coach and Blogger (to wit, me) Benefits from a Good Editor (Thanks, Lora!) blogger Lora Shinn summed up beautifully what I've written here about attending to one's couple relationship while parenting. Her article appears in her "little kids, big city" column of the Seattle Times/Seattle Post-Intelligencer Web site.

Her columns are a very worthwile read (even when I'm not the subject!) as are her articles for ParentMap. I recommend reading anything with her byline. Good on ya, Lora!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Follow-up to Yoga Breathing for What Ails You

I was glancing through Harvard Medical School's online dictionary of complementary/alternative medical terms when I came across the listing for yoga. The listing summarizes research done on how yoga has been effective in treating a variety of ailments, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, anxiety, and other mood problems.

Even the smarty-pants doctors at Harvard say: Remember to Breathe!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Breathing In What You Need, Out What You Don't

I was reminded of a great breathing technique in my yoga class the other day, so I thought I'd share it here. Alternate nostril breathing is easy to do and takes just a minute of your time (though you might end up spending several minutes a day doing it once you get into the rhythm of it.)

Here's how you do it: Place your thumb and ring finger on either side of your nose. Allow your index and middle fingers to rest between your eyebrows. Start by using your ring finger to close one nostril. Breathe through the remaining open nostril. Now, close the nostril with your thumb (the one you just breathed in through), open your ring finger nostril, and breathe out. Repeat the same process, but in reverse, breathing through your ring finger nostril, and exhaling out the thumb side. Simple, yes?

Once you've got the breathing rhythm down, you can add an intention to your breathing. Ask yourself what do I want to let go of, what do I want to make room for? An anti-anxiety intention might involve breathing in self-confidence, breathing out listening to anxiety. An anti-depression intention could feel like breathing in action, breathing out isolation. A sleep-inducing mantra might involve breathing in sleepiness or heaviness, breathing out restlessness. Breathing in messiness and exhaling perfectionism could fit for someone struggling with obsessive-compulsive disorder. You can tailor your intention to fit your unique challenges of the moment. My never-finished intention for acceptance is to breathe in satisfaction for what I have, breathing out envy for what I don't.

You gotta breathe, right? Alternate nostril breathing can take some of the load off of you, and allow your breathing to give something back.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Believing in Change

Here's a little secret about therapy: One of the key factors to therapy's success has nothing to do with the skill or training of your therapist. One's own sense of hope and expectation for change can very well determine therapy's success. Now, any therapist worth her salt should be able to reflect hope and optimism in the face of difficult problems. The important thing to remember about hope is that it can be cultivated in any situation, as long as one chooses to believe.

While hope can help us weather trying situations, it also seems to inoculate against future difficulties. A new study done by researchers at the University of South Carolina suggests that women with strong religious or spiritual ties registered lower rates of postpartum depression than women without them. I'm going to make a leap here and propose that it's the hopefulness associated with a religious and/or spiritual orientation that prevented the seeds of postpartum depression from taking root. That's not to say that all hopeful women won't get PPMDs, or that only pessimists are struck with postpartum mood disorders. What I'm suggesting is that our "immunity" to depressive illnesses gets a boost from an active hopefulness practice. And while susceptibility to depressive illnesses isn't within one's control, cultivating one's own sense of hope and optimism is.

Finally, some hopeful news we can believe in!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Keeping the Anti-Anxiety Beat

I know I've written about taking breaks from anxiety before, but an encounter with the really great folks over at Seattle Drum School in Georgetown got me thinking about the buffering effects of music on anxiety's chatter. When the mind is engaged in counting out triplets with one hand and sixteenth notes in the other, there's not much mental room left for anxiety. (Okay, so I'm not a drummer--except for in my dreams--but at least that's how it seemed to me back when I played Chopin on the piano. Or maybe I just have less "mental room" than others!) It seems to me that when the mind and body are fully engaged with each other (as in drumming or playing an instrument), there's little opportunity left for anxiety's influence to insinuate itself. And while anxiety and "perfectionism" cures remain elusive, taking much-needed breaks from their chatter is a life-preserving practice.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Sharing Parenting Equally

In this Sunday's New York Times Magazine, Lisa Belkin wrote a thought-provoking article on "equally shared parenting." The concept behind equally shared parenting is just as it sounds: each parents spends as much time contributing to work, home, and family as the other. While I commend the parents who are engaging in this arrangement, I couldn't help but wonder about the details. How exactly does one track every single contribution in the work, home, and family categories? How does one weigh tasks that are more burdensome than others? Reading about the featured couples, it seemed to me that this arrangement could open itself up to persistent arguments over the division of labor.

One mother, whose family eventually opted out of equally shared parenting, had this to say about her family's experience: "The question should not be, Is it all exactly equal, but, What is best for all of us as a group right now?...If we decide it's really important that we are 50-50 on everything, we would work on that. If we decide it's really important that we be close to family, then we work on that."

Now, that sounds like an arrangement I could live with.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Talking to Your Kids About Financial Anxiety

Growing up in Michigan in the 1980s, my family lived through an especially bleak period of economic history. Though I was in elementary school at the time, I was acutely aware of the economic uncertainty in my corner of the world. Several of my classmates moved to Alaska, California, and the South, their parents unable to find work. My father went through long stretches of unemployment over the course of four years, with stints at work just long enough to prolong his unemployment benefits. I remember the nightly news compared Michigan's unemployment rate with that of the Republic of Ireland's (around 13%, if memory serves--but oh, for Michigan's economy to be compared to the Celtic Tiger's now...)

If you are feeling anxious about your family's financial situation, chances are your children feel it, too. Here are three things you can do with children of all ages to help assuage your family's financial anxiety:

With Toddlers: Just say no. Perhaps you bought special treats for them while out shopping before. You are in charge, and it's okay to say no to purchases you might have made before. When grocery shopping, pack along snacks you know your toddler enjoys to avoid tantrums in the cookie and cracker aisle. And if your toddler screams throughout the store for that special snack, that's okay (albeit, highly irritating). If people glare at you in the store, remind yourself that those looks mean, "that's a parent who knows how to set limits." Good for you!

With elementary-school age kids: They really want to be helpful. They really do. And they understand the ethic of helping their family. Explaining to them that while certain activities might be too expensive (e.g. lavish parties, theme parks, camp), there are lots of ways to have fun or to earn money towards something they'd like to do. Your kids might enjoying organizing a garage sale of their unwanted toys and clothes to put toward something they really want. They can have book or toy swaps with friends to get a new-to-them item. And to help them understand the ways they are fortunate, your family can volunteer at a food bank or homeless shelter. They really, really want to be helpful; they just don't always know how to do the helping.

Tweens and Teens: This age group is hard, no doubt. They are under a lot of pressure to look the "right" way. Let them know that you understand style matters at this age. Also let them understand how much is in your family budget for things like clothes. If they haven't discovered it already, your t(w)een will appreciate how much further her clothing dollar goes at thrift stores. (I just saw a navy pleated mini-skirt with green embroidered skulls at Goodwill that I would have killed for when I was 16 and first discovered the many joys of thrift store shopping.) And speaking of budgets, if your t(w)een is interested, share with them the family budget. Maybe she has ideas for trimming costs. A real go-getter might find you a more competitive rate on insurance or a mortgage, or compare prices online for regular purchases. As the recent mortgage crisis points out, it's never too early to give your children a good financial education.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Mind-Body Solution

I just took my marriage and family therapy licensing exam today, which reminded me of the importance of being physically well to perform mentally well. During the days leading up to my exam, I took great care to get lots of rest, limit my caffeine intake, drink lots of water, eat healthfully, and make time for exercise. Truly, it's the lifestyle I should lead EVERY week, but today I really did notice a difference. In the past, I've experienced horrible test anxiety, but today I felt a great deal of calm. I sensed I'd prepared myself both physically and mentally well for the test, and I left the testing center feeling I'd done my best. Now, I'll have to wait for my scores to confirm how I did exactly, but for now I feel at peace that my physical and mental preparation kept test anxiety from pestering me today.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Coping With Financial Anxiety

The financial news these days is pretty bleak: The national average for a gallon of gasoline is roughly $4. The housing foreclosure crisis continues apace. And the U.S. dollar looks like spare change when compared with the pound, euro, or even the Canadian dollar! How the mighty have fallen, indeed.

Being surrounded by news of financial distress--not to mention the cold, hard facts of the prices at the pump and the supermarket--is bound to take a toll on one's feelings of financial security. Here's three ideas for helping quiet your financial anxiety.

1. Examine Your Budget. If you've never drawn up a budget before, start with that first. (It's easy to do if you limit your discretionary spending to credit cards.) Look where the money goes. Does the amount you spend raise your anxiety when compared with your income? Focus on the spending categories you can control. Some expenses may be difficult to reduce, like housing, groceries, or utilities, but others, such as entertainment, eating out, or clothing are easier to rein in. Put your savings into a "rainy day" fund or some such account that you can point to when financial anxiety will not stop nagging you.

2. Share Your Strength. You're a fantastic knitter, car repairer, cook, stitcher, gardener, dog walker, or caregiver. Why not barter your services in exchange for something a friend or acquaintance can do for you? (Personally, I would love to trade rhubarb for a pre-natal massage, but then, I gotta find someone who really loves the rhubarb. I've got a lot of rhubarb.) Bartering can help shave a bit off your expenses while allying you with someone else who's trying to make a go of it in this sluggish economy.

3. Talk to Someone. When financial anxiety will not keep quiet, it's helpful to talk to someone who can remind you of all your good financial practices and keep you focused on your budgetary goals. Talking to someone who shares your anti-financial anxiety stance can help keep your attention on the things you can control while letting go of the things you can't.

Coming Soon: Helping Children Cope in Tough Financial Times

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Us vs. Anxiety

Michael Tomasello, co-director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, writes in today's New York Times Sunday Magazine that, when given non-verbal IQ tests, two year-old children and chimpanzees demonstrate similar spatial and mathematical intelligence. Where the toddlers showed the greatest advantage was in their social and emotional intelligence. Humans, through cooperation, can acquire skills and information and then share it with another; apes cannot. Thus, cooperation leads to a collective identity that bonds humans powerfully to one another. It also helps organize us into "camps": "Us" and "Not Us".

This article got me thinking about the socially-inhibiting effects of anxiety. Anxiety would have one believe that each struggle is unique. It says that no one out there can understand what this particular anxiety is like. In actuality, individual messages from anxiety may differ but the overall themes tend to be very similar. Few people I know who suffer from severe anxiety are able to deeply connect with others like them. The social stigma assigned to anxiety stymies the very social sharing that could lead to its ultimate undoing.

So, humans have the capacity to learn from one another. But such communication depends on our willingness to share and our "proximity" to the information. I propose that as humans, our two camps are not "people with anxiety" and "people without", but rather "us" and "anxiety." The internet can potentially solve the "proximity" issue--we no longer need to be physically close to communicate--but we still need to share and teach others what can be learned about anxiety.

How to become "anti-anxiety teachers" is still murky to me. This blog is a start. I hope that you, my dear readers, will share in this endeavor.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Licking OCD Without Licking Toilet Seats (or Please, Oprah, go back to interviewing John Travolta and Eckhart Tolle!)

I rarely watch talk shows, but sometimes there's a topic on that I simply can't resist. Today Oprah covered a subject I find endlessly fascinating: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (or OCD, for short). I was ready to learn about the new developments in OCD treatment, but the whole show left me totally repulsed. The show followed Dr. John Grayson as he "treated" several people affected by time- and life-consuming OCD. His belief is that through "exposure", people can be "cured" of OCD, much like radiation or chemotherapy can elimiate cancer. While I believe exposure can be helpful, I found Dr. Grayson's methods abhorrent. He asked a man who suffered from germ phobia to touch a toilet seat and then lick his hands. Then he asked several people to touch the inside of a Philly Dumpster and lick their hands. (Don't we all want to just lick our hands after touching the residue of cheesesteak and Yuengling vomit?)

Now, like I said, I believe practicing exposure can be helpful, but this was ridiculous and disgusting. Dr. Grayson insisted that the people affected by OCD were in control during their "exposure", but he neglected to consider the influence of being told by a doctor in front of the richest woman in the world's camera people to perform these gross practices. And secondly, these people wanted to be free from the many rituals they perform to keep themselves clean. No one said they wanted to be able to lick their hands after touching a toilet seat or a trash bin. His "exposures" seemed extremely far removed from their real-life experiences.

When I was young, I wanted desperately to be able to jump off the high diving board at the pool. I was also terrified to go up there. So, I would go as far as I could before the fear would force me to turn back. The first time up, I made it to the top of the stairs. The second time, I went as far as the end of the hand rails. Then a step past the hand rails. Then to the very end of the board. I thought about turning back, but I remembered my goal and all the scary things I did before (and survived) to get there, and I jumped. This "exposure" worked because I decided how far to go, and each subsequent "exposure" built on the one before it.

We can overcome our worst fears. And we can do it without inducing gag reflexes or panic attacks!

Friday, May 16, 2008

A Year's Worth of Vitamin D

It is 86 degrees (that's what?--28 to all you Canadians out there) today in Seattle. Now, I hope you are reading this after sundown because this is your chance to get in a year's worth of Vitamin D. And all you SAD-sufferers out there, take heart: there's more to come. The sunshine is nature's way of reminding us to play, preferably outside. So, lest I forget to heed my own advice, I'm off to a soccer game. Play, play, play!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Reducing Your Anxiety Footprint

What I like about the information campaign to reduce one's carbon footprint is how they give practical examples of life changes one can make to help the planet. I'd like to share some practical examples that others have taught me on how to reduce one's "anxiety footprint", if you will. Not all of these behavior changes will work for everyone, but you might find one in there that helps reduce the anxiety we carry.

1. Reduce Your Caffeine Consumption. Sounds easy enough, I know, but, man, is it hard to live out. Personally, I lean toward the weaning method. Drink 3 cups of coffee in the morning? Try 2. Grind your own half-caff blend at home, or order it from your coffee shop. Make every third soda pop of the caffeine-free variety. Switching from coffee to black tea will also deliver a smaller jolt. I'm sure there are countless other ways to decrease your caffeine intake.

2. Stay Busy. Again, this one sounds simple but can be harder to manifest. One tried and true way is to join a group. I've known people who have enjoyed great breaks from anxiety by joining running groups or other organized sports. Others have signed up for classes or tried new hobbies in an effort to quiet anxiety. While others I know have simply written activities for themselves in their calendars, like taking a walk, going to a museum, play, or movie, or writing letters to far-off friends or relatives as a way to provide structure to their days. Idle time too often nurtures unwelcome anxiety.

3. Go to Sleep. Anxiety loves to pester a tired mind. We are simply more susceptible to its influence when we have fewer mental reserves. And at no time are our reserves at their lowest than when we are tired. I know the pharmaceutical companies would have you think that sleeping can be solved with a little pill, but I have yet to find a better result than by simply improving one's sleep hygiene. The most basic way to improve sleep hygiene is by maintaining a good sleep schedule. Go to bed at the same time every night, and wake around the same time each morning. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep per night. And use your bed for sleeping--not email, not snacking, not talking on the phone. Sleeping (okay, and maybe that other thing, too), but first and foremost: Your Bed is for Sleeping!

Good luck with your own campaign to reduce your "anxiety footprint"!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Community PPMD Discussion in Spokane

Debunking the theory that there is no free lunch, the lovely people over at the Council for Children and Families and Postpartum Support International of Washington are hosting a free community discussion on post-partum mood disorders, lunch included! The event takes place June 12 at the downtown Spokane Public Library in austerely beautiful eastern Washington. Please help spread the word about this very important event, all you Inland Emperesses and Emperors! To RSVP write to:, or visit their web site:

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Being Hopefully Detached

"Learning to Trust Struggle and Disequilibrium" is one of the nine principles outlined in "Becoming the Parent You Want to Be" by Laura Davis and Janis Keyser, one of my favorite books on parenting. The principle also holds true in other life transitions. Often, when we think hopefully about the future, that hope is tied to a particular outcome. So what happens when that particular outcome doesn't come to be? Do we feel disappointed? Yes, naturally. Then, I wonder: what does this disappointment obscure? Was there a different outcome that could also be celebrated, enjoyed, or learned from in some way? Was there something about the trying that could be celebrated, enjoyed or learned from?

This idea of enjoying the struggle and the trying has particular resonnace for me as my 2 year-old daughter has begun to express interest in using the potty. By "using" I mean sitting on it for as long as 10 or 15 minutes, without anything actually going into the potty. I am hopeful that she will learn to use the potty, but for now, I must remind myself that her challenge is to become comfortable sitting there. If my hope for her is tied to "results", I'm bound to be disappointed, and she will likely become discouraged and quit trying. As long as I can remain hopeful yet detached from a particular outcome, we can celebrate and (hopefully!) learn from the trying.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Lessons from an Anti-Normal Life

In another life, I worked with homeless, mentally-ill adults. I was incredibly young, naive, and idealistic. It was a great on-the-job learning experience for me, and my clients became some of the best teachers I've ever had.

I've carried the stories of these clients close to my heart for the past ten years. One client's story has been much on my mind lately. His name was Scott, and he suffered from schizophrenia. We were peers in that we were both in our early 20s, from white, middle-class backgrounds, but our lives could not have been more different. He lived on the streets and was plagued by delusional thoughts telling him he was the devil, that he would die young, that he was a death-row inmate. I wanted him to try medication in the hope that the thoughts might quiet enough for him to hold a job, get his own apartment, and have a wonderful future ahead of him. He made excuse after excuse why he couldn't follow a medication regimen. Finally, after offering to bring him his medication nightly at the local shelter, he told me: "I do not want to be like you. I do not want a normal life. This (schizophrenia) is what sets me apart from other people. I'm different, and I want to stay different. Your life is fine for you, but this life is what I know, and I don't want change it."

After that conversation, my work with Scott became much easier. I no longer tried to foist a life on him that he didn't want, and instead focused on how he could live safely while still hearing dangerous thoughts. He explained to me that when thoughts come to him about dying young or being the devil, he thinks, "I know they're not true, but they're still happening."

Scott's ideas about dangerous thoughts have stayed with me. I often catch myself having thoughts that "I know are not true, but they're still happening." My mind especially likes to blow things out of proportion when I'm feeling tired, stressed, or unhappy.

I like Scott's way of thinking about thoughts that may visit us from time to time. It seems a fruitless enterprise to cease all negative ideas from entering our thought space. But Scott's way of coping allows us to acknowledge the presence of these thoughts while denying them validation. His willingness to be set apart, to live an anti-"normal life" has taught me something about living my own "normal" one.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Seeds of Compassion

The Dalai Lama is coming to Seattle as part of the Seeds of Compassion Conference. While tickets for his appearances ran out months ago, there are a number of first-come-first-served panel discussions that might interest those of you in the Seattle area. Speakers include relationship guru John Gottman and our family's much loved pediatrician Dr. Ben Danielson. Highly recommended!

Friday, April 4, 2008

Penny Simkin Empowers Women to Birth Their Way

Penny Simkin's rise to Childbirth Guru status was featured in this article. I love her philosophy on being centered in the mother's experience of birth and the power women harness in being present through their birth experiences. Too many births, in my opinion, have the childbirth professionals' experiences at the fore. We are so fortunate here in Seattle to have such a fantastic resource in Penny Simkin.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Hug Your Neighborhood Lawyer

Ok, people, we should try to lay off the lawyer jokes for a while. Lawrence Krieger of Florida State University found in a recent study that practicing lawyers exhibit clinical anxiety, hostility and depression at rates that range from eight to 15 times the general population. His research also indicates that out of 104 occupational groups, lawyers rank the highest in depression. Yikes! So, do some pro bono work of your own for the lawyer/s in your life and give them a referral to a good therapist!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Family Day at The Henry Art Gallery

The Henry Art Gallery hosts a free Family Day from 11:00 to 3:00 this Saturday. On tap is a performance by funky-fun Seattle band Recess Monkey and On The Double Double-Dutch group! Bring your jump rope and dancing shoes down to the U-District this Saturday!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Henri Nouwen on Forgiveness

I came across this quote about forgiveness that really spoke to me and thought it might also to you. I really appreciated the image of "not forgiving" as a chain and forgiveness as freedom:

"Maybe the reason it seems hard for me to forgive others is that I do not fully believe that I am a forgiven person. If I could fully accept the truth that I am forgiven and do not have to live in guilt or shame, I would really be free. My freedom would allow me to forgive others seventy times seven times. By not forgiving, I chain myself to a desire to get even, thereby losing my freedom."--Henri Nouwen

Monday, March 10, 2008

Catching Up to the Clock

Since it is Spring-Ahead Monday, I just wanted to share a little reminder to go easy on ourselves today, as our bodies and brains try to catch up to the clock. Here are 4 reminders to help us be safe and well this week:

1. Allow yourself extra time to drive where you need to go. Or better yet, walk or take public transit until you feel your reaction time returning.

2. Eat a healthy dinner at least 2 hours before bedtime.

3. Choose a quiet, non-anxiety-inducing activity before bed, like reading, meditation, listening to music, or knitting (unless, of course, you're like me and would consider knitting an anxiety-inducing activity).

4. If possible, try to fit in 20 minutes or more of exercise, preferably in the beginning or middle of the day. Those yogis among us might like to try sun salutations first thing in the morning. Others might like to walk during lunch break, bike to work, or run around the park with your kids. No kids, you say? Then bring a basketball or soccer ball to the park and you are sure to meet some!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Loving Without Labeling

As children, my parents affixed labels to my siblings and me that in some ways have followed us to this day. I was the responsible high achiever. My sister was the hard-working peacemaker. My brother was the funny, perceptive, sensitive one. While there's nothing particularly problematic with these labels, it did sometimes lead to discounting our other traits that fell outside our respective boxes. If my sister brought home a good report card, my parents would credit her "hard work" for her success rather than her intellect. If I got a bad grade, the teacher must not have communicated her/his concepts and expectations well enough. And my brother, well, he got by on his sense of humor.

In families and other significant relationships, it's easy to slide into this essentialist view. We've all done it: "She's my easy baby." "He's the stubborn one." "He's the helpful one--not like his brother." The difficulty with essentialist notions is that sometimes there is truth to them--or maybe "truthiness" is a better term. But what happens is that these essentialist views often cloud out exceptions.

My brother can be very funny, but I know that when tax time comes around, he sends his 1040 meticulously filled out--all joking aside. My sister is a hard-worker, but she often gets more done because she also works smarter. And she loves to put her feet up and crack a joke as much as anyone.

Our behavior is just that--behavior. Sometimes it suggests something about our temperment. But it shouldn't define us. And we should be watchful not to let it coax us into defining others, too.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

You Need a PPMD Like You Need a Knife in the Head

Penelope Trunk writes in her Brazen Careerist blog about how she didn't realize she was suffering from a Post-Partum Mood Disorder until she stabbed herself in the head with a kitchen knife. She advises that every working mom (and every parent is a working parent) surround herself with a strong support network. And if you don't have pre-existing supports, by all means, hire them! As Penelope says, "I cut corners on things that I thought I could handle but couldn’t. And the biggest thing, in hindsight, that I thought I could handle, was being a working mom with no support system. No one can do that and stay sane." Amen to that, Penelope!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Kid-Friendly Restaurant Recommendation in Seattle

So for those of you reading in Seattle (or planning on visiting our fair city), All-Purpose Pizza on S. Jackson St. in the Leschi Neighborhood has a great kids play space that your child/ren can enjoy while you and your companion can have a semblance of a date. The play area is outfitted with rolling pins, dough, toy cash register and phone, so your wee one/s can pretend to run their own restaurant. Fostering your relationship while fostering your child/ren's entrepreneurial skills equals a win-win for everyone.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Getting Through the Day

The parents in our class at the Parent-Child Center at Seattle Central Community College brainstormed all the things we do to care for ourselves and survive the day. While some suggestions might not work for childless adults (e.g. trading childcare), some ideas might hold water even if you don't care for children (e.g. plan ahead for dinner, get enough sleep).

Here is the list compiled by the parents in our class:

*Make a spread sheet for you and your partner about responsibilities
*Give your partner clear messages about your needs
*Have a cup of tea
*Get enough sleep
*Have books, puzzles for downtime
*Be organized, think ahead
*Make the kids' lunches the night before
*Have structured activities for the kids
*Find an activity your child can do alone (e.g. listen to music)
*Have nutritious food
*Plan ahead for dinner
*Go to the coffee shop
*Get out of the house
*Trade child care
*Take a nap
*Pick one thing to get done during nap
*Take time for yourself during nap
*Trade with partner to go out
*Have time together after child's bed time
*Cocktails at 7 PM
*Kid-friendly happy hour in pubs
*Go to the park or play gym

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Feeling Confident and Competent: A Possible Antidote to Anxiety

Anxiety often has more influence in particular settings in our lives, less so in others. For some, family life is fraught with anxiety. For others, anxiety has its strongest pull while at work, school, or just being alone. If you find that anxiety speaks to you less loudly in certain spheres than others, it may be because some practices of competence and confidence help keep anxiety at bay in those settings. A former client of mine found that he experienced anxiety less acutely at work, where he felt confident and competent in his job, and less so at home where his family demeaned him for experiencing severe anxiety. My client worked with chronically ill patients who could sympathize with him about living with a debilitating affliction that often comes on without warning. At work he felt valued for the service he provided, was given positive feedback about his performance, and was offered some breathing room when he wasn't feeling at his best.

His home life was a very different story, with a lot of dismissiveness, negativity, and a sense that he should just "get over" the anxiety. At home he learned to remind himself of all the ways he was confident and competent in other areas of life, and though he couldn't control what family members might say, he could be his "own safe harbor" in his mind when their negativity would start to get to him.

In our own lives we can find areas where we feel a great sense of confidence and competence, and remind ourselves of those successes when dealing with other areas of life where anxiety speaks more loudly.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Seattle Midwifery School Seeks Pregnant Panelists

Here's a message from the Seattle Midwifery School about an upcoming pregnancy panelist opportunity:

Pregnant in Seattle? SMS is seeking pregnant women in their third trimester to be panelists for our popular Labor Support Course. It’s a lot of fun and a great chance to help aspiring doulas learn about the emotions of pregnancy. We need panelists for Saturday March 8 from 1:00 to 1:45 pm. Honorarium offered. Contact or call Annie Kennedy at 206.322.8834 x115 for more information.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Einstein's Endorsement of Therapy

Albert Einstein said insanity is trying the same thing again and again and expecting a different outcome, or some such thing like that. Similarly, we often use the same ineffective strategies for dealing with problems because we simply don't know what else to try. We get caught in thinking that because something has always been this way, that it will always remain the same.

Getting stuck in our thinking happens to everyone from time to time. Getting unstuck often requires getting a different perspective on the problem. When we're too close to a problem, we need the perspective of someone outside the problem to help us see a new strategy for dealing with it.

A common misconception is that therapy is only for "crazy" people. Therapy, however, is essentially the offering of new ways of looking at familiar problems. We all run into difficulties that we can't see our way out of. When we can't envision a solution, this doesn't make us insane; it makes us human. Helping us see new ways of looking at familiar problems and taking action to solve them is the basis of good therapy.

Being stuck and not doing anything about it--that's crazy. Enlisting another's ideas for solving the problem, to drastically paraphrase Einstein, just makes good, "sane" sense.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

New Resource for Postpartum Dads

Postnatal depression can affect both mothers and fathers, as this new Web site points out. helps men identify signs of depression and lets them know they are not alone. Please spread the word to postpartum dads about this important resource.

Monday, February 4, 2008

What a Little Daylight Can Do

We've made over the hump: the darkest days of winter are behind us. But for those of us in the northern neck of the woods, there's still not a lot of sunlight out there. To get your daily shot of Vitamin D, try to get out for 30 minutes between noon and two--even on a cloudy day. Run your errands, take a walk, or just do laps around your office building. A little daylight can help re-boot your system--physically and mentally. And spring is not that far off either. Think: sun!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Second-Guessing and Anxiety

One of the consequences of anxiety is that it often asks you to second-guess your decisions. Anxiety can get you wondering, "Am I doing the right thing? Is there something else I should be doing?" To look at it another way, though, anxiety can also get us to slow down, be more reflective, weigh all the options. When anxiety's second-guessing paralyzes us from learning to make and live with our decisions, we find that anxiety is taking up too much "thinking space" in our lives.

Like with any life change, it's good to start with small, attainable goals. Ask yourself: When have I made a decision without second-guessing? What factors helped me be successful? What's a small decision I could see myself sticking to? No decision is too small to practice keeping second-guessing at arm's length. What to wear, making weekend plans, choosing what to make for dinner are all fine places to start.

Once you have some smaller decisions unfettered by second-guessing under your belt, you can apply lessons learned to the bigger ones. And with any life change, it always helps to have some strong supporters who can help you stay on track when anxiety's second-guessing seeks to derail your progress.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

When Perfectionism Conspires With Anxiety

I was just thinking back to the night when I was about eight months pregnant and reading "Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn" by Penny Simkin and Ann Keppler. I came across the section on risk factors for post-partum mood disorders. They listed perfectionism as one of the factors that seems to contribute to ppmds. This memory got me thinking about mood problems in general--and anxiety, specifically--and how perfectionism conspires with anxiety to make one feel less than fine.

Perfectionism can be a terrific motivator. But it can also sabotage. What happens when "perfectionism's expectations" go unfulfilled? Can perfectionism ever be truly satisfied? If you knew perfectionism were satisfied, how would you know? If perfectionism went unsatisfied what would it do?

My guess is that when perfectionism goes unsatisfied (say, because a baby is demanding more from a parent than s/he feels able to give), anxiety finds fresh fuel. Thoughts of "I'm not good enough/I can't fix it/It's hopeless" creep in.

Unfortunately, our culture does little to quash perfectionism's claims. Every time I hear the Oprah slogan "Your best life now", I want to scream. What if one's "best life now" means rocking a crying baby to sleep at 3:00 a.m., or waiting for a new driver's license at the DMV, or just having a rather ho-hum day. Is this my best life now? Is there something else I could be doing to have a better life now? Is everyone else around me having their best lives now, while mine is deferred by doing laundry and sorting through junk mail? On the surface, this desire to live one's best life seems a fine goal, but further mining reveals some very dry kindling for perfectionism's--and thus anxiety's--fire.

I'm working on a new slogan for Oprah. "A great life some of the time, and a pretty okay life the rest of the time" isn't quite as catchy as hers. But it might just help keep anxiety and perfectionism quiet for a while. And maybe that truly is our best life now.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Year-End Intentions

Rather than make a New Year's resolution which, to my mind, sounds like an all-or-nothing proposition, I'm thinking about a different strategy for effecting life change. Talking about New Year's intentions brings to mind different gradations and nuances of change.

I've been wondering what New Year's intentions for anxiety could look like in a person's life. Rather than resolve to "attack" or "tackle" anxiety, what if one merely had an intention to limit anxiety's control of one's life? An intention might include an acknowledgement that anxiety will be present at times in one's life, but it doesn't mean that anxiety should choose one's life course. And if sometimes anxiety's influence feels overwhelming, acknowledging that anxiety may be more powerful in certain situations but less so in others may help to quash the idea that one must be in control of anxiety at all times.

An intention, to me, is a belief that helps guide our thoughts and actions. It is not predicated on a certain outcome, unlike resolutions.

In trying to live a life less affected by anxiety, we succeed in living out our intention, no matter what the outcome may be. It is in the trying where we might be most pleasantly surprised by our successes, be they great or small.