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.