What to do with fear?

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RISK and FAILURE

It is curious to me that so little has been written about the four-letter word – RISK.  Those who do not take sufficient risk in life, whether in pursuit of relationships or achievement, become frustrated and resentful people.  We all know those who have stayed too long, whether in a job, in a relationship, or in a neighborhood.

The endless moaning for “the good old days” often shines a mirror on an individual too afraid to change.  Young people find this enshrinement of the past difficult to understand because of their confidence in being able to meet any challenge and this confidence is usually undented by the many potholes in life.  A balance is necessary, however, between the overconfidence of the young and the frequent resistance and reluctance of the old. 

The focus of much of our national attention is presently on the scourge of drug addiction.  One wonders if the best description for the last quarter of this century is to describe the United States as the addicted society.  Food, alcohol, drugs, sex, or money has become a source of gratification and security that is short-lived and extremely costly.

There is a correlation between the reluctance to grow through exposure to risk and the need to tranquilize the mind and heart from the grimace of opportunity. 

We worship winners. In fact, being a fan of a winning team is somehow considered more noble by many than being one of the losing participants.

Here are some things to consider about healthy life risk:

  • There is such a thing as information overload.  As a culture, we have more access to knowledge than at any time in world history.  Such opportunity can spark inertia as much as achievement.  If the expectation is that one should not move ahead until one knows everything necessary, productive movement is stopped.
  • Collecting opinions on which way to proceed beyond three trusted sources can guarantee gridlock.
  • Failure is a teacher, not a judge.  The greatest personal cost of failure is in what we think it means to other people and, ultimately, what they think of us.  Test out the truth of this by listing your five greatest failures, as you perceive them, and then ask your best friend whether he holds the same perception of you.

Risk sharpens our capacity to adjust.  It is our adaptability as a species that has saved our behinds, not our worship of “the way we were” and the “Don’t rock the boat” philosophy. 

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Don’t Worry, Be Happy

As we all know, some people worry too much.  Rather than solving a problem, too much worry becomes the problem.  Not only does excessive worry create much personal suffering, but it also affects the people around the worrier.  I wonder if a lot of our worrying in life is like this:  constant, spontaneous and effortless focus that gets dislodged by distracting external events or our own change of perspective.  Now, I think that anyone who does not worry is just living on a different planet; yet, as we know, just worrying about the weather does not make it rain.

After 31 years of working in the field of psychology, I know a few things make a difference in coping with life.

  1. Pay Attention to the Important Things, More than the Urgent.  Sometimes the only way to get the important done is to stick it between the urgent things that drive our days. Worry is often related to disorganization.  Make a list of things to do each day and cross off tasks once they are completed.  Leave early enough to make appointments on time.  Put your keys in the same place every time you come home.  Keep your house straightened up.  When things are under control, there is less to worry about.
  2. Take Action on What You Want To Do And Figure Your Results As A “Prototype”. A handy friend of mine told me how he approaches building things.  He considers the first version as his working model.  Although I have two left hands with tools, I always thought I had to get it right the first time.  My combination of ridiculously high expectations and little tolerance for error was a deeply frustrating workshop ethic to follow.
  3. If You Do Not Know How To Do it, Ask For Help.  Most of us just need a little guidance or a resource with whom to check out our experience.  We all need support and positive feedback from time to time.  Other people may have solutions to problems that we haven’t thought about.  For reassurance, find people who know how to give it.  Many of us spend a lifetime looking in all the wrong places for approval.
  4. Try To Do The Right Thing.  Maintain your sense of integrity whenever you do something.  Tell the truth. Obey the law.  Keep to your promises.  Let your conscience be your guide.  Granted, we might tell an occasional lie or break a promise, and this is fairly common – but it can also set the stage for worry.  We may think sometimes that we can get ahead in the world the easy way – but the price we pay could be excessive worry, among other penalties.
  5. Minimize Catastrophic Thinking. Some people find it difficult to keep perspective when faced with even a minor stressor.  Not every mole means cancer and not every bill is going to lead to bankruptcy.  Test out the reality of these situations by talking them over with a trust friend.
  6. Limit your Exposure to the News. Although there is value in keeping up with the latest news, understand that the media focus on bad news since this tends to sell best.  We seldom hear about the good news in the world on TV or newspapers.  Constant exposure to negative events increases our tendency to worry.  Instead, look for what is good in life.
  7. Sleep, Eat Properly, Exercise.  Lack of sleep and a bad diet can make us irritable, distracted, and anxious – all condition which set the stage for worry.  (Try to be mindful of the problem of overeating as a way of making our worries disappear.)  Exercise helps us dissipate the anxiety that often accompanies worry.
  8. Avoid Substance Abuse.  Drugs and alcohol may give the illusion of comfort for the time being, but using them has negative long-term consequences.  They increase depression, cloud judgment and may give you something to really worry about later.
  9. Learn How to Let Go of Worries. This is a skill that might require some practice and each of us will have our way of doing it.  Some people do this by allowing themselves perhaps half an hour a day of worry time – and at the end of the allotted time period, they will be free of worrying until the next day.  Some people give up their worries by writing them down on a piece of paper and then tearing them up.  Some people prefer to hand them over to a higher power.

The Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardships as the pathway to peace, taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it, trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will, that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.

As this year continues, on behalf of the psychologists in the practice, I want to thank you for recommending us to others.

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Don’t we all want to belong?

One of the advantages of adulthood is being able to selectively avoid new situations and, I suppose, that’s a reason, too, why more adults are lonelier than kids.  It sure is tough to make the transition from elementary school to junior high.  Even with old friends by our side, there are the inner jitters of a new place.  “Where do I go?” “What if I end up in the wrong class?” and then what happens if we meet some kid who just does not like our looks, our name, or the color of our backpack?  Don’t we all want to belong?

Junior high presents the firsthand conscious experience of fitting in or not.  Look back on your own experience and recall what memories are stirred up in that block of grades from sixth to eighth. I think of sitting next to Bill and laughing at our private jokes during class.  I remember, too, getting tackled on the playground by an eighth grader for the “fun” of it.  The guy who wrote the screenplay for the old movie, My Bodyguard, knew something about the difficulty of belonging in a new school.

So how do we help those whom we love punch through the necessary new events in life?  The simplest wisdom is that it will get better if you work at it.  When “get better” arrives is, of course, not guaranteed for this year.  Nonetheless, while most John Hughes movies suggest adolescent anguish is wrapped up in about two hours, helping kids see that sustained efforts at friendliness can pay off in the long run and in life, and is a durable lesson worth learning. Allowing a child to sort through options and experimenting with alternatives promotes the kind of growth school is about.  My son informed me shortly into the start of sixth grade year that a fellow classmate was peeing on him during showers after gym.  Three years of study at Northwestern University never covered that psychological topic.  Fortunately, with parental ballistic responses under firm control, Michael spoke up to the teacher and got the leak plugged.

Outside of school activities, it is important to encourage the interests the child expresses.  Finding a place to shine and a thing to do that is enjoyed for its own pleasure is a goal worth pursuing for the sake of contentment as well as personal achievement.  Having a natural refuge from some of the stresses of transition does much for the spirit.

Finally, we can do a great deal for our children’s hope by telling them that it really does get better as you get older.

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Anxiety Help for Fears and Phobias

Looking for anxiety help? If you struggle with panic attacks, chronic worry, social phobia, generalized anxiety disorder, phobias or obsessive compulsive disorder, here’s help that’s practical and powerful.

Anxiety disorders are generally very treatable, but people who experience them find them hard to overcome. The reason is that while most people have the ability to recover, anxiety literally tricks them into using methods that make their fears worse rather than better.

This is the most natural thing in the world. People think of chronic anxiety as something that invades their lives, something they have to resist and oppose. However, the worst problems come from our efforts to resist and remove anxiety, rather than from the anxiety itself.

People do not get fooled by this trick entirely on their own. All too often well meaning friends, doctors, and therapists get fooled by it as well, and unwittingly suggest methods to their patients that make the situation worse.

For instance, there’s a well publicized technique called “thought stopping”, in which you snap a rubber band against your wrist when you have an anxious thought, and say “stop!” to yourself. It’s hard for me to understand why professionals still suggest this idea, because it’s very unlikely to be of any help. The more you tell yourself not to think something, the more you’ll think about it.

If you want a quick demonstration right now, take two minutes and don’t think about dancing elephants.

See what I mean? Don’t even think about thought stopping.

When anxiety tricks you, you get fooled into using recovery methods that actually make your fears stronger and more persistent. The more you fight an anxiety disorder, the more it grows. It’s like putting out fires with gasoline.

When your fears and worries and undue anxieties overcome you, give us a call.  We can help.

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