The biggest impediment to personal change is confusion. Most people fail to make positive changes in their life because they get confused about what they want; they get confused about their entitlement to it; they get confused as to the reason their dissatisfaction exists; they get confused as to whether the changes they want will even work.
People want to be happy, to have a sense of well-being, to be fulfilled in their work and relationships. However, they become mired in confusion regarding how to achieve these things. Figuring out what and how to change can become so difficult. Confusion is created by self-doubt, lack of clarity, having too many goals, or having goals that conflict with one another.
The most common set of conflicting goals are these:
Very often it is not possible to do both. For that reason, people get caught in the middle trying to straddle both. Or else they surrender to the first goal of keeping other people happy, and sacrifice their own well-being.
So if people are conflicted about something as basic as this it is no wonder that they get confused about what they want in life and how to get it. If you want two opposing things simultaneously then you are going to experience stress and distress. At times it is the essence of the conflicts of life – the fact that we are forever at war with ourselves.
So how do you come to terms with this confusion, this shifting landscape of personal needs and goals?
The antidote to confusion is clarity - getting clearer and clearer about what is most important to you. This can only happen if you can prioritise that which needs to change. You get confused because you have so many competing goals in your life.
On Monday the priority in your life might be your relationship while on Tuesday it may be work. On Wednesday it may feel life your personal happiness is most important and then on Thursday it appears that achieving financial security has to take priority; only on Friday you think that the needs of your children are the most important thing; to be changed again on Saturday when you are convinced that everything will depend on your husband changing first. And the merry-go-round of changing goals and priorities continues to spin week after week, year after year, decade after decade.
If you are to change you need to get off the merry-go-round and take a grip of the goals and priorities that you need to attend to and, not only that, you need to find the courage to change yourself. Confusion is your enemy because it inhibits your personal focus and becomes the bed-fellow of apathy.
What breeds more confusion is the belief that you need to do some more thinking. The illusion that you can think our way out of deeply ingrained habits is a myth. To change deeply ingrained habits you have to fight off thought patterns that will inevitably seek to prevent change. Your thinking, very often, is your worst enemy!
So at times of change the best advice can sometimes be: “Don’t listen to yourself”. Listen, instead for a new voice calling you forward.
What is needed is to then make decisions and take action. To decide to change you need to be out-of-character in some way, you need to think and act in a way that is not typical for you because to be the same-old-self you will not want to change. If the truth be known, most people have forgotten what it is like to make a full-blooded decision. They confuse intentions with decisions. A decision is irreversible. An intention paces outside the wall of a decision, wondering its life away.
So if there are things in your life that you need to change, goals you need to pursue, and dreams you need to bring into reality, then work to eliminate confusion. Do that by trying to prioritise what is important. Confusion reigns when you want all your personal goals to be priority number one.
Making substantive changes in your life takes courage and integrity - the courage to change old ways and the integrity to integrate your hidden dreams into the fabric of your life.
Most of us find changing personal habits and behaviours extremely difficult if not impossible. WE are all filled with good intentions but when push comes to shove, most of us fail to convert these intentions into permanent life –changes. The uncomfortable truth is that when it comes to healthy behaviour, losing weight, keeping fit, improving relationships, or developing our self-esteem most of us remain unchanged over long periods of our life. The process of changing is a little more complicated than we like to think. Psychologists have broken the change process down to recognizable stages.
Stage 1: Pre-contemplation is the stage in which people are not intending to take action in the foreseeable future, usually measured as the next six months. People may be in this stage because they are uninformed about the consequences of their behaviour. Or they may have tried to change a number of times and become demoralized about their ability to change. They are usually described as being unmotivated.
Stage 2: Contemplation is the stage in which people are intending to change in the next six months. They are more aware of the pros of changing but are also acutely aware of the cons. This uncertainty can keep people stuck in this stage for long periods of time. We often characterize these people as procrastinators.
Stage 3: Preparation is the stage in which people are intending to take action in the immediate future, usually measured as the next month. They have typically taken some significant action in the past year. These individuals have a plan of action, such as joining a gym, talking to a counsellor, talking to their GP, buying a self-help book or whatever.
Stage 4: Action is the stage in which people have made specific changes in their life-styles within the past six months. Since action is visible, change is often equated with action. However, initial action does not mean permanent change, as most of you know. You stop going to the gym, your Lenten fast fades away. Your positive-parenting gradually dissolves. So another stage is needed.
Stage 5: Maintenance is the stage in which people are working to prevent relapse. They know the difference between a lapse and a relapse. A lapse is a temporarily blip when you ‘fall off the wagon’ but get back up very quickly. A relapse is when you fall off the wagon and then use that as an excuse to give-up.
The bad news is that research shows that that relapse tends to be the rule when action is taken for most health behaviour problems like weight loss, fitness, dietary changes, stress reduction, relationship improvement, etc.
The good news is that for many people though they ‘fall off the wagon’ they don’t fall all the way back to stage 1 – that is to a stage of –re-contemplation. In other words, they don’t have to start from scratch again. They can pick up again at the preparation or action stage.
For example, in a study of smokers it has been demonstrated that 40% of all active smokers are already in the pre-contemplation stage – i.e. thinking about giving up. Another 40% are contemplating change, i.e. thinking about giving up smoking within the next six months or so. And the final 20% are in the preparation stage, i.e. preparing to stop within a month. So, the good news with bad habits is that most people are engaged in an internal dialogue about changing. However, most people, when they begin, find it hard to get to the maintenance stage of change.
The sad truth is that most people have forgotten what it is really like to make a permanent unalterable decision. In fact, you might go through life and only make a handful of such decisions. You think you make permanent decisions every day but you have your life rigged with escape hatches, trap-doors, and hidden exists that allow you to jump ship whenever the going gets rough. Most people confuse good and positive intentions with decision-making.
You have probably announced on countless occasions that you have decided, for example, that you are going to change you eating habits. You may announce your “decision” but in truth it’s probably little more than a good intention! The truth is you rarely make the decision to change and to maintain it. All you are doing is contemplating change, preparing for change, maybe taking some small initial steps toward change, but never really deciding to change. The sad truth is that you are probably hovering around the contemplation and preparation stage of change. Wasting your life away with good intentions.
Consider the human body’s complexity and how a change in one physiological component alters and impacts so many other parts. The body’s ability to function at all depends on an intricate web of connectedness.
Now consider a family, perhaps a mother, father, and children, and think of them as one human body – an organism, or a whole. One component of the family, or one individual, simply cannot be separated or understood in isolation. One individual affects all others; everyone’s deeply embedded emotional and behavioural processes seamlessly wired together.
Family therapists describe the family as a complex and interconnected system. Problems are connected, and therefore likely to affect and create distress in other areas – if they not appropriately handled. When a change occurs in one part of the family, such as a mental health or behaviour problem with a teenager, you must appreciate how it affects the entire family to help the teenager regain healthy functioning. Additionally, the entire family can become plagued with problem behaviours so that the family itself seems to break down.
Family therapists therefore believe that: A family is a whole unit composed of interrelated parts; the behaviour of one family member is only understood by examining the family in which it occurs; Therapy must be implemented at the family level and take into account the relationships within the family system.
Much of the therapeutic work in family systems focuses on boundaries - not the physical boundaries of walls and borders, but psychological boundaries. These types of boundaries can’t be seen or touched, but instead shape themselves in the form of beliefs, perceptions, convictions, and understandings. Individuals form self-concepts, for example, based on beliefs regarding who they are, and these beliefs surround them like a boundary, distinguishing them from others.
Parents or couples also surround themselves with boundaries that separate them from their parents and their children. Children also form a subgroup within a family, forming a boundary around themselves separate from their parents. Ideally, the child subgroup holds less power than the parents.
Hierarchies are established for a reason, for the proper functioning of the family in order to delegate tasks and to ensure the proper checks and balances.
Family therapists confront families and situations where boundaries have become crossed, distorted, or nonexistent. These types of situations lead to problematic relationships. Examples of crossed boundaries include a mother complaining to her child about her the child’s father; a father who wants to relate to his daughter as a friend rather than a daughter; parents who expose information about their intimate problems with their children; or a teenage boy who thinks he must dominate his parents. These are examples of distorted boundaries that can lead to problems.
No family is perfect, and mistakes happen. Sometimes more is shared or not enough is shared among family members, but most families work for an appropriate balance. However, families who allow boundaries to be constantly, routinely crossed need help at re-forming these boundaries.
There are many types of boundary problems which can be placed along a spectrum between the extremes of being enmeshed or disengaged. An enmeshed family exhibits signs of smothering, over-sharing, and caring that reaches beyond normalcy. In enmeshed families, boundaries do not allow for separateness; they are too fluid, and have become crossed and often distorted. Boundaries are constantly crossed in numerous ways.
Families that share little to nothing, typically overly rigid families, are described as detached. There’s little to no communication – and no flexibility in family patterns to accommodate effective support and guidance.
Whatever the problems experienced by one individual in your family, it can be helpful to conceptualise the problem as a symptom of the family and to consider how the behaviour of other family members also contributes to the maintenance of the problem.
Rose is a woman in her mid thirties with three small children. She feels powerless to control them. They fight, run around, refuse to sit at the table, hit each other, and generally ‘run riot’ virtually all of the time they are with her. It is complete chaos.
Rose is not a bad woman but she does have a personality style that is not suited to parenting. Her personality could be defined as anxious-dependent – she is dependent on others people approval to take and sustain initiative an anxiously plagued with uncertainty and self doubt. Rose therefore has great difficulties in being a strong parent who sets clear limits and boundaries for her children. She also has difficulty in asserting herself and often seeks the approval of her children for things she does. This can be observed in the way she never makes direct demands of the children but rather makes requests by asking them if they would do something. This reverses the natural family hierarchy by giving the children the freedom to overrule her parental requests by just saying “no”.
Displaying healthy and natural authority with children is a parental responsibility that each person achieves in their own way. Few would argue against the need for such a competent authority that evokes the children’s willingness to comply as well as their respect. It is indeed a fine balance.
In parenting one can refer to the three A’s of autocracy, authority, and abuse to define different styles of parental control.
The autocratic parent gets their child to comply with them by the use of threats or coercion. The autocratic parent punishes readily, gives out a lot, and creates a climate of a fear more than respect for the parent. The autocratic parent has strict rules and responds harshly when rules are not complied with. The autocrat is a dictator in the house and is the absolute ruler. The autocratic parent is not always abusive in the conventional sense but seeks to rule the house with an iron fist. The weak autocratic parent is forever complaining, giving out, punishing, grounding, and harassing their children for their wrong doings. The strong autocrat gets compliance through power and fear and is not afraid to resort to severe punishments to maintain control.
The abusive parent is, in many ways, an extreme autocrat who wields control through punishment and negative consequences. The abusive parent can be an under-controlled parent or over-controlled parent. The under-controlled abusive parent is chaotic, dramatic, over-the-top, out-of-control, foul-mouthed, inconsistent, and driven by moods and irritations. This parent lashes out indiscriminately and may slap or curse at a child for the smallest of things.
The over-controlled abusive parent is more like the cold-blooded tyrant who is unafraid to verbally abuse or hit a child but does so with a detached ruthlessness. He or she lets nothing go and gains compliance by attacking the child’s self-esteem with criticism and put-downs.
Finally, we have the authoritative parent who is different in that he or she gains compliance or respect through natural strength, conviction, and confidence.
When you think back to when you were at school you can easily pick out the teachers who had a natural authority that demanded respect, and got it. You can also recall autocratic teachers who, while controlling the class effectively, were disliked for their mean-spiritedness and inflexibility. Finally, there may have been an abusive teacher that you recall. Thankfully, those teachers have now left the system but were a staple in many old schools from the 50’s through to the 70’s – i.e. the teacher that sadistically left you feeling afraid, diminished, and bad about yourself.
Authority comes easily to some more than others. It tends to be seen in people who are more independent than dependent. Independently minded people are less needy of others peoples approval than dependent people. As a parent this means that authoritative parents does not always need their children to like them and are well able to tolerate their/her children’s disapproval in order to get them to comply with essential rules. The dependent parent, on the other hand, often gets handcuffed by their need to have their children like them all the time. When this need is too strong they lose much of their independent authority. Parents like this are afraid to upset their children and invest a lot of energy in reassuring them. They may go over-the-top with unnecessary praise and understanding which, they do not realise, is not actually needed by the child. They may administer punishments or consequences only to withdraw them soon after because they feel sorry for their child.
One way to understand depression is to see it as a problem that has to do with courage. It develops in people who have, most often by necessity, become afraid of the unavoidable dangers of life. People who have had to give up on their independent development because they have had to become immersed in what others do, think, or need. People who suffer from depression will usually have lived a life having to restrict themselves. The result being that the less they do the less they can do, and the more helpless they become.
The more someone is forced to shrink back from the difficulties and challenges of life, the more they naturally begin to feel inadequate. It is inevitable. If someone’s life has been a series of “silent retreat’s” they end up wedged into a corner and have nowhere else to hide. The depressive person has learned that, no matter what they do, “it makes no difference”. This is why depression is sometimes referred to as ‘learned helplessness’ – i.e. that the person has learned that being helpless brings the least amount of pain.
Therefore, the fear of the consequences of living a full life leads to an excessive sense of failure, impotence, inadequacy, and rejection. Finally, the individual does not dare to move. The depressed person may lie in bed for days, letting the housework pile up, plugged into the small corner of their life.
Life itself demands the willingness to risk oneself on a daily basis. Every day life asks us to arise and face the unknown, to prove ourselves again. Every one of us has to find courage to face this uncertainty. “Will I be good enough today?” “Will I be adequate enough as a parent today?” “Can I still prove myself at my job?” “Is my life secure today?” “Will my husband still love me today?” If the truth were known, each day requires courage and self-belief.
The depressed person, for genetic, family, or circumstantial reasons, begins to retreat from life’s unpredictability. Life demands independence and self-responsibility and the courage to face into it. In trying to not put a foot wrong, in trying so hard to not let others down, the depressed person begins to sink deeper into their shell.
Most people find it hard to understand depression because they are in denial of their own fears and dreads. So entrenched are they in their security defining rituals and status confirming routines that they find it hard to understand the anguish and terror of the depressive. They prefer to label depression as some form of selfishness or self-pity. They label the depressed person as someone who refuses to grow up.
However, they forget and deny the real fear that influences their own life. The fear of difference, isolation, loss of support, loss of power, is within everyone. People can protect themselves from the terrors of life by getting a spouse, a job, a family, success, substance-enhanced good feeling, and by building a security-fence of social status.
However, when these things fail and he or she is threatened with the loss of any of these things, how logical it is that he or she gives way to some form of depressive withdrawal.
The loss comes because of a physical illness, the death of a family member, the infidelity of a spouse, the breakup of a marriage, the mental health of a child, or just chronic stress. In fact chronic stress illustrates how one cannot spend everyday of one’s life trying to prove oneself. One cannot pretend to be in control and supremely competent when deep down one is unavoidably average. At these times he or she discovers that all the status and securities do not protect them from life itself.
In many ways depressive withdrawal from life into helplessness and dependency is the last and most natural defense available to any creature. Dependence on others is a basic survival mechanism. When someone gives up hope in his or her ability to cope he/she is reduced to a state of depression.
The guilt of the depressed person is understandable because they feel the sense of failure in not being able to fully live their lives. They feel guilty because they know very well that they have, until now, failed to live up to their potential because they have twisted and turned in their efforts to be “good” in the eyes of others.
The truth is that we are not in this world to please others, nor are others there to please us. If we can but grasp the truth, we are in life to be heroic in facing the challenge of everyday life and to be fearless in our pursuit of happiness, regardless of what anybody thinks. The integrity of the self is more important than anything. Don’t give up!
When the demands that you place on yourself are outside of your resources or abilities you will experience stress. You experience stress when you demand too much of yourself. Over a short period of time this is manageable – like cramming for an exam, getting the house and home in order before a major family function, working long hours to earn extra money, staying up late to get your books in order.
However, when stress becomes chronic you begin to experience difficulties. When the everyday demands you place on yourself lie just a tad beyond your abilities or resources, you will find over a long period of time that you becomes unhappy and distressed. Because you are driving yourself harder than you should your emotional tyres become worn and, your grip on life gets less secure.
Every so often you hear of a situation where someone who appears to be very successful and ‘together’ has an emotional breakdown or tragically even takes their own life. In these situations it is very difficult to understand how someone who is so successful and appears to have everything going for them can end up in such an awful emotional cul-de-sac that they feel they have no option but to seek relief from their life.
This is difficult to understand because tend to stereotype or caricature people who are depressed or suicidal as people who are barely functioning. If someone were to have a ‘nervous breakdown’ or were to be suicidal, you would tend to imagine that their deterioration would be gradual and observable. Your caricature would be of a person who gradually becomes dishevelled and dysfunctional and shows signs of deterioration. While this happens in many cases, it is not always true. In fact, extremely successful people are sometimes ‘running on empty’. This applies to the heroic housewife as much as to the successful businessman.
Very often a person who takes their own life is more of an over-functioner than an under-functioner. They are often people who instead of appearing stressed and distraught, they appear to be extremely capable and successful. However, the stress that is associated with keeping the show on the road, of carrying others, of compensating for other peoples inadequacies, of trying to be successful, of overcoming a fear of failure, of compulsively feeling a need to juggle everything in the air, of trying to stave off an ever-present sense of guilt, can be ultimately overwhelming. The over-functioner, or the over-achiever, is always operating under stress, always reaching beyond themselves, always carrying more than their share, and can often just break under the internal pressure that they and others place on them.
You will surely identify with certain elements of this. The never-ending burden of responsibility for children, partners, parents, finances, and work. If you are an over-responsible type you will reflexively, without thought, carry other people’s responsibilities readily with scarcely a measure of the burden it places on you. Your husband or partner may be this type.
Men often get caught on a compulsive, status-anxiety, success-driven, money-oriented drive to succeed in life that becomes too much to bear. They may have an expectation of themselves that is measured by the kind of car they drive, the kind of house they live in, and the degree of financial security and freedom they can provide for their family. If their expectations and goals lie outside their resources or competencies then they can spend their entire working like burdened by a stress that eats into every waking moment of their lives. And all of this can happen so gradually as to be almost invisible. There is a very thin line between an inspirational goal and a cancerous expectation.
In fact many business models promoted in self-help books promote a kind of naïve suggestion that “You can achieve business success in 10 easy steps”. This can be more a recipe for never-ending stress than for confident inspiration.
Notice how your own expectations can drive and burden you. The effort invested in trying to be better than you are, of trying to make your children better than they are, of trying to encourage and enable others in your family to be better than they are, of trying to support and carry others who you feel are less capable, of trying to be a successful parent, a successful wife, a successful business person can gradually wear you to the bone.
Just be aware that you can spend so much effort in trying to be other than you are. Sometimes you need to relax back into the simple easy pleasure of just being average, and discovering, in the great scheme of things, that we don’t need to push the river - it flows by itself!
Michael was a tough nut. He stood about 6’ 2” and was a hulk of a man. He worked in construction and spent most of his days dealing with equally able men. When he spoke about his family tears welled up in his eyes. He had so many regrets now that his wife had left. Why was he has been so inconsiderate, angry, and bad-humored all the time he. The tears flowed down his cheeks and he wiped them away with his sleeve, somewhat reluctant to use the tissues on the table beside him.
Sean had been at Christy Ring’s funeral. He walked into the kitchen at home, draped his jacket over the chair, and sat at the big wooden table. His wife brought over a cup of tea and placed it on the table in front of him and as she did she placed a hand on his shoulder. “How was it hon’?” she asked. The simple question was enough to trigger deep emotions in Sean. He began to cry. First gently but within a few moments a grief racked the great husk of his body as he sobbed. He cried and cried.
Contrary to popular opinion it is my experience that men cry as often as women. I would suggest that it is not that men cry less than women, but that men do not often get the opportunity to do so. I find in my work if the right question is asked, if someone shows a curiosity about the man’s interior life, if someone shows a deep interest in his dreams and his losses, then tears come almost inevitably.
There are many kinds of tears. The grief and sorrow expressed by men is of two kinds:
Sean, when he cried at the kitchen table, was not crying about Christy Ring. Though he did not quite understand where his grief came from, it emerged that it was for his unlived life. Christy Ring symbolized a man who gave himself passionately to something he loved. Christy Ring was a hero because of his artistry, his commitment, and how he lived for his childhood passion. When Sean cried it was because deep in his heart he knew he had left the heroic possibilities behind on the hurling fields when he was young when he chose to develop his career, get married, and settle down. The imagination and desire was gone from his life and it broke in a deep grief at the kitchen that day. Because Sean’s wife saw his grief, cared for it, and honored his sorrow he was able to inhabit it.
For many men there is a great fatigue and helplessness in their lives. The work they do often goes unrecognized. The sacrifices go unseen because they fulfill their role, which is what they should do. Why should men be thanked or acknowledged many might ask – men don’t need such recognition? But they do. In fact it lies beneath the surface of much hyper-masculinity we see around us. There is not a man alive who did not want his father to look down at him and say “Here is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased!”
Tears also come from emotional fatigue and helplessness. Many men identify with a feeling that in their lives they are doing the best that they can and it never seems to be enough. Many men feel that no matter how hard they try they are unable to make things better. If you are a man reading this I bet this is true: “Don’t you often feel weary and worn out trying to hold things together, trying to hold your world up above your head, trying not to fail. And are there not times when the whole things caves in on top of you, when you feel that all your efforts go unrecognized. And the truth is that you are doing the best that you can.” For many men when they cry it is when that sense of impotent helplessness is recognized and seen.
As I said above, men carry as many frozen tears as women. The tears that come are not weak, sentimental, or mawkish but rather tears that come from a deep muscular grief long since buried. The tears come not from the eyes but from the soul. Soulful tears often held and carried down from father to father. When Sean stood and cried in the silent movement of the funeral procession it was with an invisible loyalty and connection with his father and his grandfather. This earthy unspoken grief stands like on oak tree in the hearts of men down the generations.
If you are a woman wondering about your man, wonder about his losses, his unlived life, the loss associated with his commitments, the teenage boy in him that still, at 55, longs to feel the soft grass, the 'wristiness' of the hurley, the weight of the sliothar, the delight of cold rain on the skin, the smell of the open air, and all the simple joy and possibility that pumped through his veins on those long lazy summer evenings. Every man has a lost dream. It is the stuff of life.
To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day,
thou canst not then be false to any man. - Shakespeare
People who live life in accordance with particular virtues tend to be better adjusted and authentically happy. Modern research supports many old-fashioned beliefs. Today I will discuss the virtue of integrity. It can be defined in three ways: as behaving in a way that is consistent with your espoused values - that you practice what you preach; that you openly acknowledging your moral principles when those convictions are not popular; and that you treating others with care.
Integrity goes beyond speaking the truth. It includes taking responsibility for how you think and feel and what you do. It includes being sincere, being consistent with yourself, and also motivating others. Integrity also means having the courage to admit to one’s own weakness – one’s inclination to want to present oneself as better or more competent than one really is.
The opposites of integrity are clearly negative: deceitfulness and insincerity. In everyday life we all encounter people that we would classify as ‘posers’ or ‘phonies’ – people who try to assume a status they have not earned, who think they know-it-all and look down upon those they think are lesser, who are caught up in their own sense of pseudo-importance. Of all the human traits that I find most difficult to be around it is arrogance which is void of human integraity.
Benefits of Integrity
The "knowing thyself" component of integrity is essential to good living because it allows you to change your behaviour so that you are more effective in your life. When you are living with integrity you are not trying to be someone you are not, you are comfortable in your human inadequacy while striving for a moral and compassionate life.
Acting with integrity has social benefits. Research suggests that authentic people are well-liked, they benefit from social support, and enjoy close relationships with others. Research has shown that people who give balanced self-descriptions, acknowledging both strengths and weaknesses, tend to be perceived by others as being authentic.
Not surprisingly, acting with integrity can make leaders more effective. Political leaders work hard at trying to portray integrity and we often evaluate politicians on this trait alone. In the business world, workplace relationships are more effective when managers are comfortable "being who they are" rather than just filling a role. Acting with integrity can also help you attract and keep your romantic partner. When individuals are asked to list desired qualities in a romantic partner, honesty almost always is at the top of the list. We can forgive many things but it is particularly difficult to forgive someone for misrepresenting who they are.
Parents have one of the earliest opportunities to encourage integrity in their children. Children learn early on the importance of "telling the truth." A common parenting practice is to teach children that they will be in more trouble for lying about misbehaving than for the act itself. Of course parents may also unintentionally teach their children that inauthentic behaviour can sometimes make life easier. For example, parents who try to present themselves as ethically perfect are easily dethroned by the observing eyes of their children.
As I have mentioned in previous articles, it is a great shame that moral development courses are not taught at primary and secondary school. However, formal lessons about integrity should not end in adolescence. Ethics courses are taught in medical schools, law schools, business schools, clinical psychology schools, and other professional programs. Often these programs focus on what not to do. Many of these programs would be more likely to reach their stated goals if they placed a greater focus on what one should do to become an ethical practitioner rather than on what one should not do to avoid being unethical.
How can you encourage your sense of integrity?
Today I will list small things you can do to deal with anxiety. This is not a list of how to cure or eliminate anxiety. Rather they are suggestions that can make a small change which, very often, is all you need to shift a mood or perspective.
Anxiety is a normal, predictable part of life. Everyone suffers from it to some degree while many suffer to an extreme degree. Anxiety can be a life-long companion and many people do not know what it is like to be anxiety-free. Some people experience excessive anxiety about real-life concerns, such as money, relationships, health and academics, he said. Others struggle with worry about being evaluated negatively by people. Others suffer from phobias or panic attacks. Still others have a vague non-descript anxiety with them all the time.
Whatever form of anxiety you experience you can take small, effective, and straightforward steps every day to manage and minimize your anxiety. Most of these steps contribute to a healthy and fulfilling life, overall. Here are 13 small things you can do that can make a small difference. Very often a small change is all you need.
1. Breather deeply.
Deep breathing triggers a relaxation response. Inhale slowly to a count of four, starting at your belly and then moving into your chest. Gently hold your breath for four counts. Then slowly exhale to four counts.
One of the most important things one can do to cope with anxiety is to get regular cardiovascular exercise. For instance, a brisk 30 minute walk releases endorphins that lead to a reduction in anxiety. You can start today by taking a walk.
3. Get up earlier and walk and then go to bed earlier and sleep.
Not getting enough sleep can trigger anxiety. If you’re having trouble sleeping, tonight, engage in a relaxing activity before bedtime, such as taking a warm bath, listening to soothing music or taking several deep breaths.
4. Write down on a sheet of paper what you are worried or anxious about.
That is all. When you write something down on a piece of paper and look at it, its importance diminishes. The if you are going to worry about them give them 15 minutes during the day when they get your full attention on the understanding that you will not give it your attention again until tomorrow.
5. Challenge an anxious thought.
We all have moments wherein we unintentionally increase our own worry by thinking unhelpful thoughts. These thoughts are often unrealistic, inaccurate, or, to some extent, unreasonable. Thankfully, we can change these thoughts. Unhelpful thoughts usually come in the form of “what if,” “black and white thinking,” or “imagining the worst case scenario.” Most of the time your worry is not realistic, is unlikely to happen, and is, in any case, something you can cope with. If you are going to worry, make sure it is reasonable!
6. Don’t trust your feelings:
If you feel anxious or worried do not trust it. If you feel something bad is going to happen - realise that it won’t. Anxiety creates an illusion that you fall for. It’s a magic trick that you keep falling for. Counter your naïveté by believing this: “If I feel anxious that means everything is going to be fine!”
6. Go out with friends.
Social support is vital to managing stress. Talking with others can do a world of good.
7. Avoid coffee.
Managing anxiety is as much about what you do as what you don’t do. And there are some substances that exacerbate anxiety. Coffee is one of those substances. The last thing people with anxiety need is a substance that makes them feel more amped up, which is exactly what coffee does.
8. Stop drinking.
While alcohol might help to reduce anxiety in the short term, it often do just the opposite in the long term. Even the short-term effect can be harmful.
9. Read a Novel.
Engaging in enjoyable activities helps to soothe your anxiety. For instance, today, you might start a good novel.
11. Do something small about your worry.
Most people worry and ruminate but do very little. Doing anything, no matter how small, can cause a big change. If you are worried about your sister, then ring her. If you are worried about your finances, cancel some subscription or figure out a way to save €10 euro a month.
12. Accept your anxiety.
If you really want to effectively manage your anxiety, the key is to accept it. Anxiety in and of itself isn’t the real problem. Instead, it’s our attempts at controlling and eliminating it. Trying not to have problems actually causes them!
13. Re-name it.
Do not call it worry or anxiety – give it a better name. Call it what it is: “Catastrophising”. When talking to your husband or friend say something like: “I am addicted to catastrophic thinking”. It can help you lighten-up a little bit. Poke fun at yourself. Say to your partner “Excuse me, but I need to go to the sitting room for my fix of catastrophic thinking. I’ll be back in 20 minutes. If I look worse then its working! Keep the coffee coming!”
Are you anxious or are you depressed? In the world of mental health care, anxiety and depression are regarded as two distinct disorders. But in the world of real people, many suffer from both conditions. In fact, most mood disorders are a combination of anxiety and depression. Surveys show that 60-70% of those with depression also have anxiety. And half of those with chronic anxiety also have clinically significant symptoms of depression.
The coexistence of anxiety and depression carries some serious repercussions. It makes them more chronic, it impairs functioning at work and in relationships more, and it substantially raises suicide risk.
In truth, depression and anxiety are two sides of the same coin. Researchers suggest that what goes on in the brain and body are very similar. It just seems that some people with the vulnerability to mood problems react with anxiety and some people, in addition, go beyond that to become depressed.
People with depression tend to close down - it is a form of shutdown. Anxiety, on the other hand, is a kind of looking to the future, seeing dangerous things that might happen in the next hour, day, or weeks. Depression is all of that with the addition of 'I really don't think I'm going to be able to cope with this, maybe I'll just give up. It's shutdown with mental or physical slowing.
Research suggests that the stress response over-reacts to situations causing anxiety and depressiveness. Negative things then tend to cause a disproportionate impact and response.
You may identify with this inability to have a proportional response to situations. You may be awake at night worrying about the smallest of things, or you may feel very downcast because some small thing did not go your way. When something makes you anxious you may worry about it for a while but then begin to feel despondent that things are ever going to change.
Psychologists often have difficulty distinguishing anxiety from depression. The things that work best for depression also combat anxiety.
Who is at risk for combined anxiety and depression? There's definitely a family component. Looking at what disorders show up in your family history provides a clue to whether you will end up with both. If you have a lot of depression or anxiety in your family tree chances are your susceptible yourself.
The nature of the anxiety also has an influence on how depressed you feel. Obsessive-compulsiveness, panic attacks, and social anxiety are particularly associated with depression as there is often no relief from the worry.
Age plays a role, too. A person who develops anxiety for the first time after age 40 is likely also to have depression. Someone who develops panic attacks for the first time at age 50 often has a history of depression or is experiencing depression at the same time.
Usually, anxiety precedes depression, typically by several years. Currently, the average age of onset of anxiety is late childhood/early adolescence. This actually presents an opportunity for the prevention of depression, as the average age of first onset of depression is now mid-20s. A young person is not likely to outgrow anxiety unless he/she learns some mental skills. But dealing with anxiety when it first appears can prevent the subsequent development of depression.
The cornerstone of anxiety and depression is overestimating the risk in a situation and underestimating personal resources for coping. Those vulnerable see lots of risk in everyday things-applying for a job, asking for a favour, asking for a date. They also doubt that they have the abilities to deal with these situations and can withdraw.
Further, anxiety and depression share an avoidant coping style. Sufferers avoid what they fear instead of developing the skills to handle the kinds of situations that make them uncomfortable.
Often enough a lack of social skills is at the root. In fact the link between social phobia and depression is dramatic. It often affects young people who can't go out, can't date, don't have friends. They're very isolated, all alone, and feel cut off.
A simple question to ask yourself if you are suffering from anxiety/depression is “ What am I avoiding?” “What do I need to do with my life, my marriage, or my work that I have really been avoiding doing? What decision may I be avoiding that leaves me desperately worried or gloomy?”
Whatever the situation, the twin problems of anxiety and depression can become very debilitating as you feel increasingly helpless to do something about the problems you worry about. So you go around in circles and find it very difficult to create positive momentum with your life. The best thing you can do for now is to tell someone, to admit to your problem and to your helplessness. To give it a name. To get help. To help yourself.
Dr. Colm O'Connor is a Cork Psychologist. You can find more articles by Dr. O'Connor in the Evening Echo every Wednesday.