Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Veterans, Trauma & Carrying a Permanent Combat Load



Brian M. Murray, MS

What does it mean to be a combat veteran? Often the answer can be found in training and learning how to fight in a combat situation. A combat load in the military is regarded as a full load of everything needed to fight, whether it’s a tank or a rucksack. What goes in a tank or ruck gets hauled, whether it weighs 64 tons on a track or 120 pounds on a back. As prior Infantry, I remember my first real combat load and couldn’t believe what was being handed to me to carry. My usual training combat load varied anywhere from 35-75 pounds depending on the mission. Not this time. Before deploying, I weighed it in disbelief - it was approaching 120 lbs! By some standards and units this is still considered low. This is crazy; how can anyone carry this much weight and still be effective? It was cliché for the cadence call referencing “I used to drive a Cadillac, now I carry it on my back.”

Point number one is that a combat load is heavy. It’s everything you need and then some. If something in it ends up not being needed, then so be it, but for now, it goes in the load. That brings me to point number 2. In training, the mind gets conditioned in this way:

“Yes, it’s heavy, suck it up and get over it.”

“Don’t worry about your feet, knees or back, it’s all skin and bone.”

“Pain is temporary.”

“It grows back if it gets worn out.”

These are the types of messages many of the veterans hear to teach them how to push through pain and suffering. They learn how to suck things up and keep moving. One thing to remember is if you are pushing hard, so is the enemy, so push harder and make them miserable. In the end it makes the guy on the other side want to quit fighting so it makes sense to learn pain management.

Conditioning the mind works great if someone is struggling to carry a rucksack that is equivalent to almost 70% of their body weight. The problem with this theory is what happens to the veteran after they return from war and still have the mindset to keep “sucking it up.” They carry the wounds of war back to their families and communities and try to re-adjust to a sense of normalcy. The combat load they are now carrying is in their mind and the images of their experiences dealing with life-threatening situations. They may have PTSD or depression. They turn to substance abuse and in a worst case scenario they may take their own life to end the pain they feel that they can no longer “suck up.” Military suicides over the past few years outnumbers combat deaths.

The weight of their experience becomes too heavy and difficult to carry anymore. They struggle to “just get over it.” The difficulty of trying to get over it often leads to misinterpreted feelings of guilt, shame and trying to shed painful memories. Trying to adjust, they may experience feeling abandoned, rejected, nervous, having trouble sleeping, nightmares and helplessness. This is the combat load they struggle with. This is the part where they try to continue to suck it up or go it alone, which becomes an overwhelmingly daunting task.

So what can be done about it? First and foremost is teamwork. If you know a veteran who is struggling, do not be afraid to approach them. They may feel a little bit like a failure, or have some guilt and try to shrug it off - after all, they are supposed to be tough and able to handle it. There is a little known secret out there in addition to the Veterans Administration called The Vet Center. There are many of these located in communities across the country and often have great counseling resources available. They are funded by the VA yet they operate independently. Another option is to find private veteran-related support groups and church ministries geared toward veterans. Most communities have these and one might have to do a little digging to find them but they are out there. In Orlando, one of those organizations is called The Camaraderie Foundation.

One of the greatest assets to healing is getting plugged into a social setting with other veterans. It gives them a place of connection with others who can relate to their experience and lets them see that they are not alone. In these environments, talking about their experiences can help relieve some of the load and burden they have been carrying around.  There is healing in relationships and the transformation can begin to build resiliency in the veteran. Encouragement and appreciation can go a long way as it helps to normalize their experience.

The military doesn’t teach people to take the easy way out; it teaches people that when things get tough then it’s time to get tougher. The problem with this theory is everyone has a limit to how much they can carry. When the combat load is too heavy to carry alone, it’s time to ask others for help.

About the author- Brian M Murray is a devoted professional helping to empower people and overcoming difficult obstacles in life. He is a Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern located in Orlando and Winter Park, Florida working as a counselor in a private practice setting at The LifeWorks Group.

Reprint Permission- If this article helped you, you are invited to share it with your own list at work or church, forward it to friends and family or post it on your own site or blog. Just leave it intact and do not alter it in any way. Any links must remain in the article. Please include the following paragraph in your reprint. "Reprinted with permission from the LifeWorks Group weekly eNews, (Copyright, 2004-2012), To subscribe to this valuable counseling and coaching resource visit www.LifeWorksGroup.org or call 407-647-7005"

 

 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

7 Ways to be Different at Work Instead of Just Another Jerk

By: Christine Hammond, MS, LMHC

It’s easy to be a jerk at work.  When something doesn’t get done the way it should because it’s late, incomplete, or missing essential details, it’s easy to get upset and fly off the handle.  After all, you have invested your valuable time, energy and effort only to be left with sub-standard work from your co-workers.  It’s not right, it’s not fair, and you are entitled to be frustrated. 

So you become more ‘jerky’ with each disappointment only to wake up one day and realize that you have become something you don’t really like.  There is a better way to handle things at work that can produce excellent results without compromising your standards.

Be Patient.  Promotions, projects, and promises don’t happen overnight so be patient for your opportunities to shine.  Don’t be so eager to do everything that you miss the chance to do one thing exceptionally well. 

Be Kind.  Too often kindness is reserved only for clients and not for co-workers or vendors.  Kindness is a lost art form in our culture and therefore is a noticeable commodity in your workplace.  Showing kindness to those around you requires little effort but reaps great rewards.

Don’t Boast.  Tooting your own horn might get you noticed quickly but it is short-lived and builds resentment from your co-workers.  Rather seek opportunities to compliment others and boast about your co-workers instead of tearing them down.

Be Negotiable.  If you constantly insist on getting your way, you will wear out your co-workers and they will be less likely to bring new and valuable ideas to the table.  Listen to the ideas of others and find ways to incorporate them into your ideas.  Two heads are truly better than one.

Be Even-tempered.  Consistency in your attitude and behavior is an asset.  If your clients can expect a smile and warm greeting despite any frustrations then it will be easier to negotiate any deal.  Your co-workers likewise should be able to count on a similar attitude and behavior.

Don’t Give Up.  The toughest of circumstances can only be resolved with a never-give-up attitude.  This does not mean that you don’t choose to walk away from a bad deal or an unproductive co-worker but it does mean that you don’t give up on making new deals or training new employees.

Be Hopeful.  It might be hard to be hopeful when difficult situations at your office seem to stay the same or even get worse.  Being hopeful might even seem like you are being unrealistic, however if you plan for the worst and hope for the best, your attitude will be infectious and could just be the spark that is needed in your office.

Each of these is not a one-time fix; rather it requires you to consistently practice each one.  You may need to pick one idea a week and try it on before moving on to the next idea instead of trying to do everything all at once.  This will allow the change to be more permanent and in the end, you will revert to being the person that you want to be instead of the jerk that you became.

How to Write an Effective Email at Work When You are Angry

By: Christine Hammond, MS, LMHC

There is no doubt you have seen a few poorly written emails that resemble verbal vomit from an angry person.  While you might even understand their frustration, you in no way want to come across quite as gross.  Instead you wish there was a way of communicating your anger that gets results without a trace of verbal vomit.  There is.

It is as simple as a fast-food hamburger.  Take a moment and think of a fast food place that has a hamburger with meat in the middle and a bun on the top and bottom.  Most likely you will not take the bun off the hamburger meat and eat just the meat.  Why? Because the meat tastes gross (think fast food, not the good kind of burger), that is why it has the bun to make it more palatable.  In fact some buns even have sugar on them to improve the flavor. 

Top Bun.  The top bun is the fluffy part and is the best place to start.  Begin your email with a compliment of sorts such as, “Thank you for your trust in my ability to handle more work.”  The compliment does not need to be long, just honest.  In the moment of your anger, this might be the hardest part of your email to write but if you can put aside your anger for a few minutes, more than likely you will come up with one compliment.  Don’t be sarcastic; sarcasm is suppressed anger and is not effective in the workplace.

Meat in the Middle.  The meat in the middle is the issue you need to address.  Your next sentence is the bottom line you need to communicate: “I will not be able to complete the project you just handed me because my workload is too heavy.”  Resist the urge to over-explain or to address more than one “meat,” instead keep it simple and to the point, remembering to state the facts.  Don’t add any emotion to the meat as it will come off sounding like you are whining.  This statement might require several revisions before you can accurately communicate the bottom line without any fluff, but it is worth the effort.

Bottom Bun.  The bottom bun is another compliment that ties everything together.  “I’m sure we can work towards a solution that works for both of us.”  This bun is meant to be the base of the whole matter, much like the bottom bun holds up the entire hamburger.  Finding a way to work together is at the heart of the matter and from this the other two parts are effectively supported.

This same method can be used to communicate with your spouse, your child’s teacher, your client or anyone who might cause you some frustration.  Not only does it work well in emails, it is equally effective verbally.  And hopefully you will never look at a fast food hamburger the same way again.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Often Unmentioned Antisocial Personality Disorder



Brian M. Murray, MS, IMH

Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD) is a mental health condition where a person believes they are special and are entitled to violate the rights of others. They typically have a long-term pattern of lacking boundaries, resulting in manipulation and exploitation of family, friends, co-workers and complete strangers alike. This disorder is commonly mistaken for social phobia or social anxiety, which is a fear of being around other people or out in public places.  APD is not the same as social phobia/anxiety. A person with APD thinks inordinately highly of themselves and believes that they are deserving of special recognition from others, to the point of even being criminal about it.

Like most other personality disorders, they believe the problem is not with them, but with others. They very seldom, if ever, exhibit empathy or compassion for others unless it is to achieve an end result such as getting money or favorable treatment. This is the manipulation. They may come across as charming in an almost narcissistic way, engaging with others until they get what they want and then they go back to their normal behavior. When they don’t get their way, they often scheme to find a way to exploit others for personal profit and pleasure. Once they have what they want, they go right back to being disrespectful and disregarding.

The DSM-IV-TR, i.e. the clinical reference used by mental health clinicians for diagnosing clients, list other traits of APD (this is not an exhaustive list) as:

·         Being deceitful

·         Repeated lying

·         Conning others

·         Impulsivity

·         Irritability

·         Aggressiveness

·         Physical fights or assaults

·         Reckless disregard for the safety of others

·         Failure to plan ahead in life

·         Lack of remorse

·         Rationalizing the pain they have inflicted on others

Rationalizing the pain inflicted on others is a defense mechanism utilized to cast blame on somebody else - not themselves - for their behavior. For someone to be diagnosed with this disorder, they must be at least 18 years old, have had this pattern since they were about 15 years of age and have shown evidence of Conduct Disorder occurring before the 15 years of age marker.

A person who has APD, or any personality disorder, can go for psychotherapy and healing can occur. The prognosis for treatment of APD is long-term and often requires years of committed therapy in order to get favorable results. Because this disorder is a core identity issue, the person must re-learn their identity and how to overcome early life imprinting which indicates whom they have learned to be as a person. Strong defense mechanisms are often in place surrounding this core identity and require a skilled therapist to address the problem that is found there. There is no single marker that points to how personality disorders develop, whether environmental, familial or genetic. It appears that some combination of all factors contribute to the equation.

Sources: DSM-IV-TR (American Psychological Association), National Library of Medicine

 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Do You Worry Too Much?


Brian M. Murray, MS, IMH

How much a person worries is subjective and varies from person to person when it comes to what constitutes too much worry. Persistent and long term worry about life events can be disabling and frustrating not only to the worrier, but also to those around them. Worry is often the result of getting stuck in a negative thought pattern. Common side effects of negative thinking are anxiety, stress and depression. All of these patterns, taken to a level deeper, are often based on fear, whether imagined or real.

Worry has a common companion in the form of anxiety. Anxiety is a normal reaction to a perceived fear and when it is put in the right context, it is useful for survival by activating our fight or flight response. Being confronted by an angry animal or a dangerous person activates the response to run away or fight and defend. However, when fear-based worry leads to anxiety out of context, it can give way to unnecessary negative feelings. The cost of long-term worry adversely affects many areas of life that are critical for good health and overall life satisfaction and manifest in ways such as lack of job satisfaction and performance, sleep loss, impulse control issues and long-term depression.

There are a few techniques a person can use if suffering from unhealthy worry and anxiety. First is to challenge the thoughts that are associated with the worry. Thoughts can be challenged through self-examination by asking for the evidence that supports the thinking. If there is evidence that validates the worry, then the associated anxiety is valid. An example of this might be financial problems after long-term unemployment. However, if evidence is absent then what may be happening is cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions can hamper or paint a skewed picture of reality by creating a scenario in the thought process that has nothing to support its validity. 

While there are many different types of cognitive distortions, some common cognitive distortions often associated with worry are catastrophizing, prediction and compare and despair. Catastrophizing is imaging the worst is going to happen in a given situation. Prediction is much like catastrophizing in that it attempts to foretell what is going to happen in the future with a negative outlook. Compare and despair is contrasting one’s situation with another, but only seeing the negative, thereby triggering a sense of hopelessness or anguish. 

Chronic worry can be disabling, however it can be avoided if managed appropriately. Look for balance in thinking processes and challenge the validity of the thoughts. Hold the thoughts captive until an objective examination of those thoughts has been completed. When the perspective on a situation in life is changed, it can help resolve feelings of excess worry and anxiety. 

 

Philippians 4:6-7 The Message (MSG) Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.”

Friday, April 12, 2013

The 3G Ways to Overcome Debt!



By Laura Hull, LMFT
Coping Coach


Are you sick of worrying about money?  Is the stress of keeping up with the Joneses or maybe just making the minimum payments sucking the joy out of your life?  The economy has been tough for a few years now.  This is not news.  Many people are struggling in many ways these days.  Again, this is not news.  Those who find themselves reading this article are likely either struggling with financial problems or love someone who is.  This is a reality of the world we live in.  Financial problems can cause a tremendous amount of stress in our families and in our marriages.  Money problems are some of the most identified problems in couples work.  We can’t control the world economy, but there are things we can do to minimize the stressors that debt and problems with managing money can bring into our lives.   Tired of being under the weight of debt?  Here are the first steps on the road to a better way of dealing with unnecessary financial worry - the 3G ways to being in control of money matters:


Get Real.  When we decide to make a change, we must be committed to change.  Part of being committed to real change is being honest.  Where are we spending our monies?  Are we spending it on wants or needs?  This is where a lot of us get into trouble: defining wants vs. needs.  Make a detailed list of where your monies are being spent.  Then begin an elimination diet.  Eliminate expenses that are not absolutely necessary.  Are you spending five bucks a day on coffee shop specialty drinks, when you can brew a pot at home for pennies?  Are you spending money eating out every day at lunch with the guys or girls from work when you could easily brown bag it a few days out of the week?  Be real.  Do not try to compete with the Joneses, and do not hesitate to be honest with people that cutbacks at home are necessary.  Many people are in this boat.  Don’t throw away your life jacket spending money frivolously.


Get Busy.  Start making the changes today.  Not after “the holidays are over” or after the “once-a-year sale” at the preferred department store; today.  Start making changes that free up money that can be applied to debt.  After itemizing expenses over a three month period, make note of where money is hemorrhaging needlessly.  Social expenses are a great place to start.  If we find ourselves spending extra money eating out several times per month or going to first run movies when they first come out, this is a great place to trim expenses and apply the money toward paying down debt.   Yes, this might mean eating at home more and waiting a few weeks to see movies that come out, but is that really a lot to give up until we are out from under the crushing weight of debt?  I don’t think so, in the grand scheme of things. Learn to say “no” to things that will delay or defeat the goal of not being a slave to debt.


Here’s a no brainer:  Credit card debt is bad.  The interest rates some people pay on credit card debt borders on loan sharking.  Consider freezing your credit cards in an ice tray in the freezer.  It’s there if you need it, but you can’t impulsively use it.   Not practical, you say?  It seems less drastic than cutting up the cards, but I’m on board for doing what is necessary to control impulsive spending tendencies which begin a debt spiral that can be difficult to break free from.


Here’s a truth:  Some debts in life are not created by our mistakes or misdeeds.  Medical bills happen.  Car repairs happen.  Unemployment happens. Death of a spouse happens.   Life happens.  We do the best we can in those situations just to stabilize the situation.  That’s ok.  There will be a time to address these debts.  Sometimes we must rely on friends or other family members to help us out in these situations.  Sometimes we must turn to legal avenues such as bankruptcy.  This happens, folks, and it’s not a reflection of us as people when it does.  It does not impact our worthiness or value as people.  It’s unfortunate, but it does not have to tell the whole story of who we are.  We can regroup, recover, and go forward with heads held high.  


Get Over It.  We must be willing to learn from our mistakes, make better decisions going forward, and forgive ourselves.  It is very easy to let our guilt over poor financial decisions impact the way we see ourselves and our ability to be happy.  We may find ourselves caught in a pattern of regret, “if only I had known back then how bad things would be now….”  There is no value in this type of thinking.  It changes nothing about the circumstances we are facing now.   We all have things in our lives about which, if we could hit a “reset button,” we would go back in time and make better decisions.  But since we cannot do that, the best we can do is learn from our mistakes, make changes that diminish the likelihood of repeating those mistakes, and rectify those mistakes to the best of our ability.  

The weight of debt can be a heavy burden to shoulder, but we don’t have to be crushed under the weight.  There are ways out from under the burden.  We just have to be willing to do the hard work to get there.

Fake Self-Esteem



By Matt W Sandford, LMHC

Look around you. Look at the people in society, in your workplace, in your family. Now, as you look at them, ask yourself what you observe about how they project themselves. In what way do they convey what they want those in their world to think about them? What opinion do they hope to engender from their environment? And as you look, realize that everyone is seeking to convey an image and to persuade the world around them to see them in a certain light.

Image.

That’s what we’re talking about; the idea that we can construct a persona through a number of elements and approaches. First we need to explore the underlying issue, which would be why – why do we do this, and does it really matter?

So, did you spot it when you took that look around? Did you see that folks everywhere are projecting or developing their image? They wear the latest fashions, hairstyles, shoes. They drive the latest cool cars and feature the latest technologies (often while incurring sizeable debt). They can talk up the latest popular topics, TV shows, and events. Or maybe the latest gossip or the newest weight loss strategy. Or what’s all the buzz in politics. Whatever the trend, something in our culture today says that it is really important to be informed and current. It’s a pretty big part of being respected and well thought of in many circles.

I realize there are other circles – the techie circle, the artsy circle, the sports circle, the country music circle, the vampire (or sci-fi) circle, the fitness circle, the soccer mom circle, and more than I could possibly be aware of. The point is that we all are seeking to fit in somewhere because fitting in creates security and acceptance. We find comfort in fitting it and belonging and I’m not knocking it; not in the least. We were made for connection. The drive to develop a persona or image is really about a need for belonging.

However, sometimes our legitimate needs and how we go about getting them met run counter to one another. Although the longing for acceptance is a natural and healthy one, the way that it is addressed in our western culture is often not so healthy. Peer pressure and the media rule way too many decisions when it comes to finding a place and a way to fit in. Have you ever wondered why? Why does everyone care so much whether you and I dress a certain way, like certain things, use certain products, and spend our time in certain ways? Here’s a tip: it’s not because ‘they’ know what is good for you or because they really want to help you in some way. You aren’t encouraged to really get into American Idol because it will in any way make you a better person. You aren’t reminded about the latest book, movie, or product because someone is thinking about how much it will bless you. They just want your money. And yet, our culture in so many ways says that your involvement is somehow meaningful and that you will benefit from it. This is because the culture has picked up on how much we all want and need to belong, be accepted by others and be seen as current, cool, savvy, smart, sexy, or whatever else we aspire to.

The point is not to go on and on about this issue, but to get underneath it. We are putting A LOT of our finances, energy and time into developing and maintaining our image for the purpose of upholding our sense of self. We want to belong and be thought well of, and so we buy the latest this or that and we invest in keeping up with the popular.

What is this really about? Is it that the media is that powerful? Not really. It’s not the media and advertising, but human nature that is powering it, even though advertising has really learned how to read and manipulate human nature! It’s the need for self-esteem; for a secure identity. If you had not developed a secure identity through your childhood, then you likely are going to seek out ways to build your identity externally, i.e. through what you can show or prove to others to gain their acceptance and approval. That, my friends, is big business. A lot of companies are in the business of self-esteem and identity formation although some don’t know they are and wouldn’t want you to see them that way. If you did, you may see through it all and discover the manipulation.

We were never designed to get our sense of worth and definition of our identity from external sources (at least not to a high degree) like how much we have, how good we look, how fast we can run or shoot a ball through a hoop, how skilled we are at singing or dancing, or any of our abilities. Don’t get me wrong - I am not claiming that these are not good things, or that it is not okay to enjoy the abilities or skills or gifts that God has given to us. But what happens when we look to these things to define us and determine our worth?

1.       We become performance based , meaning that our sense of our worth is always fluid: I’m only okay with myself to the degree that I can achieve and keep achieving (and getting strokes for it).

2.       We diminish grace and live with a sense of judgment of others based on performance as well. We define everyone on these same scales and weigh people’s value on them. This means we will dole out levels of acceptance and love like a commodity to be earned.

3.       We forget to be thankful to the One who gave us what we have. We take credit for our abilities, our money, and our looks. How odd, since we did not bestow them on ourselves. Even if we developed our abilities to make money, we did not give ourselves the abilities or the opportunities (meaning we did not determine the culture and family to which we were born).  However, our culture heavily rewards such things. There is so much acknowledgement and so many accolades for abilities - mostly of the entertainment variety - although we also award smarts, at least in the scientific fields.  What this produces is comparison, pride and self-absorption.

4.       We invest a large portion of our resources into cultivating the image. What if you did a brutally honest survey of your expenses over the last year, say, and consider what amount or percentage of your money went to image categories? You may have to push into your heart on this. Why did I really get the new phone or tablet? Was it just because of its functional benefits? In your spending, to what degree were you moved by fads and by media propaganda? How about your investment in body image: fitness club, workout clothing, music player for working out, diet plan, hair styling, laser eye surgery, cosmetic surgery, magazines with tips on exercising or style. And I haven’t even mentioned yet the time invested in working out, shopping, reading up on the latest this or that, and trying to look your best, or keep yourself “well informed.”

5.       And most impactful of all, when we look to externals to define us and seek out a sense of self through our image and what people think of us, what happens is that we actually diminish our self-worth rather than build it up. You see, the reason we try to establish our worth on what we can do or what people think about us is that we need this external recognition because we don’t already have this sense of foundational value in us already! We are seeking external validation because we are lacking in validation and are trying to fill ourselves up. It is not wrong that we have determined that the recognition and approval of others is significant and feels really good, but we have misunderstood that, ultimately, what other people think about us does not sum up our value or give us our identity. People can recognize us, praise us, admire us, compliment us, but they cannot define us. We can never find our worth by seeking approval.  And when we train ourselves to seek out this external form of identity, we erode rather than develop our internal sense of worth.

In part two of this series, I’ll pick up where this leaves you hanging. If image, approval, and performance can’t define us, then what can legitimately define us? Where can we get what we need to have a true sense of self-worth and self-esteem?

Watch for it on the Life Works Group website and on my blog at:

mattwsandford.wordpress.com

 

Reprint Permission- If this article helped you, you are invited to share it with your own list at work or church, forward it to friends and family or post it on your own site or blog. Just leave it intact and do not alter it in any way. Any links must remain in the article. Please include the following paragraph in your reprint.

"Reprinted with permission from the LifeWorks Group weekly eNews, (Copyright, 2004-2012), To subscribe to this valuable counseling and coaching resource visit
www.LifeWorksGroup.org or call 407-647-7005"

 

 

 

Spending Addiction: Is it the Love of Money or Medicating Pain?



Brian M. Murray, MS, IMH

There is a type of addiction that exists that is commonly and affectionately, referred to as “shop-a-holism.” While it may sound like a term of endearment on the surface, there are some people who strongly identify with it and have serious problems with spending money. So what is behind this behavior - is it the love of money? Does it feel good to spend money?

The real problem behind a spending addiction – just like any other kind – is that it makes the person feel good. When we medicate something painful in life, it makes us feel better and reinforces the desire to indulge in the activity. So what is the big deal about going out and spending money? Spending money is okay, but just like drinking a little wine every once in a while doesn’t impair most people, there are some who can’t touch the stuff as it will lead them down a path of destruction. However, when spending money is put into the context of what constitutes an addiction, then it becomes a problem.

Addiction is the compulsive habit of turning to a substance or behavior that leads to dysfunction in multiple areas of a person’s life, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Often the underlying question is how come this is happening? The answer is typically that the compulsion is being used as a coping mechanism for some undesirable feeling such as sadness or unresolved anger. The rush of spending money sends a chemical to the brain that involves feeling good, resulting in the perception of happiness. It feels good at the time but when the activity is over, so is the elation. The reality of sadness and undesired feelings creep back in and the person returns to the thing that makes them feel good. 

This turns into a vicious cycle of addiction where a person is avoiding their unresolved pain and instead learns to live in a world that makes them feel good. This forms a kind of love bond with the behavior and they become attached to it. The only problem with the method is, like any addiction, it takes more and more to get the same result. The reason it takes more and more is that the coping mechanism is faulty; it’s not true healing and does not resolve the problem. The checking account runs low, savings accounts disappear, retirement funds get cashed out, second loans are taken on the home and then foreclosure happens, relationships and marriages are lost, cars get repossessed and the list goes on. It is not usually until a person who has an addiction hits rock bottom that they finally admit they have a problem and reach out for help. They have no more resources left to mask the problem. They have exhausted their friends and family and they have a debt they cannot repay.

So what does a person who has a spending addiction do? First is to know that any addiction is a symptom of an underlying issue. Seek professional help to help identify the root cause of the problem. One of the main issues regarding behavioral addictions is low self-esteem and depression. When the mood is lifted, it is because it was lifted from a low place into one of elation. Developing healthy coping mechanisms that do not lead to destruction is a good place to start. This involves doing things that are enjoyable and require little if any funding to pursue. Taking walks in the park, visiting with friends or volunteering to help the less fortunate can be great places to start. To help with undesired feelings, journaling thoughts through handwritten expression, art, woodworking or other methods that involve the use of hands can be great for providing distractions to old addiction coping mechanisms. These therapeutic tools are also useful for relieving everyday stress, anxiety and depression which are common relapse triggers.

 

Monday, April 08, 2013

Four Unorthodox Approaches to Lowering Your Stress



By Matt W. Sandford, LMHC

If you’re stressed out, you’ve probably tried something to deal with it, to feel better. Maybe it’s been the “plow ahead” method, which would be trying harder to fix the obstacle that is causing a lot of your stress, or there’s the opposite method, which is the “ostrich approach”, meaning the trying-to-ignore-it-and-hoping-it-goes-away approach. I get them both and have used them often enough myself. For the smaller stresses of life, these approaches can help us and sometimes they are enough. But usually for the bigger stresses, or when the stressors pile up, these approaches don’t cut it. You’ve probably tried others as well; ones that you’ve read about or a friend recommended, like exercise or yoga, or getting better sleep. I am all for these, but if you’re looking for something else to try, I’ve got a few ideas that are a bit different. Keep in mind that what you are looking for is a strategy that works for you, and since we are all unique, what helps us to lower our stress will have a unique bent to it that fits us. That’s what you’re aiming for, a blend of strategies that fit you.

1.    The principle of turning away.

 This principle is for those of us who tend towards the “plow ahead” method. If you are more performance or task-oriented and generally feel that you will feel better if you just check one more thing off or get out from under this one huge task, then this one may be for you. It’s based on the law of diminishing returns. The law is defined as “the tendency for a continuing application of effort or skill toward a particular project or goal to decline in effectiveness after a certain level of result has been achieved.” I like the way a friend of mine used to describe it. He would say that he really likes cheeseburgers, so, he eats one and it is very good. He decides to have another and it also tastes really good. He decides he wants a third. He is getting rather full. He then chooses to have a fourth cheeseburger. And now his level of enjoyment has begun to wane. And if he decides to have another (and is able to eat another) his enjoyment will likely drop even lower. Okay, how does the rule apply? Well, when we get stressed out and try to press on through a burdensome task, at some point our level of productivity, along with our ability to focus and our cognitive sharpness will diminish. We continue to work but now we are getting less and less from our efforts. Our stress is building and so we try harder. This is the point at which turning away is the most ‘productive’ thing you could do. Stop focusing on the stressor and turn away. Focus on something else entirely and take a break. Just giving yourself permission to step away usually will lower your stress level.

 

2.    Journaling Your Stress Away

Here’s something not many would think about in the midst of stress. Sit down and process your thoughts and feelings by writing them out. Let me clarify; this is not all about problem solving – writing out strategies for fixing your problems. This is instead sorting out your inner world; how those problems or challenges are affecting you and your perceptions about those things and about yourself. You see, we don’t just live our lives dealing with stuff and moving on to the next thing. Life is not just about the stuff going on – it’s much more about what God is doing behind all the stuff to grow and develop us and use us to accomplish his wonderful purposes. We need to tap into what God is working in us – and our stressors are often very likely places where God wants to open our eyes and help us change for the better.

 

3.    Generosity

Probably not high on your list of things to do to relieve your stress would be to look for a way to bless someone else - to give something away, to help or serve someone - especially if a large portion of your stress involves financial stressors. But that’s exactly what I am recommending because doing so forces you to get beyond your own life and look farther. Many times stress, pressure, fear and anxiety tend to narrow our vision and cause us to become self-focused and self-absorbed. We lose sight of how we aren’t the only ones in this world struggling and with problems. We get caught up in our own in such a way that causes them to grow and seem bigger than they are, which increases our stress and makes it harder to overcome. Lifting our eyes to see others can shake us out of our funk. When I was in college, during finals week I would sit with my friends at the cafeteria and we would grumble about our studies. Inevitably, someone would say something to the effect of, “yeah, the poor and the destitute have it so good.” We then would laugh and remember that our lives really weren’t so bad. It was a great breath of fresh air. Blessing someone else reminds us that we are a part of the human struggle – together. 

 

4.    Worship

The fourth concept in a way combines these other three concepts. When we turn away, when we ponder what our stressors mean, and when we lift our eyes beyond our circumstances – we have moved ourselves into position to worship. Focusing on ourselves and on our stressors are hindrances to worshipping God. And yet those same stressors are ironically great motivators to worship God. My stress can be a distraction, or it can draw me to the Father, aiding me to see his glory through the eyes of my mundane, earthly struggles. It is the contrast between my everyday existence and the infinite and yet personal God that magnifies God and helps me to seek him out. I need his wonder to lift me, to remind me, to give meaning to the everyday. And then – God shows up in our stressors when we chose to put him first and worship him and not the stuff. Matt 6:33

 

But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you. Psalm 5:11

 

I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Psalm 16:8

 

I call upon the Lord and I am saved from my enemies. Psalm 18:3

 

I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!

Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! Psalm 27:13-14

 

The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.  Psalm 28:7

 

If you are under stress, anxious, feeling stuck, then give one or more of these a try.

If you aren’t currently burdened by stressors, then I would recommend incorporating one or more of these approaches now – as ways to ward off stress.

They work in that way, too!

 

 

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Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Addiction, ADHD & the Antisocial Behavior Connection


 

Brian M. Murray, MS, IMH

 

Addiction and adults with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), particularly men, can be a problem. It is a problem because there is a street fix for ADHD that often leads to antisocial behavior in the form of getting into trouble with the law. Here is how this works. ADHD in children and adults is frequently medicated with prescription drugs such as Adderall (Dextroamphetamine/Amphetamine) which are psycho-stimulants that enable the ADHD sufferer to focus. As a result, they can focus better at work, school and other areas of life in which they previously had trouble.

 

What happens when a person becomes an adult and they still have ADHD symptoms? Finding a medical doctor to prescribe proper medication is paramount. However, if this is not done, they can begin to find alternative ways to fix their problem often in the form of caffeine or other “approved” psycho-stimulant products that imitate “speed”. On the street, illegal psycho-stimulant drugs can be found in the form of cocaine, speed, crack-cocaine, methamphetamine, candy, blow, ice, crank, black beauties, uppers, drivers, rock, snow, toot, bump, rock and the list goes on. For someone who has ADHD they are not necessarily drawn by the addiction of the chemical itself as they are the side effects. Side effects of stimulants include mental alertness and feelings of exhilaration. What happens when these illegal psycho-stimulant drugs are consumed is the opposite of being hyperactive; they begin to calm down and are able to focus better on life around them, which brings some relief. This is basically why legal “speed” is prescribed (for relief) under medical care.

 

How is this connected to antisocial behavior? Think about it for a minute: a person who has trouble staying focused often has trouble following direction. They struggle to hold jobs, relationships and frequently get arrested for the same reason. Law enforcement tells them to do something and their inability to focus gives reason for arrest. This, in affect, becomes a difficult situation where a jobless person who cannot focus and has a need for a drug to allow them to focus often turns to stealing to get more money to pay for the illegal drugs. It’s a hamster wheel, so to speak, and becomes difficult to break out of.

 

How does a person get off the hamster wheel of this addiction cycle? It is going to take intervention such that the addicted person can get off the street and into a safe place with access to medical care. Controlled medications are often the most recommended way of beginning the process of building their life. There are other naturally occurring methods of getting this under control, such as a daily exercise regimen and other naturally occurring stimulants such as caffeine. However, first and foremost is getting a physical evaluation by a medical doctor.

 

If you know of someone who this way of life seems to fit this description, it may be time to step in as often, people caught in the hamster wheel lifestyle are hopeless and basically waiting on a miracle to happen. Family can be a huge asset as well as local rehab sources such as The Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center commonly known as the ARC.