Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Have You Been Abandoned by a Friend During Rough Times?

By middle age, most people have dealt with one of the three big "D"'s: death, divorce or disaster. Unfortunately,  some friends disappear right when you need their support the most.

The following article provides excellent insights into this painful and confusing phenomenon, and also provides good tips on how to help others in need.

Thank you, Harriet Brown and the NY Times.

Be well,

Monday, August 16, 2010

Information Overload: Is Choosing How to De-Stress Stressing You Out?

Finding time to relax is hard enough, and to make matters worse, every lifestyle magazine cover, newspaper or TV newscast has different suggestions for managing stress. Here's some soothing news: results of a study in Behavior and Research Therapy (August 2010) show that breathing is the most effective relaxation strategy. Compared to progressive muscle relaxation and meditation, mindful breathing was the most calming activity.  A stand-out result of the study was how well mindful breathing helped reduce anxious thinking and limit the ability of negative thoughts to upset study participants.

If you have never tried breathing for relaxation, Dr. Andrew Weill gives great instructions:

This exercise is utterly simple, takes almost no time, requires no equipment and can be done anywhere. Although you can do the exercise in any position, sit with your back straight while learning the exercise. Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise. You will be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue; try pursing your lips slightly if this seems awkward.
  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
  • Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four (your belly should expand).
  • Hold your breath for a count of seven.
  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight (your belly should contract as it pushes out the air).
  • This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
Note that you always inhale quietly through your nose and exhale audibly through your mouth. The tip of your tongue stays in position the whole time. Exhalation takes twice as long as inhalation. The absolute time you spend on each phase is not important; the ratio of 4:7:8 is important. If you have trouble holding your breath, speed the exercise up but keep to the ratio of 4:7:8 for the three phases. With practice you can slow it all down and get used to inhaling and exhaling more and more deeply.

Take a moment to relax and breath
 This exercise is a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system. Unlike tranquilizing drugs, which are often effective when you first take them but then lose their power over time, this exercise is subtle when you first try it but gains in power with repetition and practice. Two times a day is a great goal, and you cannot do it too frequently. Do not do more than four breaths at one time for the first month of practice. Later, if you wish, you can extend it to eight breaths. If you feel a little lightheaded when you first breathe this way, do not be concerned; it will pass.
Once you develop this technique by practicing it every day, it will be a very useful tool that you will always have with you. Use it whenever anything upsetting happens - before you react. Use it whenever you are aware of internal tension. Use it to help you fall asleep. This exercise cannot be recommended too highly. Everyone can benefit from it.

Be well, and just breathe...

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

When Life Can’t Get Worse

As a therapist I often see people when they are juggling two or three major life problems. The barely-recovering economy makes financial challenges a given for most people right now. Add a seriously ill family member, and a relationship problem to the mix, and you have a recipe for a personal crisis. 

To quote Winston Churchill: 
“When you are going through hell, keep going"
However, we need a strategy, and the best way to survive a crisis is to SIMPLIFY. I mean really simplify. Take a very close look at your calendar and ask yourself what items are non-essential. At first glance, you may feel that everything on the calendar needs to stay. Look again. Anything that is not absolutely helpful for making you feel better or keeping you or a family member healthy has to go.

During a crisis our bodies and minds are tapped out. We need adequate sleep, nutritious food, and quiet time. The play-date for your four year-old, a trip to your cranky aunt's house, dinner with the neighbors- unless these events will restore your energy and perspective, cancel. No detailed explanations necessary, just a sincere apology.  Describing your reasoning or current situation takes valuable energy and can be very upsetting.
Calendar full? Pare it down a bit.

Use the time you freed up to take care of essentials. Sleep. Eat some fresh and tasty food. Do only the crucial household chores and then hang out with a child or a pet. Sit outside. If you are a loyal exerciser or yoga practitioner and you do not have the time or energy to get to class, let it go. You will not lose your fitness in a week. Your yoga practice can consist of a five-minute savasana for a while.  

 It may take longer than you expected, but the crisis will pass. Keep life slow and simple. When the crisis passes, you may even decide to keep some of your new habits.

Be well,


 Simplify Your Life: 100 Ways to Slow Down and Enjoy the Things That Really Matter