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Anxiety

The Walk in the Woods Copay Kickback

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The Walk in the Woods Copay Kickback

Walking is wonderful therapy for both mental and physical health.  To encourage you to walk for your health, we are creating a kickback program where you receive a coupon for the value of your copay if you go for a walk, either for a walk and talk therapy session or on your own.  

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#Istandwithahmed: The Psychology of Physical Safety

After reading about Ahmed Mohamed's clock on UpNorthLive, I was confused and concerned with the treatment of a young child by a set of educators and others charged with child safety and well-being.  Then I read the letter sent out by the principal at Irving ISD, Dan Cummins.  It opened with:

In Irving ISD and at MacArthur High School, your child’s safety and well-being is always our top priority and we want to maintain open, honest and timely communication with you. If there was ever an imminent threat to your child, we would take immediate and necessary precautions, and we would inform you immediately.

I seriously thought this was an apology letter to Ahmed's and all students' parents who were astonished or worried about how the school had handled the situation.  Then I read more: 

Also, this is a good time to remind your child how important it is to immediately report any suspicious items and/or suspicious behavior they observe to any school employee so we can address it right away. We will always take necessary precautions to protect our students.

At this point I am aware that this isn't an apology letter. It's a letter aimed at starting both a defense against litigation and at validating the initial justification for allowing the arrest of a student for nothing other than being a good student.  The principal was either creating a shield of defensibility with a thought towards it showing up in court, or he has completely bought in to the concept that the greatest threat to our children is terrorist bombers and rogue gunmen in our schools.  This sounds like anxiety talking.

To me the real threat is in the development of an education system that is guaranteed to minimize the emotional and psychological well-being of our children as well as their natural willingness to learn and find meaning.  Let's break this down, because I think this is important. 

Just like anxiety works on an individual, we are starting to be taught to buy into this concept of group risks. Anxiety tends to expand the belief in both the possibility of an unwanted event and the severity of the consequences of that event.  So instead of being slightly worried about being late to the dentist and leaving early to account for this, anxiety tricks you into believing that you are necessarily going to be late and that they won't see you and you won't be able to get help for tooth pain ever again. 

Much in the same way, we are now being conditioned to believe that school attacks are commonplace and that when they happen our child will be harmed or killed. This thought pattern usually comes along with the tag line "better safe than sorry" or "you can't be too careful."  These are lies brought to you by your brain's inability to perceive incremental, universal changes while being specialized at predicting and preventing large, dangerous changes. 

Dan Cumming's perception of the situation shows what his and the school's priorities are: prevent catastrophic events through any means necessary.  When I read the letter I thought he was actually concerned about what affect on the students it would have to bring the police in and arrest someone for what would soon be known as a complete non-issue.  I thought he was concerned for their psychological safety.  I am not surprised that the real priority never involved the feelings of safety and caring, they involved reassurance of an imagined danger.

When you give up emotional and psychological safety and create an adversarial relationship between students and staff, you guarantee that students will be less open to learning and will spend more energy worrying about their own safety.  Aside from the legalities of detaining a 14-year-old child without letting him call his parents or speak with an attorney, there is the real consequences of stating, on paper, that the school believes that looking for reasons to arrest students is one of it's priorities.  "You can't be too careful." Oh, yes you can. By trading the perception of physical safety from a catastrophe, you are causing damage to all the people involved with the "careful" means used.  

 Photo of Ahmed Mohamed's clock (as reported by twitter poster  @naheedrajwani

Photo of Ahmed Mohamed's clock (as reported by twitter poster @naheedrajwani

 

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The Positive Side of Anxiety

Why does anxiety exist and what is it trying to do for us?

So. First let's set aside Fear.  Fear is like anxiety but (for this conversation) fear relates to anxiety around things that are real.  Anxiety, in this conversation, concerns feelings about events, thoughts or beliefs that do not actually happen, but also do not actually NOT happen. This is the problem with anxiety: you rarely get to prove to yourself that something that makes you anxious isn't going to happen. 

The positive side of destructive, dysfunctional anxiety is that it lets you know that something isn’t going right and it motivates you to make changes that you otherwise wouldn’t make.

Anxiety appears to be an uncomfortable side-effect of our amazing ability to predict the future and plan for our best-possible outcome in that future.  But . . . and this is where it gets fuzzy . . . many articles about anxiety slip into referring to anxiety as the feeling you get before you take a test, which may be somewhat helpful, instead of the feeling that many people have just leaving the house (or insert other daily functional activity here).  

Distressing anxiety is entirely different than Eustressful anxiety.  Dysfunctional anxiety should not be confused with functional, normal, or even peak situationally-appropriate anxiety (fear). 

So if I'm not going to refer to Fear, nor non-dysfunctional anxiety, how do I talk about the positive side of anxiety? The positive side of destructive, dysfunctional anxiety is that it lets you know that something isn't going right and it motivates you to make changes that you otherwise wouldn't make.  It also helps you deflect focus from areas where your control to make change is limited.

Social anxiety and other situational anxieties do a wonderful job of motivating us to change our behavior. The problem with them isn't the motivation, it's usually the direction or object that the anxiety focuses on for the change that's incorrect.  For social anxiety, the issue may not be that someone really is that awful to have around, but it may be that the person with anxiety has to spend more time picking up on social cues that don't come easily to them or to their own need to recover and regain energy away from other people. Motivation=good. Objective=not so good. 

In my practice, I find it very hopeful to speak with someone about their anxiety, because the negative, uneasy, self-destructive thoughts and feelings that they are experiencing help keep them focussed and motivated to make changes. There are so many people in therapy who aren't ready or willing to change. But you out there with anxiety-you are motivated! Someone will come in, work really hard on their problems and even though the anxiety starts to go away, they find that working on their issues is important for their own reasons. Without the anxiety they may not have been forced to make changes. 

So. . . did I dodge the question or try to use a technicality to get out of the obvious: that anxiety isn't positive and even test anxiety doesn't help you do better. It's just a horrible side-effect of our brain not being that great and dropping a topic after it's no longer useful. 

For most anxiety, it actually limits our brain's ability to make cognitive-based decisions about situations, decisions which may lead to better outcomes because they aren't clouded by misdirected motivation. 

Enthrive North here to help sort this mess out with you.

 

 

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When Moving Is the Answer

I was pointed to an emotional piece on self-development and emotional decision making by Bethany Suckrow called "When Moving is Not the Magic Solution." It's a quick read, and seems to be talking about a very real concept: trying to change external factors to facilitate internal change. She thinks it didn't work out how she planned, which may be right. I think it worked out exactly how she needed it to.

S_BethanyS.jpg

I like that the article speaks indirectly about the predictive nature of our brains. In two places she refers to the narrative being much more beautiful than the actuality.  Her brain (and, she expects that of the reader as well) had filled in the story's gaps with positive predictions. She didn't state this directly, maybe because she doesn't know what's happening, but what she's referring to is normal reaction: the brain of a healthy adult tends to fill gaps in information with happy, positive projections. The brains of depressed individuals tend to be more accurate in their predictions. Spend some time chewing on that.  

Brains (especially those influenced by Facebook) also tend to share what makes our situation look positive. You can watch the author try to be honest about what happened in her situation, but she actually spends only a tiny amount of time describing the negatives and only in very general terms. It's as if her healthy brain is still monitoring and filtering what she shares, so as to keep her focussed on the positive aspects of her life. 

Suckrow tried to present the reality of what moving means, but I think she missed the real issues, those being emotional. Even the hardships she talks about are as damaging emotionally and as difficult to get over internally as they are externally.  It's really interesting to see that her conclusion is emotional even though she speaks only about functional changes and problems ("my mom had died"). She seems to still be caught in the trap of presenting empirical problems and information, even when she knows the struggle is emotional. Again, her brain seems to be in a healthy place, protecting her from both internal and external judgement about her emotional struggle in the situation. 

Lies don’t need an aeroplane to chase you down
— Avett Brothers - The Weight of Lies

Really lovely stuff. It's this stuff that makes me think that she got exactly what she needed: the space to fail, survive and prove to herself that her life isn't dependent on her mother or the stability of what she had in Chicago; that it's really dependent on her own work and actions. I think she found some beautiful conclusions, and I think we could enrich it more.

What if we changed: "Wherever we go, there we are." 

Into: We can be, wherever we are.

Bethany thinks it this way, "Each of us absolutely have permission to pursue lives that make us content and fulfilled. But there is no magic formula, no reset button, no shortcut to a better version of our lives. There’s no quick leap into the future where everything is fine and nothing hurts." I don't agree with this. 

Given sufficient internal and external motivation for the change, people are able to move themselves internally without having to move anywhere physically.

I think that people who dare to take risks and seek more true answers (and to follow the path these answers necessitate) are able to make dramatic changes quickly. Given sufficient internal and external motivation for the change, people are able to move themselves internally without having to move anywhere physically.  It may be tough for her to realize, but she actually got exactly the change she needed and should have expected if she had ignored her healthy brain and looked at realistic expectations. 

So we need to decide if it's more important to be realistic, to post pictures of how our lives really happen or is it better to keep a presentation that's focused on how we want things to appear, how we want our lives to be.  Our healthy brains know the answer they want. 

Not that it's perfect, but it's a good song to accompany the post. 

 

 

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Chronic Anxiety and the Rigidity of the Mind

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Chronic Anxiety and the Rigidity of the Mind

Anxiety tries to convince us it doesn't exist by utilizing our brain's tendency to use limited information to predict future risks. By learning what worries are simply anxiety and which are legitimate we can more accurately taste the world and push back against the stress that Anxiety puts on us.

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Our Self Constructed World

I spent some time trying to figure out the proper phrasing for what it is we are trying to accomplish with the combination of Post-Modern Narrative Therapy, the emerging science of Neural Plasticity development and my own predilection for Motivational Interviewing techniques for engagement.  What I came up with was a mishmash of words, all that I felt needed to be crammed into the modality name.  It would be something like:

Heroic Targeted Intentional Revisionist Cognitive Neural Preferred Story Reconstruction. I'm open to suggestions. 

You can change your past by changing who you know yourself to be

But here is the problem and the opportunity.  I believe that people, when presented with the overwhelming information regarding our own self-creation of the world around us, will choose to work towards a creation of their preferred reality instead of continuing a problem-saturated reality.  But introducing this in therapy is a bit clumsy, much like telling a story and getting kids to come along with you in a game of make-believe. Only in this story the hero is you and it's not make believe, it's self-revision.  

Self-revision is the key component in real cognitive change. It is the result of retelling the stories of your life in a way that reframes them to come in-line with the person you want to be.  Our histories structure our future by forming our beliefs about what we are and what we can accomplish.  We see this technique starting to change the paradigm of treatment in domestic violence and child abuse, as people affected by these problems are called survivors instead of victims.  What are some of the titles you carry?  If these titles are the name tags we wear tightly pinned to our chests, how would you like them to be re-visioned to more accurately reflect who you want to be. 

So-here is where it gets important. How do we free up the activity of the limbic system (blog post for clarification) to allow for more pre-frontal activity, which is what we need for self-recreation.  We need to practice with our active mind in order to convert the new belief into our durable self-concept.  So instead of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, we are in effect doing Cognitive Identity Therapy.  

Ask a question, post a comment or start a conversation if you want to take this farther. 

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Stare at trees to feel more calm

Into the category of "Didn't I already know this?" goes green therapy.  But it may actually go well beyond the self-evident benefit that being outdoors gives us.

I first ran into Green Therapy when I was working with adolescents and adults troubled by Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity problems.  It was being found that even painting a child's room green (especially multiple shades of leaf green) was helpful in reducing behavioral problems and increasing focus.  Another study found that when you actually put children in a forest setting, the results became much more dramatic. I ran into this again recently when a friend posted this summary work on the subject: Your Brain on Nature. It outlines the many ways in which we can find more peace by interacting with green spaces. 

Actually, this is part of the reason we moved from Philadelphia back to Northern Michigan.  We wanted ourselves and our children to be able to look out the window or take a walk through the neighborhood and see lots of trees, water and other palliative natural surroundings.  

 At the river's edge

At the river's edge

That Green can help anxiety seems to be just one more finding along the same line of thinking: natural environments help our body feel secure and right in the world.  In one study, a researcher decided to test outcomes after surgery, but instead of seeing which medication helped, he decided to see if a view of trees outside the recovery room would aid treatment.

"In comparison with the wall-view group, the patients with the tree view had shorter postoperative hospital stays, had fewer negative evaluative comments from nurses, took fewer moderate and strong analgesic doses, and had slightly lower scores for minor postsurgical complications. 
-from "
View through a window may influence recovery from surgery." by Ulrich, R. Science v224

Right, wow. That is just looking at trees through a window.  Now, with modern technology, we can actually go outside. 

So I'll quit typing if you'll quit reading.  Let's both go outside. 

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