Do You Wish Your Life Away?

Do You Wish Your Life Away?

“To live in the present moment is a miracle. The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green Earth in the present moment, to appreciate the peace and beauty that are available now.”

Thich Nhat Hanh, Touching Peace: Practicing the Art of Mindful Living

The other day, I went into a local luncheon restaurant and ordered a cup of coffee and a toasted bagel with cream cheese. The young server smiled pleasantly and said, “Ooooh, I get happier as the time gets closer to 1:00 PM.” I was tempted to get into a short conversation with her about this but quickly surmised that she would react as though I was preaching to her, and I did not want that. However, this little interaction gave me pause for some thinking. After all, I asked myself, how often do all of us engage in the same thinking style as the young woman?

Aren’t we all guilty of wishing our lives away without thinking about it? At work, we watch the clock. We count the months and days until vacation. We hurry to wash the dishes so we can see our favorite television program. Once we reach retirement age, we convince ourselves that real life will begin.

Of course, the reverse of this also happens. How often do we engage in feelings and thoughts of self-pity about the past? How often do we make such statements as, “if only I had done this or that,” or, “If only I this event or that event had not happened,” or, “life has never been fair to me.” We “cry over spilled milk.”

The intent is not to be dark and cynical here. Quite to the contrary, my intent is to communicate the concept of embracing and living life to the fullest. That life is fragile because we never really know what may happen. It is essential to be living in the present moment. This way of thinking is a severe problem because none of us can guarantee that tomorrow will come, and we cannot change the past. Yes, each of us has our past lives, and each of us makes plans for tomorrow, next month, and next year. However, we overlook it now.

The great Buddhist teacher and expert on mindfulness and meditation, Thich Nhat Hanh, expressed it best when he stressed the importance of focusing on this moment because we will never have it again once this moment is gone. Another teacher is our American, John Kabbat-Zinn. I highly recommend his many books for their simplicity and great wisdom about living our lives. Just do an Internet search for him.

One of the most self-destructive ways for us to destroy now is to be obsessed with work. This is also referred to as a “Type A Personality” who runs from task to task, never coming up from work to inhale and smell the fresh air. It is a heart attack to awaken these people if they are lucky enough to survive.

Are you mindful of your life and body? Do you take time to smell the roses? Do you live in the moment or dwell on the past while waiting for tomorrow? 

Perhaps it is time for all of us to practice mindful meditation.

 

The Importance of Taking the Slow Road

It is Spring, and summer is not far off. The Covid Pandemic is easing, and people are leaving their homes. They are driving again, visiting family and friends, and traveling to a vacation spot. However, it is like a cork popped from a bottle of Champagne. Drivers are tailgating, weaving in and out of lanes, passing cars from the right lane, and going at alarmingly high rates of speed and well beyond speed limits. In addition, they are getting into accidents on the highways and local streets.

People might think that state troopers are present to stop, ticket, and inhibit crazy driving. There are examples of the police issuing tickets to these drivers. However, reckless driving would resume once out of sight of the officers.

Of course, during a long trip, drivers pull off the road to refuel, get some lunch and stretch their weary and still limbs. Many of the cars were recognizable as the autos seen on the road. Yet, the people in those autos appeared friendly and respectable. The elderly, middle-aged, fathers, mothers, children, and business people.

Stress plays a significant role in this behavior. Something anonymous about the highway permits people to put aside their excellent judgment and engage in reckless driving, much like the internet. The highway is not the place to express the aggravation that comes from coping with a difficult marriage, problematic children, unemployment, financial issues, and depression and anxiety expressed on the highway. People are releasing pent-up frustrations from their lives.

Not that anyone is doing this deliberately. While a few people know of driving recklessly, most are unaware of what they are doing. There are always excuses and rationalizations for those who are aware, such as another is driving too slowly, or there is an urgency about arriving quickly. I guess that most would not admit that they are expressing helplessness, hopelessness, and rage in the way they are driving.

This essay is not only about traffic and driving but about how we live our lives. People are in a hurry to get to their first and second jobs. They are in a hurry to complete tasks at home, school, and work. People rush from one place to another but rarely take time to think about what they are doing. I have a good friend working endless hours to put his son through a top-notch college to go to medical school. He is living life at a breakneck speed and is not taking time to think about what he is doing to himself. This good friend already suffers from high blood pressure, cholesterol, and several other health problems.

There are healthier ways to cope with life’s difficulties, such as getting plenty of exercises and using yoga and meditation to release tension, and getting in touch with living in the moment rather than hurrying. We need not hurry. We need to be present at the moment.

Children, Teens and Suicide

Suicides among young people continue to be a severe problem. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for children, adolescents, and young adults ages 15-to-24-year-olds.

Most children and adolescents who attempt suicide have a significant mental health disorder, usually depression. Among younger children, suicide attempts are often impulsive. They may be associated with feelings of sadness, confusion, anger, or problems with attention and hyperactivity.

Now, however, childhood and teen suicide statistics are complicated by the Covid Pandemic. Even though schools are now open in most communities throughout the United States, parents report that many young people do not want to return to school. While remote learning carried many disadvantages, some children found it reassuring to remain at home with the family.

Children’s suicide attempts have increased during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

 

COVID-19 has led to significant changes in the dynamics of children’s suicide attempts, according to the results of a cross-sectional study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association

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“Recent studies have reported a deterioration in children’s mental health since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, with an increase in anxiety and mood disorders,” Anthony Cousien, Ph.D., of the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Paris in France, and colleagues wrote. “Rates of suicide ideation and suicide attempts among children were also higher when COVID-19–related stressors heightened in 2020. 

The researchers analyzed data of 830 children aged 15 years or younger (mean age, 13.5 years; 1:4 ratio of boys to girls) with suicide attempt history admitted to the pediatric Emergency Department of a single hospital between January 2010 and April 2021. They defined a suicide attempt as “a nonfatal self-directed potentially injurious behavior with any intent to die because of the behavior.”

Cousien and colleagues speculated that children’s specific sensitivity to mitigation measures, adverse effects on family health and economic conditions, increased screen time, and social media use or bereavement may have affected this acceleration.

Social media is also a significant risk factor for teen suicide.

Suicide rates among teenagers have seen a drastic increase from 2007 to the present. Social media has become a prevalent way of life. Another risk factor may be media accounts of suicide that romanticize or dramatize the description of suicidal deaths, possibly leading to an increased number of suicides.

Among teenagers, suicide attempts come with feelings of stress, self-doubt, pressure to succeed, financial uncertainty, disappointment, and loss. For some teens, suicide may appear to solve their problems.

Depression and suicidal feelings are treatable mental disorders. The child or adolescent needs to have their illness recognized, diagnosed, and appropriately treated with a comprehensive treatment plan.

Thoughts about suicide and suicide attempts are often associated with depression. Besides depression, other risk factors include:

  • family history of suicide attempts
  • exposure to violence
  • impulsivity
  • aggressive or disruptive behavior
  • access to firearms
  • bullying
  • feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
  • acute loss or rejection

Children and adolescents thinking about suicide may make openly suicidal statements or comments such as, “I wish I was dead,” or “I won’t be a problem for you much longer.” Other warning signs associated with suicide can include:

  • changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • frequent or pervasive sadness
  • withdrawal from friends, family, and regular activities
  • frequent complaints about physical symptoms often related to emotions, such as stomachaches, headaches, fatigue, etc.
  • a decline in the quality of schoolwork
  • preoccupation with death and dying

Young people thinking about suicide may also stop planning for or talking about the future. They may give away important possessions.

People often feel uncomfortable talking about suicide. However, asking your child or adolescent whether they are depressed or thinking about suicide can be helpful. Specific examples of such questions include:

  • Are you feeling sad or depressed?
  • Are you thinking about hurting or killing yourself?
  • Have you ever thought about hurting or killing yourself?

Rather than putting thoughts in your child’s head, these questions can assure that somebody cares and will give your child the chance to talk about problems.

Parents, teachers, and friends should always err on caution and safety. Any child or adolescent with suicidal thoughts or plans should be evaluated immediately by a trained mental health professional.

 No matter which boat you are in, remember that it doesn’t help to blame yourself as a parent.

Whether you are a parent, helping your teenager prevent suicide, or have lost your teenager to suicide, find a community and gather them close around you. You may find that this community is people in the church, friends, or other parents who have faced the same challenges. Keep a close connection with safe people and walk on this journey with others. Remember that you are not alone.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline

800-273-8255

Lifeline

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org

Catastrophic Thinking, Of Making Mountains out of Molehills

Do you make mountains out of molehills? This is a more severe issue that may appear on the surface. Whenever anyone spilled anything on the tablecloth, even just a glass of water, my grandmother would become furious when I was a boy. She was not unusual for having that reaction. Sometimes, the littlest things make people angry. One way of thinking about this concept is to realize that some of us turn the most minor incidents into catastrophes. Statistics show that altercations over trivial issues sometimes result in homicide.

To a certain extent, the tendency to make mountains out of molehills has to do with worrying and obsessive thinking. Because of the watch or clock not being precisely set on time, people with OCD become exceedingly uncomfortable, worrying about potentially terrible consequences. For those with OCD, everything must be perfect, or there can be catastrophic consequences. These people live in a world of “what if,” meaning what if the clock is set wrong, and my children get up late for school, and a terrible car accident occurs on the way to school.

This way of thinking and living makes life unbearable for those who worry and the loved ones who surround them. Graham C.L. Davey, Ph.D., conducted a piece of research on why we worry? Interviews of chronic worriers were conducted using questions such as “why worry about getting good grades in school?

*Here are some of the catastrophic consequences that chronic worriers came up with:

“I won’t live up to my expectations

I’d be disappointed in myself.                                           

I’d lose my self-confidence.                                                

My loss of self-confidence would spread to other areas of my life.       

I wouldn’t have as much control as I’d like.                     

I’d be afraid of facing the unknown.                                

I’d become very anxious.                                                   

Anxiety would lead to further loss of self-confidence.    

I wouldn’t get my confidence back.                                  

I’d feel like 1 wouldn’t control my life.    

I’d be susceptible to things that wouldn’t bother me.  

I’d become more and more anxious.                                

I’d have no control, and I’d become mentally ill.    

I’d become dependent on drugs and therapy.                

I’d always remain dependent on drugs.                          

They’d deteriorate my body.                                             

I’d be in pain.                                                                      

I’d die.                                                                                  

I’d end up in hell.”

* From Graham C.L. Davey, Ph.D. 

Another theory states that people men make mountains out of molehills when they feel aggressive and competitive. Aggressive reactions have to do with competing for status. Two men compete for the status of one over the other. In this primitive way of thinking, the most aggressive wins the girl. That is why, as stated above, some arguments over trivial things result in homicide.

Whatever way you choose to look at this, making mountains out of molehills results in frustration and misery for all concerned. It’s better the let these things go. What my grandmother should have done was smile and clean up the spill. Perhaps, if this had been her approach to life, she would not have had a heart condition. It was just an accident.

Instead of exploding, take deep breaths, say a mantra by reminding yourself, “it’s not worth it,” and see the humor in the situation.

Contact Dr. Schwartz at dransphd@aol.com

Aging and Loneliness, A Deadly Combination

“One is the loneliest number”

“Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made. Our times are in his hand who saith, ‘A whole I planned, youth shows but half; Trust God: See all, nor be afraid!”

Robert Browning

“One is the loneliness number that you will ever do.”

*The Beatles’ version is my favorite.

Aging and Socializing, An Important Connection

Two studies came to the same conclusion: as we age, socializing helps keep our minds sharp and, perhaps, even prevents dementia.

Study 1:

The first study was conducted by Dr. Karen Ertel, a post-doctoral fellow at this writing, at the Department of Society, Human Development and Health at the Harvard School of Public Health. Her team found that those socially integrated (socially active) had less than half the memory decline of those who were socially isolated.

Dr. Ertel’s team collected data from 17,000 Americans who were fifty years older. The subjects were studied for over six years.

Social activity included being involved in volunteer activities, interacting with neighbors and friends, and seeing children, grandchildren, and other family members. Interestingly, those who maintained social involvement also exercised, engaged in intellectual activities such as reading, and were careful about their diets.

Unfortunately, the death of a spouse presents older people with the risk of suffering and grief so much that they withdraw and become depressed. Widows and widowers gradually recover from the losses they suffered. Their ability to resume active lives depends upon the availability of a community to be involved with.

Study 2:

The second study was conducted by Dr. Valerie Crooks, director of clinical trials at the Southern California Permanente Medical Group.

This study focused on women at least 78 years of age who were free of dementia. The subjects were studied from 2001 through 2005 and included 456 women and their social networks.

The findings were that those women with the most robust social networks were less likely to develop symptoms of dementia over the five years of the research.

The strength of social networks included such criteria as to how frequently the subject contacted friends and family, how often they confided in a friend or friends, and whether they had the type of friends that could be confidants.

Discussion:

Both studies clarify that remaining involved helps people maintain physical and mental health. In addition, social isolation has adverse effects on physical and mental health as we age.

Not Only Age:

Some state and restated by mental health practitioners and researchers that social isolation is unhealthy for people of all ages. The research shows that isolation is closely associated with feelings of depression. Of course, the question is whether depression causes isolation or isolation causes depression? It is tempting to suggest that it does not matter because helping people to socialize, regardless of their stage of life, goes a long way toward reducing depression.

We are social creatures and feel better when involved with other human beings. 

1. For the elderly, it is essential to remain socially involved to reduce the chances of developing either dementia or depression.

2. For younger people, it is equally important to have a circle of friends with whom they can talk, have fun, and engage in productive activities.

Health and Education: It’s Heart Breaking to Not Finish Your Education

During the past twenty or more years, I have listened to the complaints of high school students, their families, and the public. The same complaint: “Why do we need a liberal arts education?” The question goes much further than a liberal arts education because it states that children should learn a trade. 

Recent events at one university in Colorado included eliminating language, arts, and other liberal arts classes. 

Research studies conducted during the last twenty or more years consistently show the same results. There is a direct connection between the level of education and heart disease. The lower the level of education, the higher the risk for cardiovascular disease and death. Regardless of race, ethnicity, culture, or nation, these results.

From the American Heart Association, 2019.

Education level may predict the risk of dying for people with heart disease.

By American Heart Association News

“How long people stay in school may play a significant role in predicting how well those with coronary heart disease will fare.

Education level has influenced people’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease. The new study examines just how much of a factor it plays among people with established coronary artery disease due to a buildup of cholesterol and fatty plaque deposits in the heart’s arteries.

Researchers looked at 6,318 older adults in three Atlanta-based hospitals who underwent a procedure to diagnose and assess problems in coronary arteries. Each person completed questions about the highest level of education completed. Other demographic details and medical history followed for four years.

Among the study’s participants, 16% had received a graduate degree, 42% had finished college, 38% had completed high school, and 4% had completed elementary or middle school.

Researchers found that compared to people with graduate degrees, those with lower educational attainment appeared to have a higher risk of heart attack, dying from a cardiovascular event, and overall death.

People with elementary or middle school education had a 52% higher risk of dying from any cause during the study than someone who attained a graduate degree. People who completed high school had a 43% increased risk. College graduates had a 26% higher risk than people with graduate degrees.

The higher risk remained even after adjusting for traditional cardiovascular risk factors like diabetes, high blood pressure and tobacco use, and other demographic characteristics, including sex and income level.

“We adjusted for everything that would be a risk determinant, and despite all that, just the educational level was an independent predictor of outcome,” said the study’s senior author, Dr. Arshed Quyyumi, a cardiology professor at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.

“What’s striking is how important the role of education is,” he said. “Most of us practitioners, we don’t ask patients for their educational level when we’re seeing them – and we don’t take any added precautions when you find that somebody may not be as well educated as another person.”

The findings were presented Tuesday at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in Paris and published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Quyyumi said the results show a need for increased awareness among physicians to be more vigilant about following through with heart patients to make sure they’re taking medicine and making recommended lifestyle changes to lower risk. It also shows the link between a person’s health and social determinants, factors that influence where and how people live, learn, work and play.

Social determinants of health represent “a phenomenon outside of biology and genetics, outside of traditional risk factors,” said Dr. Clyde Yancy, professor and cardiology chief at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.”

Multiple studies done worldwide consistently show the same results.

The message is clear. Get an education! 

Help is Available. Contact Dr. Schwartz at dransphd@aol.com

http://www.allanschwartztherapy.net

Guess, What? Cursing Can be Good for Your Health

Cursing when it’s painful

http://www.psychotherapy.netThe other day, I caught my finger as I closed the top of my Nespresso machine to make a cup of coffee. Spontaneously and without thought, I shouted out several curse words. I was shocked that I caught my finger, and it hurt. I felt like a clumsy fool for being so clumsy and called myself an idiot. Then I smiled and felt a lot better.

Recently, a female psychotherapy client sat in front of me very abashed. When I asked why she looked upset, she hesitatingly described a painful procedure at the Doctor’s office. She let out a curse word when the procedure became excruciatingly painful. She blushed and felt ashamed of herself. Both Doctor and nurse assured her they were accustomed to patients cursing when undergoing the procedure.

When we are the smallest of children, most of us learn from our parents that curse words are wrong and we must never use them. These teachings are correct. All of us know it is socially inappropriate to express ourselves in ways considered being insulting and in bad taste. 

Recent research informs us that there are exceptions to the rules regarding swear words. A recent article put it this way:

Using swear words can have a wide range of positive effects on your well-being, including pain relief and helping you cope with emotionally challenging situations. 

  • Studies show cursing during a physically painful event can help us better tolerate the pain.
  • Experts say using curse words can also help us build emotional resilience and cope with situations in which we feel that we have no control.
  • Swearing can also provide a range of other benefits, including creative expression, relationship development, or allowing different identities to harmonize by signaling that you feel relaxed around the other person.

We’ve all had plenty of reasons to want to shout the “f word” during the last two years. Living in a pandemic has given us all cause to express our frustrations, whether from the ongoing confusing restrictions to the fear of what may happen if you contract the coronavirus.

It is essential the keep in mind some caveats about cursing. The same research shows the benefits of swearing did not occur in people who admitted to daily swearing as part of their lifestyle. 

Every rule has exceptions. In this context, cursing among friends, especially men, is a way to express warmth, acceptance, and closeness.

Used appropriately and responsibly, outbursts of cursing, cussing, and swearing are an excellent way to handle the complexity of being human in a world that is not under our control.

Swearing can liberate when feeling bottled up with frustration. Curse words can have a calming effect on the complex emotions we are experiencing.

Explorations in Psychotherapy

Explorations in Psychotherapy is a new book written by Allan N Schwartz, PhD.

The book encompasses issues and problems real people have consulted me about over the past thirty years. All identities are fully hidden and disguised in order to protect privacy. Explorations in Psychotherapy is available at Amazon.com in either paperback or kindle versions.

http://www.allanschwartztherapy.net Available for Purchase at Amazon.com

How to Cope After a Disaster

It was Friday, New Years’ Eve morning, December 31, 2021. The sun was shining, but the wind was gusting. I was walking my dog when I noticed a cloud of smoke in the distance. I thought nothing of it because it appeared to be a grass fire. After my dog completed her business, we headed back to my condo. It was astonishing how fast the smoke covered the neighborhood. As I sat at my desk, I noticed my eyes became irritated, and the smell of smoke filled the apartment. When I looked out my window, I was shocked to see black smoke over the entire neighborhood. Soon, there was a pounding at my door. The police politely but firmly ordered me out of the condo when I opened it. My neighbors were also in the corridor. All of us went back inside to gather a few things, and we left the condominium complex. 

These same neighbors drove us to Erie, a distance from the fires and smoke. We were on the way to my daughter’s house as they did the same. As we drove, we somberly viewed the dark smoke and flames. All of us were grateful to have escaped what turned out to be a major disaster.

We learned later that the county lost 1,000 homes were in flames. So miraculously, only two fatalities resulted from something that could easily take thousands of lives. However, the shock and trauma were unbearable.

Understanding the emotions and normal responses that follow a disaster or other traumatic event can help you cope with your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors.

Recovering emotionally from disaster

From The American Psychological Association, 2013

Disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, transportation accidents, or wildfires are typically unexpected, sudden, and overwhelming. There are no outwardly visible signs of physical injury for many people, but there can be an emotional toll. It is common for people who have experienced disaster to have strong emotional reactions. Understanding responses to distressing events can help you cope effectively with your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors and help you along the path to recovery.

What are common reactions and responses to disaster?

Following a disaster, people frequently feel stunned, disoriented, or unable to integrate distressing information. However, once these initial reactions subside, people can experience a variety of thoughts and behaviors. 

Typical responses can be:

  • Intense or unpredictable feelings. You may be anxious, nervous, overwhelmed, or grief-stricken. You may also feel more irritable or moody than usual.
  • Changes to thoughts and behavior patterns. You might have repeated and vivid memories of the event. These memories may occur for no apparent reason and may lead to physical reactions such as rapid heartbeat or sweating. It may not be easy to concentrate or make decisions. Sleep and eating patterns also can be disrupted. Some people may overeat and oversleep, while others experience a loss of sleep and appetite.
  • Sensitivity to environmental factors. Sirens, loud noises, burning smells, or other environmental sensations may stimulate memories of the disaster, creating heightened anxiety. These “triggers” may accompany fears that the stressful event may repeat. 
  • Strained interpersonal relationships. Increased conflict, such as frequent disagreements with family members and coworkers, can occur. You might also become withdrawn, isolated, or disengaged from your usual social activities.
  • Stress-related physical symptoms. Headaches, nausea, and chest pain may occur and require medical attention. Preexisting medical conditions could be affected by disaster-related stress.

How do I cope?

Fortunately, research shows that most people are resilient and can bounce back from tragedy over time. It is common for people to experience stress in the immediate aftermath. Still, most people can resume functioning as before the disaster within a few months. It is important to remember that resilience and recovery are the norms, not prolonged distress.

There are several steps people can take to build emotional well-being and gain a sense of control following a disaster, including the following:

  •  Survivors need time to adjust and anticipate that this will be a difficult time in the lives of survivors. Allow yourself to mourn the losses you have experienced and try to be patient with changes in your emotional state.
  • Ask for support from people who care about you and who will listen and empathize with your situation. Social support is a crucial component of disaster recovery. Family and friends can be vital resources. You can find support and common ground from those who’ve also survived the disaster. You may also want to reach out to others not involved who may provide more significant support and objectivity.
  • Communicate your experience. People need to express what they are feeling in whatever ways they feel comfortable, such as talking with family or close friends, keeping a diary, or engaging in a creative activity.
  • Find a local support group led by appropriately trained and experienced professionals. Support groups are frequently available for survivors. Group discussion can help survivors realize that they are not alone in their reactions and emotions. Support group meetings can be beneficial for people with limited personal support systems.
  • Engage in healthy behaviors to enhance your ability to cope with excessive stress. Eat well-balanced meals and get plenty of rest. If you experience ongoing difficulties with sleep, you may be able to find some relief through relaxation techniques. Avoid alcohol and drugs because they can be a numbing diversion that could detract from and delay active coping and moving forward from the disaster.
  • Establish or reestablish routines. Routines can include eating meals regularly, sleeping and waking on a regular cycle, or following an exercise program. Build positive ways to have something to look forward to during these distressing times, like pursuing a hobby, walking through an attractive park or neighborhood, or reading a good book.
  • Avoid making major life decisions. Switching careers or jobs and other essential decisions tend to be highly stressful in their own right and even harder to take on when someone is recovering from a disaster.

When to seek professional help?

Persistent feelings of distress or hopelessness and you feel like you can barely get through your daily responsibilities and activities, consult with a licensed mental health professional such as a psychologist. Psychologists have the training to help people address emotional reactions to disasters such as disbelief, stress, anxiety, and grief and make a plan for moving forward.