How To Rewrite Your Life Story

1441629557172I wonder what messages you might have attached to my prose poem, Bronx Child, shared with you last month. You might have felt sorry for this little girl who ate her lunch alone everyday, or you might have experienced her as an independent, self-reliant child who could take care of herself. Maybe you had a different reaction. Children aren’t rational in their story telling. They are just trying to make sense of their experiences. Whatever meaning children attach to these stories, these meanings stay rooted in our unconscious minds and have a direct influence on our behaviors as adults.

It’s so important to review your life story to see where the words you speak to yourself are enriching your life or limiting it. Anyone can change his or her life story. The first step is realizing you have one. The next step is to challenge your beliefs about it. The final step is authoring your life.

Our stories express what we believe we are and who we believe we can be. They define us.  Stories can be positive. Narratives like “I’m great with kids,” or “Kids are my calling,” can inspire us, they encourage us to show up confidently and authentically in our relationships with others. Often though our stories have less positive effects. Stories like “People always let me down,” become self-fulfilling prophecies. They convince us we’ll never get what we want. They are absolute.

It’s important to see your story. Look at the life you’ve created and the patterns that have played out. What are the most meaningful moments? Write them down.

If you find a pattern where you are habitually putting yourself down that may signal a story of unworthiness and this limits and  disempowers you. Write down those negative patterns as well.

Examine what you’ve written down and challenge your thoughts to see which of them reflects who you are now and who you’d like to be.

Begin writing your new autobiography incrementally. Rome wasn’t built in a day! Small steady actions are more effective than big dramatic affirmations. Create a reasonable story that you can grow into.

Caution: Stress will make us more vulnerable to negative thinking, likely to fall back into old patterns. The moment you hear an old story rumbling around in your head, STOP LISTENING!  Do something different, helpful and healthy. Remember my favorite saying: “In times of stress we all regress!”


Rewrite Your Life

1441629557172Throughout our lives we carry stories; stories that dictate what we think about ourselves how we view others and how we see life in general. There is something intrinsic in our drive to explain, order, and extract meaning from the chaos of our lives, says Susan Gregory Thomas in this month’s Psychology Today. The stories we tell ourselves do not get fact checked but they do feel authentic to our personal experiences. Accurate or not, we believe them and they color our lives. Our ability to make sense of and create meaning from our memories defines how we feel about ourselves and shapes the identity we create throughout our lives.

I want to share a prose poem I recently wrote about my childhood. I wonder what story you would tell yourself about this little girl?

Bronx Child

I have the only bedroom in apartment 3B, 1815 Monroe Avenue.   On school days I walk three blocks home for lunch.  The first block is the longest, with brown stone row houses.  I pass my dentist’s, and apartment houses, each one different: colored brick, white, yellow, and red.   My apartment house has an elevator I take to the third floor. Most of my friends are afraid to ride by themselves! I am seven.

My lunch is usually soup in a Thermos, Campbell’s Chicken Noodle, and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  I have no watch but I know that after Love of Life and Search for Tomorrow I turn off the TV, lock the apartment door with the key I wear on a string around my neck. On my way back to school, I head for Julie’s Candy Store.  I get a Nestlé’s Crunch for  six cents. I eat it one square at a time, so it lasts. I’m in no hurry to get back to Mrs. Gold’s class. She’s so mean.

On hot summer nights Julie’s is the place to go for cones—sugar or plain, with or without sprinkles. My favorite is a sugar cone with coffee ice cream and sprinkles. It costs twelve cents, two cents extra for the chocolate sprinkles.  Next door is Fedderman’s Pharmacy.  Fedderman’s has a soda fountain, too. Red and black twisted licorice sticks stand in glass jars, wax lips make you look like you’re wearing smeared lipstick. Sugar Dots are pasted on white paper: Sky bars, Clark bars, Bonomo Turkish Toffee .  My mother says I grow cavities like weeds!

Events don’t inherently contain meaning. It’s the meaning we give our past that matters. This is how our stories get created, and themes begin to emerge.

Next monthy we’ll talk about the meaning you attach to the stories you tell yourself, and you can decide if you need to rewrite your life story.







Help for worrying about worrying

worrying  In following up on “When to worry about worrying,” there are 3 strategies you might consider to cope with chronic worrying. It is important to understand what worrying is, since the beliefs you hold about worrying play a huge role in triggering worry. You probably feel like worries come from the outside-from people, events that are stressful or situations you’re facing. In fact, worrying is self-perpetuating. The trigger may come from the outside, but your internal dialogue keeps it going! When you’re worrying you are likely obsessing on worst case scenarios and if you are focusing on ‘what ifs’ your worrying is unproductive. If you can give up the idea that your worrying somehow helps you, you can begin to deal with your worry and anxiety.

Many people with anxiety don’t know how to calm down quickly. Some ideas for self care to create calm include:

  • Exercise, a natural and effective anti-anxiety treatment
  • Get enough sleep, limit caffeine, avoid alcohol and nicotine.
  • Start eating healthy

You will also benefit from learning relaxation techniques-deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation and yoga. Be aware of what you can do for yourselves and design a self care program that works for you. Be flexible-does this mean you can never have a glass of wine? Absolutely not-everything in moderation!

If you have given self care a good shot and find you can’t seem to shake your worries and fears, you might consider seeking help from a mental health professional. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one type of therapy that is particularly helpful. CBT examines distortions in our ways of looking at ourselves and the world. It can help you identify automatic negative thoughts that contribute to your anxiety. For example, if you are the type of person who catastrophizes, always think of the worst case scenarios, you might learn to challenge this tendency through asking yourself questions such as: Has this ever happened before? What is the likelihood it will happen now?, What are some more positive outcomes that are more likely to happen? With the help of a mental health professional it is possible to change your mind set and alleviate your worry and anxiety. This might not come easy to you, but with repeated practice you can retrain your thoughts and consequently your feelings.

Finally, with the assistance of a physician it is possible to alleviate your anxiety with the use of medication. Anti-anxiety medications relieve anxiety by slowing down the central nervous system. Their relaxing effects have made them very popular. Common anti-anxiety drugs are Xanax, Klonopin, Buspar, Valium and Ativan. Your physician can advise you about the pros and cons of these and other drugs to treat your anxiety. It’s important to remember that medications alone aren’t the cure. Therapy and lifestyle changes should be incorporated into your treat plan when you’re worrying about worrying!


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When to worry about worrying

A recent article in HEALTHbeat, a publication of the Harvard Medical School, caught my eye. The title: When to worry about worrying. The article suggests there is no shortage of things to worry about-from personal concerns about your family, your job, your health, to fears related to larger issues such as political conflicts, terrorism and natural disasters. Temporary anxiety can be a healthy response to uncertainty and danger, but constant worry about things real or imagined may be a sign of a more serious problem-generalized anxiety disorder.

A generalized anxiety disorder involves chronic worrying, tension and nervousness. It is diffuse or free floating, not connected to anything in particular. People with a generalized anxiety disorder can’t shake the feeling that something bad is going to happen and they will not be prepared. Some people even worry about worrying too much. Does this sound familiar?

“I can’t get my mind to stop-it’s driving me crazy!”

“He’s late-he was supposed to be here 20 minutes ago! He must have had an accident!”

“I can’t sleep-I just feel such dread…and I don’t know why!”

Worries, doubts and fears are a normal part of life. The difference between “normal” worrying and a generalized anxiety disorder is that the worrying becomes:





Emotional symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder

  • Constant worries running through your head
  • Feeling like your anxiety s uncontrollable; there is nothing you can do to stop worrying
  • Intrusive thoughts about things that make you anxious; you try to stop thinking about them, but you can’t
  • An inability to tolerate uncertainty; you must know what’s going to happen next
  • A persuasive feeling of apprehension or dread

Behavioral symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder

  • Inability to relax, enjoy quiet time, or be by yourself
  • Difficulty concentrating on things, like reading a book
  • Putting things off because you feel overwhelmed
  • Avoiding situations that make you feel anxious, like driving or being in a crowd

Physical symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder

  • Feeling tense; having muscle tightness or body aches
  • Having trouble falling asleep, or staying asleep because your mind won’t quit
  • Feeling edgy, restless or jumpy
  • Stomach problems, nausea, constipation or diarrhea

You will need a doctor’s help to know if you are dealing with a generalized anxiety disorder.

Self diagnosis is never a good idea!

Specific therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps people recognize when they are misinterpreting events, exaggerating difficulties, or making pessimistic assumptions, and offer new ways to respond to anxiety-provoking situations.  For some people, medications maybe an important part of treatment. There are also many things you can do for yourself (self-care) to foster anxiety reduction. It is not one choice or another, but a combination of several options designed specifically for you to help you get a handle on your anxiety. In my next post, we’ll concentrate on the specific treatments for help manage a Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Stay tuned, I’ll continue this discussion next week!




Reserves of Resilience

resilience 1

I was diagnosed with MS in 1982, the Dark Ages. I remember my husband and I sitting across the desk from my neurologist. He told us it was probable that I had Multiple Sclerosis.

We went home, tried to absorb and add this uninvited guest to our family. I went back to work. I realized I might not be able to keep up with the demands of my work. I needed more control over my time. I needed more flexibility.
Going back to school to get a Ph.D. was on my bucket list. It was never on my radar that MS would stop me from doing anything! Maybe a Pollyanna or maybe I believed my determination would get me through. Fortunately, whatever fueled me worked and I finished my degree.

By now I was a few years into MS Land and I had begun to understand how MS played in my body. I developed some rules for myself. The first was a three-day rule. If a new symptom showed up, I would watch it for three days. If it didn’t go away, I would call the doctor. Of course that usually led to rounds of steroids which worked but made me crazy! My second rule was: If you play, you will pay. That meant if I pushed too hard because there was something I really wanted to do, I would have to set aside time to rest. Sometimes it was just worth it! My final rule: Sneakers are a fashion statement!

I went into private practice as a psychotherapist. My clients were people living with MS and other chronic illnesses. There were mornings I wished I could stay in bed. I went to work anyway. Once I was with a client I felt so much better. My clients were my medicine!

I treat my MS with respect and as a puzzle I have to solve. I have every piece of durable equipment I might need. I use a cane when I go to unfamiliar places. I use a walker when I’m falling too frequently. I use a wheel chair when I travel to New York. I was developing resilience every time I solved a problem created by my MS I was becoming more resilient.

The word resilient comes from the Latin meaning to rebound or spring back. I often think of MS like a rubber band. When symptoms flare up, I am stretched out of shape and sometimes I think I might snap. Then the symptoms dissipate and the rubber band springs back, but never exactly to its original shape. There’s a new normal.

I wondered if people were hard-wired to bounce back or if one could learn to be more resilient. Both, according to researchers, whose work suggests that we are born with a self-righting ability which can be helped or hindered. For me, I found the most important thing to keep in mind is to be realistic and positive. When I lose that attitude because of all the other stressors that come with being human, I try not to stay there for long.

I discovered some ways to help build up resilience that work for me:

Be thankful, especially for the little things.

Try something that you thought you couldn’t do anymore. After years of dancing in my head, I decided to try dancing lessons and in spite of terrible balance, dancing came back into my life.

Leverage your strengths, whatever they are. I am a social being so I work at not isolating myself. I feel the best when I am with other people. I try to turneverything into a social event, even exercising.   I also like to write poetry; it keeps my mind working. Think about what you’re good at and use it.

Set good boundaries. Only you know what’s best for you.  Learn to say no without feeling guilty. The people who are important to you will understand.

Savor the good in your life, even if you have to look for it.I live by this refrain:

I walk,

I fall down,

I get up.

Meanwhile I keep dancing.






Helicopter Parents Stir Things Up


Just to remind you-in my last blog I talked about helicopter parents. Helicopter parents earned this nickname because they seem to ‘hover’ over their children in an effort to control their lives and protect them from harm, disappointment, or mistakes. Not only are these parents concerned for their children’s safety, but they attach their own self-worth and identity to the accomplishments and successes of their children.

I was naturally curious about what these children were like when they grew into teens, a natural time to begin separating from your parents and begin taking more responsibility for yourself.  Researcher and psychologist, Neil Montgomery conducted a study on 300 college students at Keene State College in New Hampshire and similar studies were conducted at Wollongong University in Australia. According to these studies the negative effects of ‘helicoptering’ tend to make children experience low self-esteem, difficulty handling crisis and emergencies, significant levels of anxiety, a deep sense of entitlement, and a lack of life skills. In other words, these kids have trouble problem solving and thinking on their feet.

The question then is how can we help these children learn the skills they are lacking? It’s never too late or too early to start teaching these 5 skills:

            Allow Children to Make Their Own Decisions:  They will come to realize that their life is a result of the choices they make rather than the ones you make.

           Allow Children to Feel What Responsibility Is:  Even if a task is not done ’perfectly’ resist fixing it or doing it for them. This trust in your child fuels your child’s sense of ‘I can’ and build’s self esteem.

            Allow Children to Make Mistakes:  And be okay with those mistakes! Mistakes are a natural step in self discovery and independence.

            Prepare Children to Handle Risks: Preparation is much more effective than overprotection because it teaches children to function in the real world.

            Empower Your Children to Discover Who They Are: Let your children experience the power of responsibility, teach them to make choices, allow them to solve problems, leading them to experience the powerful feeling of ‘I can.” This will pave the way for your children to discover their own identity!

Helicopter Parenting: The Jury is Out!

1107-mod-happy-helicopter-parents_full_600Every generation has their own parenting style and today’s most current style is called ‘helicopter parenting.’  Unfamiliar with the term, I did some research and found that the term was first used by Dr. Haim Ginott (someone I am familiar with!) in 1969. His book Parents & Teenagers found that teens experienced their parents hovering over them like a helicopter. The term became popular enough to become a dictionary entry in 2011.

In an interview with Parents Magazine, Carolyn Daitch, PhD., author of Anxiety Disorders: The Go-To Guide defines helicopter parenting as “a style of parents over focused on their children. They typically take too much responsibility for their children’s experiences and specifically their successes and failures. Ann Dunnewold, Ph.D. calls it “overparenting.” She suggests “it means being involved in a child’s life in a way that is over controlling, overprotecting, and overperfecting, in a way that is in excess of responsible parenting.”

So, why are parents hovering? Here are 4 common triggers.

Fear of dire consequences: A low grade, not making the team, not getting accepted for a job can appear disastrous to a parent, especially if it seems it could be avoided with parental involvement. Many of the consequences the parents are trying to protect their children from —unhappiness, struggle, no guaranteed results are great teachers for kids and can improve their ability to bounce back from disappointments.

Feelings of anxiety: Parents worry about their children’s future and in an effort to protect their children, parents take more control.

Overcompensation: Adults who felt unloved, neglected, or ignored as children can overcompensate with their own children.

Peer Pressure from other parents: When parents observe other parents acting as helicopter parents they might feel that if they are not as immersed in their children’s lives and therefore they are bad parents. Guilt is a large factor in this dynamic.

Many helicopter parents start off with good intentions. Dr. Gilboa suggests that “It is a tricky line to find to be engaged with our children and their lives, but not so enmeshed that we lose perspective on what they need.

In my next blog I’ll be sharing the consequences of helicopter parenting on your children and the controversy among professional described in the Atlantic Monthly and Bloomberg View. You can draw your own conclusion.

An Exhaustive Battle Over Adrenal Fatigue

I borrowed this title from a Chicago Tribune article written written by Julie Deardorff in August of 2010. As I began researching Adrenal Fatigue I had no idea the topic is so controversial. You can guess the war is between tradition medicine and alternative practices. While Adrenal Fatigue seems to be increasingly common, there remains an unwillingness among medical doctors to diagnose it. Those who believe they are experiencing adrenal fatigue or exhaustion are fighting an uphill battle for legitimacy  even as the term gains traction in alternative health circles and among Americans seeking a solution for chronic and unexplained fatigue, depression and malaise. Common symptoms also include difficulty falling asleep, inability to wake up in the morning, cravings for salt and sugar, anxiety and overall exhaustion.

The disorder is not recognized by most conventional medical specialists, major medical associations and even integrative medicine pioneers such as Dr. Andrew Weill, who reject the idea that excessive stress weakens the adrenals and causes health issues. However, according to those who believe in the adrenal fatigue theory, our life is so relentlessly stressful that our adrenals get overworked and peter out. James Wilson, a naturopath and chiropractor based in Arizona, coined the term adrenal fatigue in 1998 and has written what some call a definitive guide for patients. Many espouse lifestyle changes, dietary changes, exercise programs and supplements as the answers to improving the way you feel.

So, is adrenal fatigue real? “Yes and no, says Dr. Brent Bauer, Director of the complimentary and integrative medicine program at the Mayo Clinic.”  I think it depends on who you talk to. Adrenal fatigue symptoms are very real for the people experiencing them. But it is a real medical condition? Medical research has found no definitive way to test for adrenal fatigue. The doctor’s bible of diagnostic codes, the ICD 10 does not recognize it as a medical diagnosis and the insurance companies will not pay.adrenal-fatigue

However, “any doctor worth his/her salt understands that the term “adrenal fatigue” means mild adrenal insufficiency, The Hormone Foundation statement readily admits that adrenal insufficiency IS a real diagnosis. To me, they seem to be denying the possibility that some people may have a mild form of a real diagnosis. That’s short-sighted and excessively arbitrary” Richard Shames, MD

Resources: Hormone Health Resources

STRESS: A Weapon of Mass Destruction

dear-stress-lets-break-upI am a stress junkie, addicted to natural substances my body produces. Adrenaline and Cortisol are my substances of choice.  Living in a flight or fight modes takes its toll. I learned this way of being at my mother’s knee. She is unpredictable, erratic and volatile, and I became a stress junkie!

Most often when I begin a conversation with a client, the first thing my client says is: “I’m so stressed out!” or “I’m so over loaded!” It is almost a universal way of living for most of my clients. Believe me, stress takes its toll! Ever wonder what our body is doing to create the sensations we label stress?

Adrenaline is commonly known as the fight or flight hormone. It is produced by the adrenal glands in response to a message from the brain that a stressful situation has presented itself. It is responsible for immediate reactions and provides a surge of energy and focuses your attention to help you get out of a potentially dangerous situation.

Cortisol, also produced by the adrenal glands, is known as the stress hormone. It takes a bit more time to feel the effects of cortisol, minutes not seconds, in the face of stress. When you stew on a problem, your body is constantly producing elevated levels of cortisol and chronic elevated levels of cortisol can lead to serious issues. Too much cortisol can suppress the immune system, increase blood pressure, decrease libido and disturb sleep patterns resulting in chronic fatigue. These are just a few examples.  Unfortunately, our bodies require our cortisol levels to return to normal following a stressful event to replenish, but in our current high stress culture, the stress response is activated so often that the body doesn’t have time to complete that cycle.

All this is happening inside your body without your awareness while the sensation you identify is STRESS. If you continue to beat up your adrenal glands you maybe headed for a condition known as Adrenal Fatigue. I will be writing more about that in my next blog as well as de-stressing strategies.

Focus on beauty not on fear, dance with stress.

Debahish Mridha

Why Are So Many Baby Boomers Depressed?

While browsing through one of my favorite website, psych, I came across an article on baby boomers and depression. According to Dr. Donald A. Malone of the Cleveland Clinic, baby boomers have a higher prevalence rate than the generation before them. We are the generation that has continually attempted to have it all and now we are adding the diagnosis of depression to our list of gains. At 66 I feel better about my life than ever before, so I wondered why?

While baby boomers continue to gain material rewards and success, their achievements are often the result of a stressful lifestyle. It’s this stressful lifestyle that many experts link to their depression. And while endless fatigue may seem like a fact of life to the boomers, experts warn this too can lead to depression and other physical problems.

Often your family doctor is your first line of defense for a quick fix. Antidepressants  are commonly prescribed, but sometimes even though many different types of antidepressants are tried, they don’t lift your mood. We are all familiar with the lifestyle changes that could help, like exercise, acupuncture, massage, but few of us will find the time or discipline to integrate them into our day to day lives. And often we forget to look at the psychological root of the problem that could be effectively treated through psychotherapy. However, with everyone in such a hurry, the last thing most want to hear is that they should get in their car, drive across town, and to for therapy once a week.  Sounds like a glum situation!! But each of us has to remember that we got ourselves into this situation and we can find our way out. Small lifestyle changes, maybe antidepressants and therapy can help you find the personal root of your depression. While there are no quick fixes you have options that can make your life better.