Archive for September, 2012

By: Brian M Murray, MS, IMH

Phil 4:6: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Learning to let go of things that cause anxiety is not always an easy task. God calls us forward to present those things to Him through prayer and petition as found in the Philippians scripture. Learning how to manage anxiety is nothing new and there are many references regarding it throughout the Bible. Anxiety is a natural feeling and serves a purpose to protect ourselves from the threat of harm and danger. This is often exhibited commonly as fight or flight. However, if the threat is not real and only a perception of harm and danger it can lead to unwarranted feelings of distress.

Anxiety often is the result of worry and fear about a situation that creates feelings of uneasiness often found in the pit of the stomach. It’s the relentless worrying about something that is not within our control. Very often in our everyday lives we hear the phrase “get over it” or “just let it go.” This actually can be very helpful if the feelings are truly released versus stuffing them down inside. Jesus addressed this very issue in Matthew 6:27 saying “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” This teaching demonstrates how Jesus was around other people who were experiencing anxious thoughts and feelings. Anxious thoughts can be described by ruminating or entertaining thoughts. In other words, or by the example Christ gives us, let go of worrying or thinking about those things that we have no control over because there is nothing we can do about it anyway. Worrying and feeling anxious is not only unhealthy, it can waste time and become a distraction away from more important activities in our lives. It can also rob us of a good night’s sleep with the mind racing. Stomach issues can lead to poor eating habits depleting the body of fuel it needs to stay energized. If anxiety goes unchecked for too long, it can lead to other health problems such as panic attacks, ulcers or addictions as a coping mechanism.

I once heard a story about a man who decided after 12 years of marriage that he wanted to leave his wife. She begged him to stay and as a matter of fact she had been begging him to stay for the next 20 years of their marriage. She had severe anxiety about him leaving. She had a great deal of fear of the unknown and abandonment and what life would look like without this man. The idea of being alone was beginning to deteriorate her health. She no longer liked herself in the mirror, her face drawn and unhappy. Her husband finally divorced her after 32 years of marriage and she was able to let go of all the anxiety that been built up inside of her. Some time went by and she found herself somehow feeling much better and joy was beginning to return to her life. The crux of this story is what can happen to anyone. A spouse makes up their mind they are going to leave, regardless of what the other person says, does or feels. In this case, there was nothing wife could do about it. The husband made his decision. Much to the amazement of the wife, she began to feel the opposite of what she had been afraid of all those years that somehow things would get worse. At this point she was able to let go.

The point of the story is about letting go of the fear and the worry that is often the culprit of anxiety. When other people in our lives decide to make decisions for themselves and do not include others there is not much we can do about it. If this is the case, how can you begin to let it go? How can worrying or ruminating on the thoughts of other people’s behavior add a single day or hour to your life? Christ summarizes this in one piece of scripture saying in Matthew 6:34 “therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

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By: Brian M Murray, MS, IMH

Understanding what a person is feeling can sometimes be a little confusing. There are times when maladaptive understanding of emotions leads to a response that questions people of what they are truly feeling. If the feelings are misunderstood then often an inappropriate reaction leads to further stress and confusion. An example of two often confused emotions is anxiety and anger. Both are considered negative emotions that share common characteristics.

Both anger and anxiety promote an adrenaline response in the body. Adrenaline is like rocket fuel to the body getting ready for action. Often a person can tell they are getting tense, adrenaline is flowing, and there may be some queasiness in the stomach, shaky hands, heart rate increases along with increased breathing oxygenating the muscles. So if anxiety and anger are producing both of these emotions are creating a somatic response in the body, then how do you know which one it is?

One of the main differences is what the feeling is going to be used for. Anxiety is often associated with the urge to escape and avoid. The basis for anxiety is fear, while anger is used to fight or attack in response to a perceived threat. It is possible to have them simultaneously and both of them often coexist in a conflict situation. Usually anxiety shows up first and then anger follows. If the situation can be resolved by merely walking away the anxiety usually subsides after a few minutes and the body has a chance to burn off the excess adrenaline.

There are other forms of anxiety that are long term and may require clinical help beyond just being able to walk away. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD which is commonly associated with military combat veterans, is a form of anxiety. PTSD is the result of constantly perceiving a threat based on a traumatic past experience. Here we see the same common threads which are fear and the feelings of fight or flight at the thought of having to relive that experience.

Another common form of long term anxiety is Generalized Anxiety Disorder or GAD.  Most likely if you are a person who is fearful of losing their job, a loved one or facing some other major adjustment in your life then GAD is often the culprit. Some of the feelings associated with GAD is feeling keyed up or on edge all of the time, becoming easily fatigued, difficulty concentrating, irritability and muscle tension. There are relaxation techniques, breathing exercises and imagery mindfulness techniques that can help relax and are often highly effective for reducing GAD.

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By: Brian M Murray, MS, IMH

A little tiff breaks out between two friends and suddenly one of them has enough and blurts out a common saying “whatever” and stops talking. While this seems meaningless and benign in nature sarcasm unseen intention is often a defensive move. Anger is a natural and common emotion and what we do with it makes a big difference. The use of sarcasm with phrases such as “whatever” or “just saying” is a withdrawal defense mechanism intended to defend and protect true feelings. It is a pulling back by being passive and becoming emotionally uninvolved.

What happens over time is the person using these types of phrases keeps stuffing their feelings down inside. If someone stuffs their feelings unconsciously the defense mechanism is known as repression. Over time the continual stuffing of these feelings begins to build up leading to self destruction. It is at this point the anger, being stealthy, morphs into another defense mechanism known as displacement. Displacement is directing the stuffed feelings onto someone or something that is not as threatening. For example, someone gets angry, says “whatever” (withdrawal) and then walks away and punches a hole in the wall (displacement). There are many different types of defense mechanisms and these are a few for demonstrative purposes.

Defense mechanisms are emotional coping responses to stress and anxiety in an unpleasant situation. The intended purpose is to reduce feelings of apprehension. When anger is expressed appropriately it can signal to others that you are upset leading to resolve. This is about being assertive as opposed to being reactive, aggressive and destructive. One important factor to remember in dealing with anger is it belongs to the person who has it. Take ownership of it and manage it. Projection onto others is another defense mechanism in an attempt to avoid dealing with the feelings associated with being angry.

Some questions to ask while trying to manage anger are; what am I reacting to? What is pressing my buttons? Is my reaction appropriate to the event I am faced with? Reaction formation, another defense mechanism, is about accepting beliefs that are exaggerated beyond the degree of the stressor. There are many more defense mechanisms that can be associated with anger. Anger will and often does change from one defense mechanism to another. Anger can and is often stealthy and shape-shifts until is it is appropriately released.

While there are many ways to deal with anger, here are a few steps that can help get started; recognize anger by taking note of the situation that triggered it; express yourself in conversations using “I” statements in a respectful manger toward others; exercise or take a walk and cool off; find a friend or other person to talk it out and finally start journaling thoughts and feelings. Talking, walking and writing can be healthy and effective ways to express yourself and release anger.

Consider how much more you often suffer from your anger and grief, than from those very things for which you are angry and grieved.  ~Marcus Antonius

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By: Brian M Murray, MS, IMH

Okay men, how many times have you been accused of being angry? How many times has a person you respect such as your wife or good friend become hurt after an impulsive outburst only to feel guilty later for the outburst and come back apologizing? While anger is a natural emotion, how we handle it makes a big difference. This isn’t about long term anger problems; this is about sudden onset and short term anger that has come on in the past few months or so. I’ll address the long term stuff toward the end.

Men when expressing their emotions often show them in a different ways than women. Anger in men can often be characterized as silent and distant until provoked followed by an outburst. Men when growing up often culturally learn their way in the world is to be tough and to “buck up.” Unfortunately what often happens is as an adult nothing much has changed. Men continue to “buck up” and feelings get stuffed down and suppressed without being expressed. This happens until pushed to the tipping point and then the angry outburst occurs.

While there can be multitudes of reasons that can lead to anger, there are a few that occur more commonly than others. Here are a few of the most common issues leading to anger.

  • Stress and anxiety; sometimes stress can cause a person to feel anxious about issues that are going on both at home and in work environments.
  • Lack of respect from spouse, family and coworkers. Examples of disrespect include speech tones that are condescending, rejecting and hurtful such as name calling or using undertones that dismiss masculinity.
  • Depression. Depression in men is often manifested as anger. The reason for this is often the stuffed feelings of anger. Depression many times is anger turned inward and when the pressure cooker can’t take it anymore the lid pops. Depressed anger can also lead to self destruction methods such as alcohol and substance abuse or dependence which only further aggravate the situation.

Long term anger problems often are the result of learned behavior or possible other underlying conditions that may be contributing to the problem. As previously mentioned, depression in men is often manifested as anger. Dysthymia which is long term mild grade depression can go undiagnosed for months or even years before the affected person seeks help. Hormones and changes in the body known as menopause in women occur also men with one of the main culprits being lower testosterone. In men it can lead to significant changes in their mood and can decrease sexual libido. Lower sexual desire can lead to feelings of being inept causing frustration.

While this is not a comprehensive list of issues leading to anger they are very commonly found with men. If you are a man and feel that a source of anger may be related to some of these issues a physical from your medical doctor can be a good place to begin. Psychotherapy is also beneficial to discuss some of the problems associated with anger and how it affects your life.

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Brian M Murray, IMH

“I wanted to write about the moment when your addictions no longer hide the truth from you. When your whole life breaks down. That’s the moment when you have to somehow choose what your life is going to be about.” – Chuck Palahniuk

Do you know someone who struggles with addiction? Sometimes watching a friend or a loved one struggle in life can be difficult. The first inclination is to help the person only to be met with guarded behavior, anger and defensiveness. Questions often begin to arise after seeing a pattern of behavior developing in someone we care about wondering if there is something deeper going on. Understanding the nature of addiction and looking for some subtle red flags or signs can help what to watch out for if you believe that someone you know is struggling with an addiction.

Addiction is often misunderstood and perceived as a bad disease that is “fixable” if the addicted person would exercise some personal willpower to stop. Sounds easy in theory, however if the addiction is too powerful telling a person to just stop is akin to telling someone to stop breathing. Quitting becomes unbearable and leads to relapse. Severe addiction requires intervention and management as physiological withdrawal occurs. Addictions often have attachments involved that require a person to surrender themselves and enter into a rehab environment.

Addiction can be complex to sort out and usually involves a long term pattern of negative thinking. A negative perception of the self leads the person to believe they are somehow fundamentally flawed or a bad person. The result of thinking and feeling this way is typically characterized by low self esteem. The addicted person often feels guilty and shameful for their behavior and they are not worthy of positive endeavors in life. This shame and guilt cycle is reinforced every time the addicted person uses. Over time, these thoughts weigh on the psyche and they become dependent on a substance to make them feel better. What is unseen is they are reinforcing the problem. It becomes a vicious cycle that perpetuates itself and so the user becomes chronically dependent worsening the addiction.

There are some red flags that can signal that a person is struggling with an addiction such as; a shortage of money when they seemingly have enough income to cover living expenses, isolation and avoidance of social situations, and suddenly seeming withdrawn from the family unit and spending more time in an isolated part of the home such as the garage. Sudden mood changes or anger becomes prevalent along with what appears to be depression. Some physical signs are sudden weight loss or gain, red dilated pupils or the smell of alcohol on their breath. While this list is far from complete, it signals that a person might be having a problem with an addiction. The first thing is they often try to hide it usually because they don’t want to give it up or they are ashamed of being discovered. The idea of helping someone recover with an addiction is to come alongside and help them get the help they need. Seeking help is nothing to be ashamed of and encouraging them in a supportive positive way can only help long term recovery.

Brian M Murray is a Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern with The Lifeworks Group located in Winter Park Florida.

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Freedom in a post 9-11 world.

            The automatic door swung open and the soldier walked into the shopping store only to observe what appears to be an accident. There was a lady on her knees and bending over crying and a crowd was beginning to gather around her to figure out what was wrong. Did she fall? Was she hurt? What is wrong? The soldier moved down the aisles looking back as he watched others come to her aid. Grabbing a few items he came for, he headed for the checkout and noticed the scene had not changed. The soldier taking into consideration his emergency training approached the crowd seeing if there was something he could do. He was a stranger in another country and knew there would be a language barrier should he offer assistance. “What is the matter?” asked the soldier. Someone turned around and said, “This is the first time she has ventured into the west since the Berlin Wall came down and the East opened up to the West. This is the first store she has visited. She sees all of the food and she is overcome with emotion. She will be okay, just some comforting.”

The soldier stood back, taken by the moment and realizing for the first time in his young life he witnessed the profound impact freedom has on a person. Here is a woman who is witnessing a grocery store full of produce, meats, dairy and everything in between. A woman who stood in line for hours just to get a loaf of bread for the past 40 years now sees a store full of everything she could possibly want and becomes overwhelmed with emotions. If there was ever a question of purpose in that young soldier’s life before that day it was surely answered in that moment.

That story always stuck with me, because I was the soldier who entered that store that day. I saw something unfold right before me I never fathomed even happening. I knew it was hard for those on the east side of the border. To witness the Berlin Wall come down and be stationed in Germany when the two sides reunified taught me the value of freedom. From that day on I never took it for granted again. I stopped by for bread, milk and little something for dinner. A luxury I took for granted and never thought twice about it and here was this woman who had the same intent and it dropped her to her knees.

On September 11th as we remember the tragedy and lives lost that day it serves as a constant reminder that there is something much more sinister at work in the world.  Freedom was attempted to be taken away by trying to shut a door in the face of the American people and the liberty for which it stands. Unfortunately for some on that fateful day it was taken away from them. I will always remember the lady who wept in the store, freedom observed through an open door. Perhaps you have a personal story where freedom was observed or one where freedom was attempted to be taken away. Perhaps you were someone at ground zero or joined the military in response to the threat to liberty of future generations. Any way we respond it is often the same. The threat to freedom is a threat to the very nature of being human. Many brave people responded to 9-11 to protect and sacrifice themselves for the very freedom that was threatened that day. I am very thankful I live in a place where I am free.

Brian M Murray is a Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern with the Lifeworks Group located in Winter Park Florida.

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“The heart has its reasons which reason knows not.”  – Blaise Pascal

Freedom! A famous scene and cry toward the end of the movie Braveheart when William Wallace is being stretched out and tortured for defiance of King Longshanks of England. Wallace would not adhere to the conditions or rules set upon him and Scotland. He would rather die than live a slave to a set of rules bathed in disgusting unethical practices and lies. Some men were willing to go along with the king taking bribes behind Wallace’s back based on fear of repercussions should Wallace fail in his revolution. Ultimately it worked for the king but not on the battlefield mano-a-mano. The king didn’t have anyone with enough heart and brawn on his side to take on a legion of angry Scotsmen. The king had to do it behind closed doors through trickery, politics and undermining Wallace’s support team. Does this sound familiar?

So how come Wallace was so determined and was willing to die over giving into the demands of the king? Yes, Wallace was avenging the unfounded death of his wife at the hands of the king’s men, but that was the tipping point for Wallace and not just the case in point. Wallace as a boy witnessed the king’s men kill his father and other villagers relentlessly time and time again. Wallace had a wise uncle who adopted and told a young Wallace that before he can use his heart and emotions to avenge injustice he must first learn to use his mind.

While all of this makes for a great storyline in a movie, there are real life applications that apply. The wounds acquired during life can, and often do, re-emerge in other areas. Trauma and its companion anxiety are often triggered by current events. Suppressed anger can and often leads to feelings of depression. Wallace very easily could have stuffed his feelings down inside himself and became a very bitter defeated man.

Much of what is seen with Wallace can apply to everyday life. Following rules that other people want us to follow can be a frustrating experience, especially if they are bathed in deception. Anxiety and stress can result in trying to follow what is perceived as a “should do” or “must do” rule inflicted by others and the fear of the consequences for being non-compliant. This set of rules is often the result of a belief system of the way things “should” be and expects others to fall in line.

Freedom of the heart is about taking an objective look at what others are saying or doing and then deciding whether or not to accept it. Paul in 2 Corinthians 10:5 talks about holding thoughts captive and obedient to Christ. Freedom involves not allowing others to have power over, or validation of, who we are as a person.

“Your heart is free. Have the courage to follow it.” Malcolm Wallace to young William.

Galatians 5:1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Brian M Murray is a Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern with The Lifeworks Group located in Winter Park Florida.

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