Sunday, December 28, 2008

"Home" for Christmas

My dearest mother, Helen Lela Valantine Stay, got to go "home" for Christmas this last Tuesday, December 23, 2008. I'm sure the reunion with my father was grand, even better than when he came home from being a bomber pilot in the Pacific for three years during World War II. Also greeting her were her grandchildren who had already passed on, so excited to see Grandma again. And her parents, and all the friends she had served over the years.

Mom was born in Los Angeles at the beginning of the depression. They lived on the hillsides of Los Angeles in a tent until Grandpa could build a small house. Often they would have bread and milk, with maybe a little fruit in it, for dinner. She wore clothes my grandmother made out of scraps of material. But she was generally happy, beautiful with her blond curls, and quite a tease to her older sister and younger brothers.

Mom's life was one of sacrifice. She sacrificed her husband during the war for three years, bearing and raising a daughter on her own. She sacrificed a stable home by following her husband through multiple moves during his career in the Air Force. She sacrificed her incredibly beautiful body by bearing seven children. She sacrificed her money by giving and giving, to her family and her church. Their Air Force income was meager, yet we were given every opportunity to learn and grow through music lessons, art lessons, dance lessons, whatever we desired to do she would make sure that we had the opportunity. It seemed that everywhere we went, the fledgling branches and wards would be building chapels, and I know their sacrifices in that regard would be miraculous compared with their income and other expenses.

But most of all, Mom sacrificed her time. Even though she had seven children and I was in the middle of it all, I never felt left alone or neglected. She had an unwavering testimony of the Church and her Savior, and built up in each of us that testimony. She gave her time to the church, or, to be more accurate, to the members of the ward. I remember when, in our small branch in Virginia, when my father was very busy being Branch President, she was Primary President, primary chorister, Blazer teacher, Mia Maid teacher (mine) and Relief Society teacher all at the same time! She also worked during much of that time as a pre-school teacher, earning money to pay for my brother's mission. She also would spend hours listening to friends troubles and helping them out. And be our mother and give us chores and correct us and make us clean our rooms. She gave three years of her life to be a mission president's wife. I didn't realize the extent of the faith that required until I went on my own mission and worked with mission president's wives. What heroines they are!!!

Our vacations were memorable. We often travelled across country to California so Mom could go "home", and we would stay with her mother, Grandma Valantine. Besides visiting aunts and uncles and cousins, we would go to the beach and to the new theme parks, Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm (very different in those days, but still magical!). On the long trips she would read to us from the "Journey to the Land of Promise" series, instilling in us a knowledge of and love for the Book of Mormon stories. Better still, she would make up stories, magical stories, that we were in, of course, of grand adventures and lots of fun.

Our greatest vacations were while we lived in Spain. Unlike most couples who spent their vacation leaving kids with the maids and seeing Europe, my parents took seven children, one a newborn, and my grandmother in a station wagon pulling a rickety trailer carrying our saggy baggy elephant canvas tent, the trusty camp stove, and lots of canned food for a month through Europe. For two summers! What an adventure! How hard it must have been for her, and yet how much we gained from those trips! They changed my life. She also took us older children by herself on trips to Portugal and southern Spain. I could spend hours telling stories from those trips. It wasn't easy for her but she was willing to sacrifice for us to have those experiences. And notice the dresses. She always had us looking our best, even while camping!

She loved little children. She gave her life to children. I remember spending what seemed like hours in the car while Mom picked up every child for Primary or Sunday School whose parents wouldn't take them. She always taught in Primary, even when she held other positions. When she was a temple matron as my father served as counselor in the temple presidency in the Los Angeles temple, she would still spend hours translating lessons and songs into Spanish to teach Primary at the Spanish Branch in Huntington Beach. Even into her eighties, until she got too weak to go to church, she was teaching singing to the nursery children AND teach Relief Society.

And she loved me. One small example: when we lived in Spain she had given me the opportunity to take flamenco dancing lessons. A talent show was coming up for our school (I was in sixth grade), and I was asked to dance. The problem--I didn't have a flamenco dress. Mom took me shopping for the entire day before the program, going from place to place, but as much as she was willing to sacrifice, she just didn't have the money that they cost. I came home and cried myself to sleep because I wouldn't have a dress to dance in. When I woke the next morning, there was a beautiful flamenco dress hanging on my door. My mother had spent the entire night making it out of material she had been saving for drapes. I looked so beautiful! And it was voted as the most beautiful costume.

And she loved her grandchildren. She has fifty of them. And loves them all. When she was younger and more able to give her time and energy, each grandchild thought they were the most special to her. She would play with them, read to them, make up stories about them, and always welcome them to her home, no matter how busy she was. Even when she was getting her degree and going on to get a master's degree in library science, she always had time for her grandchildren. This is her with my oldest son, Jason.

Was she perfect? Of course not. Though she was great with little children, she didn't know how to relate to teenagers. She and I had a rocky relationship during that time. She had a habit of pointing out everything that was wrong about us, from messy hair to not standing up straight to a little extra weight, or anything else she happened to see. But she knew that she was too critical, and I remember her prayers in the last few years always asking to be able to let go of criticism and judgment. And because of her incredible faith in our Savior, I know that she is forgiven and greeted Him during her "Homecoming" spotless and white.

Thank you, Mom, for being my greatest example, for always loving me, for teaching me about my Savior and the great Plan of Happiness, for loving my children and all children, for always giving and giving. You are a blessing to the world. Have fun at Home!!!

Until we meet again,
Dr. Judi

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The ANTS Go Marching...

I just came back from San Diego caring for another new grandchild! Looking at his picture just fills me with good thoughts and feelings. I know that filling my brain with good thoughts and feelings is good for it, and keeps the brain pathways "bright" and happy, releasing good chemicals that have a healing effect on my body. So I look at his picture often.

The overall state of our mind is based largely on the types of thoughts we think and the frequency with which we dwell on those thoughts. This is how the brain processes a thought:

  • A thought arises
  • The brain releases chemicals depending on the nature of the thought
  • An electrical transmission goes across your brain creating "feelings"
  • You become aware of what you are thinking.

All of this happens in a split second. Notice that the thought arises and feelings are created even before you are aware of the thought. Remember that in a previous blog I talked about how it takes 90 seconds for that thought and feeling to work itself through the body and be released. It takes a split second to think and feel, and 90 seconds to release, unless we hook into that thought and feeling, which would cause it to last much longer.

Negative thoughts activate the deep limbic system and the center base of the brain. People who suffer from depression have an overactive deep limbic system, shown by SPECT scans. When the deep limbic system is overactive, it sets the mind's filter on "negative." The lens through which self is seen is dark and grey. Everything appears negative, and the feelings and thoughts are pessimistic. Dr. Daniel Amen, in "Change Your Brain, Change Your Life", calls them automatic negative thoughts, or ANTs. ANTs are cynical, gloomy, complaining thoughts that just seem to keep marching on, like ants who have discovered leftover food on the picnic table, starting as a trickle, then overwhelming numbers come and take over.

Examples of ANTs:

You never listen to me. After a compliment: This cheap thing? It's as old as the hills. They don't like me. This will never work. A good month in our business doesn't mean anything. You don't care about me. I should have done better. I should exercise more. You're late because you don't care. It's your fault.

ANTs can cause people to be depressed and fatalistic. Because they see the world through dark glasses, all of their experiences prove that life is traumatic, people don't care, they are worthless, etc. The thoughts create the feelings and experiences that we have. If we think on our way home from work that we are worthless and no one wants us home, then even if it isn't true, our mindset will pick up the least little problem and dwell on it, and we will be miserable.

The good news is, we can change our thoughts. When the negative pathways are deep and well-developed, it takes a lot of time, patience, and work, but it can be done. Dr. Amen gives step-by-step "thinking" principles to help heal the deep limbic system.

Step 1--Realize that your thoughts are real and create chemicals that affect your body.

Step 2--Notice how these negative thoughts affect your body. Every time you have an angry, unkind, sad or cranky thought, your brain releases chemicals that make your body feel bad, and activate your deep limbic system that creates more negative thoughts. When most people are angry, their muscles become tense, their hearts beat faster, their hands start to sweat, and they may even feel dizzy. Sometimes the muscle tension is severe enough to cause pain, and chronic pain syndromes can result. Your body reacts to every negative thought you have.

Step 3--Notice how positive thoughts affect your body. Every time you have a good, happy, hopeful, kind or loving thought your brain releases chemicals that make your body feel good, cool the deep limbic system, and have a healing effect. When most people are happy, their muscles relax, their hearts beat more slowly, their hands become dry, and they breathe more slowly.

Step 4--Notice how your body reacts to every thought you have. Whether the thought is about work, family, friends or self, the deep limbic system is responsible for translating our emotional state into physical feelings of relaxation or tension.

Step 5--Think of bad thoughts as pollution. Negative thoughts are very powerful, and have profound effects on the body. Just as severe pollution effects everyone in the area, negative thoughts pollute your deep limbic system, your mind, and your body.

Step 6--Understand that your automatic thoughts don't always tell the truth. We seem to have a natural tendency to believe that what we think is true. But our thoughts usually do not tell the whole truth. They are filtered by our experiences and the pathways developed in our brain. When I was young I thought I was somewhat stupid because I couldn't complete my work as fast as everyone else in the class. I was always the last one finished, and that experience colored my thoughts. It was quite a surprise not only to myself but to my parents when an IQ test given at the school showed me to be highly intelligent! Still, it took time for me to change my thoughts about myself.

Step 7--Talk back to ANTs. You can train your thoughts to be positive and hopeful, or you can allow them to be negative and upset you. You may not be able to control negative thoughts from coming, especially if you have an overactive deep limbic system, but you CAN choose whether to hold onto them and keep thinking them or not. One way to learn how to change your thoughts is to notice them and talk back to them. When you just think a negative thought without challenging it, your mind believes it and your body reacts to it. When you correct negative thoughts, you take away their power over you. Remember the 90 second rule.

Step 8--Exterminate the ANTs by writing them down. One negative thought, like one ant at a picnic, is not a big problem. Two or three negative thoughts become more irritating. When the thoughts start flooding, like the whole colony of ants discovering the picnic, you may have a desire to just pack up and leave, to escape. Whenever you notice these ANTs, you need to crush them. One way is to write down the ANTs as you notice them and talk back to them. If you have a thought, "My daughter never listens to me", write it down. Then write a rational response, such as "My daughter isn't listening to me now, but she is distracted. She often listens to me." This takes away the power of the ANTs and helps cool the deep limbic system. It breaks the programming and brainwashing that the ANTs have created over the years. Sometimes it seems hard to talk back to the thoughts because they feel true. Remember, thoughts often lie to you! It's important to truly check them out before you just believe them.

During our next visit, we will talk about Dr. Amen's list of ways that our thoughts lie to us. Or you can pick up his book if you don't want to wait!

I always appreciate your comments and questions. They really add to this blog.

Until we meet again,

Dr. Judi

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Anxiety and Icebergs

We are all aware, after being inundated for several years with the story and movie of the Titanic, of the dangers of icebergs. What is seen above the surface of the ocean is not what is dangerous. It is what cannot be seen that causes fear in sailors traversing the colder oceans.

Anxiety is often hard to understand, because what we see above the surface just doesn't make sense. The fears are unreasonable and come at random times. But anxiety is like an iceberg. The fears are based not on what can be seen and understood, but on what is under the surface.

Hi Dr. Judi, I have had a stressful few months and in that time I've had 3 anxiety attacks. I went to my PCP and he wants to put me on Paxil, but after reading all the negative information on the internet I don't want to do that. I have had only one prescription of xanax for the past 8 years and I've used it as needed. What should I do? Also, is anxiety associated with menopause? Thank you

Anxiety is very difficult to work with, but that doesn't mean impossible. Sadly, for the most part, it is treated mostly with medication. Medication may work for a while, but in many cases, over time, the anxiety cannot be completely suppressed by the medication and can possibly become very disabling.

General Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
GAD is characterized by excessive, exaggerated anxiety and worry about everyday life events. People with GAD tend to always expect disaster and can't stop worrying about health, money, family, work or school. In people with GAD, the worry often is unrealistic or out of proportion for the situation. Daily life becomes a constant state of worry, fear and dread. Eventually, the anxiety so dominates the person's thinking that it interferes with daily functioning, including work, school, social activities and relationships.

GAD affects the way a person thinks, but the anxiety can lead to physical symptoms, as well.

Symptoms of GAD may include:
· Excessive, ongoing worry and tension
· An unrealistic view of problems
· Restlessness or a feeling of being "edgy"
· Irritability
· Muscle tension
· Headaches
· Sweating
· Difficulty concentrating
· Nausea
· The need to go to the bathroom frequently
· Tiredness
· Trouble falling or staying asleep
· Trembling, especially the hands, and twitches, especially of the eyes
· Being easily startled
· Rapid or heavy heart beat and/or chest pain
· Stomach and/or abdominal pain
· Diarrhea

In addition, people with GAD often have other anxiety disorders (such as panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and phobias), suffer from depression, and/or abuse drugs or alcohol, or have other addictions.

Panic disorder is a subset of GAD. It is when the nervous system is flashing danger signals at inappropriate times. Without any provocation, they feel the same emotional and physical sensations they would if their lives were in jeopardy. The attacks seem to come out of thin air, in places where there is nothing to fear. Panic disorder typically begins in the late teen years or early-to-mid twenties, but it is now known to exist in children as well. It involves a discrete period of intense fear or discomfort, in which four (or more) of the following symptoms develop abruptly and reach a peak within 10 minutes:
· palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
· sweating
· trembling or shaking
· sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
· feeling of choking
· chest pain or discomfort
· nausea or abdominal distress
· feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint
· derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
· fear of losing control or going crazy
· fear of dying
· paresthesias (numbness or tingling sensations)
· chills or hot flushes

The anxiety and fear related to the possibility of having another attack can become debilitating and interfere with normal life.

Now, back to the iceberg. Let's compare the brain to an iceberg. The visible part is the conscious mind, and the invisible part is the subconscious mind, that we don't "see," or have conscious awareness of. The conscious mind is the place that deliberate thoughts and actions come from. The thoughts that we can't control tend to come from the subconscious mind.
When we are born and when we are very young we do not have a well-developed conscious mind. Our subconscious mind is like an open bowl, accepting everything that comes into it as truth: every thought, experience, teaching and belief that is poured into it is accepted as truth. Also, when there are traumatic events, such as abuse, illness, accidents, etc., often a piece of the subconscious mind holds onto that traumatic event as if it is the deciding force of our life.
As we grow and begin to develop our conscious mind, we can overcome some of the illogical beliefs of our childhood. We can see that just because a bully beat me up several times, that the world isn't necessarily full of bullies. We may even forget about the bullies, because they don't bother us anymore. But our subconscious mind still functions from its own truth that a bully could beat me up any time. This is where anxiety comes from. I will often refer to it as the child within, that is stuck in the belief system or trauma it experienced.
Suppose the bully was blond with full lips. There may be someone in our life that is blond with full lips. We may not even think about associating this person with the bully, but the "child" within, or the subconscious mind, will, and may trigger anxiety or a panic attack. Or when life is uncertain, when we don't know what is next for us, the "child" within may be triggered because he was daily terrified and uncertain what was going to happen on his way home from school. Or someone may use the same words the bully did, or have the same look or mannerism, and the anxiety is triggered.
Because our subconscious mind was mostly formed when we were young, our reactions to the unknown triggers are often childish. We get upset at ourselves because we "know better." Why would we be anxious about this? Or angry at that? Like a child, the anxious person often seems very selfish. Their mind loops over and over about their anxieties, and they don't have the capacity to be outward focused. Their fears may rule their minds, and they are unable to deal with the concerns of others. The anxiety is magnified because they see often see how selfish they are being, how they are constantly focusing on themselves, how they are so needy, how they are often difficult to live with, and yet they seem unable to change it.
Traditional treatment is generally a combination of medication and cognitive behavioral therapy. This may be adequate for some people, though not for all. Other therapies, less traditional, may be a combination of multiple therapies. Anxiety caused by post-traumatice stress disorder can often be helped with rapid eye movement therapy (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR). Phobias are often improved with Emotional Freedom Technique, which involves tapping certain acupuncture points while the person is focusing on their fears.
I use a therapy created by Detriech Klinghardt, M.D., called Applied Psychoneurobiology, to access the subconscious mind and discover where the fears are coming from. We also check for hypoglycemia, which can increase anxiety. We also often use neurofeedback to reduce excessive Beta waves, which are associated with anxiety.
We can't always avoid the icebergs, but when we are aware of what is underneath, we can begin to deal with them. Severe, long-term anxiety may take a year or more to work through, because the brain has established pathways over the years that take a lot of effort to break up and change, so it is important to be very patient with yourself or your loved one as treatment is progressing.
Is anxiety associated with menopause? I'll answer that one soon.
Until we meet again,
Dr. Judi