Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Written Word & Stress

This last month I have been noticing how many teens come into my office who are not proficient at the written language. Many of them are great with typing and texting, but not actually writing. I had one 6th grader who did not have a signature because he didn't write in cursive. Unfortunately, with greater technology we are also losing some fantastic coping skills that help us the rest of our lives with dealing with stress.

I often give an analogy to my clients that I call the Emotional Barrel Analogy. If you can imagine with me a large barrel much like an old time rain barrel. On the inside at the bottom of the barrel you can find all of the logical, healthy choices you must make through life. They're written down there very clearly to see. Imagine on the outside at the bottom of the barrel are lots of various sized spigots, faucets, or valves (whatever you like to call them). Imagine that emotion and stress of ANY type (positive or negative) is all thrown into this Emotional Barrel. Some emotion is rather positive and clear while much of it is dirty and negative. When mixed together it becomes a pool of filthy water. As the barrel begins to fill it becomes increasingly more difficult to see the answers at the bottom of the barrel. Eventually we cannot see through the muck and mire to see these answers. It is at this point that we often begin making decisions based solely out of emotion rather than out of logic and taking into consideration emotion. If the barrel is allowed to fill to the brim and overflow then we experience issues such as panic attacks, anxiety issues, depression, rage, anger, etc.

Many people spin their wheels trying to change emotion. We cannot change an emotion just like we cannot change oil into water. Each emotion is unique and cannot be altered. It CAN be drained and replaced however. We must focus our attention on keeping our barrel drained in order to make healthy decisions for our lives.

So how do we drain emotion? Simple, the phrase is "coping skills". These are methods that we use to drain excess emotion. Some examples include, but are definitely not limited to, exercise, listening to music, talking with friends and family, crying, yelling, hitting, smoking, medication, alcohol, etc. You can see that some coping skills are good (meaning they have positive consequences) while others are bad (meaning they have unhealthy consequences). We need to do our best to learn and utilize good coping skills that have positive consequences. We don't want to drain emotion using a coping skill and then have the barrel fill back up due to the negative consequences of that same coping skill.

One of my all time favorite coping skills is journaling. Journaling has been used for centuries for many reasons. Journaling is simply another form of venting without many negative consequences. You see, venting to friends and family is wonderful, but because they care so much for you they tend to adopt our feelings and although we feel better after venting they often feel worse. This is especially true if the issue is a long term issue. Journaling on paper doesn't have that type of consequence. If you are afraid someone may read your journal then just tear that page away. The writing is the important part, it's not necessary for you to keep it.

The best form of journaling is using pen / pencil and paper. Although there are many electronic journals available which are good, they don't have the same impact as writing things out. Utilizing pen and paper also makes the mind slow down in order to write logical sentences. Our brains can be trained just like the rest of our body and we must learn to control it and make it slow down.

Some schools are now going green. Meaning they are doing away with as much paper usage as possible. Tests are online, homework is online, everything is online. Although this is great for the environment it creates a group of kids that are NOT being taught a VERY important coping skill that can be used their entire life. I do recognize the importance of helping our environment, but I find it to be much more important to help our next generation learn how to handle life.

Since schools are becoming more technologically advanced we must make sure to teach our children how to write. Encourage your kids to practice their handwriting skills by keeping journals. If you are also feeling stressed this is a great time to begin journaling also. If it is a family ordeal you may consider having a time where the entire family sits down together to journal. You don't have to read what others wrote but if they would like to share then be willing to listen. At least you're spending time with your family AND teaching everyone a valuable lesson in how to handle difficult, emotional times.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Finding Joy in your Job

In 2002, Sheryl Crow had a hit song entitled “Soak Up The Sun”. In the song she had a wonderful line that said, “It’s not having what you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got”. So can this really be possible? For many years this has been a conundrum for so many people. They end up “wanting” their lives away. They miss so many things they do have and focus instead on what they don’t have.

Recently, I was reading through Ecclesiastes and I was perplexed by a statement found in three different places. In Ecclesiastes 3:13 and 5:19, the Bible tells us that if any man finds satisfaction and enjoyment in his work it is a gift from God. It also says in Ecclesiastes 6:2 that there are times when God gives a person wealth and possessions but does not enable him to enjoy them. This made me begin thinking about the way we address our work, our finances, and our possessions. Do we truly have a healthy perspective on them or have we lost our focus along the way? Ecclesiastes tells us several wonderful truths about them. It puts them in proper perspective.

First, in all these verses it is evident that God controls the flow of money and possessions. He gives differently to different people. The reason why He does this is not shared. All we know is that God is firmly in control. So how does this apply to our lives today? It’s easy to say the lesson is to simply trust in God. That is definitely a lesson in and of itself, but there may be more specific truth here. Our wealth or financial status is not earned or gained from our own hands. God apportions as He sees fit. The Bible does talk about laziness and that we should toil or work and not give in to laziness. However, we have become a world where we live as if our job is going to be paying our next bill and is putting food on the table. The truth is that God Himself is taking care of our needs. Sometimes He chooses to use our job to give us money in order to pay our bills and sometimes He chooses other methods. However, all money, wealth, health, possessions, all are given by God. This applies to every part of our lives. I see many couples come in because their marriage is on the brink of disaster and one of the biggest comments I get is, “She/He just doesn’t make me happy any more” or some variation. In truth, we shouldn’t seek out others to make us happy. We shouldn’t throw our expectations of perfection on anyone, not even our spouse. Our expectations should be thrown on to God. Our needs for affection, intimacy, safety, love, compassion, everything should be sought in God alone. Again, often He uses others to express those to us, but they still come from Him.

Secondly, if we are to find happiness in our toil it makes sense that there are certain jobs that would “fit” us more than others. It is important to know that when you are working in a job that does not match you, it will be difficult to find happiness. You can find joy no matter what your circumstance because real joy comes from God, but finding happiness can be elusive. Happiness comes from yourself, it’s a choice made every day. So many clients and friends have bounced from job to job never finding a job they enjoy. Is it because they haven’t made that choice to be happy? Sometimes it is. However, there are times when the jobs they find are not good fits. Many people chase after monetary rewards or benefits when seeking out work. They take a job because it pays well, but then they find they are stuck in a miserable position and often not succeeding in that position. If we truly understand the first principle, that God distributes wealth as He sees fit and that He alone takes care of all your needs then it is much easier to swallow this second concept. Instead of finding a job with the best pay, we should be spending time getting to know ourselves and the talents, gifts, and passions that God has given each of us. Once we know them then we can begin the process of finding a position that utilizes them. This may take time, but in the end it is worth it. You have found a job that you enjoy and then learned how to depend on God to take care of your financial needs. This is true happiness.

Last, but not least, happiness in your job is a gift from God. God’s love for you is great. He even cares about what you do for a living. When you have accepted and begin to live by the above two truths then you will receive a wonderful gift from God. That gift is the happiness you will find in work and in life. Although the Bible tells us, we know from personal experience that many people never find happiness. It seems to escape them. We often look in to their situation and can see clearly why they aren’t happy, but how many times are we unhappy and yet we can’t figure out why. We fail to heed the wisdom of friends and family and we continue down a path, which is “chasing after wind”. We chase money, wealth, happiness, and possessions. Yet, we don’t have to chase things that are so empty. We can chase after God and He can provide us with everything else.

So how does this relate to our current life? What can we learn from a book written so many years ago? Solomon knew that our human nature is to chase. The question isn’t if we’re going to chase, but what we’re going to chase. Are we going to chase everything under the sun or are we going to chase the one who made the sun. The choice is clear and simple. What have you been chasing after? The Teacher says that if you are chasing after anything other than God then you are chasing after wind. You will spend your life flailing about hoping to catch it. You will never find meaning in anything else, it’s all meaningless. The only time we find true meaning is when we chase after God. Chase after Him with all your might and you will catch something. You will catch joy, love, peace, and happiness.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Hagar and Ishmael

This morning I was moved almost to tears by a story in the Bible found in Genesis. Most of us know that Abraham and Sarah had a child when he was 100 years old. Before he had Isaac though he had another son from one of Sarah's maidservants. The maidservants name was Hagar and the son she bore was named Ishmael. Hagar was put through a lot after she gave birth to Ishmael, but when Sarah gave birth to Isaac she told Abraham to get rid of Hagar and Ishmael. The story says they were given some water and sent into the desert. The Bible says that when the water skins ran dry Hagar set the child under a tree and walked off because she could not bear to see her son die. The Bible tells us that she cried and her son cried because they thought they were going to die.

I can imagine how that must have felt having two children of my own. Hagar loved her son so much that she couldn't watch him die. There was Hagar in the middle of the desert after dropping her son off under a tree to die where she collapsed and cried out of exhaustion, thirst, and utter despair. Her son was sitting under the tree alone, scared, thirsty and not understanding why his Mother left him also crying. God heard those cries and He gave Hagar a promise also. He also supplied a well for water and He made his promise come true. He said Ishmael would be made into a great nation.

This story reminds me of the story in the New Testament about Jesus and the woman at the well. God supplies us with a way to never be thirsty again as long as we ask. God hears our heart cries but He doesn't play genie. When our hearts cry out for help He is faithful and will help us. Oftentimes we have to be at the driest point of our situation before we turn to God for help. God doesn't require that this happens, He is ready and willing to help at any point. However, if our heart is not in the right place He will typically wait.

How many times in your life have you felt you were at your lowest point? Have you ever reached a point of depravity so deep that the only thing you could do was cry out to God? Or have you always found a way out of your situation only to find out you're back in another situation. God wants to change our character, not our habits. True character change will be reflected in real behavior change. The Bible says God spoke from heaven to Hagar. Even in our deepest pain God is always there. His love and mercy endures forever. He's waiting for our heart cry so let's cry out to Him and be changed.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Circle of Life

Many years ago the animated movie The Lion King made the song The Circle of Life by Elton John a huge hit. The movie was a great movie and made all of us think about the beauty of life and how death and life must co-exist here on Earth. I am reminded of another Circle of Life though, one that can be either positive or negative on each one of us.

Just yesterday I had a client share that they were molested by their step father when they were younger. They also went on to say that their step fathers excuse was that he only did it to show her how much he loved her. Her brother also took part in the molestations for a while. Years later the brother did seek forgiveness and recognized his wrong doing and my client was able to offer that forgiveness. The client was also able to forgive her step father and her mother for their roles in this as well. Although she is now an adult with a child and grand child of her own, she has held on to a very unhealthy Circle of Life that stems back to that point in time. Although intellectually she knew what her step father said made no sense, she believed it in her heart. She held on to the thought that the only way for a man to "love" her was for her to open up to them sexually. This idea was unintentionally passed down to her oldest daughter. The Circle of Life was one of an unhealthy and completely wrong idea of love. Unless the client finds a way to break that circle and in turn teach her daughter how to break that circle it will continue. In the same way negative ideas and lifestyles can be passed down from generation to generation, so can positive ideas and lifestyles.

If you are caught in a negative Circle of Life that has been passed down from generation to generation then it's time to break that circle and embrace a new future for you and your loved ones. You can only break the cycle by deliberately choosing a healthy and positive lifestyle that is reflected in your personality, attitude, and most importantly your behavior.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


Last night I was riding my motorcycle to lunch and I was thinking about lowering my cholesterol. Don't worry, it's not all that high, but my doctor wanted me to consider medication although I've been able to lower it 10 point through exercise and diet. I got to wondering how I could possibly cut out ALL cholesterol. Anyone who knows me already knows I eat healthy and work out very consistently. I was a bit frustrated thinking how I could possibly cut out cholesterol from my diet. Then it hit me. The word "balance" popped into my head. This isn't the first time. I preach balance to every client that walks in my office, but I've never had it pop up while I was thinking about diet. I realized that lowering cholesterol or losing weight or eating healthy isn't about completely cutting out something. It's about eating a balanced diet.

I began thinking about how our society rewards people for being out of balance. Everyone wants to be the "best" at one thing or another. I'm occasionally asked if I'm the best therapist for a particular situation, my wife is asked if she's the best teacher, we're challenged to be the best parents, the best spouses, etc. When was the last time you were encouraged to be a well rounded person? I can't think of one myself. We don't reward people for being well rounded. Some people might call these people boring or mundane. How sad that we spend our lives seeking to be the best and we miss a lot of just being good and being happy and being balanced. Maybe we should consider changing our lives to reflect a more balanced lifestyle. For those that ARE the best, we should encourage and compliment them, but if we're not, we should still be encouraged and complimented. I think we should DO our best at anything we do, but if we aren't THE best then we shouldn't let that bother us as much as it does.

Embrace being balanced in everything you do. Don't succumb to the hype that if you're not the best you're not worth anything. Try your best to be balanced.