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Posts Tagged ‘illness’

Happy New Year!As we move into the final hours of 2010, I thought it would be appropriate to do a “best of” post for “The Healing Project.”

I started this blog in February 2010 and have made 50 posts to date. Regular weekly posts will resume next week (and will continue at least through February 2011 – most likely longer).

Which Posts Were Tops?

I have designated the following posts as the “Top 10 Posts of 2010.” This designation was made based upon several criteria:  post popularity, comments and feedback from others (either directly on the blog or to me personally), and my personal feelings about which posts were my best of the year.   The posts are listed from most recent to least recent and a post summary is included.  To read a post in its entirety, click on the post title.

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Troubled woman with head in handsThis message is a cautionary tale from a longtime “worrywart” (or as my father-in-law used to say, “worryhorse”).  I have wasted many hours and sacrificed endless enjoyment by worrying about all sorts of things, most of which never came to pass.  It is my hope that my insights today will help other worriers to reform their ways and increase their happiness in life.

Reasons Not to Worry

I recently listened to an episode of the Happiness Hour from radio talk show host, Dennis Prager.  The focus of this hour was on worrying, so I knew I needed to listen carefully.   Unlike many people who have “blind spots” in terms of their weaknesses, I knew full well how much of a detriment my habitual worrying was to my life and my happiness.

Dennis Prager stated that there are two powerful reasons to break the habit of worrying:

  1. Most of what we worry about never comes to pass.
  2. When one is worrying about what might happen, it is impossible for him to be happy in that moment.

Freakish Accidents and Ailments

Let me explore both of these reasons and relate some personal experiences.  In the past few years, there have been some high-profile celebrity illnesses and deaths, some of them from rare or “freakish” accidents or ailments.  Two which come to mind are the death of actress Natasha Richardson from a seemingly minor skiing accident and the near-death of singer Bret Michaels from a rare type of brain hemorrhage which strikes without warning.

After I read about the death of Natasha Richardson, I started to become terrified after even a minor head bump which would occur around my house.  I worried that I would suffer a fatal brain bleed like that of Ms. Richardson.  I was so fearful that I even went to the emergency room after bumping my head on an open cabinet door back in April 2009.  While I did feel dizzy and lightheaded, I learned that most dangerous head injuries are coupled with unconsciousness or severe symptoms within a short time period after the injury.

Many Worrywarts Out There…

During my ER visit, I was given a CAT scan which revealed no hemorrhaging and was sent home shortly thereafter with instructions to rest in order to recover from the slight concussion I had experienced.  I was also told that the incidence of ER visits for head injuries had increased exponentially since the death of Natasha Richardson.  Evidently, I’m not the only worrywart out there…

It is common for people to worry about being struck with a life-threatening ailment, but what we have to realize is that the worrying doesn’t do anything to prevent such illnesses from occurring.  Yes, we can modify our lifestyles to minimize the risk of certain accidents and diseases and we should endeavor to do what we can to prevent ourselves from becoming ill.  However, there is only so much we can do to mitigate our risk.  After all, even a person who never leaves his or her house could be victim to earthquakes, tornadoes, break-ins, or errant plane crashes!

Wasted Worries…

A caller to Dennis Prager’s show related a powerful experience.  She was hit by a truck and was lying on the ground waiting for the ambulance to arrive.  As many thoughts went through her head, including the fact that her injuries might prove fatal, she had one thought that was especially poignant to me as a lifelong worrier.  She said that she wished she hadn’t wasted so much time worrying about breast cancer.

When we are in a state of worry, it is impossible for us to enjoy what we’re doing.  Worry is almost always future-focused.  We concern ourselves with what could happen and what might happen, and in the process we are not present to where we are and what we’re doing in the moment.

Personal Experience With Worry

My husband and I periodically travel and leave our two cats in the care of a very caring and competent pet-sitter.  The pet-sitter comes to our house twice a day to feed our cats and give them love and attention.  I know my cats are in good hands, but that doesn’t stop me from spending quite a bit of time and energy in worrying about them.

I noticed myself doing this on our recent trip to the San Francisco Bay Area and was able to stop myself.  There I was on vacation and spending time with my mom and my husband at one of my favorite art festivals, yet my mind was at home in my apartment with my cats.  Fortunately, I was able to alleviate much of my worry by checking in with the pet-sitter a couple of times and then using self-talk to shut off the automatic “worry machine” which seems to continually operate inside my head.

Gay Hendricks on Worry

Gay Hendricks provides some useful tips for eliminating worry in his excellent book, “The Big Leap.”  He correctly asserts that “worry is useful only if it concerns a topic we can actually do something about, and if it leads to our taking positive action right away.”  He suggests that when we find ourselves in the midst of worry, we ask ourselves the following two questions:

  1. Is it a real possibility?
  2. Is there any action I can take right now to make a positive difference?

If the answer to the first question is no, that should be a cue to stop worrying!  If the answer to both questions is yes, you should take the action you’ve identified as soon as possible and then stop worrying.  If the answer to question one is yes, but the answer to question two is no, then you should also cease your worry because it is counterproductive to your enjoyment of your one and only precious life.

Those Cancer Worries…

Let’s take the example of breast cancer.  According to the American Cancer Society’s website, the chance of developing invasive breast cancer at some time in a woman’s life is slightly less than 1 in 8 (12%).  So developing breast cancer is indeed a real possibility for women.   However, there may not be any action many women could take to reduce their chances of developing the disease.  While an overweight smoker with a poor diet could make lifestyle changes which could help, many healthy women can do little to affect their chances of developing breast cancer (although regular screening is definitely recommended).

Powerful Words to Remember

Fortunately, I spend very little time worrying about breast cancer, but it would serve me well to remember the words of both Dennis Prager and Gay Hendricks when I find myself immersed in other worries.  Some additional insights can be found in the Serenity Prayer, something which I’ve posted previously but bears repeating:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

I vow to face my worrywart tendencies head on.  Eliminating needless worry (and much of it is that!) is integral to my journey toward healing my life and becoming a happier and more peaceful person.  If like me, you also suffer from consistent worrying, I invite you to join me in becoming an ex-worrier.

Related Posts

  • Serenity, Courage, Wisdom…:  This post explores the meaning of the Serenity Prayer and how it can help us to live a more peaceful and happy life.  The Serenity Prayer is also applied to a personal struggle involving the self-destructive behavior of someone in my life and my inability to help or save that person.
  • Facing Fears: Fear is a normal emotion and a natural part of life.  Fear can help us to steer clear of dangerous situations and navigate safely through treacherous encounters.  While some fears can be healthy and helpful, other fears are actually detrimental to our happiness and well-being.  In this post, I write about how fear adversely affects our lives and examine one of my irrational fears and my powerful decision to face it.
  • Fear… Only a Thought: Louise Hay states that “fears are merely thoughts, and thoughts can be released.”  Chapter 4 of “You Can Heal Your Life” focuses on fearful emotions.  This post highlights some of the most impactful exercises from that chapter and the insights I derived from completing these exercises.

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Sometimes a headache isn’t just a headache… This is something I’ve pondered in recent months as I’ve considered how often I suffer from migraines.  Could it be possible that my headaches serve another purpose beyond causing me extreme pain and discomfort?  My thoughts and realizations on this subject will be the focus of today’s post.

Inconvenient Migraines & Other Such Ailments

Last summer and fall, I attended classes three nights per week.  Every two or three weeks, we would have a project to complete and hand in for course credit.  We would usually be given one class period to use as a “work night” for our projects.  After a few months of class, I noticed that I would almost invariably have a migraine on each project night.  Was this just a mere coincidence, or was something else behind it?

As I considered my project night migraines, I noticed that I would also get migraines on days or nights on which I had certain other commitments, such as a Toastmasters speech or a social function to attend.  It is highly unlikely that my migraines on all of these days happened by chance, so perhaps there were other forces at play…

I’ve also begun to notice that my other health issues have a tendency to come to the forefront at certain critical junctures in my life.   My digestive problems, sore throat and swallowing issues, neck and chest pains, and various other ailments often crop up under times of stress or discomfort.

Avoiding Commitments

Sometimes my headaches or other health challenges allow me to escape commitments in my life.  After all, if I am writhing in pain, who would expect me to attend a party or give a speech?  I am able to “bow out” of certain obligations by claiming illness without suffering the wrath of others or other such consequences.  I don’t consciously create the illnesses, but whenever there is a glaring pattern being displayed, it is worthwhile to examine the situation and any potential “payoffs” therein.

“Payoffs” of Illness

It may be strange to consider the “payoffs” of a migraine, digestive distress, or any other seriously uncomfortable condition.  After all, I am not exactly swinging from the chandeliers and celebrating when I am afflicted with such maladies.  But truth be told, I am getting a payoff from being sick.   I “get” to avoid a commitment that I have perhaps been dreading on either a conscious or subconscious level.  But at what cost?   Is it really better to be at home suffering in my body than to be in a situation with which I am not fully comfortable?  This is something I never really considered until recently…

Shifting Focus

Another “payoff” for me in my physical maladies is that my focus shifts from other problems or concerns to the illness at hand.  I no longer have to think about what else is bothering me; all of my attention moves to my body and its discomfort.  This was the case on my class project nights.  I was worried about doing a good job on my projects, about measuring up to the teacher’s standards and impressing my classmates.  Once the migraine would appear on the scene, however, it was all I could do to stay in class and work on the task at hand.  I didn’t have the energy to worry about my fears of not being good enough, so I just did my best on the project and let that be that.

The Lesser of Two Evils…

Do I like being in physical pain?  Of course not, but that pain is easier for me to bear – and more familiar – than any emotional pain which I may be feeling.  I don’t know what to do with the emotional pain; the possibilities are seemingly endless.  Plus, it isn’t socially acceptable to talk about our psychological pain, yet the discussion of health problems has no such taboos.  How many people will tell their co-workers about an appointment with a physician, yet guard a counseling appointment as a secret from all but their closest confidantes?

Awareness Leads to Choice

Realizing the ways in which my illnesses serve as vehicles of avoidance has helped me to change the ways in which I interact with my infirmities – and with other people. I now give myself permission to say no to commitments I don’t wish to fulfill.  If I don’t want to do something (and it isn’t necessary for my work, relationships, or life), I decline to commit, and I don’t allow any feelings of guilt to enter my consciousness.  If I don’t commit in the first place, I don’t need to create an illness in order to avoid doing something which I’m dreading.

However, if I have already agreed to do something and the time is at hand, I no longer use existing physical complaints as excuses for not honoring my commitments.  Only on a very rare occasion will I now cancel an obligation due to a health issue.  In almost all cases, I do what I have committed to do.  If I am in pain, I do my best not to show it and instead strive to move past it as best as I can.  What I’ve found is that I often end up feeling better once I get out of the house and am engaging with others at a social or business function.  The reason for my ailment (the avoidance) is no longer needed, so the pain gradually dissipates.

A Powerful Decision

I have made a decision not to let my physical pain stop me in life.  If I have decided to do certain activities on a given day, I will do them, pain or no pain.  Unless the pain is downright excruciating, I am not going to let it sideline me.  Pain isn’t going to stop me from living – and enjoying – my life!

I don’t believe that all of my aches and pains (or anyone else’s, for that matter) are means of avoiding commitments or thinking about uncomfortable situations.  But I’ve come to understand that some of my pain serves the purpose of avoidance.

My awareness of the subconscious functions of my pain has helped me to fight back and prevail.  I am no longer a helpless victim to my seemingly endless list of physical complaints.  I can be at choice in my life, and I choose to live each day to the fullest!

Something to Consider…

The next time you get a headache or some other type of pain, stop and consider what might be brewing beneath the surface.  Could it be that you have created your physical pain in order to prevent or avoid potential psychological discomfort?  If so, how would it be for you to face the  challenges at hand and not let your ailments stop you?  Perhaps if our ailments no longer serve a purpose in our lives, they will gradually fade away, and we will be free!

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