Saturday, December 7, 2019

Deep Breathing to Reduce Anxiety

The teenager had been in my office before, but this time was different. His mother dropped him off at the door, and then was gone. Usually she waited in the car outside. He did not come directly into the room but paced back and forth in the hallway.

I waited for him to slow down a bit and then invited him in. He slunk into the nearest seat, his shoulders hunched over as if warding off a blow. I sat down across the table from him and scattered some colorful magnets onto the surface. I did not say anything, just built a three-dimensional figure with the magnets. Eventually, he felt comfortable enough to join me.

We talked about the problems he was having with school, his part-time employment, and especially his family. The more he talked the more relaxed he became and we were able to address the anxiety he was experiencing. I told him that there was something he could do at home that would help.

I had him lie down on the floor, flat on his back, and bring his knees up to form a tent, or upside down “V” with his feet flat on the floor. I told him to relax his shoulders, and put his hands on his stomach, then breathe in slowly counting to the number five.

His stomach rose with the inhalation, and then when he exhaled, we counted to five again. With each deep breath, his anxiety diminished and his tense muscles relaxed. The more he breathed deeply, the more well-being he felt. After only a few moments, he was ready to go forward and face the day.

We talked about how to use this technique, even if he could not lie down, the key being to breathe slowly, moving the diaphragm down and allowing the stomach area to expand. The vacuum created would bring air into the lungs. Then, as the diaphragm relaxed, the air would be slowly pushed out through the mouth.  

This simple action decreases feelings of anxiety by providing the following physical benefits:
  1. Concentration on the breathing action clears distressing thoughts
  2. The heartbeat slows down, decreasing pressure on arteries and veins
  3. The blood moves more slowly, allowing greater nutrient absorption in the muscle tissue
  4. Nerve impulses decrease, dissipating feelings of stress
  5. As the body relaxes, the spirit calms.

Not only did this young man feel the benefits of decreased anxiety, he was able to have renewed feelings of self-reliance. He had a tool that he could use at any time to help increase his feelings of well-being.

Give your soul a break today. Breathe deeply, for your emotional health!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Making Covenants

I sat down and put my arm around her, then waited for her as she regained her composure. Once she stopped crying, I held her hand until she was ready to speak. The words tumbled out in a wild mixture of anger, hatred, and bitterness.

She related the horrific tale of being rejected by the very people who should have been supporting and strengthening her. My heart ached. Gingerly, I asked the forbidden question, “Are you thinking about suicide.”

All was quiet as she looked at the floor. I waited, knowing that she needed to have courage to answer truthfully. This was the first time we had met. She might not trust me enough to answer. She slowly raised her head and nodded in the affirmative.

I embraced her with tears rolling down my cheeks. Now the work could begin. Taking both of her hands in mine, I looked her in the eyes and told her of the covenant I had made with God years before. “Promise me,” I implored, “No matter what happens, that you will not take your own life.”

I waited as she considered carefully what I was saying. With head still bowed, she glanced up for just a second, and then quietly nodded. I gave her my phone number and told her to call if she wanted to talk.

At that moment, the youth leaders found us and took over for me, assuring her that her needs would be met, and that all would be well. I walked away, knowing that God had put me in the right place at the right time once again, and a life was spared. I uttered a prayer of gratitude.

Covenants are promises we make with God or another person. They commit us to certain actions in exchange for blessings or privileges. When we make a covenant, we make a conscious choice that prevents us from having to make a decision the next time the situation comes around again.

Covenants keep us safe. They put boundaries around our emotional health, making it strong enough to protect us when the storms of opposition threaten to tear us down and wash us away. Covenants give us a foundation on which to stand that is solid and unmovable.

The covenant I made with God has stayed with me all of my life. Every time I even think that maybe the world would be better off without me, I remember my promise, and I put the knives away.

©2014 by Denise W. Anderson, all rights reserved. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Unconditional Love

We are all children. We have moments when we think that we are on top of the world, that all around us is sunshine, happiness, and joy; and a few moments later, we feel the darkness of shadows overpower us, and suddenly, we are under the control of another that determines our future fate.

The uncertainty of life leaves us wondering when and where to turn for the love and acceptance we crave. When we were young, we readily received it from our parents. They would gather us in their arms at the beginning of the day and assuage our hungering spirits. As we ventured out, we would carry it with us, giving bits and pieces to our friends and facing our foes courageously. Until finally, exhausted, we would fall into our parent’s arms at the end of the day once again for rejuvenation.

Now that we are adults, we still hunger and thirst for that same feeling of belonging and acceptance. We want to know that we are valued, cared for, and important to someone other than ourselves. We yearn to be held tightly with arms wrapped around us, holding us close and whispering sweet nothings into our ears.  Our yearnings lead us on an endless journey, searching for that one companion that will answer our hearts’ desires.

Some are able to find romantic love and for a time, it suffices the craving. Others find it momentarily through the companionship of friends and extended family. Yet, no matter where we look amongst the droves of our fellow human beings, there is ultimately a hollow feeling that these types of love are somehow fleeting.

There is only one source to which we can go for the living water that satisfies our parched souls. That is our Savior, Jesus Christ. He is the True Vine, the Bread of Life, the meat that satisfies and keeps on giving long after the flavor is gone. His love is the unconditional love that never ends, that does not depend upon our actions, our circumstances, and our worthiness.

Each day, we have the opportunity to connect to that love. We come before the throne of grace, and lay down our burdens, our cares, and our concerns, and receive that which only God can give. Through His mercy, we access the gift that money cannot buy: the fruit of the Tree of Life, that which is most precious above all.

Then, and only then, can we walk with our heads held high. Our hearts knit with His and know, in spite of our weaknesses, our frailties, and our imperfections, He has given all for us, individually, that we might live.

©2014 by Denise W. Anderson, all right reserved. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Walking the Emotional Tight Rope

Emotions are funny things. One minute they are for us, and the next they are against us. They swirl around us like fog in the early morning, and by late afternoon are floating like fluffy puffs of cotton before a spring rain. We never know when our emotional weather will change, or what the next round of precipitation will be.

It could be a blizzard, with its icy sheets of rejection, anger, and bitterness, pelting our aching hearts until they become cold as granite and hard as flint. We are left with no hope of relief as darkness sets in before we have a chance to even look for enough kindling to light a fire and warm ourselves.

Perhaps it will be a spring shower of acceptance, just enough to renew our parched feelings of self-worth and sprout some fresh blooms of happiness. We relish these moments of freshness with fondness, knowing that spring will not last forever.

Maybe it will be a searing afternoon of expectations, with the temperature high enough to boil our blood and leave us with second degree burns that blister and peel for days.  Even a soothing layer of aloe will not bring relief fast enough to chase away the self-doubt brewing underneath the surface.

Life is a balancing act, at best. Our emotional tight rope is nothing more than a mere line of thought that sways with every wind of circumstance that blows around us. Unless we have a safety net in place, we can fall hard, and be seriously hurt.

This safety net is our beliefs, our convictions, and our moral standards. The thoughts we think must be measured against, straightened by, and reinforced with them in such a way that we do not get blown away by the whirlwinds and storms that come our way.

Each time we feel ourselves being tossed to and fro by the waves, we have an anchor to hold fast to that brings stability and strength. We are able to stand our ground, keep our balance, and finish our course in spite of abrupt changes in the weather around us.

Surrounding ourselves with those who care for us and love us holds our safety net in place, supporting us in our weakness. We depend on them to provide the emotional first aid needed when we lose our footing or sway too far one direction or another. In turn, we do the same for them. 

Each time we step forward to help someone reinforce their safety net, we are weaving additional fabric into our own.   

©2014 by Denise W. Anderson, all right reserved.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Difficulty with Transition

Life has many transitions. We move from being a child to an adult, single to married, and parent to grandparent. All of these have their challenges, but one thing that they all have in common is our ability to see what is on the other end of the transition. We are able to plan and prepare in such a way that the change happens smoothly.

There are some transitions, however, where we cannot see what is on the other end. We walk gingerly out onto a skimpy rope bridge over a deep chasm filled with churning rapids, and the fog settles in. We cannot see what lies ahead, and we have gone far enough that we lose track of what we left behind.

This type of transition is terrifying! It is easy to get frozen in our tracks; unable to move for fear that we will not make it to the other side. At the same time, we cannot go back to where we have been, as it no longer exists in our realm of vision!

Fear of the unknown puts its icy fingers around our hearts, and our determination, courage, and tenacity lose their strength. We feel inadequate, weak, and insignificant. Our measly skills are not sufficient to bring about a successful resolution to the seeming impossible task before us. 

When this happens, it is vital that we muster our faith; faith that God will provide a course of action if we simply continue to move forward; faith that the bridge will hold up and we will not be plunged to our deaths in the churning rapids; and faith in ourselves that we have the strength to move one foot in front of the other!

Our best defense is to assure ourselves that the transition will not last forever, that God has been both merciful and faithful in the past, and that we do know that others have trodden this path before us. Our ability to use positive self-talk allows the scared child within us to be reassured by our competent adult self that everything will work out in the end.

We begin to see glimmers of hope as small rays of sunshine break through the fog. We look ahead eagerly and see a faint outline of our destination in the distance. Gradually, the picture begins to form in our minds and hearts. We take courage and our stride increases as we begin to understand what lies on the other side of the chasm.

With sweat pouring off our brow, we step forward as we put our feet on solid ground again, heaving a sigh of relief that the transition has come to an end. We look behind us, surprised to see that others have followed our path, in spite of our faltering example.  

We turn to embrace them, giving encouragement and hope that they will make it! Together, we reinforce the bridge, knowing that there will be others to come who are experiencing the difficulty of a similar transition.

©2014 by Denise W. Anderson, all rights reserved.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Paradox of Perfectionism

It is easy to fall into the “should have,” “could have,” and “would have” trap. The very ideals that inspired and motivated us to become better people are what we use to beat ourselves with when we do not measure up to them. That is the paradox of perfectionism. Like lightening, it strikes at the very core of our feelings of self- worth and tells us that surely, we are not worthy to be called God’s children!

Life becomes a series of storms from which we constantly seek shelter rather than a joyful journey with our loved ones. We cannot seem to muster the strength needed to go forward with our lives because we surely are not good enough, strong enough, or smart enough!

If we recognize perfectionism for what it is, a distorted thinking pattern that keeps us trapped, forever thinking that we are destined to look at a cracked windshield for the rest of our lives, we realize how absurd it sounds! It is time to replace that windshield with one that is clean and clear.

Our knowledge that we are able, needed, and loved, does not come from what we do in this world. It comes who we are, and that is children of God. When we claim the gift of God’s love, we realize that it is not what we have done that makes Him love us, but who we are!

When our own children make mistakes, we take the time to teach and correct them, but we still love them! We share our unconditional love through our affection, kindness, and providing for their needs.  God takes the time to correct and teach us. He shares His unconditional love through the gift of nature, and its boundless beauty in the world.

We feel God’s love when we experience kindness from others, the innocent love of little children, beautiful music, and the receipt of gifts from loved ones. The gift of His Son atoned for our sins and weaknesses and paves the way for us to return back to Him. He is ready and waiting each day to shower that love upon us as we connect to Him in our daily prayers and devotions.

Just as electricity does not illuminate our lives until we turn on the switch to the light fixture, God’s love does not show itself forth until we take the time to connect our lifeline to Him. Only then, can we know of His infinite love for each one of us.

God appreciates each step we make in His direction. He does not stop loving us when we make mistakes or do things against His will. We punish ourselves far more than He ever will! We are His children and He longs to gather us in His arms and bring us back to live with Him again!

©2014 by Denise W. Anderson, all right reserved.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Under Construction

Not again! Another sign, another detour, another road closed. Can’t we get through without road construction? Everywhere we turn, there are signs telling us that we have to change the way we are going because something needs to be fixed!

Even the buildings we frequent have sections blocked off for remodeling, cleaning, and repairing. Extra time is required as we walk around to another door, plan a different route, stop for the flagman, slow down for the bumpy road, or leave our well-worn path to make room for others needing to use it.

Every day, our routines are interrupted with what we consider to be yet another inconvenience and waste of time. We grumble and complain, and yet, in the end, we rejoice when the final outcome gives us greater ease of travel, more beauty to enjoy, and a smoother road on which to drive.

Life is full of road construction. Sometimes, it comes by way of a crisis. A storm washes out the bridge, or an earthquake leaves the pavement in shambles. Other times, the road gets full of pot holes with the frost heaves the ground to the point that we can’t travel without major damage to our vehicles. Just plain wear and tear over time makes cracks, groves, dips, and bumps in the road. Repair work is needed to return it to good working condition.

Each time we encounter construction, we have to vary our normal routine. If the construction takes a long time to complete, we form new habits and change our way of doing things.  We make adjustments in our attitudes, behavior, and even our identity. We may find that in the long run, things actually change for the better.

If the construction lasts only a short while, we are less apt to make major changes in our lives. We see the situation as a minor inconvenience. We put off self-evaluation, thinking that there is no need. Why change if we don’t have to? Unfortunately, the problem comes around again and again, continuing to recur until a major crisis brings about the needed change.

To keep these crises at a minimum, we can be proactive, choosing to evaluate and make changes before life demands them. Having a prevention plan whereby we assess how we are doing is much more cost-effective than responding to a crisis. First days give us this opportunity on a regular basis. The first day of the week, the first day of the month, the first day of the year; each offers a new beginning.

The habits we form now will give us the power to keep our emotional health intact when those road construction signs go up unexpectedly, as they assuredly will!

©2014, Denise W. Anderson, all rights reserved.