3 Steps to Stop Anxiety’s Lies!

Has this ever happened to you?

It’s a perfectly good day but you are worried about something. That little worry sets off a chain reaction so it gets bigger and bigger until it becomes a huge, all encompassing giant monster of anxiety!

Here’s an example: “What am I going to make for dinner? Ugh, there’s not enough time to make anything good. I guess I’ll make mac and cheese again. I should be eating better. My kids should be eating better. I’m a horrible mother! What is wrong with me!?” Before you know it you have convinced yourself that your entire family is going to die an early death from too much mac and cheese and it’s all your fault!

A call from the boss can lead to anxiety about being fired on the spot. A low bank account becomes dread about eating cat food when we’re old and decrepit. A leaky faucet leads to the house crumbling to a pile of rubble. A mole on our hand is cancer.

This automatic crescendo of anxiety is no joke. It is at the core of what keeps us from taking healthy action against that debilitating, horrible feeling. From 0-100, from a wee bit concerned to overwhelmed in a flash, anxiety can mushroom that fast. Before you know it your feeling as helpless as a turtle flipped on its back.

So what can we do?

Victor Frankl famously said: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

1. Create the space so that you can think again rather than react. How? By breathing deeply and evenly. Pay attention to where your body is, where is the tension? Just focus on that: stand up, stretch, take a break, wiggle, dance, touch your toes.

2. Use the space. Isolate the thought that drives the anxiety and label it. When anxiety had me by the throat recently I took the time to look at it closely. When I did that I discovered something really weird. The thing I was so anxious about was actually good news! All of a sudden I went from emotionally driving at 100 mph to a more reasonable 50. Not totally calm but much better!

3. Respond. Laugh at it and yourself because whatever caused the anxiety was a gross exaggeration of the truth, a complete distortion or just a silly lie. Embrace the good feeling and choose to go there rather than that awful painful place.

Please realize that anxiety doesn’t give up that easily. It will try to talk you back into its web. Stay strong and like Mulan who discovers that the gigantic monster is really just a teeny, tiny mini-dragon, see through the illusion, accept the truth and brush it off.

A Defiantly Positive Message Out of Boston

You wouldn’t think there could be a positive message out of what happened in Boston would you? No way. It all just depresses us so much, filling us with anger and anxiety. It’s all too overwhelming leaving us numb. We wonder, “What’s wrong with us that we can’t feel anything when this horrible thing has happened?” Or “What? Again? Please God, not again!”

I have written so many posts for this blog so many times after tragic events it disturbs me to remember them all. The shooting at Fort Hood, the plane crash in Clarence, New York, the horror of Newtown. I wanted this one to be different for your sake and well as mine. Which takes me back to the original question: Was there any way we could get a positive message out of this?

Thankfully I saw this on my Facebook newsfeed, a post from Patton Oswald, via Deadspin:

“…But here’s what I DO know. If it’s one person or a HUNDRED people [who are responsible for this], that number is not even a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the population on this planet. You watch the videos of the carnage and there are people running TOWARDS the destruction to help out…  This is a giant planet and we’re lucky to live on it but there are prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence. One of them is, every once in awhile, the wiring of a tiny sliver of the species gets snarled and they’re pointed towards darkness.

But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We’d have eaten ourselves alive long ago.

So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, “The good outnumber you, and we always will.”

When tragedy strikes it is human to ask, “What can I do? I’m just one human being and the evil out there is so huge and powerful.” Patton Oswald reminds us that alone, yes, we are small but together we human beings make a whole lot of Powerful Good. There is a lot of suffering in the world  but we put a big dent in it whenever we do a kindness, give generously and accept graciously.



Once again there are no words, just a heavy heart, love and hope for all affected by the Boston explosions. ~Dr. Aletta

Sometimes a Dream is Just a Dream*

*“Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” ~Sigmund Freud

So here’s another dream.

Last night I dreamt I was walking to my apartment in Manhattan on the upper East side near Lex and 71st Street (which is a dream unto itself). In that weird dream time-bouncy way, I ended up in a gorgeous old pre-war building waiting for the elevator. Who should be there but Michael Jackson just like he looked in the ‘Beat It’ ’80s video, red jacket and all. He was very polite. Of course I was too cool to make a deal out of it so I rode the elevator with Michael Jackson like it was nothing while in my head I was jumping up and down going, “OMG!!! It’s Michael Jackson!!!!”. Then I woke up.

What does it MEAN?!

Who cares? It was fun and made me smile while I brushed my teeth, as I got ready for my real day. The opposite of an anxiety dream, I guess.

How My Anxiety Dream Made My Vacation Better

The other night I had an anxiety dream. You know the kind of dream I’m talking about, where you are in the wings of a big Broadway production clearly expected to go on and you don’t know the part or the lines or the cue or anything!!! Worse, you’re naked and haven’t shaved your legs since October!

That wasn’t my dream exactly although the feeling was the same. Pure fight or flight! My anxiety dream went like this:

I was applying to college! The same college my daughter got into a few months ago for real. I was trying to get into this same college putting in my application, touring the campus etc. I had this interview scheduled only I forgot it! I was going to miss this crucial interview and nothing I tried to do to fix it was working! I tried calling the admissions office but my phone fell apart in my hands! I tried running there but the building kept getting further away instead of closer!

The good news was I was fully clothed, but still it was a nightmare! When I woke up with a start and found myself a middle-aged woman with no college interviews scheduled for the day the relief was incredible!

Occasionally I have a client bring in a dream they want to talk about and it’s almost always a good discussion. I do not believe dreams hold any big mysterious power, like crystal balls or oracles. What’s important is what they mean to us; how the dreamer interprets the dream, not the therapist. Being open to what may be bubbling up from our subconscious is good. So what did my dream mean to me?


What I want my teenage daughter to know…

On this easy Sunday morning I’m reading Mindy Kaling’s book, “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (and other concerns)” when I should be reading this month’s book club book, Canada. Please don’t tell anyone, but Mindy’s book is so much more fun!

Mindy’s advice to teenage girls in her chapter ‘Don’t Peak In High School’:

“Teenage girls, please don’t worry about being super popular in high school, or being the best actress in high school or the best athlete. Not only do people not care about any of that the second you graduate, but when you get older, if you reference your successes in high school too much, it actually makes you look kind of pitiful, like some babbling old Tennessee Williams character with nothing else going on in her current life. What I’ve noticed is that almost no one who was a big star in high school is also a big star later in life. For us overlooked kids, it’s so wonderfully fair.”


“Be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle.” ~Plato

My friend Carolyn Thomas posted this video, produced by the Cleveland Clinic, on her blog, Heart Sisters. She asks “What if hospital staff could read our minds?”

I didn’t know what to expect, I was afraid it would be something awful like that Mel Gibson movie “What Women Want” where a sexist man could read women’s minds. Ick.

But this video blew my mind in its direct simplicity. Not a word is spoken. The quote from Plato above was taken from the first comment to the video on YouTube. Among the gifts I feel my chronic illness gave me was the understanding that a person can look perfectly fine on the outside while dealing with incredible pain both physical and emotional on the inside.

This little film does that one better. It includes a complexity of  conditions: from sadness and grief to elation and joy. What we think people should be burdened with can be very different from what is actually weighing on them or lifting them up. See it for yourself.

via Heart Sisters, one of my absolute favorite blogs:

♥ All about women and heart disease – our #1 killer – from the unique perspective of Carolyn Thomas, a Mayo Clinic-trained heart attack survivor

♥ Information for the general public, heart patients or their family members, health professionals, and all students of the heart.

Roger Ebert Never Lost His Voice

Roger Ebert, who passed away today, is on my mind and the minds of millions of admirers all around the globe. His movie reviews were compelling micro stories, someone called his critiques poetry, even when he didn’t like the film.

From his review of North (1994), directed by Rob Reiner: “I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it.”

~The Quotable Roger Ebert

His reviews of early cinema are relevant to any film enthusiast today. Here is what he had to say about Citizen Kane, which was made the year before he was born. Talk about poetry!

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