Monday, November 1, 2010

Moving to new website

For those of you who have followed me on this blogsite and my Healing hearts and mind blogsite, please join me on my new website, for continuing blog postings and podcasts. I will be starting a brand new series entitled "Developing Character" that will be reader friendly to teens and young adults as well as older adults. I will also be starting a new series on Working your Way Through Grief.

See you at my new website.

©2010 Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

Thursday, September 2, 2010


For those of you who have been following my series, I apologize for the great lapse between entries and podcasts and thank you for your willingness to wait as I sort out instructions on how to post these. I do not have a lot of computer savey, and struggle with the complexities of how things are done. Put me in front of a group of people and I love it - put me in front of a computer and I often feel like yelling with Charlie Brown and Snoopy - Auughh!!! As a result, pods don't get cast and blogs don't get completed. I am also in the process of having a new website designed that will make it much easier for me to complete the sequences.

Until then, attached should be the Podcast #5 - Fear the Great Motivator.

Thanks, Marlene Anderson

©2010 Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Waterwheel of Life

There are many strategies we can use to either manage or reduce stress. However, it might be helpful to understand why stress overload is such a concern and why we need to take it seriously. Here is an illustration.

Picture a stream of water flowing over a water wheel. As it flows over the wheel, it turns and creates energy. When the stream of water remains relatively constant, we can manage its effects.

But imagine what happens if those water levels rise higher and higher. Soon, this predictable stream becomes instead a raging river with incredible destructive power. Now, when this increased powerful stream of water flows over the water wheel, it begins to spin faster and faster until at some point, it can longer use the water to create energy, but instead is broken by its intensity and force.

If we are that water wheel and the stream of water is life, then when life runs along fairly smoothly and predictably, we, like the water wheel, have no trouble adjusting to the fluctuating levels of demands. The stressors of life (water going over the wheel) create life energy, and when the levels rise and fall, we adapt and compensate. This up and down of stress levels is continual and normal in our lives, and even when high levels are prolonged for short periods of time, we are able to meet the challenges, adapt and soon life evens out again.

It is when the stressors of life remain at flood stage, like the raging waters of a swollen river, creating a non-stop intensity, that the water wheel (or our ability to compensate) can no longer handle the relentless torrent of stress and like the water wheel we begin to break down and are rendered useless.

In my next podcast, we will examine some of the many different "tributaries" of life that dump stress into our life as we explore ways to manage our stress.

©2010 Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

The Waterwheel of Life

©2010 Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Creating Fear Dragons - The "What if's....."

Most fears are created in our mind and they seem just as real as any real danger we might encounter. In fact they are probably more resistant and difficult to deal with because once we have created them, we go to great lengths to prove to ourselves and others that they are real and because we do, we set up a self-fulfilling prophecy. When we create a "what if" scenario, it is based on the belief that we are not good enough, there won't ever be anything we can do, we are helpless, it is a hopeless situation and the list goes on and on.

After listening to my latest podcast #4, here are some ways to combat your "fear dragons"...

  • If you are a believer, then go to your Bibles and turn to every scripture verse in the Bible that speaks of God's faithfulness. Ask for and expect faith. If you are not a believer, perhaps this is a good time to explore the fact that we are not the center of the universe and need the strength and direction of a loving God.

  • Challenge every negative thought with a positive one. Then focus on all the positive things that could happen and you can do to bring about what you want to have happen. If you are concerned about losing your job, that worry will create high stress keeping you less focused, less capable, etc. By focusing on the negative, we draw ourselves toward an outcome we do not want.

  • Push the STOP button on your fear monitor. Imagine you can see on the monitor how high your fear and stress is. Pushing the STOP button or dialing down the fear dail, gives you control over what you are feeling. Fear as with all our emotions give us important information. When the emotional response to danger is triggered, your body is geared up for action. But when you find no way to act, you become frozen in place. Eventually our bodies become exhausted and begins to break down.

  • Focus on what you can do - not what you have no control over. Make a list of all the things you can do right now to improve yourself and your situation.

  • Make a list of all the positive things you can do and start doing them. Focusing on our fears blocks any creative alternatives and solutions.

  • Counter what is happening right now with prevention, preparation and positive thinking. Downsize, stop spending money on frivolous things, learn to say "no", put yourself on a strict budget, etc.

All these things are positive actions that can take our stress and use it in a productive way. Our fears are there to help us do something. Choose from this list - make your own.

©2010 Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Podcast #2 - Stress - Challenging the "What if's. . ."

We need stress to live. It is the engine that allows the body to function. When we have no place to use the energy that is created by the stress response, it turns into distress.

Part of stress overload that we experience revolves around things that seem to be completely out of our control: the potential loss of our job through downsizing, the overall general economy, the loss of our income and financial stability, the inability to find work, the loss of our homes, savings and investments and the loss of any future achievements with our goals and careers. The list is endless. All of these serious circumstances immediately register in our brain as danger which then trigger the flight/fight survival response. Sometimes, we can't even articulate the danger while still experiencing the effect of it. The more severe the loss in terms of our basic survival, the more panic and fear is generated, which sets enormous stress and distress.

Listen to podcast #2 for strategies.

2010 Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

Friday, July 2, 2010

New blog and podcast series

I'm beginning a new series on Stress that will include blog postings and podcasts. Here is the link to my first podcast in this series. Listen and comment as you would on the blog postings.

©2010 Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

"Whatever you focus on, you will become!"

Before I returned to school to get my masters degree in psychology and counseling I had the privilege to work for a short time with a company that gave two week workshops to injured workers in chronic pain. The participants were mandated to come before their workman's comp expired. They were angry and combative. Yet over the two weeks, we saw change in individuals who had "hope" once again. They began to focus on what they could do rather than what they couldn't do. It was an amazing transformation I was to witness many times. Some refused and remained locked in bitterness over their injuries.

When we believe we are limited or have no choices, we experience hopelessness, helplessness, resentment, anxiety and fear. But when we shift our focus to possibilties and options, our energy can be directed toward finding solutions and setting goals.

When I stopped teaching, I decided I wanted to share my training and life experiences with others outside the college classroom and clinical setting. I chose the name FOCUS as a company name because it seemed to personify what is needed to survive in life - a focus - to establish goals and navigate through the pressures and struggles in life. When we struggle and struggle and it seems we aren't going anywhere, it is easy to get discouraged and we feel like giving up. Yet it is within these struggles that we get stronger mentally, emotionally and spiritually just as our bodies get stronger with physical exercise.

Our focus in life defines who we are and what we believe in. It helps to establish our boundaries, set goals and define priorities. We often cannot choose what life is going to throw at us, but we can choose how we will respond. It is in our choices that we grow. We choose our FOCUS.

In the upcoming weeks, I will be publishing on this BlogSpot a series about FOCUS strategies you can apply to your life.

Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC
copyright 2010

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Last of Human Freedoms

"What alone remains is 'the last of human freedoms' - the ability to 'choose one's attitude in a given set of circumstances." Victor Frankl, "Man's Search for Meaning"

Victor Frankl was a psychiatrist and a Jew who lived during the Nazi regime in Germany. He, along with his entire family, was sent to Nazi concentration camps. He ended up in Auschwitz, one of the most dreaded WWII camps. Except for his sister and himself, his entire family perished in those camps. Every possession was taken from them, and the Jews who weren't shot or sent to the gas chamber, endured years of unspeakable horror. In his book, "Man's Search for Meaning", Frankl writes:

"In spite of all the enforced physical and mental primitives of the life in a concentration camp, it was possible for spiritual life to deepen..."

As a psychiatrist, physician and author, he was now a student in the cruelest of life's classrooms struggling to survive physically, mentally and spiritually. He discovered that men could be compassionate to others who were dying and that apathy ". . . could be overcome, irritability suppressed. Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physic stress."

Why is any of this important to us today? What does a psychiatrist, a Jew and concentration camps have to do with our life? For one, it puts into perspective the poroblems we may be experiencing. And for another, it is important to understand that nothing can take away our abilty to choose our responses to whatever life throws at us. In the midst of unimaginable conditions, Frankl evidenced the indomitable human spirit. He discovered that prisoners faced with death and unexpected daily torture could focus their minds on things that were good. They could even see the beauty of God's earth around them. They could "rise above any situation even if only for a few seconds" when they found and expressed humor. He and another prisoner daily invented at least one amusing story to share with each other.

We make choices every minute of the day. In fact, we cannot not choose. When we accept what is happening, we are then able to make conscious decisions as to how we will respond. We can choose to respond with anger and resentment or retreat into fear and anxiety. Or we can choose to find meaning in what is happening, for it isn't the situation that is as important as our response to it. You may be going through what seems like overwhelming circumstances. But we can learn and identify with those prisoners who ". . . were able to retreat from their terrible surroundings to a life of inner riches and spiritual freedom."

Frankl discovered that those that would have a chance to survive were those "who held on to a vision of the future." They had to find meaning in the suffering tiself. We can also find meaning and purpose in whatever circumstances we face. And we can choose a response that will enable us to learn, benefit and rise above any circumstance.

Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC
Copyright 2010

Note: In April, 1945, Frankl's camp was liberated. He went on to reconstruct a major work that had been lost when he was interred. Nine days after it's publication, he wrote "Man's Search for Meaning" which has sold over 5 million copies in the U.S. alone. In 1948 he received his PhD in philosphy and went on to teach at the University of Vienna until 1990 when he was 85. He died, September 2, 1997.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Acceptance leads to Choices and Reduced Stress

Events and people cannot cause us to experience stress, anger and frustration unless we allow it. Since we are responsible for our thoughts, feelings and responses to whatever is happening, we do not have to change other people or events in order to feel okay.

We create our own psychological discomfort or pain when we resist, blame or become defensive about what is happening. When you think the only way you can feel better is by changing something, you will get caught in an emotional bind that creates more hurt, anger, helplessness and resentment. Acceptance is the first step in reducing conflict.

Acceptance does not mean giving up, giving in, becoming passive, or having no rights. What acceptance does mean is you stop resisting, accept how you feel, ask what you really want to happen and look for solutions. Acceptance means

  • I can choose different feelings based on my interpretation, beliefs and thoughts

  • I take responsibility for my life

  • I cannot be responsible for another person's choices or life

When you focus on what you want to have happen instead of dwelling on things you cannot change, your emotional response will change. Ask yourself the following:

  • What can I accept right now?

  • What am I hanging onto, fighting, resisting, or refusing to accept? Why?

  • What do I want to have happen? Create a vision of that.

  • What choices can I make to create this? What action will I need to take? What is within my realm of ability to do? What isn't?

Write down all your answers. Become aware of the words you use, such as "I can't, it will never happen, what's the use, I always fail, etc.". Words are powerful symbols that you brain and mind act upon and can keep you from acceptance and making new choices.

When our focus is on changing someone or something, we end up using force or manipulation to achieve our goal, resulting in anger and escalation of the problem. When we stop trying to force or change events, people or ourselves, we can begin to explore ways to achieve positive goals.

We can't change people or events. We can only choose to respond in a different, more productive way. Acceptance allows you to look at what you really want and find ways to accomplish that. As we explore options we can also examine the consequences of those options giving us more discretion over our choices and ways to evaluate their success.

Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

copyright 2010

Friday, March 19, 2010

Stress Can Kill You

For those of you who are following my postings as contributing author on Author Haven, you know I have begun a new series based on the mangement of destructive stress in our lives. This will have complementary information.

We can't eliminate stress, nor do we want to. Stress enables us to get up in the morning, accomplish our goals and live happy and fulfilling lives. However, when we are overloaded with duties and obligations, under a lot of pressure, and feeling we have few or no choices, we become "dis-stresed". High levels of prolonged stress will turn into disease. In other words, unmanaged stress can eventually kill you.

There are many ways we can both reduce and manage the stress in our lives; simplifying, reducing clutter, setting goals and just saying "No". For some people just saying "no" is difficult. It is easier to avoid conflict, be agreeable and stay in the background than to express their feelings and opinions. For others becoming assertive may be considered undesirable because it is confused with being humble, putting others first and other good social graces taught in childhood.

Assertive behavior not only allows us to express our feelings and thoughts honestly and comfortably, but we become equal with others in our lives. It is saying "yes" to you. It is saying to yourself and the other person that you are just as important as they are. When we deny our self-expression and personality, we often become passive-aggressive and manipulative. And that kind of manipulation is based on dishonesty on our part and is hurtful to both yourself and your relationships.

Assertivesness is a learned skill. While it may be uncomfortable at first, as we practice it gets easier. You can be assertive without being unpleasant. In fact, when you are able to accept your needs and wants as legitimate, there is no need to become embarrassed or uneasy. It is when we do not accept ourselves, that we become either passive aggressive or aggressive. Aggressive people have low esteem and cover their insecurities by getting their needs met at the expense of other people.

Here are some ways to become assertive:

1. Do some "self" work. Explore who you are, what you like, your strengths and weaknesses.

2. Be honest with yourself. We often minimize our strengths and accomplishments while maximizing our weaknesses. Or we embellish what we do and who we are while ignoring or denying those parts of us that are less desirable because we might be rejected.

3. Practice setting boundaries. Boundaries say, "this is my time, this is my space, etc." We can still consider the needs of others, their time and their space.

4. Being firm does not mean you become aggressive. "I'm sorry, but this is my seat" or "I am returning this because it doesn't do what it said it would." You stay firm in your resolution.

5. When you are assertive, you can pick your battles, standing firm for those that are important to you and letting go of those that are trivial. It also allows negotiation.

6. Be specific when asking for something. "I want.... I need.... at (specify the time and place if relevant.) Make it a statement as though you expect it to happen. You can ask with a smile, and say thank you and still be assertive.

7. Expression of emotions keeps them from escalating. Take ownership of your feelings. "I felt hurt when you said that." or "I get angry when I am not allowed to enter the conversation. Would you please give me an opportunity to speak?" Refrain from saying "you made me feel..." as that triggers defensiveness. And we are responsible for all our responses to all things.

Marlene Anderson MA, LMHC, NCC

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Mind the Gap

In London's underground stations you hear a mechanized voice say, "Mind the Gap", as you board a tube train. That "gap" between platform and train is usually quite small and as a tourist, after the novelty wears off, you take for granted the need to watch your step and the recording simply becomes one of those endearing facets of the London experience.

Neil Gaiman, in his book, "Neverwhere", artfully creates a more sinister reason for "minding the gap" in his fantasy story about London above ground and the London below. The "gap" no longer is a small precautionary hazard but one of lethal danger as an invisible cloud-like substance rises out of the crack, wrapping itself around the ankles of its targeted and unsuspecting traveler, ready to drag him into oblivion.

It is easy to develop complacency about the gaps that occur in our lives. Most of them are simply little daily obstacles we step over. But sometimes, those gaps take on the proportions of huge chasms, larger than life and so threatening that we remain rooted in place, stranded on the station platform while the train moves out. The "gap" has become insurmountable, a hollow place empty of inspiration and motivation, a place that threatens to swallow us up in mediocrity and depression.

What creates the difference between a small gap we easily step over and one that literally sucks out our motivation, confidence, and energy? Usually it is our interpretation and perception.

Our emotional responses to life are a result of our beliefs about ourself and the world. We form a string of thoughts that reflect that belief and then act upon them. When you hear yourself saying "I can't" or "there is nothing I can do about this situation", follow the thread of thoughts to the underlying belief. Challenge that belief. Who said you can't? How do you know there is nothing you can do? Who says there is only one way to do things? Distorted beliefs about one's worth and ability can take a tiny gap and make it into a huge chasm of doubt, fear, and anxiety, freezing us in place.

We make the choices that determine what we do. We have the ability to choose our responses to life. When we accept our circumstances, we are free to explore new options enabling new choices. We are responsible for our responses to all life situations. Challenging outdated, limiting and sometimes destructive thoughts and beliefs enable us to find new ways to move forward. Without challenging our thoughts and beliefs, our feelings will direct our behaviors. If we feel it is impossible, then it becomes impossible for us.
Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC