Sunday, October 25, 2009

Facts and Feelings

One of my favorite Recovery phrases is “feelings are not facts.” Dr. Low has an entire chapter on this topic, writing:

“I want you to know that your feelings are not facts. They merely pretend to reveal facts. Your feelings deceive you. They tell you of danger when there is no hazard, of wakefulness when sleep was adequate, of exhaustion when the body is merely weary and the mind discouraged. In speaking of your symptoms, your feelings lie to you. If you trust them, you are certain to be betrayed into panics and vicious cycles.” (1)

This is a powerful message for people struggling with anxiety. When we feel life is out of control, that imminent danger is around the corner, that we are having a heart attack it’s easy—maybe natural?—to believe these feelings. But Dr. Low advises us to spot these unrealistic notions, replace them with secure thoughts, and take the total view of the situation.

I find this Recovery tool so helpful because it’s short, easy to remember, and applies to most anxiety-provoking situations, in which there usually is no factual danger. I think it can be especially helpful for people struggling with OCD. While there may be a strong urge to believe something is unsanitary, that a ritual is required to perform a mundane task, and so on, these feelings do not line up with reality.

The next time you spot yourself working yourself up, try reminding yourself that feelings are not facts. Of course, Recovery teaches us that you won’t experience instant relief, but over time the reality of the situation will become clearer than how the “stranger in the brain” perceives it to be.

I endorsed for writing this post.

1. Low AA. Mental Health Through Will-Training. Glencoe, Ill.: Willett Publishing Co.; 1997;118.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

An EXCELent endorsement

One of the best aspects of Dr. Low’s system is when you can head off a full-blown panic, a real whopper of a tantrum, and/or a category 5 hurricane of symptoms just by using his method’s simple, commonsense tools. I had one of these mega-endorsements the other night.

I had a big work project ahead of me: Color coding more than 800 lines of an Excel spreadsheet, line by line. After leaving the office and having a quick dinner, I spent 2-1/2 hours on this project, finishing up around 10 pm. After feeling quite happy about getting this task off my plate, I decided to reopen the file to double check something—and to my dismay all of the color coding was gone. I quickly realized that the file format I had saved the file in did not support text formatting (such as colors).

I could feel anxious and angry symptoms start to brew, but I instantly spotted that this was a distressing but not dangerous situation. I made my mental health a business and refused to participate in working up this triviality. I recognized that mistakes are average and lowered my standards for myself. With this self-confidence, I fell asleep quickly and repeated the work in the morning, using the correct file format this time.

Before Recovery I would have called someone at the late hour to complain. That would not have been group minded and would have worked me up more. I would have accused myself instead of excused myself and made a mountain out of a molehill. But instead I used Dr. Low’s tools to make my mental health my top priority. For this I gave myself a hearty endorsement!

I endorsed for writing this post.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Valuing function over feeling

We can function even with our anxious symptoms.

On the surface, this statement appears obvious. But when in the throes of a deep panic, it can be difficult to remember this extremely important lesson.

When I'm extremely anxious, the "stranger in the brain" warns me to not continue what I'm doing. Obviously, the task at hand is distressing, so it must be stopped, or so the brain reasons. But through Recovery I've learned that these thoughts are distressing but not dangerous and that thoughts and impulses can be controlled. I can move my muscles and complete the activity (washing dishes, closing a door, reading a book, and so on) and, by doing so, my muscles will reprogram the rattling brain.

I have been attending Recovery meetings for about six months now, and I'm pleased that Dr. Low's comments are starting to pop into my mind without much conscious effort. For example, the other day a co-worker's response to my e-mail caused an initial flare of temper. But instead of working it up, I quickly spotted my symptoms—and remembered that temper creates tenseness which leads to more symptoms. Within minutes the temper passed (And perhaps it's no surprise that I can't remember what that e-mail was about!). I apply the same principle when on the road. It's so easy to slam the horn when someone cuts you off or moves too slowly through an intersection, but the resulting "symbolic victory" is not worth the temper—and guilt—sure to follow.

I endorsed for writing this post.