Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Resolution: Moving My Muscles

At this time of year, many (most?) Americans resolve to have a more active lifestyle. We usually focus on the physical aspects of exercise, such as weight loss, reduced blood pressure, presumed better looks, and so on. But Dr. Low teaches that moving our muscles has another important benefit: reducing our angry and fearful temper.

In this case I'm not talking about moving one's muscles to overcome a fear, such as having the will to board an airplane if you fear flying. I'm talking about the useful benefits of exercise in improving our mental health.

I don't enjoy exercising, though. I had a gym membership once, but I felt very uncomfortable there, intimidated by all of the fit and trim people. Now that I'm in Recovery, I would have taken a different attitude toward that experience, but in general I don't enjoy peddling on a bike for 30 minutes or lifting weights repetitiously. I do enjoy being active, though, whether that is working in the yard or strolling through a park. When I move my muscles I can feel tension, anger, and fear drain away, and I need to practice being more active to improve my mental health.

So my New Year's resolution is to be more active in 2011. To achieve this goal, I hope to take more walks--daily if possible. I'm not going to scold myself if I don't feel I'm doing "enough," as it's average to be enthuisastic about New Year's resolutions but then have that attitude fade over time. But if I lower my standards, my performance will rise, as Dr. Low suggests.

And as I'm walking in the bitter winter cold I can endorse myself all the way for making my mental health a business.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Practicing Recovery

This past Saturday I attended a leaders meeting for my local Recovery chapter. I struggled with some fearful temper before deciding to attend. After all, I would be around people I never met before, and that stirred butterflies in my stomach and led to some blurry vision. However, I chose obligation over inclination and decided to attend. I knew I could bear any discomfort.

Of course, anticipation is usually worse than realization, and I found everyone to be pleasant and welcoming. However, I was startled when the chapter president called on me to handle comments for another leader’s example.

Instantly I felt blood rush to my face and my heart pound. My mind began to race with thoughts such as, “What if I make a fool of myself?” and “What if I make a mistake?” I was very self-conscious.

Yet I quickly spotted that I was startled, and that it is average to feel uncomfortable in an uncomfortable situation. I wore the mask and “muddled” my way through it. I endorsed not only for having the courage to make a mistake, but also for deciding to attend the meeting in the first place. Even when attending Recovery meetings themselves we can find ways to practice!

On a separate note, I found one of Katy Perry’s latest music videos to have an especially encouraging message for those struggling with anxiety.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Airplanes and spaceships: They're all outer environment

So much of our fear is driven by the outer environment. It seems like a simple concept, but it was quite a wake-up call once I joined Recovery. During the past week I’ve had multiple opportunities to recognize the importance of not letting my outer environment affect my inner environment.

For example, I was flying for a business trip. A pilot could not have asked for more ideal weather—clear blue skies between destinations. Of course, there were some bumps along the way. I’m not afraid to fly, but turbulence typically makes me very anxious. My hands clench, body sweats, eyes blur; I fear the plane will crash—average symptoms for me (and probably many people).

On my return flight home, though, I realized that I have absolutely no control over the airplane, my outer environment, and I had a responsibility to make my mental health a business and practice my Recovery training. I focused on secure thoughts (“Flying is one of the safest ways to travel”) and practiced objectivity by burying myself in a book. Soon my symptoms disappeared and even when there was an occasional bump I didn’t develop a panic. Before Recovery I would not have been able to practice this self-control and would have been miserable the entire flight. I endorsed myself.

The book I was reading was the sci-fi novel Dune. Some of the characters in the book have a saying they recite when faced with an anxious situation:

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” (1)

Although this is not a Recovery tool, I do like how this “Litany against Fear” emphasizes that fear can overwhelm someone but if he lets it pass, all will be well. The book takes place thousands of years in the future, but humans still succumb to fear from their outer environment in the universe. Thankfully we have the tools to make our everyday, present existence less dominated by anxiety.

1. Herbert F. Dune. 40th anniversary ed. New York: Penguin; 2005: 8.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


Blurry vision is my most distressing symptom. I have a hunch that most nervous people have one particular sensation that disturbs them more than others. While my vision becomes blurred, through Recovery training I’ve learned that my ability to function does not decrease.

For many years I thought my symptom was unique and that no one else suffered this way, but in Recovery I learned to reject this idea of exceptionality (and in several places in Mental Health Through Will-Training Dr. Low does cite nervous people who have blurry vision as a symptom, such as Harriette).(1)

Through Recovery I have learned to manage these symptoms by employing secure thinking and adopting the will to bear discomfort. This week in my Recovery group I learned another strategy: leadership. Just as how a political leader must have a clear message to his group and must not arouse their fearful or angry temper if he/she wants to succeed, a nervous person cannot send fearful messages to his/her muscles and then expect them to not react accordingly. As Dr. Low says:

“And if muscles get two contradictory orders at the same time, all they can do is to create tenseness or to begin to tremble or to stiffen up or all three together. And then there is no action. And you will understand that the patient can in this manner confuse the muscles, irritate them, throwing them into tenseness and spasms and in tremors. This means making them react like you react in temper: tenseness, stiffness. And that’s what the muscles do, and then there is no leadership. The person doesn’t exercise guidance, doesn’t give guidance. And if this happens, the person notices that the muscles don’t do as he wants them to do, so he now becomes more irritated, more suspicious that there may be something wrong with him, and therefore more temperamental. And a vicious cycle develops.” (2)

This concept of leadership relates to the Recovery principle of controlling one’s muscles, but it goes a step further in my opinion: It implies that we are responsible for controlling our symptoms. Not that we are causing them willingly, but that we can—and must—exercise the will to make our lives better. That’s what we would expect from a leader, and the leader of our bodies is ourselves.

1. Low AA. Mental Health Through Will-Training. Glencoe, Ill.: Willett Publishing Co.; 1997;65.
2. Low AA. Lecture 20. Leadership and muscles. In: Manage Your Fears, Manage Your Anger: A Psychiatrist Speaks. Glencoe, Il.: Willett Publishing Co.; 1995; 117.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


We nervous people can have symptoms over the strangest things. A vast array of objects, activities, conversations, and other average, everyday experiences can lead us to vicious cycles--the keyword being average. We usually develop symptoms about trivialities, and recognizing this can help us overcome uncomfortable sensations.

For example, I dread buying new shoes (Hmm, that sounds like tempermental lingo). Oh, I enjoy having new footwear, but breaking in shoes makes me quite anxious. I concentrate on how different the new shoes feel over the old ones, agonize that I might have bought the wrong size or style, and generally work myself up over an experience most people don’t give a second thought to.

At my local Recovery group a few months ago I brought up my distress, and perhaps unsurprisingly other members recounted similar experiences. I realized that I am not exceptional; my sensations are not unique; and I certainly can bear the discomfort associated with breaking in new shoes (This post probably would seem ridiculous to someone who is not a nervous person, but everyone has “little” fears and worries—we just work them up too much).

After that meeting I did practice sabotage, unfortunately, by putting the shoes in the closet for a few months and ignoring them, preferring to not bear the discomfort. But now I’m using several Recovery tools. For example, I’m practicing the concept of “part acts”: I’m wearing them on weekends but not during the week; I’ll move onto that when I’m ready. Plus, I’m reminding myself that I can certainly bear this discomfort. And as often as I can remember, I’m endorsing myself. With practice and patience come success, and I hope to be footloose soon.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Zipping beyond my comfort zone

In my more than 1 year in Recovery I’ve learned that life is not always comfortable. This is obvious to most people, but nervous persons have a tendency to continuously crave comfort—and overreact in uncomfortable situations. But I’ve discovered that the key to growth is tolerating this discomfort and recognizing that feelings can be distressing but not dangerous.

I recently decided that living outside my comfort zone once and a while might be a good opportunity to practice my Recovery skills. So last week when I was on vacation I decided to try “zip lining,” a type of outdoor adventure/recreation in which you slide down a line while strapped in a harness. The line is attached to trees and the experience allows you to see the forest from a new perspective—from hundreds of feet in the air.

This was not something I had to do, but it’s something I wanted to do. I decided to bear the discomfort and made plans to take a 4-hour zip line tour. I made the reservations weeks in advance, so I had plenty of time to work it up, but I used secure thinking to tell myself I would have a good time.

When the day finally arrived, I experienced tunnel vision, sweaty palms, and a racing heartbeat as I drove to the site. After a short orientation and gearing up I felt nervous about the upcoming experience. Yet I reminded myself that anticipation is usually worse than realization. I acknowledged that I was uncomfortable—but that these distressing feelings were not dangerous. And my friends in Recovery had reminded me earlier that these sensations were average for anyone trying out an activity like this.

My first zip experience was indeed scary yet exhilarating at the same time. I felt uncomfortable at the beginning of each zip line, but enjoyed the experience despite some discomfort. Before Recovery I would have allowed these feelings to prevent me from even considering participating in this type of activity. I gave myself a hearty endorsement for braving, tolerating, and enduring discomfort. It was truly a growth experience for me. I don’t think I’m ready to take up skydiving next, but by moving my muscles I learned I can work through discomfort.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Shades of fear

When faced with multiple options, I often find it difficult to make a decision. I suspect this is an average situation for a nervous person. Recently I decided to paint my kitchen, and choosing a color can be a daunting task for me. There are just too many choices! But as Dr. Low reminds us, any decision will steady us, so I chose a color (“Bungalow Gold”) and got to work.

As I was painting, though, I realized that the color was way too dark. I decided to finish the kitchen so I could take in the whole view, and my hunch was confirmed; my kitchen “shrank” with such a deep hue. I could feel angry temper well up inside me, as I scolded myself for not making a better decision, and I also felt fearful temper, as I wondered how others would view my “mistake.” I take a lot of pride in my home, and I admit I often have strived to have the “perfect” residence, worthy of HGTV.

Yet instead of working myself up this time, I left the kitchen; went to bed; and re-evaluated the situation in the morning. I still felt the color was too dark, so I reprimed the walls and selected a different color (“Pear”). I also lowered my standards, reminding myself that this was not something that should threaten my mental health.

Before Recovery, I would have went into a full-fledged panic over this situation. I definitely would have called a lot of my friends—and, as Dr. Low says, to talk it up is to work it up. Although I forgot to endorse myself at the time, I’m endorsing myself now for not working up this triviality.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Preventing temper from taking off

This week I had to travel for work, and both my outgoing and incoming flights were delayed. When I was returning home, the plane had to return to the gate twice before we boarded another plane!

Before Recovery, I certainly would have worked up these situations, lamenting the “injustice” and “unfairness” of them. I did have a brief flare of temper, but I recognized—and spotted—this as average. I didn’t work it up. I acknowledged that disappointments are part of everyday life, and that flight delays are really trivialities. I did not let my angry or fearful temper to develop into symptoms.

I forgot to endorse myself for handling these situations so well, so I’m endorsing myself now. While other passengers were obviously irritated, I remained cool, calm, and collected. I am so thankful for my Recovery training!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Working through symptoms

Symptoms, symptoms, symptoms. This is Recovery language for all of those head pressures, electrifying zaps, heavy breathing spells, tightness, and other feelings and sensations that can make living with anxiety so miserable.

One of my most disturbing sensations is blurry vision. When I become anxious it becomes difficult to focus or read (or at least that is what I have told myself). I have had this problem for about 10 years, during which I’ve worked this up into a vicious cycle. In fact, I thought I was the only person who suffered with this symptom until I came to Recovery, in which I met people who have this symptom as well as read about them in Dr. Low’s works:

“Harriette was tortured by ‘headaches and nausea and fatigue and dizzy spells, by weak spells and palpitations.’ Her ears ached and her eyes blurred and her throat choked….” (Emphasis added) (1)

I have been in Recovery since last May—reading Dr. Low’s works and attending meetings—and I still do have blurry vision. However, I now know that when I’m having this sensation, I can control my thoughts: I do not need to “react” to this. I can remind myself that yes, this sensation is distressing, but it is not dangerous. While I may feel that anything I do while I have this sensation will turn out wrong, that is not a fact. (One of my relatives likes to remind me that I always will perform in a reasonable way.) If I make a mistake, it’s no big deal—mistakes are average and happen to everyone, whether they have a bout of blurry vision or not.

Hopefully some day I won’t deal with this sensation anymore. But in the meantime I now have the tools to cope with—and ultimately conquer—this problem.

1. Low AA. Mental Health Through Will-Training. Glencoe, Ill.: Willett Publishing Co.; 1997;65.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

I’ve trained for this

On Monday morning—a particularly cold morning—I got into my car and turned the key. I did not like what I heard. The engine made a low groan and it wouldn’t start. After a few tries it finally did, and that’s when I began to work myself up.

Thoughts began to race through my mind: What does this mean? Should I get the car checked out? What type of bill am I looking at? Will I make it to work? And sensations flowed over my body: feelings of heat, quickened breathing, blurred vision, and racing heart.

A car repair shop is not far from my house, so I drove there, all the while experiencing these disturbing sensations and thoughts. When I arrived, I hesitated about going in, knowing that I tend to overreact in such situations and this has cost me real dollars in the past (for no good reason). I called—and knowingly woke up—a friend for advice, but he really couldn’t help me.

Then I spotted.

I realized I was going into a panic over a triviality. The car was running just fine now, so there was no real danger. And, most importantly, I realized that I trained for this. With my Recovery training, I know how to handle such situations. I realized that by waking my friend I was not being group minded, and now I needed to make a decision, as any firm decision would steady me.

Instead of going into the shop, I decided to drive to work. Since Monday I haven’t had any car problems, but I’m going to check out the battery tomorrow. I’m very proud of how I handled this situation (with the exception of waking up my friend). In the past I would have been confused and flustered for days, no matter what course of action I took. Instead, I assessed the situation, took action, and agreed to live with the consequences, disregarding any discomfort involved. And for this I gave myself a hearty endorsement.