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Caregiving Compassion Coping with Loss Emotions Empathy Empowering Healthcare Friendship Growth Love Meditation

The Reality of Change

St Stephen's Basilica, Budapest, Hungary
St Stephen’s Basilica, Budapest, Hungary

There is a stereotype that older people can’t keep up with change. Family members will laugh at the blinking display of the unset DVD player (or for the even less adaptable, VCR).

And the older we get, the more quickly time passes and trends change.

But there is wisdom in aging. With time, we see that change is constant and inescapable – in politics, technology, economics and fashion. We learn to be cautious about taking anything for granted because everything changes.

With the insight of change, the wisest give up pinning their happiness to that which doesn’t last: material things, the hottest fashion, the latest Apple product, wealth, popularity and youth.

But for most of us, change is a source of suffering.

As we age, many lament the loss of vigour, the outward signs of aging, illness, and separation from loved ones. We have expectations and when these are thwarted, we grieve their loss. We may feel powerless and in despair.

But if we see life as it is, we will recognize that change is inevitable.

Instead we live with the unexamined expectations that our careers will run smoothly, our relationships won’t change, jobs won’t end, we and those we love will live forever: we won’t age, suffer accidents, become ill or die.

We all know better. Yet we approach each day ignoring reality, taking for granted the beautiful gifts we hold for a moment, acting unkindly to those who may not be here tomorrow, and letting pass by even the smallest opportunities to make a positive difference in our fragile world.

An empowering psychological principle is the locus of control. Some in the midst of change, feel helpless (and thus anxious) then hopeless (and ultimately depressed). They do not feel a sense of control in a sea of change.

But if in a changing world, we recognize the ways we can exert control – where our intentions and actions can make a positive difference, we feel empowered.

If you had a limited amount of cash that had to be spent today, what would you choose to do with it? If you had just one more day to spend with someone you loved, what would you say and what would you do? If you had just this day to make a positive difference in the world, what would you do today?

Would you spend another moment holding onto the past, complaining, watching TV, doing meaningless work or shopping?

I bet you won’t.

Tsongkhapa wrote eloquently of the preciousness of a human life.

“The human body at peace with itself is more precious than the rarest gem.

Cherish your body. It is yours this one time only. The human form is won with great difficulty. It is easy to lose.

All worldly things are brief like lightning in the sky. This life you must know as the tiny splash of a raindrop, a thing of beauty that disappears even as it comes into being.

Therefore set your aspiration and make use of every day and night to achieve it.”

On Thursday, September 10th, 2015 from 7 to 8:30 pm, I’ll present a free public presentation in the Visitor Centre at the VanDusen Botanical Garden (5251 Oak Street, Vancouver). As part of the Tapestry Foundations for Health Care’s Dialogue on Aging public presentation series, I’ll be talking about “Achieving Your Positive Potential at Any Age.” For information and registration, call (604) 806-9486 or check online at http://www.tapestryfoundation.ca/education/public-presentation-series.

Categories
Empowering Healthcare Grace Growth Happiness Healthy Living Parenting

Achieve Your Positive Potential

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Our kids expect to be asked, “What do you want to be when you’ve grown up?”

In our first two decades, life is not just about being but becoming: learning, growing and anticipating new experiences. We recognize the constant change in ourselves and our horizons, both are ever expanding.

But at some point, most of us stop seeing perpetual personal growth and expanding horizons. We can settle in a habitual way of seeing our selves. Life becomes routine.

We can get so settled that we are startled by change: in school or work, relationships and health. We are surprised when we look in the mirror and notice that we’ve grown older or put on some weight.

Maybe after making the big choices in life – what to study, where to work, where to live and who to marry, we can settle into autopilot, and we do, until we are shaken awake by turbulence.

But in reality, we with everything around us are constantly changing. We remain in perpetual motion. If we don’t mind our bearings and keep our eyes on the horizon, we won’t notice that the landscape has changed and we can fly off course. We even forget that we can choose to change our destination.

The healthiest and happiest of my patients remain on course most of their lives. They’ve settled into good routines of eating healthy balanced diets, attending to their relationships and physical activity.

When their life situation changes, they adapt. They learn what changes they need to make to remain as healthy as possible. With a new diagnosis of high blood pressure, they reduce dietary sodium (salt) and lose extra body fat through a combination of exercise and healthy eating.

When they become bothered by degenerative arthritis (osteoarthritis) in their knees, they’ll adapt to more appropriate exercise (for example, changing from running and jumping activities to swimming or stationary cycling).

My most vibrant patients don’t wait for the signs of aging and chronic health conditions to tell them to change. Making positive changes is a way of life. They see their potentials in life as ever evolving. They set new challenges and goals, visualize the best they can be and take steps each day towards these new horizons.

You are always being and becoming. Regardless of your age and circumstances, consider your positive potential in the important areas of your life.

Do what my healthiest and happiest patients do each day. Check your bearings, take a look at the landscape and affirm your destination. Are you still on course? What are you doing each day to move you in the right direction? What are you doing that takes you off course?

If a relationship needs some work, visualize a more positive situation and come up with one or two things you could start doing to produce a positive change.

What is your positive potential for health? Make a few small changes in what you eat (or don’t eat).

What is your potential for fitness? What can you add to your daily exercise routine (a little more endurance activity, more resistance training or the commitment to do daily exercise)?

Don’t wait for the turbulence of life to force you to change. Choose your goals and move each day in the direction of your positive potential.\

On Thursday, September 10th, 2015 from 7 to 8:30 pm, I’ll present a free public presentation in the Visitor Centre at the VanDusen Botanical Garden (5251 Oak Street, Vancouver). As part of the Tapestry Foundations for Health Care’s Dialogue on Aging public presentation series, I’ll be talking about “Achieving Your Positive Potential at Any Age.” For information and registration, call (604) 806-9486 or check online at http://www.tapestryfoundation.ca/education/public-presentation-series.

Categories
Emotions Happiness stress management Uncategorized

A Hundred Days to Happiness #21: Happiness in the Face of Stress

Prague Castle
Prague Castle

 

Stress is an essential part of everyday life. In fact, we need positive stress, or what Hans Selye called eustress, to move forward, grow and achieve our potentials. My son needs that little extra help to get out of bed on a school day; otherwise, he’d be in bed all morning.

Distress, however, is from negative stress or stress that overwhelms us. This can affect us mentally and physically. It can take the form of competing demands from your work, school, home or social lives, an abusive or adversarial relationship, or situations that seem beyond your control.

We function at our best when the challenge of our activities matches our resources and abilities. An example would be the perfect job that absorbs all of your attention, engages your talents and provides you with the time and support you need.

When your abilities far exceed the task at hand, you’d be underachieving and you’d feel bored. You need enough challenge to bring out your best.

If the demands of the situation are beyond what you can manage, you experience increasing stress. A common example is a job in which you’re doing the work of two people, there’s not enough time to get everything done and you don’t even have time to take your lunch break.

Chronic mounting stress can lead to burnout. If we feel that the mounting stress is exceeding our abilities, we begin to feel helpless, and that helplessness commonly results in anxiety. We will have difficulties relaxing, sleeping and enjoying each day.

Over time, continued overwhelming stress can lead to feelings of hopelessness, and this can eventually lead to depression. At this point, we lose our motivation, enthusiasm and capacity for positive experiences. Even if we’re not teenagers, we might have difficulty just getting out of bed.

The key is the locus of control. We are most distressed and unhappy when we feel powerless in our lives – if our actions feel futile, if our dreams are repeatedly shattered, if our feelings are not acknowledged or if our voices are not heard.

This is important for teachers and parents to recognize – that we must listen carefully to hear a child’s voice.

Your happiness exercise for today:

Ask where you are on the spectrum of stress. What are the major stressors in your life and how are you coping? Are you experiencing enough challenge in school or work? Are you feeling fully engaged? Are you growing and moving forward?

Or are you feeling distressed by your situation or your workload? If you are, what aspects of the situation are under your control? What are your choices?

Categories
Emotions stress management Uncategorized

Are you at risk for burnout? Recognizing & managing stress in your life.

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Stress is an inevitable and essential part of your life.

Without stress, you’d be bored.

Without the positive stress of a best friend, you wouldn’t try new things and you wouldn’t have as much fun. Without the encouraging stress of a supportive parent, you might not push yourself to your potential.

If you had no stress at all, you wouldn’t even get out of bed.

But like everything else that relates to health, you can have too much of a good thing.

Excessive stress causes distress – physical, emotional and behavioural.

Stress raises your heart rate and blood pressure. It increases the acid in your stomach. It causes insomnia, exhaustion and headaches.

It can impair your concentration and cause panic attacks. It can make you irritable, moody or emotionally disconnected.

Take a pulse check now. Are you suffering from some of these symptoms? What’s your stress level now?

When you start attending to your own stress level, you’ll note how it varies throughout each day and throughout the week. If you have a high stress job – such as a server in a busy restaurant, you’re likely more relaxed at home, when you’re out with friends and on your days off.

If you’re a busy parent with young kids, you’re break from stress might be when everyone else is asleep.

If you suffer from high levels of stress day in and day out from the moment you awaken until the moment you finally fall asleep, your stress may already be compromising your emotional and physical health.

We would all like an ideal job but that wouldn’t be one where you get paid to do nothing. When the challenge or demands placed on us are far below our capabilities, we’re bored. Ideally, we’d want the challenge of our work to be a close match to our abilities. We’ll feel appropriately challenged and have a sense of accomplishment at the end of each day.

We get into trouble when we don’t have the resources to meet the demands before us: a clerk with too much work to do without enough time or support, a single parent with sick or fighting kids, a nurse rushing to care for a ward of unstable patients, or a teacher with a class of out of control children.

When the demands of our life overwhelm us in the short term, we feel stressed and anxious. It’s just a bad day.

But if we face this imbalance day after day with no end in sight, we begin to feel helpless. If this continues, we’re at risk for burnout. The key symptoms of burnout are: emotional exhaustion, feeling alienated or cynical about our work, and impaired performance.

Doctors or nurses who are burnt out will be irritable with coworkers and patients. They may start treating patients impersonally before the quality of their care declines.

When we’re overwhelmed by our situation, we feel helplessness, and this leads to anxiety. When we feel we have no control over our situation, we may feel hopelessness, and this leads to burnout and depression.

One key to managing stress and avoiding burnout and depression is your locus of control. The key factor in the development of burnout is the feeling of a loss of control, but in spite of the demands of our work or our lives, we often have more control than we think. We must accept the things we cannot change and accept our responsibility to change what we can.

Any one of us can feel emotionally overwhelmed at times. The next time you blow up or someone in front of you does, consider the 80/20 rule. 20% of our reaction is related to the reality of the situation; 80% arises from what we bring from our past and how we conceptualize the present.

The key to managing acute stress is to seize the locus of control.

First, identify the sources of stress. Ask, “Am I reacting in proportion to this stress?” Recognize what you can change or control. It might be your attitude or perspective. Will this make a difference a year from now?

Accept what you cannot change; assume responsibility for what you can. Recognize your choices.

Next: Can we really achieve balance in life?

Categories
Relationships Uncategorized Workplace Health

Work Stress and the Locus of Control

A sense of control – and recognizing that our actions can make a positive difference – can make us empowered and engaged patients. Without that sense of control, we feel overwhelmed and anxious, demoralized and depressed. Our emotional state can influence our physical state.

That locus of control is important in all aspects of our lives – at home, at school and at work.

If you are an employer or supervisor, it is crucial that you keep your staff members informed of changes that will affect them personally and wherever possible, consult them and elicit their feedback. Engaged and empowered employees will not only be happier and less stressed; they will be more productive.

With corporate downsizing and layoffs, the demands on individual employees can be overwhelming. If workers are not given sufficient time, training and support to meet their assigned tasks, they are set up for failure, stress and burnout.

We have to be vigilant of the signs that workers – or we ourselves – are becoming significantly anxious or depressed. Productivity plummets, and employees become physically or psychiatrically ill. These are the usual reasons that employees will need to stop work and go on “stress leave.”

Coming up:  Work stress – it’s recognition, management and prevention – and other important aspects of workplace health.

Categories
Happiness Healthy Living Relationships stress management Workplace Health

Finding Meaning and a Sense of Control at Work

In an ideal world, each of us would meet our calling in our work. We would make a living doing what we love to do. Our unique talents and experiences – along with the support and resources we are given – would be met by the challenges of each day. Our work would be meaningful to us, and at the end of each day, we would feel we have made a positive difference.

But of course, in the real world, many of us are just working to pay the bills and to keep food on the table. As one of my best friends says, “It’s just a job.” At different points in our lives, our circumstances are such that we have to settle for a job that we don’t find particularly meaningful, challenging or the opposite – way too stressful.

But our ideals – and our dreams – are worthwhile considering if you are a young person considering your vocational options, an adult looking for work, a boss trying to engage employees, or a worker wondering how things could be better.

Just as we don’t have complete control over the circumstances of our lives and our physical health, we have to pause and consider those things that we can influence. When I work with patients with a chronic health condition such as congestive heart failure or diabetes, we focus on the things they can do to maintain mastery over their health – what activities will improve their condition, what types of food will reduce potential complications and what they need to monitor to slow down the progression of disease.

A sense of control – and recognizing that our actions can make a positive difference – can make us empowered and engaged patients.

Next: The importance of a sense of control to your wellbeing.

Categories
stress management Wisdom

The Secret to Managing Stress

A sense of helplessness has been associated with feelings of anxiety; hopelessness with depression.

During the hardest times in our lives, we may feel overwhelmed and ineffectual. Though life can be unpredictable and unfair, our emotional well-being depends upon some sense of control.

At stressful times in our lives, it may be helpful to look at what aspects of our situation we can control. We have to accept what we can’t change, but we should recognize that which we can.

This is conveyed in Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

When we appreciate and seize our capacity to control and shape at least some part of our lives, we can feel uplifted with a sense of empowerment. Sometimes, there is little we can change in our circumstances, but we can change our attitude and how we think about them.

Today, think about your choices. In which ways can you change your life in a positive way?

 

Categories
Emotions Happiness stress management

A Hundred Days to Happiness: Happiness in the Face of Stress

Stress is an essential part of everyday life. In fact, we need positive stress, or what Hans Selye called eustress, to move forward, grow and achieve our potentials. My son needs that little extra help to get out of bed on a school day; otherwise, he’d be in bed all morning.

Distress, however, is from negative stress or stress that overwhelms us. This can affect us mentally and physically. It can take the form of competing demands from your work, school, home or social lives, an abusive or adversarial relationship, or situations that seem beyond your control.

We function at our best when the challenge of our activities matches our resources and abilities. An example would be the perfect job that absorbs all of your attention, engages your talents and provides you with the time and support you need.

When your abilities far exceed the task at hand, you’d be underachieving and you’d feel bored. You need enough challenge to bring out your best.

If the demands of the situation are beyond what you can manage, you experience increasing stress. A common example is a job in which you’re doing the work of two people, there’s not enough time to get everything done and you don’t even have time to take your lunch break.

Chronic mounting stress can lead to burnout. If we feel that the mounting stress is exceeding our abilities, we begin to feel helpless, and that helplessness commonly results in anxiety. We will have difficulties relaxing, sleeping and enjoying each day.

Over time, continued overwhelming stress can lead to feelings of hopelessness, and this can eventually lead to depression. At this point, we lose our motivation, enthusiasm and capacity for positive experiences. Even if we’re not teenagers, we might have difficulty just getting out of bed.

The key is the locus of control. We are most distressed and unhappy when we feel powerless in our lives – if our actions feel futile, if our dreams are repeatedly shattered, if our feelings are not acknowledged or if our voices are not heard.

This is important for teachers and parents to recognize – that we must listen carefully to hear a child’s voice.

Your happiness exercise for today:

Ask where you are on the spectrum of stress. What are the major stressors in your life and how are you coping? Are you experiencing enough challenge in school or work? Are you feeling fully engaged? Are you growing and moving forward?

Or are you feeling distressed by your situation or your workload? If you are, what aspects of the situation are under your control? What are your choices?

Coming up: Strategies for Managing a Difficult Situation and Coping with Stress.

Since February 1st, I’ve been sharing the insights I’ve learned from my patients, friends and family in “A Hundred Days to Happiness.” Each day, I will post one new insight on facebook.com/davidicus.wong, twitter.com/DrDavidicusWong and my blog at davidicuswong.wordpress.com.