What cigarette smokers can teach us about mental health

You don’t have to give up all of your habits associated with cigarette smoking. In fact, you should keep some of them.

As a group of people who partake in socially accepted addictive behaviors, smokers tend to be the pariahs among the out right public addictions, such as overeating or drinking alcohol. Many a person who would casually drink a glass of wine over a business dinner would feign horror at the thought of smoking a cigarette. Yet, cultural and business policies begrudgingly tolerate and accommodate smokers. Legal consequences used as a deterrent to eradicate other types of addictions, such as narcotics or pornography, are non-existent for smokers. Even alcohol has a legal consequence if indulged while driving. Smoke and drive all you want without the police harassing you. In fact, the police officer passing you on the Interstate is possibly a smoker him or herself.

Instead, “if you can’t beat ’em join ’em” approach seems to be the antidote to the futile prohibition of smoking during business hours despite everyone’s acknowledged acceptance of how damaging smoking is to an individual’s health and to the health of those who ingest the chemical second hand. Even smokers joke about their “cancer sticks.”

Consequently, cigarette smokers are considered our culture’s socially accepted addiction pariahs.  And they are the most blatantly public in their addiction. After all, who stands outside their work place with their company attire partaking in other drugs? Overeaters and drinkers don’t stand in a huddle outside on their breaks to anesthetize their stress with sugar donuts and glasses of wine. Company policies are written to accommodate nicotine addictions. Other drug-related policies are written to fire you from your job if you are caught indulging on company time.

But there’s a lot to learn from a cigarette smoker as far as strategies to manage stress. Ask any smoker and they will tell you they believe it calms their nerves.  And some substances contained within cigarettes do provide a mental boost. The downside is the cost eventually outweighs the benefit. The cost is your life and it’s a slow, painful one once it’s past the stress reduction threshold. Smoking-related illnesses cost businesses about $156 billion in lost productivity and smokers $170 billion in direct related medical care.

So, what about the non-smokers? I know you’ve done the mental math. Have you worked with a smoker and wondered how long they spent on their smoke break? On average, smoke breaks for one person tally up to about 6 days out of the year, depending on the industry a smoker works in. The higher the stress of a particular career field the more smoke breaks people take.  What can we learn from people whose addiction is so powerful that complete areas outside of businesses and hospitals are set aside for them to indulge?

  • It’s good to take frequent breaks from your work. Sitting is the new smoking, after all. It would be fascinating to see how work environments changed up their stress levels if non-smokers took as many breaks as smokers.
  • Smokers walk more than nonsmokers. That’s obvious. If you work in a high rise building, for example, to take your break you have to go from your cubicle to the elevator or the stairs and walk to your smoking area and, sometimes, it’s across the street from where you work. Walking is good for you.
  • Smokers get outside more and absorb more Vitamin D from the sun. Nature is healing. You hear birds sing, feel the breezy wind, experience sunshine. And smokers are dedicated. They take their smoke breaks no matter the weather–tornadoes, hurricanes and blizzards. That is a nature break discipline the rest of us would do well to develop.
  • Smokers breathe. They also cough after awhile, but smokers know how to belly–or diaphragmatic–breathe. This deep breathing is known to affect the autonomic nervous system and calm it down to reduce symptoms of some types of anxiety, depression and reduce the cortisol–or stress chemical–loads on people. If you’re not a smoker but want to breathe like a smoker, inhale and exhale through a straw a few times.  You will notice the weight of air as it is forced further down to your diaphragm. Keep your straws from your drinks and it’s a double win. You can breathe like a smoker and save the environment.

So, you see, smokers can be a role model for the rest of us. And, maybe if smokers talked to enough non-smokers who used the same strategies for stress reduction, minus the cigarettes–it would encourage them to quit because all of us need friends.

 

 

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Inches and seconds may be the only intervention

wabi sabi

For the past month,  I’ve been co-facilitating a free weekly support group for people who were affected by last year’s Hurricane Harvey. Group members recount stories of how they were rescued and the achingly slow process of rebuilding their homes because of bureaucratic red tape.

The purpose of the support group is to help participants develop a self-care routine that will help them calm down their nervous system that has been agitated because of severe stress. Losing your home because of flood waters, tends to make people anxious depressed and overwhelmed.

My co-facilitator and I were meeting at Starbucks on Monday morning to determine the approach we wanted to take at our next session. She was ignoring her husband’s phone call but because of his persistence, she took it.  He reported that her brother had been in a car accident and he was being transported by ambulance to the hospital. The anxiety and panic rose on her face and it was time to end our coffee meeting. Before she left, though, I asked her if I could pray for her. So I clutched her hands and asked God and the guardian angels to watch over her brother and doctors.

Later that day, she reported her brother was lucky. He was driving his truck and not the car, so he had the bulk of protection he needed to survive the impact of being rear-ended and thrust into the next three lanes of traffic. He was being released with minor injuries, but injuries unexpected and unplanned for on a November Monday.

Inches and seconds are often times all that stand between us and an eternally altered existence. Life continues to unfold and it doesn’t mete justice out according to who has already endured what or how charitable of a person you are. Seemingly random events interfere with our plans for the day or our life and we are forced to make adjustments.

Within an hour, life unfolded in a way for which we weren’t prepared. We expand and contract through the seasons of life as it forces events on us. If we practice it enough when life is calm, though, we will automatically remember to breathe when the day’s events are chaotic and unexpected.

 

Finding a life worth living

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. If you are or you believe someone is at risk of dying by suicide, please dial 911 or the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.

Special note: This is a story I wrote several years ago before I entered the field of mental health and didn’t know the symptoms of depression or that suicide is the second leading cause of death in adolescents and young adults.

While I was on the periphery of the story told below, the experience had a profound impact and changed how I view people who behave in troubled ways. Behavior is communication and sometimes people who are in emotional or physical pain behave in ways that provoke irritation, frustration or anger from us. Do your best to be calm in the face of another person’s internal crisis and offer what compassion you can.

be kind

Paul and Rick fought on the Tuesday before winter break and again on the Wednesday that classes resumed. The first argument was over the cigarette butts. Paul flicked the last of his cigarette on the ground even though a black metal canister was right beside him. Rick, the building’s maintenance man, walked by just as the butt landed on the ground. In a polite way for Rick, but a rude way to Paul, Rick barked that Paul should use the ashtray. Paul shouted where Rick could put the ash tray.

The second argument continued the first over the disposal method of cigarettes but was also fueled by Paul’s inattentiveness to clean spaces. Rick had just mopped the floor and Paul walked through it, rather than around.

As the full-time maintenance man, Rick walks a tight rope of self-restraint in word and action. His job is menial enough–unplugging toilets, changing lights, cleaning up vomit–without people deliberately and immediately wrecking what he just finished wiping up. On this second day of blatant defiance of common courtesy, Rick ignored self-restraint and came to our office. He complained loudly and expletively to us about Paul. He demanded we do something to stop Paul or he would.

image-from-rawpixel-id-401529-jpegI agreed with Rick and understood his frustration at our students. My coworkers and I wished Paul would quit being rude. But we didn’t know how to stop him or any of the other inconsiderate students in the Adult Learning Center. Many students ignore the rules and procedures. But for these two incidents, Paul was the student caught at it.

We told Rick we would talk to Paul. The Adult Learning Center’s director took Paul aside and said we would have to call the police if he acted this way again and, especially, if he threatened Rick. She advised Paul to avoid Rick and save himself from further trouble.

Paul is one of an endless stream of students in Adult Basic Education Centers who hope to make up in basic education skills what they didn’t learn when they were kids. So many of them, though, are missing more than just the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Dozens arrive without homes, teeth, cars, jobs, food, and hope. We try to give them encouragement, but we know the center is here because society doesn’t know what else to do with them nor does it want to do anything–meaningful at least–with them. It’s a daytime holding place. We don’t know where or to whom some students go to at night.

I understand some of the societal causes of their problems, but my critical, judgmental voice tells me that life shouldn’t be that hard for them. I don’t vocalize it as Rick does, but I’m thinking the same thing: “Use the ashtray. Walk around where he’s mopped. Learn your multiplication tables. Why do you go out of your way to make life more difficult for the rest of us? Can’t you act like you remember even one thing you learned in kindergarten?”

All these thoughts bulleted through my head as Paul walked past my desk. And after he walked by I didn’t give Paul another thought. For emotional protection, I don’t think very deeply about our students. I don’t ask them personal questions nor do I tell them about my life. And they don’t ask me either. They know what they don’t have and they don’t need me to remind them.

After I finished working I went home and didn’t think any more about Paul and Rick until I came back after the weekend. Sadly, that Friday, Paul didn’t think any more deeply about himself than what I had. He hung himself in his basement bedroom where his mother found him.

My boss and Paul’s teacher went to the funeral. Rick and I stayed behind. My boss said the minister didn’t know many personal details of Paul and didn’t have a lot to say about him in the eulogy. She shook her head.

I tried to learn more about Paul by reading the newspaper’s obituary. A professional portrait was used in it. It showed a smiling, dark haired young man wearing a suit and tie. Pictures probably do speak a thousand words. But these were words of happiness and good health that were from sometime in Paul’s past. In the weeks we knew Paul, he wore only faded blue jeans and worn t-shirts. He rarely combed his hair. My mental picture of Paul was one of anger, defiance, and loneliness.

Rick came into our office after the funeral. He consoled us, or maybe himself, with the comment, “he’s in a better place now.” He didn’t express any remorse about his feelings toward Paul. But I wondered if he regretted his harsh judgment like I regretted mine. We talked a few more minutes and then we all got back to work.

The next day I came to work and Rick, the maintenance man, was mopping the floor. This day the floor would stay clean.

 

Have you forgiven or forgotten it?

willie nelson

You had a disagreement with another person and in your mind you forgave. You were able to forgive them because you ended your relationship with them. But did you really forgive them or did you just forget them?

The answer to that question will be revealed next time you unexpectedly run into them in a location you weren’t prepared for, such as your local grocery store. If your heart jumps and your stomach feels anxious, then the injury of the conflict hasn’t subsided and, frankly, you focused on the forgetting but not the forgiving.

So what do you do when you come across that person?

Here are some options, not all of them recommended.

1. Turn around and pretend you didn’t see them.

2. Take your shopping cart and bang into the back of their legs pretending you didn’t see them.

3. Walk by them as if they were invisible and pretend you didn’t see them, or

4. See them.

As uncomfortable as it could be, facing a person who injured you is a response coming from a stance of self-empowerment. Avoiding them or lashing out at them will reinforce for you that you were on the losing end of the conflict. Instead, take a deep breath, open your eyes, and see the person in front of you. What you discover might surprise you about them and yourself.

Now, for the awkward moment. Does seeing them include speaking? Maybe. But on your terms and not theirs. You can say hello, or nod your head and give a small smile (but not the smirk smile) and keep walking. If they initiate a conversation, such as, “how are you?” say, “I’m great!”  (You are great, so be honest about it!)

So. the moment has passed and you SAW them, what do you do next to FORGIVE them?

Here are some steps that may help you with the process of forgiveness.
buddha forgiveness prayer
1. Write the person a letter stating exactly what they did that hurt you.

Journaling is a therapeutic process which can help you “read your own mind.” Journaling does not have to be limited to words. Incorporating art or other visual modes are just as effective in processing your feelings. (Do not send that person the letter, but it might help to read it to another supportive person who can keep a confidence.)

2. Pray and meditate on the concept of forgiveness.

Sometimes, we can’t pray for that person, but we can start the process by quieting the thoughts that racket around like they are on a handball court by focusing on the theme of forgiveness.

3. When you are ready to move to the next stage, pray for good things for yourself and that person. Some people will leave out the part about praying for good things for themselves, but you deserve good things, too.

This action is empowering because it gives you control. When you start, you don’t have to be sincere (and you probably won’t be sincere), but over time you may find yourself hoping each of you receive the gift of a great life. After all, hurting people hurt others.

4. Understand, the role of forgiveness isn’t to change that person as change may never happen, but it is there to heal you and give you a better quality of life.

Even if the other person tried to steal your quality life in a long ago incident, they don’t have to keep stealing it.

© 2018 Brenda Henning

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Special Needs Child

mom kissing daughter

Coming soon! An E-Book for Caregivers with Special Needs Children

Learn to ADVOCATE, PARENT, AND BUILD STRENGTH in raising your child with special needs

Find your peace of mind as you learn what supports you need in place to guarantee a life of emotional, financial, and physical security for  you and your child

Do you worry about:

·      What will happen to my child and will he or she be happy?

·      Who will help me with my child and how do I get my friends to understand the stress I’m under?

·      How do I get over the loss of the dreams I had for a family?

·      How can I tell if my child is acting out because of his disability or because he’s being a kid?

·      How will I support myself when I have to support my child?

·      What if my spouse leaves me because of the pressure?

·      What school should my child attend and do I have any recourse if my child’s school treats him or her inappropriately?

·      What will happen to my child after I die?

 

You’re not alone. Nearly one-fifth of American families have a member with a disability, either physical, sensory, or intellectual (according to the National Organization on Disability). And many people with disabilities or special needs are outliving their primary caregivers (their parents) because of advancements in medical technology and treatment.

My Training and Credentials

At this juncture, you may be wondering who I am. Beyond having been a journalist, a researcher and a licensed professional counselor, I am also a mother to two children who have had special concerns at various times in their lives.

My youngest son was born with a disability. My older son developed a temporary disability later in his life, which he has overcome. Each of the experiences came with its unique set of challenges and opportunities.

When I first heard the diagnosis for my youngest son, I sat on my bed, called a friend and sobbed to her “I just want my son to be okay.” My friend tried to comfort me as best as she could, but she couldn’t truthfully tell me if my son would be okay. No one could. As his diagnosis began to unfold, I found myself struggling to find help. We lived in a remote New Mexico community and autism resources were only beginning to be offered there.

Consequently, I had many sleepless nights of constant worry, fear, and grief of what the future could hold for my beloved son.  Also, I had to completely reorder my life emotionally, spiritually, financially, socially, and professionally because of his special needs and the lack of resources available.

One of my biggest fears, initially, was the fear of the unknown. I had never had an experience as a mother of a child with a disability so I had no idea of what to expect. So, what did I do? I did like any mother who wants what’s best for her child:

  • I scoured the Internet,
  • Made hundreds of phone calls,
  • Took countless trips to professionals, and
  • At the end of the day collapsed exhausted and still scared.

No doubt about it, it can be a lonely and stressful experience as a caregiver and our ability to access an in-person support group can be challenging, and in some regions of the United States, nearly impossible.

But you’re not alone. My E-Book, “My Special Needs Child: The Complete Guide to Advocating, Parenting, and Building Strength” will help you address your worries and connect you with the vital resources you need for you to have peace of mind as a parent.

  • You’ll learn the subtle shift in thinking that will empower you and your child. It took me nearly a decade to understand and articulate this idea, and I’ll share this with you in my E-Book.
  • You will gain insight into how to be a parent and not only a caregiver.
  • You will read stories from people who have been where you are now and the successes they have achieved and that you can achieve, too.
  • You will learn how to overcome your reticence in speaking up for your child and yourself. This book will help you trust your intuition when opinions differ with professionals.
  • You will learn effective advocacy skills to help you and your child meet your needs to ensure the best outcome. You will learn the critical skills to advocate at the local level all the way to the federal level.
  • If you are worried about having enough money or how your career will be affected by your caregiving role, this E-Book will share about financial tools you can leverage for economic peace of mind.

Life can have many sudden twists and turns. Whether through an accident or the aging process, at some point every human being will experience either a temporary disability or a disability that becomes permanent. You will gain understanding how disability affects a person in different ways across the lifespan.

It’s not always easy to raise a child with disabilities. There is even a time of grieving as a diagnosis comes to light. But it can be a fulfilling and a profoundly positive life-changing experience in a way you never would have planned for yourself. In this E-Book you will learn how to transform what looks like a loss into a positive experience which will ripple throughout all your relationships.

If you are worried or struggling with knowing what to do or who to turn to for help for your child with a disability, then this e-book is for you. You will save countless hours of worry and research. You will find your way through the maze of programs, professionals’ opinions, and life’s challenges. You will find new meaning and purpose in life and release your fear and anxiety.

Please fill out my contact form below to let me know of your interest in this e-book. I am here to help.

© 2018 Brenda Henning

Fear corrodes you; here’s how to stop it

image-from-rawpixel-id-421916-jpegIn the oil industry, rust build-up destroys pipes. The speed at which rust spreads depends on how reactive the pipe is to its environment. Corrosion specialists counteract rust and a pipeline’s natural environmental influences by depositing coating chemicals and shooting electric currents through the main pipe and re-directing the destruction to a secondary sacrificial metal.

Fear can be as corroding to your body as is rust is to metal piping. It feels like a million jumping Mexican beans in your stomach and your shoulders sag from the buildup of it. The environment of your mind influences the spread of panic, depending on many factors. Today, you can choose to detach yourself from highly charged emotional environments, which can mitigate some of the flow of anxiety. You may be in the environment, but you can choose to not take anything personally, even it it’s meant personally.

Should you realize your thoughts floating, shooting and wandering and untethered to places and people flung far from your body, you can bring your body back to now.  You can use your breath to coat yourself and prevent the build up of more fear.  In and out, in and out, you can consciously redirect your ionic attention and thoughts to the energy held in your shoulders and stomach.

image-from-rawpixel-id-418597-jpegThe life force of your breath can  redirect and expel the corroding fear from your  lungs and nose and into the Universe. The Universe, though, sacrifices nothing with its absorption of your breath. Instead it can take your highly charged energy and expands itself by creating more galaxies.

© 2018 Brenda Henning

 

 

 

Remember to Breathe

Breathe Deeply
In the photo a beach in Zanzibar at sunset where there is an inscription on the sand “Breathe Deeply”.

Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7 NIV)

Remember to breathe.

In the Creation Story, the first burst of energy Human Kind experienced from God was the breath.
Focus on your breath today and know it is the essence of the original Breath of God. As you walk on your path today, every breath in and every breath out can be a connection to God’s infinite, soothing peace.
Remember to breathe.
© 2018 Brenda Henning

 

 

Do you need a lifeline?

Affiliate disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning at no cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase of a product or service.

Every so often it’s good to take a step back and take a different view of your life. A big picture point of view can give you some perspective that living it up close and personal every day won’t allow. A wide-angle, panoramic view can be especially helpful when you are experiencing a challenging time.

37061793_10155408670426968_2408675066129678336_nOne way to see your life in a different way is to create a lifeline or life map. New author Jen Alward recommends a lifeline as an activity in her new release Hope and Healing at Home: Build Bridges with your kids and empower them for life with Art & Christian Therapy.Click here to visit Jen Alward.

Locating where you are and gaining insight into how you got there can give you direction in where to go next. Families have challenges today that were unimaginable 20-30 years ago. Drug epidemics, increased school violence and other societal trends are placing new levels of stress on parents and their children.

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A lifeline will help you see where you’ve been and where you could go.

You can be as detailed as you want in your lifeline, family map. I set mine up for 10-year decades, but you divide it into five-year increments if you prefer. It can be helpful to include other family members on one sheet of paper to see where the trajectory of their lives may be headed and to help you set family as well as individual goals.

A perspective you may gain by completing a lifeline or family map is noticing how many challenges you have already successfully overcome. This can be reassuring that you will be able to meet whatever challenge you currently find yourself coping with. Seeing the pivotal periods in your life on paper can be a reality check into how you are spending your precious commodity of time.

So, where are you going with your one “wild and precious life?”

direction

© 2018 Brenda Henning

A little something to get you through

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Some people like to pray.

Others,  as soon as they hear or read the word prayer go a different direction. They are more open to the concept of phrasing such as an inspirational quote, a mantra or meditation. What phrasing do you prefer when you are working to settle down your over stimulated mind?

In 12-step groups, people pray and meditate and whatever other approach helps them build a relationship with a Higher Power, Universal Intelligence or

G. ood
O.  rderly
D.  irection.

Most importantly, while they are developing a trust in a spiritual side of their human experience, they take what they like and leave the rest.

The Serenity Prayer most commonly is associated with 12-step recovery groups. People in these groups open and, often times, close their meetings with this prayer.  But if you don’t like the concept of prayer, you can call it a statement or philosophy. Call it whatever helps you receive the underlying message contained in it.

But the prayer’s effectiveness comes in differentiating between what you have the ability to address in this moment and what you are powerless over. The crux of the matter is you are powerless over other people’s thoughts and actions but you have absolute power to change your own thoughts and actions.

You may not always have control over the first thought, those buggers move around so fast in there, but once you are aware of it, you can make a conscious decision to change it.

And it is an act of courage to change yourself.

What changes are you making today? Could you share on this post as you may be the inspiration someone else needs.

Love and light,
Brenda

P.S. A shortened version of the Serenity Prayer is most often recited at 12-step meetings. The full prayer, usually attributed to Reinhold Neibuhr, is as follows:

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

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as the pathway to peace.
Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it.
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His will.
That I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with Him forever in the next.
Amen.

 

© 2018 Brenda Henning