Archives

Acceptance

am

  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.

                                                                                                (Reinhold Neibuhr, 1943)

The inability to accept the things which we cannot change in life can be one of the greatest obstacles to inner peace. When people experience loss in their lives, they typically go through what well known psychologist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross referred to as the stages of grieving: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

When my youngest son was diagnosed with autism at the age of three, I suffered a loss.  While Ben was still physically with me, the hopes and dreams I had for his future were suddenly taken from me.  Although I did not realize it at the time, in retrospect I can see how I went through a text book case of the stages of grieving.

Denial: At first, I ignored the signs.  Sure, Ben preferred to be on his own, as opposed to the company of other people, but he was half British.  “The Brits are known for their aloofness,” I assured myself.

He was still not talking at the age of three.  “But is not unusual for boys to be late in acquiring language skills,” I told my family.

I noticed that he preferred to line up his toy trucks as opposed to play with them in the conventional way. “But that’s probably just because he doesn’t have play mates his own age,” I reasoned with my friends.

Anger: The first person to suggest that Ben might have autism was his father, a pediatrician.  I was outraged!  “Are you nuts?” I yelled.  “I can’t believe you would think that our beautiful son is autistic.  It is absolutely ridiculous. You obviously know nothing about autism.”  I am not exactly sure if I spoke those words to him directly, but I do know that I would go on wild rants whenever I thought about him making this “outrageous” diagnosis!

Bargaining:  When Ben’s speech-language therapist later suggested that we get him tested for autism, it really scared me.  Was it actually possible that my baby boy could be autistic?  Even the word autism scared me.  I bargained with God.  “Please Dear Lord, don’t let him have autism.  Let him be deaf or have a learning disability; anything but autism! Those kids are so cold and unloving.”

(Then God winked at me and replied, “Florence, do I have a lesson in store for you!”)

Depression: Even though more and more professionals were suggesting that I should have Ben tested for autism, I still clung on to the hope that he was just a late bloomer.  Then one evening, while chatting with a colleague of mine, I casually mentioned that Ben’s therapist had suggested autism.  I waited for his re-assurance that I had nothing to worry about, but instead, he gave a response that literally knocked the wind out of me.  “I can see that,” he said.

I gasped for air.  My voice cracked, “What the hell do you see that I don’t see, because I DON’T SEE IT!”  Then with all of the kindness that he could muster, he went on to point out the red flags that I had been ignoring: Ben’s lack of social interactions; his poor eye contact; not responding when his name was called; his fascination with letters and numbers; and his tip-toe walking.  I had a great deal of respect for my colleague, and when he said it, I knew it had to be true.

I started to cry and didn’t stop for three whole days.  Even months after his official diagnosis, the slightest thing could set me off.  I remember, for example, one evening when my son Donovan, then 11 years old, came home after being out to a movie with his friends.  He was very proud to tell me that he had put his arm around a girl he liked, who sat next to him at the movie.  I burst into tears.  All I could think was that Ben would probably never experience the excitement of having his first girlfriend.  He might never even have a real friend.  Because of this dreaded diagnosis, his whole life would be a series of obstacles, struggles and challenges.  Instead of a normal childhood, full of fun and play, Ben’s pre-school years would consist of work.  He would have to undergo intensive therapy to learn how to talk; therapy to learn how to play; therapy to learn how to recognize emotions; therapy to learn how to dress himself.  All of those things that “normal” children learn by watching and doing, would be hard work for Ben.   As a mother, it broke my heart that he would be robbed of a carefree childhood.

Acceptance: Finally, after months of intense sadness and feelings of loss, came acceptance. It came to me one night as I was praying my nightly prayer for my three children to be safe, healthy, and happy. It suddenly dawned on me that God was still answering my prayers. Ben was safe, he was healthy, and he was happy. Being given the label of autism did not make him cold or unloving.  Ben was still the same sweet, kind, loving, smart, adorable little boy that he was before his diagnosis.  I knew that there would be challenges ahead for both of us, but we would face these challenges together.  I finally accepted his autism and only then was I at peace.

In my work as an educational psychologist, I often see parents of autistic children who get stuck in one of these stages, and don’t come to a peaceful resolution of acceptance.  They frantically search for ways to FIX their child….diet, supplements, new therapies, or even stem cell transplants.  While some of these techniques may provide benefits, there is no cure for autism.  As a society, we need to understand and accept autism for what it is.  Remember, God does not make mistakes!

(This post is a chapter from my new book, “Soul Steps: 52 Ways to Reconnect with Spirit”, co-authored with Veronica Connors and Natalie Finlay.  Due for release in June of this year). 

   

 

 

Black Is The New Green

Hello all!  Well, for thoes of you who have been following my blog for a while, you may have noticed that my posts are all over the place lately!  Recently I have been posting about anxiety and mindfulness.  Mostly because that is what I am dealing with in my psychology practice.   Occasionally, I will write a post about my son Ben.  Mostly because he is awesome.   (On that note, I am very close to the completion of my book:  “Calm the Fuck Down: A Day in the Life of an Autism Mom”.   More to follow in March!!!)   It seems like a long time since I have written anything about cancer prevention or healthy lifestyle practices.  Mostly because…..well, there is no excuse.

I have been researching a lot lately for another book I am working on, “Still Finding the Perks” , and I am learning a lot of new, interesting information about food.  I believe that when you are making the transition to healthier eating habits, you should concern yourself with what new foods you can ADD to your diet, not what you have to eliminate.  Once you add more and more healthy options, there will be no room on your plate for the unhealthy stuff…..and you won’t feel deprived!

Did you know that the darker the pigments in foods, the more health benefits they provide to you?  By “foods” I mean foods from the earth of course, not animals, in which case lighter is better.  Anti-oxidants are the agents that give color to foods and the darker the color, the more powerful the anti-oxidants.   As you may know,  anti-oxidants help to neutralize the harmful effects that free radicals have on our bodies which protects us against many diseases, including cancer. What gives foods their black color is anthocyanin, an antioxidant flavanoid pigment, which has been linked to reducing cancer cell proliferation.  So when choosing foods for cancer prevention, always look for the darker varieties because when it comes to healthy eating, black is the new green!

black

 Blackberries: Blackberries have one of the highest anti-oxidant levels of all berries.  In addition to being a great food for cancer prevention, blackberries help promote better digestive health, strengthened immune defense, and healthy functioning of the heart.  Blackberries have also been shown to aid in enhancing memory and keeping the bones and skin healthy.

Black rice:  You probably know that brown rice is a healthier choice than white rice, but if you want to go that extra step, try black rice.  Unlike brown rice, black rice contains a flavonoid called anthocyanin. Additionally, black rice contains Vitamin E, which is useful in maintaining eye, skin, and immune system health.

Black lentils: In addition to anti-oxidants, black lentils are very high in iron, with one serving offering nearly half of the daily recommended amount for women.  They are also high in fiber, helping to remove toxins from the body.

Black beans: While all types of beans provide a good source of plant based protein, black beans,  are also rich in potent bioflavonoids, which may help to prevent cancer.

Chia seeds: These little powerhouses are touted for their high, heart healthy, omega 3 content.  In addition, one ounce of chia seeds provide four grams of protein.  They are also a good source of calcium and give you 42% of your recommended daily allowance of fiber, per serving.

Black soybeans: With more antioxidants and protein and fewer carbs than other beans these legumes are not only good for you, but also are a powerhouse food for weight loss.

Black sesame seeds: In addition to being high in anti-oxidants as well as several vitamins and minerals (such as magnesium which lowers blood pressure and helps to prevent diabetes), black sesame seeds promote healthy skin and hair.  They have also been proven to help promote healthy liver functioning.

Black garlic: Black garlic is simply the aged version of garlic. While garlic is known for its anti-cancer properties, the black variety has twice the antioxidants of regular garlic, giving it an even greater cancer kicking punch!

Black mushrooms: There are several black varieties of mushrooms, and all are rich in anti-oxidants.  They also help to stimulate the immune system as well as prevent cancer.

Black pepper: Black pepper has numerous health benefits including antibacterial properties and it aids in digestion.   The thing that gives black pepper its “super-power” however, is its ability to increase nutrient absorption from other foods by up to 2,000 percent!  (Black pepper helps your body to utilize the cancer fighting effects found in turmeric, for example.)

While many of these foods may sound exotic, it is easy to substitute them in the place of other, more familiar foods.  For example, I recently used black rice instead of brown rice in my veggie soup.  It darkened the broth a little, but had the same flavor. As a general rule of thumb, remember that when it comes to fruits and vegetables, the darker, the better, so seek out not only black varieties, but also dark greens and purples. Iceberg lettuce, for example, has very little nutritional value, whereas romaine is much richer in vitamin A, vitamin K, folate, vitamin C, calcium, phosphorus and potassium.  Knowledge is power and now that you know how much better darker foods are for your body, go ahead and make yourself a powerful, cancer-kicking salad!  (But don’t stop at the dark foods….try to include all the colors of the rainbow!)

 

 

Do You Need Help To Manage Your Anxiety?

anxiety-cb

In 25 years of practicing psychology, about 90% of clients who come to me for counseling are suffering from anxiety.  It comes in so many forms that many people do not even realize that it is the culprit for their misery.  Some of my clients have full blown panic attacks: racing heart, shortness of breath, feeling faint, choking sensation, and a sense of impending doom.  Others experience anxiety with just one symptom: a tightness in the throat and feeling that they can’t swallow; persistent worry; or a feeling of being detached from their body and from society.   Having one symptom can be just as debilitating as having full blown panic attacks.

The good news is, there is no need to suffer in silence!   There are natural techniques for managing anxiety which scientific studies have proven can be just as effective as taking medication. Do you need help in managing your anxiety?   Take this simple test to find out your anxiety level (credit for this test goes to David Burns):

Based on how you have been feeling for the past week, rate the following 5 items on a scale of 0 to 3 where:

0-not at all

1-somwhat

2-moderately

3- a lot

  1. To what extent have you been feeling anxious, nervous or worried?
  2. To what extent have you been feeling tense, restless or unable to relax?
  3. To what extent have you been feeling stressed, uptight or on edge?
  4. To what extent have you been having frightening thoughts, fantasies or daydreams? (eg. what if my son is in a car accident?  What if I get sick? etc.)
  5. To what extent have you been having physical symptoms of stress, such as racing heart, throat constrictions, shortness of breath or tight, tense muscles?

Interpretation:

0 to 2: normal

3 to 5: borderline anxiety

6 to 10: mild to moderate anxiety

11 to 15: severe anxiety

Over the years, I have accumulated an entire toolbox of strategies, techniques and tools for treating anxiety.  I have combined these techniques into an organized program called Mindful Anxiety Management, which has helped hundreds of people to keep their anxiety in check.  It is a program based on the concept of neuroplasticity, which simply means the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life.  Right now, for example, there are no neural pathways in my brain for playing a musical instrument, since I have never tried to learn that skill.  However, if I wanted to learn to play the piano, I could take lessons and practice.  Every time I practiced I would be strengthening the neural pathways in my brain for that skill.  Eventually, with enough practice, I would be able to sit at a piano and play without even thinking about it, thanks to the neural pathways I created.

Right now, many of you have strong neural pathways in your brain for anxiety, worry and stress, because that is what you PRACTICE on a daily basis.  You have made these neural pathways so well worn, that it is the path that your brain will naturally take you on as soon as you open your eyes in the morning.  Well, what if you could create NEW neural pathways…..pathways for peace and relaxation?   That is exactly what Mindful Anxiety Management does! 

What is the opposite of anxiety?  Relaxation.  It is impossible to feel both anxious and relaxed at the same time.  It makes sense then, that the best treatment for anxiety is to build strong neural pathways in the brain for relaxation.  How do you do this?  You PRACTICE relaxation skills.  Remember, “relaxation skills” are not the same as simply “relaxing”.   They are a specific set of skills that can be used to calm the body and the mind, and promote a sense of well being.   

Because of the success that my clients have achieved with Mindful Anxiety Management, I have decided to offer online groups, so that people can participate from the comfort of their own homes.  This is especially useful for people who have social anxiety, as many would find it overwhelming to be in a room full of people.  If you are interested in learning more about these groups, please check out my website: https://www.florencestrang.com/upcoming-workshops

Want to start building your neural pathways for relaxation right now?  Then find a place that is free from distractions and listen to this 10 minute guided visualization.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7KXnALvPIW8

Just relax!

How I Overcame A Nervous Breakdown

flo2bwFlorence Strang, Registered Psychologist

“Nervous breakdown”, I am so glad they don’t use that term anymore.  It suggests weakness and an inability to cope.  The term actually implies that you are somehow broken!  I guess that is why there was so much stigma and shame attached to it when I struggled with an anxiety disorder nearly 20 years ago.  Thankfully, people are more open to talking about mental health issues today, and the stigma is slowly disappearing.  But back in MY day…..

I was in my early thirties, with two small kids, a demanding career and the first stirrings of discontent in my marriage.  I felt fine when I set off to Corner Brook for a psychology conference, but I found myself running late for my first session and that worried me.  If there were going to be a lot of people in an enclosed space, I liked to get there early to get the chair nearest the door.  From an early age, I had a kind of phobia of being surrounded by people in a room with closed doors.  When I walked into the conference room, however the door seats were all taken.  The room was already full, with about 200 people jammed in there.  I scanned my surroundings for a seat.  The only one available was smack dab in the middle of the crowd.  I shuffled my way to the seat, brushing knees with my colleagues along the way.  Already I could feel my face becoming flushed.  Just as I sat down,  something happened that put my anxiety over the top:  they closed the doors!

My heart started to pound.  My breathing became quick and shallow.  My throat started to constrict.  My legs went to jelly and my hands began to shake.  Everything around me became surreal, like I was in a fog.  My mind raced, “I have to get out of here or I will die!”  Logically, I would later realize that nobody ever died from sitting in a crowded room.  However, when that panic set in, there was no convincing me otherwise.  I just had to get out of there!

I went back to my hotel room and waited for it to pass.  I had experienced panic attacks before so I knew the routine.  First that aura of impending doom.  Then the actual panic attack, lasting about five minutes and slowly subsiding, leaving me feeling weak and exhausted.  But this time was different.  After about an hour of pacing the floor, wringing my hands and crying, I started to fear that the feeling…..anxiety…..would never go away.  I was doomed to live my life with a never-ending feeling of fear, or at least that is what I thought at the time.

Over the next several months, things that I took for granted became monumental tasks for me.  I could not go to work.  I could not go shopping or even get my hair styled.  I was even afraid of being left alone to take care of my kids.  My future looked bleak and hopeless.  Eventually, I gave in to my doctor’s pleas and saw a psychiatrist, and that was the beginning of my recovery.

I had resisted medication, fearing that I would become addicted or turn into a “zombie”.  However, this doctor educated me on a then “new” type of medication, SSRI’s, which were gentle and non-addictive.  After about three weeks of taking them, I felt the anxiety slowly subside.  More important than the medication however, was the anxiety reduction techniques that I put into practice.  As a psychologist, I already knew about these techniques and had used them with my clients.  However,  just like a surgeon cannot perform surgery on him or her self, I needed that expert to guide me. The combination of medication with these techniques really worked!  I have not taken anxiety medication for about 15 years, but I continue to use my anxiety reduction techniques on a daily basis, and I have never felt better!

So what are these “magical” techniques that I speak of?

-Cognitive restructuring

-Mindfulness

-Deep relaxation exercises

-Abdominal breathing techniques

-Building and strengthening the neural pathways for relaxation

It sounds complicated, but really these techniques are easy to learn and to incorporate into your daily life.  About 90% of the clients I see in my psychology practice have issues with anxiety, such as panic attacks, OCD, self-harm, or just constant worry.  Through a program called Mindful Mood Balance, I help them to manage stress and anxiety and find peace of mind.

On Saturday, Feb. 4th, I will be offering a free session in St. John’s for anyone who would like to try out these techniques.   I also hope to offer a free online session.   If you would like to register, please indicate whether you are registering for the St. John’s session or the online session. 

Here is the link to register:  https://www.florencestrang.com/upcoming-workshops

Peace out!

The Golden Years

While visiting my parents a few days ago in my home town of Lawn, a sign on a building grabbed my attention:  The 50 Plus Golden Age Club.   While I have seen this sign many times, it startled me to think that in just a few short weeks, I could technically be a member of this club.  Suddenly I had visions of myself playing bingo and card games with the other ”Golden Agers” for the coveted prize of  bucket of salt beef.  Golden age.  The twilight years.  Big girl panties.  Am I ready for all of this?

golden-age-docx

Have you ever bumped into an old class mate you have not seen for years and thought, “Wow!  She has really aged!”   Well guess what, she is probably thinking the same thing about you.  I am not suggesting that you LOOK old, but that we all age. It is just that we sometimes forget that our bodies are aging, because of our “mental age”,  which is the age that we actually FEEL.  Mentally,  I am around 25, that carefree age just before I got married, had kids and still had my own boobs.  (A problem arises however, when you try to party like a 25 year old in a 50 year old body!)

I recently overheard a colleague of mine say that she dreaded turning 50.  Not me!   After fighting cancer and narrowly escaping with my life, I cherish each and every birthday.  Besides, the way I see it, 50 is the new 30.  It has taken me this long to finally feel grown up enough to say  the word “fuck” in front of my parents. 

Oh well, you know what they say:  Youth….it’s wasted on the young. Wisdom truly does come with age and I am sure you are all wondering, what pearls of wisdom I have gained in my 50 years on this planet.   Well, you are probably not actually wondering that, but here goes anyway:

Flo’s  Pearls of Wisdom

-Your health REALLY is the most important thing in your life. (Sometimes it takes getting sick to actually feel that truth of that statement.)

-When times are bad always remember, “this too shall pass”.

-When times are good, also remember that, “this too shall pass.”  (In the ebb and flow of life, the good and the bad will come and go, so just hang in there!)

-No matter how badly you have been hurt, you will love again.

-Doing everything for your kids does NOT turn them into selfish brats.

-Money is meant to be enjoyed, not hoarded.

-Being a parent is the most important job in the world.

-The only person you hurt by refusing to forgive is yourself.

-Cherish your friendships. 

-People will come and go in your life, but you can always count on family.

-It ALWAYS pays to be nice.

-What you give out will come back to you, so be generous with your time, your love and your money.

-Living in the past causes depression.  Worrying about the future causes anxiety.  Peace can only be found by living in the present moment.

-In the grand scheme of things, your greatest assets are the people in your life.

-Do yoga.

Wishing you a year filled with health, happiness and prosperity.  Namaste.

 

 

 

Mindfulness

frog-pond-trail

“You are the cause of about 90% of your own mental anguish and suffering!”

When I make that statement at one of my group therapy sessions or stress management presentations, I usually get the evil eye.  But by the end of my session, every head in the group is nodding in agreement.

Look around you right now.  Are you safe?  Are you comfortable? Is there anything happening to you right at this moment that is causing you mental anguish?  At least ninety-nine percent of you will answer “no” to that last question.  When you think about it, NOW is a good moment.  In fact, most of your moments are good moments.  Yet you suffer from worry, fear, frustration, sadness, regret, guilt and a host of other unpleasant emotions and mental suffering. 

Why?  Because most of the time, you are not truly in the present moment.  Most of the mental suffering that you experience is not caused by what is happening in your life right at this moment.  It is caused by you allowing your mind to go to the past:  recalling that cancer diagnosis; reliving your divorce; replaying the fight you had with your sister; or going back to your dysfunctional childhood.  Or, for many of you, mental suffering is caused by allowing your mind to go to the future: what if the cancer comes back?; What if my son gets into a car crash tonight?; What if I can’t pay the bills next month?

Living in the past causes depression.  Living in the future causes anxiety.  Only in the present moment can you find peace.

So how do you bring yourself back to the present moment?  The best way I have found is by tuning in to my senses, a technique which is known as mindfulness.  Stop what you are doing right now and take one moment to look around you.  Notice everything you see in your surroundings.  What grabs your attention?  Now take a moment to listen.  Just be mindful of what you hear.  Next, if you have a nice body lotion, apply it slowly and mindfully to your hands, just enjoy the sensation of touch.  Now, if your lotion is scented, take a deep sniff and savor the smell.  Finally, if you have a small food item, such as a candy, eat it, very slowly and very mindfully, enjoying the sensation of taste.  (Every time I do this session with a group of students, one of them will say, “Miss Strang, that is the best Skittle I have ever eaten!”   That is true because most of the time we are not mindful of eating and so we miss out on the pleasure of our food.)

The exercise you just did is a technique I use to demonstrate HOW to be mindful.  Practicing mindfulness however, does not mean sitting down with a bag of Skittles and a bottle of hand lotion to tune in to your senses for five minutes. Mindfulness is really all about using your senses to bring you back to the present moment in your everyday life.  For example, you can be mindful of taking a shower, just by turning off your thoughts for a few minutes and really paying attention to the feel of the water on your skin and the smell of the soap.  Practicing mindfulness just means having more mindful moments during the day; more moments where you get out of your head and simply pay attention to what you see, hear, feel, smell, and taste.  

I once had a client who came to me because she was a constant worrier.  She worried about her children, she worried about her health, she worried about her husband and so on.  I think if she didn’t have something to worry about, she would make something up!  I suggested that during her lunch break she take a walk around a beautiful trail that was near her work, since spending time in nature is such good medicine for the soul.  The following week however, she reported that it did her no good.  She spent her entire walk worrying and overthinking.  I suggested that on her next walk she just listen and come back to tell me everything she heard on her walk.  The next week a very different client came to my office.  She was smiling and very eager to tell me all that she had heard on her walk:  children laughing; rocks crunching under her feet; the wind in the trees; the water lapping on shore; birds singing; cars driving by; etc., sounds that she had never before been aware of.

“Was your mind occupied with your worries?”  I asked.

“No”, she laughed, “I was too busy listening to worry about anything.”

That is mindfulness. 

Not every moment is going to be a good moment. If you recently experienced a loss you can’t just eat a skittle mindfully and make it go away.  But if you find that you are spending much of your mental energy in the past or in the future, it will cause you suffering.  Peace can only be found in the present moment. 

I wish you a peaceful day, filled with many mindful moments!