Thursday, December 9, 2010

Exaggerating Problems

Dear Dr. Phil,
My husband tells me that I am always exaggerating my problems. I know he is right but I can’t stop myself from looking at the negative side of a situation. 
In all honesty, I know I am blessed, but I am constantly nit picking and grumpy.
Negative in Washington, D.C.
Often we all exaggerate a problem

We all are guilty of exaggerating a problem from time to time to prove to ourselves that we care, or that we feel wronged in some way. Unfortunately, this often ends up only hurting ourselves. We make ourselves feel important by our exaggerations. But, we can also make ourselves miserable. Please let me give you an example.

Mary came into my office and growled, “I’m having a terrible day. People are sick at work and I’m picking up all the pieces. On top of all this, my back is killing me, I keep thinking I probably have liver cancer or something.”

When I talked with Mary about the specifics of her “terrible day” it turned out that in reality she had three-five minute problems that she really believed were “terrible” over the course of her day. She had 15 minutes of “terrible” in her 480 minute workday.

When Mary evaluated the day honestly she said, “Four hundred and eighty minutes? Huh… I guess 15 minutes of crap wasn’t so bad.”

With her new honest evaluation of her day, Mary’s shoulders lifted along with her spirits.

When we use hyperbole, exaggeration to prove a point, we can accidentally beat ourselves up from the inside. By always focusing on the negative, we teach ourselves to only see the negative. By honestly evaluating our day, we have a greater chance to see the normal ups and downs of life.

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Dealing with Fears

Dear Dr. Phil,

I am a little embarrassed to tell you this, but I need your advice. I find that I am constantly fearful. It seems that I worry incessantly about my kids, my parents, and about getting injured myself. I know it sounds crazy, but I think about accidents round the clock. I wonder all the time if I am getting sick or if I am about to have a heart attack. I have seen my doctor lots of times and it always turns out that I am healthy.

I talked to my doctor about it, and he said that it is normal to be cautious. I don’t think that he took me seriously.

Fearful in Walnut Creek, CA

Dear Fearful,

I am glad you sent me this email. This gives me a chance to talk about the very common issue of anxiety. About 10% of Americans suffer from anxiety problems. These problems range from inconvenient fears to total debilitation of a person’s life.

If your fear gets to the point of interfering with your daily activities, you may need to consult a therapist. Anxiety disorders are very treatable. I am sorry that your medical doctor didn’t take your concerns seriously. Thankfully, most MDs are good listeners and will help their patients talk about embarrassing or uncomfortable problems. If yours is not, it may be best to find another general practitioner.

Most people can get themselves easily into worry mode. If life stress is higher than normal, or there is a loss of sleep, even calm people can become worriers. I advise patients to question their own thoughts by asking themselves the following three questions. The questions are easy, it will be your answers that are hard. You will have to be totally honest with yourself.

Getting control over our own minds

1. What is the worst case scenario?
2. What is the best case scenario?
3. What is the most likely scenario?

By honestly answering these 3 questions you give yourself solid footing to define your fear.

If, after honest reflection, you come to the conclusion that worst case scenario is also the most likely scenario you have a call to action. And I do mean action. You will need to do something about your problem.

Action cures fear

Sally was concerned that the apartment complexes’ pool gate latch was not working correctly. She found herself worrying about the little children that tended to be left unsupervised in her apartment complexes’ play area. When she answered the three questions, she realized that the worst case scenario and the most likely scenario were very scary.

1. What is the worst case scenario?

“A child could drown.”

2. What is the best case scenario?

“The children are safe.”

3. What is the most likely scenario?

“The children are excited by the water, a child could drown.”

Sally told me about the problem.

“I talked to the apartment manager last week and he said that he was aware of the problem. He was waiting on a replacement key lock that should be coming any day now. I’m worrying myself sick. I’m constantly looking out my window hoping to God that the little kids are being supervised correctly,” Sally explained.

“I don’t want to sound harsh, but your worrying isn’t protecting the little kids. Action cures fear, what can you do to protect the little kids?”

“I talked to the manager.”

“I know you did, but you are still worrying. Worrying about a real problem from what you have told me,” I said. “Is there someone more powerful than yourself that the manager will listen to?”

“You’re right, I’m going to the fire department. The manager will listen to the fire department!”

Sally drove right over to the fire department and they dispatched a large firetruck. The gate was fixed within the hour.

Worry solves nothing. Action cures fear.

When is help needed?

If anxiety issues are taking over your life, seek help. The common symptoms of anxiety disorders are:

Ongoing and excessive worry
Feeling nervous most of the time
Feeling irritable frequently
Unexplained sweating
Unexplained upset stomach
Trouble falling and/or staying asleep
Trembling in your arms and legs
Muscle tension (often worsens at night)
Finding yourself easily startled
Trouble concentrating
Others often tell you that you have an “unrealistic view of your problems.”

Talk with your doctor about treatment options. Therapists that specialize in anxiety disorders are available in most communities. Research has shown that cognitive -behavior therapy and/or medication treatment are helpful in treating anxiety disorders.

Common medications:

Common benzodiazepines include Xanax, Librium, Valium and Ativan.

Common Antidepressants, such as Paxil, Effexor, Prozac, Lexapro, and Zoloft.

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