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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Investing in Your Life

What would you do if you were given $100,000? Well, you might have some special circumstances that would determine it for you--kids needing to go to college, a family member with high medical bills, and so on. But imagine that you didn't need the money--what would you do with it?

I would hope that you might do several things with it, such as enjoying some if it, investing some of it, and sharing some of it. For example, you might want to buy a new car. Then you might take some of the money and put in a bank account. Some more of it might go into long term savings, and some might be shared with those you love or those in need.

Emotionally, all of us go through times when we have enough or more than enough emotional energy, and other times when we are pretty much running on empty. During the times when we are full of energy, it can be like we have just been given a lot of money. It's like we have been given a "present." If we don't pay attention to what we are doing with our energy and positive feelings, we may "spend" it all on the moment, preventing it from having any long lasting consequences. Even when we are depressed, we will often have brief periods of feeling better. At those times, extra energy can feel like an unexpected gift.

Here are some suggestions to consider the next time that you have the present of extra energy.

Spend some of it. That's not so hard is it? Although for some of my clients, it actually is. They have a hard time having fun. For others, however, that is the easy part. Spending it can mean simply doing whatever strikes you as enjoyable--something you want to do or accomplish.

Secondly, invest some of that energy. Invest it in building a social support network for yourself. That will pay dividends for you the next time you are down. Research has shown that high quality social support is the best thing since sliced bread. It helps buffer us against stress and strengthens our immune systems against physical infection. A short term investment (one that will yield relatively quick rewards) is to reach out to friends that we have neglected recently. We can reestablish friendships that we have not let slip away totally. That doesn't take as much energy as forming new relationships. (For a good online article on developing social support and relationships, see the Mayo Clinic web site-- ).

A long term investment of the extra energy might go into starting brand new relationships. They take longer to form. But they too yield rewards in the long run in the form of emotional support. A long term investment might also be starting up a new sport or starting to play an instrument.

And then there is the issue of giving some of it away. Research has shown that altruism has positive effects. Volunteer and use some of that energy to help others. It will have a positive effect on you in return.

So, remember the next time that you have some extra energy--enjoy it!! But also invest some of it in your future. And give some of it away, too.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Problem with Anger

First of all, I want to make it clear that anger is a normal feeling. There's nothing unhealthy about feeling angry now and then. In fact, it would be abnormal and unhealthy not to feel angry now and then. The problem with anger comes when it loses its rightful proportion in our life.

First of all, let's take a relatively common situation. You are driving in traffic, and another driver cuts you off. He is driving recklessly, perhaps speeding. The typical response of most persons is anger, and that would be normal and natural. The anger comes--it peaks--and it goes away. We forget about it.

However, for some people, the anger comes, and then it gets stronger and stronger. The reasons for this are not fully understood. But one reason it can happen is that persons are using negative self talk to build up their anger. "That stupid person. How dare he do that? Somebody ought to teach him a lesson!." This type of thinking increases the anger.

Another approach to the same situation would be to acknowledge one's anger and then steer a wide berth around such a person. That is, to let the anger come--and then to go, without the negative self talk strengthening the anger.

Some persons are chronically angry. They keep resentments alive on, and on, and on. This is not the same as anger. It is very unhealthy psychologically and physically. It has negative effects in every area of one's life.

I have been asked by some patients, and indeed I have asked myself at times, if this approach to anger isn't really just suppressing it. And suppression and repression can have negative consequences, too. The answer is no. First of all, I am recommending that you be fully aware of your anger at first. There is no suppression here. Secondly, I am recommending that you don't rehearse negative thoughts. In other words, there is a difference between smothering a fire and not putting more wood on a fire. Thirdly, I am recommending that after having an awareness of the feelings and thoughts, that you simply let go. You therefore maintain an awareness of all the thoughts and feelings that you did have, but you are choosing to let go. The choosing is an important part of the process. When you choose to do something, it is conscious and deliberate. This has no negative psychological effects as far as I know. In fact, it has positive effects because it frees you up to go on with your day in a positive constructive way. It also frees you from some of the negative physical effects of chronic anger. Some of these are explained in my handout on coping with anger at .