Friday, October 29, 2010

Laura's Take: Combatting Stress with Spiritual Power

Almost eight years ago I began an ecclesiastical mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I served for 19 months, putting aside family, friends, hobbies, college and work to serve in Maryland.  This was the desire of my heart since I was 9 years old, to share the glad message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Though this gospel had brought me a great deal of comfort and joy, I had suffered from depression for several years and was taking medication to deal with the anxieties that resulted from it.  When I got to the mission field I encountered allot of new situations and stresses that became nearly debilitating.  I had served for about four months when I found out a dear woman I had taught had passed away.  It was a hard blow, and hand phoned my mission president in tears.  I was shocked when he said I should consider going home.  I knew I couldn’t go home so I sought counsel from my home ward bishop.
 When my bishop spoke with me, he could tell I had a lot of feelings of stress and anxiety.  He told me that some of those feelings had to do with the every-day experiences and life of a missionary.  He then told me that most of them seemed to be centered in perceived feelings of inadequacy or fears that I might not be able to do everything that I should.
 He went on to explain of his conviction that some of Satan’s greatest tools are discouragement and depression. “Negative emotions such as depression, anxiety, doubts, fears, etc. can be just as effective at driving the Spirit away from us as conscious sin.
Just as with doubt and fear, any other negative emotion such as depression, anxiety, etc. can drive the Spirit out of our lives and cause us to “sink.”  (Think of Peter participating in a great miracle of walking on water, Matt. 14:29-30).  Remember, “where doubt [or fear, or anger, or depression, or anxiety] is, faith cannot be.”
 He helped me discover a fallacy I had believed in for years, that depression was the same as humility.  And that I was putting too much trust in my own efforts and not relying on the Lord. To quote my Bishop:
 “Making flesh our arm” refers to relying upon our own efforts and abilities.  When we doubt we are simply relying upon our own intellect to address or consider a dispute.  When we fear, we are relying upon our own understanding or intellect to judge or assess a situation”
 “By definition, the weaknesses which are given to us cannot be overcome by our individual efforts, no matter how hard we work, or it would not make us humble.  Indeed, it would have just the opposite effect and make us proud that we had overcome the weakness on our own!

Then is given one of the greatest of all the promises in the scriptures:  “for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”  I have emphasized the word “I” because it is the Lord who will make you strong and lift your burdens. “
Because of the lengthiness of the letter, these are the steps my bishop set up to help me overcome the severe anxiety I was experiencing.
·        Recognize the negative emotion .  It is alright to feel unworthy, weak and inadequate. However, after we have made that acknowledgment, it is NOT alright to stay that way or to let it affect our life.
·        Don’t dwell on the negative emotion.  Quickly cast out such damaging and negative thoughts.
·        Pray for the Lord’s help in overcoming the stress.  The weaknesses which are given to us cannot be overcome by our individual efforts.
·        Finally, know that putting these principles into effect will take time and significant effort.
Like my bishop said, it would take time and effort to put these things into practice.  I find that when I am up against some major change and stress that I haven’t encountered before, like marriage, pregnancy, childbirth, etc. I have to go through the same process that I went through over 7 years ago.  This works for any weakness, any problem.  The gospel of Jesus Christ is so perfect in its simplicity and so beautiful in its universality.  Yes we are all unique and have our own special circumstance and belief systems but we are all the same in that we are all children of a loving God.  And his council works for all of us.

View the actual letter by clicking here or choosing the link on the sidebar. 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Stress Management: a Sidenote on Meditation

As a believer in Christ and a Latter Day Saint, I feel that every thing we do should be centered around the Master and His Gospel. Why? Because I know I can't go wrong if I follow His teachings and the teachings of His prophets. (If you want to know more about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and our beliefs click here). I also know that I will be able to discern when something is bad for me through prayer and feeling. God knows each of us personally and can often help us find what we need better than we can help ourselves. I've lived without God in my life and I know the difference that He makes. He is worth taking time to get to know. So, one type of meditation can involve the scriptures. My personal favorite is the Book of Mormon. Pray. Read. Ponder. And when we invite the healing power of Christ into our lives change is much more effective and so much easier.

Using the scriptures as a base and prayer as a medium for discernment ensures that we wont be led astray by harmful beliefs or ideas that are negative or damaging to life and the soul.  Also, it is easier to find helpful forms of meditation that exist beyond the range of our own religious experience.
I believe that meditation should be deeply personal. It should be a time when you are completely vulnerable so that you can learn who you are and learn to trust yourself. That being said, meditation should be safe, gentle, kind hearted towards self, and purposeful - with good intention.

By being vulnerable we quiet the ego, we set all strivings aside and take time to be delightfully calm so that we don't get in the way of ourself. I believe that there is something lovely inside each of us that remains unchanged by time and circumstance - something that is eternal and that resonates with memory when we embrace goodness and truth. When we take time to look inward without the ego getting in the way, we can be reminded of just how beautiful we are and how much truth already resonates within us, even though we may have things that trouble us, habits that cloud our vision or tendencies that dim our light.

Another type of meditation is the stereotypical kind of deep breathing and visualization. I don't like anything that makes me feel like a weirdo so I try to keep it simple. :) Deep breathing is naturally calming (which helps with stress). Visualization is VERY powerful. So is positive thinking. Especially if positive thinking is difficult for you. I've really liked this book "The Book of Chakras" by Ambica Wauters. Simple and doesn't get in the way of itself with too much Eastern Philosophy. This book has written out meditations that are pretty easy to follow and are a good basic start.

Essential oils can be an excellent addition to any meditation, even scripture reading. They can assist anything from making difficult changes to having more clarity when learning.  I highly recommend the book "Butterfly Miracles With Essential Oils".  The author, LaRee Westover, has studied and lived natural medicine for over 30 years.  I know her personally and she is a lovely person.

You can always try an audio meditation where someone is verbally guiding you as well. Use caution with this and be sure to avoid hypnosis. Hypnosis weakens agency, or the ability to choose for ourselves and if used improperly can give the hypnotist the power to strongly influence your choices and actions.

Ultimately, visualization and positive thinking can do wonders when trying to change or lift oneself out of negativity. Having a moral guide, such as the scriptures, helps us see where we need to make changes in our behavior so that we don't fall back into the negative pattern.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010



stress [stress] n


strain felt by somebody: mental, emotional, or physical strain caused, e.g. by anxiety or overwork. (Microsoft Word Dictionary)

Money. Relationships. Work. People. Responsibility. Worries about the future. So many things in our lives can cause stress. How we cope with stress is essentially important to the health of our whole being. I personally believe that most addiction comes from an inability to cope with stress. I feel that my own addiction to sugar started subconsciously as a way to calm my body and mind by taking it to a happier place. All because I couldn't (or wouldn't) comfort myself in stressful times.

Unfortunately, while sugar may have superficially calmed down my mind and mellowed my nerves, my body endured the physical side effects. Lowered immune system, lost nutrients, insulin imbalance, poor health and eventual physical dependence. Stress is a powerful factor in addiction and leads to habit forming actions if not coped with properly.

So how do we properly cope with stress? It seems to boil down to learning to respond, not react. I am starting to understand that stress comes from within, not without. How stressed we are is closely linked to our outlook on life. How we feel about ourselves, about others and about God or the 'Universe'.

I like the simplicity of these sites. I may not agree with everything they say about stress management but they are pretty helpful. Really all you have to do is Google 'stress management' and millions of hits come up.
Understanding Stress
How To Deal With Stress

Below is an excerpt from the 'How To Deal With Stress' link
"Stress symptoms include mental, social, and physical manifestations. These include exhaustion, loss of/increased appetite, headaches, crying, sleeplessness, and oversleeping. Escape through alcohol, drugs, or other compulsive behavior are often indications. Feelings of alarm, frustration, or apathy may accompany stress."

Below is an excerpt from the 'Understanding Stress' link.

Things that influence your stress tolerance level
  • Your support network – A strong network of supportive friends and family members is an enormous buffer against life’s stressors. On the flip side, the more lonely and isolated you are, the greater your vulnerability to stress.
  • Your sense of control – If you have confidence in yourself and your ability to influence events and persevere through challenges, it’s easier to take stress in stride. People who are vulnerable to stress tend to feel like things are out of their control.
  • Your attitude and outlook – Stress-hardy people have an optimistic attitude. They tend to embrace challenges, have a strong sense of humor, accept that change is a part of life, and believe in a higher power or purpose.
  • Your ability to deal with your emotions. You’re extremely vulnerable to stress if you don’t know how to calm and soothe yourself when you’re feeling sad, angry, or afraid. The ability to bring your emotions into balance helps you bounce back from adversity.
  • Your knowledge and preparation – The more you know about a stressful situation, including how long it will last and what to expect, the easier it is to cope. For example, if you go into surgery with a realistic picture of what to expect post-op, a painful recovery will be less traumatic than if you were expecting to bounce back immediately.
I personally feel the above items are excellent things to strengthen in our lives. Ultimately it seems like when we are stressed we need to just step back and bring a little logic into the situation and a little prayer, meditation and gentle personal confrontation. I'm just a babe in the woods when it comes to stress management, but I'm determined to get better at it. And it's the first step to beating an addiction to sugar.

In my own experience, recognizing that I was comfort eating because of stress was half the battle to overcome the sugar addiction. I had never considered myself to be a high strung or stressed out person until I tried to live without sugar for the first time. Life overwhelmed me and I didn't last long. It became very apparent that I was stressed and not dealing with it at all. It was a rude awakening. There will always be stresses in life that we can't change, but the harmful effect is lessened by our attitude.

Meditation will be discussed in tomorrow's post. Until then, chill out! :)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Why Sugar Addiction?

ad-dict-ed /e'diktid/ adj. 1. dependent on; unable to do without. (dk illustrated oxford dictionary)

Why do we get addicted? Especially to something like sugar. There isn't a simple, one sentence answer. I believe that addiction is much more than a physical need. I believe that every facet of our lives affects our behavior toward a substance or activity that we have a weakness for. Addiction isn't just physical. It's chemical and hormonal. It's mental and subconscious. It's emotional. It's habitual and neurally driven. It's genetic. And probably more.

My personal experience seems to be mostly geared around 6 main elements (not in order of influence):
  1. Stress
  2. Hormonal
  3. Habit
  4. Emotions
  5. Physical Dependence
  6. Spiritual Health
This is why I believe addiction is so difficult to help. One element, when out of balance, stressed or affected, influences the other elements. For example, hormones can absolutely lay waste to emotional health and logic. Too much negative emotion effects us physically. Habit creates neural synapses that lead to physically perceived need for substances and activities. Ineffective coping with stress leads to too much output of chemicals from glands in our bodies and can create hormonal imbalance. And on and on they cycle goes. If we are going to fight an addiction to something there must be a holistic approach.

In the next few posts I will expand on each element and how it affects and is effected by addiction from my personal experience and perspective.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Self Examination

I am 31 years of age as of this post. For as long as I can remember I have struggled with a desire to eat desserts for comfort and for fun. Let's face it, food is a huge part of life and culture. At about age 12 I became more interested in physical fitness and began to discover that I had a difficult time leaving sweets alone. For nearly 20 years now I have battled with myself, attempting to eradicate the desire for sweets from my life. If you are not sure if you are addicted to refined sugar (desserts, candy, soda, etc.) I suggest asking yourself a question: Can I walk away from dessert forever and not care? What do you feel? Does it create anxiety? How is your body reacting? What thoughts are coming to your mind? For me, I got to the point that when I asked myself that question I nearly puked with fear and felt very depressed.

Now I'm not saying that eating dessert is an evil, sinful thing. DON'T misunderstand my intention here. What I am saying is that if you 'can't live without it' then refined sugar is destroying your health and retarding your capacity to feel and experience life. We are talking about addiction to refined sugar, not the act of eating it. After all, sugar in and of itself has no intention, is neither evil or good, it just is. It's what we do with it that can create negativity in our lives. I want to explore why it is bad for health in a future post.

So, do you have a problem with refined sugar? I do. It was difficult to admit addiction and even more unpleasant to accept that I have a problem. But, you know, it wont go away on it's own. And I speak from experience that the longer you ignore it and push it away, the worse it will get, especially if life gets stressful for long periods of time.

As part of a self examination here are several other questions to ask yourself:
1. Do you get a small, euphoric high when you eat something packed with refined sugar?
2. Do you eat excessive amounts of refined sugar or salty snacks when you are stressed?
3. What do you do in down time? What are the first thoughts you have when relaxing? Is it 'go to the kitchen or fridge'?
4. Do you make desserts or drink soda to relax or have fun?
5. Have you tried to live without refined sugar (desserts, candy, soda, etc.) without success?
6. Does your body feel awful after eating sugar? (It should whether you're addicted or not! :)
7. Do you have an affinity for sweets?
8. Do you buy lots of sweets? Eat lots of sweets?
9. Can you live without desserts, drinks, etc.?
10. Do you have a problem with yeast infections (candidiasis) of any kind?

I have a problem with sweets and I'm going to beat the problem. Because I want to feel better and have the satisfaction of knowing that I am the captain of my own ship.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

If you're addicted to it, then it's an addiction

Addictions come in all shapes and sizes. I believe that everyone has a tendency or weakness to addiction but that addictions are uniquely personal to each of us. This means that not everyone has the same addiction to the same substance or activity and that each addiction comes from a variety of personal factors. Such factors as culture, biological family history, individual personality type, childhood abuse, life experience, inability to cope with strong emotions and many other factors contribute to what we can become addicted to. But even though there are many substances and activities a person can become addicted to, one thing remains the same: addiction is addiction - no matter what it is to. This means that the steps to overcome and recover from an addiction are fundamentally the same all across the board!

In this blog I will only be dealing with addiction to refined sugar with an occasional mention of salty snacks as well. I decided to create this blog because it's so hard to find free help and advice on the Internet about sugar addiction. I'm just an average Joe, so to speak, and this blog is a catalog of how I am beating sugar addiction. As always, seek medical help before making changes in your lifestyle.