Has anxiety ever made a sneak attack on you?

So, have you ever been smacked upside the head with an unexplained dose of anxiety? It sucks doesn’t it? Well recently, I was going along and minding my own business when I was hit with a wack of anxiety. It was very strange! Ordinarily I can cruise through pretty much anything and feel calm and cool. Going onstage? No sweat! Big meeting? I got that. Final Episode of Game of Thrones? Ok, that can freak me out a bit. But really, most of the time, the word anxiety has little meaning other than something that “other people” experience.anxiety charlie brown

Not so the other day. I woke up and for some reason and I couldn’t get started working. Everytime I was about to start my timer to do the “gazillion” things I had to do, I was totally freaked out by them. So, I relaxed for a bit and then tried again. No go. I just felt more and more tension in my chest and started to feel down right “freaky”. It was like an ocean tide of bad feeling had just rolled in and there was nothing I could do about it.

Before I knew it, most of the day was gone. The next day? Pretty much the same deal. I started to feel pretty terrible and had no idea how to change my mental state. So what gives?

A few months ago I found out that anxiety runs in my family. This should have not come as a total surprise as I had heard some family members described as “worriers”, but then I realized that these stories actually went back generations. (Here’s a hint: If you hear stories about your family being worried before the Model T was invented, it might be a family issue)model t

Ah! It seems this whole anxiety thing may have deeper roots than I thought. It doesn’t seem fair that genetics, that mysterious part of our make-up that brought us our eye colour, height and our love/hate of Star Wars, would have something to do with how we feel on a regular basis, but it does. Apparently our genetic history can really affect how we feel.

Here’s the other side of the coin. Many years ago a relative who I won’t mention (We’ll just call him “Dad”) was feeling really worried. In fact, he was walking around the house anxious a lot of the time. Finally it got to the point where he needed to go to his doctor. After examining him, taking his blood pressure and asking him some questions, the doctor came up with a pretty terrific prescription. 1: Stop watching the News. 2: Wear looser underwear.

So, he went home and did both of those things-and he felt better. For me it wasn’t so simple. However, I woke up one morning and the crazy tension in my chest had lessened. I was able to work again, and as I got a bunch of stuff done, I started to feel capable and OK.

Many of us deal with this. My own small foray into the world of unnamed anxiety was tiny in comparison to what others deal with. For some, waiting a few days and making different underwear choice doesn’t cut it. Folks sometimes need medical care for their condition. If you are dealing with this or something like it, I really hope you get some assistance.

My few days of discomfort was enough for me, thank you very much. Hope it doesn’t happen again, but if it does, at least I know there are others fighting the same fight and just waiting for the tide to go out.beautiful-beaches-0

Here are a couple of resources for dealing with anxiety here.

Help Guide.org

Anxiety and Depression Association Of America

 

Is Your Happiness Selfish?

Have you ever been told that your happiness was selfish? I bet you have. “They” say concern for our own well being is something that should really be at the bottom of our list in terms of priorities or that we are being greedy or petty when we take our own happiness into account. The truth is that when we make our happiness a priority good things happen for us and for those around us. In fact, the contagiousness of feeling good virtually guarantees that if we are happy, we are making the world a better place for those we love the most.hands with globe

By the way, when I am talking about making your own happiness a priority, I am not talking about thinking only of your own needs. Please don’t say to yourself “OK, Rob says my happiness is important, so I’m going to stuff my face full of poutine, buy a red convertible on credit and move to Antigua with a bunch of bathing suit models because that will make me happy!”

zeppelin

I am crazy about these guys. Have you heard “The Rain Song”? Wow.

I’m not talking about living like we’re Led Zeppelin in 1976, or Russel Brand in 2002, I’m talking about making our daily happiness something that we care about and take into consideration.

Believe it or not, this takes discipline. It is attained not so much by going after our every sensory based desire (although, I’m all for sensory based desires) but by doing simple activities that have been proven to make us feel good, right now and in the long term as well.

“Happiness is contagious” is said so often that its a bit of a cliche, but did you know that its actually, quantifiably true?  A little out fit called The Harvard Medical School (you may have heard of them) did a study called “Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network: longitudinal analysis over 20 years in the Framingham Heart Study” (which is really such a catchy title that it should be a pop song by Katy Perry).

“Hey Everybody, I hope you like my new hit Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network ! Woo hoo!

In this study they found that if you were a friend of someone and lived within 1 mile of them your chance of being happy went up by 25%! Wow! If we can extrapolate (and heck why not?) that would mean that by being happy ourselves, we are actually increasing the chances of our friends and family who live close to us by 25%. Really, you are doing the world a huge chunk of good if you are happy. Isn’t that great? I think it is. So, to answer our first question, Is your happiness selfish? Nope! In fact, you being happy is one of the most generous things you can do for the world.

Hawke out.

 

Do you appreciate the awesomeness of this pumpkin carving? Well, congrats…

pumpkin-carving-art-4

…You just helped make your brain healthier!

What?

Are you crazy about art? I mean any kind of art. Do you get down to old Led Zeppelin tunes? Do you do needle point? Square dance? Do water colours? Woodburning? Do you paint amateurish acrylics of your dog doing water sports? Do you make needle point pillows of Harley Davidson motorcycles jumping through rings of fire? Well if you are doing any kind of art at all, or appreciating it (like our breathtaking jack o lantern up there) you are doing yourself a world of good.

It turns out, the arts are good for us. In a very big way.

I had the pleasure recently of speaking at a conference called The Art Heals Health, Health Heals Art Symposium in Toronto. There was a very impressive group of people there who are committed to exploring how the arts help all of us be healthier. There was a neurologist there named Dr Luis Fornazzari who showed us incredible research (with diagrams of the brain that were lit up like Vegas on New Years)

 

Las-Vegas-New-Years

This is what Vegas looks like at New Years

proving that when we either do or appreciate art in any form we are stimulating neural pathways and helping our brains stay healthy (I am assuming you only have one brain- I mean brains like “all of our brains”) It turns out that our brains really need to be exercised and stimulated on a regular basis to make sure our minds stay limber.

In my own research for my upcoming book Doing Happiness: Uncovering The Hidden Benefits of Feeling Good, I came across research that shows that art does other great stuff for us as well. Art helps make us happy! Yes, that’s right. As well as keeping our brains cooking, doing any kind of art (including Norwegian woodworking) can help us to be happier in a measurable way.

Want to know the best part? You do not have to be good at whatever you’re doing to get the benefits. That’s right. You can absolutely suck at your art and you’ll still get all the benefits to your health and level of happiness.

Don’t know what art to do? Here are a few suggestions…

1: Buy some acrylic paints (they’re cheap!) and paint a landscape. There are some GREAT lessons on youtube for every level of skill, and that’s a trip to ART CITY. I mean who doesn’t love  Bob Ross?paints

 

2: Make a playlist with your most favourite music on it and go for a walk. It’s a great way to transport yourself to whole different way of thinking. forest walk

3: Dance like your choreographer is Gary Busey. (Wouldn’t that be interesting?)Gary Busey

4: Go to your local art Gallery and wander around. (If you want to sound impressive, mutter things like “How very didactically expressionistic!” even when ordering a coffee.) Personally, I am crazy about the AGO for a bunch of reasons.

aberdeen-art-gallery

 

Remember, you don’t actually have to make art, you can just appreciate it. Now we know that art is good for us and helps keep us smart, happy and gives us a shiny coat we can take advantage of it whenever we want, and remember you’re not wrecking the living room by painting a mural of your favourite Swedish Death Metal Band on the wall, your making art and staying healthy!

Rock on! Make Art!

What do you say when someone has cancer?

This is a big question and it can fill people with fear. You find out someone has cancer, maybe its a family member or a friend. What do you say? Do you say anything? Do you completely ignore the 2,000 pound Tyrannosaurus in the room and just hope it goes away? That might seem like the easiest thing in the world to do, but is it helpful? Do you drop your documents and run from the photocopier crying when you see them coming around the corner? That’s probably not the best strategy, but I’ve seen it happen. As a decent human being, how the heck do you handle this?

You see, 30% of us will get a cancer diagnosis at some point in our lives, so at some point, someone you know is going to be dealing with this issue.

Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.

elton-john-the-diving-board

As a cancer survivor myself, I have had my share of uncomfortable and yes even hilarious conversations when well meaning folks were trying to talk about something that is tough to talk about. So how do we do it?

Here’s a strategy that works for me.

Wait for a time when you have a modicum of privacy and say something like “Hey, I heard you got some bad news lately.” Then …let them talk. What’s great about this is you haven’t said what the bad news is. This gives them the opportunity to talk about it or not. They might shut it right down by saying “Ya, uh that’s private” or “I don’t want to talk about that right now.” This is totally fine and you should respect that. However, they may want to talk about it. They might say something like “Ya, I just got a diagnosis and I am totally freaked out.” or “Its still early days so we’ll wait and see” They might go into a lot of detail and that might surprise you.

If they are anything like me, they will have a LOT to say. Some of my conversations went like this…

Rob: So, ya, I’ve got surgery scheduled for next week and I think the surgeon is good, but he asked me if he should take out my whole thyroid or just part of it. How am I supposed to make that decision? what do you think?”

Bus Driver: I don’t know sir but you still need to deposit a token.

bus driver

You might hear a river of opinions and worry that have been damned up for a long time. You might hear about doctors, hospital parking, and ultrasounds. You might find yourself in a 20 minute conversation that is remarkably one sided. Here’s how to handle this…

Listen.

That’s right. Listen. Listening is quite honestly one of the greatest gifts you can give someone who is going through cancer. In all likelihood they will be under a tremendous amount of stress. Being able to talk to you might be just the thing they need to feel a bit of relief.

You’ll notice I didn’t say “Listen and offer advice”. Please don’t offer advice unless you have a DR in front of your name. You will really want to because you’re a nice person and you will want to fix it. Listening is enough. Please don’t mention that they should eat more veggies or take raspberry keytone or got to Mexico to take a weird drug or talk to your Uncle Lou who beat cancer by eating only radishes. This will not help. Listening and giving them a safe place to share what they are going through will. You might be the only person in their life who they feel they can talk to. If so, then you are even more important to them than you realize.

They may ask for more kinds of help later and that’s terrific, but when a diagnosis  first happens the best thing you can do is talk less and listen more. If you pull this off, you will be giving them a gift that very few know how to give.

Good on you. I like you already.

listening dog

What’s your favourite two minutes in the world?

Wow! I wouldn’t have guessed that, but congratulations on being so acrobatic!

My favourite two minutes in the world is right before going onstage. Its a total blast. Its this incredible feeling that something big is about to happen and you really have no idea how its going to go. You’re completely in the moment and nothing seems to matter except the experience that you are about to have. As one of my heroes, Mr Robert Plant says “There is no place to hide”. Its especially fun when its 8:30 AM and you’re hopped up on three cups of joe.PatientXforum Crowd Wisdom

I’m the guy in the red shirt who looks like he’s bringing in a plane.

Yesterday I had the absolute pleasure to speak at the 3rd National Forum on Patient Experience in Toronto. It was my job to stir up what I call the “Wisdom in The Room” and get folks cranked and ready to collaborate. After a few minutes this very generous crowd was sharing ideas and having a blast. There were medical professionals and patients there from all over the country who care deeply about the patient experience and how we can make it better. I was so taken by the depth of talent and integrity in the room.

All of the content was amazing and here are a few of my faves. There were folks from North Bay Regional Health Centre who are doing great work with patient stories with Photovoice. People from Mississauga Halton CCAC who are improving the patient experience by actually involving patients in the health care system. (What? That’s crazy!) They backed up their research with some incredible stats on how they were actually able to reduce patient time in the hospital.  Wow. I’ve also got to mention the amazing Dr. Shah from Anishnawbe Health Centre in Toronto. His dedication to service was quite inspiring.

The patients in the room really had their voices heard as well. My friend Zal Press from Patient Commando is always ready to kick butt and take down names. And he did.

The silence in the room was palpable when a patient told her emotional and moving story to the audience. She was asking hard questions that need to be answered. It was a terrific event and I was very proud to be a part of it.

With committed people like this working in Health Care in Canada, things are changing and I dare say its for the better.

Shout outs to Dr Joshua Teller and Angela Morin for hosting a great day.

A Showdown At The Patient Corral

The patient experience can be a crazy thing. Often it is more emotional than we think and these feelings can come out at times that are absolutely not convenient. I remember when I had just been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. I thought I took the news pretty darn well. In the doctor’s office, I had been fine. However, out in the world it was a completely different matter. You may not be aware of this but cab drivers and cyclists have a deep abiding love for each other. Truly, we stop at red lights and take the opportunity to give each other affectionate and lingering hugs. Actually that is not really accurate. In fact, you could say that cab drivers and cyclists don’t get along at all. I was riding north on University Ave in Toronto (a major street with a ton of traffic on it) when a cab driver pulled up to me in the next lane and cut me off.

badass cyclist

(This is not me.)

I slammed on my brakes and came to a skidding stop; inches from his back bumper. We shared a few words with each other that were not “Happy Birthday”. Ordinarily that would have been it and we would have each gone our separate ways. But no! I was under the influence of a cancer diagnosis which was baking in my psyche like a bubbling toxic cake. Suddenly, my perceptions changed. The buildings of University Ave seemed to fall away and were replaced by the façade of main street from the old west town of tombstone. I stood facing the cab driver in tense silence. A tumble weed drifted by. The town bell clanged twelve times for noon.

cowboys

The cab driver spoke. “Draw!” I coiled all the rage I had into my throbbing right arm and like lightning I drew my six shooter from the holster strapped to my leg. I aimed down the barrel at my adversary and I realized…that I had completely lost my mind! There I was on University Ave in a shouting match with a cab driver. We were both filled with rage. Oh sure we had something to disagree about but no one was hurt and we both could have just got on with our day. But no, I had completely dove in to the conflict like this was the worst thing that had ever happened to me. Did I have the right to be angry? Sure! Was this the best way to handle it? Nope.

Somewhere in the depths of my brain a little voice sad “Rob, calm down! You’re acting like a maniac!” So I literally took a step back, got on my bike and went home. I’m sure that I would have handled it differently if I wasn’t completely shocked by having this thing called cancer, but I didn’t. It made me realize that sometimes we think we have dealt with something on an emotional level but our psyches need to catch up with our logical minds. This can make us do strange things, like think we’re Clint Eastwood on University Ave. Wherever you are and whatever your story is, hang in there and watch out for tumble weeds.

Clint Gif

Are You As Happy As This Nun?

Halloween Surf and Breakfast

Who doesn’t love nuns? Well, I’m sure there are a few people. However there is a specific group of nuns who can teach us about how happiness can really improve our health. There was a group of sisters in Milwaukee who signed up (I’m not sure if they “sign up,” it kind of makes it seem like they have a draft pick for nuns. “Sister Mary Margaret is a first round draft pick for Notre Dame, Bob!” “What a great choice for them Marv, she can rhyme off 12 hail Mary’s a minute. That’s really going to help them in the playoffs!”)

Anyway, one hundred and eighty nuns entered the order of Notre Dame back in the 1930’s and they measured how happy they were by looking at their diaries. After studying the “happy” or “unhappy” language in their diaries for many years and combining that with their levels of health and the length of their lives, they found that the happiest nuns outlived the unhappy nuns by an average of , wait for it…nine years. Nine years! That is an incredible difference if you ask me.

You could say “Ya but, what about differences in circumstances? Probably some nuns had a terrible life while others stayed at the Nun Club Med” Well, I am no expert on nuns (for a bunch of reasons) but according to the research, one of the reasons they studied nuns was that the sisters were living lives that were very similar in circumstance to each other.  Their routines, food, and social lives were almost identical. This lead researchers to the conclusion that, all things being equal, “being happy” had a profound effect on the length of the lives of the sisters. It makes me think that feeling good can have huge benefits for us as well. So, it turns out that happiness is incredible good for us! You might be interested in my upcoming book “Doing Happiness: Uncovering the Hidden Secrets of Feeling Good.” More soon!

 

Haters Gonna Hate. Having a blast is the Best Revenge.

It was my first time attempt to dock a houseboat. I was spinning the wheel of the craft and praying that the slow moving boat would eventually obey my directions and turn. We were approaching a marina in the Trent Severn Waterway. We neared the dock a little quicker than I had hoped and I struggled to remember the instructional video we had seen the day before. We were supposed to approach at a certain angle and at a speed that was called “dead slow”. I was going more at a speed that could be called  “dead fast”, and didn’t want all of us to be “actually dead” when we came into contact with the dock. I did my best to slow our progress. My brother-in-law on the bow said “Ok Robbie, slower, I think we got it.”

We finally nudged the dock very gently. I turned the wheel harder and threw it into reverse,  bringing the stern of our intrepid ship in line with the dock as well.  We tied up the boat and I finally exhaled. I had successfully docked for the first time. It wasn’t perfect mind you, but no one had been maimed and there was no damage to anything so I considered it a huge win. We scrambled off the boat and went to buy bait. I don’t usually feel like a super hero when I  buy worms, but I did today.  I heard a voice from further down the dock.

1956, MOBY DICK

(what Weathered Marina Guy might have looked like)

“Who’s driving the boat?” asked Weathered Marina Guy.

“It was me!” I said in my manliest of voices (which is actually pretty damn manly).

“I have owned this marina for 30 years and that was the worst docking I have ever seen!

I was pretty crushed, but wait there was more.

“I really don’t want to embarrass you in front of your friends, but really, that was terrible!” He was actually embarrassing me in front of my in laws, which was worse, but hey, who’s counting? He went on for a while about how lousy I was at operating a craft and with a somewhat withered sense of self esteem, we were on our way.

Free of the humiliating clutches of Weathered Marina Guy,  we approached the locks at Buckhorn. Again, I had never done anything like go through a lock while piloting a boat, but we went for it. I had to do everything possible to not think about what Weathered Marina Guy had said to me a couple of hours before. I approached at “dead slow” and cruised by several boasts that looked like they might be worth more than a small house. Once again I held my breath. The huge doors of the lock opened and we went in. Water rushed in and rushed out. The lockmaster was amazingly helpful and in 30 minutes we were lowered about 10 feet and were on our way.

I was thrilled. Ordinarily, having somebody tell me I was terrible at something would have been really tough to take. However, right after the experience I was able to redeem myself and once again, started to feel pretty good.

We celebrated by finding a spot near some cliffs that was 20 feet deep and jumped off our houseboat into the cool water below. It was some of the most fun I’ve had in a while. Funny enough, I was holding a Go Pro while I did it. so, you can see it too.

Have a great day everybody and remember, having a blast is the best revenge!

Many thanks to Egan Houseboat Rentals! They are great people who really know what they are doing.

Have a look at their awesome website…

houseboat

New Podcast. How To Ask for What You Need

Once again my awesome friend Deb Kimmett and I have come up with a podcast to help folks with this whole “being a patient” thing. We often go through our whole lives trying really hard to be strong and incredibly self reliant. Well, when we (or someone we love) is sick, sometimes it is really important to ask for help! Yes. Ask for help. It might not be in your nature to even think about asking for assistance if you’re having a hard time, but really, think about it. You are probably a generous awesome person who has helped a ton of people in your life without even being aware of it. If that’s the case (and I’m guessing it is) its totally OK to ask for help when the chips are down.

If you had a really good friend or family member who was having a tough time, wouldn’t you want to help them? Of course you would! (Unless, you’re a dick, which you’re not). So, go ahead, let the folks you care about know that you could use a hand. Listen to the podcast to find out more.

Straight on “till Morning.

Hawke out.

 

New Podcast! How To Talk With Your Friends When They Get Sick (and keep your sense of humour)

Here is the latest from The Hope For Today Cafe!  My good friend Deborah Kimmett and I have some thoughts on how to talk to your friends and family when they’re sick and need some support. As usual, we yuck it up a bit.

Hope you are really well wherever and whenever you are!