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Kevlar for the Mind: You have resources to overcome sadness, anxiety

Jan. 26, 2012 - 12:14PM   |   Last Updated: Jan. 26, 2012 - 12:14PM  |  
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About the author

Bret A. Moore is a clinical psychologist who served in Iraq and is the author of "Wheels Down: Adjusting to Life after Deployment." Click here to send an email. Names and identifying details will be kept confidential. This column is for informational purposes only. Readers should see a mental health professional or physician for mental health problems.

Other than being in the same profession as Dr. Phil, the only thing more embarrassing to me as a psychologist is the self-help section of bookstores.

Typically tucked away between the medicine and religion sections, this lane of brightly colored book jackets and catchy titles is catnip for the sad, worried and confused.

Self-help books are meant to appeal to those of us who struggle with work and relationship stress, bouts of sadness and anxiety, and the occasional existential and proverbial issues such as the "meaning of life." In other words, they appeal to all of us at some point — and this is why they are so successful.

Unfortunately, most self-help books have one major flaw: They are strong on hype, but low on substance. The take-home message of many self-help books boils down to this: "Choose to be happy." But while "being happy" does involve a component of choice, it's much more complicated than that.

To be happy, one must also determine how happiness is defined. Also, in some situations, sadness can actually be a symptom of a serious biological condition that no amount of choice or willpower can counter.

Service members are probably the least likely to benefit from self-help books. From the initial days of recruit training, you are taught how to identify problems and generate solutions. You are taught methods in conflict resolution, stress reduction and decision-making. And yes, you are trained in the power of positive attitude and the "adapt and overcome" mentality.

So, what is the recipe for overcoming the occasional blues or worry associated with transient life stress? In most cases, it's a matter of waiting it out. We all get blue or worry every now and then. It is normal and expected.

If time doesn't fix the problem, the next tactic is to deploy the resources listed above that you developed in military training. You don't need a book to remind you how to do these things.

But as I mentioned earlier, sometimes sadness and worry can be symptoms of something more serious. If this is the case, no amount of time or reliance on personal resources will do the trick. You will need to consult a professional. So be on the lookout for sadness or anxiety that lasts for more than a few weeks, causes significant disturbances at home or work, or makes life so miserable that you can't get anything accomplished.

Remember, the information on those bookstore shelves is already inside you. Use what you've already learned.

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