Our not so realistic reality

Not so real reality

Not so real reality

The basis of any anxiety or panic problem is a personal belief about something that in reality is not true. Whatever your individual fear may be, the chances are that it is completely illogical and not at all rooted in real facts. Living a life based entirely on thoughts and feelings which we know don’t reflect reality is one of the strangest experiences a person can have, and yet so many of us live this way every day, sometimes without even realizing they’re wrong.

Myself, I could say with total conviction that I know my anxious thoughts are incorrect. My logical brain is well aware that a panic attack will do me no harm; I’ve had more than enough to factually confirm that. However, there is still that thought, a voice so to speak, which convinces me to avoid any situation that could cause a panic attack because there is always a “what if?”. This makes my anxiety very difficult to explain to others, and I know I’m not alone. People will say “there’s nothing to worry about, you’ll be fine” and you can’t help but answer “I know I will”. They ask why you’re so scared if you know you’re going to be safe, and unfortunately you’re left with no real answer. It is simply a feeling which guides you through your day, and although this may only make up 1% of your thoughts, that 1% is stronger than all of your logical thoughts combined.

It seems mad, on paper, to allow something you know is wrong to dictate everything you do. From what you eat, to where you go, to who you go there with, this one small sensation, which tells you that maybe this time will be so much worse than all the others, is in control of your life. It doesn’t take long to collect a full repertoire of symptoms and side effects of anxiety, from heart palpitations to nausea and full panic attacks. You become familiar with each one, you’ve experienced them all at their very worst and still survived to tell the tales, but still you continue to avoid and fear situations which may cause them again, all because of one tiny voice.

Imagine a world where this voice, this feeling, is the minority. Where you consider that maybe there is a risk, a small “what if?”, but you don’t allow it to control you because you truly do believe that those anxious thoughts are nothing but lies. Simply knowing that your paranoid brain is wrong is just step one, and while it’s an excellent step, it doesn’t change the fact that there is still a part of you which refuses to commit to the belief entirely. There is so much more freedom and liberation which comes with fully accepting and internalising the idea that these thoughts you have are only there to hold you back, and in no way reflect what life is really like. You first have to realise that you’ve seen it all before, you have the wisdom and benefit that comes with experience. You have been through the worst of it and you are still standing, and that should suggest that maybe, just maybe, some part of your way of thinking is very, very wrong.

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To see ourselves as others see us

I don’t know about you but there have been times in my life when I have been acutely sensitive to the gaze of others. I am not immune even now, although I am better at managing how it makes me feel.
Which is why I found this video interesting and I thought you might also. It shows how different our own impression of ourselves can be to that of others.
It is like having a window into the subtle ways we see ourselves (not the good ways) and how that can distort everything else we feel.

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The Chaos Train

An article by Eliza Burdon.

I had a client recently (Eliza) who started to talk about the experience of panic as a seemingly uncontrollable journey. I liked that idea very much and we started to call it The Chaos Train. I asked her to write an article about it as it seemed such a useful idea.

The train stops at stations on its journey to the hub. Along the way it picks up passengers and freight, (burdens to take to the hub) as each hub is reached the burdens are delivered and the result of them expressed. In the case of this particular Chaos Train they are panic, anxiety and sadness.

I think the fascinating insight Eliza had was that it all felt really chaotic and out of control. Of course it feels like that because it is panic but it is not as chaotic as it feels. The train has to stop at the stations on the way to the hub and pick up burdens otherwise there is nothing to take to the hub and nothing to be expressed. By making choices and deliberately not stopping at the stations on the route Eliza places a structure on her sense of chaos. She fights the darkness and despair and she makes a journey she wants to make not the default journey her Chaos Train may make if left to its own devices. Here is Eliza’s article.

The Chaos Train

All aboard the Chaos Train, final destination Anxiety. All change for Sadness and Depression.

Living in a continuous state of anxiety is chaotic. Panic is predictably unpredictable. We seem to have no idea of when it will strike and yet somehow it is always a certainty that it will. When the panic finally loosens its grip on us, whether that means a panic attack has passed or a stressful phase has ended, we can’t find a reason for it happening in the first place. Our minds will tell us there is no reason, leading us to simply “accept” how chaotic and unpredictable our anxiety is. We lose faith in our bodies and lose sight of how we’re ever going to get better because we can’t ever establish a reason for our behaviours.

 

As you pass through the stations you pick up baggage.

As you pass through the stations you pick up baggage.

The truth is it’s not all that chaotic. Anxiety and the resulting sadness and depression comes as the final culmination of a series of bad behaviours and disordered thinking. The chaos we feel we’re living in is a symptom of our anxiety taking hold of our lives, and accepting that it is that way allows it to act up if and when it pleases. Last time you did this was a Friday and today is a Tuesday? Here’s a panic attack for you. Last time you were here you wore red and now you’re wearing blue? Panic attack for you. Nothing seems all that different? Have a panic attack anyway. Your anxious mind can sense any difference in a situation, and all the chaotic steps you’ve taken to allow anxiety into your life add together to produce what feels like a very unpredictable fear response to just about anything. Yet, in reality, it is entirely predictable, it’s going to happen because you’ve accepted the idea that it’s out of your own control.

The Chaos Train is the journey you take to those major hubs, Anxiety and Depression. At each stop on the way you collect more and more behaviours and beliefs that lead to full blown anxiety disorders and predictably unpredictable panic. Each one is an essential element, they work together to seize control of your mind and create chaos.

It looks a little like this, though each persons individual stops may differ.

Other stops could include inflexibility, a lack of willingness to try things out of your comfort zone or things which are not part of your usual routine will lead to anxiety and panic. Similarly being concerned that other people will judge you. Catastrophising is a major cause of both anxiety and sadness. Catastrophising means allowing your thoughts to run away from you, and believing in only the worst case scenarios. This could be that you won’t be able to cope and you’ll have a panic attack, or that you’ll never get better.

It’s simple to build up to the “Hubs”, a series of faulty thoughts and feelings of being out of control leads to panic fairly quickly. On the other hand, breaking it back down isn’t quite so easy. It’s a slow moving train back to where you started. The best way to approach it is to break it down, cutting one station out at a time. For example, if you can combat catastrophising, you’re less likely to believe in the worst case scenario becoming a reality. With a little more faith, seeing events more realistically instead of living in a fantasy world where everything goes wrong, you would be opened up to a whole new level of freedom. In the same way, combating each station on the Chaos Train journey one step at a time, picking up a little less baggage at each stop, your anxiety would have so much less control over you, and in that, the chaos would dissolve.

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After Paris does the world feel more dangerous and do you feel more anxious?

Terrible things do happen.

Terrible things that happen without warning can make you feel more vulnerable and anxious. The media play and replay their footage, with comment and analysis. All of this can have the the effect of making the terrible event seem more likely to happen to you or the people you love. Your brain is genetically tuned to detect threats to you. Indeed it is highly sensitive to any situation that may even turn threatening. So when a threat is perceived but there is no obvious focus for the threat your brain often goes into a worry loop.

If you find that the terrible events in Paris have caused you to be more anxious but you’re not sure why then watch my video. I will explain how worry gets started and why anxiety goes up.

Are you anxious?

 

The link to the next film

About Dr David Purves

Dr David Purves is a Reading based psychologist providing private CBT in Reading, Berkshire. Dr Purves is the clinical Director of The Berkshire psychology service and former Consultant Psychologist and Head of the NHS Berkshire Traumatic Stress Service. He treats trauma and PTSD at his clinic and writes and speaks internationally on matters of terrorist related trauma.

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You can walk away stress

We have all known it for ages but now science is catching up with the evidence that exercise is stress-busting. The Daily Mail reported that walking briskly or jogging really does calm you down by sparking nerve cells in the brain that relax the senses.

exercise can beat stress

You can walk away stress

Exercise has long been thought to be effective for anxiety and depression, but the brain mechanism behind the phenomenon has remained a mystery. Now tests on mice show when they are active, soothing neurons in the brain are triggered. Then when they are then exposed stress they are more calm. You can read the original article by following the link.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2356004/You-CAN-walk-away-stress-Scientists-discover-stroll-soothe-brain.html#ixzz2YY52ZK84

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What is Anxiety?

What is anxiety? Anxiety is a terrible force that destroys your happiness. It puts an edge of fear on every experience and it never seems to be satisfied. Living with anxiety is like always wanting to look over your shoulder; just in case. No evidence ever seems enough to satisfy the need to be sure.

What-is-anxiety-looking-over-shoulder

Your attempts to solve the problem of your anxiety causes even bigger problems. Because you probably don’t know why you are anxious it is hard to know how to resolve it. Therefore you will certainly resort to controlling other people, things and processes in order to keep your loved ones safe, yourself safe and protect the future of your family. This does not help!

As the problem is anxiety this means that your brain is overestimating the threat you and your loved ones face. So obviously trying to keep people safe when they are not actually threatened is a useless and counter productive thing to do. The real resolution to anxiety is to challenge the anxiety itself.

Watch this film and see the truth about how to recover from anxiety

 

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 What is anxiety? –  The thinking part of anxiety is called worry

The thinking part of anxiety is worry. But your whole body is also affected that is why it is hard to settle down and relax. But worry is often seen as the powerful engine of anxiety. Many people think that worrying is a necessary part of staying safe. As if it is essential to think about all possibilities, to look at every angle and to make sure all eventualities have been factored in your planning. WRONG!

Worry is a pointless, repetitive activity that creates more unproductive thinking. Worry is not problem solving it is worry and never helps even though it does keep your mind occupied and while it can feel productive it never really is.

What is anxiety? – The best friend to anxiety is depression

These almost always go together. Not feeling safe with few obvious ways to resolve it is depressing. Being unable to feel safe and secure as you go through life can spoil everything. In my professional life I treat anxiety and its friend depression every day. I know that virtually everyone who suffers from these twins of misery has fallen into the trap of passing though passing some gateways activities that has helped create their problems in the first place.

What is anxiety? – The Five Doors to Anxiety

The Five Doors to Anxiety. You must have passed through at least one of these doors to be where you are now.

What-is-anxiety-open-doors

Door One: Have you developed an intolerance to uncertainty? Do you NEED to be sure about things to feel safe.  Do you NEED to be in control of processes and people. Would someone call you ‘a control freak’?

Door Two: Have you fallen into the trap of confusing unproductive worry with productive problem solving. Do you go over the same problem over and over again? That’s worry folks!

Door Three: Are you familiar with catastrophic thinking? Will everything be a disaster, will it all turn out for the worst? Disaster and catastrophe is guaranteed to get the attention of your brain. Catastrophic thinking focuses your attention of the numerous (fictitious) reasons you need to be anxious. It just never happens. So your system is constantly on high alert for threat that never comes to pass.

Door Four: Strange as it may seem but you probably avoid emotional upset. Do you avoid confronting emotional problems? Would you prefer to walk away than say something if you feel annoyed, upset or provoked. Do you avoid confrontation because of the unpleasant emotions it might cause? This is avoidance of the normal emotions that flow through life.

Door Five: Do you sometimes think you have a physical problem? Does it seem unbelievable that the things you struggle with could all be caused by anxiety. How can anxiety cause pins and needles in your arms? How can anxiety cause tightness in your chest. How can anxiety make you feel like you are going to collapse?  It does. Because your system remains on red alert for threat your physiological  arousal can go through the roof at the drop of a hat and it can take hours to settle back down again. As you well know this is very unsettling.

 What is anxiety? – The good news about anxiety and depression

If you can go one way through a door you can reverse your journey. You can recover from anxiety and its twin depression. Indeed any anxiety therapy or depression treatment MUST take you back through the doors you have gone through. There is no other way. I recommend CBT therapy as the best way to retrace your steps and move away from anxiety and depression. But whatever therapy you choose you must go back through the doors. I have developed a pretty good way of going back through the doors of anxiety and depression. It is called Mood Control and it will take you  away from anxiety and depression and what is more it will show you how to avoid the doors to anxiety and depression in the future.

I hope you enjoyed the film, What is anxiety?, and now see the truth about how to recover from anxiety.

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Attacking anxiety and depression: Correcting faulty thinking part 3

The consequences of faulty thinking

So far in the attacking anxiety and depression: correcting faulty thinking series we’ve looked at how the brain works and thinking develops and how and why your brain makes errors. In part three I’d like to focus on the consequences of faulty thinking – how this affects you.

attacking-anxiety-and-depression-yellow-light-bulb

Attacking anxiety and depression:  What are the consequences of faulty thinking?

When the short cuts your brain makes go wrong, you are left with the wrong interpretation or understanding of something. Imagine the experience of seeing someone from behind, being convinced it is someone you know.

You tap them on the shoulder and it turns out to be a stranger. That is an example of a short cut error that could be called faulty thinking. In this example you jumped to a conclusion without enough information to be fully sure you knew the person. If this has happened to you there is not likely any harm done, it was a mistake.

Sadly, many human error disasters and accidents can be wholly attributed to short cut errors. The human brain often misjudges the distances between things, miscalculates the speed of something, hears what it expects to hear and interprets something in an habitual way.

In fact it jumps to conclusions,  it sees what it expects to see, it hears what it expects to hear and is imagines things that have not happened. All of these are based on scanty information and the application of rules that are no longer valid.

Sometimes faulty thinking can have catastrophic effects. And the same principles that underlie the faulty thinking in disaster or accident situations also happen in everyday life and can lead to very serious problems;  leaving you dealing with depression and anxiety.

Attacking anxiety and depression:  How faulty thinking creates psychological problems

You are equipped with the ability to be self-critical. Depending upon your life experiences up to this point, your ability to be self critical will be more or less developed. For many people it will be highly developed. But be under no illusion, everyone is critical about themselves to some degree.

If you experience times in your life when you are overloaded, stressed, burdened, confused, tired, unsure or unstable, then your self critical capacity is increased. At the same time your brain is probably working hard to manage the problems you perceive in your life. This is when short cut errors become highly dangerous.

attacking-anxiety-and-depression-danger

When your brain makes a shortcut error and the outcome is negative, self destructive, depressing or fear inducing, you may not recognize it as a short cut error. You may accept it as a fact. This increases unpleasant negative emotions and depresses your mood further. Remember: if an error has happened once it is more likely to happen again. The next time your brain makes a short cut error you again accept it as fact. And so this continues until the shortcut error is automatic. You no longer question it.

The process can repeat itself many times with many forms of shortcut error. Your job now is to recognize short cut errors and bring them once again under conscious control; because only by bringing them under conscious control can you rectify them.

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Attacking anxiety and depression: Correcting faulty thinking:

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Botox as a depression treatment

When looking for a depression treatment you most likely don’t even consider Botox; that’s for lines and wrinkles, isn’t it? Well, Dermatologist Dr Eric Finzi has published a book arguing that how your face looks plays a role in how you feel.

The connection between facial expression and emotion is not a new idea. Indeed there is quite a bit of research on what is called the ‘facial feedback hypothesis.’

Singer, Dannii Minogue spoke publicly about her use of botox following the death of her best friend and while her sister had breast cancer. She said she felt sad and depressed and didn’t want to look at her face.

Botox as a depression treatment

Why botox is used as a depression treatment

A substantial quantity of research has suggested that the expression of emotion can be changed through a process of feedback from facial muscles. In fact going deeper into the field of body feedback shows it is not only your facial expressions but also your whole body posture that affect how you feel.

The original idea that physical feedback affected emotion was originally proposed by Charles Darwin. But now there is experimental evidence for the validity of this view and of course we have all heard that smiling when you are down is beneficial.

Change your expression; change your mood

botox-as-a-depression-treatmentThe academic research on the facial feedback hypothesis does support the common sense view that changing your facial muscle positions affects your emotions. If you feel down this will be reflected on the canvas of your face. The effect of expressing your emotions on your face seems to be to increase the intensity of the emotion. So if you feel down and you also look down your total experience is of an increased or more intense experience of emotion. Conversely if you feel happy and you also reflect this good mood on your face this will increase the overall experience of happiness.

How Botox works as a depression treatment

The important point that Dr Finzi wants to emphasise is that if you inhibit the facial expression of low mood or depression then it can often reduce the overall intensity of the emotion. Dr Finzi’s proposed solution is to freeze the face with botox to prevent the muscles that create the furrowed eyebrows and frown from functioning. No frown equals lessened experience of low mood.

A different viewpoint

I take no issues with the science used as evidence in Dr Finzi’s book nor do I argue with the facial feedback hypothesis research, but I do take a different viewpoint altogether:

In my view depression is a consequence of something else. It is an outcome not a first cause. Therefore if you treat the outcome with some form of medical intervention then you do not change the cause of the problem.

This is the same argument I have with the seemingly overuse of antidepressant meds. The United States Center for Disease Control andThe Powerful Placebo Effect Prevention has stated that the use of antidepressant drugs has soared nearly 400% since 1988, making the medication the most frequently used by people ages 18-44.

My view is that antidepressants purport to treat depression and anxiety but they only treat the outcome they do not touch the cause of low mood or depression which is why there is a high relapse rate following cessation of these drugs.

In fairness the pharmaceutical industry would state that they believe that depression is a biological problem that results from hypothesised chemical imbalances in the brain. But this remains a hypothesis without conclusive proof of its validity.

Treat the cause

Therefore Dr Finzi;s work and the work of others that it is build follows in the tradition of treating a problem that is caused by something else. Why not treat the actual problem instead?

The most effective depression treatment

botox-as-a-depression-treatment-happy-girlCBT therapy provides the most clinically effective depression treatment.

There are no side effects from CBT therapy and because you learn about the causes of depression and how to treat it you gain something valuable you can keep.

Knowledge and wisdom, these twins will keep you safe and help you steer clear of low mood and depression in the future.

It’s better to stamp on depression by learning what causes it and how to defeat it.

Make it irrelevant to your life journey. Then you won’t have to freeze your face for the whole of your life and you will still be able to smile when you want to.

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Ever wondered ‘how long will I live?’

Will you live to be 100?

Live-to-be-100Have you ever wondered, ‘how long will I live?’ We all have an attraction to the idea that maybe there is a way to see into the future and even to control the future to some extent. One thing is for sure, we are all living longer and as such are going to have more future about which to speculate. Have you thought about living to a hundred?

When you think about how long you can live you’ll realise that living to 100 is not ‘off the wall’ anymore. Many people will do it, maybe even you. Women live longer than men which is nice for them. But we are all likely to live longer than our ancestors, though quantity isn’t everything, there has to be quality of life as well. In fact, in the end, quality might be the most important element. If you are keen to know,’how long will I live’ and find the thought of living to 100 intriguing, then download the attached report and see your probability of living to 100.

I couldn’t resist finding out the answer to ‘how long will I live?’

I was fascinated to see my likelihood of living to be 100. It is about 10% but if you look at the numbers of people living to be 100 it is increasing a very great deal. By the time I get there it is estimated that there will be over 200,000 women at 100 and about 100,000 men. That is a massive increase of today’s rate.

When you think you want to live a long life remember living a long time is not the only concern…it is how you live.

I often make a distinction between destination and journey. You may have a lot more years but you also want them to contribute to a satisfying and enjoyable journey towards 100.

Taking responsibility for your journey

The truth is we cannot know the answer to the question, ‘how long will I live’ nor can we know what will happen to us on our journey. But that does not prevent us from taking what control we can over aspects of our journey. Every day is full of choices and the way we choose them determines our path.

A few years ago a user of the Blues Begone program said… ‘it is amazing I realized that you are only as depressed as your last thought.’  This is an empowering idea because it reveals some of the profound truth behind CBT therapy, when you change the way you think about yourself then you can change your life trajectory.

It is self evident that you have the potential to have more control over your internal world, if you know how to get it and exercise it. And yet anxiety problems and depression problems, which are both very common reveal a loss of psychological control. So, following this theme of taking what control you can how might we have an enjoyable and meaningful life journey?

Look after your mental health

CBT Therapy_1
As a psychologist this is my primary concern. Without good mood then everything else seems much less valuable. Mood disorders like anxiety and depression are very common and yet they are also very treatable. There are various treatment options available but in general I favour those that create a greater knowledge and sense of control over the whole process. Which is why CBT therapy is my favoured approach for helping people to have a good quality of life, it directly focuses on those profound elements that deliver meaningful life.

Meaning in life

Curiously it is not entirely clear if there is a particular type of thought that shortens your life. You might think catastrophic thoughts or worrying thoughts could potentially shorten you life as they create stress and spoil your present moment. However I am not at all sure the data supports this viewpoint. What does seem to be important is creating and maintaining a sense of meaning in life. It does not seem to matter how you do it but strive to find life a meaningful endeavour. The loss of meaning that accompanies depression is therefore problematic. And this is probably why depression can be a life shortening disorder.

Humans come into this life pre-programmed to find meaning in life. We seek it out and we create it from the things we see and do. If you find yourself without meaning in life then this is likely to be a consequence of some faulty thought processes and can be addressed and worked with. Depression treatment, especially in CBT therapy has powerful tools for doing this (for more information see The Mood Control System.

Excessive fearfulness always seen in anxiety problems can also be adequately treated by a comprehensive anxiety therapy (to start you off you’ll want to watch my film, What is anxiety? How does it affect you? below:

Psychological research has put a lot of resources into figuring out how to be happy and live a worthwhile life. Here are some of the things we know for sure.

Do work you find meaningful

(Bear in mind that no one ever lay on their deathbed and said ‘I wish I had worked harder’)

Make an effort to derive meaning and purpose from your work. If at all possible enjoy what you do, This usually follows from taking a sense of satisfaction from the work. However what it really means is to take a certain amount of responsibility for what you do. It is possible you work in a horrible job that you hate. But this is not conducive to a long and happy life. It is stressful and fills your days with time spent in an environment you dislike. Therefore change it. If necessary invest in yourself and your education or skills to enable to you do something you really find fulfilling. There are many careers in the world that people find engaging and life enhancing, or at the very least interesting and stimulating. These surely are the goals of a working life. But only you can take the necessary steps to ensure it happens. So be responsible for you working life.

A bit of my story

When I was a teenager I took my first job which was an apprenticeship, in a heavy industry. I really disliked the job but what I disliked even more was the sense that the management was responsible for everything and the worker was there to do as much as possible for as little as possible. This was a perspective that both disempowered the worker but also made it hard for people to develop their skills and expertise; although many did, but it made it hard to enjoy the process of being expert and knowledgeable. In essence I don’t think it matters too much what you do but make sure you gain some satisfaction and a sense of mastery from it.

Stay as fit as practical but don’t overdo it!

First things first. A lot of exercise can be bad for you!

I have spoken about studies in the past that have documented the beneficial effects of moderate exercise on longevity. The days of most of us doing manual jobs are gone and if you, like me sit down for most of the day then you like me have a problem. The trouble for me is that what we call exercise now is institutionalized. We use gyms and have workouts when perhaps what we need to do is to incorporate exercise into our daily lives. Walking as much as possible and using our muscles as much as we can within the environment in which we live. In the UK gardening is a great fair weather exercise and combines both movement and interest so it is fantastic.

Find things you can do that are interesting to you as opposed to simply being exercise. Surely if you can engage in a hobby activity that is also exercising then so much the better. The fact is that the alternative of not staying as fit as practical is you lose some of your longevity but as with all things in life moderation is the key. If you enjoy hard exercise like marathons then good for you. But if you’re concerned with the question, ‘how long will I live,’ they will not lengthen your life and may even cause you longer term problems.

Relationships are important

People usually say that the most important things in their lives are relationships with others. We are social animals and what we value is the quality of the time spent with people who mean something to us. If you think about what makes an experience meaningful to you it is likely to be the sense of emotion you get from it. A film that engages your emotions is much more easily remembered than one that does not. The same is true for relationships and the experiences we have when in relationships.

Relationships are the most meaningful processes we have and they enrich our lives. Of course they have to be decent relationships to do that. We don’t want massively stressful ones or ones that are burdensome to us. Therefore following the theme to taking responsibility for our lives see what you can you do today to make your relationship deeper and richer. And if you don’t have one put some effort in engaging another human being in a conversation that is meaningful (not just greetings and stock phrases.)

There is also one important relationship we must not overlook. It is the relationship you have with yourself. Many clients I have seen over the years have been very conflicted within themselves. They may hold two or more positions about what they think about themselves, the world and even their own future. They are both highly competent and yet very self critical causing a lot of anger and internal conflict. If you experience this it is often a precursor to symptoms of depression and anxiety but is entirely amenable to a comprehensive depression treatment or anxiety therapy such as CBT therapy so while it may feel impossible to resolve it’s actually very resolvable. 

Every day you can make choices that change the trajectory of your life’s journey for the better. This is empowering information but only if you take the choices that are presented almost every moment of every day. Taking more control of your life is simply about seeing what is already there and making informed choices rather than letting chance determine what happens next.

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