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Anxiety conference stresses ways to deal with fears

Mark Fox/The Aspen Times
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For a conference on anxiety, the gathering at the Hotel Jerome Grand Ballroom was pretty relaxed.But as a speaker at the Wednesday conference noted, many there were therapists, and many others were already familiar with the subject.More than 100 locals and visitors took part in the Aspen Valley Medical Foundation conference, titled “Living Courageously in an Age of Anxiety.” It followed last year’s well-received conference “The Divided Self: Crisis in Paradise.”This year’s conference featured an introductory talk by local psychologist Dr. Joel Brence, who discussed the nature of angst to the mounting political crisis in the U.S. to the consideration of how a person’s character is reflected in his or her face.Brence’s advice for dealing with anxiety: “Take a few deep breaths and refuse to label the situation as bad” and “create the space around the situation” to see it as something other than a crisis.As for the tendency of people to view their lives unfulfilled because they have not achieved great things, Brence said, “Meager results, that’s life. Not to be deterred by meager results, that’s courage.”

Later, he said, “The point of life, as I see it … is that we have the courage to live it.”The program also included interviews of longtime local poet and community activist Polly Whitcomb, and of Olympic snowboarder and liver-transplant survivor Chris Klug.Whitcomb, whose late husband, Harold, was a well-known Aspen doctor, revealed that “Whit,” as he was known, “lived with chronic anxiety and depression,” although few knew it.She said she was inspired by his courage in facing his difficulties, and by his responses to these conditions – to seek answers in the world of alternative medicine when traditional methods failed to help, and to seek ways to help others feel better within and about themselves.”What he did was become a servant to this community,” she said with emotion.Polly Whitcomb said she does one of two things to deal with anxiety – go inside and meditate, be quiet, breathe,” or “move right into action, get busy, get to it, work,” whichever seems appropriate to the moment.

She also advised the attendees to “let friends in … be open and honest with your family so they can be open and honest with you,” and above all, do not be secretive about your pains and doubts.Klug regaled the audience with tales of his early athletic achievements leading up to Olympic competition, and he enthralled them with a description of his feelings after doctors diagnosed his rare liver disease, primary sclerosing cholangitis.The disease threatened to derail his athletic career and might have killed him if a transplant had not been arranged in 2000. He said at one point he was nearly convinced the transplant would never happen and he might not survive long.”That was a very, very scary process,” he said. But five months after the transplant he won a bronze medal at the Salt Lake City Olympics.The day wrapped up with a demonstration by aikido teacher and author Tom Crum, who shared techniques for “centering.” He also urged those present to practice the centering techniques five times a day as a way of keeping stress at bay.Most participants seemed happy with what they heard and absorbed.



Alice Davis, an architect and former Aspen school board member, said what impressed her the most was Crum’s suggestion to take the time to “rest and digest” when confronted with troubling matters.”I think ‘rest and digest’ breaks the cycle that we are caught up in,” she said.Musician and Glenwood Springs businesswoman Sue Krehbiel said she came to the conference “for my own anxiety” and felt it was well worth it.”I needed to hear Tom Crum to give me these real solid exercises” to help her deal with anxiety, she said. “I think it helped.”AVMF’s Kris Marsh said she is not sure yet if there will be a third health conference in 2007. She said that decision will be made in the coming months.John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com


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