North Carolina

We’re so stressed

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Keith Upchurch, Herald-Sun, NC: Stress is twisting many Americans in knots, and Durham is no exception.

The pressures of life — especially money concerns — rank high on the list of stressors. But many people are find-ing relief in exercise, music, support groups and prayer, while others are turning to drugs to help them escape reality — temporarily.

Angell Copper, for example, says he has been stressed out for most of his life. The 22-year-old Hillsborough resident has spent time in foster homes and prison, but he’s trying to find ways to deal with his anger and anxiety over having no money or job.

Copper said he was convicted of having marijuana on a high school campus and for a probation violation. Surprisingly, he said going to prison was one of the best things that happened to him, because he got counseling for his anger, which he said is under better control than in the past.

Still, having an empty wallet and no job keeps his stress level high.

Before going to prison, he said, “I’d wake up mad every day, because you’re stressed out over bills and all that other stuff, you know. I think that’s why a lot of black people turn to drugs and weed and stuff like that, because it’s an everyday circle, and you can’t stop stress. And it’s just whacked. Stress is real whacked.”

Copper is taking medication for his anxiety, but he believes he could find more relief if he had someone to talk to.

“I’ve been from foster care to prison, and now I’m out,” he said. “Right now, I’m just trying to make it, and I have a lot of stress, because I have no money, and it’s hard. I just want to cry sometimes, but I try to stay strong, because I have a child, and I can’t let him see me stress out — you know what I mean?”

Copper said prayer helps.

“Just to know that a higher power is there to help you, and that he’s never going to leave you helps,” he said. “So I hold dear to that, because I do love God.”

Pamela Finney of Durham said she’s also stressed because she can’t find a job.

“I relocated from New Jersey about three years ago to be closer to my family,” she said. “But now I’ve been here trying to find a job, and they tell you to go online for jobs,” but that hasn’t worked.

To cope, she turns to cigarettes and a support group.

“That helps a lot,” she said.

For Kelly Morris of Durham, stress comes and goes, but paying bills is his biggest stressor. “I’ve still got a job,” he said. “It’s just hard to make ends meet even with a job.” To cope, he “takes one day at a time” and prays.

But for retired scientist Phil Lawless, 67, life isn’t that stressful, because he no longer has the pressure of work and has enough money for his golden years. He retired about 18 months ago.

“Being able to retire at the time I did means that I wasn’t affected so much by the recession,” he said. Now, he spends a lot of his free time reading and traveling.

“I get to sleep late,” he said. “And my wife is retired too, so we don’t have to get up early in the morning.”

Another retiree, Fred Clark of Durham, also said he doesn’t feel much stress, because the recession hasn’t affected him as much as others. To keep stress at bay, Clark goes to the Q Shack restaurant in Durham every Wednesday to hear blue grass music. He also works out at a health club three times a week.

For some, family is a stressor, but for others, it offers a safe haven from stress.

Maria Manson of Durham has a job and three children under 5, but she said she doesn’t feel unduly stressed, because “I have a good life.” She said her children keep her from becoming stressed, “because they’re so much fun.” But when life gets too tough, she finds relief by relaxing, watching a movie and “thinking about the positive things in life.”

The theme of finding relief through faith was a common thread though many of those who spoke with The Herald-Sun about stress in their lives.

Vietnam War veteran William Caine, 63, is disabled. He’s had open heart surgery, head surgery and now faces a hip replacement. “So stress reaches its peak quite often,” he said. “But I manage to deal with it, thank the Lord.”

“My faith is always there, boss man,” he said. “Faith is there every second of the day.”

Caine also gets a boost from his grandchildren.

“That’s the best thing in my life right now,” he said. “They’re the best thing in the world.”

Becky Tenaglia, a pre-school director, feels the stress in her back and neck. A main stressor for her is not getting enough sleep. She also feels the pressure of trying to balance the many demands of her work and family.

But like so many others, her faith makes a world of difference.

“I’m not sure how I would get through life with God, without prayer,” she said. “Faith is extremely important. When stress is so high, the only thing you can do is pray for help.”

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Stress: The waves will come, but you learn to surf

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Keith Upchurch, the Herald-Sun: Thirty people are sitting in a wide circle, and no one is talking.

But that’s the way it’s supposed to be. This is a one-hour session on mindful meditation, offered at Duke Integrative Medicine off Erwin Road.

The session’s leader is Jeffrey Brantley, a psychiatrist and founder-director of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program at the Duke center. He’s been practicing meditation for more than 30 years, and teaching programs in mindfulness meditation for more than 20 years.

As the session continues and participants enter a 20-minute silent phase, Brantley advises the group to stay in the moment, to pay attention to the thoughts the mind is producing. Don’t fight the thoughts, even negative ones, but acknowledge them, he says.

The period of quiet is in such sharp contrast to the noise of everyday life that it’s almost shocking, but in a good way. Thoughts were whirling around my brain, but I tried to let them come and go without fighting them.

When the session was over, I felt that toxins had been released from my body. I felt much less stressed.

Others said they felt the same way.

Jane Lamm, a Chapel Hill artist, said she’s taken several classes on mindfulness and stress reduction. “It just makes you stop and enjoy the moment,” she said. “My favorite saying of his [Dr. Brantley] is that the waves are going to come, but you learn to surf. Or, to visualize that you’re a stone in the river, and the current is coming, but it’s going to go. And it’s good to just sit down and enjoy what you’re doing now.”

Lamm said the stress reduction classes have brought down her blood pressure.

“I’m an artist, and I wasn’t finding time to paint [because of stress],” she said. “I was letting my life outside of what I would like to do control me, and this is helping me get control.”

But she said that the $10 classes, which are offered to the public on Wednesdays at the center, have made a big difference in her life.

“It really helps to have someone guide you through it,” she said. “I see mindfulness as a state that I’ve wanted to be in, but didn’t know how to get there, and these classes are giving me a roadmap to get there.”

Another participant, Katie Stoudemire, 29, has been attending classes with Brantley for two years.

“It has helped me a lot in dealing with difficult people, and difficult situations at work,” she said. “So, being mindful of my own emotions and having compassion for my own distress helps — taking a minute to see how I’m feeling, and to acknowledge that, and to have compassion for how I feel. It gives you a chance to get unstuck from those feelings, so you’re not just reacting to these other people — that’s been super helpful. And I think it’s helped in my personal relationships, too.”

After the sessions, she said, it feels like there is more space in her mind.

“It’s been fantastic,” she said. “I suffer from an anxiety disorder, and this helps me with that, and gives me hope for the future, because maybe I can get to the point where I can be aware that I’m anxious, and can choose to not continue to be that way.”

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State OKs changes to Cabarrus charter school (Charlotte Observer, NC)

Cristina Breen Bolling, Charlotte Observer: Curriculum viewed as religious removed. Transcendental Meditation, Natural Law fuel controversy

A controversial Cabarrus County charter school that plans to teach Transcendental Meditation and Natural Law Curriculum when it opens this fall must remove all religion from its curriculum or lose its charter.

That was the message Thursday from the N.C. Charter School Advisory Board to the leaders of the Carolina International School.

The school has been challenged in recent months by local residents who believe its so-called Natural Law Curriculum and emphasis on meditation are rooted in Hinduism, and therefore don’t belong in a public school. Carolina International would be the first charter school in Cabarrus County.

At a meeting Thursday in Raleigh, the 15-member charter school advisory board asked the new school to work with the board to remove religion from its plans.

Leaders of the Carolina International, however, say the school has nothing to do with religion.

“We never would have undertaken a charter-school application process if we felt in any way that these programs were religious in content,” said Richard Beall, the school’s director.

TM and Natural Law Curriculum are part of Consciousness-Based Education, or CBE, founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, known to many from his friendship with the Beatles.

Michael Fedewa, chairman of the charter school advisory committee, said it’s too early to tell how much of the curriculum will need to be cut to keep the charter.

“TM, in my opinion, has got to be addressed. Clearly, through certain ceremonies and certain results, it clearly has what one could logically perceive to be religious in connotation,” he said, as does the Natural Law Curriculum.

The Charter School Advisory Committee recommends schools to the N.C. Board of Education, which approves the charters. Carolina International received its charter in January.

The advisory board initially didn’t pay much attention to TM or the Natural Law Curriculum, Fedewa said. They were impressed by the school’s business model, its rigorous academic standards and multicultural environment.

Beall said he remains committed to his students and teachers. But, he added, “if the end result is something that doesn’t really contribute in a significant way to our overall educational goals, then it may not be worth continuing.”

More than 550 students are registered for 320 seats in the school, Beall said. The school plans to open with grades K-7 and will add a grade each year to become K-12.

“Natural Law is terrific. I know about TM and it’s not different from any other meditation,” said Eloise Koskinen of southwest Charlotte, whose three grandchildren are on the school’s waiting list.

Beverly Henley of Cabarrus County, a vocal opponent to Beall’s school, called Thursday’s meeting “a positive thing.”

“It’s been our thought all along that it’s a definite violation of church and state. It’s just so in-your-face.”

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