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Admin last won the day on September 5 2016

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  1. For better or worse, we’ve inherited a worrying brain. This was really good news for our ancestors, who had to survive harsh conditions and constant predators and did so by being able to pay close attention to potential threats and dangers. But this is not so helpful for us modern humans though, who can find ourselves pulled into future “what if” thoughts that can fill many an hour of our waking lives. In my previous blog, “How Worry Takes Us Away From Our Lives“, I suggested some ways that we might work with minor worries and mental ruminations. In this blog I would like to elaborate on that, and offer some suggestions for what to do when we are feeling particularly stuck in intense worry feelings. I find for myself that I experience this most when I am worried about the well-being and health of a family member, when am sitting with uncertainty, or waiting on some resolution of a problem over which I have little control. Each of us has our own worry triggers, but the grip of worry is something we commonly experience as human beings. Here are some things that you can try when you are gripped by worry: 1. Be aware of where your mind is traveling. Often our minds travel to far away places down dark roads, without us being fully aware. For example, it is not uncommon for parents to experience a behavior crisis with their young child and have thoughts such as “if he/she is behaving this way now, how are they possibly going to get through high school and function in life?” Before they know it, they are 10 years into the future, which leads to helpless feelings because we can’t do anything about something that hasn’t happened yet (and often won’t happen at all). It is common for our mind to jump way into the future and have these kinds of worse-case scenario thoughts like a runaway train. When this happens, recognizing we are 10 steps into the future can remind us to bring our thinking back to right now. Ask: “What is happening today, and is there anything helpful I can do about it right now?” Look for places where you have control. Maybe there is a small action step that you can take. For example, someone worried about their financial future might identify what they can do now, such as set up a weekly budget, or make an appointment to meet with a financial advisor, or see if there are unneeded items in the house they might sell for a bit of immediate cash. Know that you may not be able to control your initial worst-case scenario thoughts, but you can choose to keep bringing your mind back to today when it wanders away to unhelpful places, and focus on small action steps you can control, even if that is simply taking care of yourself. 2. If a worry is particular consuming, choose an activity that you can engage in mindfully, something that will allow you to put the focus of your attention on the task at hand. For me, folding laundry, cleaning my house, and going for a run help to step me out of feeling immobilized by my own thoughts and feelings when they are very intense. For some people it might be knitting or gardening or doing a puzzle. Something that involves the body in motion or a mental activity can be helpful to bring our attention to the present moment and task in front of us. Often when people talk about this they say “I distracted myself by doing X.” But I like to flip that kind of thinking around. Our ruminating thoughts are the distraction, pulling us away from what is actually happening. When we focus our full attention on an activity in this moment, we step back into our lives (and can often dial down the ruminating part of our brain). 3. Identify the inner and outer resources you have to meet potential challenges. For example, if you are worried about a medical issue, outer resources to focus on might include the skilled doctors and nurses that you have on your team to help you, books that offer you information about how best to take care of yourself, or the neighbors next door who are willing to watch your kids if you have doctors’ appointments. Inner resources might include your ability to carefully weigh information and not make impulsive decisions; motivation to take care of your body in any ways you can, or courage that you know is there because of others challenges you have faced in your life. Bring your attention to all of the resources you can think of that are there for you to draw on. Know that they are with you as a source of strength. 4. Call up genuine, positive emotions. As much as we may be gripped by fear, anxiety and worry, we often still have the capacity during these times to experience emotions such as care, love, appreciation or gratitude. When we focus on these, it can help to ease our pain and suffering. For example, when I was with my daughter for a medical procedure and was grappling with my worrying mind, it helped me to focus on the kindness and care of the nurses and doctors, and to send feelings of care and concern to other parents who were with their children in the hospital. Once you identify a genuine positive emotion (don’t come up with something that doesn’t feel true for you), it can be helpful to magnify it and dwell in the felt sense of this feeling in your body. It isn’t about pushing away difficult emotions that may be present, but about calling up positive emotions that you might otherwise overlook in the face of intense worries, that could help to nourish you. Dwelling in the love and care of those around you can be especially helpful during challenging times. 5. Practice self-compassion. While it is useful to stop or redirect spiraling, unhelpful, future-based thoughts, it is important that we don’t discount our own emotions by pushing them away, telling ourselves we are silly to feel this way or berating ourselves for having our feelings. Instead, we can acknowledge that what we are experiencing is difficult. We can offer compassion and comfort to ourselves the way we might do to a friend going through a similar situation. We can picture a wise, loving self holding or being with the younger, scared parts of ourselves. I find this especially helpful in the middle of the night when my worries can feel most intense. Letting ourselves know we are on own side can go a long way. 6. Don’t hold your worries alone. Reach out for support and engage in social connection with others. This worrying mind is part of our shared common humanity, and we all go through situations that are scary or difficult. Knowing that you are not alone, and allowing others to support you, can help to bring ease to angst and suffering. Too often people feel that they don’t want to “burden others.” Sometimes others can offer us perspective and the ability to see a larger picture. Sometimes others can simply be with us for support. Some people in our lives might be best at problem-solving and helping us take action. Think about what you might most need from others and who in your life might best fill that need. Then don’t be shy about reaching out. Ask yourself: “If this other person were going through what I am, would I want them to reach out to me so I could be there for them?” We are all here for each other and knowing that we do not need to bear our difficulties alone can help to bring ease to even our biggest worries. View the full article
  2. I have previously written about the possible benefits of using virtual reality (VR) in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Now it seems that virtual-reality based cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has more wide-reaching benefits and can help reduce momentary paranoia and anxiety, as well as improve social cognition in individuals with psychotic disorders. In a February 2018 study published in The Lancet (Psychiatry), researchers conducted a randomized controlled trial of personalized virtual-reality based cognitive-behavioral therapy in 116 patients with a DSM IV-diagnosed psychotic disorder and paranoid ideation. Patients were randomized to 16 virtual-reality therapy sessions, each an hour-long, which resulted in a significant reduction in self reports of momentary paranoia immediately after treatment as well as at a six-month follow-up. In contrast, the control group — who received typical care including antipsychotic medication, regular psychiatric consultations, and social and community functioning — showed a slight increase in momentary paranoia. The group that received virtual-reality therapy also showed statistically significant decreases in momentary anxiety, compared with those in the control group. Those decreases also remained significant at follow-up. Additionally, researchers observed a significant drop in safety behaviors, such as lack of eye contact, in the group who received the virtual-reality therapy. At follow-up, this group showed less paranoid ideation in the form of lower levels of ideas of persecution and social reference. The treatment also was associated with a small increase in time spent with others at the 6-month follow-up; a decrease was seen in the control group. Patients who underwent virtual-reality therapy also showed improvements in self-stigmatization and social functioning. The study authors noted that the benefits for social functioning might take some time to emerge after therapy, as patients in symptomatic remission do not immediately start spending more time with other people. They said: “When patients increasingly feel more comfortable in social situations and learn that other people are less threatening than anticipated, they might try and succeed to make and maintain social contacts and find hobbies and jobs.” It is interesting to note that no significant differences were found between the two groups in terms of depression and anxiety, or in quality of life measurements posttreatment and at follow-up. One of the benefits of virtual-reality based CBT is that it can be used to circumvent some of the limitations of exposure-based therapeutic exercises for paranoid ideation. In virtual-reality settings, the environment and characters can be completely controlled by the therapist, and the therapy is in real-time rather than retrospective and therefore not as vulnerable to patient bias. The therapy used took place in four virtual social environments — a street, bus, café, and supermarket. The therapist was able to control the characteristics and responses of up to 40 human avatars, enabling personalized treatment exercises for each patient. Said the authors: “Patients and therapists communicated during virtual reality sessions to explore and challenge suspicious thoughts during social situations, drop safety behaviors during social situations (such as avoiding eye contact with, keeping distance from, and refraining from communication with avatars), and test harm expectancies.” Several limitations of the study were cited. For one, because follow-up was restricted to 6 months, the long-term effects of virtual reality-based CBT were not measured. Also, some of the patients opted not to participate in the study because traveling to the therapy location proved too frightening. Because of this the patient sample have been somewhat biased, because some of the most paranoid and avoidant patients did not participate. While more research is needed, it appears that the benefits of virtual-reality based therapy go beyond helping those with OCD. Those with psychotic disorders and paranoid ideation can be helped as well. View the full article
  3. Anxiety issues can start early. Very early. In fact, you can spot the signs in toddlers. Which is important because contrary to what many people believe, anxiety struggles don’t dissipate with age. Kids don’t grow out of their anxiety. Instead, their anxiety simply morphs into other behaviors. According to Janine Halloran, a licensed mental health counselor who specializes in kids and teens, separation anxiety may turn into refusal to go to school. Kids also start coping with their anxiety in unhelpful, unhealthy ways. For instance, they might develop specific rituals when getting out the door for school, said Katie Hurley, LCSW, a child and adolescent psychotherapist. This is why it’s vital to intervene early. Below, you’ll learn what anxiety looks like in toddlers, along with what to do when you notice these signs. Signs of Anxiety in Toddlers According to child and family therapist Clair Mellenthin, LCSW, “Anxiety often presents itself as emotional or behavioral symptoms in childhood.” For instance, she said, some typical symptoms include: excessive crying, fear of being left alone, hypervigilance, food restriction and nightmares. Additional signs include: Rigidity. Anxious toddlers insist that parents do things in a particular manner or order, said Natasha Daniels, a child therapist and author of the book How to Parent Your Anxious Toddler. She shared these examples: You have to tuck them in a certain way; they’ll only drink from one cup; they tell you where to stand and how to hold them. “All children love routine and structure, but anxious toddlers will implode if it is not done exactly as they require.” Fear of new situations. Many toddlers feel uncomfortable in new situations, and it can take them some time to adjust. However, anxious toddlers, Daniels said, “hold onto you for dear life.” They might need you to hold them the entire time; hide behind your legs and never come out; demand to leave; or refuse to go inside, she said. Intense separation anxiety. Anxious toddlers usually need to have you in sight at all times, and they’ll panic if they don’t, Daniels said. They will follow you everywhere, and have a meltdown if you need to leave without them, said Halloran, author of the Coping Skills for Kids Workbook, and founder of Coping Skills for Kids. Intense tantrums. Tantrums are totally normal for toddlers. However, tantrums that take 45 minutes or more and occur regularly (not because your child is tired, hungry or overstimulated) are red flags, according to Hurley, author of several books about children, including her latest No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident and Compassionate Girls. Regression. Anxious toddlers tend to exhibit regressed behavior, Hurley said. For instance, if your child is potty-trained, they might have frequent accidents, or if they’re night-trained, they might wet the bed, she said. Sleep issues. “Anxious toddlers have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep, and will get up multiple times a night to seek out a caregiver and explain that they had a bad dream or they are scared,” Halloran said. Repetitive behaviors. They might twirl their hair or bite their nails in order to calm their anxiety, Hurley said. Excessive phobias and fears. Anxious toddlers may fear monsters, the dark, bugs and other animals, said Halloran. They may have “fears around the bathroom,” such as “getting flushed down the drain, fear of the water, fear of things in the water.” And these fears will interfere with completing daily tasks: They refuse to go into the bathroom or refuse to stay in their room and go to sleep, she said. Sensitivity to sound. Anxious toddlers might cover their ears when they hear loud noises like bathroom hand dryers, Halloran said. They might “have big reactions to loud sounds like garbage trucks, vacuums, or garbage disposals. They can also be extremely reluctant in big crowds or at parties.” Food issues. “Sensory issues are more prevalent in anxious toddlers and this often impacts their little mouths and body. Lumps and bumps in food will make kids gag and develop some pretty intense picky eating,” said Daniels, who also hosts the AT Parenting Survival Podcast, which focuses on child anxiety. They might only eat a few foods, refuse to try new foods or not want different foods to touch on their plate, Halloran said. Physical symptoms. Daniels noted that anxious toddlers tend to get constipated more often. Hurley suggested looking for complaints of tummy aches. “Not all anxious toddlers will exhibit all these signs, but these are some common ways that anxiety expresses itself in the toddler years,” Halloran said. What to Do About Anxiety If you notice any of these signs, the first step is to talk to your pediatrician. “It’s always important to rule out any medical causes of symptoms when kids are young,” Hurley said. Ask your pediatrician for recommendations for child therapists who specialize in working with toddlers. Halloran also recommended seeing an occupational therapist because many anxious toddlers have sensory issues. “These professionals can help support your child in learning effective self-regulation and coping strategies, and give you tools you can use at home too.” According to Hurley, “Cognitive behavioral therapy is highly effective for helping young children cope with symptoms, and play therapy can help children work through their triggers and stressors.” Mellenthin suggested finding a registered play therapist at the Association for Play Therapy: http://www.a4pt.org/page/TherapistDirectory. Reading books to your child about anxiety also can be helpful. Daniels suggested Andi Green’s book Don’t Feed the Worry Bug; and for kids 5 and up, Karen Young’s book Hey Warrior and Dawn Huebner’s book What to Do When You Worry Too Much. Having a child who’s struggling with anxiety can understandably make you anxious. You might be upset that they have to see a therapist—and delay treatment. But, as Daniels noted, denying that anxiety exists serves no one, especially not your child. “When we intervene earlier, we help teach children how to manage their anxiety in safe and healthy ways,” Halloran said. We also equip them with effective tools that they can take with them into young adulthood and beyond. According to Daniels, young kids can learn to name their anxiety, and use language to express their fears. They can learn how anxiety works and grows (i.e., with avoidance). But we have to teach them. “Anxiety comes with some wonderful traits,” Daniels said. “Anxious kids tend to be the most empathetic, intelligent, kind-hearted kids I know. They are my favorite type of people. They are true gems; we just have to teach them how to get rid of the anxiety so they can really sparkle.” View the full article
  4. I was at my dentist’s office the other day when I heard the assistant, I’ll call her Emily, talking with the office receptionist. Emily asked her boyfriend to buy her an anxiety cube. My ears perked up when I heard the word “anxiety” so I asked how the cube worked and if she suffered with a lot of anxiety. She smiled sheepishly nodding yes. I told her I was a psychotherapist who teaches people how to ease anxiety and asked if she wanted me to share a bit of education that might help. She and the office receptionist both nodded yes. Anxiety Is a Signal I told them, “Anxiety is really a signal that we have one or more underlying core emotions, like sadness, anger, fear and even excitement, pushing up for expression. Emotions get blocked by anxiety when we previously learned from our cultures, families, or peer groups, that the emotion was not welcomed. For example, if when we showed fear to our parents, we were told not to be so weak, we would think twice before expressing our fear again. In that scenario, our brain would learn not to show fear less we would also be humiliated on top of afraid. From then on, any time the environment made us afraid, we’d feel anxiety instead.” We block fears and other core emotions with muscular constriction, holding our breath, coming out of our body, and many other ways. So now, instead of experiencing our core emotions, we experience anxiety. In a way, knowing this is great news! Because now, when we have anxiety, there is something we can do to ease it: we can look for the underlying emotions. In fact, with practice, any time we feel anxiety, we will immediately remember to look for the underlying core emotions coming up and tend to them in healthy and safe ways. The look on their faces was something close to enthralled. “Wow. That really resonates,” the receptionist said. I gave them my card with my writing website and invited them to check out some of my articles and YouTube videos to learn more about emotions. I thought it would help, I told them. Using Anxiety as a Signal on Our Own and with a Therapist Here’s another personal example of how understanding emotions helped me with my anxiety. I used to get very anxious at the thought of going to a funeral. When I learned about the biology of emotions and The Change Triangle, I realized I was anxious because I was blocking the sadness and grief that naturally arose when someone I knew died. Growing up, my family of origin didn’t do sadness. Instead, my mother worked hard to cheer me up. As a result, my child brain assumed it wasn’t ok to feel sad and I was supposed to be happy. From then on, every time something in the environment triggered my sadness, I’d get anxious instead. Once I learned it was natural to feel sad in response to losses, I was determined to get reacquainted with my sadness. I learned to welcome the experiences sadness brought up like wanting to cry or feeling heavy in my heart. My anxiety then went away. As a psychotherapist, I help people who have been disconnected from their core emotions, sometimes for years, get connected to them again so they feel more vital and alive. When I first met Sally, she got anxious any time she felt angry. Through our connection and by teaching Sally techniques to lower anxiety such as grounding and breathing, she could connect to her anger again and use it wisely. Sally listened to what her anger was trying to tell her. She soon learned to use it to assert her needs and to set boundaries with her family so they could not take advantage of her. I love The Change Triangle, a practical tool to work with emotions instead of numbing or avoiding them. The Change Triangle guides us to identify the core emotions underneath our anxiety. We can then work with core emotions to not only reduce anxiety but listen to what the core emotions are trying to tell us (they are there for good reasons!) to thrive as best as possible under our individual life circumstances. Core emotions are, in fact, a compass for living. Unfortunately, our schools and communities don’t yet educate people on how anxiety, depression, and other symptoms, are related to avoiding our core emotions. It’s on us to find information and educate ourselves. Knowledge is power. And when it comes to anxiety and emotions this is doubly true. View the full article
  5. The world really wants us to count our blessings. News articles and blog posts tout the many benefits of gratitude, from improved health to better sleep and happier moods. Entrepreneurs and business behemoths like Oprah Winfrey swear by gratitude journals as a solution to stress and the secret to their success. But practicing gratitude doesn’t come naturally to everyone — myself included. For one thing, the thought of keeping a gratitude journal can sound like a chore, another to-do item in my already Type A lifestyle. Even worse is the feeling of being bad at gratitude, when we’re too grumpy or anxious or sad to focus on the good in our lives. I hear the same thing from clients and friends, many of whom are caught in the self-defeating cycle of thinking, How can I fail at something so simple as being grateful? If you’re someone who cringes at the thought of keeping a gratitude journal, it doesn’t mean you’re a jerk who takes good things for granted. Gratitude practices are not one-size-fits-all, and trying to box yourself into a system that feels forced will lead you to feel worse, not better. Instead, you may need a more pragmatic practice — and to get creative about self-reflection so it better serves your personal style. Why practicing gratitude can be a challenge Gratitude can be especially hard when things get tough. Life is not roses and sunshine all the time, and a single news sound bite can quickly remind you of the violence, political upheaval, and natural disasters going on all around the world. Add personal challenges or work anxiety to the mix, and you’re likely to be too overwhelmed and stressed out to do a complete 180 turn to focus only on the good. Forcing yourself to do so makes gratitude feel inauthentic — more like the homework that you dreaded in fifth grade rather than an exercise meant to enhance your happiness. Strike a balance We all have different needs when it comes our well-being. For many people, developing an authentic way to practice gratitude involves acknowledging positive and negative emotions equally, rather than trying to use gratitude to mute out unpleasant or painful feelings. Learning to embrace negative emotions is healthy, and studies show that people who ignore negative emotions experience more distress. Those who learn to cope with difficult emotions, on the other hand, build mental strength and resilience. If a gratitude practice is being used as a shield that allows you to ignore painful feelings or serious problems, it’s almost certainly having a net negative effect. Anxious skeptics, try this gratitude exercise The following mindfulness exercise is one that has worked for me. I affectionately refer to it as “gratitude for people who hate gratitude.” Over the years, I’ve discovered different variations of it, like High, Low, and Interesting and Rose, Thorn, Bud. Each operates on the same core principle: to acknowledge the things that went wrong and that there is room for improvement tomorrow, while taking note of the high moments, too. You might do this exercise with your family around the dinner table. Or you might practice it solo as a way to “close up shop” at the end of your work day and transition into downtime. If you prefer a ritual in the morning, you can try it when you first wake up and apply it to the previous day’s events. To complete the exercise, answer these three questions: Daily High – What was the “high point” of your day? Daily Low – What was your “low point” of the day? Importantly, what could you improve upon for next time? Daily Hero Moment – What did you feel proud of today? Alternatively, who was a “hero” to you today? Embracing negative emotions? Check. Expressing gratitude? Check. Room to grow tomorrow? That too. You don’t have to call it a gratitude practice, if that still makes you want to run for the hills. It’s more a reflection — a balanced way to take stock of the okay, the great, and the to-be-improved. © 2017 Melody Wilding // a version of this article was originally published on Quartz. View the full article
  6. Teens and anxiety. The two seem to go hand in hand. If you are a parent looking to help your teen through this tough and often turbulent time, then you are not alone. Anxiety in children and teens is on the rise and you will want to know what you can do to make this time easier for them. To make a difference, here are some options that will help your teen not only feel better but receive the right support from you. Encourage physical activity: Physical activity is one of the best ways teens can deal with anxiety. It’s mentally and physically healthy, productive, and something they can do with you or their peers. Whether it’s yoga, a run, a workout at the gym, or anything else, physical activity is a wonderful recommendation for helping anxious teens. It’s great during an anxiety-rich day and as maintenance for the lasting anxiety in your teen. Sleep 8-9 hours a night: Lack of sleep can make any teen more anxious, so make sure that they are getting the recommended 8-9 hours of sleep each night. To make that easier to accomplish, you can try making a deal with your teen to put away electronics after a certain time in the evening, and offer incentives for them to get the right sleep. This is often a tricky thing to guarantee, especially with those who have active social lives and decent amounts of homework, but it can be done. Just set up a plan with them that is agreeable to all perhaps as an “experiment” to start. Once he or she sees the benefits of it, they might even be self-motivated to get the sleep they need — we can hope! Limit the caffeine: You probably know yourself that when you have too much caffeine, you can get jittery and anxious, so now imagine your teen having that jittery feeling on top of the already existing anxiety. When you are that age and dealing with anxiety, caffeine just makes it worse until it can get unbearable. So, limit the caffeine that your teen takes in, whether it’s from coffee or sugary drinks. You’ll find that it can help reduce your teen’s anxiety, too, especially if they are used to having these drinks on a regular basis. If they see the positive results, they may even take this new “no caffeine” rule seriously on their own. Find some new and productive hobbies: Keeping busy and distracted with fun and entertaining activities is a fantastic way of getting rid of anxious energy. Help your teen find a new activity that is full of potential. Creative pursuits involving music, art, theatre and singing/dancing are all what we consider to be right-brained activities. These can feel like an escape and help your teen relax while expressing themselves in a safe environment. Other hobbies that can be helpful include reading/writing, model building, chess/games, sports and school clubs and volunteering. Have an anxiety-friend: If there is a loved one in your family or close friend that deals with anxiety on a regular basis, put them in contact with your teen. In our modern times, snapchat or texting can be a “safe” way for your teen to communicate with someone when they are having a tough day. You will be able to trust that your teen is communicating with someone safe. Your teen will benefit from knowing they are not alone and learn new ways of managing their emotions. A new perspective from a trusted family member/friend will go a long way toward helping your teen manage this challenging time. Teen anxiety is a real concern in our world with all of the stressors that pop up during this time in life, but when you have the right tools in place, dealing with the anxiety can get a little easier and a whole lot more realistic. It simply comes down to having the best tools to get the job done, and this will help. View the full article
  7. Take back control. Anxiety…we all feel it. Anxiety symptoms vary from general distress to sweating palms to nausea-inducing stomach cramps. For some. it’s an uncommon visitor, a fleeting shadow beneath the door. For others, it’s the friend you let crash on your couch one night, who now refuses to leave. Regardless of its frequency or severity in your life, anxiety has a penchant for showing up uninvited and requiring your attention. That’s why you should learn how to deal with your anxiety and its effect on your life, for when it inevitably comes knocking on your door. Here are some tips from Coach Monique for how to deal with anxiety, so you can take back control of your life: 1. The “Delete, Delete” Technique. In order to deal with anxiety, first reframe your thinking to be more positive. Coach Monique goes over this technique in more detail in her book, Most People Don’t Need a Therapist, They Just Need a Change. The third chapter, “When You Change Your Thoughts, You Change Your Life,” covers negative thought patterns and positive examples in using the “Delete Delete” technique. In summary, we invite anxiety into our lives every day with the little things. Every time you fixate on an embarrassing memory or a negative aspect about yourself, you’re opening the door to anxiety and all of those uncomfortable anxiety symptoms. But you have control over your actions, your thoughts, and feelings. So when you feel yourself starting to go down a negative path, be present and delete your bad thought. Simply say aloud or to yourself, “Delete Delete.” Imagine that your brain is a dry-erase board and you’re simply wiping the negativity away with a wet rag. For example, the other day I was enjoying a walk when I remembered an embarrassing memory from high school. Rejection, failure, isolation. There was no obvious trigger for the memory and no reason for it being there. Nor was there anything to gain in my brain reminding me of awkward missteps and uncomfortable moments. This memory had the potential to ruin a perfectly good hike on a sunny day. Instead of letting it do just that, I sat on the bench and said “Delete, Delete” and thought about something else. Then, a couple of American robins hopped across the grassy field in front of me, rooting worms from the mud. Within moments, I felt better and could resume my hike with no problem. The “Delete Delete” technique allows you to take a moment for yourself and actively alter the course of your thinking. The Scary Truth About What Happens To Your Body When You’re Stressed 2. Make Yourself Bigger. Imagine you’re at a campground. You set your tent for the night and you’re about to start cooking dinner when a brown bear shambles through the spare tree line, snuffling for food. He’s twice your size and stubbornly hungry. You raise your arms over your head, casting a greater shadow. You jump and scream until the bear decides he’d rather steal food out of an unlocked food safe than deal with you. Now, pretend that bear is your anxiety. Don’t let it steal your food. You bought it for you. Standing taller and acting bigger naturally tricks your brain into being more confident. If you need an extra boost, try smiling, as well. It’ll feel weird at first, smiling for no reason. But give it a moment and you might find that you’re not faking it anymore. These tricks tap into your physicality. Since your brain and your body are intrinsically linked, altering one affects the other. Smiling and making yourself bigger is like resetting the circuit breaker in your brain. 3. Take Deep Breaths. Have you ever caught yourself holding your breath? Sometimes, I’ll be so transfixed on a project that I don’t notice I’m not breathing until my head is ringing louder than a brass bell. You feel ridiculous, of course — how do you forget to breathe? — but it’s more common than you think. We’re trained to work ourselves to death. While being motivated and hard-working are valuable traits, don’t forget your well-being in the process. Take a step back, breathe deep. Relax. You don’t need more than five minutes to reset your state of mind. A poor breathing habit causes stress, muscular tension, and influences your mental-emotional state. If you don’t think you can set time in the day to breathe deeply, there are plenty of free meditation apps that remind you to take time for yourself. Some examples are Headspace, Calm, and Stop, Breathe & Think. 4. Exercise. The endorphins released during exercise naturally relieves tension and stress, boosts physical and mental energy, and enhances general well-being. For most people, the main issue is scheduling! You might feel discouraged by the sheer list of responsibilities on your roster, but there are easy and quick ways to pencil exercise into your life. Try the “5 X 30 Rule”: The rule says that everyone should jog, walk, bike, or swim five times a week for thirty minutes. Maybe park your car at a distance from work and walk the rest of the way. Remember to be patient with yourself. You shouldn’t abandon your full-time job to run a marathon tomorrow. Find the time in small things, such as taking the stairs to your office instead of the elevator or doing small interval workouts when you get out of the bed in the morning. Set daily goals, and aim for consistency rather than intensity. The most important goal is that you set a schedule that can be implemented consistently years from now. Red Alert Warning: ‘Hanging In There’ Is Hazardous To Your Health 5. Ask Yourself, “What’s the Source of My Anxiety?” If you keep a journal, track your anxiety levels throughout the day. Look for a pattern. If you don’t journal, there are other ways to track your day — for example, you can text yourself and check the time stamp before bed and then think about what happened around that time frame. Perhaps you’re in conflict with a coworker or dreading a weekly meeting. The source of your anxiety sometimes hides in the minutia of daily life. Record parts of your day. You might surprise yourself. This guest article originally appeared on YourTango.com: 5 Ways To Outsmart Your Anxiety (So It Stops Controlling Your Life). View the full article
  8. Between good mental health and a diagnosable mental health disorder, there is a vast no-man’s land of different mental states. The nature of life means that we will inevitably experience dizzying happiness, desperate sadness and everything in between, including a certain amount of fear, worry and anxiety. In fact, it wouldn’t be normal to never experience negative emotions, but generally speaking we should feel pretty OK most of the time. This isn’t, however, the case for everyone. Some people find themselves feeling very anxious and worried more often than not, yet to an outside observer they appear completely well. This phenomenon is increasingly becoming known as “high-functioning” anxiety. High-functioning anxiety isn’t a diagnosable condition, and if you live with it, you appear to cope with life tolerably well. You get up in the morning, look after your children, make your way to work, perform proficiently and push down your feelings of panic and worry. If you are affected by high-functioning anxiety, it can be extremely difficult to distinguish between the normal worry of life, and something which would justify a trip to the doctors — you just know that anxiety and unhappiness is your default state. This opens up a lot of questions about how we define mental illness, and how much we put down to personality or normal low mood. For example, in the first throes of grief, depression is often seen as natural and therefore not a clinical issue. You might be extremely unhappy, but not diagnosably so. With high-functioning anxiety, you will experience at least some of the main characteristics of a diagnosable anxiety disorder, but at what’s generally considered “subclinical” levels — especially as your personal and professional lives function as usual. When Life’s a White-Knuckle Ride Debra Kissen, PhD, co-chair of the public education committee for the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, says of high-functioning anxiety that, “Many people are walking around with extremely high levels of anxiety that are near meeting the criteria for anxiety disorders, but they’re white-knuckling their way through it.” If you live with high-functioning anxiety, you may have come to regard a vague sense of dread and headachey worries as a normal part of life — companions that you can’t avoid. The other less well reported but still very evident symptoms of anxiety such as digestive problems, fatigue and muscle aches can also be an issue. You may rely on emotional crutches such as overeating, smoking or drinking a bit too much — but usually not in a pronounced enough way to stop you from operating as normal. Alternatively, you may be very restrictive in your lifestyle in order to feel in control, embarking on strict diets and assiduously avoiding anything you consider unhealthy, perhaps even exercising excessively. All in all it can be a stressful, lonely, and exhausting way to live — where anxiety is a major feature of each and every day, but there isn’t any support to help you deal with it. Apart from this, you may also feel that you can’t give yourself the permission to seek help, rest or self-care, because in your own estimation you don’t have a “proper” illness. How to Cope with Frequent Anxiety Acknowledge the problem: The first thing to acknowledge with high-functioning anxiety is that, while you may not necessarily be diagnosably unwell, living with fear and worry is not something you have to accept. You may also want to consider that despite functioning capably, these feelings still disrupt your wellbeing enough to warrant a chat with your doctor. They will be in a far better position to judge the extent of your anxiety; particularly if for you, it’s nothing out of the ordinary. Pay attention to your thoughts and actions: You could also take up journaling to get more of a handle on your feelings. It may transpire that you have developed several coping mechanisms which aren’t immediately obvious either to you or others, and keeping track of your actions and emotions will reveal them to you. For example, you may avoid networking events with colleagues because while you can cope professionally, the idea of socializing with workmates fills you with dread. This kind of insight allows you to assess just how much anxiety is holding you back (if at all), and the influence it has on your relationships and career. This might be less dramatic than with other forms of anxiety, but still a tangible thing. Whatever the outcome, these negative feelings aren’t an inevitability, and you can do things to change them. Consider various treatments/therapies: Although only your doctor can say for sure, you may not want or need any pharmaceutical intervention to help you live with your anxiety. However, talking therapy can benefit many people and your doctor (as well as online resources) can help you find professionals that will be able to assist you. Make lifestyle changes to improve your general wellbeing: Meditation is often cited as an anxiety-reliever, and you may find a group meditation class led by a experienced teacher provides you with both the space to relax, and a support group who understand your experiences. If applicable, cutting down on your alcohol consumption will help you avoid its depressive after-effects, and creating a good work/life balance can also make a difference. For example, instead of working through lunch, ensure you take a walk in order to wind down, and turn off your email notifications on your personal phone. The most important thing, however, is to give yourself the permission and time to enact self-care. Prioritize your own wellbeing, and anxiety needn’t be a such a prominent feature in your life. View the full article
  9. Mark Twain is quoted as saying: “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” The more I observe the happenings of my own mind the more I see truth in this statement. As I am writing this I’m waiting to find out the results of an MRI on my foot, to determine whether I have a stress fracture. I’ve been worrying now for a week, since I first injured it (after a run). I love to run and be active, and the thought of having to wear an orthopedic boot and be laid up for 6 weeks is making me anxious. To have this happen during the spring (my favorite season) when the weather is finally getting nice is adding to my upset. And therein lie the fascinating workings of the mind! I’ve been paying attention to my thinking a lot over this past week. When I’m meditating, my mind has found its way to worrying about my foot. When I’m walking around and feel some sensation in my foot, my mind likes to wander there as well. When I’m not feeling sensation in my foot I’m wondering about whether I have a stress fracture and hoping that I don’t. It’s been taking up a lot of space in my mind lately. But here is the most interesting part: All of my upset has been because of living in some anticipated future. My irritability, my bad mood at times, my worry have nothing to do with this present moment. Each time I find myself experiencing anxiety or upset about my foot I check in and see what’s really happening. And each time I discover that I am in some mental rehearsal in my head, envisioning how much less fun I am going to have getting through the next 6 weeks without my beloved activities. When I stop and bring myself back to what is actually happening right NOW, it is an opportunity to awaken. Right now I might be having a quiet, peaceful space to meditate, and save for my mind pulling me into my worry thoughts I am actually quite enjoying the space of this moment. Or I am sitting with my patients engaged in helping them, or perhaps I am having a dinner with my friends and enjoying the company and connection. The reality is, I am usually not miserable or anxious about what is happening right NOW. In fact, I have many meaningful moments to fill each day if I choose to rest my attention there. Yet worry can take us away from our lives. And often, minor worries can consume more of our days than we may realize. (My next blog will elaborate on how we can manage bigger worries). So this minor injury has been an opportunity to remind me to practice three things: To bring compassion to myself for whatever I am experiencing — I’m human after all, and the human mind worries. To notice how much my thoughts (especially about anticipating the future) contribute to my unhappiness. To bring my attention back to what is happening right now, and choose where I want to focus my attention (rather than let my mind wander aimlessly in unhelpful ruminations). This foot injury is seemingly minuscule in the grand scheme of life, but it has been a great opportunity to notice up close and personal the workings of my mind. (It turns out it isn’t a stress fracture, but another injury that requires some need for rest as well). But if it wasn’t this, it could easily be some other worry creeping in. Our minds tend to wander much of the time, often to the past or future, or to self-referential thinking. In fact, neuroscientists suggest that the default setting of our brain is in this mind-wandering state much of the time. Most of our ruminations do not serve us in any helpful way because this is the kind of thinking that can’t solve anything. But it can take us away from our lives. So the next time you find yourself caught up in mental ruminations, see if you might try the following: Name what you are feeling (i.e., I notice I’m feeling anxious, worried; AND this is difficult). Send some compassion to yourself. Notice the feeling but recognize that you are not the feeling (note the difference between “I am worried” vs. “I notice that I am experiencing worry in my body”). The noticing helps us to gain a bit of distance. Check and see if your discomfort/upset is about something happening right now, or something that may (or may not) happen in the future. If it is something upsetting right now, allow yourself to be with the feelings that are arising and choose wise actions to help you cope with what is happening. Do what you can to improve the situation. Practice self-compassion. If you are stuck in ruminations or unhelpful mental anticipation, notice that and choose to direct your attention to something in THIS moment. Notice what is OK about this moment and let your mind rest there (i.e., I am having lunch outside. The sunshine is warm on my face. I am enjoying this food that I prepared). Each time your mind gets pulled away, gently direct it back and ask yourself if you are OK in this moment. Choose to rest there. Even if this moment is filled with some emotional pain or challenge, it is easier to cope with right now/this moment/today rather than with now + everything that might happen in the future. It isn’t easy to tame our worries, but being aware of the nature of our minds is a good first step. (Stay tuned for my next blog, which will suggest some ways to manage more intense worries that may grip us.) View the full article
  10. Mindfulness. Most people have heard of it. But what exactly is it and why would you ever want it? The image people usually associate with mindfulness is someone sitting off by themselves, shut off to the world, blissfully enjoying a mind devoid of thoughts. Not only is that not true, but it’s actually impossible. Our minds are “thought” generating machines. You can’t shut them down. But you can develop a practice of “not believing everything you think” and put your mind it in “its place” as servant, not master. Occasionally our thoughts are original and generated from our own thinking. However, many thoughts tend to be sound bites we’ve overheard or had drummed into us as kids. They get adopted by default. Ever get upset and found yourself on auto pilot reciting verbatim what was said in your family when you were a child? Parents experience this when they hear their parent’s words coming out of their mouths, even after they’ve vowed to never do that to their own kids. Autopilot. When we hear something over and over, whether in our head or from others, we get programed by this repetition to trust these thoughts and accept them as true. You know how you become used to something, like a new fashion trend or a song you initially didn’t like, after you’ve been exposed to it for a while? The more we repeat a thought, the more it becomes habitual and the more it sounds reasonable. And because we hear our thoughts in a familiar voice — usually our own — we begin to blindly (or mindlessly) trust the thought. Bad idea. “The mind is the manifestations of thought, perception, emotion, determination, memory and imagination that takes place within the brain. Mind is often used to refer especially to the thought processes of reason.”1 What mindfulness involves is the practice of observing one’s thoughts, feelings, and sensations without reacting to them. By not reacting I mean we don’t automatically launch into a behavior or action as a result of hearing the thought. We pause and consider whether in that present moment the thought we are having, particularly if it is a call to action, is appropriate. I might be driving when someone abruptly cuts me off. I feel scared and angry. I have the thought, “that guy needs to be taught a lesson.” Probably a bad idea to act on that thought, but if I have no practice in considering the merits of my thoughts, I might get carried away by emotion and just react. What’s worse is I might even blame the other driver for my actions because they “made” me feel angry and then not take responsibility for my own choice to react. Problem is that we routinely react to thoughts without even knowing what we are doing. You have a thought about needing to get gasoline for the car and before you know it your mind boards a “train” that takes you all over town picturing all the gas stations, wondering what the price is today and if you should only get $10 worth because it’s Friday and the price will probably go down on Sunday night. It’s like there is a drop down menu that accompanies every thought and if you engage with that thought you will be presented with a myriad of related links that lead to even more links and your entire day can be hijacked by just that one thought. So it’s not the “thinking” that’s problematic. It’s the hijacking of our attention and time with our accompanying auto-reaction to our thoughts that have us living in our heads (our imagination) and keep us from being present to what’s currently happening in our lives. I liken this to sitting on the bank of a river and watching the water flow. Many things are being carried down the river but we don’t usually let our visual attention follow every leaf, twig or piece of debris. That would make us dizzy in the same way following every thought leads to overwhelm and anxiety. The practice of mindfulness helps with what we call “monkey mind.” This refers to the way monkeys chatter and move incessantly. Our mind, our thoughts, move like this, too. They never hold still! The mind is meant to be our servant. It is supposed to respond to commands from us to think about something specific or generate ideas or solutions. Instead we have become the servant of our thoughts; jumping and reacting to every one. There is a great expression, “Don’t believe everything you think.” Thoughts, most of which are simply provided by what we hear in our environment, are simply spewed out by our brains. They are like random blips that don’t necessarily mean anything except to inform us of the nature of the inner dialogue we are constantly having with ourself. And what is an “inner dialogue”? We all have them and, no, it doesn’t mean you have a personality disorder. Have you ever found yourself not able to get “that tune” out of your head? There are many conversations (often called “self talk”) we constantly have with ourself. If you pay attention and notice this background inner talk you’ll see it tends to be an undercurrent of negative comments incessantly badgering us. Not a very positive influence on our mood. There are lots of good exercises on how to deal with monkey mind. Most techniques are quite doable and simply need practicing to generate a new awareness, less anxiety and less monkey mind. We will address this in an upcoming piece. Reference: 1. The Difference Between Brain and Mind View the full article
  11. What would you guess people are most stressed out about in their careers? One might assume that hating your job, or dealing with the frustration of finding a new one, would top the list. But according to the results of an annual survey that I send several thousand readers of my email newsletter, the most common problem people face is that they don’t feel confident. Readers said things like: I want to start a business, but I fear looking foolish. I feel I shouldn’t have been picked for the role I am in. I feel like a sham. I doubt myself and find it hard to ask for what I want. These responses are from smart, accomplished individuals. Most of them have advanced degrees. Some of them have earned high-ranking leadership positions at Fortune 500 companies that are household names. Why are they questioning their competence? Unfortunately, confidence is an elusive goal for many people. And that’s because we fundamentally misunderstand the way it works. We tend to think confidence is a personality trait, and treat it as a pre-requisite for action. So we put off signing up for a dating site because we feel insecure about our looks, or neglect to apply for jobs because we worry that we won’t be competitive. But the truth is that confidence isn’t an innate trait; it’s a quality gained through experience. We should take risks in order to build confidence — not the other way around. The misunderstood history of self-confidence Why are we so obsessed with the idea of self-confidence? Many cultures — particularly that of the US — –view extroversion, charisma, and social skills as highly desirable qualities. After all, if you’re going to pursue life, liberty, and happiness, you’ve got to believe in yourself. Research also shows we’re more attracted to people who are outgoing. We automatically equate outward displays of confidence with competence. Influenced by the rise of youth culture, wealth, and consumerism after World War II, confidence took on a powerful mystique in American culture, contributing to the self-esteem movement of the 1980s and 1990s. High self-esteem was suggested to be the key to success in life — –so powerful it could fix deeply complex issues like inner-city violence. This ushered in an age of supposed solutions to artificially force self-esteem — from participation awards and meaningless gold stars to showering children with praise, regardless of what they’d done. Entire cottage industries popped up selling superficial solutions to boost people’s confidence in 20 minutes or less by repeating positive affirmations to themselves. But as the movement hit a fever pitch in the 1990s, renowned psychologist Roy Baumeister grew concerned about the lack of hard evidence backing up claims that positive self-esteem could cure all ills. He undertook a sweeping review of research, which confirmed his skepticism. Out of 15,000 scholarly articles written about self-esteem over three decades, only 200 met rigorous research standards. A former advocate of the movement, he concluded that there was no proof that high self-esteem improved academic achievement, job success, or health outcomes. What the self-esteem movement showed is that it’s not enough to simply be told you’re special. Nor should we attempt to protect ourselves from struggle and negative feelings like uncertainty and fear. When we attempt to shield our children and ourselves from the normal range of human emotions that comes with seeking out new experiences, we are robbed of the chance to build authentic, healthy confidence. Earning confidence through trial and error The key to cracking the confidence may lie in tackling those uncomfortable emotions head on, as entrepreneur Steph Crowder did live on her podcast. She candidly shared how a recent bad review from a listener had blindsided her, ruining her day. But how she handled it made all the difference. A lot of people might be tempted to follow the conventional wisdom “fake it till you make it” and try to cover up her reaction with false positivity. However, research shows that keeping up appearances is stressful — and can actively undermine well-being. Instead, Steph took her listeners through the process of listening to bad feedback and learning from it. Studies show people who deal effectively with their emotions in this way, an active coping skill called emotional regulation, have higher resilience and greater self-esteem. Steph’s example illustrates the face that the only way to build self-worth is through behavior. You have to put yourself in difficult situations, so that you can learn how to survive them. Do the work We would all do better if we understood, as Mindy Kaling has put it, that confidence isn’t something that ought to come to us naturally. Rather, as she writes in her bookWhy Not Me?, “confidence is like respect: it’s something you have to earn.” Kaling recalls: “When I started at The Office, I had zero confidence. Whenever Greg Daniels came into the room to talk to our small group of writers, I was so nervous that I would raise and lower my chair involuntarily, like a tic. Finally, weeks in, writer Mike Schur put his hand on my arm and said, gently, ‘You have to stop.’ Years later I realized that the way I had felt during those first few months was correct. I didn’t deserve to be confident yet.” Over time, however, as she gained experience, Kaling became more confident. The same applies to all of us. We need to do things that we think are scary — not because we have blind faith that we’ll succeed, but simply because those things are worth doing. As research from Angela Duckworth suggests, struggling builds character. Failure breeds wisdom and maturity. We need to fail and experience discomfort, and over time, build a track record of demonstrated success. Once you’ve proven to yourself that you can perform in front of a crowd or run a marathon or ask a person out on a date, it’s a lot easier to have confidence the next time you face a big challenge. And so if you don’t feel confident in your life, don’t treat it as a personal flaw. Perhaps you simply need more practice. Let’s learn to view confidence not as a personality trait but as an acquired skill — one that’s available to all of us, if we’re willing to put in the work. © 2017 Melody Wilding, as first published in Quartz View the full article
  12. How would you define happy? And how would you define sad or anxious? We all know what emotions are, until we are asked to define them in ways our kids can understand. Emotions are complex things. Yet helping our kids become emotionally intelligent requires us to help them learn to understand different emotions so that they can be better able to deal with those emotions in a socially acceptable manner. We now know that emotions drive behavior, and that tears, tummy aches or headaches, or resistance to school may hide difficult-to-express feelings such as anxiety. Many researchers and psychologists now agree that when we teach kids about emotions from the earliest age, we give them important tools that help them navigate emotions. Studies by specialists like John Gottman, PhD, have shown that kids thrive when they are taught to identify their emotions and to treat those emotions as normal. Put differently, when we teach our kids that emotions are normal, we make it easier for them to express emotions and reduce instances of meltdowns or other “inappropriate” ways of expressing emotions. After years of expecting kids to “toughen up”, there is now indisputable proof that a child’s emotional state has a great impact on his social and psychological state. James Gross, PhD, one of the leading researchers on emotion regulation, believes that one can learn to regulate his or her emotions. His studies have shown that we can learn to alter the emotions we experience, when they are experienced and how they are experienced. Many other researchers agree that increasing children’s awareness of emotions can help them learn to express those emotions without turning to meltdowns or aggressiveness. Here are a few tips to help foster your child’s emotional intelligence: 1. Embrace even the darkest emotions. Emotions are not easy to define, especially for kids. A kid might know he’s feeling “something” but he won’t necessarily know what that “something” means. In other words, our kids cannot learn to identify their emotions if they don’t know what those emotions are. Embracing emotions means helping your child understand that emotions are a normal part of life. It means using age-appropriate resources to talk to kid about emotions. It means taking advantage of everyday situations to help your kids better understand and name their emotions. Ask them to tell you about their happiest moment during that day. Ask them what made them sad. But remember that becoming our children’s emotion coach begins by learning how to manage our own emotions first. When we embrace our emotions and talk to our kids about them, we show them how to manage their own emotions. 2. Help your child understand how emotions change the body. We feel emotions in certain parts of our body. That’s why your kid will talk about a tummy ache, a headache or even throw up when faced with an anxiety-inducing situation. A relatively recent study found that we all experience the same bodily sensations in response to our emotions. Helping your child become more aware of how emotions manifest in her body — does she get sweaty palms, does her heart beat faster? Does she get butterflies in her tummy? Teaching your child to be aware of what triggers her emotions can make it easier to deal with difficult emotions before they get out of control. 3. Talk about where emotions come from. Emotions are our way of reacting to external stimuli. Your child may be more anxious before participating in certain activities, or she may get a tummy ache always before her swimming lesson. We are all born with a few emotions but we learn other secondary emotions from our environment. How we react to our kids emotions has an impact on their emotional intelligence. A child who is teased for displaying a certain emotion, say anger, may develop a secondary emotion such as shame every time she gets angry. Talking about what triggers emotions is also important because it helps you show your child that you are there and that you can help her find a solution. When we help our kids understand what drives their emotions, we increase their awareness of what triggers their emotions and makes it easier for them to deal with emotion-provoking situations. 4. Give your child the tools to express emotions. Providing your child with a safe environment to express emotions teaches him how to deal with those emotions by himself. There are multiple resources and techniques that provide practical tips to help children deal with strong emotions such as such anger and anxiety in socially acceptable ways. The thing to remember with developing our kids’ emotional intelligence is that when we create a safe environment in which they can express their emotions, we give them the tools they need to manage those emotions by themselves. View the full article
  13. Your co-worker sluggishly walks into the office and tells you they were up all night working on their client pitch. Do you marvel at their dedication and commitment, or do you shrug it off and think, “Yeah, I’ve had plenty of those nights“? Odds are, your response would be the latter. After all, sleep is for the weak. It is not uncommon for us to push our bodies to an unhealthy point in hopes of reaching our goals, whether it’s being a good parent and taking care of your newborn, or pulling an all-nighter to cram for the bar exam. Being sleep deprived has become such a norm in today’s society that we often brush it off as an unavoidable part of our lives. Studies show that 31 percent of the Canadian and American population is sleep deprived. In fact the World Health Organization has claimed we are in the midst of a catastrophic sleep-loss epidemic. Now perhaps you may be thinking, I’ve gotten through many nights with little sleep and managed to survive … What’s all this fuss about “sleep deprivation?” Well, although you may have physically ended the day in one piece (and perhaps felt accomplished for completing more work), unbeknownst to you, your brain took a much bigger hit. The link between sleep deprivation and brain pathways Research on sleep — or rather, lack of sleep — has revealed there are major side effects when you don’t get enough of it. This includes, among many other deleterious outcomes, increased negative emotionality and an inability to distinguish between threatening and non-threatening stimuli. This failed detection is often regarded as the basis for many anxiety disorders including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In these cases, a neuro-related hyperarousal and amplified negativity bias leads to a distorted perception of ambiguous stimuli that get perceived as threatening. Resolving this bias is crucial for managing our anxiety. In other words, a sleepy brain is particularly susceptible to negative emotion states and heightened anxiety. This poses the question: How can a few lost hours of sleep have such a drastic effect on our brains and emotional (dis)functioning? To answer this, a team of neuroscientists at the Southwest University — led by Dr. Pan Feng — investigated the relationship between sleep and fear consolidation. They hypothesized that sleep deprivation is linked to increased sensitization of a particular brain region, the amygdala, which leads to increased reactivity towards negatively perceived stimuli and generates an amplified fear response. The amygdala has long been known to play a pivotal role in the development and acquisition of fear. Of particular interest to the current investigation, the amygdala’s connections to two other brain regions called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) and the insula, have been shown to affect this fear-based process. Much of the clinical research on the vmPFC has pointed to the critical role it plays in emotional regulation. In the presence of a stimulus, the amygdala begins to orchestrate a response. This response, however, cannot be put into action without the approval of the vmPFC. The connection to the vmPFC ultimately results in amygdala activity being reduced. The insula also takes part in the processing of emotions but unlike the vmPFC, the insula’s connection to the amygdala increases firing of the amygdala. This results in habituation to a negative stimulus. This habituation acts as a driving force for fear acquisition. These two connections led the team to make two related predictions: Sleep deprivation would be associated with decreased amygdala-vmPFC connectivity; and increased amygdala-insula connectivity. The experiment: shocking effects of an “all-nighter” To test their hypothesis, the research team recruited seventy college students from the Southwest University. Once the participants in the sleep deprivation group had gone 24 hours without sleeping, they underwent a fear conditioning task. The task consisted of a neutral conditioned stimulus in the form of three squares with different colors (blue, yellow or green) and an unconditioned stimulus involving a mild electric shock to the wrist. The goal was to associate the two stimuli so that if the participants were shown the three squares, they would react to a mild electric shock, even if the shock did not occur (think, Pavlovian classical conditioning). Following the task, a resting state Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) tracked changes in amygdala activity. The test was performed while participants were asked to rest and think of nothing in particular. Skin conductance responses were also measured through electrodes on participants’ fingertips. This technique provided information about the participants physiological arousal state. As the research team hypothesized, the fMRI revealed an increase in the amygdala-insula connection for the sleep deprived participants, while the amygdala-vmPFC connectivity was increased for the control group (who received 8+ hours of sleep). The sleep deprived group also experienced an increase in skin conductance response, indicating greater emotional arousal (i.e., more skin sweating). As suspected, the sleep-deprived group reported higher fear ratings than the control group. Together, these results provide clear evidence that sleep deprivation plays a fundamental role in the acquisition of fear via selective alterations in amygdaloid brain pattern activations. Why does this a matter? To return to our initial point, one third of the human population suffers from sleep deprivation. This means that 1 in 3 people you meet, experience increased negative emotionality and hyperarousal on any given day. These factors can have a huge effect on the way we live our lives. It may cause us to give up on our dream job after one poor interview, or decide to drop out of business school because of a few botched presentations. Being sleep-deprived will force us to always play it safe — to avoid potential losses and never take any risks. In other words, it may cause us to miss out on all the amazing opportunities that we’re presented with. All because of some falsely generated sense of fear; a fear that is, quite literally, “in our heads”. The findings from the study will hopefully bring awareness to the unhealthy effects of sleep deprivation. With a few extra hours of sleep a week, we can obtain more control over our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. We can live a life with less fear and more self-assurance. Primary Reference Feng, P., Becker, B., Zheng, Y., Feng, T. (2017). Sleep deprivation affects fear memory consolidation: bi-stable amygdala connectivity with insula and ventromedial prefrontal cortex. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 13(2), 145-155. View the full article
  14. What is an anxiety attack, anyway? Anxiety attacks are unpleasant, unsettling, and an event most of us will likely experience to some degree at one point or another. While we all have different tolerances for anxiety, stress, and what triggers these feelings, our human “Fight or Flight” programming is universal. An anxiety attack (also sometimes called a panic attack) is essentially the body’s neurological system preparing to respond to a stressor, real or perceived. When a person walking down the sidewalk suddenly startles at a bent stick on the ground that at first glance looks like a large snake, it is because the Fight or Flight system doesn’t know the difference between a stick and a snake, and it doesn’t care to wait around to find out … it prepares the person to respond to a possible worst case scenario threat. Similarly, we can have anxiety attacks when we perceive an emotional, social, or other non-physical threat. Facing an important meeting at work isn’t quite the same as facing down a venomous reptile, but our bodies often don’t know that. To our bodies, all stressors are potential threats to which we might need to respond. Why can anxiety attacks feel so awful? The body’s Fight or Flight system prepares us to face a threat by activating certain physiological processes that can be uncomfortable. The sympathetic nervous system unleashes a flood of hormones and other naturally occurring substances that can result in increased heart rate, sweat, faster breathing, and even stomach upset as the body directs its resources to a heightened state of physiological and psychological activation. How to cope with anxiety attacks There are some really helpful things you can do to cope with anxiety or panic attacks. Coping skills to help with anxiety attacks address the feelings from both psychological and physiological perspectives. You may find that a combination of coping skills works best, or maybe one or two are specifically helpful for your personal experience of anxiety. 1. It’s not mind over matter, but what you mind matters. A LOT. Yes, our brains are wired to think, and when we’re worried about something we often reflexively overthink about it in an attempt to focus our problem-solving skills on Finding The Answer. Continuing to think about a problem or something that is upsetting is akin to watching a horror movie on repeat … eventually, you’ll have nightmares, or in this case, heightened anxiety. REMEMBER: The more times you watch a horror movie, the more likely you are to have nightmares. The more times you think anxious thoughts, the more likely you are to have an anxiety attack. 2. You don’t have to “stop” thinking about things that make you anxious to get relief You’re absolutely right … you may not be able to “stop” anxious thoughts from popping into your head as easily as you can turn the TV channel away from a horror movie. In fact, if you could do that, it would probably mean something was wrong. Our brains are designed to think. What you can do is actively focus your attention and all that brain power on something else that is soothing or neutral. Like a TV, our brains can only be on one channel at a time. When upsetting thoughts are intrusive, get engaged and focused on something that requires your full attention and actively pay attention to what you’re doing. For example, if you go for a walk actively name each foot (left, right, left, right) as you take each step. When your brain is busy saying, “left, right, left, right” as each foot strikes the ground, it can’t be saying “but what if … ?” etc., etc. about anything else. 3. Tap the power of your body language … to yourself. Most of us are pretty clear on the importance of body language in interactions. We all know some pretty effective things about how to approach scared animals, small children, and other adults to put them at ease and create the right vibe. While we’re really good at knowing how our body language speaks to others, we pay almost no attention to how our body language speaks to our own minds. When we are anxious, we tend to assume postures that escalate our anxiety. As we tell someone about something that is upsetting to us, we start to sit forward on our chairs, speak louder and faster, gesture forcefully, and allow an overall more “amped up” body language that reinforces to our own minds (just like to our listener) that there is a problem. An important skill for coping with anxiety and avoiding a panic attack is opposite action body language. This means sending soothing messages to yourself with your body language when your mind is doing the opposite. Take stock of what your body, voice, and speech patterns are doing and ask yourself, “if I were looking/listening to me right now, what message would I get about my stress level?” Make a deliberate effort to sit in a relaxed position, speak slowly and at a soothing volume, and soften your facial expression, as if you were trying to soothe someone else. You’ll find it has a remarkable effect on you. These coping skills for anxiety and anxiety attacks are important because they will help you feel better irrespective of the issue itself. We can’t always control the status of the issues that are making us anxious, and it’s important to realize that anxiety resolution is not tied to issue-resolution. You can feel less anxious and have less panic attacks regardless of the “problem” itself. View the full article
  15. “Where there is anger, there is always pain underneath.” – Eckhart Tolle Most of us have experienced our fair share of anger and pain, some more so than others. But did you ever stop to think what’s underneath all that anger? What is the root cause? In many cases, it might be difficult to discern or pinpoint the origin of the emotion or identify the exact cause. All you know is that you feel like exploding, things are just not going right, and you can’t seem to get past it. Sometimes that means you lash out verbally or behave in unhealthy ways, such as drinking too much, compulsive overeating, engaging in promiscuous or risky sexual behavior. At the extreme, you might even cause harm to yourself or others, emotionally and perhaps even physically. Before your anger gets totally out of hand, however, a little self-reflection and some healthy coping measures may save the day. Allow yourself some latitude. First, give yourself a little latitude. Recognize that there is a reason for this anger and allow yourself the opportunity to dig into what may be behind it. This doesn’t give you a pass to scream at others, though, to throw things at the wall, to deliberately sabotage your work or someone else’s or to be hyper-critical of anyone’s efforts – your own included. It does mean that you can hit the pause button on your anger and try to figure out the most logical reasons for it and then employ some effective coping mechanisms to overcome the anger and get on with your life. Figure out the probable cause. For example, you may be angry at the success of others. Underneath your anger and jealousy may very well be the feeling of pain that you’re not able to provide for your loved ones because you lack the necessary ingredient, combination of luck and circumstances or some other reason that you’re not as successful as the person you think you’re angry at. You are not angry at him or her so much as you are angry with yourself. The root cause here is the pain you feel, being inadequate, a failure, unable to follow through, whatever. Once you recognize the probable cause – the pain underneath the anger – you can begin to devise a plan or approach to take that will help you move past the anger and pain and onto more constructive actions. Can you feel pain without it being associated with anger? Decidedly yes, as in the case of physical pain caused by an underlying medical condition. While you might be angry that you’re in pain, the pain isn’t the cause of your anger. Still, anger and pain quite often go hand in hand. Learning how to effectively deal with and manage both is crucial in being able to live a healthy, happy, productive and self-fulfilled life. Consider various coping methods and approaches. How to do this? There are several coping methods and approaches to consider. It’s always recommended to see a doctor to rule out a possible medical condition or get treated for one that has already been diagnosed. Learn and practice stress-reduction techniques, including meditation, yoga, deep breathing exercises, physical exercises, walking in nature, reading an enjoyable book, spending time with loved ones and friends. Talk with a trusted friend, loved one or family member and ask for support as you work through your anger and pain. You’d be surprised how willing those who care about you are when you ask for help. In line with this, be ready to reciprocate when others come to you requesting help. Think before you speak. This delayed response will give you time to weigh what you’re about to say, potentially saving you from making a colossal blunder by saying something inappropriate when it could have lasting consequences. Employ this technique wherever and whenever you would normally just blurt out what’s on your mind. Examples include: cursing at or flipping off a reckless or inconsiderate driver, muttering angry words at your boss or co-worker when you don’t like work that’s been unceremoniously dumped on you or you feel you’re getting shortchanged while others skate, taking out your anger on loved ones and family members, and dashing off a rude or emotional text or email, among others. Work on improving your diet so it includes good amounts of healthy food. Make sure to stay hydrated. Your body requires fluids for optimal health and functioning. Stimulate your brain with challenging puzzles, word games, devising creative solutions to everyday problems. Be grateful for all the good that you have. Gratitude is a life-empowering emotion. Share your experiences with others so that they may benefit from your accumulated wisdom. Laugh often. Laughter is free and generates good amounts of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Get a good night’s sleep. Emphasize your spiritual side with prayer. Strive for a sense of balance in life: at home, work, with friends, neighbors and acquaintances. Eliminate distractions when you’re trying to relax. Reduce tech time so that your brain can disengage and revitalize. This, in turn, helps decrease stress. Be a good friend and co-worker and neighbor. Make a list of goals you want to pursue and act to achieve them one by one. Dream big. There’s something incredibly liberating about thinking about items on your wish list. If you desire something strongly enough, you can find a way to realize that ideation, even if only partially. If toxic anger continues and spills over into other parts of your life, causing negative consequences, see a therapist to help you find a way past it. Remember that while anger and pain may be causing you problems, you can do something about these emotions. It isn’t necessary to live with them. Nor should you resign yourself to doing so. It is, however, your choice as to what you do, in most cases. View the full article