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  1. What’s the worst that could happen? And who will you still be regardless of the outcome? In today’s podcast, Gabe talks with author Shira Gura about her newest method CLEAR, a tool we can all use to prepare for an upcoming event or situation that is causing anxiety. Worried about an upcoming exam, a date, or a party where you won’t know anyone? Join us to learn a great method to help CLEAR your head before you go. SUBSCRIBE & REVIEW Guest information for ‘Shira Gura- Mentally Prepare’ Podcast Episode Shira Gura is an emotional well-being coach. Her background as an occupational therapist, yoga instructor, and mindfulness teacher led her to create two powerful self-help tools: The unSTUCK Method® and The CLEAR Way®. She is the author two books: Getting unSTUCK: Five Simple Steps to Emotional Well-Being (which was awarded winner of the 2017 International Book Award in self-help), and most recently The CLEAR Way: Five Simple Steps to Be Mentally Prepared for Anything. Through her coaching, courses, and community, she guides people to live more deliberately. She lives in Israel with her husband and four children. About The Psych Central Podcast Host Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations, available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author. To learn more about Gabe, please visit his website, gabehoward.com. Computer Generated Transcript for ‘Shira Gura- Mentally Prepare’ Episode Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you. Announcer: You’re listening to the Psych Central Podcast, where guest experts in the field of psychology and mental health share thought-provoking information using plain, everyday language. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard. Gabe Howard: Hello, everyone, and welcome to this week’s episode of The Psych Central Podcast, I’m your host Gabe Howard and calling into the show today, we have Shira Gura. Shira’s background is as an occupational therapist, yoga instructor and mindfulness teacher. And it led her to write the book The CLEAR Way: Five Simple Steps to Be Mentally Prepared for Anything. She’s also the host of the Living Deliberately Together podcast. She makes her home in Israel with her husband and four children, Shira, welcome to the show. Shira Gura: Thank you so much. It is so great to be back. Gabe Howard: Well, I am very glad to have you back again now, given all that is going on in the world with COVID-19 being mentally prepared for anything seems more important now than perhaps at any other point, at least in my lifetime. How does your book fit in with everything that’s happening in the world? Shira Gura: Yeah, I actually think obviously when I was writing the book starting last year, this is before COVID hit and I had no idea that the publication of the book was going to come out at the same time during the hit of this pandemic. And it is a wonderful tool for the time period that we’re in right now, because as we’ll get into in the podcast, it’s a tool that helps prepare you before you go into any future moment. It really helps ground you and helps you be ready. Gabe Howard: It sounds like a great, happy accident, and I’m one of these people that I try to stay away from the extremes, you know, black and white thinking has gotten me personally in trouble. It’s interesting to me, because if I would have read the title of your book a year ago, Five Simple Steps to Be Mentally Prepared for Anything, I would’ve been like anything? Really, anything? But as we did the pre work for the show, I was like, look, if it works in a global pandemic, we might be as far along the path to anything as we can possibly get. So I’m so glad that you wrote the book. Shira Gura: I am, too. Gabe Howard: All right, as we mentioned at the top of the show, you’re a returning guest, so I want to spend just a couple of moments on your previous book and your previous episode where we talked about getting unSTUCK: Five Simple Steps to Emotional Well-Being. Just real quick, sort of baseline it for long time listeners to the show that have heard both episodes. What’s the difference between the unSTUCK method and the CLEAR Way method? Shira Gura: Both tools are really used for emotional well-being, but the unSTUCK method you would really use for something that happened in the past and the past could be a minute ago and it could be 10 years ago. I got stuck on anger. I got stuck on frustration or I was stuck on guilt, are things that already happened. And I’m stuck on them because I have an emotion attached to a story that already happened. I use the unSTUCK method in order to get myself out of the hole, out of that stuck spot. But the CLEAR way is a tool that you use for the future. If you are going into a presentation, if you are anticipating a difficult conversation with someone, if you are about to go to work, if you’re about to work with a client even and you want to just get clear for yourself before you start work, this is where the CLEAR way would be used. They are both powerful self-help tools that are step by step because they’re both based on acronyms, but they are really used for two different purposes. Gabe Howard: Can you give us some examples of where you would want to get clear in your life? Shira Gura: If you can think about any situation where you have a feeling of worry or concern or anxiety or fear going into that moment, this would be the tool that you would use. For example, I got clear before we started this interview. Gabe Howard: Nice. Shira Gura: I got clear. Yeah. And it’s not that I was having so much anxiety. I do interviews a lot. But again, it’s a future moment that I’m not sure what to expect. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know if the Internet is going to work. I don’t know if I’m going to stumble on my words. So I need to get clear. Gabe Howard: Thank you so much. And when you pitched being on the show, you said, hey, would Gabe be willing to be a guinea pig and give his own problem and be walked through the CLEAR way? And I thought, hey, why not Shira Gura: We did it on the first episode, and it worked well with getting unSTUCK. Gabe Howard: We did, and it was a lot of fun and I learned some stuff about myself, and I really think that the listeners understood the example, so we’re going to try it again. So can you walk me through the CLEAR way? Shira Gura: I would love to do that, the first thing that we need to know is what do you need to get clear about? So you can think of anything. But we need to pinpoint one example in your life where you have feelings of anticipation, of worry, of concern, of fear going into a future moment. Gabe Howard: I think that’s perfect. I have my first live speech since March coming up in a week. Obviously, I’ve done virtual stuff and continued hosting the podcast, but Gabe Howard in a room with an actual audience whom could throw tomatoes at me, first time in many, many months in a week. Shira Gura: That’s fantastic, that’s a great example. Let’s do that. OK. Gabe Howard: Excellent. All right, what’s step one? Shira Gura: So this is an acronym, five steps, C L E A R, so the first step is C is for calm. It very much relates to the unSTUCK method with the first step, S, was stop. It’s basically the same thing. This is a step where you take a moment to redirect your attention away from the story, away from the future, away from all of the emotions that you’re feeling. And we’re going to bring it to the present moment so that you can allow your mind to rest for a moment. So we’re going to eventually deal with the emotions and kind of go to rational thinking. In order to do that, we really need to get ourselves in a place of calm. And this doesn’t need to be long. It doesn’t need to be a 30-minute meditation. It could be just one deep breath or a few deep breaths, but something even symbolic to say, OK, I’m getting clear. I’m going to start. And the first thing that I’m going to do is get calm. Gabe Howard: Yeah, I’m going to take a real big, deep breath. I don’t know if it will come through on the podcast, but I want to assure the listeners that that I’m doing it. Shira Gura: Ok, and while you’re doing it, if you want, you can close your eyes and you can imagine yourself in the place where you’re going to give the speech, you’re about, let’s say, to walk up the steps to the stage and you’re going to give your speech. And in that moment, you say, I’m getting clear. I’m going to first, I’m going to get calm. Gabe Howard: All right. Shira Gura: All right, the next step is L and that’s for Lighten. When you are going into a future moment, when you have all of these emotions, you probably have emotions that are feeling heavy, right? Emotions of fear and worry and anticipation. Those are heavy feelings and they affect us physiologically. So the next step L for Lighten is we uncover what are the thoughts that we have about the situation as we’re going into it? And then we see if we can lighten our thoughts by slightly changing our language. We’ll do this together. See if you can uncover a thought that you have that says something like, I know something is going to happen, some sort of negative thing is going to happen. Gabe Howard: I know that I’m going to be out of practice, I know that I’m going to stumble over words. I know that the delivery is not going to be as pristine. I mean, it’s been months. There’s just no way that it could be. Shira Gura: Yeah, great. Perfect, and that’s so important for you to uncover what those thoughts are, because they’re there. They’re there in your mind Gabe Howard: Yeah, they are. Shira Gura: And oftentimes we don’t even know or just it’s unconscious. So we’re uncovering them. Now, you’re saying I know I’m going to be out of practice. I know I’m going to stumble. I know my delivery isn’t going to be perfect. And the question is, do we really know that? Do we know what’s going to happen in the future? The truth is, we don’t know. We have no idea what’s going to happen. Right? And so we change our language to it might happen. It’s a possibility that might happen. But we take away like the I know, which is a really heavy thought. And it really kind of creates that reality, like I know it’s going to happen. So that’s what’s going to happen as opposed to I have a feeling that might happen. But you can even hear in my voice, it lightens. It lightens your thought and it affects you again physiologically. Can you try one or two of those changing the language? Gabe Howard: I’m pretty pessimistic by nature, but I can say that you’re right, saying I know is arrogant, right? I can’t see the future, so I can certainly see for Gabe Howard changing it from I know this is going to happen to I think that it might happen or even I’m concerned that it could happen, which I can hear the difference. I’m worried that something will happen. Is a far cry from I know it’s going to happen. I worry about a lot of things that don’t come true. Shira Gura: Yes. Gabe Howard: So you’re right. It does feel significantly lighter. Shira Gura: But the language that we use in our lives is so important for our emotional and mental health. I think it’s something that people just don’t even think about. But it is really important how we use our language. Let’s go to the next step, which is E and this is for Expect. And so here we’re going to uncover what are your expectations, what are your hopes, what do you wish for? What do you want to happen? Gabe Howard: I want, like a standing ovation and fireworks and people cheering. Reasonably, I want a good speech, a good presentation, an engaged audience, I want people to laugh at my jokes and, you know, nod at the serious parts. I want engagement, but I want the audience to behave how I expect the audience to behave. Shira Gura: Awesome. Those are wonderful uncovering of your expectations and it’s so important to uncover your expectations because this is typically what gets us stuck when our expectations aren’t met. You want a standing ovation, you want fireworks, you want cheering. You want a really great speech. You want engagement. That sounds like the most important thing is you want the engagement. You want the nods and the laughter and the Gabe Howard: Yes. Shira Gura: Ok, awesome. Right now we’re going to go to the next step. You ready? This one’s kind of tricky. OK. A is for Accept. In this step, we are going to radically accept the opposite of what it is that you want so that if the expectations that you actually want aren’t met, you’re not going to get stuck because you will have accepted in advance the possibility that that was going to happen anyway. In this step we’re not wanting, right? We’re not saying, we’re not wanting the opposite of what we want to have, that’s not what we’re doing. We’re just accepting the possibility that the opposite of what we want may happen because it might. And if it does, and that’s reality, what are you going to do with it besides accept it in that moment? Gabe Howard: So just to clarify a little bit, you know, in my case, I could accept that the crowd would boo and get up and leave, but I think that that’s too far, too extreme. I don’t really see any, I don’t, I don’t see any scenario where that would realistically happen. Realistically, the worst-case scenario is that the audience is bored. It’s probably important for somebody doing this method to not go so extreme. Like I’m going to accept that the audience throws tomatoes at me. That’s probably not a good use of the method. I’m going to accept that the audience is bored. Would that be better? Is like reigning that in smart? Shira Gura: Yes, amazing, so I hope that I’m going to have amazing engagement, right, and I can radically accept that I might not have amazing engagement. Right? Gabe Howard: I’m accepting that there ho-hum. They’re going to be polite. I’m not giving a speech to a hostile crowd, no matter how bad I am, they’ll give the cursory applause at the end. And yeah, I’ve never had tomatoes thrown at me and I’ve never been booed. But I’ve certainly looked out at the audience and seen a lot of people checking their phones and watches and that has happened before. If so, that’s the absolute worst-case scenario and it doesn’t happen very often, but it feels crummy when it does. Shira Gura: The question is, can you accept that now? Can you accept that that’s a possibility that might happen? Gabe Howard: I can, I can, Shira Gura: Ok, great. Gabe Howard: Yes, I can accept that, that they will think that I am ho hum. And they will politely golf clap as I leave the stage. Shira Gura: Good, so I can accept the possibility, right? Gabe Howard: Yes. I can accept the possibility that they may be bored. Shira Gura: Yeah, it’s just a possibility, right, again, not what we wanted Gabe Howard: Yes. Shira Gura: It, but it’s a possibility, Gabe Howard: Yes. Shira Gura: You can’t move forward if you’re being held back behind. So it’s really important that you can be able to just accept it as a possibility, which you did. Great Gabe Howard: We’ll be right back after we hear from our sponsors. Gabe Howard: Hey, Psych Central Podcast fans, before we get started, we’d love for you to take a brief three minute listener survey so we can better understand our audience, which is all of you. Go to PsychCentral.com/Survey20 to complete it now. Everyone who completes a survey will automatically be entered into a drawing to win one of two $75 Amazon gift cards. Special thanks to Savvy Co-op for their survey support. And that Web site again is PsychCentral.com/Survey20. Void where prohibited by law. And now, on with the show. Sponsor Message: Gabe here and I wanted to tell you about Psych Central’s other podcast that I host, Not Crazy. It’s straight talk about the world of mental illness and it is hosted by me and my ex-wife. You should check it out at PsychCentral.com/NotCrazy or your favorite podcast player. Sponsor Message: This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp.com. Secure, convenient, and affordable online counseling. Our counselors are licensed, accredited professionals. Anything you share is confidential. Schedule secure video or phone sessions, plus chat and text with your therapist whenever you feel it’s needed. A month of online therapy often costs less than a single traditional face to face session. Go to BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral and experience seven days of free therapy to see if online counseling is right for you. BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral. Gabe Howard: We’re back speaking with Shira Gura, the author of The CLEAR Way: Five Simple Steps to Be Mentally Prepared for Anything. Shira Gura: Last step, R. This is for responsibility. This is where you take responsibility for your way of being, not your way of doing and not your way of having, but your way of being. Who is it that you want to commit to being in an adjective form? So that no matter what happens, there’s not engagement, they don’t laugh at your jokes, you stumble, no matter what happens, you still stay grounded and committed to your way or ways of being. This is where you take responsibility for yourself and you release responsibility of anything outside of you that you don’t really have control over. There’s endless ways that we can be maybe one or three words. What kind of speaker do you want to commit to being? Gabe Howard: I want to commit to being a confident, professional, unflappable speaker. I really feel that the best speakers are ones that don’t attack their audience or their clients or. The best speakers also understand that let’s say that there’s 100 people in the audience and it only takes about 40 or 50 percent of an audience to make the audience seem like they’re uninterested. It’s certainly possible that you got through to 20, 30, 40, 50 percent of the audience. I like what you said about taking responsibility because so often I see speakers get angry at their audience. And I think that’s, that’s not the way this works. They don’t owe you anything. You’re there for them. They’re not there for you. So I like the take responsibility. I like that. I want to be a professional, unflappable speaker. Shira Gura: Good. Awesome. Now, wait a sec. Gabe Howard: Who projects confidence. Shira Gura: Awesome, awesome. I want you to know what you just said again. I really believe language is one of the keys to mental health. I want to be a professional, confident, unflappable speaker. That’s the last thing you just said. Right? I want Gabe Howard: Yes. Shira Gura: To be and listen to how different it is from I want to be that kind of speaker to I am committed to being that kind of speaker. You hear the difference? Gabe Howard: I do, I do. I want to be a good husband versus I’m committed to being a good husband. Like, who do you want to be or who do you want to marry? Somebody who wants to do it or somebody who’s committed to doing it? Shira Gura: Exactly. Gabe Howard: I think of my own relationships and yeah. Yeah, I don’t want somebody that wants to be in a happy marriage. I want to be with somebody who’s committed to being in a happy marriage. Shira Gura: Exactly. Gabe Howard: I think we all understand that in relationships. We’re spreading that out. Right to everything else. I know I’m asking a lot of like questions in between, but yeah, I, you’re right. If my wife came to me and said I want to be happy in our marriage, I think, oh, that doesn’t sound good. But if she said I’m committed to being happy in our marriage, I’d be like, all right, all right, let’s do this. Arm in arm. Let’s go. Nice. I like it. Shira Gura: It’s a different story, right? Gabe Howard: It is, it is. Shira Gura: And it’s like one word, it’s one word, but it changes the world, it really changes the world. So your ways of being are like an anchor to a ship. OK, that is how you are grounding yourself. They are in your ways of being. That’s who you are. So no matter what comes your way, if you’re on a ship and there’s going to be waves and there are going to be waves, right. Things are going to happen. It’s not going to be a smooth run in your marriage or in the talk or in this interview or whatever. Nothing is ever 100 percent smooth. So no matter what happens, your ways of being are your anchor. And so it’s exactly what you’re saying. It’s like I’m committed to doing this. It’s not that I want to be these ways, because if I just want to be these ways, the anchor is going to get unleashed. You know, you’re going to float away. But if you are committed to being these ways, that anchor is going to stay in the ground. So it’s perfect, it’s exactly what you said. And so that’s the last step. And of course, if you want to go more into this work in that last step, what you could do is you could visualize your future self. So what does a confident speaker look like? What does a confident speaker say or act or how does he behave? The next level would be creating your future self ahead of time, seeing yourself ahead of time, being that person and then manifesting it. Gabe Howard: I like it and I can see how it fits together now. Now, just to recap, CLEAR stands for? Shira Gura: Calm, Lighten, Expect, Accept, Responsibility. Gabe Howard: And again, it’s for stuff that’s coming up in the future, so this is what I’d use for my first day of work or my wedding day or even something as simple as my parents coming to visit or my spouse coming home from work. It’s broad appeal. Shira Gura: It could be anything. I worked with my kid last night, he started a new school and he’s 12. The kids in his school have been together since the age of three. And he’s the new kid on the block. And he tends to be shy and he wants to make friends. And no one is really approaching him. And he wanted to approach kids to ask them if they want to play baseball, because here in Israel, nobody plays baseball. They don’t even know what baseball is. But my kids have baseball mitts and they have a baseball. And he wanted to say, does anyone want to have a catch with me, but he was stuck. Right? He was stuck on fear of rejection. And so I sat with him last night before he went to sleep. I said, let’s get clear. Let’s get clear on who you’re going to be no matter what happens, no matter if they reject you and they say no or they say, yeah, let’s have I’d be happy to have a catch with you. Gabe Howard: I like that example a lot, so how can our listeners learn these tools, are they difficult to learn? My question is, is it difficult to learn? My listeners’ question is, is how can they learn? Shira Gura: Yeah, the tools are not difficult. They are simple, right? That’s one of the reasons I created these tools. I created them actually for myself. And then I of course, I teach them to other people, but they are simple to learn. And it’s not so much are they easy to learn or difficult to learn. It’s more of how can I get practice in using them? It’s one thing to acquire a tool. It’s another thing entirely to say I practiced in it. I know how to get unSTUCK from anything. I know how to get CLEAR from anything. And that doesn’t happen overnight. That happens over time in community with people, working with people. That’s really how this happens. So in terms of where you can learn about it, I have two books. Gabe Howard: Yeah, where do they find them? Shira Gura: You can find them on Amazon and you can find them on my website, ShiraGura.com. But what you can also find on my Web site is a course called The Living Deliberately Blueprint. And inside of this course are videos of me walking people through both tools step by step. There are worksheets. There are guided meditations. And in addition to lots of other goodies that are inside of that course, anyone who enrolls is invited into my private Facebook group and free monthly gatherings. So it’s a community, and then it’s, again, the practice. Gabe Howard: Shira, thank you so much for everything. Thank you for helping me with my speech. Next week, I’ll drop you an email and let you know how it goes. Shira Gura: I would love to hear and I would encourage you to get clear minutes before or half an hour before whatever. It’s not enough that we did it here. I would encourage you to do it again, like really have it fresh in your mind and really see yourself on that stage before you go up there. And good luck with it. Gabe Howard: You know, I really like that, and I like that it also becomes something to occupy your mind. As somebody who suffers from anxiety, my mind often ultra focuses on the worst-case scenario. It sounds like by going through the CLEAR method, I can keep my mind occupied on that. Now, again, if you don’t have anxiety or, you know, your mileage may vary, but for me, it gives me something proactive to do to concentrate on. Do you find that in your work? Is that accurate or am I just making stuff up? Shira Gura: No, absolutely, absolutely. In fact, I’m leading a challenge right now inside of my private Facebook group and every person in the challenge is practicing to being one thing. This is broad range. So one person is practicing to be a non-overeater, one person is practicing to be a nondrinker and one person is practicing to be friendly. I mean, it’s really broad. And what I recommend them to do is every single day wake up and affirm out loud who are you being? Because if we’re practicing to be somebody that we’re not typically being, then we’re going to forget. We’re just going to be our default selves. As you wake up every day, and you said, I’m committing to being a loving wife. I am committing to being a nondrinker. You really set the stage for the day by affirming who you are being every single day when you wake up. It sets you up for the day. And like you said, it gives the mind something to rest on in a positive way so that your mind doesn’t slip back into that default place of negativity, which happens for everyone, because that’s just how the human mind works. Gabe Howard: Anything that prevents people from slipping into negativity, I think is its own success. Once you start to think poorly about something, you create a self-fulfilling prophecy. At least that’s been my experience. And certainly, being able to distract your mind with something proactive and positive, I have to imagine, creates a powerful end result. Shira Gura: It totally does, and I’m doing the challenge, by the way, I’m participating and I am committing to being a loving wife. It’s not that I’m like a mean wife or something like that, but I’m probably not like the most loving wife I could be. And I said, you know what? This is what I’m going to work on for 30 days. And I’m constantly finding myself saying this throughout the day. You are committing to being a loving wife, right? Because sometimes it’s not easy. And I just keep saying to myself, in the morning I say it, when my husband comes home from work, I say it, and I just and it’s great. It’s so helpful to have those words in my mind as a reminder, who is it that I want to be? Gabe Howard: Shira, thank you so much for being here. We really appreciate having you. Shira Gura: Thank you so much for the interview. It was really great to see you again. Gabe Howard: You’re very, very welcome. Hey, everybody, my name is Gabe Howard and I am the author of Mental Illness Is an Asshole, which is available on Amazon, or you can get a signed copy with all kinds of cool swag, including stickers from The Psych Central Podcast for less money just by heading over to gabehoward.com. Let me tell you about our super-secret Facebook page you should absolutely check out, just go to PsychCentral.com/FBShow. And remember, you can get one week of free, convenient, affordable, private online counseling any time anywhere simply by visiting BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral. We will see everybody next week. Announcer: You’ve been listening to The Psych Central Podcast. Want your audience to be wowed at your next event? Feature an appearance and LIVE RECORDING of the Psych Central Podcast right from your stage! For more details, or to book an event, please email us at show@psychcentral.com. Previous episodes can be found at PsychCentral.com/Show or on your favorite podcast player. Psych Central is the internet’s oldest and largest independent mental health website run by mental health professionals. Overseen by Dr. John Grohol, Psych Central offers trusted resources and quizzes to help answer your questions about mental health, personality, psychotherapy, and more. Please visit us today at PsychCentral.com. To learn more about our host, Gabe Howard, please visit his website at gabehoward.com. Thank you for listening and please share with your friends, family, and followers. The post Podcast: How to Mentally Prepare for Anything first appeared on World of Psychology. View the full article
  2.  Now that we’re in the middle of a pandemic, more people than ever are experiencing anxiety, especially those who struggled with mental health issues before COVID-19. And to make things even worse, many of our coping mechanisms, like going to the gym or hanging out with friends, have been taken away. In today’s show, our host, Gabe Howard, talks with Dr. Jasleen Chhatwal, who helps explain why so many people are having anxiety symptoms and what we can do about it. SUBSCRIBE & REVIEW Guest information for ‘Managing Anxiety’ Podcast Episode Jasleen Chhatwal, MD, is Chief Medical Officer and Director of the Mood Disorders Program at Sierra Tucson, a premier residential behavioral health treatment center. Dr. Chhatwal also serves as Assistant Professor at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. Board certified in Psychiatry and Integrative Medicine, she is well versed in psychodynamic psychotherapy, cognitive behavior therapy, psychopharmacology, neuromodulation including ECT & rTMS, and various emerging modalities. Dr. Chhatwal is active in the mental health community, advocating for her patients, colleagues, and profession through elected positions with the Arizona Psychiatric Society and American Psychiatric Association. About The Psych Central Podcast Host Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations, available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author. To learn more about Gabe, please visit his website, gabehoward.com. Computer Generated Transcript for ‘Managing Anxiety’ Episode Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you. Announcer: You’re listening to the Psych Central Podcast, where guest experts in the field of psychology and mental health share thought-provoking information using plain, everyday language. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard. Gabe Howard: Hello, everyone, and welcome to this week’s episode of The Psych Central Podcast, I’m your host Gabe Howard and calling into the show today, we have Dr. Jasleen Chhatwal. She is the chief medical officer and director of Mood Disorders Program at Sierra Tucson, a premier residential behavioral health treatment center. Dr. Chhatwal, welcome to the show. Jasleen Chhatwal, MD: Thanks for having me. I’m delighted to be here. Gabe Howard: Well, we are super excited to have you here today because you’re also an anxiety expert, and many people who aren’t used to feeling the effects of anxiety are because of COVID. I want to start with, are you seeing people that never had anxiety and stress issues before suddenly developing anxiety disorders because of the global pandemic? Jasleen Chhatwal, MD: I am noticing that there are a lot of people who notice anxiety type symptoms, and since they’ve never really experienced them before, they’re really taken aback and they don’t really know what’s going on. And so I feel like one of our big duties at this time is to help people become more aware, because I think once you can name the beast, then it’s a lot easier to tame the beast. And I think a lot of individuals will have a hard time if they don’t know what to call it or what to do with it. Gabe Howard: The Psych Central Podcast has been on the air for almost five years, PsychCentral.com has been around for 25 years. So we are well versed in mental health advocacy. And for the most part, it’s always sort of been in its own little corner. There’s the people that have a mental health issue or a mental illness and they understand it. There’s people who develop one or have a loved one who develops a mental health issue or a mental illness, and they’re searching for information. But by and large, the majority of the population was not discussing this openly. We’ve seen that change dramatically in the last six months where suddenly it’s sort of mainstream news about how adults that never had any mental health issues before are suddenly suffering from the symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, and on and on and on. Jasleen Chhatwal, MD: So a lot of people talk about anxiety like it’s a pathological thing. I really try to explain to people how anxiety is normal. You have to have the neurobiological fear response to be safe as a human being. Like you’re going to the Grand Canyon and walking over the skywalk, the fact that we don’t just climb over the rail and try to jump down is because we do have a biological response to anything that’s not within the normal human experience or scope. If you think about having a snake by your chair, you want to have an anxiety response so that you can quickly panic and run. And what will happen if you don’t have that fear response is you will die because the snake will bite you or you’ll have some pretty negative consequences of that. How can you not have anxiety when you’re being told all day on the news that you need to take all these extra precautions to just be safe, to not fall sick, to make sure your loved ones don’t die. That is something that just normally will cause some degree of anxiety. The difference between that type of anxiety and what can be called a DSM anxiety disorder ends up being that it becomes overwhelming to the point that you can’t function. And what we start to see is people who may have had a higher level of anxiety before, but were being able to do things to help themselves, like going to the gym to work out or going for a run outside or spending time with loved ones. All those people, their coping skills have been taken away. And that is where you start seeing that they now fall into more of that clinical anxiety disorder category. If you look at most mental health conditions, they are on a spectrum. And it just really depends on how far along the spectrum you are today. It could be that today it’s a disorder. But, you know, a week ago or two weeks ago, it wasn’t quite meeting the criteria. Gabe Howard: One of the themes that runs through The Psych Central Podcast is we try to explain that mental health and physical health actually are, they have a lot in common. Meaning most people have good physical health most of the time. But you can still get a cold. You can still get injured. And that’s a very temporary problem. But you can also have, for example, diabetes, which is severe and persistent and lifelong. Mental health is the same way. I think a lot of people think that you either have good mental health or you’re mentally ill and that there’s nothing in between. Do you believe that because of the pandemic, people are starting to realize that everybody has mental health and that you can have the equivalent of a cold, which in this case is stress and anxiety or panic? Do you think this is helping to educate people that we all have mental health and anything can trigger bad mental health? Jasleen Chhatwal, MD: Yeah, I think reading a lot more content about that in very popular channels. Maybe your podcast or me like this is our world, but other people Gabe Howard: Sure, yeah. Jasleen Chhatwal, MD: For whom this is not their world, we are seeing them talk more about mental health. And in my own world, I try not to talk about somebody having just mental illness. I think about mental health on a continuum. You can do things every day to improve your mental health and you can do things every day that may not really be serving it well. The kind of food that you eat, the places that you go to, the people you spend time with, each of those things can help build up that mental health. Gabe Howard: Dr. Chhatwal, thank you so much for establishing that more people are suffering from anxiety and that it’s a very real thing. We’ve been doing this work for a long time, so we’re not surprised by this. But I think that the general population is and one of the hallmarks of being surprised by something is that you don’t know what to do about it. Do you have advice for listeners who are overwhelmed, anxious and filled with stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic? Jasleen Chhatwal, MD: The one thing that we can all do and maybe do a little bit better is starting to become more aware. Naming what is going on for you is really important and naming not in the sense of saying, oh, I have so-and-so disorder or diagnoses, but more naming like how does it feel for me? How am I feeling in my body? What are the signs that I’m seeing for myself? What are the changes that I’m seeing in my behavior? So recognizing that you’re not as engaged, you’re not as motivated or fulfilled to saying, OK, well, I don’t really feel like doing my work or when my children ask me a question, I feel exasperated and want to roll my eyes that that can be a step to saying, OK, something is definitely going on. And now let me sit and think how I’m feeling physically. What are the emotions I’m feeling? Some of us have a broader language for emotion and some of us have a narrower language and words for emotion. And that’s OK. Even being able to identify I feel good, I feel bad. That may be a great place to start. And then starting to look at what are really options for you to start to change things that make you feel bad? Is it something related to your job, like either the hours are now feeling too much or the workload is feeling too much. Talking to your human resources department, or when it comes to your home life maybe getting together with your partner or people who live in the household with you, or if you live alone connecting with friends and starting to really talk through this and asking for the support that you might need. Another strategy can be then to start to follow some degree of a schedule, because we hear a lot about pajama sales are on the rise or that people are doing the zoom uniform with the formal top and shorts at the bottom. Gabe Howard: I love that. Jasleen Chhatwal, MD: Yeah, it’s comfortable and it can also give your mind a signal that you’re just supposed to be relaxing. However, what you’re doing is sitting in front of your computer and working. So now your mind is really confused. It’s like, well, I’m supposed to be feeling relaxed, but I’m doing work. So what we’re hearing from people is that they’re working longer hours because now they’re just connected on the computer all the time. They still have to take care of their children and now they have to go pick up their groceries and wipe them all down like everything’s become just a tiny bit or a whole lot more complicated. And so trying to at least get your life into a little bit of a schedule may make you say, OK, I start my workday at eight and then I am going to end it at five, just like I would normally clock out. Jasleen Chhatwal, MD: And then maybe in that evening time you can start to recognize what are pleasurable activities that you can do in your home environment? I’m hearing from people that they can’t work out, but I can tell you, like doing push ups doesn’t take a lot of equipment. And so it may be deciding here right now I can only do five pushups a day. Within the next two weeks or a month, I’ll get up to ten. So setting realistic goals that make you feel like you’re being able to achieve something and that are in a direction of something. For myself, I think two or three months ago I was feeling like, oh, I’m just at home going to work, coming back. But I got myself an easel and canvas and I picked up something I hadn’t done in about a dozen years. I made a painting. It’s not great. I’m not going to sell it, but I did something that was enjoyable. Finding anything that you can do that serves your soul is really very important at this time. Gabe Howard: When all of this started, we sort of had this mindset that, OK, we just need to hunker down and get through it, it’s only going to be a couple of weeks or even a couple of months. Now, here we are and we’re starting to learn that we don’t really know when this is going to be over. Jasleen Chhatwal, MD: Yeah. Gabe Howard: So now we’re sort of in this kind of like a limbo state where we don’t know if we want to make new habits that we want to last for years or if we should still stay in this, oh, things are going to get back to normal tomorrow. The example that I always use is, look, if I lost my job, I would understand that that job’s not coming back and I would prepare for a new future. But if I was laid off from that job and they told me that as soon as things pick up, we’ll call you back. Well, now what do I do? Do I look for a new job? Do I wait for things to pick up and they call me back and I resume my life? We don’t know when this is going to end. We don’t have that hard stop. Jasleen Chhatwal, MD: My advice to people and my thought for myself and my loved ones is that this is maybe a time for us to really start reinventing and reconsidering what our new normal is going to be. We know that not only has the pandemic obviously affected our way of life drastically but also that there’s a potential financial crisis that’s brewing. So really looking at restructuring our lives and seeing are we really on the right path? And even as a human species is the direction that we’re going really the direction we need to go? In all the things that we cannot control, the thing we do get to control is how we’re going to react and how we’re going to start to make our own decisions in our lives. Connection is fairly important. Make sure that there is a regular way to connect with other human beings, even if you’re working from home. I’ve heard these amazing stories about families that do Zoom sessions every week or who will play card games on Zoom or might even just turn on something like a video platform and have conversations throughout the day. Jasleen Chhatwal, MD: We’ve done things like with my in-laws and family where we watch a movie at the same time. Also, I think, starting to look in terms of employment and what are sustainable ways to work, because as a culture, we work a lot. And I think a lot of companies are now realizing that maybe people don’t need to be clocked on or on site as much as we previously thought they needed to be. So starting to really see if that is OK for you, because for some people, like telework does not work, and for others, telework seems like the best thing since sliced bread. Gabe Howard: You’ve hit on a very interesting point there with your example of telework, some people absolutely love it other people absolutely hate it. We’re seeing this a lot with anxiety. Some people are handling this pandemic no problem. They have literally zero anxiety. Other people are falling apart at the seams. Why is it hitting some people harder than others? And then there’s this tendency, if you’re one of the people who anxiety is hitting you really, really hard to find somebody who’s managing this global pandemic like gangbusters and compare yourselves to them. And I imagine that makes it much more difficult to manage the anxiety and move forward. Jasleen Chhatwal, MD: Comparison has always been one of those things that kills your drive and really starts to make you feel deflated because we don’t know what that other person’s life looks like. We don’t know what their life experiences have been. In mental health, now, we’ve noticed for a long time that our early lives have a huge impact on how we respond later on. And some people who are more anxious than others either at this point don’t have access to their usual coping strategies or the other thing could be that a person who has more anxiety likely had more adverse childhood experiences or early life trauma. Some of that trauma can get relived when you’re isolated, alone, don’t have support. And then finally, it can also sometimes be that you’ve had a really comfortable and quote unquote, normal life. And when suddenly something comes and upends your way of life, it may be your first time really facing something that feels overwhelming. So you may not have had practice at managing that before. So the more we think that others are doing well, the more likely it is that we’re more focused on them rather than ourselves. Rather than just sitting and saying, well, you know, Tom seems to be doing really well and I see that Gabe Howard: Right. Jasleen Chhatwal, MD: Gabe’s kind of killing it, being more connected with yourself is probably your best bet in being able to find that new normal and move forward post pandemic. Gabe Howard: I really like what you said there about if we’re paying attention to others, were clearly not paying attention to ourselves and anxiety is not going to clear up by convincing it that Bob or Jane is living their best life and therefore I should be living my best life as well. It involves more nuance and work than that. Which leads me straight into my next question of how can I know if I’m being realistic about the risks and dangers and when I’m letting anxiety just simply get the better of me? Jasleen Chhatwal, MD: Anxiety can get the better of anybody. It is a neurobiological response. We have this tiny area in our brain called the amygdala, whose job it is to give us fear signals. It’s really once you start feeling like you can’t quite function in your life, you’re not really being able to do the things that you typically can get done, or especially if you start having thoughts about suicide or not wanting to live or starting to feel like your life is not worth it. Those are danger signs and those are times I would say don’t even think, go seek help. There’s really no harm in seeking help. And if nothing else, most of our communities have what we call warm lines. And you can call those and speak to somebody and see if that starts to help you, because a lot of us may not be able to clearly think about what’s happening to us till we start speaking about it. I usually say, you know, if you go to a therapist, you can always decide you don’t go for the second visit. It’s not like they’re going to force you to come by. You at least start to tell your story and start to try that out as an option for if that’s going to help you or not. Gabe Howard: We’ll be right back after these messages. Sponsor Message: Gabe here and I wanted to tell you about Psych Central’s other podcast that I host, Not Crazy. It’s straight talk about the world of mental illness and it is hosted by me and my ex-wife. You should check it out at PsychCentral.com/NotCrazy or your favorite podcast player. Sponsor Message: This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp.com. Secure, convenient, and affordable online counseling. Our counselors are licensed, accredited professionals. Anything you share is confidential. Schedule secure video or phone sessions, plus chat and text with your therapist whenever you feel it’s needed. A month of online therapy often costs less than a single traditional face to face session. Go to BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral and experience seven days of free therapy to see if online counseling is right for you. BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral. Gabe Howard: We’re back discussing COVID-19 anxiety and stress with Dr. Jasleen Chhatwal. Gabe Howard: Now, Sierra Tucson has started a program called Health Care Heroes, and that’s specifically designed to treat doctors, nurses, and other frontline health care workers coping with the trauma of disease and death from coronavirus. How can you help health care workers heal from this tragic experience? Because up until now, we’ve been talking about just lay people managing the pandemic, but they’re literally on the front lines. Jasleen Chhatwal, MD: Health care workers are already at a greater risk of fatigue, burnout, suicide, and that was pre-pandemic. Most of us generally go to school and do years of training with the goal of helping other fellow humans. And so now that the pandemic has really challenged our own lives and we’ve also had to go to work with having increased anxieties about being exposed, most of us may also know fellow health care workers who may have contracted coronavirus and may even have lost their lives to coronavirus. From a health care worker perspective, I feel like life is more stressful than it has ever been. You are being called to really show up and help people. However, we also haven’t quite had all the tools that we typically need, for all the shortages of PPE, shortages of ventilators, increased hospital bed capacities. People are working longer hours. There is more expected of them and there’s less reward because we are losing our patients. We are seeing people be sicker. Health care workers themselves are experiencing helplessness. And there has been so much stigma around seeking mental health support for even lay people and then for health care workers, it’s compounded because we then have to start reporting it to our boards or we need to start telling people that we’re getting mental health treatment. A lot of health care workers are used to kind of putting on their armor and saying, I’m OK, I can work long hours, I can do what needs to be done. So, Sierra Tucson as a group, when we started looking through, how could we show up and help our community and help our people, we decided to try to create this program which we want to make it OK for people to say I’m not OK. That’s the message that we’re trying to give. It’s OK to need support. And we’re here for you. We are also health care professionals and we’re experts in trauma healing. And we’re uniquely positioned at this time to support our fellow health care professionals with a nurturing environment, trauma focused therapies, and then also additionally peer support. So finding ways to help them get back on that spectrum of mental health, to move closer towards mental wellness and further away from having a mental health diagnosis or mental illness. There are health care workers who already live with mental health conditions prior to this. So making it OK for them also to know that they can take time off and really care for themselves because they’re the most important person. Gabe Howard: From my perspective, it doesn’t serve the greater society to have a health care worker who is so stressed out, so overwhelmed or is suffering from a mental illness or a mental health condition, not seek treatment, because how beneficial are they going to be to my care if they themselves are in crisis or potentially in crisis? So, do you want health care workers who know that they’re at risk for a mental health issue, not seek help because they’re afraid of the stigma, the discrimination, the judgment? That doesn’t serve the greater good. Are people starting to realize that? Do you see a shift both in terms of health care workers being willing to seek help and in the general society understanding that, hey, health care workers are people too? Jasleen Chhatwal, MD: Interestingly, it seemed like maybe the pandemic has helped, that people are more accepting that, oh, this is traumatic and you’re hearing the word trauma a lot more. I would like to say it’s slowly improving. And I think the more the general public accepts mental health conditions, the easier it will be even for health care workers. But it’s still very hard. It’s still not a good place. We’re not doing well by our people. I think the big piece of that is that we’re separating physical and mental health and you just can’t do that. One thing affects the other. Even with something like anxiety, which is what we’ve been talking about, you have physical symptoms. You feel like your heart is beating. You have chest pain. People show up to the E.R. thinking they’re having a heart attack when they’re having a panic attack. Unless we as a society, the health care system, insurance companies in their own areas start to really marry the two together and say it’s whole health, we really can’t get away from stigma. Like we said right in the beginning, everybody has mental health and everybody has physical health. And like the WHO says, there is no health without mental health. So we’ve got to get them together. Gabe Howard: I completely agree with your assessment that the pandemic does seem to be helping mental health understanding because so many people are in the exact same boat. They themselves are suffering from anxiety because of COVID. So therefore, they’re less likely to be judgmental against somebody else who’s suffering from anxiety. Also, if a global pandemic doesn’t cause anxiety, I don’t know what will. For some reason when somebody says I’m anxious, our first question is why? And then we decide if that’s a good reason, that’s very unfair. Right? To determine if somebody is allowed to be anxious based on the reason that they give — anxiety doesn’t work that way. Is that correct? Jasleen Chhatwal, MD: You’re exactly right, Gabe, anxiety can only be assessed by a person’s own barometer. So, myself, I’m not scared of heights. I used to skydive, but I have a friend. We went together to the Grand Canyon and they have a walkway on the Nevada side. And we were walking over it and she was like, nope, not doing it, not doing it. And I was like, oh, come on, we’ll walk and well, I’m trying to hold her hand. And she just couldn’t. So I can’t say she is more anxious than I am because it’s not the same for everything. She may not be anxious in a lot of other situations that I may be anxious in. And so anxiety is per your own context, and it is per the lessons you’ve learned in life for things that are fearful to you, the stories you tell yourself. And it’s usually from early life experience, you’ve either had a negative experience with something, so you’re more fearful of it, or you’ve been told stories about that thing that make you more worried. So there are all those components which fall into the nurture category. And then some people do have just a slightly higher sensitivity. Jasleen Chhatwal, MD: And that becomes the nature element, which is your genetics, how your amygdala, which is the fear center, like how that’s tuned. And some people just have a more sensitive amygdala. Their fear response is greater. And then we also know that having negative experiences early on in life will make it that your fear center kind of reacts a lot quicker or may start to be easy to get stimulated. So if you’ve had a lot of early life trauma, it’s almost like your fear muscle is stronger so you can react a lot quicker and that is an evolutionary mechanism for human beings to keep themselves safe. So when we were hunter gatherers, if we were roaming around dangerous areas and there were going to be javelinas chasing us, then our fear around javelinas would need to be a lot more to protect ourselves. And for your listeners who don’t know what javelina is, you can Google it. It’s a wild animal. It’s a wild boar that we have here in Arizona. So that’s really my Gabe Howard: Oh, wow. Jasleen Chhatwal, MD: Closest context. They’re mean looking creatures. Gabe Howard: Dr. Chhatwal, I have one more question, which is kind of an ironic question, and that’s why I saved it to the very end. All of the content surrounding COVID-19, it can be overwhelming. It can be disturbing. It can be hard to listen to. How can our listeners balance staying informed with the information that they need to stay safe like this podcast, for example, but also not be overwhelmed by this onslaught of negativity brought on by just constant COVID-19 information? Much of it scary, quite frankly. Jasleen Chhatwal, MD: It really is. I’ve recommended and I practice this in my own life to take sort of a news break or a news holiday to stop listening to the news. Because when people are sitting at home, they’re just listening to the news channels all day sometimes. So really giving yourself a sliver of time when you look at whatever content that you want to look at and then put it away. Also looking at platforms that maybe present this news in a more palatable format. So maybe like your podcast. Jasleen Chhatwal, MD: Everybody can tune in to Psych Central. You have a great sense of humor and you try to make it approachable. Some people listen to the late night comedy shows which will give you the information you need, but with a chuckle. You can also subscribe to news outlets now have daily newsletters that they can send you with the headlines. So maybe that you say, I’m not going to read all the news, I’m just going to get a newsletter and look at it once in the day. So that’s one way of reducing your exposure, not only in quantity, but also just in intensity. And then it’s good to balance it out with positive things, things that bring you pleasure, things that make you feel better about your world. I hope your listeners will do something to add value to somebody else’s life. And that may be in the form of helping out their neighbors who are elderly with their grocery shopping and may be checking in with their friends who are also stressed out. Creating some sort of a book club, whatever it is that is part of their own interest, but a way to start feeling better about yourself, because whenever we give value to somebody else, that’s really our best way of getting some positive back to us. That can be a way to move forward at this time with more kindness in our world and really being able to rebuild our communities in a more wholesome way and going in a direction, as a country, as a human species that will take us all in a positive direction with the lessons that we’ve learned from the pandemic. We can’t let these lessons go to waste. That would be a waste of a pretty awful condition. And usually, I think if there’s adversity, you want to try and get something out of that adversity, learn a lesson, build some resilience so that in the future you have more skills to move forward in your life. Gabe Howard: We want to find the silver lining in the cloud. Jasleen Chhatwal, MD: Definitely, yeah. Gabe Howard: Thank you so much for being here. Where can folks find you online? Jasleen Chhatwal, MD: I’m present on LinkedIn, which is one of the places I’m trying to get better at. I’m also on Twitter. I haven’t quite gotten the hang of Twitter yet, but I just started last week. That’s my goal for the next month. I’m going to try to learn this. And if any of your listeners are excellent at Twitter then I would say, please send me tips and I will help you with mental health education and sending you interesting information about mental health. Gabe Howard: That sounds like a great deal. Once again, thank you so much for being here. We really, really appreciate it. Jasleen Chhatwal, MD: Thanks so much, Gabe, it was so wonderful to talk to you. Gabe Howard: All right, everybody, my name is Gabe Howard and I’m the author of Mental Illness Is an Asshole, which is available on Amazon, or you can get signed copies for less money by going to my website at gabehoward.com. You can also subscribe to the show’s Facebook page just by going to PsychCentral.com/FBShow. Please remember to subscribe to the podcast. Share us on social media. Rate, rank and review. Use your words. Tell people why they should listen and remember, you can get one week of free, convenient, affordable, private online counseling any time anywhere, simply by visiting BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral. We’ll see everybody next week. The post Dealing With Anxiety in the Time of COVID-19 first appeared on World of Psychology. View the full article
  3. It seems like everyone I talk to lately is tired, and not because they’re suddenly more active or more productive than usual. In fact, most of them can’t tell you exactly why they’re so tired, they just are. This isn’t to say people aren’t busy, they are — just in new and taxing ways. But these new kinds of busyness and the “new normal” brought on by the coronavirus is causing many of us to feel mentally fatigued. Mental fatigue is something that occurs when your brain goes into overdrive. You can’t stop thinking, worrying, anticipating, planning, etc., and this constant parade of changing thoughts can lead to exhaustion. This isn’t uncommon, most of us have experienced this at one point or another, usually when there’s a big project or event coming up. But lately mental fatigue seems to be the rule rather than the exception for many. Why Your Brain May Be More Tired Than Normal Most of us feel we’re rolling with the punches to some degree while the world around us changes. But the truth is these changes take a psychological toll on us all. You may be working, but your work has changed. Kids are in school, but school has changed. You may be healthy, but for how long? And there are marches, riots, and an upcoming election to consider. No matter how much you try to focus on your own small piece of the world the world around you is having an effect on you. In a normal environment, you know what to expect and how to navigate things. You probably have work under control, school schedules are structured, and the regular chaos of life ebbs and flows at a fairly predicable rate. Sometimes you’re stressed, sometimes you’re not, and occasionally you feel mentally fatigued when things are particularly crazy. But our current state of prolonged instability and change is something different. It’s like noise that’s always playing around us as we try to get through the day-to-day. Our brains naturally try to assign structure and normalcy to our personal environments, but the current noise can be deafening and distracting, and is changing all the time making it all that more difficult to put things in order and operate normally. This means your brain must work even harder to try and be productive and create routines and stability. What Happens When Your Brain Is Tired for Too Long? If you work your shoulders or legs too hard, they get sore, right? Well, your brain may not become sore like overworked quads, but it absolutely shows signs of overuse. Mental fatigue has several tell-tale signs. See if any of these sounds familiar: Inability to focus. When your brain is tired, it isn’t working at optimal levels. Just like your legs won’t carry you through marathon after marathon (or even fractions of that for most of us), your brain will eventually slow down too. This often shows up as an inability to stay focused on tasks and responsibilities, leaving you feeling scattered, disorganized and impeding your ability to complete tasks successfully. Physical exhaustion. Yes, your brain affects your body. When your brain is tired, it can make your whole body feel tired, effectively signally that you need a break. Shutting down through sleep is our normal physiological method for relieving the stress on our brain. Unfortunately, mental exhaustion itself can make sleeping difficult. Difficulty sleeping. While you may be tired and your brain may need a break, it can often be very difficult to turn things off. The overstimulation caused by the environment around us means that we may not sleep as well. How many times have you tried to solve the world’s problems while laying in bed? Or stewed over the things you should have said or done earlier in the day? Constant feeling of stress and anxiety. Mental exhaustion and the persistent noise around us can lead to a constant feeling of stress and anxiety. It can feel like there’s ALWAYS something to worry about, so even if your corner of the world is handled and organized, there’s no relief or sense of calm. Over time, unrelenting stress and anxiety can lead to depression as well. Lack of patience or sudden bursts of anger. If your fuse suddenly seems shorter than normal and you find yourself feeling irritable and angry all the time it can be a result of an overworked brain. When you’re not operating at optimal levels and feel scattered, tired, and stressed it can be very difficult to exercise the appropriate levels of patience. Any of these ringing a bell? Tips To Rest and Reset This can be harder to do than it sounds. Turning off and tuning out the noise around us initially requires concentration which is difficult when you are already having a tough time concentrating. But the focus in this case is on being mindful and calm in order to give yourself a break. Mental exhaustion won’t just get better — you need to give your brain a rest and break the cycle. Any of these can be helpful. Get outside. Nature is calming, so use what’s around you. Being mindful of what you’re seeing and experiencing. Turn off the TV and internet. There’s bad news everywhere right now, don’t let yourself be inundated with it. Try music instead. Exercise. This is a good idea for so many reasons. By getting physical you’ll relieve stress, sleep better, and improve your physical condition. Read. The escape into something that has nothing to do with the world around you can provide a healthy break. The longer we let mental fatigue continue the harder it becomes to break the cycle. Over time you may experience physical issues, emotional problems, or full-scale burnout. And these all leave you incapable of navigating your life in a healthy and happy way. The post Is Your Brain Tired? You May Be Mentally Fatigued first appeared on World of Psychology. View the full article
  4. In dealing with COVID on a daily basis and continually bemoaning its effects on us as individuals and a society, we wistfully anticipate a return to “normal,” though arguably a normal that will be noticeably different than our past. What we miss is that it may be worth considering the potential positive impact of COVID. One of the largest impacts may be felt in the mental health field. We know that COVID has increased the incidence and intensity of anxiety and depression.1 Clearly that burdens the current mental health care system. However, it also means that many more people are becoming aware of the realities of mental health issues. While we know that 1 in 6 people experience a mental health condition in their lifetime, we now have far more people experiencing an acute episode exacerbated by the pandemic, and many more family members and friends also impacted by loved ones, finding themselves also learning how to provide support. This is working to heighten the awareness of mental health issues and may help to diminish stigmatization and accelerate a change in societal attitudes. Moreover, COVID has had an impact on the delivery of psychological services: some therapists are offering tele-sessions. Though such sessions diminish some aspects of a complete sensory person-to-person office visit, they do have advantages, particularly seen with younger clients. While many find the office to be a stressful, formal environment, being at home may allow the client to be in a more familiar, comfortable space making it easier for them to open up. In addition, some therapists are reporting that seeing clients in a sliver of their home space may also give them glimpses into their world, through the setting and items displayed as meaningful to them. This can be particularly helpful for working with a more reserved or reticent individual. COVID has challenged our normal means of socialization and maintaining interpersonal relationships. While this has increased the instances of domestic violence and stoked toxic relations, it has also been an opportunity for families to strengthen their bonds and rekindle their connections as they have been required to spend more time together. There are numerous anecdotes of parents and older children conversing more and thereby gaining a better understanding of each other as well as learning to enjoy each other’s company. Parents are learning about social influencers and TikTok and how teenage angst, while still based on the same anxieties, has transformed since their time. Teens are learning that their parents actually can may understand more than they previously assumed, even though their experiences are different, and they may also find humor and insight into their own challenges from their parents’ experiences. The slowdown that COVID has demanded has allowed many people to discover pleasures at home they were not aware of or had forgotten, from cooking and sharing a meal, to movie night in, to gardening and looking at a starry night while listening to the howl of neighbors at 8 p.m. This experience has compelled us to rediscover and reimagine community. Connections have definitely been redefined with technology playing a far larger role. We are quick to observe the deficiencies of virtual communication, but there are also advantages. Older adults have lagged behind this generation in technological savviness, but not only that, reticently testing and dipping into their primary modes of communication. Now, we are faced with learning to communicate by their primary modes, which result in increasing the technological competency of a greater part of society. This has a number of positive ramifications. First, virtual visits allow more people to speak to one another across vast geographical distances, and not only to speak but to see one each other. Grandparents and grandchildren living states apart can visit, letters to pen pals from different countries can be replaced by real time synchronous visits. Virtual connections may actually help older people, shut-ins, and those with chronic conditions to avoid feeling lonely and isolated. We have the possibility to connect more with those we love and those we know little about to better appreciate the lives of others who are different than our own. We also know that COVID has forced dramatic changes to learning. First, it is important to distinguish between online and remote learning. Online learning, to professionals, means asynchronous lessons completed without real time interaction. It allows for widespread dissemination and is less appealing to students as it is less interactive, more passive form of learning. Remote learning engages teachers and students in real time. All students do not have access to the technology needs for successful remote or online learning; however, in the twenty-first century, that access is becoming more fundamental to student success since technological skill is also significant in employability. Given that we will need to address that need, consider how learning is being innovated. In remote teaching (as well as business), teachers and presenters can share far more material of their own design and from around the world through the enormous “library” of the web. Moreover, teachers and students become more skilled in multi-media forms of communication which also enhances their critical thinking skills. Crisis often propels innovation, and at this time that is particularly true on the technological front. We face security concerns and a diminishing of in-person interactions, but there is also much to be gained from the expansion of our abilities to connect to others throughout the world. It can be refreshing to take a moment to consider the potential fruits that can emerge from the current storm. Reference: Mental Health America. (2020, August 11). More Than A Quarter Million People Screened Positive For Depression, Anxiety Since Start Of The Pandemic. The post Are There Potentially Positive Outcomes from COVID-19? first appeared on World of Psychology. View the full article
  5. Have you ever found yourself suddenly ill at ease? You might feel flustered or agitated. Your heart starts to race, or you catch yourself darting toward the door or to the kitchen to do some mindless comfort eating. The next time this happens, reflect and ask yourself: Who is in the room with me? Who did I just talk with? What did I just experience? What’s going on around me? Negative emotions from the people around us — including fear, worry, anxiety, and stress — pass from one person to another quickly, often with few or no words, like a highly contagious virus. If you spend an evening, for instance, social distancing outdoors with stressed-out neighbors who are drinking heavily, do you have a hard time keeping your own drinking in check? Does your workday start out productive but end up derailed from a snarky colleague’s endless rants? If you’re volunteering in your community, do you come home feeling de-energized after being pelted with committee members’ countless complaints? Even our physical health and our susceptibility to medical diseases are related to the company we keep. What we eat, how much we sleep, how sedentary we are, and how much exercise we get is strongly influenced by the people we choose to associate with. But why, exactly, does all of this happen? It’s all in the way we’re hardwired. The human brain has evolved over many thousands of years to pick up any and all potential threats and negative feelings expressed by those nearby. Neurobiologist Dr. Charles Stevens, a nationally recognized expert at the Salk Institute’s Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory in California, told us, “There’s a neural basis for how we share emotions. Cells in our brain will fire in the same way as the nervous system that we’re watching. Our nervous systems respond similarly. They’re linked — they mirror each other — to whomever we are observing and close to.” As if tethered by invisible cords, we’re wired to replicate the moods of others — including worry, anxiety, and sadness — just by being in the same room. The positive moods of others are just as easily replicated. Other research shows that moods can spread among networks of people like a social contagion. Sociologist Nicholas Christakis of Harvard Medical School and political scientist James Fowler of UC San Diego looked at data from a 20-year study that included information on the social networks of 4,739 people. Called the Framingham Heart Study, the research followed people from 1983 to 2003. The results were startling: On average, they found that for every happy friend in your social network, your own chance of being happy rises by 9 percent. For every one unhappy friend, your chance of being happy decreases by 7 percent. Happiness — as well as unhappiness — was essentially spread and shared. Three ways to manage your reactions: The good news is that, with practice, you’ll become better at detecting — and then avoiding or managing your reaction to — the people around you who are frequently swimming in their own private thoughts or negative states of mind. Conversely, you’ll also be able to better detect those people who lift your spirits and support your goals and move to secure close relationships with them. Here are three ways to start: 1. Get comfortable saying no. You’re not obliged to give yourself over to others — not your time, not your energy, not your happiness. Give yourself permission to question or say no to situations that pull you down. This is an especially important skill to practice around authority figures, family, and highly persuasive individuals. Saying no can be as simple as stating, “I wish I could do that, but it’s not possible for me.” Create a simple phrase and rehearse it many times before you meet up with highly demanding people. 2. Mitigate negative interactions when it’s impossible to escape them. It’s not always possible to walk away from difficult people. Workplaces are particularly challenging. You come into direct, prolonged contact with groups of people under stress. In that environment, it’s all too easy to pick up negative emotions, and this can seriously rob you of your agency. In these situations, try this strategic psychological operations (PSYOP) technique: selectively ignore certain people, and navigate around the drama to keep your mind clear. Instead of engaging, shrug or make a lighthearted joke when coworkers become negative or competitive. In personal situations, turn to humor. We know one couple who imagine their loud, self-absorbed in-laws as characters in a Woody Allen movie, and they encourage each other to keep talking even when these family members monopolize the conversation. It’s an amusing (and effective) way to keep negative emotions from ruining every holiday dinner. 3. Address your stressors head-on. Sometimes, the tensions we perceive as negative — and about us — have nothing to do with us at all. For example, let’s say your coworker invites you to a Zoom call in preparation for an upcoming sales meeting. He’s curt and visibly frustrated. After a few minutes, you ask, “You seem stressed. Are you concerned about our meeting?” Your coworker releases a long, deep breath and smiles. “No,” he reassures you. He explains that he’s been juggling back-to-back meetings while homeschooling his kids, and he hasn’t had a break in what feels like ages. It would have been easy to mistakenly attribute your coworker’s stress to yourself — or speculate that there was impending bad news related to the meeting. The takeaway? Always ask for clarification. Don’t assume that what you’re sensing is directly related to you or that it must continue. Tensions can often be defused, or disappear entirely, simply by facing them squarely. View the full article
  6. Admin

    Self-Care to Lower Anxiety

    In today’s world, self-care is not a luxury, it is a necessity. Although we may not be able to control what is happening outside of us, we can take steps each day to stay grounded and connected to our center. If you are looking for some at-home self-care practices to help you lower anxiety, alleviate stress, and feel calmer on a day-to-day basis, you’ve come to the right place. The practices below will help to anchor you in the present moment, quiet your fears, and calm a spiraling mind. Implement these practices on a regular basis to see lasting effects in your life. However, with this being said, if you are currently experiencing heightened anxiety or feel hopeless and overwhelmed, please seek the help of a mental health professional. Together, the two of you can work together to determine the next best steps for treatment. 8 Ways to Calm Anxiety with Self-Care Connect to breath. First and foremost, when a surge of anxiety hits, take a timeout and breathe. Deep breaths in our bodies signal to our minds that we are safe, lessening the stress “fight or flight” hormone called cortisol which increases heart rate and raises blood pressure. Silence your phone, sit or lie down, and take ten long, deep breaths. In through the nose, out through the mouth. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Move your body. Whenever you are feeling anxious, try going for a brisk 20-minute walk or turning on music and dancing around the house. Exercise calms us down and boosts our mood, making it a double whammy for combating anxiety. The key? Making it a consistent routine. Aim for at least three to four 20-minute movements sessions per week and build from there. Feed yourself well. What we eat has a dramatic effect on how we feel. Emphasize whole, minimally processed foods, including fresh fruits and berries, starchy vegetables and leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and legumes, whole grains, and high-quality animal proteins. Eat to fuel yourself and pay attention to the way you feel after meals. Steer clear of caffeine, alcohol, sugar, and highly processed foods, all of which can increase anxiety and contribute to emotional highs and lows. Spend time in nature. Nature is a natural antidote for anxiety. The sound of flowing water, the colors of a sunset, and the busy hum of bees and insects are all things that calm our nervous system and consequently increase our mental health and well-being. Make it a point to spend as much time in nature as possible, away from traffic, cell phone notifications, financial stress, and emails, all of which can induce feelings of heightened anxiety. Focus on sleep. Sleep is one of the key building blocks to health and happiness and adults need at least eight hours of high-quality sleep per night. Unfortunately, most of us are not getting anywhere close to that amount. A few ways to encourage healthy sleep are 1) develop a nighttime routine, 2) turn off screens at least one hour before bed, 3) keep electronics and other stressors out of the bedroom, and 4) turn the temperature in your bedroom down at night. Try journaling. Longhand freewriting is a great way to process thoughts and fears that are creating anxiety. Experiment with taking time in the morning to journal before the start of the day. If there is a particular situation, person, or event that is causing anxiety, try writing about it to sort through what you are feeling. Oftentimes we don’t know the root cause of something until we look at it from many angles. Develop a mindfulness practice. Mindfulness is simply the practice of returning to the present moment and observing what is taking place without judgment. Because anxiety occurs when we worry about the future and mindfulness anchors us in the present moment, it is a great practice for lowering anxiety. Morning meditation, gratitude, and breathwork are all great ways to develop a mindfulness practice. If you need help getting started, a quick internet search will give you more YouTube videos, podcasts, and books on mindfulness and mediation than you will know what to do with. Let laughter be thy medicine. Laughter is one of the most useful yet underrated natural anxiety treatments that exist. If you are able, take a step back from your life from time to time to observe everything that is happening. Then, allow yourself to laugh about it all. Laughter can actually trigger physical and emotional changes within the body, so laugh at yourself, laugh with yourself, laugh with a friend, laugh with a pet, laugh alone. Laugh as much as possible to give yourself a natural relief from anxiety. View the full article
  7. If you had a devastating illness and were given one year to live, what would you do? No question there would be grief and plenty of important decisions to make. If it didn’t debilitate you completely, what would you do with your time? Where would you focus your attention and energy? Would you be willing to spend more time with your loved ones despite the pain that shows up? Would you be doing activities that you’ve enjoyed in life or would you stay home lamenting what life would’ve been if you didn’t have this affliction? As a mortal being we are guaranteed physical, mental and emotional pain. The prospect of getting away from pain is a fantasy, and we all know it. Yet, when we are in the middle of adversity, we can easily forget. Our nature is to seek comfort, and the human mind is adept at providing infinite solutions to dissuade the pain. This can happen when you struggle with intrusive thoughts. Your tendency may be to control them. You may try to ignore them. Sometimes you may try to replace, fight or push the thoughts away. After incessantly trying, you may resign yourself to being a victim to what your thoughts say and succumb to compulsions to alleviate your emotional and mental pain. You may have at some point even wished or prayed to trade your OCD for a physical debilitating illness. No question OCD is torturing, and it can get in the way of living the kind of life you want. Just like you would want to spend your precious time doing what matters with those you care most about, if you had a fatal disease, would you consider a similar stance with the pain that OCD brings into your life? Your OCD mind may advise you to wait for those internal private events (i.e., thoughts, emotions, and sensations) to abate so you can enjoy life. The advice would make sense if you were dealing with external situations, “Wait until you’ve gotten a job to purchase a car!” “Wait till you’ve earned enough money to put a down payment on a new house!” The truth is that you cannot treat internal private experiences as if they were external ones. “But why can’t that invasive thought just vanish?” you may ask. If you aren’t willing to have it, you will. In order to not think about it you have to think about it, don’t you?* Will you acknowledge the thoughts and carry on with life instead of trying to control them? This is not easy of course, but you can start with the following practice exercise. The Sticky Note On a 3 x 3 sticky note, write down three of the intrusive thoughts you wish you didn’t have. This may be difficult. However, the alternative is to have them front and center and let them get in the way of your life because you keep pushing them away. After writing your thoughts, read them and consider how long they have been showing up in your mind? How old are these stories? Are they not old news? Sometimes new thoughts will show up, and soon enough they’ll become old and the cycle will continue. Would you be willing to place the sticky note containing your intrusive thoughts in one of your pants or shirt pockets, purse, backpack or wallet? Would you be willing to carry the note with you everywhere you go? Then, when the intrusive thought shows up, can you acknowledge it, and remember how long this thought has been reoccurring? “Yes, this is the same old story.” Then decide to “own” the thought each time it pops up and genuinely thank your mind. “Yeah, I’ve got that thought in my pocket. Thanks Mind!” Pull out the note and read it, then place it back. Own your thoughts! Carry them in your pocket. Don’t wait until they are gone. Start focusing on what and who matters most despite the emotional pain. Your best life is waiting for you! Source *Steven C. Hayes, Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life, Oakland, CA: New Harbinger, 2005. View the full article
  8. Distress is a culmination of an uncomfortable storm of emotions, judgments, resistance, and physical sensations. Depending on a person’s specific triggers, coping skills, brain, and self-understanding, the reaction to distress can range from mild and controlled, to an intense experience of dysregulation and trauma. Triggers of distress come in all shapes and sizes. It can be personal or global, such as this pandemic. Currently, the pandemic is a universal trigger poking and scratching at old wounds, especially experiences that left us feeling powerless and helpless — and it is creating new ones. I’ve written this step-by-step survival guide. First and foremost, you must understand yourself well. Which leads us into Step 1: 1. Increase your self-knowledge & self-awareness. Log your traits, strengths and struggles, interests, and values. Write the emotions hardest for you to regulate (common ones: anger, anxiety, helplessness), and then triggers for each of those emotions. It helps to recount the steps before the ultimate distress hit, and to be as specific as possible. For example: I was on the internet, felt powerless -> the articles contain a lot of uncertainty, so I kept reading -> felt powerless and confused -> the loss of control feeling hit my “landmine” of when I was once in a traumatic situation I had no control over -> panic attack, then lashed out at my child for not cleaning his room *vulnerability factors: tired, hungry, overwhelmed, so it was easier for me to react and perceive it as more upsetting than it was. This step elevates the pause in between trigger and your response — the ultimate power is in the pause. You cannot change what you do not know, or what you do not accept is a struggle. Which brings you to the next step. 2. Radical Acceptance. For anyone who knows about Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), you know how useful this tool is. What radical acceptance tells us is we must acknowledge reality. As Paulo Coelho said, “The challenge will not wait.” Rejecting reality is preventing a solution. Note your rejection phrases. Common ones are: “I hate this.” “This sucks.” “I can’t stand this.” “I cannot handle this.” “Why is this happening?” Resisting reality is a fight you will never win. We must accept we are living through a pandemic; we must accept what we can do, like using safety measures for the protection of ourselves, and for the protection of others. Acceptance is not comfortable. It is often an event we will still interpret as “bad.” And that’s the point — radical acceptance is not about suddenly believing it’s okay. It’s about wholly acknowledging it exists so you can surrender, and focus on what you can control, what you can do to move forward. 3. Distress Tolerance Pandemic-induced distress causes an array of emotions, even within one moment. Sadness, frustration, fear, depression, loneliness, powerlessness, to peace within the permitted pause of “normal routine”, to joy in newfound hobbies and skills to master, gratitude for all we have and want to have return. But — what are emotions? Emotions are a set of sensations and chemical shifts, within our brains and bodies. The “sad” category lowers our physiological arousal; it is often why we feel slumped and sloth-like when we shift into them. The “anger” and “anxious” categories produce a higher arousal state. Heart rate increases, blood pressure rises, tension grips. Both are highly uncomfortable states to sit with but become easier to tolerate with practice. Therefore: 4. Sit with Emotions. Set a timer for fifteen minutes. A nice mindfulness practice I teach is labeling the emotional experience. First, close your eyes. Locate where the emotion is in your body (might be one spot or several). What color would it be? Shape? Air, liquid, hollow, or solid? Texture? What would it sound like? What would it smell like? What would it taste like? Enlist your senses to produce a “known” to better understand and sit with the emotion without judging it. You might notice your breathing slowed down on its own, your body shifts into a quieter hum, and your emotional intensity has lowered. The brain is soothed by labels, as well as re-centering with your senses as your guide. Once the distress has quieted down, bring in some logic with step 5. 5. Check the Facts. This counters cognitive distortions such as magnifying a problem, only focusing on the worst-case scenario, and/or emotional reasoning (i.e. I feel anxious therefore something must be wrong, and it is the worst thing I can imagine). When we are not gathering information and using our reasoning alongside validating our emotions, our imagination can take us into horrible corners of our mind. Checking the facts allows us to step back, gain objectivity, and see what’s at play to let go, and what’s at play to solve. Answer the “what-ifs.” Give your brain a “known” to survive the “unknown.” After answering, remind yourself of the “what IS” — the facts without assigning your opinion. 6. Wrap it up with self-compassion. Our confidence wanes, our strengths and use of skills fluctuate, and our self-esteem and self-worth can take a hit. But self-compassion is a tool that can remain constant. Let yourself say, “This is normal. This distress is allowed. It makes sense that a pandemic would rise my levels of vulnerability. I will be extra special kind to myself during this time, and through it all.” We Are All Going Through This Together The pandemic has removed our security of the future. Boost your mindfulness skills, add to your healthy coping skills toolkit, maintain little goals you can look forward to, and cultivate self-compassion. View the full article
  9. During this pandemic people have found themselves at home either more of the time, or in some cases, almost exclusively. The calendar that was once filled with meetings and reminders, suddenly lacked all its luster. Those annoying dings that once sent us on to the next task, giving us nothing short of a Pavlov’s dog response, stopped suddenly. Previously, we wore the word “busy” as some sort of badge of honor, but now find ourselves feeling lost and even despondent. So how can it be that we’re exhausted at the end of the day? The calendar says that we’re doing less, yet our body, mind and spirit would beg to differ. Even our personal relationships may be suffering, yet we don’t understand why. “There’s so much uncertainty which, for many people, can lead to feeling insecure,” says Dr. Fran Walfish, a leading child, couple and family Psychotherapist in private practice in Beverly Hills, California. “No two people experience the effects of this pandemic exactly the same way, but most can agree that this is an extremely stressful and difficult time, both mentally and physically.” Remember, your partner and your children may also be suffering, even if they don’t verbalize it. Life events don’t stop because of a pandemic, and like many other people, I encountered a life-changing event over the past few weeks. We buried my sister after an untimely death due to a fall. As I sat with my family, the funeral director peppered us with questions, seeking answers that only we could provide. At one point, I felt the energy drain from my body and I turned to her and said, “I need to know how many more questions you’re going to ask.” I wasn’t trying to be rude; I just needed to know there was an end in sight. This experience made me reflect on how different things seem to be for almost all of us and how draining it can be to live in this new normal. The truth is, we’re all suffering from decision fatigue that’s exasperated by no clear end in sight. Prior to March, our lives ran on autopilot. The hectic schedules and repetitiveness allowed us to conserve our energy for bigger, more important decisions. Now, every day, every hour, is filled with decisions. I, for one, would welcome the dictates of a calendar telling me what to do and when to do it. At least then, I wouldn’t have to think so much. Our brains only allow for so much bandwidth, and when that bandwidth is jammed with pop-up decisions like whether to get dressed, what to snack on, or which show to binge, there’s no room for the important decisions. Even deciding which store to shop at, when to shop, and how to get in and out safely can tax the system, especially since safety concerns put the brain on high alert, draining all the mental reserves. Many people are experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety. Such feelings can come on suddenly and linger for hours. “You know you’re energy’s been zapped when you just don’t care about the things you used to love,” says Jennifer McDaniel, a wellness strategist, energy coach and owner of Soul Abode, “It’s not just about self-care, it’s about soul care. Give yourself permission to retreat, taking a step back to BE instead of DO.” 5 Tips for Combating Decision Fatigue: Lay out your clothes the night before. Not only will this motivate you to get dressed, it will free up one less decision for the morning hours, allowing you to focus on more important things. Make a list of to-dos. Having a list to check off helps keep you on task and gives your mind to prepare for what’s coming next. Recognize the feelings of fatigue and grant yourself grace. This may mean going for a walk, taking a short nap, or meditating with a focus on centering yourself. Arrange your dietary habits to include more brain foods, like nuts and avocados, and less brain drains, like carbs and sugars. Get lost in a good book. Reading for pleasure allows a break from reality. Your only decision is to turn the page. View the full article
  10. Social anxiety involves worry or fear that you will be judged, embarrassed, or humiliated in social situations and often leads to people avoiding or feeling distress in certain social environments. At the same time, research shows that social anxiety is not just how an individual consciously experiences or reacts to a scenario — it can also affect automatic functions, those that operate outside our conscious awareness. For example, how individuals view things or people in a given environment may operate differently in people with social anxiety. Understanding differences in how people process visual images, particularly those involving facial expressions, can provide insight into the kinds of information individuals with social anxiety are gathering from their environment. Using eye-tracking technologies, researchers can examine the quality and frequency of eye movements when individuals are viewing images of faces. In an eye-tracking study, participants wear a device that detects the position of the pupils and the reflection in the cornea in both eyes simultaneously. This allows researchers to measure things like what people first look at or how long they focus on different aspects of a visual scene. A study conducted by Liang, Tsai, and Hsu (2017) used eye-tracking technology to examine how individuals with social anxiety engage with perceived social threats, in this case, images of angry faces. Some past evidence suggests that people with social anxiety will initially focus on unpleasant stimuli and then move attention away from those threats, known as the vigilance-avoidance hypothesis. Other research suggests there is delayed disengagement, meaning that people with social anxiety take longer to turn their attention away from threatening stimuli than those without social anxiety. To explore these possibilities, the researchers had participants with and without social anxiety look at an image containing five faces with a happy, angry, sad, and neutral facial expression. The participants were instructed to look at the image while wearing an eye-tracker for 5, 10, or 15 seconds. This study determined that most people, regardless of whether they had social anxiety or not, look at angry faces first. However, the participants with social anxiety fixated on the angry faces more often and for longer. Consequently, those with social anxiety may have difficulty disengaging from angry faces, as it took them longer to shift their attention away from the angry facial expression. The results suggest that people without social anxiety engage with the perception of negative individuals less than those with social anxiety. By fixating less on the angry face, they may be able to see other possibilities and interpretations of a situation. They can balance their own mood by this form of self-regulating. The relationship between social anxiety and attention to faces is far from clear, as other eye tracking research suggests that in certain conditions people with social anxiety direct their attention away from emotional facial expressions (Mansell, Clark, Ehlers & Chen, 1999). Taylor, Kraines, Grant, and Wells (2019) suggested that one factor that may affect this relationship is excessive reassurance-seeking. Excessive reassurance-seeking may cause individuals to orient attention to positive faces quickly after engaging with threatening ones. To test this hypothesis, they conducted another experimental study using eye-tracking technology with individuals who have social anxiety. However, their experiment focused on how individuals orient their attention back and forth between pleasant and threatening stimuli. Participants were instructed to view images of different emotional faces, formatted like a photo album, and participants were encouraged to flip through at their own pace. Each page contained an angry, disgusted, happy, neutral, and sad face. In addition to this, participants completed two scales, one measuring social anxiety and one measuring participants’ tendency to seek reassurance in their personal relationships, such as the tendency to ask loved ones if they really care about you. The researchers found that although there was no direct relationship between social anxiety symptoms and how long people fixated on faces exhibiting disgust, there was an indirect relationship when one considered the tendency to seek reassurance, with individuals with social anxiety high in reassurance-seeking behavior fixating less on faces of disgust and orienting more quickly to happy faces. Taylor et. al (2019) noted two possible reasons for this behavior. It could be an avoidance of threatening feedback or, alternatively, a way of seeking reassurance. These behaviors can be successful ways to feel comfortable or safe in an anxiety-provoking situation. Together, the results from these studies suggest that individuals with social anxiety show an irregular attentional pattern when they are viewing emotional faces. While some individuals with social anxiety may have a harder time disengaging from threat information, others, who seek excessive reassurance, may be more likely to orient towards positive facial expressions. People do not consciously choose where their eyes move most of the time. This lack of cognitive control can hinder the ability of people to see alternatives. Where an individual without social anxiety might recognize that the angry person in the room may not necessarily be angry at them by looking for other cues, somebody with social anxiety may not be able to disengage or orient to additional information. Their fixation prevents them from seeing the whole picture. References Liang, C., Tsai, J., Hsu, W. (2017). Sustained visual attention for competing emotional stimuli in social anxiety: An eye tracking study. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 54, 178-185. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbtep.2016.08.009 Mansell, W., Clark, D. M., Ehlers, A. &, Chen, Y. P. (1999) Social anxiety and attention away from emotional faces. Cognition and Emotion, 13, 673-690. https://doi.org/10.1080/026999399379032 Taylor, D., Kraines, M., Grant, D., Wells, T. (2019). The role of excessive reassurance seeking: An eye tracking study of the indirect effect of social anxiety symptoms on attention bias. Psychiatry Research, 274, 220-227. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2019.02.039 View the full article
  11. Do you constantly refresh your social media feed? Are you checking your notifications more often than you’d like to admit? In today’s Psych Central Podcast, Gabe and psychologist Robert Duff have an enlightening discussion on how the information age has affected our mental health — but only if we let it. Dr. Duff explains how the overuse of social media is often driven by a fear of missing out and even a false sense of productivity. So how can we work with the modern world rather than be controlled by it? Join us to hear specific tips on how to make social media the servant, not the master, of your reality. SUBSCRIBE & REVIEW Guest information for ‘Robert Duff- Social Media Anxiety’ Podcast Episode Robert Duff is a licensed clinical psychologist from Southern California. He is the author of the popular Hardcore Self Help book series and his most recent book, Does My Mom Have Dementia?. He also hosts a weekly podcast where he answers listener mental health questions and interviews interesting guests. When he’s not working as a neuropsychologist in private practice or creating content for his “Duff the Psych” persona, Robert can usually be found sharing a few glasses of wine with his wife or playing video games. About The Psych Central Podcast Host Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations, available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author. To learn more about Gabe, please visit his website, gabehoward.com. Computer Generated Transcript for ‘Robert Duff- Social Media Anxiety’ Episode Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you. Announcer: You’re listening to the Psych Central Podcast, where guest experts in the field of psychology and mental health share thought-provoking information using plain, everyday language. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard. Gabe Howard: Welcome to this week’s episode of The Psych Central Podcast. Calling into the show today, we have Dr. Robert Duff. Robert is a licensed clinical psychologist and is the author of the popular Hardcore Self Help book series. He’s also a fellow podcast, hosting the Hard Core Self Help Podcast, a weekly show where he answers listeners’ mental health questions and interviews interesting guests. Dr. Duff, welcome to the show. Dr. Robert Duff: Thank you so much for having me. Gabe Howard: Today, we’re going to discuss anxiety and the modern age and more specifically, how things like technology and social media impact our anxiety and stress levels. I think that most people don’t realize that our modern world is causing us stress in other ways than just work, relationships and children. Dr. Robert Duff: Yeah, I think at the very least, it’s different. I wouldn’t say better or worse, but certainly the Internet and definitely social media, I think, are kind of some of the biggest changes to society and the way that we interact since the industrial revolution or the printing press or something like that. So absolutely, it’s different. Gabe Howard: It seems like if you read back through history, every new thing was going to be the end of the world. And I remember reading about the printing press and how the printing press was going to destroy the world as we know it. And it was fascinating to read because, of course, we all love the printing press. We think that the printing press is one of the greatest revolutions in the world. And yet at the time, it was very much maligned as being a bad thing. Which leads me to my question. Is that this. Are people just saying, oh, no, social media and technology is the downfall of the world and it’s sort of, you know, the sky is falling syndrome. Dr. Robert Duff: I think that people can fall on either side of it. Sometimes people think that it’s a very, very, very negative thing. For me, I’m like, well, it doesn’t matter either way, it is what it is. And it’s sort of growing up in this period of time. I think that one of our major, for lack of a better term, developmental tasks is to figure out how to manage all this stuff, because there’s just a lot. The jump up from the printing press gives you access to information that you never had before. And this is that like times a gazillion. So there’s just a lot in knowing what to do with that, how to manage that. I think it’s a really, really, really important thing. Gabe Howard: Social media is just the, it gets blamed for everything, it seems nowadays. What role does social media play in anxiety in 2020? Dr. Robert Duff: There’s good and bad and neutral, you know, it is what it is. I think that one of the good things about it is that you have unprecedented access to connecting with people and finding resources. If you’re to go on Twitter say, and say, hey, I’m having extreme anxiety. Can somebody help me out? And a bunch of people are going to come and they’re going to send you resources. That’s how a lot of people find my books and stuff like that, for instance. So there’s, it’s a great way to connect with people. It’s a great way to find resources. It also, though, feeds into sort of the compulsive nature of anxiety. Anxiety, you tend to get this sense of unease like you want to know the answer. Whether that’s is the situation dangerous or what’s going on in the world or how does this person feel about me? You really, really, really want to know the answer to that. And social media gives you a way to either get those answers or at least fulfill some of that compulsive desire to do that. So, when you want to know what’s going on in the world, all you have to do is refresh your social feed. And you see the news there these days. A lot of people, myself included, don’t even turn on the TV or go to CNN.com when we want to get news. Dr. Robert Duff: I just go to Twitter and see what’s trending. And that’s going to help me understand in the immediate right now sense what’s going on, which is a good thing and a bad thing. I always tell people your knowledge of what’s happening in this moment, especially if it’s something like a natural disaster, a shooting, a political event, things like that. Your knowledge of it does not change the fact that it’s happening at all. But there’s this, with how much information is available, there’s just this weird guilt that sort of sets in where if you don’t know what’s happening in that exact moment, you feel bad about that or disconnected somehow. And so, you know, by refreshing your feed, by checking those things, it relieves some of that. They release some of that tension, which is going to lead you to do that more and more and more. So it can become a thing that’s just so absent minded. You’re constantly either checking notifications, which is a whole different story, or just refreshing social feeds, trying to see what’s going on. And that can certainly play into anxiety, especially if it’s an issue that you already have. Gabe Howard: It’s fascinating that you talked about refreshing the social feed to learn what’s going on, to release anxiety on one hand. I completely agree with you. I have done it. I have sat there on my phone when something a big event has happened. And I’ve just hit refresh, refresh, refresh, you know, going through like four different Web sites going on, like you said, Twitter or Facebook to see what other people are saying or what other people are posting. And in that moment, I feel less anxious because after all, I’m up to date. Dr. Robert Duff: Right. Right. Gabe Howard: But then again, I’m completely enmeshed in it. Dr. Robert Duff: Right. Gabe Howard: I’m not doing anything else. I’m not focused on anything else. I’m letting other things like work, family, friendships, joy go, because I’m just, I’m so engrossed in this story. And then I often learn, whether it be days, weeks or months later that some of the information I got was just false. There’s so much pressure to have the scoop that people say the police questioned Gabe Howard. He’s a suspect. And in the meantime, Gabe Howard was the Jimmy John’s delivery guy. And now the whole world believes that the poor Jimmy John’s delivery guy is involved. Which I imagine creates even more anxiety. Dr. Robert Duff: Yeah. Gabe Howard: How does that all flow together? Dr. Robert Duff: The other thing to think about with this is how it doesn’t allow you to turn off with anxiety. A lot of people. Their brain is already going to be searching for signs of danger. Answers to things. It’s going to be sort of always on. And it’s an active effort to try to get that to slow down, to rest, to recuperate. Sustained anxiety over time is really exhausting. And then you integrate something like this where you’re getting the immediate information that’s constantly changing. So you have to keep up with it. I can recall just recently, somewhat recently, I live in the area of California that has all the wildfires, these really big fires that have happened. And one of them that was closest to us happened while my wife was asleep. But I was still awake and I had to really make the choice of, OK, do I wake her up and let her know what’s happening? Just because she needs to know with the knowledge that that’s going to keep her up all night because she’s going to be doing that refresh and continuing Gabe Howard: Right. Dr. Robert Duff: To look, continuing to get that. Or do I wait till there’s a need to know part of the information? Because really, for all practical purposes, it wasn’t affecting us yet at that point and the information was only going to be more solid later on. But you really, really, really, really want to know. And the anxiety is going to fuel that because it’s going to say, hey, I’m trying to keep you safe. The best thing you can do here is gather all this information, try to figure out every aspect of it, and then also avoid things that would actually make a difference or maybe make you involved somehow. So it definitely plays into it. But at the very least, I think we need to pay attention to how it affects us. And one of my biggest sort of takeaways for people is that you need to start building some self awareness about how social media plays out for you, for different people, it’s going to have a different level of impact. For me, it may not be quite as big as somebody like. Like I said, my wife, she’s somebody that openly struggles with anxiety. It has a big effect on her. And so knowing when to invite that in, when to not invite that in, I think that’s a skill that we all sort of need to build at this point. Gabe Howard: I’m thinking of my own social media use, and I got sucked in by everything, I had the notifications on, so when something happened, there was a ding. I had the emails that came in. And this is the thing that I’m most ashamed of. I wanted to earn all of the badges. Social media does a really good job of telling you that you’re a top poster, you’re a top fan. You’ve made one Dr. Robert Duff: Verified. Gabe Howard: Update a day every day for 100 days or. Yeah. Verified is a big one. I wanted to earn, and I’m using that word earn. I wanted to earn them all. But I’ve since learned, as comes with, you know, maturity and age and better understanding that I wasn’t earning anything. It was a false reward. I think many people are stuck in this trap where they think they’re accomplishing something. But in reality, you’re not accomplishing anything. Dr. Robert Duff: Yeah, definitely. And the checking nature of social media with anxiety, you’re taking away that unease of not knowing what’s going on. But then on top of that, there’s also positive reinforcement. You’re getting hearts. You’re getting likes. You’re getting badges, you’re getting these things. And they are just quick little hits of essentially dopamine that are reinforcing you for that behavior. And it’s built that way. That’s why Facebook is such a huge monster that can charge so much for ads and make so much money because everything is just built on that. It’s like Vegas. You know, you have this positive reinforcement. You have the light, you have the ding, you have the money payout. You have all these things that kind of keep you going and keep you going. And so I think that’s definitely important to recognize that it’s designed to make you compulsive. That doesn’t mean it’s a terrible thing in and of itself. But just like when you walk into a store, you see all the ads and promotions and things like that, you’ve got to at least know that they’re trying to sell you and that’s going to at least help you take things with a grain of salt. Gabe Howard: I do think that people understand that the stores, the televisions are trying to sell you. Do you think that people understand that Facebook and other social media sites are trying to sell you? Do you think that people understand that they are are consumer of these products? And do you think that that understanding or lack of understanding contributes to anxiety? Dr. Robert Duff: That’s an interesting question. I think that one thing that Facebook and the social media platforms do really well as they get to know you, you give them permission to give them a lot of your information. And so things start to become very tailored to you. You know, you hear the stories about, oh, I was talking over dinner about getting a new vacuum. Suddenly I see ads for new vacuums. So, I mean, I think that people do know that they’re being sold to. However, it is worked in a very sort of contextual way where sometimes you don’t even notice it. But I have kind of mixed feelings about, I’m getting a little bit off topic with this. But the idea of sort of your social media feed becoming a bit of a bubble, that’s very tailored toward you. It depends on what you’re using it for. But for some people, maybe social media plays a great role in broadening your perspective for other people. I think there’s nothing necessarily wrong with controlling what you see there for ads or for different types of posts. You can block. You can say, I don’t want to see this type of content. You can sort of curate your social media feed to be something that works for you instead of against you. Somebody who has, say, depression. They might want to intentionally remove some of the things that are maybe a little bit more pessimistic. They may want to bring in things that are a lot more that’s sort of positive content. That’s going to help them at least have a tiny boost throughout their day that will inspire them. And I don’t think that there’s necessarily anything wrong with that. I think a lot of people feel like there is. So they feel like, oh, well, I can’t just, like, make myself in my own little bubble because then I’m not seeing what’s going on on the other side. It’s a tool. It’s a tool that you can use however you want to. But it’s something that you do have some degree of control over. Gabe Howard: I know that you talk a lot about fake productivity or false productivity. It’s this idea where you think you’re accomplishing something but you’re not. Can you explain what fake productivity is? Dr. Robert Duff: So for me, the way that I see this the most is with not necessarily social media, but like apps. There are gazillions of apps out there and they’re all trying to be the perfect tool for this thing, whether it’s a to do list or a calendar app or tracking your period or exercise, whatever it is. There’s a million options for each of those things. And one thing that a lot of people do is fall down this rabbit hole of searching for the perfect tool. Oh, this one doesn’t have this feature. OK. Let’s keep looking. OK. This one has a lot of great features, but not quite. This one was too expensive. And you keep going. Keep going, keep going. Keep going. And at the end of the day, whatever the tool is supposed to help you with, you did nothing related to that thing. You don’t have your to do list made. Your calendar isn’t updated. So you kind of spent a bunch of time going down this rabbit hole of trying to be sold on the perfect tool and didn’t actually do anything with it. And for people who have anxiety. So with anxiety, the thing I would say is that avoidance is the fuel of anxiety. Anxiety tells you to avoid something so that it can keep you safe. And then when you do avoid that thing, it gets bigger and more present. So you avoid more and more and more and then suddenly you’re having a really hard time. And I think that one sort of insidious thing that can happen is that we turn this search for the perfect tool into a form of avoidance. If you’re just planning and looking for the right thing and doing all this top level stuff, you don’t actually have to take action because action is scary. And so you can use that as a form of avoidance and just kind of keep doing this over and over again. Gabe Howard: But you’re not actually achieving anything. And at some point you realize this. It really does seem like this self-fulfilling prophecy. I’m anxious because I’m productive. Now I’m anxious because I’m realizing I’m not productive. But I can be productive by doing what is effectively nothing. But if I don’t do it, I become anxious. But if I do do it, I become anxious. I just I’m having, like, a really hard time getting out of the feedback loop of what do I do so that I am productive, well-informed. And I don’t have this sudden fear that I don’t fit into society and that I’m just one of these curmudgeonly people on my porch saying social media is going to kill us all. This whole conversation is making me anxious because I honestly don’t know what to do. Dr. Robert Duff: Yeah, I mean, that’s anxiety itself, though, right? Whether it’s social media or anything else, I think that the thing that the Internet does and social media does is provide like a big sort of magnifying glass or megaphone for those things that are already tendencies you have. The answer is really trying to build self-awareness of your patterns. Right. And especially understanding the way that your patterns interact with these new tools that are available. The best way I think to do that is talking with people, trusted loved ones, your therapist, whoever. Also journaling. That’s like a form of self therapy and sort of self monitoring. OK. Write down at the end of the day, what did I do today and how did it affect me? I spent six hours diving down this rabbit hole of trying to find the perfect tools and all my apps are set up pretty and all these things, but I haven’t done anything. And now I feel bad about that. And I feel anxious that I wasted time and I have less time tomorrow to do all these things, write those things out so you can at least understand your patterns and use that information to adjust your approach. I’m a big fan of using both online and offline things open in front of my face right now. I have an Evernote document with some notes from when you asked me questions beforehand for this interview, I’ll also have my Google Keep, which has like my whole to do list. But I’ve also got a stupid little index card in front of me. If I think of something and I don’t have time to get to the to do list, I’m just going to write it down there. Gabe Howard: We’ll be right back after these messages. Sponsor Message: This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp.com. Secure, convenient, and affordable online counseling. Our counselors are licensed, accredited professionals. Anything you share is confidential. Schedule secure video or phone sessions, plus chat and text with your therapist whenever you feel it’s needed. A month of online therapy often costs less than a single traditional face to face session. Go to BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral and experience seven days of free therapy to see if online counseling is right for you. BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral. Gabe Howard: And we’re back discussing anxiety in the digital age with Dr. Robert Duff. I certainly don’t think that the solution here is to cancel all of your social media, never read the news, never get on email, never prepare. Like you talked about the extremes. How does one make sure that they’re staying in the middle? Because I imagine that that moderation, that middle, that average is where the least amount of anxiety comes in. Dr. Robert Duff: Yeah, I think a lot of it is about sort of setting limits for yourself and having some boundaries with yourself at this point. I think it’s really unrealistic to tell people to say, OK, you’re only allowed to do these actions at this time, like you’re only allowed to engage with social media at this time. That’s kind of pushing against a really strong beast, unless social media isn’t even a big thing for you. There’s plenty people out there with like, oh, well, I don’t have a Facebook it’s not a big deal, but insert whatever it is, checking email, checking the news, what have you. It’s easier, though, to block out times that are sacred, times that you’re not doing that. Actively disconnecting from the world. And I think that’s really important in terms of like especially things like sleep, being able to sleep and turn off for the night. Massively important when you’re dealing with mental health issues, both in terms of memory and learning the skills that you’re trying to work on and build and just giving enough energy to get back out there and fight a little bit of the uphill battle that you’ve been fighting. So I’m a big fan of sort of book ending the day is what I call it. So the beginning of the day, first half hour or so, last hour of the day, disconnecting from the world, putting the phone away. And I really am a big fan of not even having your phone in the bedroom because so many people, last thing they see before they close their eyes is their phone, email or social media feed. Dr. Robert Duff: Then they close their eyes. If they wake up in the middle of the night, drink water, they’re going to be checking their social media feed again or their email. They wake up in the morning. What’s the first thing they see? They pull that out again. And really, I think that there are very, very, very few instances where that’s going to be a great thing. It could be neutral. It could not affect you very much. And there’s a pretty significant chance that it’s going to derail you. If you’re gonna see something that pisses you off, something that scares you, something that you forgot about for work or whatever, you know, the last thing you need is to wake up in the middle of the night and see a work email. OK, bye bye sleep. So I’m a big fan of in the morning, kind of taking some time before you even pull out your phone. Make yourself some coffee. Take a few deep breaths. Write some thoughts down if you have them. Do whatever you want to do with that and then pull that out. And at the end of the night, focus inward, do some journaling. Like I said, you can do some stretching or foam rolling or deep breathing or just enjoy an off line activity like we used to do in the olden days and try to come down a little bit and disconnect from the world so that you can drift off into restorative sleep, not having your brain running a million miles per hour. Gabe Howard: When I am in a hotel, when I travel, I keep my phone next to me because it’s my alarm clock and every single time I get up to go to the bathroom, because that phone is sitting next to my bed, I check it. Now, fortunately, 90% of the time, there’s nothing on there. But 10% of the time there’s something, there’s something. And I’m up the rest of the night. And I think that people need to realize this. Now, what do you say to the people who are going to immediately fire back, well, I have to. I have to keep the phone next to my bed because I have teenage children who are out or my spouse works nights and might need to call. I am the emergency contact for my mother or of course, my personal favorite, it’s my alarm clock and there’s just no way around that. Dr. Robert Duff: Yeah, those are all very anxious responses, right? You know, oh, my God, what if this what if that. There are ways around that. They still make alarm clocks. Gabe Howard: Yeah. Dr. Robert Duff: I have one. It’s really annoying. I have to put it on the other side of the room. So actually physically get up and walk over there. Otherwise, I’ll just turn over and hit it with my hand. So, you know. Gabe Howard: We may be soulmates. I’ve just, yes, I do the exact same thing. Dr. Robert Duff: I’ve always had to because my brain will create a scenario where there’s like a nuclear launch happening and I have to hit this button to stop it. And that’s the alarm clock. And so my brain will troll me and it just won’t work. So I have to actually physically get up. But, yeah, they make real alarm clocks, you know, and then in terms of the other concerns about what if there’s an emergency, et cetera, there’s a variety of ways around that. There are things like maybe you have your Apple Watch in the room if you have Apple products, but not your phone. Or you keep it outside the room, but you keep it on do not disturb and you can sort of have your specifications. So if somebody calls you, it’ll ring loudly. I mean, that’s outside the room, but you’ll still be able to hear it. There’s a variety of ways to do it. If you have teenage kids that are out for the night, maybe that’s the night you make an exception and you try to be responsible with it. As responsible as you can, not keep it right next to the bed. But that’s your kind of exception for the week and the rest of the week, you’re not going to have it in there. So you could do a lot with it. And those are usually just sort of knee-jerk reactions. I get that sort of knee-jerk reaction from people a lot, too, when I’m talking about setting limits on social media, even taking breaks from social media, things like this, they say, well, it’s my job. I need to be on it. There’s definitely usually a little more wiggle room than you think there as well. Gabe Howard: I really feel like this all does boil down to making healthy choices and sticking to them and I really think this is a good analogy that people who say that they don’t have time to exercise and the people that say that they have to be on social media. But, of course, one of the things that you can do to exercise is park at the back of the parking lot and walk forward. You can take the steps instead of the elevator so you can turn off social media during dinner. Dr. Robert Duff: Right. Gabe Howard: Do you believe that finding those tiny little things? Because in the grand scheme, those are small things. But it sounds like you’re saying those will pay big dividends when it comes to lessening our anxiety. Dr. Robert Duff: I feel like just exercising control over it is a good practice, right? Intentionally putting it away sometimes, intentionally having it out sometimes. If you’re feeling that discomfort, much like if you walk out the door and you realize your phone Psych in your pocket, you get this sense of discomfort these days like, oh, God, something’s wrong. A lot of people feel that way. If they’re not able to immediately check their phone at dinner and they’re feeling a buzz in their pocket or whatever you have, that that sense of discomfort. So learning how to sort of modulate that and do it intentionally, you know, I’m going to put my phone away or I’m going to log off or not check these things for this period of time, at least gives you the flexibility to say, OK, sometimes I’m on, sometimes I’m off. And that’s a practice I think, that people need to need to do. You know, we have all these coping skills, mindfulness, you know, all these different things that that we use in the mental health field. I think that this is just simply another one of those things, sort of like technological flexibility or something. The ability to just decide when you’re on and when you’re off. And that’s a hard thing to do when the structure is designed to make you on all the time. But you need to wrest some control back from that. Otherwise you’re gonna be worn out. Gabe Howard: I hear a lot of what you’re saying, and I completely agree with it, and I know that making more intentional decisions about our social media and about our use of technology will make us feel better. But do you think that there is a role in that when we’re staring at our phones? There’s often people in the room and those people are our friends, our families, our loved ones. And they maybe don’t feel so good about it. And they’re probably giving us pushback, whether straight up, put your phone down or passive aggressive, well, I’m not going to tell you. You care more about your phone or whatever. Do you think that keeping them happy also lowers your anxiety? And I know keeping them happy is kind of a weird way to say it, but in the beginning, I got a lot of negative pushback from my friends and family, which also made me more anxious. And when I got better control over my phone and social media use, a lot of that went away. Which, of course, made me less anxious. Dr. Robert Duff: Yeah, I think so. I mean, and also you’re making the assumption that the other person isn’t also on their phone. Gabe Howard: Sure. Dr. Robert Duff: And then suddenly you are just both disconnected, sort of doing parallel life next to each other. Communication is something that is still really important, you know, and you could be communicating with people online. I think that’s valid. But you also need to communicate with people in person. And when couples are having trouble in my clinical practice, a lot of things sometimes I ask, do you guys eat dinner together? Like, do you sit across each other and eat dinner? And often the answer is no. We sit side by side or on our phones, whatever the case may be. And it’s like, OK, well, then you’re robbing yourself of the chance to practice communicating with one another and getting that support from one another. And yeah, I think that definitely accessing the supports that you have and then treating them well is it’s really important. That it’s a whole piece of the puzzle, along with all the other things you might do to help relieve your anxiety. So I definitely agree with you there. Gabe Howard: I could talk to you about this all day because people seem to be more anxious than ever, people seem to be more disconnected than ever at a time that we should be more connected than ever. But the specific question that I want to ask you really involves a story with my grandfather. One morning, my grandfather comes downstairs, he is staying at my house, and he sees my wife and I sitting at the breakfast table and we’re both on our phones and and he says, oh, this is the problem with your generation. You’re staring at your phones. You’re not talking to one another. You know, in my day, we didn’t have this. We actually talked to each other. And for the rest of that day, I felt a little bad. I was like, oh, my God, this is my wife. I love her. And he’s right. I’m ignoring her. And then the next morning, I come downstairs and my grandmother and grandfather are sitting at the table and my grandfather’s reading the paper. Dr. Robert Duff: Yep. Gabe Howard: Yeah. And my grandmother is doing the crossword puzzle, completely ignoring each other. Dr. Robert Duff: Yeah, yeah. Gabe Howard: And I said, oh, this is the problem with your generation, completely ignoring each other for newsprint. It seems like it’s very much the same thing. We’ve seen couples sit at the breakfast table ignoring each other since the beginning of time, but it does seem like technology is way more intrusive than the morning newspaper routine. Can you talk about that for moment? Because again, I think it’s one of those excuses. Oh, I’m on my phone, but my grandfather was on his newspaper. Dr. Robert Duff: Yeah, people have always found ways to sort of disconnect and go into their own world, and I don’t want to place a value judgment on any of this. If they’re happy. These things are only a problem when they’re a problem. Right? If you’re realizing that these things are creating a sense of disconnection in your relationship or creating a sense of anxiety or messing with your sleep, that’s what you need to do something about it. If not, and if you’re satisfied and happy, that’s fine. You know, certainly there are times where what my wife wants to do is sit next to me and be on her phone, not talk to me, because she wants me my presence. But she’s super introverted and just doesn’t want to people right then, you know? Gabe Howard: I like that. Dr. Robert Duff: And that’s OK. That’s OK. But when it crosses into interfering with things, that’s, I think, where you need to pay attention. And so this is just the next platform for that and things that you need to consider related to this platform. I do think that the intensity is higher. Right? You’re right. There’s a big difference between having a book or a crossword or newspaper, then having this endless stream of information. And the default is to have all these notifications on, which I don’t think you should have. Where it is just constantly pulling your attention out of the present moment. And I think that in addition to the relationship part, the sort of regular life part, I think that we need to reclaim our ability to do deep work and focus on something without being distracted by all these other things. And so that’s another part where I think that training, that skill of being a turn on and off really matters when you’re having a conversation with someone or when you’re writing a paper or when you’re working on some sort of brainstorming project, you should be able to start that and put the work in without having to be pulled away constantly by these other things. If you can’t do that and it’s kind of messing with your productivity or your relationship, that’s where you need to maybe take a close look at how these things are affecting you and what you can do about that. Gabe Howard: Robert, thank you so very much. How do people find you, what’s your Web site? Where can they get your podcast? Where are your books? Let our listeners know exactly how to track you down. Dr. Robert Duff: Sure. So my sort of online persona is it’s called Duff the Psych. So if, a good place to start is DuffthePsych.com/StartHere. That has sort of like my greatest hits. So it has, you know, information about my books, which are called The Hardcore Self Help books. I’ve one about anxiety, one about depression. It has some of my most popular podcast episodes, A TED talk that I did. All sorts of things like that. That’s sort of like a great starting place. And then if you want to reach out to me or connect on social media, I’m on basically all platforms @DuffthePsych. Gabe Howard: Robert, thank you so much again for being here. Dr. Robert Duff: Totally my pleasure. Thank you. Gabe Howard: And listen up, listeners, here’s what I need you to do. Wherever you found this podcast, please subscribe and review it and use your words. Tell people why you like us. Share us on social media. And if you are a fan of social media, we have a super secret Facebook group that you can join. Just go to PsychCentral.com/FBShow. And remember, you can get one week of free, convenient, affordable, private online counseling anytime, anywhere, simply by visiting BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral. We’ll see everybody next week. Announcer: You’ve been listening to The Psych Central Podcast. Want your audience to be wowed at your next event? Feature an appearance and LIVE RECORDING of the Psych Central Podcast right from your stage! For more details, or to book an event, please email us at show@psychcentral.com. Previous episodes can be found at PsychCentral.com/Show or on your favorite podcast player. Psych Central is the internet’s oldest and largest independent mental health website run by mental health professionals. Overseen by Dr. John Grohol, Psych Central offers trusted resources and quizzes to help answer your questions about mental health, personality, psychotherapy, and more. Please visit us today at PsychCentral.com. To learn more about our host, Gabe Howard, please visit his website at gabehoward.com. Thank you for listening and please share with your friends, family, and followers. View the full article
  12. At certain times, it might seem impossible to find a few moments of peace in your life. If you have a lot of responsibilities or worries, you may feel caught in a whirlwind of trying to get things done while trying to deal with problems or your own complex emotions. Other people impact your sense of peace, too, when they ask you to do more than you feel you can handle comfortably or when they cause additional issues. The good news is, no matter how difficult your external life is, you can add healing peace to each day. This won’t magically make everything okay, but it can help you deal with stress and protect your health. Where can you squeeze in these moments? It only takes a news report or controversial comment to see that problems today are very real. And these are important. Doing what you can when you can is one way to achieve peace about issues. Plan and make your efforts as meaningful as possible. The feeling of control over something can help minimize the stress that feeling helpless brings. And you can make a difference when changes need to be made. Recognize early when stress is beginning to overtake you. Ask for help with chores that can be delegated. Take a look at your calendar; use that and notes or lists to make sure you prioritize those things that have to be done, others that need to be done but can be rescheduled for a later time, and some that are just on your wish list. Prioritizing may help you find those tasks that you can let go completely. Don’t forget to make space for self-care. When new ideas, needs, opportunities, and requests for help come in, you can look at your calendar and see a true picture of your time. It’s always a good idea to delay an answer by saying something like, “Let me check my calendar and get back to you with a decision.” This also avoids the immediate pressure of having to make a quick decision. Saying “no” is a skill and does not usually come naturally. Develop it by practicing what you really want to say. If you are grieving or feeling ill, minimize the demands on your strength and seek support from professionals or peers. Support groups of all kinds can be found in local areas or online. Connecting with other people dealing with similar pain can give you immense strength. And you will find yourself feeling more in control as you return the favor by helping others or just letting them know you hear them and care. These may seem like small, unimportant things, but having moments of peace in your life everyday can help you live better and do more. Even a simple plant on your table can bring your thoughts to nature and give you a break from pressing matters. When you can, a swim, a shower, listening to music, or working on an art project can do the same thing and nurture your resiliency. Friends and family members need peace, too, so share what worked for you. You live in a complicated society, a global society, in which people interact with others who think and behave differently or who share your values but express them in different ways. Conflict increases stress. Make sure your day does not revolve around disagreements. You may be experiencing anxiety or stress about parenting, money, work, relationships, health. One stressor often impacts other areas, and situations can be acute, episodic, or chronic. Parents of young children are faced with a different kind of stress than parents of adult children. At all stages of life, however, working with those who are important in your life requires the cooperation of everyone involved. Don’t let stress go unaddressed. Your health and the wellbeing of those you care about are at risk if you do. It you need to make a major shift (job change, break up, relocation), find ways to make the adjustment easier, but first make sure you won’t be just exchanging one stress for another. Examine scenarios and address emotional issues that can clear the way for a healthy decision. If no beneficial change can be made and you cannot find workable solutions, consider accepting a situation. The measurable difference in stress may make it worthwhile for you to stop trying to change or “fix” it. Ask yourself if what you’re struggling against really is worth all the anger and frustration you feel. It may be. That is very different from other things that can be let go without much sacrifice. Only you can decide what is best for you and your family. Exploring these different strategies allows you to hold onto hope. View the full article
  13. As someone whose friends and family know I’ve endured a number of heartbreaking challenges and physical and emotional difficulties, I’m often asked how I cope with anxiety. They see my eternal optimism as at odds with the turmoil I’ve gone through in life and wonder what my secret is for dealing with a magnitude of life’s ups and downs. I tell them, quite simply, that it isn’t a secret, yet the most effective technique I’ve discovered to calm anxiety is deep breathing. How and why does deep breathing work in calming anxiety? The Anxiety and Depression Association of America states that about 40 million adults in America have an anxiety disorder, making anxiety this country’s most common mental illness. If deep breathing exercises can help, surely more people should add this technique to their anxiety-busting toolkit. While my anecdotal experiences may serve as peer advice, to further validate the benefits of deep breathing as an easy-to-use anxiety intervention, I combed research for some scientific answers and offer them here. Deep Abdominal Breathing Reduces Anxiety and Stress According to the American Institute of Stress, 20-30 minutes of deep breathing daily is effective in reducing both anxiety and stress. It has to be breathing deeply through the abdomen to produce the best results. What happens during deep abdominal breathing is that the oxygen breathed in stimulates the body’s parasympathetic nervous system. This, in turn, produces a feeling of calmness and body connectedness that diverts attention from stressful, anxious thoughts and quiets what’s going on in the mind. Researchers Find Why Deep Breathing Induces Tranquility and Calm Research published in Science uncovered what may be a likely reason why deep breathing is so successful in bringing about a sense of calmness and tranquility. In studies with mice, Stanford University researchers discovered that a neuronal subpopulation in the animals’ primary breathing rhythm generator projects directly to a center of the brain with a key role in “generalized alertness, attention, and stress.” This subgroup of neurons belongs to a cluster of neurons in the brainstem that controls breathing initiation. When scientists removed the neuronal subgroup from the brains of the mice, it did not affect breathing, yet the mice remained in a state of calm. In fact, their calm behaviors increased while they spent less time in agitated or aroused states. Further research, they said, should explore mapping the full range of functions and emotions controlled by the breathing center. Deep Breathing Turns Off Body’s Response to Stress When you’re anxious and tense, the body automatically kicks in the stress response. This is known as the “fight or flight” syndrome and is the physiological reaction that occurs from the release of the chemicals cortisol and adrenaline. Initially, the stress response helped man respond to external threats to his existence, like fire, flood, marauding wild animals or an attack by members of rival clans. While not so applicable today, the body’s stress response still throttles up when it senses danger or a threat. Being aware of danger when it suddenly appears helps us take preventive action to save lives. Yet when stress goes on indefinitely, and the stress response is constant or chronic, it wreaks incredible havoc on the body. Not only does anxiety increase, so do a number of health risks, such as obesity, heart disease, and digestive problems. Deep breathing, however, turns off the body’s natural stress response, allowing heart rate and blood pressure to decrease, tension in muscles to relax, and promotes an overall resiliency build-up to better withstand life’s stressors and anxiety. How Does Deep Breathing Affect Stress? In a pilot study published in Neurological Sciences, researchers said their results point to the possibility that deep breathing has the capability of inducing mood and stress improvement effectively. The study utilized both self-reports and objective parameters. They noted that deep breathing, particularly as practiced during yoga and qigong, has long been perceived as beneficial to overall well-being. Research of yoga, the oldest known technique for relaxing, has found improvements of a “remarkable” nature in blood pressure, heart rate, body composition, motor abilities, respiratory function, cardiovascular function, and more. Also, researchers found positive effects in mood states, such as anxiety and perceived stress, including deep breathing’s effect on reducing tension anxiety. Breath Control (Slow, Deep Breathing) Can Decrease Anxiety Research published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience found that slow, deep breathing can decrease anxiety by promoting changes that enhance autonomic, psychological, and cerebral flexibility through a number of mutual interactions. These include links between central nervous system activities that are related to emotional control, parasympathetic activity, and psychological well-being. The psychological and behavioral outputs resulting from these changes produce an increase in alertness, relaxation, vigor, comfort, and pleasantness and a decrease in anxiety, depression, anger, arousal, and confusion. In a study published in Frontiers in Physiology, researchers Donald J. Noble and Shawn Hochman investigate the effect that sensory nerves around the chest play in deep breathing’s ability to relax the chest during exhalation, thereby triggering baroreceptors (another set of sensors) in arteries. Both sets of sensors, the researchers said, feed into the brainstem, and the resulting slow brain waves produce the state of relaxed alertness. The ideal is six breaths per minute, note researchers. What if You’re Chronically Anxious? If you suspect that you may have an anxiety disorder and deep breathing only works sometime to help dampen the anxiety level you feel, you may benefit from seeking treatment from a doctor or mental health professional. Symptoms of chronic anxiety include, but are not limited to, exhaustion and fatigue, constantly worrying, sleep problems, decreased or increased appetite, digestion problems, difficulty concentrating, and lack of energy. There’s no shame involved in asking for help to learn how to overcome anxiety. While medication and talk therapy may be necessary as you work through how to effectively cope with anxiety, deep breathing and other therapies will likely also be incorporated into the healing plan. View the full article
  14. Uncertainty is the reigning emotion during critical times. The response to our feelings may depend on our physical, emotional, and mental health circumstances. The turmoil in the world can surely make for a perfect emotional daily storm. Our protective mind may advise us to curl up in bed and stay there. However, will avoidance provide us with moments of joy despite the turbulence and uncertainty around us? We are constantly being triggered by external signals. We may be aware of how our body and mind respond, but sometimes we may not consciously recognize it. When awareness is absent, we can quickly become entangled with unpleasant and unhelpful thoughts. Uncertainty can take over and panic may follow. It has been said that “if you are not willing to have it, you will.” The more you resist uncertainty, the more pain and suffering occurs. Just the prospect of embracing uncertainty is distressing. However, you know the alternative. Looking for certainty in life is like trying to find gold at the end of the rainbow. Will you then consider the following steps that can help when you feel overwhelmed by uncertainty?* 1. Acknowledge your thoughts, feelings, and sensations. When your mind begins to provide you with unhelpful advice, acknowledge what you are noticing in the moment of discomfort. For example, “I am noticing thoughts related to uncertainty; I am noticing the feeling of anxiety. I am noticing the bodily sensation of nausea and rapid heart rate.” Thoughts, feelings and sensations are natural internal events. They come and they go, but when you start evaluating, try to fix, or fight them, you become stuck with them. Notice if acknowledging them is more effective. Acknowledge your internal events as needed throughout the day. 2. Breathe In and out slowly. As you exhale, picture the air flowing into the area of your body where you feel the sensation related to uncertainty. Do not misunderstand this step. You are not trying to breathe the sensation away. Your task is to notice your breathing and let the air go into and around the sensation to get you ready for the next step. 3. Create Space for Uncertainty As you continue to breathe in and around uncertainty, imagine creating room for it in your body. Take a stance of curiosity. For example, think of the sensation as if it were a tangible thing. What shape, color, and texture does uncertainty have right now? Where does it begin and end in your body? Does it have a sound or vibration? Make space for uncertainty, and notice it with interest. 4. Decide to Allow Uncertainty Uncertainty is unpleasant. You don’t have to like it. You only need to decide to allow it and keep expanding the space for it while it is visiting you in this very moment. Observe it, and let it take its natural course without pushing it away. Sometimes your emotions and sensations related to uncertainty will change. If they change, notice and acknowledge as described above. When you feel like you have created enough room for the initial sensation, go ahead and repeat the steps with the new emotion and/or sensation that has emerged. 5. Engage in What Matters Most When you feel compelled to resist and/or obsess, will that help you become the person you want to be? When the urge is irresistible and you do something to find relief, will it take you closer to who and what matters most in your life? You can devote your precious energy and time to connecting with your loved ones and engaging life — doing what really matters. Uncertainty is part of the human condition, and you can choose what kind of relationship you’ll have with it. Following the steps above is a way to start changing your mindset. You can develop curiosity as doubts present themselves. Remember that when storms are upon you, they are opportunities for personal growth and learning. You are not alone. We are all in this together. You can embrace uncertainty, and as you build resilience, take advantage of your strengths and gifts to bring value to those around you. You can do this! “When nothing is sure, everything is possible.” – Margaret Drabble Reference: *Russ Harris, The Happiness Trap: How To Stop Struggling and Start Living, Boston, MA: Trumpeter Books, 2008. View the full article
  15. One of the most confusing feelings is when you feel both calm and anxious at the same time. It can seem like a constant battle in your mind. One-minute life feels normal, the next it seems frightening. Or you find yourself going along with your day and suddenly realize you’re supposed to feel worried, and so you start worrying because you’re not worried enough. It’s a frustrating and confusing way to exist. Unfortunately, when there are events that affect the world around us on a large scale, and over which we have no control, this feeling isn’t uncommon. Many of us are existing in a heightened state of anxiety right now. It’s no wonder — coronavirus, earthquakes, riots, and, yes, even UFOs have dominated the news and, in many cases, have turned our lives upside down. Even those of us who feel like we’re coping and getting through things fairly well are dealing with a certain level of discomfort that can be hard to put your finger on. The impact that today’s circumstances are having on people vary a great deal. Some of these impacts are quite clear and yet some are so subtle that you may claim they don’t exist. Except they do and the effects and repercussions of living in the current conditions can take a large toll, whether you recognize it at that moment or not. So how can we cope and maintain a calm, hopeful, and purposeful approach to life, when it seems like the world around us has gone mad? Acknowledge the Circumstances Before you can really begin to cope you need to acknowledge that circumstances are stressful and not what we would consider normal. We often overlook doing this because our brains are wired to try and create order out of chaos. So, we immediately try to assimilate and, often unknowingly, try to make things feel normal even when they’re clearly not. This is both good and bad. On the good side, our natural inclination to look for a way to create normalcy and a functional framework for each day helps make our lives work and can create calm. Finding structure allows us to progress from day-to-day, attempting to be productive and positive. Most of us need this in order to thrive — this is especially true for children. But sweeping the frightening, uncomfortable, or painful state of things to the side has a downside. When our lives become unsettled and disrupted it causes stress and anxiety. This is a normal response, and not just a psychological one either but also a physiological one as well. Turning a blind eye will only amplify the anxiety response and it can manifest in unexpected and unpredictable ways. Some people may find they become easily agitated and even develop anger issues. Others may go into a depressive state, or find that they feel sick, shaky for no defined reason, unable to concentrate, or just constantly uncomfortable. This is one place where the “I feel fine and not fine at the same time” feeling can develop and this duality in feelings can make it harder to address. So, acknowledging the circumstances is crucial. It’s perfectly acceptable to admit that things aren’t normal, that you don’t like it, and that a radical left-turn in your life and routine makes you unhappy. Once you give conscious recognition to these feelings, you’re ready to figure out the best way to cope. Coping with a Crazy World Finding a way to cope and make the best out of a bad situation will look a bit different for each of us. But there are some general principles that, when employed, can make things easier. Share your sorrow and fear. When large scale events occur, whether it’s a pandemic or a natural disaster, there are enormous groups of people affected. As sad as this is, it’s also unifying. These types of circumstances don’t discriminate and there is a tremendous commonality in feeling and response. It can be tempting to withdraw and focus on taking care of yourself and immediate family, but that can also be very isolating and lonely. So you should also reach out to people around you. You now have a shared experience and something immediately in common. In the case of the our current state of physical distancing and social restrictions this may be a more virtual effort than ever before. But if there were ever a time for social media to do good it’s now. Reject feeling helpless. This can be tough for many of us. When events are out of our control it’s easy to feel like you are at the mercy of everything around you. You’re not. Yes, you may have new limitations and be suffering in certain ways, but don’t let yourself fall prey to the feeling of helplessness that can creep over you. One thing that can help is to make a list of the things you can do and take charge of doing them. Indulge in healthy. Comfort food and comfortable clothes seem, well, comforting when things are scary or sad. But beware — too much of that and you’ll just feel worse. It’s a much better idea to indulge in the healthy activities and foods that perhaps you haven’t had time for before this. Swear. Not in front of your kids, not at your boss, not at strangers, etc. But studies show that using expletives at the appropriate time can reduce tension and anxiety and actually make you feel better. So, if you hate the state of things, try locking yourself in the bathroom and letting the f-bombs fly. You probably feel a lot f#$%ing better. Whatever your strategy is, managing your feelings and response during stressful times can be a challenge. But give yourself permission to dislike it, feel sad and scared, and then make an effort to move forward. View the full article