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  1. While snorkeling in the ocean, I had the opportunity to remember an invaluable lesson regarding willingness — to take what is offered in the moment. Willingness is an Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) principle that, when applied correctly, can help us live more meaningfully, despite unpleasant external and internal events. My snorkeling story illustrates how easily we forget that we should not try to fight the unfightable. We can learn to accept what is offered to us in the here and now, so we can focus on whom and what matters most in our lives. While swimming towards the area of a lagoon that had a reef by the open sea, my sister and I found some fish to look at but not as many as we had seen previously in other areas. Nevertheless, I became enthralled with watching them and let the ocean flow take me wherever it went. After a few minutes of enjoying and watching the fish, I decided to lift my head to see where I was. I discovered the sea current had taken me out of the lagoon and I was now in the open ocean — fortunately, not too far from the lagoon. The Alarm: The second I realized I was not in the lagoon, my protector (my mind) quickly alerted me, “Oh no! This is dangerous. I’ve got to get back in.” I proceeded to swim back towards the lagoon. After what it seemed like a long time, though it probably had been just one minute, I realized that I was not making any headway. It may have been because I’m not the best swimmer. But I remembered, “I cannot get tired,” so I floated and rested. When I began to swim again, I spotted my sister about 30 feet away and yelled, “I can’t get back in!” She calmly responded, “You can do it.” I yelled back, “I’m trying to, but the current is too strong!” I then tried to do backstrokes and went the wrong way. She swam a little closer and reminded me to stay present and to slow down. There was no rush. I frustratingly answered, “I know. I’m trying!” Fusion I became totally entangled with my thoughts, feelings, sensations, and especially with the urge to swim fast and get out of the current taking me away from the lagoon. My advisor inside my head was saying so to keep me safe. I got caught up with the content of the thoughts: “I am out of the lagoon. I passed the safety ropes. I’m in danger. There is no lifeguard. No one had noticed me drifting away. What would’ve happened if my sister had not seen me? The fish were nice, but not worth drowning for. This is too hard.” My protector was at work. There was no storm. The current was strong but not so powerful to make it impossible to get back in if I stayed calm. For a few seconds I felt that icky feeling in my stomach indicating my body was in a fight-or-flight response. Willingness The minute I got caught up with the meaning of the thoughts, that was the very moment I began to fight. I was not willing to be outside of the lagoon, though it was no deeper than the farther areas inside the lagoon. When I recognized the unhelpful thoughts, I was able to connect and embrace actuality — being outside of the lagoon. No matter what I did in a frantic mode, my reality could not change right then. When I embraced it, and allowed my thoughts, feelings, sensations, bodily sensations, and urges to be there, I was able to think more clearly instead of panicking and trying to get rid of them. To be clear, “accepting your thoughts and feelings now” does not mean staying stuck where you are with a victim stance or white-knuckling the situation. Learning to become disentangled from your thoughts and accepting what is given will enable you to have an open mind to adjust accordingly. When I was desperately trying to remove myself from the situation, I didn’t get anywhere. Once I let go of the fight with my internal events (i.e., thoughts, feelings, sensations, and urges), I was able to let them be so they could run their course naturally. Act while focusing on the process. Instead of reacting frantically and just having the end goal in mind — getting back inside of the lagoon to feel safe, my focus became one slow breaststroke (my own version of a breaststroke) at a time. In your case, when anxiety and other unpleasant external or internal events occur, you can learn to be willing to take what is being offered in that instant and let emotions and sensations run their course. The effort and time you spend fighting them can be channeled towards cultivating and acting on your values and living a richer and more meaningful life. Your Turn What will you be willing to do today or this week that has been difficult in the past? Will you be willing to accept what is offered in the moment of a difficult situation? Will you be willing to let go of the fight with the unfightable? It’s never too late to learn to embrace those internal events so you can move in the direction that you want. View the full article
  2. Many of my clients, all of whom are coming to see me for help with anxiety, complain that they have a difficult time making decisions. Anxiety sufferers often have perfectionistic tendencies, and this plays into their decision-making process as well. When faced with multiple alternatives, they want to feel certain that they are choosing the right path. It is normal and often healthy to analyze different options when making a decision, but we each have our own “threshold” for when we have analyzed enough to pull the trigger on making a decision, even if we can’t be certain what the outcome will be. For people with high anxiety, this threshold for certainty is too high; they don’t want to finalize the decision until they can be 100% certain that it is the right decision. Of course, if the decision is not an inherently obvious one, reaching 100% certainty that you are making the right decision is not a realistic goal. So the decision-making process becomes endless. We call it “paralysis by analysis.” The process at play here is the same as it is for any type of anxiety: short-term avoidance of anxiety is feeding more anxiety in the long term. Anything you do to try to relieve anxiety in the moment you are feeling it actually creates more anxiety the next time you’re in a similar situation. Short-term resistance to anxiety unintentionally teaches your brain that you need the anxiety to stay safe. Let’s say a person with anxiety is unhappy in their job and is thinking about quitting. There might be a lot of factors to weigh here, such as how much money the job pays, how much they enjoy the people at work, the prospects the person might have for other jobs, etc. The trigger for anxiety around this decision is uncertainty: the decision is not an obvious one, and it is uncertain what is the right decision. When your brain senses uncertainty and perceives it as dangerous, it warns you about it by using anxiety as an alarm. Your brain tells you to try and get away from the supposedly dangerous uncertainty with a simple instruction: try to get certain about it! There are various ways we try to do this: mentally analyze it over and over (that’s what worry is), get other people’s opinions about it, or research the topic online. Doing these things often leads to reassuring answers about what the right decision might be, which leads to a temporary decrease in anxiety. But because anything that decreases anxiety in the short-term feeds more anxiety in the long-term, the anxiety gets worse the next time the person has a thought related to the uncertainty about the decision. Often, this happens about 5 seconds after we get a potentially reassuring answer when our brains say, “Well yeah but how do you KNOW?” In other words: “You aren’t 100% certain about this yet, so keep analyzing it until you are!” So the process keeps repeating itself. So what’s the solution? The answer is the principle of Exposure Therapy, a form of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) that has a strong evidence base for its effectiveness in treating anxiety. Exposure therapy means doing the opposite of short-term avoidance: purposely doing and confronting the things that make you anxious in the short-term, which retrains your brain that these triggers are not actually dangerous and decreases the anxiety in the long-term. Here’s how this applies to decision-making: the best therapy for anxiety about decision-making is to simply make faster decisions! When you have a decision to make, try to keep the analysis about it as brief as you possibly can — so brief that it even feels risky. Then make the decision and take action on it even though you are not sure it is the right decision. When you do this and no harm comes to you, your brain will learn that uncertainty around decisions is not actually dangerous and will give you less anxiety about it the next time you have another decision to make. As you do this repeatedly in many different situations, it will get easier and easier with less and less anxiety. My clients are often understandably anxious to do this because what if they end up making the wrong decision? When they are reluctant, I often have them add up an estimate of how many hours they have spent analyzing this decision already. The answer is usually dozens and sometimes hundreds of hours. My question to them then is: if you’ve already spent 100 hours analyzing this, do you really think the 101st hour is the one where you will become certain about it? Also, are you really going to make a different decision after 100 hours than you would have after one hour? Or even 10 minutes? I doubt it. When my clients follow through on this and make quicker decisions even though it feels risky, they often express a feeling of profound freedom, like they are off the hook from this hugely burdensome task that wasn’t doing them any good anyway. Even though it’s scary at first, it’s really a relief to spend less time in decision-making mode. Try it for yourself and see the power of making rapid, uncertain decisions! View the full article
  3. Do your nerves overwhelm you sometimes? Do you frequently find yourself burdened with anxiety or stress? Anxiety attacks and symptoms of stress can be overwhelming and terrible. You don’t like how you feel, but you don’t understand it, and you don’t feel like there’s any was you can possibly find out how to deal with anxiety when it strikes you. Anxiety symptoms can be severe and stress management is hard when your own body doesn’t know how to deal with stress or how to control anxiety when you’re just reacting to signs of stress and don’t see a way out. But with a little bit of stress management, you can actually learn to control this reaction and begin to trust your body again to deal with anxiety on its own. How to Practice Daily Self-Care (Even When It Seems Like Life Is Way Too Hectic) Think about it: If you could really trust your body, wouldn’t you live your life a little differently? If you knew that you had more influence to help yourself through difficult times, wouldn’t you feel more confident? You probably have a dream, a little or large wish for your life that you’ve wanted for a long time. These dreams often get pushed to the back of our lives, replaced by “realities” that feel safe and practical but tight and uncomfortable. Over time, the cycle of fear gets stronger. You push your dreams away because you don’t trust yourself in the world. The body feels this lack of trust and insecurity increases. Is your best life right in front of you, but you’re afraid to reach out and try it? You can start today to re-establish the trust you and your body need. You might be surprised to know that you can also take care of your nervous system. Never fear, it just takes a little practice. When you feel insecure, anxious, or depressed, breathe and ask yourself: “What is my deepest longing at this moment?” A quick answer might be a longing for change, happiness or for the pain to stop. As you look more deeply, though, the source of change and happiness is often surprising. What would life actually look like if you were happier and didn’t deal with anxiety symptoms all the time? Would you: Feel loved and supported? Make music (or other art)? Feel safe and secure in your relationship, (world, home, or finances)? Be seen, heard and accepted? Run your business; be your own boss? Know you’re a good parent? Play and dance more? Travel, see the world, and have adventures? Have more time to yourself and figure everything out? Honestly, stress is an essential part of life. But how you deal with the resulting anxiety doesn’t have to be bad. Problems, discomforts, and pressures — whether large or small — arise all the time. Questions and frustration are a natural part of growth and creativity. Think of the adversity the bud on the tree has faced before it blooms. However, unnecessary worry makes it even more difficult to move through a struggle with enough consistent confidence to realize your dreams. Bursts of confidence followed by hopelessness and a sense of failure derail your plans, your health, your relationships, and mood. When you feel a lot of worry, it’s easy to believe that you’re broken or faulty in some way. Truth is, your nervous system is wise and capable. There is nothing wrong with a nervous system that responds when it senses danger. The difficulty arises when you don’t understand what you’re feeling, cannot communicate with your body, and therefore, have no way to intervene to help yourself. Here are 5 ways you can use mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques to erase anxiety symptoms and the effects of stress from your daily life: 1. Acknowledge What You’re Feeling The body is made to respond to cues of danger. This is normal and healthy. Without the ability to feel your sympathetic nervous system — which triggers you to fight, flee, or freeze — you would never be alive today. The sympathetic nervous system is not intended to harm you. It is intended to save your life. However, your mind can become confused, reacting to lots of cues in the environment and signaling danger even when there is no danger there. When you feel chronically worried, you’re essentially living in the sympathetic nervous system. It’s natural (and inevitable) for life to appear more difficult and frightening from the sympathetic nervous system state. By recognizing, embracing and then calming this natural body process, you can stop this “danger” cycle. When you’re calm, learn more about your unique cues of danger. Notice when you feel anxious. Write down what you felt, thought, saw, smelled or heard that you think caused this feeling. 2. Pay Attention to What Caused Feelings of Panic or Stress Begin compiling your personal list. For example: I had a sense that I made a mistake. I smelled smoke, reminding me of our house fire. An ambulance passed by. The person beside me gave me a scowl. I thought my dog ran away. Get to know what happens in your body when a cue of danger is detected. Your body is not trying to harm you. Why not be curious about what it feels like when your sympathetic nervous system gets charged and ready to react? Breathe and familiarize yourself with your body from the inside out. Write down what’s going on in there when you feel upset or anxious. It may look something like this: Heart races, thoughts spin, tight chest, pulsing hands and feet, heavy pressure on my shoulders, etc. This is simply the nervous system causing a feeling. Remind yourself of this fact: It’s just a feeling. It is not trying to harm me. 3. Learn to Control Your Response to Initial Panic You can actually tone your nervous system so that when stress presents, your most advanced internal resources are strong and available to help you. Your ventral vagus nerve is key to a sense of calm and confidence in the world. This nerve extends from your diaphragm and heart up to your lower brain. This is your nerve of connection to others in a safe, social way. Each day, find and feel the sensation of ventral vagal energy in your body. You can bring this up by simply imagining something you love, a place where you feel happy or at least okay (if happy is not accessible), your favorite time, activity, or friend (human or animal). Allow the sensation to be pure pleasure as much as possible even for a few seconds. Hold as long as you are able. Practice moving between a sympathetic nervous system feeling and a ventral vagal feeling. Start with your calm, pleasant state from above and then allow yourself to sense a little more nervous energy with a worrying thought or image. Breathe and move back into the sense of wellness in your ventral vagal system as you imagine your calm state. Feel the difference in your body. Use your senses to strengthen your ventral vagal nerves. When you listen deeply, laugh, and breathe, you’re also working your vagus nerve. Use your senses each day with the awareness that you are innervating and strengthening this nerve. How far can you hear? Can you take long deep belly breaths? What range of sound can you make in your throat that feels good to you? 4. Check In With Yourself Every Day Remember that you have access to your nervous system. It doesn’t have to function like a runaway train. Use your breath to connect you to your nervous system. Breathe in slowly several times a day and just check in. Are you feeling anxious, alert, pleased, safe, worried? Be open to all that is happening with your nerves with as little negative judgment as possible. Imagine yourself as a competent and kind guide to your nerves. Celebrate the sensations in your body while providing calm and reason. Considering that these body sensations could, when needed, provide the energy to save your life, take some time each day to thank your body for this amazing ability. Easy Ways You Can Practice Self-Care Today 5. Remind Yourself That You’re Capable of Getting Through It Create your own personal system or tools to use when stressed. Now that you actually feel the nerves within your sympathetic nervous system for what they are, you can harness this information to use when you begin to worry. Here are just a few ideas: Write in a journal, post-its, note cards and/or lists to remind you of the sensation of safe and calm for when you need it later. Capture these feelings of wellness in as much detail as you can and keep them easily accessible. Do the same with any cues of danger so that you can remember these feelings are simply the body checking out your environment. Use your Imagination to feel or picture your ventral vagal sensation of social, calm, belonging, and OK in the world. Memorize “body bookmarks” of this good feeling and hold these feelings in your body. Let all your senses get involved! Use movement, dance, touching, or tapping the body, music or other sounds, laughter, and deep breathing. Remind your nervous system that it can trust you to be there, and that you will get through your stress and panic. This guest article originally appeared on YourTango.com: 5 Things You Need To Form Good Habits (So You Can Finally Improve Your Life). View the full article
  4. We might find ourselves going through a transitional process when we are traveling, moving homes, in-between careers, in-between relationships or simply searching for greater meaning or purpose in our lives and if this transitional process is acknowledged and navigated correctly it can result in significant growth and the transformation of our whole Self. There is a period in which something has come to end, yet the “new” has not yet begun. During this space we may experience discomfort, a sense of chaos, disharmony and intense emotions such as fear and anxiety. This is because the structures in our environment and our usual routines which stabilized us and helped us to feel grounded have dissolved away. This have left a void and an expansive space of the unknown. Within this void we fear not knowing where we are and what is going to happen next. We want to quickly ground ourselves and find a sense of security or comfort. We may rush into the next career, the next relationship or try and “fix” what we feel is in turmoil before us. Yet, it is important not to rush into the next stage of our transition or to try and “fix” this stage we’re in. We also shouldn’t turn away from the fear or anxiety that comes with this period of time as there is a huge amount of learning that can take place when we sit with the discomfort we are facing. We experience change every day. Nothing in life is static and nothing ever stays the same. However, a significant life transition is a process that goes beyond these usual day to day changes. A transition is an internal psychological and spiritual process which may be caused by shifts in our external environment, but it may also be triggered by an indescribable and intuitive need to transform our entire way of being. As Psychosynthesis Coach Barbara Veale Smith states in “Seeing through Separation & Embracing Unity”: a dawning awareness of the need for change arises, either suddenly or over time, which becomes known…through an impulse or desire, a thought, feeling, intuitive understanding, sensation or image If you are going through period of transition where you feel fearful and anxious, here are some techniques and mindful exercises you can try to stabilize and feel more grounded during this time. First, make sure to take care of your needs during this time. You might need to spend more time alone to process and reflect on the transition and changes that are going on. If this is the case, make space for this and don’t force yourself to be “OK”. You probably need to be more gentle with yourself than usual. Do things which you consider to be acts of self-care — such as going for walks in nature, attending yoga classes, exercising, having massages or simply take part in the hobbies and activities that you know fulfill you. Find ways to form structures around yourself that ground you. If you are seeking connection rather than being alone then reach out to friends or make connection with people which will help you to feel a sense of belonging. Form a routine and find activities or events to go to which will also nourish you. Stay with the sense of fear you are experiencing and don’t try and force it away. Make time each day to meditate so you can sit with your emotions. A mindful exercise I find really helpful is locating the fear in your body. What is the physical sensation of this fear? Communicate with it and ask it why it is present. Be compassionate towards it and welcome it into your body. Every emotion you experience is trying to support you in some way, and this is also the case with the fear and anxiety you might be experiencing now. You can also meditate and work to ground yourself using a guided visualization. For the visualization you connect with the energy of the earth to help ground and support you during this transitional time. You imagine roots going into the earth from the base of your spine or the area of your body that is in direct contact with the ground. Notice how these roots create a strong energetic connection with the earth and also become aware of how you are being fully supported and held by the physical ground below you. With this practice you are able to maintain a centered and firm presence despite external events that might be challenging. When you’re going through a transition it might feel like so many things in your life have come to an end, and there is even a tendency to question your very sense of self. Remember that although there have been many shifts, there are still many constants running throughout your life — friends, family and your core Self that are supporting you through this time. Look for the deeper meaning behind your experience. Even if you can’t make sense of it right now remember that every period of transition is a catalyst for growth and healing. Perhaps your transition is giving you the space to sit, to rest and heal. It might feel like you need to rush forward, but if you have been given an opportunity to take “time out” then make the most of this time and know it is OK to rest. If you feel the opposite and that everything is actually in a state of chaos, then perhaps you’re still in the earlier stages of your transition and things have not calmed down yet. Know that things will begin to settle and this time of turbulence is allowing things to come to the surface and break open, so that deeper healing and transformation can take place. Try the mindful exercises mentioned here and make sure to establish a routine for yourself. Remember that every day is different and this is especially the case during times of transition — so connect with what you need on each day and be guided by the intuition of your body. Stay present with each moment, and you will soon reach a new stage on your journey. View the full article
  5. It would be better if I wasn’t alive. This is the text message T-Kea Blackman sent her friend after her suicide attempt. And it’s the words that begin her powerful memoir Saved & Depressed: A Suicide Survivor’s Journey of Mental Health, Healing & Faith. Blackman had struggled with suicidal thoughts since age 12, regularly triggered by witnessing drug addiction and domestic violence. At the time of her attempt, she was 24 years old. She felt “powerless and hopeless.” For years, Blackman also struggled with depression and anxiety. “They both were beyond exhausting to the point I became numb,” she said. The depression was paralyzing, making her feel like bricks were laying on top of her. Her anxiety led her to feel like she “was in the middle of an ocean in a constant state of panic, flapping my arms and kicking my legs to stay afloat but I never drowned.” As Blackman writes in Saved & Depressed, before she was formally diagnosed, she “thought it was normal to walk around on edge all of the time. I had no clue that being ‘worked up’ and worried 24/7 was a problem. In fact, I thought everyone struggled with uncontrollable and racing thoughts to the point where they could not focus, sleep, or get daily activities completed…” An hour after Blackman sent that text to her friend, two policemen showed up at her apartment. She was taken to the hospital, and then transported to the psychiatric unit. Days later, she’d attend a partial hospitalization program for 6 weeks. This included individual and group therapy, and involved spending 6 hours at the hospital and going home at night. Initially, Blackman had zero desire to get better. “Depression felt like home—a warm blanket and it was comfortable,” she said. However, after being in the hospital and attending the outpatient program, she started to feel a glimmer of hope. With more treatment and support, that glimmer widened and brightened. Advocacy Work Today, Blackman is a mental health advocate, speaker, writer, and host of the weekly podcast Fireflies Unite With Kea. In particular, she focuses her advocacy work on the African American community, shattering the stigma of mental illness and help-seeking, and sharing stories of people who live and thrive with different diagnoses. “As an African American woman, I was taught to be strong and keep going because that’s what my ancestors did. But being strong was to my detriment because I felt weak for needing medication and therapy. And there are other women in my community who deal with those same thoughts and feelings.” Many African Americans also are hesitant to seek treatment because they “were taught ‘what happens in this house stays in this house’ and going to therapy to talk about things happening in your home [means] that you are airing your business and dirty laundry,” Blackman said. Some are taught that therapy is exclusively for white people, or that prayer is the only thing they need, she said. “My goal for my advocacy is to inspire my community to own their truth and more importantly heal.” Blackman further noted, “you can pray and see a therapist at the same time. Attending therapy does not mean that you lack faith in God or are weak; it means that you are a human working through challenges.” She also pointed out that therapy isn’t about “airing your dirty laundry”; rather, it’s about discussing “things that make it hard for you to sleep and function at your best. Therapy will provide you a safe space to be the best version of yourself.” Staying in Recovery Today, what helps Blackman remain in recovery is her “awesome therapist” and the support of her family and friends. She also connected with groups at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). “I found people who could identify with me and support me.” Most importantly, she said, her recovery resides in “living a self-directed life.” “I have learned to define success and recovery for myself. As a peer support specialist and advocate, I have people who look up to me and I want to be the support I needed in my darkest days.” Blackman also credits her strong faith in God and her hard work. “I believe God spared my life to do this work and help save others from suicide. Working on myself has been harder than both of my degrees combined but to see my growth brings tears to my eyes and helps me stay in recovery. I am amazed at how I went from wanting to die and attempting to end my life to being so full of life and excited about my future.” If You’re Struggling, Too If you’re struggling with depression or anxiety and feel hopeless and incredibly overwhelmed, Blackman wants you to know that even though right now everything seems dark and you’re convinced you won’t get better, you absolutely will “with the support of a therapist and if needed, medication.” Blackman stressed the importance of identifying qualities or specialties in a therapist that are non-negotiable for you—and not to stop until you’ve found them. “When I was looking for a therapist, I wanted a black woman because that’s who I felt comfortable with. It took me a while but with the right therapist, I was able to make so much progress.” “Also, do not feel ashamed if you need to go to the hospital; it could be the very thing that saves your life.” In the moment, when you’re sick and feel awful, you can’t imagine a time when you’ll actually feel well. It’s similar to having the flu: You have a high fever. You are bed ridden. You feel weak. Even getting up to put a bowl of soup in the microwave feels impossible. But then, as the treatment kicks in, your body starts to heal, your energy returns, your mind becomes clearer, and the days pass, you do start to feel better. And maybe you even get to a point where you don’t remember as much about those sick days, or they’re not as vivid and visceral. Because they felt permanent, but were not. And even if you get the flu again, you’re better prepared. You have a good idea of what to do. You know what helps you. And you know it won’t last forever. If you’re struggling, please know that with treatment you can thrive and live a satisfying, fulfilling life. Blackman’s story is proof of that. And it’s just one of millions of such stories. If you’re thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK), text HOME to 741741, or chat online. View the full article
  6.  Does anxiety keep you from living the best life possible? Do you feel that you are nervous all the time? Are you not sure the difference between anxiety, worry, and paranoia? Want some suggestions on how to cope? Listen in as our hosts discuss all this – and more – on this week’s episode of A Bipolar, a Schizophrenic, and a Podcast. SUBSCRIBE & REVIEW “I am constantly paranoid that my whole life will fall apart because I’m not good enough.” – Gabe Howard Highlights From ‘Anxiety & Paranoia’ Episode [1:00] What’s the difference between anxious, nervous and paranoid? [3:00] Michelle explains her delusions — which stem from anxiety. [5:00] Night time is when anxiety is worst for Gabe. [10:00] What is paranoia? Is it anxiety induced? [14:30] Does Michelle get anxious selling her clothing line Schizophrenic.NYC on the streets of NYC? [20:00] Gabe can’t help but see the worst in his speech evaluations. [23:00] Nerves can be good sometimes. Computer Generated Transcript for ‘Anxiety and Paranoia – How to Deal’ Show Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you. Announcer: For reasons that utterly escape everyone involved, you’re listening to A Bipolar, a Schizophrenic, and a Podcast. Here are your hosts, Gabe Howard and Michelle Hammer. Gabe: Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s episode of A Bipolar, a Schizophrenic, and a Podcast. My name is Gabe Howard and I have bipolar disorder. Michelle: Hi I’m Michelle Hammer and I’m schizophrenic. And this week we are going to talk about anxiety. Michelle: I’m so nervous talking about this. Gabe: I think that it’s interesting that you said I’m so nervous talking about it because there is a world of difference between nerves and anxiety just like there’s a world of difference between anxiety and paranoia but they’re all kind of on the same spectrum. Michelle: Does it go nervous, anxious, paranoid? Gabe: I mean yeah. And arguably it could start off with like worry like I’m worried now I’m nervous now I’m anxious now I’m paranoid. Then you get into like delusions or paranoid delusions or just straight up losing touch with reality. People that are fans of the show that have heard Michelle talk before you were paranoid about your mother because you thought that she was trying to hurt you. Michelle: Oh, yeah. Gabe: You weren’t worried about it. You weren’t anxious about it. You were straight up delusional. Michelle: Oh straight up delusional, absolutely delusional. Yes absolutely. I still go delusional all the time before I go to bed I start thinking about all kinds of things that happened throughout my life and I completely go delusional. Every day I’m delusional. Gabe: We don’t want to talk a lot about delusions because we really want to focus on anxiety but I think that’s kind of an important thing that you said you said two things that I think are very important one you said that you have delusions almost every day and to you’re aware of them. Having delusions every day is something that you probably want to talk to a doctor about. Michelle: Yes. Gabe: That’s not ideal. Right? Right, Michelle? Michelle: I would agree with that one yes. It’s not ideal. Don’t want them but it happens. Gabe: So you are working on that with your medical team? I have to ask. Michelle: Yes. Yes. Yes. Gabe: But you are aware of them and that’s you know delusions they take away your ability to be rational. That’s why it’s a delusion. If we all understood when we were being delusional we wouldn’t be delusional. So you’re kind of like in a gray area where you acknowledge that they’re delusions but you’re also kind of like hey I’m aware that they’re delusions. What’s that like? Michelle: You know it’s pretty awful actually. It’s always really before I go to bed. I’m just trying to fall asleep and start thinking about the past and I’m thinking and this happened. This must have happened this person said this to me and that said this to me and I said this. And we said this and then this happened. And then I was horribly embarrassed and this horrible thing went down oh no. Oh no no. But then something else will come in. Oh remember when this happened? And then this happened and this happened oh no I was horribly embarrassed and then maybe a new story will pop up and then this happened in this happened in this have I don’t know I was horribly embarrassed pretty much how it goes Gabe: But are all those stories false? Michelle: I have no idea if they’re false. Which is really interesting. I don’t know if maybe parts of them could be true parts or true parts are false. I don’t really know. Sometimes I call people and ask them or sometimes I don’t want to ask anybody if these delusions are true because I’m too afraid that they might actually be true because they’re so horrible. Gabe: It really sounds like you have like a little combo deal going because of their completely made up and fabricated in your head. They’re absolutely unequivocally delusions. But if they actually did happen and you’re just worried about your role in them, that’s anxiety. And of course if it is a delusion that you had a long time ago but you’re worried about how you’re remembered you’re anxious about a previous delusion and you’re probably nervous as to where this conversation is going. Michelle: I mean I don’t know. The thing is all of these things are so of the past that are totally irrelevant to my life now that I really don’t care anymore about them. So I don’t understand why they just why I’m dwelling on this nonsense late at night just stop already. Just stop already. Get over it. Why can’t I just get over it and stop thinking about it. I’m done. It’s done. Who cares. It’s done. Make it stop, Gabe! Gabe, make it stop. Gabe: I’m trying to make you stop. This is exactly how anxiety works though and for many people myself included Nighttime is when anxiety is absolutely the worst. It’s quiet. There’s nothing to distract my brain. There’s nothing to focus on. It’s just me in a dark room lying in bed with nothing but my thoughts and as I start bringing up those thoughts I start ruminating. I start ruminating on ideas for example the last one that happened involving you a couple of days ago I had texted you about something and you answered you know like I texted you and I said Hey do you have headphones and you go back. I have headphones and wrote I back. Great. I’m glad you have your headphones and you’re like why wouldn’t I. And I was like Oh that’s funny. And I put my phone away and then now at night I’m like wait. She said Why wouldn’t I have headphones? Ohhhh, she thinks I’m accusing her of losing her headphones. Oh no. Michelle thinks that I don’t trust her. Oh Michelle is going to quit the show. So here I am 3 in the morning and basically trying to decide if it’s reasonable to call you and ask you if you’re mad at me because I asked you about headphones. That’s what anxiety does to a person. Now I’m not delusional because we did have a conversation about headphones. I’m not paranoid because I don’t think you’re coming to kill me. I don’t think there’s anything bigger it’s just the story. It’s just I’m anxious about a conversation that we had in the past and that maybe I misunderstood your reaction to it. Now by the time I sleep get a good night’s sleep everything’s fine I wake up and I think you’re a fucking idiot games doesn’t give a goddamn about headphones. But but that at night that night was rough man. Michelle: It is. Gabe: It was rough. Michelle: It’s rough at night. Why is it so rough at night? Gabe: Well I’m gonna say because we don’t practice good sleep hygiene. Michelle: Huh. Gabe: But it’s quiet and it really is true. A lot of us don’t respect the process of falling asleep and therefore we do things that sabotage it and that sabotage has consequences. That’s why we did a whole episode on sleep hygiene. Michelle: Yeah but you ever have those moments where you have a whole conversation with a person and then you leave and then you wish you said something completely differently the entire time. Gabe: Oh my God. Yes. Yes. You are the number one person. I do that with the number one person. Whenever we have a discussion and we don’t agree on something and we like hang up on each other and since we always video chat I like the key that I have to press to end the video chat is broken on my computer like I have to buy laptops in order to replace that key because I always hang up on you like, click. It’s like for real. Kendall always knows when we’re done because I slam that key so hard. And then I replay the entire conversation in my head for like the next four hours thinking of all the things I wish I would have said to you. I win every argument. After we’re done talking. Michelle: And after we’re done talking I go. I’m not thinking about Gabe for another day. Gabe: I know that’s not true. This is how I know you’re thinking about it because like a couple of hours later you’ll text me and you’ll be like Hey how are you. What’s going on today. Michelle: Because I worry about you because you’re always flipping out you’re like you’re like Gabe: See. Michelle: We got in a fight and now I’m sleeping under a chair. Gabe: That was a really bad fight. Michelle: So now gotta check up on you. Gabe: I’d like to point out that in that fight you told me that I ruined your life and you quit the show and that I was a horrible horrible person. I literally threw my phone across the room. It’s just by the grace of I don’t know who is in charge of the universe that it hit a nice comfy fluffy chair and because I was having this conversation with you in the dark I had to try to find my phone in the dark. And then I fell asleep under the chair. This is what mental illness looks like. This is what anxiety looks like. It causes these things in people even people who are friends. And that’s why Michelle and I bring this up when we’re not bringing this up because we want you to think that you know we’re insane. That part should be evidence. Michelle: That part should be quite evident. As of now any listeners of this show that has listened to at least two episodes should know. Gabe: You think they need to. I think if you’ve listened to five minutes of any episode you’re like wow these people are co-dependent and in a bad relationship. Michelle: Let’s take a break and hear from our sponsor. Announcer: Announcer: This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp.com. Secure, convenient, and affordable online counselling. All 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 counselling is right for you. BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral. Michelle: And we’re back. I was worried we weren’t gonna make it. Do you ever get paranoid? Gabe: I get paranoid all the time all the time and it starts off with anxiety. Is that how yours kind of flows. You and I both talk about paranoia but you have paranoid schizophrenia. Your paranoia makes my paranoia look like a walk on the beach. What is it about paranoid schizophrenia that’s so much different or so much worse for you. Because my paranoia has never driven me to psychosis. Yours has Michelle: Well it does. Gabe: And could again. Michelle: Well OK first of all I take I take enough medication now that I don’t get super paranoid anymore so it’s been it’s been a while but I used to like to see newspaper headlines and I thought they were speaking to me like telling me like just just on purposely telling me things just for some reason. That was one thing. But like in high school being paranoid in class anytime I heard a whisper I thought it was about me there whispering about me. Everybody’s talking about me. Everybody everybody all the time if they’re looking at me they’re whispering always which is really actually vain if you think about it and you think everyone’s talking about you. It’s vain. Gabe: But hang on let let me let me let me stop you right there. Is it being worried that people are talking about you. Isn’t that just on the worried and anxiety spectrum. Are you just anxious that people are talking about you or like you said Michelle: Because. Gabe: You know Is it narcissism is it vanity like how is that paranoia. That seems like anxiety to me. Michelle: It’s because it just overpowers you because then you’re sitting in class instead of learning. You’re thinking What is everyone saying about me. Are they talking about my clothing or are they talking about what I said. Are they talking about anything about me do they know if I’m smart They think I’m stupid. What am I doing. And then I have no idea what’s going on in class anymore because I’m too worried about what everyone’s saying about me. Anything like that I can’t I can’t do anything without being worried or paranoid that people are saying things about me just anything. Gabe: So it does start off that way it starts off as if you’re worried about it then you’re anxious about it and then it becomes a full blown paranoia. Michelle: Yeah because then you start to believe it. Gabe: So this is an excellent example of how unchecked anxiety can really lead to big things. I mean like worse things like so many people believe that anxiety is like is like something that they should be able to control on their own like oh you’re anxious we’ll get over it. Buck up you know be stronger it’s not about you toughen up Michelle: Yeah. Gabe: Why are you anxious Don’t be a chicken shit. I mean there’s a lot Michelle: Yeah Gabe: Of that but it’s. Michelle: Because like you could have a whole group of friends you’re friends with but then I really believe that all of them actually really do hate you and they just hang out with you. To be nice. Gabe: I think it’s funny that you said that you’re worried that everybody was talking about your clothes because now that you are the founder of schizophrenic NYC the fourth clothing line started by a schizophrenic. You’re now paranoid that people aren’t talking about your clothes. Michelle: Yes this is true. Haha. Gabe: Don’t be paranoid Michelle. Michelle: Don’t be paranoid. You look great. Gabe: You look great. You need one for anxiety. You need one for anxiety like, “Don’t be anxious your ass is fine.” Michelle: Yeah that’s a great one. Don’t be anxious, your ass is fine. Gabe: You could put it on leggings. Michelle: I’m not doing that, Gabe. That’s not funny. Gabe: Why can’t I ever get my ideas onto your clothing. Michelle: Make your own clothing. Then why don’t you make your own leggings like that. Gabe: I don’t want to make leggings but I do have my own bipolar clothing line which as you know is being discontinued overrun gave Howard AECOM right now. So as soon as it’s gone it’s gone. And you made me a coupon code for like twenty five percent off and I don’t even remember what it is. Michelle: I think it’s just 25 off. Gabe: Like 2 5 0 F F. Michelle: Yeah capital O F F. Gabe: So there you go. You can save 25 percent on a bipolar shirt by going over to GabeHoward.com right now. Michelle: Great, Gabe. Gabe: I just. Yeah yeah. See how I work that in there. Now I’m anxious that nobody is gonna buy a shirt and that everybody’s gonna think that the shirt sucks and that’s why nobody’s buying it. That’s not even a joke like I really do think when people come over to like a booth that I have in public Michelle and I in go public and we have booths and like Michelle sells her clothing. I’ll sell my books. And when people come over and look at our stuff and then they walk away I think Oh my God. This means they hated me. This means that Michelle piss them off. This means that I don’t know that we did something wrong. Isn’t just commerce. Michelle: Well, selling is very very different. It’s hard. You can never. There’s no algorithms you never know how you’re gonna do. You never know you can be somewhere you could sell a lot. You can go somewhere else not sell it. It’s never you. It’s the market. If the street is where you are. You can’t be I think that way. Gabe: I’ve got a couple of quotes because Michelle you you sell your clothing on one of the most aggressive streets in the world in one of the most aggressive cities in the world. And you’re like 5′ 2″ 100 pounds. You’re a tiny woman and you’re standing on the streets of New York City in front of tourists and other vendors. And that’s where you sell your goods. That’s got to be anxiety provoking. I mean it’s anxious working in retail causes anxiety. And this is a whole nother level. This is like street fighting retail. Michelle: No. Gabe: How is not for you? How do you manage it? Michelle: I just do You just do. You get to know people you start talking to people you learn your customers are you know I’ve been doing it for so long that I know what I’m saying. Everything I’m saying I’ve said a million times before. Most questions I get asked. I’ve been asked a million times before. You know I’m. I’m selling my own products and they’re selling other people’s products. So I know I have answers for everything. And sometimes some people want to talk and sometimes people already know who I am which is kind of interesting. Gabe: Michelle, what you said there though if you peel away all the fluff is that you’re prepared. Michelle: Yeah. Gabe: You have stock answers you by gaining experience and preparation. You know what people are going to ask. Nine times out of 10 and you have a set answer for those things that allow things to go smoother. This is really analogous to like learning coping mechanisms. Like so if if somebody asks you does this shirt come in an 8XL you know to say oh I only carry up to a size 2XL. The design doesn’t look good if you make it too big. And if the design is too small it doesn’t look good. I know you don’t say that but that’s an example. Michelle: Yes, that would be so dumb to say that, Gabe. Gabe: Listen I don’t. I don’t sell shirt but you know what to say to make the customer happy and then you immediately which I think is something that you actually do well. The minute you don’t have something that somebody once you answer the question of what they don’t want. And you immediately try to get them to focus on something that you have. It’s like Do you have the shirt in a 3XL? I don’t have the Define Normal in a 3XL, but I do have the Don’t Be Paranoid, You Look Great in 3XL. Like it is just so seamless that helps your experience. Now maybe when you first started you would’ve just been like no. Michelle: Yeah. When I first started I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t even have a sign. Gabe: Right. So think about people who are managing anxiety you know nerves anxiety worry at this high level. This is where coping skills can really really help because you’re probably a lot less anxious and nervous and worried as a street vendor in New York City. Now that you have all this experience and you’ve essentially learned coping skills coping mechanisms you learn things that worked to help you become better at what you do to manage your business. But it also allows you to manage your own anxiety. Michelle: I kind of get what you’re saying as a coping skill in everything. Yes. Being prepared does help. Yes. Because like I said I. I say a lot of the same things and people ask me a lot of the same questions. So I really do always have an answer unless I’m really the only answers I don’t have is like these girls that come up to me and they said that their mother was schizophrenic and they want to know what schizophrenia is like because of their mom. Their mom was and I was just so taken aback I was like What am I supposed to say to these girls. That was a hard one. Gabe: But being hard it doesn’t mean that you can’t get through it. Michelle: True. Gabe: And because you didn’t have all of these little anxiety provoking things when the big one did happen you were probably in a good space right. Michelle: Right. Yeah. Gabe: Because just like in retail anxiety you can’t control everything. I think that everybody in America knows that first days are anxiety producing. You don’t have to have mental illness or an anxiety disorder to think that like the first day at a new job or at a new school or a new anything. Michelle: I’ve had quite a few first days. Gabe: Yeah well that’s right because you get fired a lot. Michelle: Asshole. Gabe: Yeah I know but I had this routine that I would do whenever I started someplace new whether it be you know a new job a new school or whatever where the night before I would drive the route I would drive around in the parking lot and figure out where I was going to park. I would learn where like the cafeteria was if they had one and if they didn’t have a cafeteria I’d learn where the nearest you know McDonald’s or something was for lunch. I would plan out as much of my day as possible. I would know when to wake up I would pick out my clothing the night before that way that day I’d already made all of the decisions that I could reasonably think of. So when the things happened that I couldn’t prepare for I had the energy to use for that I didn’t have to worry about using energy on whether or not my clothes looked good because I got over that anxiety the day before and I think this really has helped me in my life. I do the same thing when I speak. You’ve seen this I always go and walk up on the stage and I look at where my mark is and I look at the podium and I shake it to see whether or not it rattles or not I. I see if it’s a lapel mike. I have this whole routine. That way when I’m onstage I don’t have to worry about any of this stuff. I made all those decisions yesterday. I really think this is just good advice to be prepared. But I think that if you’re out there managing an anxiety disorder or you’re just a naturally anxious person. Preparation is valuable. It’s really valuable. Michelle: Even if all that preparation for your speech you still believe you did a great job afterwards? Gabe: No I’m always anxious that I did an awful job. And this is where we start to get into you know more paranoia or more delusions. But it starts off with the anxiety. I gave a speech the other day in front of 30 people. It was actually a class; it was an eight hour class. I was in the class for eight hours. I was the instructor. I got the evaluations. There was 28 evaluations, so two people didn’t fill them out. And out of those 28 evaluations, 25 people gave me a “5.” The highest you can get. Two people gave me a “4.” No big deal. One person gave me a “1.” Michelle: What a dick. Gabe: Yeah, that’s exactly right. And that’s all I can think about. Michelle: No, you can’t please everyone. Gabe: I don’t care. I should have been there for that person. I didn’t meet that person’s needs. That person didn’t have a good day. I should have I should have worked harder to meet that person’s expectations. But here’s the thing that I do tell myself if I would have met that one person’s expectation then it’s not unreasonable to assume that the other 25 people would have then given me a “1” because that person gave me a “5.” And these are all anonymous. I have no idea why that person gave me a one. Maybe that person doesn’t believe in mental illness. Maybe that person was forced to come to this class by their wife spouse or their child. Who knows who knows why they gave me a one maybe and this is what my wife said because she’s super awesome. Maybe the person read the instructions wrong and was saying, “Gabe is number one.” Michelle: That’s true. Maybe there are the instructions wrong. Gabe: But notice that that’s what we’re talking about. Notice that I never said Hey, Michelle, I’m a really good presenter. I got twenty five fives out of 28 emails. You know how amazing that is. That’s a really excellent. That’s valedictorian level evaluation scores. But that’s not what I can focus on. All I can focus on is that one person hated me. That means I suck. That means I’m never gonna get hired again. I’m never going to teach that class again. I’m not going to be able to pay for anything. That’s just how I feel. I’m constantly paranoid that my whole life is going to fall apart because I’m not good enough. And that starts with anxiety. It starts with anxiety. The day that I take the class or the speech or the contract I just think oh what happens when they realize they made a mistake and that anxiety slowly grows and I work very very very very hard to manage it. But even I fall apart sometimes I do I end up under the proverbial chair. Michelle: The proverbial treasure. I’m sorry that happens to you, Gabe. Gabe: Really? Michelle: Well I never had any comment cards or evaluations or anything but after every speech I’ve given I’ve always thought like was that good. Did I do OK. Did I suck. I don’t know. Maybe I don’t know. Could’ve done better. Maybe. Gabe: And I really do believe that some of that is healthy. I think that if you are 100 percent positive that you are 100 percent great 100 percent of the time you’re an asshole. Michelle: Understood. Understood. Gabe: You know anxiety and nerves. They have a place. People asked me for advice on being a speaker all the time and they’re like, “Well I’m just so nervous.” And I always say this: Good! Nerves are good. You should be nervous. You are responsible for your words for the audience for everything that is about to happen on that stage. You you’re responsible for all of that all by yourself. If you’re not a little bit nervous you’re not taking it seriously. I’m always a little bit nervous before I walk out on stage and I got to tell you I love that feeling. It’s exhilarating. It’s a little bit scary. It’s a little bit hopeful. It’s exciting and I walk out and then I see that audience and that’s what my preparation kicks in. That’s when my training kicks in. That’s when you know I know that the podium rocks back and forth or not. And I have my first few lines memorized so I already know what I’m gonna say even if I don’t know anything that’s going on. The first three lines of my speeches are always exactly the same because they’re just that practiced and then it subsides. Michelle: I mean I go out there thinking I don’t know what I’m doing. And sometimes it just works. It just works. I don’t know. I don’t know why I just get up and have a delivery of this is what I’m saying. This is how it is and I get a good response from the audience that way. Get a read the audience. Gabe: But what happens if you don’t. Michelle: Well you know what if the audience isn’t really getting my drift. Maybe there are a bunch of old crotchety people? Gabe: Wow. So your mechanism to handle anxiety is to blame the audience? Michelle: I’ll blame the audience because I Gabe: Wow. Michelle: Think I have quite a delivery of just like, “Oh hey guys. How you guys doing today?” And if their response is rude, they suck. Gabe: Attention event planners and conference people. I want you to know that if you’re choosing to hire a mental health speaker and your choice is Michelle Hammer a.k.a. I hate the audience and they suck or Gabe Howard I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure that your attendings have a great experience. I think you know what to do. Michelle: No. The thing is all audiences will love me. They will love me. All audiences. Gabe: Wow. Now you are delusional. Michelle: Now I’m delusional? You know it. That’s right. Gabe: Straight up delusional. Michelle: All right guys. Anxiety is totally manageable. It sucks to have but it’s completely manageable. I’ve dealt with it. Gabe has dealt with it. It totally sucks but you can power through you can power through your worries compare through the anxiety the nervousness you can get through paranoia. It takes a while but you can get through it. It might not ever go away but you can get through it. And Gabe: And in fact, they probably won’t go away. Michelle: Yeah Gabe: I mean you and I still bit our anxiety is so much better than when we started. Michelle: Absolutely. Yeah. Took me a long time. Still deal with it though not as paranoid as I used to be. Gabe deals with his life somehow sleeps under chairs. You know what I’m saying? So it all works out. You got this bro. Gabe: What about the ladies? Michelle: And the ladies. Gabe: Michelle, it is always awesome hanging out with you. Do you have any last words for our listeners? Michelle: Take some big deep breaths. Gabe: Do you find that helpful, seriously? Michelle: No, not really at all. Gabe: Then why are you telling people to do it? Michelle: I don’t know. That’s what annoying people tell nervous people to do. Gabe: That is true. But listen. Just because something is annoying advice doesn’t mean that it’s not good advice. Take a deep breath slow down sit down. Count to 10. Michelle can’t do any of those things because she’d have to stop talking in order to do them. Thank you everybody for listening to this week’s episode of A Bipolar, a Schizophrenic, and a Podcast where ever you download this podcast. Write us a review. Use your words. Leave us as many stars as humanly possible. Share this on social media. Send it to a friend. Tell all of your support groups about us. Really. We still don’t have the money to take out advertising so we’re counting on literally you. We’ll see you next week on A Bipolar, a Schizophrenic, and a Podcast. Announcer: You’ve been listening to A Bipolar, a Schizophrenic, and a Podcast. If you love this episode, don’t keep it to yourself head over to iTunes or your preferred podcast app to subscribe, rate, and review. To work with Gabe, go to GabeHoward.com. To work with Michelle, go to Schizophrenic.NYC. For free mental health resources and online support groups, head over to PsychCentral.com. This show’s official web site is PsychCentral.com/BSP. You can e-mail us at show@PsychCentral.com. Thank you for listening, and share widely. Meet Your Bipolar and Schizophrenic Hosts GABE HOWARD was formally diagnosed with bipolar and anxiety disorders after being committed to a psychiatric hospital in 2003. Now in recovery, Gabe is a prominent mental health activist and host of the award-winning Psych Central Show podcast. He is also an award-winning writer and speaker, traveling nationally to share the humorous, yet educational, story of his bipolar life. To work with Gabe, visit gabehoward.com. MICHELLE HAMMER was officially diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 22, but incorrectly diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 18. Michelle is an award-winning mental health advocate who has been featured in press all over the world. In May 2015, Michelle founded the company Schizophrenic.NYC, a mental health clothing line, with the mission of reducing stigma by starting conversations about mental health. She is a firm believer that confidence can get you anywhere. To work with Michelle, visit Schizophrenic.NYC. View the full article
  7.  Most people suffer from certain social anxieties. Just the idea of speaking in front of a crowd can make otherwise confident people break into a nervous sweat. Fear of rejection is also very common in society… just ask any teenager who’s too afraid to ask out their crush. In this episode, we talk about these common feelings from the perspective of having additional mental illness thrown in, creating a blend that is no one’s favorite. SUBSCRIBE & REVIEW “You’re afraid of being humiliated. You’re afraid of what you just said.” – Michelle Hammer Highlights From ‘Social Anxiety’ Episode [2:00] Where are you from? [4:30] Social anxiety and the big city. [8:00] Talking to important people is scary. [10:30] Overthinking your whole day when you go to sleep at night. [12:30] Delusions about the past. [16:00] How can you be content with the past? [18:00] Putting rejection in your own control. [23:30] Google says people of our ages shouldn’t have social anxiety, anymore. [24:00] How we get rid of anxiety and public speak! Computer Generated Transcript for ‘ Social Anxiety, Delusions, Rejection, and Mental Illness!’ Show Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you. Announcer: For reasons that utterly escape everyone involved, you’re listening to A Bipolar, a Schizophrenic, and a Podcast. Here are your hosts, Gabe Howard and Michelle Hammer. Gabe: Hi, everyone, you’re listening to A Bipolar, a Schizophrenic, and a Podcast. My name is Gabe Howard and I live with bipolar disorder. Michelle: Hi. I am Michelle Hammer and I’m schizophrenic. Gabe: Straight up schizo. Straight out of Compton. Michelle: That’s right. Yeah, totally out of Compton. Straight out of New York. That’s right. Gabe: Right out of New York. Well you were. You were born and raised in New York City, right? Michelle: Not technically. Sure. Well I mean, close enough. Gabe: Most people, when they’re not something, they don’t claim it. But there’s a few things that if you’re close enough, you’re like, “Oh yeah, I’m from New York City.” So you’re not from New York City but you tell everybody that you are. Michelle: Well, I currently live in New York City. And if I explained, “Well, I’m actually from the first county right above the city, not far from the Bronx. So if I drive about 20 minutes I enter the Bronx which, so if you really want to get technical, I’m very close but not technically New York City. Some people would call it upstate. Some people would say it’s not upstate if you’re from where I’m from. It’s an argument that we have a lot. Gabe: Because people from New York City think that you’re a poser. Michelle: No. They would say I’m from upstate. Gabe: But not from New York City? Michelle: Right. Gabe: So Schizophrenic NYC should actually be Schizophrenic upstate New York? Michelle: Not now, because it exists in the city. Because I live in Astoria, Queens now and exists and sells all the merchandise in New York City. Gabe: This is extraordinarily complicated. Michelle: I don’t really think it’s that complicated, Gabe. And I don’t know why you are so confused about where I live because I live in Queens, which is one of the five boroughs of New York City. Gabe: So it’s schizophrenic dot Queens? Michelle: Queens is part of New York City which is NYC. Do you get it now? Gabe: Are you the King of Queens? Michelle: No I’m not the King of Queens. Gabe: Michelle, today we are talking about social anxiety and the reason that we went through this godawful exercise is because every time we meet people, one of the kind of the social questions that people always ask is you know “where are you from?” I mean they start with your name and then where are you from? Michelle: Yes. Gabe: You have it much worse than I do. No matter where you go in the country, people feel that they understand New York City because of television and movies etc. Michelle: Yeah. Oh yeah. And then they tell me. “Oh I visited New York City. I was in that area. Oh, it was by this. Do you know that I rode the subway one time? It was very dirty.” And I’m like, “Oh, yes. Yes, yes, subways are dirty, yes. Yes, oh.” “Oh I was there 20 years ago.” Well you know I wasn’t there 20 years ago so I really can’t tell you about it what it was like 20 years ago. I’m sorry. I don’t know much at all. Gabe: I’m like “I’m from Columbus” and they’re like, “we don’t give a shit.” Michelle: Yeah. I was watching you on a Facebook Live and you’re like, “Yeah I’m from like a really big city,” and stuff and I’m like you’re telling it’s big? You’re from Columbus. Stop saying that, Gabe. Gabe: It’s the 14th largest city in the country. Michelle: 14th? 14th? It’s not even top ten. So stop saying that. 14th. Don’t be proud of that, Gabe. Gabe: But it just, it’s a big city. Michelle: You walk out of your house, how long does it take you to get to a store? To get to a store walking? Gabe: Walking? Well, I don’t know because I’m never going to walk. Michelle: Exactly. Because it’s that far. Because it’s that far. I know how long it takes me to get to any kind of establishment. Moments. I walk out my door, less than 30 seconds. Gabe: But in my old apartment, that I called my pod, in 30 seconds I’d be within a whole bunch of places. I lived there on purpose because I wanted to be able to walk to the pizza place the gas station etc. I know you called gas stations bodegas, I apologize. Michelle: No, and gas stations are not bodegas. You will never understand the concept of what a bodega is, Gabe. Gabe: It is true. I never will. But interestingly enough, you feel like you suffer from social anxiety and I feel like I suffer from social anxiety which makes a lot of people confused because they can’t figure out how to people as lively and. Michelle: And boisterous? Gabe: And boisterous and loud as Gabe and Michelle can be anxious in social situations. And that goes an extra step for you because people are like my god you live in the biggest city in the country and like you said you walk outside and you’re at an establishment. So you can’t get away from people. Michelle: You know having like social anxiety is kind of like thinking it’s almost a little bit like paranoia? That you’re nervous to be around new people cause you don’t know what people are really going to say. But when you live in New York City, you can say something to somebody and if it’s stupid you’ll probably never see that person ever again. So it doesn’t really matter. Gabe: And you feel that this is why it helps? Like it’s that anonymity that makes you feel good? Whereas in when we’re at a conference or when we’re giving a speech somewhere everybody knows your name. Michelle: Exactly. Gabe: They’re like. Michelle: And that is so much more nerve wracking. Gabe: Because if you make a mistake. Michelle: Everybody knows who I am. Gabe: Everybody knows that Michelle Hammer is the one that accidentally said fuck off on stage when she was at the Catholic college. Michelle: Yes. But I never actually did that, he just made that up. Gabe: That was a lie. That one’s a lie. Michelle: Yeah that’s the lie. Gabe: Later in the episode I will tell the truth and you will know it’s a truth because Michelle will not say a word. But that actually did happen to a colleague. He said fuck on stage and like everybody went nuts and he was just like Why? Why is this a problem? And he wasn’t embarrassed by it because I just don’t think he has the ability to get embarrassed. But he obviously didn’t think that it would offend anybody and it did. So now he’s kind of back on his heels apologizing for a comment that was just a throwaway comment to him and that’s kind of how you and I feel. To us, we’re just like up on stage saying something. But if the audience hears it wrong or feels about it wrong or we just slip up and say something that maybe you know just I really like the fuck example because we can say fuck in New York City and nobody is gonna care. Michelle: But oh you don’t you don’t even know the things I’ve overheard people say in your city right it’s hilarious. There was once a website called Overheard in New York and it was just all of these conversations was that were ridiculous that people overheard in New York. Gabe: But if you get hired in let’s say like a very conservative state you know like a Mormon college in Utah you’re not going to swear right? You’re gonna put on? Michelle: Oh oh no no no. Well, I mean, that would be hilarious if I got hired at a Mormon college. If any Mormon colleges would like to hire me, letting you know I’m available. Gabe: And she promises not to swear. Michelle: And I will not swear a word. Or drink soda or coffee or you know all that Mormon stuff. That’s like all I know about it. I’ve known one Mormon my entire life. She was a very nice girl. She was sweet, loved her. But that would be really funny. So Mormons, hit me up. I will not swear. Gabe: So that that’s what I mean though. You know that you can swear in New York City no problem right. Michelle: Pretty much, as long as the you know it’s not children around. But I mean I mean many many times I’ve cursed in front of children that I’m like oh there’s a child. Gabe: And the child probably corrects your swear. Michelle: And tells you the new well they look at you with a dirty look like Mommy, that lady just said a bad word. Gabe: I can see that’s like mommy that bitch just swore. Wait, what? But so that’s what I mean though. New York City you can swear Utah don’t swear. It’s the middle ground, it’s the middle ground that messes us up. Where we’re not sure so we don’t get how to behave and that’s where the nervous comes in, right? Michelle: Exactly. Sometimes you just don’t know what the right social norm is so you don’t know how to act or who to talk to or who’s maybe you’re like is that person really important? Wait what’d did I say to them. Maybe I said something stupid to them and then you’re all anxious because of that and then you’re like you want to go talk to somebody else and somebody you know interrupts you and you want they want to really talk to you but you don’t want to talk to them at all. But then you realize that you really messed up and should have spoken to that person in the first place. Gabe: Exactly. And it’s not because you’re sucking up to big names or you know brown nosing or kissing ass. It’s because maybe that’s the person who hired you. Because we don’t know what a lot of these people look like. You know, we can get hired over e-mail and phone we’re like Oh Julie thank you we’ll send over the contract. They know what we look like because they’ve seen our headshots they’ve seen us on social media. We never know what they look like. Michelle: Never. Yeah never. People have come to my pop up shop. Hi it’s so nice to finally meet you. Hi. You too. Who are you? Exactly. Gabe: But then they get and then sometimes they’re like Oh I understand you meet a lot of people this is your job. You travel around and but other times they’re offended. They’re like we hired you. We’ve talked on the phone a lot. This is what causes my social anxiety. I’m not worried about purposely hurting somebody’s feelings because I’m a really nice guy. I’m worried about the accident. The misunderstandings. Michelle: The accidents? Gabe: Yeah. Michelle: You know I kind of looked up the definition of social anxiety and it just said symptoms may include excess fear of situations and one in which one may be judged. Worry about embarrassment or humiliation or concern about offending someone. So it really is to me it seems like paranoia to me doesn’t it? Gabe: I guess it’s not paranoia though because it isn’t like paranoia or worse like yours I guess. Michelle: Yeah yeah yeah. Gabe: Like your mom is trying to kill you. Then your roommate is trying to kill you. Then Gabe is trying to kill you. Michelle: I guess but it’s sort of like a social kind of a paranoia and in a sense like that. You know you’re afraid of being humiliated. You know you’re afraid of what you just said. You’re afraid of how you’re acting or did you act well. It’s just kind of dwelling on things after they happened because you don’t know if you did the right thing. Let’s take a quick break and hear from our sponsor. Announcer: This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp.com. Secure, convenient, and affordable online counselling. All 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 counselling is right for you. BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral. Michelle: And we’re back talking social anxiety. Gabe: I really like what you brought up there, Michelle. The dwelling. Do you ever like after the event is over after the conference day is over after the speech is over whatever. Do you lay awake at night and replay the entire day in your head looking for mistakes? Michelle: Oh yeah yeah yeah yeah but the thing is I go delusional. I think about the day and then I start making lies up about the day. Then I start believing the lies about the day and then I just go crazy. Gabe: Wow that’s what’s your like coping mechanism for that? I do part of that. You know before I was treated before I got you know lots of therapy and lots of medication and lots of help. I did that exact same thing. One of the things that really helped me was you know therapy and medication it really helped tamper down those delusions to the point where I don’t have them anymore. So when I spiral out of control it’s all I was talking to Jane and I told Jane that she looked very nice today and then I think Jane looked to the left and I know that looking to the left means that gee I offended Jane. Oh my God I shouldn’t have said that she thinks I was hitting on her. Oh I didn’t mean to hit on her. Oh my God she thinks I’m a creepy pervert what’s going on. And I start to feel really really bad like I owe Jane an apology. In the old days I would have sent Jane this rambling e-mail that made absolutely no sense and just really caused a lot of problems. New Gabe just sits on it and does nothing because I don’t want to sound like a crazy person. But you believe that it’s true. So now you wake up and you no longer are curious as to whether or not you sexually harass Jane. You believe that you did it sometimes. Michelle: Sometimes I do believe. Sometimes I’m not sure and I’m confused but then I try to verify things with people. I ask friends, ask people who are there. I try to set up a timeline. Does the things that really did happen that way or if they didn’t happen that way because sometimes the conversation that I have with somebody I changed the entire conversation to something else completely. So I tried to figure out what is real. What makes sense, what was actually happening. But what’s worse about is that it had a sometimes that delusions they’ll happen for things that happened years ago that I can’t verify if they’re real or not. So what am I supposed to do then? Gabe: Like maybe the reason that you lost touch with your friend Bob isn’t just because time marches on and Bob got a job and had a couple of kids. Maybe you offended Bob? Michelle: You never know. Who knows? I never I never know things. Things just make up their own stories and things don’t make any sense anymore. And I don’t know what’s real. I don’t know what’s happening, but I don’t know. Gabe: When we talk about social anxiety and I don’t know how we got on this but this is social anxiety because this is one of the reasons that you’re so nervous to talk to people because you’re nervous that you’re afraid that you’re gonna make a mistake but then you’re nervous that you’re gonna think you made a mistake and then dwell on it and it’s going to ruin the next day. This is the spiral that happens to me and a lot of people with social anxiety even if we don’t mess up during the event that we were worried about we’ve convinced ourselves later on that we always made mistakes. Michelle: Yeah we’ve made tons of mistakes. Gabe: I really like what you said about checking in with the people around you as you know that’s something that we do to each other a lot. I’ll ask you when we get off stage. Hey did you think that went OK? You’ll ask me Hey did I do a good job? And we kind of have a little you know like decompress or you know we just kind of go over everything together. Now we trust each other. Michelle: You’re right. Gabe: Michelle trusts Gabe. Gabe trusts Michelle. But what if you don’t have a person that you trust because you know people could exploit this a lot. You know it’s a cut through a world out there. You can’t just ask a random panelist Hey did I do ok? Because maybe that panelist wants your job so they’ll be like, I don’t know Michelle. You offended a bunch of people. You really sucked. Michelle: Wow. Yeah you’re right about that one. Gabe: But maybe they’re telling the truth. Maybe you did suck. How do you know when to trust people and when they’re not? Like isn’t that another whole layer? Michelle: I mean sometimes I just have confidence. And if somebody tells me I did a bad job I’m just that bad mostly let me just make me angry and I’d be like I did better than you. Gabe: And on one hand that kind of confidence is good but you can’t just ignore people who give constructive criticism or you’ll never improve. Michelle: But is that constructive criticism? If I ask somebody next to me and they’re like no, I think you did really bad. Gabe: Well it’s not constructive but it could still be true. Michelle: I don’t know. I’ve been on panels before and I mean based on questions coming to me. Questions from the audience stuff like that. You can base it on that. I mean if you’re getting more questions from the audience and the rest of the people don’t you think you’ve done better? Gabe: Well maybe except that as you know some of the most viral videos in the world are of people failing. That doesn’t mean you did a good job just because a ton of people are watching you get hit in the nuts or falling off a bike. Michelle: Well I understand that. But the questions aren’t negative. The questions are because they’re interested and they want to learn more. But Gabe: But you. You said earlier that you have a problem running it through accurately. You’re like I was asked four questions that were very positive that were very interesting for me. I would say that part was good but my answer sucked that. Michelle: That can happen, that can happen. I think like I should have said this instead I should have said that. T is what I should have done there. This is what I should have done there. But use it in a more constructive way for next time trying to turn all the delusions into more a positive way. It’s when I can’t turn the delusion off it inches anything positive out of that way. It just makes me go argh, when you can’t change the past that you really want to change. Gabe: And of course we still have to go on to the next gig. Michelle: Yes. Gabe: So it doesn’t matter how badly we feel about the last one and or whether it’s true or false you’re only as good as your next gig. That’s the life of everything our podcast is only as good as our previous episode. Our writing is only as good as our previous writing. Your clothing line is only as good as your last piece of art. Wouldn’t it be great if we could just make one podcast or just be famous forever or give one speech and just live off the residuals for life? Even Friends had to make what over 200 episodes over a decade? If that show would have started to suck in the middle, it would’ve just gotten canceled. It would’ve been the Drew Carey Show. It started off hot fizzled right out. But it didn’t. It stayed good. How do we stay good? Michelle: How do we stay good? Confidence. Gabe: How do we stay confident. Michelle: For every negative thing we think we have to say three positive things about ourselves. Gabe: Excellent. I know for a fact that you are thinking something negative about me right now. So now you, Michelle Hammer, have to say three positive things about me. Michelle: I would say in self reflection. In self reflection all. Gabe: So you can’t even think of three positive things to say? Michelle: No. I know you’d interpreted it in the wrong way in yourself. If you think something negative by yourself then you have to say three positive things about yourself. Not me about you but you about you. Gabe: Let’s say that I can’t think of three positive things and I say to my friend Michelle, man I can’t think of three positive things about myself. Will you help me? What would you say? Gabe: You are not bald. You are very tall and you have a lovely wife and dog. Gabe: The three positives about Gabe. I am not bald. I am very tall and I have a lovely wife and dog. Michelle: What are you looking for? Gabe: Honestly Michelle that might have been perfect. A conference that I was at recently you know it didn’t go so well. I know that it was not the best it could be. So just establish that as a baseline fact and this is one of those conferences that you have to apply for. And now because of that I can’t apply next year because if I apply next year and I don’t get in I will go back another whole year and decide the reason that I didn’t get in is because of what happened and I can’t live with that. Like that’s just too much anxiety that’s too much pressure that’s too much stress. So to save myself all of that I’m just not going to apply. And now the reason that I didn’t get in is because. Michelle: Yeah it’s under your control. Gabe: Right. Sometimes it’s worth it to risk the rejection. You know what I asked you if you wanted to host this podcast with me and you said no that was worth it. And then when I circled back a month later and gave you more data to why I thought this would be a good idea. That was worth the risk. And even if you would have said No I would’ve felt good about it. But sometimes I just can’t risk the rejection and this is one of those examples of where it’s just not worth it for me if I get in. I’ll be like Oh yay. They still love me but if I don’t I’ll spend the rest of my life thinking Man I fucked it up so bad and I can never recover from it and that will seep into other areas. Michelle: No, I completely understand. I feel the same way, too. So many times I’ve gotten emails like Oh we’re looking for a speaker. Please send us your rate and everything. I send them my rate, and then crickets. I never hear back. Gabe: One of the things that helps me with that is I learned that the average person gets three quotes for a speaker which means that they may have rejected me but they also rejected somebody else statistically. Also I always write this lovely letter back. Thank you so very much. I completely understand. Please keep me in mind for next year. I’m very easy to work with. I understand that you went a different way. And then I kind of put him in my calendar to follow up with next year because I believe from a sales cycle standpoint that there is no such thing as no. Michelle: Isn’t that really how you found out who I was? Somebody asked you about like two different schizophrenic advocates? And you had to choose between the two and I was the one that didn’t get it. Gabe: Yes you didn’t get it. Michelle: But, I got you. I got you. I didn’t get this speech but I got you. Gabe: I think it worked out. Michelle: Yeah, it worked out. And that girl that got the speech, she wasn’t even schizophrenic. Gabe: What the hell? They hired a non schizophrenic for a speech? Michelle: She just had a schizophrenic mom. Oh it’s so terrible having a schizophrenic mom. Living with a schizophrenic is so terrible let’s hear about that let’s not hear about it from a schizophrenic person. Gabe: I mean in fairness when you stay at my house for four days it’s pretty awful. I don’t think that has anything to do with your schizophrenia. It might have to do with your sloppiness and your crazy. Michelle: But seeing your dog is crazier than me. Gabe: That’s true my dog still carries around your sock. Michelle: Yes seriously I don’t carry my socks in my mouth. Gabe: Wouldn’t it be funny. I do realize this isn’t true but since you brought up the dog. After you leave, my dog always finds one of your socks. I don’t know how this happens I don’t know if it gets slipped under the bed or whatever. But he carries around the damn sock and we just let him because we don’t care. But I have this idea in my head that all the way back in New York City, Michelle is carrying around some dog toy of Peppy’s and the two of you are just like cosmically connected. Are you carrying around Peppy’s tennis ball? Michelle: Not that I’m aware of but now that I know about this I’m going to take something of his. I have a lock of his hair, actually. Gabe: You do not. Michelle: I do, I have a lock of his hair in my locket. Gabe: In your locket? You don’t even have a locket. Michelle: How do you know? Lockets are still in style. Gabe: No they’re not. Even Blanche would say Oh honey. Michelle: Blanche bought me a locket when I was little. It was real gold then I bit it. Gabe: It’s been so long since we’ve referenced Blanche. You realize that new listeners have no idea who we’re talking about. Michelle: Blanche was my grandmother. Gabe: And she was the best grandma. Michelle: She was a good grandma. She told me save a penny here, save a penny there. Then next thing you know you got a dollar. Gabe: Blanche loved me. She said that of all of Michelle’s friends, I was her favorite. Michelle: You never met Blanche. Gabe: But she would have said that. Michelle: Well, she would’ve only liked you if you were in a union. Gabe: My father was in a union. Michelle: OK. We can stop talking about this because it’s uninteresting. Gabe: It very much is yes. All right we need a closing. Michelle: What I see about social anxiety on line is that it starts during the teenage years and it gets better as people get older. So apparently we still have social anxiety when Google says we shouldn’t. Gabe: Well Michelle: So Google. Gabe: Doctor Google knows best. Michelle: Apparently Google knows best and we’re not supposed to have that same social anxiety because we’re too old for it. Can it be cured? There is no cure says Google. Gabe: There’s now cure for schizophrenia bipolar depression etc. But, Michelle, sincerely we both suffer from social anxiety yet we do this job. We get out there in public. What is the message that you want to give somebody who’s listening to this and their social anxiety is so bad at the moment that they are unwilling to leave the house or they’re unwilling to even like you know go to McDonald’s or Starbucks and get a Diet Coke or a cup of coffee. Because a lot of our listeners they think that we don’t suffer from this stuff because they see us out there. They don’t know that we’ve just managed to push through. What is your number one tip for somebody to push through that social anxiety and get to the other side? Because let’s face it, we do adore being on that stage. We do love meeting people. It can be hard for us but it is worth it because we love it a lot. Even you and you hate everything. Michelle: You know it is hard and a lot of people ask me like how do you get on stage and talk. It seems so nerve wracking. People say they’d be so nervous. It makes me nervous. Sometimes you just take a deep breath and go for it and that’s how I get on stage and do the thing and almost if you pretend that you really know what you’re talking about people will believe you really know what you’re talking about. You just have confidence if you believe in yourself and you believe what you’re saying and everything that you’re doing is the right thing. It can be OK if you don’t leave your room, if you’re only in your house, there’s always the internet. You can speak to people online. Baby steps. Gabe: It is fake it until you make it, right? Michelle: Fake it till you make it. Gabe: And I really like the buddy system. I understand that if you’re kind of a shy person and you have anxiety you have social anxiety that you wouldn’t want to go out alone because being in a roomful of people where you know nobody that’s scary. So you know bring along somebody. Before I met Michelle I brought my friend Lisa and she was always very helpful. In fact some of my first speeches I just gave them to Lisa. There was a whole bunch of other people in the room but I just made eye contact with Lisa and Lisa would give me you know nice feedback and she would help me. So you know maybe on a lower level just grab your friend, go out for coffee and maybe go to a busy restaurant. Michelle: That’s interesting what I find when I give speeches is I look at the back of the room. I don’t look at any of the people I lean towards the back of the room. Gabe: That’s what I do. Well depending on where I’m at, I either look at the back of the room or I look at the middle of the room. I’ve decided that I can gather more data on how I’m doing as a speaker by looking at the middle because see the back they’re sitting in the back because they don’t care. They didn’t care the minute they sat down. The people on the front are way too enthusiastic. They’re so excited. They sat up front so they’re going to love you no matter what you do. You can holler at your boy come out like a boxer and fall over and they’re going to love you. But the middle of the room, they’ve decided I don’t know how I feel about this guy. So the middle of the room is usually where I keep my gaze. Michelle: I actually meant the back wall. Gabe: Literally the back wall? Does the wall give you positive feedback, Michelle? Michelle: I just try not to look at the people. They make me anxious. Gabe: Michelle, I love working with you because in spite of your outward projection of confidence it does take work and you are nervous when you do it and you do push through it every day and you know sometimes it doesn’t work out but most of the times it does. And I really like that you don’t beat yourself up when things go poorly even though maybe you should. Michelle: I should? Gabe: Listen only one of us has been thrown off a plane. Thank you everybody for tuning into this episode of A Bipolar, a Schizophrenic, and a Podcast. If you liked this show, please share it on social media. Head over to iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher or wherever you found this and leave us a review. Actually type words. For some reason the internet likes the words. And finally you can go to PsychCentral.com/BSP. Look for a little logo that says ask us questions, click on it, and ask us questions and we might use it for future episodes. We will see you next time. Announcer: You’ve been listening to A Bipolar, a Schizophrenic, and a Podcast. If you love this episode, don’t keep it to yourself head over to iTunes or your preferred podcast app to subscribe, rate, and review. To work with Gabe, go to GabeHoward.com. To work with Michelle, go to Schizophrenic.NYC. For free mental health resources and online support groups, head over to PsychCentral.com. This show’s official web site is PsychCentral.com/BSP. You can e-mail us at show@PsychCentral.com. Thank you for listening, and share widely. Meet Your Bipolar and Schizophrenic Hosts GABE HOWARD was formally diagnosed with bipolar and anxiety disorders after being committed to a psychiatric hospital in 2003. Now in recovery, Gabe is a prominent mental health activist and host of the award-winning Psych Central Show podcast. He is also an award-winning writer and speaker, traveling nationally to share the humorous, yet educational, story of his bipolar life. To work with Gabe, visit gabehoward.com. MICHELLE HAMMER was officially diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 22, but incorrectly diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 18. Michelle is an award-winning mental health advocate who has been featured in press all over the world. In May 2015, Michelle founded the company Schizophrenic.NYC, a mental health clothing line, with the mission of reducing stigma by starting conversations about mental health. She is a firm believer that confidence can get you anywhere. To work with Michelle, visit Schizophrenic.NYC. View the full article
  8. It’s very common for Kristin Bianchi’s clients to tell her that they’re feeling anxious, but they’re not sure why. They say they recently haven’t experienced anything particularly stressful or anxiety provoking, so it doesn’t make much sense. Consequently, “they frequently become worried about the meaning behind these seemingly random feelings of anxiety,” said Bianchi, a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in treating OCD, anxiety disorders, PTSD, and depression at the Center for Anxiety & Behavioral Change in Rockville, M.d. In other words, she noted, “they become worried about worrying, or frightened of fear.” When many of Regine Galanti’s clients initially start working with her, they, too, describe their anxiety as just happening. Galanti is a licensed psychologist and director of Long Island Behavioral Psychology, where she specializes in using evidence-based treatments for anxiety and related disorders in children, teens, and adults. Many of us believe our anxiety comes out of the blue. It just feels so random and sudden—startling us like the siren of a smoke alarm, or a squirrel jumping out of the bushes. But this is rarely the case. Rather, we simply don’t notice our triggers. What we do notice is our anxiety, because it tends to be blaringly, glaringly loud. “When we feel something strongly, we often zero in on it and discount all the information leading up to and surrounding it,” Galanti said. And the information that leads up to your blaringly, glaringly loud anxiety might be a thought, feeling, or behavior. Galanti noted that anxiety, and really all emotions, consist of those three parts. For instance, you might feel horribly anxious the morning after going to sleep past midnight, she said. You might become anxious as you notice your heart beating faster, she said. Bianchi noted that it’s very common not to recognize that our thoughts are a significant trigger. “Thinking happens so quickly and automatically that we often don’t realize that we’re having stressful dialogues or creating catastrophic narratives in our own heads.” For instance, she said, you might not even realize that you’re revisiting a recent conversation that caused you some stress. Maybe you’re replaying how your coworker was gossiping about your boss, which made you very uncomfortable. Maybe earlier this morning you and your spouse fought over your monthly budget (or lack thereof). Maybe your mind drifted to the sarcastic remarks your date was making (and how annoying they were). The catastrophic narratives your head is spinning might include: “wondering whether or not you turned off certain household appliances, then imagining your house burning down if you forgot to do so; worrying that something bad will happen to a loved one, then imagining your reaction if that type of personal tragedy were to occur; creating ‘worst-case scenarios’ involving academic, career, or financial ruin when thinking about a recent disappointment or setback in any of those domains,” according to Bianchi. Panic attacks also are a prime example. They seem sudden, but there are usually specific triggers, Galanti said. It might be a thought, “I can’t easily escape this situation,” or a physical sensation, such as your heart rate speeding up, she said. And then there’s our digital culture. “We reflexively hop from tab to tab, app to app, and website to website, generally giving very little thought to the process,” Bianchi said. But while we might not notice that we’re doing all this hopping and scrolling, we’re still responding emotionally to what we’re consuming, she said. That means that we are responding emotionally to sensationalist news headlines, flawless Instagram images, and emails from colleagues and clients, all of which can trigger anxiety. However, we’re too hyper-focused on these stimuli to notice what’s brewing inside our bodies. “Even low-level anxiety reflects that we’re experiencing a fight-or-fight response,” Bianchi said. “When we finally notice it, it can come as a surprise to us, as we hadn’t been paying attention to it up until that point.” So what can you do? What are your options when your anxiety seems to arise out of the blue? Below, you’ll find a few tips on identifying your triggers—even the subtle ones—and reducing anxiety when it starts. It’s especially helpful to practice the relaxation strategies when you’re not anxious. This way you’re familiar with them, and maybe even created a habit. Act like a scientist. Galanti tells clients that the goal is to help them treat their anxiety like a scientist: to “take an outsider perspective on their insides.” To do this, she suggested readers use a journal or the notes section on your phone to record your anxiety. That is, whenever you feel anxiety coming on, she said, ask yourself, “What just happened?” “literally, what happened immediately before and then try and pinpoint [your] thoughts, physical feelings, and what [you] do.” Maybe you downed a huge cup of coffee. Maybe you thought about your to-do list. Maybe your thoughts shifted to your child’s first big presentation. Maybe you read an email from your boss. Maybe you said yes to an invitation (that you really, really didn’t want to accept). Maybe you started sweating because it’s so hot. Tracking what triggers your anxiety helps you to spot patterns, and “those patterns can help people come up with solutions,” Galanti added. Slow down your breathing. Bianchi suggested “breathing in slowly through your nose to a count of 4 to 6 seconds, holding your in-breath for 1 to 2 seconds, then slowly breathing out through your mouth to a count of 4 to 6 seconds.” When you’re breathing out, it helps to “imagine that you’re blowing fuzz off a dandelion or blowing a stream of bubbles,” she said. Practice this grounding technique. According to Bianchi, find five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. “This shifts our focus away from the anxiety and helps us to reconnect to the present moment using our five senses.” Practice progressive muscle relaxation. This involves scanning your body for muscle tension, and then “unclenching” tight muscles to release that tension, Bianchi said. “When doing this, it’s important to remember to relax your jaw, open your mouth slightly, and make sure that your tongue is positioned at the bottom of your mouth (versus flexed against the roof of your mouth).” You also can use an app that offers a guided practice, such as Headspace; Stop, Breathe, and Think; and Pacifica, Bianchi said. Face your fears. Avoidance only amplifies and strengthens our anxiety. Facing your fears, a skill known as “exposure” in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), is incredibly effective in reducing anxiety. Galanti suggested devising a list of small steps to help you face your triggers. For instance, she said, if caffeine triggers your anxiety, you might “start drinking a little bit of coffee a day, and see what happens. Even if you do feel anxious, maybe you can handle it better than you think you can.” Another option is to work with a therapist who specializes in treating anxiety with CBT or other successful treatments. Bianchi suggested starting your search at a professional organization, such as https://adaa.org, and http://www.abct.org. Anxiety can sometimes feel like it has zero rhyme or reason, which can be exceptionally frustrating. It can feel like you’re going about your business, and BAM! an object falls from the sky and smacks you on your head. But when you delve deeper, you realize that there’s a thought, feeling, or behavior that sparked that bam! And that’s valuable information. Because now you can focus on the root of the issue and try to resolve it, whether that’s a conflict with a loved one, difficulty saying no, the fear of fear, not enough sleep, or something else altogether. View the full article
  9. “Take another deep breath, hold it, and let yourself feel like you’re drifting and floating.” The voice overtook me as I felt my body slip into that weightless feeling between consciousness and sleep. It was as if someone wrapped my body in memory foam and filled every corner of my mind with white noise. “My jaw is slack.” “My shoulders are relaxed.” “My neck is loose.” These were some of the phrases that I was told to repeat to myself in a recording made by my therapist and given to me during our first session together. Each one focused on a different body part, meant to make me feel warm, heavy, and unconstrained. This was the beginning of my biofeedback training. Just Relax I chose my therapist because he’s an expert in biofeedback, a psychology technique where a patient learns to control their body’s functions, like heart rate or palm sweating. Biofeedback was first introduced in 1969 as the crossroads of traditional whitecoat psychologists and those interested in a higher consciousness. Before I could reach a higher consciousness though, I had to master just being relaxed. A few weeks prior to my first appointment with him, I was trapped in a horror movie in my own mind. I couldn’t shake this one single thought that replayed itself incessantly for a week straight: that of the top knuckle on my right ring finger snapping backwards and breaking. It’s a disturbing thought on its own to anyone who prefers their fingers in tact, but imagine it popping into your mind over and over — and over and over — until you want to check yourself into a psych ward. I was consumed. I could barely talk or sleep or work without wanting to slam my head against a wall. I was desperate for any advice, so when my dad recommended biofeedback, I made an appointment immediately. The technique he employed in the recording is called autogenic relaxation. Through the self-induced relaxation akin to hypnosis, my doctor coaches his patients to cure themselves of ailments like depression, migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, high blood pressure and anxiety — my personal woe. Learning to relax your body was just the first part, though. Anxiety by the Numbers At my next appointment with my therapist, he hooked me up to a slew of sensors as I reclined in his plush leather chair. Three cold metal circles stuck to my forehead measured my muscle tension in millivolts, a small wire taped to my pointer finger took my skin temperature, and two more sensors on other fingers measured my sweat production. Once I was connected, the doctor quizzed me. “Alright, count backwards from 1,000 by 3s. If you mess up, you have to start over. If you don’t get to 940 in 30 seconds, you have to start over. Ready, go.” I’m sure my measurements immediately spiked. I’m terrible at math and to add a time pressure to them was beyond stressful. But I got through it. He did it again, but with higher stakes. “Okay, now you’re going to count backwards from 1,000 by 6s and you have to get to 860 in 30 seconds. Ready, go.” To prepare for my biofeedback training, my therapist was simulating an anxiety-inducing situation to see what my normal and stressful levels were. During the following appointment, he again hooked me up to the muscle tension sensors, but this time instead of stressing me out, he walked me through the autogenic relaxation phrases from the recording. But this time, the machine I was hooked up to was now emitting a pulsing sound that correlated with my muscle tension level. The more tense I was, the faster the pulses. As his voice coached me through the phrases, and then in the next appointments as I walked myself through them, I learned to listen to the pulsing and to my body to see what slowed the tempo. My muscle tension level started at around 4.0 millivolts and he told me some of his patients start out at as high as 10 millivolts. Each appointment, he set the threshold lower and lower on the scale and once I reached it, the pulsing turned off. Each appointment, I was learning to bring myself to a more relaxed state than the time before. By focusing on the pulsing, I experimented with what autogenic relaxation phrases worked best for me, what my ideal relaxed breath is like, and even how to position my head and arms for optimal relaxation. Put to the Test I’ve struggled with anxiety for as long as I can remember. As I walked into the doctor’s office during my fourth session, I laid eyes on someone from my past who brings me a great amount of anxiety. My heart rate spiked and my chest tightened. Suddenly, breathing became a difficult task. I immediately turned on my heels and hid in my car until the person left, but the anxiety followed me into my appointment. My newfound relaxation technique was about to be tested. As I cleared my mind during the biofeedback training, I was able to turn the pulsing off, meaning I brought my muscle tension down to the threshold set by the doctor, but the second the stressful person popped back into my mind, the pulsing turned back on. Over and over I emptied my mind and filled it with the autogenic relaxation phrases and turned the pulsing off, but, again, it’d spike back up once I thought of the person. Running into my past turned out to be a blessing in disguise; I was learning to control the stressful thoughts and ensuing physiological response with just my mind. It was hard work, but I knew it would be a skill I could turn to my whole life. If I could control my heart racing, maybe it’d be easier to quiet my disturbing thoughts. In the sessions that followed, I learned to relax myself instantaneously and in any situation without the autogenic phrases, getting my muscle tension level from the original 4.0 down to just 1.7. I’m now able to take a deep breath, let it out, hold it, and find that perfect state of relaxation — like magic. Biofeedback empowered me during a time when I felt shaken down to my core. I walked away from each appointment feeling like I have a superpower and for the first time in years, I feel like I can finally control the anxiety that seems to rule my life. View the full article
  10. When struggling with anxiety or depression it’s common to feel like you don’t have control over your emotions. Emotions can feel like they come out of nowhere, and they can be confusing if they are stronger than you think they should be in light of the current situation. For example, if you start crying when you see a prescription drug commercial because it felt so moving. Or when you feel enraged just because you partner didn’t do the dishes, but then again they did them last night. All people have had those moments, where you feel a strong emotion and aren’t sure why. Emotions are the minds automatic response to stimuli. When you see an abandoned puppy on a commercial your brain is processing those images on a subconscious level and the feeling of sadness may start to emerge whether you want them to or not. Depending on your past experiences with puppies your emotional response may be stronger or weaker. If you volunteer in a dog shelter once a week, your mind may be used to the situation and you may feel less reactive. If you lost a dog recently, you may feel a flood of emotions. All of these emotions are normal, and they are a signal that you are human. In a popular therapy called dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), the emotional response is labeled the “emotional mind” and the intellectual or thinking response is labeled the “rational mind.” Either one by itself is not sufficient because it doesn’t really give you the full picture. The combination of the emotional and rational minds is what results in the “wise mind” which is a more balanced response. When we routinely ignore our mind’s emotional responses we are stifling the mind’s natural way of processing these situations and we miss out on the wise mind approach. It’s only when you accept and notice what your emotional mind is telling you that you can you find the balance of the wise mind. 3 Strategies to Accept & Manage Your Emotions: 1. Emotions are clues: Try taking the stance that your emotions are clues to something your mind is trying to tell you. Be curious about what you are feeling and why. Your emotion will be a clue to getting to your wise mind, and actually, you can’t accomplish a wise mind approach without it. Emotions are not just clues, they are vital information. 2. Emotions are neither good nor bad: Everyone’s automatic emotional responses are going to be different based on a number of different factors including past experiences, current context, and how much sleep you got the night before! Your emotional reaction is not better or worse than anyone else’s. Sadness or fear do not have to be negative; emotions are just neutral. 3. Emotions do not equal actions: While you can’t control what emotions surface for you, you can control how you act. Just because you feel angry at someone, doesn’t mean you are necessarily going to say something to that person. When someone says they don’t have control over their emotions, the bigger concern is usually that they feel they don’t have control over their actions. It makes it okay to feel angry when you know that you don’t have to punch someone every time you feel that way. You can just feel and process an emotion without taking action. When you acknowledge your emotions as clues to what’s going on and you don’t judge yourself for feeling what you’re feeling, then you have a choice about how to act or respond. You are combining the emotional mind and the rational mind to problem solve and come up with the best decision for you. So, the short answer is no, you cannot “control” your emotions. But if you follow the strategies to accept your emotions as they come, you will find that you do not have to let your emotions control you. Reference: The Wise Mind (Worksheet). (n.d.). Retrieved April 17, 2019, from https://www.therapistaid.com/therapy-worksheet/wise-mind/dbt/none View the full article
  11. Through the years I’ve learned to douse the ongoing wildfire of fear with productive tools such as exercise, meditation, replacing negative, irrational thoughts with positive, rational statements, and tapping into my creativity (studies show that anxious people are often more creative — as it takes a lot of imagination to come up with those what-if scenarios — so it helps to channel that artistry into a positive outlet). Yet there are other ways I combat my anxiety that don’t sound as constructive. And they certainly don’t sound very positive, either. In fact, some tactics could be construed as downright depressing. But they work. In fact, they work so well, that I feel it’s my duty to share them. Below are my four favorite counterintuitive ways to combat anxiety, so take a moment to remove any rose-colored glasses you may have on and replace them with some dark-hued lenses. Here they are: Sometimes It’s Best NOT to Process with Others I know, I know: those irrational thoughts can be so harsh, you need someone to help remind you that they are ONLY thoughts. Yet, I’ve also found that sometimes sharing my anxieties only sharpens their grip. Why is this? First of all, I can trigger myself even more by arguing with the poor, well-meaning listener about how this or that fear could come to pass. That is, by discussing it, the probability of that fear happening further “cements” it into my brain. Secondly, people who don’t understand anxiety may reply in ways that make anxiety warriors feel worse about themselves. You know those trite remarks such as: “Just stop worrying,” or “You need to learn to control your thoughts,” which I guess are well-meaning, but really makes me want to scream. From what I’ve learned, it’s best to share anxious thoughts with the most trusted and understanding of people. And if it’s going to trigger you to share your specific fears, then, at least, share how much your anxiety itself is affecting you. Accepting That Anxiety Won’t Go Away When I was first grasping for answers to “cure” myself of my chronic and acute anxiety, I envisioned a future in which my over-the-top worry would be forever banished. Yet, as I trudged onward, I realized that there wasn’t going to be any kind of fairytale ending. I was and always will be above average on the anxiety scale (a number of studies show that anxiety is genetic). Anxiety is something I’m able to diminish but never banish. Acknowledging this fact helped me accept that through the better days, some worse ones are still bound to pop up due to triggers, circumstances, and even physical challenges. Once I accepted this, I was better able to utilize my bag of anxiety-reducing tricks, knowing that it would just be a matter of time when I’d be able to tame it from a roaring lion to a purring cat — that is, until the next big worry claws itself into my life. Using Terror-Filled Distractions When my anxiety needle moves into the red alert zone, my husband often suggests that we watch a disaster movie. No, the man isn’t being facetious; rather he’s acting with complete empathy. Ironically, watching fictionalized stories about catastrophic events helps reduce my what-if fears. Why is this? I’m not sure, but I believe that it has to do with putting my anxiety into perspective while at the same time witnessing a shared calamity, which airlifts me out of my isolated island of despair. Disaster movies are also action-packed and visually dramatic, which gives my mind a vacation from the self-ruminating dread. And…speaking of distraction, who could take their eyes off Dwayne Johnson when he played a rescue-chopper pilot in the 2015 disaster flick “San Andreas?” I know I couldn’t! Remembering That We All Die When my fears dive into the deepest and darkest of waters, sometimes the only way I can breathe again is to remind myself that no matter what, we all die. Although this thought may sound morose, it calms me down because it reminds me that nothing is permanent. Nothing. And if nothing is permanent, then my fears cannot be either. In death, too, my brain will be caput — so it won’t be around to ruminate on any further worries. In the meantime, then, I’ll keep combating my anxiety with both happily constructive and darkly counterintuitive measures, hoping that my path not only gets better, but that I can help other anxiety warriors along the way as well. View the full article
  12. Admin

    The Dangers of Cyberchondria

    We’ve all done it, or at least most of us have. I know I’m certainly guilty of it. I’m talking about turning to the internet for answers to our health concerns. Just type in our (or our loved ones) symptoms and away we go. That rash we have? Turns out it could be anything from contact dermatitis to cancer. Which is it? Not sure? Well, search some more. There is always another website to check. And as many of us know, these searches can be never-ending. Excessively scouring the internet for answers to our health concerns is known as cyberchondria. One in three people, among the millions who seek health information in this manner, report feeling more anxious after searching for answers than before. Yet they keep searching even as their worry escalates. Cyberchondria has the potential to disrupt many aspects of a person’s life and studies have even linked it to depression. Those with cyberchondria tend to either avoid going to their doctor, or go too much — both out of fear. What drives people to engage in a behavior that often makes them feel worse than before? Thomas Fergus, a psychology professor at Baylor University, links cyberchondria to a dysfunctional web of metacognitive beliefs, which are really just thoughts about thinking. We all have these types of belief systems. For example, it is considered normal to believe that deliberating over a challenging problem will lead to a satisfying solution. In cyberchondria, however, metacognitive beliefs morph into a mental trap — people search online health content incessantly. Dr. Fergus and Marcantonio Spada, an academic psychologist at London South Bank University, have shown that these metacognitive beliefs in cyberchondria overlap somewhat with those of anxiety disorders. People with health anxiety, for example, hold maladjusted views about the role worry plays in maintaining their emotional and physical well-being. It is these same sorts of dysfunctional belief systems, Fergus says, “that send people with cyberchondria back for long sessions at the computer.” In 2018, Fergus and Spada published research that, not surprisingly, links cyberchondria with features of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). People with OCD perform compulsions to ease their anxiety, and those with cyberchondria engage in ritualistic searches for health information to dispel their anxiety. In both cases, people will only stop when they feel certain that all is well. As many of us know, online health content is too vast to allow us to be certain about anything. In fact, certainty is not actually attainable when it comes to most aspects of our lives. So how can we escape the vicious cycle of cyberchondria? Appropriate therapies for anxiety disorders such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), mindfulness, and even antidepressants might be helpful. In addition, metacognitive approaches that encourage people to question the value of going online to relieve their anxiety can be beneficial. There is another solution to spending countless hours on the internet trying to figure out your latest ailment. Go see your doctor for a proper diagnosis — once. Then you can use the other therapies mentioned to learn how to not only stop searching for answers, but to also learn to accept the feelings of uncertainty that are inevitably connected to our health. View the full article
  13. Anxiety that causes serious discomfort shouldn’t have to go on forever. Yet long-term talk therapy and treatment with medications don’t always free a person who’s suffering. Millions of Americans are dealing with some form of anxiety disorder: according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), each year, 40 million American adults grapple with an anxiety disorder in some form. One approach that can help you break free of anxiety and phobias is a simple series of steps. Unlike open-ended talk therapy, it’s not expensive or time-consuming, and unlike pharmacological approaches, it has no side effects. It’s called LPA — Learning, Philosophizing, and Action. This direct approach enables you to identify the problem, and think about the problem and its affects on your life, relationships, work, and home. After you learn more about your anxiety or phobia, and consider how it’s limited you, you can start taking clear steps to defuse its power over you. Once you learn LPA, the only tools you need are a good chair, a pen and a notebook. Try to practice what you’ve learned three or more times a week. It doesn’t have to take long — five minutes is plenty. If you begin to feel uncomfortable, or overwhelmed by fear, stop the exercise, get up, and resolve to try again the next day. Here’s how each step works: 1. Relax To follow the LPA steps you need to first quiet the mind. There are many simple and effective relaxation techniques for this. For instance: Find a quiet spot and a comfortable, supportive chair. Next, take a few easy, deep breaths. Feel yourself begin to float on each breath. When you reach a peaceful state of relaxation, you’re ready to start the next step. 2. Learn In the learning phase, you focus on the nature and details of the problem by asking yourself questions. Write down all the details of what you remember and realize, including how you feel physically, mentally, and emotionally. If you’re facing an anxiety, ask yourself: What am I feeling? What is making me anxious? How do I feel when I am anxious — for instance, a stomachache, a headache, sweating? If you are addressing a phobia, ask yourself: What am I afraid of? What does this fear prevent me from doing — for instance, leaving the house, taking the subway, or driving across a bridge? How do I feel in the grip of this phobia? Now ask yourself about the first time you began to this way: What is my first memory of feeling this way? What else was going on at the time? What did I learn? 3. Philosophize Once you have learned about the nature of your anxiety or phobia, you have enough information to look at the bigger picture. During this phase, you step back and challenge the thinking to led to this problem in the first place. Your look for the origins of your anxiety or phobia, and think about how it has affected your life, your relationships, your work and even your financial situation over time. Ask yourself: Did someone else convince me to feel this way? Is it possible I picked up this anxiety or phobia from a parent? What’s the big picture? How did I take this belief and expand on it myself? Without meaning to, parents may pass on their anxieties and phobias to their children. But this faulty learning can be fixed. You can use a simple math problem to illustrate: A child walks into kindergarten, having been convinced at home that 2 + 2 = 3. It’s only going to take one quick lesson to show that is wrong. This may be a simplified version, but it shows what happens with learned or even inherited anxieties and phobias. The learning passed on to you was flawed, but you believed it. Dogs, cars, deep water, dentists — Think about how you picked up on other people’s anxieties. Were you encouraged to feel anxiety or fear in certain situations? You may have grown up thinking that feeling anxious was perfectly normal. But now you can change that thinking. Consider the impact this anxiety or phobia has had on your life. If you could undo its power, wouldn’t you? 4. Act Taking action means unlearning those behaviors. One effective tool for this step is the Probable or Possible exercise. It helps defuse the power of the anxiety or phobia by looking at whether or not something is likely to actually happen. For instance, if you’re phobic about dogs, you may be afraid of being bitten in circumstances when it would be very hard for that to happen. For example: you are on one side of the street, and a dog and its owner are walking on the other side of the street. Yet you’re afraid the dog will bolt, escape its leash, and come and bite you. That’s often the way fear works: it takes a possibility and intensifies it until it seems like a near-certainty. Irrational or not, you believe it. Asking if it’s possible or problem is a way to take that fear and reduce it down to size. So ask: It many be possible that the dog runs across the street to bite me. But is it probable? Think about it: what is the likelihood of that really happening? Investigate all the factors that would have to be in place for the fear to come true. You could even research the statistics, or learn all about dog behavior. Information is often a missing piece of the anxiety and phobia puzzle. Once you know the different between the possible risk and the probable risk, remind yourself: This is possible, but it is not really probable. Keep reminding yourself that, and see how you feel the next time you encounter a dog. The LPA brings new perspectives to old faulty beliefs and problems, helping you see your way out of old patterns. It also works in small steps, each just one part of the process. Do these as much as you want. Remember that you are the one in control. But the more you practice, the more effective it will be. That’s because when you do something successfully a number of times, the success-producing behaviors replace your old thought and behavior patterns with positive, productive ones. Brick by brick, you can take the actions to face your fears, free yourself from them, change your life. And once you learn LPA and incorporate it into your routine, you can use it to tackle other obstacles. LPA has been proven to be highly effective in dealing with many forms of PTSD and conquering insomnia as well. Reference: Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Understand the Facts Depression. Retrieved from https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/depression View the full article
  14. When I was a young girl, I struggled with obsessive-compulsive disorder. I believed that if I landed on a crack in the sidewalk, something terrible would happen to me, so I did my best to skip over them. I feared that if I had bad thoughts of any kind, I would go to hell. To purify myself, I would go to confession and Mass over and over again, and spend hours praying the rosary. I felt if I didn’t compliment someone, like the waitress where we were eating dinner, I would bring on the end of the world. What Is OCD? The National Institute of Mental Health defines OCD as a “common, chronic and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts (obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions) that he or she feels the urge to repeat over and over.” OCD involves a painful, vicious cycle whereby you are tormented by thoughts and urges to do things, and yet when you do the very things that are supposed to bring you relief, you feel even worse and enslaved to your disorder. The results of one study indicated that more than one quarter of the adults interviewed experienced obsession or compulsions at some point in their lives — that’s over 60 million people — even though only 2.3 percent of people met the criteria for a diagnosis of OCD at some point in their lives. The World Health Organization has ranked OCD as one of the top 20 causes of illness-related disability worldwide for individuals between 15 and 44 years of age. Whenever I am under considerable stress, or when I hit a depressive episode, my obsessive-compulsive behavior returns. This is very common. OCD breeds on stress and depression. A resource that has been helpful to me is the book Brain Lock by Jeffrey M. Schwartz, M.D. He offers a four-step self-treatment for OCD that can free you from painful symptoms and even change your brain chemistry. Distinguishing Form from Content of OCD Before I go over the four steps, I wanted to go over two concepts he explains in the book that I found very helpful to understanding obsessive-compulsive behavior. The first is knowing the difference between the form of obsessive-compulsive disorder and its content. The form consists of the thoughts and urges not making sense but constantly intruding into a person’s mind — the thought that won’t go away because the brain is not working properly. This is the nature of the beast. The content is the subject matter or genre of the thought. It’s why one person feels something is dirty, while another can’t stop worrying about the door being locked. The OCD Brain The second concept that is fascinating and beneficial to a person in the throes of OCD’s torture is to see a picture of the OCD brain. In order to help patients understand that OCD is, in fact, a medical condition resulting from a brain malfunction, Schwartz and his colleagues at UCLA used PET scanning to take pictures of brains besieged by obsessions and compulsive urges. The scans showed that in people with OCD, there was increased energy in the orbital cortex, the underside of the front of the brain. This part of the brain is working overtime. According to Schwartz, by mastering the Four Steps of cognitive-biobehavioral self-treatment, it is possible to change the OCD brain chemistry so that the brain abnormalities no longer cause the intrusive thoughts and urges. Step One: Relabel Step one involves calling the intrusive thought or urge exactly what it is: an obsessive thought or a compulsive urge. In this step, you learn how to identify what’s OCD and what’s reality. You might repeat to yourself over and over again, “It’s not me — it’s OCD,” working constantly to separate the deceptive voice of OCD from your true voice. You constantly inform yourself that your brain is sending false messages that can’t be trusted. Mindfulness can help here. By becoming an observer of our thoughts, rather than the author of them, we can take a step back in loving awareness and simply say, “Here comes an obsession. It’s okay … It will pass,” instead of getting wrapped up in it and investing our emotions into the content. We can ride the intensity much like a wave in the ocean, knowing that the discomfort won’t last if we can stick in there and not act on the urge. Step Two: Reattribute After you finish the first step, you might be left asking, “Why don’t these bothersome thoughts and urges go away?” The second step helps answer that question. Schwartz writes: The answer is that they persist because they are symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), a condition that has been scientifically demonstrated to be related to a biochemical imbalance in the brain that causes your brain to misfire. There is now strong scientific evidence that in OCD a part of your brain that works much like a gearshift in a car is not working properly. Therefore, your brain gets stuck in gear. As a result, it’s hard for you to shift behaviors. Your goal in the Reattribute step is to realize that the sticky thoughts and urges are due to your balky brain. In the second step, we blame the brain, or in 12-step language, admit we are powerless and that our brain is sending false messages. We must repeat, “It’s not me — it’s just my brain.” Schwartz compares OCD to Parkinson’s disease — both interestingly are caused by disturbances in a brain structure called the striatum — in that it doesn’t help to lambast ourselves for our tremors (in Parkinson’s) or upsetting thoughts and urges (in OCD). By reattributing the pain to the medical condition, to the faulty brain wiring, we empower ourselves to respond with self-compassion. Step Three: Refocus In step three, we shift into action, our saving grace. “The key to the Refocus step is to do another behavior,” explains Schwartz. “When you do, you are repairing the broken gearshift in your brain.” The more we “work around” the nagging thoughts by refocusing our attention on some useful, constructive, enjoyable activity, the more our brain starts shifting to other behaviors and away from the obsessions and compulsions. Step three requires a lot of practice, but the more we do it, the easier it becomes. Says Schwartz: “A key principle in self-directed cognitive behavioral therapy for OCD is this: It’s not how you feel, it’s what you do that counts.” The secret of this step, and the hard part, is going on to another behavior even though the OCD thought or feeling is still there. At first, it’s extremely wearisome because you are expending a significant amount of energy processing the obsession or compulsion while trying to concentrate on something else. However, I completely agree with Schwartz when he says, “When you do the right things, feelings tend to improve as a matter of course. But spend too much time being overly concerned about uncomfortable feelings, and you may never get around to doing what it takes to improve.” This step is really at the core of self-directed cognitive behavioral therapy because, according to Schwartz, we are fixing the broken filtering system in the brain and getting the automatic transmission in the caudate nucleus to start working again. Step Four: Revalue The fourth step can be understood as an accentuation of the first two steps, Relabeling and Reattributing. You are just doing them with more insight and wisdom now. With consistent practice of the first three steps, you can better acknowledge that the obsessions and urges are distractions to be ignored. “With this insight, you will be able to Revalue and devalue the pathological urges and fend them off until they begin to fade,” writes Schwartz. Two ways of “actively revaluing,” he mentions are anticipating and accepting. It’s helpful to anticipate that obsessive thoughts will occur hundreds of times a day and not to be surprised by them. By anticipating them, we recognize them more quickly and can Relabel and Reattribute when they arise. Accepting that OCD is a treatable medical condition — a chronic one that makes surprise visits — allows us to respond with self-compassion when we are hit with upsetting thoughts and urges. View the full article
  15. Anxiety serves a life-saving role when we are in real danger. Adrenaline pumps through our system, and suddenly we can run like Usain Bolt and lift a 200-pound man without much effort. However, most of the time, anxiety is like a fire alarm with a dead battery that beeps annoyingly every five minutes when there is absolutely nothing to worry about. We experience the heart palpitations, restlessness, panic, and nausea as if a saber-toothed tiger were 20 yards away. Thankfully there are a few simple gestures to communicate to your body that there is no immediate danger — that it’s a false alarm… yet again. I have used the following activities to calm down my nervous system that is ready for an adventure, and to ease symptoms of anxiety. Exercise We have known for decades that exercise can decrease depression and anxiety symptoms, but a 2016 study by researchers at the University of California at David Medical Center demonstrates how. They found that exercise increased the level of the neurotransmitters glutamate and GABA, both of which are depleted in the brains of persons with depression and anxiety. The study showed that aerobic exercise activates the metabolic pathways that replenish these neurotransmitters, allowing the brain to communicate with the body. You need not commit huge amounts of time. Short, ten-minute intervals of intense exercise (such as sprints) can trigger the same brain changes as long, continuous workouts. Drink Chamomile Tea Chamomile is one of the most ancient medicinal herbs and has been used to treat a variety of conditions including panic and insomnia. Its sedative effects may be due to the flavonoid apigenin that binds to benzodiazepine receptors in the brain. Chamomile extracts exhibit benzodiazepine-like hypnotic activity as evidenced in a study with sleep-disturbed rats. In a study at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center in Philadelphia, patients with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) who took chamomile supplements for eight weeks had a significant decrease in anxiety symptoms compared to the patients taking placebos. Laugh It’s difficult to panic and laugh at the same time. There’s a physiological reason for this. When we panic, we generate all kinds of stress hormones that send SOS signals throughout our body. However, when we laugh, those same hormones are reduced. In a study done at Loma Linda University in California in the 1980s, Lee Berk, DrPH and his research team assigned five men to an experimental group who viewed a 60-minute humor video and five to a control group, who didn’t. They found that the “mirthful laughter experience” reduced serum levels of cortisol, epinephrine, dihydrophenylacetic acid (dopac), and growth hormone. Take Deep Breaths Every relaxation technique that mitigates the stress response and halts our “fight or flight or I’m-dying-get-the-heck-out-of-my-way” reaction is based in deep breathing. I find it miraculous how something as simple as slow abdominal breathing has the power to calm down our entire nervous system. One way it does this is by stimulating our vagus nerve — our BFF in the middle of a panic because it releases a variety of anti-stress enzymes and calming hormones such as acetylcholine, prolactin, vasopressin, and oxytocin. Three basic approaches to deep breathing are coherent breathing, resistance breathing, and breath moving. But really, all you need to do is inhale to a count of six and exhale to a count of six, moving the breath from your chest to your diaphragm. Eat Dark Chocolate Dark chocolate has one of the highest concentrations of magnesium in a food — with one square providing 327 milligrams, or 82 percent of your daily value — and magnesium is an important mineral for calming down the nervous system. According to a 2012 study in the journal Neuropharmacology, magnesium deficiencies induce anxiety, which is why the mineral is known as the original chill pill. Dark chocolate also contains large amounts of tryptophan, an amino acid that works as a precursor to serotonin, and theobromine, another mood-elevating compound. The higher percentage of cocoa the better (aim for at least 85 percent), because sugar can reverse the benefits of chocolate and contribute to your anxiety. Color Use anything that can distract you from the fire alarm going off every five minutes in your head—from the distressing thoughts and ruminations. Many people I know use coloring books to divert their attention. I now see them in doctor’s offices and acupuncture centers. A study published in Occupational Therapy International demonstrated that activities such as drawing and other arts and crafts can stimulate the neurological system and enhance well-being. This is partly because they help you stay fully present and they can be meditative. They are especially helpful for people like me who struggle with formal meditation. Cry You have to be careful with crying, as it has the potential you feel worse. However, I’ve always felt a huge release after a good cry. There’s a biological explanation for this. Tears remove toxins from our body that build up from stress, like the endorphin leucine-enkephalin and prolactin, the hormone that causes aggression. And what’s really fascinating is that emotional tears — those formed in distress or grief — contain more toxic byproducts than tears of irritation (like onion peeling). Crying also lowers manganese levels, which triggers anxiety, nervousness, and aggression. In that way, tears elevate mood. I like Benedict Carey’s reference to tears as “emotional perspiration” in his New York Times piece, The Muddled Track of All Those Tears. He writes, “They’re considered a release, a psychological tonic, and to many a glimpse of something deeper: the heart’s own sign language, emotional perspiration from the well of common humanity.” View the full article