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  1. I didn’t engage in behaviors like calling or texting multiple times—if anything, I did the opposite, out of fear of being perceived as needy—but the thoughts alone, their irrationality and all-consuming anxiety, caused me a lot of pain. Fear of abandonment, jealousy, and general insecurity in romantic relationships leads many in the dating scene to be labeled the dreaded “needy.” It’s a pejorative that’s especially used to describe women, an insult that dismisses someone as being “crazy” for simply needing reassurance and consistent contact. Of course, men can suffer from the “needy” label too, but they often fall into the “unavailable” camp—aloof, distant, indifferent, and detached, which can quickly earn them the title “asshole.” Sadly, most folks don’t know the roots of these behaviors, so we’re left throwing insults at fellow daters rather than understanding that these traits date back to childhood. For years I thought I didn’t fall into the “needy” camp. Many of my past relationships were with men who bordered on needy themselves, so I never needed to feel insecure—if anything, they were the insecure ones, always vying for my time and attention. There was little reason to fear abandonment. It wasn’t until this past year that I discovered that if I’m invested in someone who is a bit more independent, my anxiety and fear of rejection can become nearly intolerable. Enter the man who is now my partner, Matthew*. The day after our first date, he sent me a very sweet text complimenting both my personality and appearance while adding that he would love to see me again, and soon. Just a few days later, we had our second date, and a few days after that, our third, and by that time I realized I could really fall for him. After our fourth date, I was officially hooked, and that’s when the anxiety hit. Now I was invested, and that meant that if a few days passed and I didn’t hear from him, I assumed he was over it. And I was so terrified of seeming needy that I rarely initiated a text. When I did, it would sometimes take hours for him to respond; that’s just his nature, being a very busy person, but when he didn’t respond right away, I’d once again assume he was over it. Despite all the fear, I’d always hear from him, often with a “Sorry, hun, wish I could have gotten back to you sooner!” text. At the time, I thought I was going slightly crazy. Part of me knew I was just being paranoid, and part of me kept buying into the irrational thoughts telling me that he was going to drop me. I knew that ghosters—people who vanish from seemingly stable dating scenarios for no reason whatsoever—were everywhere. But Matthew hadn’t given me any reason to think he might leave; all of his words and actions displayed evidence that he wasn’t going anywhere. Still, I worried and worried—every day waiting for the other shoe to drop—for Matthew to show some sign of disinterest. I comforted myself with thoughts like “Once we’re exclusive, this anxiety will go away.” Well, we became exclusive, and the anxiety did not go away… So what did Tracy do when the anxiety didn’t go away? Find out in the original article How I Conquered My Relationship Insecurity at The Fix. View the full article
  2. As an advocate for OCD awareness, I get lots of emails from people. One of the most frequent questions I receive is some form of “How can I get rid of this terrible anxiety that is ruining my life?” While I’m not a therapist, I have learned a lot in the eleven years since my son was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, and one thing I know for sure is that is not the question any of us should be asking. The reason? Well, for one thing, a life without anxiety is not only an unattainable goal but an unhealthy one. Anxiety serves a purpose and a few of the ways it can benefit us include: Our bodies instinctive fight-or-flight response related to anxiety can propel us into action and protect us from danger. An example might be gathering your family as quickly as possible to escape a house fire. Anxiety might be a warning sign to pay closer attention to whatever it is that is making you anxious. For example, if you are extremely stressed and anxious when coming home after work every day, maybe that’s a sign that there are issues in your marriage or home life that need to be addressed. Anxiety can motivate you to get things done. For instance, if you’re a student, feeling anxious about getting a good grade on a final exam can motivate you to study hard and do well. These are some of the more common benefits to anxiety, though there are certainly others. But what if you suffer from unrelenting, severe anxiety and are dealing with a brain disorder such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, or social anxiety disorder? What if you’re paralyzed with so much fear and anxiety that you can’t enjoy life, or even leave the house? Then, by all means, you need help. But the question to ask isn’t, “How do I get rid of my anxiety?” but rather, “How do I learn to live with my anxiety?” There’s a big difference. Using OCD as an example, I know of many people who begin therapy thinking they will get rid of their obsessions and become anxiety free. What they quickly learn, however, is that exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, the evidence-based cognitive therapy used to treat OCD, actually initially raises anxiety as the person with OCD is asked not to perform any compulsions. Over time, the anxiety will become less intense and subside quicker, but there will still be times in their lives when they will become anxious. None of us, whether we have OCD or not, can control our thoughts or our anxiety, but we can learn the best ways to react to them. Professional help might include some therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), mindfulness, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and possibly medication, those who have been totally controlled by anxiety can absolutely get their lives back. They can learn to accept the uncertainty of life, as well as the anxiety that often goes along with that acceptance. Perhaps most importantly, they can shift from lives dictated by fear to lives where they’re free to honor their values, pursue their goals, and follow their dreams. View the full article
  3. There is tremendous social and cultural hype around the joys, excitement, and wonder of pregnancy, birth, and raising children. Baby showers, parenting classes, and the array of pre-birth activities often convey the implicit and explicit message to parents-to-be that having kids is exclusively a magical albeit stressful experience. This mythology does us a grave disservice by creating the sense that there is something shameful or abnormal about postpartum depression and/or anxiety. The truth is, negative emotional postpartum experiences are very common and tragically underreported as new mothers in particular often feel they should be nothing but glowing and ecstatic. The Mommy Wars, a competition amongst women to excel at being new mothers, have created a disturbing dynamic in which women often feel afraid to admit they need help, are overwhelmed, or are struggling. Women in particular — and men as well — may feel obligated to “put on a good face” or “act like” they are doing well when they are in fact not. Many fear judgement from friends who are parents or from family members. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that in the United States, the prevalence of postpartum depression and anxiety is as high as 1 in 5 women in some states. Postpartum depression and anxiety affects women regardless of age, race, ethnicity, number of pregnancies, or prior mental health issues. These feelings can arise days, weeks, and months after birth, and may last years. Stress, anxiety, sleeplessness, hormonal changes, and the emotional intensity of pregnancy, childbirth, and bringing home an infant are all significant influences on postpartum mood issues, and feeling sad, anxious, and overwhelmed is by no means a sign that a new parent is somehow failing to rise to the task. Postpartum depression and anxiety can range from mild to severe. Symptoms include feeling sad, anxious, nervous, weepy, blue, angry, and lonely — among others. Severe symptoms may include thoughts of harming oneself or the child. If you or someone you know is at risk for harming themselves or their child, immediately contact your local crisis support hotline or 911. Getting help for postpartum mood difficulties like depression and anxiety is important for the health and wellness of families. Recognizing and accepting that one is feeling overwhelmed is the first step on the long road of parenting in which eventually, parents are ultimately supported by many other people when it comes to their children and parenting … family, teachers, coaches, counselors, and clergy, to name a few. Initially reaching out is often the hardest part of asking for help when it comes to being an overwhelmed parent, whether it’s your first time or your fourth. If you’re having difficulty asking your support system for what you need (and maybe you’re even having a difficult time identifying what it is that would be helpful to you) try the Third Person Test. This is when you imagine what you would want a friend to say to you to ask for help if they needed it and were struggling to ask. Sometimes, imagining that the situation isn’t our own frees us up from the harsh self-judgements we tend to levy on ourselves but that we wouldn’t dream of when it comes to someone else. Your medical professionals can be tremendously helpful when it comes to accessing the resources you need. Obstetricians, pediatricians, and even your family Primary Care Provider all have extensive experience supporting families through postpartum mood disturbances, and they can direct you to reputable, reliable, professional organizations and service providers to address your families’ specific needs. Postpartum Support International or PSI for example is a trusted organization for the education and support of new moms and their families surrounding the entire perinatal period. There are also compassionate, specialty counselors available to help new parents navigate these difficult feelings while engaging in this important new journey. These counselors can support you with practical skills and strategies for addressing the challenges that arise. Faith organizations and hospital systems frequently offer a wide variety of emotional and practical support services, including educational forums, support groups, peer groups, and links to other ancillary services that help new parents feel less overwhelmed by their exhaustive new responsibilities. If you’re having difficulty getting the kind of support you need from your partner, friends, or family members, a counselor specifically trained in perinatal mental health can offer you practical advice for getting these important individuals on board in ways that are meaningful to you. Counselors often are excellent at providing communication training so that the individual can more successfully convey what it is they are needing to those who are in a position to provide it. Having children can be a remarkably rewarding experience, but more often than not, it also comes with real anxieties about the infinite questions surrounding parenting. Give yourself, your child, and your family the gift of helping you through postpartum depression and anxiety by seeking and accessing the support you need. View the full article
  4. According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, hope is: “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen,” “a feeling of trust,” “want something to happen or be the case.” When used to describe the sense of desire for recovery regarding mental health, it carries with it, the belief that some positive outcome can ensue, that things can improve and that symptoms can abate. When a person succumbs to the illness, often it is because he or she has relinquished the possibility of healing. This month the suicides of designer Kate Spade and chef Anthony Bourdain had many questioning whether they had given up hope. Often, when people are immersed in darkness, they can’t imagine coming through on the other side into the light, even if they have done so on multiple occasions. Call it psychological or spiritual amnesia that has them forgetting how resilient they can be. Because of the stigma attached to mental illness, many are not comfortable talking about their emotional turmoil and the impact it has on their daily lives. Charles Minguez, MA, has walked that path and emerged triumphant one day at a time. Struggling with depression and addiction, this resilient thriver has taken his experiences and used them to assist others in traversing the treacherous trails that can lead to a precipice. He has elected to remain on solid ground. His vulnerable sharing of his story is inspiring. When one has run out of hope, sometimes borrowing someone else’s is what is called for. Minguez has made it part of his purpose to do just that in his newsletter called Sharing Hope. What experiences shaped the person you are now? When I was about nine or ten, my parents split and shortly after, my mom began a long-term relationship with a man who was abusive. Having no real coping skills to deal with the violence in my home I turned towards alcohol and drugs. Before the age of eighteen, I had been hospitalized three times, dropped out of school, and found myself with a diagnosis of major depression and schizoaffective disorder. Then sometime in my early twenties I was introduced to yoga and had the opportunity to train with a fantastic teacher. The trajectory of my life changed. How do you live with depression as an aspect of your life without it being your entire focus? I’ve learned to befriend my depression as opposed to pushing it away. If I were to pretend that the illness was not there, I would probably be a much angrier person. Unless people know you well, could they tell that it is part of your experience? No. In fact, I’ve had conversations with people where mental illness/health has come up, and when I share my story with them, they’re often surprised, not only by my history but that depression is such a part of my day-to-day experience. During the darkest times, what let you know that the light was there as well? I’m not sure I have a great answer to this question. I just knew, deep down inside that, there had to be more to life than the pain I experienced in my youth. Now when I’m feeling down, I can look back on those experiences remembering a promise I’ve made to help others find their way through the dark. Who were your supports/cheerleaders who kept you afloat? Unfortunately, when I was younger, I didn’t have much support. When you’re deep into addiction and depression, you tend to hurt a lot of people and push friends away. Currently, my biggest cheerleaders are my wife and three children. I’m not sure that I could ever, indeed, convey just how powerful of a support system my family is and how they keep me motivated. What toolkit do you use to keep on keeping on? This is such a great question, and I love that you used the word “toolkit” because you need more than one tool to build a successful recovery. You can’t make a house with just a hammer. You’re going to need wrenches, drills, machinery and other raw materials to bring it all together. I focus on seven different tools and try to give each of the seven a little love every day to keep them useful. These seven tools are: Commit to open communication with a doctor Work with a counselor or therapist Exercise regularly Eat clean, fresh foods Get enough sleep Cultivate a meditation practice Join or build a community Is hope an essential ingredient in recovery? Hope is an essential ingredient in recovery. It sounds cliché, but without hope, it’s hard to believe that we can get out of the darkness to experience the light. Hope allows us to shift our mindset so that we can focus on, or look forward to, the good stuff. I believe hope works best when it’s tied to some goal(s). If we can shift our mindset and then have an action plan, we can transform many obstacles and avoid feeling a false sense of hope. How does your sense of spirituality assist you? As a Buddhist, spiritual practice and spirituality make up a big part of my life. I meditate and often pray, daily if I can, and the practice of mindfulness has been monumental in my recovery. Practicing meditation and mindfulness allows us to put some space between our thoughts and our self so that we can get a better understanding of how the mind works. Then when negative states of mind arise, it’s easier to understand how to dissolve them and cultivate a peaceful mind. Minguez is writing a book about his experiences growing up with addiction and depression, but in the meantime, you can read more of his story on his blog. View the full article
  5. Anxiety can stymie our lives in so many ways. Whether it’s a debilitating panic attack, constant worry or an all pervading fear, anxiety is often an unwanted companion that seemingly only wants the worst for us. However with the right help, guidance and support, there are a variety of techniques that can help. Of course it’s important to note that we’re all different, and what works for one person may not be as effective on another, but from personal experience, my own road to recovery led me, thankfully, to yoga therapy. After years of struggling with depression and anxiety, I moved to to South East Asia and embarked on an intense meditative practice that lasted for three years, training as a yoga teacher and becoming deeply interested in mind-body therapies. During my own personal journey, I learned that one of the challenges that so many people living with anxiety face, is the often extreme physiological response to a threat; regardless of if that threat is real, or simply perceived. We may rationally understand that there’s nothing inherently dangerous about a given situation, and that our panic and rolling fear is just our brain’s “flight or fight” response misfiring, telling us that we’re in imminent danger — but none of this knowledge makes the fear any less real. In the middle of a panic attack applying any kind of rationality is nearly impossible, and our fear response is incredibly powerful and hard to overcome without support. While my own recovery led me to yoga therapy, it’s by no means a cure-all. It would be unrealistic to expect to feel constantly blissful all of the time, but both science and individuals have given credence to yoga’s efficacy as a method for reducing and managing anxiety, and with the right guidance, yoga therapy is a tool we can all use as part of a wider strategy to combat our anxiety. However as with most things in life, a little bit of research can go a long way, and there are some areas to consider before exploring yoga therapy further. Choosing a Yoga Therapist Yoga is, in and of itself, a therapeutic practice. However, if you suffer from anxiety you may benefit from the specialized advice and teaching that a yoga therapist can offer you. Yoga therapists are trained across a variety of disciplines, blending the wisdom of the Yogic and Buddhist traditions with detailed medical knowledge, neuroscience and psychology. It’s this foundation and multidisciplinary approach that can be used to successfully apply the principles of yoga therapy to anxiety, but it’s also important you choose a yoga therapist that you feel comfortable with. Typically, a yoga therapist will discuss your unique circumstances with you, and it’s important that you feel an affinity with them. Compassion and empathy are two very important considerations, and as with talking therapy, you may even need to see a few yoga therapists before you find someone you feel is most able to help you. In the initial discussion, don’t be afraid to assert your boundaries and explain the full extent of your anxiety. Many of us can feel like we need to put on a public face, even downplaying our symptoms to doctors and healthcare practitioners — but the point of yoga therapy is that it is designed around you. We’re all beautifully complex and unique, and being open and honest about your own challenges is often the first step towards a successful outcome. Using Yoga Alongside Other Treatment Complementary and alternative medicine is nothing new, and has been in practice in some parts of the world, such as China and India, for hundreds of years. As a complimentary form of treatment, yoga therapy does not have to be used in isolation — in fact, it works well in conjunction with a variety of other treatments. For example, medication and pharmaceuticals are valuable treatment paths in particular circumstances, and can be especially helpful in extreme situations. In more recent times you may have also heard the term “Integrative medicine”, a term recently adopted by a number of government and educational organizations, intended to highlight the use of multiple therapy and treatment approaches in order to achieve the best outcomes for mind-body wellbeing. From a very simplistic perspective, this could be viewed as the combination of Eastern and Western medical practices, and both can, and arguably should, be used in tandem whenever necessary. Who Is Yoga Therapy Suitable For? Put simply, yoga therapy is suitable for everyone. Yoga therapy is therapeutic in nature, and importantly, designed uniquely for the individual in question. For example, with lower back pain, there are very specific yoga positions and postures for strengthening and supporting the back. Similarly, with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), there are gentle, specialized ways of regulating the nervous system, and in autism spectrum disorders, specific yoga postures can be used to reduce heightened sensory arousal and promote emotional regulation. For anyone suffering from anxiety, this is an important point. Yoga therapy is never about who’s the strongest or most flexible, but what’s best for you. If that involves sitting in a chair conducting simple yoga postures, then there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Everything should be conducted in a supportive and therapeutic environment where compassion and understanding become the core tenants. Whatever your age, body shape or fitness level, you can apply yoga therapy to your own self-care routine, addressing mind, body and soul in order to help manage and treat the symptoms of anxiety. Recovery from anxiety isn’t an easy task, and we often experience setbacks, but incorporating yoga therapy into our daily lives can give us the tools we need to manage our anxiety — and maybe, one day, overcome it. View the full article
  6. Dealing with increased expectations, social pressures both in-person and online and astronomical education costs, all while simultaneously facing major life choices and changes has led to a dangerous epidemic of mental, emotional and behavioral health issues in America’s youth. During college, a majority of students are living on their own for the first time, possibly in an entirely new state or area where they don’t know anyone. They spend nearly half of the time that they are awake on classwork, and the school day never really ends until breaks for holidays and in between semesters. Struggling to keep up with the workload and these significant lifestyle adjustments has become the norm. While they may frequently be surrounded by a lot of people, many students often feel quietly isolated and lack meaningful connection with others. Compounding the problem, the pressures to succeed and fit in make these feelings hard to express, and life becomes even more confusing and discouraging. This is causing record rates of anxiety and depression that greatly impact students’ quality of life. As an adolescent or young adult goes through these challenges, parents may write off symptoms of mental disorders as “growing pains” or “going through a phase.” However, when developing mental health disorders are left untreated, they can result in dire consequences that impact the entire family in the long run. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people between the ages of 10 to 24. In 2015, the suicide rate among teens reached a 40-year high. In addition, only 20 percent of children with diagnosable mental or behavioral disorders ever receive treatment, which leaves about 12 million who don’t. Similar research amongst higher education students done by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health revealed that nearly 1 in 5 college students experience anxiety or depression. Others may turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, leading to problems like drug abuse and addiction or eating disorders. With mental health issues peaking at alarming rates for the younger generation, there needs to be a serious, concerted effort to curve this epidemic. Unfortunately, the growing demand for mental health care on campuses is not being met with adequate services. With only about 13 percent of colleges offering full-time, in-house mental health services, students can often go weeks waiting for an initial consultation with a therapist. Schools across the country are simply struggling to keep up. In Florida, only 10 out of the 12 state schools meet the recommendation of at least one therapist per 1,000 students. That is already an absurd and unsustainable ratio, and we’re failing to meet even that. But Florida’s situation is not an anomaly, it’s the norm and indicative of the widespread lack of access that is keeping students from quality mental health services across the country. At the same time, corporate America is progressively recognizing the importance of mental wellness in the adult workforce and increasing mental health services, expanding employees’ insurance options to include therapy, and incorporating mental health into their core values. Colleges and universities should take note and follow suit. This growing emphasis on the value of mental health care should not be looked at as a trend — it is and should be seen as a necessity. As young people and parents begin to recognize the need for and demand these services, universities must offer them in order to keep up and remain competitive. New reports indicate that students are now taking into consideration what mental health service options will be available when choosing a college to attend. In fact, about 28 percent of parents of teenagers are also thinking more about mental health services on campus, when researching schools for their child. For teens who see a therapist in high school, the transition to college can be particularly difficult because it often means losing access to their therapist, in addition to the emotional support of family and friends. However, there is a devastating shortage of mental health care providers across the country. With the demand for therapy and the number therapists being incompatible, we must turn to alternative options to ensure that everyone gets the help they need. Relatively new to the scene, telemedicine provides a more flexible and often better solution that can assist students through challenging times. Instead of waiting weeks just to meet a therapist, remote therapy provided through modern technology can provide immediate, yet equally impactful mental health care. Many universities already use mobile apps to allow students to check their grades, contact professors and even see what’s on the menu in the cafeteria. Why not incorporate something as important as mental health services, as well? Telemedicine also provides a unique means for continuity of care. For the small percentage of students who are able to receive therapy on-site at school, they unfortunately lose access to these local therapists once they leave campus for summer break or to study abroad. But with apps that provide universal, mobile mental health services, students can still reach their therapists anywhere across the country or even the world. With adolescent suicide and mental illness rates skyrocketing, schools simply cannot afford to wait to address critical mental health needs. To ensure the future of the next generation, we must provide learning environments that are safe for students not only physically, but mentally as well. View the full article
  7. You’re struggling with anxiety. Maybe you had your first panic attack when you were in high school while taking a final. Maybe you had a panic attack in college while driving or grocery shopping. Maybe since then you’ve been having panic attacks regularly. Maybe it’s not panic attacks at all. Instead you’re constantly on edge. If they gave out medals for worrying, you’d no doubt take first place. Everything makes you anxious and uncomfortable. And it’s absolutely exhausting. Whatever the specific circumstances surrounding your anxiety and how it manifests, you feel like a complete and utter loser. You feel like there’s absolutely something wrong with you. There must be. Many of Kira Hoffman’s clients assume their coworkers and friends don’t struggle with anxiety (or feelings of inadequacy). They also believe they should be able “to get over” or “push through” their anxiety. They believe they should be able to work harder and to cope better. Which is precisely what they think others do—and do with very little effort, said Hoffman, Psy.D, a licensed psychologist who provides psychotherapy services for young professionals in San Francisco. Lisa Richberg’s clients who have high anxiety, especially panic attacks, tell her that they feel embarrassed and ashamed. They also worry that they’ll be “found out as a fraud,” or seen as “out of control,” said Richberg, who specializes in co-morbid eating disorders and addictions, anxiety and depression in Miami. They yearn to be “normal,” to be like people who don’t sit with anxiety every single day. But here’s the truth: You’re not alone. For starters, “anxiety disorders are more common than any other mental health issues,” said Richberg. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults in the U.S., or 18.1 percent of the population every year. Also, anxiety in general (and feelings of deficiency) is part of the shared human experience, Hoffman said. “To suffer is to be human,” so, again, you are not alone—just like you’re not alone in your grief or sadness (or excitement or joy). Knowing you’re not alone is important. But it can be hard to dissipate our thoughts of deficiency. Sometimes, it seems like they’re simply part of who we are. I am anxious, and I am inadequate. But you can slowly chip away at your negative, hurtful self-perception, and adopt a more compassionate perspective. Below, Hoffman and Richberg share some tips on how. Share your heart with someone. Tell someone you trust that you’re struggling with anxiety. When Hoffman’s clients have had these discussions with loved ones they’ve reported feeling heard, understood and validated. You might even find out that the other person is struggling or has struggled, too. However, it’s OK if you’re not ready yet to share. If that’s the case, Hoffman suggested seeing a therapist that you feel is a good fit. In fact, seeing a therapist for your anxiety can be tremendously helpful. As Richberg noted, “Anxiety issues are highly treatable.” Turn to caring phrases. For many of us speaking to ourselves with kindness feels foreign and false. But you can create a phrase that feels “as authentic, genuine, and true to yourself as possible,” Hoffman said. For instance, you might use: “Everyone feels anxious sometimes,” or “It’s OK, you’re just having a really hard time today.” You also can create a phrase based on your responses to these questions from Hoffman: “What am I feeling in this moment? What isn’t helpful? What do I need?” You might come up with: “I can be gentle with myself, and provide myself with the comfort I need right now…I think I’ll take a walk to get some fresh air.” Address your inner critic. Even though it feels like the opposite, our inner critics actually have good intentions. They yearn to protect us and keep us safe. The problem is that they run on fear, and lash out. Sometimes, it can help to talk directly to your inner critic. For instance, Hoffman suggested saying something like: “I know you are trying to be helpful by motivating me to do better next time, but you are really just hurting me.” Recognize when your anxiety is talking. “Most of the time, the negative messages we tell ourselves are totally bogus,” Richberg said. That is, our critical thoughts are actually creations of our anxiety. In order to tell whether a thought is simply your anxiety is talking, Richberg suggested jotting down the negative messages as they arise, and reflecting on these questions: Are you catastrophizing? That is, are you creating a catastrophe out of a current or future situation? Are you stuck in all-or-nothing, black-and-white thinking? What are the reasons for and against these thoughts? Would others you know and respect agree with these thoughts? Are there alternate ways of viewing yourself? What are they? What would these more helpful views and thoughts look like? Tune into your tension. “Our experiences of anxiety and self-criticism almost always involve a somatic component,” Hoffman said. For instance, you might feel tightness in your chest or a pit in your stomach. She suggested closing your eyes; identifying the location of your tension; visualizing “softening the sharp edges around the physical pain or discomfort”; and giving yourself a gentle caress at that spot, while saying the phrase you picked (from above). Struggling with anxiety is hard enough. Then when we add our feelings of inadequacy, deficiency and shame, getting through the day may feel downright impossible. Again, know that you’re not alone in these feelings. You’re one of millions. Many millions. And remember that anxiety is treatable. Every day doesn’t have to feel like a mountain you must scale. Every day doesn’t have to feel like a hurdle. So if you’re not working with a therapist who specializes in anxiety, consider it. Maybe you think this only confirms how weak you really are; it only confirms how much of a mess you really are. But it’s actually one of the bravest things you can do. View the full article
  8. As hard as it may sound to pull out of this stress reaction cycle, it is possible. The first step in creating any positive change is always raising your awareness of what the cycle is, how you participate in it, and what pains the cycle creates. Why? Because you can’t change a habit you don’t know you have. And if you don’t recognize the pain the habit is creating, you won’t have the motivation you need to make new choices and break out of the cycle that has become familiar despite the fact that it is destructive. The practice of mindfulness is an incredibly powerful tool to help you find that awareness. Mindfulness teaches us to pay attention, non-judgmentally, to what is happening in the moment. Mindfulness not only counteracts stress, but also prevents it from happening in the first place, because when you practice mindfulness you can begin to observe your patterns and make new choices instead of compulsively acting them out over and over. Mindfulness helps you break the cycle. It also sets the stage for your parasympathetic nervous system to take over and to create the conditions your body needs in order to heal itself. Start to check in with yourself when you feel that old familiar feeling of stress creep in and try to observe the thoughts you have and actions you take in response to it. A foundational piece of mindfulness is to be non-judgmental about the thoughts and feelings you pay attention to, so resist the urge to beat yourself up for wanting a piece of cake to help you feel better or feel guilty about how much time you spent scrolling through your social media feed instead of working on the project or having the conversation that’s causing you so much stress. At this point, you simply want to raise awareness of how you react to stress. Another Thing to Become Aware of: Your Inherited Patterns Whether you realize it or not, you were born into a family with its own unique patterns of maladaptive coping mechanisms. Just as you inherit eye color, height, and talent from your parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents, you can also inherit an addictive personality, or a tendency to reach for sweets, or a quick temper. In your attempt to deal with the stresses that life has thrown your way, you have been repeating patterns that began even before you were born. Recognizing what those patterns are and how they have shown up in your own choices is such a relief. It’s empowering to know the truth so that you don’t have to blame yourself and feel shame for obstacles that you inherited. Choosing Better Coping Mechanisms Once you recognize your patterns, it is absolutely possible for you to break them and choose new coping mechanisms that actually support you instead of contributing to your breakdown. Just as your body has physiological mechanisms that help you respond to stressors, it has an equally powerful system that helps you relax. This is ruled by the parasympathetic nervous system. Spending more time in parasympathetic realm also cues deeper emotions, such as compassion, in what’s known as the “tend and befriend” response. This drive to connect with others is really what motivates you to wander in to the office kitchen during a hectic day — you’re looking for someone to talk to, even though you may think you’re there to see if there are any leftover pastries from the morning breakfast meeting! When you spend more time in the parasympathetic realm, you not only benefit your physical health, you tend to your emotional health, because it sets the stage for you to deepen your relationships, develop a support network, and exercise your compassion. This helps you find the support you need to start making changes in how you deal with your stressors. Heal the Body with Conscious Relaxation Now it’s time for a deeper dive into the pool of relaxation. Conscious relaxation is exactly what it sounds like — using your mental awareness to produce a relaxed state that is profound. The practice builds body awareness, focus, and empowerment — because once you know how to do it, you never need to feel trapped in a stress reaction again. I have included instructions below for a conscious relaxation practices called a body scan: Body Scan Time 20-40 minutes If you can, practice this three to five days a week for six to eight weeks, as research suggests people reap more benefits from this practice when they keep at it. How to practice: A body scan can be performed lying down or sitting. You can close your eyes if that feels comfortable for you. Once you are comfortable, begin by taking a few deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth. Start noticing your body, feeling the weight of your body on the chair or on the floor. Notice where your body is in contact with the floor or chair, and where it isn’t. Now place your attention on your feet. Notice the sensations of your feet touching the floor—the weight, pressure, vibration, and temperature. Next, notice your legs against the floor — is there pressure, pulsing, heaviness, lightness? Move on to your back and see what sensations you can feel there. Now bring your attention into your stomach area. If your stomach is tense or tight, let it go and relax. Take a breath. Notice your hands. Are they tense or tight? See if you can allow them to let go and relax. Now pay attention to your arms. Feel any sensations happening there. Let your shoulders drop and let go of tension and tightness. Notice your neck and throat. Let go of tension and tightness. Relax. Relax your jaw. Let your face and facial muscles soften. Let go of any tension and tightness that may be there. Then expand your awareness to take in your whole body, feeling how it feels to be in your body in this moment. Take a breath. Be aware of your whole body as best you can. Take a breath. Bring your hands together rubbing them together to generate heat in your hands and place your hands over your eyes. Slowly open your eyes and come back to the room. Notice how you feel. Thank yourself for providing the space to connect to your mind, body, and spirit. Give yourself a gift of love and dedicate a space to practice this technique regularly. The body scan I am leaving you with is the best place to start in learning how to break the stress reaction cycle in your life. Conscious relaxation practices such as the body scan help by systematically placing your attention on each and every part of your body and inviting them to relax, one by one. Over the years I have learned this is the best place to start with my patients before covering more ground work using yoga, breathing techniques, more conscious relaxation exercises, and the power of positive affirmations. Starting with this basic body scan is the first step in uncovering how powerful it is to connect to your body, mind, and spirit. It’s such a beautiful mindfulness practice helping us accept and acknowledge our thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations without judgement, so we can start to listen more attentively to how our body feels and what it needs to HEAL! Reference: Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “Defining Adult Overweight and Obesity,” accessed on 9/19/17 at https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/adult/defining.html. View the full article
  9. It’s 9 AM Monday morning. You’ve just pulled into work and are ready to pitch your presentation to the senior management team. Your PowerPoint slides are damn near perfect and you’ve gone over the script dozens of times. You’ve got this. As everyone gathers in the room, you’re suddenly flooded with a hit of adrenaline. The bad kind. In a flash you become acutely aware of what your body is doing: beads of sweat forming on your brow, a dry mouth that no amount of water can fix, and a steadily increasing heart rate thumping inside your chest. This ability to perceive the signals of your body is known as interoceptive accuracy (IAc). There are, as the example demonstrated, different psychosomatic cues that you pick up within yourself during states of anxiety. But above all, a beating heart is the hardest one to ignore. It’s for this reason that heartbeat perception, as brain scientists call it, is a direct proxy for measuring people’s IAc and reported anxiety and stress levels. IAc and a Beating Heart Having the ability to accurately detect your own heartbeat is critical for reappraising your anxiety on a moment to moment basis. We know that anxiety is as much in the body as it is in the mind, and that a (mis)perception of a fast heart rate can easily contribute to the catastrophization of a panicked state. It’s why some of the most effective anxiety-related therapies, like progressive muscle relaxation and deep breathing, tend to focus on muting a physiological response followed by a cognitive reappraisal technique. Now in terms of IAc, the longstanding view was that it is an inherited trait, similar to eye color or height. Your IAc is immutable, unchanging. But now there’s new evidence suggesting that the situation matters just as much as the person: While some people may have inherently bad interoceptive ability, we can’t ignore the influence of the broader context. And this, if it turns out to be true, is a definite win for anyone looking to reverse a certain anxiety-based predisposition. The Study and Findings A team of researchers led by Martin F. Whittkamp out of the University of Luxembourg set out to investigate just how much of a role the environment plays in determining our ability to self-reflect on accurate biofeedback. The researchers relied on two methods to measure IAc via heartbeat perception. The first, called the counting task is simply a comparison between actual measures of your heartbeat with your self-reported measures. Another method, called the heartbeat discrimination task, measures how accurately you can rate whether or not your heartbeat is in sync with an external stimulus such as a blinking light on a computer screen. The team in this newest study compared the results of both a heartbeat counting task and discrimination task in two conditions: a resting state and a stress state. Mental stress was induced by having participants match the color of a flashing light bulb with a corresponding button as fast and accurately as possible. If this wasn’t stressful enough, the experimenter also chimed in with a few verbal cues urging the participant to perform better so as to not ruin the entire experiment. In addition to comparing stress state IAc with resting state IAc, the researchers also designed a number of computational models. These models aimed to measure how much of one’s interoceptive accuracy is owed to individual ability versus the situation. The results found that about 40% of a person’s IAc can be explained by his/her individual traits, while around 30% can be explained by the changing situation, leaving the remaining 30% to measurement error. What this says is that your ability to detect and therefore modulate your bodily responses during an anxious state is not fixed. These signals are amenable to change. You can learn to more accurately perceive your beating heart in a high-stress environment. You can apply reappraisal techniques in mitigating your anxiety. The findings of this study have the potential to inform research on stress and anxiety management. For example, having a general idea of how much your IAc is dependent on biological predisposition could provide leeway to pharmaceutical interventions to help combat debilitating responses to stressful situations. For now there’s therapeutic power in knowing you can improve your IAc and work towards minimizing your anxiety. References Feldman, G., Greeson, J., & Senville, J. (2010). Differential effects of mindful breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and loving-kindness meditation on decentering and negative reactions to repetitive thoughts. Behaviour Research And Therapy, 48(10), 1002-1011. doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2010.06.006 Knoll, J., & Hodapp, V. (1992). A Comparison between Two Methods for Assessing Heartbeat Perception. Psychophysiology, 29(2), 218-222. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-8986.1992.tb01689.x Richter, D., Manzke, T., Wilken, B., & Ponimaskin, E. (2003). Serotonin receptors: guardians of stable breathing. Trends In Molecular Medicine, 9(12), 542-548. doi: 10.1016/j.molmed.2003.10.010 Wittkamp, M., Bertsch, K., Vögele, C., & Schulz, A. (2018). A latent state-trait analysis of interoceptive accuracy. Psychophysiology, 55(6), e13055. doi: 10.1111/psyp.13055 This guest article originally appeared on the award-winning health and science blog and brain-themed community, BrainBlogger: How Misreading Bodily Signals Causes Anxiety. View the full article
  10. Admin

    Anxiety Is Not the Enemy

    Anxiety sucks. It can make even a slow, chill weekend miserable with stressful worries about the future and all the tension that goes with it. Even worse, if anxiety is nothing new for you, it can call in its close cousin — shame. Shame and anxiety can then start to bully with thoughts like: Why can’t you just relax? How come everyone is more laid back than you? You’re such a [fill in the blank with your mind’s favorite name it calls you to make you feel bad about yourself]. Trying to stop or avoid this pattern is what most people do, only to feel frustrated and self-critical that they can’t conquer or resolve their anxiety. The pattern is bound to repeat, accumulating more and more frustration and a lessening of confidence of being able to work through anxiety. If anxiety is seen as the enemy, as something to get rid of or something to overcome, then this will only produce more of it. The more you don’t want anxiety, the more you have it. Fighting it only binds you to it. If you can relate to this then I invite you to consider a different way of looking at anxiety. Anxiety is not a problem to be solved. Anxiety IS the attempt to problem solve. Anxiety is, in part, the natural and useful ability to scan for threat and forecast an imagined future taken to an extreme. These two abilities (scanning and forecasting) are an attempt to address problems now or in the near future and are very handy skills. However, things can start to become stuck when the looking for problems becomes the problem itself. Like the old adage says, if you’re a hammer then everything’s a nail. Anxiety will always find issues with now and the near future to label as a problem, it’s just its nature. It’s unskillful to stop a child from yelling by yelling at them. It’s unskillful to stop someone from criticizing you by criticizing them. Examples like these show that it will just cause more of it to happen sooner or later in response. It’s unskillful to try to stop problem solving by seeing it as a problem to be fixed. Anxiety is not something to be controlled. Anxiety IS the attempt to control. Anxiety scans and imagines the future in the attempt to control it. Whenever you find yourself imaging what you’ll say to X when they Y is your mind doing its best to try to keep you safe. Our minds think that we always need to be more prepared, fully anticipating potential negative future scenarios along with their outcomes. The mind loves to control, it’s also just part of its nature. It would be expected for someone to feel uneasy, if they perceive their boss is annoyed with them for taking too much time off. They may start to be concerned that maybe they’ll get a negative performance review in the future. This might guide them to take the action of talking to the boss to clear things up or talking to the boss before taking more time off. The uneasiness or concern might have led to a useful response. However, in this same scenario the same uneasiness can take a dark turn if control enters the picture. Worry thoughts about the boss’s opinion of them can start to loop and loop, becoming obsessive and causing more and more anxiety. Soon the worry thoughts turn into catastrophic thoughts that they’re going to get fired. The replaying and replaying of these future-based thoughts and scenarios are all based on trying to prevent something negative happening in the future. Unfortunately, obsessive worrying often does little to help someone in the future and just leads to exhaustion and a degrading of self-confidence. A major difference between someone that excessively worries in this situation and someone who doesn’t is their relationship with uncertainty. Neither person knows for sure what the boss thinks or will do. Neither has any control over that. The person who has the skill to make space for uncertainty does not need worry to try and control what is not able to be controlled. By contrast, someone without the skill of knowing how to work with uncertainty will be forced into the only strategy they know — trying to control that uncertain situation using anxiety, even if it doesn’t work and it makes them miserable. Going to the Root A weed in a garden can be pruned or it can be addressed at the root. Pruning anxiety is trying to fix or control the symptoms of anxiety. It will inevitable come back, perhaps with more strength later. Behind all worries there is a felt sense that drives it. The worries of today will be similar to the worries of tomorrow by a different name or mask. They will all have the same root. Until someone can peel back the protections, defenses, and controls around it, it will continue to sprout and interfere. The good news is anxiety is workable. When you go to the root you can begin to form a relationship with the source of all this suffering. You can learn to live better, develop skills and build resiliency so that anxiety has less and less influence over you. Heck, people often tend to learn a lot about themselves and experience large amounts of personal growth when they take a break on fighting anxiety and start to learn to work with it. View the full article
  11. Your heart is racing. The world is spinning. You feel like you might throw up. You’re just sitting in class — it’s a normal day, nothing has happened. Yet you feel terrible. You can’t think straight — or you’re thinking too much. You might feel like you’re going crazy. You consider calling an ambulance. Sound familiar? You’re not alone; 22.7% of people in the United States have experienced a panic attack. In fact, one million Americans experience this monthly. Now, what’s really happening? The gist of it is that your brain goes into fight or flight mode. It perceives danger, even if we don’t consciously feel any. When someone is under a lot of stress, the brain’s fight or flight trigger becomes easier to trip. According to psychologist Regina A. Shih, some people are genetically predisposed to panic. In Shih’s study at Johns Hopkins University, the chances of one identical twin having panic disorder is more likely if the other twin has it as well. Panic attacks happen when our fight or flight mode has a false alarm. We begin to associate our psychological and biological reactions (certain thought patterns, or body behaviors like heart rate) with whatever is happening at the time. So, for example, someone might begin to feel panicky when they exercise because exercising raises the heart rate — just like a panic attack does. The good news is that we can unlearn these cues that cause panic attacks. Our brains pick up on so many cues that we don’t even realize. By figuring out what those cues are, we can begin to determine what is triggering the panic attack. Here are some tips to help you through a panic attack and prevent future ones. 1.Know That It Will End The average panic attack lasts around 10 minutes. You will hit a peak of panic, and from there it will reside. While it is hard to believe this in the moment, it will end. Many people find it helpful to pick a mantra for themselves. Some common ones are “this will end,” “I am safe,” or “I will be okay.” If you’re with a friend when you feel a panic attack coming on, ask them to comfort you with these phrases. It can mean more coming from someone else. 2. Use Deep Breathing Techniques This sounds too simple, doesn’t it? Well, you might be surprised that it works better than you’d expect. Many people hyperventilate when they panic, which then can cause feelings of choking, dying, and dizziness. By controlling the breath, you can control your symptoms. Be sure that you’re breathing from your diaphragm/belly. There a few different breathing techniques you can try. One popular one is called 4-7-8. In order to perform this technique, you’ll need to first exhale completely. Then, breathe in through your nose for a count of four. Then, hold your breath for seven seconds. Next, exhale for eight seconds. Repeat as often as you need. This technique is based off of an ancient Indian practice called pranayama. If you do yoga, you may have heard of this term. Another breathing technique is called alternate nostril breathing. First, you’ll want to bring your right hand in front of your face. With your right hand, place your pointer finger and middle finger between your eyebrows. Then, use the thumb and ring finger on either side of your nose. Close your right nostril with your thumb and inhale through the left. Then, briefly close both nostrils and hold your breath for a moment. Next, use your ring finger to close the left nostril so that you can exhale through the right nostril. Then repeat, beginning with inhaling through your right nostril. This might sound complicated at first — try breathing along to a video until you get the hang of it. 3. Push Through When you’re having a panic attack, all you want to do is have it stop. So you push back against it. Oftentimes, this only makes it worse. Instead of pushing against it, push through. Many people like to welcome the anxiety and panic instead of fearing it. This takes a lot of practice and can sound scary, but many people have had success with it. You know, logically, that a panic attack is harmless. Even though it feels scary, it cannot harm you. Some people even find it helpful to talk to their anxiety; acknowledging that it exists for a reason and that your nervous system is just on overload. 4. Move Your Body I know the last thing you want to do when you’re having a panic attack is move. However, moving your body can release excess energy, distract you, and help signal to your body that you’re not in danger.You can really do anything: go on a walk, dance, shake your arms, or pat your limbs. This includes your vocal cords, too. Making noise, whether it be screaming into your pillow or singing, can help expel extra energy you may have. 5. Practice Self-Care Finally, when it’s all over, practice self-care. This is something you should do daily, weekly, or whenever works for you. This can range from treating yourself to a bath or a nice meal, to doing yoga and exercise that you love. This can also mean making sure that you’re going to your therapy appointments and taking any medication you need. Not everyone feels the need to see a therapist, but many people find it helpful no matter how big or small your problems seem. Be sure to practice these techniques regularly, even when you aren’t having a panic attack. That way, it will become more natural and second nature to do these when you are having a panic attack. View the full article
  12. Some universities provide a “what if calculator” to help students project possible grades. It provides the percentage they need on each test to get their desired grade at the end of the course. Based on what they would like their final grade to be, they can decide how much work and effort to put into studying for their final exam. If we all had a what if calculator to forecast our future, life would be so much easier! We could say we all are in a possession of a what if calculator. For many of us, that amazing thought-making machine works overtime. The problem is that though our mind means well, its calculations are not entirely accurate most of the time. Quite often, the predictions are worst-case scenarios that lead us to anxiety, avoidance, and behaviors that get in the way of living a more meaningful life. We cannot be too harsh towards our mind’s efforts — because its job is to protect us. When it perceives something is wrong, it counsels us to stay away from places, events, and situations that could harm us. In the beginning of time, our ancestors’ what if calculators were constantly anticipating catastrophic events. The need to deliberate about past or future events was crucial to their survival. If they had not adhered to the judgments their minds provided, they would not have survived, and we would not be here. Though we no longer encounter life-or-death occurrences like our progenitors did, our what if calculator continues to estimate our routes everywhere we go. Do you need to believe all of your calculator’s forecasts? Some of you may say, “Yes, of course!” However, a better answer could be, “Only when it gets me closer to living the type of life I want.” Your mind is not a crystal ball that knows the future, even though it sometimes may feel that way. Next time your what if calculator begins to predict, take a moment to answer these three questions before following its input. Am I reinforcing anxiety by following my minds’ guidance? Are my mind’s projections correct when I choose to disregard its admonitions? How exact are its predictions? Keep a what if calculator journal. When you notice your mind is forecasting your future and you become anxious, write down what it’s saying. Use a scale of 1 to 10, (10 being the highest) to rate how anxious you are in that moment, and how anxious your mind says you will be unless you follow its warnings. When the mind’s advice is favorable and moves you closer to your values, act on it. If you cannot do anything about it in that moment and/or it’s not helpful, treat the mind as an external event or separate person. Acknowledge what it says by responding with phrases like: “I hear you.” “You may be right.” “We’ll see.” “I got it in my notebook, thanks mind.” “We’ll see what happens.” “Thanks, you are doing a good job at worrying me.” Then gently get back to what you were doing in that moment. You don’t need to rush the thoughts out or hold onto them tightly. Thoughts come and go naturally. Allow them to do so by observing them and then focusing on what matters most. Notice the evaluations throughout the day and continue acknowledging them as indicated above. Later, go back to your journal and read your notes. Record what happened when you disregarded its recommendations. Was your mind’s projection 100% accurate or less than accurate? Write it down. Include your insights and how you feel about not listening to your mind’s direction, especially when you realize it’s not useful. The purpose of this exercise is to increase your awareness as to how your language machine operates. You will discover that you don’t have to comply every time. You can develop a sense of expectancy and curiosity. “What will my mind say today, and will it be helpful?” Even though your what if calculator is amazing, it doesn’t contain all the information to make exact predictions each day of your life. Its rules and opinions may get you entangled and confused. The good news is that you have a choice. You can decide what to do with its calculations! View the full article
  13. In my work as a clinical psychologist, I often observe successful and accomplished women struggling with issues surrounding feelings of self-worth and self-esteem. My patients, many of whom are young adults, often express unwarranted feelings of doubt and insecurity that conflict with reality. Common invalidating phrases that my clients regularly share include “I don’t know but…” or “I know this is silly but…” Why do so many women feel the need to put themselves down and invalidate themselves? I’d like to examine this tendency and suggest some practical behavioral changes that will help develop new, more empowering habits. On a macro level, there has been some recent progress in championing women’s rights as demonstrated by the Women’s March and the #metoo and #timesup movements. However, this progress can give us the illusion that we are further along the path to true empowerment than we actually are. On a micro level, that progress is slower when translated to individual women as they try to reverse the messages women have internalized for decades. To what degree are women internalizing the messages behind these movements? It’s time to pick up the pace. There has been an increasing amount of research examining self-confidence and gender differences that observe the effects of messages woman receive on a daily basis from childhood through adulthood, which can lead to feelings of inadequacy especially when 74% of girls say they are under pressure to please everyone. Damaging messages start from a very young age. A 2017 study in the Journal of Science found that by six years old(!), girls attribute being very smart as a male trait. According to a research study conducted by the Dove Campaign, “7 in 10 girls believe that they are not good enough or don’t measure up in some way, including their looks, performance in school, and relationships with friends and family members.” Issues surrounding disempowerment affect the workplace as well. A comprehensive 2015 KPMG Women’s Leadership study found that, 67% of women said they needed more support building confidence to feel like they could become leaders. Oftentimes, women speak as though they are justifying themselves and automatically assume the defensive position as reflected in the compulsion to apologize for taking up others’ space, time and listening ears. Other times, disempowerment is reflected more through women’s behavior, which often stems from questioning their ideas or opinions, or not valuing their minds and intuition. Empowerment comes through many different channels and even if you were not blessed with a strong support system, it is something you can create for yourself. This is achievable and accessible if you are willing to try. So as long as you have “you” on your side, you can begin taking steps towards becoming a stronger, more confident person, comfortable in your own skin. Here are a few practical steps to begin implementing today: Do One Thing Every Day to Recharge Many women tend to put others first and are not necessarily cognizant of the mental and emotional drain this takes. It is easy to fall into the routine of focusing on everyone and everything but yourself. By taking a proactive approach and reserving some time to recharge everyday (it can be a few minutes) you can go a long way by preventing a state of depletion and enabling yourself to be more aware and in touch with your own needs resulting in more energy and focus. “Me time” can vary from taking a 20-minute walk, enjoying an overpriced latte, meditating (can be a two-minute guided meditation — not a major commitment and easy to find for free online), watching a funny YouTube clip, chatting with a close friend or listening to a song you enjoy (bonus points if you combine music with physical activity)! It’s Okay to Say “No” When someone asks you a question, remember it is a question, not a command or an order. You have the option of saying yes or no. I often hear stories of women agreeing to things they don’t want to do because they have trouble saying no and instead feel it’s expected of them. Tune into any discomfort you might be feeling and ask yourself “why?” Give yourself permission to PAUSE and THINK about if it’s what you actually want before you make a commitment. Let’s reframe… rather than feeling bad saying no, I want you to feel good respecting your boundaries, thereby respecting yourself. That’s something to be proud of. If you develop proper boundaries for yourself that are respectful of your time, energy, and finances, others will have no choice but to follow your lead. The people in your life who get angry or have a negative reaction to you establishing boundaries are likely people who benefited from you not having any. Invest in a Planner (Or App) In this day and age where most of us are running from one thing to another it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by “to do” lists. We can feel like bystanders in our own life going through a stream of obligatory personal and professional commitments. Prioritizing and choosing how you spend your time will empower you; sometimes this involves saying “no” to others (see above). Engage in Positive Reality-Based Self-Talk Tell yourself you are enough… because you are. I encourage patients to write a script. Scripts can be as specific (used before public speaking) or general (morning affirmation) as warranted. As cheesy or uncomfortable as this may feel when starting to incorporate this practice, the fact is that we are constantly speaking to ourselves. Why not tap into our already existing self-talk and use it to empower and build us up? Challenge Your Thoughts A thought only has as much power as you give it. For example, you may have a tendency to compare yourself to others, “They can do it better,” or “I’m not the person for the job/opportunity/honor (fill in the blank)” and that’s fine. Have the thoughts flood your head and observe. Then challenge them. Why are you a good candidate? What are reasons you were given recognition? It’s fine to think it as long as you don’t immediately act on it. When you have an anxious, negative or threatening thought, it is important to challenge it or simply observe it, like a bubble floating towards the sky then popping or an airplane passing by, rather than latching on to it and believing it simply because it entered your mind. There are several wonderful visualization exercises that are helpful to incorporate for not “sticking” to thoughts. View the full article
  14. Some folks are obviously pessimistic. Others seem to be anything but — until you get a sneak peek at their inner voice. If you are one of those closet pessimists, don’t you wish you could wipe out every negative thought you have? Rid your brain of its tidal wave of worries? Sorry, probably won’t happen; I’m not a magician. But, I do have some tricks up my sleeve that will help you become a more upbeat person. So, here goes. Five great ideas to shush your pessimistic inner voice: Instead of asking “what if” questions (i.e. “What if I fail the test?”), then jumping to the worst-case scenario, use the smart part of your beautiful mind to answer the question you just posed. Yes, what will you do if you fail the test? Life doesn’t end right there. There will be another avenue to follow. And who knows where that will take you – if you don’t paralyze yourself with pessimism. Instead of fuming that “It’s not fair,” remind yourself that life isn’t fair. (You knew that, didn’t you?) So what are you going to do about it? If it’s a grave injustice, you may want to fight it. If it’s not, allow yourself to be bummed out for a while, then let it go. New challenges await, if you don’t let yourself get bogged down with yesterday’s disappointments. Instead of putting yourself in a powerless position by saying I “can’t”… (i.e. I can’t quit my job now”), shift your focus away from what you can’t do to what you can do. Change your helpless hypothesis (I have no choice, no power, no options, I’m screwed!) into a motivating muscle (what I can do is…..). You can research alternative career moves, speak to a head-hunter, transfer to another office. Yes, there’s always something positive you CAN do! Instead of obsessing on what went wrong, reflect on the positive (or neutral) happenings of the day. It’s tough for your brain to remain focused on nothing, since nothing is empty space. As with all empty space, something rushes in to fill it. So, instead of letting pessimistic thoughts overshadow your day, focus on something good, (even if it’s small) that happened today. Or, at least, something neutral. Instead of curbing your enthusiasm, curb your ruminations! Instead of being upset with change that’s forced on you, challenge yourself by doing what you’re uncomfortable doing. You’re expected to take on a responsibility or learn a skill that’s not of your choosing. You’re thinking, “I can’t do this; It’s too hard.” Rather than staying with your pessimistic thoughts, reframe. This might be an opportunity for you, a chance to learn something new, even if you’re uncomfortable doing it. So, pessimists, I hope this has been helpful to you. Yes, these ideas might be tough to implement but keep in mind that an accumulation of small work-outs can create hefty muscles. So start the change process right now. If and when you lose your motivation, be sure to get back on track quickly. Here are a few upbeat affirmation, quotes, and music to keep you moving toward a more optimistic future. 1. Two of my favorite affirmations for pessimists: “It’ll work out!” “You can do it!” 2. Two of my favorite quotes for pessimists: “To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.” – Bertrand Russell “The reason why worry kills more people than work is that more people worry than work.” – Robert Frost 3. Here is my all-time favorite motivational song for pessimists: Three little birds by Bob Marley. “Every little thing’s gonna be all right,” repetitively reverberating with the Marley beat is a perfect antidote for pessimistic worriers! ©2018 View the full article
  15. Picture this, you are driving on the highway and your hands begin to sweat, your heart begins to race. Your feet become numb and you can’t feel the brakes. You feel like you are losing control and do not feel yourself. You think you are having a heart attack. Although you may be experiencing many of the physical symptoms of a heart attack, in actuality, what you are experiencing is a panic attack. Panic attacks are intense and plain dreadful; and they can strike when you least expect it. Their exact cause is unknown, but we do know that they are typically hereditary. So, if say your mother, father, aunt, uncle or grandparents have suffered from them, chances are you will too. Oftentimes panic attacks can also be triggered by a painful event or major life event or stressor in your life, such as marriage, the birth of a baby, divorce, or death. Panic attacks are very possibly the body’s attempt to process the powerful feelings of loss, grief, or challenging event you have experienced. The first time I experienced a panic attack I was 26 years old. I was heading north on the expressway. It was dusk and I was heading home following a church service that was held for my step-sister (22) who had died tragically in a motorcycle accident just a few weeks before. The attack came out of the blue and took me by complete surprise. It also terrified me. I thought I had completely lost my mind. It felt surreal and I couldn’t stop it. After seeking therapy and learning ways to manage and prevent future panic attacks, and getting on a medication regime that worked for me, the panic episodes eventually subsided. Just when I thought I had been completely cured, they struck again. It was approximately 6 years later when I experienced my second panic episode, this time it was triggered by the birth of my second daughter who was born sick and nearly died. Those nine weeks she spent in the hospital were grueling, uncertain, and very traumatic. At that time I opted not to use medication as I was breastfeeding, but did seek the help of my trusted therapist to assist me through this painful experience. Slowly the panic attacks again began to subside. However, they decided to rear their ugly head again after my separation from my husband about three years later — yet another stressful life event. Since my first panic attack occurred while driving, it seems that this is when my panic episodes now usually occur. However, for some people they may occur while sleeping, at the movie theater, or workplace, for example. While some people only experience one attack in their lifetime, most will experience them periodically throughout their lives. At this moment, there are approximately 2.4 million Americans living with panic disorder. The good news is that therapy helps. Some days may be better than others, but learning the tools you need to learn to manage your panic attacks are extremely helpful in managing panic episodes. Your therapist can assist you with visualization and anxiety-reducing techniques, as well as with managing your overall stress levels. Remember, when having panic attacks you feel “out of control”, but having a “sense” of control over your life can definitely assist in reducing the panic episodes. Cognitive behavioral therapy can change the way you think, feel and act in relation to a particular situation — in this case your fear-based thoughts. It has proven very effective in reducing anxiety levels and panic attacks. Tips to keep in mind while experiencing a panic attack: Breathe. Oftentimes when we are in a state of panic, we take shallow breaths, especially when in a state of panic. Our body goes into the flight-or-fight mode and perceives normal places as threats. Deep breathing helps to activate the relaxation system in your brain which in turn helps to calm you down Use Positive Self-Talk. Talk yourself through the panic attack. Positive self-talk or statements, such as “I’ve done this before” or “this is just a panic attack” helps one get through the episode. Reach Out. If these things aren’t working, reach out to a trusted friend or family member that can help talk you through the panic attack. If you are driving, pull over or get off the highway and stop at a safe location. If you are unable to drive at all following the attack, call someone to pick you up Tips to Reduce Symptoms of Panic Attacks: Exercise regularly Reduce daily caffeine intake Maintain a healthy and balanced diet Maintain a good sleep routine Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or visualization on a regular basis Do not avoid your triggers Panic attacks are a serious matter and can undoubtedly change one’s life. There have been times where I have wondered if things would ever get better, when I have thought I would never get on a highway again, when I dreaded going on a long drive out of town. While having these feelings are normal, do not let panic attacks defeat you. Keep in mind that there is always help available and things WILL get better, even if it means taking things one day at a time. Above all, confront your fears. If you avoid your triggers, this may lead to agoraphobia, meaning you may never want to leave your house for fear of having a panic attack. Although I still struggle almost daily with my fear of driving, I remind myself that if I had given in to my fear when I experienced my first panic attack 15 years ago, I would probably not be driving today. View the full article