5 "Must Try" Strategies for Anxiety

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It is waaaay too easy to be anxious these days.

As we become tethered to our technology, we are bombarded and overwhelmed with more input than our brains and bodies can handle. As we get older our responsibilities seem unflinchingly complicated and arduous. Dreaming of being on a deserted island takes on a surprising appeal.

Well, the deserted island may evoke even more anxiety, so let’s slowly back away from that last one.

We all lead busy lives so I’ll keep this simple and brief. If you are struggling with anxiety, here are 5 things to keep in mind and try to help you start finding some relief and regaining your confidence.

  1. Know that your anxiety comes from strong associations your brain has formed from past experiences. When they start to appear, name them to tame them. Say to yourself, “I’m feeling anxious because of the break in”, “I’m feeling anxious even though I don’t know why”, “I’m feeling anxious because of things happening in politics”. Don’t enter into a long conversation with yourself. Name it and move on.
  2. Shift your attention to something else when you feel the first inkling of anxiety. Anything. But not in a panicky, ticking time bomb kind of way. Practice doing this as calmly as you can manage. My “go to” is to turn to my breath because it is always with me. I take deep breaths and just try to pay attention to how it feels. I try to breathe twice as long “out” as I did “in”. After a few deep breaths, I turn my visual attention onto something in the here and now. My goal is to keep myself in the present and disrupt rising anxious thoughts as soon as I am aware of them.
  3. Know it will pass. Seriously, this is legit. Even if you don’t do anything, this overwhelming feeling of anxiety WILL pass. Experiment with it. Next time, try to just observe what it is doing. Your thoughts, feelings in your body, the time it takes, the level of discomfort. Don’t do anything and just observe it pass through. Sorta like that unexpected and inconvenient couch-surfing friend of yours from college. Phew, that visit was brutal…but they’re gone!
  4. Know that any new association, thought, action or choice you can make when you are feeling anxious will start a new neural pathway. These new neural pathways strengthen with each repetition. The key is in the reps. The ultimate goal is retraining your brain away from your past anxious associations. Repetition of new associations will do it.
  5. Self compassion. Your first inclination may be to hate yourself for “doing this” to you again. Actually your second and third inclinations may be the same. As soon as you possibly can muster it, you’ll need to forgive yourself and be nice to yourself. I would bet the farm that you’d never say to a friend the things you are saying to yourself. Turn that understanding inward A.S.A.P.

There you have it in a nutshell. Minus the effort and practice.

3 Things You May Not Know To Look For In a Therapist

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Finding a therapist isn’t something most of us have much experience with doing. On top of that when we’re needing to find a therapist for the first time, it’s most likely coming at a time when we’re frazzled, distressed, sad, and feeling super vulnerable.

Needless to say it can be hard.

To help with that here are 3 things you may not know to consider when you’re looking for a therapist. When you picture working with a therapist do you picture:

  1. Someone who speaks and describes things more ‘clinically and academically’ or someone who presents ideas, etc. in a more casual way? We may not know we are biased to favor one way or the other. We also may not realize we attribute more expertise to people sounding one way or another. Or can connect better with people sounding one way or another. To figure out which you might prefer, think about how you’ve responded to other situations in your life and that may indicate which way you’ll want to lean.
  2. Someone who has you do all the talking and figuring things out or someone who shares ideas and connects some dots too? Are you needing a sounding board and picturing long sessions reclined on a couch? Or are you tired of trying to figure out all of this stuff on your own and want someone to jump in and give you some pointed direction for you to try out? You’ll want to know what you’re expecting in this area so your expectations can match your experience.
  3. Someone who is available at times outside your appointment time or someone who isn’t? Some therapists allow text message, email or phone questions between sessions and others don’t. Figure out what type of availability you are looking for and make sure the therapists you are checking out fit the bill.

Have you discovered any others? What are somethings you’d add to this list?

20 Ways to Naturally Increase Your Serotonin and GABA

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Remember playing in the sand at the beach when you were a kid? You’d dig a hole in the dry sand with your hands only to have the sand slide back in and fill in the hole as you go. It often felt like one step forward, two steps back.

When our bodies are low in GABA or serotonin it can have that ‘one step forward, two steps back’ effect on our anxiety, our ability to calm ourselves or our mood in general. We try to feel better and shake things off but we just don’t seem to get any traction.

Fortunately, there are some natural things we can do to help get these two important levels back in balance. These suggestions don’t require major overhauls of your life, just little tweaks here and there. Little tweaks, when practiced consistently, can make huge changes so please don’t brush them off and continue with your status quo. Your life is too important for that.

Also, if you’re like me, knowing specifically why you’re ‘doing this’ or ‘not doing that’ is extremely motivating! For example, in the past when I would hear something about the importance of reducing stress I would think to myself, “Yeah, yeah, I know…” But once the dots were connected with stress’ contribution to low GABA and serotonin, figuring out how to reduce stress seemed particularly valuable!

If you want a quick reminder of the different symptoms for low GABA and low serotonin, I listed them here .

GABA (Gamma-AminoButyric Acid) is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that has a calming and relaxing effect in the brain.

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Serotonin is also an inhibitory neurotransmitter that helps us with impulse control, pain relief, appetite, sleep and is probably best known for its role in helping to create a positive mood.

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If you are interested in getting more information on how these two neurotransmitters might be affecting how you feel, make an appointment with a functional medicine doctor near you. If you don’t live near one, there are some wellness centers online that do tele-consultations.

Leave comments below if you’ve had particular success with these or other natural ways to improver your GABA and Serotonin. I’d love to hear what worked for you.

Could this Be the Holy Grail of Stress Resilience?

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I feel like I have discovered the holy grail of stress resilience! It is free, available to everyone and doesn’t require breaking a sweat or twisting into uncomfortable, yet beneficial postures.  It can be used anywhere and at any time.  

It actually is so basic, I can’t believe I didn’t think of it myself!

But, I didn’t.

And Dr. Richard Brown and Dr. Patricia Gerbarg actually went further and have written a whole book about it, The Healing Power of the Breath.  They’re not the first and they won’t be the last to try to educate the masses on the healing power we have at our disposal, our breath.

The little nugget of wisdom I’m practicing and want to pass on is this: 10 minutes each day of coherent breathing. I call it little, because 20 minutes would be Uhmazing, but 10 minutes is still a great start!  

Now the coherent breathing practice has just a few parameters to it. Sit comfortably or lay comfortably keeping a tall spine. Breathe in and out through your nose, 5 times per minute. That comes out to breathing in for six seconds and breathing out for six seconds. Count. Put your attention on your breath and this rhythm of sixes. If you need to breathe more often, say 6 or 7 times a minute when you are beginning that is ok. Start there and work your way down to 5.

Time flies by as your parasympathetic nervous system is engaged in a pure, rejuvenating, resilience building, oxygenated love fest!

Your parasympathetic nervous system is the one that helps reset after our sympathetic nervous system is activated to handle the daily rigors of life, stress and anxiety. If we don’t actively practice resetting, soothing and strengthening our parasympathetic nervous system, we run the risk of burning ourselves out with our overactive sympathetic nervous system.

Sounds almost too simple to work or be worth it, doesn't it? Usually that's the kiss of death to a new habit. When it sounds too easy we often dismiss it at first glance. Or we forget to schedule it into our daily routine, thinking we'll just remember to do it. 

Well, since we totally are too smart for our own britches, let's not let this holy grail go the way of all our past holy grails. Join me in making this one stick/work.

Take a moment now to type it into your calendar. It takes only 10 minutes to start practicing coherent breathing. I'd love to hear about your experience with it!

Is Anxiety Your Superpower? Ugh, I Hate That Word...

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I’m not glamorizing anxiety, because it stinks. But there’s a new way I started thinking about mine that totally disrupted my old narrative and shifted my thinking. It might help you do the same.

As a former teacher, I used to attend tons of professional development talks and workshops. They invariably started with the leader asking everyone to introduce themselves. Say your name and... your superpower.  Ugh.

There was a period where that happened 3 times in a row. I’ve never related to that superpower idea and even found the trendy use of “superpower” a bit irritating. I mean, I’m good at a number of things but superpower just sounded stupid. 

So, I always just made something up.

That changed a couple of years ago when I had stopped teaching and started writing a lot about anxiety. Out of left field, I started to realize that I did have “superpowers” and for some reason, that notion no longer seemed stupid. But they came from a place that I definitely wasn’t thinking about during those ice-breaker questions. They actually came from a place that I didn’t like to think about at all and had some embarrassment around. My anxiety.

Sure, when my anxiety is at full force these characteristics are blown out of proportion, exaggerated and definitely not helpful. Not a superpower.

BUT, in my normal day to day free from anxiety, these characteristics are present and make me really good at what I do. I now think of them as my superpowers.

  • Proactive planner

  • Prolific option thinker

  • Highly tuned in to the environment 

  • Advanced facial recognition 

  • Highly imaginative

  • Quick to energize for action

  • Excellent brainstorming what-if scenarios

  • Extremely realistic

Can you relate to any of these? What do some of your anxious qualities look like when dialed back? You don’t have to think of them as superpowers, because I know that can be annoying, but use them to help you start thinking of your anxiety in a different way.

3 Subtle Ways to Play Big that Successful People With Anxiety Already Do

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Your anxiety comes up with many ways to keep you playing small.

Like when it talks you out of trying out for the team, convinces you not to pursue a promotion, keeps you from introducing yourself to that interesting person, or scares you away from going for the life you want. These examples are more of the classicly ‘overt’ ways anxiety rears its ugly head.

Another way, on a more subtle level, are the words you use. They are also influenced by your anxiety and can keep you playing small.

They are subtle ‘tells’ to be sure. But once you become aware of them they’ll stand out like a sore thumb. You’ll start to notice them all around you, not only in yourself but in others too. Start changing them and your anxiety will start to notice it is being challenged. You’ll start taking up more space. That’s a good thing. Anxiety flourishes when we play small.

Here are the top 3 ‘tells’ to be on the lookout for and stop doing:

  1. Shrinkers. These are ways we frequently minimize the meaning or impact of what we are trying to communicate. We use words like “just”, “actually” and “almost”. We say or write things like, “I just think..”, “I actually disagree…”, or, “I almost want to opt for the other…” Although you’re not physically shrinking or avoiding things, when you use the words “just”, “actually” and “almost” in your communicating, you are energetically shrinking by devaluing your thoughts and opinions. These “shrinker” words reinforce anxiety’s message that it is right to fear taking up space. Work to eliminate them from your speaking and writing.
  2. Unnecessary Apologies. This unfortunate habit is more prevalent in women than men but does the same thing. It keeps you small. Saying you are sorry is intended to be used when you have hurt someone’s feelings, have done something wrong, or have caused harm in some way. Not because you exist and are human. It’s also something to be used sparingly so it doesn’t lose it’s value and meaning. When your anxiety has you constantly saying things like, “Sorry to bother you but…” or “Sorry if this is a silly question…”, it’s time to do some serious editing. If you catch yourself writing like this in an email, delete it. If you find you use these words in conversation, stop yourself. It’s feeding your anxiety monster by keeping you in your “sorry” comfort zone. Catch yourself the next time you start apologizing.
  3. Undermining disclaimers. Your anxiety can be not only clever but downright sneaky. There are times when it doesn’t make you totally avoid doing something, being bold and speaking up but it inserts itself in a way that keeps you safe…and small. It does so when you say or write things like, “I’m just thinking off the top of my head, but . . . ,” “I’m no expert in this, but . . . ,” or “You clearly know about this more than I do but . . .” You undermine your value with disclaimers to soften a potential negative response. Anxiety is all about the potential! When you notice your anxiety is showing up in this way, take a deep breath, delete the qualifier and simply say what you have to say.

What are other ways you’ve noticed that anxiety makes you speak small? I’d love to hear about them!

5 Signs Your Anxiety is Officially Ruining Your Life and 3 Things to Do

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Denial ‘aint just a river in Egypt!

Nope, denial is alive and well all around us, and maybe even inside us. I know having people point things out to us is no match for our denial, but sometimes it hits us at the right time and in the right place to give us a needed glimmer. A reality check.

Check out the list below and see if anything glimmers. This might be just the right time and place for you.

  1. You rarely have moments of feeling calm or settled anymore. Even on vacations or times when others are enjoying themselves.
  2. You hate feeling crazy yet you’re almost resigned to the ups and downs of anxiety.
  3. People close to you are tired of it too. You’re irritable, paranoid, not able to be comforted and yet not able to stop needing comfort. 
  4. You don’t really do much, you limit your activities to those you feel okay doing.
  5. You’re exhausted by putting on a happy face and covering up your anxiety so no one knows. You feel tired and spent from the mental energy and deception this requires.

The good news, if any of these 5 things speak to you, help is available and anxiety treatment has a super high success rate. I’ve experienced it personally and see it in my private practice each week.

  • You can start with reading information online from trusted sources or medical establishments.
  • Or you can start by talking with your doctor or medical professional.
  • Or you can visit a local mental health practitioner.

Baby steps in any of these areas will help you toward feeling better and leaving the land of denial. That's not a knock...it takes one to know one!

Top 5 Worry Myths and How to Stop Them

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Fear is designed to serve our immediate, short-term self-protection needs. It is designed to activate ‘all-hands on deck’ and address the situation in the here and now. It is automatic and our friend.

Worry, on the other hand, is a different story. Sometimes we fool ourselves into thinking worry is helpful. Maybe we attribute worry to what motivates us to do things we need to do or protects us from bad things happening. But if constant worrying is perceived as helpful, it is only because we’ve created that belief system around that idea.

We’re not alone. This belief system is very common. Take a look at the top five worry mythsthat hook people and see if any get you.

1. Worrying will stop something bad from happening in the future.

2. Worrying about a negative outcome will prepare you for it.

3. Worrying helps you come up with all your options for a particular situation.

4. Worrying makes you feel as if you are actively doing something about the problem.

5. Worrying sometimes helps you avoid thinking about something else.

If you find some of these faulty beliefs might be contributing to your anxiety, you can learn to overcome them. If these beliefs are the way you see events or situations, you’ve reinforced the notion so much so they have become a habit in your way of thinking. The good news is habits can be changed with awareness, effort and practice.

In order to do this, you need to be aware of the times you are slipping into worry. When you recognize you are worrying about something stop and determine if these thoughts helpful or unhelpful.

They are helpful if they spur you to take a needed action, help you problem solve or remind you to take care of business for things you can control in the present. And then the worry dissipates.

On the other hand, they are unhelpful if you experience worry or anxiety over things you can’t control. They could even be about something you know is unrealistic or irrational. Unhelpful, right?

If your thoughts and feelings of worry and anxiety fall into the “unhelpful” category, you label them “false alarms.” One way to remember this is as Dr. Dan Siegel says, you have to “Name it to Tame it.”

You label your repetitive, unhelpful, worrisome thoughts false alarms because they are misguided attempts by your brain to protect you, by making you feel like there is something you can do. Even after you ruled out that possibility.

Here are your 5 steps to overcome constant worry:

1. Whenever you have an anxious thought or feeling, first determine if it is helpful or unhelpful.

2. If it is helpful, let it motivate you to do what you need to do. Then allow the anxious or worrisome thought to dissipate.

3. If it is unhelpful, thank your brain for trying to protect you and then label it a false alarm.

4. Turn your attention toward something else, something concrete in the here and now. Stop yourself from being pulled into thinking of the past or the future.

5. If it doesn’t start to go away, check to see if you are being hooked by one of the top five worry myths and then repeat step 4 until your worry stops being your primary focus.

Is Your Humblebrag Blocking Your Meditation Practice?

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Humblebragging is pretty common in most circles when the topic of meditation comes up. People are quick to say “how active their mind is” or how they're "such an achiever, meditation always seems like a waste of their time.” And while those things are probably true, what jumps out at me is how as a culture we’ve elevated, either consciously or subconsciously, the notion that a mind that is constantly churning out (and churning over) millions of thoughts per second is more intelligent, creative and curious than those that don’t have all that going on in their head. And that those into meditation are a little “slower in the thinking area” to start with so meditation is easier for them. Or meant for those types.

The subtext to thinking of oneself as having a constant stream (or multiple streams) of thoughts, is that it signifies the thoughts are sooo important that you shouldn’t stifle them in any way. Or accidentally edit them. Or chance not having them in the first place. Or risk interfering with the reason you’re successful. Or potentially not being able keep all your balls in the air.

But I guess my real issue isn’t with the active-mind/achiever humblebrag or even with our culture’s elevation of the aforementioned thinking around having a constant stream of thoughts. When I drill down to it, my issue is that there are some pretty subtle yet substantial roadblocks keeping people from being able to experience all the success they want AND have a calmer, less repetitive and non-stop mind. The humblebrag is an example of one of them!

What other examples can you think of that keep people from cultivating a calmer, less repetitive and non-stop mind?

3 Common Code-Switch Terms for Fear of Not Being Good Enough

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Perfectionist, Type A personality, Control freak are just some of the words that people use to describe themselves. These labels are pretty culturally acceptable and in some circles even boast-worthy!

And they’re not bad, they’re just, well, a cover-up.

They’re covering up a feeling that we learn very few skills to effectively deal with in a healthy way. That feeling is fear. Fear of not being good enough. Fear of being discovered as a fake. Afraid that any sign of things not going your way might indicate a flaw that runs so deep you’ll be rejected.

The next time you feel the urge to be a perfectionist, control a situation or find yourself in an uptight bundle, get curious. Are you actually afraid of not being good enough in that moment or being revealed as not what people think you are?

What are some other code-switching examples like this that we do?