The #1 Question You Need Clarity on In Order to Stop Your Anxiety and It's Not What You Think.

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What are you not willing to do, change, start or stop to transform your anxiety? That should be the first question a person figures out when they’re wanting to overcome their anxiety. Not in a judgmental way. Just in a be-honest-with-yourself way.

I recently came upon this realization after reading a ton of “healthy blogs” to help me be, well, healthier. Despite all the good information I was reading, there were suggestions that I simply just wasn’t. willing. to try.

The biggest example of this was the idea of giving up my morning cup of coffee. It was weird. I was reading a ton of compelling information on the benefits of giving up coffee and caffeine. And although I found myself nodding throughout,

I got to the end and thought…hmmm, no I’m not going to do that.

The evidence was clear. The arguments were objective. The intention was pure. Yet, the part of me that wanted to be super healthy totally overrode that piece of advice and wasn’t going to even give it a try.

On the anxiety front, you’ve probably read a lot of information online, listened to suggestions from your friends, family and maybe you’ve even seen a therapist or two. All offering solid advice and persuasive testimonials of ways to overcome your anxiety.

But in order to figure out what really is going to work for you, you need to get clear on what aren’t you willing to do in order to change your anxiety.

Why? Being honest with ourselves is the only way to destroy barriers to growth and be empowered to change. It allows us to be real with ourselves. We can move from sweeping generalizations of how we want things to be to the more nuanced and specific reality of how we’re choosing things to be.

In the case of coffee, my choices right now don’t mean that I’m never going to give up coffee or caffeine. And they don’t mean that I don’t think giving up coffee is a bad idea. It just means that right now, I’m at the point with my health that I’m not willing to do everything I know to do to be super healthy. Or to put it another way, my health isn’t bad enough to make me want to try everything. Good enough is ok.

Anxiety is the same way. We can tolerate a high level of daily anxiety. This high tolerance often leads us to not doing everything we know to try in order to relieve it. Good enough is ok.

If this is your situation, there’s no need to beat yourself up over it. You just need to be honest about your current choices and remember that when/if things change, there are more strategies for you to try.

Green tea anyone?

#1 Question You Need Clarity on In Order to Stop Your Anxiety and It's Not What You Think.

one question for anxiety.jpg

What are you not willing to do, change, start or stop to transform your anxiety? That should be the first question a person figures out when they’re wanting to overcome their anxiety. Not in a judgmental way. Just in a be-honest-with-yourself way.

I recently came upon this realization after reading a ton of “healthy blogs” to help me be, well, healthier. Despite all the good information I was reading, there were suggestions that I simply just wasn’t. willing. to try.

The biggest example of this was the idea of giving up my morning cup of coffee. It was weird. I was reading a ton of compelling information on the benefits of giving up coffee and caffeine. And although I found myself nodding throughout,

I got to the end and thought…hmmm, no I’m not going to do that.

The evidence was clear. The arguments were objective. The intention was pure. Yet, the part of me that wanted to be super healthy totally overrode that piece of advice and wasn’t going to even give it a try.

On the anxiety front, you’ve probably read a lot of information online, listened to suggestions from your friends, family and maybe you’ve even seen a therapist or two. All offering solid advice and persuasive testimonials of ways to overcome your anxiety.

But in order to figure out what really is going to work for you, you need to get clear on what aren’t you willing to do in order to change your anxiety.

Why? Being honest with ourselves is the only way to destroy barriers to growth and be empowered to change. It allows us to be real with ourselves. We can move from sweeping generalizations of how we want things to be to the more nuanced and specific reality of how we’re choosing things to be.

In the case of coffee, my choices right now don’t mean that I’m never going to give up coffee or caffeine. And they don’t mean that I don’t think giving up coffee is a bad idea. It just means that right now, I’m at the point with my health that I’m not willing to do everything I know to do to be super healthy. Or to put it another way, my health isn’t bad enough to make me want to try everything. Good enough is ok.

Anxiety is the same way. We can tolerate a high level of daily anxiety. This high tolerance often leads us to not doing everything we know to try in order to relieve it. Good enough is ok.

If this is your situation, there’s no need to beat yourself up over it. You just need to be honest about your current choices and remember that when/if things change, there are more strategies for you to try.

Green tea anyone?

7 Steps to Take if Anxiety is Making Even Your Spanx Not Fit Anymore

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What do you reach for when you feel your anxiety starting to rise? What helps you release the tension that builds when you’re feeling worried, freaked out? What gets your mind off what you’re anxious about and onto something that feels better, if just a little? What do you reach for to calm your nerves? Yep, food.

Why does overeating help? Seriously, why don’t we over-meditate or “over-something” a bit healthier? It sure would save us from compounding an already challenging anxiety situation, not to mention money on our ever expanding Spanx collection!

We’re wired for taking the path of least resistance. This seems to be especially true when we experience emotional discomfort. Few of us were ever taught the skills needed to get through tough emotional times in a healthy way.

As a result, most of us avoid, push down, deny or numb our feelings through whatever means most available to us at the time. Once we see that it works, it becomes a go-to habit. After that, this maladaptive strategy is employed over and over with very little thought.

Sometimes we keep reaching for “comfort food” because it reminds us of better times in the past. Other times we reach out for “treats” to get us through. And then sometimes we reach out for something that is usually “off limits” so we can subconsciously create the opportunity to stop feeling anxious and start hating ourselves. Seriously.

Eating also may serve a subconscious function of feeling like we are in control, because anxiety sure doesn’t feel that way. Or it may serve the subconscious function of feeling that we are choosing the lesser of two evils, either we can freak out or we can eat. So many possible reasons!

Each person is different, and I don’t want to make this issue sound too easy to fix. Habits are brutal. But with strategies in place and practice, it is possible to start a new habit around your anxiety and eating.

That said, the strategies I’m going to suggest may seem totally unappealing and I know it. They don’t come with any dopamine hit from getting a treat, they don’t set off a blood sugar spike in your bloodstream, they don’t release the neurochemicals involved in reaching for the “forbidden fruit” and they don’t insert a behavior that allows you to turn your emotions to anger.

I know, it is a tough sell.

Even for me and I teach this stuff! But, I ultimately believe in our ability (and need) to prevail against immediate gratification.

Here’s how you do it.

  1. Recognize you’ve gotten into the habit of choosing food to address your anxiety or other feelings that aren’t comfortable.
  2. Notice when you start to feel your anxiety (or other uncomfortable feelings).
  3. Label your feelings and body experience as anxiety.
  4. Tell yourself that you can handle these uncomfortable anxious feelings without eating.
  5. Turn your attention onto something else. Yes, you are trying to distract yourself here.
  6. Take deep breaths, with longer exhale than inhales.
  7. Repeat steps 2–5 until you’ve moved past your discomfort. It may take a little while but will get easier the more you do this.

To recap: You start being more aware of your feelings. You tell your brain what is going on by labeling your anxiety. You tell yourself that you know your brain will want you to eat. And then you show your brain that you can handle it without food by turning your attention onto something else. Then you repeat the process over and over until you safely get past the discomfort without reaching for food or something else.

Like I said before, this process doesn’t come with any of the things we’re used to. It doesn’t instantly relieve the tension, it doesn’t give us a jolt of neurophysiological anything and it doesn’t allow us to transfer our anxiety to self-loathing.

BUT what it does give us is the ability to transform our anxiety in an empowering, healthy way and that eventually will become second nature!

 

3 Ways Meditation will Make You a Better Human

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It took me awhile to get into meditation.

I mean years. I can’t really blame my environment, I had spent the last 4 years in Eugene, Oregon and then was living in Portland. It wasn’t that I didn’t have time, single no kids.

I just wasn’t into it.

Which was weird because, full disclosure here, I’m the type of person who gets into things just because I know they’re good for me. Even if sometimes I don’t like them. For example, eating brussel sprouts and flossing every day. So meditation seemed like it would’ve been one of those ‘good-for-me’ things to add to my list. But it wasn’t.

To be honest, I don’t know how that changed? Peer pressure? FOMO? Who knows. I think I was just worn down after repeatedly hearing about all of the benefits of meditation and just kept trying it until one day it stuck.

Fast forward 15 years and it’s still stuck. Fortunately it has graduated from the brussel sprouts category.

Here are 3 reasons why I’ve kept it up and know I’m better for it. Maybe these reasons might help you give it another try, despite your misgivings.

  1. Meditation gives you a buffer between feeling irritated and ‘losing it’.Ever feel like you have too short a fuse or wish you had a tad more patience, especially when something irritates you? Me too, and actually I now do. I credit meditation but who knows actually what happened. Maturity? Nah, it’s gotta be the practice of being able to sit while tons of thoughts swirl through my head and not letting them get a rise out of me. And that is what happens after meditating for awhile. Getting in the habit of taking deep breaths, not clinging to each thought like velcro, and being able to become an ‘observer’ to our experiences allows us to better pick and choose our reactions. All of that contributes to developing the helpful thing called patience and buys us some time before losing it.
  2. Meditation helps you strengthen your ‘don’t freak out’ muscle.Although the systematic study of meditation is still in its infancy, research issuggesting that an active meditation/mindfulness practice strengthens our emotional self-regulation, or as I like to think of it, our ‘don’t freak out’ muscle. It has something to do with meditation increasing the gray matter volume in our orbito-frontal cortex and hippocampus regions of our brains. Okay, so technically it doesn’t strengthen a muscle at all but important regions that help us keep an even keel when we need it most. And that even keel feels pretty good!
  3. Meditation helps you stop your ‘broken-record’ loops in your thinking. It’s been estimated that we have tons of thoughts per day and most of them are repetitive. I actually had a hard time finding research behind the often quoted 50,000 or so thoughts a day but I think we can all agree that we have a lot. Most of them, we can probably also agree, are not unique snowflakes of thought but ones we have over and over all the time. If mediation does something really well, it’s that it highlights our active mind and helps us have greater awareness of thoughts as they happen. With practice, this increased awareness of our thoughts can help us interrupt them when they seem stuck. The more we interrupt them, the more we stop them. This was one of the first benefits I noticed.

If you’re not into meditation I totally get it. No judgement from this side because I’ve been there. However, I’ve gotta say that it might be worth that one more try. Who knows, keeping these benefits in mind, it may just be the try that clicks!

You Are The Average of What?!?

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You know the saying, “You are the average of the five thoughts you spend the most time with.”

Wait, something doesn’t sound right about that. And yet, actually, that sounds totally right.

The famous saying I’m riffing off of is by the late Jim Rohn. “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” What he meant by that is that when it comes to relationships, we are greatly influenced — whether we like it or not — by those closest to us. The people we spend the most time with affect our way of thinking, our self-esteem, and our decisions.

Sure, we like to think we are our own independent snowflake, but research has shown that we’re more affected by our environment than we think.

I think the same can be said for your emotions and thoughts. I think if you were to reflect on your main thoughts you would see that they shape you more than you think.

Check it out and see for yourself. What are the thoughts you have most often? Are you having a hard time remembering specifics? It’s really not much of a surprise if you are because scientists estimate we have anywhere from 12,000–60,000 thoughts per day!

If it’s hard to figure out one of those 60,000 thoughts per day off the top of your head, you can work backward from what feelings you recall having most often. We’re often more aware of how we feel then the actual thoughts that are causing the feelings. So think of the five feelings you usually have most throughout a typical day. Gratitude? Resentment? Pressure? Joy? Uncertainty? Irritation? Anger? Impatience? Creative? Stress?

Good. Once you identify the feelings you have most often you can backtrack to what types of thoughts might be causing them. You don’t even have to necessarily identify your exact thoughts, a ballpark grouping fits the bill here.

Use the feelings you just identified to recognize the thought “ballparks” you find yourself in most often? Negative thoughts, positive thoughts, worrisome, hopeful, realistic, unrealistic, anxious, assured thoughts?

It’s estimated that a ridiculously high percentage of the thoughts we have each day are repeats. That’s right, most of our thoughts are recycled over and over each day.

If you are spending most of your day repeating negative thoughts, then it really doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that you’re going to trend toward the negative. If you spend most of your day repeating worrisome thoughts about this, that and the other thing then well, you can see how that will end up playing out. Likewise if you spend most of your day repeating thoughts along the lines of hopeful or positive thoughts, you’re going to trend in the opposite direction.

If you want to make changes in your life, start by tackling the thoughts you spend the most time with. If you find your thoughts aren’t ones that will help you, you need to start thinking different thoughts. It actually is that simple.

Simple but not easy! I know, that’s an annoying saying…but it is true in this case. When you find yourself thinking or feeling a way you don’t like insert a different thought. Literally any other thought (assuming it is not similar to the one you want to get rid of) will do.

Often the hard part is being aware of your thoughts in the moment, which happens to be the ideal time to insert new ones. But the good news is that choosing new thoughts/feelings whenever you remember to think of them will start to produce positive results over time!

2 Ways to Start Mindfulness That You'll Actually Do

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Mindfulness can be thought of as the repeated act of intentionally paying attention to where you’re putting your attention.

It has less to do with the adage ‘Live in the Present’ even though that is one of the inevitable outcomes and more to do with regaining awareness and control over where you’re placing your attention. Most of your attention throughout each day is being pulled around by powerful invisible forces called habits. With the greater awareness and control over where your attention is being placed through mindfulness, you can increase your sense of well being as you ultimately increase your capacity to influence your thoughts, feelings, reactions, and behaviors.

If you’re thinking this sounds great but it also sounds so abstract, here are 2 strategies that’ll bring it down to earth.

  • A great way to start accessing your natural ability to ‘pay attention to where you’re putting your attention’ will be to use the little voice in your head to narrate your experiences as you’re having them. For “I’m cutting the vegetables for salad tonight, noticing the colors and textures” or, “As I drink my iced tea, I’m noticing the coolness of the cup in my hand and now turn my attention back to my project that is due tomorrow” or, “I’m noticing that I’m scrolling through Instagram now instead of doing my work, I’ll spend one more minute and then get back to what I need to do.”
  • Another way to get started is to ‘set it and forget it’. Set a chime on your phone to sound periodically throughout the day. Start off with twice. When it chimes, take note of where your attention is. After seeing where your attention is, intentionally choose where you place it next. Do you return to what you were doing or do you pick something else on which to focus your attention?

Mindfulness isn’t meant to be a steady state but a regular touching base. At first, it takes an effort to remember to be mindful. You may need to put reminders on sticky notes on your computer, your bathroom mirror and your steering wheel. But after regular practice and repetition, you’ll become better at it and it’ll become second nature!

Let me know in a comment below if you've found some other ways to integrate mindfulness in your life. I love hearing what works for others!

Is Your Bargaining Perpetuating Your Anxiety? 5 Things to Try.

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We’re all bargainers. No, not like the world class ones you’ll encounter as you nudge your way through the busy shops of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, or wander through the famous stalls of Jemaa El Fnaa in Marrakech, or if you get lost in the maze of the ancient markets in New Delhi. Actually, that’s not the type of bargaining I’m thinking of at all. 

I’m thinking of the constant bargaining and negotiating we do all the time without even thinking of it! If we were to turn up the volume on our awareness, we’d shock ourselves with how often we are wheeling and dealing…with ourselves!

Here are some examples. Have you bargained with the anxiety gods that as long as you keep your anxiety they will protect you from really bad things happening? Or convince yourself that as long as you keep your worry front and center, you’re being responsible and ‘fighting the good fight’ and that it will eventually pay off? Or have you traded your ‘peace of mind’ in exchange for providing for your family?

The problem with this type of internal bargaining and negotiating is that it is a one-way street. The other side might be at the table but they aren’t signing the contract. So, because in our minds so much is at stake, we end up with exceptional follow-through. We live up to our side of the bargain and worry, keep our anxiety, avoid certain things, even throw in a panic attack or two, and the other side? Well, they’re still not signing and there are no guarantees that they’re going to come through for us.

Would you EVER enter into a business deal like this? Even if your job doesn’t require making deals…logically does this make sense to you?

Me either.

So where does that leave us?

5 Ways to Stop Bargaining with Your Anxiety

  1. We need to shed some light on the bargains we’ve made with some unreliable counterparts. Constant anxiety in return for life turning out ok. Lack of sleep in order to ensure business success. Chronic worry in order to guarantee my kids stay safe. Being overweight in order for my kids to get to their activities. Panic attacks to stay employed with my demanding but high paying job.
  2. We need to ask ourselves if this is the only way that we will get the outcome we are wanting. Do I really need to wake up anxious in order for my life to turn out ok? Is the picture I’ve painted for my life the only picture that will work? Is being afraid of losing what I have or what I want to have the best way to keep it? Ask yourself some real questions along these lines.
  3. Think logically even though anxiety isn’t logical. Anxiety is usually based on something that is potentially real and so logically an anxious reaction does make sense, though exaggerated. Once we accept that, we then we can think of other logical ways to deal with whatever we’re struggling with. We keep anxiety as one option and then we add other options to our menu. For example, you’re overwhelmed with responsibilities at work. One option is to wake up each morning before work feeling anxious, another option is to call in sick, or start looking for another job, or talk with your boss, or reframe what’s being asked of you, or take an online class to fill in skill gaps, or talk with a friend, or learn natural ways to help your body calm down, or make sure you exercise, or or or…
  4. We need to experiment with other options. We can always return back to an anxious reaction. In a screwed up kinda way, anxiety will actually even feel comfortable because the known is always more comfortable than the unknown. But, we need to try out other reactions to address and deal with what is totally stressing us out because anxiety isn’t effective and makes life complicated and sucky. The key when we’re experimenting is to actually give the new reaction repetition and time to see if it works. Too often we try something once or twice and determine it doesn’t work. Our anxiety has had plenty of time and practice so we owe the same to other strategies!
  5. Cut ourselves some slack. I know, that goes against all the hard-a$$ ‘wisdom’ out there. It flies in the face of all the self-critical cheerleading that has become the sacred path to success in our culture. Most likely you’ve been going that way too. It really doesn’t work for the long haul. So, maybe throw this one into your experimenting cycle too. You’re not going to the opposite end of the spectrum, lighting patchouli and telling yourself, “It’s all good.” You’re merely accepting a little bit more of being human, having reactions that make sense, and doing your best to make changes going forward…minus the self-flagellation.

Backing out of a past negotiation with your anxiety is ok. I think your anxiety is expecting it any day now.

Leave a reply and let me know what you just unbargained out of :-) 

Short and Sweet (10 Second) Anxiety Trick

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I learn some of my best tricks from the clients I have worked with in the past. They’ll see something or try something new and, if it works, will pass it on to me. This type of feedback loop is extremely helpful and is a reason I’m constantly asking people to share their experiences with me. 

The 10 Second Anti-Anxiety Trick came to me in just this fashion. My former client passed along this gem from an article in July’s issue of Prevention magazine from two summers ago. It’s short and sweet…excuse the pun.

Here it goes. “The next time you’re feeling anxious, ditch the happy beach thoughts and rattle off as many ice cream flavors as you can. The exercise leverages a technique known as “grounding”, which can help bring your brain and your body back to the present,” says Vaile Wright of the American Psychological Association.

“It frees you from overwhelming feelings and unhealthy thoughts spinning in your head.” 

Why ice cream instead of, say, state capitals? The familiar dessert adds a level of comfort and nostalgia, researchers say.

Give it a shot and let me know how it works for you! Would another ‘list’ type exercise work better for you? 

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?