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?

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!