Generalized Anxiety

Severe Blushing Stinks! One Legit Strategy to Make It Go Away.

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Fear of blushing is a prominent complaint by many with social anxiety. We can hide many things with our anxiety, but blushing totally exposes us. Our body seems to betray the fundamental laws of loyalty and self-preservation. It’s embarrassing and all-around miserable. 

The physiology of why some of us turn tomato-red at the drop of a hat, and others don’t, isn't totally understood by researchers and doctors. But one aspect that seems to play a big role is how we respond to that dreaded physiological arousal called blushing. 

When we feel that familiar flush and sudden onslaught of warmth fill our cheeks we instantly get self-conscious. Many times we’re filled with some hierarchy of self-hate. If we can escape a situation we will. If we can hide, even better.

All our thoughts get lassoed into one big self-focused bundle and only intensifies the more we think of how red our face is. It creates a vicious cycle. The more we think of how much we’re blushing, the more we blush. The more we blush the more we think of how much we’re blushing. And since it is soooo noticeable to everyone around us, we think about it even more… and want to crawl under the nearest rock. 

Needless to say, that’s not the response that’s helpful. 

2 Effective Ways to Combat Severe Blushing

In all my research, I’ve found two effective ways to help curb severe blushing. The first is an expensive and sorta crazy sounding surgery. Endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy is a surgical procedure where the nerves that cause the facial blood vessels to dilate (widen) are cut. Um. No thanks. 

The second is teaching those who experience severe blushing to explicitly focus their attention on to anything else but their blushing. 

Seriously. This is simple strategy an extremely effective way to help people decrease their blushing and cope with their blushing at the same time. 

Self-focused Attention

Since blushing and self-focused attention mutually reinforce each other, if you redirect your attention outward (to whatever you’re doing and your environment) you’ll be able to break through the vicious circle!

Were you hoping there was some secret intervention to stop your blushing in the first place? I know I was years ago when I began my research into this in an effort to help me with my own blushing. But I have to tell you, since I’ve been practicing turning my attention away from my ‘self’ and turning it outward onto what I’m doing, it has become the next best thing!

I can definitely vouch for this one. What has helped you? 

3 Novel Ways to Change Your Anxiety

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We are both complex creatures and waaay too simple for our own good. For the sake of time, I’ll skip the complexity and jump right into the simple stuff. More specifically, the simple stuff around our anxiety. And for that, it all drills down to our mental model. 

Mental Models

A mental model is the framework we use to understand the way things work, make decisions, and conceptualize challenges. We create them as we grow up and they become just “who we are”. 

When life is going great we don’t seem to have reason to explore our mental models or question them. We pretty much just rock. 

However, when life stinks we still don’t explore them…

That’s a problem. Mental models offer the key point of intervention for creating good things in our lives and extinguishing the bad things in our lives. 

Let me show you how to get started exploring your mental model around anxiety. And changing it.

Take a moment to think about these questions.

  • What happens when you start to experience that panicky feeling?
  • What are the negative thoughts that your mind has when you are feeling anxious?
  • What do you remember being your worst time with anxiety and what are you fearing is going to happen next time?
  • How much do you hate having that anxious pit in your stomach and racing mind?
  • How often do you avoid certain things to try to avoid feeling anxious or get that impulsive feeling to bolt from situations to feel better?

The answers to these questions contribute to your anxiety mental model. They make up how you view your anxiety. Plain and simple, without changing things within your mental model, it’ll continue to fuel your anxiety. 

To create change in your anxiety do these 3 things to start altering your mental model.

  1. Question your lynchpin underlying assumptions, the driving forces that perpetuate your anxiety. It’s frustrating, often we can’t figure out why we have anxiety. But frankly I think spending a lot of time trying to uncover the why is a waste of time. Better, start with identifying the main thoughts that perpetuate your anxiety. Do any of these sound familiar? “I’ve always been anxious, that’s just how I’m wired”, “I can’t help it”, “I don’t have time to do anything differently”, “I shouldn’t be like this”, “I’m weak.” Those underlying assumptions that you’ve subconsciously taken in as “facts” and built your anxiety upon, need to be changed and replaced. Manually. As in saying to yourself, “I no longer believe that I’m hard-wired to be an anxious person.” Period. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to support that statement with examples. You will lose that game. In order to change your lynchpin underlying assumptions you just need to declare to yourself that you no longer believe that to be true. And repeat the new assumption when you feel your anxiety rise. 
  2. Seek out individuals and information that offer a different interpretation of anxiety. It’s human nature to want to surround ourselves with people who think like us. It’s comfortable and takes little mental energy. Two high priorities for humans! It’s such a natural way for us to operate that we’ll even subconsciously discount or reject opposing opinions in our effort to find others that confirm what we believe. Psychologists call this ‘confirmation bias’. So in order for you to make strides in eliminating your anxiety, it’s important not to fall into the confirmation bias trap. Read from different sources of information than usual, listen to different interpretations about anxiety and it’s treatment than you have in the past. If you find you’re just hearing what you already knew or suspected…look for something that totally contradicts it or suggests something different. Talk to different types of professionals. The point here is if your anxiety isn’t going away on its own or with the strategies you’ve tried, it’s time to figure out a different mental model. The only way to do that is to expose your thinking to new ideas AND notice when you are clinging tightly or looking to confirm your original beliefs. 
  3. Pay attention to novel experiences. In order for us to deal with the amount of information and stimuli we are exposed to each day, our brains consolidate things and opt for the most energy-efficient strategies. This is the reason why we have confirmation bias so badly. Our brains don’t want to invite anything that is going to be a drain on its energy. As a result when it comes to our anxiety, we fall into the practice of glomming all of the times we feel anxious into one known quantity. When x happens then y happens then z happens… Our brain’s think “Here we go again!” and don’t have to give it any more thought or energy. In order to change our anxiety we need to disrupt this ‘autopilot’. We need to pay attention to the times and things that are different. We need to be curious about how long our panic attack lasted or the fact that we didn’t get a tight chest like last time. When we pay attention, even though it takes more energy and sometimes more uncomfortable, we get a more accurate and undistorted view of our experience. It is in this place that true opportunities for effective interventions lie!

Our mental models pretty much dictate how we see the world and how we are in the world. The good news, they’re not set in stone. It’s in disrupting these previously held frameworks that new and improved ones can take hold and our anxiety can finally start taking the backseat. 

Do have any mental model busting strategies you’ve tried? I’d love to hear about them. 

 

If you’re the DIY, super busy, dip-your-toe-in-before-diving type and would like to overcome your anxiety in the comfort, convenience and privacy of your own home, check out my 4 week online mini-course.

A Whiff of Lavender for Anxiety? C’mon, Really?

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(Before you read this, ask yourself if there is anything I can tell you or research I can show you that will make you believe that taking a big whiff of lavender will help ease your anxiety?)

As with many things, we selectively apply our experiences and logic when it comes to helping ourselves feel better.

We’re funny creatures that way.

We believe that the smell of bread baking in the oven can make us feel warm and cozy, even a bit nostalgic, and the smell of pumpkin spice can have us instantly jonesin’ for our favorite fall latte, but we don’t believe something like the smell of lavender can legitimately help us feel calm. Or the smell of lemon and eucalyptus can seriously increase your energy when you’re feeling over it.

Most of us go through life thinking we are in the driver seat carefully architecting our experiences. Yet, often we have huge blind spots when it comes to feeling better emotionally. We somehow don’t connect some of the easiest dots and overlook some of our most accessible sources of help.

Let’s get back to the smell of bread baking in the oven. I want you to feel warm and cozy so you are more open to the idea I’m about to throw on you. And here is the idea: you can use certain smells in the form of essential oils to help you feel better. It’s called aromatherapy and it can help you.

The accurate mechanisms of aromatherapy have not yet been identified. Which basically means that scientists don’t exactly know why or how it works. That’s a bummer because we like to know why and how things work in order to believe in them.

But here’s the catch…scientists don’t know how and why most things work! Some theories, however, gain ‘culturally accepted status’ as valid and others don’t. If a theory fits into your ‘idea’ of how you think a mechanism should work, “Bingo!” it’s believed. While other ideas, for whatever reason, are relegated to a lesser status and are ignored, even with research behind it.

So, forget about lavender or lemon for a minute.

“Feeling better” comes down to doing things differently than what we were doing before. Plain and simple. It requires change of some sort. It requires trying some new things and giving up some old things.

Aromatherapy may not be “your thing” but it just may symbolize how strong resistance to change can be. If it is your thing, you’re in luck! It is a very effective way to help curb anxiety and can safely enhance your current go-to strategies!

Is It Anxiety or 'A Shot in the Dark'?

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A couple years ago I got a coffee ‘to-go’ from the neighborhood coffee shop on my way to work. I usually have my own mug with me but didn't that day. No problem.

Not too long after arriving at work, my body started freaking out. I was sweating, my heart was beating out my chest, I was jittery, my mind was racing and I started feeling panicky like never before.

It came out of nowhere and was totally scary. My day was busy and there was a lot on my mind but this was weird.

I started taking some deep breaths to try to calm myself down. That worked marginally, but I could still feel my heart and my mind was still racing. I didn’t know what was happening. Was this a panic attack? I’d never had one before but definitely knew about them.

At some point, I glanced at my paper coffee cup and noticed the barista’s markings for my order. It read “shot in dark”. “What?” I thought to myself, this was supposed to be just a regular coffee.

I then realized that my reaction was a result of accidentally picking up the wrong coffee order at the coffee shop that morning! Instead of my usual coffee, I had drunk one with two extra shots of espresso! No wonder my body and mind were freaking out! I had just bombarded it with a super high jolt of caffeine and it was reacting as I would’ve expected it to.

I felt better instantly. Well, my body was still a jittery mess due to the caffeine coursing through my veins and my mind was still faster than usual but once I realized this logical reason for my reactions, I was at ease. It was a false alarm brought on my a ‘shot in the dark’.

Upon labeling it a false alarm, all of those symptoms that had captured my full attention and had me so worried soon became a fading-into-the-background noise. My symptoms were still happening but they no longer gripped me with their power.

I got back to work and waited it out.

You can do this too with your anxiety. There are so many similarities.

  • If you start to feel your body anxiously amping up, check in. If something isn’t immediately requiring your “fight or flight” reaction label it a false alarm.

  • Anxiety triggers false alarms. Teach your mind to settle down with the realization that this type of experience can be attributed to ‘anxiety’ just as my type of experience could be attributed to too much caffeine all at once.

  • Just like my accidental coffee with a double shot of espresso, your anxiety is something real and once it has been activated it needs to quietly run its course in the background. Important point: In the background! Label it a false alarm and then turn your attention back on to what you were doing or need to do.

  • Remind yourself periodically if you need to that you’re experiencing a normal reaction to something that just triggered your anxiety (usually a thought) and that you can let it dissolve.

  • Your anxiety is super uncomfortable because it captures your full attention and usually spirals to become even bigger. Check it. Label it. Forget it.

Have you ever had an experience that mimicked anxiety? What happened? How did you deal with it?

5 Easy Ways to Ensure Your Brain Isn’t Pulling One Over On You

Brain and Narrative Short cuts

You’re sitting there in your yoga pants sipping your favorite hot beverage and reading a Reddit article on your phone. Seems pretty mellow right? For the most part it is. But on a sensory level, your brain isn’t resting. There are still tons of pieces of information your brain is processing and staying on top of. Now picture all the information that your brain takes in as you ride down the busy escalator to the packed subway on your way to work. No doubt your brain is working double-time!

Fortunately, your brain is expertly equipped for both situations, and all situations in between. 

So let’s pause a moment and give your brain the props it deserves. Nice work brain, keep it up!

Thank goodness too, that your brain isn’t the complaining type. From a cognitive perspective, information is costly to take in, store, manipulate and retrieve. The more information it is presented with, like the subway station during rush hour, the more taxing. Don’t be fooled just because your brain makes it look easy. It’s not.

The way your brain is able to function efficiently during even the most stimulation-dense situations is through various short-cut systems it has at its’ disposal. One of the most common is the use of narrative. 

Narrative, or the way you explain things to yourself, fill in the blanks when you don’t have facts, and the stories you tell yourself, creates patterns. Patterns are easier for your brain to recognize and manage than tons of disparate bits of information or things that don’t make sense. 

There are many types of patterns your brain relies on. 

Causality, that is logically progressing from cause to effect, makes for an efficient narrative and is a common ‘go-to’ pattern for our brains. A story that progresses logically in this manner is easier to neatly package than one that takes wild twists and turns and may not wrap up nicely. It’s no surprise that an overworked brain likes causality. And no surprise then, that we quickly come up with answers for everything, explain anything that comes across our paths and try to avoid uncertainty at all cost!

We feel better when we know the why of things and when things ‘make sense’ to us. We even feel better when we totally make things up that fit that bill. We end up telling ourselves a lot of stories that increase our impression of understanding, without needing them to be based on reality. 

Your brain’s ‘Causality Narrative’ pattern building is essential for continuing to function at the high level you do. But in order to make sure this short-cut is helpful and doesn’t lead you astray, it’s important to do these 5 things:

  • Become aware of the cause-and-effect stories you tell yourself
  • Become aware of the ways you fill-in-the-blanks when you don’t know the facts
  • Become aware of the ways your wishful thinking or pessimistic thinking influences that way you explain things
  • Become aware of how your stories fail to respect the facts that you actually know
  • Increase your comfort level with uncertainty so you don’t automatically explain things you don’t know.

The more you understand how your brain works and practice fine tuning it, the higher performing your brain will become without negatively effecting its’ efficiency.

5 Ways to Stop Bargaining with Your Anxiety and Feel Better

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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 get lost in the maze of the ancient markets in Delhi. Few of us ever reach that level of bargaining. Most of us feel utterly uncomfortable in these types of haggling situations. We avoid them at all cost. And if by total accident we ever found ourselves there, we’d be counting the days until we were back in the safety of fixed price tags!

We think we prefer things a more concrete and non-negotiable.

The funny thing is, we’re constantly negotiating. 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 :-)

20 Natural Ways to Increase GABA and Serotonin to Help Your Anxiety

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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 this! I’d love to hear what worked for you.

Is Your High Functioning Anxiety Caused by Low GABA or Serotonin?

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You gotta like puzzles. Or at least experiments. Sometimes it feels like solving a riddle.

Understanding and alleviating your anxiety often requires all three. Even though there has been a ton of headway made in understanding the biological and neurological mechanics of anxiety it seems like there are more people than ever that are still struggling.

As with most things, there isn’t one size that fits all so overcoming anxiety relies on a bit of Sherlock Holmes-style deductive reasoning.

When it comes to overcoming your anxiety, one piece of sleuthing involves identifying your symptoms pretty specifically. There is good reason to believe that different anxiety symptoms could point to different neurotransmitters with which your body may need additional assistance. Low levels of GABA or serotonin, two neurotransmitters, have been linked to anxiety and are commonly low in many people. These low levels are due in part to chronic stress, lack of certain nutrition, and not having time to exercise.

Check out these lists and see if half or more relate to you. Spoiler alert: if you do have low levels of either GABA or serotonin, it is totally doable to increase your levels naturally and without pharmaceuticals!

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 and is probably best known for its role in helping to create a positive mood.

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Well, did you find out anything interesting? If you could relate to half or more of the symptoms on the following two lists there’s a chance you currently have low levels of these neurotransmitters and they could be contributing to your anxiety.

Find a doctor of natural medicine and/or functional nutritionist to guide you on your next steps to correct this imbalance. Nutrition and dietary interventions, exercise and possibly taking supplements are effective and natural ways to increase levels of GABA and serotonin and will most likely be the first things recommended.

1 Thing You Can Do Right Now if You’re Feeling Anxiety

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When I tell people that I‘m an anxiety therapist they say, ”Wow, could I use someone like you!” People say that All.The.Time. Fortunately, I have the awareness that this comment is not an open invitation for unsolicited advice on overcoming anxiety. So I smile and say, “Me too!”

But after a few of these comments it got me thinking what could I say to someone if they wanted my quick 2 cents that would be helpful, universally effective, and that could be called on when needed?

At a bare minimum, you need a clear strategy for 3 aspects of your anxiety:

  1. When your mind starts going to that anxious place
  2. When your body starts amping up
  3. When you start getting down on yourself because you have anxiety

If I had to give one piece of truly helpful advice, here is what I came up with. It's an If/Then plan to use each and every time you start getting those anxious thoughts, feelings and body sensations. 

Use this as your If/Then plan for All 3:

  • Label it. Label the fact that you are feeling anxious and having anxious thoughts. Label the fact that your body is responding in an anxious way. Label that you're having self-critical thoughts. Call it out in a direct, objective way. “I’m having anxious thoughts" or " My body is getting that anxious feeling" or "I'm having self critical thoughts."  Don’t go into why or why you’d like them to stop. Simply label the thoughts,  feelings and body sensations you’re having as anxious thoughts, feelings, body sensations. Less really is more here.
  • Turning your attention. When this happens, turn your attention onto something else. After you label your thoughts, feelings or body sensations, letting your brain know that you’ve received that message, turn your attention on to something else. Preferably back to what you were doing or need to be doing but literally putting your attention and focus on anything other than your ruminating anxious thoughts will do the trick. In the beginning, it will feel like you are plying your mind away from the stickiest glue you can imagine. It’s that tough. But over time it gets infinitely easier!

From your experience, what do you think? What would be the #1 thing you’d suggest to a person to try?