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How to Handle Anxiety

When I treat anxiety in others, and when I encounter it in myself, I find that anxiety is always rooted in a sense of helplessness. It’s as if our unconscious believes that we truly have no power, that we are damned if we do, and damned if we don’t, and that we are powerless to affect change. Our prefrontal cortex responsible for logic and reasoning, knows this powerless thinking spiral is not completely true and accurate, but the primitive brain is so busy reacting to anxiety provoking stimulus, the logical part of the brain is overridden. The times we feel most powerless, are the times we feel most anxious.

Figuring out how to make yourself feel stronger, more in control, and more powerful is key. But how?

How to Treat Anxiety

Anxiety is rarely a problem that exists all by itself. Anxiety exists in environments where it can grow. Chronic stress, toxic relationships, power imbalances, and poverty are all things that cultivate anxiety and make it grow. There are common ways to treat anxiety like therapy, meditation, relaxation techniques, exercise and cutting down on stimulants (caffeine.) Any and all of these things can be helpful, but I have found one thing that helps immensely.

Make Small Choices for Big Power

Taking back your power is the solution to the anxiety problem. When people find small ways to feel powerful again, they start to feel better.
Anxiety often is a result of feeling trapped in a box of “I can’ts”; feeling stuck between a rock and a hard place; feeling damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. Anxiety’s root is powerlessness. To strike back at anxiety, taking small steps to gain back your power make all the difference.

Try This

  • Brainstorm all the options you have, even the crazy ones.
  • Make small choices on how you spend your time.
  • Make small choices on how you will reframe or think about your current situation.
  • Make small choices on how you respond to others’ dysfunction.
  • Set small boundaries on time, duties, space you share with others.
  • Set small boundaries on how much you allow yourself to think about bothersome worries.
  • Own mistakes you’ve made and commit to making amends. Say yes to things you want to do, and no to things you don’t.
  • Invite help.
  • Invest in a trainer, a consultant, a coach, a counselor, a psychiatrist, an attorney, or an assistant.
  • Off load emotional vampires, time-sucks, and the self-absorbed.
  • Cut your losses on unlucky investments and one-sided relationships.

Taking back your life from the anxiety, isn’t done in one fell swoop. It is done by making one small decision after another, until you feel stronger, more confident and more positive. Psychologist measure remission and success by decreased frequency, duration, and severity of anxiety episodes. With each step toward empowerment and positivity you make, remission from anxiety becomes possible.

Why Do I Feel this Way? Addressing Anxiety Part II

Heart thumping, cold sweat, shallow breathing and mind racing. These are the signs of the fight or flight mechanism at its peak. When the brain’s hippo campus recognizes a stimulus as threatening, it sends messages to the body that prepare it to fight, to take flight, or to freeze.
But what if that stimulus produces a low grade of fight, flight, or freeze nearly all the time? What if the brain gets dysregulated and sends signals to the brain to react even when the stimulus is not dangerous?

You end up feeling terrible all of the time.

Anxiety occurs in people for a variety or reasons, including past or present traumatic events, genetic predisposition, or a life of chronic stress. Whatever the cause, the symptoms can be bothersome at best, and debilitating at worst.

An estimated 19% of Americans suffered from an anxiety disorder in the past year. That’s almost 1 in 5 people. Whether you have suffered with anxiety in the past, are being treated for it now, or love someone debilitated by it, chances are you have been affected by the far-reaching tentacles of anxiety.
Last week, we talked about the symptoms and signs of anxiety. Check it out if you missed it by clicking HERE.

Why do I feel this way?

Finding the WHY is not absolutely necessary to solve the problem of anxiety, but it does help quite a bit. It is accepted by psychologcial professionals that anxiety can be caused by a combination of different factors like genetics, faulty cognitions, chemical imbalance, environment factors, and life events. Wanna dig in a little more? Here are some common factors that contribute to the anxiety you may be feeling.

  • Past little t traumas. I refer to Little t traumas as those less-than-nurturing things that happened consistently over time. Like the constant criticism of a parent, frequent family moves, or trying hard but being benched each year on the soccer team. These are relatively small traumas to the psyche but when occurring with consistency and frequency, can make for an anxious life.
  • Past Big T Traumas- Big T traumas are events most people would consider tragic, de-stabilizing and distressing. Big T traumas are  These are things like car wrecks, dangerous predicaments, violent acts, witnessing traumatic events,
  • Toxic Relationships– When living or working in a toxic, dysfunctional, or demanding relationship or environment, anxiety can start to take hold. The feeling of being trapped in a dysfunctional relationship can make a person feel inadequate, overly responsible, hyper vigilant, and worried about rejection. Often people will feel powerless to change their relationship situation because they fear the cost would be too great (stress to the kids, financial stress, feelings of failure,) Many people will stay in toxic environments and relationships hoping it will get better, however, their emotional and physical health suffers.
  • Feelings of Extreme Powerlessness- Anxiety is always rooted in a sense of helplessness. It’s as if our unconscious believes that we truly have no power, that we are damned if we do, and damned if we don’t. Trapped. Bound. Gagged. We believe things like, “I can’t do anything about it,” “I have no choice,” and “It’s useless.” Our prefrontal cortex, responsible for logic and reasoning, knows this powerless thinking is not completely accurate, but the hippocampus is so busy over-reacting, it overrides logic and stays in a fight/flight spin. The times we feel most powerless, are the times we feel most anxious.
  • Chronic Unresolved Stress- relationships, environments, and stressful situations have a “piling on” affect that over time, drain your resources, energy and motivation. The Hope-Disappointment cycle bankrupts what little resources you have left. Adrenal fatigue, PTSD, depression, weight gain, loss of motivation are all signs of working/living/dealing with chronic stress. Demanding work environments, infertility, toxic relationships, living with someone with untreated mental illness, dealing with chronically angry people, unemployment, poverty, bullying are all examples of environments that cause chronic stress.
  • Survival Fatigue- Since the Hippocampus is getting all sorts of danger signals… ALL THE TIME… even when there’s no danger, you start to feel like a victim in perpetual survival mode. You say things to yourself like, “Just get through it,” and “just keep going.” Fight/Flight/Freeze is a great mechanism to save your life, but not so good for long periods of time. During survival mode, you may go through phases of hyperarousal and numbness, back to hyperarousal again. Maintaining survival mode can cause anxiety over time.

Depressed yet? DON’T BE! Anxiety is a very treatable condition, and with the right attitude and the right help, you can start gaining control over your anxiety symptoms.

I don’t want to leave you hanging, really I don’t, but I’ve got to break this blog into three parts, so I can do things like eat a real meal, go to bed before midnight, and you know, have a life and stuff. Anxiety is a huge topic with a myriad of treatment techniques, so I will give you the best ones next week. In the mean time, check out these links – this one on communication and this one on healing from a toxic relationship .

Are you Dealing with Anxiety?

Heart racing, shortness of breath, lying awake at night worrying? Most people can identify with having anxiety and its symptoms at different points in their lives. In fact, Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 18% of us in the United States age 18 and older every year.


Source: National Institute of Mental Health

How Does Anxiety Feel and  How do you know When it’s Time to Get Help?

Anxiety comes in lots of different forms like PTSD, Panic, Social Phobia, OCD and extreme and frequent worry. It affects all people differently dependent on genetics, biochemistry, age, stage and life events.

Can you Relate?

People with anxiety

  • Find it difficult to control worry
  • Feel restless, keyed up and on edge
  • Become easily irritated and angry
  • Have difficulty concentrating or staying focused on important things
  • Have difficulty falling or staying asleep

People with anxiety may also experience intense panic with increased heart rate, shallow breathing, feeling out of control, and unable to calm down. With all this adrenaline pumping, people with anxiety can experience an intense let down affect resulting in exhaustion and depression. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, let me be the first to empathize and say, “Friend, that sucks.” Because it really does. Since anxiety is largely invisible, it’s hard for others to understand just what is going on inside you. Even though anxiety doesn’t show up on ultra sounds and Xrays, it is real, and it is painful. And you’re not crazy.

How Do You Know When It’s Time to Get Help?

Did you know that anxiety is highly treatable? Yes! That’s the good news. The bad news is that only 37% of those suffering from anxiety disorders actually receive treatment. What a bummer!

Though I had been seeing a counselor since my graduate school days, I didn’t start addressing my anxiety symptoms head on until my mid thirties. (yes, I look like I am barely out of college, haha, but no.) It was then that I saw my worries, restlessness, irritability, going from 0-60 in a red not second, and panic in uncomfortable situations as problematic. The people around me were being affected, and that was enough for me to say, “Stop! In the Name of Love!” So I addressed it calling it the name it was- anxiety.

Here are some questions to ask yourself if you think that your anxiety might becoming a problem.

  • Are you tired of worrying about what other people are thinking, about things that never actually happen, or about regrets from the past?
  • Are your feelings keeping you back from moving forward (taking on a new role, public speaking, networking or socializing, getting involved in the world)?
  • Do your anxious feelings make you avoid things that other people do without worry?
  • Do you break down into a puddle more than you’d like to admit?
  • Are your anxious feelings becoming debilitating, or restricting you from normal functioning?
  • Are the people around you tip toeing on eggshells trying not to upset you?
  • Has this been going on for a long time and you’re sorta sick of it?

Well, that’s the down and dirty anxiety checklist. As you’ve guessed, there is a lot more that can be discussed when it comes to anxiety- chronic stress (cool!), triggers, (woo hoo!), panic attacks (yikes!) and my personal favorite, obsessive negative thoughts (love this one! Gimme some more!)
Next week, we will unravel some of the WHYs of anxiety (stressful relationships anyone? terrible boss perhaps? what about how stinkin’ expensive everything is, yeah, that’ll send ya over the edge!) and what to do if it’s happening to you.

Need Help Now? You can check out my books God Unwrapped and Losers, Users and Abusers HERE.

A Life Hack to Make Hard Times Better

Most people can handle a few stressors at a time, without being completely sidelined. But have you ever felt like some stressors just keep coming, like wave after wave not giving you a chance to get back on your feet? Today we are talking about how to get through hard stuff by developing the Life Hack that can change your life.

I’ve heard it said that gratitude is an attitude, and thankfulness is a state of mind. True- but I think gratitude is a skill first and foremost. It is a muscle that needs regular exercise- a behavior that needs routine practice- a decision that is made over and over, day after day.

Not very sexy, I know. Really, more exercise?

A study I recently read about took two groups of un-medicated depressed people: the control group participants were to change nothing about their lives, and the experimental group participants were to identify something for which they were grateful three times a day. Three months later, as you can guess, the gratitude group felt much better than the control group.

So gratitude is a medicine. When you can’t do anything about the stressors in life, or the frequency in which they come, you can simply notice the good and take your medicine. When you’re out of control of external things, you can be in control of your internal state of affairs. When you begin to take account of the good in your life, the hard seems to lose importance. When I do this, I find my priorities shift and I remember the deep things, the wise things and the growing things. When the good occupies my mind, instead of the hard, I feel happier.

I don’t believe this happens over night, but I do know there is some science behind the “practice of gratitude” making a big difference over time. Science tells us that endorphins are released with this 3x a day gratitude exercise, and the release of more endorphins over time changes the brain chemistry of depressed people, making them feel better.

Here are some FOR INSTANCES:

Lucy: My friend who is feeling sick after her most recent Chemo treatment, posts a picture of her dad with the caption, “Thanks for taking care of us for a few days. I love you, Dad!” Though cancer was cause for the visit, my friend exercises the skill of gratitude in the face of it.

Marge: Divorce may have ended the assurance of holidays spent together, yet my friend calls each child on Christmas and birthdays telling them what she appreciates about them. More than anything, she wants to be with them on these special days, but she chooses to practice thankfulness instead of bemoaning the circumstances.

Luke: His internal suffering seems insurmountable at times. He even has nights he wants to give up. But he thinks about the things that really matter to him, and choses to give thanks for them even when his feelings are far from grateful.

Rebecca knows that being unemployed could be a big problem, but she choses to see her recent unemployment as an opportunity to reinvent herself, learn something new, and create something out of nothing. She chooses to be grateful for the opportunity, instead of fearful over the problem.

How about you? The stressors of relationships, work, raising children and your own health can be overwhelming. Imagine yourself stopping three times a day to offer up a prayer of gratitude. Give it a week and see how your perspective and mood have changed. Yes, there’s science behind it. And a little magic too.

How to Have a Difficult Conversation: Part 2

Many of us have years and years of education, and training. But not many of us have ever been trained on how to have a difficult conversation. Even though, life is full of them, we may not know how to communicate about emotionally charged, life altering topics. The following communication formula is the gold standard. When I taught college communication classes, I taught this formula with examples, repetition and practice. For some students, this was the first time anyone had taught them how to have a difficult conversation. I could actually see the delight on some students’ faces when they learned they had a new tool to use in their relationships. I hope that is how you feel too!

 

When you say/do A,
I feel B.
I want you to do C instead.

It may sound easy and simple, but it isn’t. It’s hard for people to use feeling words (like sad, jealous, vulnerable, scared, lonely.) It’s hard for people to listen reflectively to the other person without interrupting and becoming defensive. And it’s especially hard for people to express their feelings without attacking or criticizing the other person. Even though this exercise is ranked as moderately difficult, let’s take a go at it anyway!

When you say/do A____, I feel B___. I want you to do/say C____ instead. Let’s see it in action. For example, Jessica wants to tell Byron how hard it is for her to listen to him yell at the kids when he gets home from work.

Example: Jessica can say, “Byron, I want to tell you that I’m sorry for not being as proactive as I could be with the kids. Sometimes I let them run too wild for too long, and then they get really crazy in the house. That’s my part, and I am working on being more proactive. I also have something I want to talk to you about. When you come home and start yelling at the kids (A), I feel frightened for the kids (B). I am scared (feeling word) that you are hurting their hearts with what you say. I am scared (feeling word) that your anger is doing real harm to them. I want you to talk to someone about your anger (C).”

In a strong relationship, Byron would respond, “Thanks for recognizing your responsibility and not laying into me. I am frustrated when I come home and the kids are acting like circus clowns. But I don’t have to yell at them the way I do. I actually feel really bad when I lose my temper with them. I see the way they look when I yell, and I don’t want to hurt them. I know I get way too frustrated. Would you go to a parenting class with me, so we can get on the same page with the kids?”

Does this sound impossible? In relationships that have adopted ineffective argument styles, this scenario may seem too good to be true. And it may be, right now. However, like any good exercise, measurable results happen over time with consistency. The more you practice this communication technique, the better you will become at it.

We can learn to communicate with love, to speak from the heart, and to truly hear the other person. We don’t have to argue the same way anymore, or throw the other person under the bus just to save face. We don’t have to attack one another or point the finger. We don’t have to repeat the same old communication patterns that never worked in the first place.

Show the ABCs to your partner and tell him/her that you’d like to try a conversation using this technique instead of the usual way. Tell him/her that you want to communicate without pointing fingers and placing blame. Tell your partner that you love him/her and that you want to be loving even during arguments. If you’re really ambitious, try the ABCs of communication on a small issue before trying them in a heated argument. Don’t worry if you feel awkward or ineffective the first couple times you try it. Remember, every skill takes practice to master.

What if it doesn’t work?
These tips are designed to help couples avoid the pitfalls of defensiveness, sarcasm, and shifting blame. So, if after trying these tips and skills you find yourself wounded because the conversation turned hostile, you may need additional help. Relationships with a power imbalance or untreated anger or anxiety take a lot more intervention than “good communication” can do by itself. In fact, even the most expert communication cannot heal the wound of relationship abuse, or emotional sickness. Toxicity in relationships must be addressed with skilled therapeutic intervention.

Click here for more information on how to have healthy relationships.

My “Relationship Savvy” blog gives you tips, advice, and flippin’ fantastic feel-goods to help with your most difficult relationship challenges.

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