Move Anxiety Out of Your Head

writing-stencilWriting down all of your worries in a journal can help you let go of much of the anxiety that invades your mind.  Putting it all down on paper can give you a better perspective.

When you allow your worries or problems to percolate in your mind, they can multiply and become much larger and more confusing or daunting in your head than they truly are.  When you get them in writing, you can begin to use your logical, analytical mind to do some productive problem solving.  Having the same worries rolling ’round and ’round in your mind is unproductive.

It’s easier to exaggerate problems when anxious thoughts stay in your head instead of moving out onto a piece of paper…especially with those “What If” thoughts.  [Is “What If” ever followed by something POSITIVE???]  It’s easier to exaggerate the likelihood or the probability of those What Ifs coming true when they are swirling around in your mind.

Write worries down, close the notebook, and walk away (literally and figuratively).  Right before bed is a great time to do this to clear your mind for a good night’s sleep.

 
 
 

Autogenic Mind-Body Meditation for Anxiety

greatideaNevermind the crazy name, this is a 2-minute mind-body meditation technique that works better and better each time you practice it…. 

Sit in a comfortable position and begin to focus on your breathing.  Breathe slowly in and breathe slowly out.  As you focus on relaxing one muscle group at a time from head to toe, you will repeat to yourself silently:

 
  • Ten, I am getting more and more relaxed.
  • Nine, my forehead is relaxed.
  • Eight, my shoulders are relaxed.
  • Seven, my arms and hands are relaxed.
  • Six, my chest is relaxed.
  • Five, my stomach is relaxed.
  • Four, my hips are relaxed.
  • Three, my thighs are relaxed.
  • Two, my feet are relaxed.
  • One, I am deeply, deeply relaxed.

    Then just continue breathing and noticing the relaxation in your body for another minute (or even longer!)

Is It You or Your Hormones?

Ladies, have you ever noticed:

      • Anxiety that comes and goes along with your monthly cycle?
      • Anxiety that’s manageable throughout the month but gets unmanageable before your period?
      • Sudden increase in anxiety at mid-life?
      • Anxiety before or during pregnancy?

These anxieties are all very common…and they are no coincidence!  (And no, it’s NOT all in your head!)

Hormones Work Together as a System

Scanning of a human brain by X-rays

When women complain of symptoms that coincide with our cycles, doctors are quick to declare a problem with the sex hormonal balance (estrogen and progesterone).  But our hormonal systems are more complicated than we are led to believe.

Imbalance in our stress hormones (cortisol, adrenaline and others) disrupts and causes imbalance in our sex hormones.

All of our hormones work as a SYSTEM.  Our hormonal system is intricately interrelated and interdependent, much like a symphony, so an imbalance of one causes a cascade effect on the others.

The Big Problem: Imbalanced Stress Hormones

The stress hormone cortisol is a very big culprit in hormonal imbalance.  More and more research is helping us understand how cortisol imbalance can lead to serious health problems such as:

      • Anxiety
      • Insomnia
      • Sex hormone issues related to mid-life, pregnancy, and PMS
      • Thyroid dysregulation
      • Blood sugar dysregulation
      • Suppression of the immune system

 The Big Solution: Rebalance Stress Hormones

When stress and anxiety get your stress hormones out of balance, your sex hormones get imbalanced too.

The good news is that the reverse is also true: reducing stress and anxiety allows ALL of your hormonal system to rebalance, including stress hormones AND sex hormones. So it’s time to take stress and anxiety reduction seriously.

Do any of these common sources of stress and anxiety apply to you?

  • Insufficient or poor quality sleep
  • Illness or pain, especially long-lasting or chronicanxietywords-dreamstime_xs_44344929
  • Feelings of anxiety, depression or despair
  • Deadlines
  • Arguments
  • Emotional loss: breakups, loss of family, friends, pets
  • Financial loss
  • Feelings of guilt, shame, unworthiness, or self-hatred
  • Moving
  • Changing jobs or careers
  • Responsibility without control
  • Feeling out of control/loss of personal power
  • Not enough downtime or “me” time
  • Childhood abuse of any kind
  • Historical stress from family relationships and childhood experiences

* List adapted from Marcelle Pick, “Is it Me or My Hormones?”

Reducing these sources of stress and anxiety will go a long way toward rebalancing your stress hormones AND your sex hormones.  See if you can identify the root cause(s) that may be contributing to your hormonal issues so you can return back to balance.  And please give me a call if you’d like to see how I might be able to help.  I’d be happy to offer you a free phone consultation to talk about it.

Mind Over Medicine

Think you have no control over physical problems or illness you may have?

Think again.

Scanning of a human brain by X-rays

We all know that the brain runs the show. Your body couldn’t function without being guided and driven by your brain. What you think affects how your body functions. For example:

  • If you think “Oh no, why is everyone staring at me?”… your body’s reaction to that thought could be blushing. Your thought released adrenaline into your body, which caused your capillaries to widen, which caused blood to be brought closer to the surface of the skin.
  • If you think “OMG what if I get stuck on that elevator”… your body’s reaction to that thought is accelerated heart beat, maybe knots in your stomach or getting sweaty or flush (a typical anxiety reaction).  If you think nothing of it when you get on an elevator, your body will not produce any of those reactions.

Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself

Mind Over Medicine is actually the name of a book by Dr. Lissa Rankin.  She reviews scientific research showing how your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs can literally alter your body’s physiology. Your brain talks to your body and your body responds.

Changing your thoughts can actually change how your brain communicates with the rest of your body, thereby altering your body’s biochemistry, according to Dr. Rankin’s review of a half-century of scientific research.

Want to see the proof that your thoughts can affect your physical health, disease, pain and more?

Proof: Think Sick, Be Sick

Check out these research study results from Mind Over Medicine (get ready, some of these are hard to believe!):

  • Sugar Water Causes Vomiting:  Hospitalized patients were given a treatment (they didn’t know if was actually just sugar water) and told it would make them throw up.  80% of them actually vomited.
  • Saline Solution Causes Hair Loss:  30% of patients who thought they were getting chemotherapy but were actually getting nothing but saline lost their hair.
  • “Nothing” Causes Headaches: Study participants hooked up to monitors were told that an electric current would pass through their heads and that headaches might be a side effect.  No current was actually used. More than 2/3 of participants reported headaches.

Proof: Think Healing, Be Healed

  • Fake Surgery Heals Knees:  In a study on knee surgery for debilitating knee pain, one group got the actual surgery and a control group got a fake surgery, during which the patient was sedated and three incisions were made in the same location as those getting the real surgery but no work was actually done on the knee. Patients didn’t know which group they were in. As expected, 1/3 of patients getting the real surgery experienced resolution of their knee pain. But what really shocked the researchers was that those getting the fake surgery had the same result! In fact, at one point they were actually having less knee pain than those getting the real surgery.  They THOUGHT they had surgery that would fix the problem, so the problem was fixed.
  • Fake Surgery Heals Chest Pain: In another study of angina (chest pain) patients, one group got surgery to have their internal mammary arteries ligated.  The control group got a fake surgical procedure where the artery itself was not ligated. What happened? 71 percent of those subjected to the fake surgery got better! Researchers concluded their bodies responding to the belief that the surgery would be helpful. Only 67 percent of those who got the real surgery improved.
  • Sugar Pills Grow Hair: Bald men in Rogaine trials who were getting nothing but sugar pills grew hair.

 

Your Mind Can Heal Your Body

The above examples are just the tip of the iceberg.  Research also shows that:

Young smiling woman enjoying a relaxing moment. Concepts: dreams, tranquility, relaxation, serenity, calm.  Vertical, studio photography.

  • Optimists are healthier than pessimists
  • Negative beliefs predispose the body to disease
  • Unhappy marriage can harm your health
  • Patients are healthier with supportive, caring health practitioners
  • Those with more social connections have lower cancer rates
  • Loneliness leads to suppressed immune function and higher cortisol levels
  • People who are part of a spiritual community have lower blood pressure, less risk of cardiovascular disease, less depression, and stronger immune systems

What do you think?  (P.S. It matters)

Seems to me that learning to change your thoughts, and learning how to get happier are the best medicine.

You may want to check out:

Mind Over Medicine by Dr. Lissa Rankin

Ted Talk by Dr. Lissa Rankin

 

Intentionally Create The New Year of Your Dreams

What are your wildest hopes and dreams for Your New Year?
 
Are you ready to let go of  old patterns that have been making you unhappy?
 
What new and wonderful things are you ready to let into your life?
 
Change your thoughts, change your feelings, change your life! Di Philippi, Holistic Anxiiety Therapist
 
I offer you this 3-step ritual to allow you to honor 2014 and then consciously create Your New Year. 
 
Give yourself the gift of stopping long enough to become aware of your past year, so you can decide what you want to continue into 2015 and what you want to get rid of.  Most of us are so busy going, going, going that we lose perspective on what our past year was really like. 
 
Step 1: Remember
 
I like to sit down and look at  my calendar from the past year and review month-by-month. This reminds me of my choices during the past year…how did I spend my time?…who did I spent it with?…did I have a good balance of work and play?…what were the major things going on in my life in the past year? Find some concrete way like this to remind yourself of how your year really played out.
 

St
ep 2: Release
 
writing-stencilGet some loose leaf paper. Write down anything you want to let go of from the past year…worry, anxiety, regrets, mistakes, things you wish you had not said or done, pain (physical and emotional) that you want to let go of, old patterns you want to change, activities you no longer want to participate in, negative thoughts you want to stop thinking. Those things are in the past. Write them down and choose to let them go right now.
 
They do not need to go forward into 2015 with you.
 
Now rip those pages to shreds as you release those things to the past. Throw those shreds of paper in the garbage. What I literally mean is, take them outside of your home out the to garbage can and be done with them right now. Say “Good Bye. I release all this right here and now.” Now turn around and don’t look back as you return to your home, ready to create a truly NEW year.

Step 3: Re-Focus
 
Write down your answers to these questions about 2014:
  1. What are the 3 best things that happened to me?
  2. What were my 3 biggest challenges?
  3. What was the single biggest time waster in my life during the past year?
  4. How did I grow (emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, physically)?
  5. What 3 words best describe my past year?

Write down your answers to these questions about this NEW Year 2015:

  1. If I had 3 wishes for 2015 what would they be?
  2. What would I do if I knew I could not fail?
  3. What 3 words would I want my loved ones to use to describe me this year?
  4. What 3 words do I want to guide my NEW year?
  5. What 3 people or resources could help me to get all these things?
  6. What 3 steps could I take to help me move in the direction of these wishes?

10 Steps to End Sleep Problems and Insomnia

There are LOTS of natural things you can do to support yourself in getting a good night’s sleep…without reaching for a sleeping pill. Let me share with you a few of my favorites strategies for improving sleep and beating insomnia.

1.  Get to the bottom of what bothers you

The MindA mind filled with worry, stress or anxiety doesn’t want to sleep. It wants to keep going over things, thinking and re-thinking, worrying, planning, staying on top of potential problems, searching for solutions. If this sounds like you, then drop me an email or give me a call and let’s chat about it.

Anxiety/worry is at the root of most sleep problems.  I can’t stress then enough.  So unless you resolve the root cause, insomnia and sleep symptoms are likely to persist or recur.

2.  Turn off the TV

Nobody likes to hear this one.  For some reason, we stay in denial about the effects of TV.  The light, noise and visual distraction of the TV stimulate the central nervous system…waking it up. Before bedtime  is the WORST time to watch TV because you are activating your nervous system at precisely the time you want it to rest and sleep.

For those with anxiety or sleep problems, watching TV at or near bedtime causes disrupted sleep cycles so you don’t get the needed REM deep sleep.  Some people will swear to me that they have no problems falling asleep after (or while) watching TV.   Some even say they can’t fall asleep without it.   But what we usually find is that they wake up during the night or wake up very early in AM (before getting a full night’s sleep) and can’t get back to sleep.  This is the effect of disrupted sleep cycles.

3.  Exercise regularlyjogging-in-the-gym

Besides all of the other health benefits (plus it reduces stress and anxiety!), regular exercise can help regulate your sleep cycles and make you ready for sleep at bedtime. However, do not exercise right before bedtime as it can activate mind and body systems that could keep you awake longer. Exercise at least 2 hours before bedtime.

4.  Add white noise

Reduce noise pollution by getting a white noise machine to tune out sound distractions that might prevent your mind and body from calming and surrendering to sleep.  Don’t listen to music or birds or bubbling brooks – just white noise.  A fan, dehumidifier or air purifier might do the trick but my favorite gadget is a white noise machine.

5.  Sleep in the sleeping room

Use the bedroom only for sleep and intimate relations. A recent study showed that we spend an average of 47 minutes per night in the bedroom doing things other than sleeping. Get rid of other distractions and nervous system stimulators including computers, other electronics, desks and office work.  This sends conflicting messages to your brain. It is possible, however, to reprogram your brain to learn that reading and other activities are for other rooms and the bedroom is for sleep.

6.  Keep a schedule

Your body naturally likes routine. Conditioning your body to expect sleep at about the same time each day helps you establish a routine sleep-wake cycle. The National Sleep Foundation says 7-9 hours of sleep is optimal! Give yourself regular rest breaks throughout the day, and see if you can stay away from napping to help you stay on a sleep schedule.

7.  Make it Dark at Night

We all have natural body rhythms linked to a cycle of light-dark (circadian rhythm). When it’s dark, the body naturally starts producing melatonin, a hormone that supports sleep. Keep your bedroom as dark as possible. Even very small amounts of light can interrupt melatonin production and make sleep difficult. Try room-darkening shades/blinds. Try an eye pillow. Turn off or cover up any devices that give off light, such as TV, computer, phones/chargers, etc. (better yet, keep them out of the bedroom!). Turn your alarm clock away from you.

8.  Make it Light in the Morning

As soon as you wake up, open the curtains and let in as much natural light as possible. Or try full-spectrum light bulbs which are made to simulate natural sunlight. In the winter, try light therapy in the morning with a special purpose light box. All of this helps set the sleep rhythms and can set the stage for good night’s sleep later.

9.  Eat early

Eat dinner at least 2 hours before bedtime so food has time to digest. This helps your body slow down at bedtime and also helps prevent indigestion and acid reflux which can contribute to insomnia.

10. Take a hot bath or shower

Increasing your body temperature before bedtime can help your nervous system relax. Try a bath with epsom salt (found in any drug store). It is made of magnesium, a natural muscle relaxant, and can help calm your nervous system and reduce anxiety.

Experiment for Sleep Success

woman-sleeping-in-bedIn my work as a therapist treating anxiety, I find that it takes the right combination of techiques above to make the difference for people with chronic sleep problems and insomnia.  Getting to the bottom of the stress and anxiety is ALWAYS a necessary a part of the solution.  After that it takes some experimenting to see which factors will make a difference for YOU.

One size does not fit all.  You are a unique being.  To find out what works for you, experiment with one technique at a time for 2 weeks.  Track your results.  Adjust as needed.  Repeat with a different technique.  Some combination of the above is usually what works.  Hang in there and do some experimenting!

 

Anxiety and Sleep Problems: Chicken or Egg?

The Sleep Problem

You lay down to sleep. What you could really use is a good night’s sleep to help you feel less stressed tomorrow. But your mind is still full of thoughts. You try laying in several different positions, adjusting and re-adjusting. You’re still thinking about the day, or about tomorrow. After awhile, you get agitated and start to worry that you won’t be able to fall asleep.

Any of that sound familiar?

Often, the best revenge against stress and anxiety is a good night’s sleep. Of course, getting a good night’s sleep can be a challenge if you’re dealing with prolonged or cumulative stress or anxiety. It can turn into “the chicken or the egg” sort of thing…

Does stress and anxiety make it hard to sleep and cause insomnia?

Or do sleep problems create more stress and anxiety?

The answer is YES!

Is it a Sleep Disorder?

There are many different reasons why you may have sleep problems or insomnia. Sleep “disorders” are becoming a more popular diagnosis these days and “sleep centers” and “sleep tests” are becoming more commonplace. While there are many physical conditions which can cause sleep disorders, the majority of sleep problems are not sleep disorders.

Anxiety and stress cause the majority of sleep problems and insomnia.

Why the Connection:  Sleep Science 101

Here’s what happens in your body when you are in a state of stress, anxiety, fear or worry…

BrainYour brain signals your body that there’s a problem. Your body then produces excess stress hormones: cortisol, adrenaline, and DHEA to give you a rush of energy to help you physically deal with the problem(s). Your body is now in a state of agitation or excitation – too many stress chemicals flooding the body. This is called the “Stress Response” or the “Adrenal Response” or the “Fight/Flight Response.”

Your body adapts to that excess level of stress hormones, so it starts to produce more and more. Your body’s (autonomic) nervous system gets out of balance. The sympathetic nervous system becomes overactive, keeping you in a continued state of stress both physically and emotionally.

And here’s the real problem as it relates to sleep, insomnia and anxiety: the parasympathetic nervous system (the part that allows you to “rest and digest” and calm your nerves) becomes underactive. It can’t do it’s job properly, which is to help you restore and rejuvenate, particularly during sleep time.

You’ll be better able to handle tomorrow’s stress and with less anxiety after a good night’s sleep (thanks to the parasympathetic nervous system!).

The good news is that there are many natural remedies to help calm your nervous system so it can support you to rest and digest and come back into balance.  Check out these 10 Steps to Better Sleep!

Is What You’re Feeling Actually Anxiety?

Anxiety Disorder?  Do I have one?

I don’t like labels. In the anxiety counseling field, therapists have a defined set of “anxiety disorders” to use for diagnosis.

I prefer an individualized approach… looking at the unique way that anxiety surfaces for each person, and making a customized plan for getting relief.   But people often ask whether different problems are actually anxiety, so here’s a look at different types of anxiety without worrying about the labels. Remember these are generalities and show up differently for different people.

Different Types of Anxiety

Holistic Anxiety therapy with Di Philippi, MA, LPCChronic Worry

You would probably call yourself a “worry wart.” You constantly worry about a number of different things… work, health, relationships. You think of worst-case scenarios and often wonder “what if” this or “what if” that.

Panic Attacks (aka Anxiety Attacks)

You suddenly feel physical symptoms that feel out of control, such as heart racing, dizziness, trembling, sweating, chills or flush, tingling or numbness. It comes out of nowhere and is very scary.  That causes more panic. You might think you’re having a heart attack and go to the emergency room, only to find out nothing is physically wrong.

Fears and Phobias

You have strong fears of very specific things, such as: flying, driving, heights, enclosed spaces (like elevators, planes, or rooms without a clear exit route), bugs, blood, driving, being alone, or being away from home. These are just some examples.

Social Anxiety (Shyness)

You often feel nervous around other people, perhaps only in a certain social situation, or in many different ones. You feel very self-conscious, wonder what people are thinking about you, and worry about embarrassing yourself.

Obsessive Thinking

You have the very same upsetting thoughts over and over again. This could include thoughts of losing control, being contaminated (or contaminating others) with dirt or germs, or feeling guilty for things you didn’t even do.

Compulsive Behaviors

You have an urge to do certain things. Perhaps count things, check and re-check things, wash/clean repeatedly, repeat words, or arrange things in a certain way. It’s like you HAVE TO do them or you’re certain something bad will happen.

Post-Traumatic Stress

You still have intense memories, flashbacks, and/or nightmares related to a past traumatic situation you witnessed or experienced. You may avoid certain places, people or situations. You may feel jumpy or “on alert” much of the time. Traumatic situations could include abuse, rape, violence, car accidents, bullying, injury/illness, someone dying, or many other things.

Hoarding

“Stuff” is overtaking your home. You may collect too many things, have a problem getting rid of things, and/or have a problem organizing things… to the point where it limits the use of your living spaces and wastes significant amounts of time.

Health Concerns and Worry

Your doctor tells you there is nothing to be concerned about, but you still seem to have health complaints and symptoms. You often focus on health problems and wonder if you have a serious medical condition even though you’ve never been diagnosed with one.

Body Image Issues

You’re convinced there’s something about your physical appearance that looks terrible. You’re sure everyone notices so you don’t believe them when they say that they don’t see anything wrong. It could related to your body shape, weight, hair, nose or another body feature.

Public Speaking Anxiety

You dread having to speak in front of a group of people (small or large). You get extremely nervous and may start to panic, afraid that your mind will go blank or that you may make a fool of yourself.

Performance Anxiety

You get overly anxious and may start to panic when you’re expected to perform or compete in front of others.

“Shy Bladder”

You avoid public restrooms. You can’t urinate when others are in the bathroom or might be within earshot. Even if you try, you just can’t go.

White Coat Syndrome

You get nervous and your blood pressure spikes every time you go to a doctor’s office (and therefore they often want to give you medication for it).