Stop Watching The News

I see a correlation between worry and watching the news on TV. I stopped watching the evening news years ago. The only news show I watch is CBS Sunday Morning. It focuses on positive, uplifting and interesting news features, while spending a very short time noting top news from the week.

The evening news is the worst to watch. The mostly negative and fear-based news increases anxiety (and adrenaline and cortisol production!) at the time when you really need your brain and body to calm down for bedtime.

If you are a worrier who worries about current events and associated negative “what if” thoughts, then you have even more reason to stop watching the news.

What Are You Looking Forward To About Fall?

What are you looking forward to about Fall? (And what does that have to do with anxiety?)

I’m sitting outdoors right now on my patio writing this on the 3rd official day of Fall. And it is over 90 degrees here in Wisconsin! I’m doing my best to “carpe diem” and make the most of what are probably the last hot days of the year.

I love summer…my favorite season. So when the question above was posed to me, it threw me for a little loop. Looking forward to Fall? I feel more like I have been struggling to hold onto this gift of Indian Summer, and postpone my mourning of the end of summer.

Today I heard the question on the “CBS Sunday Morning” show: What are you looking forward to about Fall? According to their survey, people are looking forward to things like Halloween, leaves changing, Thanksgiving, and football.

I had to think long and hard about what I could look forward to about Fall. And why I should!

Why Should I? (And why should you too?)

Focusing on the future is one of the things that can often increase anxiety. Anxiety is always about either the future (worry) or the past (regrets or second-guessing).

The uncertainty of the future can trigger worry. “What if” worries/thoughts about the future are common. Add that to the human brain’s negativity bias, which exaggerates negative thinking, and you’ve got a recipe for anxiety.

But the whole idea of “looking forward to” something is different. It helps distract your mind from worry and negative thoughts, by pairing the future with a positive thought.

The distraction, and the positive pairing, gives your mind something else to focus on. Learning how to redirect or restructure negative thinking is a critical component of CBT, the most effective anxiety treatment.

So the concept of “looking forward to” is actually is a good tool for reducing anxiety, and helps boost your mood at the same time. So why not join me in trying it this Fall?

Here’s My List

1. Pumpkin Chai Tea
2. Pumpkin Spice anything
3. Organic Honeycrisp Apples

I just realized these are all about food. I’m not thrilled about that, but it’s a start. On a beautiful, warm day like today it is just too much of a stretch for my brain to fully embrace Fall. Today, my brain still wants to resist it. But we have to start somewhere. I can truly feel positive about those 3 things – and then I can build on MORE positive things to look forward to about Fall later.

Where can YOU start? What can YOU look forward to about Fall?

 

 

L-Theanine

L-Theanine is an amino acid which can provide relief of the tension and stress, and improve mood. It is also shown to promote alpha brain wave production – alpha brain waves are a sign of relaxed activity in your brain.

L-Theanine can be found in black, green, and white teas, and also is available in higher doses in supplement form.

Anxiety and Constantly Checking Your Phone

Yes, there is a correlation!

Do you have shiny penny syndrome or squirrel syndrome?

The human brain has a “novelty bias.” This means that the pre-frontal cortex becomes easily distracted by new things.

These days, your phone has become your biggest distraction.  You carry your phone with you everywhere and it has an app for everything on it. So your phone has become a problem for your pre-frontal cortex.

Your phone provides a constant distraction which is actually hard on your brain and body.

Your Brain on Phone Addiction

The constant distraction creates a dopamine addiction loop. Your pre-frontal cortex gets a dose of dopamine every time it responds to a phone distraction. Every time you check your phone or text/message or use a phone app, your brain gets its drug.  

Is this an addiction? You probably underestimate how often you actually do this because it has become an unconscious habit.

According to research reported by USA Today and Apple:

  • iPhone users unlock their phones 80 times a day
  • On average, we tap, type, and swipe our smartphones more that 2600 times a day!!!
  • People are more willing to give up food, sleep and sex than to lose their internet connections
  • Half of people in one study would rather have a broken bone than a broken phone!

 

Dopamine is a feel good brain chemical so your brain likes it! It’s the same brain chemical involved in all addictions.  Dopamine is the driver of heroin and cocaine addiction.

When your phone dings and you don’t immediately check it, you feel anxiety.

Because your brain gets addicted to that little dopamine rush, when it doesn’t get it, your brain goes into a stress reaction. Your body is signaled into an anxiety state.

This stress/anxiety reaction releases adrenaline and cortisol in the brain and your sympathetic nervous system is activated.

This activates fight or flight mode, and the following anxiety reactions can occur in your body: increased heart rate, increased respiratory rate, perspiration, preparing muscles to fight or flight, and shutting down digestive processes so you aren’t able to digest food properly.

When your body spends too much time in this mode, it can also suppress your immune system (and therefore contribute to a multitude of health issues). It is also a big contributor to insomnia.

What To Do?

Because your brain likes that dopamine, it will not want to stop pursuing those shiny pennies and squirrel distractions on your phone. It will urge you to keep checking.

But your best strategy is to reduce the constant checking. This will help your brain fight off that stress and anxiety response.

Another strategy is to counter balance the dopamine addiction loop with periods of time of deep concentration or focus or mindfulness.  

Concentration calms your brain so the goal is to find an activity to focus on for a period of time, giving your brain a break from anxiety orientation that your phone creates.

The goal is to activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which calms your brain and body.

Meditation is great for this, but you can also accomplish this with many different activities.

Put your phone away for a little while and concentrate on a yoga class. Try concentrating on reading, knitting, or crossword puzzles. Maybe coloring, or cooking, or Zumba.

Find something you love to do and see if you can zone out doing it. That feeling of zoning out, or losing track of time, is what you’re going for. No multi-tasking allowed! No phones allowed!

3 Things

Think of 3 things right now that might get you that into the zone feeling. That is the anti-anxiety feeling.

Pause right now and name 3 things.

My clients often ask me “what can I do to reduce my anxiety?”

Now you know 3 things you could do.

When will you turn off your phone and put it out of sight and try one of them?

Acupuncture for Anxiety

Chinese medicine and acupuncturists view anxiety as an imbalance in your organ system called “Shan You Si” meaning “anxiety and preoccupation.” This is believed to affect your main organs: Heart, Lung, Spleen, Liver and Kidneys. Each of these organs is related to different aspects of your emotions and different energy flows within the body.

Acupuncture restores the energy and functioning of those organ systems to restore balance to your emotional state and reduce anxiety. Most people experience deep relaxation during the acupuncture treatment itself, and after a series of treatments acupuncture can contribute to lower anxiety levels.

Your Health Today Affected by Childhood

The latest research is showing a clear connection between childhood experiences and various physical and mental health problems in adulthood.

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are correlated with higher incidence of chronic conditions like:

*  cancer
*  heart disease
*  autoimmune issues
*  obesity
*  COPD
*  liver disease
*  depression
*  anxiety

Adverse Childhood Experiences and Traumas

A lot of things could qualify as an Adverse Childhood Experience – anything which had an adverse effect on you, or a situation which caused you to have a traumatic reaction.

Now when I use the word “trauma” many people think “Oh I didn’t have a traumatic childhood, I wasn’t abused or anything.” There are many types of trauma so I use it the broadest sense of the word.

People automatically think of what we call “Big T” Traumas.”

These include obvious situations of threatened or actual injury, serious accidents, death of someone, losing a caregiver, homelessness, physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, physical and emotional neglect, substance abuse, or dealing with mental illness.

It doesn’t have to be something that happened to you. It can be something you witnessed, or something that happened to a caregiver, relative or friend.

Then there are a million different “little t” traumas.” 

Any situation which exceeds your capacity to cope in that moment can be registered in your brain as a trauma…including things like:

*  living in a chaotic household
*  an overly critical parent
*  an emotionally absent parent
*  gaining a new family member
*  being bullied
*  being belittled
*  moving to a new neighborhood
*  disagreements with significant people
*  accidents, or hospitalizations
*  unhappy or depressed or anxious parents
*  substance abuse in the family
 

Both Big T Traumas and little t traumas are Adverse Childhood Experiences. Sometimes a traumatic situation could be a little t or a Big T, depending on your situation.

The Body Remembers

[Babette Rothschild wrote a great book by that name.]

Because of the way that Adverse Childhood Experiences are stored as memories in the brain, both the brain and the body remember them. They become part of your biology.

The same way you may emotionally try to put ACEs out of your mind and “move on,” your body may store the impact of ACEs away out of consciousness.

But many years later you may start to have physical expression of illness due to the unresolved trauma. 

In order to heal, both the physical illness and the unresolved trauma need to be treated.

Childhood experiences can contribute to cancer in adulthood? To heart disease? To Lyme disease? It seems so.

 

Treating cancer or heart disease or Lyme disease means treating emotional trauma too? It seems so.

Astounding Research Statistics

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Kaiser Permanente studied Adverse Childhood Experiences and correlated them with health statistics of participants over a lifetime.

Rates of disease for those with ACEs were found to be:

• 4.5 times higher for depression
• 3.5 times higher for heart disease
• 2 times higher for cancer
• 3 times higher for lung cancer
• 2.5 times higher for hepatitis
• 2.5 times higher for COPD

Disease rates were worse for those with multiple ACEs.

Risk of suicide was 12 times higher for those with multiple ACEs.

With two or more ACEs, you’re 100% more likely to be diagnosed with rheumatic diseases.

It’s Not All in Your Head

It is believed that the effects of trauma creates chronic inflammation in the body which contributes to a multitude of diseases. These are often diseases for which there does not seem to be an obvious cause (i.e. the doctors can’t explain it).

Sometimes it even surfaces as a mysterious set of symptoms that defies diagnosis. I see many clients who have seen a multitude of doctors who cannot figure out what’s really wrong.

Conditions are often misdiagnosed and patients are often made to feel that it’s all their head. Sometimes they have been told this directly. Sometimes doctors have refused to continue seeing them.

You Are Not Just a Body

We have long known there are emotional contributors to disease. These days we regularly hear how stress (an emotional state) contributes to and worsens so many diseases.

Anxiety (an emotional state) is correlated with many physical ills. 

Disease is not just physical because you are more than just your body. You are body-mind-spirit-emotions-energy. Real healing comes from tending to all of who you are.

Toe Tensing for Insomnia

Anxiety or tension keep you awake at night? You can draw the tension out of your body with the technique to alternately tense and relax your toes:

• Close your eyes and lay on your back.
• Bring your awareness to your toes.
• With as much tension as you can, pull all 10 toes back toward your face. Hold for a slow count of 10.
• Relax your toes.
• Count to 10 slowly.
• Repeat 10 times.

Anxiety: Addressing Root Cause (not just symptoms)

Anxiety produces a lot of very distressing “symptoms.”

These include (but are not limited to):

 Headache
 Nausea
 Diarrhea
 Lightheadedness or dizziness
 Heart palpitations
 Breathing difficulty
 Chest pain
 Numbing & tingling (especially arms and legs)
 Sweating
 Chills or flush (hot flash)
 Trembling
 Choking
 Insomnia

So, of course you want to get rid of those symptoms. But you have a choice:

A) You could get rid of the symptoms ONLY for now; or

B) You could get rid of the actual source of the problem, preventing both current AND future symptoms.

A) The Symptom Approach

Doctors tend to ask about symptoms. They have a precious few minutes to assess your symptoms and diagnose your problem.

Often they don’t ask:

• WHY do you think you are having those symptoms?
• What was going on in your life when they started?
• What’s going on in your life now?
• What are you thinking about when you have those symptoms?
• How are you feeling emotionally when you have those symptoms?
• How is your job?
• How are you relationships?
• How is your financial situation?
• How happy and satisfied are you with your life?
• What makes you happy? What makes you unhappy? What’s missing?
• What are your coping strategies?
• What stressful events are you facing at this time?
• What chronic stressful events have you been dealing with over the past 2 years?
• What support do you have (or not have) to help you work through current challenges?

I think they are missing out on finding the root causes of anxiety.

Actually, I’m not sure they are even looking for the root cause.

The primary tool they have to offer for anxiety is medication. Medication works at the level it is designed to work: at the symptom level – to give you some symptomatic relief.

Medication is NOT designed to resolve the root cause of anxiety.

That’s why people are told they have to be on medication forever. Anxiety medication does not prevent anxiety from coming back again….and again. So if that’s the only tool you’ve got, and then you stop taking it, your anxiety will likely come back. Thus, the dependence on it.

Have we lost sight of the real goal?

B) The Root Cause Approach

In my practice, the real goal is to put an end to the root cause of the problem.

Finally getting at the root cause of your anxiety automatically eliminates symptoms… and prevents them from coming back again and again.

 The latest and greatest neuroscience research is clear: The thoughts (neural pathways) and automatic responses (think fight-or-flight) in your brain are the root cause of anxiety.

Therefore, to resolve the root cause of anxiety you must: a) become aware of your thoughts and responses that create anxiety; and b) learn how to retrain your brain to think and respond differently.

Thus, it is no surprise that there are alternatives to medication which are proven by research to be equally or more effective than medication (with longer lasting results).

These have nothing to do with chemical imbalance. Instead, the most effective anxiety treatment addresses the root cause of anxiety thinking and anxiety responses in the brain.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the gold standard treatment for anxiety and panic attacks.

Skills Not Pills

Being free of pills for anxiety is very possible. I see it in my private practice every day. I have many clients who avoid having to start anxiety medication, as well as many who are able to taper off anxiety medication.

With Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), my clients learn exactly how to regain control of worry, negative thinking, fear, panic, and the monkey mind of anxiety.

I empower my clients with holistic skills, tools, coping strategies, and natural drug-free methods for eliminating panic attacks, reducing anxiety and improving sleep.

When they learn the tools to both address symptoms and resolve the root cause of the problem, then they find they don’t need medication.

Disclaimer: The topic of prescription medication can be a challenging one for many people. I encourage you to take responsibility for being fully informed and confident making the right healthcare choice for yourself. This article is not medical advice and does not replace consultation with a qualified healthcare professional of your choosing. Never stop medication without such consultation.

Insomnia Technique Bettter Than Counting Sheep

Insomnia from anxiety, worry or thinking too much?  Counting sheep is way too boring for your magnificent brain.  Try this technique instead:

Close your eyes and imagine drawing a big circle. 

• Inside the circle write the number 100 very carefully.  The number must touch the edge of the circle just barely and can’t go outside the circle. 
• Then write the word “deeper” outside of the circle.
• Now erase the number very carefully, as if your eyes were an eraser.  Be careful not to erase any part of the circle, just the number itself.
• Next write 99 in the circle
• Then trace the word deeper
• Erase 99
• Next write 98 in the circle
• Then trace the word deeper
• Erase 98
• Repeat and keep counting down backward until you fall asleep

P.S.  I’ve never made it to the 80’s!

Make a Worry Box

Part of the problem with worry is that it rolls around and around in your head.  It’s the hamster on the wheel.  Or the monkey mind that keeps you awake in the middle of the night.

Try getting those worries out of your head and into a Worry Box.  Take any box and decorate it as you like and put a label on it:  Worry Box. 

When you identify a worry, write it on a piece of paper and put it in the worry box.  When your monkey mind wants to worry about it, go get the piece of paper out of the box.  Make a rule for yourself: You can only worry about it while you are sitting there with the paper in hand, sitting next to your Worry Box.

This technique works well in combination with setting aside “worry time.” [Read more about that HERE.]