Ask a Different Question

Worry asks “What bad things might happen [in the future]?”

Instead, ask “What good things are actually happening right now [in the present]?”

OCD Interview

I was recently interviewed by a local university for an article about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). This Q&A explains the basics of OCD and the effective, non-medication treatment that works for OCD.

Question 1: What is the biggest misconception you’ve heard and/or seen about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

Misconception #1: Many people believe OCD has to include compulsive behaviors like hand-washing or excessive cleaning. Truth be told, I actually see more OCD in the form of obsessive and intrusive thoughts than I do with the classic compulsive behaviors.

Misconception #2: There’s a misconception that people must live with anxiety their whole lives, or that they must take medication for it for their whole lives. That is not true! [READ MORE HERE]. The neural pathways in the brain which create anxiety and obsessive thinking can be changed. Thus, the root cause of anxiety can be addressed and resolved.

The answer: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can provide long-term, preventative relief from anxiety/OCD (see Question 6 below).

Question 2: From your experience with treating OCD, what seems to be the biggest trigger for the people who suffer?

OCD can look very different for different people so it is difficult to generalize. People with OCD suffer from repetitive (and often disturbing) thoughts that they can’t seem to get out of their heads – these are Obsessions. These thoughts, and the inability to “let it go,” can cause a lot of anxiety.

Sometimes that anxiety creates an urge for people to repeatedly perform certain behaviors or routines – these are Compulsions. The urge to do the behaviors is an attempt to try to ease their anxiety.

Some people with OCD have obsessions only, while others have both obsessions and compulsive behaviors.

Most people who have OCD are aware that their obsessions and compulsions are irrational, yet they feel powerless to stop them which actually increases anxiety.

Common obsessive thoughts include:

• fear of a detrimental error by overlooking something
• worry about things being in proper order
• fear of harming someone
• feeling over-responsible for others
• worries about germs or illness

Common compulsive behaviors include:

• hand-washing
• counting
• arranging things
• cleaning
• checking and re-checking things (like did I forget anything?)

Question 3: OCD is often labeled a “mental illness.” Do you agree with this label?

I hate the label “mental illness” because some people attach a stigma to it…and that causes people to avoid getting treatment that could lead them to a happier life. At least 40 million American adults suffer from anxiety, but only about one-third of those seek help, even though anxiety is highly treatable without medication.

Like other types of anxiety, OCD involves what I call “a thinking problem” or “anxiety thinking.” There is a problem with the thinking process and in that respect it could be considered mental as opposed to physical illness.

The great news is that thinking problems can be corrected! Neuroscience research shows that the brain can reconfigure itself and learn new and more effective ways of thinking when trained to do so.

Question 4: Do you believe that people are born with OCD, or is it something that develops over time?

Research supports the understanding that OCD involves problems with the brain circuitry that causes anxiety thinking. No one knows for sure all the factors that could be involved in development of anxiety/OCD. Possible factors include perhaps genetic predisposition, perhaps learned behavior when kids grow up in a family where adults have anxiety, perhaps an illness, or even ordinary life stressors.

Question 5: How are patients diagnosed?

During an assessment, I look at whether a person has obsessions and/or compulsions, but the biggest factor in diagnosis is whether these thinking problems and behaviors cause a real problem in the person’s life.

I always say there’s not a problem unless there’s a problem. I’m looking to see whether the thoughts and/or behaviors are creating a problem with the person’s daily routine, job, school, relationships, social activities, or other activities the person values.

Question 6: What types of treatments are available to patients who suffer from OCD? Is there one particular treatment that seems to be more effective?

Extensive scientific research and my own clinical experience demonstrate that the most effective long-term solution for anxiety/OCD is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

CBT is a very specific sort of non-medication treatment that is focused on correcting the anxiety thinking that is underlying the obsessions and compulsions. It helps people learn different and more accurate, effective ways of thinking – this can significantly reduce or eliminate obsessions and compulsions.

CBT is very focused on teaching people new tools and techniques for changing old thinking patterns and old behavior patterns. To address the behaviors associated with OCD compulsions, exposure treatment is often included in CBT.

Exposure and response prevention (ERP) is a systematic way of gradually exposing people to the things/situations that cause anxiety while teaching them new ways to respond (eliminating the need for compulsive behavior).

Question 7: Do you think OCD can be cured?

The concept of a “cure” really means correcting the thinking problems and the anxiety thinking that are underlying the obsessions and compulsions. Yes! These thinking processes can be successfully changed with CBT.

Question 8: How did you become a therapist who specializes in anxiety disorders such as OCD?

I decided to specialize in holistic solutions for anxiety because so many people have been told they have to live with anxiety for their whole lives…or that they have to take medications for their whole lives. It is my mission to dispel this myth!

People don’t realize that is completely possible to get rid of all kinds of anxiety. They haven’t been education to understand that anxiety is caused by processes in the brain that they can learn how to change. They just need to learn the effective tools to use. I’ve seen so many people literally change their lives with CBT and holistic tools and techniques that treat anxiety.

If You Can’t Say Anything Kind…

Are you your own worst critic? Are you harder on yourself than you are on anyone else? Many people waste a lot of energy on negative self-talk.

That tends to cause a lot of anxiety.

Try this one simple rule to increase positive self-talk and decrease stress and anxiety:

Don’t say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to your best friend.

Why Are You So Hard On Yourself?

Are you your own worst critic?

What happens when you make a mistake? Are you hard on yourself? Blame yourself? Call yourself names?

What happened to “Love thy neighbor as thyself”? Why do we forget the love thyself part? Most of us are not comfortable with that. We feel selfish if we love ourselves. We give our neighbor the benefit of the doubt, but not ourselves.

Compassion and Self-Compassion

What is compassion? Sympathetic awareness of another’s distress together with a desire to alleviate it.

When your friends and loved ones are hurting or dealing with difficult situations or difficult emotions, compassion means offering them love and support and wishing them easier times. [Love thy neighbor]

What is self-compassion? Responding to yourself with the same kindness, care, and support that you would treat another person that you care about. [Love thyself

It’s so much easier to be objective with someone else. Most of us are overly self-critical. Why?

Internal name calling, negative self-image, and negative self-talk often come from things you experienced in the home you grew up in as a child.

The problem NOW is that thought patterns and beliefs which developed when you were a child feel like they are the truth after all these years of believing them. Just because they feel true does NOT mean they ARE in fact, true and accurate. Time to question them!!

Is Lack of Self-Compassion the Source of Your Anxiety?

Clients often come to my office unsure of why they are having so much anxiety. Many times, the source of anxiety is actually their own negative thoughts and beliefs about themselves:

* Worry about not being good enough
* Questioning whether they are doing enough
* Bothered by what they think other people think

Do any of these sound like you:

We spend way too much time thinking about all the ways we’re not good enough and not enough time acknowledging all the ways that we are perfect – just the way we are!

* The mom who runs herself ragged, worried about whether she is doing enough. Should she be doing more? Do other people think she should be doing more?

* The student whose self-esteem comes from grades and performance and how she ranks, worried about being a failure if she doesn’t get A’s on everything.

* The retiree who can’t allow herself to slow down, relax and enjoy retirement. She thinks she should be doing more, she should have a more important purpose in life, and should be busy all the time to prove it.

* The athlete whose self-value comes from whether or not she wins or loses. Winning and being THE best are only ways to show or validate that she is good enough.

Of course it causes a lot of anxiety to question yourself all the time, to wonder if you are doing enough, and therefore worry…are you a good enough person?

Why We Resist Self-Compassion

According to Kristin Neff, PhD, a leading researcher in the field, it’s the firm belief that being kind to yourself will undermine your motivation.

If I don’t push myself to succeed, I won’t reach my goals.
I’ll get lazy. I’ll be a failure.

Or so we tell ourselves. And most of us fear failure more than anything.

Research actually shows that people who are more self-compassionate tend to achieve more, be more courageous in the face of risk, and are more resilient because they do not give up. They keep trying because they can tolerate the occasional times of failure or mistakes, without deciding that these things mean they are a bad person.

“When we judge ourselves harshly…” notes Kristin, “we start to lose our self-confidence and become more afraid of failing.” It’s a vicious cycle.

It’s also common to hold a firm belief that self-compassion (a form of self-love) is selfish. It is not selfish. It is not narcissistic.

Research suggests the opposite. This is not a self-centered practice. Self-compassionate people are better able to take the perspective of others, and are perceived by others as connected and responsive and caring.

Give It A Try

All good comes from self-compassion. There is no downside. Include yourself in the circle of compassion that you probably extend to your loved ones automatically and naturally. You deserve it.

You’ll Never Guess Why I Got The Flu

In the midst of one of the worst flu seasons in Milwaukee ever on record, I got the dreaded flu. Yet all my friends we’re so surprised because “you’re my healthiest friend.”

So, why did I get the flu?

Ask a scientist or doctor and you’ll hear about the human immune system and airborne contagions. As if it is all physical… I generally have a very strong immune system, and I actively use natural, holistic supplements and other things to keep it that way.

So, why did I get the flu? Is it all physical? I think not.

The Back Story

I started out 2018 by setting new intentions and goals, as I do each New Year. Usually this is in the form of theme words. One of my theme words this year is CONNECTED. For me, CONNECTED means CONNECTED to the Universe, to Spirit, to those in my life, and to myself.

[I use the words Universe and Spirit here to represent a spiritual connection. Please translate to whatever words may work for you, such as God, Buddha, Goddess, Higher Power, The Divine, or whatever fits for you.]

But this year, for the first time ever, I also got a motto for my new year. When I say that I got it, I mean that I didn’t set out to create a motto. The idea and the words just came to me. (Hmmmm… divine inspiration.)

My motto for 2018: Less is More.

Ever since that motto came to me, I have been pondering what it really means. I started wondering how Less is More might be related to my intention to be CONNECTED.

So, why did I get the flu?

Essential vs. Optional

I can’t remember the last time I was this sick. A couple of days were like a blur to me… fever, aches, fatigue, nausea, headache migraine, coughing, sleeping, resting.

The decision to cancel everything (do less!) on my schedule for the rest of the week came out of sheer necessity. I was non-functional. Being that sick made it easier to see what is essential and to let go of the rest.

After a visit to my most amazing chiropractor, Dr. Angie English, the fever finally broke!

Then I became dangerous! As I was slowly feeling better physically, I almost immediately started thinking “If I have to be stuck home sick, maybe I could at least get some things done.”

So I started rescheduling appointments, and picking up things around the house that I had strewn all over. Dr. Angie warned me to take it easy and continue resting. Yes, good idea but certainly I can do that later after I finish doing a few more things, right? Dangerous!

Doing more felt better. More is more, right? That was my instinct.

So, why did I get the flu?

The Gift of the Flu

I think the Universe loves me so much (and you too!) that it responded to my intention for Less is More. The flu was so bad that all doing and most thinking came to a complete halt. It forced me to make the decisions necessary to do less and be more in the moment, tuned in to myself…Connected!

I was just becoming aware of these lessons from the Universe when I decided to take an Epsom salt bath with frankincense and lavender essential oils. The one I took the day before really helped, so this time I added more frankincense. More is more, right?

Shortly after I got in the tub, my skin started tingling and itching. Too much frankincense. Oops, I guess less is more.

Seeing deeper than a negative situation

Thank you Universe for loving me so much to help me see past a seemingly negative situation and learn so many lessons about Less is More:

Less doing and busy-ness
• Less sense of urgency
• Less focus on being productive; more focus on being
• Being in the present moment (mindfulness)
• Accepting what is (leading to the next item….)
• Peace even in the midst of illness
• Honoring my limitations
• Practicing asking for help
• Prioritizing myself first

 

What could you learn if you could see beyond a seemingly negative situation and listen more deeply?

I’m listening Universe… Next request… May I come to listen more deeply and understand how Less is More without the flu, please?

P.S. The Universe loves you too!

Wise Words from a Paper Bag

Often in life, the most important question we can ask ourselves is: do we really have the problem we think we have?

—from a paper bag at Chipotle

Notice You’re Alright Right Now

This strategy was adapted from Rick Hanson, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist and author of the best-selling Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom.

Take a close look at this moment, right now. You are probably alright.

Anxiety is always about either:

a) the future (worries and “what if” thoughts), or

b) the past (dwelling on what happened, second-guessing, etc)

Reduce anxiety by intentionally dwelling on the NOW. In this one single moment, are you alright? It may not be perfect, or ideal. You may feel some pain in the now (physical or emotional). But are you safe and OK and basically alright just for this one moment of now?

You are probably alright. Right now. Use this strategy many times throughout your day to bring yourself back into the peace of the present moment.

10 MORE Great Ways to Love Yourself

Last February I wrote about Loving Yourself and it was so popular I decided to add 10 more ways to love yourself this year….

Gifts that Say I Love You to Yourself

1. Rest. My Vipassana meditation teacher from Burma says (in his Burmese accent): “Take Rest, Take Rest, Take Rest.” Whether it be sleep or a 2 minute break, rest is a gift to yourself so…Take it!

2. Self-compassion. Are you harder on yourself than you are on everybody else? Stop beating yourself up. Treat yourself with the same kindness, care, and support that you would offer to another person that you care about.

3. Schedule fun. Make a list of 20 things you think are fun. Then put them into your calendar and make your fun just as important (or even more important!) as all your other appointments.

4. Make a list and check it twice. Sit down and don’t get up until you’ve listed 10 things you love about yourself. If it’s very easy, then make it 20.

5. Let learning be enough. Forgive yourself for past mistakes or errors in judgment. Hindsight truly is 20/20 so take the lessons away from past mistakes and they will help you move forward. Self-forgiveness is the antidote to guilt, self-blame and self-criticism.

6. Stand up for yourself. Know that your needs and opinions matter. Be confident in asserting yourself and letting others know what is important to you. You’re worth it!

7. Practice being truly present. Learning how to be mindful adds more pleasure and meaning to life. Plus it reduces stress and anxiety. This is a continual practice. You don’t ever have to become an expert – you just need to keep practicing. Start with the intention to “be here now”… and practice.

8. Hang out with the best. Consciously choose to spend your precious time with people who lift you up, who treat you well, respect you, and accept you just the way you are.

9. Embrace this 4-letter word. H-E-L-P. Why do we think we are supposed to do everything on our own? Who made that rule? Asking for help is a sign of wisdom, not weakness. Help is what makes the world go around, and makes us feel connected. It is a gift knowing you don’t have to do it all alone.

10. Celebrate your successes. Acknowledge yourself for all accomplishments big and small. Writing them down in a success journal helps your brain to remember them and builds confidence. Read over your list regularly and see the proof in writing of how truly capable and amazing you are.

The 4 Minute Raisin

You’ve heard of mindfulness and research is clear that mindfulness helps reduce anxiety. But HOW can you be mindful?

Here is one simple way to experience and practice mindfulness: Eat one raisin…mindfully. Take 4 minutes to pick up, look at, eat, taste and mindfully experience that raisin.

Sound impossible or silly? Give it a try and get a taste of mindfulness – pun intended 😆 

5 Ways Stress Prevents Weight Loss

Tis the season when many of us are focusing on losing weight.

Whatever you do, please don’t go on a diet. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: diets don’t work. If you are tired of yo-yo dieting, then you know what I mean.

95 to 98% of dieters regain the weight they lost. Does this ring true for you?

Stress and anxiety are huge, huge contributors to:

1. Inability to lose weight
2. Weight gain
3. Inability to keep weight off
4. Inability to maintain ideal weight
5. Overeating

Let’s look at the top reasons why…

1. Emotional Eating

We are actually hardwired to eat when we’re under stress. So stress and emotional eating are often major contributors to inability to lose weight.

This comes from the brain’s evolutionary process; from a time when fight-or-flight was a necessary daily survival skill for cave people. The energy gained from the extra food calories could help the body react and survive in the threat of sabertooth tigers.

Your brain still has that ancient wiring which unconsciously tells you to eat when you feel stress or anxiety.

Food is often used for many reasons completely unrelated to physical hunger: distraction, boredom, avoidance, comfort, love, filling a void, control, anger, anxiety, depression, avoidance of emotions, body image worries, shame. The list could go on and on.

Until you resolve the underlying emotions and related stress, emotional eating will always sabotage weight loss.

Are you an Emotional Eater? Take this QUIZ.

2. Worrying, Sleeping… Leptin and Ghrelin

Stress and anxiety alter the hormone leptin (“the satiety hormone”) which is supposed to tell your body to stop consuming food when you become full. Stress creates an imbalance which prevents that message from coming through, thus causing overeating and bingeing.

Conversely, stress and anxiety cause increases in your levels of ghrelin (the “hunger hormone”). Ghrelin is produced in your stomach and is supposed to signal you that it is time to start eating. Stress and anxiety cause ghrelin to send excess hunger signals… this stimulates appetite, increases food intake and promotes fat storage.

Sleep More and Worry Less

Studies show that shortened sleep time is associated with decreases in leptin and elevations in ghrelin. According to a 2004 study, people who sleep less than six hours a day were almost 30 percent more likely to become obese than those who slept seven to nine hours (from WebMd).

Sleepless nights have a direct impact on brain regions that control decision making and make us more inclined to crave fast food rather than healthier options (from 2013 research at UC Berkeley, from Psychology Today).

Furthermore, a study published in the journal “Appetite” found that worry – just thinking about a stressful event in the future can cause you to eat more by increasing your levels of ghrelin.

3. Cortisol, Metabolism, and your Thyroid

With chronic stress or anxiety, your adrenal glands produce a cascade of hormones connected to your fight-or-flight response. You end up with an excess of adrenaline and cortisol (the main stress hormones).

High cortisol levels signal to your brain that it is time to go into fight-or-flight mode. Then three things happen:

1. Hunger increases.

2. Your thyroid reduces its hormone production and thus slows down your metabolism.

3. Energy, fat, and calories are stored to avoid starvation, and also to conserve energy (in case you need to fight that sabertooth).

Stress ==> more cortisol

==> hunger and increased appetite =

no weight loss and more belly fat

4. Stress, Insulin, and Blood Sugar

Another part of the hormonal cascade that occurs due to stress or anxiety is imbalance in insulin levels. Did you know that insulin was a hormone?

Increases in cortisol caused by stress also can cause higher insulin levels. Insulin regulates your blood sugar. When insulin levels are off, your blood sugar drops and you crave sugary, fatty foods.

 

Stress ==> blood sugar drops

==> food cravings =

weight loss sabotage

5. Stress and Mood – Tryptophan and Vitamin B

Stress and anxiety are both very correlated with low mood and depression. And those things are correlated with weight gain. It creates a vicious cycle.

The more stress and anxiety you have, and the lower your mood, the more likely you are to have food cravings and eat foods that will actually perpetuate the problem.

You might benefit from a boost in serotonin, which is the brain’s feel-good chemical. What most people don’t know is that 95% of your body’s serotonin is produced and stored in your gut.

You can help your gut produce serotonin by increasing a particular amino acid called tryptophan. Foods high in tryptophan can help with mood and are also stress-reducing.

When people feel stressed or anxious and their blood is measured, they tend to have high levels of lactate in their blood. Foods high in B vitamins help stabilize the body’s blood lactate levels, and have a calming effect on your nervous system.

Tired of Diets that Don’t Work?

If you are tired of yo-yo dieting, try a different approach.
Focus on one of the biggest root causes of the problem: stress and anxiety. Read about HOW on my blog:

Emotional eating, Top 5 holiday sabotages, why diets don’t work, what does work
• #1 most effective solution for stress and anxiety, the one and only resolution you ever need

Remember…
If you always do what you always did…
You’ll always get what you always got.