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.] 

Drug-Free: Is it Possible for You? (Part 2)

One of the main things I do is help people avoid psychiatric medications, especially for anxiety.

In Part 1 of this article last month I wrote about:

• Why my clients who want to get off of medication for anxiety and/or depression have a hard time believing it is possible

• Drug companies’  investment in the “chemical imbalance theory”

• That this is just one “theory” about anxiety and/depression treatment, and it may not be true

This can be hard to believe when we have been inundated with billions of dollars of TV advertising supporting the theory.

But sometimes things are worth questioning.

There was a time we didn’t believe smoking caused cancer.

There was a time we didn’t believe that stress contributed to illness.

Does Research Prove the Theory True?

Significant research challenges the chemical imbalance theory.  [Acknowledgement to Dr. Kelly Brogan MD; see link to her research below.]

o A now famous 2008 study looked at 74 studies testing whether antidepressant drug use showed beneficial results. 38 showed positive results and 36 showed no benefit. Most of the ones that showed no benefit were never published.

o Another review of existing research showed that when unpublished studies were included, placebos (sugar pills with no active ingredient) outperformed antidepressants in more than half of the studies[Placebos work because of the power of the mind to believe they will work.]

o To prove this point further, other research studied patients who were taking Prozac and reported a benefit from the drug.  They lost their perceived benefit if they believed that they might be getting a placebo sugar pill – even though they were actually still getting the Prozac.

o A meta-analysis (which is a review of a large number of existing studies) found that when patients reported feeling better, only 27% of the reported benefit was from medication.

These are just a very few examples that leave a lot of room for questioning.

If you’re interested in links to these studies and more, you can find more science and technical information in Dr. Kelly Brogan’s article “Depression: It’s Not Your Serotonin.   

How Psychiatric Medications are Prescribed Today

Most psychiatric medications are prescribed by primary care providers, with anti-anxiety drugs being the most prescribed

At the same time, research shows more and more people are being prescribed psychiatric drugs without having a psychiatric diagnosis.

I believe that doctors are caring and want to help.  They do their best to help relieve people’s symptoms with the time and tools they have to offer.  Medication is their primary tool. And time is unfortunately limited – often times limited to 10-15 minute appointments.  

My clients often tell me how this leaves them feeling under-informed, frustrated, limited, helpless, and even defective (i.e. I have a disorder, I have a permanent brain imbalance, I have a defect, I am weak, I’m not like normal people, I’ll be like this forever).

[By the way, ALL of those thoughts and feelings themselves are likely to cause anxiety and depression!]

Is There a Better Way?

Lots of experts have differing opinions about that. 

I happen to believe in alternatives to medication which are proven by research to be equally or more effective. These have nothing to do with chemical imbalance.  [HINT: The gold standard treatment for anxiety and panic is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).]  

What do you believe? 

I encourage you to question, to be aware, to be informed and know that there is more than one way to feel better.  Ask yourself what makes sense to you.

Sometimes things are worth questioning.

There was a time when we all believed that the world was flat.

 

 

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 make medication changes on your own.

Drug-Free: Is it Possible for You? (Part 1)

One of the main things I do is help people avoid psychiatric medications, especially for anxiety.

That’s not always the goal but that often is the result of holistic anxiety treatment.  I have many clients who are sensitive to medications, or just plain tired of drugs that don’t really solve their whole problem.

Believe It Is Possible?

People want to get off of psychiatric medications for anxiety but they don’t believe it is possible.  Why?

• They are told that they have a chemical imbalance in their brain (because of this they tend to feel defective, helpless).

• They are told that the only thing they can do is take drugs.

• They are told they will have to do this for the rest of their lives.

• They are afraid to ask questions of their doctor, or don’t know what to ask, or don’t have enough time to ask questions.

Did You Know?

Learn about anxiety treatment without drugs• The chemical imbalance theory about anxiety and depression is just one theory.  In my reading, some prominent doctors and researchers call this theory a “myth.”

• This theory is highly promoted by drug companies who have everything to gain from it.  They actively market to both doctors and the general public (through billions of dollars’ worth of TV commercials).

• Drug companies promote their drugs routinely to doctors by inviting them to “drug dinners” at fancy restaurants with the drug companies footing the bill.

• Serotonin is the main chemical that the chemical imbalance theory was based upon.  There is no way to measure levels of serotonin in the living brain. Also, it is now known that 90-95% of the body’s serotonin is found in the stomach, not in the brain. (Then how can the brain be so out of balance to warrant a need for brain altering drugs?)

• The FDA does not do its own independent research.  It merely reviews the results of research the drug companies themselves conduct and/or pay for.

• The result is that drug companies (with obvious vested interest in the chemical imbalance theory) pay for the vast majority of research about psychiatric medications. 

• If drug companies conduct and/or pay for a study that does not show results in their favor, they do not have to submit it and the FDA never has to see it.

• Research paid for by the National Institute of Mental Health has failed to show that psychiatric medications regularly help a majority of people get well and stay well.

• It is well known that there is about a 30-80% placebo effect with any medication (meaning a sugar pill with no active ingredients works just as well because of the power of the human mind to believe it will work).

• Psychiatric medications have up to 84 side effects! (as Prozac does per webmd.com).

• Additionally, there are long-term risks of psychiatric medications.

• Tapering off of psychiatric medications can be difficult and be accompanied by withdrawal. It must be done under close medical supervision (so don’t make medication changes on your own).

What To Make of All This?

The average person can’t really understand all the complexities of human biology and neuroscience.

It’s also really hard to understand all the technicalities of research methods and how test results can be manipulated and interpreted.  The hardest class I’ve ever taken in my life was the research methods class required as part of my master’s degree!

 

Q:  With so much conflicting and confusing information, what can we actually take away from all this?

A: To QUESTION.  To be aware.  To keep yourself informed.  To ask yourself what makes sense to you.  To listen to your INNER WISDOM about what is right for you and what isn’t.

In Part 2 on this topic (Click HERE) , I provide an overview of significant research that challenges the chemical imbalance theory.

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.

Mindfulness / Self-Compassion to Calm Anxiety

loveyourselfmore-stencilSelf-compassion is part of Mindfulness, and it helps to reduce negative thinking and rumination (obsessive or repetitive thinking) while activating the self-soothing states of the brain.

A core component of self-compassion is the understanding that you are not alone in what you are experiencing.

Put both hands on your stomach and remind yourself that anxiety is actually a common part of the human experience.  You are not alone in what you are feeling and struggling with right now. In this very moment, there are thousands if not millions of people who are experiencing the same or very similar feelings. You are not alone.

(*Adapted from and thanks to Elisha Goldstein, PhD)

“Just Think Positive” Doesn’t Work

Negative thinking is a big problem with both anxiety and depression. It’s so easy for the mind to get stuck in habitual patterns of seeing the negative.  The mind can dwell, or even obsess, on worst case scenarios.  In fact, the fight-or-flight mechanism in your brain is programmed to do just that.

Have you ever been stuck in negative thinking only to have a friend or family member say “just think more positive!”  

Well…duh.  If you could do that, you would have already done it.

newmindset-dreamstime_xs_52555226It is possible to transform negative thinking, but you need to learn HOW to turn your thoughts around to get a new mindset. That doesn’t just happen automatically.  And it doesn’t happen by merely telling yourself to think more positive.

It’s pretty impossible to “just think positive” without learning some specific ways to reframe your thinking.  (This is the whole basis of CBT – Cognitive Behavioral Therapy).

Bottles: Half Empty or Half Full?

My Vipassana meditation teacher told a story of a mother in India with three sons…

She asked her first son to take an empty bottle to the market and have it filled with oil and she gave him three rupees to do so. Her son had the bottle filled and on his way home, he stumbled and half of the oil spilled out of the bottle. He became very upset and ran home crying.  Because he thought he was a failure, he felt shame and guilt and he was afraid to tell his mother what had happened.

Next the mother asked her second son to take an empty bottle to the market and have it filled with oil and gave him three rupees also. This son also had his bottle filled, but the same thing happened. He fell on the way home and spilled half the oil. But this second son was so happy that there was still half of the oil left in the bottle that he ran all the way home smiling.  He told his mother: “Look what happened – I stumbled but I was able to save half of the oil!”

Finally, the mother asked her third son to do the same thing. Unfortunately, the same thing happened to the third son. He ran all the way home very excited. He told his mother: “Look what happened – I stumbled but I was able to save half the oil! Now I can just get an odd job tomorrow and earn enough money to refill the whole jar!”

halfemptyhalffull-stencilThinking: Half Empty or Half Full?

Were the bottles of these 3 boys half empty or half full?

Was their thinking half empty or half full?

The human mind is wired to see the negative first – the bottle is half empty.  But you can train yourself to also see something good in your situation.

• Gratitude is one way to shift out of a negative mindset.

The third son was surely upset about spilling some of the oil.  But he quickly found something to be grateful for in his situation.

Negative thinking keeps you stuck.  Gratitude opens doors to a new mindset. A new mindset is necessary to make change and to get new results in your life.

• Taking positive action is another effective way to turn negative thinking around.

By adding positive action (getting an odd job tomorrow) to a seemingly negative situation, the third son did not get stuck in half empty thinking.  He was able to turn his thinking around and move on with a new mindset.

Next time you find yourself dwelling on a half empty situation, ask yourself:

What is one positive action I could take any way?

One small action can create enough shift for you to start turning those thoughts around, so you can start seeing your glass getting fuller by the minute.

• Imagine a Silver Lining

Close your eyes and ask yourself:

• If I could dare to hope for just one positive thing in this situation, what would it be?
• If I had one wish that could be granted in this situation, what is one positive outcome, or positive aspect, that I would wish for?

Let yourself imagine it even if you can’t see how that one positive thing could actually become possible.  Imagination changes the way the neural pathways in your brain fire up, making way for new thoughts.

Stop Negative Thinking with CBT

cbtthinkingprocess-dreamstime_xs_36181364The best long term strategy for getting rid of negative thinking patterns is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). 

With CBT, you learn to:

1) correctly identify distorted, negative “stinking thinking”
2) shift negative thinking by refuting it with more accurate, logical thoughts
3) learn very specific tools and strategies to turn negative thinking around and lessen its power over you

By refuting negative thinking over and over again, the neural pathways in your brain literally change and the negative pattern diminishes over time.  Read more about CBT for Negative Thinking

Take Micro-Breaks

In all the busyness and doingness of your day, stress and anxiety continually build up. Your mind and body need more breaks.

Try taking micro-breaks many times a day, perhaps even many times an hour. Micro-breaks can last for just 5-60 seconds at a time. You can try many different things on your micro-breaks.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:cloud-stencil

• Stand up and stretch
• Stare out a window
• Close your eyes
• Breathe in through your nose and out forcefully through your mouth
• Step outside and look at the clouds
• Give yourself a quick hand massage
• Drink a glass of water
• Visualize the best part of your last vacation
• Imagine a peaceful nature scene – by mountain, lake, river, forest

 

Here’s what NOT to do on your micro-breaks:to-do-buster-stencil-default

• Do not multi-task
• Do not use any electronics
• Do not look at your To Do List
• Do not make a mental To Do List
• Do not eat junk food
• Do not talk to someone else

4 Steps to the Perfect Holiday

perfectionismsign-stencilStriving to create the perfect holiday this season? Let me suggest a different approach.

Let’s start with 4 simple mantras:

Repeat after me:
1. There is no perfect holiday
2. There is no perfect holiday meal
3. There is no perfect gift
4. There is no perfect family

Permission to Let Go of Holiday Perfectionism

The theme here is to let yourself off the hook this holiday season. So many people (women especially) feel stress and pressure to create some idyllic holiday for their families.

Having a lovely, fun, enjoyable holiday is a great goal, but this goal goes awry when it leans to the extreme.

Everything really does NOT have to be perfect to enjoy the holiday season.

1. There is no perfect holiday

It seems so obvious but there is no such thing as a perfect holiday. Let go of the Norman Rockwell or the June Cleaver holiday. After all, they ARE fiction.

You (or others) may reminisce about “perfect holidays” of the past, but you are probably using selective memory. Since there is no such thing as a perfect holiday, there undoubtedly were imperfections but they are forgotten. In the big scope of things, they weren’t important enough to register in your memory.

The details are not as important as you think, and imperfections are expected and are forgettable.

2. There is no perfect holiday meal

The meal really isn’t the reason for the season, right? Then why do many of us focus so much on having the perfect meal? Sharing a meal can be a great time of community and connection. But it’s really the community and connection that matters.

Sure, having the favorite holiday dishes is fun. Could the holiday be fun without the cheesy crab puff appetizer or the chilled shrimp or 15 different kinds of cookies?

At my house, if the mashed potatoes are lumpy (i.e. not perfect) someone will complain. Complainers can turn a meal holiday into a drag if you let them. Don’t let them. Just expect a complaint, and then choose to not take it personally. Chalk it up to a predictable complaining complainer and nothing else. Then choose to let that roll off your back.

3. There is no perfect gift

giftswhite-dreamstimefree_3679200One of my clients created anxiety for herself starting in November, worrying about picking out the right gifts and spending excessive (and unhappy) time shopping for those “perfect gifts.”

She felt pressure to get it right, and guilty if she didn’t. Where is the joy in that? That kind of pressure and emphasis on the “perfect gift” deprives yourself of the joy of giving.

One way I’ve made gift-giving easier and more joyful for me is to request a specific gift list. My niece even sends me web links to items she likes, including size and color. My family knows that if they don’t provide a list, they may not get a gift. So…they give me lists!

I love the joy of easier shopping, and knowing I will be giving something they want. And if they need to return or exchange it, I give them the receipt and I don’t take it personally. All is well.

P.S. Don’t forget the most important person on your gift list: YOU! http://wellnesscounselingmilwaukee.com/gift-yourself/

4. There is no perfect family

familystickdrawing-dreamstimefree_4342789While holidays traditionally are family times, family dynamics often cause stress. You are not the only one who does not have a perfect family. Is there such a thing? The version of “perfect” that most of us dream of is probably not realistic.

You are who you are, and your family is what your family is. A “perfect” holiday or meal or gift isn’t going to change that. Finding some peace and acceptance of that allows more joy into your holiday. Resisting what is, or wishing your family was different, only creates more angst for you.

Perfect Imperfection

The best holiday de-stressor is to let go of any conscious or subconscious pressure to create a picture-perfect holiday. Let it be what it will be. Look for the places you can find joy. And peace. Do your best to focus on what is really important to YOU. Do your best to let the rest roll off your back.

The “perfect” holiday is actually the one where you embrace and allow imperfection.

Fake It ‘Til You Make It

laughingoldman-stencilYour brain gets feedback from your face—so if you force yourself to smile, you may actually feel better. There’s lots of research showing that smiling (even fake smiling) actually causes a happier mood.

Anxiety and worry causes lots of frowning which creates tension in the face, neck and jaw. Smiling lightens things up as it takes less muscles to smile than to frown, plus smiling uses different muscles which reduces tension.