Say Ahhh

This technique is adapted from author Jonathan Goldman. He says that simple, self-created vocal sounds such as elongated vowels like “ah”, “oh” or even an “mmm” humming sound can have profound and positive effects on your physical, mental and emotional states.

For example, Goldman says these sounds can:

1. Calm your nervous system, lower blood pressure and heart rate, and can reduce levels of stress-related hormones such as cortisol.
2. Increase melatonin, a hormone which helps us sleep at night.
3. Release endorphins—those self-created “feel good” brain chemicals.

Feeling stress or anxiety? Take a nice deep breath and sound forth with an “ah” a few times….or just hum for a minute or two. No one will hear you but you’ll feel a lot more relaxed almost instantly.

Holiday Stress – Nothing Changes Until You Do

Here we go again – another busy holiday season.

If you are one of those are bracing yourself for a holiday season that leads to stress and anxiety, this article is just for you.

The stress of the holiday season is predictable…

• Stressful family relationships
• Too many holiday parties and other commitments
• Pressures for baking, cooking, decorating and hosting events
• Pressures for gift-giving, shopping
• Crowded stores and malls with long lines
• Added financial strain that can come with gift-giving

The commitments and pressures of the holidays don’t ever seem to change. In fact, you generally have little ability to change those external factors.

So, despite those anxiety-provoking stressors, do you want this holiday season to be different, maybe even more peaceful and enjoyable?

You can have that! But not by relying on those external factors to change. Rely on yourself.

Changing internal factors can change your experience of this holiday season.

But what can you change?

Lots of things….

How you think about the holiday pressures

o Do you think you have to do it all?
o Do you think everything needs to be perfect?

• How you respond to the holiday stressors

o How do you respond to those difficult family members?
o How do you respond to other people’s holiday expectations?

• The choices you make

o What will you say yes to?
o What will you say no to?
o What are your reasons for the choices you make?

• Permissions you give yourself

o Do you give yourself permission to decline an invitation?
o To change a holiday tradition so that it is easier on you?
o To do something nice for yourself?

Rethink traditions

Traditions are not a problem unless they’re a problem. If they cause unhappiness or anxiety, that’s a problem.

During the holidays we do lots of things on autopilot for the sake of tradition. Times change and that’s OK. Maybe it’s time for a new tradition, perhaps an even better one.

Some traditions you may love and want to keep. Others you may not love… so go ahead and either decline, or modify.

Transform obligations

Be powerful and make choices that work for you. Once you make a choice to do something because you want to do it (not “have to”), it ceases to be an obligation. Now it’s a choice.

Obligations are those things that you think you have to do. Stop shoulding on yourself

Transform obligations by thinking about them differently. Or at least think about them consciously and make conscious choices, rather than continue on autopilot.

Holiday stress…nothing changes until you do.

Remember Your Choice

Thanks to Louise Hay for this quote and affirmation to reduce stress:

“This month I replace the word should with the word could. Could lets me know that I have a choice, which means freedom. I’m now aware that everything I do in life is done by choice – and I make sure that positive thinking and an optimistic attitude guide all my decisions. Once again, life is filling me with wisdom and I am so grateful.”

How to be Grateful (btw: it reduces anxiety too)

I just bought this new picture for my office:

Then I thought about how very hard this can be.

Scientific studies consistently prove the positive effects of gratitude for body, mind, spirit and emotions. It is proven that gratitude reduces stress and anxiety. Yet, it’s not always easy.

We all know we “should” be grateful. But telling yourself that you really “should” be grateful is “shoulding on yourself,” which actually creates less gratitude and more negative feelings.


How do we shift from knowing we should be grateful to actually being more grateful?

First, we need to understand why it doesn’t always come naturally:

a) Because we’re human beings. The human brain has a negativity bias thanks to our caveman brains and our fight-or-flight response. This comes from the part of the brain that is prone to anxiety and is trained to see negative things first (in case a sabretooth tiger is approaching).

b) Because sometimes life is hard and painful. Let’s just admit that. We all have truly difficult things to deal with at various points in our lives.

When life is going beautifully and all is well, gratitude may flow naturally. The challenge is how to choose to be grateful in the middle of everything that life presents.

It’s NOT all or nothing

At times life can be very difficult. This is true. AND at the very same time we can find something, however small, to be grateful for. This is also true.

Life is not black and white. It is very gray. Developing the ability to see both the good and bad at the same time is a skill that helps you live in the gray-ness of life.

In the gray, both the challenges and the gratitude can be true at the same time.

Here’s where choosing comes in… Searching for that small thing to be grateful for is a conscious choice. I’m not saying it is easy, but you can choose to do it.

Choose to search for a silver lining. Choose to look at both sides of a coin. Choose to allow yourself to feel better by finding one positive thing, even if you seem to be swimming in a sea of problems.

Why make the choice?

It’s a gift to yourself. Gratitude is a way you can take control of how you feel, no matter the circumstances around you. It makes you feel better and reduces stress and anxiety.

Choosing to be grateful makes you more powerful and in charge of your life experience.

Research shows gratitude increases happiness, reduces depression, creates positive changes your brain activity (per MRi imaging), improves relationships, increases motivation, and reduces anxiety. These are great gifts to yourself.

Choose and keep choosing

Don’t expect gratitude to come automatically at all times. Just keep choosing it.

Seek ways to practice gratitude to reduce stress and anxiety.

Just choose. Choose because you want to feel better. Choose because you deserve it. Moment by moment…keep choosing.

Instant Life Story

One of my clients shared this strategy to reduce anxiety in unfamiliar situations…

When you are in an anxiety provoking situation, take a look at the individuals around you and play the game of Instant Life Story. Pick one person at a time and make up a life story for that person.

For example… on an airplane with many strangers… you see a mean looking man with a scowl on his face boarding. To shift from a fearful/anxious reaction to him, make up his instant life story…

Perhaps he’s scowling because he’s just been dumped by his girlfriend and now he has to take this vacation alone.

Perhaps he’s angry because he’s been bumped 4 times from other flights and exhausted because he hasn’t slept in 36 hours.

Perhaps he’s in a witness protection program and was told not to look anyone in the eye.

Perhaps he just lost a loved one.

See how making up a possible alternate life story can change your reaction to him and the situation? Give it a try!

Can You Stop Anxiety Permanently?

Here’s a great question I got from a new subscriber to my newsletter:

“…if we are able to get me to the point where my anxiety is gone…how often does the anxiety come back?”

This is a fantastic question because so many people have been told you’ll have anxiety for your whole life… and you’ll have to take medication for your whole life.

That’s not what I tell my clients. Here’s what I see in my practice: People are often times able to eliminate anxiety and sometimes it never comes back.

If you’ve been told that medication is required for your anxiety, or that you’ll need it your whole life, you may like this article on my blog: Drug-Free: Is it possible for you?

I have plenty of clients who got rid of their anxiety and it is gone forever. If not gone forever, it is very possible to reduce it to such a level that you are confident and able to manage small waves of anxiety that may come up. How is all of this possible?

1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) rewires your brain to respond differently to situations that previously caused anxiety, thus preventing future anxiety. You learn how to think differently, and this trains your brain how to think differently in the future.

From a neuroscience perspective, CBT changes the neural pathways (the pathways of repetitive thoughts). Repetitive anxiety thinking creates an “automatic pathway,” meaning that when you encounter situations which created anxiety in the past, your brain learns to automatically go down that anxiety pathway in the future. Your brain takes you into an anxiety reaction “automatically.”

You must learn how to break that pattern and train your brain how to create a different “automatic pathway” of non-anxiety thinking. In this way, CBT helps you regain control over your reactions and reduce or eliminate anxiety.

2. Holistic “In-the-moment” Tools

I teach holistic tools and techniques so you know what to do as soon as you start to feel anxiety coming on. Having tools in your back pocket helps you gain control of the anxiety instead of the anxiety having control over you.

There are many tools that can be used right in the moment of anxiety to immediately reduce anxiety symptoms. Some of these are so powerful that they can actually stop anxiety, and even panic attacks, in their tracks.

One size does not fit all in this regard. Since we are all unique individuals with unique life experiences, it is usually a unique combination of tools and strategies that works for each person. Building the right tool kit empowers you when anxiety creeps in.

3. Reduce the Baseline

You probably need to learn strategies for reducing your day-to-day stress and anxiety levels. I call this reducing your baseline. When your baseline level of stress and anxiety is too high, then you become easily overwhelmed. One “little” thing can put you over the edge and trigger anxiety.

Of course this all depends on you and your situation. My approach works! But it requires active participation. By that I mean…

• Being willing to learn new ways of thinking
• paying greater attention to your thoughts
• regular practice of the new tools and techniques
• willingness to possibly make some lifestyle changes to decrease your baseline level of stress and anxiety

People who get the best results are those who are most committed to the process, willing to learn new things, and willing to make changes.

Soft Breathing

This technique to help combat stress and anxiety is from Dr. Mark Hyman from his book, The UltraMind Solution:

Step 1. Put your hand on your belly and allow your abdomen to relax.
Step 2. Close your eyes or soften your focus and look at the floor a few feet in front of you.
Step 3. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth.
Step 4. Breathe deeply into your abdomen and feel it expand as you count to 5.
Step 5. Pause for a count of 1.
Step 6. Exhale slowly to a count of 5, allowing your body to relax and release tension.
Step 7. Repeat for 5 breaths or until you feel relaxed.
Set an alarm on your phone to do this five times a day, every day—upon waking, before every meal, and before you go to bed.

Favorite for Anxiety: Mindful Belly Breathing

Believe it or not, the number one best way to ease anxiety is to BREATHE…as long as you do it the right way.

What I’m talking about here is learning a specific technique of conscious breathing, which is quite different from what we do moment-to-moment as part of our daily living.

If you take a minute to become aware of your breathing right now, you’ll find you are probably breathing short, shallow breaths into your lungs. This is how most of us breathe most of the time – unconsciously.

When you’re feeling anxious, you tend to unconsciously “overbreathe” with shorter, faster breaths into the lungs and chest.

This creates an imbalance between oxygen and carbon dioxide which can result in symptoms including:

racing heart, breathlessness, dizziness, hot flashes or chills, and distorted thinking such as fear that something terrible will happen.

The Deep Breath Myth

There is a common misconception that taking a “deep” breath is the key. While the deep breath may be useful for some purposes, it is not the best for calming anxiety.

When you take a deep breath, you are making a sudden and significant change to your breath. Your amygdala (the “caveman” part of the brain that regulates the fight-or-flight response) does NOT like sudden change. Instead of relaxing, your brain goes on high alert when there is any sudden change because your amygdala wants to make sure there is no sabretooth tiger coming to threaten your safety.

Your brain can relax when breathing is calm, even and predictable, without sudden change.

Master the specific technique

The specific form of Mindful Belly Breathing described here is designed to reduce anxiety by calming your brain AND creating a real physiological change for your nervous system (activating the parasympathetic nervous system).

This can only be done by using the proper technique consisting of 2 parts:

1. lowering the focus of your breathing to the belly/diaphragm area (diaphragmatic breathing)
2. controlling the pace and size of each inhale and exhale (respiratory control).

This breathing technique is Mindful due to the addition of respiratory control. Diaphragmatic breathing alone can be helpful for many things, but what makes Mindful Belly Breathing so effective for anxiety is the combination of Mindful respiratory control + Belly Breathing.

Mindful Belly Breathing can be done anywhere, anytime! I teach this to most of my clients and literally every single client has reported a benefit from Mindful Belly Breathing.

How to do it:

1. Place one hand on your belly.
2. Inhale and exhale through your nose only, with each breath “normal-sized” and comfortable for you.
3. Lower the focus of your breathing by slowing pushing out your belly/diaphragm as you inhale and slowly pulling in your diaphragm as you exhale. Imagine a balloon in your belly that fills with each inhale and deflates with each exhale.
4. Notice the movements of your hand: you should see your hand moving up and down on your stomach as you breathe.
5. Now pace your breathing in a predictable and even way by silently saying to yourself:

“Inhale – 2 – 3 – Relax… Exhale – 2 – 3 – Relax”

Want help learning Mindful Belly Breathing?

You may like my downloadable Less Stress Now CD.

How you know it’s working

Here’s a little test to show you what a big difference Mindful Belly Breathing makes:

1. Stand up and just breathe normally
2. Look into a full-length mirror. Look sideways so you can see your profile. Go ahead and suck in your stomach to look your best (yes, we all do that sometimes!).
3. Now breathe while still holding your stomach in. Notice that only your chest is moving up and down with each breath. This is more or less what happens when anxiety kicks in. Notice how the airflow is restricted. Notice the pace of your breath. Does this create any feelings of anxiety or discomfort?
4. Let your stomach relax now and re-start your Mindful Belly Breathing. Notice how much more air you’re taking in now. Notice the sense of calm this brings.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Like any new skill or tool, Mindful Belly Breathing requires practice. You want this tool available to you in times of extreme anxiety, right?

Well, in those moments of anxiety your ability to think straight and remember what to do next can be very limited. In order to break that cycle, you need to be able to start Mindful Belly Breathing automatically – your body will remember what to do only if you’ve practiced regularly.

Make Mindful Belly Breathing a daily habit and it’s an investment…you’ll be able to use it anytime, anywhere to help you break free from anxiety. Regain control of your breath, your clear thinking, your physical/body sensations, and your life!


Which Thought Would Feel Better?

Thoughts create feelings. Anxiety thoughts create anxiety feelings. So when you’re feeling anxiety, you can be sure that you are having anxiety thoughts.

Ask yourself: What thought am I having right now that could be related to this anxiety? Write it down.

Then ask yourself: What different thought might feel at least a little bit better than that one? Write it down also. If fact, you might find multiple different thoughts that feel a little better.

Work on intentionally focusing on the thoughts that feel better. With practice, you will think better AND feel better!

What You Think About Stress Could Kill You

30+ years ago: Nobody ever connected stress to any physical issues. How could stress in your mind or your emotions ever effect your body? Don’t be silly.

More recently: Now we hear that stress contributes to (and exacerbates) MANY physical illnesses. And lots of research proves that.

2013-present: Emerging research is showing that your mindset about stress (in other words, what you think ABOUT stress) is really what causes the stress-illness connection.

UW-Madison study: Beliefs about stress matter most!

Kelly McGonigal, health psychologist and researcher at Stanford University, did a famous TED Talk in 2013 called “How to make stress your friend.”

She talks about a large-scale study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison of 30,000 participants who were followed over an eight-year period.

They asked people to rank their level of stress as low, moderate or high. They also asked the question: Do you believe stress is harmful for your health?

Then they used public death records to see which of the study participants actually died over the eight year period.

Bad news: Participants who had a high level of stress had a 43% increased chance of dying.

Surprising news: Here’s the kicker…. The 43% increased risk of dying was only true for people who believed that stress is harmful for your health!

• Participants with a high level of stress but who did not believe that stress was harmful to their health, had the lowest likelihood of death of anyone in the study (even lower risk than the people who reported the lowest levels of stress)!

What you think about stress matters! In fact, it matters more than your stress level itself!

What is your Stress Mindset?

What if you could think of stress as your body helping you rise to new challenges? What if you could think of physical symptoms of anxiety, such as changes in heart rate and breathing, as helpful to you?

Stress Mindsets are general beliefs about the nature of stress.

• A “stress-is-enhancing” mindset means you tend to believe that stress has the effect of enhancing performance, health and well-being.
• A “stress-is-debilitating” mindset refers to the belief that stress is dangerous, and should be feared because one may not have the internal resources to meet the external pressures.

People with a “stress-is-enhancing” mindset see day to day life stressors as challenges for which they have adequate resources to meet expected demands. Stressors can be seen as opportunities to grow, learn or step up ones game. Stress is seen as a challenge instead of a big problem to be avoided.

A 2013 study of employees at a large financial institution showed that those who had a stress-is-enhancing mindset enjoyed:

• greater life satisfaction
• reduced anxiety
• less depression
• increased optimism
• increased resilience
• increased mindfulness

What do you think?

Recent research suggests that your attitude and beliefs matter a lot. This is not to say that too much stress is somehow healthy.

Can you change the stressors in your life to achieve more happiness? If you think you can’t change the stressors in your life, I challenge you to challenge that assumption. Often times you do have more control over stressors than you think you do.

However, if you’re clear that you can’t change the external… you CAN change the internal – your own mindset about stress. Why not give it a try?