Got Pain? Heal your Emotions – Part 2

This is Part 2 of my series of articles exploring the connection between emotional healing and physical healing.

Check out Part 1 if you missed it.

My Story – Healing Pain/Frozen Shoulder

In 2014 had a life changing experience of healing my own physical pain.

I had been experiencing severe shoulder pain for months. Despite trying many different treatments and seeing many different doctors and healing practitioners, the pain was worse than ever in the weeks right before I was scheduled for a 10-day Vipassana meditation course.

Right before the course, my doctors diagnosed frozen shoulder and advised that I not attend the course because keeping my shoulder immobile while meditating would cause more pain and more problems.

I ignored that advice.

My pain sensations were excruciating for the first 4 days. Vipassana meditation teaches a specific technique that works with sensations in the body. I kept patient and persistent with the meditation technique.

By the 5th day, I was amazed to find my pain was no longer there.

Poof. Gone. No more shoulder pain. No more frozen shoulder. And it never came back. And no doctor could ever explain why.

The human mind is where anxiety starts, and where emotions start (the limbic system is the part of the brain regulating emotions), and where pain starts.

Quieting my mind and my emotions, released the pain from my body.

7 Types of Pain Often Linked to Emotions

• Headaches and migraines
• Neck and shoulder pain
• Back pain
• Stomach pain
• Menstrual pain
• Pain in the extremities
• Widespread pain including fibromyalgia

* Source: Kim Saeed, Author, Researcher, Educator

Thoughts ⇒ Emotions ⇒ Pain

Remember that neuroscience research shows that the same neural circuity is activated when you experience physical pain as when you experience emotional pain. 

Because the neural circuitry is shared, when either type of pain is experienced your brain has the same chemical response as well. This chemical response is primarily excess release of stress hormones (mainly excess cortisol and adrenaline known to cause inflammation as well as anxiety).

Dr. David Hanscom, MD and author of “Back in Control” believes the primary cause of chronic pain is Unconstructive Repetitive Thoughts (URTs).

He concludes that these Unconstructive Repetitive Thoughts cause the sustained release of those stress hormones which cause physical pain.

What You Can Do

Chronic pain is one of the most difficult things to deal with. It can make you feel very out of control.

One of the hardest parts about chronic pain is that often no one can find the specific source of the pain, or a concrete explanation. Friends, family and even doctors don’t believe you or tell you it’s all in your head.

So, what to do?

#1 – Learn about your emotions and emotional healing

In addition to seeking physical pain relief or treatment, this may be the time to explore how your emotions may be contributing to your physical pain.

Sometimes that means looking at your current emotional state and the emotionally challenging or stressful things in your life right now.

Sometimes it means looking at past emotional experiences that have not been dealt with (recent ones or even adverse childhood experiences).

Sometimes it means looking at unhappiness in current relationships – a big cause of emotional and physical pain.

#2 – Change your thinking with CBT

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a short-term, goal-oriented process focused on problem-solving. Through the process, you learn to understand and manage your thinking (cognitive), feelings (emotions), and actions (behavior).

CBT can help people feel more in control of their pain, and teach new coping skills. It can help you change the way you view your pain and help you function better, with pain interfering less with your quality of life.

Changes in your thoughts actually change the chemical response in your brain (cortisol, adrenaline, dopamine, serotonin) that can make pain worse. When you think better, you will feel better. 

In multiple ways, changing your thinking process can help you regain more control of your life despite the pain.

#3 – Learn Mindfulness

Mindfulness research shows that it can help you cope with pain by:

• Decreasing repetitive thinking and rumination about pain
• Decreasing emotional upset about the pain
• Increasing a sense of acceptance of the present moment
• Increasing the relaxation response and decreasing stress

Can Anxiety Cause You to Go Crazy? Stop Catastrophizing

Extreme anxiety can cause you to think you are going crazy, losing it, having a nervous breakdown, or even dying.

People who suffer from panic attacks are especially prone to this sort of extreme thinking because the sensations of a panic attack are so intense. This extreme thinking is what we call catastrophizing.

When the emotional part of your brain becomes afraid of the worst case scenario, you can begin to tell yourself scary stories… in other words, you being catastrophizing. Of course, this only increases anxiety so the emotional part of your brain takes over even more.

Emotional brain vs. logical brain

From a neuroscience perspective, the emotional part of your brain is connected with the limbic system and the amygdala – part of the fight-or-flight part of your brain. This is part of the brain is often referred to as the cave man brain – programmed to watch out for danger. When it gets activated, it tricks you into believing that there is a sabretooth tiger about to eat you.

The newer part of your brain from an evolutionary perspective is the frontal lobe. This is the logical, rational part of your brain which controls higher cognitive functions such as logic and decision-making.

When the emotional part of your brain kicks in to protect you from that sabretooth tiger, it literally blocks some of the access to the logical, rational part of your brain. This is by design. If there really was a sabretooth tiger about to eat you, would you want to pause and make a pro/con list in your head before making a decision what to do next?

Catastrophizing comes from the emotional part of your brain. The emotional part of your brain increases anxiety while the logical part of your brain can reduce or eliminate anxiety.

To overcome anxiety, it is important to realize that you have access to both of these parts of your brain.

Fight fear with facts

Catastrophizing comes from fear and anxiety. Fear and anxiety are feelings. Feelings and facts are two completely different things.

Anxiety and overwhelm are feelings. Fear of going crazy is a feeling. It’s not a fact.

There is no such clinical condition as “going crazy.” The same is true for fear of losing control (of yourself), for fear of “losing it,” and fear of having a so-called nervous breakdown. Those are not clinical diagnoses. There is no such thing.

Catastrophizing leads to telling yourself scary “what if” stories of some dreaded unknown. These are the things of scary movies or horror films. Not reality. Not facts.

A common catastrophizing thought is that “l’ll go crazy and end up in a straight-jacket or in a mental institution.” Guess what? Those are just more scary stories from scary movies. The fact is that mental health treatment is not like that.

Debunk Catastrophizing Thoughts

In Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), catastrophizing is one of many cognitive distortions. Anxiety triggers your emotional brain and causes distortions that can “trick” you into believing that something is true and factual when it really isn’t.

How can you get out of your emotional brain and use your logical brain to recognize that the imagined catastrophe is not factual or accurate?

Ask the logical part of your brain what does it really look like to “go crazy?” Literally, what does that mean? Document all the details in writing:

• If someone were observing you, what exactly would you look like?
• What would you be saying or doing?
• What would an observer notice about your behavior and actions?

Document behaviors and observations only – not your feelings. Remember, feelings are not the same as facts. Detail what you would be doing vs. what would you be feeling.

Each time you describe one action or behavior, ask yourself “What happens next?” Then write down the next action/behavior and ask yourself again “What happens next?” Keep drilling down until you can’t come up with any more answers.

This will help you debunk your fears, stop catastrophizing, and reduce anxiety and overwhelm.

Routines to Reduce Anxiety

Human beings are wired to crave routines. Our brains like the structure and predictability. It brings a sense of safety, comfort, and certainty to our day-to-day lives.

Even those of us who get bored easily still feel some comfort with basic routine and habits in our lives. Your routine does not have to be boring or dull. It just needs to be regular and repeated.

It does not matter so much what your routine is because regulating your daily actions is really about reducing the human brain’s instinctual fear of the unknown. Your brain likes knowing what to expect so it can relax.

In this way, routines themselves can help reduce anxiety. It is the fight-or-flight part of your brain (amygdala), aka the caveman brain, which instinctually likes to have things the same. If things are the same, it knows you are safe.

What if you need a new habit or routine?

To reduce anxiety, a change in routine is often needed. In fact, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy stresses the need to develop new tools, techniques and strategies for stress and anxiety reduction.

We often need to add stress-reducing or calming new habits into our routine to balance a “crazy busy” life and ease anxiety.

Knowing what to do and actually doing it are two different things.

You may know what you need to do to help reduce stress and anxiety (i.e. mindful belly breathing, meditate, exercise, sleep more, etc.), but because of that caveman brain you are likely to have a hard time doing it.

Don’t get down on yourself for this. It’s just your human brain resisting new habits. Also, old routines die hard due to that caveman brain and its bias toward keeping things the same.

Hacks that Help

Here are some hacks to help your brain interrupt its old routine in order to and create a new habit:

• Write down the new habit you want to create. Visual reminders are great! Try post-its on your bathroom mirror or steering wheel or nightstand.

• Keep it simple – create one new habit at a time instead of trying to make multiple changes at the same time.

• Add-on. Attach a new activity to an existing routine. Ex: Right after you brush your teeth, or before or after you pour your daily coffee, or before you get out of bed.

• Set alarms or reminders on your phone. Or download an app that rings a gentle mindfulness bell as a reminder.

• Plan ahead and block off time on your calendar for new activities. New activities will stick better through consistency and repetition so schedule them daily.

• Use the buddy system to get support. Maybe someone would like to create the same habit along with you, or someone may be willing to help you with reminders and accountability.

Allow yourself to be imperfect, as we all are. If you forget or miss a day, just get back on board as quickly as you can. Cut any negative self-talk.

Ironic Solutions You’ve Been Avoiding

In our “crazy busy” culture that keeps moving faster and faster each day, most of us want to:

o Get more done
o Be more productive
o Get rid of stress and anxiety
o Generally “toughen up” (to do more of all of the above)

We get in an endless loop of more To-Do’s and multi-tasking. It all seems to result in more stress, less sleep and less sense of accomplishment.

Is there anything that can be done to reduce all that stress and get off the hamster wheel?

Do the Opposite

It’s quite ironic that your solution is actually the opposite of what you think it should be. The ironic solutions are sometimes quite obvious. Other times we chalk up the ironic solutions as ridiculous and avoid trying them.

Problem: Want more productivity and want to accomplish more?
Ironic Solution: Learn how to develop a slow gear

Instead of constantly focusing on speeding up, doing more, and checking things off the list…slow down. Disengage from technology and to-do lists and future-oriented thinking for a little while each day.

You will become more present and focused when you return to the work at hand. Your mind needs time to process all the inputs (i.e. stress) of the day. With a quieter mind and a state of mindfulness, you will naturally become more productive. Ironically, it happens more easily when we slow down than when we frantically try harder to be more productive.

Problem: Want to get more done in a day? 
Ironic Solution: Sleep more

Not getting enough sleep can cause:

• irritability
• lack of mental clarity
• reduced executive functioning in the brain leading to:
        o poor decision-making
        o poor prioritization
        o poor analytical ability
• forgetfulness or memory loss
• brain fog
• reduced time management skill
• reduced productivity
• reduced focus
• depression (worsens all of the above symptoms)
• anxiety (worsens all of the above symptoms)

It’s easy to see how staying up later to get more done simply does not work in the long run. Ironically, doing that repeatedly will lead to getting much less done in a day (along with increased frustration).

Problem: Want to stop procrastinating on something? 
Ironic Solution: Stop avoiding it and go face it

This sounds so obvious that it can sound irritating. Here are examples of some very common situations that cause anxiety and are often avoided:

Di Philippi, MA, LPC, Holistic Anxiety Therapist, Milwaukee• driving, especially on the freeway or during rush hour
• public speaking
• social events where you might be judged or be put on the spot
• new situations (creating fear of the unknown)
• crowded situations where you might feel “trapped”

The more we find something uncomfortable, the more we avoid it. Yet avoidance is the worst strategy. The situation will continue to have power over you the more you avoid it.

The ironic solution in psychology terms is called Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) or Exposure therapy. ERP is a part of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). It provides a very safe and systematic way to face those things that feel like demons. With avoidance, the demons always live on.

Problem: Want to be stronger and tougher in times of stress?
Ironic Solution: Learn and practice self-compassion

Do the opposite of what your inner critic says. Stop being so hard on yourself and demanding that you just “buck up” and “get over” the difficult and stressful parts of life.

An article in the Washington Post titled “Be Kinder to Yourself” explores this concept of self-compassion. It talks about a 2017 study that found that people who have higher levels of self-compassion tend to handle stress better. Other research confirms this.

So, ironically, being kinder and gentler to yourself actually does make you stronger in the face of stress. Self-compassion makes it easier to move through stress. Practice quieting your inner drill sergeant.

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.

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.

Dalai Lama’s Prescription for Anxiety

I want to share with you what I am learning right now from the Dalai Lama.

anxiety treatment of Dalai Lama - Mental Immunity via CBT wtih Di Philippi

 

I love neuroscience and I often talk about the human brain. It’s so fascinating how our brains generate anxiety, and I teach many neuroscience-based techniques for eliminating anxiety.

Neuroscience is a very new discipline (since about the 1990’s), growing exponentially along with technology advances.

So it was quite ironic to me to discover the very non-scientific and very ancient perspective of the Dalai Lama (in “The Book of Joy” by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa.)

 

Prevent Suffering from Anxiety

According to the Dalai Lama: “[Just] as a healthy immune system and healthy constitution protects your body again potentially hazardous viruses and bacteria, mental immunity creates a healthy disposition of the mind so that it will be less susceptible to negative thoughts and feelings.”

Our own negative thoughts and feelings are what cause our suffering.

The Sanskrit word for these negative thoughts and feelings in the Buddha’s time was “Dukkha,” which can be translated as “stress” or “anxiety.” Buddha identified Dukkha as the core of much of our unnecessary suffering.

On the flip side of that, when people call me to inquire about anxiety treatment, what do you think is the one thing they consistently tell me they want (besides getting rid of anxiety)? Happiness. The Sanskrit word for this is “Sukha.”

How to find Sukha and eliminate and even prevent Dukkha? The Dalai Lama says mental immunity is the answer:

Developing Mental Immunity

1. Meditation.  As a Buddhist monk, one of the main ways the Dalai Lama builds mental immunity is through his daily meditation practice.

The Dalai Lama meditates for 5 hours a day! But you don’t have to! There are hundreds of different types of meditation so you can find a technique that works for you. Here’s an easy way to start with 3 minutes a day: Metta Meditation.

Meditation is proven by both monks and neuroscience research as a way to calm the mind and effectively reduce anxiety. But mental immunity can be built in other ways as well.

 

2. Mindfulness can be a meditation technique but it is also so much more. It is a way of being. It is a way of doing anything at all, in a mindful way, which is achieved mentally by training your brain to remain present and focused in the present moment.

Anxiety is most often about the future – even if it is the future just 5 minutes from now. Five seconds from now, or 5 minutes or 5 days or 5 years, are all in the future.

Developing your mental ability for mindfulness helps you stay in this moment of now, which reduces anxiety.

 

3. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) helps you develop mental immunity by literally training the neural pathways in your brain to actually think differently. What is CBT?  Click HERE to find out. It works to create mental immunity by changing the way your brain thinks and responds to anxiety-provoking situations. Click HERE to learn more about how it works for anxiety.

CBT also helps you eliminate “stinking thinking”/”anxiety thinking” which also creates mental immunity.

The Dalai Lama on the need for mental immunity:

 

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?

 

 

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.

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.