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.

“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

5 Unexpected Ways to Make Lasting Change

How many times have you tried to make a change and it just doesn’t stick? It might stick for a while, but then you fall back into old habits.

News Years Resolution Statistics Data
Percent of Americans who usually make New Year’s Resolutions 45%
Percent of people who are successful in achieving their resolution 8%
Percent who never succeed and fail on their resolution each year 24%
People who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t explicitly make resolutions

*Source: http://www.statisticbrain.com/new-years-resolution-statistics/

neural-pathways-istock_000006935562xsmallYour brain is designed to go back to old habits. Neural pathways form in the brain and get very ingrained, making change difficult.

So if you want to make lasting change, you have to use some brain-based strategies to create new neural pathways. That translates into new thoughts and beliefs, and ultimately into change and creation of new behaviors.

1. Do Less and Talk to Yourself More

Don’t get caught in the misconception that you have to DO more to reach your goals.  Doing matters much less than thinking.   Stop focusing so much on the action itself, and focus more on what you are saying to yourself in your mind.

How you talk to yourself before, during, and after the process of change is critical!  

We often sabotage ourselves with negative thinking or limited beliefs about our ability to succeed at our goals. If you set a goal to walk 5 times a week and then your thoughts are about how many times you have failed in the past at walking five times a week, then you are setting yourself up to fail again.

pausebutton-stencilInstead, catch yourself thinking those thoughts and then hit the pause button. Choose a new thought. One possible thought: “even though I’ve tried to walk more in the past, I’m going to give it my best shot now because it’s healthy for me, and I enjoy it and the exercise is a good stress reliever.”

Your new thought makes a new neural pathway – this is exactly what is needed to create change, or create a new habit. This is the whole basis of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

2. Act As If You Are Confident

To help your brain make the changes necessary to actually do something different or create a new habit, Act As If you are completely confident.  Act As If it has already happened.

The “fake it ‘till you make it” mentality really works.

If you are confident and tell yourself you can do it, you likely will be able to do it. So even when you don’t feel particularly confident, Act As If you’re confident.

Act As If you know the change is already happening and you expect it to be manifest completely.   

“Whether you think you can,or think you can’t, you’re right!”

~ Henry Ford 
Creator of the first Model T automobile in 1908

We often stop ourselves from the change we want by fear that we won’t succeed.  This fear can be conscious or subconscious.

Confidence about your success is what will translate into real success.

So acting as if you are confident will turn into real confidence which will turn into real results/change.

3. The Imagination Experiment

• Exactly what would it be like if you reached your goal?
• What would it be like to be the person who walks 5 times a week?
• How would you feel? What would you be thinking?
• What small (or big) things would you be doing differently in your day-to-day life?

Write down all of your answers to these questions.

Now experiment, and start doing those things now. Start thinking those things now. Notice what happens and how you feel.

The key here is using your powerful imagination to line up your thoughts, feelings, actions and energy congruently in the direction of your goal.

4. See With Your Eyes Closed

The human brain cannot tell the difference between an experience that is happening in reality right now, and one that is vividly imagined.

Studies with Olympic athletes and NASA astronauts show that the same parts of the brain are firing when they are imagining their next race/mission, or when they are actually doing it. The muscles of athletes actually fire even when they are sitting down in a chair just vividly imagining.

Spend at least five minutes every single day visualizing yourself and your life after you have reached your goal. Make the visualization very vivid, with as many details as you can picture.

What can you vividly see, here, taste or smell in your visualization?

Enjoy the visualization feel the good feelings associated with your success. Try to let your mind and body feel what it will really feel like after you have attained your goal.

5. Love Yourself the Whole Way

render fractal model - red heart

Last but not least, be kind and self-nurturing as you focus on your goal. Change is usually difficult. The human brain is literally wired to maintain the same habits and to resist change. So give yourself credit for your desire and motivation to make a positive change for yourself.

Honor yourself when you have little successes toward your goal. And it’s just important to honor yourself when you encounter challenges on the way to your goal. Expect that to happen and be prepared to be gentle with yourself and remind yourself that it is all part of the process. Then just recommit yourself to your goal.

Do one nice thing for yourself each day as a way of loving yourself, and thanking yourself for working toward this positive change!

 

Part 2: Stopping Crazy Busy

Last month in Part 1: Stopping Crazy Busy, I explained how Crazy Busy really comes from what you are THINKING.  That’s because what you DO is always a result of what you THINK.  Thoughts, conscious and/or subconscious always precede our actions and choices.

So the root cause of being continually Crazy Busy really comes from what you are thinking.

Scanning of a human brain by X-rays

We looked at a few of the most common inaccurate thought patterns that lead to Crazy Busy:

1. Busyness = Importance
2. More is better
3. Less is not good enough
4. Comparing yourself to the Joneses
[Did you miss Part 1: Stopping Crazy Busy?]

More Thoughts that Create Crazy Busy

5.  Doing nothing is a waste of time

In our culture, we have told ourselves that this is true because we are so uncomfortable with Stillness. We don’t know what it’s like to be with our selves.

Can you just stop reading this now for a full 30 seconds and close your eyes and be with yourself while you aren’t doing something?

We have created so many constant distractions that all of us now have brains with a cultural form of ADHD.  Even as I’m writing this I realize I am distracting myself to check my email, my phone, put on lip balm, take a drink of water, scratch a mosquito bite, and get a snack!

The antidote to this form of ADHD is to spend some time doing nothing.  Doing nothing is so valuable to your nervous system, your brain, your psyche, and your emotional state!  But for the most part, we have labelled doing nothing as a waste of time.

6.  THE MOST HARMFUL THOUGHT OF ALL:  I don’t have a choice

It’s easy to get caught up in thinking you “have to” do all of these things that make you so Crazy Busy.  Society makes you think that.  Your family makes you think that. Your kids make you think that. Your neighbor’s (the Joneses!) make you think that.

It is your life, not anyone else’s, and you always have a choice.  You will harm yourself every time you give up your own power with the belief that you don’t have a choice. 

It is your life, not anyone else’s, and YOU always have a choice! 

But YOU get to evaluate every possible choice and decide what YOU really want.  A choice to say YES to everything creates a consequence of Crazy Busy.  Is that what you really want?

As you choose among the bazillion things you could do with your time every single day:

• Don’t live unconsciously doing what you think everyone wants from you. 
• Don’t live unconsciously doing too much thinking you’re not good enough unless you do it all.
• Don’t live unconsciously thinking you cannot make choices to be happier and less chaotic.

Getting Off the Crazy Busy Bus

• (CBT) Cognitive Behavior Therapy

success_failure-signs-istock_000003986459xsmallYour own subconscious thoughts are like blind spots – you just can’t see them accurately. CBT gives you a process and an objective person to help you identify thoughts that actually cause you stress.  And more importantly, CBT is a process to help you train your brain to think differently.  CBT helps you see all of your choices.

 

• Choose carefully

Don’t give away your own power by telling yourself you don’t have a choice. 
Ask yourself what you really want. Make conscious, thoughtful choices which are loving to yourself.

• Single task

It is a myth that the brain likes to multitask. Switching back and forth makes us tired, less efficient and more error-prone. When you do one thing at a time and get rid of distractions, you will actually feel less busy.

• Distinguish between important and urgent

Stephen Covey teaches this principle. Some things are important, and some things are urgent.  Know the difference.

Sleep and self-care are important.

Our phones and instant messaging create the illusion that everything is urgent.

• Believe in yourself

You are good enough. You know enough and you have enough. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone else. You don’t have to say yes to all the things that other people want you to do.

How Anxiety Can Help You

anxiety-magnifying-glass-istock_000013887814xsmallAnxiety is not all bad. Everyone who comes to see me for anxiety treatment hates their anxiety (and yes, it is a problem)… however, at the same time anxiety can pop up in your life to help you.

Anxiety is a Messenger Telling You Something is Wrong.

We tend to think that anxiety itself IS the problem. But anxiety can actually alert you to the fact that there is something else important in your life that is going wrong and needs to be addressed.

Anxiety as a Coping Mechanism

You hear a lot about managing anxiety and developing coping strategies. In fact, my holistic anxiety treatment does include many tools, techniques, and coping strategies.

But ironically, anxiety itself can BE a coping mechanism (albeit an unhealthy one!) to avoid other difficult things. Your mind sometimes creates distracting anxiety symptoms or panic attacks as a shield from other sources of pain or hurt.

Rather than face the reality that you’re not really happy with your life, or that your marriage is miserable, or that your career is going nowhere… anxiety can pop up to cover up the real distress.

It gives you another problem to focus on. In this way, anxiety can be a coping mechanism to shelter you from the pain of other underlying problems.

The problem is that as long as the underlying problems still exist, then anxiety still exists as well.

Helping You See Other Things

Anxiety symptoms frequently seem to come out of nowhere. This can happen because we don’t realize that we are avoiding dealing with difficult situations in our lives.

My mom had the first panic attack of her life while she was undergoing cancer treatment. I think it happened because she wasn’t dealing with a lot of scary feelings about cancer and fear of dying.

Time and time again I see clients’ anxiety symptoms begin to disappear as soon as they begin to deal consciously with previously hidden stressors and problems. Research supports this.

Dealing with those things that you would rather avoid lowers anxiety and also causes real physical changes such as:

• lower heart rate
• lower blood pressure
• less stress hormones in the bloodstream
• less headaches
• less digestive problems
• less muscle tension

Anxiety as Symptom Instead of Diagnosis

Our traditional medical system has created a lot of clinical diagnoses, medications, and therapies for anxiety. This makes us think that the anxiety itself is the problem.

Of course, anxiety does present problems (like fear, sleep problems, worry, rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, sweating, etc.). But once we can reduce those symptoms with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), we can discover what else is really going on.

Young woman with hands on eyes sitting depressed in car

• A bad relationship
• A job you hate
• Low self-esteem
• Lack of purpose
• Feeling like an inadequate parent or wife or person
• Living with a chronic illness
• Realizing you are getting older and will die one day
• Loss of a loved one
• Being hurt or betrayed
• Negative self-image
• Feeling like a failure
• Old pain or hurt that was never dealt with

In healing those things, you can start to see that anxiety was just a symptom of something deeper.

When you deal with the underlying problems, the anxiety symptoms can simply disappear.

There is No Such Thing as Stress

neural-pathways-istock_000006935562xsmallApril is Stress Awareness Month. You might think I would be a big fan of promoting that since stress and anxiety are my specialty in my counseling practice. But instead, I’m going to say something radical…

There is no such thing as stress.

What?!?!?

When you think about it: What exactly is stress? Even the experts don’t agree. It is such a generic term that it could mean just about anything.

Therefore, “stress” means just about nothing.

Stress is even difficult for scientists to define because it is a highly subjective phenomenon that differs for everyone. Things that are stressful for some people are not stressful for others.

We also have different physical, mental, and emotional responses to stress. (See my list of 50 Signs of Stress and Anxiety that May Surprise You)

Stress is Fear

When you say “I’m so stressed”, you are giving away your own power to be relaxed and happy and in control of your life. It’s like being a victim of other people or circumstances…you’re giving those external things the power to “make you” so stressed.

What if you could equate the word stress with the word fear?

Then you could take your power back by figuring out what is causing fear. And then you can learn how to change your fear reaction. You do not have to simply live with the fear or the “stress.”

The MindWhat Are You Afraid Of?

Some common fears that we disguise as “stress”:

• Fear of not getting it all done (with an assumption that you should)
• Fear of not being a good enough person, mom, employee, partner, child, etc.
• Fear of what others will think of you
• Fear that everyone else is faster, smarter, or better
• Fear of not being perfect, or doing things perfectly
• Fear of being late, or missing out
• Fear of not being in control
• Fear of being criticized
• Fear of being alone
• Fear of sitting still and being with yourself and your thoughts
• Fear of displeasing others
• Fear of not being liked
• Fear of people being mad at you
• Fear of uncertainty
• Fear of “something bad” happening (what if this or what if that…)

Stress is a fear reaction to life, and life’s constant changes and demands.

Stress is fear that comes up whenever there is a gap between what you need or want to do, and what you feel you’re able to do.

Fear Starts with a Thought – And Thoughts Can Be Changed

If you let stress be so generic and feel like you have no control over it, you can end up using it as an excuse to not take responsibility for your feelings, actions, reactions, and choices. It’s too easy to blame stress on someone or something else.

You’ll feel a lot more happy and relaxed when you take responsibility for the stress-producing thoughts, feelings and reactions. To do this, you need to identify the fear thoughts underneath your stress, and then learn to change those thoughts. That’s what Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is all about.

Example:

 

Maybe you’re stressed after a “crazy busy” weekend of running around taking the kids to all their activities.

• Maybe you think you have no other choice.

Young woman with hands on eyes sitting depressed in car

• Maybe you think you have to do it all or else you won’t be a good mom.

• Maybe you think it would be a negative thing to ask for help.

• Maybe you worry about what the other parents would think if you skipped some of the activities.

• Maybe you’re afraid of looking like a bad parent.

• Maybe you think you have to do it because your husband expects you to be able to do it all.

• Maybe you think a good mom always puts her kids first no matter what.

Those are examples of fear thoughts that lead to feeling stressed. Your thoughts may be different. Everyone has their own stress-producing fear thoughts.

The Simple Rule

1. Good feelings come from good thoughts.
2. Stressful feelings come from stressful/fearful thoughts.

Thoughts always come first and lead to feelings. This is great news because it means you can stop feeling out of control. You can take charge of how you feel by learning to change your thoughts. You don’t have to give away your power to whatever is “stressing you out.”

 

Seasonal Depression

What’s Most Effective for Seasonal Depression?

It’s January 2016… In Milwaukee that means an average of 14.5 hours of darkness per day.  I actually calculated it.

upset-stencilNaturally this is the time of year we see increases in Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) which is brought on by light deprivation. 

People who do not usually experience depression at all may get SAD during the darker months.  Additionally, those who are already prone to depression can find that depression gets worse in the dark months.

I recommend 2 highly effective, non-medication treatments for seasonal depression: 
1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
2. Light Therapy

CBT for Seasonal Depression

Depression symptoms are physical, mental and emotional. 

While Light Therapy works at the physical level to help your body’s biochemical balance (see more below), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) works the mental and emotional level.

CBT is highly effective for depression because it helps reduce negative thinking, while improving mood, motivation, productivity, focus, and energy.

Research shows CBT is equally effective, or even more effective in the long term than antidepressant medication… with none of the negative side effects that come with medication.

I’ve written a lot about CBT on my blog so I’m going to focus on the Light Therapy in this article.  Check out these articles for more about CBT: 

What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?
Why Does CBT Work (for Anxiety and More)?
Cognitive Behavior Therapy (Change the Way You Think)
#1 Most Effective Anxiety Treatment: CBT

New Research: Light Therapy beats Prozac

Bright light therapy using a special light box is an effective treatment for people whose depression occurs seasonally, or whose depression gets worse in the darker months.

Because my specialty is non-medication treatments for anxiety and depression, I like keeping up on the research in this area and I found a fascinating one…

Participants in a recent study were assigned to one of four groups who got different treatments.  They didn’t know which group they were in and all were treated as if they were getting the “real” treatments. 

Four Different Treatment Groups
1. Light therapy + placebo pill (i.e. a sugar pill)
2. Light therapy + Prozac
3. Placebo light box + placebo pill
4. Placebo light box + Prozac

Check out these results:
• Less depression for those who got Light Therapy than those who got Prozac
• Less depression for those who got Light Therapy than those who got a placebo pill
• Light Therapy was more effective than Prozac
• The placebo medication was actually more effective than Prozac!
• Little to no side effects shown with light therapy
o This compares with 85 side effects of Prozac (as listed on webmd.com)

Why Does Light Therapy Work?

Inquiring minds want to know why, but I just want to know what works! 

Experts can’t say for sure why but research shows light therapy does help.  For Seasonal Affective Disorder, they think it may help correct disturbances in your internal clock which is driven by your body’s circadian rhythms.

Another theory is that light affects neurotransmitters in the brain (such as serotonin) which affects mood for both seasonal and non-seasonal depression.

Do It Yourself Light Therapy

Light therapy boxes have come a long way in recent years.  They are affordable and easy to use. 

lighttherapy-diTreatment involves sitting near the light box for 30-60 minutes daily.  You don’t have to look directly at the light so you can use it while doing other things like eating, reading, or using your phone or computer.

This is the light therapy box I use:
You can find it at http://amzn.to/1TDcND1

Light therapy can help improve your mood, reduce negative thinking and irritability, and increase energy levels.

Be sure to read the instructions and warnings for the light box you choose.  Light therapy is not recommended for those with mania or bipolar disorder, or those with various eye conditions.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy (Change the Way You Think)

Scanning of a human brain by X-rays

The single most powerful thing you can do to reduce anxiety is to change your perspective and train your brain to start assessing situations differently.  When you can look at problems, worries or fears in a different way, you can reduce feelings of anxiety.  Different thoughts lead to different feelings.

But if you could do that on your own, you probably would have done it already.  Changing those habits of thinking (in this case, anxiety thinking) is hard.

cbtthinkingprocess-dreamstime_xs_36181364This is where Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) comes in.  This is one of the main types of anxiety therapy that I practice.  It has been shown in dozens of scientific studies to be probably the most effective treatment for many forms of anxiety

60-80% of people with an anxiety problem who complete a course of CBT will experience a significant reduction in their anxiety.  This is often better than (or at least equal to) the effectiveness of medication.  And CBT has longer-lasting results than medication alone because it gets to the root cause of the problem.